The significance of the triple reference to Lebanon in Hosea 14

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.

Nowhere in the book of Hosea is Lebanon mentioned, that is, until chapter 14 where it is mentioned three times in short sequence. The observant and reflective interpreter immediately asks, Why this sudden, threefold reference to Lebanon? It will be the goal of this paper to investigate some possible answers to that question and to provide a tentative conclusion.

The primary questions in this exegetical issue are, (1) For what was the Lebanon region known? What was distinctive about Lebanon? What was its notoriety? What characteristics of Lebanon does Hosea have at his “disposal” as he forms this simile? And (2) what association(s) with Lebanon is Hosea actually drawing upon in these similes? In answer to the first question, the most obvious answer is that the Lebanon region was famous for its trees, its cedars. For example, from Lebanon came Hiram of Tyre’s supply of wood that he donated to Solomon for the building of the temple (1 Kgs 5:1-12). And as Stuart (215) notes, “Labanon’s slopes, moistened almost continuously by dew, were places of lush growth year round.” As such, Andersen and Freedman (644) interpret Hosea’s simile use of Lebanon as restricted to agricultural produce—the crocus of Lebanon, the olive of Lebanon, and the wine of Lebanon. Therefore, they conclude that the point of these three similes is to impress Lebanon as a fabulous, eschatological paradise. Similarly, Stuart (215) notes that “prosperity is associated with or expressed via abundant plant life especially in three OT loci: in the covenant restoration blessings (e.g., Deut 30:9 [32:2; 33:13-16]), in the wisdom literature (e.g., Song of Solomon) and in a host of prophetic predictions of restored covenantal blessings (e.g., Amos 9:13-14; Mic 7:14; Isa 55:13 [Jer 33:13; Joel 3:17]).” And, in particular, the reference to Lebanon has specific parallels in prophetic predictions (e.g., Isa 35:2; 60:13). But nonetheless, one could express this eschatological hope and blessing in many possible ways. So, why the sudden reference to Lebanon? In answering this question, Garrett (277-278) provides a helpful observation. To quote him at length serves well. He notes, the Lebanon region was famous for its forest and import of trees.

But the region also had another export to Israel—the cult of Baal. It was the Tyrian princess Jezebel, daughter of the priest-king Ethbaal, who brought into Israel a missionary force of the priests of Baal and who established shrines to him (1 Kgs 16:31–33). It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Israelites would have associated Baal with Lebanon.  He was the god who came out of the mountains of the north… It was a place of deep roots, or fragrances, and of fine wine. In this, we should see an allusion to the putative benefits of Baal. … Allusions to Lebanon in this text, therefore, imply that all of the good things that Israel thought to get from Baal will finally come from Yahweh.

In short, in addition to what commentators like Andersen, Freedman, and Stuart note, Garrett understands this sudden reference to Lebanon, with all of its Baal-cult associations, to serve as a backhanded rebuke.

In conclusion, as many commentators note, Hosea’s reference to Lebanon and his accompanying expectation of a great produce is associated, as it is in other parts of scripture, with eschatological blessings and prosperity. However, in addition, Garrett seems to provide a satisfactory explanation for the unexpected, sudden reference to Lebanon.