2: Perspectives on Unfaithful Israel (Hosea 6:1-7:16)
4. Prophetic Advice (6:1-3)
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.