Determinism in the Hebrew Scriptures: Hosea

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What scholars refer to as the Minor Prophets, which include the books following the prophet Daniel (from Hosea to Malachi), we discover that the consistent theme of God’s sovereignty and humanity’s relative free will remain intact. We are obligated to qualify free will as being relative, since our fallen nature has affected our will, rendering us as presently having fallen “short of God’s glorious standards.” (Rom. 3:23 NLT) Still, we genuinely decide between various choices, or options, and we do so through no outside, compelling necessity such as God’s divine decree.

What this series of posts have accomplished thus far (namely, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) is the gathering together a compendium of Jewish thought regarding the sovereignty of God and the free will of His relatively free creatures. We are not conveniently discovering the biblical truth of libertarian free will, against the pagan notion of determinism, by prophesying our way into a theodicy or biblical theology, expecting to find in the pages of Scripture what we intend to find. We are, simply stated, reading the statements made by God Himself, or of His prophets, when either are complaining against Israel for her sins, rendering God to act judiciously against them, and concluding that, due to the justice and righteousness of God, He would never decree, render certain, or influence His people to sin and then judge them for sinning.

One might suggest that this notion plays the largest role in establishing a libertarian free will position. Closer to the truth, however, is that this notion itself establishes the truth of free will — that people make their own decisions, and that such are not decreed, rendered certain, or influenced by God — and that its opposite theory, determinism, infamously believed among the pagans and some stoics, is unbiblical at best. Udo Middelmann comments: “Disaster and prosperity, war and peace; when they come from God, they’re moral judgments, not acts of divine power. His judgments are moral in the link between choice and consequence, cause and effect, significance and results, between crime and punishment.”1 The erroneous theory of determinism renders God as pure Power or Will. Scripture, however, will not allow such an interpretation or vision of God.

For example, when the God of Israel calls Hosea to wed a prostitute, He states: “This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods.” (Hos. 1:2 NLT, emphasis added) God even calls Hosea to bear offspring with his wife, and to give their children specific names that correspond with His reactions to Israel’s prior actions. “And the LORD said, ‘Name the child Jezreel, for I am about to punish King Jehu’s dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel.” (Hos. 1:4, emphasis added) From these first two introductory passages we note God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will. God brings about judgment when His people freely sin.

Otherwise, if the notion of determinism is true, we are enslaved to the consistent consequence of confessing that God decreed, renders certain, and influences Israel to act like a prostitute by turning from the LORD and worshiping false gods only so that He can punish her for the sins which He, from eternity past, decreed, renders certain, and influences her to perform. The same can be admitted with regard to Jehu. If determinism is true, then God decreed, rendered certain, and influences Jehu to commit all the murders he enacts only so that He can punish him for the sins which He, from eternity past, decreed, renders certain, and influences him to perform. This is not a just God.

This, too, is not the portrait of God painted by the prophets in Scripture. “They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together.” (Hos. 1:11) Who will choose one leader for themselves? The people will choose one leader for themselves. “They enthroned kings without my consent! They appointed princes without my approval!” (Hos. 8:4 NET) Who enthroned kings and princes without God’s consent and approval? The people enthroned their own kings and princes without God’s consent and approval. The evidence in Scripture is obvious: While God is sovereign (cf. Hos. 2:7a), His people render their own decisions (Hos. 2:7b), choosing between various options.

The above reference panders to God intervening in the free-will decisions of His sinful people. God also punishes His people for their own actions (Hos. 2:13). To suggest that God decreed, renders certain, and influences people to sin, only so that God can then punish His people for sinning, is to not only distort the unblemished nature of our holy and righteous and just and sovereign God, but to cast the shadow of evil suspicion on His motives and character.

But this is not our God. With regard to Israel fleeing from her God, His intent is not to force her back to Himself, nor decree, render certain, or influence her to a decision she is unwilling to render. “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from captivity in Egypt.” (Hos. 2:14, 15, emphases added) God does not render certain and “influence our desires and decisions,”2 as Calvinists would have us believe.3 He woos us, like a perfect gentleman, graciously enabling us to freely come to Him. His own word testifies as much.

One can suggest that God’s desire is for us to freely love Him, freely worship Him, freely come to and rely upon Him for every minutiae of our existence. Even during her times of idol worship, the LORD still loves Israel (Hos. 3:1), wanting her to return to Him. “But afterward the people will return and devote themselves [baqash] to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king.” (Hos. 3:5 NLT) The Hebrew verb baqash, translated here as “devote themselves,” refers to seeking to obtain for oneself, begging, consulting, desiring pursuing. (link) The Israelites are required to return to the LORD, however, of their own desire or will. For example, God Himself confesses:

  • Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. (Hos. 5:15, emphasis added)
  • I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. (Hos. 6:6)
  • Their arrogance testifies against them, yet they don’t return to the LORD their God or even try to find him. (Hos. 7:10)
  • I wanted to redeem them, but they have told lies about me. They do not cry out to me with sincere hearts. (Hos. 7:13, 14, emphasis added)
  • I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” (Hos. 10:12)
  • For someday the people will follow me. (Hos. 11:10)
  • So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him. (Hos. 12:6)
  • Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. (Hos. 14:1)

The preceding passages are at variance with the notion that God decreed, renders certain, and influences our desires and decisions — the notion of irresistible grace, regeneration preceding faith and obedience, or that God, in pure Power or Will fashion, always gets what He wants (contra Hos. 6:11-7:1 NET; cf. Hos. 7:15; 8:12; 9:10). Otherwise we render God a being who influences His own called out people to stray from Him, worship idols, so that He can irresistibly bring them back to Himself. If so, then the Puppet Master analogy belonging to Calvinism is true, after all.

No, what is true from God’s word is that people freely sin, not being necessitated to their sin by any decree of God, nor by His alleged influence. The LORD wants His people to prosper under His sovereign rule, but they rebel against His wishes, and then carve wooden idols for themselves:

When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son, and I summoned my son out of Egypt. But the more I summoned them, the farther they departed from me. They sacrificed to the Baal idols and burned incense to images. Yet it was I who led Ephraim [or taught him to walk], I took them by the arm; but they did not acknowledge that I had healed them. (Hos. 11:1-3)

God’s own commentary on His freely-sinful people is: “My people are obsessed with turning away from me” (Hos. 11:7 NET). Still, as angry as God is with His people, His tender mercy for them compels Him to be faithful to them: “I have had a change of heart! All my tender compassions are aroused! I cannot carry out my fierce anger! I cannot totally destroy Ephraim! Because I am God, and not man — the Holy One among you — I will not come in wrath!” (Hos. 11:8, 9) But His desire remains that they come to Him freely: “But you must return to your God, by maintaining love and justice, and by waiting for your God to return to you.” (Hos. 12:6 NET, emphases added)

Incidentally, the translation favored by Calvinists — the English Standard Version — renders Hosea 12:6 thusly: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (emphasis added) The added phrase “by the help of your God” is without any biblical or textual warrant. Even the two-most conservative English translations, the ASV and the NASB, know nothing of this addition. Though the RSV, upon which the ESV is based, includes the added phrase, the NRSV rightly took this baseless addition away from its translation, thus rendering the NRSV more conservative and faithful here than the ESV. One is left to wonder why the contributors and translators of the ESV retained this unwarranted phrase; unless, of course, the translators are attempting to make a theological, as opposed to a faithfully-textual, comment.

Regardless, the responsibility for their own actions, whether good or bad, is clearly those of God’s people, without any hint at a divine decree, of God rendering such certain, or of Him influencing the desires and decisions of anyone, being in any sense a viable consideration. “Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! My complaint, you priests,” confesses God, “is with you” (Hos. 4:4 NLT); “They love shame more than honor” (Hos. 4:18). Over and over God insists that He will hold people responsible for their own actions — actions which, consistently considered, are not decreed, rendered certain, or influenced by God (cf. Hos. 1:2, 4, 5, 11; 2:5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15; 3:1; 4:1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18; 5:2, 3, 4, 7, 11; 6:4, 7, 10, 11; 7:1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16; 8:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13; 9:1, 7, 9, 10, 15, 17; 10:1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 13, 15; 11:2, 5, 7, 12; 12:1, 2, 7, 11, 14; 13:1, 2, 6, 7, 16).

As I have stated several times: That God is holding people responsible for their own decisions and actions should itself be a tell-tale sign that He has in no sense decreed and renders certain what decisions we make and what actions we assume. To suggest that a just and holy God decreed and thus renders certain, as well as actually influences, our desires and decisions is to hold a distorted view of our sovereign God and, obviously, an errant theodicy. How deceitful must God be, in the Calvinistic scheme, to secretly decree and influence a person, or a group of people, toward a wicked or sinful end, and then to judge them for actually accomplishing what He decreed and influences the same to commit? Is this a just or righteous or holy God? “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?” (James 3:11; cf. 2 Cor. 1:16-20)


1 Udo Middelmann, The Innocence of God (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007), 189.

2 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), I.18.1. See also Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30.