A God We Hardly Know: Reflections on Hosea 11:1-11

"I will not perform my unbridled anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim, because I am God and not a male, the Holy One among you; I will not come in fury" (11:9). Yes, you read that right! YHWH declares that YHWH is El, not a male! The Hebrew ish is rarely if ever to be translated "mortal," as the NRSV has it. That would be adam or perhaps enosh. But ish means male, the counterpart to ishah, the female (see especially Gen. 2:23). What are we to make of that astonishing use of gender language?

Hosea, a male who has given his life over to the pursuit of a female who is wanton and regularly uninterested in him, but who is continuously attracted to any number of nameless males, perhaps has learned in his deeply painful experience that traditional views of God as like a male will not get him very far. That male God is angry, ready to punish, anxious to get even with a recalcitrant people. But YHWH now, in the light of Hosea's desperate and seemingly fruitless search for Gomer, appears to employ a different stance in the pursuit of the faithless people. Now YHWH's heart recoils, turns over against that traditional male God and warms and glows with comfort. That non-male YHWH will not exercise anger, will not come again in fury, as Hosea himself has learned and himself has announced in other parts of his prophecy.

The Holy One in the midst of the people is not the powerful God of Amos, the raging God of Micah, the demanding God of Ezekiel. YHWH is here the warmly compassionate God who in plaintive sadness and expectant hope keeps searching for Gomer/Israel, no longer as a male of traditional mien, but a God of new heart, a God madly in love with someone who too often does not, will not, cannot love YHWH back. This is the God Hosea has discovered. This is the God of Jesus the Christ.

7/29/2013 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.
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