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CHAPTER XXI

THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Hosea passim.

We have now finished the translation and detailed exposition of Hosea's prophecies. We have followed his minute examination of his people's character; his criticism of his fickle generation's attempts to repent; and his presentation of true religion in contrast to their shallow optimism and sensual superstitions. We have seen an inwardness and spirituality of the highest kind—a love not only warm and mobile, but nobly jealous, and in its jealousy assisted by an extraordinary insight and expertness in character. Why Hosea should be distinguished above all prophets for inwardness and spirituality must by this time be obvious to us. From his remote watchfulness, Amos had seen the nations move across the world as the stars across heaven; had seen, within Israel, class distinct from class, and given types of all: rich and poor; priest, merchant and judge; the panic-stricken, the bully; the fraudulent and the unclean. The observatory of Amos was the world, and the nation. But Hosea's was the home; and there he had watched a human soul decay through every stage from innocence to corruption. It was a husband's study of a wife which made Hosea the most inward of all the prophets. This was the beginning of God's word by him.663663   i. 2.

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Among the subjects in the subtle treatment of which Hosea's service to religion is most original and conspicuous, there are especially three that deserve a more detailed treatment than we have been able to give them. These are the Knowledge of God, Repentance and the Sin against Love. We may devote a chapter to each of them, beginning in this with the most characteristic and fundamental truth Hosea gave to religion—the Knowledge of God.


If to the heart there be one pain more fatal than another, it is the pain of not being understood. That prevents argument: how can you reason with one who will not come to quarters with your real self? It paralyses influence: how can you do your best with one who is blind to your best? It stifles Love; for how dare she continue to speak when she is mistaken for something else? Here as elsewhere "against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain."

This anguish Hosea had suffered. As closely as two souls may live on earth, he had lived with Gomer. Yet she had never wakened to his worth. She must have been a woman with a power of love, or such a heart had hardly wooed her. He was a man of deep tenderness and exquisite powers of expression. His tact, his delicacy, his enthusiasm are sensible in every chapter of his book. Gomer must have tasted them all before Israel did. Yet she never knew him. It was her curse that, being married, she was not awake to the meaning of marriage, and, being married to Hosea, she never appreciated the holy tenderness and heroic patience which were deemed by God not unworthy of becoming a parable of His own.

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Now I think we do not go far wrong if we conclude that it was partly this long experience of a soul that loved, but had neither conscience nor ideal in her love, which made Hosea lay such frequent and pathetic emphasis upon Israel's ignorance of Jehovah. To have his character ignored, his purposes baffled, his gifts unappreciated, his patience mistaken—this was what drew Hosea into that wonderful sympathy with the heart of God towards Israel which comes out in such passionate words as these: My people perish for lack of knowledge.664664   iv. 6. There is no troth, nor leal love, nor knowledge of God in the land.665665   iv. 1. They have not known the Lord.666666   v. 4. She did not know that I gave her corn and wine.667667   ii. 10. They knew not that I healed them.668668   xi. 3. For now, because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will reject thee.669669   iv. 6. I will have leal love and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.670670   vi. 6. Repentance consists in change of knowledge. And the climax of the new life which follows is again knowledge: I will betroth thee to Me, and thou shall know the Lord.671671   ii. 22. Israel shall cry, My God, we know Thee.672672   viii. 2.

To understand what Hosea meant by knowledge we must examine the singularly supple word which his language lent him to express it. The Hebrew root "Yadh'a,"673673   ידע. almost exclusively rendered in the Old Testament by the English verb to know, is employed of the many processes of knowledge, for which richer languages have separate terms. It is by turns to perceive, be aware of, recognise, understand or conceive,321 experience and be expert in.674674   The Latin videre, scire, noscere, cognoscere, intelligere, sapere and peritus esse. But there is besides nearly always a practical effectiveness, and in connection with religious objects a moral consciousness.

The barest meaning is to be aware that something is present or has happened, and perhaps the root meant simply to see.675675   Cf. the Greek οἰδα from εἰδειν. But it was the frequent duty of the prophets to mark the difference between perceiving a thing and laying it to heart. Isaiah speaks of the people seeing, but not so as to know;676676   vi. 9. and Deuteronomy renders the latter sense by adding with the heart, which to the Hebrews was the seat, not of the feeling, but of the practical intellect:677677   See above, pp. 258, 275; and below, p. 323. And thou knowest with thy heart that as a man chastiseth his son, so the Lord your God chastiseth you.678678   viii. 5: cf. xxix. 3 (Eng. 4), Jehovah did not give you a heart to know. Usually, however, the word know suffices by itself. This practical vigour naturally developed in such directions as intimacy, conviction, experience and wisdom. Job calls his familiars my knowers;679679   Job xix. 13: still more close, of course, the intimacy between the sexes for which the verb is so often used in the Old Testament. of a strong conviction he says, I know that my Redeemer liveth,680680   xix. 25: cf. Gen. xx. 6. and referring to wisdom, We are of yesterday and know not;681681   viii. 9. while Ecclesiastes says, Whoso keepeth the commandment shall know—that is, experience, or suffer—no evil.682682   viii. 5: cf. Hosea ix. 7. But the verb rises into a practical sense—to the knowledge that leads a man to regard or care for its object. Job uses the verb know when he would say, I do not care for my life;683683   ix. 21. and in322 the description of the sons of Eli, that they were sons of Belial, and did not know God, it means that they did not have any regard for Him.684684   1 Sam. ii. 12. A similar meaning is probably to be attached to the word in Gen. xxxix. 6: Potiphar had no thought or care for anything that was in Joseph's hand. Cf. Prov. ix. 13; xxvii. 23; Job xxxv. 15. Finally, there is a moral use of the word in which it approaches the meaning of conscience: Their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.685685   Gen. iii. 7. They were aware of this before, but they felt it now with a new sense. Also it is the mark of the awakened and the fullgrown to know, or to feel, the difference between good and evil.686686   Gen. iii. 5; Isa. vii. 15, etc.

Here, then, we have a word for knowing, the utterance of which almost invariably starts a moral echo, whose very sound, as it were, is haunted by sympathy and by duty. It is knowledge, not as an effort of, so much as an effect upon, the mind. It is not to know so as to see the fact of, but to know so as to feel the force of; knowledge, not as acquisition and mastery, but as impression, passion. To quote Paul's distinction, it is not so much the apprehending as the being apprehended. It leads to a vivid result—either warm appreciation or change of mind or practical effort. It is sometimes the talent conceived as the trust, sometimes the enlistment of all the affections. It is knowledge that is followed by shame, or by love, or by reverence, or by the sense of a duty. One sees that it closely approaches the meaning of our "conscience," and understands how easily there was developed from it the evangelical name for repentance, Metanoia—that is, change of mind under a new impression of facts.

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There are three writers who thus use knowledge as the key to the Divine life—in the Old Testament Hosea and the author of Deuteronomy, in the New Testament St. John. We likened Amos to St. John the Baptist: it is not only upon his similar temperament, but far more upon his use of the word knowledge for spiritual purposes, that we may compare Hosea to St. John the Evangelist.

Hosea's chief charge against the people is one of stupidity. High and low they are a people without intelligence.687687   iv. 14, עם לא־יבין: if the original meaning of בין be to get between, see through or into, so discriminate, understand, then intelligence is its etymological equivalent. Once he defines this as want of political wisdom: Ephraim is a silly dove without heart, or, as we should say, without brains;688688   vii. 11. See above, p. 321, n. 677. and again, as insensibility to every ominous fact: Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs are scattered upon him, and he knoweth it not,689689   vii. 9. or, as we should say, lays it not to heart.

But Israel's most fatal ignorance is of God Himself. This is the sign and the cause of every one of their defects. There is no troth, nor leal love, nor knowledge of God in the land.690690   iv. 1. They have not known the LORD.691691   v. 4. They have not known Me.

With the causes of this ignorance the prophet has dealt most explicitly in the fourth chapter.692692   For exposition of this chapter see above, pp. 256 ff. They are two: the people's own vice and the negligence of their priests. Habitual vice destroys a people's brains. Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the heart of My people.693693   iv. 11, 12, LXX. Lust, for instance, blinds them to the domestic324 consequences of their indulgence in the heathen worship, and so the stupid people come to their end.694694   iv. 14 f. See above, pp. 258 f. Again, their want of political wisdom is due to their impurity, drunkenness and greed to be rich.695695   vii. passim. Let those take heed who among ourselves insist that art is independent of moral conditions—that wit and fancy reach their best and bravest when breaking from any law of decency. They lie: such licence corrupts the natural intelligence of a people, and robs them of insight and imagination.

Yet Hosea sees that all the fault does not lie with the common people. Their teachers are to blame, priest and prophet alike, for both stumble, and it is true that a people shall be like its priests.696696   iv. 4-9. Above, pp. 257 f. The priests have rejected knowledge and forgotten the Torah of their God; they think only of the ritual of sacrifice and the fines by which they fill their mouths. It was, as we have seen, the sin of Israel's religion in the eighth century. To the priests religion was a mass of ceremonies which satisfied the people's superstitions and kept themselves in bread. To the prophets it was an equally sensuous, an equally mercenary ecstasy. But to Hosea religion is above all a thing of the intellect and conscience: it is that knowing which is at once common-sense, plain morality and the recognition by a pure heart of what God has done and is doing in history. Of such a knowledge the priests and prophets are the stewards, and it is because they have ignored their trust that the people have been provided with no antidote to the vices that corrupt their natural intelligence and make them incapable of seeing God.

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In contrast to such ignorance Hosea describes the essential temper and contents of a true understanding of God. Using the word knowledge, in the passive sense characteristic of his language, not so much the acquisition as the impression of facts, an impression which masters not only a man's thoughts but his heart and will, Hosea describes the knowledge of God as feeling, character and conscience. Again and again he makes it parallel to loyalty, repentance, love and service. Again and again he emphasises that it comes from God Himself. It is not something which men can reach by their own endeavours, or by the mere easy turning of their fickle hearts. For it requires God Himself to speak, and discipline to chasten. The only passage in which the knowledge of God is described as the immediate prize of man's own pursuit is that prayer of the people on whose facile religiousness Hosea pours his scorn.697697   vi. 1 ff. See above, pp. 263 ff. Let us know, let us follow on to know the Lord, he heard them say, and promise themselves, As soon as we seek Him we shall find Him. But God replies that He can make nothing of such ambitions; they will pass away like the morning cloud and the early dew.698698   vi. 4. This discarded prayer, then, is the only passage in the book in which the knowledge of God is described as man's acquisition. Elsewhere, in strict conformity to the temper of the Hebrew word to know, Hosea presents the knowledge of the Most High, not as something man finds out for himself, but something which comes down on him from above.

The means which God took to impress Himself upon the heart of His people were, according to Hosea, the326 events of their history. Hosea, indeed, also points to another means. The Torah of thy God, which in one passage699699   iv. 6. See above, p. 257. he makes parallel to knowledge, is evidently the body of instruction, judicial, ceremonial and social, which has come down by the tradition of the priests. This was not all oral; part of it at least was already codified in the form we now know as the Book of the Covenant.700700   See above, pp. 97 f. On the other doubtful phrase, viii. 12—literally I write multitudes of My Torah, as a stranger they have reckoned it—no argument can be built; for even if we take the first clause as conditional and render, Though I wrote multitudes of My Torôth, yet as those of a stranger they would regard them, that would not necessarily mean that no Torôth of Jehovah were yet written, but, on the contrary, might equally well imply that some at least had been written. But Hosea treats of the Torah only in connection with the priests. And the far more frequent and direct means by which God has sought to reveal Himself to the people are the great events of their past. These Hosea never tires of recalling. More than any other prophet, he recites the deeds done by God in the origins and making of Israel. So numerous are his references that from them alone we could almost rebuild the early history. Let us gather them together. The nation's father Jacob in the womb overreached his brother, and in his manhood strove with God; yea, he strove with the Angel and he overcame,701701   Or was overcome. he wept and supplicated Him; at Bethel he found Him, and there He spake with us—Jehovah God of Hosts, Jehovah is His name.327702702   xii. 4-6. See above, p. 302. LXX. reads they supplicated Me ... they found Me ... He spoke with them. Many propose to read the last clause with him. The passage is obscure. Note the order of the events—the wrestling at Peniel, the revelation at Bethel, then in the subsequent passage the flight to Aram. This however does not prove that in Hosea's information the last happened after the two first. ... And Jacob fled to the territory703703   שׂדה, field, here used in its political sense: cf. Hist. Geog., p. 79. Our word country, now meaning territory and now the rural as opposed to the urban districts, is strictly analogous to the Hebrew field. of Aram, and he served for a wife, and for a wife he tended sheep. And by a prophet Jehovah brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet he was tended.704704   xii. 13, 14. When Israel was young,705705   A youth. then I came to love him, and out of Egypt I called My son.706706   LXX., followed by many critics, his sons. But My son is a better parallel to young in the preceding clause. Or trans.: to be My son. As often as I called to them, so often did they go from Me:707707   So LXX. See p. 293. they to the Ba'alim kept sacrificing, and to images offering incense. But I taught Ephraim to walk, taking him upon Mine708708   So rightly LXX. arms, and they did not know that I nursed them.709709   xi. 1-3. ... Like grapes in the wilderness I found Israel, like the firstfruits on an early fig-tree I saw your fathers; but they went to Ba'al-Peor, and consecrated themselves to the Shame.710710   ix. 10. ... But I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt, and gods besides Me thou knowest not, and Saviour there is none but Me. I knew thee in the wilderness, in the land of burning heats. But the more pasture they had, the more they fed themselves full; as they fed themselves full their heart was lifted up: therefore they forgat Me.711711   xiii. 4-6. ... I Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt.712712   xii. 10. Other references to the ancient history are the story of Gibeah and the Valley of Achor. And all this revelation of God was not only in that marvellous328 history, but in the yearly gifts of nature and even in the success of the people's commerce: She knew not that it was I who have given her the corn and the wine and the oil, and silver have I multiplied to her.713713   ii. 10.

This, then, is how God gave Israel knowledge of Himself. First it broke upon the Individual, the Nation's Father. And to him it had not come by miracle, but just in the same fashion as it has broken upon men from then until now. He woke to find God no tradition, but an experience. Amid the strife with others of which life for all so largely consists, Jacob became aware that God also has to be reckoned with, and that, hard as is the struggle for bread and love and justice with one's brethren and fellow-men, with the Esaus and with the Labans, a more inevitable wrestle awaits the soul when it is left alone in the darkness with the Unseen. Oh, this is our sympathy with those early patriarchs, not that they saw the sea dry up before them or the bush ablaze with God, but that upon some lonely battle-field of the heart they also endured those moments of agony, which imply a more real Foe than we ever met in flesh and blood, and which leave upon us marks deeper than the waste of toil or the rivalry of the world can inflict. So the Father of the Nation came to find God at Bethel, and there, adds Hosea, where the Nation still worship, God spake with us714714   See above, p. 302. in the person of our Father.

The second stage of the knowledge of God was when the Nation awoke to His leading, and through a prophet, Moses, were brought up out of Egypt. Here again no miracle is adduced by Hosea, but with full heart he appeals to the grace and the tenderness of the whole329 story. To him it is a wonderful romance. Passing by all the empires of earth, the Almighty chose for Himself this people that was no people, this tribe that were the slaves of Egypt. And the choice was of love only: When Israel was young I came to love him, and out of Egypt I called My son. It was the adoption of a little slave-boy, adoption by the heart; and the fatherly figure continues, I taught Ephraim to walk, taking him upon Mine arms. It is just the same charm, seen from another point of view, when Hosea hears God say that He had found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, like the firstfruits on an early fig-tree I saw your fathers.

Now these may seem very imperfect figures of the relation of God to this one people, and the ideas they present may be felt to start more difficulties than ever their poetry could soothe to rest: as, for instance, why Israel alone was chosen—why this of all tribes was given such an opportunity to know the Most High. With these questions prophecy does not deal, and for Israel's sake had no need to deal. What alone Hosea is concerned with is the Character discernible in the origin and the liberation of his people. He hears that Character speak for itself; and it speaks of a love and of a joy, to find figures for which it goes to childhood and to spring—to the love a man feels for a child, to the joy a man feels at the sight of the firstfruits of the year. As the human heart feels in those two great dawns, when nothing is yet impossible, but all is full of hope and promise, so humanly, so tenderly, so joyfully had God felt towards His people. Never again say that the gods of Greece were painted more living or more fair! The God of Israel is Love and Springtime to His people. Grace, patience, pure joy of hope and possibility—these are the Divine elements which this330 spiritual man, Hosea, sees in the early history of his people, and not the miraculous, about which, from end to end of his book, he is utterly silent.

It is ignorance, then, of such a Character, so evident in these facts of their history, with which Hosea charges his people—not ignorance of the facts themselves, not want of devotion to their memory, for they are a people who crowd the sacred scenes of the past, at Bethel, at Gilgal, at Beersheba, but ignorance of the Character which shines through the facts. Hosea also calls it forgetfulness, for the people once had knowledge.715715   iv. 6. The cause of their losing it has been their prosperity in Canaan: As their pastures were increased they grew satisfied; as they grew satisfied their heart was lifted up, and therefore they forgat Me.716716   xiii. 5.

Equally instructive is the method by which Hosea seeks to move Israel from this oblivion and bring them to a true knowledge of God. He insists that their recovery can only be the work of God Himself—the living God working in their lives to-day as He did in the past of the nation. To those past deeds it is useless for this generation to go back, and seek again the memory of which they have disinherited themselves. Let them rather realise that the same God still lives. The knowledge of Him may be recovered by appreciating His deeds in the life of to-day. And these deeds must first of all be violence and terror, if only to rouse them from their sensuous sloth. The last verse we have quoted, about Israel's complacency and pride, is followed by this terrible one: I shall be717717   With Wellhausen read אֶהְיֶה for וָאֱהִי. to them like a lion, like a331 leopard I shall leap718718   See above, p. 305, n. 638. upon the way. I will meet them as a bear bereft of her cubs, that I may tear the caul of their heart, that I may devour them there like a lion: the wild beast shall rend them.719719   xiii. 7 ff. This means that into Israel's insensibility to Himself God must break with facts, with wounds, with horrors they cannot evade. Till He so acts, their own efforts, then shall we know if we hunt up to know,720720   vi. 3. and their assurance, My God, we do know Thee,721721   viii. 2. are very vain. Hosea did not speak for nothing. Events were about to happen more momentous than even the Exodus and the Conquest of the Land. By 734 the Assyrians had depopulated Gilead and Galilee; in 725 the capital itself was invested, and by 721 the whole nation carried into captivity. God had made Himself known.

We are already aware, however, that Hosea did not count this as God's final revelation to His people. Doom is not doom to him, as it was to Amos, but discipline; and God withdraws His people from their fascinating land only that He may have them more closely to Himself. He will bring His Bride into the wilderness again, the wilderness where they first met, and there, when her soul is tender and her stupid heart broken, He will plant in her again the seeds of His knowledge and His love. The passages which describe this are among the most beautiful of the book. They tell us of no arbitrary conquest of Israel by Jehovah, of no magic and sudden transformation. They describe a process as natural and gentle as a human wooing; they use, as we have seen, the very terms of this: I will woo her, bring her into the wilderness,332 and speak home to her heart.... And it shall be in that day that thou shalt call Me, My husband, ... and I will betroth thee to Me for ever in righteousness and in justice, and in leal love and in mercies and in faithfulness; and thou shalt know Jehovah.722722   i. 16, 18, 21, 22.


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