Hosea 2:11: Does this text prove that the Sabbath was abolished?
Edwin M. Cotto
Hosea 2:11 proves that the Sabbath was abolished.
THE SHORT ANSWER:
Although this is a favorite of the critics in their effort to abolish the Sabbath, a closer look at both its historical and typological context bears a different story. First, Hosea 2:11 is part of a prophecy of the impending destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel by Assyria. According to verse 13, God wants to cease their activities because of their adulterous behavior towards Baal worship. Obviously, this would cause a disruption in their Sabbath keeping which would naturally cause it to “cease,” along with their corn, wine, wool, linen, mirth (or joy), vines, fig trees, beasts, birds, and fishes (Hosea 2:9, 11-12, 3:3)! Of course, no one would argue that these things ceased to exist at that time, but it is easy to see why it would cease for them as they would no longer be able to partake of those things. Moreover, it does not occur to the critics that while Sabbath keeping ceased for the northern kingdom, it continued to be kept as an institution in the southern Kingdom of Judah! Evidently, the Sabbath as an institution did not cease to exist. It was not temporarily abolished, as some critics would have us believe. Simply put, this was an isolated case in the northern Kingdom of Israel. The people were prevented from observing it under the circumstances they were in, and in this sense the Sabbath “ceased” for them.
To prove it further, notice that the same terminology is used in regards to causing Marriage to cease in Jeremiah 7:34. Causing the Sabbath to cease no more abolished it as an institution when the northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, any more than causing Marriage to cease, abolished it when the southern kingdom was destroyed by Babylon!
Additionally, the idea that Hosea 2:11 is a prophecy of the abolition of the Sabbath on the cross, or a type of it, does not hold water. It was clearly a prophecy of Israel’s impending doom by Assyria, and if it is a type, the outstanding amount of parallels with Babylon and Rome’s destruction of Judah may imply that those are the antitypes. In all three cases we have a siege, an attack on the capital, numerous deaths, deportations, and as a result, the natural disruption of the national holy days. With this last one, critics attempt to draw a parallel because of the various feast days that ended at the cross. But the fact that the followers of Lord continued their Sabbath keeping (see Luke 23:56, Acts 13:14, 42, 44, 15:21, 16:13, 17:2, 18:4) proves that this cannot be the case. Also, some important differences exist between Hosea 2:11 and the cross. First, evil triumphed in Hosea when Assyria destroyed Israel, while good triumphed at the cross when Jesus saved the world. Similarly, the death of the king of Israel amounted to nothing while the death of the king of the universe amounted to redemption. Moreover, God’s people in Hosea were physically slaughtered. By contrast, God’s people, though distressed, remain unharmed as they viewed the Lord dying on the cross. A little extra thought will reveal various other differences, but I believe these few examples will suffice.
The possibility exists that the noun “sabbath” in Hosea 2:11 does not even refer to the seventh-day Sabbath but to the sabbath feasts. This position is taken up by various scholars because of the pronoun “her sabbaths.” If this were the case, it would prove even less that the Sabbath is prophesied here as an institution that would be abolished at the cross. Nonetheless, contextually, historically, and typologically, the evidence is overwhelming that it does not speak in any way of the abolishment of the Sabbath of the Lord and therefore, critics should discontinue taking this text out of context.
THE LONG ANSWER:
A favorite of the critics in their endeavor to find texts that abolish the Sabbath is Hosea 2:11. Two primary interpretations have been advanced, first, that the Sabbath was temporarily abolished during Hosea’s time, and second, that the Sabbath is here prophesied to be abolished in the future. The former is supposed to prove that the Sabbath was merely ceremonial, because supposedly it could be dispensed with at any moment, and the latter is supposed to prove that it was abolished on the cross when our Lord passed away. However, a contextual, historical, and typological understanding of this text helps dispense with these antisabbatarian interpretations.
Hosea’s ministry ran during the time of Jeroboam II, king of the northern Kingdom of Israel. This sets the time to between the years 786–746 BC.1 Despite the prophetic promises of restoration, the current condition of the kingdom during this time is deplorable. God is still upset with what took place at Jezreel and promises revenge on their unrepentant hearts (1:4). They are so bad that God will not even acknowledge them as His people anymore (1:9). Their harlotry puts an end to His mercy towards them and all their children (1:1-4) and the promise is made to remove them as a nation by the hands of the Kingdom of Assyria.2 In the process, and apart from the various institutions in 2:11, various other things would cease as well:
- The southern kingdom would “cease” (Hosea 1:4).
- Their corn, wine, wool, and linen will be “taken away” (Hosea 2:9).
- Their “mirth” or joy would cease (2:11).
- There vines and fig trees will be “destroyed” (Hosea 2:12).
- The “people of the land” will “waste away” along with beasts, birds, and fishes (Hosea 3:3).
Of course, no one would argue that these things ceased to exist at that time. There was still wine, and there was still corn. But it is easy to see why it would cease for them. The kingdom of Assyria was on its way to destroy the northern kingdom, and God was allowing it because of their persistence in sin and hypocrisy. Obviously, the destruction would disrupt all Sabbath keeping, and in this sense, it was ceased.
A comparison with a parallel prophecy against the southern kingdom some years later will help us understand this point better. Note that God predicted that He would cause Marriage to cease as well:
“Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate.” (Jeremiah 7:34. See also 16:9)
The parallel is striking. Let us place both these verses side by side:
|Northern kingdom (Israel) to be destroyed by Assyria||Southern kingdom (Judah) to be|
destroyed by Babylon
|“I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths–All her appointed feasts.” (Hosea 2:11)||“Then I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride. For the land shall be desolate.” (Jeremiah 7:34)|
But when Judah was destroyed, “marriage” still existed, didn’t it? The institution was still extant. Obviously, causing the Sabbath to cease no more abolished it as an institution when the northern kingdom was destroyed, any more than causing Marriage to cease, abolished it when the southern kingdom was destroyed!
Additionally, it doesn’t occur to critics that even though the Sabbath ceased in the northern kingdom when Assyria destroyed it, yet the fact that it was still being kept in the southern kingdom of Judah further proves that as an institution it wasn’t abolished. As a matter of fact, while God prophesied a disruption in their Sabbath keeping, He at the same time, through another prophet, pleaded with them to observe the Sabbath in the correct manner.3 Evidently, what ceased in the northern kingdom was their observance of those things, not the things themselves.
But was Hosea 2:11 a prefigurative symbol of the cessation of the Sabbath at the cross of Calvary? This conclusion is drawn in haste by the critics. Hosea 2:11 is primarily a prophecy of Israel’s impending doom by Assyria. If we draw the conclusion that it is also a typology pointing to the cross, we must admit that the parallels between the two are very minimal. If it is a typology, it prefigures more the destructions of the southern Kingdom of Judah probably beginning with Babylon’s invasion, and perhaps later by Rome’s invasion. Notice in Table 1 how strong the parallels are between these three events:
|ASSYRIAN SIEGE||BABYLONIAN SIEGE||ROMAN SIEGE|
|Attacked by a foreign nation||Attacked by a foreign nation||Attacked by a foreign nation|
|3-year siege||Various sieges||4-year siege|
|Attacked the capital||Attacked the capital||Attacked the capital|
|Numerous deaths resulted||Numerous deaths resulted||Numerous deaths resulted|
|The people scattered||The people scattered||The people scattered|
|Disruption of celebrations||Disruption of celebrations||Disruption of celebrations|
In fact, we see from the last one on the list that the very verse itself find parallels between those other two events. As the joyous celebrations of the institutions outlined in Hosea 2:11 came to a holt when Assyria destroyed Israel, so they came to a holt when Babylon and Rome destroyed Judah! The critic’s insistence that this one parallel, the cessation of the various holy days, is seen at the cross, seems a bit bias when the overwhelming amount of parallel’s is seen elsewhere. Actually, we see a continuation of Sabbath keeping in the New Testament, proving that it did not end at the cross,4and that, at least with respect to the seventh-day Sabbath, there is no parallel there either. Note Table 2:
|ASSYRIAN SIEGE||THE CROSS AT CALVARY|
|3-year siege||No parallel|
|Attacked the capital||No parallel|
|Numerous deaths resulted||No parallel|
|The people scattered||No parallel|
|Disruption of celebrations||No parallel|
Moreover, some particularly important difference exists between Hosea 2:11 and the cross. First, evil triumphed in Hosea when Assyria destroyed Israel, while good triumphed at the cross when Jesus saved the world. Similarly, the death of the king of Israel amounted to nothing while the death of the king of the universe amounted to redemption. Additionally, God’s people in Hosea were physically slaughtered. By contrast, God’s people, though distressed, remain unharmed as they viewed the Lord dying on the cross. A little extra thought will reveal various other differences, but I believe these few examples will suffice.5
Critics have used this text many times. I have seen it piled together with various other verses in debates and literature, each ripped from their context, in an effort to overwhelm Sabbatarians with what seems like great arguments against Sabbath keeping. But Sabbatarians need to take a close look at verses such as Hosea 2:11 to be well equipped with how to response to this kind of textual abuse.
As proven, the ceasing of the Sabbath in Hosea 2:11 no more proves it was at one point abolished, anymore then the ceasing of Marriage in Jeremiah 7:34 proved that at one point Marriage was abolished. These institutions continued in their full force, whether the people were able to celebrate and respect them or not. While in the northern Kingdom of Israel the Sabbath ceased among the people due to their unfortunate circumstance, it was still being observed in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was still being encouraged upon the people through the prophet Isaiah, Hosea’s contemporary.
Moreover, the idea that Hosea 2:11 is a prophecy or type of the future abolition of the seventh-day Sabbath at the Cross does not hold under close examination. The critic’s idea is that the cessation of feast days at the cross finds parallel with Hosea 2:11. However, the fact that the Sabbath continued as an institution, that that Jesus’ early followers, along with believing Jews and Gentiles kept it, proves that it actually did not end at the cross. Putting that argument down, we find no other parallels between Hosea 2:11 and the events surrounding the cross. This is not to say that elsewhere in Hosea we do not see typology and prophecies of New Testament events, but had the cross had the amount of parallels with Hosea 2:11 as Hosea 2:11 has with the destructions by Babylon and Rome, than perhaps the critic would have a case. For now, the seventh-day Sabbath stands on it’s two feet and the text that critics are desperately seeking to destroy it or disparage it in anyway is yet to be found.6
1) Hosea 1:1. These dates are open to question.
2) See Hosea 1:4, 9:3, 10:5-6, 11:5-6, cf. 1 Chron. 5:26, 2 Kings 18:9-12.
3) See Isaiah 58:13-14. Hosea seems to have been somewhat of a contemporary of Isaiah. Various messages are sent to Israel via both these prophets.
4) See Luke 23:56, Acts 13:14, 42, 44, 15:21, 16:13, 17:2, 18:4, Heb. 4:9-10, Isa. 56, Isa. 66:22-23. These last two prove that the keeping of the Sabbath in the New Testament were by divine command. Isaiah 56 typologically and prophetically calls the Gentiles to observe it during New Testament times, and Isaiah 66:22-23 proves it was never really ceased at the cross. Please refer to the chapters that analyze these texts and the various antisabbatarian interpretations against them.
5) Of course, this does not mean that there are no types in Hosea whatsoever, only that 2:11 does not fit as a type of the cross since Sabbath keeping continues and since the New Testament promotes it by example and precept (Heb. 4:9-10).
6) It should be mentioned also that some scholars, even Adventist scholars, view the “sabbath” in Hosea 2:11 as a reference to those fests which were designated by that noun in Leviticus 23. This conclusion is drawn from the pronoun “her sabbaths.” This may or may not be the case, but if this were true, it would only mean that the seventh-day Sabbath is not even listed on the list of that which ceased, making the antisabbatarian claim less accurate.