In this engaging commentary on Hosea, Bo Lim and Daniel Castelo, professors at Seattle Pacific University and Seminary (the former of Old Testament and the latter of dogmatic and constructive theology), work in tandem to ascertain the meaning of this prophetic book for modern readers. Each writes an introductory chapter on theological interpretation, followed by Lim’s exposition of the text and three excurses by Castelo.
In his opening chapter on theological interpretation, Castelo is careful to distinguish their approach from “determinate” approaches that can tie a text too closely to its original context (p. 5). To read the Bible as Scripture, he argues, is to appreciate the interpreter’s “underdetermined” interactions with texts that can highlight appropriately their personal and theological commitments within the life of the community that is the church (p. 10). These engagements are more than a retrieval of a settled meaning; they involve reflection on the Word to hear the voice of the Triune God with, and for, the people of God. The challenge, which will be repeated throughout the commentary, is to think through carefully as Christians how this ancient book can function authoritatively today as Scripture. This endeavor is not limited to any one exegetical approach; instead, it is grounded in a certain set of faith commitments and practices.
For his part, Lim concentrates his discussion of theological reading on the significance of Hosea’s location within the Book of the Twelve. This prophetic text acts as the theological introduction to that section of the canon, specifically with its key motifs of returning to Yahweh and the land, the marriage between God and his people, issues related to theodicy, and the wisdom questions with which the book closes. As Christian Scripture, Lim believes, the message of Hosea points ultimately to Jesus, the church, and the new creation.
Lim provides a chapter of analysis for each of the ten sections into which Hosea has been divided. The solid exegetical discussions demonstrate that Lim is conversant with the pertinent scholarly research, and he displays literary-theological sensitivity by pointing out textual features and the many intertextual connections within Hosea and beyond. These qualities are evident from the beginning. In the first two chapters of the commentary, which cover 1:1–2:1 (MT 1:1–2:3) and 2:2–23 (MT 2:4–25), he expands on the hermeneutical implications of the fact that Hosea opens the Twelve (and more specifically the quartet of Hosea–Amos–Micah–Zephaniah). He also explores the relationship of chapters 1–3 to the possible narrative of the prophet’s marriage, looks at the household metaphor in the ancient world as well as within a covenant framework, and examines rhetoric that has spawned feminist ideological critique. Lim’s discussions are well informed and fair, even though, as in the case of any commentary, there will be disagreement on certain interpretive decisions.
The first of Castelo’s three reflections appears after the commentary section on Hosea 3. He probes extensively the complex issues related to difficult speech about Yahweh in Hosea, while advocating a “hermeneutic of continuity” (pp. 99–100) in which the covenant God of the Old Testament is the Christian God. The second reflection follows the section on chapter 11 and responds to a “hermeneutic of suspicion” which doubts strongly that Hosea’s marriage metaphor is viable in the modern world. What is truer to the text as Scripture, Castelo claims, is a “hermeneutic of trust” (pp. 228–29) that contrasts the realities of ancient marriages (from which arise the meaning and power of that metaphor) with how that institution is construed today. His appropriation of Emotionally Focused Couple Theory to analyze Yahweh’s emotions is a worthy contribution to the ongoing debate about the impassioned—and controversial—language of Hosea.
In the third excursus, the last chapter of this commentary, Castelo wisely places his discussion of the critique that Hosea is misogynistic, a “text of terror” (an allusion to the title of Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, OBT 13 [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984]), within the broader setting of reading the Bible as Scripture. He criticizes both traditional and feminist approaches for misunderstanding the nature of texts and for not properly performing their interpretive tasks as virtuous, community-oriented readers. These three excurses are thoughtful and thorough. Some might find them to be a challenging read, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
There is much to applaud in this commentary, but I do have two observations. To begin with, although both commentators begin by claiming their ethnic and cultural heritages (Lim as a Korean-American, Castelo as a Mexican-American), there is nothing in this work that reflects what those backgrounds might contribute to the interpretation and embodiment of this prophetic text. In addition, there is no mention of minority voices that might enrich this study. For example, from a Latino/a perspective, scholars such as Justo González and Fernando Segovia have wrestled with how to read Scripture as Hispanics (e.g., Justo González, Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996]; Fernando F. Segovia, Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margins [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000]), and Loida Martell-Otero has written on the task of doing situated theology (e.g., Loida Martell-Otero, Zaida Maldonado Pérez, and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013]).
Second, some might find the stated theological stance a bit uncomfortable. As an Old Testament scholar, I am hesitant to read too much Christian theology back into a prophetic book. While I agree that the God of the Old Testament is the Christian God, how can one allow Hosea to proclaim its own message without asserting the need to establish connections to Jesus Christ and the Trinity? The theological coherence (and moral authority, I might add) of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture involves more (though not less) than reading it as an anticipation of redemptive history. Hosea is both significant on its own terms as well as a crucial witness to Jesus Christ. That being said, most of the commentary is not overtly theological, even as the two introductions raise the expectation of more extensive theological reflection. Indeed, many pages are dedicated to processing how Hosea is to be taken as Scripture, but this reviewer would have liked to have seen more of what that conviction might produce, particularly in the exegetical chapters.
This is a worthy addition to the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series. I recommend it highly.