[May 16th, 2013 NOTE: After nearly five years, this post remains one of the most popular posts. Unfortunately, you may have stumbled here looking for more information than I provide. Be sure to read the comments for some takes on what the raisin cakes were or refer to. This is mainly a post about the way we approach Scripture when we are confused or uncertain of something we have read. If time permits, I may add to this page someday. Sorry if you are disappointed by what you find here.]
I was doing some devotional reading in the book of Hosea and was brought up short for a minute by Hosea 3:1
And the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” (ESV)
In reading this, I was tracking with the thought of this verse, particularly understanding the backdrop of Israel’s rampant idolatry. It was the part about loving raisin cakes that caused me to stop reading and try to figure out how turning to other gods and eating raisin cakes went together. Though I have certainly read and studied Hosea before, I was drawing a blank on this one. So, what are some easy ways that we can improve our study of Scripture and not get bogged down? That is, without having to keep commentaries handy, bible study software or website open, etc…
- You can always keep reading. This might be the best option if you are seeking to consume Scripture in larger quantities. I would recommend for this kind of Scripture intake, reading a Bible with very little extra material (e.g. headings, notes, cross-references). While those things can be very helpful, especially for close study, they can actually be distracting to our reading. Sometimes we need to read for the big picture, rather than for the fine detail. In the case above, I could have kept going and would not have been hindered from understanding that the Israelites were not exactly following God as they should.
- Invest in a good study bible. While a study bible won’t answer all of your questions, chances are that it will answer a lot of them. So, for the above example, I could have read in my NIV Study Bible the following: “raisin cakes. Offered to Baal in thanksgiving for harvest.” That little note helps me to see how the Lord was giving a very specific and tangible example of the idolatry. Not only were the Israelites participating in worship of Baal, the indication is that they “loved” it. Now those raisin cakes don’t seem so tasty now. I also have a New Geneva Study Bible that would have given me similar information. As an aside, I am very excited about the ESV Study Bible that will be available very soon. This study bible may become the best study bible on the market. If you don’t have a study Bible already, you might consider investing in this one.
- Keep one (maybe two) alternate translations nearby. Consider these alternate translations (ideally employing a different translation strategy for best results) of the last part of Hosea 3:1 and how a quick glance at them might have been helpful.
- NIV: “…though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
- NKJV: “…who look ot other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.”
- Read Scripture with someone. This could also be distracting, but it could also be very helpful to simply sit in the same room with a friend and read Scripture together.