Duane Garrett on the Nature of Biblical Prophecy

The following is from an excursus entitled “The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15” by Duane Garrett. He makes some helpful observations that are too often overlooked in much contemporary discussion regarding Biblical prophecy.

To put it more pointedly, did Hosea suppose that this verse looked ahead to the Messiah? It is, of course, difficult if not impossible to show that Hosea intended readers to discern from this passage that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. This question, however, is the wrong question to ask of Hos 11:1. The real issue is not, Did Hosea intend this verse to be read messianically? but What did Hosea understand to be the nature of prophecy? In answer to this question, we must assert that Hosea, like all biblical prophets, saw prophecy not so much as the making of specific, individual predictions (which are actually quite rare among the writing prophets), but as the application of the Word of God to historical situations. In doing this the prophets brought to light certain patterns that occur repeatedly in the relationship between God and his people [typologies]. These patterns or themes have repeated fulfillments or manifestations until the arrival of the final, absolute fulfillment. Thus, for example, the conquest of the land “fulfilled” the promises to the patriarchs but did not fulfill those promises finally or in their ultimate form. The inheritance of the “new earth” is the ultimate conclusion of this prophetic theme. All of the prophets were, to some degree, “like Moses” (Deut 18:5), but the ultimate prophet like Moses can only be the Messiah. Each of the kings of the line of David was a fulfillment of the promise that God would build him a “house” (2 Sam 7), but the Messiah is again the final fulfillment of this theme. Thus prophecy gives us not so much specific predictions but types or patterns by which God works in the world. We need look no further than Hosea 11 to understand that Hosea, too, believed that God followed patterns in working with his people. Here the slavery in Egypt is the pattern for a second period of enslavement in an alien land (v. 5), and the exodus from Egypt is the type for a new exodus (vv. 10–11).

Duane A. Garrett. Hosea, Joel. The New American Commentary. Vol. 19A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997, 221-22.

We often think of Biblical prophecy as essentially predictions of the future. But is that accurate? It would be better to understand most of Biblical prophecy as actually the application of the past to the present and future. We might think of it like this–God’s past acts serve as models, paradigms, or types for His future dealings.

What does YHWH mean in Hosea 1:2 when he says that Hosea should marry a “wife of prostitution”?

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 Hosea 1:2, a unique construction appears. Hosea is told to take as his wife a אשתזנונים, a woman of [something related to sexual immorality]. Commentators are divided over the meaning of this phrase; and various interpretations are provided. Some suggest a prostitute, more specifically, a cult prostitute; others suggest an immoral woman; still others suggest a woman with tendencies towards adultery; and the list goes on. This issue is no small debate but is vital in interpreting the rest of the book. One might rightly say that one’s interpretation of אשתזנונים sets an interpretive agenda for the rest of the book. This is because Hosea’s marriage to this woman is the central speech-act of which the book is exposition.

אשת זנונים form a construct chain in which זנונים attributes certain qualities toאשת. In other words, this is a woman characterized by זנונים. Lexically, the meaning of this phrase is somewhat vague. For example, the LXX translates זנונים as πορνείας (a rather generic term for sexual immorality). HALOT describes זנונים as fornication, or the status and practice of the זוֹנָה (prostitute; cf. זֹנָה). However, noting that commentators are divided, HALOT also mentions the possibility of an inclination to fornication. But despite lexical ambiguity, two rather noteworthy uses of זנונים occur in Gen 28:24 (cf. 38:15), where Judah mistakes Tamar for a prostitute (cf. Gen 38:15), and Nah 3:4, which seems to refer to a prostitute with its mention of charms. Likewise, within the book itself, in Hosea 2:4, זנונים seems to refer to items a prostitute would wear. And, 2:7 may even list items given to a prostitute as compensation (Garrett, 51). Nonetheless, Garrett notes that a word like זֹנָה, which clearly means prostitutes, could have been used if a reference to a prostitute was in fact intended (51). He also warns against making a sharp division between an “occupational” prostitute and a generally immoral woman. Contrary to our contemporary culture in which a woman may be immoral without receiving pay, in the ANE culture of Israel, an immoral woman likely made her living by such immoral practices (51). But, nonetheless, Garrett favors prostitute, and argues that no valid evidence exists for a woman with immoral tendencies (48). Also, adulterous inclination is entirely absent from the book’s message; so, it is further unlikely (Wolff, 13). Based on supposed ANE evidence, Wolff argues that אשתזנונים refers to any woman who had taken part in the initiatory Canaanite sexual fertility rite in Baal worship. Consequently, אשתזנונים would refer to an average Israelite woman (14). According to Stuart, אשתזנונים cannot refer to a soliciting prostitute, for that would require זוֹנָה. זנונים, on the other hand, refers to a trait, not a profession (26). Based on Hos 4:12 and 5:4, and the supposition that actual sexual immorality is absent in the book, Stuart concludes that זנונים refers to inclination to spiritual/religious adultery (26-27).

In conclusion, in order for Gomer’s adultery to serve as an intelligible metaphor, her adultery would have to be sexual (not merely spiritual) and committed against Hosea. Stuart’s interpretation convolutes the metaphor (would this even be a metaphor in this case?) Further, Hosea’s ability/qualification to speak on behalf of God is based on their actual shared experience of an unfaithful wife. Wolff rightly takes the hints to cultic background, something more than mere “non-religious” sexual immorality, in Hosea seriously. However, his overly specific interpretation seems at best possible. And, to read such meanings into אשתזנונים is to stretch the language beyond its capacity; it seems that something ought to be preserved about the vague nature of אשתזנונים. I also heed Garrett’s warning about reading contemporary distinctions between a soliciting, “professional” prostitute and an immoral woman into this exegetical discussion. Therefore, I conclude that אשתזנונים refers to a prostitute/immoral woman, and, in specific application to the book of Hosea, may likely have cultic implications. This tentative and somewhat open interpretation has implications for the rest of the book. One should be careful not to force the rest of the book into a particular mold based on a specific interpretation of אשתזנונים in 1:2. It is key to find a balance within the “hermeneutical spiral” that allows the entire book to inform the meaning of אשתזנונים while allowing אשתזנונים to inform the rest of the book. During the process of our spiral’s narrowing, we should write our conclusions with pencil, not pen, and with eraser in hand.

Tracing the Theme of “Egypt” in Hosea

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.


Egypt is mentioned 13 times in the book of Hosea (2:17 [2:15]; 7:11, 16; 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:1, 5, 11; 12:1, 10 [9], 14 [13]; 13:4), significantly more than any other prophetic book (Stuart, 17). This speaks to the importance of this theme within the book. Therefore, the interpreter does well to understand Hosea’s broader theology of Egypt while engaging particular “Egypt” references and allusions throughout the book.

In 2:17, YHWH speaks of a renewal of His relationship with Israel compared with their relationship at the glorious time of the Exodus. In 7:11 Hosea speaks of Israel’s leadership’s senseless, habitual behavior of fluttering between two foreign allies, Egypt and Assyria (see 2 Kgs 15:29; 16:5; 17:3-6) (McComiskey, 111). A handful of verses later, in 7:16, Hosea uses the previous time of Israel’s captivity in Egypt to depict her future captivity (presumably in Assyria; cf. 11:11). Hosea makes a similar redemptive-historical connection in 8:13, where he speaks of Israel “returning to Egypt.” He uses Israel’s captivity in Egypt as a prophetic paradigm (cf. Deut 28:68) for understanding her future captivity. Hosea does this again in 9:3, except this time he parallels Assyria—the actual location of Israel’s future exile—with Egypt—the redemptive-historical type. 9:6 depicts a reversal of salvation history. Israelites will flee to Egypt to escape destruction; but, instead of finding refuge, they will find their graves. In 11:1 Hosea recalls the days of Israel’s “youth” during which he was led out of Egypt in the Exodus. In 11:5 God reveals to the readers what they have come to suspect. Israel would not actually go to exile in Egypt (type), but in Assyria (antitype). Nonetheless, by equating Assyria with Egypt in 11:11, Hosea anticipates the return from Assyria as a new Exodus. Like one who tries to control the wind (Garrett, 235), Israel tries to control her fate by making treaties with Assyria and Egypt in 12:1 (2 Kgs 17:1-6). 12:10 associates YHWH with the events of the Exodus. YHWH is still the God of the Exodus (McComiskey, 206). 12:14 alludes to God’s use of Moses, a prophet, to lead the people out of Egypt. Finally, in 13:4 God again describes Himself as the God of the Exodus. It was in the Egyptian wilderness that God revealed Himself to Moses. It was in God’s saving acts in Egypt that He initially made Himself known to Israel.

After surveying this data, a few conclusions can be made. Note, Assyria is mentioned 9 times in the book. But, interestingly, all but three of these incidences occur parallel to Egypt (Stuart, 17). What this suggests, along with the use of “Egypt” throughout the book, is that Egypt serves as a metonymy for foreign captivity, namely in Assyria. Hosea is likely building on such usage of Egypt as found in Deut 28:68. In other words, Egypt can have a negative function, to serve as a model of Israel’s future captivity in Assyria. Nonetheless, in God’s past dealings with his people in Egypt, captivity led to redemption. Hence, Egypt also serves a positive function in Hosea, to reflect upon God’s saving activity in the Exodus. For Hosea, Egypt also signifies a pivotal moment in YHWH’s relationship with Israel. YHWH is the God “from Egypt.” It was there that He first revealed Himself to Israel. This moment in Israel’s history is painted as the epitome of YHWH’s relationship with Israel. In summary, Hosea uses Egypt as a redemptive-historical paradigm for God’s dealing with and relationship to Israel. For Hosea, history does not simply repeat itself. Redemptive history serves as the interpretive key for understanding God’s future dealings with His people.

Does Hosea 3 describe Gomer or a second woman?

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.


Foundational to anyone’s interpretation of the book of Hosea at large is his or her understanding of the relationship between Gomer in ch. 1 and the unnamed woman in ch. 3. Namely, are these women the same women; or are they distinct? Interrelated with this question is an additional question of whether or not chs. 1 and 3 are sequential or parallel accounts of the same event. In the case of the latter, the women are necessarily identical. If sequential, chs. 1-3 may depict either two distinct women or two events surrounding the same woman, Gomer. Wading through these issues is of particular importance in that they set the stage for the rest of the book’s message.

We will handle this exegetical issue in three stages. (1) Questions of literary unity. Based on his view that chs. 1-3 are not an original literary unit, Wolff (59) argues that this entire debate is “foreign to the text.” He supposes that ch. 3 was written prior to the composition of ch. 1, and, therefore, should not be compared with ch. 1 in an effort towards a historical reconstruction of Hosea’s life. Rather than being compared to ch. 1, ch. 3 should be interpreted as thematically related to ch. 2 with which ch. 3 is in continuation and for which it serves as a conclusion. Ch. 3 “functions as the prophet’s personal seal upon the foregoing series of threats and promises” [in ch. 2] (59). Against this stance, Garrett notes that no manuscript evidence supports such compositional skepticism (46). Either way, the text should be treated in its current form. And even if one concedes to Wolff’s proposal, questions about the historical relationship between these events and women—historical realities foundational to the book’s interpretation—still remain.

(2) The relationship between the events of ch. 1 and 3—sequential or parallel? Various reasons exist to support the conclusion that ch. 3 depicts an event distant from and sequential to ch. 1. For example, Mays notes, in ch. 1 “the prophet was told to go take a wife, but here he is ordered to go love a wife, as though to imply that what was required was his personal commitment within a relationship already established” (56). Similarly, Freedman: “The discipline enforced in 3:3 is not the training of a bride, but the subjection and purgation of a fallen wife” (293). Conclusive is ch. 3’s calling this woman an adulteress. Presumably, Hosea would not marry another man’s wife! Therefore, this must be a “remarriage” to Hosea’s wife, an event unknown to and therefore distinct from ch. 1 (Garrett, 99). עוֹד (again), despite what verb it modifies, likely indicates that the events of ch. 3 follow those of ch. 1. And, finally, understanding ch. 3 as subsequent and referring to the same woman of ch. 1 fits well with the message of Hosea. Gomer would mirror Hosea’s message of sin, punishment, and restoration.

(3) The relationship between the two women. Stuart presents a skeptical and indecisive stance towards these biographical questions of Hosea’s life. He rightly concludes that such questions are beyond the text’s intent, which relates to the communication of theological truths (11-12). Nonetheless, he argues that the two women are distinct based on his view of Gomer’s promiscuity—spiritual adultery—versus the woman’s in ch. 3—actual adultery (64). Against this, one could argue that the context of ch. 1-3 implies that Gomer is meant in both accounts. The mention of adultery implies that this woman is Hosea’s immoral wife; and Gomer meets both of these qualifications: she is the only (1) immoral woman and (2) wife of Hosea mentioned in the book. As Garret says, “Hosea probably felt no need to give his audience the name of this woman precisely because the reader already knows who she is” (98). Additionally, no matter what verb עוֹד modifies, it suggests continuity, presumably with the events and woman of chapter 1 (Freedman, 293). However, if עוֹד modifies אֱֽהַב, then Gomer is almost necessarily in view. Finally, if the woman in ch. 3 is Gomer, Hosea’s actions would more exactly depict God’s message of restoration.

Therefore, for the reasons argued above, this author concludes that chs. 1-3 depict sequential events regarding Hosea’s marriage and “remarriage” to the same woman, Gomer. This interpretation is most significant in terms of its relationship to the message of Hosea. Hosea’s dealings with Gomer vividly and movingly mirror God’s redemptive relationship with Israel.

Does Hosea 6:7 Refer to a Pre-Fall, Adamic Covenant?

The past several hours, I’ve been studying this question and working through the exegetical issues involved. Since this exegetical question is of significant interest to me given my areas of theological interest (i.e., redemptive history and systems of theology that attempt to provide theological organization to it), I’ve taken the time to compose a more detailed outline of my exegetical notes. For those of you with similar interests (and for those of you who requested these notes), I thought I’d share my notes. After reading through these notes, feel free to comment with your own thoughts and/or tentative conclusions.

Theological implications: This verse could refer merely to what is likely the Mosaic Covenant or additionally refer to a pre-fall covenant (e.g., Covenant of Works, Adamic Covenant, Covenant with Creation, etc.) If the latter is true, this verse would validate seeing the concept of covenant as a fundamental framework for God’s relationship with mankind and thus God’s work of redemption (as Covenant Theology argues).

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