The referent of “house of YHWH” in Hosea 8:1

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.

In 8:1, Hosea refers to a נֶשֶׁר over the יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית. Performing a quick search, one finds that יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית occurs 172 times (161 verses) in the Old Testament. In [almost(?)] every instance (if not every instance) in the OT, יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית refers to either the tent of meeting or the temple in Jerusalem. However, many interpreters object that the temple is out of view here. If so, what is the referent of יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית? Identifying the referent of יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית is significant for determining the meaning of this imagery (i.e., a נֶשֶׁר over the יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית) in 8:1 (see exegetical issue #2).

Garrett  (180-181) argues that, since elsewhere in the OT יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית always refers to a sanctuary dedicated to YHWH, Hosea is most likely referring to the temple here in 8:1. One has no reason not to assume so much. In contrast, Wolff (137) argues that יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית refers to the land as YHWH’s property. He argues for this conclusion based on (1) what he understands to be a parallel use of similar language in Hos 9:8 and 15, (2) the fact that Hose refers to the land as YHWH’s possession (2:10), specifically in terms of a בֵּ֣ית (Jer 12:7; Zech 9:8), and (3) ANE historical parallels: (a) Tiglath-pileser III refers to Israel as bit humria, (b) the use of “House of Omri” as a political expression, and (c) political entities such as Beth-Anath, Beth-Dagon, Beth-Horon, Beth-Olam listed in Egyptian records. Citing the work of E. Taubler, Biblische Studien: Die Epoche der Richter, Wolff concludes that בֵּ֣ית means “arable land” or “settled region” in these incidences. Andersen and Freedman (486) concur. They base their conclusion on (1) what they understand to be a parallel use in 9:4 and (2) their understanding that Hosea never directly refers to Jerusalem or its temple. Similarly, based on parallels in Hosea 9:8 and 15, McComiskey (119) also concludes that יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית does not refer to the temple; but he argues that the referent is the people or the nation. Dearman, on the other hand, combines the two—land and people together. Of course, Garrett (180-181) rebuttals that, given the use of יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית throughout the rest of the OT, such referents would be unusual.

At the end of the day, Hosea’s language here (8:1) and in its supposed parallels (e.g., 9:4, 8, 15) may be too cryptic to make a definitive conclusion. Either way, Hosea is referring to something of YHWH’s possession; and the reader knows that this possession relates to Israel in some way because this is clearly an oracle of judgment upon Israel. However, if forced to make a tentative decision, this author would lean towards understanding יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית as referring to the land. In 9:15, when YHWH says, “I will drive them out of my house,” he clearly does not have “them” (the people) in view as the referent of “house.” גּרשׁ suggests the idea of expulsion, namely expulsion from the land, hence מִבֵּיתִ֖י = the land (9:15). I find the possible parallels with ANE records to be somewhat persuasive (Wolff). Further, that Hosea does not make mention of the temple would make such a reference here peculiar. Finally, to Garrett’s argument that elsewhere in the OT יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית is used [almost(?)] exclusively for God’s sanctuary: With such temple connotations in mind, Hosea may be purposely using יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית to draw on such connotations to paint his imagery of a נֶשֶׁר over the temple (there has to be some explanation for why Hosea used יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית instead the more typical ארץ). But whether the referent of יְהוָ֑ה בֵּ֣ית is the temple or not is another matter.