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ENCOUNTERING THE MATERNAL FACE OF GOD IN HOSEA : A Study of Hosea 11:1-11

Sr. Santosh Maria BS.

The author is a biblical student belonging to the congregation of Bethany in India. She is very passionate about the Word of God. This is published with the permission of the author.

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2
The more Icalled them, the more they went from me;they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

3
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in myarms; but they did not know that I healed them.

4
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.I bent down to them and fed them.

5
They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

6
The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.

7
My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

8
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

9
I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

10
They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

11
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

images-173God created the human kind in his own image and likeness. He made them male and female. So logically, in God must exist both male and female characteristics, masculine and feminine elements. And He has to have the best qualities of a mother and a father, which are the finest expressions of womanhood and manhood. God has to have the tenderness of a loving mother and the affection of a caring father. In Isaiah 66.13 we read, “You shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip and dandled upon her knees. As the one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” In Jeremiah 31:9d, YHWH speaks to the people, “For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first born.” But our salvation history has failed to a greater extent to show the blending of these two natures in God; instead it always depicts God as a male figure in the portrait of a loving father. Even the maternal images depicted in the scriptures are interpreted in paternal dimensions. Hence we experience God partially, most often only as a father and are deprived of his refined and tender qualities. In fact God has no sex but we address only as ‘He,’ and never ‘She’ even though God is ‘she’ as much as ‘he.’ I am sure looking at God’s maternal face will help us to experience the depth of his love for us, a love we missed so long. Through this paper I am trying to encounter the maternal face of YHWH portrayed by Prophet Hosea. He is the prophet of love and to be true to his charism, he has to experience YHWH as a loving father (husband) and mother. And YHWH has blessed him with such a gift of himself/ herself. And in my exegetical study on Hosea11:1-11, I try to encounter the maternal face of God, which the prophet experienced and communicated to us.

1. Delimitation of the Text

The text selected is a clearly defined unit. Hosea 11 begins a new section, and there is not a single key-word linking it to preceding section, 10.9-15. It opens with a historical-theological retrospect. In chapter 12 we find another new beginning without reference to chapter 11, but containing a series of discrete prophetic sayings. Thus Hosea 11 is a separate block whose theme and set of connected key words reveals it as a closed and integral unit.[i] Yet in what sense is 11:1–11, in view of its internal structure, to be considered a unit? First of all, vv 1–7 are clearly combined together by copulae (vv 3, 6, 7); by the use of personal pronouns in the singular (vv 1, 4b, 5a, 6a) or plural (vv 2, 3, 4a, 5b, 6b, 7); for “Israel” (v 1), “Ephraim” (v 3), or at the climax of the passage—for “my people” (v 7a); finally, by the unity of the theme: Israel has responded to YHWH’s love with obstinate disobedience from the very beginning (vv 2, 3, 5, 7).[ii] Only verse10, on the basis of its style and content, diverges from this integral unity.[iii]

Like 10:9–15 it contains a historical reflection on Israel’s past and later changes to a direct address in the passage. But otherwise it shows no sign of being directly connected. A new passage begins with 12:1, where Ephraim/Israel/Judah are the subjects, and the new theme (trickery, lies, violence, etc) does not follow closely chap. 11.[iv]

The passage changes somewhat at v. 8. Here Ephraim (paralleled by Israel) is addressed directly as the dominant subject as opposed to “Israel” in v 1 and “Ephraim” in v 3, each spoken of in the third person. The spirit of the passage shifts to hope and a promise of restoration. This follows the basic pattern expressed in the Mosaic covenant. Blessing and restoration following, destruction and exile (Lev 26:38–45). The passage’s logic presents to us a loving God who reaches out to a child in mercy. For YHWH to show his mercy once again by bringing his “children” back from exile is simply a turn full circle to a new benefaction, as was the theme of 2:4–17, 18–25 and chap. 3. Moreover, if a sense of the court proceeding is to be understood throughout, the decision to show mercy as expressed in vv 8–11 is not so much a contradiction as a development. The plaintiff may choose not to exercise his right to demand utter destruction of the rebel(s), and the judge (YHWH) may partially suspend the capital aspect of the punishment sentence in keeping with the covenant promises of restoration for a remnant (Deut 4:27).[v]

2. Sitz Im Leben of the Text

Hosea delivered his oracles primarily to the northern kingdom. At times, he addressed particular groups such as the priests (4:4–9; 5:1) and the royal house (5:1), all Israel/Ephraim (5:1; 9:1; 11:8) or Judah (6:4, 11), and even particular cities (8:5; 10:15). Whether or not Hosea delivered his oracles personally to these audiences, his words were obviously intended for them and no doubt ultimately reached them. Hosea spoke to a people in need of a word from God. In the early years of his ministry, he addressed a society that had experienced outward success and renewed prosperity under the long reign (792–752 bc) of Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14:23–29). Politically, the relative weakness of their traditional Assyrian enemies allowed the Northern kingdom to extend its borders to nearly the same size as that enjoyed in the Solomonic era. Economically, it was a time of renewed commerce, building activities, and the amassing of personal wealth (8:14; 12:7–8). But unfortunately, such wealth was often accrued at the expense of common folk (12:7; Amos 4:1–2; 8:4–6) and was a reflection of an immoral and unjust society that had been loosed from its spiritual life. Such conditions only worsened as political disintegration set in, first with the assassinations of Zechariah and Shallum in 752 BCE and the bloody contests that followed in the days of Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah (2 Kgs 15:16–31).[vi]

The long history of prevailing sin that characterized Israel’s history finally reached its climax during the reign of its last king, Hoshea (732–722 bc). When the spiritual degeneration of the Northern kingdom had reached intolerable limits (2 Kgs 17:7–17, 20–23), God brought judgment upon his unfaithful people in the form of the defeat and deportation of its populace at the hands of the Assyrians (2 Kgs 17:1–6). Conditions at this time were not much better in the Southern kingdom (2 Kgs 17:18–19); only the rising prominence of Hezekiah stemmed the tide of God’s eventual judgment on Judah. To such an era and such a people, God’s prophet was sent with the message of God’s undying love for them, as well as a declaration of his unwavering standards and conditions for spiritual success. No doubt it was too often a discouraging ministry. Yet through it all, Hosea, like God himself (11:1), loved his people and held out the consoling prospect of God’s ultimate blessing to his repentant and restored people (14:4–7).[vii]

The Sitz im Laben of the chapter 11 can be best sought in prophet’s intimate circle of disciples, where these words were collected and elaborated, even beyond the time of the collapse of the Northern kingdom. Hosea himself, though he may well have seen it coming, probably did not witness the destruction of the capital Samaria and the deportation of the people in 722-721BCE. The words in chapter 11 are from the prophet’s later period and can be regarded as purest and the most perfect form of a painful and mature prophetic life. Hosea 11 seems to be absolutely authentic text and undeniably stems from an 8th century prophet. In spite of its linguistic difficulties, its original and clever images and the relative complicated history of transmission, which often leaves room for the variety of translations, we can clearly see this as one of the most significant theological text from the Northern Kingdom of Israel[viii]. The most probable certainty that this text comes from Hosea himself makes it especially important to illuminate the text from a new and perhaps previously unrecognized angle.[ix]

3. Literary Genre and Literary Context.

Given the fact that Hosea 11 includes speech whose speaker is clearly and unequivocally YHWH, some scholars like Mays, consider it an oracle, or a set of oracles if they divide the text into separate speeches. Some of these speeches may even be organized thematically. Thus, one may maintain, for instance, that Hos 11:1–7 is a “historico-theological accusation.” In addition, Bjornard maintains that the form of vv. 8–9 is “fairly similar to the oracle of doom that we find in 6:4–6” but “instead of the expected conclusion of judgment, there is a total break, with God asserting his love and holy otherness” [x] In its form and genre, Hosea 11 is a historical –theological lament, constructed entirely in the “I” form. YHWH the God of Israel speaks in the first person throughout. Only verse 10, already mentioned forms an exception, as YHWH there is referred in the third person.[xi]

The passage at its outset has similarities to the form of the legal complaint made by parents against a rebellious child (Deut 21:18–21. Isa 1:2–20 where hope is held out that the child [Israel] may yet repent and receive compassion rather than death). Though Hos 11:1–11 is less obviously structured as a legal complaint than the Isaiah oracle, “historical-theological accusation” is a possible designation for it. It contains a statement (as if to the court) of evidence about the child’s rebellion in the face of loving care, a sentence of judgment, but then a surprise (vv 8–11): the plaintiff YHWH, addressing the defendant Israel, changes his mind (v 8) and decides not to destroy Israel utterly (the punishment for a rebellious child in Deut 21 is death) but to restore Israel. This surprise verdict parallels that of 2:16–17. Complaint yields to punishment, then to hope.[xii]

The passage is entirely a divine speech, including, probably, v 10, which refers to YHWH in third person. God who refers metaphorically to himself as “pus” and “infection” (5:12) would hardly avoid comparing himself in first-person speech to a lion. Israel is referred to in the third person singular (vv 1, 4, 5, 6), the third person plural (vv 2–5, 7, 10, 11), and the second person singular (vv 8, 9). The variation of the persons and their pronouns is somewhat unpredictable, but by no means illogical or confusing. To Hosea’s audience it would have been accepted as typical. The suggestion that v 10 is a late Judean gloss is obviated by the fact that nothing in it specifically addresses Judean interests. In structure, the passage shifts from past to present to immediate future, to eschatological future, as follows:

A.     Past: God’s calling and Israel’s rebellion (vv 1–4)
B.     Present and future: immediate threat to Israel for their continuing rebellion (vv 5–7).
C.     Eschatological future: refusal to destroy utterly, and promise of restoration (vv 8–11).[xiii]

4. Major Themes of the Text.

4.1 The God of Hosea

Before we look at the God of Hosea in chapter 11, it is good to understand the Prophet’s view of the God of Israel in general.

Hosea names God “YHWH” more often than “God”when he specifically mentions the one he serves as messenger. For Hosea knows only the God who, since the time of Moses (12:14) has revealed himself in the proclamation of his law and through his liberating acts: “I am YHWH, your God from the land of Egypt…” (12:10; 13:4). Nor does Israel know another as God and savior besides YHWH (13:4b). Hosea is familiar with the interpretation of YHWH’s name in Ex 3:14, as he indicates in his negation of the old covenant formula. YHWH, the ancient God of Israel, is the God whom Hosea proclaims anew. Except for the divine personal name, there is hardly any general mention of “God.” Usually a suffix is attached to אֱלֹהִים (ʾĕlōhîm), so that the word characterizes YHWH as Israel’s God: “YHWH, your God” in 12:10; 13:4; 14:2, “YHWH, their God” in 3:5; 7:10, “their God” in 4:12; 5:4, “your God” in 4:6; 9:1; 12:7, “my God” is said by the people in 2:25; 8:2, by Hosea in 9:17, “our God” in 14:4, “her God,” i.e., Samaria’s God, in 14:1. In those few instances in which “God” appears without a possessive pronoun (3:1; 8:6; 13:4b), the word ‘God’ also serves to elucidate Israel’s right relationship to YHWH alone; otherwise, simply the word “God” appropriately stands only in the pre-Mosaic Jacob tradition (12:4 ). The word ‘אֵל (ʾēl)’emphasizes the incomparability of Israel’s God.[xiv]

Hosea’s language unequivocally shows that he is unable to speak of a divine being in a general religious sense; rather, he speaks precisely of YHWH, who has attested and proved himself in history as the God of Israel. Since this YHWH is God not only of the past but of the present as well, the prophet can use new, extremely bold expressions in referring to him. YHWH has Hosea describe him as “pus to Ephraim” and “rottenness to the house of Judah” (5:12), or as a “lion” that “rends and carries off his prey,” from whom “none shall rescue” (5:14). There is also the imagery of the leopard and the enraged she-bear robbed of her cubs (13:7, 8). The prophet’s language itself strikes in the heart of his audience the terror of YHWH’s presently burning anger (5:10; 13:11). As far as we know, never before had anyone dared to speak of God in this fashion.

Hosea also uses extreme imagery in his announcement of salvation. The power of God’s saving deeds is elucidated by metaphors of the “dew” in 14:6 and of the “luxuriant fruit tree” in v 9.

Hosea’s use of the mythologumenon of YHWH as Israel’s husband has its roots in the prophet’s recognition of Israel’s specific guilt: the people have given themselves to “whoredom.” By her cultic practices and her dependence upon Canaanite mythology and thought, Israel has become unfaithful to YHWH. The metaphor of the “first husband” (2:9, 18) thus has the purpose of elucidating the accusation that Israel is guilty of whoredom and adultery. The context in which these sayings in each case appear indicates how Hosea’s God, in profound sorrow, laments the apostasy of his people; how God suffers under the distress their estrangement prepares for them.[xv]

4.2. The God of Hosea 11.1-11

What is the background of this prophetic saying which speaks of Israel as God’s son? Since the time of ancient Egyptian Wisdom, spiritual son-ship was a concept essential to the ancient oriental ideas of raising and educating children. An eighth century Phoenician gate inscription by Azitawadda of Karatepe, king of the Danunites, stated: “Yea, every king considered me his father because of my righteousness and my wisdom and the kindness of my heart.” Thus, according to the courtly concepts at the time of Hosea, not only righteousness and wisdom, but “goodness of the heart” belonged to the fatherly or motherly image. In the next century an oracle addressed to Bel by Esarhaddon of Assyria assured him that his prayer had been granted in these words: “Fear not, Esarhaddon! I, the god Bel, speak to you. The beams of your heart I strengthen, like your mother, who caused you to exist… When you were small, I sustained you. Fear not.…” These words are very similar to those found in v 1. Here we find the concept of the king as God’s son, known in Egypt since the third millennium, i.e., since the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom. A thousand years later, the concept appears in Mari in an oracle of Adad in the following form: “Am I not Adad, the Lord of Kallassu, who raised him (Zimrilim) on my knees.…” In spite of these similarities, it is improbable that Hosea borrowed the concept of Israel as YHWH’s son from the wisdom tradition or the traditions of the court and cult, developing it further antithetically. Hosea’s world of thought is that of Canaanite myth and cults which had exerted its influence upon Israel. According to Canaanite concepts, the father and mother deity belong together. Hosea freely forms and develops his concepts as he struggles against the Canaanite religion. There is no evidence that 11:1-11 is an adaptation of preexisting formulas; rather, it is very likely that Hosea is again struggling against the myth of Baal (vv 2, 7b). In his polemic against Canaanite myth and religion, Hosea speaks of early Israel as the legitimate son of God. Then he freely develops the metaphor, guided above all by the traditions of Israel’s history.[xvi]

In the light of Exodus 4:22f Israel is called by God as “my Son.” YHWH plays the role of a teacher, an educator and a nurse. The helpless dependence of an infant on the adult and the personal involvement of the adult with the child are expressed here in terms of election verbs “loved” and “called” (11:1-2). At the same time more than a father image, the mother element seems to be more apt here. YHWH will deal with Israel according to his holiness in terms of “compassion and tender emotion which parents feel towards a helpless child.” The expression ‘my heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender’ used in this context may support the idea of a “teacher- mother.” Besides the term נהומים (nhwmym) translated as ‘warm’ is close in meaning to רחמים (rḥmym), (the womb) and hence mother figure with all her human gentleness and compelling affection is all the more appropriate here. YHWH as a compassionate mother, committed instructress or dedicated nurse is what Hosea seems to be insinuating in this chapter.[xvii]

So in chapter 11 we encounter a God who is both motherly and fatherly in action. In other words, Hosea seems to struggle to call him “mother”, even though his heart means so. However, he is careful not to attribute any sex to his YHWH. Thus YHWH remains free to be chosen as a father or a mother; yet maternal images seem to prevail. Let us look into the maternal images Hosea attributes to his YHWH.

4.3 The Maternal Images of God in Hos 11.1-11
4.3.1. The Meaning of נער (nʿr)

נער (nʿr) means “lad, youth; servant, retainer.” No precise designation of age is implied, but adolescence is the usual connotation. Kuhnigk renders “slave, servant.”[xviii] However, the נער (nʿr) is not an independent person but subordinated to a parent’s care and affection.

Here the cognate noun נער (nʿr) is used because it is capable of meaning not only ‘boy’, ‘child’ but also ‘servant’, and thus conveys the notion of Israel’s pitiable state of bondage to Egypt. In that Hosea, traces back YHWH’s relationship with the nation to the very beginning. YHWH’s love for Israel and his adoption of the nation as his son depicts the same gracious initiative that is exemplified by the all-important and decisive rescue from servitude in Egypt. By that decisive action, Israel’s special relationship with YHWH is constituted and from that moment the nation becomes YHWH’s son.[xix] YHWH’s words in Hos11:1 is best understood in light of Ex 4:22–23, the commission from YHWH to Moses at the very beginning of his journey to Egypt to lead the exodus: “Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go.…” Hosea and Exodus both link the adoption of Israel to son-ship with the liberation from Egypt, the emphasis being placed on the very first encounter of YHWH with his infant nation. Hosea depicts נער (nʿr) Israel in such a way that the נער (nʿr) needs all the care of a mother for its survival which YHWH like a mother provides to “ בְנִֽי (bĕnî).” It looks like Hosea wants us to encounter a motherly God from the very beginning of the chapter. Even though he calls Israel as son, he never attributes a father face to God, but simply describes all that YHWH does for the child. Let us look into those specific maternal actions of YHWH.

4.3.2. Analyses of the Verbs Used to Describe God’s Action
4.3.2.1. אהב (ʾhb)

אהב (ʾhb) = love, friend, niphil-be loveable, piel-love.

The first event in the life of young Israel worthy of report is that YHWH loves him. With this metaphor Hosea was the first to use the word “love” (אהב (ʾhb)) as an interpretation of the election of God’s people. The initiative in the relationship is taken by YHWH who chooses Israel and confers the status of a child on him. The first historical recognition of this is in Exod 4:22 where YHWH says to Pharaoh, “Israel is my child, my firstborn.” The latter term makes the relationship even clearer. Israel is not simply “a child of YHWH.” He is the senior, the privileged heir.[xx] The term אהב (ʾhb) expressing God’s love appears frequently within the circle of theology in which Deutronomist, Hosea and Jeremiah stood. In so far as the covenant is the permanent expression of this elective and exclusive relationship between God and Israel, YHWH’s love is one of the most important bases of the covenant (ברית (bryt) itself. [xxi]

Divine love predominates in Hosea 3:1, 9:15, 11:1, 4, and 14:4. It is evident that אהב (ʾhb) functions in Hosea with direct reference to the divine-human covenant as is so often the case also in Deuteronomy, for in four of the five occasions in Hosea 3;1, 9:15, 11:1 and 11:4, the root אהב (ʾhb) belongs to the semantic domain of divine-human expression of the covenant relationship. Secondly it belongs to the semantic domain of expressing an emotion of love of God for Israel.[xxii] Hosea describes YHWH’s love under the metaphors of motherly love (11:1, 4) and matrimonial love (3:1) but also directly without such metaphors (9:15, 14:4).

Some of the scholars express the intensity of YHWH’s love expressed in Hosea 11. Quell, sums up the significance of Hosea’s love concept of YHWH, “It nearly seems as if God’s love is more powerful in its compelling force than God’s very self.” Snaith, “God’s love for Israel is an unconditional love, a sovereign love, and ‘a love in spite of’ an ‘over plus’ love. Wallis explains it in this way, “When YHWH on account of Israel’s sin punishes them, his love breaks through in terms of lament in 11:8-9.”[xxiii] A close examination of these opinions show us that YHWH’s heart is a motherly heart and his love is more closer to maternal love than of paternal love in its intensity because it is love expressed for נער (nʿr). נער (nʿr) is passive and YHWH does everything for him out of his אהב (ʾhb).

4.3.2.2. קרא (qrʾ)

קרא (qrʾ)To call, to encounter, to meet, cause to happen.

Throughout the Old Testament קרא (qrʾ) finds explicit use as a term to denote the establishment of a relation between a human individual and God. Calling by name is the idiom of choice to express the establishment of a relationship with YHWH. YHWH says that He called his son out of Egypt. “Call” (קרא) is used in a variety of senses in the OT, as in modern English. Here the emphasis is only partly upon “election”/“adoption.” The context suggests that “summon” or “gather” is also intended, and the statement must be seen in the light of divine guidance and protection.[xxiv] It is precisely this call make the Israel ‘a son.’ “From Egypt I called my son,” can be understood as a specification of YHWH’s love. Jeremias rightly puts it thus, “it (concept of call) applies both the calling out of Egypt and calling to be a son; both constituted a single act that happened in a single call.”[xxv] But in reality YHWH’s son rarely cared about the worth of his call. Often YHWH repents for calling him, yet his love is so maternal that he relents, brings his son back to him.

4.3.2.3. ידע (ydʿ)

ידע (ydʿ) – to notice, to hear of, learn, to know (by observation and reflection), to take care of, to know, to know sexually, have intercourse with, copulate, theologically- to take care of someone, to understand something, to have experienced, have understanding.[xxvi]

The root ידע (ydʿ) ‘to know’ is of primary importance to the book of Hosea. With YHWH as the object and Israel as the subject it occurs in Hos 2:10, 22; 4:6; 5:4; 6:3; 8:2; 11:3, and 13:4. Huffmon observes that the root ידע (ydʿ) can indicate Israel’s recognizing YHWH as its legitimate God and vice versa and thus points to covenantal relationship. Thus Israel’s לא ידע (lʾ ydʿ) becomes a refusal to recognize YHWH’s authority.[xxvii] Baumann holds that ידע (ydʿ) in Hosea belongs a realm of psycho-physical emotions and relations.[xxviii] YHWH desires that the people should have an intimate knowledge of him. The sin of Israel primarily consists in her lack of knowledge of him; and this lack implies her forgetfulness of him, her maker.[xxix] Something more than “they knew” is needed for יָדְע֖וּ (yodʿû) the people are blamed for rejecting the knowledge gained by experiencing YHWH’s love and ignoring his healing them. This ידע (ydʿ) is one of intimate relationship they have for each other.[xxx] In this verse the prophet has in mind YHWH’s knowledge for Israel as that of a mother’s remembrance of her infant. However busy may be a mother, her mind will be preoccupied with that of her infant and the infant never goes away from the sight of its mother, even when it hides from her for a little while, soon it returns with a new enthusiasm. Prophet seems to relate to us such a deep knowledge of YHWH for Israel and demands in return the same intensity. It involves volitional and emotional commitment. That is why he accuses them for not recognizing that it was he who healed them. The knowledge of YHWH has two dimensions, on the one hand it demands a response from the people for the salvific acts he has done for them, saving them from the slavery of Egypt, and making them a nation dear to his heart. On the other hand it demands a relationship which is righteous and genuine by being faithful to the commandments he has given to them. YHWH’s heart breaks like that of a mother, when her infant does not recognize her as its mother.

4.3.2.4.רגל (rgl)

רגל (rgl): denominative from רֶגֶל (regel);רָגוּל (rāgûl) hobbled (by tying together the lower leg and the thigh), hif. To accustom, מרוגלת: (mrwglt) = in a belt, to accustom, lead astray; to bend down[xxxi]

The prophet explains the word תִרְגַּ֙לְתִּי֙ (tirgaltiy) (tiphil perfect first person common singular) describing YHWH’s care and guidance for Ephraim.[xxxii] YHWH says, “It was I who taught him to walk, taking them in my arms.” Teaching them to walk expresses his providential care in directing their footsteps. This rightly brings to the mind of the reader, the careful attention a mother bestows on her baby as it progresses to walk independently. She has to bend down and hold her infant’s tiny hand and carefully teach to take its each step one by one. Here YHWH stands in contrast with Baal reminding them of all that he has done for them from the time he brought them out from Egypt.[xxxiii] But this rebellious child went away from His love through ignorance and ingratitude (11:3). The forty years in the wilderness were special times of God’s care. He graciously provided water, quail, and manna for his dependent child, just like a mother feeds her baby. He taught Israel to walk, to depend on him (Deut. 8). That would confirm their son-ship (Deut. 8:5). But God’s people seemed not to understand His care. The murmurings and discontent which fill the pages of Exodus and Numbers stand as evidence of this ignorance and forgetfulness.[xxxiv] Other than here in chapter 2:8, 7:1 and 14:4 the prophet will use this verb, reminding the people their past history of ingratitude and YHWH’s tender love in leading them. This maternal image is a strong reminder for the people to come back again into the loving embrace of this motherly God and to depend on him like a child.

4.3.2.5. רפא (rpʾ)

רָפָא (rāpāʾ)– to heal, to make whole, to be sound, to be healthy.

רְפָאתִֽים (rĕpāʾtîm ) – Verb, Qal perfect first person common singular suffix third person masculine plural.[xxxv]

The word heal speaks of salvation (Hos. 5:13; 6:1; 11:3; 14:4). By it Hosea draws attention to pain and pleasure: the pain of God’s discipline and the pleasure of forgiveness so freely granted to repentant people. A child learning to walk takes many falls. Those cuts and bruises were tenderly cared for by the loving Parent and great Physician. Yet Israel never acknowledged the healing touches of God’s love. Prophet develops a contrast between God’s care and Israel’s obstinate disobedience by extending the metaphor of the child (11:4–5). God is pictured as the child’s mother, who carries the infant Israel strapped to her back or hip in a carrying pouch made of cords of human kindness and with bands of love. Her touch is warm and affectionate, like those who lift infants to their cheeks. The divine Mother holds infant Israel in her lap and bends over to nurse the child (11:4c); the Lord of history suckles Israel. The metaphor breaks our stereotypes of God. What more can a child ask for? Could any mother give her child more tenderness, more liberating guidance, more ample nourishment? The image ends abruptly, as though interrupted by a mother’s pain at her child’s ingratitude. The language turns toward correction (11:5).[xxxvi]

YHWH helped Israel grow to independence, in his tender youth YHWH bore him in his arms and protected him. Israel, however, did not listen to the call of the one who led him out of Egypt, nor did he give attention to the care provided by YHWH’s motherly/ fatherly actions. Israel should have understood this as his “healing.” YHWH, not the Baal, was the physician who saved Israel from the deadly peril in Egypt. In the Pentateuch, the word רפא (rpʾ) occurs only twice; first in the secondary development of the theme “guidance through the wilderness” in Num 12:13. There the word is used in a narrative concerning Moses prophetic office (Hos 12:13) he interceded in Miriam’s behalf after she had been struck by leprosy. The word is found a second time in Ex 15:26, a Deuteronomistic passage in which YHWH categorically refers to himself as Israel’s physician. In Hosea, too, the Exodus-Conquest traditions are connected by the wilderness tradition, v 4 with 13:4–6.[xxxvii] So this verb brings to the mind of the people the whole of their salvation history and the soothing love of their motherly YHWH, often they failed to experience.

4.3.2.6. היה (hyh)

The verb היה (hyh) in Hebrew is also a noun. It is the divine name of the God of Israel. The tetragammaton “YHWH” is a causative imperfect of the Canaanite proto Hebrew root

הוי (hwy), which means “to be.”[xxxviii] The revelation of this name is drawn from the theophany associated with the burning bush. The deity reveals himself to Moses in a verbal descriptive form, a verbal component of the Hebrew root היה (hyh), which means ‘to be,’ not only static existence but also dynamic effectual presence.[xxxix] The same root in ancient time meant ‘to fall out’ or to blow.’ It derives from the imperfect form of היה. Authors interpret it in two ways, whether it is Qal (simple active verbal form) or Hiphil (causative active verbal form) and whether it is present or future, there is no unanimity with regard to its form.[xl] Unlike most of deities of the ancient Near East, YHWH is portrayed alone without company of minor gods. He was not Lord among lords, but the only Lord, the absolute one of Israel. Another very important aspect is that YHWH remained single without a consort, son or daughter. YHWH did not tolerate any other gods beside him and claimed his worshippers to him alone. He was a God of moral purpose, who required unconditional faith and absolute obedience, a God of righteousness and justice and of ethics and morality. He was a God of ethical demands and was not satisfied by mere cultic practices. He appeared in human form (Gen1:26-27) and was against his people making his idols in any form. Because of the sanctity attached to his name, the people dared not to pronounce his name and so they called him אדוני (ʾdwny), which means ‘my great Lord.’ But soon the people sought after a God whom they could relate closely. And so they went after the pagan gods whom their neighbors worshipped through the idols and practiced some fertility cults which were very much appealing to their senses.[xli]At this juncture Hosea offers a new face of YHWH, which more appealing to the senses as well as to the heart. Formerly he pictured YHWH like a faithful husband who goes after his way ward wife, each time forgives her and speaks tenderly to her heart. Still the people failed to grasp the depth of YHWH’s love and so now he portraits a motherly face of YHWH to the people. Like a mother to an infant so YHWH is to the Israel. YHWH mother loves them with an everlasting love, unable to punish them forever.

4.4. The Images of Lifting up a Child and Bending Down to Feed

Nwaoru identifies in this phrase the image of YHWH as an affectionate mother who tries to feed her infant. He understands this image as an adaptation of the image of a goddess of the Ancient Near Eastern literature. Then what is new in Hosea? It is the daring courage to project his personal God YHWH in the imagery of a mother, otherwise considered as a male God.[xlii] Schungel-Straumann sees here motherly feeding of a suckling. In the place of לְחֵיהֶ֑ם (lĕḥêhem ) “to their cheeks,” she readלחיקם (lḥyqm) “to their breasts,” as it then may explain the plural also. She takes both the lifting up of the child to the breasts and bending down to the infant as denoting the same action. While infant is lifted up high, YHWH must bend down.[xliii] Clearly the comparison of God’s love with the love of a mother indicates that in the eyes of Hosea such a motherly love is the most constant, most reliable, and most consistent of all forms of human caring. Hosea brings down the all holy God to pick up the infant Israel and feed it. Through this imagery the prophet wanted to show the people the depth of YHWH’s love and the ingratitude the people returned in the form of apostasy.[xliv]

4.5. The Meaning of “Heart Recoiling”
(נֶהְפַּ֤ךְ עָלַי֙ לִבִּ֔י יַ֖חַד נִכְמְר֥וּ נִחוּמָֽי (nehpak ʿālay libbî yaḥad nikmĕrû niḥûmāy))

In Hosea 11:8, we read thus, How can I give you up Ephraim, can I deliver you up Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboim? My heart recoils within me, my entrails become altogether warm. Here the love of God appears to imitate the passionate human being or, better yet, the affectionate mother. “My heart is upset, just as a woman would say about her child. My heart is upset just like the mother’s.” [xlv]

The verb הפך (hpk) occurs in qal, niphal, and hithpael conjugations and “can refer an action that brings about a sudden change or to a process that suddenly and abruptly upsets a chain of events or a condition, often changing it into the opposite.”[xlvi] In this respect, YHWH’s fervent self-caution not to destroy Israel totally is not surprising here. In spite of his obstinate ways, Israel is not totally lost. Above all, YHWH has not given him up; rather, he attempts to bring him back by his disciplinary measures, although in vain. The other occurrences of Admah and Zeboim in the Old Testament are found only in connection with Sodom and Gomorrah: Gen 10:19. Hosea refers to a tradition attested in Dt 29:21f which tells how YHWH’s burning anger overcame these cities, totally destroying all life and the possibility of renewed life. Now, on the other hand, at the time when the worst difficulties are befalling Israel, Hosea lays the foundation for the certainty that YHWH will never conclusively surrender Israel. Israel will not be completely “overturned”as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an “overturning,” i.e., a change, in YHWH’s heart. YHWH’s will is directed against Himself, i.e., against his wrath (v 9a). In the phrase “my heart turns against me” (נהפך לבי בקרבי (nhpk lby bqrby)),בקרב (bqrb) is replaced by עלי (ʿly) which has a hostile sense. The rarely used word “remorse” (נחומים (nḥwmym)) emphasizes the turning point in YHWH’s will.[xlvii] The word נחומים (nḥwmym) occurs only thrice in the Old Testament, once here, in Is 57:18, and in Zech 1:13. The emotion is one of compassion and pity; it describes the desire to bring consolation. As such it is close in meaning to רחמים (rḥmym). נכמר (נכמר), always Nipʿal, means “to become hot,” as the comparison with the Owven shows (Lam 5:10). In Gen 43:30 and 1 Kings 3:26, it describes the arousal of the most tender affection. The subject in both of these places isרחמים (rḥmym), and the feeling is one of pure love with no element of pity or compassion.[xlviii] The very word רחמים (rḥmym) takes us back to the womb of a mother, whose heart is always warm for her children. She cannot punish her children for eternity but only for a while and if the punishment is one of great shame she will soon change her heart and relent. There is no doubt that Hosea is presenting to the people of Israel such a YHWH with a wombish heart, who cannot but struggle within himself, a struggle between justice and love, always love prevailing. At this point I would like to quote what Theodore of Cyril commented on this verse, “My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim.” God imitates a father and mother who are naturally worried and cannot turn away from their children for too long. He says that, however, not because he wills one thing now and then changes his mind. Rather, he expresses his thought in different ways, in anger and love, in threat and mercy, chastising and persuading.[xlix]

4.6. The Implications of “Returning Home”

They will come trembling like birds from Egypt,
Like doves from the land of Assyria,
And I will make them return to their homes, oracle of YHWH.

Accordingly, the final period of the nation’s history is not to be dominated by the consequences of Israel’s deeds; rather, the future will be determined by YHWH’s decision to let his love rule. Now Hosea proclaims the return of an anxious people who are to return home trembling from foreign lands: Israel will no longer seek false political alliances; the threat of weakness and death in Egypt and Assyria is rescinded. The people are to achieve a peaceable life in the land. The preposition על (ʿl) (“to [lit. ‘on’] their houses”) quite probably is not a continuation of the metaphor of the bird that again finds his nest, since in v 11b Hosea leaves the metaphor and speaks of the people themselves. He most probably uses “house” (בית (byt)) again in the sense of (native) residence as in 8:1; 9:15. Hence, YHWH’s love finally prevails, achieving its goal of peace: Israel is delivered from Egypt.[l] Egypt and Assyria stand in contrast with בית (byt). Now YHWH is bringing them to their own homes. The image of a home brings to our mind warm feeling of love and safety, children experience in the presence of their parents. There is a greater freedom to be oneself, in the midst of the loved ones. Such a joy is offered by YHWH to the people of God. It is an unconditional promise, in spite of their unfaithfulness. He assumes the role of an affectionate mother and a protective father. This home coming after the exile implies beginning of a renewed covenantal blessing. Thus this ‘home coming’ can assume a new exodus.[li]

5. The Original Meaning of the Text

YHWH speaks through Hosea of having brought his people out of Egypt in order to make a covenant with them. This time Israel is a son, a beloved one, who though richly endowed, violated every overture and expression of divine affection. The result would be an inevitable Assyrian conquest and dispersion (v. 5), though not with irremediable and permanent consequences (vv 8-11).[lii] He must return to the land of Egypt 8:13, 9:3–6, 11:11. The prophets had both Egypt and Assyria in mind as places of exile; both powers are constantly threatening invasion; Is. 7:18. Predictions are made of restoration from both countries. [liii] This chapter gives a very pathetic representation of God’s tender and affectionate regard for Israel, by metaphors chiefly borrowed from the conduct of mothers toward their tender offspring. From this, occasion is taken to reflect on their ungrateful return to the Divine goodness, and to denounce against them the judgments of the Almighty, 1–7. But suddenly and unexpectedly the prospects change. Beams of mercy break from the clouds just now fraught with vengeance. God, to speak in the language of men, feels the relenting of a tender parent; his bowels yearn; his mercy triumphs; his rebellious child shall yet be pardoned. As the lion of the tribe of Judah, he will employ his power to save his people, he will call his children from the land of their captivity; and, as doves, and they will fly to him, a faithful and a holy people, 8–12.[liv]

This reading conveys a strong message of hope in the form of a divine self-disclosure in which YHWH characterizes not only as a deity unable to completely destroy Israel, no matter how the gravity of its deeds, but also as one who will bring Israel back to himself and to the land at some point in the future. It communicates and reinforces images of YHWH as a God (mother) emotionally involved with child Israel and, therefore, as protective of Israel in a very fundamental sense. [lv] In fact, the text reflects and shapes a discourse in which past and future seem fixed in a closely linked relationship that is expressed and communicated even at the level of word choice. הלך (hlk)“go” in Hos 11:2 and 10, and references to Egypt in 11:1, 5, and 11, from the larger perspective of Hos 4:1–11:11.[lvi]

6. The Relevance of the Text for Today’s World

To imagine God as a father seems to be an easy task for most, because the centuries have taught us to do so, but in reality it is tougher to meet God as a father than to meet God as a mother. All those who have experienced the bitterness of patriarchal rule, the father figure is not as sweet as it should be. But mother icon has always remained as gentle and caring, forgiving and self giving, although exceptions are there in both the cases.

Carefully going through the scripture we get ample of maternal images of God, but often they too are figured in masculine terms. Is 42:14 uses a simile of YHWH experiencing labor pains. Is 49:14 speaks of God as a mother. Many other biblical images picture God as one who carries (Hos11:3-4), feeds (Wis16:20-21), protects (Dt32:11-12), heals, guides, disciplines, comforts (Is66:13-14), washes (Ezk36:25), and clothes (Gen3:21) her human children.

In an ancient Syriac work, “Odes of Solomon” of the third century, female imagery is employed for God. He is pictured as a “milked mother” and “nurturing mother.”[lvii] St Clement of Alexandria speaks of God as a suckling one. To Clement the aspect of God’s nature that has sympathy with human kind is mother. St John Chrysostom uses imaginary of a woman nourishing her baby with her own blood and milk. St Ambrose of Milan speaks of the Fathers’ womb and even of the nourishing breasts of Christ. St Therese of Avila in her Interior Castle comments, “For from those divine breasts where it seems God is always sustaining the soul there flow streams of milk bringing comfort to the people.”[lviii]According to Anna Maria Tependio, women express the tender (חסד (ḥsd)) side of God, the maternal womb (רהמים (rhmym)), concern for children who suffer the most. The father becomes feminine through loving. We see the greatest proof of this in the Son who proceeds from God’s very bosom.[lix] John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatam writes, In various passages of the Scripture the love of God who cares for his people is shown to be like that of a mother: thus, like a mother God “has carried” humanity, and in particular, his Chosen People, within his own womb; he has given birth to it in travail, has nourished and comforted it (Is 42:14; 46: 3-4). In many passages God’s love is presented as the “masculine” love of the bridegroom and father but also sometimes as the “feminine” love of a mother (Hosea 11:1-4; Jer 3:4-19).[lx]

Keeping all these maternal images of God in mind, the reading of Hosea 11 will take any one to an entirely new realm of God’s care. The marginalized and the orphans can experience special care of a mother YHWH who needs them. The sinners can return to the ‘warm heart’ of this tender loving mother, who forgets her child’s misdeeds after a while. The handicapped and differently able can feel the security in their YHWH’s arms for YHWH like a loving mother has enough time for them. Whatever is ones sex or age, most of us feel so close to ones’ mother, and it is a human tendency to feel like a child in order to experience maximum security. It is like returning to one’s mother’s house, one of the greatest joys of every human heart!

Conclusion

When a little child hurts its little finger and cries, its mother comes, picks up the little one and kisses at the little finger, the child feels all better, and such would be the experience of a person who reads through Hosea 11:1-11. A God so human like an affectionate mother follows you right from your birth to your returning home. YHWH loves you, cares for you, feeds you, lifts you up to her cheeks, teaches you to walk, scolds you, punishes you, and brings you back to her love and keeps you forever as her possession. Hosea purposefully adopts this maternal image of God, for Israel needs a new image to experience YHWH in a new way. This passage is described as the Gospel of the Old Testament, for it says with John ‘God is love.’ In the first chapters Hosea presents YHWH as a faithful husband contrasting an unfaithful wife, and here a faithful mother against an unfaithful child. As I did my exegetical study on Hosea 11, I have the satisfaction of meeting a motherly God, who bore the Israel in her womb and delivered her as a new nation, while bringing them out of Egypt. Deliverance from Egypt was not a one day affair, but YHWH like a mother bore them. His ‘calling’ them from Egypt was indeed the result of his love. They knew and experienced YHWH very personally and were attached to him like a child to its mother. However Hosea brings out in this chapter the failure of that love story and the enduring love of YHWH, who cannot but love. Like a mother who is unable to punish her child who indeed needs a punishment, YHWH too struggles. Thus we encounter the maternal face of YHWH.


[i] Helen Schungel-Straumann, “God as Mother in Hosea” in A Feminist Companion to the Latter Prophets (ed. A. Berner; London: T &T Clark Ltd, 2004), 194-218.

[ii]Hans Walter Wolff, Hosea: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 193.

[iii] This verse is regarded by most of the commentators as a reference to Amos1.2 and other similar passages which are of later insertion.

[iv] Straumann, “God as Mother in Hosea,” 195.

[v]Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (WBC 3; Dallas: Word Press, 2002), 176.

[vi] C.L. Seow, “Hosea, The Book of,” ABD 3:291.

[vii]Richard D. Patterson and Andrew E. Hill, Minor Prophets: Hosea-Malachi (CBC 10; Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), 4.

[viii] Hosea is the only writing prophets from the northern kingdom. Amos appeared in the northern Kingdom, but he came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Hosea by contrast was a native of Northern Israel in his origins, his world of ideas and his theological thinking. His language is often difficult to understand.

[ix]Straumann, “God as Mother in Hosea,” 197-8.

[x]Ehud Ben Zvi, Hosea vol. 21A/1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 232.

[xi] Straumann, “God as Mother in Hosea,” 195.

[xii]Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 175.

[xiii]Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 178.

[xiv]Hans Walter Wolff, Hosea: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 25.

[xv]Wolff, Hosea, 26.

[xvi] Wolff, Hosea, 197.

[xvii] R.J Raja, “YHWH: Motherly Father-Fatherly Mother?” Vaiharai 4(1999): 5-22.

[xviii] Francis I. Andersen, and Freedman, David Noel. Hosea (AB 5; Garden City: Doubleday, 1980), 576.

[xix] Macintosh, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea, 437.

[xx]Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 576.

[xxi]P.J.J.S.Els, “אהב,” NIDOTT1: 277.

[xxii]Els, NIDOTT1: 279.

[xxiii] Els, NIDOTT1: 280.

[xxiv] Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 178.

[xxv] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 42.

[xxvi] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, “,ידע” n.p., HALOT vols 1-4. On CD- ROM Version c. 1994-96.

[xxvii] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 54-55.

[xxviii] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 120.

[xxix] Gunnar Odtborn, YHWH and Baal, (Lund: Hakan Ohlssons Boktryckeri, 1956), 69.

[xxx] J.K.solari, “Hosea, Book of,” NCE 7:115-116.

[xxxi] E.J. Brill, “רגל,” THALOT 4:1183-86.

[xxxii]E. H. Merrill, “רגל,” TDOT 13:1047-49.

[xxxiii]William Rainey Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1905), 363.

[xxxiv]Allen R. Guenther, Hosea and Amos: Believers’ Church Bible Commentary ( Scottdale: Herald Press, 1998), 179.

[xxxv]Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, “, רָפָא ” n.p., HALOT vols 1-4. On CD- ROM Version c. 1994-96.

[xxxvi] Guenther, Hosea and Amos, 179.

[xxxvii] Wolff, Hosea, 199.

[xxxviii] S. David, Sperling. “God in the Hebrew Scriptures,” The Encyclopedia of Religion 6:1-8

[xxxix] George Fohrer, History of Israelite Religion, Trns.by David E Green, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1972), 77.

[xl] Paul Palatty, “The Divine name of YHWH: A Historico-Theologico-Critical Study on Ex.3:3-15” BB1 (1993): 5- 18.

[xli] T. Xavier Terence, “Be Mine: YHWH’s Invitation to Israel,” IJS 25(2012):245-71.

[xlii] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 62.

[xliii] Straumann, “God as Mother in Hosea,”124-125.

[xliv] Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female (New York: The Cross Road Publishing Company, 1984), 20.

[xlv]Alberto Ferreiro, The Twelve Prophets: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 14. ( Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 45.

[xlvi] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 79.

[xlvii] Wolff, Hosea, 201.

[xlviii] Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 588.

[xlix] Ferreiro, The Twelve Prophets, 45.

[l] Wolff, Hosea, 202.

[li] Kakkanattu, God’s Enduring Love, 99.

[lii] Eugine H. Merrill, “History, Theology, and Hermeneutics,” NIDOTTE 1: 68-85.

[liii] Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea, 366.

[liv]Adam Clarke, “ Hosea,” n.p., Clarke’s Commentary on CD-ROM. Version c.1999.

[lv]Ehud Ben Zvi, Hosea 21A/1 (Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 239.

[lvi] Ben Zvi, Hosea, 226.

[lvii] Isaac Arckappalil, “Feminine Face of God.” AH 3 (2009): 31-39.

[lviii] Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine, 8-9.

[lix] Linda A. Moody, Women Encounter God: Theology across the Boundaries of Difference (New York: Orbis Books, 1996), 64.

[lx] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Muleris Dignitatem, 8, 1987.

Bibliography

Primary Sources
Andersen, Francis I. and Freedman, David Noel. Hosea. Anchor Bible 5. Garden City: Doubleday, 1980.
Bitterweck, G.Johannes, Riggren, Helmer and Fabry, Josef, eds. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 16 vols. Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.
Elliger, K., and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997. Repr., Funfte: Verbesserte Auflage, 1997.
Gemeren, Willem A.Van, ed. New International Dictionary of the Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5vols. Michigan: Zonder Publishinng House, 1997.
Koehler, Ludwig and Baumgartner, Walter. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament vols1-4. On CD-ROM. Logos Library System Version c.1994-96.
Marthaler, Bernard L, ed. New Catholic Encyclopedia. 19 vols. Washington: Gale Group, 2003.
Mircea, Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. 6 vols. New York: MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987.
Noel Freedman, David, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Double Day, 1992.

Secondary Sources
Ben Zvi, Ehud. Hosea 21A/1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.
Clarke, Adam. “Hosea.” Clarke’s Commentary on CD-ROM. Logos Library System Version c.1999.
Ferreiro, Alberto. The Twelve Prophets: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 14. Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.
Fohrer, George. History of Israelite Religion. Translated by David E. Green, New York: Abingdon Press, 1972.
Guenther,Allen R. Hosea, Amos: Believers’ Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1998.
Harper, William Rainey. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1905.
John Paul II. Mulieris Dignitatem, Apostolic Letter, 1987.
Kakkanattu, Joy Philip. God’s Enduring Love in the Book of Hosea. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.
Macintosh, A. A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd, 1997.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. The Divine Feminine: Biblical imagery of God as Female. New York: The Cross Road Publishing Company, 1984.
Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996.
Odtborn, Gunnar. YHWH and Baal. Lund: Hakan Ohlssons Boktryckeri, 1956.
Patterson, Richard D. and Hill, Andrew E. Minor Prophets: Hosea-Malachi. Cornerstone Biblical Commentaries. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.
Straumann, Helen Schungel. “God as Mother in Hosea.” Pages 194-218 in A Feminist Companion to the Latter Prophets. Edited by A. Berner. London: T &T Clark Ltd, 2004.
Stuart, Douglas. Hosea- Jonah. Word Biblical Commentary 31. Dallas: Word Press, 2002.
Wolff, Hans Walter. A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

Articles
Arckappalil, Isaac “Feminine Face of God.” Asian Horizons 3(2009): 31-39.
Palatty, Paul. “The Divine name of YHWH: A Historico-Theologico_Critical Study on Ex.3:3- 15.” Bible Bhashyam 1 (1993): 5-18.
Raja, R.J “YHWH: Motherly Father-Fatherly Mother?” Vaiharai 4 (1999): 5-22.
Terence, Xavier. “Be Mine: YHWH’s Invitation to Israel,” Indian Journal of Spirituality 25 (2012): 245-71.

THE NEW COVENANT : AN EXEGETICAL ANALYSIS OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34

31Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

32Not like the covenant I cut with their fathers, in the day (when) I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. But they broke my covenant though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law within them and in their hearts I will write it and I will be their God and they will be my people.

34and no man shall teach again his friend and his brother saying, “know the Lord.”For they all shall know me from the least to the great, says the Lord, for I forgive their guilt and will remember their sins no more.

1. Introduction

Jeremiah lived in a country whose doom was sealed. He was asked by the Lord to warn the people of it. But they did not listen to him.[i] People had failed to keep the covenant of the Lord which he had made with their ancestors, but has He entirely rejected them? This is a question relevant even to today’s world. This is where Jeremiah’s words of comfort become a consolation not only for the Israel, but for all of us. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord promises a new covenant. This is a covenant which promises a renewed, stronger, and ever-lasting relationship with the Lord. This promises an internal union with the Lord which cannot be broken.[ii]

Although vv. 31-34 are mostly free of grammatical, textual and lexicographical complications, there is considerable debate on the identity, meaning and provenance of the ‘new covenant.’[iii] My study will make an attempt on the exegetical issues of these verses in the context of the Book of consolation and the book of Jeremiah as a whole. Although as a Christian I cannot do away with the Christian understanding of this passage as the promise of the new covenant established by Christ, (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:1–14; Heb 8:8–12; 10:16–17),[iv] this study will not focus on the New Testament understanding of the new covenant. As Timothy M. Willis says, one should not jump too quickly to the conclusion that the Lord here is announcing the founding of Christianity only, six centuries before that event.[v] Therefore, when I speak in this about the ‘old covenant’ it merely is a mention to the Sinaitic Covenant which was older than the ‘new covenant’ promised by Jeremiah.

2. De-Limitation

The passage Jeremiah 31:31-34 is identified as one single unit, mainly because of its unique theme. It is the only instance in which the ‘new covenant’ (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is used in the Old Testament, although there are instances where reminiscence of such a theme can be found. The promise of the new covenant is squeezed between the passage on promise for the individual restoration (vv27-30) and the national restoration (vv.35-37). Thus, one can easily find out the change in the theme. Another indicator for the de-limitation is the opening formula. The opening formula in v.31, ‘הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים (Behold the days are coming),’ marks the beginning of a new section (cf. Jer 7:32; 9:24; 23:5; 30:3; 31:27, 38; 33:14; etc.). [vi] It is the Lord who speaks in the first person just as he did in the earlier section (vv 27-30) but in v.35 the speaker of the verse is not the Lord, although, it begins with the formula כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה. Thus a change in the speaker can be identified from the following section.

3. Translation

The translation done above (look at the beginning of the article) is with the help of many aides[vii] and uses the BHS[viii] text as its original text.

4. Historical Context

According to most of the scholars, the ‘promise of the new covenant’ is made after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. People were already in exile. They had lost their land and the temple- the two pillars of Judaism. In fact these two created the national identity of the Israelites. But now they had lost their identity. The Lord, who promised to David of a continuous kingship in his lineage, had now deserted them. With this, all hope for Israel seemed dead. Jeremiah, who was the prophet of the doom until then, changes now. He instills in them a new hope. He promises the restoration of the ‘people of YWHH.’ The whole subject of the thirtieth and thirty-first chapters is this restoration of the Hebrews (Je 30:4, 7, 10, 18).[ix]

What could be the immediate background of this covenant? The argument of the Holladay is appealing. According to him, in 587 BCE it was time to recite Deuteronomy once more. Although there was no temple by the time, the priests tried to embark the ritual at the appointed time. Holladay argues from Jeremiah 41:1-5, where an account of the pilgrims from the north, from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria is mentioned. According to him the occasion for Jeremiah’s proclamation of the new covenant is this. If this is its setting, then its vision of the shape of a new initiative by Yahweh is astonishing.[x]

5. Literary Context

The passage is part of the ‘Book of Comfort’[xi] in the book of Jeremiah. “The poetic material in these two chapters marks them off as separate from surrounding material. At the same time, the nature of several prose passages within the chapters suggests what one might expect, namely, that hopeful poetry has had its share of prose expansions from later periods.”[xii] Here, the usual doom-prophecy of Jeremiah changes to a hope-giving. This section marks the fulfilment of the latter part of the call of Jeremiah namely to build and to plant (cf.1:10 and 31:28). The Book of Consolation concludes with a series of five short salvation oracles. They are more consistently future oriented than the rest of the Book of Consolation. They also forge a link with chaps. 32–33, which provide a context in Jeremiah’s ministry for the announcement of the restoration promises. The five oracles form a chiasm centered on 31:31–34, the promise of the new covenant.[xiii] It is structured as follows.

A 31:23-26 – Jerusalem

B 31:27-30 – Restoration of Individuals

C 31:31-34 – New Covenant

B’ 31:35-37 – Restoration of nations

A’ 31:38-40 – Jerusalem

6. Literary Features

Form-critically the passage is a proclamation of salvation (Heilsankündigung). It matches the form of the framework for the recension for the south.[xiv] The passage is a combination of carefully organized prose and poetry.[xv] The promise of the new covenant and the rejection of the old covenant (vv.31-33a) is in prose format whereas the description of the New Covenant (vv. 33–34) is a typical Hebrew poetry.[xvi]

7. Structure

As said earlier, the passage can be divided into two subsections. The prose section is arranged chiastically.

A 31a Behold the days are coming, says the Lord (הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

B 31b when I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.( וְכָרַתִּי אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת־בֵּית יְהוּדָה בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה)

C 32a Not like the covenant I cut with their fathers (לֹא כַ‍בְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אֶת־אֲבוֹתָם)

D 33b in the day (when) I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (בְּיוֹם הֶחֱזִיקִי בְיָדָם לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵ‍אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם)

C’ 32c But they broke my covenant though I was their husband, says the Lord. (אֲשֶׁר־הֵמָּה הֵפֵרוּ אֶת־בְּרִיתִי וְאָנֹכִי בָּעַלְתִּי בָם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

B’ 33a For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel(כִּי זֹאת הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר אֶכְרֹת אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל)

A’ 33b after those days, says the Lord (אַחֲרֵי הַיָּמִים הָהֵם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

Thus the centerpiece of the prose section is the word of salvation history, “in the day (when) I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt”; so that if the prose section is framed by “the days” to come, then the center is “the day” of the original exodus.[xvii]

The poetry section consists of consists of four parts, each delineated in a pair of synonymous lines.[xviii]

33b I will put my law within them (נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם)

and in their hearts I will write it (וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה)

33b I will be their God, (אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים)

and they will be my people.( וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ־לִי לְעָם)

34a and no man shall teach again his friend and his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”

(וְלֹא יְלַמְּדוּ עוֹד אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת־אָחִיו לֵאמֹר דְּעוּ אֶת־יְהוָה)

for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord( כִּי־כוּלָּם

יֵדְעוּ אוֹתִי לְמִ‍קְטַנָּם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

34b For I will forgive their inequity(כִּי אֶסְלַח לַעֲוֹנָם)

and will remember their sins no more.( וּלְחַטָּאתָם לֹא אֶזְכָּר־עוֹד)

It begins and ends with two bicola, each of which contains a pair of first-person singular verbs; each of these bicola offers a chiasmus with respect to verbs and prepositional complements. Then the opening bicolon is extended by the second bicolon, the covenantal formula (the last cola of v 33b), which of course contains one first-person singular verb and one third-person plural verb. The middle section of the poem thus consists of five cola (v 34a), the operative verbs of which are “they teach” and “they know”; the middle colon is the command “Know Yahweh.”[xix] So while the centre theme of the prose section is the salvific event of the exodus, the centre theme of the poetry section is the knowledge of YWHW, something which Israel failed to attain under the Sinaitic covenant, which will be replaced with the present covenant.

8. Exegetical Analysis

In the exegetical analysis, I will follow the structure which is outlined above for better clarification. Therefore the analysis will be done in two parts- prose and poem separately.

8.1. The Prose Section

(A) 31a: Behold the days are coming, says the Lord (הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

הִנֵּה : Translated as ‘behold’ the word is an attention-getter.[xx] This has a two-fold function here, (1) to give attention to what is being said, because of its importance and (2) to make clear that something new is being said.

יָמִים בָּאִים : Jeremiah uses this phrase 14 times altogether. This phrase is always put in the mouth of the Lord. He uses this phrase thrice to warn the Israelites of the impending punishment they will face if they do not turn back from their evil ways (7:32; 9:24; 19:16), four times to warn the other nations, who oppresses Israel, of the impending punishment the Lord will bring upon them (48:12; 49:2; 51:47; 51:52) and six times to promise the return from exile (16:14; 23:5; 23:7; 30:3; 31:27; 33:14) and once to promise the new covenant he will establish with them after those days(31:31). From this we can see a historically developed pattern of the phrase, whereas in the early stages of the ministry, he used this phrase to warn the Israelites, after the destruction, he uses this term to express the compassion of the Lord. Therefore given the background, we can assume that the new covenant would take place after the exile. This gives hope to the Israelites who were in utter despair for the lost and broken covenantal relationship with the Lord.

נְאֻם־יְהוָה: ‘Says the Lord’ is an inadequate translation. ‘Pronouncement of the Lord’ will be more adequate. Jeremiah uses this construction very often. This is very similar to the expression ‘Thus says the Lord.’ However, נְאֻם־יְהוָה is more affirmative than the יאמַר יְהוָה. It should be understood as authoritative, something to which people should pay attention. It is at times difficult to decide on the speaker of the phrase ‘says the Lord’. It could be either the prophet or the Lord or the editor.[xxi]

(B) 31b: when I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.( וְכָרַתִּי אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת־בֵּית יְהוּדָה בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה)

כָרַה: A covenant is a formal agreement, often established as firm by some kind of oath or promise (3:16). There is often some sign given to mark it as well.[xxii] Cut a covenant’ means to make a covenant. It reflects the normal terminology of Old Testament. The word reflects the practise of cutting an animal and pouring its blood between the parties who make the treaty. To cut a covenant is a definitive action in the history. As such, it is a divine action that will be fulfilled in the history, like the repopulation and rebuilding of the land promised in vv 27-28. However, this passage gives no indication on how people are to ready themselves for the covenant. [xxiii]

בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה: Although not a fixed theologumenon in the Old Testament, the term ‘New Covenant’ is unique to this passage. Jeremiah here speaks of a new covenant in place of the old broken covenant. He also speaks of an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten (בְּרִית עוֹלָם לֹא תִשָּׁכֵחַ) in 50:5. But since there is no hint of a fresh covenant there, it might not have any relation to the material proclaimed here.[xxiv]

In the usual covenant renewal ceremony, people requested to renew the covenant. But here, the Lord makes the covenant on his own by promising it far ahead of time. “The goal of covenant renewal had been to avoid total destruction under the effects of the curse, but in Jeremiah 31:28 the end of the destruction has already been announced. Just as the Lord had voiced the people’s lament for them and then answered it in 30:12–17, here the Lord initiates the covenant renewal and then promises a new covenant in its stead.”[xxv] Therefore, the word “new” should be understood as indicative of renewal, reestablishment and revivification of the old.[xxvi]

אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת־בֵּית יְהוּדָה : ‘The house of Israel and the house of Judah’ has forced many to believe that ‘and the house of Judah’ is a later addition and that ‘the house of Israel’ originally stood for both Israel and Judah. However, there is no textual basis for this assumption, and it seems quite unnecessary to suggest removing these words.[xxvii] These two houses, taken together as in the text, connote the totality of the twelve tribes, separated following the death of Solomon.[xxviii]

“The parties to the covenant are not addressed in the second person but are identified in the third person as “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.” These groups also appear in v 27 as the ones whom the LORD will save. The two names serve as a reminder of how God’s people were affected by their history in the land. In the book of Jeremiah, the houses of Israel and Judah stand together under judgment (5:11; 11:10, 17) and promise (33:14). Indeed, the reunification of the two houses is part of the promised restoration (3:18). Jer 50:4–5 portrays the nations Israel and Judah returning together to Zion in tears in order to “join themselves to the Lord; the eternal covenant will not be forgotten.””[xxix]

(C) 32a: Not like the covenant I cut with their fathers (לֹא כַ‍בְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אֶת־אֲבוֹתָם)

לֹא כַ‍בְּרִית : The Old Covenant mentioned here refers to the Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant which was mediated by Moses between the Lord and his people at Mount Sinai. [xxx] The height of this covenant was the stone tablets on which was written the commandments of the Lord as Decalogue. People were to learn and to teach it to their generations. They were to follow these commandments in their lives. This covenant was to be the governing principle of their lives since. The new covenant is described as ‘not like the covenant’ which YHWH made with those whom he brought out of Egypt. It should be noted that the phrase is ‘not like the covenant’ and not ‘not the covenant.’ Therefore, it is not a cancellation of the old covenant, rather a fundamental change in the Sinai Covenant. [xxxi] Its newness is described in the following verses.

אֶת־אֲבוֹתָם : This could be better rendered as ‘ancestors’ instead of ‘Fathers’[xxxii] because the Sinai covenant was made to the whole nation. In Jeremiah 11:1-13, the Lord speaks of the covenant he made with “your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt” (11:3–4, 7). “He accuses them repeatedly of not “obeying” (“hearing”) “the terms of this covenant” (11:3, 4, 6, 8, 10), because of “the stubbornness of their evil hearts” (11:8). He says that “both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant” (11:10). It is this “broken covenant” which will be replaced by the “new covenant” in 31:31–34.” [xxxiii] Jeremiah makes the same argument in 7:21–34. God speaks of the covenant which he made with their ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. If they would obey him, he would be their God and they would be his people. Yet, they did not obey him.

(D) 33b: in the day (when) I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (בְּיוֹם הֶחֱזִיקִי בְיָדָם לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵ‍אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם)

The old covenant was given in the context of the Exodus from Egypt, the saving act of God in the history of Israel. The covenant and the laws which followed was supposed to be the response of the people to the tender love and care of the Lord who carried them by hand out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (cf. Deut 1:31; Hos 11:3). This is the central theme of the chiasm formed in the prose section. By arranging the matter in such a chiasm, the prophet wants to remind the audience of the salvific event by which they were brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. By these words, the listeners of Jeremiah are encouraged to think that the Lord, who brought them out of the land of Egypt and gave them the identity of a nation, will surely bring them out of the exile and give them back their identity as his people. Just like the Sinaitic covenant was the life-principle of their lives, the new covenant will be the life-principle of their lives post exilic.

(C’) 32c: But they broke my covenant though I was their husband, says the Lord. (אֲשֶׁר־הֵמָּה הֵפֵרוּ אֶת־בְּרִיתִי וְאָנֹכִי בָּעַלְתִּי בָם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

Since there are difficulties in translating v.33[xxxiv] it may be better to start a new sentence here.[xxxv]

אֲשֶׁר־הֵמָּה הֵפֵרוּ אֶת־בְּרִיתִי: The covenant which God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai was broken, provoking the anger of the Lord. This covenant was the bond between the people of Israel and the Lord. But by breaking the covenant they have rejected to be his people. The Lord accuses them that it was they who broke the covenant and not the Lord. Therefore, although, the people have rejected the sovereignty of YHWH over their lives, YHWH has not rejected them.

וְאָנֹכִי בָּעַלְתִּי : ‘ I was their husband’ can also be translated as ‘I was their Lord’ or ‘I was their master’ for the Hebrew word בעל can also mean “Lord” or “master.” The Septuagint and the Syriac Versions have a different reading. It reads ‘καὶ ἐγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν’ (compare Heb. 8:9) which literally means ‘and I neglected them’ Gesenius agrees with the Septuagint version of the text because he argues that the meaning of the phrase בָּעַל בְּ is to reject.[xxxvi] The Vulgate uses dominatus sum meaning ‘I was their Lord.’ However, I am of the opinion that since the phrase occurs in a covenantal background, the meaning ‘husband’ or ‘lord’ will be more accurate. It can thus mean the husband as he is the owner and ruler of the wife. [xxxvii] The verb בעלתי means to “marry,” with an emphasis on the rights and authority the husband exercised over his wife (e.g., Gen 20:3; Deut 21:13; 22:22; 24:1) as the master of the household.[xxxviii] The covenantal relationship between the Lord and the Israel was often illustrated in the marital covenant. It is this covenant which Hosea speaks when he speaks of the Lord as a faithful husband and the Israel as an adulterous wife. Jeremiah adopts the metaphor of a broken marriage to warn his listeners in the days of Josiah of the possibility of an exile of their own (Jer 3:6–20). He also speaks of Israel and Judah as sisters, both guilty of adultery, both sent out of the house by their husband, and both offered the possibility of reconciliation (cf. Ezek 16:1–63; 23:1–49).[xxxix]

There is also a pun with the name Baal (בעל), the strange god to whom the people were making offerings (11:13, 17). By serving בעל, “Baal,” they abandoned the LORD who had mastered them as a בעל, “husband.” Thus the covenant breaking became complete that it was irreversible. Both the analogy to a broken marriage and the promise of a “new” covenant make this point clear.[xl]

(B’) 33a: For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel (כִּי זֹאת הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר אֶכְרֹת אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל)

The promise here to Israel is the covenant which the Lord is going to make with Israel. The old covenant was completely broken. It could not be renewed again. Therefore the Lord is going to make a new covenant with the house of Israel. “The promise unites the two houses of v 31 into the one “house of Israel.” The reading of some manuscripts, בני, “children of,” Israel, makes this interpretation explicit.[xli]

(A’) 33b: after those days, says the Lord (אַחֲרֵי הַיָּמִים הָהֵם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

אַחֲרֵי הַיָּמִים הָהֵם : The expression ‘after those days’ has brought many speculations in the exegesis of the passage. Considering that הָהֵם (those) is not the same as הָאֵלֶּה (these), scholars have speculated that the idea referring here is the ‘coming days’ or ‘in the end of days’ as an eschatological promise. [xlii] But these speculations do not stand convincing. “No passage can be shown in which the Old Testament prophets make predictions concerning the heavenly state. The prophet therefore sets before his hearers a period of terrestrial development.”[xliii] ‘After those days’ indicates sequence, a later time, but does not specify the antecedent. It cannot be a time after the covenant making in v 31, unless there are two such occasions envisioned.[xliv] The meaning of the expression may be ‘after the days of the exile’ or ‘after the days of the punishment’ of which Jeremiah had warned his listeners. The Lord here already sees the end of the exile. This gives real hope to the people. “In the present context of the Book of Consolation, “those days” could mean the days described in 30:27–30 when the judgment will be complete and God will begin planting, building, and repopulating the land.”[xlv]

8.2. Poetry Section

Once the promise of a new covenant and the description of the old broken covenant is done, the oracle proceeds to describe the characteristics of the new covenant through this poetry. It is interesting to note that the main theme of the poetry section is the knowledge of YHWH which will eventually lead to a renewed and everlasting relationship with the Lord.

33b: I will put my law within them (נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם)
and in their hearts I will write it (וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה)

“After the heading “this is the covenant,” one expects a statement of its substance, as in the covenant formula just discussed, but the promise at the center is more like the “provision for deposit and reading” in the treaty form.”[xlvi] While the Sinaitic Covenantal laws were written on the stone tablets and put on the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the temple, which was then destroyed, the new covenant will be written on the hearts and put within them, thus, making it impossible to be destroyed. In the Hebrew Psychology, קֶ֫רֶב stands as the seat of the emotions and לֵב stands as the seat of thinking. So the new law will govern the thinking and emotions of the people.[xlvii]

נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם : While the Sinaitic law was set before them (נָתַן לִפְנֵיהֶם) (cf. Jer. 9:12, Deut. 4:8; 11:32, 1 Kings 9:6) the new covenantal law will be put within them (בְּקִרְבָּם).[xlviii] קֶ֫רֶב is the inward part of human person and the seat of emotion.[xlix] The new law will govern the emotions of the people. “My law here represents the total content of God’s revealed will and purpose for his people” (cf. Jer. 2:8).[l] While the Sinaitic law was written by the Lord and vouchsafed for their happiness, which was put in the arc of the covenant, the new law will be put within them. While the Sinaitic law had to be made one’s own the new law will be part of oneself by its very nature.

וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה : While the first covenant document was written by God on two stone tablets and mediated by Moses(Exod 31:18; Deut 4:13; 5:22; 10:1–4), the new covenat will be written in their heart without any mediators. When God writes the law on the people’s heart, mediators are bypassed and the limitations of written documents are superseded. Stone tablets can be broken (Exod 32:19; Deut 9:17) and that scrolls can be lost or ignored (2 Kgs 22:8), and burned (Jer 36:23) or drowned (Jer 51:63). Their availability is also restricted. The metaphor of writing on the heart shows how these limitations and vulnerability will be eliminated.[li] For Hebrew mind, לֵב is the seat of the thinking, reflection and memory. [lii] Thus it is the mind. But even in the old covenant, Israel is urged to receive the law of the Lord into her heart (Deut 6:6; 11:8. Although the Lord had asked the people to write His laws in their heats, they inscribed their sins in their hearts (Jer17:1).[liii] Only God’s hand can overcome their stubbornness and prepare them for loyal obedience.[liv]

Since, the covenant is put in the heart of the believer; they don’t need to renew the covenant as they did earlier. Even the loss of temple would not affect them, for the heart of each one would become the Holy of Holies as they contained the writing of the covenantal laws.

33c: I will be their God, (אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים)
and they will be my people.( וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ־לִי לְעָם)

The law of the Lord thus forms, in the old as well as in the new covenant, the essence of the relations between the Lord and His people. The essential element of the covenant remains the same in both the old and the new covenant (Lev. 26:12 with Ex. 29:45), “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “The formula has already appeared twice in the Book of the Covenant as a promise (30:22; 31:1; cf. Zech 8:8), and it occurs four other times in the book of Jeremiah, twice with reference to the Sinai/Horeb covenant (7:23; 11:4) and two more times as a promise for the future (24:7; 32:38).”[lv] W.D. Barack quotes Sarason about the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, “[n]Old Testament a new Torah…just differently transmitted and more perfectly observed”[lvi]

By keeping the Sinaitic Covenant, the Lord had promised to be their God and they were to be his people. In Deuteronomy 26:16-19, God promises to keep them as His people and treasured possession. But by not obeying the Lord, the people had ceased to be his people. Prophets repeatedly warned people of their downfall. Hosea, dramatically names his son Lo-Ammi (Hos 1:9), which means not my people. By this act, he signified that God had deserted them ass His people. Yet the Lord gives promise to the people that they will be again His people and He will be their God (Hos 2:25). Jeremiah had used this phrase often in connection with the old covenant which was broken (7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22). In 24:7, the Lord promises He will give the people a heart to know Him, and they shall return to Him with their whole heart and He will be their God and they will be His people. But the new covenant will ensure that the Lord will be their God and they will be His people forever because it was a covenant which could not be broken. “Thus the hope proclaimed is a perfect integration of God and people, a flawless reciprocity, an undisturbed interaction: ‘And I shall be their God and they will be my people.’ This deep coincidence of divine and human issues is a harmony of divine and human wills and disposes of the tensions between obedience and disobedience to God’s demands.”[lvii]

34a: and no man shall teach again his friend and his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” (וְלֹא יְלַמְּדוּ עוֹד אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת־אָחִיו לֵאמֹר דְּעוּ אֶת־יְהוָה)
for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord ( כִּי־כוּלָּם יֵדְעוּ אוֹתִי לְמִ‍קְטַנָּם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם נְאֻם־יְהוָה)

וְלֹא יְלַמְּדוּ עוֹד : The earlier covenant needed somebody to teach the fellow Israelite to obey the commandments of YHWH. The Israelites were asked to teach their younger generation about the law of the Lord. But the new covenant will be inscribed in the hearts and put inside each one that they will no longer need anyone else to instruct them or lead them to renew the covenant.

אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת־אָחִיו: Hebrew normally uses masculine nouns and pronouns for references to people in general.[lviii] Therefore, the expression, here, includes all the people without exclusion. People need not remind the other of their duty to know the Lord.

דְּעוּ אֶת־יְהוָה: As a result of the God’s putting His law in the heart of the people, all, small and great, will ‘know the Lord.’ The knowledge of YHWH, of which the prophet speaks, is not the theoretical knowledge which is imparted and acquired by means of religious instruction.[lix] Therefore, the interpretation that the office of teaching will cease to exist when the new covenant will come into exist cannot be accepted without reservations. Here, with the people as subject, Know the Lord means to be in a close relationship to the Lord.[lx] The knowledge of YHWH is based upon the inward experience of the heart which is a life-transforming one. In Psalms, the knowledge of YHWH is to accept him as God. It is to accept that He made us, and we are His, His people — and the flock of His pasture. (Ps 100:3). According to Jeremiah, to know the Lord is to obey His commandments, to walk His ways and to do what is right and just (Jer. 2:28; 4:22; 8:7; 16:21; 22:15–17; 24:7). It includes the ability to recount how the Lord saved Israel (2:6–8). The knowledge of YHWH consists in knowing that, He acts with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things he delights (Jer 9:24). Therefore, to know YHWH is to walk in the path of justice, love, and righteousness in the earth.

While the center piece of the chiastic structure of the prose section of the ‘new covenant’ passage is the ‘salvific event’ of the exodus, the center piece of the poetic section is the knowledge of YHWH. The clear implication is that, in the new covenant, each person will do what is right and just so perfectly that no one will ever have to encourage another to do so. These lines match the promise of the Lord in 24:7, where he says, “I will give them a heart to know me.”[lxi]This characteristic of the new covenant reminds us that only a proper relationship with God can be translated into proper relationships with one’s fellow human beings. (see Deut 4:5–8; 6:1–3, 24–25; 7:12–14; 16:18–20). The Lord has always called on those who “know” him to do “justice and righteousness.” The difference in the New Covenant is the expectation that these ideals will be realized consistently by every person.23

לְמִ‍קְטַנָּם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם : This is a Hebrew way of including people of all social levels (8:10; 16:6; 31:34; 42:1; 16:21; 24:7). [lxii] This sums up a list of people from children to the very aged in 6:11–13 and the poor and the rich in 5:1–5. The same phrase, but without pronominal suffixes, describes the lay participants in the covenant renewal led by Josiah in 2 Kgs 23:2.[lxiii] Unlike the old covenant, the knowledge of which had to be accessed, the new covenant would be easily accessible to all. So under the new covenant, all the social disparities will come to an end, for all will have the knowledge of the Lord, equally.

34b: For I will forgive their inequity (כִּי אֶסְלַח לַעֲוֹנָם)
and will remember their sins no more.( וּלְחַטָּאתָם לֹא אֶזְכָּר־עוֹד)

The people will know YHWH for (because) He would forgive their inequity and would remember their sins no more. This כי clause is offered as a reason for all that has gone before.[lxiv] Therefore, the knowledge of the Lord can only be there if the Lord forgives the sins and this the Lord bestows freely. In the old covenant, people had to do sacrifices to receive the atonement. Although the Jeremiah’s contemporaries had refused to turn away from sin and be pardoned, (5:1; 36:3), the people of the new covenant will not bear the guilt of their ancestors’ sin or their own because of God’s gracious gift of pardon. Here, the new covenant differs substantially from the old covenant.

Hosea says in 8:13b, “Now he will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. But Jeremiah’s words here reverse these. He says, “…forgive their inequity and will remember their sins no more.” Remembering inequities and punishing sins are inseparable. The Lord only remembers the inequity when he punishes the sin. Conversely, when He declares that He has forgotten the inequities, it means He will never punish them for their sins. In sum, “forgive” and “forget” does not mean that the Lord has some kind of the loss of mental recollections, but rather they are synonymous terms for a single act; they do not denote sequential and complementary acts.[lxv]

Although there are arguments that the inequities and the sins referred in here are the events that lead to the exile, this is too narrow an understanding. Since, no such explicit mention of the sins and inequities mentioned we would very well assume that the mention here would be to all the sins which would be committed until the new covenant. For once the new covenant is established, it is impossible to sin.[lxvi] When the heart and mind inscribed with the revelation of God one cannot turn to sin again. Therefore, faithfulness to the new covenant will be a gift of divine mercy, not a human achievement.[lxvii]

9. Theology and Message

In the Old Testament, there were mainly four covenants spoken of. They are (1) The Abrahamic Covenant, (2) The Mosaic Covenant, (3) The Davidic Covenant, and (4) The New Covenant. While the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were promises with a future tone, the Mosaic covenant was temporal and conditional. The New covenant of which Jeremiah speaks is also a promise and unconditional. But unlike the Davidic and Abrahamic Covenants, which were mainly made with an individual, the New Covenant will be made with all the Israelites. The New Covenant therefore is both common and individual.

The new covenant offered a new hope for the people of Israel who had lost their identity. While in the exile, they had no land and no temple, which were considered to be the pillars of the Israel society. Even though, God had repeatedly warned them of the punishment, if they did not obey him, they would not listen. Now that the punishment and the wrath had befallen them, God had compassion on them. He offers a new identity for the people of Israel. For centuries, their lives revolved around the covenant which God established with them at Mount Sinai when he took them by hand out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. His commandments were written on a stone tablet and kept in the temple. But now they were destroyed. Their identity was in crisis. So God offers them a new hope with the new covenant. The Lord will write His laws in their hearts and deposit it within them. It made the loss of the land and loss of the temple immaterial. They could now hope for a union with God which could not be taken away by the external factors.

It made also made them equal in the society. No one had better access to the law, but each one had the law within oneself. There will be no mediator or no teacher. This law cannot be broken, as it would become the life-principle which governs their thoughts, feelings and actions. It also offered forgiveness of sin. God would not remember their sins anymore! As a result of this unconditional forgiveness, everyone would know the Lord. By knowing the Lord, they would accept Him as their savior remembering all that He had done for them and would walk in the way of the Lord, in love, justice and righteousness.

The difference between the Sinaitic Covenant and the New Covenant are shown in the table below.

Sinaitic Covenant New Covenant
People broke it. It was breakable. People will not break it. It is unbreakable.
Only the Lord was living up to the expectations of the covenant Both the Lord and the people will live all the expectations of the covenant.
The laws were written on the stone tablet The laws will be written in the heart
The laws were kept in the temple They will be kept within each one
People were needed to be taught to know the Lord No one will need to be taught as all will know YHWH
Only conditional forgiveness was offered Unconditional forgiveness offered
Renewal Ceremonies were needed No need of such ceremonies
Mediators were needed There will be no mediators.
People were asked to keep the law in their hearts The Lord will write the law in the hearts of the people
It tried to control the conduct of the people It changed the character of the people so that they will love and obey God.[lxviii]
Breaking of the covenant brought curses. No such curses.
External laws were to be kept Internalization of law is the main feature of the covenant.

10. Conclusion.

As a Christian I cannot ignore the effect of the ‘New Covenant’ proclaimed by Jeremiah on the New Testament (1Cor 11:25; Mk 14:24–25; Mt 26:27–29; Lk 22:17–20)[lxix], an adaption that it shares with the Qumran community.It is the book of Hebrews which is influenced more by this passage (Heb 8:8–12; Heb 10:16–17). Most of these New Testament applications apply the passage to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.[lxx] But it is worth looking at the covenant as it is proclaimed by Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s proclamation of the New Covenant is a consolation and hope to a group of people who lost their identity. It envisages a society where the power of the Lord will bring equal justice to all. Everyone will know the Lord. This will be a free gift. In a world which is broken by the broken and hurting relationship, the covenant promises us a right relationship with the Lord which will be spilled over to the relationship with our brothers and sisters. If we imbibe the spirit of this covenant, we will be able to heal many broken hearts. And indeed we have been far from being such a New Covenant Community.[lxxi] A long way to go!


[i]L. Richards and L.O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987), 414.

[ii]J.P. Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Jeremiah, Lamentations (ed. P. Schaff; New York: C. Scribner & Company, 1871), 274.

[iii]W. McKane, A critical and exegetical commentary on Jeremiah (v. 2; v. 19; 2 vols.; vol. 2: T. & T. Clark, 1986), 817.

[iv]G.L. Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52 (Word Biblical Commentary; eds. B. M. Metzger, et al.; 52C vols.; vol. 27; Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 130.

[v]T.M. Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations (The College Press NIV Commentary: College Press Pub Company, 2002), 255.

[vi]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 127.

[vii]The translation uses the following aides.

J.J. Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament: Isaiah-Malachi (Analytical Key to the Old Testament; 4 vols.; vol. 4; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 340-341.

F.F. Brown, et al., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906),

[viii]Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bielgesellschaft, 2006), Je 31:31-34.

[ix]A.R. Faussett, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments; eds. R. Jamieson, et al.; 2 vols.; vol. 1; Hartford, Conn: S.S.Scranton & Compnany, 1871), 539.

[x]W.L. Holladay, Jeremiah 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, chapters 26-52 (Hermeneia–A Critical and Gistorical commentary on the Bible; 2 vols.; vol. 2; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 35.

[xi]According to Holladay, Jeremiah 30:1-31:40 forms the book of Comfort. For a detailed discussion see, Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 148-171.

[xii]Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 155.

[xiii]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 126-127.

[xiv]William Lee Holladay, 170.

[xv]William Lee Holladay, 164.

[xvi]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 257.

[xvii]Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 164.

[xviii]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 257.

[xix]Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 164.

[xx] B.M. Newman and P.C. Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 2003), 30.

[xxi]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 31.

[xxii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 651.

[xxiii]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 131.

[xxiv]Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 165.

[xxv]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 131.

[xxvi] Walter Brueggemann, “Texts That Linger, Words That Explode,” Theology Today 54, no. 2 (1997), 190.

[xxvii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 651.

[xxviii]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 255.

[xxix]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 131.

[xxx]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 256.

[xxxi]McKane, Jeremiah, 818.

[xxxii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 651.

[xxxiii]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 256.

[xxxiv] For a detailed exposition see, …McKane, Jeremiah, 819.

[xxxv]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 651.

[xxxvi]W. Gesenius and S.P. Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1957), 130.

[xxxvii]Brown, et al., BDB, 127.

[xxxviii]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 131.

[xxxix]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 256.

[xl]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 131.

[xli]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[xlii]C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Prophecies of Jeremiah (Commentary on the Old Testament; trans. J. Kennedy; 10 vols.; vol. 8; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1996), 8:282.

[xliii]Lange, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 275.

[xliv]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[xlv]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[xlvi]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[xlvii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 652.

[xlviii]Keil and Delitzsch, Jeremiah, 8:282.

[xlix]Brown, et al., BDB, 899.

[l]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 652.

[li]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[lii]J. Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order, Together with Dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek Words of the Original, with References to the English Words (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986), H3820.

[liii]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 258.

[liv]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[lv]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 132.

[lvi] William D. Barrick, “New covenant theology and the Old Testament covenants,” Master’s Seminary Journal 18, no. 2 (2007)

[lvii]McKane, Jeremiah, 820.

[lviii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 652.

[lix]Keil and Delitzsch, Jeremiah, 8:283.

[lx]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 653.

[lxi]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 134.

23 There is probably a connection here with Jer 5:4–5. The inclusiveness of “from the least of them to the greatest” is reminiscent of the references there to “the poor” and “the leaders.” Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 198.

[lxii]Newman and Stine, A Handbook on Jeremiah, 191.

[lxiii]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 134.

[lxiv]McKane, Jeremiah, 822.

[lxv]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 260.

[lxvi]Willis, Jeremiah and Lamentations, 260.

[lxvii]Keown, et al., Jeremiah 26-52, 134.

[lxviii]W.W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive (The Be Series Commentary; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996, c1995), Je 31:31.

[lxix] However, neither Mark nor Matthew, in the earliest and best MSS., uses “new” with “covenant” though later MSS. do offer “new” at that point. Luke offers two text traditions, a shorter one which does not mention “covenant” at all, and a longer one which mentions “the new covenant”.

[lxx]Holladay, Jeremiah 2, 94.

[lxxi] John Bright, “Exercise in hermeneutics : Jeremiah 31:31-34,” Interpretation 20, no. 2 (1966), 208.

Bibliography

. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bielgesellschaft, 2006.

Barrick, William D. “New covenant theology and the Old Testament covenants.” Master’s Seminary Journal 18, no. 2 (2007): 165-180.

Bright, John. “Exercise in hermeneutics : Jeremiah 31:31-34.” Interpretation 20, no. 2 (1966): 188-210.

Brown, F.F., S.S.R. Driver, and C.A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906.

Brueggemann, Walter. “Texts That Linger, Words That Explode.” Theology Today 54, no. 2 (1997): 180-199.

Faussett, A.R. The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Edited by R. Jamieson, D. Brown, and A.R. Faussett. 2 vols. Vol. 1, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. Hartford, Conn: S.S.Scranton & Compnany, 1871.

Gesenius, W. and S.P. Tregelles. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1957.

Holladay, W.L. Jeremiah 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, chapters 26-52. 2 vols. Vol. 2, Hermeneia–A Critical and Gistorical commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.

Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch. The Prophecies of Jeremiah. Translated by JAMES KENNEDY. 10 vols. Vol. 8, Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1996.

Keown, G.L., P.J. Scalise, and T.G. Smothers. Jeremiah 26-52. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. 52C vols. Vol. 27, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1995.

Lange, J.P. . A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Jeremiah, Lamentations. Edited by P. Schaff. New York: C. Scribner & Company, 1871.

Owens, J.J. Analytical Key to the Old Testament: Isaiah-Malachi. 4 vols. Vol. 4, Analytical Key to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.

McKane, W. A critical and exegetical commentary on Jeremiah. 2 vols. Vol. 2, v. 2; v. 19. T. & T. Clark, 1986.

Newman, B.M. and P.C. Stine. A Handbook on Jeremiah. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 2003.

Richards, L. and L.O. Richards. The Teacher’s Commentary. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987.

Strong, J. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order, Together with Dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek Words of the Original, with References to the English Words. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986.

Wiersbe, W.W. Be Decisive. The Be Series Commentary. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996, c1995.

Willis, T.M. Jeremiah and Lamentations. The College Press NIV Commentary. College Press Pub Company, 2002.

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