Christian A. Breud
April 19th, 2022
Part 1. Introduction
Part 2. Toward a Theology of Reconciliation: Atonement and Christology
Part 3. Marriage Covenant: A Binding Contract Between God, Man and Woman
Part 4. HOSEA 1-3: A Framework for Reconciliation
Part 5. Narrative Ethics: A Means for Reconciliation Between the Church/World
The theological theme of reconciliation has influenced the not only the development of church doctrine, but also, the significance of Christ’s coming. Perhaps, more than any other theological theme, reconciliation is needed for the Church, and those who do not share in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Although Christians are called to live set apart, Christians must also be intergraded within the world, to fulfill the exhortations of Christ. This paper seeks to provide a proper theological analysis of Hosea 1-3. Above all, the hope is to reveal the desperate need for reconciliation within God’s created order, for the Body of Christ and those who remain outside of it. Reconciliation begins with God; this foundational for recognizing the need for reconciliation between Christ and the Church. This paper is not an attempt to explain the historical and modern realties of the marriage covenant, but rather, to show the use divine marriage metaphor found in Hosea 1-3 as a means that brings forth reconciliation in modernity.
Hosea 1-3 embodies the greatest of all human relationships, the covenant of marriage. Therefore, the marriage covenant found in Hosea provides an extraordinary framework for how individuals ought to perform reconciliation in their day to day lives. Ethically speaking, I would argue that an individual cannot participate in ethical formation apart from understanding the relationship between morality and reconciliation. Ethics forces individuals to develop their own understanding of the world and their place within it. Therefore, as humans seek to develop some sort of morality, they are ultimately desiring reconciliation amongst human relationships. Unearthing the relationship between narrative ethics and the theological doctrine of reconciliation remains at the forefront of my rationale. Two questions remain central to this work: First, how does the marriage metaphor in Hosea 1-3 embody ecclesial reconciliation? Second, why is reconciliation needed for forming Christian ethics in modernity? A life reconciled, is not just for those inside the Church, but the Church is to pursue reconciliation in all places, spaces, and situations.
Toward a Theology of Reconciliation
The doctrine of reconciliation has been thought of as the “heart of the Christian faith, the origin of Christian love and the content of Christian hope”. Perhaps, it is beneficial to mention that reconciliation is often transactional and relational in nature. Often, reconciliation requires an action, and that action has ongoing implications in the future. Reconciliation in the purest form is simply God with us. It must be stated that reconciliation is initiated by God for the benefit of human beings. Therefore, two questions are central to the formation of the doctrine of reconciliation. First, what is the biblical reconciliation? Second, why is reconciliation needed in the first place? Biblical reconciliation has to do with the redemption of human beings. As creatures who are constantly inflicted with sin, redemption is needed for the sake of preservation of the Church and those who need salvation. Scot McKnight states, “Atonement showcases the ecclesial focus of redemption…”. In turn, the Atonement is the complete fulfillment of reconciliation between God and humanity.
Therefore, to understand reconciliation, one must seek to comprehend the significance of the Atonement or “exiléosi” (εξιλέωση). McKnight affirms that reconciliation and the Atonement are interwoven with one another. In simpler terms, an individual cannot grasp one without the other. Although unpacking the theological importance of the Atonement is not an easy task, the Atonement can be understood using narrative ethics. Narrative ethics from a Christian perspective, challenges individuals to place themselves within God’s story. That said, the life, death and resurrection of Christ captures the complexity of the Atonement. Often, when individuals discuss Atonement, they think only of Christ’ crucifixion on the cross. Here, I must argue that the Atonement encompasses the totality of Jesus’ earthly experience. That said, we must be careful in focusing on only one aspect of Jesus’ life.
Marriage Covenant: A Binding Contract Between God, Man and Woman
Marriage has often been understood historically as a covenant, between a man and a woman. To grasp the theological significance of marriage, a few things must be stated. First, the marriage covenant was instituted between the relationship of Adam and Eve. Although Genesis fails to mention the word “marriage”, the text does allude to intimacy of their relationship (Genesis 2:24). The text states, “this explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Gen. 2:24). Therefore, this is the earliest account of marriage recorded through the entire OT. The covenant of marriage seeks to unite a man and a woman into one flesh. That said, it is essential that individuals realize that marriage is the most intimate relationship within the human experience. Second, a prophetic text like Malachi 2:10-16, have helped identify the nature of marriage as covenant. Briefly, it must be mentioned that a covenant implies imposition, liability, or obligation.
The historical understanding of a Hebrew covenant differs from other traditional forms of a promise. As John Tarwater states, “a Hebrew covenant is a natural, relationship of obligation established under divine sanction”. The word covenant in Hebrew is “bĕriyth” (בְּרִית) embodying in itself an “irrevocable nature”. Recognizing marriage as covenant reveals the exclusivity associated with this form of relationship. Above all, marriage embodies the fulfilment of knowing someone in the most profound way. In the context of Malachi 2:10-16, readers become aware of the sacredness associated with marriage. Here, Malachi warns the consequences of “mixed marriages” with others outside the realm of Judaism. Intermarrying results in the transgression of the marriage covenant. In broader terms, the Book of the Twelve reveals severe warnings issued by YHWH for any failure to uphold the covenant previously established with the patriarchs. Moreover, acknowledging marriage as covenant helps to provide a framework for understanding the significance of the divine marriage metaphor in Hosea 1-3.
Hosea 1-3: A Framework for Reconciliation
Hosea acts as the prelude to the entire corpus of the Minor Prophets. Furthermore, Hosea provides historical background and context to the circumstances leading up to divided monarchy. Hosea being a northern prophet, wrote for the purpose of revealing God’s divine judgment against Israel due to the realities of idol worship. That said, YHWH pleads with Hosea to reconcile with Gomer even though Gomer stands as unfaithful and adulterous. In this instance, Hosea is a direct representation of YHWH. As many scholars have pointed out, Hosea 1-3 reveals God’s genuine love and faithfulness toward to people of Israel. Often, when analyzing the Book of the Twelve, there is a characterization of God in his dealings with Israel, Judah, and the nations. In reference to Hosea 1-3, the metaphor is used to disclose the true nature of YHWH. Moreover, the message of Hosea moves from “judgment to deliverance”.
Hosea uses the divine marriage metaphor to reveal the detachment between YHWH and Israel. Hosea 1:1 begins with an oracle showing “divine communication” on behalf of YHWH to Israel. The marriage metaphor depicted in Hosea 1-3 is designed to reflect, “relationships, loyalty and compassion”. These facets are central to the overall implementation of the metaphor being used. As mentioned earlier, marriage is covenant, and covenant is utterly dependent on God. That said, YHWH must initiate reconciliation if Israel is to be redeemed.
Therefore, the marriage metaphor reveals two primary realties. First, Israel’s failure to remain faithful to YHWH despite YHWH’s faithfulness. Second, YHWH’s pursuit for reconciliation with the people of Israel. Marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships. For that reason, the prophet Hosea uses marriage as a metaphor to capture YHWH’s heart for the people of Israel. The theological theme of reconciliation is implicitly revealed by using the marriage metaphor. For the sake of space, I will use Hosea 3:1 as the primary text revealing a theology of reconciliation between YHWH (Hosea) and Israel (Gomer).
Chapter 3 begins with the divine command of reconciliation,
Hosea 3:1 – “and the LORD said to me, “go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins”.
Verse 1 brings us into the reality of Israel’s failure to uphold YHWH’s covenant. Here, Hosea is told to return and love Gomer who has committed atrocities against Hosea. Hosea depicted as YHWH shows YHWH’s desire to be reconciled with Israel. A few distinctions must be made between Hosea 1:2 and Hosea 3:1. Hosea 1:2 introduces YHWH’s command for Hosea to marry a prostitute. On the contrary, in Hosea 3:1 YHWH tells the prophet to love an adulteress. Although this may appear as slight difference within the text, there are theological reasons for the change of verbiage. Nogalski affirms that this intertextual change is simply to place emphasis on YHWH’s love for the people of Israel. An important aspect of love is the desire to be reconciled. In this case, YHWH’s love is manifested in His desire to restore the broken marriage between Israel and Himself. As mentioned earlier, reconciliation often takes place in relational settings and begets future action. When referencing Hosea 3:1, the action is a complete reconciliation initiated by YHWH for the sake of the people of Israel. The Prophet Hosea reveals the emotions and challenges that come with reconciliation. In Hosea 3:1, it is clear what the transgression against YHWH was—the worship of idols. Early in the Torah, the Israelites are warned of the consequences of the worship of idols. Exodus 20:2-5 states,
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God”
Idolatry is the worst sin imaginable. A refusal to worship the Creator leads to a life of corruption, deceit, malice, and wickedness. When the desire to worship YHWH is removed, destruction is on the way. In Book of the Twelve, it seems there is a never-ending cycle of violence. As Fretheim affirms, “violence begets violence”. Therefore, the divine marriage metaphor in Hosea 1-3 is extraordinary in its ability to reveal YHWH as a God of love, who pursues reconciliation even amongst unfaithful individuals. Not only does YHWH desire reconciliation with Israel and Judah, but also the nations. Hosea 1-3 reveals YHWH’s emotions, which signifies YHWH’s desire to relate with human beings. In the text, YHWH takes on human characteristics for the very purpose of identifying Himself with humankind. Hosea 1-3 foreshadows the inevitable—the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Narrative Ethics: A Means for Reconciliation Between the Church and the World
Historically, the Church has faced both separation and persecution on various fronts. Although this is a true reality, the church is to embody reconciliation as a community and with the world. Perhaps Saint Paul said it best,
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
Therefore, the Church is tasked with the responsibility of reconciliation with the hope of making disciples of “all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The Church is a redeeming community, a community that lives to love and defend all human beings. Moreover, the Church is to reflect the life of Christ’ in both thought and practice. These two functions are central to the role of the Church, throughout history and now in modernity. The practice of forgiveness is essential if the Church is to accomplish reconciliation. Gregory Jones states, “the Christian practice of forgiveness involves us in a whole way of life”. Furthermore, Hauerwas pairs forgiveness with the mission of the Church in saying, “through Jesus’ life and teachings we see how the church came to understand that God’s kingship and power consists not in coercion but in God’s willingness to forgive”. In the case of Hosea 1-3, Hosea had to choose forgiveness for the result to be reconciliation. It is important to note that Hosea 1-3 puts emphasis on YHWH’s willingness to forgive Israel with the aspiration of a reconciled relationship. YHWH pursuing reconciliation with Israel is an example for the Church to follow. Christians must seek to live in unity with one another, despite the realities that often cause division. Individuals belonging to this community of faith must recognize that the Church is often influenced by culture and other social norms. Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of the disciples saying, “they are in the world but not of the world” (John 17:16). Being in the world requires that Christians participate in societal functions, but not at the expense of the Church being conformed to the world. That poses as serious question, how does the Church pursue reconciliation with secular society without abandoning the Church’s practices and commands? In this section, I will argue that narrative ethics acts as a means for providing reconciliation between the Church and the world.
Stanley Hauerwas challenges Christians to recognize that their story is not their own. That said, narrative ethics forces individuals to identify themselves within a particular “story”. For Christians, they locate their identify in God’s story. Hauerwas states, “we know ourselves truthfully only when we know ourselves in relation to God”. Narrative ethics is reliant on history since the very nature of narrative is formed in a particular story of the past. As Christians, God’s story is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ultimate task for Christian ethics is to help believers envision the world. Therefore, the ecclesial community must begin formulating ethics based upon Jesus earthly experiences. Narrative ethics allows Christians to envision and participate in a world that Jesus proclaimed—the Kingdom of God. Moreover, if narrative ethics is about envisioning a new world, Christians must live out this new world as they exist in society. This means pursuing reconciliation with people who may not share in the same Christian beliefs and convictions. One might ask how is this then possible? Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The Church must initiate reconciliation with those outside the Body of Christ. As mentioned in my analysis of Hosea 1-3, YHWH pursued reconciliation with Israel, from His own desire to be unified. Likewise, Christians in modernity are to represent Christ through the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Looking at Jesus life using narrative ethics, allows Christians to see Jesus’ love toward those who opposed, threatened, and persecuted Him. Clearly, Jesus pursued reconciliation with those who were the least deserving. Jesus initiated reconciliation up until to the point of death. The deepest desire for the Church is the integration of the world and God’s Kingdom. That said, the Church must pursue reconciliation with those who do not belong to Christ. Although this is not an easy task, it remains central to the “Missio Dei”.
The divine marriage metaphor used in Hosea 1-3 acts as an introduction into the entire Book of the Twelve. That said, redactors have composed the Book of the Twelve’s ordering with the marriage metaphor in mind. Simply, due to the marriage metaphor’s ability to reveal YHWH’s heart for the people of Israel, Judah, and the nations. In addition, YHWH is implicitly introduced as the God of Reconciliation. Hosea 1-3 allows readers to realize that YHWH seeks to identify with human beings. In the text, YHWH takes on human characteristics and emotions for the very purpose of identifying with His most prized possession. This gives individuals a glimpse of the future hope—the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Narrative ethics acts as a means for envisioning an integration between the Church and the world. The Kingdom of God gives the clearest vision into the “New Heaven” and “New Earth” for the sake reconciliation between creation and eternity (Rev. 21:1). Therefore, Christians are tasked with the responsibility of envisioning a new world using narrative ethics. Narrative ethics challenges Christians to understand that their story is not their own, but found in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
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 Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation: The Subject-Matter and Problems of the Doctrine of Reconciliation (Continuum Publishing, 1956), 4.
 Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement (Abingdon Press, 2007), 27.
 David McLachlan, Accessible Atonement: Disability, Theology, and the Cross of Christ (Baylor University Press, 2021), 73.
 McKnight, A Community Called Atonement, 51.
 Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame Press, 1983), 27.
 John Tarwater and David Jones, “Are Biblical Covenants Dissoluble? Toward a Theology of Marriage,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 47, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 6.
 Richard Taylor, Haggai, Malachi: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, vol. 21A (Holman Reference, 2004), 47.
 Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 28. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972, vol. 28 (IVP Academic, 1972), 260.
 Terence E. Fretheim, Reading Hosea-Micah: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2013), 8.
 Andrew Macintosh, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea (Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014), 6.
 James Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Hosea-Jonah (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2011), 61.
 Paul R House, Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve (Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), 130.
 Ibid., 126.
 Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Hosea-Jonah, 135.
 Matthew Haste, “Your Maker Is Your Husband: Divine Marriage Metaphor and the New Covenant,” Puritan Reformed Journal 5, no. 1 (January 2013): 17.
 William Harper, A Critical Exegetical Commentary on Amos, and Hosea (Wentworth Press, 2019), 201.
 Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Hosea-Jonah, 59.
 Ibid., 66.
 Terence E. Fretheim, ‘I Was Only a Little Angry’: Divine Violence in the Prophets,” Sage Publications 58, no. 4, Interpretations (October 2004): 366.
 House, Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve, 129.
 John Christopher Thomas, Toward a Pentecostal Ecclesiology: The Church and the Fivefold Gospel (CPT Press, 2010), 69.
 Dorothy Bass, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Fortress Press Minneapolis, 2019), 132.
 Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, 85.
 Danny Hunter, “Radical Ecclesiology: The Church as an Arena for Reconciliation Through Cultivating Alternate Community,” Missiology 48, no. 1 (January 2020): 80.
 Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, 26.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 28.
 Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation: The Subject-Matter and Problems of the Doctrine of Reconciliation, 95.
 Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, 29.
 James Wm. McClendon, Ethics: Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Abingdon Press, 1986), 243.
 Gerald Downing, “Reconciliation: Politics and Theology,” Modern Believing 58, no. 1 (2017): 9.
 Hunter, “Radical Ecclesiology: The Church as an Arena for Reconciliation Through Cultivating Alternate Community,” 81.
 Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, 81.
 McClendon, Ethics: Systematic Theology, 1:243.