Interpretation and potential textual emendation of “offer the fruit of our lips” in Hosea 14:3 (English 14:2)

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.

If rendered somewhat ‘literally,’ the last line of Hosea 14:3 [Eng 14:2] reads something like, “And we will restore [shalom] the bulls // our lips.” Nonetheless, the only English translation that seems to preserve (something like) this reading is the KJV: “So we will render the calves of our lips.” The average, cursory reading of this line easily hints that something is askew, that either this Hebrew text has somehow been corrupted or misread, or, some interpretive explanation needs to be provided to make sense of this seemingly odd line. It is the goal of this paper to investigate this matter.

Significant factors are at play in this exegetical issue. (1) Should פָרִ֖ים be rendered as derived from פַּר (bull) or emended to פְּרִים (fruit)? (2) How do פָרִ֖ים and שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ relate to each other and the preceding verb, וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה? A sampling of emerging views, as represented by both English translations and commentators, follows. As cited, (1) the KJV retains a more literal reading of the MT. In this view, פָרִ֖ים serves as the direct object of וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה. פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ is taken as a construct chain. But what this rendering would mean is difficult to determine. (2) Seemingly the most popular view, well represented by the RSV (cf. YLT, NASB, HCSB[?], NIV; NLT[?]), “And we render the fruit of our lips,” is simply to emend פָרִ֖ים, derived from פַּר (bull), to פְּרִים (fruit). In support of this emendation is the LXX’s reading, καρπὸν χειλέων ἡμῶν (“fruit of our lips”) (cf. the Peshitta). With this rendering, the interpretive question is, To what does “fruit of our lips” refer? Garrett (271) suggests this refers to “simply one’s words or what one says.” This understanding makes good sense of the immediately previous lines which call for the people to return with words, presumably words of repentance. But note, against both views #1 and #2 is the fact that פָרִ֖ים is absolute form, not construct. As such, to understand פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ as a construct clause is odd. On the other hand, Wolff (231) argues that this final ם is an “enclitic ם” and “an archaic Canaanite case ending.” (3) Some preserve פָרִ֖ים, as derived from פַּר (bull), but understand Hosea’s mere “our lips” (שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ) to be a rather terse way of expressing things like (a)the offering of our lips” (ASV), (b)the praise of our lips” (NET; cf. NLT), (c) the vows of our lips” (ESV). According to sub-views a and b, and in contrast to view #1, פָרִ֖ים does not serve as the direct object of וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה, but that for which “___ of our lips” (שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ) serves as a substitute. In other words, this “___ of our lips” (שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ) is offered as if they were bull offerings. Against this view, Garrett (271) notes, “This interpretation suffers from the fact that the notion of offering one’s ‘lips’ as ‘bulls’ makes for a very harsh metaphor.” On the other hand, sub-view c proposes that “___ of our lips” (שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ) is the direct object of וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה and פָרִ֖ים is a modifier. For example, according to the ESV, the bull-offerings complete “the vows of our lips.”

In conclusion, it seems best to emend פָרִ֖ים, derived from פַּר (bull), to פְּרִים (fruit). This decision has manuscript support in both the LXX and Peshitta and the interpretive support of the context, namely the call to repent with words (cf. “fruit of our lips”). This emendation does not alter the consonantal text either, adding credibility to this option. In contrast, view #1 seems to make little sense. And view #3, and its various sub-views, seem to stretch the grammar beyond its legitimate bounds. View #2 is therefore preferred.