3: Further Charges against Unfaithful Israel (Hosea 8:1-8:14)
B. Further Charges against Unfaithful Israel
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.