The Book of Hosea portrays the dangers of the observance of religious ceremony without genuine devotion and commitment to the Lord. When this is true it all too easily leads to compromise, selfish ambition, and lack of integrity in one’s personal activities and dealings. If this becomes characteristic of society at large, dishonesty and corruption become endemic. When these characterize an entire nation, that nation is in imminent danger of God’s judgment.
Such was the situation in which God’s prophet Hosea ministered. Nevertheless, Hosea’s message was more than solemn warnings. It contained a note of hope: with sincere repentance and asking God’s forgiveness, accompanied by renewed commitment to the Lord, God’s people may find forgiveness and restoration to God’s favor and blessings.
The opening words of Hosea’s prophecy place his ministry in the context of the eighth century B.C. The recording of four eighth century kings of Judah provides information as to the length of Hosea’s prophetic ministry, while the mention of just one Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam II, indicates something of the prophet’s particular focus. This becomes apparent when we note that names for the Northern Kingdom such as Ephraim, Israel, and Jacob occur some seven dozen times, while that of Judah a mere fifteen times and that always in connection with one or more of the names for the Northern Kingdom.
The mention of the Southern Kingdom kings from Uzziah to Hezekiah assures us that Hosea’s ministry lasted through a great portion of the period. For Uzziah reigned some 52 years (c. 792-740 B.C.), while the reigns of the three successors lasted throughout the rest of the eighth century B.C. Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom likewise enjoyed a long reign (c. 792-752 B.C.), but the six unmentioned kings who succeeded him often vied with each other for power throughout a period of growing political friction and weakness, which culminated in the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 722 B.C.1 Since Hosea does not mention this event and because the prophet’s focus is on the reign of Jeroboam II, a date for Hosea’s prophecies from c. 760-725 B.C. (shortly after the beginning of the independent reign of Hezekiah in Judah in 729 B.C.) would appear to be reasonable.2
This was an era of dramatic change for the twin kingdoms of Israel and Judah as well as for the surrounding nations of the ancient Near East. Externally, after the death of the powerful Assyrian king Adad-nirai III (783 B.C.), who claimed to have extended Assyrian influence as far as the Mediterranean Sea, Assyria was ruled by a series of weak kings who were unable to do much more than preserve the Assyrian homeland (783-745 B.C.). Therefore, Assyrian domination in the west waned. For Israel and Judah it was an era of unparalleled prosperity for both kingdoms, economically and politically. Together they could claim much the same territorial dimensions as in the days of Solomon before them. As for Jeroboam, Kaiser remarks, “In less than twenty-five years Jeroboam II was able to take a nation that was just about ready to die and turn it into one of the great powers of his day.”3 This included Israelite thrusts into Transjordan and a possible joint Israelite-Judahite campaign into Syria (2 Kings 14:25, 28).4
During Uzziah’s long 52-year reign the Southern Kingdom enjoyed economic prosperity and political power. Uzziah (or Azariah) improved Judah’s military strength, which included the fortifying of Jerusalem (2 Chr. 26:11-15) and launching successful campaigns against his neighbors to the west, east, and south (2 Chr. 26:6-8).
Unfortunately, this high water mark of prosperity for the twin kingdoms would not long endure. In the north, with the death of Jeroboam II in 752 B.C. kings of lesser ability, who often vied with one another for local, if not national, supremacy, ruled the kingdom. Jeroboam’s son Zechariah reigned only six months before being assassinated by Shallum, who in turned reigned but one month before being killed by Menahem. The latter’s ten year reign (752-742 B.C.) was characterized by spiritual weakness and renewed subservience to the rising power of Assyria.
In Assyria a usurper now occupied the throne as Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 16:6), also called Pulu (or Pul, 2 Kings 15:19).5 His reign (745-727 B.C.) marked the beginning of a new day in the ancient Near East, when Assyrian resurgence would blossom into the mighty Neo-Assyrian Empire (745-612 B.C.). Tiglath-pileser’s armies soon ravaged much of Syria, Menahem and Israel paid him a heavy tribute to keep him for engulfing the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 15:19-20).6
Internal squabbling compounded Israel’s difficulties in the face of Assyrian aggression. Although Menahem ruled from Tirzah, a strong rival named Pekah ruled in Gilead. Pekah’s strength was such that after Menahem’s death, he was able to overthrow Pekahiah, Menahem’s son and successor, and claim sole rulership of all Israel (740-732 B.C.). Pekah’s independent rule was faced with a growing Assyrian menace. For Tiglath-pileser III began a second western campaign in 734 B.C. to break-up a western anti-Assyrian coalition. Among the chief dissidents were the Aramean king Rezin and Pekah of Israel. By 732 B.C. the Assyrian thrusts not only brought about the surrender of Damascus but also reduced the entire west to vassalage.7
If Israel’s position was extremely tenuous by 732 B.C., Judah was scarcely in a stronger position. While prosperity had continued somewhat during the reign of Azariah’s son Jotham, so that he could turn his attention to the internal needs of the country, with the accession of Jotham’s son Ahaz Judah was also caught up in the swift current of Assyrian expansion. Although Ahaz wisely resisted joining a western anti-Assyrian coalition led by the Aramean king Rezin and Pekah of Israel, in order to gain relief from their attack against him (2 Chr. 28:5-8; Isa. 7:1-6), he stripped the temple of its gold and silver and petitioned Tiglath-pileser for help (2 Kings 16:7-9).8 Ahaz’s request was honored and Tiglath-pileser launched the aforementioned second western campaign, which eventually brought the surrender of Damascus. Ahaz and Judah were also brought under Assyrian vassalage.9
In the north, Israel remained under Assyrian vassalage. When Tiglath-pileser died in 727 B.C., however Hoshea found opportunity to forego sending tribute to Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.) and sought help from So, King of Egypt (2 Kings 17:3-4).10 The plan backfired and soon Samaria was attacked and after a three-year siege, the Israelite capital fell and its citizens were deported (2 Kings 17:5-6).11
Attempts to correlate Hosea’s prophecies with specific political events, however, have proven to be elusive at best.12 Some prophecies appear to be related to the earlier part of his ministry such as the predicted judgment of the line of Jehu (1:4). Since Zechariah was assassinated in 752 B.C., six months into his reign, this prophecy must have been given during the later period of Jeroboam’s reign. Likewise the charges against Israel in the first section of the book (chs. 1-3) seem best related to the reign of Jeroboam II. This was, as we have seen, a period marked by great economic and political success but growing spiritual apostasy. The subsequent chapters of Hosea’s prophecies tend to reflect the growing crises in the affairs of the Northern Kingdom both externally with Assyria and internally during the years of hostility between bitter political rivals vying for power in the Northern Kingdom. By the end of the book the demise of Israel appears to be imminent.13
The author identifies himself as “Hosea, son of Beeri” (1:1). Unfortunately nothing else is known positively as to the identity of either man. A Jewish tradition suggested that Beeri is to be equated with a Reubenite leader who was taken captive by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III. Thus the genealogical record contained in 1 Chronicles 5:6 tells of a certain “Beerah, whom king Tiglath-pileser carried into exile. Beerah was the tribal leader of Reuben.” Another Jewish tradition held that Beeri was a prophet. Assumedly it is his prophecy that is preserved in Isaiah 8:19-22.14 According to Laetsch an ancient Christian tradition held that he belonged to the tribe of Issachar.15 As for Hosea himself Harrison observes that “from the reference in Hosea 7:4ff. it has been assumed that he worked as a baker. From the various agricultural allusions in the book it could be maintained with equal seriousness that Hosea was a farmer. However, a peasant origin seems improbable in the light of his knowledge of history, his grasp of political affairs, and the eloquent, well-chosen imagery with which his style abounds.”16 Other than these hints all that we know of Hosea comes from his prophecy. There we learn that he was married to a woman named Gomer and had three children (ch. 1).
Hosea was God’s man for a difficult era spiritually. “Prosperity had brought an unprecedented degree of cultural corruption. The much-sought-after political power had opened Israel to foreign cultural influence, including the demoralizing influence of Canaanite Baal worship (2:7, 17; 11:2) with its fertility cults and bacchanalian orgies (4:10-13).”17 Hosea was a man of deep spiritual conviction who throughout his long ministry became progressively concerned both for the Lord’s person and testimony as well as his troubled people. Hosea’s heartfelt concern over Israel’s spiritual complacency, religious syncretism, and critical position in relation to the major powers of the ancient Near East may be felt in the advancing flow of his messages. As Pusey remarks, “Corruption had spread throughout the whole land; even the places once sacred through God’s revelation or other mercies to their forefathers, Bethel Gilgal, Gilead, Mizpah, Shechem were especial scenes of corruption or of sin. Every holy memory was effaced by present corruption. Could things be worse? “18 Nevertheless, he remained faithful to God and his calling through it all. The exact time of his death is unknown, although it seems likely that he did not live to see the fall of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.
A Jewish legend states that Hosea died in Babylon and that his body was buried at Safed, northwest of the Sea of Galilee, on the highest point in that region. According to another tradition he was a native of Gilead and was buried there. To this day the grave of Nebi Osha is shown near es-Salt, Ramoth-Gilead, south of the Jabbok River.19
1 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. (Interpreting the Minor Prophets, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], 21) suggests that “the six Israelite rulers who followed Jeroboam II may have been omitted from this list because of their relative insignificance.” More probably Hosea viewed all six as somewhat illegitimate in that none of them had an unclouded claim to the throne. In that case rightful succession to the throne of Israel ended with Zechariah, the fifth and last king of the house of Jehu (Hos. 1:4). Furthermore, each king in a sense was a usurper who only further fragmented the Northern Kingdom.
2 Duane A. Garrett (Hosea, Joel, NAC [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997], 22) is probably correct in remarking that the length of Hosea’s ministry suggests, “that he became a prophet at a reasonably young age.” Garrett, however, concludes that his ministry may have lasted until about 710 B.C.
3 W. C. Kaiser, Jr., A History of Israel (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 352. See also W. T. Pitard, “Arameans,” Peoples of the Old Testament World, eds. A. J. Hoerth, G. L. Mattingly and E. M. Yamauchi; (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 222. Something of the Northern Kingdom’s reinvigorated economy may be attested in the well-known Samaria Ostraca. For details, see A. J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998) 329-30. For the texts, see ANET, 321.
4 For details, see M Haran, “The Empire of Jeroboam ben Joash,” VT 17 (1967): 296, J. A. Montgomery (The Books of Kings, ICC [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1967], 446) suggests that in 2 Kings 14-28 Judah should be read as Yaudi, a city in northern Syria known in the Assyrian inscriptions as Samal. See further W. Beyerlin, Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 260; C. H. Gordon, The Ancient Near East (New York: Norton, 1965), 219
5 Babylon was always an important administrative center, hence allowed to have its own Assyrian monarch. Here Tiglath-pileser was called Pulu. Shalmaneser V and Esarhaddon would later be known by special names in Babylon (see CAH, 3:32).
6 For the Assyrian text, see ANET, 283; COS, 2:287. T. R. Hobbs (2 Kings, WBC [Waco: Word Books, 1985], 198-200) suggests that Tiglath-pileser was coming to the aid of Menahem against a third party. Whether the 743 B.C. invasion is reflected in Hosea 8:7-10 or refers to Tiglath-pileser’s later invasion (734-732 B.C.) is uncertain.
7 Tiglath-pileser claims that with the overthrow of Pekah he placed Hoshea on the throne as his client king (see ANET, 284).
8 Ahaz also faced a threat from the Edomites on his eastern border (2 Chr. 28:17) and the Philistines on the west (2 Chr. 28:18) at this time.
9 Tiglath-pileser III records Ahaz’s submission (see ANET, 282).
10 Although several theories as to the identity of So have been proposed, he is probably to be equated with twenty-fifth Egyptian dynasty Pharaoh Piankhy. For details see Richard D. Patterson, “The Divided Monarchy,” in Giving the Sense, eds. David M. Howard Jr. and Michael A. Grisanti (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 196-97.
11 The Babylonian chronicles credit Shalmaneser with the capture of Samaria. See A. K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustine, 1975) 73. However, Shalmaneser’s successor Sargon II claims the capture of the city (see ARA, 2:26-27; COS, 2:298).
12 As Douglas Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, WBC [Waco: Wood Books, 1987], 9) observes there appears to be a basic (if not total) chronological arrangement of Hosea’s prophecies in the book.
13 See the discussion in Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, Berit Olam, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 5-6.
14 See Midrash Rabbah, eds. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, trans. J. Israelstam and Judah J. Slotki (London: Soncino, 1939), 4:86.
15 See Theo. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), 9.
16 R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 859.
17 Willem A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 106.
18 E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953), 1:12.
19 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 10.
Hosea was a master literary craftsman. His prophetic style is so elevated that it is often difficult to distinguish between his prose and poetry. Andersen and Freedman conclude that chapters 1-3 are basically written in prose narrative, while chapters 4-14 are typical of poetry.1 As a rule of thumb such an estimate is largely helpful, but it must be pointed out that “most of the prophets were poets and their oracles were delivered and have been preserved in poetic form.”2 Indeed, “one may expect that all of the major genres with the exception of some types of instructional accounts will take on the heightened speech, literary richness, and urgency of tone and message that so characterized poetry.”3 Nevertheless, it is true that chapters 1-3 due bear marks much more characteristic of prose. For example, these chapters are distinctly more narrative in style and the oracles embedded in them are brought together as clusters within the narrative. The narrative itself is arranged in chiastic structure around the marriage theme (see Outline).
Indeed, the marriage theme is a prominent one not only in chapters 1-3 but in various places in Hosea’s prophecy. For example, God is portrayed as a jealous husband (2:2-13) due to the infidelity of his wife Israel (as symbolized by Gomer). Israel has played the harlot by flirting with pagan idolatry (e.g., 4:10-18; 5:3-4; 6:10; 7:4; 8:4-6, 9; 9:1, 10, 15; 10:5; 11:2, 7; 12:11) as well as in its unwise political alliances and unrighteous social immorality. Yet God is also portrayed as a faithful and loving husband who longs for and is willing to forgive Israel (2:14-3:5; 9:1; 14:4).
The marriage theme is also closely allied to that of the covenant. Even though God had redeemed his people out of Egypt and brought them into covenant relationship with him (11:4; 12:9; 13:4), they have violated that covenant repeatedly (e.g., 6:7; 8:11-14). Israel’s sole hope lay in the fact that God’s covenant loyalty and redemptive love for them remained (2:18-23; 3:1-5; 8:1-14; 13:16).
Due to Israel’s violation of her fidelity to God and his covenant with them, there was need of repentance. Repentance, therefore, becomes a prominent theme in Hosea (e.g., 2:14; 3:5; 5:6; 6:6-7; 7:8-10; 14:4) as well as the need for Israel to practice righteousness (10:12; 12:6; 14:9).
The themes of violation of covenant and need of repentance are closely associated with that of judgment. Judgment oracles make up a great deal of Hosea’s speeches. Thus Hosea condemns Israel’s practice of idolatry (e.g., 3:4; 4:7-13, 15-18; 5:11; 8:4-6; 9:1; 10:5, 8; 11:2, 7; 13:2; 14:8) and denounces the priests who have led the people astray (4:4-9; 5:1; 6:9; 10:5). Likewise Israel’s prophets (4:5; 6:5; 9:7-8; 12:10-13) and leaders from royal house to prominent members of society come in for their share of denunciation (5:1, 10; 7:3-7, 16; 8:4; 9:15; 10:7; 12:7). Accordingly, all society is corrupt is in danger of God’s judgment (4:1-6, 14; 5:4-5; 6:8-10; 7:1-14; 8:1; 9:1-3, 7, 15-17; 10:1-2, 9, 13-14; 11:12; 12:8, 14; 13:1-3, 12-13, 16; 14:1).4
Hosea also uses imagery drawn from the agrarian and animal worlds such as the procedures of sowing and reaping (2:3; 8:7; 10:12, 13), and threshing and harvest (2:6, 8-9, 11, 22-23; 6:11; 9:2). Hosea also speaks of vine, vineyard, and wine (2:9, 12; 9:2, 4, 10; 10:1; 14:7). Other images reflect the animal world. Israel is likened to a stubborn, trained heifer (4:16; 10:11), a wild donkey in heat (8:9-10), or a senseless dove (7:11) in her political alliances. Such unions are sapping her strength and Israel is not realizing it. Indeed, her condition is like that of a person who is growing gray but does not recognize the fact (7:9). Israel is therefore advised and warned that God will deal with them like a ravenous lion (5:14-15) or a stalking leopard or angry bear robbed of its cubs (13:7-8). In a dramatic turn of imagery with regard to a future day a forgiving and loving God is likened to a lion roaring for its young to come to him, while the Israelites are compared to doves or birds returning to their nests (11:10-11).
This underscores the fact that although Hosea’s prophecies display a rich mine of images and literary features (e.g., 6:4; 9:5; 11:8; 12:11; 13:10, 14; 14:9), his most characteristic trait is his frequent employment of metaphor and simile.5 As Johnson observes, “Indeed, a thorough treatment of all of these items would practically amount to a commentary on the whole book.”6 His use of metaphor is indeed striking.7 For example, God is portrayed both as a ferocious lion (5:14) and a healing physician (6:1). He was Israel’s provider during the period of their wilderness wanderings (13:5). Although Israel was God’s heifer trained to do plowing, yet the yoke she must bear is her coming captivity (10:11). God is the divine farmer who will reap a total harvest (= the coming judgment, 6:11). Hosea himself is God’s watchman over Israel, yet his way is made dangerous because of the traps along the pathway of his service laid for him by his adversaries (9:8).
Hosea’s similes are equally bold and well drawn. Thus because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and harlotry, she will be exposed like a newborn infant and her land will become like a desert (2:3). Israel’s failure to heed God’s word is likened to the stubbornness of a heifer (4:16). In her foreign policy she is like a silly dove flitting back and forth to Egypt and Assyria (7:11). Such a policy has made Israel to resemble “a flat cake not turned over” (7:8). Rather than trusting God, Israel has wandered over to Assyria like a wild and willful donkey (8:9). How different her present status than when God first brought her into covenant relationship. Then she showed great promise, for it was like finding grapes in the wilderness or early fruit on a fig tree (9:10). Alas, all that she now values will disappear like a bird flying away (9:11).
Israel is now not only spiritually but morally corrupt. Israelite society is so plagued by legal disputes that it resembles “poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field” (10:11). Spiritually and morally bankrupt, Israel will fall to the Assyrians and her king will be carried away like a twig caught in water’s current (10:7). Israel is facing a swift and imminent judgment. Her sudden disaster is pictured in four similes: morning mist and early dew, which quickly disappears with the heat of the day, chaff blown away from the threshing floor by the wind, and smoke pouring out through a window (13:3).
At times Hosea also portrays Judah’s tenuous condition with picturesque similes. No less than Israel is Judah’s faithfulness to God—it is as short lived as the morning mist and the dew of the dawn (6:4). Moreover, Judah’s land-grabbing leadership is compared to those who seize adjacent property by moving boundary stones (5:10).
Therefore, God will deal with both kingdoms by leaving them to their fate. Rather than preserving his people, his judgment will be like the destructive forces of moth and rotting wood (5:12). As noted previously, God is pictured also in a more active sense. In his superintending judgment God is likened to ravenous and voracious animals (5:14; 13:7-8). Yet in a future day his call to them to return from exile will be like that of a lion roaring for his pride (11:10).
A man of such literary skill could be expected to write a well-structured product. And such indeed is the case. Two major divisions in the book are recognized by nearly all expositors (chs. 1-3, 4-14). The first division centers upon Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, itself symbolic of God’s relation to Israel. The second contains a collection of prophetic oracles dealing with the infidelity of God’s people and their need of repentance as well as the Lord’s faithfulness and love despite the need for his judgment against his people. An opening superscription (1:1) and a closing subscription (14:9) enclose the entire prophecy.
Thematic and verbal associations are observable in both sections. Thus chapters 1-3 are structured chiastically with a rebuke of Israel’s infidelity forming the center of the chiasmus (2:14-23 [HB 2:16-25]). Chapters 4-14 fall into three distinct subdivisions, each climaxed or concluding with the prophet’s advice to his people followed by statements regarding the Lord’s continuing burden for his people (6:1-7:16; 10:12-11:11; 11:12-14:8 [HB 12:1-14:9]). The first two subdivisions are introduced by imperatives: “Hear the word of the LORD” (4:1); “Sound the alarm” (8:1), while the third subdivision is initiated by a statement of God’s charge against Israel (11:12 [HB 12:1]).8
The resultant outline can be shown as follows:
I. A portrayal of unfaithful Israel (1:2-3:5)
A. Rejection—Symbolized in Hosea’s marriage (1:2-9)
B. Restoration—On the basis of the covenant (1:10-2:1[HB 2:1-3])
C. Rebuke—Due to Israel’s infidelity (2:2-13 [HB 2:4-15])
B'. Renewal—Based on the covenant (2:14-23 [HB 2:16-25])
A'. Reconciliation—Symbolized by Hosea’s marriage (3:1-5)
II. Perspectives on unfaithful Israel (4:1-14:8)
A. Opening complaints against Israel (4:1-7:16)
1. A threefold indictment (4:1-19)
2. Three guilty parties (5:1-7)
3. A threefold alarm (5:8-15)
4. Prophetic advice (6:1-3)
5. Divine concern for unfaithful Israel (6:4-7:16)
B. Further charges against unfaithful Israel (8:1-11:11)
1. The lesson on the broken covenant (8:1-14)
2. Prophetic reaction: Israel is doomed (9:1-9)
3. The lesson on the unprofitable plants (9:10-17)
4. Prophetic reaction: Israel is a wayward vine (10:1-8)
5. Prophetic advice: Israel is a trained heifer (10:9-15)
6. Divine and Prophetic compassion for Israel (11:1-11)
C. Concluding considerations re unfaithful Israel (11:12-14:8 [HB 12:1-14:9])
1. Her deceitful politics (11:12-12:1 [HB 12:1-2])
2. Prophetic reaction: Israel’s deceitful record (12:2-6 [HB 12:3-7])
3. Her deceitful practices (12:7-11 [HB 12:8-12])
4. Prophetic reaction God’s dealings with deceitful Israel (12:12-14 [HB 12:13-15])
5. Her deceitful pride (13:1-16 [HB 13:1-14:1])
6. Prophetic advice (14:1-3 [HB 14:2-4])
7. Divine consolation (14:4-8 [HB 14:5-9])
Subscription (14:9 [HB 14:10])
The unity of Hosea has often been questioned. Two matters are particularly prominent. (1) Because the majority of Hosea’s messages are largely condemnatory, some have argued that those prophecies that contain a note of hope (e.g., 1:10-2:1; 2:14-23; 3:5; 11:8-11; 14:4-8) must be a secondary work of a later redactor.9 It should be noted, however, that the assumption that a given prophet cannot produce addresses both of judgment and hope is a mere a priori assumption. Moreover, it is patently false, as a glance at the other prophetic books makes clear. Such a blending of negative and positive prophecies is a common feature in many of the prophets.
(2) Because Hosea wrote primarily to the Northern Kingdom, some have held that those passages that refer to Judah (e.g., 1:7, 11; 3:5; 4:15; 5:5, 10-15; 6:4, 10-11; 8:14; 10:11; 11:12; 12:2) must be later interpolations.10 Thus Emmerson follows J. L. Mays in affirming that “the material in its final form has not been left unchanged by the process of its transmission in Judah.”11 It should be noted, however, that the passages referring to Judah cannot be excised without doing violence to the flow of the text. Furthermore there is little to suggest that the text of Hosea has undergone such a redactional history except the predisposition of scholars to find such a process. Indeed, as Stuart observes, “It makes sense to conclude that both Hosea and his audience would have keen interest in the fate of Judah precisely in contrast to and separate from the fate of Israel.”12
We may add that in addition to the literary skills of Hosea detailed above, it is apparent that the prophet has carefully linked each unit of the second division of his prophecy together by means of demonstrable literary hooks.13 These include both thematic and verbal elements. Thus in the first subdivision (4:1-7:16) each of the individual portions is characterized by “threeness.” Moreover, the opening unit (4:1-19) not only carries forward the themes of prostitution and adultery featured in chapters 1-3, but these themes similarly link it with the following unit, 5:1-7 (cf. 4:10, 14, 15, 18 with 5:3). Chapter 5:1-7 in turn is linked together with 5:8-15 by the subject of the need to seek the Lord (cf. 5:6 with 5:15). This in turn sets the scene for the prophet’s advice in 6:1-3 where the need to seek the Lord is furthered by the challenge to return to the Lord (cf. 5:15 with 6:1). The prophet’s advice in 6:1-3 prepares the way for the oracle featuring God’s concern for his people by means of the thought of the need to acknowledge Yahweh (cf. 6:3 with 6:6).
The first subdivision (4:1-7:16) is structured to the second (8:1-11:11) by means of the thought of praying/crying out to God (cf. 7:14 with 8:2). The lesson concerning covenant breaking in 8:1-14 is then stitched to the prophet’s reaction that follows (9:1-9) by the warning that God’s people could “return to Egypt” (cf. 8:13 with 9:3). This portion is then joined to the lesson on the unprofitable plants (9:10-15) by means of the theme of evil deeds/wickedness (cf. 9:9 with 9:15). The emphasis on plants links both the lessons concerning them (9:10-15) with the prophet’s reaction (10:1-11) that follows by means of the keyword “fruit” (cf. 9:16 with 10:1).14 “Plowing” binds the prophet’s reaction (10:1-11) to his admonition (10:12-15) that follows (cf. 10:11 with 10:12, 13). The second subdivision ends with a statement of the Lord’s compassion, which builds upon the topic of children in the prophet’s advice (cf. 10:14 with 11:1) as well as the thoughts of devastation and destruction due to the people’s wickedness (cf. 10:14-15 with 11:2, 6-7, 9).
The mention of Egypt in the closing verse of the second subdivision (11:11) prepares the way for the third subdivision (11:12-14:8 [HB 12:1-14:9]). The first portion (11:12-12:1) centers on Israel’s deceitful politics. As such it prepares the reader for the prophet’s reaction (12:2-6) that follows via by theme of treaty/covenant (cf. 12:1 with 12:2). The emphasis in the prophet’s reaction on the Lord God Almighty is taken up in the next portion (12:7-11) detailing Israel’s deceitful practices (cf. 12:5-6 with 12:9). This in turn blends into the following prophetic reaction (12:12-14) via the theme concerning prophets (cf. 12:10 with 12:13). The long discussion concerning Israel’s deceitful pride (13:1-16) builds upon the prior mention of Ephraim in the preceding portion (cf. 12:14 with 13:1). The foolishness of the sin of idolatry emphasized in 13:1-16 serves as a springboard for the next portion (14:1-3) recording Hosea’s closing advice (cf. 13:2 with 14:1, 3) as well as the impossibility of anyone but Yahweh to save Israel (cf. 13:10 with 14:3). Both prepare the way for the Lord’s closing consolation in which he urges his people to forsake idolatry (cf. 14:3 with 14:8).
Demonstrably, then, Hosea’s prophecies demonstrate his literary skill, which extends even to their ordering so that each unit prepares the reader for the next. We may safely concur with the conclusion of Garrett: “In short, the Book of Hosea should be treated as a literary unity and not as a pastiche of short sayings and messages redacted by disciples. No text is demonstrably secondary and none should be treated as such.”15
Because Hosea’s prophecies were delivered over so long a period of time, no one specific occasion may be cited as the controlling reason for the book. A number of events doubtless stimulated Hosea’s various prophetic oracles. For example, his opening proclamation of judgment against the dynasty of Jehu probably reflects some event late in the reign of Jeroboam II, whom he mentions in his opening ascription. For at his death his son Zechariah was assassinated shortly after taking the throne in 752 B.C. As well, in accordance with Jonah’s prophecy concerning Jeroboam’s regaining of territory lost to Assyrian advances (2 Kings 14:25), this too most likely occurred late in the reign of the weak Assyrian king Ashur-dan III (771-754 B.C.). Although it was a time of political strength for Israel, military success only engendered further spiritual apostasy. Amos, who also prophesied in this era, likewise deplored conditions in the Northern Kingdom and warned of imminent disaster to the house of Jeroboam (Amos 7:11).
Although individual scholars have suggested other particular occasions, none can be ascertained with distinct certainty. Nevertheless, granted the progressive nature of Hosea’s prophecies suggested above, one can sense the increasing tension and political crises, which Israel faced, especially as the Neo-Assyrian Empire took root and expanded after the ascension of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.) to the throne of Assyria (e.g., 5:8-15; 7:11-12; 8:7-9; 9:1; 10:6-10, 14-15; 11:5-6; 12:1; cf. 2 Kings 15:19-31).16 Sweeney adds that Hosea’s position is “markedly anti-Assyrian as he portrays Israel’s relationship with Assyria as a rejection of YHWH (cf. Hos 8:9; 10:6; 11:5, 11; 12:2 [NRSV 11:12]; 14:4 [NRSV 14:3]).”17 Thus Garrett aptly remarks, “Probably most of Hosea’s extant messages come from the last three decades of Israel’s history.”18 Throughout this period Hosea appears to reflect well the growing moral and spiritual degeneracy in God’s people (e.g., 7:1-7; 10:1-4; 11:7; 12:7-14; 13:1-3). Hosea does not specifically mention the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C., yet the demise of the Northern Kingdom appears to be increasingly imminent in Hosea’s later prophecies.19
Throughout his long ministry Hosea endeavored to communicate God’s message to his wayward people. He warned them of their constant preoccupation with Baalism and growing coolness toward Yahweh. Moreover, their immoral socio-economic policies stemmed from their spiritual abandonment of the Lord. Accordingly, his judgment must surely come. No amount of self-reliance due to economic prosperity and expanded political power due to Jeroboam’s successes could spare them. Nor could reliance on foreign powers save them. Thus Hosea urged his people to realize that what was needed before it was too late was a genuine repentance and return to the Lord in full submission to him. If they would do so, a loving God was ready to forgive and restore them. Indeed, such is his ultimate goal. Unfortunately, without Israel’s drastic and immediate change of direction, such would be accomplished through God’s judgment.
The textual problems in the book of Hosea are many and notoriously difficult. The present status of the problem is explained well in the footnote of the NET Bible, which forms the basis for our study. Stuart, however, notes array of hope: “Frequently the Masoretic consonantal text proves largely correct and must simply be revocalized on the evidence of the Septuagint with regard for the Mosaic covenant vocabulary.”20 Concurring with Stuart’s assurance, one must approach the idea of emending the MT with utmost caution, being careful not to press one’s own interpretation of the passage at hand onto the text itself. As elsewhere in the Hebrew Old Testament, the safest course of action is to prefer the MT, which is well attested in the Qumran texts and has been handed down faithfully in the major Hebrew codices for centuries.21 Thus Würthwein remarks, “Our main interest centers in m. In every instance it deserves special attention because it is based on direct transmission in the original language, and it has been handed down with great care… . Any deviation from it therefore requires justification.”22 In sum, despite the difficulties attendant to the text of Hosea, one may say with confidence that as with the textual criticism of the Hebrew Old Testament in general, “Although variant readings have become obvious through the publication of so many manuscripts, inadequate, inferior, and secondary readings have been largely eliminated. In relatively few places is conjectural emendation necessary.”23 We follow Garrett in concluding regarding the text of Hosea, difficult though it may be at times, “The best approach is to try to stay with the Masoretic text unless compelling reasons present themselves for emending.”24
The canonicity of Hosea has never been questioned. Thus the second century B.C. apocryphal book The Wisdom of Ben Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) notes that there were just twelve Minor Prophets (Sir. 49:10). This was also the decision of others Jewish authorities as Josephus (Contra Apion, 1:7-8) and Philo who “refers to or uses as authoritative all the books of the Jewish canon except Esther, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.”25 The Christian Bishop Melito of Sardis (second century A.D.) received Hosea as canonical, as does the tract Baba Bathra of the Babylonian Talmud (fourth century A.D.).26
Of special interest is the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Hosea is cited in ten different manuscripts, in seven of which the exact twelve accepted Minor Prophets are found and with Hosea as the first in the traditional Hebrew order. Moreover, the earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint present the same order for the Minor Prophets with Hosea at the head, as does Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Among the New Testament writers and personalities, Hosea is cited or alluded to as authoritative by Jesus (cf. Hos. 6:6 with Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Hos. 10:8 with Luke 23:30), by Matthew (cf. Hos. 11:1 with Matt. 2:15), by Paul (cf. Hos. 13:4 with 1 Cor. 15:55), by Paul and Peter (cf. Hos. 1:10; 2:3, 25 with Rom. 9:25-27; 1 Pet. 2:10) and in John’s Apocalypse (cf. Hos. 10:8 with Rev. 6:16)27. Thus there is uniform early witness as to the inspiration and authoritative place of Hosea in the biblical canon.28
Hosea’s theological perspective begins with the opening verses. Israel’s spiritual harlotry will bring God’s certain judgment of exile to the nation (1:1-9). Yet the overriding theological truth is that of God’s love. The Lord’s great unfathomable love will one day result in Israel’s forgiveness and restoration in a new exodus event that will bring his people back home (1:10-11). These themes with deep significance resound throughout the book.
Israel’s sin is termed harlotry and Israel is depicted as a harlot (cf. 1:2 with 2:1-13; 3:1; 4:10-18; 5:4; 6:10; 7:6; 9:1). Her sinfulness is that of infidelity against Yahweh her Redeemer expressed in the worship of idols (4:1, 17-18; 5:7; 8:5-6; 9:10) and the pursuit of sinful practices associated with them (4:14; 9:15; 10:5-6; 12:11; 13:2; 14:8). Because Israel has broken its covenant with God (6:7; 8:1, 11-14; 10:1-3; 12:14; 13:16), God’s judgment must come, for Yahweh is a God of justice (4:19; 5:5, 8-12, 14; 6:4-5; 7:12-16; 8:12-14; 9:3-9, 17; 10:7-10, 14-15; 11:5-6; 13:5-9, 15-16). Moreover, Israel has repeatedly violated the terms of the law. Thus Stuart rightly points out, “Understanding the message of the book of Hosea depends upon understanding the Sinai covenant. The book contains a series of blessings and curses announced for Israel by God through Hosea. Each blessing or curse is based upon a corresponding type in the Mosaic law.”29
As noted under Themes, Hosea has much to say concerning genuine repentance and God’s forgiveness as well (e.g., 2:18-20; 6:1-3; 10:12; 12:6; 14:1-4). Such is based upon the fact that Yahweh is Israel’s only Redeemer. It is he who will one day return a repentant and forgiven people to the land (11:1-4; 12:9; 13:4-6, 14) and initiate a new covenant with them (2:18-23; 3:5). For despite Israel’s propensity to sin, Yahweh is a God of love. His undying faithfulness (11:12) and love for his people will ultimately triumph to his glory and for their good (11:6-11; 14:4-7). Tucked here and there within the book is a hint of God’s means of carrying all of this out—a new leader, a longed-for and needed Messiah (1:10-11; 3:5). For his love is but an aspect of that basic quality among his attributes—his holiness (11:9, 12). Ultimately Israel must realize that there is only one God and they belong to him (2:23; 12:9).
1 Francis L. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1980), 60-66.
2 David Noel Freedman, Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1980), 18.
3 Richard D. Patterson, “Old Testament Prophecy,” in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, eds., Leland Ryken and Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 305-306.
4 For the important theme of knowledge in Hosea, see the additional note on 13:5.
5 These and other figures of speech and images will be considered in the Exposition and Notes section.
6 Rick Johnson, “Hosea 4-10: Pictures at an Exhibition,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 36 (1993): 20.
7 See further F. Landy, “In the Wilderness of Speech: Problems of Metaphor in Hosea,” Biblical Interpretation 3 (1995): 35-39
8 It should be noted that the first subdivision is also characterized by the frequent use of imperatives to introduce still smaller subdivisions (e.g., 4:1; 5:1, 8; 6:1).
9 See for example, W. R. Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936), clix, clx; W. O. E. Oesterley and T. H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament (New York: McMillian, 1937), 349; Grace I. Emmerson, Hosea An Israelite Prophet in Judean Perspective (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 1.
10 See for example, B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 377-78; H. W. Wolff, Hosea, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), xxxi-xxxii.
11 Emmerson, Hosea, 2.
12 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 14.
13 For the practice of literary stitching see U. Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1973), 1:1-6; H. Van Dyke Parunak, “Transitional Techniques in the Bible,” JBL 102 (1983): 540-41; Richard D. Patterson, “Of Bookends, Hinges, and Hooks: Literary Clues to the Arrangement of Jeremiah’s Prophecies,” JWT 51(1989): 109-31.
14 The prophet’s reaction is climaxed by citing God’s own words concerning “plowing and sowing” (10:9-11).
15 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 25.
16 A growing importance of Israelite relations with Egypt can also be seen (e.g., 7:11; 9:1-6; 11:5; 12:1; cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4).
17 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 5; see further Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 10-17.
18 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 24.
19 For the suggestion that Hosea may have ministered beyond the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, see Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” in The Minor Prophets, ed., Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 1:3.
20 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 13.
21 For the translation of the existing Qumran manuscripts of Hosea see Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (San Francisco: Harper, 1999), 419-32.As for the Minor Prophets, they conclude, “The text is … in the main that of the Masoretic text” (p.418). For a concise history of the text of the Old Testament and the problems relative to the establishment of a pristine Hebrew text, see Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 155-197.
22 Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 113. Würthwein does not claim impeccable infallibility for the MT but simply goes on (p.114) to demonstrate that “if a reading of m is rejected, every possible interpretation of it must first have been fully examined.”
23 Mark R. Norton, “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament,” in The Origin of the Bible, ed., Philip Wesley Comfort (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2003), 182. See further the incisive study by Martin Jan Mulder,, “The Transmission of the Biblical Text,” in Mikra, eds., Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 87-135.
24 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 27. Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 67) add, “The knowledge of ancient Hebrew gained through epigraphic studies and related disciples has provided new ways of explaining the text without changing it… . As a result, there is less need to alter the text to remove a supposed difficulty.”
25 R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), 185. Roger Beckwith (The Old Testament Canon of the New testament Church [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 79) points out that Josephus in his Antiquities clearly recognized and accepted the traditional Minor Prophets.
26 For a list of early authorities with regard to the extent of the Old Testament canon, see Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 108-114.
27 Corroborative confirmation comes from Jesus’ and the Apostles’ use of the Old Testament in their debates with their detractors Thus F.F. Bruce (The Canon of Scripture [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988], 41-42) observes, “When in debate with Jewish theologians Jesus and the apostles appealed to ‘the scriptures,’ they appealed to an authority which was equally acknowledged by their opponents. This near-unanimity might suggest that some widely acknowledged authority had promulgated a decision on the matter… . as later with the New Testament, so with the Old Testament it is probable that, when the canon was ‘closed’ in due course by competent authority, this simply meant that official recognition was given to the situation already obtaining in the practice of the worshipping community.”
28 For the use of Hosea by the early church, see Alberto Ferreiro, ed., The Twelve Prophets, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 1-56
29 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 6-7.
1:1 This is the word of the Lord which was revealed to Hosea son of Beeri during the time when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah ruled Judah, and during the time when Jeroboam son of Joash ruled Israel.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea declares that his entire prophecy is that which he has received via direct divine revelation. Whatever religious and social conditions he may have observed are not the ultimate source of his prophecies. Rather, they reflect faithfully God’s viewpoint and message concerning his covenant people. Therefore, Hosea’s prophecy is in accordance with the rest of Scripture in reflecting God’s person, purposes, standards, and acts (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Although the primary focus is the situation in the Northern Kingdom, in Hosea’s list of ruling kings contemporaneous with his prophetic ministry he begins with four generations of Judahite kings. This tends to indicate that proper royal succession lay with the Davidic line in the Southern Kingdom. As Sweeney points out, “Hosea addresses both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah from a relatively pro-Judean perspective… . Judah thereby provides the means by which Israel will be restored insofar as Israel will return to YHWH and to David their king (Hos 3:4-5); i.e., when Israel returns to YHWH in Jerusalem and to Davidic/Judean rule, Israel will be restored.”1 To be sure, God had graciously permitted the splintering of the United Kingdom (1 Kings 11:29-38). Yet although he would thereby humble Judah because of its adulterous idolatry, this would not last forever. Indeed, at the division of that kingdom God declared that he would “humiliate David’s descendents because of this, but not forever” (1 Kings 11:39). “Here is both a reaffirmation of the enduring nature of God’s promise to David and the clear statement to Jeroboam and his successors that the house of David will win in the end … there seems to be an implication … that in the future the tribes will all once again be under the leadership of Judah.”2 As indicated above, the fact that only Jeroboam II is specifically mentioned may reflect that any legitimate claim to the throne of the Northern Kingdom ended with his line. Such would be in accord with the details of Hosea’s prophecy in 1:4.
1:1 Joash The NET reflects the MT text here. In 2 Kings 13:10 this king’s name is given as Jehoash but in 13:12 as Joash. The names are thus interchangeable variants. The names are employed similarly in the case of the kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms. Likewise, Uzziah of Judah is a variant of Azariah (cf. 2 Kings 15:1 with 15:30).
The opening three chapters of the book provide a foundation and orientation for Hosea’s prophecies that follow. Israel (the Northern Kingdom in particular) has strayed from its relationship with Yahweh, its covenant God.
1:2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, he said to him, “Go marry a prostitute who will bear illegitimate children conceived through prostitution, because the nation continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away from the Lord.” 3 So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Then she conceived and gave birth to a son for him. 4 Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Name him ‘Jezreel,’ because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. 5 At that time, I will destroy the military power of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) because I will no longer have pity on the nation of Israel. For I will certainly not forgive their guilt. 7 But I will have pity on the nation of Judah. I will deliver them by the Lord their God; I will not deliver them by the warrior’s bow, by sword, by military victory, by chariot horses, or by chariots.”
8 When she had weaned ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) she conceived again and gave birth to another son. 9 Then the Lord said: “Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God.”
Exegesis and Exposition
Due to Israel’s infidelity Hosea is commissioned to pronounce many messages of condemnation and warning. Nevertheless he will convey messages affirming that God’s concern and love for his people remains through it all. Therefore, Hosea can also occasionally include words of hope for Israel’s eventual restoration to God’s favor. This will come, however, only after it has been properly chastised. Then a repentant people will once again enjoy the full benefits of its covenant relation with God.
Something of this was to be portrayed visibly to God’s people through his prophet. Thus God’s covenant relation to Israel was to be symbolized in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer who will prove to be as unfaithful to her husband as Israel has been to Yahweh. Yet following her rebuke and chastisement, Gomer would find reconciliation with her husband. Interestingly enough, both the account of Gomer’s rejection (1:2-9) and that of her reconciliation (3:1-5) are told in narrative prose style, which serves to bookend the intervening poetic sections. Moreover, the structure of these two sections is in each case dominated by similarly presented elements: God’s command, followed by the prophet’s compliance, followed by additional details and God’s explanations.
As the first of his commands (v. 2), God tells Hosea to find and “take to himself a wife of harlotries.” The NET note suggests that this person was very possibly and active prostitute and may have been serving in that capacity in a pagan temple. Such temples were mainly devoted to the Canaanite god Baal. Many expositors have suggested similar ideas (e.g., Andersen and Freedman, Craigie, Mays) including the thought that Gomer was already a woman of questionable character (Garrett, McComiskey). If the text is to be taken at face value and not dismissed as a mere literary device such as a parable or allegory (Calvin) or was a dream or visionary experience (Ibn Ezra, Maimonades), then some sensible reason for the command, which is true to the context, must be sought.
One is immediately struck by the concern that God is somehow a partaker of evil by giving Hosea such a command, which appears to be in clear violation of his own standards (e.g., Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Indeed, adultery is repeatedly condemned in the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Sam. 11:1-5; Prov. 2:16-19) and treated with severe penalty (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:23-24). Some have attempted to soften the force of the command by suggesting that since Gomer was a woman without male support trapped in an ancient Semitic culture, prostitution was one way of supporting herself (Sweeney). To be sure prostitution was simply recognized as a fact of life (e.g., Gen. 38); yet this by no means would excuse Gomer’s actions as Hosea’s wife. Some argue that Gomer was merely guilty of spiritual adultery as a devotee of some form of paganism ( (Stuart).
Because the full context demands that Hosea’s experience was designed to be symbolic of Yahweh’s relation with Israel, it would seem best that God tells Hosea to obtain a wife who like Israel would later prove to be unfaithful (cf. Hubbard, Wood).3 Such an understanding provides a clear parallel with God’s own relation to his covenant people as demonstrated throughout Hosea’s prophecies (see also Jer. 2:24-35). This position preserves both the integrity of God’s character and the standards of his word while allowing Hosea’s life situation to serve as a visible spiritual lesson for the people to whom he was called to minister. Experientially, however, this would be a source of further heartbreak for both the Lord and his people. As McComiskey points out, “The consonance of the marriage with the history of Israel is one of the strongest arguments for the proleptic view. If Israel was pure when God found her and took her as his bride, then the marriage of Hosea to Gomer should parallel that aspect of Israel’s history and Gomer could not have been a harlot at the time of her marriage.”4
The following phrase has likewise stimulated a great deal of discussion and occasioned a wide variation in translations. The Hebrew text simply reads, “and children of harlotry.” The NET takes this to mean that Hosea’s wife will have children born of her prostitution. Similarly, the NLT assumes the view that some, possibly all, of Gomer’s children were to be fathered by someone other than Hosea. The REB tends to support the thought that the children could come from the union of Hosea and Gomer. Actually the MT simply reports that embedded in God’s command to Hosea was the added message that he would have children tainted by the situation of their mother. The following verses clearly indicate that Hosea fathered their firstborn son. Though such is not distinctly stated with regard to the second and third children, there is no need to suggest that they were not Gomer’s through Hosea.5
The main stress of the context, however, is on the symbolic role that Gomer bears as a metaphor of Israel’s spiritual nature. As Stuart rightly points out, harlotry/prostitution is a well-known term in the ancient Near East for covenant disloyalty (cf. Exod. 34:15, 16; Lev. 17:9; 20:6; Deut. 31:16; 2 Chron. 21:11, 13; Ezek. 16; 23).6 Gomer’s promiscuity would result in the fact that her children would be born in an environment tainted and influenced by their mother’s vices. Similarly, Israel has long been spiritually unfaithful to its covenant Lord thus creating an adulterous atmosphere, which was perpetuated in Hosea’s present generation. As Gomer was Hosea’s unfaithful wife, so spiritually Israel was Yahweh’s adulterous “wife” (cf. Isa. 54; Jer. 2:2-3). Just as Gomer had children, which bore the taint of their mother’s lifestyle, so individual Israelites were children of that covenant nation living in an atmosphere of spiritual infidelity. Would they profit by Hosea’s living example?
Hosea proceeds to record the specific charges concerning the Northern Kingdom’s spiritual infidelity. For when the firstborn son would arrive, Hosea was to name him Jezreel (“God will sow/scatter”). The reason assigned to the name is that the name will serve as a reminder of the besetting sin of the present dynasty. Jehu had been commissioned to bring the evil Omride dynasty to an end together with the rule of Ahab and Jezebel because of their bloody purge of God’s prophets and faithful people (2 Kings 9:7-10). Jehu indeed carried out his commission but exceeded it by putting to death any and all rivals as well as many innocent people. Having killed the prophets of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-30), he proceeded to be just as unfaithful to God as Ahab by adopting the apostate religious practices of Jeroboam I, the founder of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 10:31). As Garrett observes, “God visited the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu because, in the final analysis, his dynasty’s rule was little better than that of Jeroboam I or of Ahab and Jezebel.”7
Jehu was ever the opportunist using every situation to further his own goals or to preserve himself. Thus the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III portrays Jehu’s “submission” to the Assyrian king together with a note as to the tribute that he received from him.8 Jehu’s successors were little better. Even though the present king Jeroboam II had many military victories to his credit, he perpetuated the existing spiritual infidelity (2 Kings 14:24). Therefore, the present dynasty stood condemned and due for God’s judgment; the final judgment of the Northern Kingdom would follow in the not too distant future (Hos. 1:4). Ironically, the death of Zechariah, the last king of Jehu’s dynasty, occurred in “Ible’am” close to where Jehu massacred the royal house of Judah (2 Kings 9:27; 10:12-14). As the Jehu dynasty had begun, so it would end in the Valley of Jezreel.
Hosea goes on to record the birth of his daughter (v. 6) whom he dutifully named Lo-Ruhamah (“no pity/mercy”). The name reflected God’s certain judgment of the Northern Kingdom. Israel stood guilty and accordingly would not experience his forgiveness. Although Yahweh is a God of forgiveness, he is also a God of justice and therefore, judgment (cf. Exod. 34:6; Deut. 4:31). Only contemporary Judah would experience God’s mercy, but that not because of any military prowess. Israel’s present king, Jeroboam II, had achieved great things militarily (2 Kings 14:25-27). Had the people come to glory in military strength? Political and military strength alone would not spare Israel from God’s judgment. Nor would Judah thus be spared. Judah’s salvation depended solely upon its covenant faithfulness to “the LORD their God” (v. 7).
The third child was a second son. He was to be named Lo Ammi (“not my people”; vv. 8-9). This last of the three children underscored Israel’s tragic situation. God would no longer call this generation his people. Rather, because they had violated the basis of their covenant relation with the Lord, they would suffer his alienation. This pointed to their many disastrous defeats, and the eventual capture and deportation of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23). Just as in the case of Isaiah’s children (Isa. 7:14-8:10), so Hosea’s children depicted the spiritual realities that would have an important bearing upon the people of Israel. As Sweeney suggests, the name of the third child is a virtual reversal of God’s statement at the founding of the nation (cf. Exod. 6:6-7; Lev. 26:12) and signals “the disruption of the relationship between YHWH and Israel.”9
1:2 The opening clause “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea” (NET) describes Hosea’s initial call to serve the Lord. From the very first his ministry and commission would involve great personal sacrifice. For his service would entail a life-changing experience that included the opposite of what any man could expect for a wife. He understood, however, that his life and his prophetic ministry would fulfill an even higher expectation—that of representing visibly in his personal experience the very experience that God had with his people Israel. As Israel once began her relationship in purity with her Lord (her spiritual husband) yet became unfaithful, so Hosea would have the duty and privilege of portraying graphically the theological alienation between God and his people through his life with Gomer.
1:2 The NET rightly understands the Hebrew “take yourself a woman” as indicative of marriage (e.g., Gen. 4:19). Contrary to McComiskey’s view that the phrase “illegitimate children” means “born out of wedlock,”10 so that in marrying Gomer Hosea would also assimilate her previously born illegitimate children, it need mean nothing more than that the children born to Hosea and Gomer would bear the taint of a now immoral mother.
1:3 The name Gomer is normally given to men (cf. Gen. 10:2, 3; 1 Chron. 1:5, 6). Likewise, the name Diblaim is unusual since it is a dual rather than singular noun (but note also Ephraim). The nature of her name and patrilineage may point to the unusual nature of Hosea’s entire relationship with his wife.
1:4 The fertile Jezreel Valley served as an important agricultural center (e.g., 1 Kings 21:1-3) and was a key trade route connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Jordan River and inland commercial centers stretching from Egypt to Damascus. Therefore, it became the scene of many key military battles for fledgling Israel (e.g., Judg. 4:5-6, 7; 1 Sam. 29:1) as well as serving as the military highway for later Assyrian campaigning. Still later it would become the location of the battle between King Josiah of Judah and the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29-30). The city of Megiddo, which overlooks the west end of the Valley of Jezreel, is linked with the warfare in eschatological times (Rev. 16:14-16).11
1:6 The verbal phrase kî na„sÃo„á àesÃa„ la„hem has occasioned a variety of suggestions as to its force. Garrett decides for a positive reading meaning “I will completely forgive them.”12 Thus God’s coming judgment upon Israel as well as his eventual forgiveness is placed side by side in balanced relationship. Others hold that the negative particle found in the preceding clause concerning Israel’s judgment is to be understood as likewise controlling this succeeding clause. Therefore, both Israel and Judah should expect neither God’s mercy nor his forgiveness.13 Most commentators support a balanced position, which sees Israel’s condemnation and Judah’s deliverance as reflected in the NET.
1:9 Some have considered the name of the third child “not my people” as signifying that this son is surely not Hosea’s. This is not at all certain on the basis of the text and need not be the case. Rather, the name signifies the rift between Yahweh and Israel that will ensue as a result of Israel’s infidelity as specified in the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 26:12-45; Deut. 27:8-10).
1:10 [2:1] However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” 11 Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great! 2:1 Then you will call your brother, “My People” (Ammi)! You will call your sister, “Pity” (Ruhamah)!
Exegesis and Exposition
The Lord next informs Hosea and his hearers of matters beyond the time of Israel’s coming punishment. With its judgment completed a repentant and restored Israel will flourish once again. The alienated “not my people” will become “children of the living God.” At that time of God’s blessing their numbers would increase to become as innumerable as “the sand on the sea.” The simile would not be lost to the perceptive Israelite. For he would understand that such a promise is in accordance with the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Gen. 22:17). Moreover, like Jacob of old returning to the land (Gen. 32:1-13), so in the future there will be a massive return to the land resulting in “descendants like the sand of the seashore, too numerous to count” (Gen. 32:13).
In that day the divided kingdom shall exist no longer. For there will be one people under one leader (lit., “one head”). The reference is doubtless to the terms of the Davidic Covenant (cf. Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24; Hos. 3:5). Symbolic of that blessed future era he who was termed “not my people” will be changed into “my people” and she who was “no mercy” will be known as “mercy.” As well there is focus on the restoration of life—indeed, a more abundant life—in the land. For it will be the “day of Jezreel.” Here the prophecy builds upon the name of Hosea’s firstborn son. No longer is the emphasis on Israel’s scattering, however, but on the Lord’s sowing of new life in a restored land of Israel.
In all of this Hosea provides a hint of the dominant covenant theme of the Old Testament. Much like the inviolable Royal Grant treaties of the ancient Near East, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-8) was irrevocable. Yet it would be channeled through the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:11-16; 1 Chron. 17:10-14; 2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:28-39) and ultimately both would find their climax and completion in one grand New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-17; 33:25-26; Ezek. 34:11-14, 22-30; 37:22-27). Crucial to this covenant theme is its emphasis on the concept of a messianic king/leader in whom all things will find their culmination (Isa. 7:13-17; 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Pss. 2:7-12; 110:1-2; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24).
The messianic force of this passage was not lost on the Apostle Paul. For in Romans 9:22-29 he draws upon Hosea’s prophecy together with others to emphasize that in addition to the Jewish people, gentile believers would likewise enjoy the blessings of the one Messiah Lord, even Christ Jesus. The inclusion of non-Jews is also envisioned as early as the Abrahamic Covenant of the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) and becomes a prominent theme in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8, 26-29; Eph. 2:14-15). Indeed, in a far richer way all believers now stand in vital union with Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:18-22, 27).14 No less than the Israel of Hosea’s day, New Testament believers look forward with great hope and anticipation of that future time when David’s heir, Jesus Christ, will reign in the midst of a regenerated and purified people composed of all tongues, tribes, and nations living on a refreshed, God-enriched, and blessed earth (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 11:15; 21-22).
1:10 [2:1] The transition from a narrative prose style relative to Hosea’s marriage and family life to a poetic prediction concerning Israel’s future is marked by the twice occurring familiar prophetic marker we†ha„ya„h, “it shall come to pass”—rendered ad sensum in the NET (see notes). For the image of the sand of the sea as conveying vast uncountable numbers, see Joshua 11:4; 1 Samuel 13:5; Isaiah 10:22; cf. Romans 9:27.
2:1 [2:3] The reading of the Hebrew text is in the plural: “your brother” and “your sister.” This appears to conflict with the singular nouns “my people” and “mercy” that follow. Accordingly, “brothers” and “sisters” are often rendered as singular nouns (e.g., LXX). The more difficult reading of the MT is to be preferred. In any case the MT nouns may be viewed collectively—each of the brothers and sisters being called by the appropriate title. In either case the result is the same, the translation ad sensum being properly reflected in the NET.
1 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:9.
2 R. D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1 & 2 Kings,” EBC , ed., Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:111.
3 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Hard Sayings of the Old Testament [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988], 217-219) perhaps misrepresents the situation in suggesting that not only was Hosea to marry Gomer who “was not a harlot at that time” but that Hosea was “unaware of what God discerned in the heart of Gomer, that she had an adulterous predisposition and a bent toward sexual promiscuity.”
4 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 13. Among those who have decided for an initially chaste Gomer who became an adulteress, see B. Hefling, “Hosea 1-3: Love Triumphant,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 36 (1993): 9-19 and R. Vasholz, “Gomer—Chaste or Not?: A Philological Note,” Presbyterion 19 (1993): 48-49, who questions the legitimacy of Gomer’s children after the birth of Jezreel.
5 McComiskey (“Hosea,” 15-16) takes the unlikely view that two groups of children are in view—one that Gomer had before her marriage and were subsequently adopted by Hosea, and a second born to Hosea and Gomer after their marriage.
6 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 27.
7 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 57. H. Hailey (A Commentary on the Minor Prophets [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971], 137) observes, “One may do the command of the Lord and yet be in rebellion against Him, doing the thing commanded because it is what the individual desires and not because it is what God desires.” Likewise A. R. Fausset (A Commentary Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948], 4:461) “If we do the will of God merely for the sake of our own ends, and not from the pure principle of obedience, we are not pleasing God, but pleasing ourselves; and however prosperous we be for a time, in the end must pay an awful penalty for disobedience.”
8 See Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 144.
9 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:21-22.
10 “Hosea,” 15
11 For a discussion of the importance of The Valley of Jezreel, see P. Wegner, “Jezreel Valley,” NIDOTTE, 4:777-779.
12 Hosea, Joel, 60-62.
13 See Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 188-94; David Allan Hubbard, Hosea TOTC (Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1989), 64-65; Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 20-21.
14 See the classic studies on union with Christ by A.T. Pierson, In Christ Jesus (Chatanooga: AMG Publishers [n.d.] and A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1954), 793-809.
The account of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the resultant condition of the children born to them is resumed in chapter three. The symbolism inherent in Hosea’s family relations prepares the reader for the present account dealing with the Lord’s relation to Israel.
2:2 Plead earnestly with your mother
(for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband),
so that she might put an end to her adulterous lifestyle,
and turn away from her sexually immoral behavior.
3 Otherwise, I will strip her naked,
and expose her like she was when she was born.
I will turn her land into a wilderness
and make her country a parched land,
so that I might kill her with thirst.
4 I will have no pity on her children,
because they are children conceived in adultery.
5 For their mother has committed adultery;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, “I will seek out my lovers;
they are the ones who give me my bread and my water,
my wool, my flax, my olive oil, and my wine.
6 Therefore, I will soon fence her in with thorns;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
7 Then she will pursue her lovers, but she will not catch them;
she will seek them, but she will not find them.
Then she will say,
“I will go back to my husband,
because I was better off then than I am now.”
8 Yet until now she has refused to acknowledge that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil;
and that it was I who lavished on her the silver and gold –
which they used in worshiping Baal!
9 Therefore, I will take back my grain during the harvest time
and my new wine when it ripens;
I will take away my wool and my flax
which I had provided in order to clothe her.
10 Soon I will expose her lewd nakedness in front of her lovers,
and no one will be able to rescue her from me!
11 I will put an end to all her celebration:
her annual religious festivals,
monthly new moon celebrations,
and weekly Sabbath festivities –
all her appointed festivals.
12 I will destroy her vines and fig trees,
about which she said, “These are my wages for prostitution
that my lovers gave to me!”
I will turn her cultivated vines and fig trees into an uncultivated thicket,
so that wild animals will devour them.
13 “I will punish her for the festival days
when she burned incense to the Baal idols;
she adorned herself with earrings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but she forgot me!” says the Lord.
Exegesis and Exposition
As Israel’s rejection was symbolized in Hosea’s marriage (1:2-9) yet followed by a prophecy of God’s future restoration of his people (1:10-2:1), so in chapter two God’s rebuke yet future renewal of chastised Israel (2:2-13; 2:14-23) is portrayed with many additional details.
Hosea displays his literary skill throughout the second chapter by his use of rich imagery and literary figures. The account of God’s spiritual relation with Israel is built upon several distinctive metaphors, which are symbolized in Hosea’s situation with Gomer. Just as Hosea was married to Gomer, who became the mother of their three children, so Yahweh is presented metaphorically as a husband to Israel, who is the mother of the present day Israelites (i.e., the children—corporate Israel as typified especially in its leadership).1 These metaphors are extended and may portray an allegory, in which God’s on-going relation with his people is pictured.2
Although husband Yahweh has provided for his wife Israel through the ages the benefits of their covenant relations (vv. 8-9; cf. Num. 18:11-12; Deut. 8:18; 27:3-14; 28:51), that provision was taken for granted, progressively more ignored, and capped by Israel’s spiritual adultery in serving Baal. Therefore, as Hosea was to separate himself from Gomer for awhile, so in accordance with the terms of the covenant (e.g., Deut. 8:19-20; 28:18, 30-42, 64-68), God will separate himself from Israel by sending his people into exile. In the future, however (2:14-23), just as Hosea is to seek and return Gomer to full familial status (cf. 3:1-3; Deut. 30:1-10), so Yahweh will one day restore a chastised and repentant people to full covenant privileges (cf. 1:10-2:1; 2:16-23; 3:4-5). Indeed, Hosea builds upon the emphasis of the previous verse (2:1) concerning the changed symbolic names attached to the future Israelites by advising the present day Israelites (the children) to “plead earnestly” with their mother (corporate Israel, especially its leadership). It is a strong call for a rebuke that hopefully will result in such conviction that Israel will change its ways. The Hebrew verb (rîbu‚) in the twice-pronounced command most commonly is used in the sense of “strive/contend.” As elsewhere in the prophetic writings, whether the root is used in its verbal or nominal forms, Hosea employs it in delivering the Lord’s complaint against his covenant people (cf. Jer. 2:9; Mic. 6:1). God’s basic charge against Israel, which is duly noted in verse 5, reflects the opening statement against Israel’s “adulterous lifestyle” (v. 2).
In what follows Hosea reiterates the Lord’s warnings by revealing what Israel may expect to experience in the face of God’s coming judgment of his people. Did Israel put its trust in Baal’s supposed provision of the basic necessities of life: food, water, and clothing as well as the fertility of the soil and economic prosperity (vv. 3-5, 13)? She would soon learn that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who has provided these things (v. 8). What he had given he will take away (vv. 3-4, 9-10, 12).
God’s charges against Israel are not without foundation. By Hosea’s day Israel had already formed a strong attachment to the Canaanite god Baal. Indeed, as early as their wilderness journey some Israelites had become infatuated with Baal and even indulged in the heinous rituals associated with his worship (Num. 25:3-5). As Cole points out, “Baal … would become the primary antagonist to Yahweh for the hearts of the people of Israel from this setting to the end of the two Israelite kingdoms.”3 Once in the land some of the people even built an altar to Baal (Judg. 6:25-34) and by the era of the divided kingdom Baalism became the chief besetting sin of the people (e.g., 1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:16-40, etc.). Therefore, his worship is often condemned in the latter prophets (e.g., Jer. 2:8; 7:9; 11:11-17; 32:26-35; Zeph. 1:4).
To be sure, contemporary Israel still followed the religious traditions of its forefathers; yet these had become largely meaningless rituals (v. 11). Such syncretistic practices would avail nothing and could not prevent Israel’s soon coming judgment (v. 13). God had a purpose in this. By taking away the blessings that he had bestowed upon Israel, it could be hoped that Israel would come to her senses and say, “I will go back to my husband, because I was better off then than I am now” (vv. 6-7).
Here Hosea employs an interesting play on words. For in worshiping Baal Israel regarded the Canaanite god as its providing husband rather than Yahweh. Because the noun baàal can mean husband as well as such other meaning as master and lord, by worshiping Baal they were acknowledging him as both lord and as husband. Such even is highlighted further in that God’s relation to Israel is described metaphorically under the figure of marriage with God as husband and Israel as his wife (Isa. 54:1, 5). Unfortunately, the Lord’s “wife” had proven to be unfaithful (Jer. 2:1-3:10). Hosea avoids any confusion between God as husband and Baal by pointing out that chastised wife Israel will return to her husband (MT, áîsŒ; lit., “man”) some day. So distasteful had Israel’s capitulation to Baal been, that her return to her husband is designated by a term other than baàal (cf. 2:16-17). Only when Israel has realized just who is her natural spiritual husband, will it regain the blessings of its marriage relationship (cf. Isa. 2:4-5; Hos. 3:5).
Hosea’s warnings to Israel serve as precedent for the church. Just as Israel was spiritually speaking the wife of Yahweh, so the church is the bride (Rev. 9:7) of her heavenly bridegroom Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-27). As Israel and Old Testament believers were called and charged to be faithful to the Lord and his standards, so the church and New Testament believers are to be careful to avoid anything that may compromise either their faith or faithfulness to Christ (cf. 1 John 5:21).
2:2 The root rîb appears in contexts dealing with strife or quarrels. At times it is used of formal situations of adjudications before either civil or religious authorities (e.g., Deut. 19:17; 2 Sam. 15:1-6). Therefore, some have suggested the existence in prophetic texts of a rîb pattern involving the thought of a lawsuit in which Yahweh brings formal charges against his people. Thus The New Jerusalem Bible translates the lines in question: “To court, take your mother to court!” Stuart proposes that in this passage Yahweh is not only the plaintiff but the prosecuting attorney, judge, and jury as well as “the police officer who will carry out the court’s judgment.”4 Israel is the defendant who must answer the charge of adultery with her lover, Baal. Such a position seems strained at best, however. Thus Garrett points out, “Not every accusation is a courtroom accusation, even metaphorically; people often accuse one another of misdeeds outside courts of law.”5 Rather than a lawsuit, God’s word against Israel is brought as a means of correction and a warning as to coming judgment should his people not change their ways. Thus the NET rightfully treats the verb in question in a manner reflecting God’s great concern for his people.6
2:2 The NLT’s “adulterous lifestyle” and “sexually immoral behavior” are ad sensum translations of the Hebrew “adulteries from her face” and “adultery from between her breasts.” Sweeney7 suggests that the terms may refer to jewelry or ornaments worn by a bride (cf. 2:13 with Gen. 24:22, 30, 34) and may be deliberately sarcastic “to signify both the wife’s marriage state and the adultery with which the husband chargers her.”
2:2-3 The statement that Israel is “no longer my wife” has occasioned a great deal of discussion. In an earlier study C. H. Gordon proposed on the basis of supposed parallels from Nuzi that the statement reflects common ancient Near Eastern divorce language.8 To the contrary, after a thorough study of divorce formulae in ancient Mesopotamia and Israel as well as the Talmud, Maria Dass9 decides that Hosea and Gomer are to experience separation, not divorce. Still others propose a mediate position suggesting that although a divorce has been contemplated such has not been decided.10
2:3-5 Although in ancient Mesopotamia the denuding of a wife appears to have played a role in the divorce proceedings, the stripping of Israel naked may be explained metaphorically as referring to the devastating of Israel’s land in order to destroy its food supply. Whether such was to occur through draught, plague, or by foreign invaders is not specified. Such a sentence would make good sense because Israel is guilty of wrongly attributing the produce that she enjoyed to the false deities, which she worshiped.
2:6-7 Israel’s being fenced in or walled would prohibit its further resorting to false idolatrous practices. Stuart finds in this metaphor an allusion to the confining of “a dumb animal who tends to wander off from its owner (cf. 4:16; 8:9)” and suggests that the threatened restraining will be realized in progressive foreign encroachment, which eventually will lead to Israel’s subjugation.11
2:8-9 Grain, new wine, and olive oil were not only key products in ancient Israel but understood to come from God as blessings for covenant faithfulness (cf. Deut. 7:12-13; 11:13-14). Unfaithfulness, however, could occasion God’s withholding of such products as a means of punishment (e.g., Joel 1:10-18; Hag. 1:7-11) or they could be taken away by foreign invaders (cf. Deut. 28:47-51).
2:10 By Israel’s “lewd nakedness” is meant its fascination and flirtation with pagan deities. As Andersen and Freedman observe, “There is a poignancy in this. Israelite society had strict taboos against public nakedness.”12 Indeed, nakedness was viewed as shameful (e.g., 2 Sam. 10:4; Micah 1:11). Israel was warned that such could be imposed upon them for covenant infidelity (Deut. 28:48). Israel’s nakedness would consist in the devastation of its land as penalty for covenant violation (cf. Lev. 26:33). God had provided wool and flax to “clothe her” but now with the land denuded Israel’s “nakedness” would be evident to all. The gods whom she supposed clothed her and provided her needs (vv. 5, 12) will be shown to be powerless before Yahweh. Nakedness therefore serves as a metaphor for God’s coming judgment, as is often the case in the prophetic literature (e.g., Jer. 13:26-27; Ezek. 16:39; cf. Nah. 3:5).
2:11 Because Israel’s worship practices had become syncretistic, they were mere ritual observances at best and a mockery of God’s exclusive standards.13 Agricultural commodities played an important part in Israel’s festivals and religious observances (e.g., Exod. 29:38-42; Lev. 6:14-18; Num. 28:3-8). With these products cut off, such services and celebrations would soon suffer and become impossible to observe. Indeed, Joel describes just such a situation (Joel 1:5-10). Hosea makes a clever play on words here. God would “put an end to” Israel’s worship observances, including the “weekly Sabbath festivities and all her appointed festivals.” The Hebrew root shābat underlies both the verbal phrase “put an end to” and the Sabbath (God’s appointed day of rest). Because the Sabbath was the basis of Israel’s entire worship calendar, by putting the Sabbath “to rest” the entire worship structure would collapse.
2:12 “The vine and the fig tree … were often used to symbolize the blessings of the relationship between God and Israel (see Ps 80:8-15[9-16 MT]; Isa 5:2-6; Jer 2:21; Mic 4:3-4; Zech 3:10; cf. Matt 21:18-21, 28-46).”14 Isaiah (5:1-2) portrays Israel as God’s vineyard and Jeremiah calls Israel a “choice vine” (Jer. 2:21). Wine, the fruit of the vine, figured prominently in Israel’s drink offering, which symbolized the fruitfulness of a life willingly poured out for God (Lev. 23:12-13; Num. 6:17). Unfortunately, the vine and its fruit could also become corrupt (e.g., Isa. 5:2-7), especially by becoming entangled in idolatry (Hos. 10:1). Therefore, God would be forced to destroy his vineyard (cf. Jer. 6:9; Mic. 1:6; Zeph. 1:13) as is the case that Hosea presents here.
Together with the vine the fig tree often depicted God’s blessings upon an obedient people (e.g., 1 Kings 4:25). Thus the fruitful fig tree is what may be expected in that future era of God’s established reign on earth (Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10). Like the fruit of the vine, the fig tree could show promise of a tasteful experience. Israel had been like this; but alas, it had become distasteful before God because of its shameful idolatry (Hos. 9:10; 10:1-2). When God judges his fig tree and vine, they will produce fruit fit only for animals. A double meaning is possible here. Not only would Israel’s land become an “uncultivated thicket,” fit only for wild animals, but the land’s produce will be seized by foreign invaders.
2:13 God’s judgment upon Israel is because of his people’s spiritual flirtation with Baalism. The “Baal idols” (NET; lit., “Baals”) doubtless refer to the many places of cultic worship of the god Baal, especially at festival times. Israel is again portrayed as an immoral woman who adorns herself with jewelry aimed at attracting lovers. Faithless wife Israel has forgotten her husband Yahweh by chasing after pagan deities.
The validation of Israel’s covenant status with the Lord continues. Following the enforcement of the penalties for covenant violation (2:2-13), the Lord reveals Israel’s future rewards based upon Israel’s renewed commitment to him.
2:14 However, in the future I will allure her;
I will lead her back into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
15 From there I will give back her vineyards to her,
and turn the “Valley of Trouble” into an “Opportunity for Hope.”
There she will sing as she did when she was young,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.
16 “At that time,” declares the Lord,
“you will call, ‘My husband’;
you will never again call me, ‘My master.’
17 For I will remove the names of the Baal idols from your lips,
so that you will never again utter their names!”
18 “At that time I will make a covenant for them with the wild animals,
the birds of the air, and the creatures that crawl on the ground.
I will abolish the warrior’s bow and sword
– that is, every weapon of warfare – from the land,
and I will allow them to live securely.”
19 I will commit myself to you forever;
I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice,
in steadfast love and tender compassion.
20 I will commit myself to you in faithfulness;
then you will acknowledge the Lord.”
21 “At that time, I will willingly respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the sky,
and the sky will respond to the ground;
22 then the ground will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil;
and they will respond to ‘God Plants’ (Jezreel)!
23 Then I will plant her as my own in the land.
I will have pity on ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah).
I will say to ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), ‘You are my people!’
And he will say, ‘You are my God!’”
Exegesis and Exposition
Israel’s necessary chastisement will one day prove to accomplish its intended goal (cf. 2:7). God himself will then take the initiative to see to its restoration to covenant privileges. As in those early days after Israel’s exodus from Egypt when God led his people into the wilderness, so he would do once again. That earlier wilderness experience was designed for his people’s training and spiritual growth. They were to learn not only to trust the Lord completely for their provisions and every need, but to love him for who he was (Exod. 14:31; 15:13; Deut. 2:7; Jer. 2:2). Unfortunately, Israel proved to be a disappointment. Far from being a grateful people, Israel turned into a band of perpetual whiners and complainers (Exod. 15:24; 16:1-3; 17:1-2). Even worse, Israel quickly became enamored with pagan Baalism (e.g., Num. 25:1-3), a fascination that continued into Hosea’s time. Yet through it all God remained faithful despite Israel’s infidelity. Therefore, a patient Lord would one day lead Israel once again into a new wilderness experience. Thus the wilderness, which was used metaphorically of Israel’s punishment (Num. 14:32-33; Deut. 9:28), would be transformed to become a metaphor of renewed trust in God and fellowship with him (Jer. 31:2-3).15
In a future day God will return his people to the land. In places of Israel’s past failure, such as in the days of Achan’s sin (Josh. 7), there will be renewed “opportunity for hope.”16 Those very places that were denuded of vital agricultural produce due to Israel’s punishment will flourish once again. Once more the vineyards will grow bountifully. Those products that were to be taken away due to Israel’s sin will be restored as all nature responds to God’s blessings for Israel (vv. 15, 21-22). As in the days of the exodus, Israel will sing praises of joy to the Lord (cf. Exod. 15:1-18; Ps. 96:7-13; Jer. 31:7-14). All hints of Baal will disappear and God’s relation with Israel will be represented by a new term for husband (cf. 2:6). God will no longer be known as “my master” (or husband in a legal sense, i.e., baàali) but “my husband” (in a dear familial relationship, i.e., áîsŒî).17
The “newness,” which Hosea describes (vv. 18-20) is reflective of the prophetic teachings concerning the New Covenant. As a culmination of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-7; 13:14-17; 15:17-19; 17:1-8), later channeled through the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:8-16; 1 Chr. 17:7-14), God promised to institute a future New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37; 32:36-41; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:20-31; 36:24-32; 37:20-27). In that grand era God’s people will live in intimate communion with the Lord and enjoy his blessings forever. It will be a time of great joy and worldwide peace (cf. Isa. 11:6-9), for the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) will be in their midst (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24).
Hosea points out that all nature will be changed and Israel will live in peace and security while enjoying God’s just and righteous rule among his people. Then to a degree never experienced before God’s people will come to enjoy the fullness of Yahweh’s “steadfast love,” “tender compassion,” and “faithfulness” (vv. 19-20). There will be no more Baals, for they will “acknowledge the Lord” their true husband.
Hosea closes this section of this prophecy as he did in the corresponding earlier portion (vv. 21-23; cf. 1:10-2:1) by noting the complete reversal of affairs relative to Israel’s relation to God during the time of Israel’s punishment. In that future time of God’s blessing the scattered people (Jezreel) will be replanted (sown) in the land. When as a sinful Israel would receive “no pity” (or mercy; cf. 1:8) and be set aside and treated as “not my people” (cf. 1:9), they would now once again receive God’s mercy and be called “my people” (cf. 2:1). Rather than Baal or any other so-called deity, only Yahweh would henceforth be Israel’s God.
2:15 As noted in the NET footnotes, the rendering, “Opportunity for Hope” is based upon the Hebrew, “entrance/door of hope.” Although the noun petah£ commonly is used of a literal entrance or door, it is at times employed metaphorically for an entrance for opportunity for a new situation or change of circumstance (e.g., Gen. 4:7; Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12).18 The circumstances that God will initiate in the future will transform former scenes of trouble and defeat into places of renewed vitality and spiritual growth. The pristine relations between Yahweh and Israel in the days when his people first entered the Land of Promise will be relived again.
2:17 Because of the corrupting nature of the worship of Baal, the scribes who copied the Old Testament at times changed titles containing his name. Thus Baal Zebul (Prince Baal) became Baal Zebel (lord of dung) or Baal Zebub (lord of flies). The name Baal Zebub became associated with Satan (e.g., Matt. 10:25; 12:24, 27). Scribes would even at times alter personal names to reflect the shame associated with Baal. Thus Saul’s son Eshbaal (1 Chr. 8:33; 9:39) is altered to Ishbosheth (e.g., 2 Sam. 2:8-11), Jonathan’s son
Merib-baal (1 Chr. 8:34; 9:40) became Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 4:4) and Jerub-baal (Judg. 6:32) was altered to Jerubbesheth (2 Sam. 11:21). Baalism and other pagan idolatrous practices disappeared in the Inner Testamental Period.19
2:18 As noted in the Introduction, the covenant theme figures prominently in Hosea. The context here makes it clear that it is referring to what Ezekiel calls a “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:25-31; 37:26-28) and Jeremiah identifies as a “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31-34). It is also to be an everlasting covenant (Isa. 55:3; Jer. 32:40; 50:5), which is enacted by the Lord himself (Isa. 59:2) and centered in the long awaited Messiah (Jer. 33:15-16). This One will reign over a completely transformed earth (Isa. 11:1-9). Hosea can rightly prophesy that in that great era of peace even nature and the creatures of earth will be included in its terms.
2:19-20 Hosea’s group of five divine characteristics is attested elsewhere (e.g., Deut. 32:4; Jonah 4:2). Righteousness and justice appear often together (e.g., Deut. 32:4; Pss. 89:14; 97:2), the former emphasizing God’s consistency in acting in accordance with his holiness while the latter underscores his honesty, integrity, and fairness toward all. Yahweh is also a God of love and compassion. The former emphasizes his loving grace in making provision for Israel as his very own possession and treating them as family (KJV, lovingkindness). The latter speaks of God’s tender mercies in dealing with mankind in general and Israel in particular (Deut. 4:31; Ps. 78:38). Moreover, God is faithful in acting in accordance with his holy, divine nature and attributes as well as faithful to his revealed word.20 In that era when Israel will experience fully all of these great divine characteristics she will remember Yahweh whom she had forgotten (v. 13) and live in full acknowledgement and surrender to him.21
2:22 That which Israel falsely attributed to Baal and was therefore cut off by Yahweh (vv. 8-9) will be graciously restored to a repentant and forgiven Israel under the terms of the New Covenant. The prophet Joel likewise reports how these products were cut off because of Judah’s religious syncretism. With natural repentance, however, they could experience the restoration of these products (Joel 2:15-19) as well as rain in its proper season (vv. 22-24).
1 For issues concerning the marriage as symbolic of the Lord’s covenant with Israel, see Irene Kerasote Rallis, “Nuptial Imagery in the Book of Hosea: Israel as the Bride of Yahweh,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 34 (1990): 197-219; Paul A. Kruger, “The marriage metaphor in Hosea 2:4-17 against its ancient Near Eastern background,” JNSL 14 (1988): 143-53. Ehud Ben Zbi (“Observations on the Marital Metaphor of YHWH and Israel in its Ancient Israelite Context: General Considerations and Particular Images in Hosea 1:2,” JSOT 28 : 370) remarks, “The husband-wife metaphor belonged to a set of metaphors that were associated with fundamentally hierarchical relationships and served as metaphors for that of deity and people.”
2 For Hosea 2 as an allegory based upon the family metaphor to represent God’s relation to Israel, see John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York, The Bible as Literature, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 31. Normally allegories are formed in such a way that, “The basic metaphor or symbol is analyzed into component parts, and these parts are brought together in a series of one-to-one relationships,” (28). Nevertheless, as Leland Ryken (How to Read the Bible as Literature [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 201) points out such is not always exactly the case: “Great literary allegory is bifocal, engaging a reader’s interest at two levels (literal and allegorical) simultaneously. Literary allegory does not give us a simple one-for-one correspondence because surface details … are too connotative and multifaceted to be reduced to a single conceptual parallel.” He adds (200), “It is a very rare exception, not the rule, to find allegories in which every detail has a corresponding meaning.” Accordingly, one need not account for all of the surface background details of Hosea 2 in order to form an interpretative basis for Hosea’s allegories. Moreover, it is possible to see an underlying story line (as is so often is the case with allegories) in Hosea 2. Whether one views this chapter simply as an extended metaphor or an allegory the underlying metaphor of God’s relation to Israel as represented in Hosea’s marriage and family situation is certainly the intended symbolism.
3 R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, NAC (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 437.
4 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 45.
5 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 75. Charles H. Silva (“Literary Features in the Book of Hosea,” Bib Sac 164 : 40-44) decides that the pattern here reflects a covenant lawsuit not only in 2:2-13 but in 4:1, 4 and 12:2. Silva builds his discussion upon a supposed relation in form to an underlying suzerain-vassal treaty. This again appears to be a bit strained. As Andersen and Freedman (AB, 219) point out, “A legal note is certainly present but the juridical framework is neither rigid nor realistic.”
6 See also the KJV and NRSV. La Sainte Bible translate the verb as “plead” (cf. AB; La Sacra Bibbia, “contend with”; NLT, “call to account”; NIV, HCSB, “rebuke”).
7 The Twelve Prophets, 1:29
8 C. H. Gordon, “Hosea 2:4-5 in the Light of New Semitic Inscriptions ,” ZAW 54 (1936): 277-80.
9 “The Divorce (?) Formula in Hos. 2:4a,” ITS 34 : 56-88.
10 See McComiskey, “Hosea,” 132; David Allan Hubbard, Hosea, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 72.
11 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 49.
12 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 248-49.
13 Laetsch (The Minor Prophets, 30) remarks concerning the significance of ‘her festivals,” “God says ‘her feasts,’ not ‘My feasts.’ Israel retained the formal celebration of these festivals, but had stamped them with a character altogether foreign to their intention.”
14 Richard D. Patterson, “Joel,” EBC, ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:241.
15 For an excellent discussion of the wilderness as a motif, see Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 88-91. For a thorough study of the desert motif, see S. Talson, “The ‘Desert Motif’ in the Bible and in the Qumran Literature,” in Biblical Motifs. ed., A. Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard, 1966), 31-64.
16 Literally, “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope”; see NET notes.
17 So painful did the name Baal become that Jewish scribes often substituted the element “shame” in names compounded with nouns associated with that deity: Saul’s son Eshbaal (1 Chr. 8:33; 9:39) became rendered Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 2:8-11); Jonathan’s son Merib-baal (1 Chr. 8:34; 9:40) became Mephibosheth (2 Sam 4:4), and Jerub-baal (Judg. 6:32; 8:35) was later rendered Jerubbesheth (2 Sam 11:21). For Baal Zebul, see the discussion in Patterson and Austel, “1 & 2 Kings,” 4:172.
18 In 1878 settlers from Jerusalem wished to establish themselves in the original biblical location in the vicinity of Jericho in the Jordan plain. Unable to do so, they went westward toward the Mediterranean coast, where they established the oldest Jewish agricultural settlement in what would become the state of Israel. The modern Israel town of Petah Tikva (“gate of hope” is situated a short distance east of Tel Aviv.
19 A. Terian, (“Idolatry,” ISBE, Rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], 2:799) remarks, “Never again would Jews to take idolatry seriously. Rather, idol worship became for them a matter of semi-humorous satire and ridicule.”
20 For a discussion of this Hebrew word, see Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Biblical Studies Press, 2001), 200-203.
21 See further J. T. Willis, “‘I Am Your God’ and ‘You Are My People’ in Hosea and Jeremiah,” Restoration Quarterly 36 (1994): 291-303. Something of the fullness of Israel’s experience may be reflected in the grand Christian hymn by Wade Robinson, “In a love, which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.”
As the Lord had previously instructed Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman of
promiscuous tendencies, so he now tells Hosea to show his love to her and bring her back into family relationship. The command assumes that the previous description of God’s dealing with Israel has been reproduced in Hosea’s relations with Gomer.
3:1 The Lord said to me, “Go, show love to your wife again, even though she loves another man and continually commits adultery. Likewise, the Lord loves the Israelites although they turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.” 2 So I paid fifteen shekels of silver and about seven bushels of barley to purchase her. 3 Then I told her, “You must live with me many days; you must not commit adultery or have sexual intercourse with another man, and I also will wait for you.” 4 For the Israelites must live many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred fertility pillar, without ephod or idols. 5 Afterward, the Israelites will turn and seek the Lord their God and their Davidic king. Then they will submit to the Lord in fear and receive his blessings in the future.
Exegesis and Exposition
As he had done previously in taking Gomer as his wife, so Hosea again follows God’s command and secures Gomer—this time from another man. Since the last occasion when the reader was informed in a narrative concerning relations between Hosea and Gomer, he now learns that Gomer had gone off with another man in an adulterous relationship. Despite her sin, Hosea is to demonstrate his abiding love for her and take her back as his wife. In so doing Hosea will symbolize the Lord’s unending love and concern for Israel despite its flirtations with Baal and other pagan deities and despite his need to punish his people.
Hosea was forced to pay her lover for Gomer’s release. Although he did so both in silver and grain, the total amount was quite inexpensive—so little did Gomer’s lover value her! Since thirty shekels constituted the worth of a slave (Exod. 21:32; Lev. 27:4) as well as serving as a standard expression of something of very little value, Gomer’s price was even less substantial. By way of contrast, God’s ultimate restoration of Israel was later to come at the cost of the sacrifice of his Son the Messiah, Christ Jesus, even though he was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-15; 27:3-10).
Having brought Gomer back to his house, Hosea instructs her that she must live in total sexual abstinence for a period of time before her full family status is restored. Thus Gomer will be cut off from normal relations with her husband until she fully recommits herself to him (cf. 2:6-7). Hosea, however, will remain faithful to her (cf. 2:19-20). After Gomer turns to him in loving commitment, she will again receive all the blessings of full family privileges. By observing the situation between Hosea and Gomer Israel was to understand that even so there is a soon approaching time when Israel will be separated from the Land of Promise for a prescribed period. Only when Israel recommits itself to the Lord in genuine love and surrender to the Lord will they experience full covenant status and its attendant divine blessings.1
3:1-2 The NET rendering understands the Hebrew noun “woman” to mean “your wife” (i.e., Gomer; see NET note). Some (e.g., Stuart) suggest that the “woman” intended was not Gomer but a second wife for whom Hosea paid a bridal price (v. 2). Others hold that Gomer had become a prostitute (e.g., Sweeney). Wolff believes that although the woman is Gomer she had become someone’s slave as a temple prostitute.2 If the analogy between Hosea’s relation to Gomer and God’s relation to Israel is to be properly symbolic, however, then doubtless Gomer is intended. Apparently she has gone off to live with another. Nevertheless, Hosea is to love her “again.”
3:1 The precise meaning of the phrase, which the NET properly renders, “She loves another man,” is debated due to the meaning of the underlying Hebrew noun re„aà. See the NET note for details. The LXX, however, reads, “She loves wickedness,” probably pointing the underlying Hebrew noun as ro„aà.
3:1 Whether the Israelites loved to eat raisin cakes, so often enjoyed on special occasions (e.g., 2 Sam. 6:19) or offered them to Baal (as was done in ancient Mesopotamia) as part of a religious ceremony, is debated. The NET translation follows the latter course (cf. NLT).
3:2 As for the fifteen shekels of silver, The MT reads literally “fifteen of silver.” Since shekel was the standard weight, the word itself could be omitted and the amount readily understood.3
3:3-4 The “many days” for Gomer most likely meant a period of abstinence from normal intimacy with Hosea for a prescribed period before family life between husband and wife would be experienced. Once again the action is symbolic of Israel’s coming separation from God before the full provisions promised for a covenant faithful people would be realized. Such began with the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. and the Southern Kingdom in 586 B.C. Since then Israel’s entire socio-religious situation (cf. v. 4) has been drastically changed. Even though Israel now lives again in its land, none of the items so common to its life in Hosea’s day are presently experienced. Israel’s full blessing lies still in the future when the Prince of Peace (Isa. 6:9) and David’s royal heir (e.g., Jer. 23:5; 33:15) will rule in Israel’s midst (Ezek. 34:11-24; 37:15-28). By analogy with the situation between Hosea and Gomer, “Unity and security can come to Israel only when they seek God and his Christ.”4
3:4 By the “sacred fertility pillar” (Hebrew mas£s£e„ba‚) is meant a sacred stone set up in honor of or the worship of a pagan deity, such as the one erected by Ahab for Baal (2 Kings 3:2). Although the word is also used for the erection of memorial stones (Exod. 24:4), such as in the consummation of a covenant agreement (Gen. 31:45; 35:14), most commonly it is used in connection with pagan religious practices. Therefore, the Israelites were instructed to demolish them (Exod. 23:24; Deut. 7:5).
3:4 Israelite priests wore a sacred garment known as an ephod as they served the Lord (1 Sam. 2:28). The high priest wore a distinctive ephod to which were attached two stones, each engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel (Exod. 28:9-12). A breastplate covering the ephod contained two objects used by the high priest in order to determine the will of God. Here the ephod, however, is associated with pagan idolatrous practices (cf. Judg. 17:5) as the mention of the teraphim (or pagan idols) used in pagan divination practices indicates (cf. Gen. 31:19; Ezek. 21:21).
3:5 The “Davidic King” doubtless refers not only to the historic David but also to his heir (see the NET notes and cf. Ps. 89:3-4[4-5]). If the prophecies concerning the New Covenant are to have their full realization, then the primary reference is to the Messiah, the heir par excellence of the Davidic Covenant and the mediator of the New Covenant (Ezek. 37:24-28; cf. Heb. 8:6).
3:5 The phrase translated “In the future” is literally “in the end of days” (or “in the last days”; see NET note). From an Old Testament perspective the reference is to a distant future; in the New Testament one encounters such terminology as the “last/latter days” (Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-18), the “last/latter times” (1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 18), or the “last hour” (1 John 2:18) to refer to a period that began with the New Testament era and stretches into the eschatological complex.
1 Hosea is not only to bring his wayward wife home but genuinely to love her. See the excellent discussion of love by P. Ells, “bha,” NIDOTTE, 1:277-299.
2 Wolff, Hosea, 61. John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament [Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 2000], 753) draw an analogy to Gomer’s status with Middle Assyrian law: “based on Middle Assyrian Law … he [Hosea] may be redeeming her from a legal situation from which she could not extricate herself (such as paying a debt she owed).”
3 See further, E. Reiner, “The Ox That Gored,” JAOS 88 (1968): 186-190. See also P. Boudreuil, F. Israel , and D. Pardee, “King’s Command and Widows Plea: Two New Hebrew Ostraca of the Biblical Period,” Near Eastern Archaeology 61 (1998): 5.
4 Garrett. Hosea, Joel, 104.
Having provided via his own marriage situation a visible symbolic portrayal of Israel’s failed relationship with God as well as a prophetic sketch of what lay ahead for God’s wayward people, Hosea records several oracles that detail God’s specific charges against Israel.
This section features a series of threefold messages (4:1-5:15), which culminate with Hosea’s prophetic advice in the light of God’s genuine concern for his people.
4:1 Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites!
For the Lord has a covenant lawsuit against the people of Israel.
For there is neither faithfulness nor loyalty in the land,
nor do they acknowledge God.
2 There is only cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery.
They resort to violence and bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land will mourn,
and all its inhabitants will perish.
The wild animals, the birds of the sky,
and even the fish in the sea will perish.
4 Do not let anyone accuse or contend against anyone else:
for my case is against you priests!
5 You stumble day and night,
and the false prophets stumble with you;
You have destroyed your own people!
6 You have destroyed my people
by failing to acknowledge me!
Because you refuse to acknowledge me,
I will reject you as my priests.
Because you reject the law of your God,
I will reject your descendants.
7 The more the priests increased in numbers,
the more they rebelled against me.
They have turned their glorious calling
into a shameful disgrace!
8 They feed on the sin offerings of my people;
their appetites long for their iniquity!
9 I will deal with the people and priests together:
I will punish them both for their ways,
and I will repay them for their deeds.
10 They will eat, but not be satisfied;
they will engage in prostitution, but not increase in numbers;
because they have abandoned the Lord
by pursuing other gods.
11 Old and new wine
take away the understanding of my people.
12 They consult their wooden idols,
and their diviner’s staff answers with an oracle.
The wind of prostitution blows them astray;
they commit spiritual adultery against their God.
13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops,
and burn offerings on the hills;
they sacrifice under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
because their shade is so pleasant.
As a result, your daughters have become cult prostitutes,
and your daughters-in-law commit adultery!
14 I will not punish your daughters when they commit prostitution,
nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery.
For the men consort with harlots,
they sacrifice with temple prostitutes.
It is true: “A people that lacks understanding will come to ruin!”
15 Although you, O Israel, commit adultery,
do not let Judah become guilty!
Do not journey to Gilgal!
Do not go up to Beth Aven!
Do not swear, “As surely as the Lord lives!”
16 Israel has rebelled like a stubborn heifer!
Soon the Lord will put them out to pasture
like a lamb in a broad field!
17 Ephraim has attached himself to idols;
Do not go near him!
18 They consume their alcohol,
then engage in cult prostitution;
they dearly love their shameful behavior.
19 A whirlwind has wrapped them in its wings;
they will be brought to shame because of their idolatrous worship.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea’s opening complaints against Israel begin with a threefold indictment: priests, prophets, and people are all guilty of violating God’s spiritual standards for holy living. This section falls neatly into three parts: an opening call to hear the basic charges against Israel (vv. 1-3); a rehearsal of Israel’s idolatrous behavior (vv. 4-14); and a concluding warning concerning of Israel’s spiritual activities (vv. 15-19).
In the first portion Hosea lists those spiritual violations that have blossomed into widespread social degradation and open violence. Hosea begins with a familiar prophetic convention: a call for his audience to hear what the prophet has to say (cf. Isa. 1:10; Jer. 7:2; Ezek. 18:12; Amos 4:1; Mic. 6:1; etc.). That call is a serious one, for Hosea is about to deliver what God has empowered him to speak. What he will say, then, does not come from his own personal opinions or emotions but from the Lord himself. It is therefore of utmost significance. In doing so Hosea lists two further reasons for summoning the people to listen: (1) God has a charge involving Israel’s violation of its basic covenant with the Lord, which (2) is demonstrated in Israel’s threefold conduct before the Lord. Israel is charged with infidelity, disloyalty, and a virtual failure to know God in their lives. In short, all the while they feign allegiance to Yahweh, their conduct betrays a bent to view him on their own terms, not his. Rather than truly acknowledging God, they are playing God in their own lives.
This threefold charge against Israel betrays Israel’s genuinely desperate spiritual condition. Rather than reproducing God’s attributes of truth and faithfulness, God’s people were false and unfaithful. Because truth is an unalterable attribute of God’s perfection, which is reflected in his self-consistency in thought and actions, it can be expected that his words are altogether true (cf. 2 Sam. 7:28; Pss. 31:5; 57:3). Because they are true they may be counted on as a reliable guide and standard for living before him (Ps. 119:151, 160).
This quality is also felt in God’s faithfulness. Indeed, the same Hebrew word is often translated “faithful,” as rendered here in the NET. As such it likewise expresses God’s character as one of moral integrity. This has been demonstrated to Israel often in God’s dealings with them (e.g., Exod. 34:5-7). Moreover, God’s character can be seen in his lovingkindness toward Israel (cf. Isa. 63:7; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). Indeed, “God’s love (h£esed) is repeatedly praised by the writers of Scripture. It is an “unfailing love” (Ps. 36:7)—one that is better than life itself (Ps. 63:3). Because it is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), God’s people may always call upon him with confidence in all circumstances (Ps. 86:1-7).”1 In light of all of this, it is small wonder, then, that truth/faithfulness and loyalty/lovingkindness “frequently appear together to express a secure and faithful relationship.”2
Quite obviously since the Israelites have not appropriated these qualities and reproduced them in their lives, it demonstrates that they have no real commitment to God. Nor do they truly know him in a living, experiential knowledge of him. As Fretheim points out, “To know God is to be in a right relationship with him, with characteristics of love, trust, respect, and open communication.”3 Indeed, a firm reverential trust in God constitutes the basic foundation and fountain of true knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Israel had been schooled in the knowledge of God and his standards as well as his goodness, but alas, they demonstrated no trace of them in their lives. Had they truly known him, it would have been reflected in their appropriation of God’s covenant standards for their lives. Therefore, they must face the consequences of their own actions (cf. Isa. 5:13).
Having rehearsed these spiritual charges against Israel, Hosea goes on to list the specific crimes of which his people are guilty (v. 2). Each of these is a direct violation of the Decalogue.4 The list begins with cursing or false swearing in God’s name, a violation of the third commandment (Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). This crime doubtless in principle assumes the violation of the core of the first table of the law. For God’s very name represented his matchless character and reputation. An individual who violates that sacred name in such fashion has set himself apart from God in his lifestyle and perhaps even abandoned him so as to play God in his own life.
Such a condition easily leads to lying or the false testimony that is condemned in the ninth commandment (Exod. 20:16; Deut. 5:20; cf. Lev. 19:11). More than a court or legal situation is involved, however, for malicious gossip or the attributing of false motives to someone so as to steal away his dignity or reputation is equally condemnable. Indeed, lying is sin (Exod. 23:1-3; Deut. 22:13-21).
All of this betrays a sin-hardened heart that was abroad in Israelite society. It was a condition that fostered all sorts of crimes including murder, condemned in the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17), stealing, condemned in the eighth commandment (Exod. 20:15; Deut 5:19), and adultery, a violation of the seventh commandment (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). In a sense the stealing, which is sandwiched between murder and adultery in Hosea’s listing, can be felt in these two crimes as well. For murder is the stealing of the life of a person who is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; James 3:9) and whose life has been granted to him by God (cf. Lev. 17:10-16). Further, it is an affront to God’s sovereignty and will (cf. Gen. 9:5-6).
Adultery is the stealing of another’s moral dignity and purity, and is a violation of the sanctity of marriage. Its spiritual cousin is idolatry. Unfortunately both problems greatly colored and characterized Israelite society. It is small wonder, then, that the land was filled with overt acts of violence. By placing adultery last in his list of Israel’s violations of the Decalogue Hosea reemphasizes the underlying spiritual vacuum of Israelite society. Its placement forms a fitting closure to God’s complaints against Israel.5 Moreover, by his situating a catalogue of spiritual violations that Israel has committed ahead of the overt crimes that so characterized Israelite society, Hosea anticipates that which Jesus would later emphasize: external sins first begin internally within the depths of one’s heart (Matt. 5:25-28). Indeed, a low regard for God’s person, character, teachings, and will can easily prepare the soil of one’s innermost being for the seeds of motives that blossom into the flowers of violations against the standards of God and society.
After cataloguing the prevailing crimes of Israelite society, Hosea warns his hearers of the dire consequences of their conduct (v.3). Because they have committed spiritual adultery by their devotion to Baal, the Canaanite storm god who supposedly brought them the much needed rain for their crops (a violation of the first commandment), God will demonstrate to them just who it is that is in command of the natural world. Have they forgotten the demonstration of God’s authority through the ministry of Elijah (1 Kings 17-18)? They will soon understand that Baal is powerless.
Land is here personified as a mourner who has witnessed the perishing of those who depended on it. Indeed, all life will suffer—men, animals, birds, and water creatures. As Sweeney points out, “By employing such language, Hosea conveys the necessary inter-relationship between human actions and the state of the natural world, i.e. the role of humans to maintain the world of creation (cf. Gen 1:26). If human beings fail to maintain the proper order of their lives, the entire world of creation suffers.”6
Even more than this is implied, however, for God’s people have turned their back on earth’s Creator, in whose image they have been created and to whom they are to be committed (cf. Exod. 20:2-6; Deut. 5:7; Matt. 19:19), and whose standards are to be stewarded in their individual and corporate lives (cf. Isa. 1:1-4). Sadly, Jeremiah would later lay the same charge against Judah (Jer. 2:12-13; 3:1-5).
Hosea next turns to condemn Israel for its idolatrous behavior (vv. 4-14). He points out first of all those most responsible for Israel’s degraded condition: the priests and prophets who have misled their own people (vv. 4-5). Particular responsibility lay with the priests. They who were custodians of vital religion and the basic covenant with God had themselves failed to acknowledge God’s primacy in their lives. Moreover, they had twisted the law of God to their own benefit (vv. 6-8). Although the priests were allowed to eat of the sin offering as part of their sustenance (Lev. 6:24-30), by their avarice and hypocrisy in terms of proper religion they have “turned their glorious calling into a shameful disgrace” (v. 7). Basically, they have rejected God and made a mockery of the sacrificial system. Therefore, the Lord will reject them as priests.
Because the people willingly followed the priests in their apostasy and degraded lifestyle, God will punish Israelite society in general, priests, prophets, and people alike. Indeed, all Israel stood guilty of not only deserting God in their feigned faith in him and in the desecration of his standards, but they have entered into the idolatrous worship of other so-called gods and practiced the debased religious rites associated with them (vv. 9-10). This was especially true of their worship of Baal. Rather than receiving the expected benefits of worshiping him, while going through the motions of Yahweh in their unfelt observance of the sacrificial system and supposed obedience to the law, they will find that their syncretism had failed. For the religious practices that they had chosen could not achieve what they promised. Only the Lord can bestow true blessings to his people, including the life-giving rain they expected Baal to provide.
In verses 11-13 Hosea points to additional specific sins in Israel’s worship experience. The pursuit of religious prostitution and the imbibing of wine have laid hold of the people’s mind to such an extent that they could no longer reason correctly. Instead of having a heart for God and his true worship and genuine concern for the Lord, they have become enamored with wooden idols and diviners staffs. The practice of cultic prostitution is but symptomatic of their spiritual adultery in abandoning Yahweh for other false gods. In that regard they have set up worship centers on tree-lined hills. Rather than being a symbolic avenue of blessing (cf. vv. 1-3; Hos. 14:5-7; with Ps. 52:8) from the One (Hos. 14:8) who alone can provide life and vitality (Isa. 65:22; Rev. 22:2), the tree has been utilized in the making of wooden idols and as places of spiritual adultery.
Even Israel’s precious daughters and daughters-in-law have been pressed into the debauchery of prostitution in the name of worship. Rather than condemning primarily the young ladies caught up in this heinous practice, however, the Lord lays the principle blame upon those men who have sponsored such conduct. It is Israel’s men who are most to blame, for they not only engage in prostitution in general, but have turned the women into such sin by falsely associating it with religious experience.
Accordingly, Israelite society has become so debased that its judgment is certain and not far off in coming. What a travesty! It was a madness born of sheer stupidity and selfish lust. In this situation Hosea finds the old proverb to be true: “A people that lacks understanding will come to ruin!” (v. 14b). Indeed, rather than being an avenue of true wisdom (Prov. 3:18) Israel’s trees have become a source of ignorance and lack of genuine spiritual understanding.
Therefore, Hosea concludes his oracle with a strong and stern warning of the consequences of Israel’s spiritual adulteries (vv. 15-19). He has already indicated that hope for the kingdom of God’s people lay in the Davidic line (Hos. 3:5). Because that was resident in the Southern Kingdom, Hosea issues a plea to Judah that it not follow in the pernicious ways of its sister Israel (v. 15). In accordance with Hosea’s literary style, the plea is a threefold one. First, Judah is urged not to go to Gilgal, which had been a place of spiritual victory (cf. Josh. 5:7-12), but as Garrett points out: “It went from being a shrine for pilgrims to a center of apostasy and by the eighth century not only Hosea but Amos as well was counseling people to stay away from there (Amos 4:4; 5:5).”7
A second plea deals with Bethel, here called Beth Aven. The latter name is clearly a pun intended to convey what this sacred site, so important to Israel’s history had become (e.g., Gen. 28:11-18; 36:13).8 Indeed, Bethel (house of God) was so apostatized that it might properly be called Beth Aven (house of iniquity/deception). The third plea deals with the misappropriation of sacred oaths, which if properly rendered would be acceptable (cf. 1 Sam. 20:3). Such oaths would be most inappropriate, however, if uttered in either of these cult sites or offered insincerely (cf. Jer. 5:2).
Judah is warned further against any close spiritual association with Israel (vv. 16-17). Not only is proper companionship in general an important matter (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33), but it is especially true in the spiritual realm (e.g. Lam. 2:14; Matt. 24:23-24). The Northern Kingdom had been misled from its inception in the religious system initiated by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:25-33). Israel’s spiritual condition had only grown worse with its succeeding kings (e.g., 1 Kings 16:29-33) with the result that by Hosea’s day all hope of its spiritual reclamation was gone (2 Kings 17:7-17, 21-23).9
Therefore, Hosea brings his oracle to a close with a stinging conclusion. Israel stands entrapped in the winds of spiritual adultery and religious prostitution as well as its idolatry. Because their shameful cult prostitution had become a source of pervading passion (v. 18), “they will be brought to shame” (cf. Hos. 10:5-6).
Hosea’s words of denunciation and warning remain ever applicable. God’s people of all ages and lands can causally follow their religious traditions and confessions yet fail to acknowledge the primacy of God in their everyday lives. Although Christians may not be allured into the trap of formal idolatry and religious prostitution, they can allow things other than the Lord to have such prominence that they virtually become a passion akin to idolatry. Thus the Apostle John warns, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts” (1 John 5:21, NLT).
Christian leaders are especially to be warned. No less than the priests and prophets of the Old Testament, they have a responsibility to God to deliver his word faithfully and represent him in all that they do (cf. Heb. 13:7, 17). Not only should the church be instructed by Hosea’s words, but nations, too, should take warning. If God would judge his own people Israel, for such sins are repeated and have become rampant in any society, that nation may also face God’s certain judgment (cf. Heb. 12:25-27).
4:1 The familiar prophetic call motif, “Hear the word of the Lord,” heads several of Hosea’s literary units (e.g., 5:1, 8; 8:1; 10:12; 14:1).
4:1 The NET translation “covenant lawsuit” is in harmony with those scholars10 and translations (e.g., NASB, NLT), which suggest that the prophet’s presentation is in the form of a lawsuit that God is bringing against his people. This position is not universally favored, however. To the contrary, see Garrett (108-109); Hubbard (96), Andersen and Freedman (331-333), and Sweeney (41-43). As Sweeney (42) points out, “The existence of a clearly defined covenant lawsuit speech is increasingly questioned by scholars, however, in that no standard literary structure or terminology is apparent throughout all of the various examples of the form that have been put forward, and there are great difficulties in portraying YHWH as both plaintiff and judge in a legal proceeding.”11
4:2 Cursing … adultery. In addition to the violations of the Ten Commandments listed here, Stuart suggests a sixth by repointing the Hebrew consonants <md (bloodshed) so as to read a homographic root “idols.” Thus he finds a violation of the second commandment prohibiting idolatry. The natural flow of the text as well as the emphasis of the verb pa„ra„s£u‚ (burst forth) suggests a condition that results from the violation of God’s standards. Thus Israelite society bursts all bounds in its violations of the commandments of God so that bloodshed follows quite naturally (cf. Ezek. 18:10-13).12
4:3 The land will mourn. In describing effects of a massive locusts invasion the prophet Joel employs the same imagery (Joel 1:10-12, 17). Hosea’s prophetic warning of God’s future judgment is reminiscent of Isaiah’s prediction of a similar condition in eschatological times (Isa. 24:1-5).
4:3 Wild animals … birds … fish. Hosea may intend an allusion to the creation account here. If so, the Lord will reverse his creative work. Zephaniah likewise pictures a future judgment in similar fashion (Zeph. 1:2-3). Hosea envisions a total devastation including the land and its inhabitants, man and animals, as well as the birds of the sky and the aquatic creatures. As McComiskey correctly points out, such conditions are representative of the effects of breaking the Mosaic legal stipulations: “All these wrongs relate directly or indirectly to the decalogue, the normative expression of Yahweh’s will for the nation.”13
4:4-5 Once again Hosea’s propensity to write in groups of three (cf. 4:13, 15) surfaces. His addressees are three: priests, prophets, and people. Because the priests and prophets have led the people into a spiritual apostasy in which for all practical purposes they no longer truly acknowledge God (vv. 1, 6), they have failed to do their sacred duty properly. Because of this the nation faces God’s destruction. As noted by the NET, the MT literally reads, “I will destroy your mother.” The reference to Israel as “mother” doubtless continues the metaphor of portraying the relation between Hosea’s wife Gomer, the mother of his three children, and Israel (cf. 2:2). Although the NET provides a good ad sensum rendition of the context and is built upon some textual evidence, the MT is to be preferred both as the more difficult reading and that which best preserves Hosea’s metaphorical approach.
4:6 The theme of destruction continues not only nationally (v. 5) but individually. Thus the Israelite people themselves will be destroyed. Since the people have followed the priests in their virtual failure to acknowledge God, he will reject them as his priests. Moreover, by failing to put God first in their lives, they have violated the Lord’s holy law, the Torah. So entrenched is their apostasy that the priests’ descendants will be cut off from service, for they will show themselves to be tainted by the same sins.
4:7 Turned … into a shameful disgrace. The NET follows the lead of the traditional Masoretic emendation (Tiqqune Sopherim), a reading also attested in the Peshitta and the Targum and followed by some English versions (e.g., NIV, NJB, NLT, NRSV). The MT, however, reads: “I will exchange their glory,” a reading followed by the LXX, Vulgate, and several English versions (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NASB, REB). The latter rendering understands the verb as predicting a judgment against the priests. Their present honored position will be exposed for the disgrace that it is and will be dealt with accordingly. So construed the pattern in which accusation against the priests is followed by a statement of the Lord’s coming judgment against them. The same pattern appears in verses 8-9.
4:8 The NET properly understands the Hebrew noun here not as “sin” but “sin offerings.” This Hebrew noun carries both meanings. As Garrett rightly observes with regard to the sin offering, “Instead of being a means of confession and grace, it had become a means of permissiveness for the people and of gluttony for the priests.” 14 Stuart adds, “Profit has become the interest of the priesthood rather than service to God, and indulgence has become the posture of the nation rather than purity of worship and deeds.”15
4:10-12 The translation of verse 10 is a notorious problem and crux interpretum, and therefore has occasioned many suggested solutions.16 Particularly difficult is the problem of the last lisŒmo„r. Because it is an infinitive and most often translated “to keep/guard,” one would naturally expect an object to follow it. Thus the NET translation is achieved by taking the first word of verse 11 with verse 10 (cf. NIV, NJB, NRSV, REV). Among those versions that retain the final infinitive of verse 10 without including material from the following verse, one may note the ad sensum rendering of the HCSB: “For they have abandoned their devotion to the LORD.” Alternatively, the closing infinitive may be viewed nominally as gerund, which is to be understood as belonging to the beginning in verse 11.17 Then, by following the lead of the NET, which understands the first word of verse 12 to belong with verse 11, one achieves the most satisfying solution to the whole problem: “The keeping of prostitution/harlotry, and old and new wine, have taken away the heart/mind of my people.” Thus construed Hosea may be viewed as presenting a picturesque contrast. On the one hand God’s people have abandoned Yahweh, while on the other, they have maintained their adulterous practices, which like an overindulgence of wine can take away the mind’s proper reasoning power as well as the people’s heart for God.
4:11-14 The theme of prostitution/adultery both provides a literary hook with verses 4-10 and also serves to bookend this section (cf. vv. 11, 14). Wood provides another prominent theme featuring not only wooden idols (v. 12) but the trees that serve as sites where the sacred prostitution is carried out.18
4:13 Mountaintops … hills. Similar language dealing with Israel’s fascination with and participation in Canaanite religious fertility rites is used elsewhere in the OT (e.g., Deut. 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 17:10; Jer. 2:20; 3:6). Stuart suggests that “many of the sacrifices offered at these ‘high places’ were probably dedicated syncretistically to Yahweh, whatever other Baal-Asherah overtones may have attended the worship.”19 Hosea’s penchant for threes occurs again in the words oak, poplar, and terebinth.
4:14 Andersen and Freedman note that the closing sentence “is part of a wisdom saying.”20 To be noted also in the saying is the noun “people,” which provides further linkage with several of the earlier verses in the chapter (vv. 6, 9, 12).
4:15 Prostitution/adultery once again forms the literary hook with the previous section. Hosea will single out Bethel (house of God) as Beth Aven (house of iniquity/deception) also in 5:8 and 10:5. The latter reference clearly points to the calf worship established by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:29-30). “Gilgal had been a center for prophetic instruction. Now, however, it had apparently become a center for false worship.”21 Although Jeroboam may have intended these places as alternative sites of worship for the convenience of his Northern Kingdom constituents, “The golden claves he caused to be erected … were probably not intended to be construed as pagan images per se but representations of animals on whose back stood the invisible god, unseen by the eye of the worshiper. Similar practices involving the worship of the Canaanite god Baal Hadad are well documented in the literature and art of Ugarit. It was inevitable that religious confusion and apostasy would soon set in.”22
4:16 Building on the thought of the calf worship at Beth Aven, Hosea produces another pun. By worshiping the calf at Bethel/Beth Aven Israel has demonstrated a lack of spiritual insight. By abandoning Yahweh it has once again shown itself to be a “stubborn heifer.” As Garrett remarks, “A stubborn heifer was a cow that refused to go where her owner led (cf. Jer 31:18). The stubbornness of the people made it impossible for God to give them peace and prosperity.”23 Yahweh warns that the heifer will soon have no access to religious cultic sites but be put out to pasture (i.e., sent into captivity) “like a lamb in a broad field.” Alternatively, Stuart suggests that the Hebrew term underlying “broad field” is a “synecdoche for the ‘Afterworld,’ Sheol (cf. Ps 49:15 ),” hence a term meaning death.24
4:18 Hosea again mentions the Israelites association with drinking and prostitution (cf. v. 11). These two are linked together in order of their employment: first the drinking and then when the drinks are gone, the participants turn to sex. The Qere reading of Ezekiel 23:42 links drunkenness with sexual orgies (vv. 43-44). The last line of the MT is notoriously difficult and has occasioned many proposed solutions. Particularly troublesome is the last word (lit. her shields). The NET has apparently interpreted these shields as a synecdoche for what they represent, that is their shameful sexual behavior. It may be that decorative or ornamental shields were used in connection with the rites of the sacred prostitution so that the word is to be literally understood.
4:19 Sweeney points out that the Hebrew biqna„pe‚ha„ (NET, her wings) more than likely is to be understood as “her skirts”: “The meaning ’her skirts’ is clear from the sexual imagery of the preceding verse (cf. Isa 8:8; Ezek 16:8; Ruth 3:9; cf. Deut 23:1 [NRSV: 22:30]; 27:20).”25 However, one views verses 18 and 19, it is clear that Israel’s sin of idolatrous worship will lead to their destruction like disaster born of a whirlwind (cf. Prov. 1:27; Hos. 8:7).
1 Richard D. Patterson, “Singing the New Song: An Examination of Psalms 33, 96, 98 and 149,” BibSac 164 (2007): 416-434.
2 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:44.
3 Terence E. Fretheim, “ud,” NIDOTTE, 2:413.
4 See the helpful study by Carl J. Bosma, “Creation in Jeopardy: A Warning to Priests (Hos 4:1-3),” CTJ 34 (1999): 64 –116.
5 As U. Cassuto (“The Prophet Hosea and the Books of the Pentateuch,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1973], 1:89) suggests, the placing of adultery last in the sequence is deliberate: “It is permissible to suppose that he may have done this intentionally, in order to mention, at the end of his theme, the sin of adultery, Israel’s principle sin according to Hosea’s outlook.”
6 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets 1:45; see further, Bosma, “Creation in Jeopardy,” 64-116.
7 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 136.
8 For details of Jacob’s encounter with the angel of God and his subsequence name change, see Richard D. Patterson, “The Old Testament Use of an Archetype: The Trickster,” JETS 42 (1999): 385-394.7
9 For details see Patterson and Austel, “1 & 2 Kings,” 4:249.
10 E.g., Wolff, 66; Stuart, 72-87.
11 For the theory of covenant lawsuits in the OT, see further K. Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and Judge. JSOTsup.9 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1978).
12 See the translation by A. Cohen in The Twelve Prophets, Soncino Books of the Bible (New York: Soncino Press, 1985), 14.
13 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 57.
14 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 120.
15 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 79.
16 See Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 363-364.
17 The use of the Hebrew infinitive construct in nominal fashion is well established. See, for example the excellent discussion in Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Conner, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 601-603, 605-606.
18 To the contrary, see Frédéric Gangloff, “A l’ombre des Déesses-arbres? (Os 4:12-14),” BN 106 (2001): 13-20. Gangloff decides that these verses relate to the worship of the goddess Asherah, but disallows any reference to sacred prostitution.
19 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 82.
20 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 371.
21 Leon J. Wood, “Hosea,” EBC, ed., Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:188.
22 Patterson and Austel, “1 & 2 Kings,” 4:188.
23 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 137.
24 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 85.
25 Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, 1:51.
5:1 Hear this, you priests!
Pay attention, you Israelites!
Listen closely, O king!
For judgment is about to overtake you!
For you were like a trap to Mizpah,
like a net spread out to catch Tabor.
2 Those who revolt are knee-deep in slaughter,
but I will discipline them all.
3 I know Ephraim all too well;
the evil of Israel is not hidden from me.
For you have engaged in prostitution, O Ephraim;
Israel has defiled itself.
4 Their wicked deeds do not allow them to return to their God;
because a spirit of idolatry controls their heart,
and they do not acknowledge the Lord.
5 The arrogance of Israel testifies against it;
Israel and Ephraim will be overthrown because of their iniquity.
Even Judah will be brought down with them.
6 Although they bring their flocks and herds
to seek the favor of the Lord,
They will not find him –
he has withdrawn himself from them!
7 They have committed treason against the Lord,
because they bore illegitimate children.
Soon the new moon festival will devour them and their fields.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea issues another indictment of Israel’s leadership. As in 4:1 the indictment is introduced by a call to hear what the Lord has to say through his prophet Hosea. Once again the charges are directed at those most responsible for Israel’s plight—Israel’s leaders. The indictment is presented in Hosea’s familiar threefold style. Not only are the priests guilty of misleading the people and the people condemnable for willingly following the leaders of society, but even the king shares in the blame (cf. Jer. 2:26). For ultimately he had the authority and responsibility to see to it that the nation kept on a proper spiritual course.
God’s judgment is thus particularly aimed at these individuals. To underscore their culpability, the Lord alludes to two traditional places where Israel’s leadership has failed. The first is Mizpah in Benjamin, which was an important administrative and religious site in the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:1-14). It was there that Samuel summoned Israel’s leadership for a religious service following the return of the ark from Philistine territory. In that service the leaders were asked to confess their sin in the mishandling of God’s sacred ark.
The second place, Mount Tabor, which lay at the northeastern tip of the Jezreel Valley, was noted for its association with the famous battle in the days of the judges Deborah and Barak. It was there that some tribes failed to respond to the call to battle. Both places were thus scenes of God’s blessing that was tempered by a note of failed leadership. Even worse, both had become centers of false cult worship. The allusion to these two sites includes an implied simile. Just as these places of victory were tainted by some examples of failed leadership, so Israel’s present leaders have failed to dispel the spiritual corruption at contemporary Mizpah and Tabor. Rather than being a part of the rejoicing and an avenue of God’s blessing, Israel’s present leaders were like those who set out traps and nets to catch the prey -- in this case the Israelite populace.
The result is that these revered placed in Israelite history have become scenes of spiritual degradation. So deeply stained with sin have these historic places become that they may be described as “knee deep in slaughter.” The reference may carry a double meaning and possibly refer to the heinous crime of child sacrifice as well as metaphorically to Israel’s people as “slaughtered” victims of their leaders. Because of this, Israel’s leadership is in a real sense responsible for Israel’s present condition and may expect God’s soon severe judgment (vv. 1-2).
God warns the nation that he knows full well its sins. The most despicable of these is that of idolatry and its accompanying prostitution (v. 3). Indeed, the Scriptures remind God’s people that he is an omniscient God—One who is fully aware of all that transpires on planet earth and even knows what people are thinking (e.g., 1 Chron. 28:9; Pss. 94:11; 139:15; 147:5; Jer. 16:17; cf. Isa. 40:28; 65:24; 66:18; Ezek. 11:5; etc.). The Lord singles out Ephraim particularly for its leading role in all of this. For the importance of Ephraim’s leadership role in the Northern Kingdom is longstanding. Its very first king Jeroboam I was from Ephraim and it was he who began the worship at rival religious centers. So politically important and strong was the tribe of Ephraim that its name frequently was used to designate all Israel. Accordingly, Garrett is doubtless correct in remarking, “‘Israel’ and ‘Ephraim’ … are the corporate body, institutions, and cultural ideals that make up the northern kingdom.”1
Because of Ephraim’s leading role in sponsoring spiritual and physical prostitution, all Israel has become infected with this spiritual disease. Due to this rampant sin, God’s people are left with no real knowledge of Yahweh. Certainly it cannot worship foreign pagan gods such as Baal and still acknowledge Yahweh as he deserves to be worshiped—the only true God (cf. Matt. 6:24). Quite the contrary, they have become arrogant, self-serving and entrenched in their harlotry as their activities clearly demonstrate. Therefore, Ephraim and all Israel with it must face the Lord’s judgment. Sadly, even Judah and the Southern Kingdom will be carried away along with them. Rather than learning the lesson that God will surely deal with sin even in his own people as demonstrated in his dealing with the Northern Kingdom, Judah will also ultimately come to ruin due to its infatuation with paganism (vv. 4-5).
Hosea concludes this short oracle (vv. 6-7) by telling the people that mere religiosity will avail them nothing. Pure and undefiled spirituality cannot coexist in syncretistic worship with pagan rituals. For that which was practiced in false rituals demonstrates that there is no real knowledge, devotion, or commitment to Yahweh. Indeed, he will not brook any compromise of his essential being and glory (cf. Deut. 5:7-10; 6:4, 13-15; Isa. 42:8; 45:5-6; Matt. 4:10). Accordingly, to go on mechanistically observing the sacrificial system without real heartfelt devotion as though the Lord was to be placated by or satisfied with their observances is both meaningless and useless. Without real repentance God’s people cannot find God let alone achieve his favor.
In a brilliant metaphor Hosea points out that Mother Israel’s religious heart has given birth to illegitimate spiritual children—those who worship Baal and other gods rather than Yahweh. God warns his people that their spiritual abuses will prove to be their undoing. This is symbolized in their misuse of the new moon festivals, which had because of Israel’s apostasy and debased religiosity become abominations to the Lord (cf. Isa. 1:13; Hos. 2:11). The new moon festivals were meant to emphasize a new dedication to Yahweh. The sin offering together with the burnt, meal, and drink offerings were designed to speak directly of the people’s commitment to the Lord. The burnt offering was to symbolize their dedication to the Lord, while the meal offering reminded God’s people that heartfelt service to the Lord was the natural outflow of true dedication. The drink offering was to be the capstone of spiritual expression—a life poured out in a fruitful, joyous, and consecrated life before the Lord.
It is no accident that the Apostle Paul could draw upon the imagery of these offerings to portray his consecration and commitment to God (Phil. 2:12-18). Were Paul to die in the Roman prison from which he is writing, his death would be merely a joyous drink offering to their dedicated sacrifice (= the burnt offering) and priestly service (= the meal offering), which the Philippians’ faith had evidenced. Accordingly, he could rejoice and urges them, too, to rejoice. Theirs had been a sacrificial faith and loving service. What would be more appropriate than for Paul to crown that consecration with the drink offering of his life?
Such was not the case with Hosea’s Israel, however. Their sacrifices had become a sham, a mockery, and even pure hypocrisy. Therefore, their sin would prove to be their undoing via God’s judgment. Rather than achieving God’s blessing, they have committed themselves to his chastisement. Even their crops and fields would be affected. What would be “new” would not be the new moon festivals but the nation’s demise together with the devouring of their fields at the hands of foreign invaders.2
5:1 The NET’s translations “you Israelites” and “O king” are ad sensum renderings of the MT’s “O house of Israel” and “O house of the king” respectively. The emphasis on the culpability of Israel’s leadership, however, suggests that Garrett is probably correct in holding that the term “house of Israel” more than likely refers especially to the leaders of Israelite society—“The landed middle and upper classes.”3 Thus construed, Hosea’s threefold call to hear involves priests, Israelite leadership, and the royal house including the king.
5:1 The words “trap” and “net” designate terms most commonly associated with devices designed to catch birds. As the NET note further emphasizes, both terms are at times used figuratively, especially to designate those who employed nefarious means to ensnare others so as to take advantage of them.
5:1-2 Hosea’s threefold call to Israel’s leadership is accompanied by a twofold reason for doing so introduced by the Hebrew particle kî: (1) judgment is coming (2) because of their failure to maintain vital religion, which has enmeshed all Israelite society in their spiritual rebellion (cf. vv. 3-5).
5:2 The first line of v. 2 is a notorious crux (see NET note). In following the text of MT the NET translation underscores the depth of Israel’s spiritual rebellion (cf. NASB, NIV, NKJV). Some (e.g., Andersen and Freedman; Hubbard) have suggested that Hosea’s remarks point to the despicable practice of child sacrifice.4 Some translations (e.g., NRSV, REB) depend on minor emendations to the Hebrew text (see NET text note) so as to find in addition to Mizpah and Mount Tabor a third time honored location—Shittim (cf. NLT, “acacia grove”). Thus construed there are three locations of spiritual significance where Israel’s rebellion manifested itself. Thus Sweeney points out, “Each of these sites can be considered a snare or trap for Israel: … All of these sites were important to the formation of the Israelite nation, including its monarchy, its identity as a united people, and its priesthood. Hosea roundly criticizes all three throughout the balance of his oracles.”5
Although the proposed emendation yields good sense and would provide yet another example of Hosea’s literary style in presenting things in groups of three, one always hesitate to tamper with the existing MT.6 Commendable sense can certainly be made of the MT as demonstrated by the NET. Note also the decision of McComiskey who after a careful examination of the problem translates the line in question, “And through slaughter they sink ever deeper into acts of rebellion.” 7
5:3 For Hosea’s use of the theme of Israelite infidelity/spiritual harlotry see (4:10-18; 5:3-4; 6:10; 7:4; 8:4-6, 9; 9:1, 10, 15; 11:2, 7; 12:11; cf. 2:2-13). The term “defiled” to refer to idolatry, hence spiritual infidelity, is attested elsewhere in the OT (e.g., Jer. 2:7).
5:4 Due to Israel’s spiritual infidelity and social corruption, Hosea often speaks of the need of repentance (e.g., 2:14; 3:5; 6:6-7; 7:8-10; 14:4).
5:4-5 Some (e.g., Sweeney) have found in Hosea’s words a hint of the divorce procedure (cf. Deut. 24:1-4), the thought being that Israel’s spiritual harlotry has caused God to divorce his “wife” Israel. Yet as Stuart notes, the situation appears to be that “Israel’s citizens are kept away from Yahweh by their own deeds.”8 Laetsch adds, “So deeply had the people become enmeshed in the toils of idolatry that they never gave a thought to returning to the true worship”9 and Achtemeier observes, “The Israelites had become enslaved to their sin and have no possibility of returning by their own power to a faithful and loving relationship with God.”10 The point is that Israel is deeply involved in its own spiritual harlotry and has become arrogantly proud of it.11 Thus Achtemeier remarks, “Though helpless in sin, Israel does not recognize its own corruption and takes great pride in its syncretistic and lavish worship (v. 5), flocking to the high places to offer multitudinous sacrifices (v.6).”12
5:6 God’s withdrawal has occasioned many suggestions. Thus Sweeney suggests that God has withdrawn himself from his apostate wife via divorce proceedings.13 Achtemeier, however, holds that God may simply be leaving them “to their fate, abandoning them to the death that is inevitable when the God of life is absent (v. 7).”14 God’s withdrawing of himself may be viewed as his absenting himself from Israel’s sacrifices because of their feigned attempts at worshiping him.
5:7 Sweeney holds that the reference to illegitimate children indicates that there is an allusion here to the situation with Gomer in 1:2-2:2: “Because she is described as a harlot, the posterity of the children is implicitly in question.”15 Chisholm suggests that the reference could also be to illegitimate children born as a result of religious prostitution.16 The reference is more than likely, however, to spiritual illegitimacy as practiced by the devotees of Baal. The Israelites had not only practiced spiritual harlotry but taught their children to do so likewise.
5:7 Although Andersen and Freedman, and Sweeney allow the possibility that the Hebrew noun h£o„desŒ may better be read as h£a„da„sŒ, hence a “new person” (or “someone else, i.e., a foreigner or strange god) will eat the sacrifices, the unemended text makes perfectly good sense as indicating the misuse of the new moon festivals will occasion Israel’s self-destruction. God’s judgment will soon be brought to bear upon those sinful activities.
5:8 Blow the ram’s horn in Gibeah!
Sound the trumpet in Ramah!
Sound the alarm in Beth Aven!
Tremble in fear, O Benjamin!
9 Ephraim will be ruined in the day of judgment!
What I am declaring to the tribes of Israel will certainly take place!
10 The princes of Judah are like those who move boundary markers.
I will pour out my rage on them like a torrential flood!
11 Ephraim will be oppressed, crushed under judgment,
because he was determined to pursue worthless idols.
12 I will be like a moth to Ephraim,
like wood rot to the house of Judah.
13 When Ephraim saw his sickness
and Judah saw his wound,
then Ephraim turned to Assyria,
and begged its great king for help.
But he will not be able to heal you!
He cannot cure your wound!
14 I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I myself will tear them to pieces,
then I will carry them off, and no one will be able to rescue them!
15 Then I will return again to my lair
until they have suffered their punishment.
Then they will seek me;
in their distress they will earnestly seek me.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea begins this section with another call to attention and action. His instruction to “blow the ram’s horn” (or shofar) is particularly a propos. The shofar could be sounded for many reasons. “It was used from earliest times as a signal to battle (e.g., Judg 3:27; 6:34) or as a signal of imminent danger (e.g., Hos 5:8; 8:1; Amos 3:6). The sŒo‚pa„r had both sacred and secular uses.”17 Hosea’s charge contains a calculated double entendre: not only is danger imminent but there is a play on the closing thought of the last section—the New Moon festival. For among the many religious days when the shofar was to be blown (e.g., the Day of Atonement, Lev. 25:9; Pentecost, 2 Chron. 15:4) was the New Moon festival (Ps. 81:3). Hosea has already condemned Israel’s hypocrisy on this latter occasion (Hos. 5:7) and warned the people that such degradation of the Lord’s service would ultimately destroy them. Now the sounding of the shofar was to be understood not only as a call to assembly but as a warning that the danger of God’s judgment lay close at hand.
Hosea’s warning call most likely reflects the unsettled conditions that prevailed in the mid-eighth century B.C. and following. This period stands in stark contrast to the earlier part of that century, which under Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom and Uzziah in the south enjoyed an era of prosperity unparalleled since the days of Solomon both economically and politically. Together these kings claimed much the same territorial dimension as did the founder of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this high water mark of prosperity for the twin kingdoms would not long endure. In the north, with the death of Jeroboam II in 752 B.C. kings of lesser ability, who often vied with one another for local, if not national, supremacy, ruled the kingdom. Jeroboam’s son Zechariah reigned only six months before being assassinated by Shallum, who in turned reigned but one month before being killed by Menahem. The latter’s ten year reign (751-742 B.C.) was characterized by spiritual weakness and subservience to the rising power of Assyria.
Meanwhile in Assyria a usurper now occupied the throne as Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 16:6), also called Pulu (or Pul, 2 Kings 15:19). His reign (745-727 B.C.) marked the beginning of a new day in the ancient Near East, when Assyrian resurgence would blossom into the mighty Neo-Assyrian Empire (745-612 B.C.). When in 743 B.C. Tiglath-pileser’s armies ravaged much of Syria, Menahem and Israel paid him a heavy tribute to keep him from engulfing the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 15:19-20).
Israel’s difficulties in the face of Assyrian aggression were compounded by its internal squabbling. Although Menahem ruled from Tirzah, a strong rival named Pekah ruled in Gilead. Pekah’s strength was such that after Menahem’s death, he was able to overthrow Pekahiah, Menahem’s son and successor, and claim sole rulership of all Israel (740-732 B.C.) Pekah’s independent rule was faced with a growing Assyrian menace. For Tiglath-pileser III began a second western campaign in 734 B.C. to break-up a western anti-Assyrian coalition. Among the chief dissidents were the Aramean king Rezin and Pekah of Israel. By 732 B.C. the Assyrian thrusts not only brought about the surrender of Damascus but also reduced the entire west to vassalage.
When Tiglath-pileser died in 727 B.C., the next king of Israel Hoshea found opportunity to forego sending tribute to Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.) and sought help from a certain So, King of Egypt (2 Kings 17:3-4) 18. The plan backfired and soon Samaria was attacked and after a three-year siege, the Israelite capital fell and its citizens were deported (2 Kings 17:5-6).
If Israel’s position was tenuous by 732 B.C., Judah’s was scarcely little better. After the death of Uzziah in 740 B.C., kings of lesser ability came to the throne. Particularly detrimental to Judah’s spiritual state was Ahaz (736-716 B.C.). Although he attempted to pursue Judah’s political independence by courting Assyria’s favor, as the Chronicler would later point out, the Assyrian king gave Ahaz “more trouble than support” (2 Chron. 28:20). Sadly, Ahaz’s infatuation with Assyrian and foreign culture further advanced his already apostate heart and paved the way for the growing spiritual callousness that would one day necessitate God’s judgment upon the Southern Kingdom.
It is to this latter period that most interpreters point as to the setting for this portion of Hosea’s prophecy. Particularly reference is often made to the Syro-Ephraimite war (735 B.C.; cf. 2 Kings 15:29-30; 16:5-9; Isa. 7:1-16). In accordance with this theory when the Aramean king Rezin and the Israelite king Pekah attempted to take Jerusalem, Ahaz appealed to the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III for help.19 When Tiglath-pileser defeated this coalition, Ahaz saw an opportunity to expand Judah’s territory northward. Yet, this explanation scarcely fits the context well. For although the text likens Judah to those “who move boundary markers” (v. 10), it is Ephraim/Israel that is condemned for turning to Assyria for help (v. 13). Furthermore, the Scriptures indicate that at the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war Judah was too weak to mount such an attack.
Although the mid to late eighth century B.C. likely marks the setting for Hosea’s prophecy here, it is probably best not to look for any specific historical event. Rather, the reference in verse 13 may simply point to long-standing general Israelite foreign policy together with the prevailing spiritual and moral degeneracy in the Northern Kingdom. Nor was the situation in Judah much better. Accordingly, God warned his people of his impending judgment in the form of foreign invasion (vv. 8-11).
Hosea’s similes in verse 12 are again quite meaningful. In a strange if not grotesque simile Yahweh ‘s coming judgment is likened to two destructive forces: moth rust (or rot). Just as moths eat away clothing and dry rot causes gradual deterioration, so God’s slow but certain judgment of Israel is unnoticed by his unconcerned people. It is Israel’s sinful idolatry and moral deterioration that is the cause for its demise. Because these are eating away the spiritual fiber of Israel, they are ensuring God’s certain judgment. So intent are the Lord’s people on their own way that they do not notice the degradation of their sinful practices. Yet all the while they are under God’s scrutiny and condemnation—a condition that will eventuate in their destruction (v. 12).
In their political weakness both kingdoms have submitted to the “great king” of Assyria (cf. Hos. 10:6) Thus Hoshea paid tribute to Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:3), as did Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 16:7-9). Hezekiah would later do the same thing to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13-16). Ephraim is more specifically in view here, for it was its idolatry that made it weak. The problem was thus an internal one—its spiritual relationship with Yahweh. Had they turned to Him rather than submitting to an external power, things could have been far different. Rather than being the means of their continued existence and well being, their misjudgment will prove to bring God’s judgment against His people (v. 13).
Hosea’s use of similes continues in the graphic figure of a voracious lion, which will consume its prey (v. 14). Thus God will one day violently judge His people—both Northern and Southern Kingdoms—and carry their people into captivity and exile. “The imagery is particularly pertinent in the present context as the Assyrian kings frequently portrayed themselves in palaces’ reliefs as hunters of lions, all the better to demonstrate their courage, prowess, and strength. Instead, YHWH claims the role of lion which none can overcome.”20 Continuing the imagery of a lion, Yahweh represents Himself as withdrawing to His abode much as a lion to his lair after an attack (v. 15). The Lord had previously been shown to withdraw Himself from Israel’s polluted sacrifices and idolatrous worship festivals (v. 6). All the while the Israelites have been experiencing an advancing spiritual deterioration without realizing it (v. 12) that will bring God out of His abode to enact His judgment against them (v. 14). He will then withdraw Himself to await their repentance and return to Him (v. 15).
When God’s people realize that turning in dependence on other powers, be they political (v. 13) or so-called gods (v. 11) for help is useless, and they have suffered the just consequences of their actions, they will seek earnestly the Lord’s sovereignty over them. As Keil observes, “As the lion withdraws into its cave, so will the Lord withdraw into His own place, viz. heaven, and deprive the Israelites of His gracious, helpful presence, until they repent, i.e. not only feel themselves guilty, but feel the guilt by bearing the punishment. Suffering punishment awakens the need of mercy, and impels them to seek the face of the Lord.”21
5:8 Hosea once again employs his literary style of writing in groups of three. The three cities mentioned here were situated in the southern portion of Israel and are listed in a south to north orientation. Therefore, this together with Hosea’s reference to the moving of boundary stones (v. 10) has been interpreted as reflecting a Judahite invasion in connection with the Syro-Ephramite war. Unfortunately for this seemingly otherwise logical hypothesis, no evidence exists historically of such an aggressive move by Judah so that, “the standard interpretation of this text as incrimination of Judah for territorial aggrandizement is not a good fit with what we know of the history of the period or with this context.”22
The fourth line of verse 8 is beset with uncertainties both as to the reading of the text and the understanding of its words. The NET follows the LXX in translating. “Tremble in fear, O Benjamin,” while the MT reads the enigmatic “Behind/after you, O Benjamin,” (cf. HCSB, KJV). The Hebrew phrase contains most likely another allusion to the battle at the time of Deborah and Barak (Judg. 5:14). In that battle “contingents from Benjamin, Ephraim and west bank Manasseh made up the rescue force that perhaps would follow a second assault.”23 Just as Ephraim followed after Benjamin in that early battle formation, so all the Northern Kingdom will be devastated from south to north: up through Benjamin via Giba, Ramah, and Bethel to the limits of the north. The south to north orientation could indicate a military threat from the south. Certainly this was the source of earlier conflicts between Israel and Judah (cf. 1 Kings 15:16-22). Yet, as we have noted above, Judah was scarcely in a position to launch an attack at the time of the Syro-Ephramite war. Therefore, the proximity of these cities may simply indicate that all Israel will suffer foreign invasion.
5:9 In accordance with the textual allusion to a past situation in the days of the Judges, the reference to the tribes of Israel in connection with Ephraim must mean that all Israel is intended. Moreover, what Hosea was declaring (see NET text note) was an established certainty. The root meaning of the verb employed here carries the sense of security and permanence, hence fidelity and even true faith. From this root comes the noun áe†mu‚na„h, which is often translated faith or faithfulness. Thus it is used of the faithfulness of God himself (Pss. 36:5; 40:10; Lam. 3:23) and of the necessity of the believer to be faithful in his life and service to God (2 Chron. 19:8-9). From the biblical standpoint, true faith means faithfulness in one’s life. The root has come down to believers in all ages in the sense of “Amen.”
5:10 Rather than indicating an act of military aggression, Hosea’s simile in which he likens the leaders of Judah to those “who move boundary markers,” probably indicates that corruption in Judah is also rampant. Judah’s leadership is little better than common thieves. Indeed, Ahaz’s moving of the time-honored altar in the Jerusalem Temple precincts and the substituting of a pagan one in its place was an act of robbery against God as well as one of impiety. Ahaz’s other acts of spiritual infidelity are well documented in 2 Chronicles 28:1-4, 22-25. Doubtless degradation in the royal house was reflected in various unethical acts among Judah’s elite.
5:10 In a further simile Hosea compares God’s coming judgment to a “torrential flood” (NET). Although the Hebrew word usually means simply water, the comparison with the pouring out of water to an overflowing judgment is both meaningful and in accordance with scriptural prophecies (e.g., Isa. 8:6-7; Jer. 47:2).
5:11 Verse 11 contains several problems. In parallel with the thought that in the coming judgment Ephraim will suffer oppression, the second line may be understood as “crushed under judgment” (NET), the word judgment being viewed as a genitive of cause (see NET text note). A more direct parallel would be simply to translate the two lines: “Ephraim is oppressed; justice is crushed.” In either case God’s people are being warned of the drastic results of God’s judgment upon them.
The closing line is troubled with the problem of how to understand the enigmatic s£a„w. Most commonly the noun here is emended in some fashion to mean enemy or vanity (see BHS text note). Andersen and Freedman understand the word as filth.24 Either of the last two suggestions may point to Israel’s worship of idols. The noun could also be viewed as a biform of sŒa„wá meaning that which is worthless (cf. LXX), hence “worthless idols” (NET).
1 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 144.
2 See the note on 2:11.
3 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 141.
4 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 380; Hubbard, Hosea, 114.
5 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:55. See further, Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 42-43; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 88-89.
6 For an approach respecting the primacy of the MT, see Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 111-119.
7 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 74, 75-76.
8 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 93.
9 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 51.
10 Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets , NIBC (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 1:45.
11 Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 93) finds in the reference to Israel’s arrogance testifying against it a further note of a legal nature. See also Hubbard, Hosea, 115; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 392.
12 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:45-46. It is of interest to note that the LXX renders the line here, “The pride/insolence of Israel shall be humbled to his face.”
13 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:57-58.
14 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:46.
15 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:58.
16 Chisholm, Minor Prophets, 31, 32.
17 Patterson, “Joel,” 7:246.
18 For the problem of the identification of So, see my remarks in Giving The Sense, 196-197
19 The theory of the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war as the background for Hos. 5:8-6:6 (for some, even to Hos. 7:16) is attributable to the suggestion of Albrecht Alt, “Hosea 5:8-6:6. Ein Krieg und seine Folgen in prophetischer Beleuchtung,” in Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israel (München: Beck, 1953), 163-187. Sweeney (Twelve Prophets, 1:62) follows a better path in suggesting that “Hos 5:8-7:16 must be read in relation to the debate concerning Israel’s foreign relations that must have taken place in Israel late in the reign of Jeroboam and during the reign of Zechariah.”
20 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 68.
21 Carl Friedrich Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, Trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 1:93-94. Theo. Laetsch (The Minor Prophets [St. Louis: Concordia, 1956], 55) adds, “To effect such a return was the very purpose He had in mind when He wounded and tore them to such an extent that human aid was of no avail.”
22 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 151-52.
23 Richard D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, eds., John S. and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 144.
24 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 410.
6:1 “Come on! Let’s return to the Lord!
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
2 He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
3 So let us acknowledge him!
Let us seek to acknowledge the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land.”
Exegesis and Exposition
After his prophecy of Israel’s realization of its spiritual failure with the result that the Israelites once again seek the Lord (5:15), Hosea urgently exhorts his people to return to the Lord. To be sure, Israel’s punishment was deserved, but the God of all mercy stood ready to welcome and restore His people. As Sweeney points out, Hosea’s plea builds upon the language of the preceding section. Thus the “use of the verbs t£rp, ‘to tear,’ and rpá, ‘to heal,’ certainly takes up terminology from the preceding statements that present YHWH as a lion ‘tearing’ its prey (Hos 5:14) and the Assyrian monarch as unable to ‘heal’ the people (Hos 5:13).”1 The deliberate employment of such literary hooks not only emphasizes the severity of God’s coming punishment but the certainty of His forgiveness for His repentant people. Moreover, the language clearly provides a contrasting metaphorical image. Yahweh, the voracious lion (5:14), is also the great physician (cf. Pss. 30:2-3; 103:3; 107:18-20). With repentance, therefore, can come full restoration (cf. Isa. 54:1-8).
The prophet’s assurance of God’s forgiveness and restoration of His people is presented under the motif of the third day. Although the NET properly calls attention to the numerical sequence 2—3, nonetheless the third day motif is one of the more significant scriptural themes. Thus God appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai on the third day (Exod. 19:10-16). The third day was also a day of crucial decision (1 Kings 12:12; Esth. 4:16; 5:1), and of healing and sacrifice (Lev. 7:17-18; 19:6-7; Num. 19:12, 19-20). It is of interest to note that the third day was the day for Hezekiah’s recovery (2 Kings 20:8). Jesus often told his disciples of a coming third day when, after his death, he would rise again (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22), and so it comes as no surprise that Christ was gloriously raised on the third day (Luke 24:21; 1 Cor. 15:4).
In the light of its Old Testament precedents, Hosea’s use of this motif would fall upon ears that were familiar with its significance. The Lord’s healing and restoration was not only certain, but when it happened, it would be a very special day of victory for God’s people.
Hosea continues his prayerful plea to his people by urging them sincerely to know and acknowledge Yahweh as Lord. Hosea has repeatedly emphasized that Israel’s syncretistic and resultant immoral conduct demonstrated that they did not really know the Lord (e.g., 4:1, 6; 5:4). If they would truly return to the One who alone can heal their spiritual sickness (6:1-2), they will come to know Him intimately and experience His manifold blessings (v. 3).
The prophet’s assurances are as certain as the regularity of God-supervised nature itself. Hosea points out that the future threefold nature of God’s blessing upon a repentant and accepted people is as certain as (1) the coming of the dawn of each new day and (2) the winter and (3) spring rains. Yet there is more. As Garrett observes, “Yahweh’s advent is portrayed as a time of joy, like the dawn after a dark night. The language is not accidental. Rather it is a reversal of the punishment in the second oracle, the devouring of the land by the new moon (5:7).”2
Hosea’s exhortation and assurances are reminiscent of Joel’s similar advice to his hearers (Joel 2:12-17) in as much as he also pleads with his people to return to the Lord with all their heart (v.12). Because Yahweh was a compassionate God, they might expect that with genuine repentance there would come not only forgiveness, but God’s restored blessings (vv. 13-14). Properly understood, in Joel’s words there is the reminder that it is the Lord who sends the early and latter rains (cf. Joel 2:23). For both prophets, then, the imagery and message are the same. God’s people stood in need of genuine repentance. Should they genuinely repent, it may be confidently expected that their loving covenant Lord would again rain down His blessings upon them.
6:1 Hosea’s exhortation is followed by a double reason for returning to the Lord. Although the Lord will tear His people apart, He will give healing; although He will smite them, He will bind up their wounds. Stuart may be correct in holding that the double imperative, “Come, come let us return” may better be understood as a hendiadys.3 If so, it will underscore the urgency of Hosea’s plea: “O do let us return to the Lord!”
6:2 Hosea’s threefold literary style can once again be felt. The Lord’s reviving and restoration of His people will bring a new life situation in His presence.4
6:4 What am I going to do with you, O Ephraim?
What am I going to do with you, O Judah?
For your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew!
5 Therefore, I will certainly cut you into pieces at the hands of the prophets;
I will certainly kill you in fulfillment of my oracles of judgment;
for my judgment will come forth like the light of the dawn.
6 For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.
7 At Adam they broke the covenant;
Oh how they were unfaithful to me!
8 Gilead is a city full of evildoers;
its streets are stained with bloody footprints!
9 The company of priests is like a gang of robbers,
lying in ambush to pounce on a victim.
They commit murder on the road to Shechem;
they have done heinous crimes!
10 I have seen a disgusting thing in the temple of Israel:
there Ephraim practices temple prostitution
and Judah defiles itself.
11 I have appointed a time to reap judgment for you also, O Judah!
Whenever I want to restore the fortunes of my people,
7:1 whenever I want to heal Israel,
the sin of Ephraim is revealed,
and the evil deeds of Samaria are exposed.
For they do what is wrong;
thieves break into houses,
and gangs rob people out in the streets.
2 They do not realize
that I remember all of their wicked deeds.
Their evil deeds have now surrounded them;
their sinful deeds are always before me.
3 The royal advisers delight the king with their evil schemes,
the princes make him glad with their lies.
4 They are all like bakers,
they are like a smoldering oven;
they are like a baker who does not stoke the fire
until the kneaded dough is ready for baking.
5 At the celebration of their king,
his princes become inflamed with wine;
they conspire with evildoers.
6 They approach him, all the while plotting against him.
Their hearts are like an oven;
their anger smolders all night long,
but in the morning it bursts into a flaming fire.
7 All of them are blazing like an oven;
they devour their rulers.
All of their kings fall –
and none of them call on me!
8 Ephraim has mixed itself like flour among the nations;
Ephraim is like a ruined cake of bread that is scorched on one side.
9 Foreigners are consuming what his strenuous labor produced,
but he does not recognize it!
His head is filled with gray hair,
but he does not realize it!
10 The arrogance of Israel testifies against him,
yet they refuse to return to the Lord their God!
In spite of all this they refuse to seek him!
11 Ephraim has been like a dove,
easily deceived and lacking discernment.
They called to Egypt for help;
they turned to Assyria for protection.
12 I will throw my bird net over them while they are flying,
I will bring them down like birds in the sky;
I will discipline them when I hear them flocking together.
13 Woe to them! For they have fled from me!
Destruction to them! For they have rebelled against me!
I want to deliver them,
but they have lied to me.
14 They do not pray to me,
but howl in distress on their beds;
They slash themselves for grain and new wine,
but turn away from me.
15 Although I trained and strengthened them,
they plot evil against me!
16 They turn to Baal;
they are like an unreliable bow.
Their leaders will fall by the sword
because their prayers to Baal have made me angry.
So people will disdain them in the land of Egypt.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea continues his complaints concerning Israel’s infidelity by posing the Lord’s rhetorical question concerning His people: just what was the Lord to do with such an inconsistently faithful people as His Israel and Judah? (6:4). Indeed, their fidelity to God’s person and standards was as fleeting as the quickly disappearing morning mist or dew. As these appear briefly only to vanish with the rising sun, so God’s people have shown brief flashes of spiritual progress and then have shortly afterwards resorted to their own selfish ways. Even worse now, they attempt to blend the worship of Yahweh with respect for foreign deities.
The Lord expects no answer to His question, nor is He looking for information from His hearers. The rhetorical question is couched in human phraseology in order to make the Lord’s people understand His great concern for them. Much as a parent is so disappointed with his child’s conduct that he almost throws up his hands in despair, so a loving God warns His people that His seeming tardiness in withholding their deserved punishment is nearing an end. Through His prophets God has repeatedly warned His people of the dangers of apostasy, compromise, and infidelity. They have often enough conveyed messages of judgment (e.g., Joel 1). Hosea has previously represented Israel as a stubborn heifer (4:16). Now as an animal destined to be sacrificed is slain and cut into pieces, so the words spoken through the Lord’s prophets will surely be fulfilled. The imagery, though extreme (but cf. 5:14), is reminiscent of the psalmist’s complaint in Psalm 44:11, “You handed us over like sheep to be eaten.” Yet as Stuart points out, “These words reflect the curses of the Mosaic Covenant through catchword connections with Deut 33 and 32… . The punishment of being ‘killed’ (grh) is a covenant judgment (Amos 4:10; 9:1, 4), though the notion of killing is expressed via other vocabulary in Deut 28 and 32.”5 Indeed, covenant Israel stands in the line of long covenant breakers and thus God’s people should expect the penalties associated with covenant violation to be imposed upon them.
Moreover, the word of threatened prophetic judgment stands imminently near fulfillment. Much as Israel’s fidelity quickly fled like mist or dew before the morning light so the light of prophesied judgment is fast approaching and will justly expose their decreed severe chastisement (6:5). The Lord reinforces His righteous decision concerning His people by revealing His true heart’s condition (6:6). He never considered their sacrifices as ends in themselves but as expressions of genuine contrition, concern, and commitment of life to the Lord and His holy ways. The offering of a sacrifice without sincere faithfulness to the Lord and true acknowledgement to Him as the only true God was meaningless ritual. What the Lord desired was His people’s heart and devotion, not outward ritual (cf. Isa 1:11). Worse still, as Hosea has already pointed out, these times of sacrificial offerings have been occasions of cultic prostitution, drunkenness, and the honoring of pagan gods (4:18-19; 5:3-5).
Hosea concludes his lesson on covenant faithfulness (6:7) by pointing out the seriousness of his people’s situation. Humanity’s progenitor Adam violated God’s pure covenant with him and plunged the whole human race into alienation from God (Gen. 3:1-19). Contemporary Israel betrays its roots in Adam. No less than he, this people of God has violated God’s subsequent covenant with them, especially in the observances at the places of pagan worship. The implication is clear: much as Adam was cast out of the garden, so Israel must be sent into exile.
Building upon the previous transitional material in (6:7), Hosea goes on to point out the effects of the covenant violations, which permeate current Israelite society (6:8-11a). All Israel is spiritually and morally corrupt, including God’s people living on the east side of the Jordan River (v. 8). Viewing Gilead as a synecdoche for all Trans-Jordanian Israel, the entire district is described under the metaphor of a “city full of evildoers.” Thus the “city” is filled with iniquity and bloody deeds. Later, Hosea will point out that all of this stems from their idolatrous practices.
Returning to a consideration of west bank Israel (vv. 9-10), Hosea declares that even the religious leaders are corrupt. Under the simile of an ambush, Hosea depicts Israel’s priests as nothing better than a gang of murderous thieves who waylay their traveling victims.6 In mentioning Shechem Hosea may well be not only condemning current conditions but doing so as a recreation of past atrocities there. Shechem was a traditional Levitical city and place of refuge (Josh. 21:20-21) and played a major role in the days of the division of the United Kingdom (1 Kings 12:1). Yet it had also been the scene of the rape of Dinah and the subsequent treachery employed by Levi and Simon in avenging their sister’s violation (Gen. 34). As in that early time, the priests of Hosea’s day are not only acting deceitfully in sponsoring the current worship practices at places of pagan worship, but the crimes of society can in large measure be attributed to the priests who by their lax spirituality and lack of moral fiber encourage loose conduct to be normative. The reference to Shechem may also involve specific crimes perpetrated nearby, for the road to Bethel, a site for pagan worship, ran through Shechem.
Hosea’s threefold use of allusion to events, people, and places (Adam, Gilead, and Shechem) in Israel’s history to depict the corruption of current Israelite society is thus quite graphic. Indeed, the people of Israel continue the practice of covenant violation. Therefore, just as in the case of Adam, Israel should expect divine judgment. Much as Jacob wrestled with the angel of God in Gilead, so Trans-Jordanian Israel will face the Lord—but this time not with a blessing but with an imposing of the curses for covenant breaking.7 Much as Shechem was a scene for deceit and murder, so current conditions in the Northern Kingdom are little better.
Hosea goes on once again to point to the most disgusting aspect of Israel’s apostasy: its cultic worship involving ritual prostitution (v. 10). The theme is already a familiar one in Hosea’s prophecy. Yet it must be repeatedly brought up because it symbolized the root of Israel’s problem. Such practices reveal Israel’s deceit in feigning total allegiance to Yahweh, while engaging in the rites of the worship of pagan gods. Lest Judah believe itself to be spiritually superior to Israel, Hosea warns them that spiritual defilement has led to moral corruption there as well (v. 11a). Accordingly, God has appointed a “harvest” time for them also. Like his contemporaries Joel (3:13) and Amos (8:2), Hosea speaks of Judah’s coming judgment under the imagery of a harvest.8 Hosea has already singled out Judah’s spiritual and moral problems (e.g., 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12-14; 6:4) and Judah will occupy Hosea’s attention again (cf. 10:11; 11:12; 12:2). Indeed, Wood is correct in observing that “Judah seems never to have been far from Hosea’s mind.”9
Hosea proceeds to yet another problem with his people. As Sweeney notes, “YHWH’s charges against Israel take on a somewhat new dimension in Hos 6:11b-7:2 when the Deity argues that Israel turns away from YHWH even when they are restored and healed.”10 Indeed, despite God’s many times of wooing of His people, especially through His prophets, their deeply engrained sin keeps them from a positive response so as to accomplish their healing and restoration. The entire country, including the capital city of Samaria, is beset with great spiritual and moral wickedness. Throughout the land from top to bottom villainous deeds, reprehensible conduct, and immoral conditions such as deceit, burglary, and thieving are rampant. Yet God’s people scarcely take notice of it and seem not to realize that Yahweh is aware of it all. Surely they should understand that God would one day hold them accountable for such atrocities—yet they do not!11
The condemnation of Samaria (7:1) provides the background for verse 3. For it can be shown that corruption is found at the highest levels of Israelite society. Even the king is pleased by the “evil schemes” of his advisors. As McComiskey observes, “The kings who should have been faithful guardians of the purity of the nation’s Yahwistic heritage nor only failed to punish its wrongdoing but took delight in it.”12 Alas, the king has responded positively to that which he wanted to hear (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3) without realizing that meanwhile the same advisors are plotting against him (v. 6).
The Hebrew text of verse 4 is difficult and therefore has often been emended resulting in various interpretations. The unemended text reads: “They are all adulterers”—that is, king, advisors, and people alike. Hosea’s simile likens their passion to an oven kept hot while the dough rises (cf. NIV, NLT). The picture is one of degradation in all forms. The identity of the baker in verse 4 has occasioned many suggestions. Garrett is doubtless on the right track by suggesting that it refers to the king himself. This “baker” rather than keeping watch over the fire in the oven and awakens to find that the fire in the oven is a “raging inferno … we thus find that this baker is … the king who, by his inattentiveness due to his debauchery with wine and ‘sleep’ (which may allude to the adulteries of v. 4) allows evil and conspiracy to flourish.”13 The fire in the oven thus may be a metaphor for the secret plotting of the king’s trusted advisors. Thus Johnson suggests, “Hosea compared the secret plotting to the fire in the oven, which was left alone until the right moment. They humored the king until they were ready to strike. Then the heat of the conspiracy would burst forth.”14 Completing the imagery, the king’s advisors must be metaphorically identified as the hot oven (vv. 6-7). Although the king and his advisors make merry together at special events (v. 5), eventually the plotting of the advisors comes to fruition in the disposing of the king.
This extended simile portrays well current conditions in Hosea’s day. Political deceit, including plots and counterplots, marked the closing years of the Northern Kingdom. After the death of Jeroboam II in 752 BC, six kings occupied the throne in the space of 30 years. Of these, only Menahem escaped a violent end and he himself was an assassin (2 Kgs 15:13-14, 16-22) Israel’s vacillating foreign policy was partly to blame for some of the intrigue. Kings were often deposed and killed in accordance with the prevailing Assyrian or anti-Assyrian sentiment (2 Kings 15:19-20, 29-30; 17:3-6).15 What a travesty! As Stuart observes, “The lament of Israel’s only true sovereign is both plaintive and bitter: ‘Not one of them calls on me.’ If they had only sought Yahweh, he would have gladly helped them; but so arrogant and egotistical were they that they paid no attention.”16
Hosea next records God’s evaluation of the political mess in which the Northern Kingdom finds itself (vv. 8-10). Instead of relying on God, Israel has played the international game. Rather than achieving a satisfactory experience, however, Israel’s attempts have failed to achieve its desired goals. Indeed, Israel’s condition can be described as a cake that has been baked only on one side. Although Israel’s leaders have done their part in courting foreign favor through alliances and other means, their efforts have proven to be one-sided. The result therefore is unpalatable, for the foreign nations exercise their will against them.
Such attempts only continue to sap Israel’s vitality so that it continues in progressive weakness along the road to extinction as a nation. The pity is that Israel’s leaders are so blinded by their own unwise efforts that they do not realize that they are putting the nation into an increasingly dangerous position. To reinforce this, Hosea employs a picturesque simile in which he likens Israel’s condition to a man who has not taken notice of his gradually graying hair. In like manner, the Northern Kingdom has “aged” and is near passing on to its final end.
Hosea concludes this sub-unit by once again pointing to Israel’s basic problem (v. 10). In their arrogance they have refused to seek the Lord. God’s perspective has been seen already in this chapter in verse 2, where the Lord reminds his people that he is fully aware of their sins and in verse 7, in which the Lord points out that the political intrigue that beset the Northern Kingdom’s later years could be attributed to their failure to call on God for direction. He now condemns Israel’s leadership for not realizing that they have erred in carrying on their foreign policy, which was only draining Israel’s strength and hastening its demise. Worse still, in spite of that weakness due to their sin, they fail to seek the Lord!
Hosea brings this chapter to a close by reminding Israel of God’s warning concerning the consequences of its policies (vv. 11-16). He begins with yet another simile. As Oestreich points out, the imagery here is strikingly strange, for traditionally the dove was “perceived as a clever and intelligent bird, which is able to find the right way, the way home… . The explicitness of the image, therefore, could indicate that Hosea willingly contradicts the conventional knowledge about doves… . Like a dove that is the opposite of normal thus Israel is doing what can only be called madness.”17 Thus unlike the normal activities of a dove, Ephraim is like a foolish bird, not knowing where to turn or return. The picture points to Israel’s calling first to one traditional power in the ancient Near East and then another. Therefore, in yet another image God presents Himself under the metaphor of a fowler. As a fowler traps flying birds in his net, so Yahweh will bring down His people. In His divine administration of the affairs of human nations, the Lord will bring about the Northern Kingdom’s defeat by means of one of the foreign powers that Israel foolishly sought for help (vv. 11-12). Too late, Israel will receive word of its futile foreign policy (see additional note).
The divinely sent message reaches a climax (vv. 13-16) with a severe warning of God’s impending judgment upon Israel. It is cast in the form of a woe oracle.18 This oracle contains the usual elements of invective (“Woe to them!” v. 13), threat (“Destruction to them!” v. 13; and “People will disdain them in the land of Egypt” v. 16), and the reasons for the threatened punishment (the remaining material in vv. 13-16). Israel’s judgment must surely come because the people have strayed away from God and rebelled against Him. The Israelites may cry and complain concerning their distress but they do not turn to pray to the Lord. Despite the Lord’s desire and efforts to reclaim and redeem them, God’s people have lied to the Lord. This was particularly true in their worship practices. While carrying out their meaningless, merely routine observances of the Lord’s sacrifices, the people looked more to Baal and the so-called gods of the nations than to Yahweh. What hypocrisy! What deceit! And how foolish for it was Yahweh, not Baal or any other supposed deity who could redeem and protect the Lord’s people. By lacerating themselves in worshiping Baal in a vain attempt to assure the fertility of the land, they have turned away from God (vv. 13-14).
Hosea closes the entire section (4:1-7:16) with the Lord’s strong words concerning Israel’s sin (vv. 15-16). Despite the fact that God brought both instruction and sustenance to his people they turn anywhere but to Him. Therefore, it could only be concluded that in turning to other gods and human powers rather than to the Lord, they actually had plotted against Yahweh. Even what passed military prowess Israel has enjoyed has been due to the Lord’s direction and provision.
Contemporary Israel is much like a bow that has lost its tension so that an archer cannot hit his intended target. Even so Israel’s slack attitude toward God will cause it to fail to achieve its desire goals. Rather than gaining the respect and help of the foreign powers that they have courted so vigorously, they will die by the sword (i.e., at the hands of an army’s might). Such will be the outcome of Israel’s infidelity and trust in powers other than Yahweh.
6:4 The word translated “faithfulness” (NET) is the well-known Hebrew noun h£esed, which often speaks of covenant loyalty. Although it is rendered by such English equivalents as mercy, lovingkindness, and loyal love, Hosea has already used it in connection with God’s great love for Israel in terms of His established covenant with them (4:1). In a sense the translation “lovingkindness” in the older KJV remains quite appropriate, for the concept includes the thought of the Lord’s love for His people as kin. Yahweh does so by means of His covenant with Israel (i.e., He treats His people “kindly”).
6:5 Some have struggled with the concept of the Lord’s drastic treatment of His people by killing them through His prophets (e.g., McComiskey, Sweeney). It seems best to view the language as hyperbolic and presented under the imagery of a sacrifice. Israelites had sought to placate God through routinely observing the sacrificial system, but without true acknowledgement of God. Now the nation itself will be “sacrificed” as a penalty for its covenant disloyalty.
6:6 For the expression of God’s desire for covenant loyalty and genuine acknowledgement of Himself as the only true God rather than the sacrificial system being an end in itself, see 1 Sam. 15:22-23; Ps. 40:6-8; Isa. 1:11; Jer. 7:21-23; Amos 4:4-5; 5:21-27; Mic. 6:6-8.
6:7 The reference to Adam’s violation of the covenant and Israel’s unfaithfulness “there” (MT) has occasioned wide variations of interpretation. (1) Quite commonly modern translations (e.g., NET, NRSV, NJB) have followed the lead of many scholars by emending the text to read “at Adam” (e.g., Andersen and Freedman, Chisholm, Garrett, Hubbard). Thus by Adam is meant the place known in connection with the Hebrews crossing of the Jordan River (Josh. 3:16). Similarly the REB regards the noun as Adamah, the city that was destroyed in God’s judgment upon the cities of the plain (Gen. 19:29; cf. Deut. 29:23). (2) Some have understood Adam in the sense of mankind/men (e.g., LXX, KJV). (3) Many still follow the literal Hebrew and translate, “like Adam” (e.g., ESV, HCSB, NIV). Although some systematic theologians have found in this understanding an under-girding for their covenant theology, such need not be the case.19
The literal Hebrew favors the thought that Hosea’s Israel was as guilty as Adam, hence deserving of penalty. So understood, the adverb “there” need not refer to any specific city or location, but to the sacrifices offered at scenes of cultic worship. Moreover, such an interpretation flows naturally from vv. 4-6, which center on the covenant theme. So viewed, v. 7 also constitutes a hinge verse, which both builds on the concept of covenant violation and prepares the reader for further examples of Israel’s spiritual defection (vv. 8-10).20
6:8 The word translated “footprints” (NET) is commonly used for the heel. Here it serves as a synecdoche for the foot and by metonymy, that which is associated with the foot’s activities, hence a footprint—in this case a bloody one at that! Garrett calls attention to the association of the idea of a “heel” (àa„qa„b) and Jacob’s deceitful character.21
6:10 The Hebrew root underlying the translation “disgusting” (NET) or “horrible” (NIV) is a rare one. Jeremiah uses it in describing the wickedness of Judah’s spiritual leaders (Jer. 5:30; 23:14) and of Judah’s penchant for idolatry (18:13-15). He employs a kindred form of the root for spoiled figs (Jer. 29:17). The total image may suggest that the spiritual condition of God’s people is like rotten figs, a veritable stench in the nostrils of God. The NET and NIV translations underscore the noxious nature of Israel’s sin.
6:11 The relation of the final temporal clause of v. 11 can be understood in different ways. The NET agrees with many translations (e.g., HCSB, NIV, NRSV, REB) in taking v. 11b as the initial clause of the sentence beginning in 7:1. A great many commentators take the same approach (e.g., Achtemeier, Andersen and Freedman, Chisholm, Garrett, Hubbard, McComiskey, Sweeney, Wood). Other translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NJB, NLT, ESV) and commentators (e.g., Keil, Laetsch) view the clause with 6:11. The former position would understand the Lord to be saying that His attempts to turn His people back to Himself and to restore them to full fellowship only succeed in revealing the deeply entrenched sin of the Northern Kingdom. The latter view understands that not only Israel but Judah will not escape judgment during the time of God’s restoring of His people.22
6:11 Another problem in this verse is the proper translation of the final temporal clause. It has commonly been rendered either as a restoring of the fortunes of God’s people (e.g., ESV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, REB) or as the turning/returning of captivity/captives (e.g., KJV, NKJV, HCSB). Either understanding can be harmonized with the various views regarding the grammatical relations and meaning of the context.
7:1-2 Hosea’s literary style of presenting items in groups of three can be noted in these two verses. Thus he speaks of matters in the total Northern Kingdom in terms of Israel, Ephraim, and Samaria. Israel’s crimes are presented as deceit, housebreaking, and forcible robbery (v. 1). As well, God (1) remembers their wicked deeds, which (2) surround/engulf them, for (3) God sees them all (lit. “are before my face”—see NET text note).
7:4-7 Hosea’s extended simile is a complex one. The careless king is likened to a sleepy baker, his deceitful officials to an oven, and their treacherous scheming to the flaming fire in the oven. Thus the king appears to be blissfully unaware of the treachery of these trusted leaders whose deceitful hearts only await the proper moment for a coup d’état.
7:9 Andersen and Freedman reject the idea that the text refers to gray hair, pointing out that “grey hair was worn with pride and satisfaction in Israel; old age was respected, and the evening of life was a time of prestige and usefulness.”23 They suggest that a better association would be with mold.24 This interpretation, though contextually appropriate to the bread imagery, seems unlikely, however, since mold would certainly be noticeable.25
7:12 The understanding of the final clause of v. 12 is difficult. The MT reads, “According to the report to the assembly.” The seeming incongruity of the phrase with the preceding imagery of the birds has caused many different translators and commentators to emend the text (e.g., NET, NIV, NLT).26 McComiskey, however, cautions against so ready and abandonment of the MT and suggests that “the chastisement in the third line … associates the calamity with an event, that is, a report that will come to their community.”27 It may perhaps indicate a report that (too late) comes to the assembly of failed diplomatic correspondence.
7:14 Most modern translations (e.g., NET, NIV, NLT, ESV, HCSB) struggle with the MT here and attempt to bring clarity to its “assembled they” (or “excite themselves”). The NET’s “They slash themselves” is certainly contextually appropriate. Such ritual lacerations were common in Canaanite worship as in the case of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:28).
7:16 Oestreich finds the comparing of Israel’s trusting in Baal to a slack bow to be an absurd simile according to purpose. Such a bow “is useless to get the arrow to hit the target. A slack bow a tool not fitting for the purpose it is originally designed for. It might even be dangerous.” 28
7:16 The understanding of the Hebrew ya„sŒu‚bu‚ lo„á àa„l is a notorious crux interpretum, which has occasioned many emendations and interpretations (see NET text note). The simplest understanding is that of the NASB: “They turn, but not Upward” (cf. HCSB). In a similar vein the NIV renders the words as, “They do not turn to the Most High” (cf. NLT). Andersen and Freedman propose that the meaning of the last two words is “No god,” hence a derogatory epithet of Baal (cf. NET).29 Idolatry is often condemned as worshiping that which is not a god (e.g., Deut. 32:21; Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 16:20).
7:16 The meaning of the concluding line referring to Egypt has occasioned various understandings. Thus S. M. Paul suggests that the Israelite ambassadors who were carrying on negotiations with the Egyptian officials will be mocked because of their crude attempts to speak Egyptian.30 Garrett views Egypt as a metonymy representing “all gentile powers that will mock Israel when catastrophe befell them.”31 The suggestion of McComiskey is likely closer to the true understanding: “The use of Egypt to depict the impending Assyrian captivity is part of the larger philosophy that permeates the thought of many Old Testament writers. To them history could and would be repeated … . God declared if the people did not obey his law, they would be taken back to Egypt (Deut. 28:68)… . It is not literal Egypt … History is about to repeat itself as the people again become captives in a foreign land.”32 If literal Egypt is meant, it could indicate Egypt’s failure to help Israel when King Hoshea sent to Egypt for assistance in his rebellion against the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:3-4).
1 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:69
2 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 159.
3 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 107,
4 For the importance of the life-giving rain, see Mark Futato, “gesŒem,” NIDOTTE, 1:900-902. See also John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, & Mark W. Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 755-756; S. Wagner, “ya„ra‚ II,” TDOT, 6:336-339.
5 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 109-110.
6 Laetsch (Minor Prophets, 61) suggests that the charge is literally true. “The road from Samaria to Bethel, the chief seat of the calf worship, led through Shechem, and pilgrims coming from or going to Bethel were murdered, raped, outraged by gangs of priests.”
7 For Jacob as the biblical example par excellence of trickery and deceit, see Patterson, “The Trickster,” 385-394. Garrett (Hosea, Joel, 163) portrays Hosea’s reference to Jacob as taking on “the worst characteristics of Jacob—selfishness and cunning—without having his redeeming experiences—encounters with God… . His descendants, instead of being transformed into Israel, into people of God, remained Jacob, a name that Hosea has transformed into the grim phrase, ‘stained with footprints of blood.’”
8 To the contrary, Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 112) views the harvest here as a positive feature, including a coming restoration of God’s people accompanied by “divinely effectuated righteousness.”
9 Wood, “Hosea,” 195.
10 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:77.
11 The sub-units in chapter 7 are in each case closed by a specific reference to God (vv. 2, 7, 10, 13-15).
12 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 102.
13 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 169.
14 Rick Johnson, “Hosea 4-10: Pictures at an Exhibition,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 36 (1993): 24.
15 Attempts to pinpoint which king Hosea is referring to (e.g., Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:78-79) are unnecessary.
16 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 120.
17 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 111, 112.
18 For light on the form and use of woe oracles and their employment in the taunt songs of the second chapter of Habakkuk, see Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 169-191.
19 See, for example, L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 214-15.
20 As Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 111) properly points out, “v 7 is as closely connected to the thought expressed in vv 4-6 as it is as to what follows, and especially relates to v 4b as a general statement of Israel’s infidelity.” One need not follow Stuart, however, in translating the Hebrew phrase “like Adam” in novel fashion as “like dust.” (!)
21 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 163.
22 Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 112) suggests still another possibility in viewing 6:11 as a favorable action. In keeping with this, he understands 6:11-7:1 as one continuous sentence and concludes that both Judah and Israel will experience God’s healing and restoration to prosperity and righteous standing before the Lord.
23 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 467.
24 Ibid., 469.
25 For details relative to the preparation of foodstuffs, see A. Ross, “Baking, Broiling, Cooking, and Roasting” NIDOTTE, 4:34.
26 See Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 471; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 115-16; Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:81.
27 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 112.
28 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 102.
29 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 477-78.
30 S. M. Paul, “Gibberish Jabber,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 707-12.
31 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 175.
32 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 117.
Having delivered God’s opening complaints against His people, Hosea goes on to record some specific charges that the Lord has against them. It can be readily seen that Israel’s rampant infidelity is on a collision course with the reality of judgment, even though the Lord has an unending compassion for Israel.
8:1 Sound the alarm!
An eagle looms over the temple of the Lord!
For they have broken their covenant with me,
and have rebelled against my law.
2 Israel cries out to me,
“My God, we acknowledge you!”
3 But Israel has rejected what is morally good;
so an enemy will pursue him.
4 They enthroned kings without my consent!
They appointed princes without my approval!
They made idols out of their silver and gold,
but they will be destroyed!
5 O Samaria, he has rejected your calf idol!
My anger burns against them!
They will not survive much longer without being punished,
even though they are Israelites!
6 That idol was made by a workman – it is not God!
The calf idol of Samaria will be broken to bits.
7 They sow the wind,
and so they will reap the whirlwind!
The stalk does not have any standing grain;
it will not produce any flour.
Even if it were to yield grain,
foreigners would swallow it all up.
8 Israel will be swallowed up among the nations;
they will be like a worthless piece of pottery.
9 They have gone up to Assyria,
like a wild donkey that wanders off.
Ephraim has hired prostitutes as lovers.
10 Even though they have hired lovers among the nations,
I will soon gather them together for judgment.
Then they will begin to waste away
under the oppression of a mighty king.
11 Although Ephraim has built many altars for sin offerings,
these have become altars for sinning!
12 I spelled out my law for him in great detail,
but they regard it as something totally unknown to them!
13 They offer up sacrificial gifts to me,
and eat the meat,
but the Lord does not accept their sacrifices.
Soon he will remember their wrongdoing,
he will punish their sins,
and they will return to Egypt.
14 Israel has forgotten his Maker and built royal palaces,
and Judah has built many fortified cities.
But I will send fire on their cities;
it will consume their royal citadels.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea conveys the Lord’s warning of imminent danger by employing the image of a watchman whose duty it was to sound an alarm at the first hint of approaching danger. The command to sound the trumpet (NET: “Blow the ram’s horn,” i.e., Hebrew sŒo„pa„r) has been issued previously (Hos. 5:8). Here as on that previous occasion a double meaning may be observed. Not only is it a call to assembly in the face of imminent danger but that danger is to be seen as both internal and external. The basic problem resides in the leadership, which has failed to serve as good watchmen for the spiritual and moral well being of the populace (cf. 5:1, 10).
This problem is emphasized under the imagery of a bird of prey. On the one hand, the priests are like vultures in their taking advantage of the people and gobbling up their vitality via their sponsorship of the debased syncretistic practices in the worship services (cf. 4:4-10). On the other hand, the king has failed in his duty to oversee and lead in the affairs of state in proper fashion. Accordingly, God has called for an enemy, which like as an eagle swoops down on its prey, so Assyria is swiftly coming in judgment against Israel. As Sweeney points out, “The imagery of the eagle frequently symbolizes the Assyrian kings or the god Assur, who is portrayed in a winged sun disk much like an eagle about to swoop down on prey.”1 The mention of a bird of prey is therefore doubly applicable. For the Hebrew noun nesŒer can refer both to a vulture and an eagle.
The basic reason for all of this lies in the fact that God’s people, especially their leaders, have violated the covenant between them and Yahweh, a fact that was established in the last section (Hos. 6:7). In keeping with their defection the people have failed to follow the Lord’s instruction (MT, Torah; NET, law; cf. 4:6) to them. Indeed, all the time that they claimed to acknowledge Yahweh, they were breaking God’s covenant with them and its standards. This has caused Israelite society to become completely morally corrupt, for the people choose to follow that which is degraded and coarse rather than that which is good and beneficial. Therefore, the Lord has no further recourse than to bring judgment upon them in the form of an enemy army (8:2-3).
Hosea goes on in reporting the Lord’s words of condemnation against Israel by cataloguing some of the people’s chief sins. He begins with the political arena. Here Israel’s sin is all too obvious. Rather than seeking men of God’s choosing, the Israelites have installed their own kings and royal officials. The implication is that, even worse, they have appointed men who make no pretense of knowing the Lord or following His law. The charge reflects well the chaotic conditions of revolutions and royal assassinations that marked the closing years of the Northern Kingdom (v. 4a).
The second charge is aimed at the religious leaders (v. 4b). Here the Israelite’s idolatrous worship is condemned. Could they not see, not realize, that it is their own hands that have made the idols representing their so-called gods and then worshiped them? What folly it is to worship their own creations, which like the deities they stood for were no gods at all. Rest assured, these manmade idols will be destroyed and smashed to bits. The Lord has rejected even the calf idols first created by Jeroboam I and installed at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29). Although these idols may first have been intended to represent an invisible god on the back of the animal, rather than being gods themselves, apparently matters had degenerated over the years so that the idols themselves became objects of worship. As well, because such idolatrous practices with regard to the Canaanite god Baal-hadad are well established in the literature and art of ancient Canaan, it would seem only natural that his worship would become associated with these cult centers.2 Apparently Jehu’s purging of Baalism had not completely eradicated the established court religion, which Jeroboam had instituted (cf. 2 Kings 10:28-29).
Verse 5 appears at first glance to be something of a problem since there is no evidence for a calf idol at Samaria. Samaria may have a double reference here, however. As the capital city of the Northern Kingdom, it may be a synecdoche for the entire nation of Israel. It may also refer to the royal household and citizens of Samaria in their particular reverence for the idol at Bethel. Thus Hosea will later point out that the calf idol of Bethel will be carried away by the Assyrians to the accompaniment of much lamentation and sorrow by the people of Samaria. When that happens, Samaria’s shame in trusting in a god that could not deliver them will be put on public display.
The prophecy may also carry further double significance. The sponsorship of this idolatrous worship at the highest leadership levels, the royal house and the priesthood, and therefore followed by the people from the capital and throughout the entire kingdom, is an abomination to the Lord. Rather than guaranteeing the prosperity of Israel and the fertility of the land, the calf idol at Bethel will be carried into captivity, while other objects of idolatry elsewhere will be broken to bits (vv. 4-6; cf. 10:5-6).
Israel’s foolish foreign policy is condemned in a series of striking images and figures of speech (vv. 7-10). Hosea begins by employing what appears to be a traditional proverb comparing the foolishness of people’s actions to sowing under the wrong type of conditions (v. 7). Stuart suggests that the words reflect the fertility curse of Deuteronomy 28:38 and goes on to point out that “in ancient times sowers would throw their seed with a gentle wind, which help scatter it evenly on a tiled field… . The disaster which brings to naught the planning and effect of the sower is seen in the storm disintegrating and scattering the heads of grain before they can be harvested.”3 Thus Israel’s foreign policy, like unwise farming procedures, will ultimately fail. Whatever temporary gain might appear to have been made will ultimately be violently overturned by the mighty “whirlwind” of foreign invasion, which will bring a disastrous end to the nation.
Building on the theme of Israel’s defeat, Hosea goes on to declare that Israel will be swallowed up like liquid from a cup. The cup is then discarded as a “worthless piece of pottery.” The simile is an apt one. For the nation, which Israel trusted, will simply drain what it can from Israel and then break off relations with it. When Israel has been drained of its resources through various forms of tribute payment, Assyria will turn on them and destroy them (v. 8).
In another simile Israel is likened to a wild donkey lusting after its mate. In much the same way Israel sought the favor of Assyria rather than trusting in Yahweh. It had wandered away from Him and sought its security and satisfaction from a human nation. Decisions made under the strong influence of emotions or passion are seldom wise. And so it would prove to be for God’s people (v. 9a). As Fausset remarks, “Whenever professing believers, instead of making God their confidence, have recourse to the godless world and its unhallowed powers, at the cost of religious principle, to save them from anticipated evils, God, in just retribution, makes those very world-powers the instruments of executing His judgments on them.”4
The following simile only strengthens the imagery further (v. 9b). Here Hosea compares Israel’s vacillating foreign policy of seeking the good will of the nations to the business of prostitution. Garrett suggests that the simile deals with a man who “tries to gain love by giving money to prostitutes, only to discover that he has both squandered his money and gained no love in return.”5 Oestreich, however, proposes an interesting twist. He finds in verse 9 two absurd similes. In the first, the wild ass, rather than staying with the herd, has wandered off by itself and thus become exposed to great danger: “Like the animal that normally belongs to a herd but has separated himself, thus Israel has isolated himself and acted against his very nature. Normally, no wild ass or other gregarious animal would do so. When it loses contact with the herd it is in great danger to become the victim of beasts of prey.”6 Then, with a play on the sounds and consonants of a wild ass arp and Ephraim (<yrpa) Israel, the lusting wild ass becomes the prostitute who contrary to normal circumstances paid her lovers (i.e., the nations; cf. Ezek. 16:33).7
Under either interpretation Israel’s foreign policy is desperately foolish and fraught with great danger. Much like Gomer, Hosea’s wife, Israel has wandered off from Yahweh, her “husband” and sought other nations and their gods. Such is sheer spiritual harlotry. Worse still, Israel’s foreign policy has caused exorbitant payments to be made, especially to Assyria (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4). This situation may well reflect the tremendous cost that Israel paid for its submission to Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 15:19-20).8
Israel’s foreign policy would cost them a great deal more, however. For the Lord, the controller of history, from whom Israel has turned away, was about to gather His “wild donkey.” It was not to bring it back to the herd (i.e., to His favor) at this time but for judgment. This will lead not only to the defeat and exile of Israel but to severe oppression at the hands of the Assyrian king. Indeed, prostitute Israel will find that she has paid not for satisfaction but for devastation (v. 10).
Hosea’s concluding unit in this chapter (vv. 11-14) records God’s further condemnation of the sins of His people. Not only Israel but even Judah is included because of its self-reliance on fortresses rather than God (v. 14). In a play on words the Lord acknowledges Israel’s proliferation of altars designed for the sin offerings; He points out, however, that these had only become places of sin (v. 11). Israel indeed carried out many sacrificial offerings but these were tainted with syncretism, especially that of the worship of Baal.
The Lord’s condemnation of these worship practices has already been repeatedly recorded in the previous chapters. Yahweh once again here emphasizes the unacceptable nature of Israel’s sacrifices. Moreover, they were in clear violation of the regulations in the Torah (vv. 12-13a). Not only were proper procedures for the sacrificial system spelled out in the law (e.g., Lev. 1-7), but also the multiplication of altars was expressly forbidden (Deut. 12:5-7). Worse still, Israel went about its worship rituals as though God’s law was “totally unknown” to them (v. 12). They went on participating in the sacrifices and enjoying the meat portions that were reserved for their consumption as though God should be satisfied with their “gifts” to Him.9 Rather, they should come to their senses and realize that “the Lord does not accept their sacrifices” (v. 13a). For while God’s people were going through the motions prescribed in the sacrificial regulations, there was no heart’s desire in them. In addition, Israel was guilty not only of breaking God’s covenant with His people and personally sinning, but because its sacrifices were polluted with pagan worship practices, especially those pertaining to Baal.
Therefore, nothing was left for the Lord to do but to punish His people. It would be a severe chastisement. Under the image of a return to Egypt God declares that Israel would soon go into captivity and exile—this time, however, in Assyrian lands (v. 13b).10
Moreover, all of God’s people would one day face the Lord’s judgment because they have forgotten the One who made them. Furthermore, Israel occupied itself with palace building and Judah with fortified cities. Unfortunately, their trust and preoccupation with earthly accomplishments would prove to be mere temporal fascinations. For they would all soon perish in the invader’s fire (v. 14). The reason for it all is clear. Mere routine, half-hearted and syncretistically polluted worship observances were not only insufficient but sinful and therefore totally unacceptable (cf. Isa. 1:11-14). All of this only demonstrated that God’s people had no true knowledge of the Lord and certainly no regard for His standards in the law. So firmly entrenched was their sin with its practical repudiation of Yahweh that nothing now remained but the execution of judgment upon them even as the covenantal law prescribed (cf. Deut. 28:15-68). As Stuart summarizes the situation, Israel’s “behavior went hand in hand with negligence of the covenant and thus is condemned. In turn, fortifications and sanctuaries cannot save a disobedient nation and will be destroyed. Destruction by fire (cf. Deut 32:22) symbolizes divine wrath… . The proximate origin of the fire will be enemy troops, burning everything in the cities that will burn. The ultimate origin, however, is Yahweh who judges by fire.”11
8:1 “Sound the alarm” (NET) is an ad sensum rendering of the Hebrew “A horn to the palate.” “Palate” serves as a metonymy for the mouth and lips. It often appears in this way in Hebrew parallelism (e.g., Prov. 5:3; 8:7).
8:1 Both the eagle and the vulture were considered unclean (cf. Lev. 11:13).12 The use of a noun with double possibilities may point to the spiritual wickedness of the Hebrew priesthood and general immorality of Israelite society. To be noted also is the fact that the eagle is at times associated with God’s judgment. Thus “the eagle symbolizes the speed and power of both God’s deliverance and God’s destruction” (cf. Jer. 49:22; Ezek. 17:3, 7).13 Significantly, it was Assyria that would bring down the Northern Kingdom as God’s emissary of justice.
8:1 The term “house of the Lord” (NET, the Temple) may also serve to designate the land of Israel (e.g., Hos. 9:4, 8). Both meanings are probably to be understood here in as much as the nesŒer appears to symbolize both the vulturous priests and the swiftly moving powerful Assyrian army.
8:2 Hosea has previously brought up the charge of Israel’s failure to truly acknowledge Yahweh (4:6; 5:4) and the desperate need to do so now (6:3).
8:5 The Hebrew sentence in v. 5b is presented in the form of a rhetorical question: How long will they not be able to be innocent/pure (i.e., “How long will they be incapable of innocence” ESV; cf. HCSB; NIV, “incapable of purity”)? The answer clearly is “not long,” because the Lord’s anger burns against them. Therefore, their fate is sealed. They will soon be “broken to bits” (v. 6, NET).14
8:6 The NLT’s “that idol” is the ad sensum reading of the pronoun “it” in the Hebrew (lit., “for [it] is for Israel and it a craftsman made”). The Hebrew construction may be termed anticipatory emphasis, in this case one in which an objective pronoun stands at the head of its clause.15
8:7 Garrett terms the reference to the sown seed first seen as not producing grain and then postulated that even if it did produce it would be lost to foreigners as a pseudosorites, a rhetorical device in which the speaker says that event A will not happen but that even if it did, it would be undone by event B … In this case Hosea says that there will be no harvest of grain but that even if there were one, foreigners would take it.”16
8:8 Oestreich finds in the reference to Israel as a “worthless piece of pottery” (NET) an absurd simile according to purpose. Thus the cup, contrary to its designed purpose, has become broken and thus worthless. He compares the imagery to that found in Jeremiah 19:1-11; 22:28; 48:38. 17
8:9 The noun arp (wild ass/donkey) normally a masculine noun is feminine (as probably here) in Jeremiah 2:24. John Thompson remarks, “The female ass in heat is almost violent.”18
8:10 The Hebrew term melek sÃa„rîm (lit., “king of princes”; cf. KJV, NKJV, NASB, NJB) has been rendered variously by the translators. Thus the LXX, Syriac, Vulgate, and some Targums read: “kings and princes,” a reading followed by the ESV and HCSB and some modern foreign translations (e.g., La Sacra Bibbia, La Sainte Bible, and Dios Habla Hoy). The translation “mighty king” (NET; cf. NIV) reflects the title by which Assyrian kings loved to designate themselves: “the Great King” (cf. NLT). Because Assyria is in view in vv. 9-10, these latter renderings make for a smooth sense and one suitable to the context.
8:12-13 Sweeney proposes that the obscure Hebrew term zibh£e‚ hab£e†ha„b£ay, which he understands to mean “my roasted sacrifices” (contra NET, “sacrificial gifts to me”; cf. NIV, HCSB) is better understood as completing the thought of vv. 11-12. Thus rather than inserting “it” into v. 12 as does the NET (“they regard it”; cf. NIV, “them”), v. 12 would be read “they regard my roasted sacrifices as strange/foreign.” Perhaps the simplest alternative is that found in v. 13 of the ESV: “As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and cut it.” So understood, Hosea employs yet another example of anticipatory emphasis (cf. Hos. 8:6).
8:13 Once again (cf. 7:16) Israel is warned concerning the penalty prescribed in the law for covenant breaking—a return to Egypt. Garrett sees in this threat a “reversal of the exodus and implies removal from the land and nullification of the covenant promises.”19
8:14 Hubbard observes that the building projects undertaken by Israel and Judah detailed in this verse were “spiritual crimes,” for “palaces (‘great houses’) speak of preoccupation with wealth and power” and “Judah’s fortified cities (NIV’s ‘towns’ is better, given their size) speak of the false reliance on self-protection and military might.”20
1 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:85.
2 For details, see Pritchard, ANET, figures 500, 501, 522, 534, 537. To the contrary, see Evan Danelius, “The Sins of Jeroboam Ben-Nebat,” JQR 58 (1961): 95-114. Danelius suggests that Jeroboam’s golden calves were in reality representations of the Egyptian cow-goddess Hathor.
3 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 133.
4 Fausset, “Hosea,” 4:488.
5 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 186.
6 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 114. Oestreich’s proposal has the advantage of building on the symbolism associated with Gomer, Hosea’s wife.
7 See Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 115-118. See also Wolff, Hosea, 143.
8 Whether this pertained to Tiglath-pileser’s first or second campaign is uncertain. Thus Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings NAC (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 331 suggests his first invasion in 743-742 B.C. J. Barton Payne (Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy [New York: Harper & Row, 1973], 404) opts for Tiglath-pileser’s second campaign in 734-732 B.C.
9 In another vein, Achtemeier (Minor Prophets, 1:70) remarks, “Israel’s sacrificial rites have become ends in themselves, opportunities to have a party.” (!)
10 See the added note to 7:16.
11 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 137.
12 For the use of nesŒer to designate both the eagle and a vulture see N. Kiuchi, “neÃsŒer,” NIDOTTE, 3:200-201.
13 “Eagle,” DBI, 223.
14 Sweeney (Twelve Prophets, 1:89) remarks, “Some understand the term sŒe†ba„bîm, “pieces,” to mean “flames” based upon the appearance of a similar term in Job 18:5 and cognate terms in Akkadian, Aramaic, Syriac, and Arabic. The matter is uncertain as other cognates associate the term with hewing wood and splinters.”
15 For the construction itself, although with different terminology see. Waltke and O’Connor, Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 75-76, 529.
16 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 184. Garrett is building upon the suggestion of M. O’Connor, “The Pseudosorites: A Type of Paradox in Hebrew Verse,” JSOTSup 40 (1987): 161-172.
17 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 102-103.
18 John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 179. See also K. Bailey and W. Holladay, “The ‘Young Camel’ and ‘Wild Ass’ in Jer 2:23-25,” VT 18 (1968): 256-60.
19 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 188.
20 Hubbard, Hosea, 154.
9:1 O Israel, do not rejoice jubilantly like the nations,
for you are unfaithful to your God.
You love to receive a prostitute's wages
on all the floors where you thresh your grain.
2 Threshing floors and wine vats will not feed the people,
and new wine only deceives them.
3 They will not remain in the Lord’s land.
Ephraim will return to Egypt;
they will eat ritually unclean food in Assyria.
4 They will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the Lord;
they will not please him with their sacrifices.
Their sacrifices will be like bread eaten while in mourning;
all those who eat them will make themselves ritually unclean.
For their bread will be only to satisfy their appetite;
it will not come into the temple of the Lord.
5 So what will you do on the festival day,
on the festival days of the Lord?
6 Look! Even if they flee from the destruction,
Egypt will take hold of them,
and Memphis will bury them.
The weeds will inherit the silver they treasure –
thorn bushes will occupy their homes.
7 The time of judgment is about to arrive!
The time of retribution is imminent!
Let Israel know!
The prophet is considered a fool –
the inspired man is viewed as a madman –
because of the multitude of your sins
and your intense animosity.
8 The prophet is a watchman over Ephraim on behalf of God,
yet traps are laid for him along all of his paths;
animosity rages against him in the land of his God.
9 They have sunk deep into corruption
as in the days of Gibeah.
He will remember their wrongdoing.
He will repay them for their sins.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea builds upon the Lord’s previous condemnation of Israel (8:1-14). God’s people have gone about pursuing their own ways such as by developing their own worship practices and devoting themselves to extensive building projects. The charges resemble the happy days of the early to mid-eighth century B.C. during the prosperous reigns of Jeroboam of Israel and Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah. Hosea sets the record straight. He urges his people not to be caught up in rejoicing over their practices and prowess. Although other nations do so, Israel should refrain from such jubilation, because the Lord’s charge against them is an accurate one: spiritually and morally Israel stands condemned in God’s sight.
Israel’s problem is a deep-seated one but simple enough to comprehend. The nation has broken its covenant with Yahweh and in its infidelity has prostituted itself in its debased religious rites. Israel’s success and prosperity have not come to pass because of its devotion to pagan fertility rites such as those associated with Baal. As McComiskey observes, “The scenes and symbols of their religious orgies will become catalysts for judgment. Israel had all the trappings of religion … but the heart of true religion: unfeigned faith and humble obedience to God.”1 Quite the opposite, Israel’s joy will soon turn to sadness. For Israel will experience a reversal of the land’s fertility. Such will demonstrate that the ground’s harvest does not come from Israel’s devotion to Baal or any other false god. The very threshing floors where these religious rites were carried out will become scenes of lack of grain. Not only will the grain be insufficient for the people’s sustenance but the wine will also fail. Rather than plenty, the land will produce only diminished harvests (vv. 1-2; cf. Deut. 28:38-41).
When this occurs, Israel should be warned. God’s judgment is about to descend in the form of military defeat and the people’s exile in the land of their captors (v. 3; cf. Deut. 28:53, 64-68). Employing the familiar motif of a return to Egypt as punishment for covenant breaking (Deut. 28:68), Hosea’s warning has to do with an invasion by the Assyrians, the very nation whose favor they courted (v. 3; cf. 7:11; 8:9-10).2
In captivity they will be reduced to eating food that is ceremonially unclean instead of the God-supplied grain and wine of their own land. They will no longer have their former privilege of offering joyous sacrifices because their food will be “like bread eaten in mourning” (v. 4). The simile likely compares the exiles situation of being unable to offer the prescribed sacrifices due to their being rendered ceremonially unfit by eating unclean food. Hosea’s comparison may envision several scenarios, not the least of which is contact with the dead or by being in the presence of the corpse (cf. Lev. 11:24, 28, 35-40; Num. 19:11-22).
Hosea’s points is that even if God’s people would be able to offer sacrifices while in captivity, these would not be acceptable. Certainly the products that they might choose to use could never have been brought into the Temple, for they might previously have been offered to a pagan deity. Moreover, as exiles God’s people have in a sense been in contact with death—the death of their nation, for which they would be in mourning. For many reasons, then, Israel’s sacrifices would be unacceptable to God. Not only because they were covenant breakers who had defiled themselves with harlotries associated with pagan worship practices, nor because living in exile would they have the Temple in which to worship, but also because their defiled lives in captivity made any sacrifice polluted, hence would be refused by God. What sorrow will be theirs! Their present jubilation (v. 1) will be turned into mere sad memories. Even more sorrowful will be their memories on “the festival days of the Lord” (v. 5). In any case, whatever bread they have will not be used for sacrifice, but only to “satisfy their appetites” (v. 4).
Hosea describes an additional problem that will beset God’s people. Those who escape the invading Assyrian army by fleeing to Egypt for safety will find little or no relief there. Instead, they will live meager existences, and die and be buried in the vast cemetery at Memphis (v. 6). As Andersen and Freedman point out, “The reference to Egypt has a sinister note, and the feminine verbs show that Egypt and Memphis are the subjects of the activity, and not just the location. The Israelites will not conduct their own burial rites.”3 Thus God’s exiled people will “succeed” only in leaving behind all that was precious to them including the tents (MT; NET, “homes”) where they lived. The land where these were once pitched will be overtaken by weeds and thorn bushes (NIV, “briars”).
The difficult Hebrew in verse 6 is best understood by simply viewing “silver” as metonymy for all that the Jews valued in their land of refuge, including even the tents in which they resided. So viewed, silver is also to be understood as satire—perhaps even sarcasm. Thus in their haste to flee the invading Assyrians, God’s people will be able to take precious little with them and that which they do salvage will perish. It is a prediction that carries a bleak outlook at best. It portrays well the judgment, which the Lord will allow to overtake His people because of their infidelity and profane lifestyle.
Hosea brings the first portion of this oracle (vv. 7-9) to a close by warning his hearers that the days of threatened judgment with all of their drastic conditions (vv. 1-6) were even now close at hand (MT, “have come”; cf. ESV; HCSB). It was time for Israel to receive the reward of its infidelity. Blinded by their own folly, God’s people have considered the prophets, whom God has sent to warn them, to be but fools and madmen (v. 7). Although they are God’s appointed “watchmen,” to care for and warn the people of danger, yet they face only danger themselves for the godly stand they have taken (v. 8).
The reason for all of this is clear. The people are now hopelessly mired in the pit of spiritual corruption. The land is as degraded as in the days of the atrocities at Gibeah when the Levite’s concubine was raped and murdered, and then dismembered by the Levite and sent to the twelve tribes of Israel in order to stimulate them to take vengeance on the citizens of Gibeah (Judg. 19:16-30; cf. Hos. 10:9-11). As Garrett remarks, “Hosea declares that the people of his day have fallen to the level of this most corrupt generation of Israel’s history.”4
The time had now come when God could no longer withhold His just judgment of Israel for their sins. Israel has prostituted itself beyond recall. Not only are God’s people guilty of violating their covenant with Yahweh (cf. Hos. 2:18-23; 4:1, 12; 5:4-7; 6:7; 8:1-6) via their entrenched idolatry (cf. 4:14-19; 5:1; 8:4-6), but this has led to moral corruption at every level (cf. 5:10-11; 6:8-10; 7:1-10). Simply put, Israel has become a prostitute (cf. 4:14-19; 5:3-4; 6:10), a thing forbidden in God’s law (Deut. 23:17). Unfortunately, Israel has come to regard God’s law as “something totally unknown to them” (Hos. 8:12). Because God’s people no longer acknowledge Him (cf. 4:1; 6:3) and in their infidelity have pursued their own idolatrous and immoral ways, it was now time for God to “repay them for their sins” (v. 9).5
9:1 The NET (cf. HCSB, KJV, NASB) captures well the force of the MT: “Do not rejoice jubilantly like the nations.” The NLT simply translates, “Do not rejoice as other nations do.” Thus the two words for joy are viewed as a hendiadys. Some translations follow the lead of the LXX and Vulgate in reading the Hebrew áel as áal, hence two imperatives: “Do not rejoice, do not be jubilant (NIV)/exult (ESV, NRSV).” McComiskey also champions the MT, yet points to a similar expression in Job 3:22: “Those who rejoice exceedingly.”6
9:1-3 Hosea’s literary style appears in his employment of literary hooks to the previous chapter. Note for example his use of the themes of prostitution (v. 1; cf. 8:9), grain and wine (v. 2; cf. 8:7), and the coming exile (v. 3; cf. 8:13). Hosea has used all three themes in his earlier chapters as well: prostitution and covenant breaking in 4:1, 12, 14-19; 5:1, 4-7; 6:7; cf. 2:18-23, grain and wine in 2:8-9, 22; 7:14, and the coming exile in 7:16.
9:2 The loss of grain and wine should serve as a warning to the people of their covenant breaking and spiritual defilement. Both grain and wine were not only important products of Israel’s economy but also key ingredients in their religious observances. Both were used in the meal and drink offerings associated with the daily burnt offering (cf. Lev. 2; 6:14-18; 9:16-17; 23:18, 37; Num. 15:5; 28:3-8). Israel’s jubilation (v. 1) should have been a spiritual one as symbolized particularly in the burnt, meal, and drink offerings, which represented a life poured out to God in humble, dedicated service to Him.7 Because Israel’s observance of these and other offerings had degenerated into occasions of religious syncretism at best and pure paganism at worst, God warned that the products used in connection with these ceremonies would be cut off (cf. Joel 1:5-10). When they were, the people should realize that they had so severely broken their covenant with God that only the penalty in the law remained for them. For although grain and wine were acknowledged blessings of God upon His people (Deut. 7:12-15; Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19), they could be taken away for breach of covenant (cf. Deut. 28:45-52; Hos. 2:8-13).
9:4 Laetsch suggests that the reason for the uncleanness of the Israelite food during their captivity was because it had not been sanctified to the Lord by the presentation of the first fruits (Exod. 22:29; 23:19; 34:22, 26; Lev. 23:10-12, 15-17). “In the heathen lands Levitically clean food could hardly be obtained.”8 Achtemeier adds, “Indeed, bread will be so scarce that there will be only enough to feed themselves.”9
9:5 Sweeney suggests that the people’s inability to offer sacrifice at festival celebrations will be most keenly felt at Sukkoth: “The term ‘festival’ (h£ag) … generally refers to the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth … but is most closely associated with Sukkoth (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32-33; Ezra 3:4; 6:22). By asking the people what they will do on this holiday, he rhetorically asserts that they can do nothing as destruction is coming.”10
9:6 Memphis was an age-old and important city, which “was located some fifteen miles above the peak of the Nile Delta and was a place of exile or retreat for may foreigners who were settled and subsequently died there. It is noted for its huge grave sites or pyramids, built for its pharaohs during the Fourth Dynasty, ca. 2700-2200 BC.”11
9:6 The Hebrew of verse 6 is admittedly difficult. Therefore, the first line is rendered differently in the various versions. Most commonly it is treated as either an unlikely condition, “even if they escape destruction” (NIV; cf. NET, HCSB, NLT, NRST) or “for behold, they are going away from destruction” (ESV; cf. KJV, NKJV, NASB). The latter thought indicates that the Israelites will go or have gone away due to the destruction in the land. Land has been understood either as their own devastated land in Israel or refers to the desperate conditions in which they will find themselves in Egypt. Likewise, the point of reference in the much-debated word “silver” (e.g., the precious objects they have brought—Laetsch, Garrett, or idols—Andersen and Freedman) is best understood simply as metonymy for all that is precious to God’s people.
9:7 The charge that Israel’s regarding God’s prophets as fools or madmen is attested elsewhere in the OT (e.g., 2 Kings 9:11; Jer. 29:26). In the NT Paul points out that the message of salvation in Christ’s finished work is also considered foolishness to those who are perishing spiritually (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Paul portrays himself and the apostles as “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).
9:8 For the prophets being likened to watchmen, see Isa. 56:10; Jer. 6:17; Ezek. 3:17; 32:2, 6-7; Hab. 2:1.
9:9 The account of the inhuman and heinous events at Gibeah apparently “was well-known in Hosea’s day, since he merely hast to mention the name of the city to raise the specter of lawless and scandalous behavior.”12
9:10 When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the wilderness.
I viewed your ancestors like an early fig on a fig tree in its first season.
Then they came to Baal-Peor and they dedicated themselves to shame –
they became as detestable as what they loved.
11 Ephraim will be like a bird;
what they value will fly away.
They will not bear children –
they will not enjoy pregnancy –
they will not even conceive!
12 Even if they raise their children,
I will take away every last one of them.
Woe to them!
For I will turn away from them.
13 Just as lion cubs are born predators,
so Ephraim will bear his sons for slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord –
what will you give them?
Give them wombs that miscarry,
and breasts that cannot nurse!
15 Because of all their evil in Gilgal,
I hate them there.
On account of their evil deeds,
I will drive them out of my land.
I will no longer love them;
all their rulers are rebels.
16 Ephraim will be struck down –
their root will be dried up;
they will not yield any fruit.
Even if they do bear children,
I will kill their precious offspring.
17 My God will reject them,
for they have not obeyed him;
so they will be fugitives among the nations.
Exegesis and Exposition
Verses 10-17 contain a dialogue between the Lord and His prophet. After the Lord reminds Hosea concerning the checkered history of His relationship to Israel (vv. 10-13), Hosea reacts with his own indignation over Israel’s condition (v. 14). The Lord then relates more reasons why and how He must judge His people (vv. 15-16), to which Hosea adds his own summary statement (v. 17).
Yahweh fondly recalls the early days of His contact with His people (cf. Hos. 11:1-4; cf. Jer. 2:2-3). He likens the joy of that time to a traveler who discovers fresh grapes in the wilderness and to a person who finds the season’s first ripe figs. It was then a time of genuine refreshment. That the Lord is employing the imagery of the wilderness to remind the prophet and his people of His care and guidance for a young and yet faithful people in the days after the exodus from Egypt is underscored by the next event in that historical journey. Indeed, the tasteful refreshment of that early encounter soon turned to disappointment. For when the people came to Shittim, the whole scenario changed (Num. 25:1-3).
There in Moab Baal, the god of Mount Peor, was worshiped as a fertility deity. When the hireling prophet Balaam was unable to curse the Hebrews, he apparently designed a way to cause Israel to sin (Num. 31:16) by getting them to commit immorality with Moabite women. These in turn led God’s people into the fertility rites associated with Baal. Thus the Apostle John accuses Balaam of instructing “Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14). The result then was the slaying of some 24,000 Hebrews in the Lord’s judgment (Num. 25:4-9; cf. Deut. 4:3; Ps. 106:28). The implication is clear: if God so judged the vile, spiritual, and physical harlotry of that day so harshly, His justice would dictate that the Israel of Hosea’s day was in grave danger of judgment (v. 10).
Israel had passed through some glorious days in the first half of the eighth century B.C. Now that glory was about to “fly away like a bird” (v. 11; NIV, NLT). The basic cause was clear. Israel’s true “glory” was Yahweh Himself. By their syncretistic worship services, however, they had compromised the Lord’s glory, which He declares He will share with no other (Isa. 42:8). Because the Israel of Hosea’s day chose to attribute their glory to Baal rather than to Yahweh, the Lord would abandon them to their fate. They would perish among the nations with whom they flirted and whose favor they sought (v. 12b).13 Even worse, just as many died in the incident at Baal Peor, so now Israel’s families would face great tragedy. They would largely be bereft of children, for there would be widespread inability of conception or pregnancy. By means of another pseudo-sorites, it is declared that whatever children the people do manage to have, they will not survive (v. 12a). Thus Andersen and Freedman describe the situation: “Even if there is conception, there will be miscarrying wombs (v. 14b). If children are born, they will be killed (v. 16b). They will starve because the mothers will have dry breasts (v. 14). And even if they are raised, the parents will be bereaved of their children (v. 12a).”14
Verse 13 is notoriously difficult both as to the reading of the text and its interpretation. Therefore, the verse has received widespread difference in handling. The chief difficulty revolves around the mention of the city of Tyre in the first part of the verse (MT).15 It is apparent that an analogy is being drawn between that great Phoenician city and Israel. Thus the NLT translates, “I have watched Israel become as beautiful as Tyre. But now Israel will bring out her children for slaughter.” Indeed, the point seems to be that although the early eighth century B.C. Northern Kingdom was as prosperous as Tyre, the kingdom can now look forward only to its demise.16 The contrast is strikingly graphic. Employing the metaphor of Ephraim as a parent the Lord declares that in sharp contrast to its former glory, Israel will see its sons and daughters slain by an enemy invader. Garrett correctly points out that “both Tyre and Ephraim were ‘planted’ in advantageous circumstances, but both embraced the Baal cult, and both will receive due punishment.”17
In response to the coming judgment, which he has just heard, Hosea cries out via a rhetorical question for the Lord’s will to be accomplished. Despite his natural heartache, Hosea concurs with the Lord’s sentence against Israel. He answers his own rhetorical question by suggesting (perhaps tactfully) that it may be better for Israel’s women not to bear children at all rather than to see their children born only to experience a painful death (v. 14). The tenor of Hosea’s remark would seem to be somewhat more tender than harsh.18 Nevertheless, Hosea understands that what he is praying for is still a judgment for it constitutes a reversal of the covenant blessings of Deuteronomy 28:4, 11 as well as the spirit of Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph (Gen. 49:28). Hubbard correctly observes, “Whichever tone we hear in the prayer, it is clear that Hosea does not back away from the need for judgment. And even his prayer is couched in language appropriate to a people who have looked not to God but to Baal for vital wombs and nourishing breasts.”19
The Lord resumes His comments concerning Israel by directing Hosea’s attention to the city of Gilgal (cf. Hos. 4:15). The people of Israel committed civil disobedience there in crying out for an earthly king rather than the man of God’s own choosing (1 Sam. 8:4-22). It was there that Saul, whom they had chosen, was crowned (1 Sam. 11:14-15) and where Saul subsequently personally disobeyed the instructions of Samuel, the Lord’s prophet (1 Sam. 15:10-29). Gilgal also had become a cult center for pagan religion (cf. Hos. 12:11). Therefore, Gilgal became synonymous with God’s displeasure over Israel’s perpetual disobedience. Because of that disobedience, which was evident in the spiritual realm as well as the civil and social areas, God will expel Israel from its land.
In hyperbolic language God describes His relation with Israel as devoid of love.20
The point is, just as Hosea had been instructed to refrain from Gomer, his wife, for a period of time, so Yahweh will separate Himself from Israel. Early Israel found degraded love at Baal Peor (v. 10) and God’s people became as a result as detestable as the one whose rites they practiced. Current Israel is even more involved with Baal and thus is in an irreversible (even hateful), degraded, and debased condition. Rather than God’s love it deserves God’s righteous judgment. God’s disgust with the situation in Israel may be keenly felt in His declaration that “all the rulers are rebels” (v. 15). Indeed, rather than being living examples of administrators of holiness, Israel’s civil and religious leaders have both rebelled against the Lord and His standards, and set the pattern for disobedience among the people.
The degradation of Israelite society is portrayed under the metaphor of a fruit- bearing tree or perhaps a vine (cf. 10:1). This plant, however, is blighted (NIV; cf. NLT note) and its root system dried up (v. 16). Accordingly, it can yield no fruit whatsoever. It is an apt description of Israel’s spiritual condition. Israel is no longer alive with vitality for spiritual growth because God’s people have allowed their relationship with Yahweh to slide downwards. It has now reached a point that can only be described as fruitless. Moreover, the metaphor is an excellent description of Israel as a dying nation.
Israel’s lack of spiritual productivity will be reflected in the people’s inability to bear children. Under the figure of a pseudo-sorites the Lord declares that in the unlikely event that some women are able to have children, “their precious offspring” will be put to death. Thus in the coming desperate conditions of exile the parents’ “fruit” will either fail to reach fruition or be destroyed. The image of withering and dryness may well depict the drought and famine God’s exiled people will face in captivity as well as the harsh treatment from their captors.
The chapter closes with the prophet’s own pronouncement. Because God’s people have rejected the Lord’s rightful sovereignty over them and disobeyed Him both in their worship services and the covenantal standards of conduct, they must suffer God’s judgment in the form of going into exile as captives of the enemy. Had they desired to stray from God in their lives? So they shall! For they will wander as exiles from their own land. Their displacement from their homeland will then reflect their wandering from God. Because God will turn away from them (v. 12), they will indeed be fugitives from His gracious presence. Achtemeier expresses the situation well: “From the first, as a political entity among other nations, the Israelites spurned their God. God therefore now spurns them, and the people shall become wanderers among the nations, verse 17, without homeland, without God, without future.”21
9:10 The mention of grapes and figs is a reminder of the OT motif of the vine and fig tree, which symbolized God’s fruitful blessing on His people (e.g., 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18:31; Isa. 36:10).
9:10 The observation that Israel became “as detestable as what they loved” points to the fact that Israel was so degraded that it was incapable of true love, much as the false god whose worship rites they enjoyed. Their love was a “dedication to shame.” As Sweeney observes, “The term ‘shame’ is frequently employed in place of the name ‘Baal’ in Israelite names (2 Sam 2:8) employs Ish-bosheth, but 1 Chr 8:33; 9:39 refers to him as Esh-baal; cf. 2 Sam 11:21) and other statements (Jer 3:24; 11:13). The term ‘detestable’ … is frequently applied to idols and idolatrous practice (Deut 29:16 [NRSV: 29:17]; 2 Kgs 23:13, 24; Isa 66:3; etc.). ‘Like the thing that they love’ refers back to Baal.”22 In addition to the sense of a miscarriage, the Hebrew verb employed here can describe “the form of God’s punishment for disobedience.23 Although the verb clearly conveys its normal meaning of miscarriage here, a sense of punishment in the form of the reversal of God’s blessing is also present.
9:15 The decision to drive Israel from its land is presented under the imagery of being forced out of a house. Israel has forgotten that where they lived was God’s land where He, too, dwelled. As Gomer was put out of Hosea’s house for a period of time (Hos. 2:7), so Israel will be driven out of the Lord’s “house” because of its infidelity and rebellious ways.
9:16 Stuart may be correct in suggesting that there is a play on the word for fruit (yrq) and the name Ephraim. “Ephraim the ‘doubly fruitful’ (cf. Gen 41:52) is now Ephraim the completely fruitless.”24
9:17 McComiskey rightly points out that the judgment associated with verses 15-17 reflects the punishment for sin and covenant violation expressed in the law: “This section of the prophecy (9:15-17) appears to be a crystallization of Deuteronomy 28:62-64. That passage affirms the diminution of the population should they fail to obey God… . The concept of wandering among the nations occurs in Deuteronomy as well… .(v. 64, NRSV). Hosea had the unhappy task of announcing to his people that the curses of Deuteronomy were soon to overtake them.”25
1 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 137.
2 For the use of a return to Egypt to symbolize Israel’s punishment for covenant breaking, see the note on Hos. 7:16.
3 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 530.
4 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 196.
5 Millard Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], 580) observes, “Setting one’s own ideas above God’s revealed Word entails refusal to believe it to be true. Seeking one’s own will involves believing that one’s own values are actually higher than those of God. In short, it is failing to acknowledge God as God.”
6 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 136.
7 No need exists to limit Hosea’s intentions to the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkoth) as some suggest. See, for example, Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:94, 96; Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:72-73.
8 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 73. The concern for clean food may also be noted in Daniel’s resolve not to be contaminated with the king’s provisions (Dan. 1:8-17). See also the inter-testament story of Judith (11:11-15; 12:1-4).
9 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:73.
10 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:96.
11 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:76.
12 Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 757.
13 Because of Judah’s idolatry, Ezekiel similarly portrays the Lord as first leaving the Sanctuary and then the city of Jerusalem, thus allowing the Chaldean invaders of the Neo-Babylonian Period to overrun Judah (Ezek. 10).
14 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 538.
15 For the many suggested emendations together with their interpretations, see the text notes in BHS and the NET, as well as the discussion in Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 201-202.
16 Tyre will also come in for its own prophetic denunciation (Ezek. 26-28).
17 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 201.
18 So also McComiskey, “Hosea,” 152; contra Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 202; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 544.
19 Hubbard, Hosea, 167.
20 Note God’s loving compassion in Hosea 11:8, however.
21 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:83-84.
22 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:99.
23 See Victor P. Hamilton, “lkv,” NIDOTTE, 4:106.
24 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 154.
25 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 157.
10:1 Israel was a fertile vine
that yielded fruit.
As his fruit multiplied,
he multiplied altars to Baal.
As his land prospered,
they adorned the fertility pillars.
2 Their heart is slipping;
soon they will be punished for their guilt.
The Lord will break their altars;
he will completely destroy their fertility pillars.
3 Very soon they will say, “We have no king
since we did not fear the Lord.
But what can a king do for us anyway?”
4 They utter empty words,
taking false oaths and making empty agreements.
Therefore legal disputes sprout up
like poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field.
5 The inhabitants of Samaria will lament over the calf idol of Beth Aven.
Its people will mourn over it;
its idolatrous priests will wail over it,
because its splendor will be taken from them into exile.
6 Even the calf idol will be carried to Assyria,
as tribute for the great king.
Ephraim will be disgraced;
Israel will be put to shame because of its wooden idol.
7 Samaria and its king will be carried off
like a twig on the surface of the waters.
8 The high places of the “House of Wickedness” will be destroyed;
it is the place where Israel sins.
Thorns and thistles will grow up over its altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!”
and to the hills, “Fall on us!”
Exegesis and Exposition
In chapter 10, Israel is portrayed with two metaphors: a wayward vine (10:1-8) and a well-trained heifer (10:9-15). Each unit is introduced by a specific address to Israel (vv. 1, 9) and closed with a description of Israel’s certain coming judgment. Verses 9-10 form a distinct sub-unit, which serves as a transition from v. 8 to v. 11, and introduces an additional reason for and statement of Israel’s punishment. Yet its distinct address to Israel and change of emphasis (the Gibeah incident) favor its attachment to the second half of the chapter. As such it forms a fitting inclusio with verses 14 and 15.
The first portion of chapter 10 is the focus of our attention in the following discussion.1 This unit of thought begins with Hosea’s reaction to the Lord’s discourse concerning Israel (9:1-13, 15-16). At the same time it builds upon his own pronouncement in 9:17. The oracle details further reasons why God must reject Israel under the metaphor of a fertile spreading vine, which yielded luxuriant fruit in abundance. Fruit, however, is normally intended for its owner’s use or disposal, but this vine produced fruit solely for itself (cf. MT, NIV, HCSB). The imagery speaks of the prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, which rather than being used in God’s service, was selfishly directed toward the advancement of the goals of the nation. Rather than being thankful to Yahweh, Israel increasingly created altars and pillars sacred to a false deity. Although not specifically mentioned in the Hebrew text, the reference is most likely to Baal and his fertility cults as reflected in the NET. Certainly Baal is the deity consistently singled out by Hosea elsewhere (e.g., 2:8, 13, 17; 11:2; 13:1; cf. 9:10).
Hosea’s depiction of Israel as a vine builds upon a metaphor that was a familiar motif in the Old Testament revelation to depict God’s blessings upon His covenant people (e.g., Ps. 80:8-15; Isa. 5:2-6; Jer. 2:21; Joel 1:11; Mic. 4:3-4; Zech. 3:10). As a nation in covenant relation with Yahweh Israel was to be the recipient of His blessings and therefore to be thankful and faithful to Him. Should they turn from the Lord to other deities they could expect His fierce judgment (Deut. 11:11-17). Unfortunately, this was precisely the situation deserving of punishment that characterized Israelite society in Hosea’s day.
All of this is anticipated in Hosea’s play upon the Hebrew participle translated in the NET as “fertile.” It would appear that the prophet is employing a double entendre here, for the more normal understanding of the Hebrew word carries with it meanings such as “barrenness” or “emptiness.” Accordingly, Hosea emphasizes the fact that although Yahweh blessed His people abundantly, they have consumed His benefits on selfish ends. Worse, they have attributed their successes and prosperity to Baal. Therefore, their commitment toward these ends has violated the covenant with the Lord again and again, and they can expect His judgment. They have been “abundantly blessed” but will now be made “barren” due to God’s judgment (vv. 1).
Hosea goes on to elaborate on this by prophesying Israel’s coming punishment (v.2). Because the hearts of God’s people are straying from the Lord, their covenant altars and fertility pillars will be smashed in the Lord’s judgment and Baal, their supposed benefactor, will be powerless to help. This is because covenant-breaking Israel is guilty of duplicity. They have readily accepted the Lord’s blessings and outwardly kept up His worship, but inwardly their heart is false. They pretended to worship Yahweh but they actually served Baal. As Hubbard observes, “The false heart … underscores the depth of the sin—not accidental but premeditated. And what follows is God’s verdict; now … they must bear their guilt.”2
Israel’s waywardness and divided loyalties are further emphasized in their declaration that no real king exists for them—including Yahweh (v. 3). Further, the prevailing opinion appeared to be that a king would do no good anyway. The force of the comments and rhetorical question by Israel’s people is captured well in the HCSB: “In fact, they are now saying: ‘We have no king! For we do not fear the LORD, what can a king do for us?’” (cf. AB). Garrett proposes that the setting for their cynical words is “not after the fall of Samaria but the chaotic years after the death of Jeroboam II, when one Israelite general vied with another for control of the country and none could make any claim to being the legitimate ruling dynasty over Israel.”3
Thus the scene of competing claimants to the throne and the shifting loyalties indicate that both in the political and social realms promises are not kept, false oaths are taken, and meaningless agreements are made (v. 4). From top to bottom, then, the Northern Kingdom is riddled with duplicity, disagreements, and a prevailing air of mistrust. The realm is a scene of instability all because the people have lost sight of Yahweh their true benefactor and scuttled His covenant standards for their lives. It is a condition of chaos and emptiness, which portends the coming dissolution of everything, including all that the people held dear. The unjust Israelite society will harvest God’s just judgment.
The precise meaning of verse 5 is admittedly difficult. The chief problem revolves around the reading and meaning of the Hebrew verb gu‚r (“fear,” “dread,”; see NET text note). Proper guidelines come from McComiskey who cautions “We must not lose sight of the fact that the larger context has to do with Israel’s affluence and her devotion to the elements of pagan worship… . here Hosea singles out the central element of Israel’s syncretistic worship—the calf.”4 Indeed, the inhabitants of Samaria, who revere the calf idol at Bethel, will one day mourn over it. This will be particularly true of the priests who lead the people in their pagan worship rites. They will soon witness the loss of their national idol at the hands of Assyrian invaders who will carry it off as booty (v. 5). “Samaria” doubtless represents not only the citizens of the capital city but the king and leaders as well. Samaria may also serve as a synecdoche for all the people of the Northern Kingdom who follow their leaders.
This fact is further underscored by noting the calf idol will be given to the king of Assyria (v. 6). This will be like adding insult to injury. God’s people will suffer the disgrace of witnessing that their national treasure, which they revered, will not only be unable to watch over them, but the god whose worship was entailed in the idol could not even protect himself. Israel will be doubly shamed for its reliance on a mere “wooden idol.” The Great King, whose favor Israel sought, will also carry off the king of Israel (v. 7). Israel’s titular head will be as helpless as a chip of wood floating “on the surface of the waters.” The simile employed here speaks of the helpless state of Israel’s powerless king. As Garrett remarks, “Such a king is like a stick on water in that he can exercise no control over events. A nation with such leadership is doomed.”5
Hosea brings this oracle to a stinging close by picturing the total destruction and wasting of Israel’s pagan places of worship—“the high places.” The wayward vine (vv. 1-2) has come to its anticipated end as a patch of thorns and thistles (v. 8). The NET rendering (see text note) points to the probability of a double entendre implying a particular underlying reference to Bethel. Indeed, Bethel represents the basic cause for the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom. For it was there that the national sin of the calf idol set Israel on its course of turning from Yahweh to the harlotry of worshiping a false deity (cf. 2 Kings 17:21-22).
Rather than the fame and glamour of former day’s thorns and thistles will cover these altars (cf. Hos. 9:6). Those who once went to those places and trusted them for direction and protection will in a coming day cry out for a quick end to their fate (cf. Luke 23:27-31; Rev. 6:12-17). “Their cry for death is not a response simply to the destruction of the cult, but is intended to represent a summation of woes… . The miseries endured will be so great that the people will cry desperately for relief—in effect for sudden death and burial under the land’s hills (the very places the high places were set on) from earthquakes or the like.”6
10:1 The Hebrew participle bo‚qe„q, which the NET translates “fertile” and is often rendered “luxuriant” in many other Bibles (e.g., ESV, NLT, NRSV) is based on an Arabic cognate meaning “be abundant.” Similar renderings may be found in the LXX, Vulgate, and in various modern English and foreign language Bibles (e.g., German, French, Italian, and Spanish). Some English versions (e.g., KJV, NKJV) and commentators (e.g., Sweeney) favor the more common understanding of the Hebrew verb as “be empty” or “be barren.” Garrett suggests that a negative meaning is intended here with the sprawling, spreading vine, which is “a destructive vine in that it takes up valuable soil, crowds out productive plants, and gives benefit only to itself and not to its owner.”7 So understood the underlying verb forms a double entendre. Stuart comes to a similar conclusion in that the vine metaphor stresses both the Lord’s abundant blessing upon Israel as well as Israel’s coming barrenness due to God’s judgment.8
10:2 The Hebrew verb h£a„laq (NET “slippery”) conveys several meanings such as “be smooth,” “be deceptive,” or as a second root “divide.” It is rendered variously in the translations, for example, “fickle” (NLT), “deceitful” (NIV), “devious” (HCSB), “false” (ESV, NRSV), and “divided” (KJV, NKJV). The NASB simply translates ad sensum, “faithless.” Regardless of the proper root intended here, the meaning seems clear enough: God’s people are guilty of duplicity in feigning allegiance to Yahweh while taking His blessings and lavishing them on themselves. Furthermore, they attribute these blessings to Baal whose fertility rites they choose to follow.
10:3 The Hebrew phrase kî àatta„h is understood by some as pointing to a coming future condition (e.g., NET, NIV). Thus McComiskey remarks, “The first action is the nation’s punishment, which will begin when the altars and pillars are demolished. The second action is the acknowledgement of the people that they have no king.”9 The force of the adverb “now,” however, makes the entire phrase best understood with Andersen and Freedman who take it as a present condition and “shows why they are guilty or gives another aspect of their guilt. This fact of wrongdoing precedes the sentence pronounced in v 2.”10 The rhetorical question: “But what can a king do for us anyway?” reflects the general despair and deceit of the period.
10:4 The NET (see text note) captures well the force of the MT: “They speak words”—that is mere words or empty words, which lack truth in substance. The emphasis on oaths and agreements that follows favors the understanding of the NIV that the people multiply empty and false promises. No one anywhere was to be trusted as speaking with integrity or acting honorably.
10:4 Oestreich calls the simile of disputes popping up “like poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field” an absurd simile according to purpose. He explains by saying, “The absurdity consists in the fact that the fields are made to grow grain and other plants that are edible. If poisonous plants grow in the field it has lost its original purpose. The justice in Israel, the prerequisite of flourishing life in society, has been perverted into injustice and thus brings death.”11 The simile may not only depict the treacherous nature of unjust Israelite society, but also the result that such wickedness produces—a just judgment. Thus Andersen and Freedman remark, “Noxious weeds in the farm lands are to be ruthlessly eradicated, and this would be a just thing to do for Israel.”12
10:5 The Hebrew noun translated “idolatrous priests” has a distinctive reference to those priests who officiate in pagan worship services. Although common enough in other Semitic languages, this noun occurs only here and in 2 Kings 22:5 and Zephaniah 1:4 in the OT.13
10:5 The verb translated “wail” normally means “rejoice/exult.” It is often employed to depict the worshiper’s praise of God (e.g., Pss. 9:14; 13:5; Isa. 29:19; Hab. 3:18). Its use here in a context of the worship of the calf idol of Bethel is tied to the thought of the idol being carried into captivity. Although many suggestions and emendations have been proposed,14 it may be simplest to view the verb in its normal meaning, but employed as sarcasm.
10:6 The term “Great King” has been used previously to refer to the king of Assyria (5:13). The title was regularly utilized by the Assyrian kings to signify the power of their vast empire. In earlier days this title was reserved for those kings whose prowess had attracted international recognition. In an interesting sidelight, the Hittite king Hattushilish III chided Adad-nirari I in his bid to appropriate this title for himself and thus to style himself as the Hittite king’s brother (i.e., a king of equal rank). Although Hattushilish recognized Adad-nirari’s recent victories, he refused to grant him the privilege of brotherhood. In a stinging rebuke he writes, “On what account should I write to you about brotherhood? Were you and I born from one mother?”15
10:7 The verbal form nidmeh (“carried off”) appears in Hosea 4:6 where it is used for the destruction of the nation and its people. Although the verb da„ma„h can be understood as “be silent,” “be cut off,” or “destroyed/ruined,” Hosea’s emphasis here is on the seizure of Samaria and the carrying away into captivity of Israel’s king. This prophecy literally came true (cf. 2 Kings 17:6).
10:7 The Hebrew noun qes£ep„ is derived from a verb most commonly used in connection with the idea of wrath or anger. It is even used of the Lord’s righteous anger (e.g., Deut. 29:28; Jer. 21:3).16 The NET translates ad sensum with regard to the noun’s association with the following “surface of the waters” (cf. LXX, Peshitta). The Vulgate reads, quasi spumam super faciem aquae (“like foam upon the face of the waters”; cf. KJV). Accordingly, Laetsch remarks, “‘foam’ is the more drastic figure and suits the verb better; the silver is carried off, the foam annihilated, dissolved into nothingness.”17
10:8 “Thorns and thistles” forms an inclusio with the wayward vine of verses 1-2, plants thus bracketing the entire section. The image of such plants overgrowing scenes of former life and activity appears elsewhere in the prophetic literature to indicate the Lord’s judgment (e.g., Isa. 5:6; 32:13; 34:13). Sweeney suggests that the closing call for the mountains and hills to collapse and provide a “covering” is made by the abandoned altars: “The altars metaphorically appeal for their own suicide or burial as a further sign of their inefficacy and impurity.”18
10:9 O Israel, you have sinned since the time of Gibeah,
and there you have remained.
Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them;
I will gather nations together to attack them,
to bind them in chains for their two sins.
11 Ephraim was a well-trained heifer who loved to thresh grain;
I myself put a fine yoke on her neck.
I will harness Ephraim.
Let Judah plow!
Let Jacob break up the unplowed ground for himself!
12 Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap unfailing love.
Break up the unplowed ground for yourselves,
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes and showers deliverance on you.
13 But you have plowed wickedness;
you have reaped injustice;
you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you have depended on your chariots;
you have relied on your many warriors.
14 The roar of battle will rise against your people;
all your fortresses will be devastated,
just as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle,
when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.
15 So will it happen to you, O Bethel,
because of your great wickedness!
When that day dawns,
the king of Israel will be destroyed.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea turns from the lesson on the wayward vine to that of a well-trained heifer. Before recording the metaphor of the well-trained heifer, however, Hosea reveals the Lord’s message of coming judgment upon His perpetually sinning people (vv. 9-10). As noted in the previous section, while serving to bind verses 1-8 to verses 11-15, verses 9-10 have strongest affiliation with the latter half of chapter 10. Nevertheless, the Lord’s words in verses 9-10 constitute a distinct sub-unit and form an important basis upon which Hosea builds his lesson on Israel as a heifer. The mention of a city (Gibeah, v. 9) in connection with the Lord’s judgment also forms a complementary bookending device with another city (Bethel) depicting judgment (v. 15).
The Lord once again brings up the matter of Gibeah (cf. 5:8; 9:9). As in those earlier instances, the atrocities at Gibeah stand as a corollary to contemporary Israelite society. Did Israel consider itself a scene of progressive grandeur? Such is not the case, for current Israelite society is as vile as in those early days in the incident at Gibeah. For immorality, violence, and injustice are rampant throughout the land. The Lord’s rhetorical question in verse 9 emphasizes the fact that war accompanied the evil acts of that time (cf. Judg. 20). It would do so again. The tribes had gathered together against Gibeah in that earlier episode: this time foreign nations will march against Israel and overwhelm it. Its citizens will be bound in chains and taken into captivity (v. 10). Because God’s people have continued in sin since that early period, the sin of present day Israel, like that of ancient Gibeah, would in God’s time and way bring about its downfall.19 As Wolff observes, “Gibeah’s former sin is doubled by Gibeah’s present guilt.”20
Hosea now delivers the Lord’s own metaphor of Israel as a well-trained heifer (v. 11). Extending the metaphor, the Lord points out that Israel once enjoyed threshing the grain. Like an unyoked and unmuzzled ox Israel did not find the work laborious (cf. Deut. 25:4). Unfortunately, Israel has abused her status with God by its sin and self-indulgence. As McComiskey points out, “She was like a playful, unbridled heifer that enjoyed its freedom from the drudgery of hauling heavy loads. Like the heifer in Hosea’s analogy she had not experienced the strictures of divine law; the nation exulted in the unrestrained liberty of the nature cult.”21
Therefore, God declares that He is putting a yoke on heifer Israel. It will be the yoke (chains) of captivity (v. 10). God’s people will no longer go along freely following their own sinful path but will be put to hard forced labor at the hands of their captors.22 From this the people of Judah should be warned. God has put a yoke on Israel, but a yoke can involve a second animal as well. Both sinning kingdoms faced the likelihood of captivity and hard times.
Yet for the present Judah has the opportunity to perform the Lord’s service. In those difficult times it would no longer do the work of the unyoked heifer, but the harder task of plowing the soil. Nevertheless, that labor was still perhaps to be, as Stuart suggests, that of faithful service in obedience to the covenant with Yahweh.23 In the midst of growing international tensions and temptation to compromise its spiritual purity and commitment to God through capitulation to or fascination with foreign deities, Judah must remain true to the Lord and its covenant obligations. Only then would it escape Israel’s fate.
Accordingly, Hosea now seizes upon the thought of laboring for the Lord to urge all of God’s people, Israel and Judah alike, to return to the Lord and live in obedience to Him. Perhaps even now it was not too late for all of God’s people to experience the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness (cf. Joel 2:12-14). Continuing the agrarian imagery Hosea urges the people to “sow righteousness” so that they might yet reap “unfailing love”—that is, the rewards of God’s covenant. It was time to break new ground by seeking the Lord with heartfelt desire and by cultivating His standards as their own (v. 12). In doing so they would experience God’s showers of blessing thereby increasing their righteousness and all the good things attendant to that condition.
Hosea goes on to point out Israel’s prevailing social sins for which God’s people need to repent and seek the Lord (v. 13). Hosea finds Israelite society to be permeated by personal impurity, social injustice, and spiritual and political deception. Rather than sowing the seeds of righteousness, they have plowed and planted evil seeds from which they have reaped and harvested corruption. They now are eating the fruit of their deception. This has manifested itself in their false syncretism and pagan worship rites and given rise to their vacillating civil and foreign policies. Rather than trusting and revering the Lord in truth, God’s people have deceived themselves in supposing that great military power would protect them. In truth, military might had not and would not provide a sufficient safeguard.
Hosea therefore declares that Israel will be overwhelmed in the coming conflict, and its forces and fortresses demolished (v. 14). Israel’s fate is no better than that of Beth Arbel, which Shalman totally devastated without sparing even women and children. This incident, which is otherwise unattested in the ancient records of the ancient Near East, must, however, have been a well-known hideous example of raw, unrestrained, and inhuman exercise of aggression.24 The atrocity and its military aftermath should therefore constitute an urgent reminder to God’s people to turn from reliance on false entities to the One who alone can sustain and deliver them.
Hosea closes this oracle with a strong warning that a similar fate awaits God’s people in the Northern Kingdom (v. 15). For their spiritual wickedness, which began and yet continues in the cult religion at Bethel, has become so degraded that Israel must be annihilated. When that day of reckoning would come, cult centers like that of Bethel would be destroyed and Israel would no longer have a king. It was a sober warning, which could be ignored only with deadly consequences.
10:9 The NET (cf. NIV) treats the Lord’s rhetorical question as referring to the past. The MT may, however, indicate a future aspect: “Will not war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah” (HCSB; cf. ESV, NRSV). In that regard God’s Word emphasizes the implication of the rhetorical question as a fact by translating, “War will overtake the wicked people in Gibeah.”
10:10 The NET follows the MT in translating the Hebrew ytwab as “When I please” (cf. NIV; see NET text notes). The BHS proposes following the lead of the LXX in emending the text to read: ytab, thus understanding the verb as a prophetic perfect, “I shall come” (cf. NRSV, NJB) or as a present perfect, “I have come” (REB).
10:10 The NET understands the Hebrew be†áa„sra„m as a reference to God’s people being bound when they are carried into captivity. Thus Keil understands the phrase as “at their binding.”25 Some translations (e.g., NLT, LXX) and scholars (e.g., Garrett) take the Hebrew as coming from the verb ya„sar indicating punishment.
10:11 Some suggest that the inclusion of Judah here is a redactional insertion into the original text (e.g., Mays).26 Indeed, Emmerson devotes considerable attention to the examination of Hosean sayings dealing with Judah. She concludes that these texts fall into three broad categories: (1) those that put forward a limited criticism of Judah (cf. 5:10-14; 8:14), (2) those that betray a nostalgia for and confidence in the Davidic dynasty (e.g., 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 12:1), and (3) those that contain a wide-ranging criticism of Judah (cf. 4:15; 5:5; 6:4, 11; 10:11; 12:3). She decides that the first two categories are primary; 10:11 falls into the third reflecting a secondary Judean redaction.27 Yet Judah’s prominence throughout Hosea’s speeches argues for its originality here as well. As McComiskey observes, “The names of Judah and Israel are intertwined in other pericopes28 in Hosea in which the inclusion of Judah is essential to the integrity of the passage.” Further, together with the mention of Ephraim and Jacob the inclusion of Judah serves as yet another example of Hosea’s literary style in listing items in clusters of three.
10:12-13 The shift to second person address in these verses argues for their source to originate with Hosea. Hosea’s advice is expressed in another group of threes: sow, reap, and break-up. Likewise, Israel’s three negative traits are represented in verse 13: wickedness, injustice, and deception, which they have plowed, reaped, and eaten.
10:12 God’s covenant love has appeared previously in Hosea’s oracles (4:1; 6:4, 6; cf. 2:19); Hosea will return to this theme in 12:6.29 Although it is possible that in the two Hebrew words for righteousness (hqdx, qdx) Hosea moves from a general term for righteousness to one that is in accord with God’s covenantal standards (so McComiskey), yet there is considerable overlap between the terms. In any case, synonyms often appear in parallel together. D. J. Reimer proposes that the s£dq group in Hosea appears in “a more theological context, having to do more with Israel’s relationship with Yahweh than within the community.”30
10:14 A fairly strong case can be made for identifying Shalman with the Moabite king Shalmanu who is known from the records of the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III as one of the kings who paid tribute to him.31 Beth Arbel may be identified with modern day Irbid, situated southeast of the Sea of Galilee. 1 Maccabees 9:2 mentions an Arbela in Galilee where the forces of the second century B.C. Syrian king Demetrius II camped on the way to Jerusalem. If the Moabite king Shalmanu is to be equated with Shalman and Beth Arbel located as a Trans-Jordanian town, it is interesting to note that the Moabite king Mesha boasts that during his campaigning against Nebo in Trans-Jordan he “went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, taking it and slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls, and maid servants.”32 Hideous atrocities such as these are well documented in the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Kings 8:12; 15:16; Ps. 137:9; Isa. 13:16, 18; Hos. 13:16; Amos 1:11; Nah. 3:10; cf. Matt. 2:16-18) as well as in the records of the ancient Near East.33 Note, for example the boast the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) that on his first campaign, “The people (lit., subjects) of the city of Hirimme, wicked enemies, I cut down with the sword. Not one escaped. Their corpses I hung on stakes, surrounding the city (with them).”34
10:15 2 Kings 17:4 mentions that Shalmaneser V took Hoshea captive in connection with his invasion of the Northern Kingdom. The Israelite king likely died in captivity.
1 Note the interesting treatment of Hosea 10:1-8 by Cornelis van Leeuwen, “Meaning and structure of Hosea x 1-8,” VT 53 (2003): 367-378.
2 Hubbard, Hosea ,172.
3 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 207-208.
4 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 165.
5 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 212.
6 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 163.
7 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 206.
8 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 159.
9 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 161.
10 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 553.
11 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 103.
12 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 554-555. Andersen and Freedman go on to remark that this is so even though the simile “seems an incongruous one.” For the possible identity of these plants, see Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 758.
13 For a discussion of this rare noun, see Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 273.
14 See, for example, the NET text notes and the discussions in Stuart, Hosea-Jonah , 156, 157; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 555.
15 G. Beckman, Hittite Diplomatic Texts, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 147.
16 See further, G. B. Struthers, “qs£p,” NIDOTTE, 3:962-963 and the NET text note.
17 Laetsch, Hosea, 82.
18 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:106.
19 Gibeah has previously been linked with Israel’s current corruption (Hos. 9:9).
20 Wolff, Hosea, 185.
21 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 176.
22 Gert Kwakkel (“‘But I passed by her Fair Neck’: On Threshing and Yoking in Hosea 10:11,” in The New Things: Eschatology in Old Testament Prophecy [Maastricht: Shaker Publishing, 2002], 141-146) suggests that Yahweh, who once spared Israel of the yoke, now will do so in order to impose harder work on His people.
23 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 169.
24 Neither Shalman nor Beth Arbel is known except for Hosea’s mentioning of the event.
25 Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:132.
26 J. L. Mays, Hosea: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 145.
27 Grace L. Emmerson, Hosea, JSOTsup 28 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984). 158-59. For my critical review of Emmerson’s work, see Hebrew Studies 29 (1988): 112-114.
28 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 177. G. A. Smith (The Book of the Twelve Prophets [New York: Doubleday, 1929], 1:233) points out that it would be strange if Judah were not included within the purview of the prophet. This is especially true since Hosea takes great pains to date his prophecy in accordance with the reigns of a broad range of Judean kings (1:1).
29 See the note on Hosea 6:4.
30 David J. Reimer, “s£dq,” NIDOTTE, 3:763. For Reimer’s excellent an extensive treatment of the verbal root and its forms, see pp. 744-769.
31 See ANET, 282; Wolff, Hosea, 188. Many, however, suggest one of the Assyrian kings such as Shalmaneser V who campaigned in Israel in 724 B.C. See for example M. Astour, “841 B.C.: The First Assyrian Invasion of Israel,” JAOS 91 (1971): 383-389. Sweeney (Twelve Prophets, 1:111-112) appears to lean toward identifying Shalman with Shalmaneser III (859-825 B.C.) who campaigned often in Aram and Israel.
32 “The Moabite Stone,” ANET, 320; see further Arnold and Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East, 160-162.
33 See further, Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 395.
34 D. D. Luckenbill, ARA, 2:117. Many such episodes can be found in the Assyrian Annals. For example, during Ashurbanipal’s sixth campaign the Assyrian king reports that he slit the tongues of those supporters of his rival brother Shamash-shum-ukin who spoke against the god Assur or against Ashurbanipal. “The rest of the people, alive, by the colossi, between which they had cut down Sennacherib, the father of the father who begot me,--at that time, I cut down those people there, as an offering to his shade. Their dismembered bodies (lit.. flesh) I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of heaven and the fish of the deep.”
11:1 When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son,
and I summoned my son out of Egypt.
2 But the more I summoned them,
the farther they departed from me.
They sacrificed to the Baal idols
and burned incense to images.
3 Yet it was I who led Ephraim,
I took them by the arm;
but they did not acknowledge
that I had healed them.
4 I led them with leather cords,
with leather ropes;
I lifted the yoke from their neck,
and gently fed them.
5 They will return to Egypt!
Assyria will rule over them
because they refuse to repent!
6 A sword will flash in their cities,
it will destroy the bars of their city gates,
and will devour them in their fortresses.
7 My people are obsessed with turning away from me;
they call to Baal, but he will never exalt them!
8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart!
All my tender compassions are aroused!
9 I cannot carry out my fierce anger!
I cannot totally destroy Ephraim!
Because I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you –
I will not come in wrath!
10 He will roar like a lion,
and they will follow the Lord;
when he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will return in fear and trembling
like birds from Egypt,
like doves from Assyria,
and I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.
Exegesis and Exposition
Chapter 11 contains the most poignant yet touching words in all of Hosea. It features a sharp contrast between God’s tender reminiscences of His early relationship with Israel and yet His sorrow at their rejection of Him for Baal despite all that He had done for them (vv. 1-4). His people had taken for granted His love and care for them, and the Lord was concerned for their constant lack of fidelity, which now necessitated their coming judgment (vv. 5-7).
In a second display of His compassion the Lord reveals that His abiding love for Israel would mean that His judgment could not and would not spell the end for His people (vv. 8-9). For in a future day Israel would respond to His call and they would return to their homes and His blessings (vv. 10-11).
The first portion deals with Israel’s historic past at a time when God’s people were in bondage in Egypt. It was then that God called His people out of Egypt, redeemed them with a mighty show of force, and led them on their journey toward the Promised Land (v. 1). Hosea’s citation of the Lord’s words is in harmony with the familiar exodus motif that runs throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Exod. 3:8; 12:37-13:19; hets who included it both in warnings to the people for covenant disobedience (e.g., Jer. 2:5-9; 7:21-29; 11:14-17) and in promises of restoration through repentance and surrender to God’s will (e.g., Isa. 42:5-7; 61:1-4; Jer. 16:14-15; Ezek. 20:32-38).1 The exodus motif reaches its climax in the prophesied New Covenant (Jer. 23:7-8; 31:31-37; 32:40-41; Ezek. 37:21-28) and finds fulfillment on the basis of the finished redemptive work of Christ (Matt. 26:27-29; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8).
In the Lord’s adaptation of the exodus motif He portrays Himself as a parent to His child Israel. This metaphor of God as a father to son Israel is common enough in the Old Testament (e.g., Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1-2; Isa. 1:2; Jer. 3:19; 4:22), but here it is wedded to the theme of deliverance. In a very real sense Israel’s deliverance from the power of the Egyptians was an act of redemption both physically and spiritually. As Vos declared long ago, “The exodus from Egypt is the Old Testament redemption… . It is based on the inner coherence of O.T. and N.T. religion itself. These two, however different their forms of expression, are yet one in principle.”2
The portrayal of Israel’s “childhood” continues by shifting the scene to the time of the wilderness wanderings (v. 2). The NET (cf. NIV, NJB, NLT, NRSV) follows the LXX and Syriac versions in reflecting something of God’s sorrow of heart during that time. Thus no matter how often the Lord called to His people, the more they left Him and went away. They even went so far as to embrace Baal and to burn incense to images. Both were in clear violation of the standards in God’s law (cf. Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 5:7-8).
The MT (cf. Vulgate), however, reads, “The more) they called to them, the more/so they went (away) from them” (cf. HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NASB). If the MT is to be followed, the question becomes who was calling and to whom? Was it God’s prophets who were calling the Israelites (McComiskey), or was it the Egyptians (Garrett), or were the Israelites calling for the Egyptians (Sweeney)?
Sweeney’s proposal has the advantage of scriptural precedent in Israel’s repeated complaints against the leadership in the days of the exodus and during the wilderness wanderings. As Sweeney observes, “Insofar as the passage later highlights the issue of the return to Egypt in verse 5, it seems likely that the passage refers to Israel’s continuous expression of the desire to return to Egypt and its seeking of foreign gods while in the wilderness.”3
Yet this proposal faces the difficulty of understanding to whom the following “so they went away from them” refers. Perhaps Sweeney’s suggestion may be salvaged by viewing the Hebrew ke„n as occurring in a common comparative construction: “as … so” (or “the more … the more”).4 Thus “As (or the more) they (i.e., the Israelites) called unto them (i.e., the Egyptians), so (the more) they went away from them.” This interpretation suggests that even while the Israelites were journeying and going farther away from the Egyptians, rather than looking forward with eager anticipation to where Yahweh was leading them, they cried out for the former days in Egypt. “A number of texts expand the historical perspective of the exodus account by recording the redeemed people’s whining ingratitude … (cf. Exod. 14:11; 15:14; 16:3; 17:2, 3; 32:1; Num. 11:1, 18-20; 14:2-4; 20:5; 21:5; Deut. 1:2-6).”5 The capstone to Israel’s ingratitude and infidelity came in their succumbing to the enticements associated with Baalism (cf. Hos. 9:10). It was a fascination that continued to Hosea’s day and would eventually contribute to Israel’s demise.
The image of Yahweh as Israel’s father continues in verse 3. Here the Lord points out the irony in Israel’s attraction to Baal. It was not this so-called god who cared for Israel or guided them on their journey in the wilderness. Rather, it was Yahweh—the same One who taught His people how to walk, that is, gave them spiritual liberty and the opportunity to grow in faith. It was Yahweh who healed their wounds and the sickness of Egyptian bondage.6 It was He who went before them in the wilderness on their journey toward the Promised Land (cf. Hos. 6:1; 7:1).
God declares that His teaching process of His people was “with the cords of a man, with the ropes of love” (v. 4, MT).7 The description here is in harmony with the figurative language built upon the agrarian imagery of Hosea 10:11-13 and also provides a literary hook between the two chapters. Nevertheless, the figure that still lurks in the background is that of the father and his child. Thus Yahweh’s “harnessing” of His young ox (child Israel) was like that of any concerned human father. His teaching and sovereign guidance was one of love, not the yoke of an animal designed for heavy work. Indeed, Israel’s former life in Egypt—for which they so frequently cried out in the wilderness—was one that could be characterized as being “yoked.” But Yahweh had lifted that oppressive yoke from Israel’s neck, and gently fed and lovingly cared for them with cords like that of a hackamore.
To be sure, the figurative language contains a shift in metaphors (if not a mixed metaphor), but the oracles in Hosea frequently move quickly from one figure to another (e.g., Hos. 9:10-10:1). Stuart points out, “In light of the many shifts of person, number and gender that are noted throughout the book in its many and varied metaphorical descriptions of Israel (and Yahweh), the most likely interpretation is that the entire verse represents a metaphorical shift, in which Yahweh’s love for Israel is paralleled now to concern for a dependent beast rather than a child.”8 It may be more accurate to say that both metaphorical uses are held in tension. The point here is that just as any good father or animal owner would act kindly toward his child or animal, so the Lord has dealt tenderly—even affectionately—with Israel.
Having described His deliverance, and loving care and guidance for Israel (vv. 1, 3-4), the Lord now declares that judgment now must come to His people (vv. 5-6). This is because of their longstanding and abiding sinfulness (vv. 2, 7). God’s sentence for the near future remains the same as that delivered previously: in accordance with the covenantal stipulations Israel will return to Egypt (cf. 7:16; 8:13; 9:3-6). By Egypt is meant primarily Israel’s fall to the Assyrian forces and deportation to their lands.9 Even though some of Israel’s exiles might escape to Egypt, theirs would not be a pleasant experience there.
Israel has put its trust in fortresses (v. 6; cf. 8:13-14; 10:14) and other gods (i.e., especially Baal, v. 7; cf. 9:10; 10:1), but none of these would be able to save them when the invader came. In another listing of threes Israel’s cities are depicted as witnessing the flashing, cutting swords of the enemy, the fall of the city gates and their supposedly strong fortresses turned into graveyards. For the dead shall lie everywhere within their precincts (v. 6). It was all so needless. If only they had trusted Yahweh who alone could protect them rather than their supposedly impregnable fortresses. Moreover, only the Lord could really promote the welfare, which no foreign power or supposed god could provide. But to the contrary, they called to a “higher power” which could do neither (v. 7).
Through a series of rhetorical questions the Lord reveals a glimpse into His heart’s dilemma (vv. 8-9; cf. 6:4). Although His justice demanded Israel’s punishment and that would surely come (vv. 5-6), yet He could never bring Himself to annihilate His people as in the case of those early hopelessly rebellious people of the cities of the plain (v. 8; cf. Gen. 14:2 with Gen. 19:23-28; Deut. 29:23; Isa. 13:19; Amos 4:10). His deep compassion for His people meant that although He must administer justice in the form of Israel’s defeat and exile (cf. Hos. 6:11; 7:12-16; 9:3, 16-17; 10:6-10), nevertheless He would not destroy them completely. His sentence against His people was thus a matter of the necessary carrying out of the requirements against a wayward child (cf. Deut. 19-23) and not a matter of human vengeance. Indeed, Yahweh is a holy God—One who desires to see that holiness resident and active in His people (v. 9).
Hosea expands on the Lord’s pronouncements by revealing God’s future plans for Israel. These included the restoration of a then repentant people who will long for renewed fellowship with the Lord (cf. 6:1-3). In a striking simile Hosea returns to the imagery of the lion (v. 10). Unlike the Lord’s earlier employment of the figure of a voracious lion, which would bring judgment in the form of the destruction of Israel (cf. 5:14-15), this time the Lord is portrayed as a compassionate and concerned parent lion calling for its young to follow him. And at that time Israel will choose to respond to the Lord. There will be a new exodus of the people from all of the lands of their exile (v. 11). Then God’s people will return to their homeland and settle down. It will be even as Garrett remarks: “Hosea’s point here is that there is to be a new exodus in which God will again play the part of the lion and deliver his people from their enemies and into a new Promised Land.”10 This point is reinforced in yet another simile. God’s people will hurry homeward like birds flying to the nest. No longer acting like silly doves reaching out first to one nation and then another for acceptance and protection (cf. 7:11), God’s people in that day will respond in faith to God’s calling, will desire His will, and return to the place of their blessing.
All of this was prefigured in the relation between Hosea and Gomer (2:14-23). As Hosea was instructed to seek after Gomer in love and tenderness (2:14), so the Lord will call for His people to come back to Him. As that response symbolized Israel’s putting away of Baal and the rites associated with him (2:16-17), so Israel’s fascination with false gods and idolatry will be over. As Gomer/Israel would respond in renewed fidelity to her husband (Hosea/Yahweh; 2:19-20), so the future Israelites will come in reverential trust and love to the Lord. As Gomer/Israel would experience renewed blessings based upon fidelity and a lasting relationship with Hosea/Yahweh, so God’s people will experience the long missing covenant blessings in the Promised Land. As Stuart observes, “The faithful will ‘fly’ back not merely to the land as sojourners or the like, but to their ‘homes,’ an indication of true resettling in possession of original inheritances. Throughout Israel’s history, residence in the land was a central blessing of their covenant with Yahweh (cf. 2:18, 20). Now would be fulfilled the promise of 2:25.”11
Certainly Israel’s hope for the near future lay with the return from exile in lands such as Assyria and Egypt (cf. Ezra 2). Yet the prophets also often speak of a distant future when God’s people will come and find the Promised Land as an everlasting place of residence and blessing (see e.g., Isa. 40:1-11; 60:1-22; 65:17-25; Jer. 23:5-8; 32:36-44; 33:15-16; Zeph. 3:14-20; etc.).12 Accordingly, Hosea’s seemingly near future perspective may well veil a further, more final exodus. Thus Wood suggests, “Egypt and Assyria typify the many nations from which God’s people will return in the future day. Then he will settle them ‘in their homes’—an assurance of their permanent residence in their land (cf. 2:19).”13
11:1 Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is best viewed analogically. The evangelist sees in Hosea’s text an analogy between Yahweh’s words calling His people out of Egypt and the return of Jesus’ parents to Nazareth with their son: “In this way what was spoken by the LORD through the prophet was fulfilled: ‘I called my Son out of Egypt’” (Matt. 2:15, NET). Thus just as Israel came out of Egypt, so also did Jesus and His parents. Although one need not consider the Matthew passage (Matt. 2:13-23) as a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, because of the New Testament use of Hosea’s words, the Old Testament passage is thereby enriched (made fuller).14
11:1 The NET translation correctly understands that the Hebrew noun naàar envisions more than infancy (cf. 1 Sam. 4:21; 5:14).15 The noun may refer to a youth anywhere from infancy to early adulthood.
11:2 Another suggestion favoring the MT comes from Hubbard, and from Andersen and Freedman who propose that it is the women of Moab who are calling to the Israelites.16
11:3 The Lord’s remarks could almost be construed as satire: despite the fact that the Israelites kept going farther and farther away from Egypt, they kept whining and crying for the “good old days” in Egypt.
11:3 The Hebrew tirgaltî is generally understood to be a rare tiphil form of a denominative verb from the noun regel (“foot”). The unusual qa„h£a„m is perhaps to be taken as a rare infinitive from the verb la„qah£ (“to take”), hence to be understood as “taking them.” The shift from the plural “them” to “his own” (MT) may emphasize God’s instructions for not only corporate Israel but individual Israelites.
11:4 The problem of the mixing of metaphors has led some translators (e.g., NJB, NRSV) and commentators (e.g., Wolff) to read the Hebrew word áo„l (“yoke”) as áu„l (“infant’; cf. BHS cj.). The NRSV reads “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Despite the advantage of maintaining a consistent figure throughout the first four verses (although under this understanding portraying God as a nursing mother), the suggestion lacks proper textual support and fails to deal adequately with the wider context.
11:5 Many translations render the Hebrew particle lo„á Israel will not” (cf. KJV, NKJV, ESV, HCSB). The NIV takes verse 5 to be a rhetorical question (were they not?). It seems best to view lo„á as an emphatic particle indicating Israel’s certain fate: “it will surely” (cf. NRSV, “they shall return”).
11:6 It is simplest to understand the enigmatic bad as gate bolt (Keil), hence a metonymy for the city gates (cf. NET, NIV, NASB, ESV, NLT).17
11:7 The force of the Hebrew áel àal is admittedly difficult and has therefore been understood variously. Garrett proposes that the phrase should be read as a divine name áe„l àal, hence “and they call him áe„l àal [God on high].”18 As it did in Hosea 7:16, the NIV renders the problematic àal as “the Most High,” thus taking it to be a reference to the Lord and then translating it (possibly as another pseudo-sorites): “Even if they call to the Most High, He will be no means exalt them.” The NET follows the lead of the BHS in assuming that àal is a play on the name Baal (see text note). Stuart understands the reference to Yahweh differently, taking the statement in a positive way as a transition to verses 8-11 and translates, “Then my people will tire of turning away from me; and on the Most High they will call; all together they will surely exalt him.”19 Andersen and Freedman also take the Hebrew to refer to Yahweh, understanding it to be a biform of áe„l àelyo‚n and assume that the Hebrew negative of the following clause is a double duty particle. Thus they translate, “They did not call on him as the Supreme God, he did not exalt him as the Only One.”20 Possible understandings of the phrase are indeed manifold. Thus Achtemeier proposes that the Hebrew àal be read as àl (“yoke”; cf. Vulgate) hence, “and to the yoke (that is, of Assyria) they shall be appointed; none will life them up.”21 Sweeney assumes the novel position that the reference is to the king of Assyria.22
11:8-9 Israel is portrayed metaphorically as a city here—a sinful one at that. Yet unlike those earlier totally wicked cities of the plain, God will not destroy His people completely or forever. The threefold use of the negative particle lo„á (“not”) underscores the force of God’s declaration.
11:9 The mention of God as the Holy One is in accordance with His special relation to Israel as His covenant people. Isaiah speaks of the Lord as “the Holy One of Israel” more than a score of times.
11:10-11 Although the Lord could be referring to Himself via the third person verb here, it is probably more active to follow Sweeney in holding that “the prophet takes up the parental imagery of YHWH’s reluctance to punish Israel in Hos 11:1-9 by presenting a metaphorical image of Israel following YHWH much as lion cubs follow a roaring lion or birds return to their nests.”23
1 For discussions of the exodus motif, see D. Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible (London: Faber and Faber, 1963); David Pao, Acts and The Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000); Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 241-245; Richard D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” Grace Theological Journal 8 (1987): 163-194; Richard D. Patterson and Michael Travers, “Contours of the Exodus Motif in Jesus’ Earthly Ministry,” WTJ 66 (2004): 25-47; Rikki Watts, Consolation or Confrontation? Isaiah 40-55 and the Delay of the New Exodus,” Tyndale Bulletin 41 (1990): 31-39; Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997); William Webb, Returning Home: New Covenant and Second Exodus as the Context for 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 JSOTsup 85 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993).
2 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 124. Vos goes on to point out that the exodus redemption is presented as a deliverance from both an objective realm of sin and evil and also from spiritual degradation and sin. It was a redemption that could and was accomplished by the sovereign grace and power of the Lord alone.
3 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:113.
4 For other examples of the deletion of the particle (“as”) in the protasis, see Judges. 5:15; Isaiah 55:9. For Hosea’s use of the fully formed construction, see Hosea 4:7.
5 Patterson and Travers, “Contours,” 30.
6 Alternatively, the reference here could be to the Lord’s curing of the bitter water at Marah (Exod. 15:22-26).
7 For an alternate translation, see the NET and its textual notes.
8 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 179.
9 See the note on 7:16.
10 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 229.
11 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 183.
12 In many prophetic texts God’s near and distant future appear to blend together as a single hope (e.g., Isa. 52:4-13; 61:1-3; Jer. 16:14-15), which nonetheless does not negate a two-stage fulfillment. Many prophecies appear to find a specific fulfillment yet without exhausting fully the details in the prophecy. R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale House, 1971), 160-163 calls such cases “fulfillment without consummation.”
13 Wood, “Hosea,” 7:214.
14 For possible messianic implications in Matthew’s handling of Hosea’s reference the Exodus event, see John H. Sailhamer, “Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15,” WTJ 63 (2001): 87-96; Dan McCartner and Peter Enns, “Matthew and Hosea: A Response to John Sailhamer,” WTJ 63 (2001): 97-105.
15 See my note Patterson and Austel, “Kings,” 4:186.
16 Hubbard, Hosea, 187; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 578.
17 Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:140.
18 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 226. So understood it would entail Israel’s “worshiping God under the name of áe„l àal but that Yahweh rejected that title and considered it to be the name of another god (i.e., Baal). That is the Israelites depended upon an apostate theology in which the assimilated the worship of Yahweh to the Canaanite cults under the ambiguous title ‘God on High.’”
19 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 181.
20 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 574, 586-587. For the use of double duty negative particles, see M. Dahood, Psalms 101-150 AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 438.
21 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:94.
22 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:115.
23 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:116. The figure of a roaring lion is used elsewhere to portray God’s judgment against the ungodly (e.g., Jer. 25:30; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2).
The final section of Hosea contains further messages concerning prevailing conditions in the Northern Kingdom that necessitate Israel’s judgment. The speeches contain both oracles of the prophet and divine speeches (e.g., 12:9-11; 13:4-16; 14:4-8). It is by now a familiar pattern. The messages deal with both societal problems such as Israel’s political and business practices, and the underlying basic spiritual condition of God’s people: their abandonment of Yahweh and their self-pride. Nevertheless, although the unit begins with a condemnation, it ends on a high note of God’s consolation: granted Israel’s repentance, God’s people will be restored to His favor and blessings forevermore.
11:12[12:1] Ephraim has surrounded me with lies;
the house of Israel has surrounded me with deceit.
But Judah still roams about with God;
he remains faithful to the Holy One.
12:1 Ephraim continually feeds on the wind;
he chases the east wind all day;
he multiplies lies and violence.
They make treaties with Assyria,
and send olive oil as tribute to Egypt.
Exegesis and Exposition
As this section of the book of Hosea opens, the Lord is expressing his displeasure with His people of both kingdoms. He begins with the Northern Kingdom. Israel has been a seedbed of treachery (v.1). The charge of lying has been leveled previously when the Lord condemned the royal advisors for their false relations with the king (7:3). Because of the deceptive practices that infected the Northern Kingdom at the highest levels, all Israel had become corrupt. It even affected its worship experience, for in these God’s people lie to the lord with regard to their supposed devotion (7:13). Through His prophet the Lord also had denounced Israel’s false dependence on its military strength rather than trusting in the lord (10:13).
Not only is Israel guilty of outright lies but also of deceit in all of its dealings, Israel has become a society where violence, which often leads to bloodshed, abounds (12:2,14), where dishonesty characterizes its business dealings (v.7), and in which lust for wealth accrued in whatever way it could be obtained was a way of life (vv. 8-9). Israel’s deception and fraud included its false—even pagan—religious rites (v.11) and its failure to heed the prophets whom God sent to guide and correct His people (v.10). It is small wonder, then. That God feels “surrounded” by Israel’s lies and deceit. For wherever He looked, there was only wanton debauchery.
The Lord had compared His people to a wicked city previously (11:8). Now He applies the image of the city to Himself. The metaphor portrays God as likening Himself to a besieged city. He the holy city saw all around Him the siege machinery of lies, deceit, and total apostasy. There remained nothing for Yahweh to do but to defend His holiness by striking out in judgment against His debased nation.
The Lord’s charges against His people serve to cast light on the notorious crux in Hosea 11:12b. Although many find the Lord’s words concerning Judah to be a positive report, the tenor of the context together with the subsequent charges delivered by Hosea against Judah (12:2) suggests that God’s prophet was building upon the Lord’s own indictment of the Southern Kingdom as well.1
The central issue revolves around the proper meaning of the Hebrew participle ra„d and the plural adjective qe†do‚sŒîm. The former comes from a very rare verb, which also appears in Jeremiah 2:31. There it portrays Judah’s wandering away from the Lord. On the basis of the context in Hosea a similar negative consideration would seem to be implied. Israel wanders around with regard to God. So construed the sense of the form in the accompanying clause remains to be determined. Help comes from noting how the plural form qe†do‚sŒîm is used elsewhere. Although we find it used to refer to saints (Pss. 16:3; 34:9) and angels (Job 5:1; Zech. 14:5), its significance in two other occurrences is debatable (Prov. 9:10; 30:3). Both texts have been commonly understood as pertaining to Yahweh as the Holy One, the adjective being considered a plural of majesty. Yet Proverbs 30:3 may just as well be taken as referring to holy things/matters and thus serving as a fitting parallel to “wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10, however, does seem better suited as a reference to the Holy One, although here too one could make a case for considering the knowledge of holy things/matters a fitting parallel to the fear/reverence of the Lord.
But whether one understands this form to be referring to Yahweh or spiritual matters in Hosea 11:12, the over-all effect of the Lord’s words is best taken negatively.2 Thus Judah still wanders about with God while remaining steadfast (faithful/firm) with regard to the Holy One (or holy things/matters).3 So understood Judah is properly reproached for its inconsistent walk with God (perhaps even in its concept of the divine), while at the same time attending to traditional spiritual things relative to the worship of the Lord.
Moreover, a negative evaluation (cf. 12:2) of both Israel and Judah together is most appropriate if viewed as being delivered near the time of the end of the Northern Kingdom. Such a setting would entail the wicked king Ahaz being on the throne of the Southern Kingdom. His reign marked a distinctive turning point in the spiritual condition of Judah. For among other things it was he who replaced the central position of the bronze altar with a new altar like one he had seen in Damascus and offered sacrifices upon it. He also appropriated the panels and high stands supporting the brazen altar as well as the brass bulls supporting the Molten Sea (2 Kings 16:12-16) and furnishings from the Temple (2 Chron. 28:24). He also participated in pagan rituals to Baal (2 Chron. 28:1-4) and in sacrifices to the gods of Damascus (2 Chron. 28:22-35), and had pagan altars erected throughout Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (2 Chron. 28:24-25).4
The prophet Hosea builds upon the Lord’s previous statement in Hosea 11:12 by once again comparing Israel’s vacillating and deceitful foreign policy to the futility of pursuing matters in a wrong way (12:1). Whereas earlier Hosea likened Israel’s actions to sowing to the wind (8:7), here he accuses Israel of feeding on and chasing after the wind. It was a hot, dry east wind (Hamsin) at that. Such chasing after the wind with regard to its foreign policy could gain them nothing (cf. Eccles. 2:11). The imagery here is tantalizing in-as-much as the Hebrew participle commonly translated “feeds” is literally “shepherds” (cf. AB). The implied simile charges Israel with continually pursuing other nations much as a shepherd goes after his lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:3-7).5 Nevertheless, Israel does not realize that its policies are a lost cause. For what Israel will find is only the emptiness and futility that the pursuit of wind implies.
Not only has Israel erred in its total governmental policies by not seeking God, but currying the favor of various nations was wrong-headed in itself. Moreover, Israel went about things in the wrong way, for it dealt insincerely and dishonestly with the nations. Such included making agreements with Assyria on the one hand (cf. Hos. 5:13; 8:9) and at the same time making overtures to Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4; Hos. 7:11). As Stuart remarks, “In internal matters, the nations multiple immorality was well documented: it can be no surprise therefore that in external matters of diplomacy, their pattern of treachery continued true to form.”6 As Hosea has previously declared, neither nation would save them. Rather, Israel’s foreign policy will deceive itself leading to the nation’s defeat and the carrying of its people into exile (cf. Hos. 9:3; 10:5-8).
Although it is Ephraim/Israel that is singled out here for rebuke, the force of the context tends to suggest that although Israel is the primary focus, there is culpability in both Israel and Judah. As Andersen and Freedman point out, “Both countries are guilty of entering non-Yahwistic covenants… . The north and south tried to curry favor with Assyria at each other’s expense. There is also indications that they played Egypt off against Assyria.”7 Certainly both Israel and Judah come into the prophet’s denunciations in the succeeding verses. This understanding likewise further underscores a consistent flow with an earlier negative appraisal of God’s people in 11:12.
11:12 The etymology of Hebrew ra„d is a matter of dispute. Thus Keil dismisses Luther’s suggestion of a relation to Hebrew ra„da„h (to rule) and as do many others and proposes a relation with an Arabic root meaning to roam about.8Another proposal is a relation to the Hebrew verb ya„rad (to go down; cf. Vulgate).9 Several other possibilities could be brought forward including an even previously unattested root.10
11:12 Among those who view this verse in a positive light, some understand qe†do‚sŒîmas a plural of majesty (e.g., Craigie, McComiskey, and Sweeney). Many who take the negative view of the passage also favor this same understanding (e.g., Cohen, Keil, Laetsch, Stuart, Wood).11 Others who hold to the negative view consider the plural adjective to refer to the pagan gods (e.g., Andersen and Freedman, Garrett, Hubbard). In this view the parallel to the divine name in the previous line refers to the Canaanite god El.12 Achtemeier suggests a new approach in proposing that by qe†do‚sŒîm is meant faithful Levities and prophets, including Hosea himself “who were the instigators of the Deuteronomic reform in Judah in 622/1 B.C.”13
12:1 Andersen and Freedman follow the lead of some in proposing that oil was used in connection with covenant making. They go on to point out, “It would be a mistake to link the covenant exclusively with Assyria, and the oil with Egypt. Both are tied to both, and we must suppose that the oil ceremony is a part or consequence of making a covenant. As noted, both Ephraim and Judah were intriguing with both Assyria and Egypt.”14
12:2 The Lord also has a covenant lawsuit against Judah;
he will punish Jacob according to his ways
and repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he attacked his brother;
in his manly vigor he struggled with God.
4 He struggled with an angel and prevailed;
he wept and begged for his favor.
He found God at Bethel,
and there he spoke with him!
5 As for the Lord God Almighty,
the Lord is the name by which he is remembered!
6 But you must return to your God,
by maintaining love and justice,
and by waiting for your God to return to you.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea begins this section with the notice that the Lord has some charges to bring against His people (cf. 4:1) including Judah. Though Ephraim was particularly in view in 11:12-12:1, here in discussing the sins of God’s people Judah is mentioned first. As Hubbard observes, “Judah’s name (cf. 11:12) is a reminder that the whole people inherited both the wicked or foolish characteristics of their common ancestor and the covenant promises which will make them one again. Jacob (vv. 2, 12) and Israel (vv. 12-13) refer to the father of both the northern and southern tribes and to all the tribes rescued from Egypt in the Exodus.”15 The following examples come from the life of the patriarch Jacob. Hosea presents them in order to point out an analogy between the character of God’s people in Hosea’s day and that of their ancestor. God’s people in Hosea’s day were behaving like Jacob the trickster. “Jacob’s trickery became legendary. Accordingly, it served as a ready symbol for the prophets to seize upon in condemning the grasping, greedy ways of contemporary society.”16 For example, Jeremiah (Jer. 9:4) chides the Judahite society of his day for its deceitfulness by saying that one should not even trust his relatives, “for every brother will certainly deceive” (HCSB; MT àa„qo‚b yaàqo„b). The combining of the word brother with this particular verbal form provides a deliberate analogy with the patriarch Jacob (yaàa†qo„b).
Hosea likewise calls upon the Jacob tradition to underscore the deceitful ways of God’s people (cf. Hos. 11:12). He points out that Jacob’s trickery began in the womb where “he grasped [àa„qab] his brother’s heel” (v. 3, NIV; cf. Gen. 25:26). Then “in his manly vigor he struggled with God” (NET). The letters of the word for manhood (NET, “manly vigor”; MT /wa, áwn) form a word play on the noun that Hosea uses for deception or iniquity (áa„wen) and as a “byword for the shrine at Bethel, Beth Aven. The implied accusation is: Jacob as a man struggled with God near Bethel, the nation has rebelled against God at Beth Aven.”17
Likewise the verb that Hosea chooses for struggling (sÃa„ra„h) is significant. For Hosea goes on to mention that as a man Jacob’s struggles with God reached a climax in his encounter with “an angel” (vv. 3-4; cf. Gen. 32:22-32). There at Penuel (near Bethel) in his struggle with the angel Jacob held the angel tightly and would not let him go until he received a blessing from the angel. Thus Jacob “prevailed” over the angel by asking for a blessing. Essentially he “won” by submitting to the favor of God’s emissary. As a result his name is changed from Jacob to Israel. In Hosea’s telling of the incident it is particularly interesting to note his use of paronomasia: the Jacob (yaàa†qo‚b) of Hosea 12:2 and the àa„qab and sÃa„ra„h in verse 3 are followed by the waya„sÃo„r ál maláak in verse 4. For Hosea “juxtaposed the letters of the verbal form waya„sÃo„r with the preposition áel so as to form the consonants of the name Israel: ysÃrál. Thus in one context he has cleverly brought together both Jacob’s original name and his new one.”18
Hosea goes on to declare that Jacob’s transformation was fully accomplished at Bethel (v. 4). Jacob had met God earlier at Bethel where the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant were promised to him (Gen. 28:16-22). In a still later encounter at Bethel (Gen. 35:9-15) God confirmed both the transmission of the Abrahamic Covenant through Jacob and his name change to Israel. Jacob at last could realize the fullness of his name Israel by submitting to God’s rule over him. Hosea’s emphasis, however, is that although God met Jacob at Bethel and fellowshipped with him there, God was virtually excluded from present day Bethel by contemporary Jacob (i.e., God’s people in Hosea’s day). For Bethel (house of God) had become Beth Aven (house of deception/iniquity). It was there that the people courted Baal and indulged in his pagan rites.
Therefore, in verses 5 and 6 Hosea urges God’s people to learn the lesson of Jacob the trickster who became Israel the channel of God’s blessing. Jacob discovered who and what God really was: Yahweh, “God Almighty.” Like Israel of old, God’s people needed to learn the lesson of submission to God. “The implication for Israel is clear: they are nothing without Yahweh, just as Jacob was nothing without Yahweh.”19 They must truly return to God and maintain His standards of covenant loyalty, love, and justice in their lives.20 In so doing they were always to put their hope and expectations in God (cf. HCSB). Theirs was to be a continuous attitude of genuine trust and reverential fear, “instead of placing your hope on yourselves and other nations!”21
12:3 As noted in the exposition the verb translated as seize/grasp (NET, “attack”) has an etymological relation with the name Jacob and the deception associated with that name. It is also related to the noun for heel (àa„qe„b). Thus he who seized his brother by the heel became known as Jacob (Gen. 25:26). Two other substantives of note with regard to the Jacob narrative are associated with this root: àa„qo„b (“deceitful”) and àoqba„h (“trickery”).22 As noted in the exposition, the verb “struggle” (sÃa„ra„h) is important to the Jacob narrative (cf. Gen. 32:28[HB 29]) and for Hosea’s wordplay on Jacob’s later name Israel (yisÃa„ráe„l).23
12:4 The verbal form wayya„o„r is not the expected wayyisÃor. Nevertheless, it is generally held that the verb in question is probably to be translated “struggled” (NLT, “wrestled”). As used by Hosea it emphasizes that by struggling with God (v. 3) Hosea means that Jacob struggled with God’s angel (v. 4). In any case, McComiskey remarks that in one respect verses 3 and 4 yield a telling portrait of Jacob’s character: “With one bold sweep of his brush Hosea portrays Jacob’s character as the same in his later years as it was foreshadowed at his birth. From his birth to his early manhood Jacob strove to overcome.”24
12:5 The unusual verbal form àimma„nu‚ (“he [God] spoke with him”) rather than the expected àimmo‚ (see NET text note) is taken by some simply to be an alternate grammatical form.25 Kaiser, however, suggests that the form in the MT should be accepted at face value for, “It was not only Jacob the individual but also the total nation that was intended. The shift from ‘him’ to ‘us,’ from the patriarch to the nation, is at the heart of the prophet’s design.”26
12:6 The Hebrew verb qwh translated “waiting” (NET) carries with it a note of waiting with expectant hope (cf. HCSB).27 Hosea employs the derived noun tiqwa„h (hope) earlier in connection with Valley of Achor.28
12:7 The businessmen love to cheat;
they use dishonest scales.
8 Ephraim boasts, “I am very rich!
I have become wealthy!
In all that I have done to gain my wealth,
no one can accuse me of any offense that is actually sinful.”
9 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt;
I will make you live in tents again as in the days of old.
10 I spoke to the prophets;
I myself revealed many visions;
I spoke in parables through the prophets.”
11 Is there idolatry in Gilead?
Certainly its inhabitants will come to nothing!
Do they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal?
Surely their altars will be like stones heaped up on a plowed field!
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea turns to a consideration of the merchants. He accuses them of dishonest business practices, including the use of untrustworthy scales (v.7). It was a travesty of the times. “In an economy that did not have standardized weights and measures, traders were often tempted to cheat by falsifying the balances and measurements, often by using improper weights and false bottoms and other ways to alter the sizes of vessels.”29 And yet these same businessmen boasted of their wealth and falsely disclaimed any wrongdoing (v. 8). Hosea’s use of imagery here presents a vivid picture of corruption. The term “businessmen” (NET) is used not only for traders and merchants but also is the word for Canaan. This term has special reference to the Phoenician coast. The Phoenicians were famous for their trading empire, which stretched across the water of the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond (cf. Zeph. 1:11).30
Hosea uses the term Canaan of the Phoenician traders as well as for the original inhabitants of the land (cf. Hos. 9:13). In a double entendre Canaan thus applies as well to the business class of Israelite society upon whose unscrupulous tactics the Northern Kingdom depended as a source of its wealth. As Stuart observes, “‘Canaan’ would appear to be a derogatory double entendre for Ephraim … Hosea declares Ephraim to be a greedy merchant, and at the same time no better than the Canaanites whose immoral culture deserved extinction (cf. Gen 15:16).”31 Hosea implies further that because not only Israel’s merchants but all Israel had become as corrupt as the people whom the earlier Hebrews displaced, contemporary Canaan (i.e., Ephraim) should expect a similar fate.
Hosea may well be employing a play on sounds here in his choice of the word for wealth (áo‚n). For he goes on to represent Ephraim as denying any offense/iniquity (ào‚n) in its dealings. Both the Lord and His prophet have applied the latter term previously to Ephraim’s sinful condition (4:8; 5:5; 7:1; 8:13; 9:7, 9). There may be a touch of satire here as well. Ephraim boasts of its wealth (áo‚n) and denies any iniquity (ào‚n), yet it has accumulated its riches through cheating and such business practices as dishonest scales. Thus áo‚n is actually ào‚n.
There is also the possibility here of a deliberate play on the Hebrew letters. For áwn also forms a general word for iniquity of all kinds (áa„wen) this term has already been employed in Hosea 6:8 with regard to the wickedness of Gilead and in contexts utilizing a disparaging name for Bethel: Beth Aven (4:15; 5:8; 10:5, 8). Accordingly, there may be an innuendo here that Israel’s wealth (áo‚n), which was gained through dishonesty and false weights is nothing more than accrued evil (áa„wen).32
At this point Hosea cites the Lord’s declaration that He is still the same Lord who redeemed His people out of Egypt and led them into the wilderness (v. 9). He will again bring Israel into a “wilderness” where they will once more “live in tents.” It is a statement of Yahweh’s soon coming judgment when the people will go into exile and may well again become tent dwellers (cf. Hos. 9:6-7). God goes on to remind the people that He had often spoken through His prophets to whom He revealed Himself in words and visions, and through whom He spoke in parables to Israel (v. 10). This doubtless underscores the fact of Hosea’s abundant use of figurative language throughout his prophecy. As Garrett remarks, “Ancient oracles often were enigmatic or esoteric, and ‘parables’ here almost implies ‘riddles.’ Yahweh’s point is that he has been warning the people, albeit sometimes in a puzzling form, but they are too stubborn and too obtuse to receive the warnings.”33
Verse 11 with its use of question statement format phrased in third person address could be understood as the Lord’s continuing speech (e.g., Keil) or the words of His prophet (e.g., Hubbard). On the whole it is perhaps best to consider that these words are a continuance of the divine speech giving examples of previous prophetic utterances derived ultimately from the Lord.34
The Lord’s questions are rhetorical in nature. The first implies that there is wickedness and idolatry in Gilead, a fact that has been established earlier (6:8). The NET (see text note) is justified in rendering the Hebrew noun áa„wen as idolatry in lieu of the parallel with the statement of the paganistic rites carried on at Gilgal. Moreover, this noun that has already been used to designate the syncretistic worship rituals in Bethel that earned for the city the name Beth Aven. As Garrett observes, “The Israelites, once again, have all the bad qualities of Jacob (the áa„wen of ‘Beth Aven,’ the footprints of blood at Gilead) but none of the grace (the vision at Bethel, the meeting of the angel at Peniel). In that condition they are ‘nothing.’”35
Likewise the answer to the second rhetorical question is also an implied “yes,” for Gilgal has already been condemned for its syncretistic pagan rituals (4:15) and for its general prevailing wickedness (9:15). Gilead and Gilgal also “represent the two facets of Israel’s guilt: Gilead represents her social wrongs and Gilgal her idolatry.”36 Both are therefore slated for judgment. Gilead will be reduced to nothingness; Gilgal will have its altars so demolished that they become like heaps of stones on the plowed fields. The imagery is that of a farmer plowing the field. As he does so, he casts aside the many rocks that dot the landscape of the area and throws them into the furrows of the field, from where they will be carried off to its edges. Andersen and Freedman may be correct in suggesting that there is a deliberate pun in the occurrence of the names Gilead and Gilgal together with the word for heaps of stones (gallîm).37 Whether or not this is a designed pun, the assonance in the grouping of Gilead, Gilgal, and gallîm is striking and would doubtless be caught by the listening ears of Hosea’s hearers.
12:7 BDB (488-489) links the term Canaan with a concept of merchant to the Phoenicians’ long-standing reputation as traders in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds.
12:8 Whether or not the Hebrew noun for wealth (áo‚n) is viewed as a parody on áa„wen,
the accumulated wealth of the people and the nation is ill-gotten (ào‚n).
12:12 Jacob fled to the country of Aram,
then Israel worked to acquire a wife;
he tended sheep to pay for her.
13 The Lord brought Israel out of Egypt by a prophet,
and due to a prophet Israel was preserved alive.
14 But Ephraim bitterly provoked him to anger;
so he will hold him accountable for the blood he has shed,
his Lord will repay him for the contempt he has shown.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea applies the Lord’s words concerning His redemption of His people out of Egypt and continued revelation of Himself through His prophets to two cases from Israel’s historic past (vv. 12-13). Jacob worked many years laboring hard to acquire his favored wife Rachel by tending sheep (Gen. 29:14-30:43). Jacob and his descendants one day found themselves in Egypt. After several centuries passed, the latter part of which was marked by hard labor for the Hebrews, Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, led His people out of Egypt by His under-shepherd Moses (Exod. 12:1-36; Deut. 26:5-8). Jacob worked many years for his wife in exchange for hard labor as a shepherd for his oppressive father-in-law. Yahweh obtained His “bride” (cf. the imagery of Jer. 2:1-3; Hos. 2:14-15) by redeeming her from an oppressive Pharaoh and his people..
God’s people, however, have not proven to be grateful for God’s leading whether directly or through His prophets (v. 14). In a far greater way than the earlier Hebrews who complained and quarreled with Moses (e.g., Exod. 17:1-3), and even questioned his leadership (e.g., Exod. 32:1; Num. 12:1-2), post-Solomonic Israel rejected the Lord. The result has been not only the religious syncretism and the debauchery that accompanied the observance of Israel’s pagan rites, but also a general moral collapse of the nation. Immorality, dishonesty, and greed were now woven through the fabric of Israelite society. Indeed, it was a reprobate and bloody people among whom God’s contemporary earthly representative, the prophet Hosea, ministered.
Israel had come to the point of no return. Hopelessly apostate and thoroughly wicked as a nation, it was now time that the Lord must judge His people. Israel demonstrated its contempt by rejecting Him and His standards, and by choosing to create its own religiosity and charting its own course of life. Therefore, the rewards of such decisions and such conduct would soon earn their proper reward (cf. Prov. 22:8; 26:27; 28:10; Eccles. 10:8; Gal. 6:7). It may be as Craigie suggests: “The final word of judgment is a word spoken in grief. Though beyond the coming disaster words of grace would be heard once again, the judgmental word would soon be experienced in Israel in all its terrible reality.”38
12:12-14 Much as he had begun the section (vv. 3-4) in 12:12-14 Hosea comes back to the mention of Jacob’s life and actions. Not only does the consideration of Jacob bookend the entire unit, but as Andersen and Freedman demonstrate, there is a definite correspondence between verses 2 and 14 not only in structure and vocabulary “in the fact that the former is followed by the first installment of the Jacob material (vv. 4-5[NET, 3-4]), while the latter follows the second installment (vv. 13-14[NET, 12-13]).”39
12:14 It is significant that Hosea chooses the Hebrew noun for master here rather than the divine name Yahweh. Israel was about to learn in a hard way that the Lord was its real master, not Baal (a name that also can carry with it the idea of master or husband).
1 Translations that take a positive approach in addition to the NET include the KJV, NKJV, NLT, and NRSV. Those that favor a negative understanding include the NASB, NIV, and REB.
2 If a possible play on Hosea 11:9 where Yahweh applies the terms áe„land qa„do‚sŒ (God, Holy One) to Himself is given full weight, this would tend to favor the identification of qe†do‚m in Hosea 11:12 as the “Holy One” (i.e., Yahweh).
3 For the juxtaposition of coordinate clauses implying continuity of setting or contemporary circumstances, see Waltke and O’Connor, Hebrew Syntax, 651.
4 In a similar vein but with differing emphases, note the remarks of A. Cohen, Twelve Prophets, 45.
5 The Hebrew phrase all day is an idiom for continual or continuous activity.
6 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 190.
7 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 605.
8 Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:144-145.
9 Wolff, Hosea, 205.
10 See further, Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 602-603. A relation to Akkadian rada„du(“pursue,” “drive away”) is a less likely possibility. See further, Erica Reiner and Martha T. Roth, CAD “R,” Vol. 14 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1999), 58-59.
11 If one allows full weight to a possible play on Hosea 11:9 where Yahweh applies the terms áe„land qa„do‚sŒ to Himself, this would tend to favor the identification of qe†do‚sŒîm as referring to the “Holy One” (i.e., Yahweh).
12 Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 603) suggests that El is a collective term meaning “gods.”
13 Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, 1:97.
14 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 605. See further, D. J. McCarthy, “Hosea xii:2: Covenant By Oil,” VT 14 (1964):215-221; Wolff, Hosea, 211 and Jean-Georges Heintz, “Osée xii 2b á la lumière d’un vase d’albâtre de l’époque de Salmanaser III (Djézirêh) et le rituel d’alliance Assyrien. Une hypothèse de lecture,” VT 51 (2001): 466-480.
15 Hubbard, Hosea, 202; cf. Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:146; Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 96.
16 Patterson, “The Trickster,” JETS 42 (1999): 390.
17 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 237.
18 Patterson, “The Trickster,” 392.
19 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 192.
20 See the Additional Notes on 2:19-20; 6:4, 6.
21 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 97.
22 A second homographic root àqb is known in Northwest Semitic, which conveys the meaning “watch/protect.” “For example, it is attested in names dating to the patriarchal era at Tell Mari (e.g. ya-ah£-qu-b-el, “may God protect”) so that … this root would form a more logical basis for Isaac’s naming of his son.” Patterson, “Trickster,” 391. See further Kenneth Kitchen, The Bible in Its World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 68; H. B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Tablets (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965), 203-204.
23 Whether the significance of the ancient name Israel bears a relation to the verb sÃa„ra„h (“struggle”) or to sÃa„ra„r is uncertain and debated. Both, however, appear to be denominative verbs from the noun sÃar (“prince/ruler”). See further, Patterson, “Trickster,” 391-392.
24 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 201.
25 See for example, Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 187; see also the discussion in Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 614-615.
26 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Inner Biblical Exegesis as a Model for Bridging the ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ Gap: HOS 12:1-6,” JETS 28 (1985): 41-42.
27 For a discussion of the possibilities of the transformation of Hosea’s Northern Kingdom much as Jacob became Israel, see Bart J. Kort, “Jacob, comme prototype d’Israel in Osée,” BTFT 63 (2003): 156-170.
28 See the additional note on Hosea 2:15.
29 Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, 759.
30 See further Donald Harden, The Phoenicians (New York: Praeger, 1963), 157-171; D. R. AP-Thomas, “The Phoenicians,” in Peoples of Old Testament Times, ed., D. J. Wiseman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), 275-281; William A. Ward, “Phoenicians,” in Peoples of the Old Testament World, eds., Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly & Edwin M. Yamauchi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 183-206.
31 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 192.
32 See further Eugene E. Carpenter and Michael A. Grisanti, “áa„wen,” NIDOTTE, 1:309-315.
33 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 243. McComiskey (“Hosea,” 206) suggests that Hosea’s earlier use of Canaan to describe the business and ethical tactics of the merchants and people of the Northern Kingdom is “itself one of the similitudes of which Hosea speaks here.”
34 See further, Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:125.
35 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 244; see also the added note to Hosea 12:8.
36 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 210.
37 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 620.
38 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 1:78.
39 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 623.
13:1 When Ephraim spoke, there was terror;
he was exalted in Israel,
but he became guilty by worshiping Baal and died.
2 Even now they persist in sin!
They make metal images for themselves,
idols that they skillfully fashion from their own silver;
all of them are nothing but the work of craftsmen!
There is a saying about them:
“Those who sacrifice to the calf idol are calf kissers!”
3 Therefore they will disappear like the morning mist,
like early morning dew that evaporates,
like chaff that is blown away from a threshing floor,
like smoke that disappears through an open window.
4 But I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of Egypt.
Therefore, you must not acknowledge any God but me;
except me there is no Savior.
5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the dry desert where no water was.
6 When they were fed, they became satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
as a result, they forgot me!
7 So I will pounce on them like a lion;
like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
8 I will attack them like a bear robbed of her cubs –
I will rip open their chests.
I will devour them there like a lion –
like a wild animal would tear them apart.
9 I will destroy you, O Israel!
Who is there to help you?
10 Where then is your king,
that he may save you in all your cities?
Where are your rulers for whom you asked, saying,
“Give me a king and princes”?
11 I granted you a king in my anger,
and I will take him away in my wrath!
12 The punishment of Ephraim has been decreed;
his punishment is being stored up for the future.
13 The labor pains of a woman will overtake him,
but the baby will lack wisdom;
when the time arrives,
he will not come out of the womb!
14 Will I deliver them from the power of Sheol? No, I will not!
Will I redeem them from death? No, I will not!
O Death, bring on your plagues!
O Sheol, bring on your destruction!
My eyes will not show any compassion!
15 Even though he flourishes like a reed plant,
a scorching east wind will come,
a wind from the Lord rising up from the desert.
As a result, his spring will dry up;
his well will become dry.
That wind will spoil all his delightful foods
in the containers in his storehouse.
13:16 (14:1) Samaria will be held guilty,
because she rebelled against her God.
They will fall by the sword,
their infants will be dashed to the ground –
their pregnant women will be ripped open.
Exegesis and Exposition
The subject matter in Chapter 13 in large measure contains material that was by now familiar to Hosea’s hearers. Nevertheless, it is presented forcefully and with some unique features in order to reemphasize the charges against God’s people. Thus Israel has been ungrateful to the Lord and gone after gods of its own choosing (vv. 1-2). God’s people have forgotten who it was that redeemed them out of Egypt and cared for them along the way to the Promised Land. In their stubborn and foolish pride, and self-satisfaction they fail to acknowledge Him and all He has done for them (vv. 4-6). Likewise, Israel has failed to recognize Yahweh as its ultimate king (vv. 9-11).
The messages are presented as coming directly from the Lord (vv. 4-14) as well as His prophet (vv. 1-3, 15-16). Overall the force of the chapter can be perceived as a coordinated judgment oracle, with each unit being closed by vivid imagery (vv. 3, 7-8, 15-16). Thus Israel’s judgment for idolatry (vv. 1-3) is presented in a series of graphic similes (v. 3). The judgment of Israel’s infidelity toward their divine Redeemer (vv. 4-6) is portrayed in a group of violent similes (vv. 7-8). A final pronouncement of judgment because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord in order to establish its own type of monarchical government with its own civic and political policies (vv. 9-14) is concluded with a simile presented in the form of a pseudo-sorites (vv. 15-16).
The opening message builds upon the previous mention of Jacob and Ephraim, and Ephraim’s coming judgment (Hos. 12:12-14). The Lord’s prophet reminds Ephraim that it always held a special place in Israel’s history. Not only did Ephraim receive Jacob’s patriarchal blessing instead of his older brother Manasseh (Gen. 48:12-20), but Jacob’s prophetic blessing (cf. that of Moses, Deut. 33:17) became realized in Ephraim’s leading role among the other tribes (e.g., Judg. 7:24-8:1). This became especially pronounced when the Ephraimite Jeroboam was crowned as Israel’s first king at the time of the division of the united kingdom. Ephraim often came to serve as metonymy for all of God’s people (e.g., Hos. 11:3) and especially for the Northern Kingdom (e.g., Hos. 8:11). The emphasis in the present context is upon that role of Ephraim, which as the particular representative of the northern ten tribes enjoyed a special prominence. Therefore, Ephraim also had a distinct responsibility.
Unfortunately, Ephraim had failed to live up to its calling. It had become caught up in the worship of Baal. Not only that, but Jeroboam was instrumental in the introduction of the state religion of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Not content with these, he became guilty of worshiping false gods and the idolatry that accompanied it (cf. 1 Kings 14:9-11). It was not long, therefore, that Baal became the leading pagan divinity in the Northern Kingdom, a condition that brought about the eventual demise of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:16-17). Thus in saying that Ephraim “died,” Hosea emphasizes the present spiritual condition that would soon lead to the collapse and “death” of the nation.
Hosea goes on to point out the prevailing sins in Ephraim that would bring about its demise (v. 2). As Hubbard observes, “What Jeroboam I had begun and Jeroboam II sponsored, the people of Samaria continued with unbridled enthusiasm (v. 2) in Hosea’s time.”1 In a touch of satire Hosea denounces the carefully crafted silver idols as “nothing but the work of craftsman!” The implication is clear. Worshiping these manmade idols is not only sheer folly but virtually the worship of one’s own self via the production of his hands. Even worse, it is sin and a clear violation of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:3-4).
The latter part of verse 2 is extremely difficult. Particularly troublesome is the reading and understanding of the Hebrew zo„be†h£e‚ áa„da„m.2 Garrett says of the text, “The relevant portion of the Hebrew text is ungrammatical, and some emending is necessary.”3 Some authorities view the passage as pointing to the picture of human sacrifice (e.g., LXX, Vulgate, NIV, REB). Others take the passage to mean that those who are making sacrifices to the calf idols can be labeled as “calf kissers” (NET; cf. ESV). In harmony with this position is the older proposal of the Hebrew scholar Kimchi (A.D. 1160-1235) to take the phrase “sacrificers of men” as a subjective genitive, hence to be understood as “the men who sacrifice kiss calves” (cf. NET, HCSB, NASB, KJV, NKJV).4 On the whole, this appears to be most faithful to the MT. As Cohen observes, it makes the saying one of bitter satire: “If so interpreted, the words express bitter scorn; here are men who bring sacrifices, but instead of offering them to God, they bring them to calves as an act of homage.”5 In any case, it is evident that the folly and sinfulness of idolatry in all its forms has aroused the justifiable displeasure and judicial wrath of God.
Therefore, Hosea goes on to prophesy that these unholy practices will soon completely vanish (v. 3). In a quartet of picturesque similes he describes their coming desolation and disappearance through the agency of His righteous judgment. Stuart expresses it well: “The four examples of disappearance—mist, dew, chaff, smoke—combine to emphasize how utterly Israel’s destruction will be accomplished by her avenging God… . When mist, dew, chaff, and smoke vanish, the result is nothingness. Israel will similarly disappear and become desolate (cf. Lev 26:31-35; Deut 28, 29).”6
As the second movement (vv. 4-8) begins Hosea records the words of the Lord. Yahweh returns to the subject of His redemption of His people from Egypt at the time of the exodus (vv. 4-6). The exodus motif constitutes one of the leading themes of the book of Hosea. It appears not only as a historical fact of God’s activity (e.g., 11:1; 12:13) but in connection with Israel’s coming judgment (e.g., 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:5; 12:9). As well it appears in contexts dealing with the hope that one day in the future God will again call for His people and return them to the Promised Land (e.g., 2:15; 11:11).
In the present passage in Hosea the phraseology of the motif is reminiscent of the Lord’s words at Sinai when He installed the Decalogue “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6-7). The force of the statement is a reminder that Israel was God’s possession (cf. Exod. 19:4-6) by right of redemption. Not only does the first commandment forbid the worship of other gods, but Israel must not even acknowledge any other so-called god. For none of these, or anything else including human undertakings, could provide deliverance for Israel. Indeed, there simply is no other Savior (Isa. 43:11).
Not only was Israel’s fascination with foreign gods (e.g., Baal; cf. 11:7) and idolatry a sinful violation of the law and God’s person, but these contradicted the facts of Israel’s own history. It was their deliverer, Yahweh, who alone could and did care for them during their wilderness wanderings (cf. Exod. 15:22-17:7; 40:36-38; Num. 11:4-34; 20:1-13; Deut. 2:7; Pss. 105:39-41; 107:4-6). Yet despite God’s love and provision for them, God’s people became so satisfied that they forgot who their provider really was (Ps. 106:13-39). Israel’s contentment and preoccupation with itself, which began already in the wilderness, carried on and grew progressively worse. By Hosea’s day God’s people no longer genuinely acknowledged God (cf. Hos. 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3; 8:2-3; 11:3; 13:4; with Isa. 29:13). As Hubbard remarks, “Self-reliance—including reliance on their self-adopted and self-sustained religion (cf. 2:13)—lay at the heart of the crime.”7
It had happened even as the Lord warned (cf. Deut. 8:10-18; 31:20). Therefore, in accordance with the warnings in the covenant God was about to punish His people (vv. 7-8; cf. Deut. 4:23-26; 8:19-20; 30:17-18). Once again the Lord’s judgment is presented in a series of violent similes. God has used the lion imagery before in depicting the violence of Israel’s coming judgment (Hos. 5:14-15). He now adds the ferocity of two more animals: a lurking leopard and a bear robbed of its cubs (cf. Prov. 17:12). Habakkuk uses the figure of the leopard by way of comparison with the dreaded Assyrian warhorses, which were “faster than leopards” (Hab. 1:8). The Assyrian military capabilities were profound. “Possessed of swift warhorses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty… . Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies.”8
Likewise the imagery of a bear robbed of its cubs attests to the strength and passionate aggressiveness of the coming judgment. Garrett suggests a relation of this figure with the loss of God’s people: “Yahweh has been robbed of its children (the common people of Israel) by his wife (the woman Israel, that is, the royal and priestly leadership). She has made them to be children of Baal.”9 If as Garrett suggests with regard to the imagery of the leopard (see added note) there is wordplay on the phrase “I will lurk” and the name Assyria the threat takes on an added dimension. Indeed, all three images may well underscore the violence of the coming attack by the Assyrians. The viciousness of the Assyrian military is well documented in the Assyrian Annals. For example, in his eighth campaign against Elam Sennacherib boasts that he “raged like a lion” and with victory he tore apart the enemy nobility.
I cut their throats like lambs… . Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot … were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain like grass.10
In verses 9-11 the Lord emphasizes the certainty of Israel’s coming destruction. In a strong affirmation followed by a rhetorical question the Lord declares solemnly, “I will destroy you, O Israel! Who is there to help you?” (v. 9). Israel will surely be helpless through it all. In a further rhetorical question the Lord implies that they could not count on their king (v. 10). Indeed, toward the end of the Northern Kingdom there was a series of competing local kings and even their last king Hoshea proved to be inefficient and unfit for the task. The Lord further points out the folly of His people’s clamor for a king so as to be like the surrounding nations (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4, 19-20). As Hubbard observes, “God had acceded to their begging for a king (1 Sa. 8:22). The monarchy as a whole was established in ambiguous circumstances which help to account for Yahweh’s anger; the people had brushed aside all its potential pitfalls, especially the competition it offered to God’s own kingship (1 Sa. 8:7).”11 Although the Lord acquiesced to His people’s request, their choice constituted a rejection of the theocracy and began the long road, which had brought them to the present turmoil. To be sure, God had made provision for kingship for His people, but such a one was to meet His high standards (e.g., Num. 24:17; Deut. 17:14-20). Israel now refused to acknowledge God, and turned to Baal and human leaders whether national or foreign.
Moreover, as Stuart observes, “The whole history of the kingship had been a manifestation of God’s anger/fury. Israel’s kings had been chosen without God’s consent (cf. 8:4) and the kingship itself had now been abolished by God as a portent of the coming national disaster (cf. Deut 28:36).”12 Indeed, as Samuel had warned long ago, kingship as conceived and directed by the people had proven to be a disastrous failure (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10-17)—one that they themselves would come to regret: “If you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Sam. 12:25). The Lord’s words bear an ominous echo of Samuel’s warning. Israel’s stood on the threshold of national disaster and no king or leader could save them. God Himself was about to bring down the curtain on the Northern Kingdom (v. 11).
The Lord now reaffirms His intention to punish His people (v. 12-14). He points out that Israel’s sin has been stored up for the future (v. 12). That future is now an imminent one. Already in the Song of Moses, part of God’s covenant with His people, Moses lamented the folly of the people of his day. It was a condition that failed to discern where their foolishness was leading them. They were already turning away from the Lord their deliverer and helper in order to pursue their own sinful ways (Deut. 32:28-30). Accordingly, even then their sin had been “stored up” and “sealed up in my storehouses” waiting the day of impending judgment (cf. Deut. 28:34-35). Because Israel’s sin has long been accumulating, in accordance with the provisions of the covenant its punishment is certain—it “has been decreed” (Hos. 13:12; NET). The rendering of the NET here is ad sensum.
The familiar imagery of the pains of a woman in labor to depict judgment now follows (v. 13; cf. Isa. 13:6-9; Jer. 4:31; 13:20-21; 49:23-25; Mic. 4:9-10; 1 Thess. 5:2-3). The Lord, however, uses it to depict a strange anomaly in the birth process. Israel is likened both to a mother in labor and to a child who stubbornly refuses to go through with delivery but stays in the womb. Although the change of metaphor from a birthing mother to the child about to be born is abrupt and unusual, such complex metaphors are not without precedent in Hosea.13 Oestreich sees in the metaphor of the unwilling baby
“a strange and absurd idea.” He goes on to give several reasons why such imagery “can be called absurd. First, naturally the unborn son has no way of deciding whether he will be born or not… . Second, the son that does not want to be born denies his own existence” and … “the birth of a son is normally an occasion of great joy.”14 Thus the image of the unwise son expresses the foolishness of Israel, which necessitates Israel’s punishment.
Indeed, Israel is foolish. It has chosen to ignore the fact that its accumulated and stored-up sins would surely one day come in for judgment. Although in this very late hour there yet might be hope for divine forgiveness based upon genuine repentance and return to the Lord, God’s people nevertheless go on in their own stubborn ways. They are like the unwise son who delayed or refused to submit to the birthing process.15 God’s people faced imminent death. They endangered not only themselves individually but the nation itself.
Verse 14 is capable of being understood either positively (cf. Hos. 11:8-9) as a message of hope (cf. LXX, AB, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV) or negatively (cf. 2:10) in terms of certain judgment (NET, NLT). Those translations that render the first two lines as rhetorical questions imply a negative answer and the next two lines as open questions, which are climaxed by a statement of God’s withholding of His compassion may also imply a negative position (cf. ESV, NRSV, NJB, REB).16 Because the surrounding verses deal with the certainty of imminent judgment and disaster for Israel, the rendering of the NET and others who assume the negative position appears to be both justified and the more likely interpretation.
It should be pointed out that Paul applies the text in a positive light. Doubtless building upon the LXX and the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul declares that with the resurrection of Christ there is victory over death for the believers (1 Cor. 15:54-58). “In Christ’s resurrection, the ransom and redemption that God intended for Israel (Ho. 13:14a) have been fulfilled. The backs of Sheol and death have been broken.”17 Nevertheless two things must be kept in mind. (1) The contexts of 1 Corinthians 15 and Hosea 13 are different. (2) New Testament meanings are not to be superimposed upon Old Testament texts. Certainly Hosea 13:14 can now be read in accordance with the further light of the sure hope of the resurrection given in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, but the primary significance and meaning of both texts in their contexts must be retained. One may say, however, that Hosea 13:14 is now “fuller” but not claim that it is fulfilled (filled up and exhausted) by Paul’s words.18
Hosea responds to the Lord’s words concerning Ephraim’s judgment. He does so by once again employing a pseudo-sorites. Likening Ephraim to a flourishing reed plant, He warns the people that a scorching east wind (Hamsin or Sirocco) was about to come, which would dry up the plant’s life-giving water (v. 15). The imagery of Ephraim being compared to a fruit plant is in keeping with Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim’s father Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful bough near a spring whose branches climb over the wall” (Gen. 49:22). Yet even though son Ephraim should flourish for a little while, Assyrians from the east were already on the move.19 When that happens, all of Israel’s goods and treasures will be plundered and carried off.
Hosea declares that the reason for the coming destructive east wind (i.e., the Assyrian army) is that it is now time for Israel to pay—to suffer the results of its guilt (v. 16). Although the name Samaria probably serves as a synecdoche for all Israel (cf. Hos. 8:5-6; 10:5), Samaria was nonetheless especially culpable. For the spiritual slide of the Northern Kingdom was fostered by decisions made in its capital city. Therefore, the demise of Samaria is particularly singled out (cf. 7:1; 10:7). Israel’s capital will pay a heavy price for its role in Israel’s demise. The description of the death of its citizens is one of unspeakable horrors. It is told once more in Hosea’s threefold style: people slain by the sword (cf. Hos. 7:16; 11:6), infants dashed mercilessly to the ground (cf. Isa. 13:16; Nah. 3:10), and pregnant women slashed open (cf. Hos. 10:14; Amos 1:13). As Garrett remarks, “What Yahweh had declared figuratively, the death of mother and child, Hosea now speaks of literally… . The metaphor of Lady Israel and her three children, Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, has reached its denouement in a slaughter that is anything but literary and symbolic.”20
13:1-2 Hubbard preserves well the degrading effects of Jeroboam’s introduction of the calf worship to the further sins of Israel associated with false deities, especially Baal: “Hosea’s wrath against the calves (cf. 8:5-6; 10:5, 7; 13:2) is to be explained in part by the fact that they always threatened to misrepresent God and lead the people into paganism even when the name of Baal was not specifically invoked.”21
13:2 The NET properly renders the Hebrew noun masse„ka„h in terms of a metal image. The following “idols” (àa†s£abbîm) is a more general term (cf. Hos. 14:8 [HB 14:9]). It is interesting to note that Hosea uses it primarily in connection with idols made of silver and gold together with the mention of the “calf idol” (NET).
13:2 The NLT similarly understands the saying as relating to calf kissing, but renders the key words of the text quite freely, “Sacrifice to these,” they cry, “and kiss the calf idols!”
13:3 Although the image of smoke disappearing from a room when a window is open is understandable as it stands, “window” may perhaps be metonymy for chimney (cf. NLT).
13:5 The NET follows the lead of the LXX, Syriac, and most English versions in reading the Hebrew “I knew you” as a verb that allows the meaning “I fed/pastured you.” So understood, the verbal phrase refers to the Lord’s shepherding care of His people during the wilderness and accords well with the following possible image of a well-fed sheep (v. 6). Certainly the image of God as a shepherd is a prominent theme in the Old Testament and would not be out of place here. This alternate reading indicates a simple interchange between the letters “d” and “r,” which were often a source of textual confusion.22 Nevertheless, the MT is defensible either as a reminder of Israel’s status as the bride of Yahweh (cf. Hos. 2:3-11; Jer. 2:2-3) or as the Lord’s intimate knowledge of and attention to His people during their wilderness trek.23 As such it forms another link with the important theme of knowledge in Hosea. Words such as know, knowledge, and acknowledge occur repeatedly throughout the book (e.g., 2:8, 20; 4:16; 5:3-4; 6:3, 6; 8:2-4; 9:7; 11:3; 14:9).
13:5 The image of Israel’s plight in a waterless land recalls the historical incident of where Moses obtained water from the smitten rock (Num. 20:1-11). The Hebrew hapax legomenon (twbalt) has been traditionally linked with a Semitic cognate implying drought (cf. ESV, HCSB). The NET (see text note) renders ad sensum depicting the fact that there was no water readily available.
13:7 Garrett suggests a possible wordplay in the verbal phrase “I will lurk” (áa„sŒu‚r) and the name of Assyria áasŒsŒu‚r.24 Not only does the consonantal text bear a resemblance (r?a) but when pronounced, they could sound very much alike. So viewed, Assyria could be either the subject of its clause, “Assyria will be like a leopard on the path” or “[I will be] like a leopard on the way to Assyria.” In any case, an underlying reference to Assyria as the Lord’s agent of judgment may well be intended in the wordplay. Assyria was, of course, the conqueror of the Northern Kingdom in 722/21 B.C.
13:9 This verse bristles with difficulties, chief of which is the understanding of the MT (see NET text note). Particularly troublesome is the force of the third person verb sŒih£ete†ka„, “He destroyed you” or as a prophetic perfect, “He will destroy you.” Some translations follow the lead of the BHS suggested reading of a first singular verb here, “I will destroy you” (NET, AB, HCSB, NRSV). Others view the construction in a passive sense, “you are destroyed” (NIV; cf. similarly, NLT). Yet the MT is not impossible if the subject is found in the preceding “wild animal” (v. 8), hence “it will destroy you, O Israel.”
13:9 The following kî-bî be†àeze†ka„ is also troublesome. It seems simplest to view the particle kî-bî in an adversative sense, “yet in me” and the following be†àeze†ka as standing in predicate position, “[is] your help.” In a similar fashion but with slightly different emphasis of the particle, note the reading of the ESV, “for you are against me, against your helper.”25
13:10 Most translations follow the lead of the LXX in rendering the Hebrew áe†hî as áayye„h (“where”; cf. also v. 14). Thus Andersen and Freedman remark, “The sense of the lines is combinatory: ‘Where are your king and judges who were to bring you victory in all your cities?’”26
13:11 The Hebrew verb áetten has been understood as a preterit (“I gave”; cf. NET, AB, ESV, NLT), a present tense (“I give/keep giving”; McComiskey), a present perfect (“I have been giving”; Laetsch), or future tense (“I will give”; Vulgate). Garrett follows the reading of the Vulgate and suggests that the sense of the Lord’s answer is ironic and means that, “God will indeed send them a king but not the king they expect. The king God will send is the ruler of Assyria, who comes as their conqueror.”27
13:12 The NET properly points out that the image is one of a scroll that has been sealed for safekeeping. Thus the record of Israel’s sins has been written down and is safely stored up waiting the Lord’s retrieval.28
13:13 Hezekiah applies the image of delayed childbirth in describing Judah’s impotence during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. Therefore, he asks Isaiah to intercede with God for Jerusalem’s deliverance (2 Kings 19:3-5).
13:14 Sheol, as here, can refer to the state of death or the grave (e.g., Gen. 37:35; Job 7:9; 14:13; Ps. 88:3). In other texts it refers to the abode of the wicked (e.g., Ps. 49:13; Isa. 14:11). That Sheol is not as commonly taught the common receptacle of all disembodied spirits or that there is a double compartment in Hades with a gulf standing between good and evil spirits, can be demonstrated by the many Old Testament texts, which assert that the Old Testament believer expected to go to be with God at death (e.g., Pss. 49:15 ; 73:23-26).29
13:15 The text and interpretation of this verse are admittedly difficult. The MT reads: “He flourishes [as a son of brothers].” Thus some English versions translate: “Although he may flourish among his brothers” (cf. KJV, ESV, NIV, NLT; McComiskey, Sweeney).30 Although the extant MT text may be defended as being in keeping with Jacob’s blessing, Hosea has earlier used the images of Israel’s fruitfulness (Hos. 10:1) and the east wind as symbolizing Assyria (12:1). A play on the consonants ápr may thus be envisioned: “Even though he [Ephraim; áephra„im] may flourish [yprá]”.31 The NET reflects a common tendency to translate ad sensum (cf. NRSV) in accordance with the constraints of the context and imagery, and the word brothers (áah£îm) as reeds (áah£u‚) thus taking the final –m of áah£îm with the verb in order to form the participle maprîá (“flourishes”) and translates: “Even though he flourishes like a reed plant.”32
13:16 Hosea’s description of Samaria’s invasion is reminiscent of Elisha’s prophecy of Hazael’s coming savage atrocities against God’s people (2 Kings 8:12).
1 Hubbard, Hosea, 215.
2 See the suggested pointings of the Hebrew consonant proposed emendations in BHS.
3 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 249. See also the discussion of the Hebrew text in Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 632.
4 See Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:154.
5 Cohen, Twelve Prophets, 49.
6 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 202, 203.
7 Hubbard, Hosea, 217.
8 Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 137.
9 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 259.
10 Luckenbill, ARA, 2:127. See further, the note on Hosea 10:14.
11 Hubbard, Hosea, 219.
12 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 206.
13 See the added note to Hosea 11:4. See further John L. McKenzie, “Divine Passion in Osee,” CBQ (1955): 296-297.
14 Oestreich, “Absurd Similes,” 121, 122.
15 The issue is not ultimately simply physical. Whether or not the baby is mispositioned in the womb, the point is what the image conveys—the urgency of the times.
16 Alternatively, one could view the rhetorical questions positively and the following two open questions as taunts (so Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 264-265). This understanding, however, is difficult to reconcile with the concluding line giving God’s statement that He would not show compassion. Thus Chisholm (Minor Prophets, 46) remarks, “The last line of verse 14 states that God would have no compassion upon His people. Not until chapter 14, however, does the transition to a message of salvation occur.” The commentaries are likewise divided as to the intent of Hosea 13:14, some favoring the positive position (e.g., Andersen and Freedman, Garrett, Keil, Laetsch, McComiskey, and Wood) and some the negative (e.g., Achtemeier, Chisholm, Cohen, Hubbard, and Stuart).
17 Hubbard, Hosea, 222-223.
18 Contra Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 106.
19 Francis Landy, (“In the Wilderness of Speech: Problems of Metaphor in Hosea,” in Biblical Interpretation [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995], 53) sees in the metaphor of the east wind and the wilderness “an obvious reversal: the spirit of YHWH that normally gives life brings death.”
20 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 268.
21 Hubbard, Hosea, 214.
22 For details, see Ernst Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, 106.
23 Thus Sweeney (Twelve Prophets, 1:131) remarks, “The verse expresses the tradition of YHWH’s marriage to the bride Israel in the wilderness (cf. Jer 2:2-3) in that YHWH the husband ‘knew’ Israel the bride.”
24 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 259.
25 Note also McComiskey (“Hosea,” 219) who takes the verb passively and the preposition b with áezre†ka„ as a beth essentiae and translates, “that [you are] against me, your help.”
26 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 636.
27 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 261. Garrett goes on to suggest that God also will “remove the sitting Israelite king from his throne.”
28 See further, Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 638. Garrett (Hosea, Joel, 262, 263) takes a different approach by relating the passage to the later scroll vision of Zechariah 5:5-11. Although the suggested analogy is interesting, it is more likely that the Lord’s message is related to covenant stipulations and that “the loss of the kingship, the reduction of the land and the investing of Samaria are only the beginnings of the full punishments known from Lev 26, Deut 4 and Deut 28-32” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 206). Equally unlikely is Garrett’s suggestion (263) of a reference to 2 Samuel 20:3 where women are sequestered “so that they might not have sexual relations with men.” Wood (“Hosea,” 7:206) suggests that, “The implication is that punishment of this kind was to precede the captivity to Assyria and that the captivity itself would climax it.”
29 See the incisive studies of A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 173-223; W. G. T. Shedd. Dogmatic Theology, 3 vols (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, [n.d.] ), 2:591-640; J. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint ed. 1979), 3:167-172.
30 In an interesting twist, Wood (“Hosea,” 7:222) understands brothers as neighbors, that is, Israel’s neighboring peoples.
31 See also Hosea 8:7-9 where Ephraim’s sowing to the wind and chasing after Assyria like a wild donkey (pereá) are portrayed.
32 See NET text note. See further Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 207-208; Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 266; Cohen, Twelve Prophets, 51-52; Mays, Hosea, 179; Wolff, Hosea, 122.
14:1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for your sin has been your downfall!
2 Return to the Lord and repent!
Say to him: “Completely forgive our iniquity;
accept our penitential prayer,
that we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls.
3 Assyria cannot save us;
we will not ride warhorses.
We will never again say, ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made.
For only you will show compassion to Orphan Israel!”
Exegesis and Exposition
The final chapter of Hosea begins with a last plea by God’s prophet to the people of Israel to forsake their sinful self-centered ways. His plea is a double one, which also contains some sound spiritual and practical advice. Sweeney proposes that “by appealing to Israel to ‘return’ to YHWH and to reject its alliance with Assyria, Hos 14:2-9 [NRSV: 14:1-8] recounts the primary theme of the book, rejection of YHWH in favor of relations with Assyria, and seeks its reversal.”1 Although this is true, the matter is a bit deeper than that. It relates primarily to Israel’s relation with the Lord.
Hosea’s first plea is a general call to all Israel to acknowledge that their sin had brought them to the point of extinction. The NET translation “downfall” renders the sense of a verb that Hosea has used twice before in criticizing the attitude and actions of his people. In the first instance Hosea had challenged and condemned the priests as those most responsible for society’s spiritual infidelity and immoral behavior. For they have misled the people with their syncretistic teachings (Hos. 4:4-5). In the following chapter (5:1-5) Hosea broadened the condemnation to include not only priests but also the upper class of society, especially those from the tribe of Ephraim (vv. 4-5).
Hosea’s second plea is twofold, calling for both a return to the Lord and repentance (v. 2). Hosea’s use of two imperatives for “return” (vv. 1-2) and a third for “repent” is once again typical of his familiar threefold style. This second double plea (return and repent) is addressed to all Israel. If the previously promised guarantees of divine acceptance, forgiveness, and restoration were to be realized (cf. 6:1-3; 11:10-11), it was imperative that Israel should act immediately.
The people must come to the Lord with genuine heartfelt repentance. Hosea’s plea is accompanied by some good spiritual advice. The prophet even supplies the model words to say. Following real repentance, the people should ask Yahweh to forgive their impiety saying, “accept our penitential prayers.” In so doing their praise to the Lord would contain words of spiritual sacrifice and dedication. What their lips expressed would be much like a burnt offering sacrifice (Lev. 1; 6:8-13). Their words would reflect a renewed genuine dedication to the Lord and be reflected in a life fully lived for Him. Isaiah similarly condemns the people with regard to their total abandonment of the Lord (Isa. 1:1-9) and urges them to be cleansed from their iniquity in order that they may be forgiven, and restored to fellowship with God and His blessings; otherwise they and the nation itself will be destroyed (vv. 16-20).
Hosea adds further (v. 3) that the people’s confession should also contain an expression of their realization that reliance upon military power, especially that of a foreign nation, is improper. Further, they must once for all abandon their infatuation with idolatry and foreign deities. Rather than going through the motions of religious syncretism, they must worship Yahweh alone as the only true God and the Lord of the covenant. This would also be reflected in both their attitudes and actions. Isaiah similarly condemns the hypocrisy of human religiosity in its self-devised sacrificial rites, which the Lord does not accept anyway and challenges the people to promote matters that testify to genuine faith: morality, justice, and compassion for the needy and oppressed (Isa. 1:10-17). Micah also condemns the people’s behavior in both its sacrifices and its social practices. Thus neither Isaiah nor Micah condones sacrifices and worship practices that compromise God’s holy person and are not reflected in a consistently holy walk that reaches out in honest dealings and compassion for the needs of all.
Hosea’s message is equally supportive of a true faith and worship that are reflected in just practices and social concern. A true faith would thus be reflected in Israel’s spiritual walk with the Lord in whom “the fatherless/orphan finds mercy.” The NET translation (see text note) suggests that by “orphan” is meant Israel. Garrett expresses the same perspective. “It is not simply that God is compassionate to orphans but that the orphan seeks and finds compassion in God. The point of Hosea’s prayer is that the people of Israel have become orphans.”2
In sum (vv. 1-3), Hosea is thus urging estranged and orphaned Israel to return to the Lord with true repentance, confession of sins, and a plea for God’s forgiveness. The people must return to the practice of proper religious observances with heartfelt devotion. Moreover, theirs should be a life reflecting genuine faith and commitment to the Lord, which is realized in a concern for the needs of all. If they will do so, they will find a ready reception from a compassionate Yahweh who is waiting and eager to receive them. Then Yahweh’s child (Hos. 11:1), which has become “Not My People” (1:9) will again become “My People” (2:23).
14:1 Hosea’s first plea is predicated upon the fact of Israel’s covenant relation with the Lord. Thus Stuart remarks, “Both /wu and l?k are part of the vocabulary of the covenant curses; the verse links Israel’s stumbling … with its past sin (disloyalty to the divine covenant). Israel’s downfall has begun and will run its course before the return can be accomplished.”3
14:2 Contrary to most English translations that render the Hebrew ko„l (“all”) as a substantive displaced from its normal genitive position (hence, “forgive all [our] sin/iniquity”), the NET relates the rather awkward Hebrew syntax by viewing the “all” adverbially: “completely forgive our iniquity.”
14:2 The NET renders the somewhat strange Hebrew “accept/receive good” ad sensum as indicating that the people would truly be offering a prayer of penitence—that which is good and needed proper response on their part.
14:3 The MT reads: “We shall offer our lips as bulls.” The NET rendering is in keeping with both the MT and the older view of Keil who proposed that the meaning of the phrase has to do with the presenting of prayers on penitential lips as thank offerings.4 So also Laetsch who says, “In one of the gold figures so characteristic of Hosea, the prophet speaks of the thankofferings repentant Israel is to bring to the Lord. No longer shall they be satisfied with offering animals, young oxen. As their calves they will ‘render’ present in return for God’s grace, their lips overflowing with songs of gratitude welling forth from hearts truly thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness.”5 The LXX (cf. NIV), however, treats the Hebrew pa„rîm (“bulls”) as a form of the Hebrew word for fruit (pe†rî) hence, “the fruit of our lips.”6 Most English translations simply render the MT in some fashion commiserate with the context such as “praise” (NLT, HCSB) or “vows” (ESV).
14:3 The responsibility for believers to show compassion toward the oppressed and disenfranchised of society is expressed in the frequently occurring motif of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Indeed, “the cause of the widow, the orphan, and the poor is particularly enjoined upon Israel as befitting a redeemed people who are entrusted with the character and standards of their Redeemer.”7 That high standard is accorded no lesser position in the New Testament (cf. Acts 6:1; 9:39-41; 1 Tim. 5:13-16; James 1:27). Jesus Himself promised His followers that He would not leave them as “orphans” (John 14:18).
14:4 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger will turn away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily,
he will send down his roots like a cedar of Lebanon.
6 His young shoots will grow;
his splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
7 People will reside again in his shade;
they will plant and harvest grain in abundance.
They will blossom like a vine,
and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon.
8 O Ephraim, I do not want to have anything to do with idols anymore!
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a luxuriant cypress tree;
your fruitfulness comes from me!
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea cites the Lord’s own words as to the extent and effects of His divine compassion (vv. 4-8). God’s prophet has just urged his people to return to the Lord. In a play upon the same Hebrew verbal root (sŒu‚b) God promises to heal their waywardness (me†sŒu‚ba„ta„m). Israel has turned away from the Lord; it was now time to return to Him, their only savior, defender, and provider. By returning, their turning away, which had rendered them impure, weak, and sickly, would be healed. Israel was wounded (Hos. 5:12-14; 13:7-8) but could now be healed. As did Gomer, a returning Israel would find their “Husband” receiving them freely because of His great love for them.
In the earlier imagery Hosea had been told to seek his erring wife and bring her back to the family (3:1). By that action he would demonstrate God’s own intention to “allure” His wayward wife Israel into a return to covenant relation with Himself (2:14-20). God had warned His people again and again of their certain judgment and that He would withdraw Himself and leave them to their fate for whatever time was necessary (5:15a), yet He never stopped loving His people (11:8-9). The implication was clear. Through Hosea His prophet God has been appealing to His people. Although Israel’s restoration lay in the distant future because God’s people must yet suffer their deserved punishment, they have had divinely sent encouragement for them to return to full covenant relation with the Lord (6:1; 14:1-3). In another play upon the root sŒu‚b the Lord promises that in that future time His justifiable wrath will be “turned away” from His people (v. 4).
In the familiar threefold literary style of the book the Lord uses three similes employing imagery of refreshment and revitalization (v. 5). The Lord first promises to be “like the dew to Israel.” Earlier Israel’s faithfulness toward the Lord was declared to be as lasting and fleeting as the morning dew (6:4). Subsequently, both Israel’s idolaters and idols were soon to disappear “like early morning dew” (13:3). In a reversal of imagery the dew becomes symbolic here of a life-giving vitality that provides the source of renewed life and strength for Israel—God Himself.
Renewed water sources can bring health, beauty, and fragrance to a landscape. A second simile promises that as once again in fellowship with the true Rain-giver (rather than Baal) Israel will “blossom like a lily.” The image speaks of a renewed spiritual life that brings fresh blessings from the Lord of the covenant. The lily may well also speak of the restored love relationship between wife Israel and “Husband” Yahweh (cf. Song 2:2; 5:13).
In a third simile future Israel’s new strength and prosperity is compared to a cedar tree. Although the word “cedar” does not appear in the MT, it is generally assumed that the reference is to the cedars of Lebanon. It was those cedars whose strength and fragrance were famous that were utilized in the building of the Temple complex (1 Kings 6:9; 7:2; 10:17; 1 Chron. 22:4).8 Certainly the mention of roots and Lebanon suggests that the common understanding of the ellipsis of the word “cedar(s)” is correct. The presence of “fragrance like Lebanon” in the following verse (MT) supports this conclusion.
The idyllic imagery is furthered in verse 6 by stressing in yet another threefold lists the growth and progress that will occur in a restored Israel. New “shoots” testify that the nation is alive and well again. “No longer shall she be like a withered, dying, heath in the desert, but like a vigorous, flourishing plant spreading its shoots ever farther and farther.”9 Israel’s prominence and influence will be felt far and wide (Jer. 16:19; Zech. 14:6). In that day Israel’s splendor will be “as majestic as the olive tree, and will have the fragrance of Lebanon’s cedars. Such will be the position of God’s people among the nations.”10 Thus “The three lines of the triplet allude to three aspects of Israel’s future status: stability (‘his shoots’), visibility (‘his splendor’), and desirability (‘his scent’).”11
God’s portrait of Israel’s grand future concludes with scenes of living once again in the Promised Land. The people will find protection and rest under the shade of the new tree that is Israel. Others will also seek to find their blessings in connection with the renewed Israel. As Garrett observes, “If Israel is the metaphorical tree in whose shade others dwell, the conceptual unity of the text is maintained and the implied expectation, that Gentiles would in the eschaton would find blessing in Israel, agrees with many other prophecies of the future of the people of God.”12
The statements in the following line point to further productivity in the land. Together with the previous mention of the olive tree, grain, and wine signifying God’s renewed blessings upon a newly faithful covenant people (cf. Hos. 2:8-9; Deut. 7:12-13; 11:13-14) the mention of the vine testifies to Israel’s fruitful condition. Earlier Israel was likened to a luxuriant vine that had become wayward (Hos. 10:1-2). The metaphor of Israel as a vine is quite familiar in the Scriptures (e.g., Isa. 5:2-6). Together with the fig tree the vine often symbolized the blessedness of Israel’s covenant relation with Yahweh. These included such things as security and serenity (cf. 1 Kings 4:25). All of this God’s people will once again enjoy (Mic. 4:3-4).
The Lord’s final word through Hosea to His people is an impassioned one (v. 8). Once more the most responsible tribe of Ephraim is singled out for rebuke. It is expressed in terms of a rhetorical question (MT). The NET translation is in accordance with the presumed answer: God will have nothing more to do with idols. “God’s parting word … does not mean that God once had business with idols but no longer does. Rather, the point is that he has already spoken as much as he can endure to speak about the gods of Canaan.”13 Even more to the point is the fact that God and the false gods, which the idols represent, have nothing in common. God has been patient with Israel’s idolatry even though this has been an affront to His holy character. When Israel has been chastised and corrected, all traces of idolatry will disappear. Israel has never needed or benefited from its fascination with idolatry. As a matter of fact it is Yahweh who has cared for Israel all along. That provision will be especially true of the promised future. The promise that God would “answer” Ephraim is predicated upon Israel’s words of confession and petition for forgiveness, which Hosea has just urged his people to communicate to God (14:2-3).14
God’s promise to answer is reminiscent of the familiar call-answer motif that so often speaks of intimate communion between God and His people. The call-answer motif underscores the fact of God’s ready availability to come to the aid of His people for refuge and deliverance from danger or distress (Pss. 20:6-9; 81:6-7; 102:1-2; 138:8). The Lord invites His people to receive instruction and guidance from Him (Jer. 33:2-3). Unfortunately, Israel has failed to do so (Hos. 7:7), choosing rather to call upon human resources (7:11). As here, the motif also has an eschatological setting (cf. Zech. 13:7-9). So sweet will be that future restored fellowship between Yahweh and His covenant people that, “Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).
Israel must realize that its only basis for life lived on the highest plain is the Lord. Previously Israel’s future blessing would make it “like an olive tree” (v. 6). In a reversal of imagery and in an unusual simile Yahweh compares Himself to a luxuriant tree with strong roots. He alone is Israel’s source of power and success and it is He who provides real “fruit” to those who follow Him. Ephraim was previously shown to be a fruitless plant (9:16), even though it had once been a fruitful vine. For it had misconstrued and misused its God –endowed blessings by attributing its “fruit” to pagan deities such as Baal (10:1) and to raw military power (10:13). Yet there was hope. A repentant forgiven Israel could and will once again be fruitful for it will receive and acknowledge that its fruit comes from the Lord. The life of God’s people will be lived out in true spiritual success that comes from their relation to Yahweh and surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.
14:4 The theme of healing occurs frequently in Hosea. Israel’s weakness in the latter half of the eighth century was described as a “sickness” and a “wound” for which it turned to the king of Assyria for help. Israel was admonished, however, that even the great king of Assyria would be unable to heal them (Hos. 5:13). Therefore, Hosea encouraged the people to turn to the Lord who alone could heal them of what was their true underlying condition—their spiritual sickness (6:1-3). The Lord lamented that despite His desire to heal Israel of its disease of sin and wickedness, its people failed to respond to Him (6:11-7:2). Indeed, Israel’s history has been one of failure to acknowledge that Yahweh their Redeemer was their only source of healing (11:1-4). In 14:4 the Lord reiterates that Israel’s hope for future reviving and restoration lay solely in His desire and willingness to forgive His wayward, unrepentant and unfaithful people.
14:5 The precise identification of the flower rendered “lily” in the NET has been the subject of debate, “since the same Hebrew term (sŒu‚sŒan) spears to be used for a series of flowers.”15 Although it is most commonly translated as a lily in English versions, the Anchor Bible identifies the plant as a crocus.16 Walker identifies the flower in question both as an iris that “is very delicate in color, of soft lemon and slight orchid-blue shade” and as the red chalcedonicum lily that is “known as the Scarlet Martagon because of its brilliant scarlet petals and sepals.”17
14:6 The olive tree was an important asset to ancient Israel.18 Although the olive tree is not noted for its beauty, its yield in olive oil renders it beautiful to those who partake of its benefits. Thus the psalmist metaphorically likened himself to a flourishing olive tree through God’s care and love for him (Ps. 52:8). Because of its association with the covenant between the Lord and Israel, Israel was likened to a thriving olive tree, one that produced beautiful fruit but was destined to be burned (Jer. 11:16-17). God’s assurance to His people is that with a renewed relationship to Him, Israel’s “splendor” will once again be “like an olive tree” (14:6).19
14:7 The abundant olive oil, grain, and wine that were due to God’s blessings upon His covenant people (Hos. 2:8-9) could be taken away because of the Lord’s judgment upon them for their sins (Joel 1:10-11). Nevertheless, these could and will be restored to a truly repentant and forgiven people (Hos. 14:6-7; cf. Joel 2:24). Although the wine of Lebanon is not particularly noted in the Old Testament, it was apparently well-known in the ancient world.20
14:7-8 The similes likening both Israel (v. 7) and Yahweh (v. 8) to trees is instructive. If Israel is to be a productive, fruitful tree, it is because its character reflects and partakes of that of the Divine Tree. The principle here anticipates Jesus’ teaching concerning the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). Christian believers produce “fruit” (Gal. 5:22-23) on the basis of their union with the risen Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27).
14:8 The play on sounds (áprm/pe†ri‚) in the address to Ephraim between its name and the reminder that its fruitfulness comes from being related to the eternal “tree” (i.e., Yahweh) bookends the challenge to abandon idolatry in order to enjoy the care that the Lord desires to provide for His people.
14:8 The identification of the tree to which the Lord compares Himself is uncertain. Although the LXX identifies it with the juniper, English versions commonly suggest that it is either a pine tree (HCSB, NIV), fir (KJV), or cypress (NET, ESV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV). The NLT simply calls it a “tree that is always green.”21
14:9 Who is wise?
Let him discern these things!
Who is discerning?
Let him understand them!
For the ways of the Lord are right;
the godly walk in them,
but in them the rebellious stumble.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea’s closing advice “contains the epilogue to the whole book.”22 The prophet’s counsel is expressed in terms often associated with that literary genre known as wisdom literature. He has employed many items of the vocabulary found here previously. Thus, he portrayed Israel as a baby in the birth process that lacks wisdom (13:3). He also charged his people with lacking discernment due to their penchant for all the attendant ills of idolatry (4:11) and warned, “A people that lacks understanding will come to ruin!” (4:14). As has often been noted, the theme of knowledge is a prominent one in Hosea. So also here in 14:9 the word rendered “understand” is literally “know.”23 As well the provisions for a godly walk have been seen previously. For example, it was Yahweh who taught Israel when it was a young child to walk (11:3, NIV), thus imparting to His “child” the basics for a godly, productive, and satisfying life. The warning against “stumbling” in that walk was also given before (4:4-5; 5:1-5). Most recently it has been seen in connection with Israel’s sin that brought about its “downfall” (14:1). It is apparent, then, that Hosea was quite at home in the sphere of wisdom literature.24
As the recipient and transmitter of divine revelation Hosea issues a final challenge. The people should understand that it is God’s ways that are right. Indeed, “The message of this wisdom saying and the entire Book of Hosea hinges on the categorical assertion that ‘the ways of the LORD are right.’” 25 Hosea has also used the idea of “ways” previously in a fashion pertaining to conduct, while referring to Israel’s wrong ways (10:13, MT) and the punishment that will result from them (4:9; 12:2). How much better for God’s people to trust in Him whose ways are just and right. The imagery is that of one who walks a path that is level and straight. Such is the course that God travels in all His dealings, for His actions are always consistent with His holy and just character. It is a wise man that travels the spiritual and moral path that God has laid out for him (cf. Ps. 1:1-2; Prov. 1:7; 3:5-6; 16:3). For then, unlike the rebellious or wicked person (cf. Ps. 1:6) who will stumble and bring on his own punishment (Prov. 16:25; 18:6-7), the wise man will succeed and avoid evil (Prov. 16:16-17), and also experience the Lord’s rich blessings (Ps. 119:1-3; Prov. 16:20).
Hosea’s words are in keeping with the well-known theme of the two ways, which is found in both the Old (e.g., Josh. 24:14-15; Pss. 1; 119:29-32; Prov. 4:10-19; Isa. 26:7-11; Ezek. 33:12-20) and New Testament (Matt. 7:13-14; Col. 3:5-17; 1 John 1:6-7). Hosea’s advice is still relevant to today’s believers who walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and in the light of God’s revealed truth (1 John 1:5-7).26
14:9 Although Sweeney confidently asserts that this verse is “not the work of the prophet, but the work of a later editor or writer who comments upon the significance of the prophet’s words,” no firm reason exists to dismiss it as not being from the hand of Hosea.27 In this regard Stuart states, “There is no warrant to dismiss the poem as non-Hosianic…though no proof that it comes from himself, either.”28 Nevertheless, the presence of themes and vocabulary that are Hosianic strongly argues that this verse is authentically Hosea’s.
14:9 The theme of the two ways also appears in such inter-testament works as Ecclesiasticus (21:11-14), 2 Esdras (7:6-14), and the Testimony of Asher (1:3, 5) as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., 1 Q S 3:18-4:26). The teaching of the two ways appears still later in the sub-apostolic writings of the first century Barnabas (chs. 18-20) and the
second century Didache, the early church manual of instruction (chs. 1-6). The author of Barnabas closes his discussion of the two ways (ch. 21) by observing that “it is good, therefore, after learning all the commandments, which are written here, to walk in them. For the one who does these things will be glorified in the kingdom of God; the one who chooses their opposites will perish together with his works.”29
1 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:136.
2 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 272.
3 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 213.
4 Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:163-164.
5 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 108.
6 See also Wolff (Hosea, 231) who suggests that the final –m on the Hebrew noun is an enclitic.
7 Richard D. Patterson, “The Widow, the Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-biblical Literature,” BibSac 130 (1973): 232.
8 Walton, Matthews & Chavalas (Bible Background Commentary, 760) remark that the cedars of Lebanon were “considered the most useful of the large growth trees in the ancient Near East” and sought after for their lumber as a “source for construction and a symbol of wealth in Mesopotamian literature, including the Gilgamesh Epic and the Annals of many kings from the Sumerians through the Assyrians.”
9 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 109.
10 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 1:233.
11 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 216.
12 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 275. The ESV translation proposes that the “shade tree” referred to is actually the Lord: “They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow.” Although the image of the protective shadow of the Almighty is an important one in the Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 91:1), yet it is more familiar as the “shadow of His wings” (e.g., Pss. 17:8; 57:1; 63:7). Moreover, since the following lines deal with details relative to future Israel, a reference to the shadow of the Lord is less likely unless the “his” (MT) is intended as a double entendre.
13 Garrett. Hosea, Joel, 278.
14 Contra Jam A. Wagenaar (“‘I Will Testify Against Them and Challenge Them’: Text and Interpretation of Hosea 14:9,” JNSL 26 (2000): 127-134) who suggests that the pronoun “him” refers to the idols than to Ephraim.
15 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 274,
16 So also Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 210.
17 Winifred Walker, All the Plants of the Bible (New York: Harper, 1957), 114.
18 See R. K. Harrison, “Olive Tree,” ISBE, Rev. ed., Vol. 3:589-590.
19 According to Walker (All the Plants, 154), “ A full-sized tree yields a half ton of oil yearly.”
20 See Pliny, Natural History, 14.7.
21 Note the interesting discussion in K. A. Tängberg, “I Am Like An Evergreen Fir; From Me Comes Your Fruit: Notes on Meaning and Symbolism in Hosea 14.9b,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 2 (1989): 81-93.
22 Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:167.
23 See further the additional note to Hosea 13:5. In discussing the two chief nouns for wisdom, Gleason Archer (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Chicago: Moody, 1974], 467) points out that “h£okmah, ‘wisdom’ … pertains … to a proper grasp of the basic issues of life and the relationship of God to man as a moral agent” while “bînah, understanding, connotes the ability to discern intelligently the difference between sham and reality, between truth and error, between the species attraction of the moment and the long-range values that govern a truly successful life.” Forms of the verbal roots of both words occur in Hosea 14:9.
24 See A. Macintosh, “Hosea and the Wisdom Tradition: Dependence and Independence,” in Wisdom in Ancient Israel: Essays in Honor of J. A. Emertond ed., J. Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 124-132.
25 Charles H. Silva, “The Literary Structure of Hosea 9-14,” BibSac 164 (2007): 435-453.
26 For the contrasting theme of darkness, see Richard D. Patterson, “Deliverance From Darkness,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8 (2004): 77-88.
27 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:140-141.
28 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 219.
29 J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Father, 2nd ed., ed., Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 187.
Even a casual glance at Hosea’s prophecy is sufficient to convince the reader that Hosea was a master literary craftsman.371 Although many have noted these features of Hosea’s literary repertoire, one prominent element is often overlooked—his careful use of reversal. Indeed, reversal forms an essential element in his authorial design. To be sure, reversal is most often viewed as a sub-set of plot in narrative literature. Reversal has been defined as, “An action that produces the opposite of the effect intended. More loosely defined, reversal encompasses any change of fortune story in which a sudden or decisive change is a mainspring of the plot.”372 In biblical literature, reversal is especially prominent in the prophetic writings: “No genre in the Bible is more saturated with reversal than prophetic and apocalyptic literature.”373
In what follows we shall examine Hosea’s use of literary reversal in connection with the major themes in his oracles as well as in his imagery and figures of speech. We shall begin by noting examples of reversal with reference to God and to Israel. Our major focus will be centered on the technique of reversal in Hosea’s last chapter. There he brings together many of the previous elements and sets them in a positive perspective of future hope.374
Preliminary Examples of Reversal
In a dramatic simile connected with an oracle of judgment Hosea cites the Lord’s declaration: “I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a young lion to the house of Judah. I myself will tear them to pieces, then I will carry them off, and no one will be able to rescue them!” (Hos.5:14). In a similar vein the Lord is presented in terms of a number of vicious animals such as a leopard and “a bear robbed of her cubs” (Hos. 13:7-8). In addition to the savage lion the leopard was particularly appropriate for Israel’s coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians, for their warhorses could be described as being “faster than leopards” (cf. Hab. 1:8). The imagery of God as a roaring lion, however, was particularly apropos, for God would use a mighty Assyrian army to punish his wayward people. Interestingly enough, the Assyrian King Sennacherib uses the image of a raging lion in depicting his victory over the Elamites during his eighth campaign.375
Accordingly, it is somewhat startling to note that in another setting the image of a voracious lion becomes altered to that of a lion roaring not in anger against his prey, but as a parent lion roaring for his children and calling them out of exile (Hos. 11:10). The reversal of the earlier image (5:14) thus is exchanged for a compassionate and carrying lion parent summoning his dear children (cubs) to follow him. It is a portent of a future purified people who will choose to follow the Lord, and will therefore be led out of exile and returned to their homeland.
No less striking is the reversal of imagery associated with Israel. While God was portrayed as an animal, Israel was likened to a bird. This was noted in connection with Israel’s foolish foreign policy in seeking associations with and/or the favor of foreign nations rather than depending upon God (7:11). Therefore, Israel’s present glory was destined to “fly away like a bird” (9:11), for God, the divine fowler, was soon to trap his flying bird in his net of judgment (7:11-12).
In the vast number of cases, however, Hosea’s use of reversal in reference to Israel centers on God’s punishment of Israel, his child. Thus the names assigned to Hosea and Gomer’s children contain symbolically a message of God’s judgment against Israel the nation (1:2, 4, 6, 8-9).376 Hosea’s later prophecies concerning child Israel are also sometimes negative ones (e.g., 13:12). Thus the Lord points out that even though he was a beneficent father (11:1-4), Israel soon proved to be a wayward son, which “sacrificed to the Baal idols and burnt incense to images” (v. 2). Hosea’s Israel was not less guilty of worshiping Baal and other deities even while feigning allegiance to the Lord. Therefore, Hosea conveyed God’s warning that “child” Israel’s literal children would suffer greatly in the Lord’s coming judgment (e.g., 4:6; 5:7; 9:1-12; 10:14).
It was thus doubtless a grand note of hope when Hosea delivered prophecies in which the negative imagery of Israel as a child was reversed. In those messages God’s gracious compassion as a concerned parent is underscored. He will bring back a repentant and purified remnant, which will desire fellowship with God (6:1-3) and will respond to his wooing (11:8-11).
Reversal in Hosea 14
As Andersen and Freedman observe, “This discourse is a fitting conclusion to the entire prophecy… . As a recapitulation, most of its vocabulary can be found in earlier parts of the prophecy.”377 Chapter 14 opens on a high note of hope. To be sure, the previously announced judgment must come to Israel, but a repentant Israel could expect God’s forgiveness and restoration. Accordingly, Hosea’s final prophecy points not only to a caring God’s compassion and love for his people, but offers a distinctive hope. Israel’s future can and will one day be a glorious one. Israel’s changed status is expressed in language that serves as a reminder of Israel’s present condition that needs to and can be altered.
Thus the opening verses underscore the need for repentance in unmistakable terms. God’s people are to acknowledge their sins, repent of them, and ask the Lord for his forgiveness and restoration. The theme of repentance has been sounded often throughout Hosea’s prophetic messages. Israel has neither repented of its sins nor turned from its sinful ways. It will be recalled that the entire fourth and fifth chapters contain a catalog of the sins for which Israel will be judged and from which God’s people do not turn so as to return to God (cf. also 7:8-10; 8:4-6) or show remorse (cf. 9:1; 11:7).Indeed, Israel stands in dire need of repentance and Hosea passionately urges his people to do so, and turn to God so as to be healed of their sinful condition (2:7; 6:1-3). For Israel’s lack of repentance could be reversed and when that is forthcoming, God’s people will experience God’ forgiveness and be healed. Then they will again bask in his love (14: 1-4; cf. 3:5).
In verses 3 and 4 several of God’s frequent charges against his people are mentioned. Paramount among these is Israel’s infidelity toward the Lord and his covenant. Unfortunately, Hosea’s Israel has perpetuated the people’s long history of covenant violation (8:1,12; 11:2) and rebellion against the Lord 8:1; 13:16). Yet this negative appraisal can and will be reversed when God enacts a new covenant with his people (2:18-23), and God’s once unfaithful Israel will be restored to full covenant standing. Therefore, Hosea pleads with the people to return to the Lord (14:1).378 If they do, God declares that he will” heal their waywardness” thereby removing the earlier condemnation for their unfaithfulness and going astray.
Intertwined with the specific mention of Israel’s covenant violation is the charge of the people’s infidelity (cf. 6:7) as demonstrated in their failure to keep God’s covenantal standards of proper social and moral conduct, and especially their idolatry (8:4; 10:5-6; 13:2), which is often termed “prostitution” (4:10-13; 5:3-4; 6:10). As was noted in the Commentary, such an association was certainly a logical one, for in Israel’s past history God’s people entered into a physical immorality with Moabite women, which in turn led them into the fertility rites associated with the Canaanite god Baal (cf. Num. 31:15-16 with Rev. 2:14). For all of this Israel was severely punished by the Lord (Num. 25:4-9; Deut. 4:3; Ps. 106:28). Hosea conveyed God’s warning to his people that if he so judged Israel for its sinful disloyalty to God and his standards of morality (Hos. 4:13-14, 18), Hosea’s Israel should expect nothing less (9:10-13, 15-17).
Further chargers of covenant violation and prostitution are seen in Israel’s current fascination with and political relations with certain foreign powers. Israel is accused of courting the favor of both Assyria and Egypt (5:13; 8:9; 12:1), often flitting between first one and then the other “like a dove” (7:11). Therefore, Israel will suffer at the hands of both powers (9:3; 10:6; 11:5).
Nevertheless, God’s chastisement for all of this will one day be reversed when God summons his people and brings them back to their homeland (11:10-11). What Israel must do is recognize and confess that it cannot rely on false gods, which cannot save them or foreign powers. Rather, they must fully rely on the mercies of their true Redeemer whose great compassion will be exercised on their behalf. It is the Lord alone who can and will heal their “waywardness and love them freely” (14:4; cf. 5:13).
Associated with the themes of covenant violation, prostitution, and idolatry as well as reliance on human agencies and methods is the theme of God’s certain judgment for these sins. The warning of coming judgment is sounded throughout Hosea’s prophecies. Nevertheless, there is coming a day when a repentant and purified people of Israel will have their judgment reversed (e.g., 3:5), and God’s anger will be turned away from them. This is due to God’s great compassion and love (1:6; 2:4; 9:15), which he once withheld from his people due to their love of their sinful ways (3:1; 4:1, 18; 6:4; 9:1). In a future day God’s love will be exercised (cf. 2:19, 23; 11:8; 14:3) on behalf of a righteous Israel, for they will once again demonstrate proper covenant love (10:12; 12:6).
In a series of picturesque images expressed as similes (14:5-7} the Lord is quoted as to the resultant effects of his love and compassion for a repentant and restored people. “All the horror of the preceding judgments is cancelled by the ardor of this promise. It is Yahweh’s last word, and it is a word of life.”379 Hereby a number of the images that earlier bore negative connotations are now reversed into positive ones. Thus in verse five the earlier portrait of Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord being likened to the fleeting nature of morning dew or mist (6:4; 13:3) is now reversed to depict the life-giving vitality and refreshment, which Israel will experience due to God’s blessings. God is thereby seen to be the true source of Israel’s water supply rather than the Baal in whom they have trusted for so long. The further result is that with Israel’s newly refreshed spiritual life, it will “blossom like a lily.”
In addition to the pictures of Israel’s spiritual vitality and refreshment symbolized in the dew and that of beauty suggested by the lily, the Lord conveys a scene of strength for future Israel by comparing this reversed state to the cedars of Lebanon.380 The reference to Israel’s newly established “roots” conveys a sense of an established and stable durability rather than the earlier negative picture of Israel as having withered roots (9:10).
This idyllic imagery is enhanced in verse six where three forms of plant life are again portrayed. The first mentions Israel’s new “shoots” testifying to the fact that a regathered Israel is both alive in its land and productive. The reference to the olive tree presents another example of image reversal. Earlier Israel was condemned for its foreign policy by a reference to sending “olive oil to Egypt” (12:1). Now future Israel is likened to an olive tree in its “splendor.” The imagery in verse six is rounded out by noting that Israel’s “fragrance” will be like a “cedar of Lebanon.” Thus the imagery in the similes of verse six adds to those in verse five by portraying Israel’s future productivity, visible splendor, and fragrant desirability.
The threefold imagery of renewal in verse six is augmented in verse seven by another group of three images: grain, the vine, and wine. All were symbolic of God’s blessed provision for his people. They were also products that could become objects affected in God’s judgment of a disobedient people. Earlier Hosea delivered God’s denunciation of his people for consuming the grain and new wine while turning away from God (7:14) or even worse, attributing their possession of such things to Baal (2:8-9). As well God had pronounced his judgment upon their grain because of their flawed foreign policy of trusting in other nations such as Assyria rather than relying on the Lord (8:7-10).
Likewise the imagery associated with the vine and wine was previously presented in a negative light. Just as the grain, so God would take away the new wine (2:9; 9:2) by ruining Israel’s vines (2:12). This was because in gathering their grain and new wine, they foolishly ignored or even turned away from God (7:14). Moreover, they used the wine for drunken debauchery (7:5) and for in seasons of cultic prostitution (4:4-13). Further, Israel itself was like a wayward vine, for it used its prosperity selfishly and for its debased religious experiences (10:12).
Yet all of this imagery finds reversal in Hosea’s prophecies. Earlier in Hosea (2:21-22) it was prophesied of the grain and wine (as well as oil) that the ground would yield these products again in abundance for a faithful Israelite people. In Hosea 14:7 Israel itself would become so blessed that “they will plant and harvest grain in abundance. They will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon.” Thus the imagery conveyed in verses five through seven portrays a renewed and faithful covenant people.381
The image of fruitfulness portrayed in verses five though seven reaches its climax in verse eight, where the Lord states categorically contrary to Israel’s historic fascination with idolatry, its well being and prosperity come only from the Lord: “Your fruitfulness comes from me.” Because Israel has failed to acknowledge this in the past (10:13), God needed to bring judgment toward his people (9:16). It had not always been like this. God’s original relation with Israel was so good that it was “like finding grapes in the wilderness. I viewed your ancestors like an early fig on a fig tree in its first season” (9:10). Yet there was hope, for in turning back to the Lord and truly loving him and living for him and his covenant stipulations, like Gomer (2:7) Israel will come to understand that true living comes only by a relationship with the Lord. Whatever earthly success Israel hoped to have was intimately bound with her spiritual relation to the Lord.
Verse eight also contains the Lord’s reply to Israel’s earlier calling upon him for forgiveness (14:2-3). Unlike Israel’s present spiritual condition in which its abandonment of God so disrupts their fellowship with him so that he cannot answer their petitions (11:7), God will one day answer the prayers of a repentant people, and forgive and care for them.
The literary device of reversal has its final touches in Hosea’s closing advice (14:9). Earlier Israel was compared to an unwise baby who refuses to go through with the birthing process (13:13). Now through a rhetorical question the prophet urges a wiser Israel to listen to the promises, which God has just made and realize that the truly godly person will desire to walk in the Lord’s ways. Earlier Israel was repeatedly chided for unwisely choosing to walk in its own way. Such had only brought many cases of injustice. God’s way is now declared to be the right way. To walk in one’s own way is to follow a crooked path; to reverse that course by following the Lord is to travel a straight and level one.
A final instance of reversal is found in the call for proper understanding. In the majority of cases Israel has been charged with a lack of any genuine knowledge or even acknowledgement of the Lord, whether in what he has given her (2:8; 11:1-3) or in his very person. Such was evident by their idolatrous worship practices (5:4) and immoral behavior. Indeed, their failure to acknowledge the Lord will lead Israel to certain judgment (4:6). All of this will one day be reversed, however, because of God’s faithfulness to his own righteous standards when Israel properly acknowledges the Lord as sovereign over its life (cf. 2:20). Israel need only acknowledge him and truly seek to know him as God and Lord of the life (6:1-3). It was now time for Israel to be discerning of all that the Lord and Hosea have been telling them and “understand” that God’s way is the only right way.
The examination of Hosea’s technique of reversal demonstrates once again Hosea’s literary craftsmanship. It also reminds interpreters of the importance of adding a literary approach to that of the historical/cultural and theological data. Thus Alter declares, “The literary vehicle is so much the necessary medium through which the Hebrew writers realized their meanings that we will grasp the meanings at best imperfectly if we ignore their fine articulations as literature.”382 In Hosea’s case, literary appreciation of the technique of reversal immediately provides a key to the author’s principle theme: Israel’s sin has cut God’s people off from the Lord, for which the penalty of breaking its covenant with God must be imposed. Yet after the judgment has accomplished its divine purpose, a repentant and purified Israel will find its status reversed. It will once again enjoy God’s everlasting blessings. Hosea’s central message, then, is one of hope veiled in soon coming judgment.
The theme of reversal is thus a central feature of Hosea’s designed plan for his accumulated oracles. Such is apparent in the manner in which chapters one through three are bookended by chapter fourteen so as to form a grand inclusio for the entire corpus of his writings. This may be seen in the contrasting themes of Israel’s turning away from God (1:2) and the admonition to return to God (14:1-2).
As noted in the Commentary, the situation with Hosea and Gomer stands as a visible symbol of God’s relations with Israel. Thus the names of their three children are significant: sown and scattered Israel (“Jezreel,” 1:4-5) will one day “send down its roots like a cedar of Lebanon” (14:5); “no pity” (1:6) will one day experience God’s compassion (14:3-4); and “not my people” (1:8) will again become the people of God (14:4-8).
Of course, such was already made clear as well in Hosea’s opening oracles (cf. 1:10-2:1). Here Hosea prophesies of the prospect of God’s renewed love for Israel (2:19). These messages are also reinforced by God’s own words: “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger will turn away from them” (14:4). The early promises of renewed blessings in Hosea 2:18-23; 3:5 are reconfirmed in 14:4-8, for Israel will again declare that Yahweh is “my God” (2:23; cf. 14:2-3).
So it was that Israel, which had violated the terms of God’s covenant with her Lord will one day enter into a new covenant with him and experience all the everlasting blessings that God has intended for her (2:18-23; 14:4-8). For Christians who are partakers of the New Covenant (Matt. 26:28; 2 Cor. 3:6; cf. Heb. 8-9) there is the assured hope that this sinful world will one day be judged and then purified, and will experience God’s eternal blessings (e.g., Rev. 11:15-19; 19:11-21; 20:7-22:20). Christians should thus learn a lesson from Israel’s example of infidelity both to God and his covenant standards. As taken into union with Christ (Col. 1:27) believers should be mindful of occasional lapses into sin, confess it, and experience God’s forgiveness (cf. Hos. 14:1-4 with 1 John 1:8-2:2).
Indeed, in a far more intimate way than ever before, Christians can and should realize that “The ways of the Lord are right; the godly walk in them” (Hos. 14:9; cf. Matt. 6:33; Mark 12:29-33; John 14:6; Phil. 1:21; 1 John 1:7). And as we do so, may we be sensitive to the leading of the Lord so that we may walk in his conscious presence.383 The poet expresses it well,
Teach me they way, O Lord, Teach me thy way!
Thy guiding grace afford—Teach me thy way!
Help me to walk aright, more by faith less by sight;
Lead me with heavenly light, Teach me thy way!384
371 For an example of Hosea’s elevated style, prevalent literary themes, and rich use of figurative language, see Richard D. Patterson, “Portraits From a Prophet’s Portfolio: Hosea 4,” BibSac 165 (2008): 294-308.
372 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, eds., “Reversal,” DBI (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 717. Many have pointed out that the use of reversal in western literature is at least as old as Aristotle who associated it with discovery and is especially prominent in tragedy and comedy. See further Robert Scholes, Carl H. Klaus, and Michael Silverman, eds., “Modes of Drama,” Elements of Literature (New York: Oxford, 1978), 747.
373 Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman III, eds. DBI, 718.
374 The reader is encouraged to refer to the earlier remarks in the main body of the commentary for fuller details concerning the contexts, which are mentioned in this study.
375 See Luckenbill, ARA, 2:137.
376 Israel is also portrayed as an unfaithful wife who God rejects (1:2; 2:2), but whose negative situation will be reversed. For one day wife Israel will be restored to her ever faithful husband (2:16, 19; 3:1).
377 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 643.
378 See the excellent discussion by Robin Wakely in NIDOTTE, 2:1121-23.
379 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 646.
380 For the imagery conveyed by the cedar tree, see Richard D. Patterson, “Psalm 92:12-15: The Flourishing of the Righteous,” BibSac 166 (2009): 271-88.
381 The fragrance of the cedar tree may also contain a veiled hint of God’s people being so purified and dedicated that they are virtually a living sweet savor offering. Although the background of the imagery is different, being associated with the release of sweet odors along a triumphal procession route, yet the spread of the Gospel message was likened by Paul to the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15). As Murray Harris, (“2 Corinthians,” EBC, rev. ed., eds. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005] 11:456) suggests, “Paul’s thought moves from the ‘fragrance’ associated with the Roman triumph (v. 14) to the ‘aroma’ associated with OT sacrifice… . As faithful creatures and followers of Christ, the apostles themselves formed a sweet fragrance of Christ rising up to God as a pleasing odor. To the extent that they diffused the fragrance of Christ by life and word (v. 14b), they were the fragrance or aroma.”
382 Robert Alter, The World of Biblical Literature (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 63-64.
383 See further Richard D. Patterson, “The Pleasure of His Presence,” Biblical Studies Press, 2009.
384 B. Maxwell Ramsey, “Teach Me Thy Way O Lord!,” in Hymns for the Living Church (Carol Stream: Hope Publishing Co., 1974), 379.