Lim, Bo H. and Daniel Castelo. Hosea. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 260 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans

Unlike other commentaries in the Two Horizons series, Lim and Castelo place their theological essays in the context of the commentary itself. Other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary followed the commentary section with a series of essays on the theology of the book. In this commentary, Bo Lim writes an introduction to theological exegesis (chapter 2) as well as the commentary on text of Hosea. Daniel Castelo contributes an introduction to theological interpretation of Hosea and four essays on theological topics emerging from the book.

lim-hoseaCastelo’s opening chapter to the book is a primer on Theological Interpretation especially as it pertains to Hosea. He observes that defining what is meant by “theological interpretation” is difficult. How is interpretation theological? From the older systematic vs. biblical theology perspective, the answer might have been “interpretation is not theological.” For example, Castelo argues it is legitimate to search the Hebrew Bible for the Trinity, even though the idea of a Trinity is a later theological construct built on the New Testament. Theological interpretation is a kind of “search for Christ” in the Hebrew Bible requiring a “spiritual reading” which employs “allegory, typology, figuration, and the like” (17), but a spiritual reading which is guided by the Holy Spirit (19). Castelo suggests a three-fold structure for Hosea which recognizes the context of Hosea but points to larger, canonical, salvation history issues. His “rebellion, judgment, return/hope” triad is common in the prophets, as is Hosea’s emphasis on the collective sin of Israel (23).

Although I continue to be suspicious of theological interpretation, Bo Lim’s introduction to theological exegesis provides some relief. The Hebrew Bible is indeed canonical scripture for the church (27) and Hosea is part of the story of salvation history played out over the whole canon. Canonical placement is important, Hosea is to be read and re-read intertextually as part of the book of the Twelve. For Lim, the collection of twelve books was intended to be read as a theodicy responding to the fall of Samarian and Jerusalem. The book reached its final form in the postexilic period and now serves as an introduction to the Book of the Twelve (34).

With respect to theological exegesis, Lim follows Michael Bakhtin’s suggestion that texts operate on a dialogical level. Rather than breaking Hosea into monological units (which he observes results in an incoherent book), Lim wants to read the final form of Hosea in dialogue with the rest of the canon of Scripture as well as its reception by God’s people (36). It is a mistake to read Hosea’s ethical and theological vision solely in the context of the eighth century B.C. Lim therefore calls attention to the way Hosea has been read as anticipating the “Day of the Lord” after the Babylonian exile and in the New Testament (citing Acts 3:18 and 1 Peter 1:10-12). In addition to the clear parallels between Hosea and Amos, Hosea’s theme of return to the land is found throughout the Book of the Twelve and his marriage metaphor frames the collection (Mal 3:1).

The body of the commentary is broken into ten units, all written by Lim. He moves through larger sections, commenting on key vocabulary but does not attempt to comment on every phrase. He interacts with secondary literature throughout the commentary, although Lim is more concerned with interpretation than some of the more difficult problems of Hosea’s text. Hebrew occasionally appears in the body of the commentary accompanied by transliteration. Lim’s discussion of the marriage metaphor the first three chapters of the book is excellent, balancing parallel material from Assyria with modern accusations of misogyny and violence.

For the most part, Lim’s theological exegesis is identical to a typical commentary, although he occasionally begins a paragraph with “at the canonical level…” His comments on Hosea 6:1-6 demonstrates his dialogical method. By reading 6:4-6 as the Lord’s response to 6:1-3, the Lord’s displeasure with sacrifice evokes the lack of both knowledge and loyalty in Israel (134). He then draw the implication to confessional orthodoxy: sincerity is not enough, sola orthodoxa, sola veritas will not do (135). This looks like good exegesis which takes into account both literary and cultural context and draws significant application to contemporary issues.

With respect to Hosea’s children, Lim observes sees the “not my people” becoming “my people” as an anticipation of the inclusion of the Gentiles (citing Rom 9:25-27 and Eph 2:12). This is an example of interpreting a text across the canon and (perhaps) taking into consideration how Hosea was received by later Christian interpreters. However, that God’s people would be expanded to include the Gentiles is not at all the point of the eighth century B.C. prophet. Neither a canonical reading of Hosea within the Book of the Twelve nor Jewish reception of this text during the exile or in the post-exilic period would interpret the Gentiles as the “not my people” in Hosea.

In “Marriage, Sexuality, and Covenant Faithfulness in Hosea,” Castelo discusses the problem of the marriage metaphor in Hosea. It is the dominant metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, but there is something disturbing in the books description of Israel as an unfaithful wife and prostitute. One problem according to Castelo is contemporary images of marriage and unfaithfulness. Attempting to draw out theological and practical implications, Castelo suggests Hosea’s sexual imagery “beckons readers to become re-enchanted with sexuality as something holy, interpersonal and mysterious” (193). By drawing analogies to contemporary marriage therapy, Castelo misses the important point the text of Hosea actually makes: Israel has been unfaithful and will go into exile for a period, yet me restored to her original virginity in the future when God woos her back from the wilderness (2:14-15). That textual meaning can be read across the canon by observing Jesus’ own use of the marriage metaphor in the Synoptic Gospels (see my own Jesus the Bridegroom). The marriage metaphor in Hosea could have been a solid example if intertextual canonical theological interpretation, but this is not exploited in this essay.

One criticism of these theological essays. They occasionally seem to stray far from the context of Hosea. In his comments on “Knowing and Speaking of YHWH in the Dynamic the Covenant Bond,” Castelo discusses the interrelationship between Christian metaphysics and Christian speech. Over ten pages he discusses theism, the nature of the Creator, and how that Creator communicates. He concludes the section by comparing Psalm 88 and John Donne’s “Batter My Heart.” But there is nothing in these pages connecting these (interesting) theological musings to the text of Hosea. Perhaps this is a result of my biblical-theology mind trying to read systematic theology, but this sort of thing is too common in the practice of “theological interpretation of Scripture.”

Conclusion. As Castelo observes, Hosea is a difficult book because “many of its features do not fit easily alongside contemporary sensibilities and though forms” (227). This discomfort finds its way into the commentary at several points, especially in the theological essays. These essays are oriented toward the marriage metaphor than anything. Lim’s commentary on the text of Hosea is excellent and draws on cultural and canonical context to interpret and apply the text judiciously. Castelo’s theological essays are challenging, although less connected to the text than expected. Nevertheless this Two Horizons commentary is a useful contribution to the study of a difficult prophetic book.

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