HOSEA (TWO HORIZONS COMMENTARY), by Bo H. Lim and Daniel Castelo

Published on May 2, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

Eerdmans, 2015 | 272 pages

Reviewed by Cooper Smith


Many find the opening chapters of Hosea compelling given the prophet’s tumultuous relationship with Gomer and the sign-acts related to their children’s names. However, the poetry of the remaining chapters with its complex grammar and confusing metaphors often rebuffs interpretive efforts. A new commentary by Seattle Pacific University professors Bo H. Lim and Daniel Castelo (professors of Old Testament and Theology, respectively) guides readers through this difficult text by specifically focusing on theological interpretation.

Their work is the eighth installment from the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series. This series explicitly marks “theological exegesis and theological reflection” as two distinguishing features. Lim writes the chapters on textual exposition and Castelo pens four chapters of theological reflection. Since it is aimed at pastors, students, and leaders seeking theological interaction with Scripture, footnotes are intentionally kept to a minimum. Contrary to many commentaries that can serve as a reference work for specific passages, this volume is meant to be read through owing to its relative brevity (241 pages) and prosaic style.



The format of the commentary is straight-forward. After introductory chapters from each author, Lim provides ten chapters of theological exposition based on his division of Hosea into meaningful units. Castelo’s three remaining chapters (roughly 25 pages each) continue his emphasis on theological reflection and appear at major junctions in the book’s structure: after 3:5, 11:11, and 14:9 [MT 14:10]. But this division of labor is not absolute. Rather, Lim’s exposition is theologically oriented and Castelo references these insights while addressing issues of a more synthetic nature.

Castelo’s theologically-oriented chapters deserve primary consideration given their quality and unique inclusion in a commentary—a form traditionally dominated by textual analysis without reflection on larger theological concerns. The book opens with his introductory essay in which he articulates the rationale and benefits of an intentionally theological interpretation. Since all reading is an interested reading with inherent aims and biases, a specifically Christian approach to interpretation can be adopted without apology. Theological interpretation of Scripture recognizes and affirms a specific orientation toward interpretation—one that reads the text as Scripture for the Church in order to come to knowledge of God. Castelo outlines four theological commitments defining his basis for theological exegesis: the presence of the Trinity in the Old and New Testaments, the importance of the whole canon as interpretive context, the value of the Rule of Faith in guiding interpretation, and the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the interpretive enterprise. Castelo’s introduction to the sometimes complex discussion of theological interpretation of Scripture is clear and convincing.

Castelo’s next two theological essays function together. The first of these appears after Lim’s discussion of 3:5 and addresses how Scripture’s depictions of God can lead to proper theological knowledge. In this essay, Castelo addresses an issue at the intersection of biblical studies and theology.  He asks, how can Christian interpreters understand Hosea’s seemingly dynamic picture of God in light of the theological truth that God does not change? Or, alternatively, how does Hosea’s affective presentation of God align with the doctrine of immutability?

Ultimately, Castelo articulates and defends two concepts to address these concerns. First, the qualitative difference between humanity and God means that no language can perfectly describe God so all descriptions are necessarily provisional. Second, the analogical use of language can be an adequate means to speak truly about God in metaphor. In Castelo’s own words, “the language marking their interrelationship [i.e., the way Hosea describes the interactions between YHWH and Israel as covenant partners] can be stretched to scandalizing proportions, because the language itself is vigilantly recognized as provisional throughout” (115). Once divine impassibility is granted, the affective presentation of God’s covenant relationship with his people in the book of Hosea can be affirmed as metaphorically accurate which can lead to rich knowledge of God.

Following Lim’s analysis of 11:11, Castelo’s third essay addresses the marriage metaphors throughout Hosea which provides a tangible example of the function and benefit of the analogous use of language discussed above. The marriage metaphors are necessarily analogous since the God-Israel relationship cannot perfectly be mapped onto human constructs. For Castelo, the tension between God’s immutability and God’s affective presentation through the marriage metaphors can be maintained without contradiction due to the analogous use of language that allows interpreters to “render a God-visual in which YHWH is significantly affected by the disobedience of his people” but who nevertheless does not change in his essence (190). Thus, theology (in this case, the doctrine of immutability) sets certain boundaries so that biblical exposition cannot run counter to accepted dogma. At the same time, this construal frees biblical exposition to powerfully articulate and affirm the biblical descriptions of God as long as the provisional nature of analogical language is remembered.

The final theological essay concludes the commentary and serves as a call for wisdom in the context of a community as the interpretive key for accomplishing the aim of interpreting Hosea—the aim to know and see the triune God. In this chapter the commentary comes full circle as theological interpretation is cited as both the means and end for interpreting this prophetic book.

Moving to the textual analysis, Lim’s discussion of the ten units in Hosea do not focus on a verse-by-verse exposition. Instead, he employs a prose style that addresses the movements and interpretive issues of the text with particular attention on abiding theological concerns and canonical resonances. Rather than summarize Lim’s analysis of Hosea, I will articulate five threads that seem to guide the overarching aim and method of his theological exegesis.

First, the emphasis on theology should not obscure the fact that Lim carefully analyzes the text and demonstrates facility with broader scholarship. When appropriate, Lim distills scholarly discussions while articulating if and how such interests align with his specifically theological approach. Further, Lim provides a clear explanation of Hosea’s form and message within each sub-unit.

Second, throughout his analysis Lim eschews historical reconstructions opting instead to focus on the way “historical markers must be understood in regard to their function as they relate to the theological message of the prophetic book” (35). For example, while broader scholarship spills much ink speculating on the nature of the historical relationship between Hosea and Gomer, Lim instead focuses on the “meaning and significance of the prophetic acts” as they are recorded in the book (46).

Third, given Hosea’s position at the head of the Book of the Twelve, Lim highlights the way that the Book of Hosea serves as a hermeneutical and theological key for the larger collection. Language and themes that are prominent in Hosea pervade the Minor Prophets so that Hosea’s treatment serves as an orienting lens to understand the Book of the Twelve. For example, Hosea along with the other Minor Prophets regularly feature calls for Israel to “turn” and “return” as well as emphasize the central themes of covenant fidelity and YHWH’s judgment.

Fourth, Lim affirms the dialogic nature of Hosea as constitutive of its meaning. Understanding Hosea requires the interplay of different pericopes within the context of the canon rather than reading the discrete units as isolated abstractions. For example, in 6:4–6 YHWH rejects the confession of the people offered in 6:1–3. Rather than trying to discern the reason for YHWH’s rejection in the confession itself, Lim opts to read these units in light of 14:1–5 [14:2–6] in light of numerous linguistic links. Hosea 14 “provides clear instruction on how to return to YHWH” which is not followed in 6:1–3 (134).

Fifth, Lim reads the book in light of a three-fold cycle of rebellion, judgment, and reconciliation. Each major section follows this overall pattern though elements of all three are interspersed as well. The primary rebellion at stake is political rebellion against YHWH’s rule cast in language of idolatry. Lim’s explicit interest in showing these three themes at work provides a basic unity of message for Hosea that easily transcends temporal boundaries while also needing clear analysis in order to understand Hosea’s evocative language.



As a whole, this volume ably accomplishes its aims and can be read profitably by various groups. The theological essays by Castelo are especially insightful and provocative. These can be read as standalone pieces by pastors and students since they try to articulate a way to affirm both the benefit of biblical studies and the normative position of dogmatic theology. Those interested in Hosea or the Book of the Twelve can benefit from Lim’s coherent analysis of the text that nevertheless remains sensitive to the theology and canonical position of the book. This commentary stands as a “proof of concept” for the often discussed but rarely exemplified notion of “theological interpretation of Scripture.” Pastors, students, and scholars trying to find a tangible example of exposition that remains rooted in the biblical text while sensitive to theological concerns would benefit from this volume. Though some specific interpretive moves can be challenged, Lim and Castelo have provided a commentary that is useful for the Church by writing from a perspective that is explicitly situated within the Church.


Cooper Smith is a PhD student in Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College

Buy the books


Eerdmans, 2015 | 272 pages

Share This

Share this with your friends!