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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

COMMENTARY ON HOSEA THE PROPHET.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Introduction.

Hosea commenced prophesying in Israel in the latter part of the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 782-753 BC - co-regency from c. 793 BC), having been preceded as a prophet by Elisha (who prophesied over a period of fifty years from Ahab to Jehoash, Jeroboam’s father), Jonah (c. 760 BC), and the earlier years of Amos, who was his ‘older’ contemporary. The reign of Jeroboam II was one of continual success and prosperity for Israel, and as a result of earlier Assyrian activity which had weakened Aram (Syria), Jeroboam was able to establish an empire, which included Aram, to the north of Israel as far as Libo-Hamath, and in Transjordan down as far as the Dead Sea, fulfilling Jonah’s earlier prophecy (2 Kings 14.25). Trade routes were reopened, industry was expanded, and tolls from caravans using trade routes through his territory multiplied. Humanly speaking this was made possible because the powerful Assyria to the north was facing hostility from its northern neighbour Urartu who, allied with some Aramaean states to the south of Assyria, were seeking to quash Assyria’s power. Thus Assyria, having earlier devastated Damascus, was being kept too busy to bother itself too much with conquests further south, and this boded well for Israel.

However, in spite of outward success, the situation in Israel was not healthy. Archaeology has revealed, by means of excavations in Samaria, both the excessive grandeur and luxury of that fortress city, and the false worship against which Amos had inveighed (Amos 5.26; 6.1-7; 8.14). Building work continued on a large scale to the detriment of many (it always had a large human cost), and extreme wealth and extreme poverty went hand in hand (Amos 2.6-7). Empty religious ritual combined with Baalism abounded (Amos 5.21-24; 7.10-17), and all the while Israel relaxed in the cocoon of a false sense of security (Amos 6.1-8). It was the social injustice, and the continuing and whole-hearted dependence of Israel on a syncretistic Yahwism, mixed with Baalism, with its attendant perversions, against which Hosea would inveigh.

Thus it was towards the end of Jeroboam II’s reign that Hosea appeared on the scene with his picture of Israel as an adulterous wife who had proved unfaithful to YHWH. It is clear from the introduction to his prophecy that his period of ministry was a long one, for it extended from the time of Uzziah (Jeroboam’s contemporary as King of Judah) to the early days of Hezekiah. This last fact might point to him as having in his later years, following the destruction of Samaria in c 722 BC, prophesied in Judah.

While Jeroboam lived Israel prospered, but after the death of Jeroboam things went rapidly downwards for Israel. His son was almost immediately assassinated and then there followed a series of kings, each of whom assassinated the previous one, indicating the turmoil in which Israel found itself. It was one of these (Pekah) who in alliance with Aram (Syria) would seek to force Ahaz of Judah into a coalition by means of an invasion (see Isaiah 7), in order to be able to face a resurgent Assyria. Meanwhile the appearance of Assyria on the horizon had resulted during the ministry of Hosea in invasion by her forces, subjection to tribute in the time of Menahem, and later hopeless resistance by both Aram and northern Israel under Pekah. This would eventually result in the destruction of both states and consequent exile for many.

Initially, as a consequence of the Assyrian invasion, Aram was totally subjugated, parts of Israel annexed, and Pekah, who had meanwhile replaced Menahem, was assassinated. The parts that were annexed were the northern and north-western part of northern Israel. These were the first to come under Assyria’s direct rule, with many being exiled and the whole area becoming an Assyrian province (2 Kings 15.29). This left Hoshea, who had replaced Pekah (2 Kings 15.30), to rule over a greatly restricted ‘Ephraim’, with Samaria as its capital, and that only with Assyria’s permission (2 Kings 17.3). But influential elements in Israel were strongly opposed to subjection to Assyria, and this led to subsequent rebellion, which then resulted in further retaliation, and then finally in full-scale invasion (2 Kings 17.4-5). The consequence of this was the destruction of Samaria (2 Kings 17.6) and the removal of the cream of the people from the land into exile (2 Kings 17.6), something evidenced in Assyrian records. (For the whole see 2 Kings 15.8-17.23). Israel (northern Israel) as a nation was no more.

We must remember that the slaughter throughout Ephraim (Israel) prior to the taking of Samaria would have been horrendous, with those who could taking refuge in Samaria, and the land would therefore have been left sparsely populated with many Israelites fleeing to Judah in the south, or to Egypt (the one place over which the Assyrians at the time had no control). But there would still be a foundation of Israelites left in the land, many of whom would have taken refuge in the mountains, and they would struggle to survive.

General Pattern Of The Prophecy.

Hosea based much of his prophecy on the curses found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29. Many of these are continually mirrored by him throughout his prophecy, and this continual emphasis on their fulfilment was relieved only by the promises that once the curses had run their course God would again bless Israel (compare Leviticus 26.44-45; Deuteronomy 30.1-9 which had already promised this), and bring her back under the Davidic rule (3.5). Thus Hosea constantly brings out the disobedience of Israel to the covenant, and the prospect of different kinds of judgment that will come upon them, described very much in terms of what we find in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. These include famine, pestilence, pests, the proliferation of wild animals, the ravages of war, death by the sword, defeat, siege, occupation, desolation, fear, horror, degradation, exile, and the loss of all that they held dear.

He commenced his prophecy with a vivid picture of Israel as the adulterous and unfaithful wife of YHWH bearing adulterous children (1.2-11), in contrast with Judah who had as yet not fallen quite so far (1.7). This would be a situation which would result in Israel being stripped bare and dishonoured (2.1-13), until YHWH would finally (in the distant future) woo her back to Himself (2.14-23). In these two chapters is encapsulated the whole of salvation history. It includes, presented in prophetic form:

  • The inter-Testamental return of Israel to the land in repentance. From poor beginnings this flowered into what was for a while an independent kingdom of some strength, and resulted in the relatively prosperous situation under Herod the Great who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus.
  • The coming of Israel’s Bridegroom in Jesus Christ, Who established a believing remnant in Israel as the foundation of His future ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16.18), that is of the new nation which would spring from the old (Matthew 21.43).
  • The expansion of this true Israel to include converted Gentiles in the ministry of the early church.
  • And the final establishment of God’s people in the new Heaven and the new earth.

Chapter 3 then describes Israel’s period of probation which will end in their return to YHWH their God and to David their king. Israel and Judah will once more be united under God’s appointed King. This will occur ‘in the latter days’. But we must remember in this regard that in the New Testament ‘the latter days’ began in the coming of Jesus and at Pentecost (see Acts 2.17; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.1-2; 9.26; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7). Thus it found its fulfilment in the remnant of Israel which responded to the coming of God’s Messiah, founding the new, true Israel (John 15.1-6).

This picture of the unfaithful wife is then followed by a series of prophecies in which the curses as found in Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-29 are seen as coming on Israel, although these are interspersed with assurances that in the end there will be final blessing (6.1-3; 11.10-11; 14.1-9). At this stage Judah, who were still in submission to ‘David’ (11.12), were excluded from the condemnation (1.7; 4.12), only to be included later (5.5, 10, 12, 13, 14; 6.4; 8.14; 10.11; 12.2), the latter prophecies probably partly arising as a result of worshippers from Judah appearing at Israelite feasts in honour of Baal.

In the second part of Hosea references back to Israel’s past begin to abound, firstly in terms of cities which helped towards their downfall (Baal-peor, Gibeah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gilead), whose sins the people themselves were now imitating, and secondly in terms of the deliverance from Egypt and incidents from the life of Jacob.

These aspects of Hosea’s prophecies are all a reminder that the traditions found in the Pentateuch and the early histories were well known in Israel. However, were it not for the occasional promises of final blessing, the prophecy would have been a picture of unrelieved gloom (compare the similar situation in Amos, which leads up to Amos 9.11-15). And even then it is a long term hope of blessing that is in mind, rather than a short term one, for Israel (and Judah) are seen as having much to endure before they can enjoy God’s final mercy. Their near future was a picture of hopelessness, apart from for the few who genuinely responded to the preaching of the prophets and did therefore have hope of mercy in the future.

That mercy would in the event come in three stages:

  • Firstly in the historical restoration of Israel back to their land in the pre-Christian era after the Exile, when much of what Hosea promises would be fulfilled. Israel would again prosper under Davidic rule (Zerubbabel), would be established in the land, and would eventually find her independence and prosperity for a period under the Maccabees. During this period many Israelites would have returned to the land in repentance, and a godly community was established who were no longer beholden to idols, experiencing great blessing at times under Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah. But as always their godliness became diluted both as a result of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, and as a consequence of misdirected religious zeal (the same story all over again), so that when Jesus Christ came into the world they were not ready to receive Him. There did, however, always remain a godly remnant in Israel who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah (e.g. Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna as found in Luke 1-2, and see Hebrews 11), a remnant which was greatly increased by the preparatory work of John the Baptiser.
  • Secondly in the new era of Jesus Christ (the Messiah), when a restored Israel (a new nation - Matthew 21.43; the true vine - John 15.1-6; a holy nation - 1 Peter 2.9) would be built up under the Kingly Rule of great David’s greater son, and that of his lieutenants (His Apostles) as they took their place on thrones ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (i.e. having authority over the new ‘assembly of Israel’, the church, His ‘gathered ones’ - James 1.1; 1 Peter 1.1), reaching out to the world with the message of salvation. The remnant of true believers, in Israel, grew into, and was now represented by, the true church of Jesus Christ composed of all true believers.
  • Thirdly in what we call ‘the end days’, when a portion of the remaining unbelieving part of Israel will no doubt be brought back in repentance, from out of their unbelief, to their Messiah, preparatory for His second coming, becoming re-engrafted into the true Israel (the true believing church). See Romans 11. This process has already begun incipiently as a minority of Jews have already come to Christ, but it will probably grow in intensity towards the end. It is important to recognise, however, that they can only become acceptable to God by turning to Jesus Christ as their Messiah. There is no hope for Israel outside of Christ.
  • Finally all will come to ultimate fulfilment in the eternal kingdom in the new Heaven and the new earth, when the promises to the patriarchs (see Hebrews 11.10-14), the subsequent promises through the prophets, and the promises of Jesus Christ Himself, will be fully accomplished, and Abraham and Israel will receive that ‘better country’ (Hebrews 11.16) which is the heavenly.

The Love Of God.

Central to Hosea is the concept of true love as revealed in YHWH as against the false love revealed in Baalism. True love is revealed in the love of YHWH for His people in spite of their unfaithfulness (3.1; 11.1, 4; 14.4, and basic to the idea of Israel as YHWH’s wife), a love which will remain steadfast until He is able to restore them, and yet it is a love which will meanwhile chasten them for their wrongdoings, and deal with them severely because of their idolatry. This love has no sexual connotations, (except as latently depicted within marriage), but is concerned to inculcate a right attitude towards God along with right moral behaviour and a sense of belonging to YHWH. It demands in return a love that is obedient to the covenant and reveals itself in practical outworking, in total faithfulness to YHWH as the only true God and in a fulfilling of His covenant requirements in respect of social justice and concern for others.

In contrast with that pure love of YHWH is the sexuality involved in Israel’s worship of the Baalim who are seen as her ‘lovers’ (the root for ‘love’ occurs far more in relation to Baal than it does in respect of YHWH). Love for Baal (and for a debased idea of YHWH seen as parallel with Baal) is expressed very much in debased sexual activity, combined with sacrifices that mainly contribute food towards their festal occasions. Such sexual activity and feasting was basic to Baal worship. It was very much an ‘earthy’ religion aiming at bringing physical satisfaction rather than spiritual upliftment (although no doubt claiming to be spiritual), and trading on the idea of ‘love’ seen in its most vulgar form. There is indeed a very real sense in which much of modern religion, with its emphasis on ‘God loves us and we can therefore behave as we like because He will always forgive us and likes us to enjoy ourselves’, is based on the same criteria (compare Romans 2.3-5). God is seen by them as going along with man’s proclivities and their religion is seen by them as being part of their self-expression. It is a religion which is almost wholly man pleasing (even when it makes demands). It was against such a false view of God that Hosea was fighting, and that we must fight today.

The Covenant.

Central also in Hosea is the idea of the covenant between God and His people (see especially 6.7 and 8.1):

  • The covenant is basic to the concept of Israel as an unfaithful wife to her husband because she has breached the marriage covenant.
  • It is Israel’s breaking of God’s covenant with her that is central to much of Hosea’s denunciation. Her following after idols, her social misbehaviour, and her trust in kings and foreigners are all seen as indicative of that breach of covenant.
  • It is because the covenant is in shreds that judgment and exile are coming on her.
  • And it is when they again truly respond to the covenant that YHWH will accept them and love them freely (14.1-9; compare 1.10-11; 2.14-23; 3.5; 6.1-3; 11.10-11).

Thus the covenant and its importance is basic to Hosea’s ministry.

Application.

We can sometimes feel as we read the prophets that somehow it does not apply to us today. It appears to us to be simply a matter of history. After all, none of us are chasing after the Baalim. But, of course, that is not correct. For whilst history certainly changes, people do not change. They still have the same unbelief, the same tendency to seek ‘God-replacements’, and the same unwillingness to listen to God and obey His demands. And God is still the same, showing mercy to thousands but bringing His judgment, even if often delayed, on those who do not respond to Him.

If we think that we are nothing like the Israel of Hosea’s day then it is because we do not know our own hearts. For the truth is that we are very much like them. We still have the same tendency to hanker after illicit sex, and after other ‘gods’ which replace Jesus Christ in determining what we do and how we behave, and we still have the same tendency to ignore the fact of a judgment that is coming, and dismiss it as not likely of fulfilment. The truth is that, in the end, we face the same challenges as the people of Hosea’s day, even if they are dressed up in more modern guise, and we need to recognise that, apart from the ‘godly remnant’, we all face the same judgment.

Furthermore the ‘godly remnant’ need also to recognise the importance of heeding Hosea’s pleas that we turn to God from all God-substitutes, that we do not finally trust in political solutions or in our own ability. And we need to recognise that, tearing ourselves out of the grip of the world and all that it offers, we are called on to live our lives wholly in such a way as to please God.

Structure Of The Book.

We are probably justified in seeing the book as divisible into four main sections, each of which ends with a promise of restoration and blessing, and each of which, possibly to a large extent, follows on the other chronologically:

  • The commencement - YHWH’s steadfast love for Israel and her extreme unfaithfulness to Him, which will, however, one day result in full restoration (1.2-3.5).
  • The early years (Jeroboam, Menahem) - Israel’s love affair with idols and with Assyria and warnings of what will be the result, with a reminder that if they return to Him He can provide all that Baal provides and more (4.1-6.3).
  • The later years (Pekah, Hoshea) - Israel’s growing spiritual bankruptcy and degraded behaviour, along with reliance on idols, foreigners, unworthy kings and themselves, in contrast with YHWH’s steadfast love for His failing son (6.4-11.12).
  • The final years (Hoshea) - an appeal to Jacob’s example which simply serves to reveal Israel’s parlous state and guarantees the coming judgment of destruction and the exile, but with the promise of final restoration and fruitfulness in view (12.1-14.9).

This can then be expressed in more detail as follows:

YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR ISRAEL AND HER UNFAITHFULNESS TO HIM EXPRESSED IN TERMS OF THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ASSURANCE THAT ONE DAY THERE WILL BE FULL RESTORATION (1.2-3.5).

  • 1). Hosea’s Wife And Children Are To Be A Sign Of The Unfaithfulness Of Israel (1.2-2.5a).
  • 2). Judgment Is To Fall On God’s Rejected People Because They Have Followed False Religion And False Gods, Not Realising Who It Was Who Was Really Their Benefactor. They Will Be Exposed And Shamed, Something Which Will Cause Them Once Again To Think Of YHWH (2.5b-13).
  • 3). Hope Shines Through From The Future Because One Day YHWH Will Once Again Draw His People Back To Himself And Will Restore Her Situation, After Which Israel Will Dwell Securely, Having Become Betrothed To YHWH For Ever, And The Day Of Jezreel (God Sows) Will Come. They Will Once More Be His People And He Will Be Their God (2.14-23).
  • 4). Hosea Is Called On To Take Another Woman As Wife Who Was An Adulteress, But Was Not To Have Sexual Relations With Her. This Was As A Sign That Israel Too Was To Lose Her Relationship With YHWH, Although In The Latter Days That Position Would Be Reversed (3.1-5).

ISRAEL’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH IDOLS AND WITH ASSYRIA IS DESCRIBED AND WARNINGS ARE GIVEN OF WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT IF THEY DO NOT ALTER THEIR COURSE ALONG WITH A REMINDER THAT IF THEY RETURN TO HIM HE CAN PROVIDE ALL THAT BAAL PROVIDES AND MORE (4.1-6.3).

  • 1). YHWH’s Indictment Of Israel And Warning Of The Consequences (4.1-5).
  • 2). YHWH Attacks Both Priests And People Because They Are So Taken Up With Sin That They No Longer Heed Him (4.6-10).
  • 3). Strong Wine and Illicit Sex Have Turned The People’s Minds So That They Look To Bits Of Wood Concerning Their Future And Play The Harlot On The Tops Of Mountains And Under Sacred Trees Rather Than Looking To YHWH (4.11-19).
  • 4). Judgment Is Announced On The Priests, People And Royal House Of Israel Because Of Their Going Astray In Their Ritual, Something Which Has Prevented Them From Turning To YHWH And Has Made Them Unacceptable To Him, And The Consequence Will Be That They Will Be Devoured (5.1-7).
  • 5). Ephraim Are To Prepare For An Invasion Which Will Lead To Their Desolation Whilst Judah Will Be Punished For Taking Advantage Of The Situation In Order To Seize Land. Both Will Suffer As A Consequence. Meanwhile A Plea From Ephraim To Assyria Will Not Solve Her Problems, Whilst YHWH Will Be Waiting For Their Repentance (5.8-15).
  • 6). The Eventual Return Of Israel To YHWH Is Depicted In Terms Of A Restoration To Health And A Resurrection, And Of The Blessing Of Rain Upon The Earth (6.1-3).

ISRAEL’S GROWING SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY AND DEGRADED BEHAVIOUR ARE DESCRIBED ALONG WITH THEIR RELIANCE ON IDOLS, FOREIGNERS, UNWORTHY KINGS AND THEMSELVES, AND THIS IN CONTRAST WITH YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR HIS FAILING SON (6.4-11.12).

  • 1). YHWH Makes Clear His Current View Of Israel And Judah Because Of Their Spiritual Bankruptcy (6.4-6).
  • 2). The Sinfulness Of Israel/Ephraim Is Totally Exposed And Judah Is Briefly Warned Of What Will Come On Them As Well (6.7-7.2).
  • 3). The People And Their Kings Are Seen As Being Alike In Their Ways, Burning Hot In Their Sins, In Consequence Of Which Their Kings Are Assassinated One After The Other (7.3-7).
  • 4). In Turning To Foreign Nations For Their Support Instead Of Turning To YHWH, Ephraim Do Not Realise What The Consequences Will Be (7.8-10).
  • 5). Ephraim (Israel) Are Pictured As A Hapless Dove Fluttering Between Egypt And Assyria As They Endeavour To Avoid YHWH’s Net (7.11-16).
  • 6). When The Enemy Descend On Them Like An Eagle Because They Have Broken The Covenant And Cast Off What Is Good, Israel Will Cry In Vain, ‘”O God Of Israel We Know You” (8.1-3).
  • 7). Israel Have Laid False Foundations In Kingship And Religion, And YHWH, Despairing Of There Being Any Likelihood Of Their Becoming Pure, Will In Anger Both Destroy ‘The Calf Of Samaria’ And Minimise Their Harvest (8.4-7).
  • 8). Because Israel Have Deserted YHWH And Looked To Others, (Both Nations And Gods), In Spite Of Having Received His Abundant Instruction, He Will Desert Them And They Will Return To Egypt And See Their Cities Destroyed By Fire (8.8-14).
  • 9). Israel Must Not Rejoice At Their Harvest Feast Because Everything Will Shortly Be Taken From Them When They Are Exiled To Egypt/Assyria Because Of What They Have Become And Because Of How They Have Treated YHWH (9.1-10).
  • 10). Ephraim’s Future Is Bleak (9.11-17).
  • 11). Israel’s ‘Fruitfulness’ Is Revealed By Their Setting Up A Multiplicity Of Altars And Religious Pillars, Declaring That They Are Responsible To No One, And Do Not Fear God, But They Will Shortly Discover That They Are Responsible To Someone, Even To The Great King Of Assyria, And That All Their False Altars Will Be Torn Down By A God Whom They Will Certainly Fear (10.1-8).
  • 12). Israel Are Warned That They Face Another Gibeah Because Although He Had Chosen Them As His Servant (Like A Trained Heifer) They Have Responded With Disobedience And Wickedness. A Final War Of Destruction Is Therefore Inevitable Unless They Repent Deeply And Seek His Face (10.9-15).
  • 13). YHWH Describes How He Had Called His Son (Israel) Out Of Egypt And Watched Over Him As A Faithful Father, Training Him In The Right Way, Only For His Heart To Remain In Egypt So That He Would Inevitably Return There Again. Nevertheless God Promises That He Will Not Give Them Up, And That One Day He Will Call Them Out Of Egypt Again And He Will Cause Them To Dwell With Him (11.1-12).

AN APPEAL IS MADE TO JACOB’S EXAMPLE WHICH SIMPLY SERVES TO REVEAL ISRAEL’S PARLOUS STATE AND GUARANTEES THE COMING JUDGMENT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE EXILE BUT IT IS WITH THE PROMISE OF FINAL RESTORATION AND FRUITFULNESS IN VIEW (12.1-14.9).

  • 1). YHWH Makes A Further Appeal To Ephraim And Judah On The Basis Of What Their Ancestor Jacob Did (12.1-7).
  • 2). Having Made His Appeal For Repentance Hosea Now Indicates That Ephraim Are So Confident In Themselves That Their Only Hope Will Be After They Have Been ‘Brought Down A Peg Or Two’ (12.8-14).
  • 3). Because Ephraim Have Offended So Deeply, And Have Rejected Their Deliverer, Judgment Upon Them Is Inevitable (13.1-16).
  • 4). Israel Are Called On To Return To YHWH With The Assurance That When They Do So YHWH Will Restore Them And Love Them Freely, And They Then Learn Of All The Good Things That He Has In Store For Them As A Result (14.1-9).
.

COMMENTARY.

Introductory heading.

1.1 ‘The word of YHWH which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.’ The name Hosea means ‘he has delivered’ and is probably intended to indicate ‘YHWH has delivered’. His father’s name Beeri means ‘he is my well-spring’, again indicating ‘YHWH is my well-spring’.

In true prophetic fashion Hosea receives ‘the word of YHWH’, for that was the function of the prophets. It possibly came to him over a period of about sixty years (from around 758BC to 698 BC), although the majority of what is recorded, if not all, would appear to have been received in the first portion of that period prior to 722 BC, when Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians. (If Hezekiah’s co-regency with his father Ahaz is what is in mind his ministry may have ceased at the fall of Samaria, but it is unlikely that Hezekiah would have been mentioned if he had not at the time been sole-ruler. Hosea may well thus have taken refuge in Judah bringing his prophecies with him. But the ascription only requires his prophesying in the first years of Hezekiah).

The kings of Judah are mentioned first because in Hosea’s eyes they were the true royal dynasty chosen by YHWH (1.11a; 3.5; 11.12). Indeed only one king of Israel is mentioned at all, and that is Jeroboam II. It is true that Jeroboam II also had Yahwistic credentials, with the head of his dynasty, Jehu, having been approved by Elisha’s messenger (2 Kings 9.1-3), but the latter had forfeited their position as a result of their continuing the worship of the golden calf at Bethel. The idea is that none of the Israelite kings who followed Jeroboam, a motley collection succeeding in the most part via assassination (2 Kings 15.10, 14, 25, 30), were to be seen as having any part in YHWH. So while YHWH had a ‘word’ for Israel as a whole, He had no word for them.

YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR ISRAEL AND HER UNFAITHFULNESS TO HIM IS EXPRESSED IN TERMS OF THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ASSURANCE THAT ONE DAY THERE WILL BE FULL RESTORATION (1.2-3.5).

There is nothing more poignant than this beautiful picture of God in His love seeing Israel as His wife, even though she has been unfaithful to Him, and determining that once she has learned her lesson He will woo her back to Himself. But the picture comes first as a stark warning to the current Israel, by means of three children of Hosea, of what will happen to them if they do not turn back to Him.

Hosea’s Wife And Children Are To Be A Sign Of The Unfaithfulness Of Israel (1.2-2.5a).

There is no reason in chapter 1 for seeing Gomer’s ‘whoredom’ as being anything other than spiritual whoredom, (even though some do choose to see it differently). But whatever view might be taken about that, there can be no doubt that the main thought behind the presentation is certainly that Gomer and her children are to be seen as a part of the land which commits great whoredom (1.2), that is, has deserted YHWH and His covenant and is both following false religion and rejecting the requirements of His Law. And that was what Israel as a whole were seen as doing. Thus the whole land was ‘a land of whoredom’ (seeking other lords than YHWH). Consequently any wife whom Hosea selected could have been described as a ‘wife of whoredom’, however pure she was. With regard to this it should be noted that it was not the name of Gomer, Hosea’s wife, that was to be a sign to Israel, but the names of his children. We are therefore probably doing Gomer an injustice to suggest that she was initially a prostitute, or even a fallen woman, (whatever may have happened to her later).

But the chapter is undoubtedly intended to bring out the horror of Israel’s situation in God’s eyes. Here was the land of God’s inheritance, the land that God had given to His people, and it had become prostituted to Baalism. For although Jeroboam, following the example of Jehu, had eschewed the Phoenician Baal of the house of Ahab, he had continued the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, together with their Canaanite accompaniments, which included features of local Baalism carried out both in the sanctuaries of Bethel and Gilgal, and on the hills of Israel. And it was based on a false priesthood, and would appear very much to have included the utilisation of cult prostitutes (4.13-14). The consequence was that there was an open breach of God’s commandments (4.2). God’s ‘wife’ (Israel) had become unfaithful to Him.

Of course, we today would not behave in such a way. Instead our gods are sports stars, film stars, musicians and singers, or even celebrity chefs. But they nevertheless similarly entice us or encourage us into breaches of God’s commandments. And where that is so they must be put away, otherwise we too are guilty of spiritual adultery.

The consequence of all this is brought out in the naming of Hosea’s children. The name ‘Jezreel’ indicated that the sin of Jezreel would be expurgated by judgment on both the royal house and the land, the name ‘Lo-Ruhamah’ indicated that Israel would become ‘not pitied’ and the name ‘Lo-ammi’ indicated that they would be ‘not My people’, (although it will turn out that, in the mercy of God, that will not be the end, for there is to be a final restoration). That is why the children must wrestle with their ‘mother’ (Israel) about her behaviour. It is because she is breeding sin.

Analysis of 1.2-2.5a.

  • a When YHWH spoke at the first by Hosea, YHWH said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom (unfaithfulness) and children of whoredom (unfaithfulness), for the land does commit great whoredom (unfaithfulness), departing from YHWH (1.2).
  • b So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived, and bore him a son (1.3).
  • c And YHWH said to him, “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease. And it will come about at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (1.4-5).
  • d And she conceived again, and bore a daughter. And YHWH said to him, “Call her name Lo-ruhamah; for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, that I should in any way pardon them, but I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them by YHWH their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen” (1.6-7).
  • e Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son. And YHWH said, “Call his name Lo-ammi, for you are not my people, and I will not be your God” (1.8-9).
  • f Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered (1.10a).
  • e And it will come about that, in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.”
  • d And the children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint themselves one head (1.11a).
  • c And they will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel” (1.11b).
  • b “Say you to your brothers, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah, ‘Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not my wife, nor am I her husband’ (2.1-2a).
  • a “And let her put away her whoredoms from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts, lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. Yes, upon her children will I have no mercy, for they are children of whoredom; because their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has done shamefully” (2.2b-5a).

Note that in ‘a’ Hosea has to take a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom, because the land is a land of whoredom, and in the parallel the wife is to cease her whoredom, and if she does not her children will suffer for her whoredom. In ‘b’ Gomer conceives and bears a son (who is to be a warning to Israel), and in the parallel that son has to advise his brothers and sisters to contend with their mother (Israel) because of what she has done. In ‘c’ the son is called Jezreel as a sign of what is to happen to the house of Jehu (and of Jeroboam) and to Israel, and in the parallel the day of Jezreel is to be the sign of restoration for Israel of the true dynasty. In ‘d’ Judah is to experience deliverance, and in the parallel it will lead to Israel and Judah being united under one head. In ‘e’ Israel are to be called ‘not My people’, and in the parallel in the place where it was said to them ‘you are not My people’ they will be called the children of the living God. In ‘f’ we have the renewal of the promise made to Jacob/Israel, that the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea (Genesis 32.12).

1.2 ‘When YHWH spoke at the first by Hosea, YHWH said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom, for the land does commit great whoredom, departing from YHWH.’

God’s first requirement for Hosea’s prophetic ministry was that he marry and have children. And when he did so he was to recognise that they were involved in a land of spiritual whoredom (spiritual unfaithfulness), a land which had proved unfaithful to YHWH and was lusting after the Baalim, with the result that they were ignoring God’s true worship and God’s covenant requirements. They had ‘departed from YHWH’. (‘Land’ here equals ‘the people of the land’, with their actions seen as having tainted the land). This idea of considering ‘going after other gods’ as ‘whoredom’ was already rooted in the nation’s history (see Exodus 34.15-16; Deuteronomy 31.16), and the whole verse is pregnant with God’s clearly expressed disgust, horror and disapproval of what they were doing. It is a complete indictment of Israel. And the final aim of what Hosea was to do was to use the naming of his children as a warning message from YHWH to Israel.

‘Wife of whoredom’ and ‘children of whoredom’ merely indicate that they were identified with the whole people in their unfaithfulness. People were seen in those days as very much a part of the society in which they lived and the society to whom they owed allegiance. Thus if Hosea married he had no choice but to take a ‘wife of whoredom’, because the whole nation was seen as tainted by the behaviour of the king and the majority of the people. And it was that behaviour that YHWH was bringing out. It is a reminder to us that to ‘depart from the living God’, replacing Him with other things, is whoredom.

1.3 ‘So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived, and bore him a son.’

In obedience to YHWH Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and ‘took her’ (married her and had sexual relations with her), with the result that she conceived and bore him a son. There is no hint here of any personal moral defect in her. The concentration is on the children. We should, of course, remember that this bearing of three children, including their weaning, would take up a number of years so that this was intended to be a protracted message, unfolded over a longish period, which was to arouse deep interest among the godly as they took in its message, and may well have stirred the interest of many of the ungodly. God was giving Israel time to repent.

There is no obvious significance to the name Gomer (the name means ‘completion’), even though great efforts have been made to try to form one. But all such attempts to find one are pure speculation. She was simply necessary for the production of the children whose names would bear a message to Israel.

1.4-5 ‘And YHWH said to him, “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom (or kingship) of the house of Israel to cease. And it will come about at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel”.’

Hosea was commanded by YHWH to name his firstborn son ‘Jezreel’. This was to be a sign that in a short while He would avenge the bloodbath of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu (that is would avenge the slaughter at Jezreel, not only of the kings of Israel and Judah, but also all of their retainers - see 2 Kings 10.11). This was something which would be accomplished in the Valley of Jezreel where Israel’s bow would be broken and the kingdom of the house of Israel would cease.

The ‘breaking of the bow of Israel’ (compare Psalm 46.9; Jeremiah 49.35) indicated that the power of her army would be broken, her strength would be gone, and that her armaments in which she prided herself (certainly in the time of Jeroboam II) would be captured by the enemy and disposed of. It was the indication of a heavy military defeat and the cessation of her ability to make war (Psalm 46.9). Because of its position (see below) Jezreel was always a prime target for invading armies intent on defeating Israel.

This was no light message. It was an indication of YHWH’s coming judgment on the dynasty of the reigning king (thus placing this prophecy prior to 753 BC), as well as of the final destruction of the kingdom, and it would in consequence hardly have made Hosea popular in royal circles. ‘At that day’ refers to the day of Israel’s demise.

The reason for the need for vengeance would appear to be because, while Jehu had initially acted with prophetic approval in slaughtering the kings, and had delivered Israel from the royal house which was propagating the Phoenician Baal (Baal Melqart), even receiving the commendation of YHWH for doing so, he had gone too far by following out his own purposes, and had thus himself disobeyed YHWH. It was true that God had commended his partial obedience, declaring “Because you have done well in executing what is right in my eyes, because you have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, sons of yours of the fourth generation will sit on the throne of Israel” (2 Kings 10.30). But the limit to ‘the fourth generation’ indicated only qualified approval. He was being rewarded for what he had done, but his house would eventually be punished for his over excess, and for his failing to do what he should have done. For in his excess he had gone far beyond the house of Ahab in his bloodshed, and in his folly he and his dynasty, (including Jeroboam who had been especially ‘blessed’ and therefore had little excuse), had not been so careful about the restoration of pure Yahwism.

The only thing that could remotely have justified the kind of bloodbath in which Jehu engaged (and even then it would not have justified his over excess in doing so), would have been the dedicated intention to return the whole of the nation to pure Yahwism. But instead of that, the house of Jehu had allowed the syncretistic worship at Bethel to carry on, with its golden calf, its compromises with Baalism (which are reflected in 2.16), and its uncontrolled Baal worship at high places on mountain summits. In other words its obedience had fallen far short of God’s requirements.

Consequently Jehu’s purges were seen to have been mainly self-serving, in that they had not resulted in a return to pure Yahwism. This indicated that Yahwism had simply been used as an excuse for his actions and in order to curry favour among the more religiously minded in Israel, rather than being an affair of the heart. As a consequence Jehu’s dynasty were considered to have condemned themselves, because their actions were seen to have arisen, not out of a true concern for YHWH, but from political opportunism parading under the guise of religious zeal. To be the Lord’s executioner was a serious matter, and to do it excessively, for the totally wrong reasons, could only inevitably lead to judgment on those who so involved themselves.

This is brought out by the fact that his reward, even initially, was limited to four generations, and by the fact that YHWH’s commendation in 2 Kings 10.30 is itself placed between a reference to his continuing in the syncretistic and illegal worship instituted by Jeroboam I, and a further reference to the same in terms of his failure to walk in the law of YHWH the God of Israel with all his heart (2 Kings 10.29-31). Like Nebuchadnezzar (who was also YHWH’s instrument, but went too far - Isaiah 10.5-12), he was YHWH’s instrument, but he was seen to be an unsatisfactory instrument.

So the combined significance of the name Jezreel was that it indicated the coming of the end of the royal dynasty of Jehu because of its blood-guiltiness, and the total defeat of Israel at the hands of its enemies.

However, the significance of the name ‘Jezreel’ does not stop there, for Jezreel not only plays an important part in this verse (where it is mentioned three times), but also in 1.11 and 2.22. In 1.11 there is to be a reversal of the situation described here, for in the future, when the peoples of Judah and Israel finally do unite under one head, ‘they will come up out of the land’ (to Jezreel), and ‘great will be the day of Jezreel’. It will then be a place of celebration and rejoicing. Instead of symbolising judgment it will symbolise the triumph of the Davidic king, who will be seen to be reigning in the palace of the kings of Israel as well as in Jerusalem. The kingships of Judah and Israel will once more have been united under one head, and all will look to the one king. What Jehu had done rightly in the slaughtering of the two kings would have its final fruit in the true king reigning over the combined nation. In 2.22 the name ‘Jezreel’ (God sows) symbolises Heaven and earth and all that grows in it, acting because ‘God has sown’ (Jezreel means ‘God sows’), with the result that Israel will be fully restored as God’s people.

So the naming of Hosea’s son as ‘Jezreel’ not only points to judgment on Jehu’s (and Jeroboam’s) dynasty, and the ceasing of the kingdom of Israel, but also to the later triumph of the Davidic king (1.11) and the future God-wrought restoration of His people (2.22).

Jezreel was an important site for it overlooked the pass that led from the north into the Coastal Plain (the route regularly taken by conquering kings). It was also the summer palace of the kings of Israel, and was a stout fortress. It was the scene of Ahab’s treachery with regard to Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). The fortress at the time of Ahab has been excavated, and it was discovered to have had a moat thirty six metres (117 feet) wide. Parts of Israelite buildings have also been found. To Hosea it symbolised kingship in Israel, while at the same time indicating the rejection of idolatrous Samaria. It also signified the protection of the realm. When Jezreel prospered Israel was strong.

1.6 ‘And she conceived again, and bore a daughter. And YHWH said to him, “Call her name Lo-ruhamah; for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, that I should in any way pardon them.”

Years having passed the people would have had time to ponder on the reason why Hosea had named his son ‘Jezreel’, something which had no doubt been made clear by Hosea (it would appear that at this time significant name-giving was a recognised prophetic practise. Compare how Isaiah, a younger contemporary of Hosea, would also give his children significant names - Isaiah 8). The consequence would be that the birth of his second child must have been awaited with interest. In the event it was a daughter, and Hosea was bidden by YHWH to name her ‘Lo-Ruhamah’, which meant ‘not pitied’ or ‘unloved’ or ‘no compassion’.

For a child in Israel to be given a negative name was a rarity (names were intended to indicate something positive), so that for a daughter to be named ‘unloved’ would have been seen as striking indeed. And it was clearly intended to be striking, for its whole point was that Israel were no longer to experience the compassion of YHWH. He would no longer pardon them. He had reached the end of His patience with them. This daughter’s name would thus be a continual indictment of Israel.

This was YHWH’s final plea to Israel. Had they repented they would yet have found mercy, for it will be noted that it was not until after she had been weaned (a period of two to three years) and another child had been born that He finally affirmed that they were ‘not His people’. As with Nineveh under Jonah’s preaching some years previously (see Jonah 3) He was through the naming of this daughter giving them a last chance to repent.

1.7 “But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them by YHWH their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.”

God’s indictment at this stage did not apply to Judah. Judah was still ruled by the Davidic king, and still, at least centrally, worshipped in accordance with the Torah. Her time of full judgment and rejection had not yet come. Indeed the ‘breaking of the bow’ of Israel by the Assyrians was not to apply to Judah, for God’s promise was that He would yet have compassion on them and would save them by a miraculous deliverance. It would not be by bow, or sword, or battle, or horses, or horsemen. All their military strength and efforts would not save them. It would be by YHWH alone. And in the event we know that it would be by the Angel of YHWH (2 Kings 19.35), but only after they had suffered greatly. It would be a partial deliverance intended to call them back to repentance in the light of the destruction of Samaria and of their own numerous defenced cities.

This is not, however, to be seen as merely a side comment about Judah. It was intended to be a further indictment of Israel. For all could recognise that the reason that Judah was to be spared was because of its true worship of YHWH in the temple, and its loyalty to YHWH and the Davidic king, however tenuous they may be. And it emphasised the exclusion of Israel. Furthermore the reference to the fact that YHWH would not even require the assistance of a bow in defending Judah tended to underline the fact that Israel’s bow would be broken.

1.8 ‘Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son.’

The weaning of a child would take two or three years, giving Israel time to consider their ways, so that the next child to be born to Gomer would arrive some years later. But to those who did not consider repenting the waiting would be ominous. What warning would the next child bring? This time it was to be another son. God’s message was slowly being brought home to Israel.

1.9 ‘And YHWH said, “Call his name Lo-ammi, for you are not my people, and I will not be your Ehyeh (I AM).”

The message proclaimed by the naming of this child would come as a profound shock to those who took notice, mainly the faithful in Israel. Whereas the first two names had been somewhat ambiguous, the first affecting the royal dynasty and the national security, and the second reflecting a certain coldness in their relationship with YHWH, there could be no doubt about what this one signified. It was Lo-ammi’ and indicated ‘not My people’. It was notification of the direct rejection of Israel as YHWH’s people.

Furthermore He would no longer be their Ehyeh (‘I am’ or ‘I will be’). Ehyeh was the name of God stressed when God came to Moses prior to the Exodus (Exodus 3.14). The idea is that God will no longer be acting on their behalf. From now on they could not look to Him for deliverance. Exodus 6.7 (‘I will take you for My people, and I will be your God’) is to be seen as having been reversed. This was because the kind of religious exercise in which they now indulged in the name of YHWH was looked on as meaningless, having become prostituted to the level of a nature religion. They no longer saw YHWH as the covenant God of Sinai, the Deliverer from Egypt, but simply as a parallel to Baal.

1.10a “Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered.”

But what then of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? They were not to be forgotten. Out of the gloom of the naming of the three children of Hosea comes a gleam of light. The promise given to Jacob that the children of Israel would be as the sand of the sea (Genesis 32.12; compare Genesis 22.17), which could neither be measured nor numbered, would still hold. But it would be carried forward to a future time. God’s promises would not fail. But they no longer applied to Israel at the present time.

Israel would indeed one day be restored, and along with Judah would become a nation again, something which happened in the inter-testamental period, so that by the time of Jesus the land would again be well populated. And her numbers would expand beyond counting in the new ‘believing Israel’, the true church of Jesus Christ (Revelation 7.9). Furthermore the gathering of unbelieving Israel to Palestine at the present time may well augur a time when large numbers in Israel will turn to Jesus Christ and thus once again be engrafted into ‘believing Israel’. But all that was still in the future. The measure of its importance, however, comes out in the fact that this declaration is central in the chiasmus of this passage (see above).

We should not over-exaggerate the significance of ‘as the sand of the sea’. Israel’s army in the time of Saul could equally be described in those terms (2 Samuel 17.11), and they were no doubt seen as uncountable (but were not). It is hyperbole for a large number.

1.10b ‘And it will come about that, in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.”

Thus there was to come a time when in the very place where they had been declared ‘not My people’ it would be said to them that ‘you are the sons of the living God’. As sons they would consequently be restored to the covenant (compare Deuteronomy 14.1; 32.19).

This occurred literally in Palestine in the inter-testamental period, it occurred there again literally for the believing remnant in the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles (in the Gospels and Acts 1-12), when large numbers of Jews returned to God. being then expanded by the influx of Gentiles (Romans 9.24-26), and it may well be repeated literally at the end of the age (this last is in God’s hands. It is not necessarily required by Scripture which can be seen as fulfilled in the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel, but it is consonant with the mercy of God, and indicated by the way that the Jewish nation has been preserved and brought back to Palestine. It is possibly also to be seen as suggested in a number of New Testament Scriptures (e.g. Romans 11.26-28; Luke 21.24). But if it occurs, bringing rejoicing to all Christian hearts, it will only be by a work of the Spirit which turns them to Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Saviour. There is no salvation outside of Christ.

And to all who truly believe in Jesus Christ this privilege of being ‘the sons of the living God’ is given (compare 2 Corinthians 6.16-18; Romans 9.24-26), for we are engrafted into believing Israel and are thus the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), the true Vine (John 15.1-6), the elect race, the holy people (1 Peter 2.9), made one with believing Israel and built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone (Ephesians 2.11-22).

Note the reference to ‘the living God’. That was the difference between YHWH and Baal. Baal was but a part of nature, a nature god. He might theoretically help the crops to grow through being an essential part of the round of nature, but he offered nothing of true spiritual life and deliverance. He was not truly ‘alive’. When he ‘rose’ and came to life (something demonstrated by the fact that everything began to blossom again in Spring) he rose only to die again.

1.11 ‘And the children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint themselves one head, and will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”

This promise would be literally fulfilled in the inter-testamental period. The two nations would come together as one, and would appoint over themselves ‘one head’ (significantly not ‘one king’, giving wider scope to the prophecy; compare Psalm 18.43 where the Davidic king is to be ‘the head of the nations’, and Numbers 14.4 for the Hebrew). What might be seen as lacking would be the large numbers comparable with the stars of Heaven, although Israel might well have seen it in that way, for by the time of Christ Israel would have greatly multiplied. It would find even greater fulfilment in the coming of the King when Jesus Christ came on earth (in 1st century AD), and all who came to Him out of the land would be united in Him, and would become a multitude which could not be numbered (Revelation 7.9). This also ties in with the application of 1.10 to the whole church in 1 Peter 2.9-10; compare Romans 9.24-27. While it may not appear so to us the early church saw themselves very much as the true Israel, not simply as just a ‘spiritual Israel’. They were the believing remnant, the continuation of believing Israel. It was the unbelieving Jews who had been cast off from Israel (Romans 11.16-24). See Acts 4.25-2 where ‘the peoples’ have become ‘unbelieving Israel’; Romans 11.17; Matthew 21.43. It may well find its culmination in the conversion to Christ of unbelieving Jews in large numbers at the end of the age, when they are once again incorporated into the true Israel by becoming members of His true church (congregation).

‘Go up from the land’ has a number of possible interpretations.

  • While we have no historical record of it, they may well at some stage have ‘gone up from the land’ to the valley of Jezreel for great celebrations together, as pictured here.
  • On the other hand the idea may not be of going to the Valley of Jezreel, but of ‘going up out of the land’ to Jerusalem, ‘the day of Jezreel’ indicating the day when what the name Jezreel (‘God sows’) finally signifies, deliverance and fruitfulness (2.22), will finally be accomplished (note that it is paralleled in the chiasm with reference to the birth of Jezreel, Hosea’s firstborn).
  • A third possibility is that ‘out of the land’ has in mind escape from the land of Exile, for the same phrase is found in Exodus 1.10 of escaping from Egypt. To Hosea escape ‘from Egypt’ symbolised God’s hope for Israel, whom he sees as never having found release from Egypt’s ensnaring (11.11).

Jezreel had been the place of death of the tainted monarchy. The day of Jezreel (‘God sows’) might well signify the day when, the bloodshed at Jezreel having been avenged, Jezreel, Hosea’s son, would as it were prophetically see ‘God sowing’ (Jezreel), causing the appointment of an untainted ‘head’ in Jerusalem. This was something which took place to some extent under the governor and son of David Zerubabbel (Haggai 2.4-9, 21-23; Zechariah 4.6-10), and would finally be accomplished in much greater measure when the Son of David was named ‘both Lord and Christ’ in Jerusalem (Acts 2.36). That would be a great day indeed.

The rapid movement from YHWH’s judgment of His people to their restoration is a feature of the Law of Moses. In both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29 we have the same movement. Curse must be followed by blessing. Hosea is therefore simply following the usual prophetic pattern. It was important that YHWH’s Name and faithfulness be preserved so that all might realise that despite the failure of His people, He Himself would not fail.

2.1 “Say you to your brothers, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.”

Note how the names of the three children have been repeated, combining 1.11, with its mention of Jezreel, and this verse with the mention of Ammi and Ruhama. The positive note brought out here would serve to confirm that ‘Jezreel’ in 1.11 is connected with restoration. And the consequence of ‘the day of Jezreel’ will be that Jezreel will be able to say to all his brothers, ‘My People’ and to all his sisters, ‘Beloved’. The names of the children of portent will be changed by dropping the negative, and the new names will be given to the whole family as representing the whole nation, because God’s attitude towards His people will have changed. They will again be His people and beloved.

Alternately the speaker may be seen as the prophet Hosea, but it makes little difference to the sense.

2.2-3 “Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not my wife, nor am I her husband, and let her put away her whoredoms from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts, lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.”

The context now has in mind Israel’s state rather than that of Hosea’s family. It is on the basis of the hope of once again being accepted that the people of Israel are to contend with their mother (clearly here the state of Israel as the fallen wife of YHWH) because of her proved unfaithfulness. That unfaithfulness is the reason why she is no longer His wife, and he is not her husband. The words ‘she is not my wife, nor am I her husband’ have the ring of an official pronouncement of divorce, although probably to be seen as not yet pronounced. Unless she repents, the marriage covenant between them is about to be quashed. And the contention of her children is to be that she should put away her unfaithfulness, and her idolatry, lest she be totally exposed in the sight of the nations by having her nakedness exposed, and by being desolated and turned into a semi-desert. The indication is that repentance is still open to Israel even now, if only she will turn before it is too late.

The picture of Israel which is drawn is vivid. It depicts a prostitute with painted face (compare Jeremiah 4.30), welcoming lovers to her breasts (or having provocative ornaments on her breasts), because she has rejected YHWH and chosen to entertain false religion (a Yahwism tainted with Baalism), with the consequence that she will be stripped naked and exposed in the burning sun unless she changes her ways. In the event it would be the stripping naked and exposure which would be her lot.

Stripping naked and exposure to others was probably a recognised way of dealing with unfaithful women (compare Ezekiel 16.37). There may also be here a reference to the wilderness days which followed Israel’s ‘birth’, when Israel was outside the land and subject to the problems of the semi-desert, with the thought that she will again be cast out of the land.

2.4-5a “Yes, upon her children will I have no mercy, for they are children of whoredom; because their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has done shamefully.”

And the consequences of Israel’s behaviour will be that her sons and daughters will suffer with her. They too will receive ‘no compassion’ because they are the result of their mother’s whoredom. The idea is ‘Like mother, like children’. She has ‘played the harlot’ (Exodus 34.15-16; Deuteronomy 31.16) and behaved shamefully and the repercussions will come on those who follow (Exodus 34.16).

Judgment Is To Fall On God’s Rejected People Because They Have Followed False Religion And False Gods, Not Realising Who It Was Who Was Really Their Benefactor. They Will Be Exposed And Shamed, Something Which Will Cause Them Once Again To Think Of YHWH (2.5b-13).

Because of His people’s unfaithfulness to Him YHWH will move ‘her’ (His people) to a place where she is unable to have contact with ‘her lovers’, that is, with the false aspects of religion which she had introduced beside Yahwism such as images of Baal and Asherah. Then she will be unable to find them, and will thus determine to return to her initial husband. But because she had failed to recognise that it was really YHWH Who had provided for her, she will lose all His provision, will be exposed in her folly, and will receive the due reward for her behaviour. The words have exile in mind.

Analysis of 2.5b-13.

  • a “Because she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink’ ” (2.5b).
  • b “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, that she shall not find her paths” (2.6).
  • c “And she will follow after her lovers, but she will not overtake them, and she will seek them, but will not find them” (2.7a).
  • d “Then she will say, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better with me than now” (2.7b).
  • e “For she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, and the new wine, and the oil” (2.8a).
  • f “And multiplied to her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2.8b).
  • e “Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my new wine in its season, and will pluck away my wool and my flax which should have covered her nakedness” (2.9).
  • d “And now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none will deliver her out of my hand” (2.10).
  • c “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn assemblies” (2.11).
  • b “And I will lay waste her vines and her fig-trees, of which she has said, “These are my hire which my lovers have given me,” and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field will eat them” (2.12).
  • a “And I will visit on her the days of the Baalim, to which she burned incense, when she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgot me,” says YHWH (2.13).

Note that in ‘a’ she said, I will go after my lovers’ and in the parallel YHWH says, ‘she went after her lovers, bedecked for love, and forgot Me’. In ‘b’ YHWH warns that He will hedge up her way with thorns, and in the parallel He will make her vines and fig-trees into a forest. In ‘c’ she will follow after her lovers and not find them, and in the parallel YHWH will render useless all her means of accessing her lovers so that she cannot find them. In ‘d’ she will determine to return to her first husband, and in the parallel he will expose her in the sight of her lovers and deal inexorably with her. In ‘e’ she did not realise who gave to her her grain, new wine and oil, and in the parallel YHWH would take back her grain, and new wine. Centrally in ‘f’ YHWH had multiplied to her silver and gold, and she had used it for Baal.

2.5b “Because she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.’ ”

The picture is of Israel thirsting after false religion because they were confident that it was that which, along with cult prostitution, ensured fertility, and resulted in their plentiful supply of bread and water, wool and flax, oil and drink. They gave all the credit for YHWH’s provision to their false rituals.

‘Their lovers’ may be the fertility symbols borrowed from Baalism, or the cult prostitutes with which they engaged. For us it may be following after singers or film stars or other cultic personalities, for it refers to anything which takes the place of God in our lives.

2.6 “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, that she shall not find her paths.”

And the consequence was to be that the way to her lovers would be blocked. Thorn hedges would block the way, forming a wall which would prevent her from finding her path. The high places would become a wilderness, because she would have been taken far away. The brief change from third person to second person (‘I will hedge up YOUR way with thorns’ rather than ‘HER way’) is deliberate, the sudden change reflecting God’s anger and the personal nature of His judgment.

2.7a “And she will follow after her lovers, but she will not overtake them, and she will seek them, but will not find them.’

So while she may still seek to follow after her lovers, she will not be able to catch up with them, and she will seek them and not find them. All access to them will have been lost. There would be no Baalim to worship in exile. It will always be so with earthly ‘lovers’.

2.7b-8a “Then she will say, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better with me than now. For she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, and the new wine, and the oil,”

The result of this will be that she will be brought to her senses and will recognise how foolish she has been. She will recognise that she had not realised that it was YHWH who had provided her grain and new wine and oil (compare for example, Deuteronomy 7.13; 11.14-15). And she will therefore determine to return to her first husband, acknowledging that things had been far better when she had been faithful to Him. (This would be one result of the Exiles that would follow).

Thus once again, after judgment is to come deliverance. But Hosea will not let Israel off the hook yet. And he leaps back from her moment of repentance to the consequences that will result before repentance. He was under no illusions. He knew very well that that repentance was a long way off.

2.8b “And multiplied to her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

But before he does leap back he has one more thing to add. YHWH had also been the One Who had provided her with wealth (Jeroboam’s reign had seen prosperity grow and blossom). And what had she done with it? She had squandered it on Baal. The living God had been far from her thoughts. That was why judgment had to come.

2.9 “Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my new wine in its season, and will pluck away my wool and my flax which should have covered her nakedness.’

So because she had failed to recognise that it was YHWH Who had given her all her good things, and had given the silver and gold that resulted from it to Baal, He would now take them away from her. The land would become such that it no longer produced grain when it was expected, or new wine at its appointed time. Nature would be thrown out of rhythm (so much for the effectiveness of Baal, the nature god), and she would have no wool and no flax to cover her nakedness.

2.10 “And now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none will deliver her out of my hand.”

For naked she was to become. God would uncover her lewdness (nabluth = withered state) and unfaithfulness in the sight of her chosen lovers, but they would be unable to do anything to help her. Baal and Asherah would be helpless. The land would become barren and a wilderness (because the people had been exiled) and its nature gods would be powerless to do anything about it. Their futility would be proved. And the people themselves would be exposed before strangers.

2.11 “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn assemblies.”

And all her celebrations, and her rituals, and her feasts would cease. The round of new moon celebrations, Sabbath celebrations and solemn assemblies would be no more. Israel would become a desolate land with a failed religion which had ceased to operate.

Note the assumption that new moons and sabbaths would be in operation, together with solemn feasts. This points to the background of the Law (feasts, sabbaths and solemn assemblies are regularly mentioned in Exodus and Leviticus) and new moons in the tradition in earlier days (1 Samuel 20.18; 2 Kings 4.23). Hosea is clearly speaking from a background of well known tradition.

2.12 “And I will lay waste her vines and her fig-trees, of which she has said, “These are my hire which my lovers have given me,” and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field will eat them.”

The vines and fig-trees, concerning which she had boasted that their fruitfulness was given to her by Baal in consequence of her worship, would become a wild, untamed forest, and the wild fruit that they produced would be eaten by the beasts of the field (the wild animals roaming the empty countryside).

2.13 “And I will visit on her the days of the Baalim, to which she burned incense, when she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgot me,” says YHWH.’

And Israel will have visited on her (in judgment) all the times when she had decked herself up in her splendour for the Baals, on ‘the days of the Baalim’ (the days of religious celebration), and had burned incense to them and had gone after them and had forgotten YHWH. Note the contrast between ‘the days of the Baalim’ here and the ‘day of Jezreel’ in 1.11. Both were days of celebration, but in what a different context.

So the message of judgment on Israel is laid on without mercy. Because of her past behaviour Israel is doomed. She has no way of escape. Her only hope can be that once her punishment has been full meted out God may yet show compassion on her. But that would not be for a long time. Sin once it has matured brings forth death.

Hope Shines Through From The Future Because One Day YHWH Will Once Again Draw His People Back To Himself And Will Restore Her Situation. Israel Will Dwell Securely, Having Become Betrothed To YHWH For Ever, And The Day Of Jezreel (God Sows) Will Come. They Will Once More Be His People And He Will Be Their God (2.14-23).

But just as He had done in the deliverance from Egypt, YHWH will one day woo His people and bring them into the wilderness, and from the wilderness He will provide them with vineyards, and with a door of hope in the very place of their previous failure. There is an indication here that the treachery of the people at this time was to be seen as comparable with the treachery of Achan, suggesting also that similarly to there, there would be a price to pay before forgiveness would be possible.

But once that price was seen as paid YHWH would restore their loving relationship with Him, and Baal would be forgotten. Baal would no more be connected in any way with Yahwism but be totally set aside so that his name was no longer invoked in any way. YHWH would no more be addressed as Baali (my lord, husband), but as Ishi (my man, husband) in order to remove even the remotest possibility of connection with Baal. In that day Paradise would be restored by a covenant with all living creatures and His people would be betrothed to Him for ever. YHWH would respond to His people and it would be as though the names of Hosea’s children had been reversed. Jezreel would become ‘God sows’ instead of a symbol of vengeance; ‘no compassion’ would be replaced by ‘compassion’; and ‘not my people’ would become ‘you are My people’. Total harmony would be restored.

Analysis of 2.14-23.

  • a “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak reassuringly (comfortably, lovingly) to her” (2.14).
  • b “And I will give to her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she will make answer there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt” (2.15).
  • c “And it will be at that day,” says YHWH, “that you will call me Ishi, and will call me no more Baali” (2.16).
  • d “For I will take away the names of the Baalim out of her mouth, and they will no more be mentioned by their name” (2.17).
  • e “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground, and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely” (2.18).
  • d “And I will betroth you to me for ever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (2.19).
  • c “I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you will know YHWH” (2.20).
  • b “And it will come about in that day, I will answer,” says YHWH, “I will answer the heavens, and they will answer the earth, and the earth will answer the grain, and the new wine, and the oil, and they will answer Jezreel (God sows)” (2.21-22).
  • a “And I will sow her to me in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy, and I will say to those who were not my people, ‘You are my people,’ and they will say, ‘You are my God’ ” (2.23).

Note that in ‘a’ God will speak reassuringly to Israel, and in the parallel He will tell them ‘You are my people’. In ‘b’ Israel will ‘make answer’ and will be given her vineyards, and in the parallel there is a multiplicity of ‘answering’ and this will result in fruitfulness and ‘new wine’, the product of vineyards. In ‘c’ Israel will call YHWH Ishi (my husband) and in the parallel she will be betrothed to YHWH in faithfulness. In ‘d’ she will no more speak of Baal, and in the parallel she will be betrothed to YHWH. Centrally in ‘e’ she will enjoy YHWH’s total protection from all who would harm her.

2.14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak reassuringly (comfortably, lovingly) to her.’

The picture now changes sharply to one where YHWH seeks again to woo Israel, as he had done in the wilderness when He had delivered them from Egypt (compare Jeremiah 2.2-3). The sudden alteration in attitude takes us by surprise, for we would have expected further words of judgment, but such a sudden alteration is typical of Hosea as we have already seen (1.9-10). Indeed it is a feature of God’s dealings with His people that He often takes them by surprise. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts.

Thus His final intention is once again to entice her into the (metaphorical) wilderness, as He had literally done when she was in Egypt. And there He would speak words of love to her. The idea of being drawn into the wilderness is that he would take them to a place where all the distractions of sophisticated life and false religion would be removed. It was those attractions which had led her to her unfaithfulness, therefore it was necessary for her to be removed by bringing her into a place where they were no longer a problem. (God often works in such a way with individuals when seeking to bring them to Himself). Once in exile they would be in a situation where they could think over their past and their folly with regard to God.

And indeed when the exiles did finally return that also would be to a place which had become a wilderness, for Jerusalem was at that time in ruins and the land around desolate. They had been enticed there by God solely on the basis of the promises of what He would do for them. They had nothing materially to gain by it at the time. It was an act of faith. All they had to go on were His words of love as worship was restored. And there He did speak reassuringly to them through such men as Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah.

Similarly when Jesus came His words were to men outside the great cities. Rather did He go into the countryside and the small towns. And they regularly came to Him in the wilderness where He wooed them to His Father and to Himself (compare Mark 6.35). It is interesting also how Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.1-6 connects the time in the wilderness with the advance of the church of Jesus Christ (compare also Hebrews 3.7-4.10), while in Revelation 12.6, 14 the people of God are seen as ‘fleeing into the wilderness’ after the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12.5-6). So the wilderness is very much associated with the birth of the new Israel.

There is a reminder to us here that if we would truly know God fully we too must allow Him to entice us into the wilderness away from all the outward enticements of life. We must put aside all that tends to hinder our fellowship with Him and withdraw into a quiet place in order that He might become the centre of our thoughts and of our love.

2.15 “And I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she will make answer there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.”

And it would be out of that wilderness into which He had enticed her that He would give to her her vineyards. The point is that they would be a gift of the God of Sinai and would have their source in YHWH and not in Baal. The idea of vineyards out of the wilderness would also be a reminder of the manna and quails that He had once provided in the wilderness. Such an idea may indicate that no other than God could produce vineyards in the wilderness, or that it was only when the wilderness experience had purified them that they would again have fruitful vineyards provided by YHWH in the land. And the fruitfulness of such vineyards would be totally dependent on YHWH. In our case too it is regularly when we have been ‘in the wilderness’ that God gives us His choicest fruits, and it was equally true in the early church.

Furthermore He would give her the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7.26) as a door of hope. The Valley of Achor was the place where Achan was punished for keeping for himself that which had been devoted to YHWH when Israel had first entered the land (Joshua 7). The last thing that Israel would have seen it as was a door of hope. There is a suggestion in this that the Israel to whom Hosea was speaking was seen as equally as reprehensible as Achan. But it was in the Valley of Achor that the curse was removed by the death of the victim, and that hope was therefore renewed. YHWH’s words here thus indicate that the reversal of YHWH’s curse on Israel must follow the pattern followed in that valley. There would need to be deaths and a release from cursing, deaths which did occur in large numbers in Assyria’s treatment of Israel. But what had been Israel’s shame would eventually, through expiation, become a door of hope. They could thus be sure that one day God’s curse on their present behaviour would be removed. It would be as though they had never sinned. That was something which in part did happen through the Exile (consider Isaiah 40.1-2) but as we learn by comparison between Isaiah 40.3-6 and Luke 3.3-6, that was only a precursor to what would happen more fully when the Lamb of God came and would be slain for the sins of the world.

The last thing that Israel would ever have expected was that that dark valley of Achor, which spoke of unforgivable sin and gross disobedience, would become a source of hope. It was an indication to them of how God could transform the darkest situation. And that is what He promised that He would do for them once He had restored them to the land, the land which had become theirs after the incident of the Valley of Achor. For in the very place which was a memorial of gross disobedience (the land of their inheritance) He would restore their obedience, granting a certain hope for the future. And there they would respond to Him, as they had in the days of their youth as a nation when they were in the wilderness, and as they had in that time when they came up out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 14.31; 24.1-11). The picture is one of future glorious deliverance by YHWH and great response from Israel as they ‘made answer’ to Him.

But that Valley of Achor has a deeper meaning for us. For we too were also under a curse (Galatians 3.10). And it was as a result of our Lord Jesus Christ bearing our curse on the cross (Galatians 3.13) that a door of hope has been opened for us.

And the result of all this is to be that His people ‘will make answer there’. They will respond to Him from their hearts, as they had done at the deliverance from Egypt. Notice the sequence: delivery from the land of Egypt, experience in the wilderness, the door of hope into Canaan. The deliverance from Egypt is thus being looked on as an example and picture of YHWH’s future deliverance, and especially therefore of the deliverance wrought through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who Himself came out of Egypt to die (Matthew 2.15). Egypt is the picture of oppression, both by men and by Satan, the wilderness is the picture of the place of refinement by YHWH, Achor is the place where the curse was dealt with, Canaan is the picture of both rest on this earth for the Christian (Hebrews 4.9-11), and of the future glorious rest in Heaven. There is an interesting parallel here with the life of Jesus. He too was oppressed. He too entered into the wilderness, first to face testing as to His vocation, and then in order to win the people to His Father, He too then went to the place where our curse was dealt with, and He too will lead us safely into Heaven (Hebrews 2.10).

Again this all found a kind of fulfilment in inter-Testamental days, when the people were restored to the land as a ‘forgiven’ people (e.g. Isaiah 40.1-2) and demonstrated their renewed faith in YHWH time and again, especially in the days of the Maccabees when they resisted unto death, even though they failed again in the end. It was also true for the New Testament church, who were rejected by the oppressing authorities in Palestine, but found in that a door of hope, enabling them to leave accursed, unbelieving Israel behind and find a new Hope in God’s Messiah. They too had found Him in the land. Thus it was doubly fulfilled. But it was more than fulfilled, for from that land would go out the Gospel to the Gentiles to open a door of hope for them (compare Isaiah 2.2-4), a door which no man could shut (Revelation 3.8), and we benefit from it to this day. We may note again the significance of the fact that it was as a result of being cursed on the cross that our Lord Jesus Christ became the door of hope to salvation (John 10.9) and the way back to the Father (John 14.6).

2.16 “And it will be at that day,” says YHWH, “that you will call me Ishi, and will call me no more Baali.”

And YHWH promises that ‘at that day’ (the day when His promises were fulfilled) they will call Him Ishi (my husband) and will no longer call Him Baali (my lord). There is an indication here of just how distorted Yahwism had become. YHWH was being hailed by the name of Baal. It was so easy to take a word that meant ‘my lord’ and apply it to YHWH. But the problem was that YHWH and Baal then became mixed up in their thinking, with the result that YHWH was being reduced to a nature god.

However, in the future all that will be reversed, and any connection with the word Baal removed, as Israel come back to YHWH and see Him as their ‘husband’, and a tender relationship is renewed between them. This again was partially fulfilled in the inter-Testamental period, for Israel did return to YHWH for a time, turning their backs on idolatry which was never again a major problem for the Jews. And they very much sought to remove the name of Baal from their history by altering the names of those who in earlier days had been connected with the word ‘baal’, at a time when it was still being used to indicate YHWH. Consider how Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8.33) was altered to Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2.8), and Meribbaal (1 Chronicles 8.34) was altered to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9.6), ‘bosheth’ signifying ‘shame’.

And in the New Testament we see a similar picture of husband and wife applied to the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His own (Mark 2.19-20; John 3.29; Ephesians 5.25-27; Revelation 19.7-8), so that, through what He has done for us, those who are members of His true church (all who have truly believed in Him) can call Him ‘my husband’, while in that final Day all who are His will be presented to Christ as His bride (Ephesians 5.25-27; Revelation 19.7-8; 21.2), to share eternity with Him.

We should note here that in the eyes of Jesus (when He says ‘My congregation/church’ - Matthew 16.18, compare John 15.1-6; Matthew 21.43), and in the eyes of the early church (Galatians 6.16; Romans 11.17-28; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9-10), those who believed in Jesus Christ became the true Israel. They carried on in the train of all believers from the time of Abraham, and the Gentiles who were converted were engrafted in, while unbelieving Israel was cut off. Thus it was as true Israel (made up of believing Israel and the Gentile proselytes who united with them) that they responded to Jesus Christ as their husband, not just as spiritual Israel.

2.17 “For I will take away the names of the Baalim out of her mouth, and they will no more be mentioned by their name.”

The point behind all this is that, as a consequence, the name of Baal will be eradicated from their thinking, so that his name will, as it were, be ‘taken out of their mouths’. They will no longer want to mention him, for they will see him as a thing of shame. This was precisely what happened as a result of the Exile, and was also true for all who became Christians while under the influence of idolatry, for they ‘turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven’ (1 Thessalonians 1.9).

2.18 “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground, and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely.”

We can contrast here Leviticus 26.21 ff.. ‘If you walk contrary to Me ---I will also send wild beasts among you, --- I will bring a sword upon you --- and I will make your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries into desolation,’ and Deuteronomy 28.15 ff, ‘if you will not listen to the voice of YHWH your God --- YHWH shall cause you to be smitten before your enemies --- and your carcase shall be meat to all the birds of the air, and to the beast of the earth, --- your vineyards -- the worms will eat them ---all your trees and fruit of your land will the locusts consume.’ In those verses curses were invoked on Israel if they failed to respond to YHWH and His covenant. And Hosea has already warned that those curses would now be fulfilled. But ‘in that day’, the day of God’s future action, those very curses will be reversed, for God will bind the wild creatures, beasts, birds and ‘creeping things’ by a covenant to prevent their harming the land in any way, and will break the weapons of their enemies and remove warfare from the land so that His renewed people can lie down in safety knowing that they are fully secure. In other words He will put a stop to anything that could cause them harm. Compare Acts 10.12 where the indication is that through the death of Christ beasts, birds and creeping things have been rendered ‘clean’ and therefore harmless.

Again at certain times this found literal fulfilment during the inter-Testamental period when, with full possession of their land, these dangers were removed from Israel, the beasts no longer roamed, and the sword no longer struck. And it was to be true of the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true remnant of Israel, for He Himself said, ‘behold I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will by any means hurt you’ (Luke 10.19), with the result that they too travelled safely in the land, and in many lands, establishing the true remnant of Israel. In Acts 10.12 the beasts, birds and creeping things are symbolical of the Gentiles to whom God was about to offer His covenant so that they could become members of the true Israel. The Gentile ‘beasts’ were no longer to be seen as unclean, and therefore as harmful to God’s people, but were to be brought within the covenant. In Revelation also the power of the Wild Beast who assailed God’s people will be broken (Revelation 19.20) so that they can no longer be harmed. In the new Heaven and the new earth, which is its final fulfilment, all such beasts and creeping things will have been rendered harmless (Isaiah 65.25). Compare Isaiah 11.1-9 where it will be as a result of the coming of the righteous king. There too there will be war no more (Isaiah 2.4). The promise therefore has a continuing and growing fulfilment, culminating in the new Heaven and the new earth.

(Of course the Old Testament prophets always saw the fulfilment of God’s promises as coming ‘on earth’ because at that stage there was no conception of Heaven as a place to which men could go (such a concept as Heaven would all too easily have become entangled in men’s minds with idolatry and the home of the gods. It would have destroyed the uniqueness of Israel’s concepts). It was later revelation that brought home the fact of a new Heaven and a new earth, so that fulfilment would be found on a new earth. Compare Hebrews 11.10-14 where this is made clear. The promises to Abraham of ‘the land’ were to be fulfilled in a new Heaven and a new earth ‘above’).

2.19 “And I will betroth you to me for ever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”

Here we move to a new picture. Hosea could not betroth to himself his old wife. That would not have been allowed by the Law (Deuteronomy 24.1-4). But God can in the future betroth Israel to Himself again, for they will be made up of totally different people. The idea of betrothal is a powerful one. In Israel betrothal was completely binding and lasted ‘for ever’, and release required divorce. It was the sealing of a covenant. Marriage was simply the means by which that betrothal was activated. Thus YHWH was binding them to His heart for ever in a new covenant (compare Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 8.6-13 where it will be a better covenant which will actually change the hearts, minds and wills of His people). But it could not happen to them in the state that they were then in. They had to be renovated, for it would be in righteousness, and justice, as well as in loving-kindness and mercies.

Righteousness and justice indicate YHWH’s attitude towards them in the first place, for righteousness and justice are the very foundation of His throne (Psalm 89.14). They represent what He is. He does always what is right and just. And it indicates a requirement from them of full obedience to Him and His requirements, and full concern that all their fellows should receive their full due. They are to respond from a full heart. Loving-kindness and mercies indicate both His attitude and action towards them, as He acts towards them in graciousness and compassion, and their responsive loving-kindness and mercies which will be shown to one another. It is a picture of perfect righteous bliss.

2.20 “I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you will know YHWH.”

Furthermore it would be in faithfulness. They will have a new heart and a new spirit, so that they will truly know YHWH. Faithful response to One Whom they have truly and genuinely come to know in their hearts is required, and will be accomplished in them, a response which will result in full covenant obedience.

This is also what God requires of us, for He requires it of all His people. And it will find its full fulfilment in the eternal kingdom.

2.21-22 “And it will come about in that day, I will answer,” says YHWH, “I will answer the heavens, and they will answer the earth, and the earth will answer the grain, and the new wine, and the oil, and they will answer Jezreel.”

In that day it is God Who will act. It is He Who will commence the process. He will finally give the ‘answer’. He will provide the final solution. His answer will be given to the heavens, so that they may pour rain on the earth, and the heavens will give it to the earth so that it will be responsive to the rain, and the earth will give it to the grain, new wine and oil, so that they will spring forth from the earth, and they will give it to ‘Jezre-el’ (‘El sows’), who represents Israel. Israel will be fully blessed and provisioned. So instead of vengeance Jezre-el will signify reception of blessing as provided by God (El sows). His name will speak of God as sowing blessing. And the whole of creation will be involved (compare Romans 8.19-23).

Consider how the grain and the wine and the oil, which they had seen as provided to them by Baal, will now be known to have come from YHWH (compare 2.6, 8). For now they will ‘know YHWH’ and acknowledge Him in all His uniqueness.

2.23 “And I will sow her to me in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy, and I will say to those who were not my people, ‘You are my people,’ and they will say, ‘You are my God’.”

And just as grain has been sown in the earth, so God will sow Israel in the earth. They will be sowed ‘to Him’ and not to any other. They will be wholly His. They will be His people, betrothed to Him, and will be the objects of His full compassion and love. And as a result they will receive compassion and will again become His people.

Note how once again we have a recall of all three children, ‘Jezreel’ because it is God Who will sow blessing; ‘not pitied’ (Lo-ruhama) because the position will be reversed and she will now receive compassion;, and ‘not my people’ (Lo-ammi) similarly because they will now become His people. The children here clearly represent Israel.

Again this found fulfilment in part in the inter-Testamental days when Israel returned to YHWH and responded to Him, receiving His blessing, experiencing His compassion, and becoming again His people. It found even greater fulfilment through our Lord Jesus Christ as the remnant of an Israel whose religion had become formal responded to Him and became in a new way His people, and in the fact that as the prophets had forecast, the Gentiles were brought into the new Israel and became His people (Romans 9.25-26; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 2 Corinthians 6.16-18). It will find its final fulfilment when the true Israel of all ages, both Old and New Testament ‘churches’ (the totality of true believers), will experience the fullness of His blessing at His second coming, when they will fully experience His compassion, and will finally be His people for ever.

Hosea Is Called On To Take Another Woman As Wife Who Was An Adulteress, But Was Not To Have Sexual Relations With Her. This Was As A Sign That Israel Too Was To Lose Her Relationship With YHWH, Although In The Latter Days That Position Would Be Reversed (3.1-5).

There are no grounds for thinking that this is the same wife as before. The symbols do not necessarily have to fit perfectly into what is being illustrated. Two symbols can be combined in making a point. And as we saw at the end of chapter 2 there was a change of symbol there from being married to being betrothed. Hosea is now to take a wife who is beloved by someone else and who is in an adulterous situation with that person, just as YHWH loves Israel in spite of the fact that she is ‘playing the harlot’ and loves false gods. This he is to do by the payment of either a bride price or a ransom. The thought in 2.19-20 of YHWH becoming ‘betrothed’ to Israel may suggest that a bride price is in mind here. However, the treatment of her suggests a slave-wife. No other could be refused her conjugal rights prior to having a child without her family protesting. But either way the condition is that she is neither to see her lover again, nor is she to have sexual relations with Hosea. This is to be a picture of the relationship of Israel as over against YHWH. They also are to be separated from their lover (Baal), and abstain from false gods, but without having any kind of relationship with YHWH, until the time comes when they turn and seek God and His king, and YHWH receives her to Himself again.

Analysis of 3.1-5.

  • a And YHWH said to me, “Go again, love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress, even as YHWH loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods, and love cakes of raisins” (3.1).
  • b So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and a homer of barley, and a half-homer of barley (3.2).
  • c And I said to her, “You shall abide for me many days. You will not play the harlot, and you will not be any man’s wife (3.3a).
  • d So will I also be toward you” (3.3b).
  • c For the children of Israel will abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim (3.4).
  • b Afterward will the children of Israel return, and seek YHWH their God, and David their king (3.5a).
  • a And will come with fear to YHWH and to his goodness in the latter days (3.5b).

Note that in ‘a’ Hosea is to turn to a new wife (his old wife probably being dead) and to love her as a sign of YHWH’s love for Israel, and in the parallel Israel is one day to show reverent love (fear) towards YHWH. In ‘b’ Hosea seeks out such a wife, and in the parallel Israel will seek YHWH their God. In ‘c’ there will be lack of sexual relationship and therefore a situation of separation between the two, and in the parallel Israel were to be in that position with regard to YHWH. Centrally in ‘d’ Hosea would also separate himself from her (a sign of what God would do to Israel).

3.1 ‘And YHWH said to me, “Go again, love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress, even as YHWH loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods, and love cakes of raisins.”

There is no reason for thinking that this wife was Gomer, who may well by this time have been dead. Rather Hosea is to ‘love’ a woman who is having an adulterous relationship with a friend. This is to be a picture of the fact that YHWH still loves adulterous Israel, even though she herself turns to other gods and ‘loves’ cakes of raisins. In other words she hungers after the tasty food of those gods.

The wonder of God’s love comes out in the contrast. Whereas Israel’s love is satisfied with cakes of raisins, mere food to satisfy fleshly appetites, YHWH’s love is constant, is of Israel herself, and is in spite of her preferring raisins to Him. He loves even those who do not reciprocate, and even those who insult Him, when they are His chosen.

The fact that Hosea is to take an adulteress to wife is surprising, but it should be noted that there is to be no question of sexual relations between them. Thus Hosea would not be involved in the adultery of which the woman was guilty. The marriage is to be symbolic rather than real. Note the lack of mention of her name, another indication of her depravity. She is not fit to be named.

The cakes of raisins compare with the bridal price paid for the wife. She seeks cakes of raisins which are connected with the worship of her false gods, but it is the provisions of YHWH (silver and barley) that are used to purchase her. It is evidence of His sacrificial love.

It is disputed as to whether ‘again’ should be attached to ‘Go’, or whether it should be attached to ‘said to me’. Either is possible although the word order may suggest the latter. If we read it with ‘said to me’ it puts the emphasis on the fact that this is a new word from YHWH. If we attach it to ‘go’ it is emphasising a further action of Hosea after the previous one. Neither requires connection of the woman with Gomer. It will be noted in this regard that Hosea never addresses Gomer directly, whereas he does address this woman directly.

3.2 ‘So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and a homer of barley, and a half-homer of barley,’

This may signify the bridal price. Or it may indicate that she was a bondslave and therefore had to be redeemed. Hosea’s treatment of her would suggest the latter. No father would have given his daughter on those terms, even if she had a bad reputation. Either way there is perhaps an indication here of Hosea’s relative poverty. He could only afford fifteen pieces of silver, and had to supplement it with quantities of barley. (The price of a female slave was thirty shekels - Exodus 21.32; compare Leviticus 27.4). In this there is a reminder of the cost to YHWH of redeeming His people. It was not an easy price to pay, and in the end a price beyond telling.

3.3 ‘And I said to her, “You shall abide for me many days; you will not play the harlot, and you will not be any man’s wife, so will I also be toward you.”

Then Hosea informed her of the terms of the marriage. She would have to dwell with him and wait many days before he would come in to her. And in that time she was not to seek out anyone else, or even have relations with him. By this means he would prove whether she did wish to be a faithful wife or not. And his attitude would be the same towards her. He would seek nothing from her. This was to be a picture of Israel’s position as regards YHWH. While YHWH had purposed to restore Israel, they would still be subject to a long period of separation from Him and from all that religiously they held dear. They had to demonstrate that they were ready for a new relationship. Meanwhile He too would be separate from her. Israel in her exile would never have true with her prophets in exile as Judah would have.

3.4 ‘For the children of Israel will abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim,’

Israel’s desolate state would be indicated by the fact that she would be bereft of all outward symbols of her previous religious activity, and have no means of reaching out towards heaven. She would be in this state for ‘many days’ (compare verse 3). ‘Without king and without prince’ might indicate a looking back to the time when YHWH was Israel’s king whilst their ruler was His nagid (in the case of Saul, David and Solomon). That would tie in with ‘YHWH their God and David their king’ in verse 5. But then we might have expected nagid instead of sar for prince. Or it may have in mind that David and his sons (princes) had been Israel’s intercessory priests ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (2 Samuel 8.18; Psalm 110.4). Now they would have no one to intercede for them. Alternately the thought is that they would have neither king or governor, and would be leaderless, with no one to mediate for them. They would be a subject people. The lack of sacrifice, pillar, ephod and teraphim indicates a lack of all means of approaching God, or even any gods. Sacrifices were common to all religions. Pillars could have in mind memorial pillars such as that erected by Jacob at Bethel, but it could also refer to the pillars which represented Baal in the high places. Ephod could refer to the High Priest’s garment, but it could also refer to accoutrements used in idol worship. Teraphim were figurines seen as offering protection and as a means of divination, and were mainly connected with false worship and idolatry. They are always frowned on. It is these last which prevent us from seeing the references as being necessarily towards what was seen to be religiously acceptable. Just as Hosea’s new wife was to have no relationships either good or bad, so Israel would be bereft of all familiar relationships with the divine, whether good or bad. What she had previously clung to she will lose.

3.5 ‘Afterward will the children of Israel return, and seek YHWH their God, and David their king, and will come with fear to YHWH and to his goodness in the latter days.’

However, there will come a time when Israel do return (in repentance; compare Deuteronomy 4.30) and seek YHWH their God and David their king. Note the implication that they will be reunited with Judah under the rightful, God-approved king. And then they will come in ‘trembling’, (reverent, awed fear), to seek YHWH and His goodness in the latter days (compare 11.11). The thought is of an Israel fully restored to what was God’s initial purpose in choosing David as king.

‘In the latter days.’ The phrase comes from Genesis 49.1 where it simply indicates ‘in later days’. It does not therefore necessarily indicate what some call ‘the end times’. The point here is that it will be after God’s retribution has been meted out on Israel. The New Testament writers saw themselves as being in the latter days.

Once again we can see this as partially fulfilled in the inter-Testamental days, for there is no reason to doubt that members of both Israel and Judah took the opportunity offered to them to return (and anyway Judah itself had by the time of the Exile become a conglomeration of people from the twelve tribes). Nor would all the people in the land have been exiled. And when they did so it was to take a Davidide (Zerubbabel) as governor.

They would even more seek David their king when great David’s greater Son came into the world and called men under the Kingly Rule of God. And this happened in ‘the latter days’, for the early church considered that the latter days were upon them. See Acts 2.17; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.1-2; 9.26; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7. Finally, of course, it will result in the everlasting kingdom.

ISRAEL’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH IDOLS AND WITH ASSYRIA IS NOW DEPICTED AND WARNINGS GIVEN OF WHAT WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCE FOR THEM, AND THIS TOGETHER WITH A REMINDER THAT IF THEY RETURN TO HIM HE CAN PROVIDE ALL THAT BAAL PROVIDES AND MORE (4.1-6.3).

Having illustrated Israel’s position in terms of an adulterous and unfaithful wife, Hosea now charges Israel more directly with their sins, and warns them of what the consequences will be if they do not repent and turn back to YHWH. These words were probably mainly spoken during the earlier phases of his ministry in the times of Jeroboam II and Menahem.

YHWH’s Indictment Of Israel And Warning Of The Consequences (4.1-5).

YHWH now charges ‘the people (children) of Israel’ with being bereft of all truth and compassion because of their lack of the knowledge of YHWH. In consequence they are breaching all the commandments, and engaging in widespread bloodshed, and the final result is that the whole land is suffering through severe drought. But they are in no position to lay charges against YHWH with respect to this, for they are disqualified as being like ‘strivers with the priests’, that is, as being like anarchists, those who reject and despise the verdicts of their own supreme court. In other words they are lawless. That is why they and the prophets to whom they listen will stumble by day and night, and Israel itself (their mother) will be destroyed.

For ‘hear the word of YHWH’ (verse 1) compare ‘hear this, O you priests, and listen you house of Israel, and give ear O house of the king --’ (5.1). This would seem to confirm that chapter 4 is a separate oracle by itself.

Analysis of 4.1-5.

  • a Hear the word of YHWH, you children of Israel, for YHWH has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor covenant love, nor knowledge of God in the land (4.1).
  • b There is nought but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery (4.2a).
  • c They break out, and blood touches blood (4.2b).
  • b Therefore will the land mourn, and every one who dwells in it will languish, with the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, yes, the fishes of the sea also will be taken away (4.3).
  • a Yet let no man strive, nor let any man reprove, for your people are as those who strive with the priest. And you will stumble in the day, and the prophet also will stumble with you in the night, and I will destroy your mother (4.4-5).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH has a controversy with His people, and the land has no truth, goodness or knowledge of God, and in the parallel the people are not to strive with YHWH and they and the prophets stumble whether it be light or dark. In ‘b’ the land is full of breaches of the covenant, and in the parallel the consequence is that the land and all that is in it mourns and languishes. Centrally in ‘c’ bloodshed is widespread.

4.1 ‘Hear the word of YHWH, you children of Israel, for YHWH has a controversy (legal grounds of dispute) with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor covenant love, nor knowledge of God in the land.’

Hosea, addressing the ‘children of Israel’ (Israel is to be their mother in verse 5), commences the passage by pointing out that he has received ‘the word of YHWH’, and that it is a word that indicates that YHWH has a charge to lay against all who live in the land. Israel here indicates the northern kingdom. And the basis of the charge is rooted in the fact that there is no truth/truthfulness in the land and no compassion towards the poor and needy (chesed is love in accordance with the covenant). And underlying this is the lack of the knowledge of God in the land. Because they do not know God in all that He is, they are without truth and honesty, and without compassion. For God is the God of truth and compassion.

‘In the land.’ Such was their lack of gratitude and appreciation of what He had done that they had no knowledge of God in the very land that God had given them as an inheritance. Thus the land would mourn (verse 3), and they themselves would finally be removed from the land because they no longer deserved it.

4.2a ‘There is nought but mouthing curses and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery.’

This lack of truth and compassion comes out plainly in their behaviour. They continually pronounce curses (’lh) on others, they break faith and deceive and bear false witness, they kill, they steal, and they commit adultery, thus breaching the manward side of the commandments in Exodus 20 (coveting was not a chargeable offence as not being provable).

4.2b ‘They break out, and blood collides with blood.’

Most heinously they are guilty of much bloodshed. ‘They break out’. That is they at times remove all restraint. We might say, ‘they break all bounds.’ The suggestion appears to be that every now and again groups of men are roused to violence by some slight, imagined or real, and engage in shedding the blood of their fellow-Israelites. Thus the whole land is constantly on the edge of violence. As we know they were turbulent times, with each king arising as a consequence of assassinating another (something always exacerbating dissension); with the threat of Assyria constantly on the horizon and every now and then appearing; with fierce disagreement between different political parties as to how to meet the problem posed; and with a Judah which was unwilling to enter into an alliance with them and Aram (Syria), and thus having to be put in its place. All this encouraged violence and thoughts of violence, and violence begets violence.

4.3 ‘Therefore will the land mourn, and every one who dwells in it will languish, with the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, yes, the fishes of the sea also will be taken away.’

The consequence of all this will be that the land itself will suffer, and everyone in it will languish, to such an extent that it will have a major effect on the wild animals, the birds, and the fish. The affecting of the fish would appear to be an indication of heavy drought. Invasions usually pass fish by (unless, of course, the invaders are partial to fish). So the problems coming on Israel will be environmental as well as man-caused.

There may well be the intention here of pointing out that the people of Israel have failed in their responsibility for watching over creation (compare Psalm 8.7-8; Genesis 1.30). Even the creatures whom they are responsible for will suffer. It is as though creation itself is being reversed because of their behaviour.

4.4 ‘Yet let no man strive, nor let any man reprove, for your people are as those who strive with the priest.’

But none of the people of Israel will have any cause to grumble, or disagree with YHWH’s actions, or reprove Him for what He has done, because they themselves are lawless. They are like ‘priest-challengers’. In Israel the priests were the final supreme court, and to openly challenge their final decision was seen as worthy of death (see Deuteronomy 17.12-13). It was to engage in anarchism. And those who are lawless and anarchists are in no position to lay charges against anyone else at all, and especially not against God.

(Rendering ’al (not) as God (’El) instead of as the negative, although possible linguistically, does not seem likely in view of the fact that Hosea uses El elsewhere only in order to distinctively stress His power e.g. 1.10; 11.9, 12).

4.5 ‘And you will stumble in the day, and the prophet also will stumble with you in the night, and I will destroy your mother.’

The final result of their behaviour will be that God will cause them to stumble, as He metes out His punishment on them, and it will be to such an extent that it will be by both day and night. Furthermore the prophets, whom they approach after work is done (therefore by night), will stumble with them and lead them astray with false prophecies. Thus both people and false prophets will be caught up in the furore. And in the end mother Israel will itself be destroyed. There will be no more Israel. There may be a hint with regard to the prophets stumbling in the night of their being in ‘spiritual darkness’. But the main emphasis is undoubtedly of the continuing nature and inescapability of the punishment.

The use of the term ‘mother’ to represent Israel as the mother of ‘the children of Israel’ (verse 1) is of course a repetition of the idea in chapters 1-2 where Israel is represented as the mother of the three children who represent the children of Israel.

YHWH Attacks Both Priests And People Because They Are So Taken Up With Sin That They No Longer Heed Him (4.6-10).

Here we may see YHWH as attacking the priests for failing to teach the people, with the result that the people too will be punished for their doings. Alternately the whole people might be being seen as ‘priests to the nations’ in accordance with Isaiah 61.6. Either way we have to recognise that the priesthood in the northern kingdom was not a legitimate one. They were not ‘sons of Aaron’ in accordance with the Law, but appointees of the king. Thus the distinction between them and the people was blurred.

Analysis of 4.6-10.

  • a My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (4.6a).
  • b Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me (4.6b).
  • c Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (4.6c).
  • d As they were multiplied, so they sinned against me (4.7a).
  • c I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people, and set their heart on their iniquity (4.7b-8).
  • b And it will be, like people, like priest, and I will punish them for their ways, and will requite them their doings (4.9).
  • a And they will eat, and not have enough, they will play the harlot, and will not increase, because they have left off taking heed to YHWH (4.10).

Note that in ‘a’ the people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, and in the parallel they will not receive what they have hoped for because they have ceased listening to YHWH. In ‘b’ the priests will be rejected for lack of knowledge, and in the parallel the people, similarly to the priests, will be punished for their ways and doings. In ‘c’ they have forgotten the Law of God, and in the parallel they set their heart on iniquity. Centrally in ‘d the larger the population grew, the more they sinned against Him.

4.6-7

‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
‘Because you have rejected knowledge,
I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me.
Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.’

It is possible to see this as addressed to Israel, seen as priests to the nations (compare Isaiah 61.6), or alternately it may be seen as addressed directly to the priesthood. But even in the latter case we must remember that from YHWH’s viewpoint Israel had no distinctive priesthood, for their priests were not descended from Aaron. They were charlatans originally appointed by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 13.33). Thus as far as He was concerned the distinction between priest and people was blurred. The priests were merely ‘of the people’.

His accusation is that His people are ‘destroyed for lack of knowledge’, i.e. because they do not know YHWH as He really is (verse 1) and are ignorant of the covenant. It may be that this was being laid directly at the priests’ doors, for it was their responsibility to teach the Law, but the failure was undoubtedly partly due to the fact that the priests had been appointed by the people (through their king) rather than by God, so that the people had to share the blame. Whoever is being addressed (whether priest or people-priests) the charge is that they have culpably rejected knowledge, and especially knowledge as found in His Law, and therefore will themselves be rejected so that they can no longer serve YHWH in a priestly function, or indeed in any other way. It is always dangerous to ignore genuine truth. And because they have forgotten the Law of God, He will no longer watch over and care for ‘their children’ (either their own children or the people seen as their children). He will in return ‘forget’ them.

4.7 ‘As they were multiplied, so they sinned against me. I will change their glory into shame.’

YHWH then draws attention to what He had done for them. He had caused them to multiply (compare 1.10), and He had given them prosperity (‘glory’). This was always seen as a sign of God’s approval. And what was the result? The more they multiplied the more they sinned against Him. Thus they turned God’s goodness into an excuse for more sin. In return therefore He would turn their glory into shame. The glory of a nation was found in its wealth and prosperity (see Isaiah 17.3-4), so that this was saying that He would destroy their wealth and render them poverty-stricken with the result that they would be ashamed, a situation certainly fulfilled in the various exiles.

Alternatively the idea may be that it was the priests who had multiplied in numbers, which had simply resulted in their sinning more, but it seems more probable that the reference is to the people as a whole. Either way their punishment would be justified.

4.8 ‘They feed on the sin of my people, and set their heart on their iniquity.’

The ‘they’ here might suggest that the priests are in mind as a distinctive body, becoming wealthy as a result of leading the people astray (feeding on the sin of His people). And the second charge is that they themselves then also set their minds on iniquity, being therefore without excuse either way.

There is a warning in this to any who minister in God’s name, lest they use their position to obtain wealth for themselves. It is a reminder that it will then not be long before set their minds on iniquity. Wealth is a dangerous thing to possess, especially for a man of God, and many a ministry has been rendered powerless by the effects of wealth.

Alternately the ‘they’ might simply refer to Israelites as taking advantage of fellow-Israelites even though they were God’s people. Certainly all the people did at that time take advantage of the general sins of the people in order to enrich themselves. And all, apart from a few godly souls, set their hearts on iniquity. So the words could equally be seen as applying to Israelites.

4.9 ‘And it will be, like people, like priest, and I will punish them for their ways, and will requite them their doings.’

For in the end there will be no distinction between people and priest. People and priest alike will behave badly and will be punished for their ways and requited for their doings, because they are all equally guilty.

4.10 ‘And they will eat, and not have enough, they will play the harlot, and will not increase, because they have left off taking heed to YHWH.’

And part of their punishment will lie in the fact that when they eat they will not have enough, and when the women have relations with men they will produce no children, both factors which can result from bad conditions, or from cruel exile, whilst there are certain transferable sexual diseases which can result in infertility. And this will happen to them because they have ceased listening to, and taking notice of, YHWH. ‘Playing the harlot’ may refer either to acting as cult prostitutes, or simply to behaving loosely as a result of becoming drunk at ritual feasts and sacrifices. Alternately it may simply indicate participating in the false worship of Baal instead of the true worship of YHWH. In the latter case the ‘increase’ may then refer to their increase in wealth and fruitfulness.

Some would add the word ‘whoredom’ from verse 11 to this verse on the grounds of rhythm (there are no verse divisions in the Hebrew text). Then we would read, ‘because they have left off taking heed to YHWH to indulge in whoredom’. But ‘whoredom’ fits well into the threefold description in verse 11, whilst ‘the spirit of whoredom causing them to err’ in verse 12 parallels the idea in verse 11 in terms of whoredom ‘taking away the understanding’. Thus we feel that it should be left where it is.

Strong Wine and Illicit Sex Have Turned The People’s Minds So That They Look To Bits Of Wood Concerning Their Future And Play The Harlot On The Tops Of Mountains And Under Sacred Trees Rather Than Looking To YHWH (4.11-19).

The strong wine and illicit sex which are a part of their religious activities have taken away their understanding, so that their minds are befuddled and they seek to pieces of wood for their divination, and to the tops of mountains and under sacred trees for their worship. YHWH therefore intends to punish Israel for their ways and forbids them any longer to use His Name, a consequence of which will be that they will be put to shame for the behaviour.

Analysis of 4.11-19.

  • a Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding (4.11).
  • b My people ask counsel at their tree, and their staff makes declaration to them, for the spirit of whoredom has caused them to err, and they have played the harlot, departing from under their God (4.12).
  • c They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because its shadow is good. Therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery (4.13).
  • d I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with the prostitutes, and the people who do not understand will be overthrown (4.14).
  • c Though you, Israel, play the harlot, yet let Judah not offend, and do not come to Gilgal, nor go you up to Beth-aven, nor swear, “As YHWH lives” (4.15).
  • b For Israel has behaved himself stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer. Will YHWH now feed them as a lamb in a large place? Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone (4.16-17).
  • a Their drink has become sour, they play the harlot continually, her shields dearly love shame, the wind has wrapped her up in its wings, and they will be put to shame because of their sacrifices (4.18-19).

Note that in ‘a’ lasciviousness and wine have taken away their understanding, and in the parallel their drink has become soured, and their behaviour will cause them to be ashamed. In ‘b’ seek to wooden things and spiritual harlotry, and in the parallel they have behaved stubbornly and are joined to idols. In ‘c’ they sacrifice in high places and commit spiritual harlotry, and in the parallel they are seen as playing the harlot and Judah are therefore not to go to Gilgal or Bethaven to sacrifice with them. Centrally in ‘d’ the overthrow of the people is determined because of their illicit sexual and religious behaviour.

4.11 ‘Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding.’

Israel are here described as being lacking in understanding both because of their whoredom and licentiousness, and because they indulge themselves in abundance of wine, each of which is a consequence of their religious activities. Illicit sex and drink are thus dulling their minds and preventing them from thinking straightly.

Some would bring ‘my people’ from being the first words in verse 12 to being the last words in verse 11. The Hebrew text can be read either way (it has no punctuation). We would then read ‘whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding of My people’. Verse 12 would then read ‘They ask counsel at their tree --’. It makes no difference to the overall sense.

4.12 ‘My people ask counsel at their piece of wood (tree, timber), and their staff makes declaration to them, for the spirit of whoredom has caused them to err, and they have played the harlot, departing from under their God.’

The result of their behaviour is that they foolishly seek counsel from pieces of wood carved into idols, or alternatively from sacred trees (verse 13), and look to their staffs to divine for them. This latter probably involved holding a rod vertically and spinning it, or holding two or more rods vertically, and then letting go of them, reading the future from the way in which they fell (called rhabdomancy). The idea is that they prefer this to hearing YHWH’s word through His prophets, while using it as a substitute for the Urim and Thummim in the Temple, which was the God-ordained mean of consultation. And they do this because the spirit of licentiousness within them has caused them to err, turning their minds to folly. The idea may well be that evil spirits have therefore taken possession of them (compare Deuteronomy 32.17; 1 Kings 22.22), or it could merely be indicating the driving force of their sexual urges which can make men think foolishly and do foolish things. And the consequence is that they have committed spiritual adultery, and probably literal adultery with sacred prostitutes or willing drunken worshippers of the opposite sex, thereby departing from being under YHWH’s control through the covenant. They are flouting all YHWH’s requirements.

4.13 ‘They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because its shadow is good. Therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery.’

High places, (raised sites, especially in the hills), were ever a feature of Canaanite religion and Baal worship, and Israel had been under instructions to destroy them (Numbers 33.52). Furthermore Israel had been warned against such high places lest they come under God’s anger (Leviticus 26.30). The tops of mountains were seen by idolaters as being nearest to the gods, which made them a favourite place for erecting high places. There they sacrificed and burned incense to their gods. Another favourite site for such high places was under green trees whose branches offered shade from the burning heat, those being selected which had widespread branches and thick foliage, of which examples are here given. They provided the ‘feel-good factor’, and were also seen as containing ‘life’ as demonstrated by their greenness. The specific identity of the trees is not certain.

The consequence of this worship was that the young Israelite women were introduced to illicit sex as a part of the religious ritual, with their young unmarried women acting like prostitutes, and their newly wed brides committing adultery. As a result the purity of the young women of Israel had become a thing of the past.

‘Because its shadow is good,’ possibly a satirical indication that that is all the good that they can expect from it. It would not be what was in the mind of the worshippers. They probably thought in terms of its protectiveness (compare Psalm 91.1).

4.14 ‘I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with the prostitutes, and the people who do not understand will be overthrown.’

YHWH then pointed out that He would not punish the young women for their behaviour because they were only following the example of their elders. For their men-folk also went apart with cult prostitutes or drunken female worshippers, and offered sacrifices with prostitutes instead of with and on behalf of their wives. This would have brought up short those in Israel who blamed the young women of Israel for their licentiousness, and yet excused their men-folk who were equally guilty. And at the bottom of this all this perverse sexual behaviour lay a lack of understanding of the will of YHWH. They had persuaded themselves that they were encouraging nature to become fertile as a result of ‘sympathetic magic’ by which nature would follow heir example, and failed to recognise how much they were debasing themselves and dishonouring child-bearing. Thus this people who ‘do not understand’ (compare verse 11), partly because they are licentious and drunk, will be ‘overthrown’. They will receive what is due to them from YHWH at the hands of their enemies.

4.15 ‘Though you, Israel, play the harlot, yet let Judah not offend, and do not come to Gilgal, nor go you up to Beth-aven, nor swear, “As YHWH lives”.’

Within the prophet’s heart was always a fear that Judah would go in the same way as Israel, whilst his hope was that if Judah remained solidly behind YHWH it would be a constant encouragement to him in the face of Israel’s coming demise. As a result he always had one eye on Judah. For while Judah survived, the demise of Israel would not seem quite so bad, for it would mean that the worship of YHWH still continued. That is why, in an aside, he prays in his heart that Judah may not follow in the same way as Israel.

Some see the call not to come up to Gilgal and Bethaven as addressed to the people of Israel, on the grounds that Judah would not be seen by Hosea as yet being in a state where they could not use the name of YHWH in oaths. But it may well be that ‘as YHWH lives’ had become a feature of the worship at Gilgal and Bethel so that Judah were simply being called on not to do it at Gilgal and Bethaven in idolatrous company. For certainly what follows appears to be addressed to Judah, warning them not to play the harlot like Israel was doing. The idea here then is that they were not to play the harlot like Israel by joint participation with them in these ways. This would suggest that many worshippers from Judah had taken to coming to enjoy the feasts at Gilgal and Bethel, which were not too distant from their border, a fact which would have grieved Hosea’s faithful heart and would explain his constant ‘off the cuff’ references to Judah. Gilgal and Bethaven were centres of syncretistic worship, and were thus to be seen as to be avoided because of their idolatry, whilst swearing ‘as YHWH lives’ was to be avoided in such company. This was why the call came to any who would hear to avoid all three, the two sanctuaries and swearing by YHWH. Gilgal was in the mountains of Ephraim, unless we see it as the sanctuary first set up by Joshua in the Jordan valley, and Bethaven (‘house of trouble’) was probably a satirical name for Bethel (‘house of God’), which was also in the mountains. They were easily accessible to northern Judah.

4.16 ‘For Israel has behaved himself stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer. Will YHWH then feed them as a lamb in a large place?’

In vivid terms Hosea then points out that Israel was like a stubborn heifer which digs its feet in and refuses to follow its owners, even when dragged with ropes. In the same way Israel has, as it were, dug in its feet firmly against YHWH and the requirements of His covenant. It refuses to respond to His call. And Hosea points out that this being so, they cannot expect YHWH to feed them like a lamb in an expansive pasture. This latter picture may well have been one popularly taught at the sanctuaries mentioned with the idea that YHWH would do precisely that. So Judah is being warned not to be deceived by the claims made by the sanctuaries.

Alternately we may translate as ‘YHWH will feed them as a lamb in a large place’, the idea being that YHWH will break their stubbornness by sending them like unresisting lambs to Sheol (the underworld), for who can resist death? Compare in this regard Psalm 49.14, ‘like sheep they are laid in Sheol, death will pasture them --.’

4.17 ‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.’

Indeed all are to recognise that Ephraim (Israel) is conjoined with idols (like mistresses to their lovers, or men bound by a covenant) and is therefore to be avoided. It is to be left alone. Alternately the word ‘conjoined’ can have a magical significance and may signify ‘bound by enchantment’. The command to ‘let him alone’ comes as something of a shock. The prophets would be expected to call for the uniting of Israel and Judah. But now Israel are seen as having gone so far along the downward path, that they are to be avoided at all costs.

This is his first use of the term ‘Ephraim’ which will from now on become a regular feature of the prophecy. It is not always easy to distinguish between Hosea’s use of ‘Israel’ (always used up to this point) and his use of ‘Ephraim’ (the largest and most influential tribe in northern Israel). There are a number of places where the names appear simply to signify the same thing (e.g. 5.3, 9 and often), but at other times the impression given is that Ephraim represents a distinction in Israel (e.g. 5.5), possibly what is most sinful in Israel. It may further be that we are to see that once the Assyrians had decimated Israel (2 Kings 15.29), the mountains of Ephraim were almost all that was left to Israel, clustered around Samaria, with the result that what remained of Israel became known as Ephraim (the largest of the tribes of ancient Israel along with Judah) and sank into ever worse behaviour (5.11, 12, 13, 14; 6.4, 10; 7.1, 8, 11; etc). Compare Isaiah 7.2; etc. But the usage is regularly wider than that. Thus the significance of the term must always be decided in context, and in many cases either interpretation will be possible.

4.18-19 ‘Their drink has become sour, they play the harlot continually, her rulers dearly love shame, the wind has wrapped her up in its wings, and they will be put to shame because of their sacrifices.’

Hosea now provides the reasons why Israel are to be avoided. The first reason is because their drink has become sour, not literally, but because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to YHWH. Drinking was a major part of their feasts as they ‘drank before YHWH’ (compare Exodus 24.11). But now it is no longer to be seen as religiously satisfying, or as a contribution to spiritual blessing as they join in worship, but is to be seen as ‘sour’, and as bringing judgment and condemnation on those who partake. We can compare how Paul warned that to drink of the wine at the Lord’s Supper would bring judgment on those whose hearts were not right and who treated it casually (1 Corinthians 11.27-29).

The second reason is because they constantly ‘play the harlot’ by lusting after the Baalim. By doing so they demonstrate their unfaithfulness to YHWH, even if they do introduce Him and His Name (‘as YHWH lives’) into their rituals. Thus they are unacceptable to Him.

The third reason is because ‘her shields (i.e. her rulers/defenders) dearly love shame.’ The thought is that even the leadership, and those responsible for their wellbeing and protection, lust after shameful things rather than after YHWH. They love what is shameful. Note the change from ‘they’ to ‘her’, the former representing the children of Israel, the latter Israel as an entity (their mother - verse 5). Hosea regularly changes from singular to plural and back again when speaking of Israel, even in the same context.

The fourth reason is because, as a result of their false sacrifices offered at the high places, Israel has been ‘wrapped up in the wings of the wind’, that is, are finding and will find that the winds of destruction are blowing heavily upon them, and will eventually carry them away from their land. Depending on the date of this prophecy they had already experienced something of this (or would soon) when part of their land had been turned into an Assyrian province, with many taken into exile (2 Kings 15.29). One day it would happen to them all (2 Kings 17.5 ff.).

Some, however would translate as ‘spirit’ instead of ‘wind’ (compare verse 12) with the idea being that they are borne along by ‘the spirit of licentiousness’ (whoredom).

Judgment Is Announced On The Priests, People And Royal House Of Israel Because Of Their Going Astray In Their Ritual, Something Which Has Prevented Them From Turning To YHWH And Has Made Them Unacceptable To Him, And The Consequence Will Be That They Will Be Devoured (5.1-7).

Hosea now involves every section of society, including royalty, in their ‘going against YHWH’, and points out that what they are is known to YHWH. On the other hand their behaviour and attitudes have been so affected by their false ritual that they have reached a position where they themselves do not really know God as He is, and therefore cannot turn to Him. As a consequence when they do seek Him it will be in vain, because He has withdrawn Himself from them as a result of their behaviour and the consequences that result from it, children with no natural families. As a consequence their new moon will not be a time of celebration and feasting, but will rather be a time when their land portions given to them by YHWH are ‘devoured’.

Analysis of 5.1-7.

  • a Hear this, O you priests, and listen, O house of Israel, and give ear, O house of the king, for to you pertains the judgment (5.1a).
  • b For you have been a snare at Mizpah, and a net spread on Tabor (5.1b).
  • c And those who err are gone deep in slaughter, and I am a chastener of them all (5.2).
  • d I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me, for now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel is defiled (5.3).
  • e Their doings will not allow them to turn to their God, for the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know YHWH (5.4).
  • d And the pride of Israel testifies to his face, therefore Israel and Ephraim will stumble in their iniquity, Judah also will stumble with them (5.5).
  • c They will go with their flocks and with their herds to seek YHWH, but they will not find him. He has withdrawn himself from them (5.6).
  • b They have dealt treacherously against YHWH, for they have borne strange children (5.7a).
  • a Now will the new moon devour them with their fields (or ‘portions’) (5.7b).

Note that in ‘a’ judgment is to be exercised against the priests, people and royalty of Israel, and in the parallel their allotted portions are to be devoured. In ‘b the leadership have been a snare and net to all Israel, and in the parallel they have dealt treacherously against YHWH. In ‘c’ their erring leaders have indulged in huge (false) sacrifices, with the result that YHWH will chasten them, and in the parallel they will take their flocks and herds to seek YHWH (by offering sacrifices) and will find that He has withdrawn Himself from them. In ‘d’ Ephraim and Israel are not hid from Him, and are defiled, and in the parallel reference is made to the pride of Israel and Ephraim through which they will be caused to stumble, along with Judah. Central in ‘e’ is the fact that their behaviour and attitude prevents them turning to God with the result that they do not know YHWH.

5.1

‘Hear this, O you priests,
And listen, O house of Israel,
And give ear, O house of the king,
For to you pertains the judgment,
For you have been a snare at Mizpah,
And a net spread on Tabor.’

The call comes to priests, people and royal house to listen to what YHWH has to say. All are involved. The word rendered ‘judgment’ can mean either ‘justice, the carrying out of what is right’ or ‘judgment’ in our normal use of the term. Thus some see ‘to you pertains justice’ as a reminder to them, and especially to the royal house and the priests, that it was their responsibility to ensure the maintenance of justice and the carrying out of what was right, something which they had failed to do in the religious sphere where they had rather set a snare and a trap for the people. Others see ‘to you pertains judgment’ as indicating that all Israel, including its leadership, is to be judged by YHWH. Either interpretation is possible, but it may well be that Hosea had both ideas in mind because if they have not carried out what is right, (and have as a result been a snare to Israel) they are certainly liable to judgment. In a country like Israel’s ‘carrying out what is right’ would include doing so religiously as well as in ‘secular’ life. Thus it included the need to keep the religion of the people pure.

But instead of encouraging what was right they have been like bird hunters on Mizpah and Tabor, (two eminences where there would be many birds available to be hunted), setting snares and traps for the people by leading them astray. All the males who heard Hosea would probably have had memories of hunting for birds, and setting snares for them, in the mountains, and would have been able to picture the helpless birds struggling in the hands of their captors. It was a salutary thought that this was what they were like themselves. Furthermore Tabor was in the far north west of the country, and if the Mizpah (fortress, watchtower) was the well known Mizpah of Gilead in Transjordan, the two might well have been seen as including within their compass the whole of Israel on both sides of the Jordan, including all Israel in the indictment as a consequence.

Tabor was a mountain conjoining the northern tribes of Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali in the north west, north of the Valley of Jezreel, thus bringing into account the distant tribal areas. Mizpah (fortress, watchtower, and therefore a popular name for a town), was a name given to a number of towns. Most well known (certainly to us) was the Mizpah which was one of the centres where Samuel carried out his official duties, (the others being Bethel and Gilgal - 1 Samuel 7.16). This was in the territory of Benjamin in the central highlands. It was where the army gathered in the days of the Judges (Judges 20.1, 3; 21.1, 5, 8; 1 Samuel 7.5-6). But there were also a number of other Mizpahs including a well known Mizpah in Gilead in Transjordan (Judges 10.17; 11.11, 29, 34 and possibly Joshua 13.26).

Other have argued that Tabor and Mizpah were mentioned because they were cultic centres where Baalism flourished, and it may well be true that they were cultic centres, for most towns would probably have been cultic centres, in the same way as such centres proliferated on the mountains. But that is not to be seen as the main reason for their mention here, for as cultic centres they were nothing exceptional. They were presumably mentioned, either because they were well known places for snaring birds, or because they represented the whole of Israel, or both.

5.2

‘And those who err (shettim = rebels, swervers, wanderers) are gone deep in slaughter,
And I am a rebuker (correcter, chastener) of them all.’

Here we have explained the reason why they were seen as setters of snares. It was because in their behaviour they were behaving like rebels against YHWH by involving themselves in ‘deep slaughter’, that is in offering large numbers of sacrifices to Baal (on every high hill and under every green tree - compare 4.13), and even in child sacrifice. They were erring through teaching the people falsehood. In consequence YHWH will rebuke them by chastising them severely without exception. And that was something that could only occur through invasion and exile.

An alternative translation suggested has been, ‘And they have gone deep to stretch out (spread out) excesses, but I am a chastisement to them all’. This is because the word translated ‘those who err’ can also refer to ‘that thing in which they erred’, i.e. their excesses, and because the consonants for the word translated ‘slaughter’ may also be seen as containing the idea of spreading out. A further alternative translation is ‘They have made deep the whoredom (sacrifices to idols) of Shittim’, (compare Numbers 25.1), with shettim (swervers from the right way) being repointed as Shittim, and the slaughter of sacrifices being seen as whoredom. But reference to Shittim is unlikely here, partly because when using names he usually uses twos and fours, and partly because a literal explanation of verse 1 is required here in accordance with his usual pattern. The translation makes too much of assumptions.

5.3-4

‘I know Ephraim,
And Israel is not hid from me,
For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,
Israel is defiled.
‘Their doings will not allow them,
To turn to their God,
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
And they do not know YHWH.’

There is an interesting inclusio and play on ideas here in that YHWH is said to ‘know Ephraim’ (Israel) whilst Ephraim and Israel ‘do not know YHWH’. YHWH is omniscient and Israel are blind. The idea behind YHWH knowing Israel is that nothing that they do is hidden from Him (so the parallel). He is aware of all that they do. As a consequence He is fully aware of their idolatry and their playing the harlot after false gods. And the result is that their behaviour will not allow them to turn to the One Who is truly their God. This is because they are possessed with the spirit of whoredom and as a consequence do not have the true knowledge of YHWH.

Note how the change from personal address by YHWH to a third person reference to Him brings out that they no longer have any relationship with ‘their God’. They have lost Him, and now have no place before Him.

5.5

‘And the pride of Israel testifies to his face,
And Israel and Ephraim will stumble in their iniquity,
Judah also will stumble with them.’

Indeed He is aware of their pride and self-reliance which testifies to His face (or their own face), revealed both in their false worship and their social injustice (4.2). By their actions they are boldly declaring to His face that they want nothing to do with Him and His covenant. The word for ‘testify’ is a legal word. They are making their statement as if in a court of law. They are acting as their own accusers.

Consequently He will make them stumble and fall, and because of Judah’s participation in events Judah will stumble and fall with them. This is an advance on the previous exemption of Judah (1.7). Time has moved on. Judah are now becoming more involved with Israel’s apostasy as a result of being attracted to their cultic centres. He had warned them in 4.15, but they had not listened. Now they too are in danger of ‘stumbling’. The idea of stumbling in such contexts always leads to a fall.

5.6-7

‘With their flocks and with their herds,
They will go to seek YHWH,
But they will not find him,
He has withdrawn himself from them.’
‘Against YHWH have they dealt treacherously,
Because they have borne strange children.
Now will the new moon devour them,
With their fields (portions).’

When judgment comes on them they will turn to YHWH with an abundance of sacrifices, of both small and large animals. But it will be too late. They will not find Him, because He will already have withdrawn Himself. This will be because they have been unfaithful to YHWH and produced children who are not acceptable to Him. This may either be because their children too were seen as born under the shadow of spiritual whoredom, or because it is referring to the illegitimate children of prostitutes produced in their religious orgies. And the consequence of their ‘illegitimacy’ is that they no longer have any ‘right by inheritance’ to the land allotted under the covenant.

‘Now will the new moon devour them’ may indicate that just as the new moon was a time when animals were devoured in sacrifice, so now Israel/Ephraim also will be devoured. Or it may mean that instead of their new moons being a time of celebration in the future as they look forward to that future, they will rather become a time when they and their fields (their portions allotted by YHWH) will be devoured.

Ephraim Are To Prepare For An Invasion Which Will Lead To Their Desolation Whilst Judah Will Be Punished For Taking Advantage Of The Situation To Seize Land. Both Will Suffer As A Consequence. Meanwhile A Plea From Ephraim To Assyria Will Not Solve Her Problems, Whilst YHWH Will Be Waiting For Their Repentance (5.8-15).

This is the first indication of invasion actually taking place against Israel. The secure (even though sinful) days of Jeroboam II are now clearly over. The question is as to whether this is describing a retaliatory attack by Judah when seeking to seize land after Israel had been sorely weakened by Assyrian invasion, or whether it actually has the Assyrian invasion in mind as a result of Ahaz’s appeal to Assyria for help, or possibly an earlier one. If Assyria had first attacked Philistia they would then approach Israel from the south, and Judah could do nothing to prevent it. The order in verse 8 might suggest the former, and that might be seen as supported by verse 11 where the removal of the landmark might indicate annexation of territory. On the other hand it may be that in mind is the earlier Assyrian invasion that caused Ephraim (Israel) to seek to make peace with Assyria (verse 13) in the first place, something supported by the mention of the ‘day of rebuke’ in verse 9. Whichever way it is both Ephraim and Judah would suffer under the Assyrian response to the situation for it was YHWH’s purpose to chasten them by means of that invasion, and after that to wait until they truly repented and sought His face. This was because He knew that eventually such affliction would turn their thoughts towards Him in earnest, a hope which will be expressed by Hosea in 6.1-3.

Analysis of 5.8-15.

  • a Blow you the ram’s horn in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah, sound an alarm at Beth-aven. Behind you, O Benjamin (5.8).
  • b Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke, among the tribes of Israel have I made known what will surely be (5.9).
  • c The princes of Judah are like those who remove the landmark, I will pour out my wrath on them like water. Ephraim is oppressed, he is crushed in judgment, because he was content to walk after man’s command (5.10-11).
  • d Therefore am I to Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness (5.12).
  • c When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king, but he is not able to heal you, nor will he cure you of your wound (5.13).
  • b For I will be to Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away, I will carry off, and there will be none to deliver (5.14).
  • a I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me earnestly (5.15).

Note than in ‘a’ the call to face an invasion is made, and in the parallel they will seek YHWH in their affliction. In ‘b’ Ephraim’s desolation is described, and the same in the parallel. In ‘c’ both Judah and Ephraim face God’s anger and are to suffer, and in the parallel both recognise that they have been wounded and we have the response of Ephraim to the situation. Centrally in ‘d’ YHWH reveals what He will do to both.

5.8

‘Blow you the ram’s horn in Gibeah,
And the trumpet in Ramah,
Sound an alarm at Beth-aven.
Behind you, O Benjamin.’

The picture is vivid. The call is to the watchmen on the watchtowers to sound the alarm at the sight of invading armies, using both ram’s horn and metal trumpet, and is made to the area of Benjamin (in which Gibeah and Ramah were situated), indicating that they were to ‘watch their backs’. All are to be on the alert for invasion. The order of the cities appears to indicate that the invasion will be taking place from the south.

For the order of the cities is given moving northwards on the road to Bethel through Gibeah and Ramah, and as a result has been seen as indicating an invasion by Judah, coming after Israel had been seriously weakened by the Assyrians, with the aim of regaining land which had been annexed by Israel in the days of Jehoash and Jeroboam II (2 Kings 13.12; 14.11-14, 28), or even during the war with the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Gibeah and Ramah were in Benjamite territory which had once belonged to Judah. On the other hand the order may simply illustrate the call going out from the border cities right up to the central sanctuary at Bethel (Bethaven) in terms of the area best known to Hosea. The call is certainly in readiness for an invasion, and Benjamin are told to watch their backs, a suggestion that the invasion will come from an unexpected direction.

But under Ahaz Judah was occupied by Assyrian troops, who may well therefore have made an incursion into Israelite territory from the south, in combination with another invasion from the west and north, whilst if the Assyrians were approaching from the direction, say, of Gaza, as at times they did, they might well have taken a route through Judah (they would not consider it necessary to ask permission). And as already mentioned, Hosea may simply have been picturing the event in terms of the cities with which he was familiar. In our view the foe in mind could only be Assyria, because the impression given is that both Israel and Judah are suffering. But whichever way it was Hosea was not really interested in the detail, only in the fact that it was evidence that YHWH was carrying out His judgments. And that because it was ‘the day of rebuke’.

5.9

‘Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke,
Among the tribes of Israel have I made known what will surely be.’

The consequence of the invasion, and the certainty of those consequences, is now described. Ephraim will become a desolation (a virtual desert) on the ‘day of rebuke (chastisement, punishment)’. This was Hosea’s equivalent of ‘the day of YHWH’ of Amos. God was about to ‘have His day’ in fulfilment of His warnings of judgment. And the certainty of it (‘what will surely be’) is underlined, a certainty which YHWH has made known to ‘the tribes of Israel’ (sometimes called ‘the ten tribes’).

5.10

‘The princes of Judah are like those who remove the landmark,
I will pour out my wrath on them like water.’

Judah also is to face YHWH’s chastisement although not to the same degree. There is no mention of desolation, but they will nevertheless experience the pouring out of YHWH’s anger on them like water. And this was because their princes had become like those who ‘remove the landmark’. Landmarks where a feature of those days, marking off what land belonged to one person from what belonged to another. The removal of such landmarks was seen as a heinous offence. As Deuteronomy 19.14 declares, “You shall not remove your neighbour's landmark,” something underlined in the group of curses connected with the covenant in Deuteronomy 27, “Cursed be he who removes his neighbour's landmark” (Deuteronomy 27.17).

The reference here is probably to the fact that the princes of Judah have allowed Judah’s standards to slip by easing the requirements of the Law and allowing the men of Judah (including themselves) to participate in Israel’s syncretistic cult (compare 4.15). Or even as referring to their collaboration with Assyria which was certainly like removing a landmark, the landmark which kept Judah independent as YHWH’s people, for the consequence of it would be the introduction of an Assyrian altar into the house of YHWH. Either way the charge is one of compromising the true worship of YHWH. Alternately some see it as referring to Judah’s invasion of Israel in order to take back territory previously purloined. But it is difficult to see how that is the equivalent of removing the landmark, for in that case it was Israel who could be charged with having removed the landmark, although the thought may simply be that Judah should not have taken advantage of Israel’s catastrophe for their own ends (compare how Edom would later be punished for doing the same to Judah - Obadiah 1.11).

But the verse parallels the previous one suggesting that both Israel and Judah will suffer in similar ways, even if for different reasons, a thought which is repeated later (verse 13). This makes Judah appearing in the guise of an invader very unlikely.

And because of Assyria’s activity YHWH’s wrath would be poured out on them like water (see Palm 69.24-25). Compare the vivid description in Isaiah of Assyria’s incursion into Judah around this time (Isaiah 8.7-8) with Judah in trouble up to its neck in flood water. So Israel and Judah are both in trouble, the difference being that Israel have gone too far, while for Judah there is still hope.

5.11

‘Ephraim is oppressed,
He is crushed in judgment,
Because he was content to walk,
After man’s command.’

The spotlight turns back on Ephraim (Israel). They are being oppressed, they are being crushed in judgment, and while the mills of God grind slowly, they are grinding exceeding small. Both expressions were often used of how the rulers oppressed and crushed the poor (compare Amos 4.1). Thus what they had done to others was now being done to them. And this was because Israel had listened to man rather than to God. They had walked in accordance with the commands (tsaw) and teaching of men, rather than obeying the commands and teaching of YHWH, by engaging in false worship and by setting aside His commandments. We might even translate as, ‘they walked after man’s ‘blah, blah, blah’. (Compare the use of the word in Isaiah 28.10, 13). Others relate the word tsaw to a verb meaning ‘to stink’ and so translate the word tsaw here as ‘filth’, but with the same connotations. They had followed after what was but filth. And not only had they done so, but they had been satisfied in their hearts while they did so. They had been ‘content’. Others consider that what they were being condemned for were their relations with Aram (Syria) and Assyria.

5.12

‘Therefore am I to Ephraim as a moth,
And to the house of Judah as rottenness (decay).’

Central to the passage (see the analysis above) is a description of what YHWH is to both Israel and Judah. To Israel He is as a moth, devouring them like clothes are devoured by moths, to Judah He is like the rottenness in fruit that spreads and spreads rendering the fruit inedible (compare the similar parallel descriptions in Job 13.28). In both cases the idea is that He is slowly executing His judgment on them because of their failure in respect of the covenant.

5.13

‘When Ephraim saw his sickness,
And Judah saw his wound,
Then Ephraim went to Assyria,
And sent to the Great King,
But he is not able to heal you,
Nor will he cure you of your wound.’

The main warning here is to Israel, but there is a spin off to Judah, possibly because Ahaz was still considering his options (compare Isaiah 7). Let Judah consider the fact that the king of Assyria will prove of no help in the end to Israel, whose king Menahem had parleyed with him (2 Kings 15.19-20). Or the reference may be to Hoshea’s submission to him in order to gain the throne (2 Kings 17.3), in which case it is after Ahaz submitted to the king of Assyria. Both Israel (Ephraim) and Judah are seen as sick and wounded as a result of YHWH’s judgments, but it is Israel who at this juncture look to Assyria for help. They ‘went to Assyria, and sent to the Great King’ (dividing the consonants mlky rb, the y being an intermediate helping vowel to aid pronunciation, thus giving the title by which the kings of Assyria was known in an Assyrian inscription and Assyrian records, instead of mlk yrb, which gives the reading King Yereb or warrior king)’. But the king of Assyria could be of no assistance to them in their present state, for their condition was due to YHWH, the truly Great King, and not to Assyria. Thus the king of Assyria was helpless to do anything about it.

Judah are seen as having a putrefying wound (compare Isaiah 1.6) but possibly still as not yet committed to Assyria, otherwise they would be mentioned here (we must not insert what Hosea did not put in), which would support the parleying at this time as being done by Pekah. While the last two lines appear to tie in with the first two lines (sickness -- wound -- heal -- cure wound) this may simply be due to poetic balance with the last two lines referring to Israel (as the middle two lines suggest), rather than in order to include Judah, for Judah’s wound would be healed for a time when Hezekiah and Josiah were on the throne.

5.14

‘For I will be to Ephraim as a lion,
And as a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away,
I will carry off, and there will be none to deliver.’

It is now emphasised that it was YHWH Who was responsible for the troubles of both Israel and Judah, because they had been faithless to Him and His covenant, both in their false worship and disobedience to the covenant commandments, and in their very seeking to Assyria rather than to YHWH. He would be like a lion who came across someone in a lonely place, seizing them and tearing them, and then leaving their carcasses, or carrying them off with no one there to rescue them (Baal being unable to deliver them). The ‘young male lion’ was especially dangerous as, having left the pack, he roamed around, possibly with other young males, looking for a kill.

5.15

‘I will go and return to my place,
Until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face.
In their affliction they will seek me earnestly.’

The thought of the lion going away to the shelter of his lair having torn his prey is now applied to YHWH’s treatment of Israel. He too will go away, leaving Israel torn and bleeding and deserted, and return to His place (to Heaven). But it will only be ‘until they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face.’ YHWH’s aim was always repentance. The problem was that it would be a long time before Israel would repent. In the end, however, they will do so, for as a result of their long affliction in exile they will eventually seek Him earnestly. These words are a perfect build up to 6.1-3.

The Eventual Return Of Israel To YHWH Is Depicted In Terms Of A Restoration To Health And Resurrection And The Blessing Of Rain Upon The Earth (6.1-3).

The idea of Israel torn by a lion (5.14) and smitten by a wasting disease (5.13) would have lain heavy on Hosea’s heart, but as ever he does not see it as the end. For he knows that God must fulfil His promises to His people as so clearly described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29. Thus he recognises that at some future time, once the smiting is over, Israel must be restored. But he knows that it can only happen if they turn and seek God with all their hearts (5.15). And it can only happen once His judgments have been worked out.

Here then he makes a call for that restoration in response to his words in 5.15c, as he visualises Israel as awakening and calling on each other to return to YHWH Who will then heal them and bind them up. This return is pictured in terms of the arousing of a dead man within the traditional three day period during which his spirit remains in his body. It is a precursor to such passages as Isaiah 26.19 and Ezekiel 37.1-14. The ‘two days’ and ‘third day’ are not necessarily to be seen as indicating a literal three day period (except as regards the three day period for the dead) but in order to draw out the idea of Israel as being aroused from the dead. We may also see it as suggesting that on the first day they will repent and turn to YHWH, on the second day He will revive their hearts, and on the third day He will cause them to rise up and live before Him. It is a picture of genuine spiritual restoration occurring in three stages, based on the thought of a literal raising from the dead of a corpse.

And this ‘raising from the dead’ will result in their truly knowing YHWH once again, and following on to know Him even more. For though they may at present be going through the dark night of unbelief, Hosea considers that the coming of light in their spiritual morning is as sure as the coming each day of the morning itself. And then God will again visit them, coming to them as the initial rains, and then as the latter rain which waters the earth (after the seed has been sown). This picture of God coming as the rain will be taken up and expanded on by Isaiah (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5; 55.10-13) and by John the Baptist. The Spirit will fall on His people from above and they will be made ‘alive’ by the Spirit.

The initial fulfilment took place after the Babylonian exile when the remnants of the people gathered back to the land, joining those who had bravely remained there in the face of all the difficulties, followed no doubt by the arrival of many more as the news reached different areas of the successful re-establishment of ‘Israel’ in the land. And we certainly know of ‘revivals’ under Haggai and Zechariah, and then under Ezra and Nehemiah. The people of God were back in the land in repentance and faith, and were enjoying the working of the Holy Spirit (Haggai 2.4-5; Zechariah 4.6). This would eventually result in the establishment of an independent kingdom which prospered and grew in readiness for the coming of Christ.

The second greater fulfilment may be seen in the coming of the King Himself, preceded by His herald. On ‘the first day’ the preaching of John the Baptist called the people to return to the Lord. On ‘the second day’ the people were revived under the ministry of Jesus as large numbers in Israel turned to their Messiah. And on ‘the third day’, after that crucial third day of the resurrection, His people were raised up and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6), and commenced living their lives in the very presence of God. They had been transferred out of the tyranny of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, as those who had been forgiven and redeemed (Colossians 1.13-14). Thereby Israel had been renewed and reborn as the kingdom of the Messiah, as sure as morning followed night, and as certainly and as fruitfully as after the coming of the rain in preparation for harvest.

Analysis of 6.1-3.

  • a Come, and let us return to YHWH (6.1a).
  • b For he has torn, and he will heal us, he has smitten, and he will bind us up (6.1b).
  • c After two days will he revive us (6.2a).
  • b On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him (6.2b).
  • a And let us know, let us follow on to know YHWH. His going forth is sure as the morning, and he will come to us as the rain, as the latter rain that waters the earth (6.3).

Note that in ‘a’ they are to come, and return to YHWH, expressed in terms of ‘let us return’, and in the parallel they will know him, and follow on to know Him, expressed in terms of ‘let us know’, and this will be as sure as morning follows night and the rains come in their seasons. In ‘b’ they will be healed and bound up, and in the parallel they will be raised up and live before Him. Centrally in ‘c’ it is YHWH Who will revive them.

6.1 ‘Come, and let us return to YHWH, for he has torn, and he will heal us, he has smitten, and he will bind us up.’

The carcass torn by the Lion and smitten and diseased (5.13-14), is called on itself to ‘return’ (a favourite word of Hosea, see 3.5; 7.10; 14.1-2) to YHWH in repentance and hope, with a view to their being ‘healed and bound up’ and ‘revived’ and ‘raised up’. Note the inner chiasm, ‘torn -- heal -- smitten -- bound up.’ It is the smitten who are healed and the torn who are bound up. The picture is of God’s estranged people once more seeking His face and praying for full restoration. It occurred to some extent after the Babylonian exile (which had followed all the preceding exiles), and it occurred especially under the ministry of John the Baptist, and of course of Jesus Christ when a new Israel growing out of the old would be established (Matthew 2.15; 16.18; 21.41; John 15.1-6).

6.2 ‘After two days will he revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him.’

The reference to ‘two days’ indicates that all will not occur instantly, even after their repentance. These are God’s days and therefore longer than those of men. But then YHWH will revive His people in readiness for the ‘third day’ when He will raise them up and restore them to full health so that they may begin to live before Him. The picture is of a man rising from the dead within the three day period while the soul was still in the body. Israel is thus seen as ‘rising from the dead’. While partially fulfilled after the Exile, the greater fulfilment came, first through the teaching and ministry of Jesus (when indeed many were also literally healed and bound up), and then in the period after His death and resurrection, when He was raised on ‘the third day’, and a new Israel came to life, a believing Israel (in contrast with the old unbelieving Israel which was cut off (Romans 11.17, 20), and became as one of ‘the nations’ (Acts 4.25-27)), a new Israel which brought light to the Gentiles so that many responded and became a part of the new Israel (Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.10). It was an Israel raised up from the dead, and living before Him in resurrection life.

In view of the fact that Jesus clearly saw Himself as the representative of Israel this was possibly one of the passages that He had in mind (along, for example, with Isaiah 53.10-13, and Psalm 16.10-11) when He spoke of rising again on the third day, and which Paul had in mind when he spoke of ‘rising on the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15.4).

6.3 ‘And let us know, let us follow on to know YHWH. His going forth is sure as the morning, and he will come to us as the rain, as the latter rain that waters the earth.’

The second appeal is that they might again truly ‘know YHWH’ and go on knowing Him continually. Contrast here 4.1; 5.4. And this will be brought about by the activity of YHWH Whose going forth is as certain as the coming of morning after nightfall, and Who will come as fruitbearing rain that waters the earth (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5; 55.10-13). It is the latter rain that waters the sown seed and ensures that it becomes fruitful in the hot climate. So YHWH’s promise is that He will act like rain upon His repentant people, a picture taken up and used by John the Baptist with all his references to grain and fruit growing in terms of the coming Spirit Who will be provided by the Coming One, ‘He will drench you with the Holy Spirit’.

ISRAEL’S GROWING SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY AND DEGRADED BEHAVIOUR ARE DESCRIBED ALONG WITH THEIR RELIANCE ON IDOLS, FOREIGNERS, UNWORTHY KINGS AND THEMSELVES, AND THIS IN CONTRAST WITH YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR HIS FAILING SON (6.4-11.12).

Hosea continues to describe the condition in which Israel find themselves, and rebukes their reliance on other things than YHWH. Conditions in Israel would appear to be politically much worse, and these words were therefore probably mainly spoken during the years of turmoil following the death of Menahem and his son Pekahiah, that is, during the reigns of Pekah and Hoshea. During this period there was an off-on relationship with Assyria which eventually caused the downfall of Pekah and the initial submission of Hoshea to Assyria, followed by his later turning to Egypt (and not to YHWH) in the hope of breaking free from Assyria’s yoke.

YHWH Makes Clear His Current View Of Israel And Judah Because Of Their Spiritual Bankruptcy (6.4-6).

Hosea, in words of YHWH, now contrasts his future glowing picture of Israel’s restoration with the current situation in Israel and Judah. Judah is now firmly included with Israel in the condemnation. This may well have been because many Judeans had attended the feasts at Bethel and fully participated in them, bringing home to Hosea the fact that while the worship at the Temple continued seemingly satisfactorily (until the time of Ahaz), the hearts of much of Judah were similar to the hearts of the people of Israel.

The contrasts with verses 1-3 should be noted. Whereas in verse 3 YHWH’s coming work was as sure as the morning dawned after night time, here morning will for the current Ephraim and Judah be a false dawn in that like the morning mist and the dew their supposed covenant love quickly disappears. That is why, instead of mercy, YHWH’s judgment will at present come on them as the sun which goes forth, because to Him response to the covenant and a true heart knowledge of God was more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices, and they have not yet repented. It is a warning to us today lest our worship too become an empty ritual.

Analysis of 6.4-6.

  • a ‘O Ephraim, what shall I do to you?
    a O Judah, what shall I do to you? (6.4a).
  • b For your covenant love is as a morning cloud,
    b And as the dew which goes early away.’ (6.4b).
  • c ‘Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets,
    c I have slain them by the words of my mouth (6.5a).
  • b And my judgment will go forth as the light (sun) (6.5b).
  • a For I desire covenant love, and not sacrifice,
    a And the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings (6.6).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH looks with yearning upon His people, wondering what He can do with them (because of their failing covenant love) and in the parallel He explains why. It is because He wants covenant love more than their sacrifices, and a true knowledge of God rather that burnt offerings. In ‘b’ their covenant love is like a rapidly disappearing morning mist, and in the parallel His judgment goes forth like the sun in its permanence. Centrally in ‘c’ this is why He has spoken so harshly to them.

6.4

‘O Ephraim, what shall I do to you?
O Judah, what shall I do to you?
For your covenant love is as a morning cloud,
And as the dew which goes early away.’

We can see in this the cry of a father’s heart for his children (compare 11.1, 4; Exodus 4.22; Deuteronomy 14.1; Isaiah 63.16; 64.8). God is, as it were, in despair at what to do with them because He loves them so much whilst they are unwilling to listen to what He says. He feels that He has tried everything. We can see those attempts for ourselves, starting from the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, moving through the conquest and the deliverances under the Judges, and coming to Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets, and the ups and downs which followed, before finally attaining the prosperous times under Uzziah and Jeremiah II, followed by the threat of the Assyrians. During that past they have again and again professed covenant love (obedience and response to the covenant in loving worship), but sadly it has always proved to be like a morning mist and like the dew, which, when the sun arises, which rapidly evaporate and disappear. It has never lasted for any great length of time. The morning mist and dew were common sights in Israel, and provided vital moisture outside the rainy season, and all knew how quickly they dissolved before the morning sun.

So in contrast to the sure work which, once they had repented, YHWH would do as sure as morning came after night time (verse 3), where the morning was a picture of certainty, here the coming of morning is simply a picture of how quickly their love and faithfulness has disappeared. Furthermore, in contrast with the latter rains from God which would water the earth and make if fruitful (verse 3), the behaviour of Israel and Judah was like a rapidly disappearing morning mist.

6.5a

‘Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets,
I have slain them by the words of my mouth.’

It was because of this shallowness revealed in their attitudes that God had in the past sent His prophets (Moses, Samuel, Elisha, Elijah, Micaiah, Jonah, Amos, etc) to ‘hew them down’ like trees falling before the lumberjacks. And because of that same shallowness He had slain them with the words of His mouth, both by making them shudder before Him (compare Exodus 20.18-19; Deuteronomy 4.10-13, 33, 36; 5.4-5, 22-27) and by His word of power bringing disasters upon them.

For it had been necessary for Him in the past, having provided His covenant with its demanding stipulations, to send His fiery prophets to seek to apply that covenant permanently to the people, but now He wanted them to know that, as their own history demonstrated, His efforts had failed. And it left Him not knowing what He could do next. Of course, as He will go on to point out, He did know, for things had reached a situation where the only solution was devastation and exile. So by bringing out the past by these words the current situation in Israel was being connected with the failures of that past.

Some, by pointing the consonants in a different way, would translate the first line as, ‘therefore have I hewed them by My fear-inspiring speech’ on the basis of linguistic discoveries at Ugarit. This would possibly provide a better parallel, but the overall emphasis is the same.

6.5b

‘And my judgment will go forth as the light (or ‘as the sun’, the ‘greater light’ of Genesis 1.15-16).’

Using the same consonants as the MT but repointing (the pointing is not a part of the original text) YHWH now points out that because of their failure in covenant faithfulness and covenant love He is about to send forth His judgment which will come on them in the same way as the sun (or the morning light) causes the night to disappear. Thus like their covenant love, they themselves will soon ‘go early away’. Unlike the morning mist the sun (or period of light) lasts throughout the day, an indication of the certainty of God’s purposes. For the Hebrew word for ‘light’ being used to denote the ‘sun’ compare Judges 5.31, and see also Habakkuk 3.4.

The MT (Masoretic Text) reads, ‘your judgments are as the light (sun) which goes forth’. In that case ‘your judgments’ speaks of ‘the judgments which have come upon you’, and sees them as being as permanent and effective as the sun. But the original Hebrew text was simply composed of consonants with no joins between the words, and the reading suggested above is a translation of the MT consonants divided up in a slightly different way, using different vowel sounds. (The vowel signs were provided by the Masoretes some centuries after the coming of Christ and are therefore not an essential part of Scripture).

6.6

‘For I desire covenant love, and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.’

The reason for God’s judgment on Israel and Judah is now explained. It will be because their religion has been both false and formal. It was true that they were continually offering sacrifices and burnt offerings, even doing it in the name of YHWH, but they were doing it on the basis that they were, as it were, engaged in a kind of bargain. Their idea was that they played their part in offering their gifts and the gods were then expected to play theirs by sending the rain and causing the earth to be fruitful, regardless of how the ‘worshippers’ behaved. Each scratched the back of the other. But YHWH is pointing out that He is not just ‘one of the gods’. He is not so limited. He is the living God Who requires covenant love, resulting in obedience to His moral and religious requirements (both of which were being ignored), rather than sacrifices used simply as a formal bargaining counter. Sacrifices were, of course acceptable to Him when presented in the right way and from the right motive, for He Himself had ordained them. But they were not acceptable if they were not offered by those whose hearts were full of love and obedience, for that was indeed the whole point of them, as Samuel had previously made clear (1 Samuel 15.22).

Furthermore He required that they come to a true knowledge and awareness of Himself, without which burnt offerings were pointless. Dedicatory offerings were meaningless unless they were presented to One Whom they knew in their own spiritual experience, and to Whom they rendered obedience on the basis of that knowledge. For if they truly knew God they would not allow social injustice (see 4.2), nor would they engage in false sacrifices in cultic centres and at shrines on the mountains (4.13; 8.11). This was the same point that Isaiah, the Judean prophet, would soon equally stress in Isaiah 1.11-18. (Compare also Amos 5.21-24; Micah 6.6-8; Psalm 51.16-17). It was the final explanation as to why there could be nothing but judgment in the short term.

The Sinfulness Of Israel/Ephraim Is Totally Exposed And Judah Is Briefly Warned Of What Will Come On Them As Well (6.7-7.2).

The sinfulness of Israel is now exposed commencing from Gilead (6.8), and moving through Shechem (6.9) to Samaria (7.1). They are revealed as covenant breakers (seen as a gross sin in those days) and murderers (6.7 & 8), their priests are exposed as murderers, highway robbers and perpetrators of ‘mischief or ‘heinous crime’ (6.8), the house of Israel is found to be guilty of ‘whoredom’, both literal and spiritual, and Samaria is described as a place of ‘wickedness’ where falsehood abounds, theft is commonplace, and bandits await any who leave the city. But what they overlook is that YHWH remembers all their wickedness, and that what they do so gathers round them as a spectacle that it is openly apparent before the face of YHWH.

And this occurs despite YHWH’s desire to restore them (6.11b-7.1a), a desire which proves futile because it only helps to reveal their sinfulness. Judah also are warned in a brief aside that they too have a harvest of judgment to reap (compare Matthew 13.30 for the idea of a harvest of judgment).

Analysis of 6.7-7.2.

  • a But they like Adam (or ‘like men’) have transgressed the covenant. There have they dealt treacherously against me (6.7).
  • b Gilead is a city of those who work iniquity, it is stained with blood (6.8).
  • c And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way towards Shechem. Yes, they have committed mischief (6.9).
  • d In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing, there whoredom is found in Ephraim (6.10a).
  • e Israel is defiled (6.10b).
  • f Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you (6.11a).
  • e In my bringing back the captivity of my people, when I would heal Israel (6.11b-7.1a).
  • d Then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria (7.1b).
  • c For they commit falsehood, and the thief enters in, and the troop of robbers ravages without (7.1c).
  • b And they consider not in their hearts, that I remember all their wickedness (7.2a).
  • a Now have their own doings beset them about, they are before my face (7.2b).

Note that in ‘a’ they have, like Adam, transgressed God’s covenant, and have dealt treacherously against Him, and in the parallel their own doings beset them about, and they are ‘before His face’ (compare how though Adam hid ‘from the face of YHWH’ in Genesis 3.8, he too had necessarily been ‘before His face’). In ‘b’ the iniquity of Gilead is revealed, and in the parallel their wickedness is remembered by God. In ‘c’ the priests are like troops of robbers, and they commit ‘indecency’, and in the parallel a troop of robbers ravages without, and Ephraim commit falsehood. In ‘d’ whoredom is found in Ephraim, and in the parallel the iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered. In ‘e’ Israel is defiled, and in the parallel YHWH desired to heal Israel from her defilement. Centrally in ‘f’ a harvest of judgment is also appointed for Judah.

6.7-8

‘But they like Adam (or ‘men’) have transgressed the covenant.
There have they dealt treacherously against me.
Gilead is a city of those who work iniquity,
It is stained with blood.

Three views are taken of the interpretation of these verses. The first is that ‘adam’ refers to Adam, the original man, the second that it refers to men in general (adam is a word for ‘man’), and the third is that it refers to the city of Adam (Joshua 3.16), thus paralleling the mention of the city Gilead.

The first interpretation describes Israel as being like Adam who transgressed his original covenant with God and acted in a treacherous way against Him, possibly with the implication that the city of Gilead was like Cain, his murderous ‘son’. This would tie in with the language in 7.2b where Israel’s behaviour is openly revealed ‘before the face’ of YHWH in a similar way to Adam’s, for Adam hid among the trees from ‘before His face’ (Genesis 3.8). The problem this then raises is as to what the ‘there’ refers to in the second line. This is not too much of a problem, however, as it may simply be a general indication and refer to wherever they were.

This interpretation is very forceful and would have been very telling. All were aware of how Adam had been faithless and disobeyed God. Thus they were being warned that by breaking YHWH’s covenant with them they were repeating the sin of Adam in being faithless and disobedient. They were having their part in the first gross sin. This interpretation also fits well with the idea of treachery. And it is made even more vivid by the fact that it is connected with a city of spilt blood, in the same way as Cain spilled the blood of Abel.

The second interpretation sees men in general as having transgressed the covenant, and Israel having therefore done so ‘as men’. It lacks both force and vividness (although it could still be right).

The third interpretation sees it as referring to the city of Adam near the River Jordan (Joshua 3.16). It is argued that this makes a good parallel to the city Gilead mentioned in the third line. However, it can conversely be argued that Gilead in fact parallels Shechem as a city of blood (verses 8 and 9), rather than ‘Adam’. It can also be argued that it is difficult to see why an obscure city like Adam would have been chosen by Hosea, while everyone would know who the man Adam was. Some who hold this interpretation translate as ‘at Adam’, but this requires altering the Hebrew consonants which is not to be encouraged.

An example of the breach of covenant is then given with reference to the city Gilead. This may have been Ramoth-gilead, or the Gat-gilead mentioned in the Ugaritic texts. Or it may have been some other city in the area of Gilead. And it is described as a city where there was much iniquity and where murder was commonplace. Alternatively it may be referring to a particularly hideous murder which had stained its reputation. This may have been the murder of Pekahiah by Pekah and ‘fifty men of Gilead’ (2 Kings 15.25).

6.9-10

And as troops of robbers wait for a man,
So the company of priests murder in the way towards Shechem,
Yes, they have committed mischief (or ‘a heinous crime’),
In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing,
There whoredom is found in Ephraim,
Israel is defiled.

Just as Gilead was a city of blood, so was Shechem. But even worse in this case was that, (if we take it literally), the blood was being shed by priests who were acting as bandits. They (or their appointees) would wait in the road that led to Shechem and murder people for their possessions. The word translated ‘mischief’ can mean a heinous crime. However, the comparison ‘as troops of robbers wait for a man’ may suggest that we are to see the reference to the priests’ activities as to be interpreted metaphorically with the idea being that by their activities as priests of the false cult they are symbolically ‘murdering men’. This would tie in well with the words that follow, where the activities of the false cult are certainly in mind. But the literal interpretation appears more likely. In that case the reference to ‘the house of Israel’ must be seen as bringing up a new sin, the practise of idolatry accompanied by sacred prostitution. The ‘house of Israel’ may refer to the cult temple at either Shechem or Bethel. Both were ancient sanctuaries. And this would fit well with the use of ‘there’. However, the general use of the phrase by Hosea is to refer to the people of Israel (4.1, 6; 5.1; 11.12), in which case the crime of which they are guilty is both spiritual and literal whoredom by engaging in the activities of the false cult. The horror with which this was looked on comes out in the description of it as a ‘horrible thing’. It left Israel/Ephraim totally defiled.

6.11a

Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you.

In a quick change of tack Hosea turns on Judah. If many Judeans were attending the cult festival at which he was speaking these words, this might be seen as perfectly natural, for while Judah was not specifically in his sights he might well have wanted to give them a warning shot. And so he declares to them that God has also prepared a harvest for them. They too will reap what they are sowing.

6.11b-7.1

In my bringing back the captivity (distressed state) of my people,
‘When I would heal Israel,
Then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered,
And the wickedness of Samaria,
For they commit falsehood, and the thief enters in,
And the troop of robbers ravages without.’

Having given his warning shot to Judah Hosea immediately turns back to Israel, citing the words of YHWH. He does not want to divert attention from what He is saying to Israel/Ephraim. The word rendered ‘captivity’ may indicate that, in an attempt to heal Israel, YHWH was preparing to arrange for those already in exile to be returned, or it may simply indicate the distressed state into which Israel had fallen from which He wished to restore them. Either way His attempt fails because in seeking to attempt it He somehow ‘uncovers the iniquity of Ephraim’, and ‘the wickedness of Samaria’. Such language is of course anthropomorphic. His attempts may have taken place through men who were taking part in negotiations with Assyria, during which the perfidy of Israel was revealed. In mind may be attempts to parley with Assyria and leave the parts of Israel which had been captured in their hands as part of the price of relative freedom. In YHWH’s eyes this would have been seen as treachery indeed (6.7). But primary to the verse is the fact of the sin that ‘His investigation’ has turned up. They were committing falsehood, there were a multiplicity of thieves breaking into other people’s properties, and the roads were unfit to travel because of lurking bandits (possibly partly to do with the priests in 6.9). Israel and Samaria are now therefore revealed as a hotbed of lawlessness. Justice is almost non-existent. This was the consequence of having lawless kings who were simply adventurers.

7.2

‘And they consider not in their hearts,
That I remember all their wickedness,
Now have their own doings beset them about,
They are before my face.’

But worst of all was the fact that the people were blind to their sins. They did not even consider in their hearts the possibility that YHWH knew about and remembered their wickedness. Rather they went on doing evil things and breaking the covenant to such an extent that their own doings crowded round them and beset them, and all this openly in the face of YHWH. Like Adam they were caught out in their sin.

The People And Their Kings Are Both Alike, Burning Hot In Their Sins, In Consequence Of Which Their Kings Are Assassinated One After The Other (7.3-7).

Hosea now likens the people of Israel in their sins to a burning baker’s oven which is overheated. They are hot after adultery, they are hot after injustice. And their kings and princes go along with them. Finally they are hot after their kings. But none of them call on YHWH.

Analysis of 7.3-7).

  • a They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies (7.3).
  • b They are all adulterers (7.4a)
  • c They are as an oven heated by the baker, he ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened (7.4b).
  • d On the day of our king the princes made themselves sick with the heat of wine, he stretched out his hand with scoffers (7.5).
  • c For they have made ready their heart like an oven, while they lie in wait, their baker sleeps all the night, in the morning it burns as a flaming fire (7.6).
  • b They are all hot as an oven, and devour their judges (7.7a).
  • a All their kings are fallen, there is none among them who calls to me (7.7b).
.

Note that in ‘a’ the kings and princes rejoice in the wickedness of the people, and in the parallel all the kings are fallen and none calls on YHWH. In ‘b’ they are all adulterers, and in the parallel they are all judge devourers. In ‘c’ they are hot like an oven heated by the baker and in the parallel their hearts are like an oven, which the baker has left to continue burning. Centrally in ‘d’ the folly of the king is revealed.

7.3

They make the king glad with their wickedness,
And the princes with their lies.’

We might cite here ‘like people, like king’. For as the people carry on in the ways of sinfulness and apostasy, and especially in whoredom after the Baalim, their kings are delighted with them, and their princes delight in their false behaviour. They are all one together in their rejection of the true covenant of YHWH. The princes may include the leaders of the ‘ten tribes’ (compare Numbers 1.16) and also the king’s advisers and generals.

Others see a reference here to court intrigue with the king seen as being pleased with those who have brought about the overthrow of his predecessor by wickedness and lies.

7.4

‘They are all adulterers,
They are as an oven heated by the baker,
He ceases to stir the fire,
From the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.’

They are in fact all spiritual adulterers, hot after false gods. And they are so hot and overheated after sin that the baker can, as it were, cease to stir the flames from the time when the dough is kneaded to when it becomes leavened. The baker here is probably the chief priest, who, having stirred up the people in idolatry can safely leave them to pursue it without any further intervention by him.

7.5

On the day of our king the princes made themselves sick with the heat of wine,
He stretched out his hand with scoffers.’

And the people have the leadership that they deserve. On the ‘day of the king’ (either his birthday or the anniversary of his coronation) they all make themselves sick with wine, while the king stretches out his hands, welcoming those who mock at YHWH. The picture is one of drink and debauchery, and of the debauched behaviour that inevitably follows, including outright blasphemy (compare 9.7). The people are ruled by inebriates.

7.6

‘For they have made ready their heart like an oven,
While they lie in wait,
Their baker sleeps all the night,
In the morning it burns as a flaming fire.’

Meanwhile the people, sickened at the behaviour of their leaders, plot a coup in order to remove them. Those who are unfaithful to YHWH and hot after adultery, will equally be unfaithful to their kings, and be hot after replacing them by assassination. Thus their hearts are hot like an oven as they lie in ambush, and once their baker (the king) has slept all night unconscious of what is happening, he awakes to find his treacherous people aflame with rebellion. As we know from the history this was repeated a number of times, moving through Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah without any hesitation.

7.7

They are all hot as an oven,
And devour their judges,
All their kings are fallen,
There is none among them who calls to me.

So the people, hot like a stoked oven, stoked by the leaders of the conspiracy, devour their judges and destroy their kings. Both princes and kings fall together to be replaced by a new regime, who will later follow the same path. Such is the perfidy of a people who have forsaken YHWH. For not one of them calls on YHWH. The true Yahwists would not be involved.

And that is the point. Having rejected YHWH Who had always been their Deliverer in the past, they have had no one to turn to. So in desperation they have tried one king after another, only to discover that each one failed in his turn, quickly to be replaced by another. It is the picture of a nation that has lost its way. And yet still they refuse to turn back to YHWH. It was a picture of obstinacy gone mad, and is typical of those who, having rejected God, spend all their lives looking desperately for another solution when there is none.

In Turning To Foreign Nations For Their Support Instead Of Turning To YHWH, Ephraim Do Not Realise What The Consequences Will Be (7.8-10).

Hosea now parodies the people’s attempts to find help from foreign nations. This initially had included Aram (Syria), but then moved on to the Philistine nations and Egypt, and at other times to Assyria itself. To them anything was preferable to returning to YHWH. He pictures Ephraim, as a result of having mixed with the nations, as ‘a cake not turned’, that is as not having turned to YHWH, or alternately as being like half-baked bread and therefore inedible, or as being weak because not properly prepared. And he sees them as having handed over its wealth to different foreigners, and as reaching senility (or going mouldy) without realising it.

Analysis.

  • a Ephraim, he mixes himself among the peoples, Ephraim is a cake not turned (7.8).
  • b Strangers have devoured his strength, and he does not know it (7.9a).
  • c Yes, grey hairs are here and there on him (or ‘steal up on him’), and he does not know it (7.9b).
  • b And the pride of Israel testifies to his face (7.10a).
  • a Yet they have not returned to YHWH their God, nor sought him, for all this (7.10b).
Note that in ‘a’ Israel have turned to the nations, and in the parallel have not turned to YHWH. In ‘b’ their ‘strength’ has gone and they do not know it, and in the parallel it is only their pride which keeps them going. Centrally in ‘c’ they have become aged and decrepit (or mouldy) without realising it.

7.8

‘Ephraim, he mixes himself among the peoples,
Ephraim is a cake not turned.’

The use of ‘Ephraim’ may indicate a time when what was mainly left of Israel was that part which was on the mountain of Ephraim and its surrounds, around Samaria. The complaint here is that they have turned to the nations instead of to YHWH. They have mingled among the peoples, becoming as one of them. The result is that they are like a cake not turned over. This might mean ‘half-baked’ like a piece of dough being heated on a hot stone and only baked on one side, because they are incomplete, having missed out on what is really important. Or it may mean left lying flat instead of being turned over in readiness for consumption, and thus unready and unprepared. It may include the thought that they have not made themselves into a fit state to be available to YHWH.

7.9a

‘Strangers have devoured his strength,
And he does not know it.

Ephraim’s vulnerable situation is underlined by the fact that it has lost its wealth to the nations, either by tribute, bribes or treaty presents. Contact with foreigners has not been good for their wealth. And yet the sad thing is that they are in such a sad state that they do not realise it. (Not many would have had access to the now empty treasury in order to discover the true state of things). They are still hopeful that things will turn out all right.

7.9b

Yes, grey hairs are here and there on him (or ‘steal up on him’),
And he does not know it.’

The verb in the first line usually means ‘sprinkled’ thus possibly indicating that they now have a sprinkling of grey hair. But based on an Arabic word the verb may also mean ‘steal up on’, which would indicate that they had grown grey without realising it. The suggestion then would be that they had become old and decrepit. Others see the grey hairs as referring to the grey hairs which can be seen on mould, the idea being that they have become mouldy.

Notice the repetition of the words, ‘and he does not know it’, doubly emphasising the fact. They are just totally unaware of what they are doing to themselves.

7.10

‘And the pride of Israel testifies to his face,
Yet they have not returned to YHWH their God,
Nor sought him, for all this.’

But Israel are so full of false pride and arrogance that they give evidence before Him (or before themselves) of what they have done (compare 5.5), seemingly without conscience. They are openly brazen about their godless ritual, even flaunting it in front of Him. Yet in spite of all that has happened they have not returned to YHWH ‘their God’, nor have they sought His face.

Others see ‘the Pride of Israel’ as referring to God as the only One of whom Israel could be proud, thus paralleling ‘YHWH their God’. The idea is then that they have not listened to the One of Whom they should have been proud. But 5.5 tends in our view to favour seeing the reference as being to Israel’s inordinate pride.

Note the emphasis on ‘their God’. Although they would not recognise the fact, He was their God, and any other was an intruder. (And it was because He was their God that He would one day restore them. But that would be a long way ahead).

Ephraim (Israel) Are Pictured As A Hapless Dove Fluttering Between Egypt And Assyria As They Endeavour To Avoid YHWH’s Net (7.11-16).

Ephraim are now depicted as being willing to do anything rather than rely on YHWH. They are seen as so lacking in understanding that they are like a fluttering and helpless bird, one moment calling on Egypt, and the next going to Assyria. Meanwhile YHWH hovers over them with His net with the intention of bringing them down and chastising them. Thus in the process of history Menahem submitted to Assyria, only to be replaced by Pekah who, in alliance with Aram (Syria), promptly rejected Assyria as Israel’s overlord, and in the course of it probably made overtures to Egypt (with rebellion in view soundings would almost certainly have been made for at least general support). Hoshea then in turn assassinated Pekah and submitted to Assyria, before himself later turning to Egypt in a bid for freedom from Assyria. While historically we can understand some of these moves as a requirement of history due to the rampagings of a powerful Assyria, and the inevitable continual opposition within Israel to their forced subjection (very few really liked being subject to Assyria), Hosea’s point is precisely that, that really they were simply pawns, moved about by the two great nations, something which would have been unnecessary had they trusted in YHWH.

And all this occurred because they had rejected YHWH, and instead of looking to Him, had chosen to trust in the Baalim. There could only be one final consequence. Their princes would fall by the sword and they themselves would become the laughingstock of Egypt.

Analysis of 7.11-16.

  • a And Ephraim is like a silly dove, without understanding. They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria (7.11).
  • b When they will go, I will spread my net on them, I will bring them down as the birds of the heavens, I will chastise them, in accordance with the announcements of their assembly (7.12).
  • c Woe to them! for they have wandered from me, Destruction to them! for they have trespassed against me. Though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against me (7.13).
  • d And they have not cried to me with their heart, but they howl on their beds, they assemble themselves for grain and new wine, they rebel against me (7.14).
  • c Though I have taught and strengthened their arms, yet they devise mischief against me (7.15).
  • b They return, but not to him who is on high, they are like an unreliable bow (7.16a).
  • a Their princes will fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue. This will be their derision in the land of Egypt (7.16b).

Note that in ‘a’ they call to Egypt, and in the parallel they suffer derision in Egypt. In ‘b’ God acts from on high to trap them in His net, and brings them down like the birds from heaven, so that He might chastise them, and in the parallel they will not return to the One Who is on high, but prefer the use of an ineffective bow which will bring down nothing. In ‘c’ though He would redeem them they have spoken lies against Him, and in the parallel though He taught and strengthened their arms they devised mischief against Him. Central in ‘d’ is the fact that they have looked to the Baalim rather than to Him.

7.11

‘And Ephraim is like a silly dove,
Without understanding,
They call to Egypt,
They go to Assyria.’

Ephraim is depicted as a hapless, fluttering bird, which, ignorant of what was best for it (genuinely and submissively calling on YHWH, and on Him alone), at one moment ‘called’ to Egypt (instead of to YHWH), and at the next went to Assyria. Thus they are simply a ‘silly dove’ compared with the great eagles, Egypt and Assyria (8.1; compare Ezekiel 17.2-10 for the idea). This was a true picture of the situation. They ‘called on Egypt but went to Assyria’. For when Assyria was strong and had no distractions elsewhere they had no real option but to ‘go to Assyria’. But inevitably they were never happy with their enforced subjection so that they would almost certainly keep in touch with Egypt (who were wary of Assyria’s might), with the result that at times the promised support of Egypt (which never directly materialised - Isaiah 30.7) encouraged them to refuse tribute to Assyria. And the point behind YHWH’s words is that all this happened because they had not trusted in YHWH, and indeed that their very submission to the requirements of history was evidence of their rebellion against Him. Why else did they think that it had happened?

We can see all this from the very abbreviated history in Kings. It began when Menahem submitted to Tiglath Pileser III and paid tribute, which he obtained by taxing the rich men in the realm (2 Kings 15.19-20). But when Menahem died and his son Pekahiah began to reign, Pekahiah was almost immediately assassinated by Pekah, who was probably already a petty king in Gilead and wanted to break free from the Assyrians, and now aimed for the full kingship of Israel. In consequence of supposed Assyrian weakness (they were being distracted by events elsewhere), Pekah ceased paying tribute to Assyria and united with Aram (Syria), and probably other nations, in an alliance aimed at resisting any Assyrian reprisals (Isaiah 7.1-2; 2 Chronicles 28.5-21). There was probably an understanding with certain elements in Philistia, (suggested by what happened when Assyria did finally retaliate, and by 2 Chronicles 28.18) which would almost certainly have included contact with Egypt (who would promise anything in order to cause trouble for Assyria).

Eventually, however, Shalmaneser V (Tiglath Pileser’s successor) was free to retaliate, and having defeated the Philistines, took over the northern part of northern Israel, turning it into an Assyrian province and exiling many of its inhabitants (2 Kings 15.29). It was at this point that Hoshea seized his opportunity, and, probably with assurances from Assyria, assassinated Pekah and sued for peace. This resulted in his becoming a subject king paying tribute to Assyria, something which saved the southern part of northern Israel (Ephraim) from the fate suffered by their northern counterparts. But eventually Hoshea (no doubt pressed by his advisers and princes) tired of Assyrian rule (it was very expensive) and entered into secret negotiations with Egypt (2 Kings 17.4). This resulted in his withholding tribute from Assyria, and in consequence in the final destruction of Samaria, with the cream of Israel taken into exile (according to Assyrian records over 27,000).

The corollary of all this was, of course, that if only they had been full-heartedly trusting in YHWH, and in YHWH alone, none of this would have happened, because YHWH would have delivered them from the might of the Assyrians.

7.12

‘When they will go, I will spread my net on them,
I will bring them down as the birds of the heavens,
I will chastise them,
In accordance with the announcements of their assembly.’

The idea of the ‘silly dove’ continues. When they rise up and start to fly YHWH will spread His net over them, and bring them down like the birds of heaven. No longer will they enjoy freedom, but will be caught up in a net of YHWH’s devising. The picture is a vivid one and would have been familiar to many in Israel. For there were many doves and pigeons which could be found in craggy places, very suitable for food, and the bird-hunters of Israel would take their nets, and as the birds fluttered about in fright, and rose at their approach, would envelop them in the nets.

Thus they were to recognise that what was to happen to them would not really be the work of the Assyrians, but would be the activity of YHWH. As they flapped around, calling to Egypt and going to Assyria, it was YHWH Who was taking them in His net. He would thereby be chastising them, just as their assembly announced would happen when Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, and the remainder of the Law, were read out in public. Having breached the covenant they would now be enduring the covenant curses of Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28. The idea of ‘announcements at the assembly’ may also have included the announcements made by the true prophets at times when Israel assembled at their feasts.

Some, by repointing the consonants ‘dtm from ‘adatam to ‘edutam (treaty), would translate as ‘according to the report of their treaties’ indicating that He would react to what He had heard about their treaties, treaties which themselves were rebellion against YHWH because it meant that they were trusting in the nations and not in Him alone (compare 7.8-9).

7. 13

‘Woe to them! for they have fled from me,
Destruction to them! for they have trespassed (rebelled) against me,
Though I would redeem them,
Yet they have spoken lies against me.’

YHWH now pronounces a lament over them. Woe is to come on them because they have fled from Him. Destruction is to come on them because they have rebelled against Him by trespassing against the covenant. Though He would willingly have redeemed them (delivered them from bondage at a cost - Exodus 20.2; Deuteronomy 7.8; 9.26), or bought them back as His firstborn (Exodus 13.13; Leviticus 27.27-31; compare Exodus 4.22), as he had done from Egypt) He had not been able to do so because of their lies against Him. These lies included the false representations made about Him by making Him a part of the Bethel cult with its admixture of Baalism. They had lied about Him by representing Him as the equivalent of a nature God. They had also lied against Him when they made their (false) promises to Him at their feasts, and as a consequence of their false pretences in pretending to worship Him when what they were worshipping was an image of a bull, and when by their words and actions they had depicted Him as not being faithful, and when in their ritual they had professed faithfulness to Him. Indeed much of their syncretistic worship had been a lie from start to finish

7.14

‘And they have not cried to me with their heart,
But they howl on their beds,
They assemble themselves for grain and new wine,
They rebel against me.’

For rather than calling on YHWH from their hearts, they have howled to Baal from their cushion beds which they had placed around his altar as they assembled in order to seek to obtain grain and wine (compare Amos 2.8; Isaiah 57.7-8; Micah 2.1). One of the rituals in the worship of Baal was the mournful howling that accompanied the idea of his ‘death’ when everything died in the dry season (only to be followed by rejoicing when he came back to life, when the seed and bushes sprang to life, indicating the beginning of a new harvest) These beds would also be the very ones on which they performed adultery with the cult prostitutes, which they claimed was a means of bringing about a ‘sympathetic’ birth of nature, following Baal’s death. And it was all a sign of rebellion against YHWH.

7.15

‘Though I have taught and strengthened their arms,
Yet they do devise mischief against me.’

And yet it was YHWH and not Baal Who had taught them and made their arms strong. This may refer to the fact that He had brought them to young adulthood, rearing them as His children (compare 11.3). Or it may refer to Him as having made them strong for battle (compare Psalm 18.32-36). Either way the idea is that they owed everything that they were (as possessors of the land and landowners in Israel) to Him, and yet all they had done was devise mischief against Him.

7.16

‘They return, but not to on high,
They are like an unreliable bow,
Their princes will fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue,
This will be their derision in the land of Egypt.

Thus it was to Egypt that they returned and not to ‘on High’. They looked back to Egypt and not upwards towards YHWH. In other words they had ignored the One Who now with His net hovered over them on High to make them captive (verse 12). They were like someone who constantly missed the mark because they had an unreliable bow. (Unlike Him (verse 12) they would not be successful in their hunting). And the consequence was that their princes would die by the sword (a regular feature of the curses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) because of their angry words, something which would bring derision on them in the land of Egypt. The angry words may indicate the angry words spoke by them in their thoughts and discussions about rebellion. Or the defiant words hurled at the Assyrians over the walls of Samaria before it fell, or afterwards when they had been made captive. How different it would have been had they instead come to YHWH with honest words demonstrating their faithfulness. The derision may be seen as arising because in the end they would have to submit to Assyria, and would thus be failed and disgraced rebels, or because they had trusted in Aram (Syria) to help them and were seen as fools for having done so, or because they had so often wavered between Egypt and Assyria, and were now suffering for it (thus giving the Egyptian viewpoint), or because it was indicative of Egypt’s real attitude to its ‘allies’, one of total self-interest, a treaty loyalty which quickly turned into derision when it resulted in failure (something which would never have been true of YHWH). It may also have in mind that in the wilderness one of the fears of Moses was that they would ‘return to Egypt’ and be mocked at, along with YHWH (Exodus 32.12).

When The Enemy Descend Like An Eagle Because They Have Broken The Covenant And Cast Off What Is Good, Israel Will Cry In Vain, ‘”O God Of Israel We Know You” (8.1-3).

The present hopelessness of Israel’s current situation comes out strongly here. The enemy are coming against them like an eagle descending on its prey (compare Deuteronomy 28.49), and this because they have broken the covenant and disobeyed His Law. So desperate will the situation be that Israel will appeal to YHWH on the grounds that He is their God and known to them. But it will do them no good because they have ‘cast off what is good’, that is have rejected Him, His covenant and His ways. Therefore all that remains is for them to be effectively pursued by their enemy (compare Deuteronomy 28.22, 45;

Analysis of 8.1-3.

  • “The ram’s horn to your mouth!” Like an eagle he comes against the house of YHWH. (8.1a).
  • Because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law (8.1b).
  • To me they will cry, “O God of Israel, we know you” (8.2).
  • Israel has cast off what is good (8.3a).
  • The enemy will pursue him (8.3b).

Note that in ‘a’ the eagle will some against the house of YHWH (the people of Israel), and in the parallel the enemy will pursue them. In ‘b’ they have transgressed His covenant and trespassed against His Law, and in the parallel they have cast off what is good. Centrally in ‘c’ they make their false and hypocritical cry to YHWH.

8.1

‘The ram’s horn to your mouth!
Like an eagle he comes against the house of YHWH,
Because they have transgressed my covenant,
And trespassed against my law.

The opening lines are brief and to the point, being literally:

‘ “The ram’s horn to your mouth!” Like an eagle against the house of YHWH’

In other words the prophet is to sound the alarm (compare 5.8; Amos 3.6) because in vision the eagle has been sighted , and it is coming against ‘the house of YHWH’. This does not refer to the Jerusalem Temple for that Temple is nowhere under consideration by Hosea, nor does it refer to the Temple at Bethel (or even in Samaria) which were never described as houses of YHWH. Rather ‘YHWH’s house’ is either the land of Israel (9.15) or the people of Israel (1.4, 6; 5.1; 6.10).

The picture of the eagle swiftly descending on its prey (which is ‘the silly dove’ - 7.11) is taken from Deuteronomy 28.49. It is a part of the Deuteronomic curses on those who ‘do not observe His commandments or His statutes’ (Deuteronomy 28.15). Compare also the picture in Ezekiel 17. And here it comes on those who ‘have transgressed My covenant and trespasses against My Law’. It was because Israel were neglecting God’s requirements as laid down by the covenant of Sinai (see 4.2) that they would now be snatched away from their land.

8.2-3

‘To me they will cry,
“O God of Israel, we know you.”
Israel has cast off what is good,
The enemy will pursue him.

In its extremity Israel will then call out, ‘O God of Israel we know you’. They would assume that because God was their God, the God of Israel, He must listen to them in their need and respond to their call because they ‘knew His Name’. This would include the idea that they knew how to manipulate Him through the cultus and could thus persuade Him to do what they wanted. And they would make this claim even though Hosea and YHWH had both made clear that that was far from the truth (4.1, 6; 5.4; 6.6), for had they truly known Him they would have known that they could not manipulate Him and would have obeyed His commandments. Their failure had lain precisely in the fact that they had seen Him as just another nature god, and not as the living God Who required obedience. In other words they had not had a true knowledge of YHWH.

And because they did not know YHWH they had ‘cast off what was good’, that is the covenant and the Law and true worship and social justice. Thus the consequence was that ‘the enemy would pursue them’. Pursuit by the enemy was one essential aspect of the curses in Deuteronomy 28.22, 45. Thus the Levitical/Deuteronomic curses are being seen as being fulfilled on faithless Israel.

Some translate as, ‘Israel has cast off the Good One’, but there is no precedent for it elsewhere, and ‘casting off what is good’ fits the context, and indeed includes the idea of casting off the Good One as part of what is good.

‘O God of Israel.’ In the Hebrew text ‘God’ and ‘Israel’ are divided by the word ‘we know you’ (thus producing some of the unusual translations), but in fact the separating up of titles in this way so as to fit in with the metre was a feature of Hebrew poetry.

Israel Have Laid False Foundations In Kingship And Religion, And YHWH, Despairing Of There Being Any Likelihood Of Their Becoming Pure, Will In Anger Both Destroy ‘The Calf Of Samaria’ And Minimise Their Harvest (8.4-7).

Having appointed kings and princes without regard to YHWH, and having used their God-given wealth in order to make idols for themselves, Israel is subject to the anger of YHWH, Who despairs of their ever becoming pure in the near future. He will therefore destroy the calf of Samaria and break it in pieces, and will make their fields barren, while anything that is produced will be swallowed up by foreigners.

Analysis of 8.4-7.

  • a They have set up kings, but not by me, they have made princes, and I knew it not, of their silver and their gold they have made idols for themselves, that they may be cut off (8.4).
  • b He has cast off your calf, O Samaria (8.5a).
  • c My anger is kindled against them. How long will it be before they attain to innocency? (8.5b).
  • b For from Israel is even this, the workman made it, and it is no God. Yes, the calf of Samaria will be broken in pieces (8.6).
  • a For they sow the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind, he has no standing grain, the blade will yield no meal. If so be it yield, strangers will swallow it up (8.7).

Note that in ‘a’ their kings and princes are strangers to YHWH, and their wealth they have turned into idols, that they may be cut off, and in the parallel their fields will be fruitless (fruitfulness was the main aim of Baalism), and strangers would swallow up anything that they did produce, because their kings and princes would be unable to prevent it. In ‘b’ the bull of Samaria has been cut off, and in the parallel it is because it was made by workmen and is no God, which is why it will be broken in pieces. Centrally in ‘c’ YHWH is angry with them and despairs of their ever becoming pure.

8.4

‘They have set up kings, but not by me,
They have made princes, and I knew it not,
Of their silver and their gold they have made idols for themselves,
That they may be cut off.’

YHWH’s first complaint was that Israel had set up kings and made princes without consulting YHWH, and this appears to have been so from the beginning, for while prophetic voices certainly were raised in support of Jeroboam I and Jehu, these were in private messages and not publicly proclaimed (1 Kings 11.30-38; 2 Kings 9.1-10). There is no suggestion anywhere that the people attempted to discover YHWH’s will as to who should reign over them, or who should be their princes, something which very much indicated that YHWH’s will was not very important to them. In Israel the king was supposed to be YHWH’s representative who acted in the Name of YHWH, but this made it quite clear that the people of Israel did not care about that one jot. And both Jeroboam and Jehu then proceeded to sin grievously, so that both were subsequently condemned by YHWH (1 Kings 14.7-16; 2 Kings 10.28-31; Hosea 1.4). Furthermore at this time when Hosea was speaking kings were being replaced by means of assassination with none seemingly objecting that YHWH’s representative had been removed. YHWH’s will was being treated as irrelevant.

YHWH’s second complaint was that instead of bringing their treasures to Him they were using them to make idols for themselves. This would certainly include the golden calves set up by Jeroboam (2 Kings 12.28-29), but would almost certainly also include smaller images of Baal and Asherah and other gods made in both silver and gold. And this in itself was the guarantee that Israel would be ‘cut off’.

It was as a consequence of the appointment of inept kings and princes without YHWH’s agreement that the golden idols were being set up which were mainly responsible for the downfall of Israel, and that strangers would be able to come in and seize their crops (verse 7). It is the former which will be dealt with first.

8.5-6

‘He has cast off (is disgusted at) your calf, O Samaria,
My anger is kindled against them,
How long will it be before they attain to innocency?
For from Israel is even this,
The workman made it, and it is no God,
Yes, the calf of Samaria will be broken in pieces.’

YHWH has especially determined that ‘the calf of Samaria’ will be cast off in His disgust, and will be broken in pieces, and it is spoken of prophetically as something already accomplished. The use of ‘cast off, be disgusted at’ here contrasts with its use in verse 3. In verse 3 Israel had cast off, and been disgusted at, that which was good. Here YHWH is disgusted at their golden calf. That this refers to the calf at Bethel can hardly be doubted for there is no suggestion anywhere else of the making of ‘calves’ other than at Bethel and Dan (compare 10.5). But the one at Dan had probably by this time been melted down or taken as ‘hostage’ by invaders (Dan, being on the northern border was very vulnerable). Thus the one at Bethel was probably called ‘the calf of Samaria’. This may have been (a) because ‘Samaria’ as their leading city was seen as standing for the people of Israel, or (b) because the golden calf of Bethel had itself been taken to Samaria, or simply (c) because it was the centre point of the worship of the people of Samaria..

It was both their casual attitude as to who should reign over them, and their willingness to worship before the golden calves, that had made YHWH angry with them, and caused Him to despair as to when they would return to a state of purity. For by this they were both disregarding His rule and debasing His Name. The calves may well have been seen by them as the base on which the invisible YHWH stood, in the same way as the god Hadad stood on the back of a bull, but this made them no more acceptable to YHWH, for it meant that they were still involving graven images in their worship contrary to His commandment, and YHWH knew, even if they did not, that that inevitably led to idolatry. It is significant in this regard that the graven image was not seen as acceptable even though the sophisticated among them no doubt argued that they did not worship it, for God knew their hearts and recognised that, whether they themselves recognised it or not, a great deal of their worship was being directed at the calf itself (Baal was worshipped in the form of a bull). The same applies today when people argue that they are only ‘venerating’ images and using them as a means of worshipping God. The sad truth is that there is often little difference in many of these cases between veneration and worship, and it is not long before worship begins to be directed at the images.

The debased condition of Israel was further revealed by the fact that ‘this’ (we can sense the contempt behind the word), which was a graven image made by the hands of a workman, was being worshipped even though it was ‘no God’. And the total folly of worshipping it was revealed by the fact that men would later ‘break it in pieces’. So they worshipped a god that could be broken in pieces? What kind of a god was that?

‘He has cast off your calf, O Samaria.’ The change of person to ‘He’ might indicate that this was an interjection by Hosea himself, but it is not necessary to see it in that way for we often have such changes of person being used in the prophets to bring out a special emphasis, without the person involved being changed, especially when that person was God.

8.7a

For they sow the wind,
And they will reap the whirlwind,

By their actions, YHWH pointed out, they were ‘sowing the wind’, and the consequence could only be that they would reap the whirlwind. It was a principle built into creation that whatever a man sows that he also reaps. The picture is vivid. They thought that they were only making a small draught by their activities, but it would turn into a fearsome storm that would carry them away.

8.7b

He has no standing grain,
The blade will yield no meal,
If so be it yield,
Strangers will swallow it up.’

The ‘he’ refers to Israel. Israel will have no standing grain, all will be flattened, their blades of corn will yield no meal, and any that they do yield will simply be swallowed up by strangers. The picture is one of total devastation and famine, and complete defencelessness (so much for their nature gods, and their kings and princes). Alternately it is an indication that they will be no longer be there but in exile, while their land will be given to others. The strangers who swallowed it up would be wandering tribes (similar to bedouin) who swept down and seized all that was available.

Because Israel Have Deserted YHWH And Looked To Others, (Both Nations And Gods), In Spite Of Having Received His Abundant Instruction, He Will Desert Them And They Will Return To Egypt And See Their Cities Destroyed By Fire (8.8-14).

The argument now swings to consider Israel’s attitude towards other nations. YHWH had delivered Israel from Egypt in order that they might look to Him and to Him alone. But far from doing this Israel were hiring lovers and looking to Assyria. Well, they would soon discover that that was costly. Being under ‘the king of the princes’ did not come cheap. And meanwhile they are multiplying altars at which they can sin, in spite of YHWH having provided them with abundant instruction.

In consequence YHWH will take note of their sin and ‘return them to Egypt’, that is, bring them once more into slavery and subjection. And this because by their actions they have forgotten their Maker and put their trust in fortified cities which can easily be put to the flame.

Analysis of 8.8-14.

  • a Israel is swallowed up. Now are they among the nations, as a vessel in which none delights (8.8).
  • b For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself, Ephraim has hired lovers (8.9).
  • c Yes, because they hire among the nations, now will I gather them, and they begin to be diminished, by reason of the burden of the king of princes (8.10).
  • d Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, altars have been to him for sinning (8.11).
  • e I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law, but they are counted as a strange thing (8.12).
  • d As for the sacrifices of my offerings, they sacrifice flesh and eat it, but YHWH does not accept them (8.13a).
  • c Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins, they will return to Egypt (8.13b).
  • b For Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities (8.14a).
  • a But I will send a fire on his cities, and it will devour its castles. (8.14b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel is swallowed up, and rejected, and in the parallel its cities and castles are devoured by fire. In ‘b’ Israel has gone up to Assyria for protection, and has hired lovers, and in the parallel he has looked to fortified cities for protection, and has forgotten his Maker. In ‘c’ Israel begin to be diminished as a result of the burden of the king of Assyria, and in the parallel their iniquities are remembered and their sins are visited on them in that they return to Egypt. In ‘d’ Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, and in the parallel they sacrifice flesh and eat it. Centrally in ‘e’ He has written for him ten thousand things of His Law, but they count them as a strange thing.

8.8-9

‘Israel is swallowed up.
Now are they among the nations,
As a vessel in which none delights.
.
For they are gone up to Assyria,
A wild ass alone by himself,
Ephraim has hired lovers.’

Not only will Israel’s crops be swallowed up (verse 7), but the same will happen to Israel themselves. For they are now to be found courting the nations, although turning out to be a sad deserted figure (like a wild ass alone in the desert lands) welcomed finally only by Assyria. They had sought many allies against the Assyrians, but they had all deserted her for one reason or another (they had not delighted in her), driving her into the arms of the Assyrians. But now that Israel are a part of the Assyrian empire they have many hired lovers, including the Assyrian gods, for all the good it does them. Note the play on words of ’pr (Ephraim) and pr’ (wild ass).

We can see in this a picture of the last decades of Israel prior to 722 BC, when they first sought alliances against Assyria (instead of looking to YHWH), and then finally, deserted by those allies, had to look to Assyria itself.

8.10 ‘Yes, because they hire among the nations,

Now will I gather them,
And they begin to be diminished,
By reason of the burden of the king of princes.’

YHWH therefore intends to ‘gather’ them for judgment and slowly squeeze them dry by reason of the financial demands of the king of Assyria, ‘the king of princes’. This began with Menahem’s payment of tribute, extracted from the rich in the land (2 Kings 15.19-20), and continued through the years as greater and greater tribute was demanded as a consequence of their continuing rebellions.

8.11

Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning,
Altars have been to him for sinning.’

Meanwhile they have also continued to multiply altars at which they could sin (or ‘offer a sin offering’), establishing their altars ‘on every high hill and under every green tree’. Indeed all that their altars had done for them was to make them sin even more deeply. And this was true whether they were syncretistic altars at which both YHWH and Baal were worshipped, or altars merely for the Baalim.

We should not overlook the fact that according to Elijah there were a number of legitimate ‘altars of YHWH’ in Israel which had been torn down because of the new Baal cult (1 Kings 18.30; 19.10), which may subsequently have been restored (without them there could have been no legitimate worship in Israel), but those are not in mind here.

8.12

I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law,
But they are counted as a strange thing.’

It was not that Israel did not know better. God had written for them ‘the ten thousand things of my Law’, in other words a large number of instructions. But they had counted them as a strange thing, something that was to be avoided. Note the use of ‘ten thousand’ to indicate ‘a large number’.

8.13

‘As for the sacrifices of my offerings,
They sacrifice flesh and eat it,
But YHWH does not accept them,
Now will he remember their iniquity,
And visit their sins,
They will return to Egypt.

And even when their sacrifices were ‘offered to YHWH’ and they sacrificed flesh and ate it before Him in a ceremonial meal, YHWH did not accept their sacrifices because they continued sinning without restraint and were treating Him as the equivalent of a nature god. Therefore He would remember their iniquity and visit their sins on them, causing them to ‘return to Egypt’. The idea of ‘returning to Egypt’ might be symbolic, indicating that Israel would once more become a slave nation. But we must not forget that Egypt would in fact offer a safe haven for refugees from Assyria, so that we need not doubt that many Israelites fled there, only to find themselves ‘enslaved’, or in trying circumstances, once more (see Deuteronomy 28.68).

8.14

For Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces,
And Judah has multiplied fortified cities,
But I will send a fire on his cities,
And it will devour its castles.’

And all this was because Israel had forgotten its Maker (compare Deuteronomy 32.15, 18) and were therefore, along with Judah, busy making themselves substitutes, this included multiplied fortified cities, palaces and castles, and multiplied altars. But once the one living God had been dispensed with, replacing Him would prove impossible. However, all these would be destroyed by fire, just as their false sacrifices had been.

The mention of Judah makes Judah’s inclusion in Hosea’s indictments all the more clear. They are not now simply seen as involved in the cult, but it is indirectly confirmed that they were in danger of being in wholesale rebellion against YHWH. His knowledge concerning the fortification of their cities brings home how familiar he was with what was going on in Judah.

We may summarise the situation of Israel as follows:

  • 1). They had usurped Yahweh's sovereign authority over the nation (verse 4).
  • 2). They were blatantly worshipping idols (verses 4-6).
  • 3). They were depending on foreign treaties rather than on God (verses 9-10).
  • 4). They had adopted and perpetuated a corrupt system of worship (verses 5-6, 11, 13).
  • 5). They had arrogantly disregarded YHWH's Law (verses 1-3, 5, 12, 14).
  • 6). They had forgotten their Maker (verse 14).

It was no wonder that God purposed final judgment upon them until they could in the distant future be brought back to repentance.

Israel Must Not Rejoice At Their Harvest Feast Because Everything Will Shortly Be Taken From Them When They Are Exiled To Egypt/Assyria Because Of What They Have Become And Because Of How They Have Treated YHWH (9.1-10).

The words that follow may well have been spoken by Hosea at the northern version of the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 12.32) which celebrated the end of the season of harvests and sought to encourage the coming of the rains ready for the new harvest. He warns the people not to be so full of rejoicing and exultation because shortly they will be removed from YHWH’s land, and will thus have no harvests to enjoy. They will be ‘return to Egypt’ and eat unclean food in Assyria. And this will occur because they are at enmity with YHWH, and because they have ‘played the harlot’ in their ways, similar to the way in which Israel had sinned at Baal-peor, making a mockery of true YHWH worship.

Analysis.

  • a Rejoice not, O Israel, do not shout for joy, my people, for you have played the harlot, from your God, you have loved hire on every grain-floor (9.1).
  • b The threshing-floor and the oil-press will not feed them, and the new wine will fail her (9.2).
  • c They will not dwell in YHWH’s land, but Ephraim will return to Egypt, and they will eat unclean food in Assyria (9.3).
  • d They will not pour out wine-offerings to YHWH, nor will they be pleasing to him, their sacrifices will be to them as the bread of mourners, all who eat of it will be polluted, for their bread will be for their appetite, it will not come into the house of YHWH (9.4).
  • e What will you do in the day of solemn assembly, and in the day of the feast of YHWH?’ For, lo, they have gone away from destruction, Egypt will gather them up, Memphis will bury them (9.5-6a).
  • f Their pleasant things of silver, nettles will possess them, thorns will be in their tents (9.6b).
  • e The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come, Israel will know it, the prophet is a fool, the man who has the spirit is mad, for the abundance of your iniquity, and because the enmity is great (9.7).
  • d Is Ephraim a watchman? Is the people of my God a prophet? A fowler’s snare is in all his ways, enmity in the house of his God (9.8).
  • c They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah, he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins (9.9).
  • b I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig-tree at its first season (9.10a).
  • a They came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves to the shameful thing, and became abominable like what they loved (9.10b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel are not to rejoice at the harvest feast, because they come as those who have played the harlot, and have lusted after hired women during their rituals, and in the parallel they are compared with Israel at Baal-peor where Israel had previously in a similar way prostituted themselves during a feast and lusted after foreign women. In ‘b’ the threshingfloor and winepress will fail them and not provide for their needs, and the new wine will fail, and in the parallel He describes how He had found Israel to be like grapes in the wilderness and first ripe figs in the first season (struggling to grow). In ‘c’ they will be expelled from YHWH’s land and return to Egypt and eat unclean food in Assyria, and in the parallel it will be because he will remember their iniquities and sins as in the days of Gibeah (when Benjamin was punished with the utmost severity for its sin). In ‘d’ they will not come to the house of YHWH, and in the parallel it is because of their enmity in the house of their God. In ‘e’ the question is what they will do in ‘the day of solemn assembly’ and in ‘the day of the feast of YHWH’ because they will have been destroyed and have returned to Egypt for burial, and in the parallel ‘the days of visitation’ have come and ‘the days of recompense’, something which Israel will know to the full. Centrally in ‘f’ all that they once possessed will be lost to them.

9.1

‘Rejoice not, O Israel,
Do not shout for joy, my people,
For you have played the harlot, from your God,
You have loved hire (hired women) on every grain-floor.’

Hosea warns Israel not to be so full of joy at their harvest feast at the Feast of Tabernacles because they needed to recognise that by their adulterous behaviour they have made God angry. Such ideas of joy were seen as being typical of the Jewish feasts, which were in the main joyous occasions (Leviticus 23.40; Deuteronomy 12.7, 12; 16.11, 14). But they were not propitious when their behaviour was lacking.

‘Do not shout for joy, my people’ is obtained by repointing the consonants in the original Hebrew text. (The vowels signs, and division of the words, resulted from the work of the Masoretes some centuries after the time of Christ, and are not part of the original text. Following the MT we would translate, ‘Rejoice not O Israel, to exaltation like the peoples’ with the idea being that they should not exult like the nations as they would be treated on a special basis because they were God’s faithless people). The reason for their rejoicing was because they considered that their abundant harvest demonstrated the satisfactory nature of their religion. After all, they no doubt said, it had worked, hadn’t it? But Hosea was pointing out that their joy would be short lived, because in the near future there would be no such harvests.

The charge against them was that they had ‘played the harlot from their God’, either by worshipping Baal and Asherah, or by worshipping YHWH on a false basis by using cult prostitutes and trying to ‘move Him to action’ by their adulterous behaviour. Either way they were being faithless to YHWH’s covenant, and therefore behaving like an unfaithful wife to Him. They had been warned about such behaviour in Exodus 34.15-16; and it was the kind of behaviour prophesied of them, along with the consequences, in Deuteronomy 31.16.

‘You have loved hire (hired women) on every grain-floor.’ God’s charge against them was that they ‘loved’ their cohabitation with hired cult prostitutes which they were involved in during their ritual activities wherever they occurred, which was regularly. Grain floors were wide open spaces suitable for gatherings (and for sexual activity), and it is very probable that they were widely used for religious activity, a certain sacredness being see in them as the place where the grain (the gift of God or of the gods) was finally made edible and provided in abundance (see 1 Kings 22.10; 2 Samuel 24.18).

9.2

‘The threshing-floor and the oil-press will not feed them,
And the new wine will fail her.’

They were to recognise that in the not too distant future they would discover that their threshing floors and oil presses would no longer provide food for them, and that their new wine would fail. This would be because they were no longer in Israel, having been transported to a foreign country. For the threefold combination of grain, oil and wine see 2.8.

The oil-press, and the wine-press, would be a hole made in the ground with its bottom at two levels one below the other. The grapes and olives would be trampled on the top level and the juice would then seep through to the bottom level.

9.3

‘They will not dwell in YHWH’s land,
But Ephraim will return to Egypt,
And they will eat unclean food in Assyria.

They would no longer be allowed to live ‘in YHWH’s land’. They had overlooked the fact that the land was YHWH’s (Leviticus 25.23) and that they were being bad tenants, and could therefore be expelled. But it was something that they should have known, for it had been clearly spelled out in Leviticus 26.33-39; Deuteronomy 28.64. YHWH had delivered them from bondage in Egypt into His own land, but now they would ‘return to Egypt’ (compare 8.13; 9.6; 11.5) and eat unclean food in Assyria. ‘Return to Egypt’ was probably symbolic of being trodden down and returned to slavery, although almost certainly many refugees would flee to Egypt, and in the final analysis many would return from Egypt (11.11). Hosea possibly considered it a rather poignant fact that some would opt to return to bondage in Egypt, seemingly the last thing that any Israelite would want. But the main destination for the captured exiles would be Assyria. They would ‘eat unclean food’ there because the food would not have been sanctified by the offering of the firstfruits, and they would probably also in many cases be driven to eat what food was available, which would not necessarily be ‘kosher’ (compare Ezekiel 4.13).

9.4

‘They will not pour out wine-offerings to YHWH,
Nor will they be pleasing to him,
Their sacrifices will be to them as the bread of mourners,
All who eat of it will be polluted,
For their bread will be for their appetite,
It will not come into the house of YHWH.’

And once in exile there will be no more wine offerings to YHWH, or any other offering. The wine offering was poured out beside the altar when sacrificing, and here stands for all the non-bloody offerings. But there would be no more wine-offerings because there would be no more sacrifices. Furthermore nothing that they did would be pleasing to Him. And if they were to offer sacrifices (to foreign gods), such sacrifices would be unclean like bread which was eaten by mourners. Food eaten by mourners was necessarily unclean because of its contact with the dead. Thus to participate in anything like that would make them polluted.

Alternately it may signify that the very thought of sacrifices offered to YHWH would remind them of how they had dishonoured Him and debased His sacrifices. Indeed all their meat eaten in foreign lands would be ‘unclean’ because it had not been offered to YHWH. The provisions for sanctifying meat and offering it to YHWH (Deuteronomy 12.20-25) would not apply in a foreign land. Thus whatever they ate would be unclean and would merely be in order to satisfy their appetites. It would not be food offered to YHWH. It would not have come into ‘the house of YHWH’. This may signify the land of Israel seen as YHWH’s dwellingplace, or to the Temple in Jerusalem. Even in Israel it was possible for them to pour out the blood as described in Deuteronomy 12 as though it had been done in the Temple, for the whole land was YHWH’s. But it would not be true in Assyria.

We might not be too appalled at the thought, but even to faithless Israel the thought of eating food not offered to YHWH in one way or another would have been abhorrent.

9.5 ‘What will you do in the day of solemn assembly,

And in the day of the feast of YHWH?’

As there would be no offerings and sacrifices, what would they do on the day of solemn assembly, when, had they been at home, they would have gathered to worship and offer sacrifices? And what especially would they do when the feast of YHWH came around? (For the phrase ‘the feast of YHWH’ see Leviticus 23.39). They would not only have lost their land, but also things that were at the very centre of their religious thought. They would not be rejoicing then.

9.6a

‘For, lo, they are gone away from destruction,
Egypt will gather them up,
Memphis will bury them.’

For when they went into exile they would leave behind them a scene of destruction. Israel and Samaria would have been totally destroyed. And in the bleak future that lay ahead they would be ‘gathered up’ by Egypt, and buried in the Egyptian city of Memphis, scene of a famous burial ground and of the pyramids. Hosea was using their knowledge of the past to bring home to them the seriousness of what was about to happen. All knew of how Israel had been enslaved in Egypt. And now it was to happen again, both in Assyria and in Egypt.

The picture of being ‘gathered up’ may have been a reference to the way in which YHWH had gathered up His people prior to leading them from Egypt, and then ‘gathered’ them to meet Him at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 8.4). Now it would be Egypt who would gather them up. And it would not only be for a short period. It would be long enough for them to be buried there.

9.6b

‘Their pleasant things of silver,
Nettles will possess them,
Thorns will be in their tents.’

The consequence for them would be that their rich houses with their silver trimmings would become the haunt of nettles, and their colourful tents which they would have left behind as they were snatched away by the enemy, would be invaded by thorns.

9.7

‘The days of visitation are come,
The days of recompense are come,
Israel will know it, the prophet is a fool,
The man who has the spirit is mad,
For the abundance of your iniquity,
And because the enmity is great.’

For what they would now face would not be ‘days of assembly’ and ‘days of YHWH’s feasts’. They would rather be ‘days of visitation’ by an angry God, and ‘days of recompense’ for their sins. The plural of ‘days’ indicates that it was to be no short judgment. And then Israel will know the truth about what was to happen and would recognise that their false prophets who had prophesied peace and security were fools, and that the man who had professed to have ‘the spirit of prophecy’ and had encouraged them in their ways, had been mad. For this false spirit of prophecy compare 1 Kings 22.22-23; Micah 2.11. And this would occur because of the fullness of their iniquity, and because, to some extent without their necessarily realising it, their enmity with YHWH as He really was had been great.

Some see here an indication that it was Hosea who was called ‘a fool’ and ‘mad’, and that might well have been so. This may indeed have given him the idea. But the real point here is that the people had been misled by false prophets.

9.8

‘Is Ephraim a watchman?
Are the people of my God a prophet?
A fowler’s snare is in all his ways,
Enmity in the house of his God.’

Hosea then sarcastically asks the people whether they thought that they were YHWH’s watchman, or considered themselves to be YHWH’s prophet? And if not why did they think that what they were holding on to was the truth? Far from that being so, in all the ways in which they went they were in fact being trapped like ‘silly doves’ in a fowler’s snare (compare 7.11), and were found to be enemies of God in ‘the house of his God’, that is, in Israel (or in the Jerusalem Temple), because of their faithless ways.

Some translate as, ‘Ephraim was a watchman with (‘im) my God, as for the prophet --,’ or something similar. In this case the cult prophets are also being seen as misled. But the final result is the same. Our translation has read ‘am (people) instead of ‘im (with). Both are possible from the original consonantal text.

9.9

They have deeply corrupted themselves,
‘As in the days of Gibeah,
He will remember their iniquity,
He will visit their sins.’

For YHWH’s charge against Israel was that their sins were as deep as the sins of Gibeah, which had also had sexual motivation and had been of the most despicable kind (see Judges 19.22 ff). They had deeply corrupted themselves. And just as He had taken note of the sins of Gibeah, which had almost resulted in the extinction of one of the tribes of Israel, so He would remember theirs, and would visit them with judgment because of them.

9.10

I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness,
I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig-tree at its first season,
They came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves to the shameful thing,
And became abominable like what they loved.

Then He dredges up the past as an example to them. Let them remember that when YHWH had found His people (Deuteronomy 32.10) they had been like withered grapes, the kind which would grow on a vine in the wilderness, struggling to survive, and like the partially inedible firstfruits of a newly planted fig tree which no one wanted to eat (in Isaiah 28.4 the first ripe fig is compared to ‘the fading flower of a wilting floral crown’s glorious beauty’). As with all fruit trees fruit from a fig tree was not to be eaten until the fifth year (Leviticus 19.23-25). And they had underlined this truth about themselves when they had arrived at Baal-peor and, instead of consecrating themselves to YHWH and remaining pure, had consecrated themselves to whoredom and idolatry (the shameful thing), chasing after Baal and thus becoming as abominable as the thing that they lusted after (see Numbers 25).

Others, however, see the initial words as indicating a touch of tender love in the midst of harsh judgments, as YHWH looks back to when He ‘found Israel’ and saw her as a bunch of luscious grapes in the wilderness (an unexpected joy indeed), and as a tender fig which had ripened and become a delicacy. In that case the reversal at Baal-peor must be seen as finally indicating what they really were. They had subsequently proved a huge disappointment, and that was something that was now repeating itself. In the same way we must continually beware lest we also become a disappointment to Him

Ephraim’s Future Is Bleak (9.11-17).

As a result of their sinfulness Ephraim’s future is depicted as being very bleak. Their wealth and prosperity (their ‘glory’ - compare Isaiah 17.3) will fly away, the wombs of their wives will be barren and their children will be brought out to the slayers. And this was because YHWH has determined to drive them out of His House and love them no more, because of the wickedness of their ways . The result will be that they will become wanderers among the nations.

Analysis of 9.11-17.

  • a As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird (9.11a).
  • b There will be no birth, and none with child, and no conception. Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, so that not a man will be left. Yes, woe also to them when I depart from them! (9.11b-12).
  • c Ephraim, in the same way as I saw Tyre, is planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out his children to the slayer (9.13).
  • d Give them, O YHWH - What will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts (9.14).
  • c All their wickedness is in Gilgal, for there I hated them. Because of the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of my house, I will love them no more, all their princes are rebels (9.15).
  • b Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they will bear no fruit. Yes, though they bring forth, yet will I slay the beloved fruit of their womb (9.16).
  • a My God will cast them away, because they did not listen responsively to him, and they will be wanderers among the nations (9.17).

Note that in ‘a’ their glory will fly away like a bird, and in the parallel they will be cast away and will wander among the nations. In ‘b’ their womenfolk will be barren, (note the threefold, ‘no birth, none with child, no conception’) and their growing children will die at YHWH’s hand and in the parallel ‘they are smitten, their root is dried up, they will bear no fruit’, and when they do bring forth the children will die at YHWH’s hand. In ‘c’ although Ephraim were planted in a pleasant place like Tyre, yet their children would be brought out to the slayer, and in the parallel they would be driven out of the place of wickednesses, Gilgal and driven out of His house (Israel) and would be loved no more. Centrally in ‘d’ the prophet, in accordance with ‘b’ calls for them to be given what YHWH sees as their due, a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

9.11 ‘As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird. There will be no birth, and none with child, and no conception.’

Ephraim’s fate is sealed, and it is a bleak one indeed. ‘Their glory’ may indicate such wealth as they have (compare Isaiah 17.3), but in context clearly includes their progeny. They will ‘fly away like a bird’. In other words they will simply be found to have vanished. For there is to be no birth, no one with child, and no conception. This would be the initial effect of their captivity. Such an idea would hit hard into Israel’s soul, for children were the greatest desire of their hearts. And even though it is probably not intended to be taken too literally, it must have sounded harsh to them for all that. The point was that their wombs would dry up because of the harsh conditions under which they would have to live (and not only their wombs. See verse 14).

9.12 ‘Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, so that not a man will be left. Yes, woe also to them when I depart from them!’

And even though they seek to bring up the children that they already have, yet will YHWH bereave them so that no man is left. According to the curse formula in Leviticus 26 this would partly result from the depradations of wild beasts which would seize their children (Leviticus 26.22). The consequence will be that their families and their names will slowly begin to die out. This will be the woeful result of their having deserted YHWH.

9.13 ‘Ephraim, like Tyre, is planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out his children to the slayer.’

Like Tyre (le tsor), Ephraim are planted in a pleasant place. If the reference to ‘like Tyre’ has in mind the investment of Tyre in 722 BC seen as a stark warning to Ephraim (i.e. Tyre too were planted in a pleasant place, but look what has happened to them), then Ephraim too are at this stage seen as undergoing siege and on their last legs, for Samaria also fell in that year after a three year siege. This would tie in with the idea that they would have to bring their children out to ‘the slayer’, to be turned into edible meat which would aid the continuation of the siege, a dreadful fulfilment of the curse in Leviticus 26.29; Deuteronomy 28.53-57. On the other hand the reference may simply have in mind Tyre as a place enviable for its security and prosperity, still maintaining its freedom and not seen as being as vulnerable as Ephraim. But the crunch point is still that, in spite of Ephraim being in a pleasant place, Ephraim’s children would be lost to ‘the slayer’. Either way there may also be a hint here of the added problems introduced into Israel from that ‘pleasant place’ in the form of the Tyrian Baal.

One alternative to ‘like Tyre’ is ‘like a palm tree’ (based on an Arabic and late Hebrew root), stressing in context the fruitfulness of mount Ephraim, something that would, however, be of little use once the siege began.

9.14 ‘Give them, O YHWH - What will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.’

Moved by what he sees before him at the feast Hosea calls on YHWH to act against the people in judgment. As he ponders what to ask for, he turns his thoughts to YHWH’s words in verse 12, and in consequence asks for their fulfilment. Let Israel’s women be given ‘miscarrying wombs and dry breasts’, reversing the promised blessings in Exodus 23.26; Genesis 49.29. It sounds harsh, but it was asking that YHWH carry out His threatened curses, and at the same time it contains within it a thought of mercy. For his prayer is in response to the fact that if children are born it will be to a fate worse than death. It were thus better in his view that they were never born.

9.15

‘All their wickedness is in Gilgal,
For there I hated them.
Because of the wickedness of their doings,
I will drive them out of my house,
I will love them no more,
All their princes are rebels.’

‘All their wickedness is in Gilgal’ has in mind that Gilgal was one of Israel’s cultic centres parallel to Bethel (4.15; 12.11). There Israel engaged in all forms of wickedness, centring on adultery and idolatry. These were central to Canaanite worship, for Baalism was a very ‘earthy’ religion. By engaging in sexual activity before the altar the people hoped to persuade Baal to reproduce through the earth. We can therefore see why it might have been seen as parallel with pleasant Tyre (verse 13) which had produced the Tyrian Baal who worked on the same basis. In Israel’s eyes Gilgal was one of their pleasant places, where they indulged in their ritualistic sexual activities. In God’s eyes it was hateful for that very reason. And as a result of the wickedness of their doings practised there, He would drive them from His house (from Israel) and love them no more, because their whole leadership approved of the worship there, thus proving that they were rebels against YHWH.

Gilgal was also the place where Saul was finally rejected by Samuel because of his gross disobedience and lies (1 Samuel 15.22, 26, 28) and was thus an example of treachery.

Furthermore Gilgal was not far from Baal-peor. and was the first place at which Israel had erected the Tabernacle after leaving Baal-peor and crossing the Jordan. Thus false worship at Gilgal was almost like a repetition of what had happened at Baal-peor. It was introducing the same curse into the promised land itself. That holy site which had represented a new beginning was now being turned into another Baal-peor by an Israel who were just as wayward as they had been at Baal-peor..

9.16

‘Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up,
They will bear no fruit.
Yes, though they bring forth,
Yet will I slay the beloved fruit of their womb.’

Hosea closes the passage as he opened it. Ephraim will be smitten, their root will be dried up, and they will bear no fruit (no birth, none with child, no conception - verse 11). And even those that they do bring forth, the beloved children of their womb, will be slain by YHWH (compare verse 12), probably by the sword of the Assyrians.

9.17

‘My God will cast them away,
Because they did not listen responsively to him,
And they will be wanderers among the nations.’

For because they had continually refused to listen responsively to Him He now intended to cast them away, with the result that they would become wanderers among the nations, in accordance with the curse depicted in Deuteronomy 28.65; Leviticus 26.26-27. They would go on and on wandering, with nowhere to hide.

Israel’s ‘Fruitfulness’ Is Revealed By Their Setting Up A Multiplicity Of Altars And Religious Pillars, Declaring That They Are Responsible To No One, And Do Not Fear God, But They Will Shortly Discover That They Are Responsible To Someone, Even To The Great King Of Assyria, And That All Their False Altars Will Be Torn Down By A God Whom They Will Certainly Fear (10.1-8).

Israel is here depicted as being like a luxuriant vine, but it is as one that turns out to be a vine of false promises because the ‘abundance of fruit’ that it produces will be in the form of altars to Baal and pillars of Baal. Furthermore they will declare their freedom from any restraint, whether by king or God, trusting to false covenants with nature gods. This reveals a state of anarchy and lawlessness within Israel unparalleled in the past. All restraint has broken down as they fling themselves headlong into dependency on Baal and Asherah. However, Hosea points out that they will inevitably discover that they are not free from restraint because they will discover in the end that they have to submit to a king, even the Great King, the King of Assyria, and at the same time they will be in terror of losing their ‘new’ gods. Furthermore they will discover that their high places will be destroyed, and that by the very One Whom they have despised.

Analysis of 10.1-8).

  • a Israel is a luxuriant vine, which puts forth his fruit. According to the abundance of his fruit he has multiplied his altars; according to the goodness of their land they have made goodly pillars (10.1).
  • b Their heart is divided. Now will they be found guilty. He will smite their altars, he will destroy their pillars (10.2).
  • c Surely now will they say, “We have no king. For we do not fear YHWH, and the king, what can he do for us?” (10.3).
  • d They speak vain words, swearing falsely in making covenants, therefore judgment springs up as hemlock in the furrows of the field (10.4).
  • c The inhabitants of Samaria will be in terror for the calves of Beth-aven, for the people in it mourn over it, and its priests who rejoiced over it, for its glory, because it is departed from it. It also will be carried to Assyria for a present to the great king. Ephraim will receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel (10.5-6).
  • b As for Samaria, her king is cut off, as a twig on the water, the high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, will be destroyed (10.7-8a).
  • a The thorn and the thistle will come up on their altars, and they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us” (10.8b).

Note that in ‘a’ stress is laid on the multiplicity of their altars, and in the parallel we learn what will happen to their altars. In ‘b’ YHWH will smite their altars and destroy their pillars, and in the parallel the high places of Aven will be destroyed. In ‘c’ the people boast that they have no king and have no fear of YHWH, and want to know what a king can do for them, and in the parallel they are in terror for their gods and own the kingship of the Great King and admit the folly of their own counsel. Centrally in ‘d’ they speak lying words concerning religious covenants with the result that judgment will inevitably come upon them.

10.1

‘Israel is a luxuriant vine,
Which puts forth his fruit.
In accordance with the abundance of his fruit,
He has multiplied his altars,
In accordance with the goodness of their land,
They have made goodly pillars.’

With withering sarcasm Hosea now depicts what Israel has become. They are indeed a luxurious vine which puts forth its fruit (something that they were no doubt claiming for themselves), but their response to having an abundance of fruit has been to build an abundance of altars. Most of the credit is going to Baal (and their own perverted sexual behaviour). And their response to the goodness of the land (the land, be it noted, of YHWH) as it produces abundantly is to erect goodly pillars. Such pillars were a symbol of Baal and were erected at their many sanctuaries in his honour. Many examples have been discovered archaeologically.

Note the play on ‘abundance of fruit’ and ‘multiplied altars’, ‘goodly land’ and ‘goodly pillars’, clearly stressing that the more they were blessed, the more they looked to Baal. So the more YHWH prospered Israel, the more Baalism was taking over their minds. They had never had it so good, and they gave Baal most of the credit, seeing it as a just response to all their exuberant worship and all their perverted sexual antics. They felt that they made a good partnership. And in so far as YHWH was still worshipped, it was as a part of this nature pattern. At the same time they were conveniently able to ignore the fact that they had already lost over half their land to Assyria, land which had become a province of Assyria, and also to overlook the fact of the threat of an Assyria looming ever larger, an ever threatening reality. Their eyes were simply on their own present with its fruitful harvests and freedom from all restraint, and they seemingly thought that it could go on for ever.

10.2

‘Their heart is divided (or ‘smooth, deceitful’).
Now will they be found guilty.
He will smite their altars,
He will destroy their pillars.’

But Hosea warned that it would not go on for ever. Their hearts were divided between YHWH and Baal, with YHWH demoted to a mere nature god, and as a result they were about to be found guilty, guilty of dishonouring and ignoring YHWH’s covenant and His special claim on them. And as a consequence He was about to smite their altars and destroy their pillars. For He had not overlooked Assyria. Indeed He was about to use Assyria as the rod of His anger (Isaiah 10.5).

10.3

‘Surely now will they say,
“We have no king.
For we do not fear YHWH,
And the king, what can he do for us?”

But their response will be to declare a reckless independence. They will declare, ‘We have no king’ with the implication that they are free to do as they like, and this because they no longer fear YHWH as their King, while their own king is too tied up in political affairs to bother them. All law and restraint has been abandoned, religious restraint and political restraint have both been set aside. They have rejected the kingship of YHWH, Baal allows them to do what they like and the king is too busy to take any notice.

10.4

‘They speak but words,
Swearing falsely in making covenants,
Therefore judgment springs up as poisonous weeds
In the furrows of the field.’

Hosea points out the folly of their words. They should recognise that they are but words, bold, brash, and foolish. For while they may still be swearing covenants, it is with gods who are unable to respond. They are false covenants. They are trusting in shadows. And that is why even now judgment is inevitably springing up around them, in the same way as poisonous weeds will inevitably spring up in the furrows of their fields, the aftermath of the abundant fruitfulness. The one is as inevitable as the other. And the Baal who does not prevent the hemlock, cannot prevent the judgment.

Alternately the false covenants may be those made with allies, or with Assyria itself. It would be their failure to observe the latter that would bring down on them what is threatened in verse 5.

10.5

‘The inhabitants of Samaria will be in terror,
For the calves of Beth-aven,
For the people in it mourn over it,
And its priests who rejoiced over it,
For its glory,
Because it is departed from it.’

The prophet now unveils the ironic situation. They have thrown off the restraint of YHWH and His covenant, the ‘fear of YHWH’ (verse 3), and what have they got in His place? Gods which they are in terror of losing! For soon those calves will be carried off, and the people will mourn over them, and the priests, who had indulged in such ecstasies over them, would also mourn over the lost glory which it once had, which has now deserted it. This is a god who can do nothing to save himself, powerless in the face of the enemy.

The ‘calves of Bethaven (Bethel)’ were the calves that had been set up by Jeroboam I as described in 1 Kings 12.28-33. It is possible that the one in Dan had been brought down to Bethel for safety. On the other hand, as 1 Kings 12.32 makes clear, the plural ‘calves’ could be seen as indicating just one (a plural of intensity). And Samaria were frightened of losing what it had and seeing its glory depart from it. (No one had ever suggested being frightened of losing YHWH, for He was above being lost, something which emphasises their folly in trusting in a god who could do nothing to prevent himself being carried off).

10.6a

‘It also will be carried to Assyria,
For a present to the great king.

The ignominy of the idol’s situation is stressed. It will be carried to Assyria, no doubt on the back of a donkey (compare the Babylonian gods so graphically carried off by Assyria in Isaiah 46.1-2). And it will be given as a present to the Great King. Such is to be its ignominious fate.

10.6b-7

‘Ephraim will receive shame,
And Israel will be ashamed of his own counsel (or ‘disobedience’).
As for Samaria, her king is cut off,
As a twig (wood chip) on the water.’

But the idol will not be the only thing to be shamed. Ephraim too will receive shame as he is carried off ignominiously to Assyria, and in turn, as Israel, he will be ashamed of his own disobedience, or of the failure of his own counsel. Alternately it has been suggested that the word for ‘disobedience’ (from the root ‘atsah) signifies rather ‘a piece of wood’ (see Jeremiah 6.6 where the same root in the feminine (‘etsah) means trees), the idea then being that they are ashamed of their idol which has been revealed to be just another mute piece of wood (‘golden’ only meant that it was gold-plated).

And what about Samaria? Her king will be cut off, falling as it were like a wood chip on turbulent water, ignominiously borne wherever the flow of the armies of Assyria decided to carry him.

10.8

‘The high places also of Aven, will be destroyed,
The sin of Israel,
The thorn and the thistle will come up
Upon their altars,
And they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

And what has been left behind, the high places of Beth-Aven (or ‘of evil’) will be destroyed, because they represented ‘The Sin Of Israel’. Beth-aven more than anywhere else symbolised their unfaithfulness and apostasy. Thus, with their altars destroyed, there would be nothing left for the calves to come home to. They had failed the land, and the land had spewed them out. And their deserted altars will become overgrown with weeds, a place of thorns and thistles, symbolic of YHWH’s curse on the ground in Genesis 3.18 and an indication that the land has been cursed.

The final awfulness of the situation comes out in the final two lines. Such will be the desolation and misery that the people will call on the mountains to cover them with a rockslide, and will call on the hills to fall on them. They will not be able to bear the thought of what the future holds.

Israel Are Warned That They Face Another Gibeah Because Although He Had Chosen Them As His Servant (Like A Trained Heifer) They Have Responded With Disobedience And Wickedness. A Final War Of Destruction Is Therefore Inevitable Unless They Repent Deeply And Seek His Face (10.9-15).

The present Israel is likened to the Benjamites in the day of Gibeah (Judges 19-21) who committed gross sin and were almost totally destroyed. YHWH will therefore deal with them in accordance with His will, and call them to account for their behaviour through warfare. For although YHWH had trained them up to serve Him faithfully, they had instead chosen their own way and would therefore be brought into harness like an ox and sentenced to hard labour. Their one hope was to repent and submit to the covenant in righteousness and covenant love, and then to seek YHWH until He came to rain righteousness on them. But instead they were set in the way of wickedness, and would therefore suffer final destruction at the hands of an enemy.

Analysis of 10.9-15.

  • a O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah. There they took a stand. Did not the battle against the children of iniquity overtake them in Gibeah? (10.9).
  • b According to my desire I will chastise them, and the peoples will be gathered against them, when they are bound to their two transgressions (10.10).
  • c And Ephraim is a heifer which is trained, which loves to tread out the grain, but I have passed over (a harness) on her fair neck, I will set a rider on Ephraim, Judah will plough, Jacob will break his clods (10.11).
  • d Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to covenant love, break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek YHWH, until he come and rain righteousness on you (10.12).
  • c You have ploughed wickedness, you have reaped iniquity, you have eaten the fruit of lies, for you trusted in your way, in the multitude of your mighty men (10.13).
  • b Therefore will a tumult arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed. As Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle, the mother was dashed in pieces with her children (10.14).
  • a So will Beth-el do to you because of your great wickedness, at daybreak will the king of Israel be utterly cut off (10.15).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel were punished for their wickedness at Gibeah, and in the parallel they are again now to be punished for their wickedness. In ‘b’ YHWH would chastise them by gathering the peoples together against them, and in the parallel the nations will come against them and ravage them. In ‘c’ Ephraim have been trained to thresh, Judah to plough and Jacob to break up the ground, and in the parallel they have done so falsely. Central in ‘d’ is the call to repentance and intercession in order that they might again enjoy the mercy of God.

10.9

‘O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah.
There they took a stand.
Did not the battle against the children of iniquity
Overtake them in Gibeah?’

What had happened at Gibeah (Judges 19-21) was written deep into the heart of Israel. There Israel, in the person of the tribe of Benjamin, had sinned deeply in a perverted sexual way. And YHWH now tells Israel that they have not changed one iota. They have continued to sin in the same way since the days of Gibeah. They are no better than the people whom YHWH destroyed there.

In Gibeah Benjamin had taken its stand, and was in fact routed, and subsequently almost destroyed. The children of iniquity were truly overtaken in Gibeah. But what YHWH is saying here is that that was not the end of the battle against perverted sexual sin, for there were still children of iniquity, and the battle against them still continued. Indeed it was being fought against Israel in Hosea’s day, and Israel too would be decimated in the same way for the same reason. It was as inevitable as what had happened at Gibeah.

10.10

‘According to my desire,
I will chastise them,
And the peoples will be gathered against them,
When they are bound to their two transgressions.’

And this chastisement, severe as it would be (as it had also been for Benjamin as a result of Gibeah), would occur in accordance with YHWH’s will and desire, for YHWH was still sovereign over all. At the time when He calls them to account for (ties them in to) their ‘two transgressions’, the peoples of the nations will be gathered together against them (in the same way as Israel had gathered together against Gibeah).

There are differences of opinion as to what the ‘two transgressions’ are. Some see them as being their rebellion against YHWH and against the Davidic king (see 3.5; compare 8.4). Others see them as being their idolatry (constantly stressed) and disregard of social justice (4.2). In a sense both go together, for their rebellion against YHWH was revealed by their idolatry, and their rejection of the Davidic king had resulted in permanent social injustice.

10.11

‘And Ephraim is a heifer which is trained,
Which loves to tread out the grain.
But I have passed over (a harness) on her fair neck,
I will set a rider (or ‘a yoke’) on Ephraim,
Judah will plough,
Jacob will break his clods.’

Ephraim had no excuse for their behaviour. Like a well trained heifer they too had been trained by YHWH to be His chosen servants. And just as the heifer loves to tread the grain (thereby threshing it) because it can eat the grain while doing it (‘you shall not muzzle the ox that treads the grain’ - Deuteronomy 25.4), so Israel had enjoyed walking with YHWH and receiving the benefits that He provided.

But because they had rejected their training and were revelling in sin, YHWH had now put a harness on their ‘fair neck’, and would set a yoke on them (or put a rider on them) so as to put them to the plough. Along with Judah they were sentenced to hard labour, ploughing the ground and breaking up the soil. But there is deliberately no mention of their benefiting by it. They will plough but not reap. The reaping will be for others. The introduction of Judah parallels similar examples elsewhere . Hosea was constantly faced with men from Judah who had come to the idolatrous feasts at Bethel and Gilgal to partake in the adulterous worship and brought home to him the danger that Judah was in.

The oxen would pull a heavy wooden plough strengthened with metal at the cutting edge, and would often have a rider on them to guide and spur them on. The Hebrew word actually usually means ‘rider’, but there are some grounds for translating as ‘set a yoke’, and the latter is a good parallel to ‘passed over’ i.e. a harness. It makes little difference. The point was that YHWH was now driving on both Judah and Israel. Jacob, in parallel with Judah, probably indicates the ten tribes.

The unique (for Hosea) use of ‘Jacob’ for Israel prepares for his later use of Jacob as an example in chapter 12. ‘Jacob’ are not behaving like Jacob.

10.12

‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness,
Reap in accordance with covenant love,
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek YHWH,
Until he come and rain righteousness on you.’

Ever ready to respond to repentance God now called on Israel and Judah to turn back to Him in response to the covenant. While they were to go on sowing, reaping and breaking up the ground they were to do it in righteousness and covenant love. But as verse 13 brings out, the words go deeper than that, for they have reference to their inner lives. Rather than reaping iniquity they were to sow righteousness in their behaviour, both in their inner thoughts and in their behaviour towards others. And what they constantly reaped in their lives was to be continually in covenant love. Furthermore they were to ‘break up’ their inner hardness. And once they had established themselves in love and righteousness and humility, and their hearts had become softened, they would be able to seek YHWH with the expectancy that He would come and rain righteousness on them. They could sow and reap, but only God could send the rain, and here was an indication that even at this last moment, if they ‘truly repented’ He would have mercy on them. In this latter case the raining of righteousness indicates the active working of God producing righteousness in His people (i.e. acceptability to YHWH through the shedding of blood and ‘inworked salvation’ as in Philippians 2.13).

10.13

‘You have ploughed wickedness,
You have reaped iniquity,
You have eaten the fruit of lies,
For you trusted in your way (or ‘power’),
In the multitude of your mighty men.’

But YHWH then charges Israel with being far from repentance. They have ploughed in wickedness by their way of living, they have reaped in their lives nothing but iniquity (compare 4.2), they have eaten the fruit of lies and deceit as they have followed the route of false worship while pretending to be faithful to the covenant. In fact their understanding of the covenant was so low that they probably thought that they had been observing it in their own light, interpreting it in terms of offering sufficient sacrifices and attendance at feasts. And all the while they were forgetting what YHWH really was because their trust was in their military power and what they saw as their powerful army. To people who had never seen the Assyrian army, their own standing army must have seemed impressive indeed.

10.14

‘Therefore will a tumult arise among your people,
And all your fortresses will be destroyed,
As Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle,
The mother was dashed in pieces with her children.’

But let them not doubt that problems were just around the corner. For shortly there would be a tumult among the people (battle cries and war cries and the anguished cries of the wounded and defeated), and all their fortresses would be destroyed (compare the curse in Leviticus 26.33), just as they had been in north west Israel when ‘Shalman’ had destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle, and both mothers and children were dashed in pieces by the soldiery. Shalman may be a diminutive of Shalmaneser V of Assyria, although Shalmaneser’s name is usually given in full (but not in Hosea) . Or it may refer to a Moabite king named Salmanu (Assyrian - Salamani), mentioned in a tribute list of Tiglath Pileser III, who had seemingly gained notoriety for his merciless treatment of an Israelite town. An Arbela is mentioned in 1 Maccabees 9.2 as on ‘the way that leads to Gilgal’ which may be in Galilee, which would support a reference to Shalmaneser.

10.15

‘So shall Beth-el do to you because of your great wickedness,
At dawn will the king of Israel be utterly cut off.’

The same treatment will be meted out to them by Bethel. In other words, because of their great wickedness carried out at Bethel, Bethel would bring destruction on them, and the king of Israel would be utterly cut off ‘at daybreak/dawn’. The cutting off of the king would usually be the signal of utter defeat. If it refers to Hoshea it was indeed ‘at dawn’, prior to ‘the day’ of the siege of Samaria, for he went out to meet the king of Assyria before the siege commenced, presumably in order to parley and was arrested as a rebel.

We should note how deeply YHWH felt the wickedness of the people. They were ‘grossly wicked’ (9.15; 10.15); ‘guilty’ (10.2); ‘exceedingly sinful’ (10.8, 9); ‘wayward’ (10.9); ‘iniquitous’ (10.10); ‘wicked’ 10.13; ‘grossly deceitful’ (10.13). And this has been emphasised by the examples drawn from the past, the sin of Baal-peor (9.10); the sin of Gibeah (10.9); evil at Gilgal (9.15); the sin of Bethel (e.g. the calves of Jeroboam I). All that was bad in the past could also be laid at their door.

YHWH Describes How He Had Called His Son (Israel) Out Of Egypt And Watched Over Him As A Faithful Father, Training Him In The Right Way, Only For His Son’s Heart To Remain In Egypt So That He Would Inevitably Return There Again. Nevertheless God Promises That He Will Not Give Them Up, And That One Day He Will Call Them Out Of Egypt Again And He Will Cause Them To Dwell With Him (11.1-12).

In this tender passage YHWH describes how He ‘called His son (Israel) out of Egypt’ (compare Exodus 4.22-23; Deuteronomy 14.1). And how, in spite of the fact that He had led them, and watched over them and fed them (both in the wilderness and then in Canaan), they had spurned His love and turned to the Baalim and to graven images (both in the wilderness (Exodus 32) and now in Canaan), because their hearts were still ‘in Egypt’. And the consequence is to be that they will ‘return to Egypt’ (i.e. by being exiled among foreign nations or refugees in Egypt) because they have refused to turn to Him. Nevertheless He is determined not to finally give them up, and promises that although they at present only seek Him in a formal way, without there being any real heart in it, He will in His sovereignty one day bring them again out of their Egypt and ‘cause them to dwell in their houses’. It was in order to demonstrate that this promise was about to be fulfilled that Jesus (as the Supreme Representation of Israel) went as a young child into Egypt, and then returned to Palestine (Canaan) at the call of God, symbolising that the promised return of Israel to God through Him was about to happen, something which Matthew especially brings out by citing this passage (Matthew 2.15).

In spite of Ephraim’s failure Judah is at this stage seen as the exception because they still ‘ruled with God’ (had a Davidic king) and were ‘faithful with the Holy One’ (continued the observance of the covenant in accordance with the Law). This might suggest that these words were written in the days of Hezekiah when this was again true.

It should be noted that whilst the alterations in method of address (changing from third person to first person and back again, and from singular to plural and back again) may be a little confusing to us they were not confusing to Hosea’s listeners. In such niceties Hebrew grammar was not as precise as we are.

Analysis of 11.1-12.

  • a When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (11.1).
  • b The more they (the prophets) called them, the more they went from them, they sacrificed to the Baalim, and burned incense to graven images (11.2).
  • c Yet I taught Ephraim to walk, I took them on my arms, but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who lift up the yoke on their jaws, and I laid food before them (11.3-4).
  • d Will they not return into the land of Egypt, and Assyria be their king, because they refused to return to Me? And the sword will fall on their cities, and will consume their bars, and devour, because of their own counsels (11.5-6).
  • e And my people are bent on backsliding from me, though they call them to (Me) on high, none at all will exalt (Me)’ (11.7).
  • f How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I cast you off, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboiim? My heart is turned within me, My compassions are kindled together (11.8)
  • e I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of you, and I will not come in wrath (11.9).
  • d They will walk after YHWH, Who will roar like a lion, for He will roar, and the children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria (11.10-11a).
  • c And I will make them to dwell in their houses, says YHWH (11.11b).
  • b Ephraim compasses me about with falsehood, and the house of Israel with deceit (11.12a).
  • a But Judah yet rules with God, and is faithful with the Holy One (11.12b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel’s relationship with God was good, and they were blessed by God and in the parallel Judah’s relationship with God is good. In ‘b’ Israel had turned to the Baalim and to graven images, and in the parallel they compassed God with falsehood and deceit. In ‘c’ God watched over His people as though they were His household, and in the parallel He will make them to dwell in (His) houses. In ‘d’ they will return to Egypt and Assyria, and in the parallel they will return from Egypt and Assyria. In ‘e’ Israel call to God on high, but do not exalt Him, and in the parallel God is exalted as the Holy One among them. Central in ‘f’ is the heart cry of God for His people in His compassion for them.

11.1

‘When Israel was a child, then I loved him,
And called my son out of Egypt.’

With these beautiful words God describes His relationship with His chosen people as one of sovereign love. Out of His love for them He had called Israel as His son out of Egypt where they were in slavery. Compare Exodus 4.22-23 where He described Israel as ‘His firstborn’ and demanded that they be freed on that basis, and Deuteronomy 14.1, where He declares them to be His children. His redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 20.2) is being portrayed as the act of a loving Father delivering by the payment of a ransom His child who had been enslaved. He had paid a ransom in order that Israel might be set free.

And we do well to note at this stage who ‘Israel’ were. They were not all direct descendants of Abraham. They included descendants of Abraham’s 318 fighting men and their families (Genesis 14.14), and a ‘mixed multitude’ of peoples from many nations who, having taken part in the Exodus (Exodus 12.38), were received into the covenant at Sinai, and were circumcised at Gilgal (Joshua 5.2-9). They also included any who had later chosen to throw in their lot with Israel and enter by circumcision into the covenant (Exodus 12.48). Thus they were already a multinational people. For ‘Israel’ was never made up simply of people descended from Abraham himself (that was a legal fiction). They rather saw themselves as adopted by Him, on the basis that ‘those who are of faith, those are the children of Abraham’ (Galatians 3.7). But all of them were loved equally by God and were seen as His children, having been accepted into the covenant as ‘Israel’.

11.2

‘The more they called them,
The more they went from them,
They sacrificed to the Baalim,
And burned incense to graven images.’

But it is made clear that Israel in fact never came out of Egypt in their hearts, for the more that ‘they’ (the prophets) called them the more they deserted what they had been taught, and sacrificed to Baalim and graven images. It was made clear by this that idolatry and the ways of thinking of Egypt still possessed their hearts. In their hearts they had never left Egypt. ‘Burned incense to graven images.’ As well as the offering of sacrifices, the burning of incense in their many sanctuaries was a regular feature of Egyptian/Canaanite worship, and some of these incense altars have been discovered in what was Canaan.

11.3

‘Yet I taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them on my arms,
But they knew not that I healed them.’

Yet in a touching picture God describes how He had ‘taught Ephraim (Israel) to walk’ (through the covenant) and how He had upheld them in His arms (Deuteronomy 33.27), or alternatively had grasped them by the arms. But the sad fact was that they had been unresponsive to His guidance, not recognising the care that He took over their wellbeing. They ‘knew not that He healed them’ includes not only the thought that He looked after them when they were sick, but also that He continually watched out for their welfare. He had done for them all that was necessary.

11.4

‘I drew them with cords of a man,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who lift up the yoke on their jaws,
And I laid food before them.’

And in spite of their misbehaviour YHWH had not deserted them. He had drawn them along in their leading reins, bands which bound them to Him in love, and He had been to them like the man who takes out the horse’s or oxen’s bit so that he could feed them. He had constantly laid food before them (initially the manna and quails, and then the ‘old corn of the land’ - Joshua 5.12).

11.5

‘Will they not return into the land of Egypt?
And Assyria be their king?
Because they refused to return to me?’

But having failed to recognise that it was He Who had healed them (verse 3), they had refused to return to Him. Their hearts had remained in Egypt. Thus the inevitable consequence was that they would ‘return to Egypt’ and let the king of Assyria be their king. In other words their seeming hankering after being subject to, and in bondage to, Assyria was the consequence of their hearts being ‘still in Egypt’, still dominated by idolatry and foreign ideas. Of course many of the people, in order to avoid Assyrian domination, did flee to Egypt, and thus the exiles would be divided between Egypt and Assyria. That was the beginning of the build up of the huge number of ‘Jews’ in what would become Alexandria. In Hosea’s eyes Israel had never really left Egypt, for their hearts were still there.

Note the fact that they would ‘return to Egypt’ because they did not ‘return to Him’. That was the choice with which they were faced. God or Egypt. And they chose Egypt. That was why, when Jesus Christ came as their Redeemer and Representative in order to bear their sins, He had to come out of Egypt (Matthew 2.15).

11.6

And the sword will fall on their cities,
And will consume their bars,
And devour,
Because of their own counsels.’

So because of their refusal to respond wholly to Him the sword would fall on their cities, and the bars on their gates would be ‘consumed’ (broken ) so that the gates were no longer safe. The sword would devour them because of the kind of counsel that they followed. This counsel included the assurances of victory by false prophets, and the confident claims of the king’s advisers and their own leaders. After all, they might have argued, had not Assyria stopped short of Samaria previously? And would he not do so again when he saw its strength?

The word translated ‘bars’ is an unusual one and some have therefore suggested translating as ‘oracle priests’ (compare its use in Isaiah 44.25; Jeremiah 50.36), indicating those who advised on warfare through divination. An idolatrous Israel would have seen them as being as effective as bars on the gates.

11.7

And my people are bent on backsliding from me,
Though they call them to on high,
None at all will exalt him.’

This was all necessary and certain because of the fact was that the people were intent on backsliding from YHWH. Their hearts were set against Him. They might give the impression of calling on the One Who was ‘on High’ (compare 7.16), but really it was not with the intention of truly exalting Him. It was rather with a perfunctory and formal acknowledgement of His existence because of their historical past.

Alternately some see the reference as to Baal as Canaan’s high God, to whom the people sought, and who would be in no position to exalt Israel. They would thus discover that it was a waste of time. But 7.16 confirms that YHWH is meant.

11.8 ‘How shall I give you up, Ephraim?

How shall I cast you off, Israel?
How shall I make you as Admah?
How shall I set you as Zeboiim?
My heart is turned within me,
My compassions are kindled together.’

YHWH’s response is a cry from the heart. How could He give up Ephraim, how could He cast off Israel? How could He do to them what He had done to the cities of the plain Admah and Zeboiim whom, along with Sodom and Gomorrah He had destroyed with fire? For this latter see Deuteronomy 29.23; Genesis 10.19; 14.2-8 with 19.24-25, 29. This response was the result of the fact that ‘His heart had turned within Him’. That is, He had ‘changed His mind and purpose’ with regard to final destruction (as opposed to temporary chastisement) and intended at some time to show mercy. And this was because instead of His anger being kindled, it was His compassionate heart that was being kindled to show compassion to His people. But it was a compassion that could only be revealed once Israel had learned its lesson. He could not just overlook what they had done. It was just that because of His very nature as God and not man, and as the Holy and unique One, His judgment was not to be seen as absolutely final.

This cry from the heart of God reveals God’s continual quandary. He longs to show mercy and forgive, but He cannot do so unless it is accompanied by men repenting and turning from their sin. The love of God does not exclude the judgment of God, for God is also ‘Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1.5). Those who would experience His love must first come to His light. God cannot lower His standards however great His love.

11.9

I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger,
I will not return to destroy Ephraim,
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in the midst of you,
And I will not come in wrath.’

Thus while He would chastise them severely He would limit the way in which the fierceness of His anger was exercised. He would not totally destroy Ephraim. They would still have a hope in the more distant future once their chastisement was over. This was precisely what Moses had declared centuries before when he had led them out of the wilderness (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-29). And YHWH would do this because He was not a mere, vengeful man, but was God. He was the ‘Holy One’ of Israel in the midst of them, that is, the One Who was unique and of a wholly different nature from man, Who had chosen Israel. Thus while He would certainly visit them in wrath, it would not be in final wrath. He would chastise, but not finally destroy. Partial fulfilment of this future mercy took place in the restoration of Israel to the land, a restoration which would have drawn many exiles back to Palestine and resulted in the partly receptive Palestine to which Jesus came. But its greater fulfilment took place through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ Himself as He brought the remnant of Israel back to God, cutting off the old unbelieving Israel, and establishing a new believing Israel which would reach out to the world. But the restoration of old, unbelieving Israel to Palestine in the present day might also suggest that in the future there will be a great working of God among them so that they are once more ‘engrafted into the olive tree’ (Romans 11) by coming in submission to Jesus Christ (without which there can be no salvation for anyone).

MT indicates that the final phrase is ‘And I will not enter into the city’, which would then indicate that while Assyria might destroy Samaria, and the sword might enter into the city (verse 6), YHWH Himself would not enter into the city in final judgment. It would not have had the final death knell rung over it, but would take part in the future about to be described.

11.10

‘They will walk after YHWH,
Who will roar like a lion,
For he will roar,
And the children will come trembling from the west.’

For when the time came for Him to act in mercy He would roar like a lion, so that Ephraim would walk after YHWH. His roaring would cause them to respond to the covenant with all their hearts (compare Amos 3.8). He would roar, and his young lion cubs would come to Him ‘trembling’ (the word means ‘jumping with fear, shaking’) from the west’ (i.e. through the Valley of Jezreel to the west of Samaria, on their way from Assyria and Egypt). His people will once again know ‘the fear of YHWH’.

Some see ‘from the west (sea)’ as signifying from further afield, even from countries across the sea.

11.11

They will come trembling as a bird out of Egypt,
And as a dove out of the land of Assyria,
And I will make them to dwell in their houses,
Say YHWH.’

Responding in reverent fear His people will come ‘like a bird out of Egypt, and like a dove out of the land of Assyria. This may have in mind the dove that returned to the ark after God’s judgment on the world in the time of Noah, and be the indication of a new beginning. Or the idea may be in order to emphasise their defencelessness. Not like an eagle, but like a dove. And the thought is that God’s people will renounce Egypt once and for all, and will return from the place of exile in Assyria, and will come and make their homes with God. The metaphor is a picturesque one. The birds would be firmly settled in Egypt and Assyria until suddenly disturbed by the roar of the Lion, at which they will take to the skies and make for their homeland. It was partly fulfilled when Israel returned to the land in droves after the exile, it found a greater fulfilment when the Gospel reached out to the Jews from Palestine both north and south as witnessed to in Acts, resulting in their coming tremblingly to God, but its greatest fulfilment awaits the new Heaven and the new earth where Abraham too will finally find the city that he was looking for (Hebrews 11.10-14), and where all who are His will find their resting places (John 14.2).

And all this is certain of fulfilment because it has been declared by YHWH. The lion of Judah will be roused up (Genesis 49.9) and will roar (in the form of the Lamb as it had been slain - Revelation 5.5-6), Shiloh will come, and His people will be gathered to Him (Genesis 49.10).

11.12

‘Ephraim compasses me about with falsehood,
And the house of Israel with deceit,
But Judah yet rules with God,
And is faithful with the Holy One.

These words suggest that Hosea was now aware of the reforms of Hezekiah in Judah (see 1.1 and 2 Kings 18.1-6) and saw in them an indication that Israel’s hope for the future depended on the Davidic house. For he declares that Judah yet rules with God and is in faithful submission to Him, thereby indicating that Judah’s kingship is now responsive to YHWH and true worship has now been restored. We can indeed see that Hezekiah’s reforms must have come as a breath of fresh air to the prophets struggling to bring Israel to its senses, and may well have raised Messianic hopes.

He points out that whilst Ephraim were still ‘surrounding’ Him with falsehood, and the whole house of Israel were ‘surrounding’ Him with deceit, (the language might suggest that at this stage Samaria was ‘surrounded’ by the Assyrian army thus providing the symbolism used here) and were in fact about to crumble, Judah was yet reliable and ‘ruled with God’, that is, their king ruled in obedience to God. For in the third year of Hoshea Hezekiah had come to the throne of Judah and had submitted Himself to God (2 Kings 18.1-6). It was not said of Judah that they had ‘appointed kings, but not by Me’ (8.4), for they still held to the Davidic kingship Thus the whole future of Israel was seen to depend on the firm foundation of the Davidic kingship, and on their faithfulness to the Holy One. and especially on the coming greater King Who would bring in righteousness (Isaiah 11.1-4). Once He came the lion would roar and the people would turn back to God, an apt picture of the ministry of Jesus Christ and what followed it after Pentecost.

(On the other hand the Masoretes in their Hebrew text and many modern scholars (the latter by repointing the consonants and altering the sense) see the verse as opening chapter 12, even though the Masoretes held to the text as translated above. But the analysis above indicates that its sentiments are required to round off the chiasm in chapter 11, whilst the translation above (following MT) more fully explains the reference to the lion in verse 11. It was Judah, who would be the lion’s whelp, from whom the Final Hope would come (Genesis 49.9-10)).

AN APPEAL IS MADE TO JACOB’S EXAMPLE WHICH SIMPLY SERVES TO REVEAL ISRAEL’S PARLOUS STATE AND GUARANTEES THE COMING JUDGMENT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE EXILE BUT IT IS WITH THE PROMISE OF FINAL RESTORATION AND FRUITFULNESS IN VIEW (12.1-14.9).

These words were probably mainly spoken during the latter part of the reign of Hoshea, with the destruction of Samaria threatening on the horizon. After a further appeal for repentance Israel is seen to be finally doomed, with any hope that they have lying far in the future because of their unrepentant hearts.

YHWH Makes A Further Appeal To Ephraim And Judah On The Basis Of What Their Ancestor Jacob Did (12.1-7).

Having first stressed Ephraim’s total folly and unacceptable deceitfulness, and the fact that they will be punished if they do not mend their ways, Hosea calls on them to remember their ancestor Jacob and the vigour that he showed in his dealings with God, and how he three times thereby prevailed with God, firstly when he seized Esau by the heel (Genesis 25.26), later obtaining for himself Esau’s birthright (Genesis 25.33-34) and blessing (Genesis 27.27-29, 36), secondly when he met God at Penuel and prevailed with Him by means of God-given power (Genesis 32.22-32), and thirdly when, having returned to the land, he and the people met God at Bethel and were restored to Him, receiving the confirmation of the promises given to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 35.1-15). Indeed what Jacob and the people did at Bethel was precisely what Hosea was calling on Israel to do, put away their strange gods and worship YHWH only.

On the basis of this he calls both Judah and Israel to repentance, calling them to return to God, renew their covenant love, and establish justice, although closing by recognising that Ephraim, instead of following Jacob’s zeal for God, rather followed less desirable traits in Jacob’s character, his deceit and wily trafficking. Analysis of 12.1-7.

  • a Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind, he continually multiplies lies and desolation, and they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt (12.1).
  • b YHWH has also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob in accordance with his ways, according to his doings will he recompense him (12.2).’
  • c In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he had power with God, yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed. He wept, and made supplication to him. He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name (12.3-5).
  • b Therefore turn you to your God, maintain covenant love and justice, and wait for your God continually (12.6).
  • a He is a trafficker, the balances of deceit are in his hand, he loves to oppress (12.7).
.’

Note that in ‘a’ Ephraim is a deceiver, and having made a covenant with Assyria trades with Egypt, and in the parallel he is a deceitful trader. In ‘b’ YHWH has a controversy with Judah, but it is Jacob who will be punished for their deeds, and in the parallel God calls on both rather to respond to Him, to maintain covenant love and justice, and wait continually for Him in trust, prayer and obedience. Central in ‘c’ is the example given of Jacob who prevailed with God.

12.1 ‘Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind, he continually multiplies lies and desolation, and they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt.’

To feed on wind is to feed on what is insubstantial. The idea is that Ephraim, instead of feeding on the Law of God, had rather chosen to follow lies. To pursue the east wind is to pursue the scorching desert wind which sweeps in from the east, a symbol of judgment and desolation. Before the east wind nothing lives, who then with any modicum of intelligence would pursue it? The indication therefore is that, without realising it, Ephraim were foolishly pursuing the course that would lead to desolation.

And they did both in no half measure. They ‘multiplied’ lies and desolation (the idea of multiplying was a favourite of Hosea’s - see 4.7; 8.11, 14; 10.1, 13). The lies included all the religious deceit whereby they pretended to be worshipping YHWH but were in fact worshipping Baal and Asherah. One way in which this attitude of heart came out lay in the fact that they had first made a covenant with Assyria (2 Kings 17.3). This had only been necessary because they had forsaken YHWH and had followed their false gods. But it had been compounded by the fact that they had then broken their treaty by carrying olive oil to Egypt (2 Kings 17.4).

The thought in the latter was not that they were trading with Egypt, for that would have been permissible, but that they were taking presents to the king of Egypt in order to obtain his backing in a rebellion against Assyria. They were thus doubly treacherous. Had they looked to YHWH there would have been no need for a vassal treaty with Assyria, as Isaiah would point out to Ahaz in Judah (Isaiah 7.1-11). Thus by looking to Assyria they were openly rejecting YHWH. But once having made a sacred treaty with Assyria, to deceitfully go behind their backs and seek assistance from Egypt (see 2 Kings 17.4) was to indulge in double treachery and deceit, and was to court desolation. It was a double rejection of YHWH, for it indicated that in seeking deliverance from Assyria (something that the Deliverer from Egypt was good at if only they would realise it), they instead sought help from Egypt. It was a double whammy.

12.2 ‘YHWH has also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob in accordance with his ways, according to his doings will he recompense him.’

But as ever Hosea also remembers the visits by men of Judah to the Israelite feasts and therefore brings Judah into the sphere of his prophecies. YHWH also had a controversy with Judah. This prophecy was spoken while Ahaz was reigning in Judah, and also busy in rejecting YHWH. And they too were multiplying altars to themselves in hillside sanctuaries. Thus comes the prophetic warning that Judah will not escape YHWH’s surveillance. He knows the way that they take. But it is Jacob/Israel who at this stage will bear the brunt of YHWH’s displeasure. They will be punished in accordance with their ways, and paid back according to their doings. For it is their ways and doings that reveal what is in their hearts. By their fruits they are known.

Compare 10.11 for a parallel mention together of ‘Ephraim - Judah - Jacob’. It is typical of Hosea.

12.3-5 ‘In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he had power with God, yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed. He wept, and made supplication to him. He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name.’

But it need not be so. Let them consider Jacob their ancestor. In the womb he seized Esau by the heel (and subsequently, sadly by deceit and treachery, stole his birthright and blessing), but once he reached manhood, (having to some extent been chastised for his deceit and treachery), he met with God and ‘had power with God’. This resulted in a true repentance which resulted in God finding him at Bethel where YHWH renewed His covenant with him and revealed Himself in all the fullness of His being (by His ‘memorial Name’). And as verse 6 points out, the same could be true for Ephraim/Israel now.

Note the description of YHWH as ‘the God of hosts’. He was the God of the hosts of Heaven, the God who controlled all earthly hosts, and the God Who had in the past given victory to the hosts of Israel. Thus He was the ideal One to have on your side.

So Hosea highlights three important incidents in the life of Jacob, and applies them to Israel:

  • The first was when, whilst still in the womb, Jacob took his brother by the heel, the symbol of his replacing him in the line of blessing, something which sadly he achieved by deceit and treachery. It was the same attitude of heart that Israel were pursuing, except that Israel were doing it by following after idols and after earthly kings. They were eating wind and pursuing the east wind. But what they should have done was be like Jacob, eager after God and His blessing (without using Jacob’s methods of obtaining the blessing).

    Hosea shows no suggestion of rebuking Jacob, and does not mention his deceit. Thus the point is that Jacob was so determined to have God’s blessing that he sought it forcefully right from the womb, with the implication that Ephraim/Israel/Jacob should do the same.

  • The second was when, on preparing to return to the land of God’s promises, Jacob met with God at Penuel. And once again he had shown the same determination to obtain God’s blessing, for he had powerfully wrestled with the angel of God and had prevailed. The introduction of ‘the angel’, an idea not found in the Genesis account, may simply be with the intent of bringing out that, in Hosea’s view, such wrestling had to be with the angel of YHWH, a manifestation of YHWH, and not with YHWH Himself as He was in Himself (the Angel of YHWH is well evidenced elsewhere in Genesis). And it may well be that the idea had already become traditional in Israel in relation to Jacob. The implication is that Ephraim should do the same. They too should seek God and ‘wrestle’ with Him in repentance and supplication.

    ‘He wept, and made supplication to him.’ Hosea may have intended us to see that this happened at Penuel, in which case the weeping was a thought added by him in order to be more descriptive, probably because he wanted Ephraim to see the necessity for tearful repentance, or it may be that he intended us to see this as occurring subsequently to Penuel, as a precursor to the third incident which follows. Either way he is clearly desirous of emphasising the need for Ephraim to mourn over their sin and earnestly seeking YHWH.

  • The third incident occurred after Jacob had entered the land. ‘He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name.’ The first ‘he’ could be referring to God as subject, or it could be referring to Jacob. In view of the purpose of the illustration (to stress Jacob’s taking of the initiative) the latter is probably the case. On the other hand in Genesis 25 it was very much God Who took the initiative. But either way the important fact was that at Bethel God had spoken to ‘us’ (incipient Israel) and had revealed Himself as YHWH the God of Hosts, with an emphasis on YHWH (He will be) as a significant title indicating Him as the One Who will be whatever He wants to be, the One Who has all power to accomplish what He wishes. And in the same context what God wanted was that Jacob’s descendants would inherit the land, the very thing that Israel was now about to forfeit. It was a final appeal to current Israel to put away their false gods (especially the golden calf at Bethel) and seek YHWH in all the fullness of His Being. Then and then only could they find hope.

So the illustrations from the life of Jacob were positive (compare 2.14-20; 11.1, 3-4), and were a calling to a full and deep repentance, which Hosea now spells out specifically. Some try to interpret Jacob’s three experiences in a negative way, but that is only made possible by ignoring what Hosea emphasises and considering things in the background which he does not emphasise.

12.6 ‘Therefore turn you to your God, maintain covenant love and justice, and wait for your God continually.’

He calls on Israel to turn themselves to their God in repentance and submission (compare Paul’s to the Thessalonians, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ - 1 Thessalonians 1.9), following this up by maintaining covenant love and justice, and waiting on God continually. Even at this last moment they were being given the opportunity to repent. But it had to be a deep seated repentance that went right to the heart and resulted in true worship in accordance with the Law, and deep-seated justice, not the shallow kind of ritual in which they were indulging. It required a full and loving response to the covenant, revealing a true and demonstrative love towards YHWH and towards their fellow covenanters.

Furthermore it also indicated that even if they did not respond now there would always be a way back in the future for the remnant who remained. God was leaving a permanent way open for them whenever they would repent. It was an offer that would later be taken up by the followers of Jesus and by those who came after them.

12.7 ‘A trafficker (a Canaanite), the balances of deceit are in his hand, he loves to oppress.’

But Hosea had no illusions about what Israel really were at that time, and he adds the terse comment above, which was a reminder to them of the sins that they must deal with. It indicated that they were unscrupulous dealers, carrying and using false weights, and filled with oppression. They got their way by deceit and bullying, rather than by covenant love (which is totally true and honest) and justice. The stark contrast between verse 6 and verse 7 is deliberate. He wants them to be in no doubt concerning the truth about themselves (compare Isaiah’s ‘we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy (menstrual, and therefore totally ‘unclean’ and abhorrent) rags’ - Isaiah 64.6).

There is a double entendre here for the word for ‘trafficker’ also means ‘Canaan’ or ‘Canaanite’. They were not only dishonest traffickers but had also proved themselves to be perverted Canaanites at heart, that is, to have Canaan in their hearts.

Having Made His Appeal For Repentance Hosea Now Indicates That Ephraim Are So Confident In Themselves That Their Only Hope Will Be After They Have Been ‘Brought Down A Peg Or Two’ (12.8-14).

This passage opens with Ephraim’s boast about their own righteousness. The whole attitude is in contrast with verse 7. There they were depicted as traders who were dishonest and shady in their behaviour. Here Ephraim boast about their absolute honesty. They are confident that no fault can be found in them. YHWH therefore emphasises that because they are altogether false (verse 11) He will bring them out of their rich houses into tents, as in wilderness days (verse 9), and will force them to go into a foreign country where they will have to engage in basic labour for what they want, acting as servants to others (verse 12). However, YHWH stresses alongside this that He will finally bring about their restoration through the work of His prophets.

Analysis of 12.8-14.

  • a And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself, in all my labours they will find in me no iniquity that was sin” (12.8).
  • b But I am YHWH your God from the land of Egypt, I will yet again make you to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast. I have also spoken to the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the ministry of the prophets have I used illustrations (12.9-10).
  • c Is Gilead wicked? They are altogether false. In Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks, yes, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field’ (12.11).
  • b And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep, and by a prophet YHWH brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved (12.13).
  • a Ephraim has provoked to anger most bitterly, therefore will his blood be left on him, and his reproach will his Lord return to him (12.14).

Note that in ‘a’ we have Ephraim’s view of themselves, and in the parallel we have Hosea’s view of them. In ‘b’ their downward descent is described followed by prophetic activity, and in the parallel we have a similar situation. Central in ‘c’ is YHWH’s view of Israel in terms of the falsity of Gilead on the east side of Jordan and the falsity of Gilgal and its multiplied altars on the west side of Jordan.

12.8 ‘And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself, in all my labours they will find in me no iniquity that was sin.”

In total contrast with Hosea’s accusation in verse 7 we have Ephraim’s opinion of themselves, describing themselves as totally honest traders who cannot be faulted, and who have mainly done it on their own (‘I have found wealth for myself’). They considered that although they had become rich there was no one who could question their methods (no doubt they argued ‘its business’ and saw themselves as hard-headed businessmen). Anyone who wanted could examine their way of working and would find nothing at all to criticise in it. And it was mainly due to their own efforts with a little help from God. Indeed that was surely why they had been blessed with prosperity, was it not? This was a clear indication that they did not agree with Hosea’s verdict on them. Rather they were very pleased with themselves. Thus they did not see themselves as needing to repent.

12.9 ‘But I am YHWH your God from the land of Egypt, I will yet again make you to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast.’

In reply YHWH reminded them of Who He was. He was not a comfortable Canaanite god. He was a wandering God and a tent-dweller (compare 2 Samuel 7.6). He was YHWH their God from the land of Egypt, the One Who had accompanied them there and had been with them there in their distress, Who had delivered them through the Red Sea and accompanied them through the wilderness where they had dwelt in tents, as He also had. This was something that they remembered yearly at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) when they celebrated the end of the harvest season and remembered their delivery from Egypt. It had been prior to their entering the land, and building for themselves grand houses. Now His warning was that He would ‘yet again make you to dwell in tents’ (outside the land is assumed). It was an indication that they would shortly be taken back into wilderness days by being taken into exile where they would have to live in crude accommodation.

‘As in the days of the solemn feast.’ There may have been a double meaning here, referring on the one hand to their solemn feasts at Sinai, continuing on in the Tabernacle once it had been erected, and on the other to the regular feast of Tabernacles when they dwelt in booths (or if that was not being observed in that way at some other such feast. For when huge numbers gathered at small cities living in tents would be essential.).

12.10 ‘I have also spoken to the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the ministry of the prophets have I used illustrations.’

He reminded them also that their situation did not arise out of the fact that He had failed to warn them previously. He had spoken to their prophets, He had multiplied visions to them, and He had spoken in many illustrations and parables. Thus they had no excuse for their failure to listen. They had brought what was coming on themselves. Note how this is partly His verdict on verse 8, something which will be exemplified in verse 11. His implied question was, ‘How could they then possibly have been so blind?

12.11

‘Is Gilead wicked?
They are altogether false.
In Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks,
Yes, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field.’

His indictment of Israel continues. Is Gilead (representing the east of Jordan) wicked? The answer is ‘yes, they are altogether false’. In 6.8 Gilead is seen as tainted with blood. Furthermore in Gilgal (compare 4.15; 9.15), representing Israel west of Jordan, they sacrifice bullocks on a multiplicity of altars. Indeed their altars are as numerous as piles of stones in the furrows of the field. Each field would be divided up between owners of various strips, and each owner would pile up loose stones in small piles when clearing his land. Thus a field would be dotted with a multitude of small piles. In the same way Gilgal was dotted with a multitude of altars.

There is a double emphasis on assonance. Gilead and Gilgal, which themselves assonate, both contain consonants also found in galal (heaps). This was probably one reason, along with their association with great evil (6.8; 9.15), why they were selected as representative of rebellious Israel.

12.12 ‘And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.’

He reminds them that just as Israel had gone into Egypt, and had been delivered by redemption so as to be YHWH’s wife, so had Jacob fled to the countryside of Aram and had made a marriage payment for his wife. There, outside the promised land, he had had to work as a servant tending sheep in order to make this marriage payment for his wife, whom of course he would bring back with him to the promised land. Thus he was typical of the fact that Israel would now flee from the land (either to Egypt for refuge, or to Assyria in exile) where they would be subjected to hard living until YHWH again redeemed them to be His wife (3.1-5) and brought them back to the land. The idea of ‘shepherding’ is then paralleled in the next verse.

12.13 ‘And by a prophet YHWH brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he shepherded.’

The close connection of this verse with verse 12 demonstrates that Hosea intended the two descriptions to be seen as connected in their significance, confirming what we have said in verse 11. But as Jacob was not brought back to the land ‘by a prophet’ the illustration had to be altered so that another shepherd, a prophet, could be introduced, in order to bring out the fact that Israel’s movements were now to be ‘determined’ by prophets. Thus Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and preservation until they reached the land (from which Jacob had fled) was described as brought about by YHWH through a shepherd and prophet, an indication that that was also the way in which Israel’s present and future situations would similarly be affected.

As observed a main connection between the two verses is that just as Jacob was a shepherd (shamar), so would Moses shepherd (shamar) God’s sheep as he had shepherded sheep in Midian.

12.14 ‘Ephraim has provoked to anger most bitterly, therefore will his blood be left on him, and his reproach will his Lord return to him.’

Once again Hosea ends a passage with a judgment on Israel. He had commenced it with a description of Ephraim’s view of themselves (verse 8), had centred on YHWH’s view of Ephraim (verse 11), and now he himself presents his own view of them. They have provoked YHWH to anger most bitterly through blood guilt, and it will therefore be left on their shoulders (the singular nouns and pronouns refer to the whole of Ephraim). And in the end their Lord will return it to them, that is, will heap it up on them and will punish them accordingly. Note the reference to ‘his Lord’. That was a notion that Ephraim had forgotten.

Because Ephraim Have Offended So Deeply, And Have Rejected Their Deliverer, Judgment Upon Them Is Inevitable (13.1-16).

The crimes of Israel are again laid bear. They are guilty of idolatry (verses 1b-2), ingratitude (verses 5-6), trusting in false leaders (verses 10-11) and complacency (verse 13), and above all of not recognising their true Deliverer and Saviour (verse 4). Thus they must face up to the curses of wild beasts (verses 7-8; compare Leviticus 26.22)), plagues and destruction (verse 14; compare Leviticus 26.16, 21; Deuteronomy 28.22), desert winds (verse 15), the sword (verse 16; compare Leviticus 26.25; Deuteronomy 28.22) and the loss of women and children (verse 16).

Analysis of 13.1-16.

  • a When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling, he exalted himself in Israel, but when he offended in Baal, he died (13.1).
  • b And now they sin more and more, and from their silver have made for themselves molten images, even idols according to their own understanding, all of them the work of the craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves” (13.2).
  • c Therefore they will be as the morning cloud, and as the dew which passes early away, as the chaff which is driven with the whirlwind out of the threshing-floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney’ (13.3).
  • d Yet I am YHWH your God, from the land of Egypt, and you shall know no god but me, and besides me there is no saviour (13.4).
  • e I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. According to their pasture, so were they filled, they were filled, and their heart was exalted, therefore have they forgotten me (13.5-6).
  • f Therefore am I to them as a lion, as a leopard will I watch by the way, I will meet them as a bear which is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the enclosure of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lioness, the wild beast will tear them (13.7-8).
  • g It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against me, against your help (13.9).
  • f Where now is your king, that he may save you in all your cities? And your judges, of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes?” I have given you a king in my anger, and have taken him away in my wrath. The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up, his sin is laid up in store (13.10-12).
  • e The sorrows of a travailing woman will come on him, he is an unwise son, for it is a time when he should not linger, in the place of the breaking forth of children (13.13).
  • d Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol, shall I redeem them from death? O death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction? Compassion will be hid from my eyes (13.14).
  • c Though he be fruitful among his brothers, an east wind will come, the breath of YHWH coming up from the wilderness, and his spring will become dry, and his fountain will be dried up, he will make ruination of the treasure of all goodly vessels (13.15).
  • b Samaria will bear her guilt, for she has rebelled against her God (13.16a).
  • a They will fall by the sword, their infants will be dashed in pieces, and their women with child will be ripped up (13.16b).

Note that in ‘a’ Ephraim was to die, and in the parallel they will die horribly in war. In ‘b’ they sinned more and more and submitted themselves to idols, and in the parallel they are to bear their guilt for their rebellion against God. In ‘c’ they will evaporate and will be blown away with the wind, and in the parallel an east wind from YHWH will dry them up. In ‘d’ YHWH proclaims Himself as their Deliverer and only Saviour, and in the parallel He indicates that He will now not deliver or save them because of their rebellion. In ‘e’ they were known by God in the land of great drought (as His son - 11.1, 3-4), and in the parallel they are to be left dying in the womb. In ‘f’ wild beasts will hunt them down and savage them, and in the parallel their king is unable to save them in their cities from their enemies (who are like wild beasts), because YHWH has removed their king. Centrally in ‘g’ their destruction lies in the fact that they are against YHWH their Help.

13.1

‘When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling,
He exalted himself in Israel,
But when he offended in Baal,
He died.

In a play on the use of the term Ephraim which can signify 1) Joseph’s son, 2 the tribe of Ephraim, 3) the whole of Israel, and 4) the rump of Israel left in the days of Hoshea, Hosea describes how Ephraim had previously been ‘feared’ and exalted in Israel. When he spoke (as the son of Joseph) men had trembled before him, and it was because YHWH had lifted him up. And later they had trembled before the powerful tribe of Ephraim in the land. Initially this was because Ephraim, as Joseph’s son, was a prince of Egypt, and then it was because the tribe of Ephraim had become the most influential in northern Israel (compare Judges 3.27; 5.14; 8.1). Furthermore from Ephraim had come both Joshua, the Servant of God (Joshua 24.30), and King Jeroboam I (1 Kings 11.26; 12.20) and his descendants. They were rivalled only by Judah.

But now Ephraim had sunk to the depths. They had offended through their worship of Baal. And that meant that in YHWH’s eyes they had ‘died’. They were as good as dead in His eyes. Initially their offence had been when Israel worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness, and subsequently it had been (a) at Baal-peor (Numbers 25); (b) through Baal worship in Judges 2.11-12, 19, (c) as a result of the worship of the golden calves of Jeroboam, and (d) the consequence of the dedicated Baal worship under Ahab and Jezebel. And while Jehu had expunged the worship of the Tyrian Baal from Israel he had still not discouraged the worship of the golden calves, which were inevitably linked with Baal worship.

13.2

‘And now they sin more and more,
And have made for themselves molten images from their silver,
Even idols according to their own understanding,
All of them the work of the craftsmen.
They say of them,
“Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves.”

And they had continued to sin more and more, making themselves 1) molten images of silver, 2) idols which were derived from their own inventiveness, 3) idols which had been made by men’s hands, and which they had the encouraged men to kiss.

The descriptions bring out the folly of their position. The images were made from their own silver, they were inventions of their own minds, they were made with their own hands, and they could be kissed or not as men chose. They were ‘made in Israel’, from Israelite raw material, using Israel’s skilled workmen. And yet they bowed down to them. What folly! And then they even went so far as to persuade MEN to kiss CALVES! Had it not been true it would have been seen as incredible. And this was in direct disobedience to YHWH’s command that they should have no other gods before Him (verse 4; compare Exodus 20.3) and should not make graven images and bow down to them (11.2; compare Exodus 20.4).

No doubt many Israelites would have claimed that when they bowed down to the calves and kissed them they saw themselves as worshipping YHWH and only ‘venerating’ the calves, but God knew that in their hearts it was a demeaned YHWH that they were thinking of, Who was being imagined as a nature god. By it they were stripping God of His unique deity.

13.3

‘Therefore they will be as the morning cloud,
And as the dew which passes early away,
As the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the threshing-floor,
And as the smoke out of the chimney.’

In consequence of their dismissal of YHWH, YHWH would dismiss them. They would become like the morning mist which simply vanishes as the sun continues to rise, like the dew which arrives early and evaporates into nothingness, like chaff which is blown from the threshing-floor by a whirlwind to disappear for ever, like smoke issuing from a chimney and being wafted away into the sky and vanishing. In other words they would be wafted away into nothingness by YHWH.

13.4

‘Yet I am YHWH your God,
From the land of Egypt,
And you shall know no god but me,
And besides me there is no saviour’.

And yet this should not have happened. It need not have happened. What they had overlooked was that He was unique. He was YHWH their God. He was the One Who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, He was the One Who had declared that they should have no other God instead of Him, and He was the only One Who could save men from whatever came against them. If only they had trusted in Him even Assyria could have done nothing to them. For He was the only, true and wholly capable Saviour.

Indeed if only they had realised it, they had been especially favoured. No other nation had had a God like Him. None other than their God could have brought them out of Egypt. None other could have brought them through the wilderness. None other could have given them the land. None other could always guarantee to save, no matter who was involved, and whatever the circumstances. This has been proved time and again, for He was unique in history. He was the Creator, the Controller of history, the sovereign over all things. He was the Lord.

13.5-6

‘I knew you in the wilderness,
In the land of great drought.
According to their pasture,
So were they filled,
They were filled, and their heart was exalted,
Therefore have they forgotten me.’

Furthermore when they had gone into the wilderness, YHWH had known them there. He had watched over them, protected them, provided for them, loved them. he had led them by their leading reins (11.1, 3-4). Even in that land of great drought He had ensured that they were filled, providing them with ‘pasture’ through the manna and the quails. (Alternately the reference is to the produce coming from their later pasture land). But once they were filled their hearts had become exalted, with the result that they had followed their own way, gained too great an opinion of themselves, and had forgotten YHWH.

This was precisely what YHWH had warned against in Deuteronomy 8.11-12, when He said, ‘Take heed lest you forget YHWH your God, --- lest when you have eaten and are full, --- then your heart be exalted and you forget YHWH your God’. It is difficult to avoid the idea that Hosea had been reading Deuteronomy, and saw it as fulfilled here.

13.7-8

‘Therefore am I to them as a lion,
As a leopard will I watch by the way,
I will meet them as a bear which is bereaved of her whelps,
And will rend the enclosure of their heart,
And there will I devour them like a lioness,
The wild beast shall tear them.’

And because of their behaviour and attitude towards them He was about to hunt them down, and tear them apart. He would be like a lion (compare 5.14), like a leopard waiting by the way for prey to come along, leaping on it as it passed by, like a bear bereaved of its cubs, which in its anguish would tear apart men’s breasts which contain their hearts, like a lioness seeking its prey and devouring it. The wild beast would tear them apart.

One of the curses of Leviticus 26 had been that wild beasts would make a prey of the people, and the picture also no doubt includes human ‘wild beasts’ who will do similarly (compare Jeremiah 4.7; 5.6; Habakkuk 1.8; Zephaniah 3.3).

13.9 ‘It is your destruction,

O Israel,
That you are against me,
Against your help.’

But they have turned away from the One Who is their help. And this is what will result in their destruction, the fact that they are against YHWH (something which they would no doubt have hotly denied, but which was nevertheless true), the One Who is their true Help.

13.10

‘Where now is your king,
That he may save you in all your cities?
And your judges, of whom you said,
Give me a king and princes?’

Let them consider that their king and princes have already been snatched away by the wild beasts. Where were they now? If this was just prior to the siege of Samaria, Hoshea, who had gone to the Assyrians to parley, was already in their hands, while many of their princes would have been captured in the fighting, both in defending their borders, and in defending their other cities which had already been destroyed. Thus there was no one left to save them as they waited helplessly in their cities. All the folk around would have crowded into these cities once the invasion came (compare Leviticus 26.25), looking for their king to come and save them. That was why they were built with stout walls. But they could not resist a determined invader.

However, the question may be asking where their king was simply because he was proving to be impotent in the face of the enemy. The implication is that whoever their king and judges were, they would be unable to save them. They had trusted in them, but they could not help them (while in contrast YHWH could - verse 9).

13.11

‘I have given you a king in my anger,
And have taken him away in my wrath.’

For the truth was that their king had been given to them by a God angry at their ways, and now in His wrath He had taken him away from them, as a lion or leopard or bear takes its prey. Israel’s initial king had been given to them in anger (1 Samuel 8), and whilst David had been God’s chosen one, all the following kings of Israel had failed YHWH, had fallen into idolatry, and had been bad news from YHWH, the result of their own disobedience to YHWH. But Israel had no excuse, for they also had been chasing idols and had got what they deserved.

13.12

‘The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up,
His sin is laid up in store.

And this was all because of the way in which Ephraim treasured their sins. They had packaged them up, they had laid them up in store. They wanted to cling on to them and possess them continually. They did not want to do away with sin. And thus they clung on to their sin and made it their own.

13.13

‘The sorrows of a travailing woman will come on him,
He is an unwise son,
For it is time he should not tarry,
In the place of the breaking forth of children.’

But there could be only one consequence of this. Instead of being a living son, led by leading reins, and protected in the wilderness (verses 5-6; 11.1, 3-4), they would be like the son resulting from an untimely birth, trapped in the womb and without the strength to come forth. While his mother travails in sorrow and pain, he tarries in the womb and fails to proceed to the place of breaking forth of children. And finally he dies. And his mother dies with him. (It is not, of course, the still-born babe which is ‘unwise’ but those whom the still-born babe represents).

13.14

‘Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your destruction?
Compassion (repentance) will be hid from my eyes.’

But what of the Redeemer from Egypt? What of the Deliverer from death? They had always relied on Him in the past (as was made clear in verse 4), and in the end He had always delivered them. Will He not then act now in this desperate situation when they are like a still-born child. YHWH considers His reply. ‘Shall I ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol was the dark underworld of the grave)? Shall I redeem them from death? And then with a shake of His head He says ‘No’, and then calls on death and the grave to seize them. He calls on Sheol to come forth with its destruction, and to death to come forth with its plagues, and then to inflict them on His people, because they are no longer His people and compassion is hid from His eyes. He will no longer be their Deliverer. This interpretation fits aptly into the sequence of the passage.

Some, however, argue that while it is possible to put the first two statements as questions, there are no specific indications for doing so in the Hebrew. They would therefore translate as ‘I will ransom them from the power of Sheol, I will redeem them from death’, in other words they would not be still-born, with the corollary being that it would be in order that they might face plagues and destruction. What might appear like mercy would in fact be the opposite. They would be delivered in order to face worse. Sheol and death would still inflict their prey (like the lion, and the leopard, and the bear).

A third alternative that is mooted is that it should be taken as a fully positive statement, in line with previous times when Hosea has suddenly introduced a positive note into a negative context (e.g. 1.10-2.1; 2.7; 6.1-3; 10.12; 11.12b). The idea would then be that whatever might happens to Israel in the meantime, in the end YHWH will deliver them from Sheol, He will deliver them from the power of the grave. The plagues of death and the destruction of Sheol will be rendered powerless because Israel will live again (compare Ezekiel 37.1-14). And nothing can make YHWH repent of that fact, because ‘repentance is hid from His eyes.’ This would tie in completely with Paul’s use of the text in 1 Corinthians 15.55. The main problem with this interpretation is that there is nothing, not even a whisper, in the immediate context to support it. The emphasis in the context is all on death and destruction, while ‘repentance is hid from my eyes’ more naturally means that He will not repent because of the evil of their doings. On the other hand such an interpretation does sit well with 14.1-9.

13.15

‘Though he be fruitful among his brothers, an east wind will come,
The breath of YHWH coming up from the wilderness,
And his spring will become dry, and his fountain will be dried up,
He will make ruination of the treasure of all goodly vessels.’

And just as He had earlier declared that they would simply be blown away by Him into nothingness, now He declares that they will face the burning heat of His anger. Ephraim might at present appear to be fruitful to his brother conspirators among the nations (Egypt, Philistia, etc), but that fruitfulness would be dried up by the scorching east wind, coming from the desert like the breath of YHWH, and his water sources would become dry (compare Leviticus 26.20), and all his goodly treasures, safely stored in the treasure house in goodly vessels, would be ruined.

13.16

‘Samaria will bear her guilt,
For she has rebelled against her God,
They will fall by the sword,
Their infants will be dashed in pieces,
And their women with child will be ripped up.

For Samaria, Ephraim’s capital and leadership source, must now bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God. She is finally responsible for all the idolatry and all the covenant-breaking, and thus she must face the curses threatened by YHWH in Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28. Her people will fall by the sword, their infant children will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open. God is not, of course, responsible for the detail. That results from man’s inhumanity to man. But it is He Who has willed the event and allowed it to happen.

Israel Are Called On To Return To YHWH With The Assurance That When They Do So YHWH Will Restore Them And Love Them Freely, And They Then Learn Of All The Good Things That He Has In Store For Them As A Result(14.1-9). .

YHWH’s terms for His people’s return to Him are now clearly laid out. They include a call from them to return to Him and to be forgiven, and an assurance that they will no more look to Assyria, or to their military arms, or to their idols. And once they do this YHWH assures them that He will heal their backslidings and love them freely, because His anger will be turned away from them.

Once this is so He will water them with His dew, so that they will blossom and flourish, and the result will be that those who live under the new Israel’s protecting shadow will also revive and blossom and flourish. They will repudiate idols, and walk in the right ways of the Lord. Comparison can be made with 6.1-3 where the same principles are in mind.

Hosea has, however, previously made clear that this would in practise not happen until Israel had suffered the chastening of exile., and these words may well have been spoken in the last days of Israel before Samaria was finally destroyed offering hope for the future, but only once they had undergone their chastening.

Analysis of 14.1-9.

  • a O Israel, return to YHWH your God, for you have fallen by your iniquity (14.1).
  • b Take with you words, and return to YHWH. Say to him, “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips (14.2).
  • c Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “Our gods”, for in you the fatherless find mercy (14.3).
  • d I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for my anger is turned away from him (14.3).
  • e I will be as the dew to Israel, he will blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches will spread, and his beauty will be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon (14.4-6).
  • d Those who dwell under his shadow will return, they will revive as the grain, and blossom as the vine, their scent will be as the wine of Lebanon (14.7).
  • c Ephraim will say, “What have I to do any more with idols? I have answered, and will regard him. I am like a green fir-tree, from me is your fruit found.” (14.8).
  • b Who is wise, that he may understand these things? Prudent, that he may know them? (14.9a)
  • a For the ways of YHWH are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will fall in them (14.9b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel have fallen by their iniquity, and in the parallel transgressors will fall in the ways of YHWH. In ‘b’ they are to come to YHWH with words indicating that they will no longer look elsewhere than YHWH, and in the parallel they are asked who is wise to understand, and prudent to know such things. In ‘c’ they will no more call the work of their hands gods, and in the parallel they will ask what they have more to do with idols. In ‘d’ YHWH will heal their backsliding and love them freely, and in the parallel they will return to YHWH and will revive and blossom Centrally in ‘e’ they will flourish under the effects of YHWH’s dew.

14.1 ‘O Israel, return to YHWH your God, for you have fallen by your iniquity.’

Hosea’s initial call is for Israel to return to YHWH their God from the iniquity (inherent wickedness, total disloyalty) into which they have fallen (see 4.8; 5.5; 7.1; 8.13; 9.7, 9; 13.12). The need for Israel to ‘return’ has been consistently made clear throughout the prophecy (2.7, 9; 3.5; 5.4; 6.1; 7.10, 16; 11.5; 12.6), and is mentioned four times in this chapter (verses 1, 2, 4, 7). The idea of ‘returning to YHWH’ comes initially from Deuteronomy 1.45; 30.2, 8. Once they have been carried off into exile it is the message that he wants them to carry with them. It will be a reminder to them that God had not finally finished with them, but that any return could only be on condition of full repentance and a recognition of Him in His uniqueness as Saviour, Deliverer and Covenant God, rather than as a figure to be manipulated through ritual. He is ‘YHWH their God’, the One Who is revealed to them in their ancient records as the Deliverer from Egypt (12.9, 13; 13.4), the God of Sinai, the Only Saviour (13.4), and the Upholder of the Davidic dynasty (1.11; 3.5; 8.4; 13.11). And it is to Him in this capacity that they must return (3.5).

14.2-3 ‘Take with you words, and return to YHWH. Say to him, “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “Our gods”, for in you the fatherless find mercy.’

The way in which YHWH must be approached when they return to Him is not through ritual but through ‘words’. This is not a lessening of requirements but because they have committed ‘sins with a high hand’ for which sacrifices cannot avail (compare David’s sentiments in Psalm 51). Their only hope now is to come to YHWH with deeply repentant words. And Hosea makes clear the kind of words that will be required. They can be analysed as follows:

  • 1). They must approach YHWH ‘with words’ revealing their genuineness. They had sinned with a high hand so that, like David (Psalm 51) sacrifices were insufficient. What was now required was a response of genuine contrition and repentance.
  • 2). They must ‘return to YHWH’, genuinely seeking forgiveness, and asking Him to take away all iniquity.
  • 3). They must call on Him to ‘accept what is good’ (compare 8.3). In other words, to accept a genuine response of heart that sets aside all evildoing and social injustice, together with all idolatry, and offers a life responsive to Him and His covenant. For this is how they will offer to Him the acceptable offering of their lips.
  • 4). They must renounce Assyria and all foreign assistance, and must trust in YHWH alone.
  • 5). They must no longer trust in their own military might, and especially on horses obtained, as they would be, from Egypt.
  • 6). They must guarantee that they will no longer call their own workmanship, ‘our gods’, praying to the work of their own hands.
  • 7). They must submit to Him as ‘orphans’ (the fatherless), acknowledging thereby that they had rejected Him as Father, and seeking His mercy in order to obtain re-acceptance.

It will be noted that three positive responses (1-3) are followed by three renunciations (4-6). It is not enough just to turn from what is wrong, we must first ensure that our relationship with God is put right. The sevenfold picture that ensues is evidence of the divine perfection of their response.

‘So will we render bullocks, (the offering of) our lips.’ ‘The offering of’ is not in the Hebrew and is inserted in order to convey the sense in English. The idea is that their words of repentance and supplication have taken the place of blood sacrifices which, in accordance with the covenant, would not suffice for sins of a high hand. And anyway sacrifices could not lawfully be offered in a foreign country unless YHWH had ‘revealed His Name there’.

It has, however, been suggested that prym (bullocks) should be seen as signifying pry (fruit) with an enclitic ‘m’ attached, added for emphasis. Then it will read, ‘so will we render the fruit of our lips’ indicating that what they say they also perform.

YHWH’s Responsive Love Song.

The words that follow are reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, which may well have been known to Hosea, and are in the form of a love song by which YHWH gives His response. Israel are now no longer an adulterous wife, but a wife who is beloved and fruitful.

14.4 ‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from him.’

YHWH’s response will then be that He will heal their backsliding and love them freely, because in view of their full ‘return’, His anger will be turned away from them. There will be full reconciliation. Their ‘backsliding’ has been briefly defined in verses 2-3 which described what they have returned to Him from, and what is contained in those verses has been described in more detail throughout the prophecy. It had resulted in their total disregard for Him in the normal course of life. But now all that will be changed as a result of their new response to Him. Note the need for their backsliding to be ‘healed’. Only God could enable them to be truly restored from their backsliding, (compare Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.25-27). It would require a new heart and a new spirit. Alternately the thought may be that they will be healed from the consequences of their backsliding.

As a result He will ‘love them freely’, that is He will love them willingly and plentifully, with no restraint, with the responsive and overwhelming love of the lover. The result of this love is then expanded on. It is recounted in three descriptions of the blessing that they will receive, each of which is in three parts, and is expressed in the context of Lebanon, a familiar theme in the Song of Solomon (see 3.9; 4.8, 11, 15; 5.15; 7.4). The mountains of Lebanon were mountains that experienced almost continual dew and were always fresh and fruitbearing. Thus being ‘as Lebanon’ was looked on as having achieved the ultimate in fruitfulness and blessing. They will put down strong roots like those in Lebanon, they will give off delightful scents like those in Lebanon, and their taste will be like that of the vines of Lebanon.

14.5 ‘I will be as the dew to Israel, he will blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.’

YHWH Himself will be as the dew to Israel (compare Song of Solomon 5.2), resulting in their blossoming like a lily (or crocus) and putting down strong roots. The heavy morning dew was an important feature of agricultural life in Israel, providing moisture which enabled plants to flourish when the rains were absent. The lily was renowned for its beauty (‘consider the lilies of the field’) and is especially prominent in the Song of Solomon (2.1-2, 16; 4.5; 5.13; 6.2, 3; 7.2), especially as describing the beauty of the maiden and the idealistic life ‘among the lilies’. Lebanon was famous as the place where trees grew strong roots (this reverses the judgment in 9.16). Thus the idea was that by YHWH’s abundant provision they would flourish and blossom (compare Song of Solomon 6.11) and put down strong roots in the covenant (compare Isaiah 37.31). Overall it is the same idea as is found in 6.3.

14.6 ‘His branches will spread, and his beauty will be as the olive-tree, and his odour as Lebanon.’

As a result of their strong roots their branches will spread, the sign of a healthy tree, and they will have the beauty of an olive tree, one of the most desirable of trees in Israelite eyes (compare Jeremiah 11.16; Psalm 52.8), whilst the odour that issued forth from them would be ‘as Lebanon’ (compare Song of Solomon 2.14; 4.10, 11). No one who had visited Lebanon could forget the beautiful aroma of the trees. It is an idealistic picture.

14.7 ‘Those who dwell under his shadow will return, they will revive as the grain, and blossom as the vine, their taste (name/memorial) will be as the wine of Lebanon.’

And those who dwell under the shadow of the new Israel’s spreading branches will return to YHWH, (or return from exile, compare 11.11), and there they will revive like the grain (recalling the sudden coming to life of the greenery when the rains fell after the hot season, a transformation remarkable in its suddenness), and blossom as the vine (the blossoming of the vine promising a good harvest was always greeted with rapture). The picture is one of abundant fruitfulness and joy. ‘Their taste (literally ‘name/memorial’; compare 12.5) will be as the wine of Lebanon’. No one ever forgot the taste of Lebanese wine, and the taste of Israel will be as sumptuous.

Some see ‘under his shadow’ as referring to YHWH (compare Song of Solomon 2.3), but ‘his’ in context clearly refers to Israel, and the distinction between Israel as a nation and the Israelites as a people was already contained in the picture found in chapters 1-2 of Israel as the mother and the Israelites as her children. The central idea is of all returning to the covenant into which Israel as a whole have now re-entered.

14.8 ‘Ephraim (will say), “What have I to do any more with idols? I have answered, and will regard him. I am like a green fir-tree, from me is your fruit found.”

The bare word ‘Ephraim’ (it is not ‘O Ephraim’) probably indicates that at least the first phrase is spoken by Ephraim, with ‘Ephraim’ signifying the whole of Israel. But recognising that in the whole of the Old Testament YHWH is never likened to a tree, and certainly not to a green tree, a description which could have resulted in dangerous misinterpretation because ‘green trees’ were notoriously regularly connected with idolatrous worship (‘under every green tree’ - Deuteronomy 12.2; Isaiah 57.5; Jeremiah 2.20; 3.6, 13; 17.2; etc), we are probably to see the whole of the verse as spoken by Ephraim. In it Ephraim rejects idolatry once and for all, and declares that, having ceased to regard idols he has rather ‘answered’ YHWH (responded to Him, compare 2.15), and will from now on ‘regard’ Him (by obeying the covenant and following the procedures in verses 2-3). He has thus now become like a green fir tree (the evergreen element indicating permanent loyalty) from whom Israel’s people can ‘find fruit’ (compare verse 7 for the similar differentiation in context between Israel as a nation and the people), a fruit which being from a fir tree will itself grow into strong trees. The picture can be compared with that of Israel as the blossoming lily and the beautiful olive tree (verses 5-6). Here Israel is now a green fir tree. This interpretation suitably caps off the prophecy with a declaration by Ephraim/Israel that they are once more the covenant community through whom permanent and self-sustaining life is offered to all. It is therefore a declaration of the triumph of YHWH.

The majority of commentators, however, rather see the reference to the ‘green fir-tree’ as (uniquely) a reference to YHWH, with the implication being that from now on their fruit will be found from Him and not from Baal (even though fir-tree fruit was not one of Baal’s specialities. His supposed expertise was the grain and the oil and the wine).

Final Conclusion.

14.9

‘Who is wise, that he may understand these things?
Prudent, that he may know them?
For the ways of YHWH are right,
And the righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will fall in them.’

There is a hint of wisdom writing in these final words (compare the similar parallel situation in Psalm 107.43), but it will be noted that whilst the wisdom writers in the Old Testament always contrast ‘the righteous’ with ‘the wicked’, here Hosea contrasts ‘the righteous’ with ‘transgressors’. Being familiar with wisdom writing he calls on it and fashions it in accordance with his own purpose, at least in the first two lines. We should, however, note that the thoughts behind the second two lines are found elsewhere in Scripture, in what some would call ‘Deuteronomic’ literature, with the phrase ‘the ways of YHWH’ appearing in 2 Samuel 22.22 (and not appearing in any wisdom literature). Compare also Psalm 138.5; Deuteronomy 32.4. Furthermore the thought of ‘walking in His ways’ is comparable to Deuteronomy 10.12 (compare also Deuteronomy 5.33). Reference to ‘transgressors’ is found in the Davidic Psalm 51.13 and in Isaiah 1.28 (whose ministry would by now be under way).

That being said Hosea’s purpose here is simply to make his readers consider his prophecy more deeply, something which indicates that the heart of the prophecy is by this stage already in writing. He is emphasising, with all the authority of a wisdom teacher, that the wise and the prudent will take note of what he has said, and with all the authority of the Scriptures available to him that they will do so because YHWH’s ways are right, and because those who are righteous will therefore walk in them.

In contrast he points out that transgressors will fall in them. So all must consider seriously which path they take, and will know whether they are righteous or transgressors by how they respond. Furthermore while the wise will know that His ways are right, it is the righteous who will walk in them. It is a reminder that it is possible to be ‘wise’ without being obedient, and that that then makes the person a transgressor.

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