Robin L. Routledge, Hosea (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Routledge, Robin L. Hosea. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xxxiii+181 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 volume by David Allan Hubbard. Routledge previously published Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (IVP Academic 2012) as well as several articles on the prophets.

Routledge, HoseaThe thirty-six-page introduction dates Hosea to 750-725 B.C., making Hosea a later contemporary to Amos. This implies the book was completed before Josiah’s reforms, and therefore is not part of the so-called Deuteronomistic redaction. In fact, Routledge suggests Hosea may have influenced Deuteronomistic movement in the late seventh century.

The immediate context for the book is the resurgence of the Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pilesar III, but also the syncretic worship in the northern kingdom Israel. Routledge includes a few pages outlining what can be known about Baal worship from Ugarit and other sources. Although this worship may have involved cult prostitution, it did not necessarily include the idea of hieros gamos, “sacred marriage.” The problem is Hosea is Israel’s syncretic worship which confused Yahweh and Baal.

The introduction sets Hosea in the larger context of the Old Testament. Although Routledge does not find arguments for a unifying redaction of the Book of the Twelve convincing, that Hosea is the first book of the collection may be significant. The book is clear: Israel’s unfaithfulness will result in punishment, but unfaithfulness will not ultimately affect Yahweh’s love for Israel. The book hopes for a final restoration in the future. This exile/restoration theme resonates throughout the Book of the Twelve. He also traces connections between Hosea, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah (suggesting Jeremiah may have made use of Hosea). He briefly discusses several theories of composition, but it ultimately favors the unity of the book. Routledge finds it “unnecessary to accept the view that the book was compiled even later, for a posting exilic Judah during the Persian” (p. 19; contra Ben Zvi).

In the preface to the commentary, he observed that the book of Hosea is challenging for the commentator because it includes some of the most difficult Hebrew in the Old Testament. It often differs from the Septuagint, leading to suggestions that Masoretic text is corrupt. On the other hand, Routledge thinks Hosea’s peculiar dialect was unfamiliar to the Septuagint translators, resulting in more unusual translations than other books. The poetry in Hosea is not conventional and it makes a great deal of use of similes, metaphors, and wordplay. In addition, the judgment speeches form a judicial framework which may have been unfamiliar to translators.

With respect to the theology of the book, Routledge highlights Israel’s sin, their impending judgment, and their ultimate hope. The people no longer know the Lord (4:1), so their worship and sacrifices are unacceptable. They are stubborn like an unruly animal (4:16). But the Lord is unwilling to utterly destroy Israel, so the book is filled with a message of hope for a restoration of the broken relationship (11:10-11).

Hosea is the first prophet to make an explicit connection between the covenant and marriage, idolatry and adultery. Routledge argues Gomer is a promiscuous woman (rather than a prostitute) and was faithful at the beginning of the marriage. This better fits the prophetic view that the relationship between the Lord and Israel began well. He also thinks the woman in 3:1 is Gomer, so that chapter three is a restoration of the marriage to its original state. He also briefly deals with criticism of Hosea’s marriage metaphor which describe it as “patriarchal gender stereotyping,” misogynistic, as advocating sexual violence and humiliation toward women, and even as pornographic. He admits it is patriarchal (as the whole ancient Near East was patriarchal), but it goes too far to call the marriage metaphor misogynistic since it was intended to describe Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. The marriage metaphor emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the consequences for sin, but also divine love and vulnerability. Routledge covered this material in his article, “Hosea’s Marriage Reconsidered” (Tyndale Bulletin 69 (2018): 25–42).

A third theological issue in Hosea is the idea of hesed, which is mentioned in Hosea more than any other prophetic book. In the rest of the Old Testament, hesed is a divine attribute, but in Hosea it most often relates to human conduct (p. 32). Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant and mistreated those need hesed. In this section Routledge distills his much more detailed article, “Ḥesed as Obligation: A Re-Examination” (Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995): 179–96).

The body of the commentary covers the fourteen chapters of Hosea in 144 pages. The book is divided into major sections (1-3; 4-11; 12-14) and shorter pericopes. Commentary units begin with a short setting the context, then a running commentary covering a few verses per paragraph. The commentary is based on the English text and often compares major translations, but Routledge comments on Hebrew (appearing in transliteration). Commentaries and other secondary literature are cited intext, footnotes are used for additional discussion or cross references. The commentary is concise and clear. The final section of each section is entitled “meaning” and provides a summary and theological comment on the section. These comments occasionally touch on biblical theology and Christian significance, but Routledge is more focused on the theology of Hosea.

Conclusion. Like other newer volumes of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Routledge’s commentary on Hosea is clear and concise, shedding light on the text of Scripture for the pastor, teacher or student preparing to present Hosea to their congregations. It is not overly distracted with critical issues or syntactical minutia, yet Routledge demonstrates mastery both critical issues and the Hebrew text in order to focus on what Hosea says.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


What is the Point of the Feeding of the 5000?

Although the story of Jesus feeding a large crowd in the wilderness is well-known, what was the point of the miracle? How does Matthew use the story of the feeding of the 5000 in the overall story of his gospel?

Ethiopic Feeding of the 5000

For some scholars, this meal foreshadows the Last Supper. There are several phrases which appear here and in Matthew 26:26 (when it got late, he took bread and broke it, he gave thanks, the disciples reclined at the table). But there are serious differences. As Robert Gundry pointed out, the disciples do not eat with Jesus (Mark, 330) although there is nothing in Matthew which says they did not eat the plentiful food.  Is this a proto-eucharist? Sometimes blessing and breaking bread is just that. There is nothing equivalent to wine distributed, and this is not a ceremonial meal, people are genuinely hungry and need to eat. Nolland summarizes, “the link between the feeding and the Last Supper is at the same time important and obscure” (Matthew, 592).

In the context of Matthew 13, is the feeding of the 5000 a fulfillment of the parables of the kingdom? Something small becomes enough to satisfy a huge crowd (like the mustard seed and hidden leaven?) In the miraculous feeding, Jesus begins to reveal who he really is, answering the question asked in the Nazareth synagogue: “Where did this man get wisdom and miraculous powers?” (13:54).

Many scholars point out the importance of eating together in the ancient world. Eating with others was more than just fellowship at the time of Jesus, it was an indication of where you fit into society, and there were social rules for who ate with who. Pharisees would not eat with many of the common people because they were not ceremonially clean. Even the common people had a sort of “pecking order” that was followed at communal meals.

By inviting all the crowds to sit and eat, Jesus is saying that they are all worth to sit and eat with him. This is a huge thing in that culture, since the average teacher of the law would not eat with the people that followed Jesus. This may be why Matthew leaves out the reference to the smaller groups. If he is writing to a Jew, they might assume that the smaller groups are groups of similar classes, which they were not.

The feeding of the 5000 evokes the Exodus and Wilderness period in Israel’s history. With this miracle, Jesus is gathering a new Israel about himself. In the original Exodus, God provided food for the people of Israel in the wilderness after the first Passover.

If Jesus is intentionally patterning this miracle after the events of the original Passover, then he is a new Moses at the very least (fulfilling the messianic expectation of a prophet coming after Moses), or he is claiming to be God, the one who provided the food in the wilderness and satisfied the people with bread from heaven. The Gospel of John makes the allusion explicit and there is a long dialogue between Jesus and the people about manna as bread from heaven. The people even “murmur” in John 6:41, recalling the frequent murmurings of Israel in the wilderness.

Moses led the people through the waters of the Red Sea. God demonstrated his power and authority over the chaos of the seas (described as walking on the waters in the Psalms). The next story in Mark and Matthew is walking on the water, a miracle revealing Jesus as the Son of God. His disciples worship him as the Son of God (14:33). In Matthew16:16 Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of the living God.” Jesus then predicts his death (16:21), explaining the true mission of the Messiah is to defeat sin and death at the cross. A week later, Jesus is confirmed as the Son of God at the transfiguration (Matt 17:1-13).

Just as God provided food for Israel in the wilderness, now Jesus provides food for his followers in the wilderness. As John Nolland observes, this is the same perspective as Emmanuel in Matthew 1:23, “in the ministry of Jesus God is with us” (Matthew, 587).

The Feeding of the 5000 – Matthew 14:15-21

The feeding of the 5000 appears in all four Gospels (Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13). In Mark, the feeding of the 5000 also follows the death of John the Baptist; Luke does not have the walking on the water immediately after the feeding of the 5000. As usual, Matthew has seriously abbreviated Mark’s narrative, but John’s version is expanded. In John we learn that the miracle happens around the time of Passover

Jesus Feeds the 5000

After an unspecified time of teaching and healing, the disciples want to dismiss the crowd so they can get something to eat (14:15). The crowd is very large and there is no village nearby to get something to eat. It simply makes good sense to send them away to get food. Why does the crowd not have sufficient food for themselves? If they were planning on going to follow Jesus for a long time, they ought to have brought some supplies. Maybe they dropped everything and followed Jesus as the disciples had. They have traveled light as the disciples did on their mission, relying on God to supply their needs.

“You Give Them Something To Eat”

Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat, but they have very little food, five loaves and two fish (14:16-17).  Matthew alone has “they do not need to go away,” followed by Mark’s “you give them something to eat.”

“You give them something to eat” echoes Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In that story a man has twenty barley loaves but must feed one hundred men. After Elisha tells the man to give them something to eat” they will all eat and there is food left over. This is what happened “according to the word of the Lord.” Nolland calls this a “how much more” comparison with Elisha (Matthew, 593). Jesus’s miracle is better than Elisha’s in every way: he makes more bread from less original good for more people who eat and are satisfied, and more is left over.

One possible explanation offered for who Jesus is in Matthew 16:14 is  Jesus is one of the prophets or Elijah. In Mark’s version of the death of John, Herod’s advisors suggest Jesus is one of the prophets (Mark 6:15, omitted in Matthew’s version of the story). The feeding of more than 5000 people from five small loaves and two small, dried fish indicates Jesus is far more than one of the prophets, he is something even greater than the greatest of the prophets.

The disciples have only a little food which is not enough for even a few people, let alone five thousand. In Mark 6 an unknown disciple complains that it would take more than a half year’s wages (200 denarii) to buy enough food, in John 6 Philip is identified as the complainer. John also mentions Andrew brought forward a boy with five loaves and two fish. In Mark and Matthew, the disciples have the food without specifying where they got it.

Is the complaint an allusion to Israel’s murmuring for food in the wilderness (Exod 16:1-3)? They long for the meat-pots of Egypt, so God promises to rain bread from heaven on them (16:4). Here the disciples initially mention the lack of food and then complain that they cannot possibly feed the crowd themselves before Jesus provides bread and fish for everyone (and in John the extended discussion is about the Exodus passage and the meaning of bread from heaven).

The food is insignificant. Five small loaves are not modern loaves of bread. If John is right and this miracle happens at Passover, then it is possible the bread is unleavened (or the child might have been given the last leftover leavened rolls in the house). The fish (ἰχθύς) are likely little dried fish (like dried sardines or a kipper). On the other hand, even of these were five full sized loaves of bread and two of the largest fish freshly caught from the Sea of Galilee, it is still insufficient to feed the large crowd.

Jesus Multiplies the Fish and Bread

Jesus first orders the people to sit in the grass. Although this seems natural enough if he is about to feed them, it is an allusion to the image of God leading his people in the wilderness like sheep. Mark has them seated in hundreds and fifties, which may allude to the way Israel was sorted into hundreds and fifties in the wilderness (Exod 18:21, 25). The verb is ἀνακλίνω, which is used regularly for sitting down at a meal as a guest (BDAG). In Matthew 8:11 Jesus said many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, an allusion to the eschatological banquet.

Jesus then blesses the food and gives it to the disciples to distribute. Although some commentators see an allusion to the Last Supper here, looking to heaven and blessing the food are part of normal Jewish meals.  Baskets? Who brings baskets with them? These baskets are from the fishing boats Jesus and the disciples arrived in (not picnic baskets!). “The word for “basketfuls” (kophinos) describes a distinctively Jewish basket for carrying kosher food” (Blomberg, Matthew, 233).

Everyone is Satisfied

Everyone eats their fill and is satisfied, and there is plenty of food leftover! The verb translated “satisfied” (χορτάζω) is uses in classical Greek for leading an animal to pasturage but when it is used for humans it refers to eating enough food to be satisfied. In Exodus 16:12 God says he will fill the people with bread, and in 16:18 the people took all the manna they need. This verb appears in Psalm 81:16 (LXX 80:17, “And he fed them from the fat of wheat, and from a rock of honey he satisfied them”).

The crowd does not really know where the food came from, they were handed bread and fish and they ate in large groups. The disciples know the food is a miracle revealing who Jesus is, much like the next miracle when Jesus walks on the water.

Why does Jesus Go into the Wilderness? Matthew 14:13-14

After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus goes into the wilderness. Why does Jesus retreat to a “desolate place” (ESV)?

Jesus Praying Alone

The verb in verse 13 (ἀναχωρέω) does in fact have the nuance of a retreat from danger, an army retreating, and sometimes to “withdraw from public affairs” (BrillDAG). Jesus has retreated in response to danger before in Matthew. In Matthew 2:22 Jesus leaves Bethlehem because Herod the Great threatened to kill the infant Jesus. In Matthew 4:12 Jesus withdrew to Galilee because Herod Antipas arrested John. Luke 9:9 indicates Antipas “sought to see Jesus” and in Luke 13:31 the Pharisees warn Jesus to “get away from here because Herod wants to kill you.”

It is not as though Jesus is afraid of Antipas. He does not want to provoke a confrontation with the authorities yet. His intention is to go to the cross, but at the time of the Passover to make the imagery of the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” more clear.

Even though Jesus goes to a desolate place, the crowds follow him (14:13). He went by boat, they followed on shore. Remember the Sea of Galilee is not that large!

The word translate “desolate place” in the ESV (ἔρημος) is traditionally “the wilderness.” John the Baptist was active in the wilderness and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness of Judea. Most Bible readers hear the word wilderness and think of Israel’s forty years of wandering in the deserts of the Negev. But Jesus is in Galilee, so wilderness here does not refer to a desert location, but rather an unpopulated area.  In the context of Galilee, they are in an area where people do not live, between villages and farms.

The traditional location is Tabgha, only about two miles west of Capernaum. The place was known as Heptapegon because it had seven springs, Tabgha is a corruption of this ancient name. According to Todd Bolen, the spring water is warmer than the Sea of Galilee so there are algae in the water, attracting fish. There is a Byzantine church on the site with a traditional rock on which the fish and bread were blessed, along with a famous mosaic which appears in every gift shop in Israel. This location is on most tourist itineraries. The Church of Peter’s Primacy near Tabgha is also worth visiting for its lovely garden on the short of the Sea of Galilee.

The location does evoke scriptural connections. The wilderness is associated with Israel after they were rescued from Egypt. Jesus as a new Moses leading his people into the wilderness where he will care for them like sheep in the wilderness, caring for their sickness and providing them food. One of the reasons Jesus goes into the wilderness is to evoke the images from the Hebrew Bible.

Jesus has compassion on the crowd and healed their sick (14:14). This is the second time Jesus has had compassion on a great crowd (9:36) and in 20:34 he has compassion on a blind man. The verb σπλαγχνίζομαι appears only in the Gospels with Jesus as the subject, With the except of the good Samaritan and father of the prodigal (Luke 10:33; 15:20). In Mark 6:34, Jesus teaches the crowd, here in Matthew he heals.

This also may allude to the wilderness tradition. In Numbers 27:15-23 Moses realizes he is near death He prays for God to appoint a new leader so that the people will not be “like sheep without a shepherd.” The sick (ἄρρωστος) is a rare word in the New Testament that can refer to the sick, weak, or “powerless.” In 1 Cor 11:30, those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper are “sick and weak” and the verb is used sickness associated with sin in Sirach 18:21.

This gathering of a large crowd in the wilderness set up one of the most important miracles in the Gospels the feeding of the 5000.

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