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This chapter opens the last section of the prophecy in which the same themes recur again and again. The guilt of the nation is stressed (Hosea 4:1-3), with particular attention to the guilt of the priests (Hosea 4:4-8), the prophecy of punishment for all (Hosea 4:9-10), and an elaboration of the immoral practices in their religion (Hosea 4:11-19). The terminology of the chapter, especially in the first three verses, is technical and legal.
"The source of the forms is legal procedure as practiced in Israel's court, and their use has the effect of putting the entire nation on trial."
In this accusation and arraignment of Israel, it is God Himself who makes the charges and pronounces the judgment. The crime of Israel which forms the burden of God's formal charge against the nation is a specific one: "It is a breach of contract!" The sacred covenant that God had made with the chosen people had been wantonly violated and repudiated; and the specifics of it are spelled out by Hosea's delivery of God's message to the rebellious nation. "One could literally translate part of Hosea 4:1 as, `The Lord has a lawsuit with the inhabitants of the land.'" The whole thrust of this chapter and of the whole prophecy of Hosea presupposes prior relationship between God and Israel; and, without this basic prior condition assumed by Hosea, his prophecy would have little meaning. As Harper said:
"A relationship has existed between Yahweh and Israel, the terms of which Israel has not observed ... There is every reason to suppose that the Decalogue in its original form was at this time in existence."
"Hear the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel; for Jehovah hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land."
Hosea moved at once to make clear what had been signified already in his own tragic marriage, which had been providentially designed to portray that which was happening upon a far greater scale in the life of the entire nation. The terrible message had already been spelled out by what had happened in the case of Gomer. Her infidelity resulted in her leaving her husband; and when she had been reduced to a state of slavery as a result of her sins, Hosea bought her back, not for the purpose of remarrying her, but with the purpose of reducing her to the status of a servant retained without conjugal rights of any kind, and in certain areas required to do his will without regard to her own inclinations. God inspired Hosea to recount the sordid details of his marriage as a warning to Israel, and as a symbol of what would happen to the nation; but in this chapter and to the end of Hosea, God dropped any further use of allegory and spelled it out dramatically in the plainest and most literal language possible.
This verse announces a change of status for Israel, once the chosen bride of Yahweh, but now no longer a bride but an adversary.
"Jehovah hath a controversy with the inhabitants ..." God appears here not as the beloved husband of the chosen nation but as their opponent.
"Because there is no truth ..." God had not changed, but Israel had changed. Having once known the true God, they knew him no more, having forsaken him to worship the old pagan gods of the land of Canaan. Perhaps, "There were some righteous people left; but they were few, and they hid themselves from the face of the multitude who were wicked." The "truth" which was missing from Israel was the knowledge of God and of his revealed will, which is the only dependable, objective standard of "truth" the world has ever known. Truth, God's truth, is the only basis of morality, order, and trust that has ever proved effective. Morality cannot be subjectively determined. Morality cannot be either determined or perpetuated upon humanistic considerations. Morality can not be predicated upon merely intellectual and philosophical premises. Either God's truth is received and honored, or immorality, shame and debauchery are the inevitable alternative. Israel had chosen that awful alternative; and, as Butler stated it:
"When the divine standard of truth, God's revealed word, is rejected, moral and political suicide is the result. This is exactly what happened to Israel in Hosea's time, and to Judah in Jeremiah's time, complete moral and political anarchy. The same will happen to any nation that rejects God's Word, the Bible!"
"The ultimate cause of the decline and final collapse of every nation or civilization has been moral and spiritual rather than material." The word here rendered "truth" is translated as "faithfulness" in some versions; and the term certainly includes the sense of "truth obeyed"; but "faithfulness" has the weakness of leaving open the question of "faithfulness to what?" "Truth" is to be preferred here.
"Nor knowledge of God in the land ..." All of the vain efforts of some expositors to defend the notion that the true God of Israel was actually being worshipped any longer in the Northern Kingdom are defeated in this simple statement. The knowledge of God had disappeared in Israel, despite the fact of some pagan worshippers using his sacred name alongside that of their pagan idols. Knowing God in the Biblical sense means an active and obedient knowledge that consciously conforms to the teaching of God's Word. People who "obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" are one in every sense with the people "who know not God" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
"There is naught but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out, and blood toucheth blood."
The fact that the Third, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth commandments of the Decalogue are here indicated by the fact of Israel's violation of them removes all doubt of the Decalogue's prior existence as an essential element in the covenant of God with Israel. Without that element of covenant-breaking in Israel's conduct, God could not have had a "lawsuit" with them. We are amazed at the timid recognition of this truth which rather cautiously states that this verse "seems to give some support" to the view that the Decalogue was prior to this prophecy! Indeed, .indeed, two plus two might possibly equal four! As W.R. Harper more adequately stated the obvious fact, "There is every reason to believe that the Decalogne in its original form was at this time in existence."
"Swearing and breaking faith ..." Such conduct violated the Third commandment with its prohibition against taking the name of God in vain, and also the Ninth with its prohibition against false witness.
"Killing ... stealing ... committing adultery ..." Commandments Six, Seven, and Eight were broken in these actions; and, in fact, the utter repudiation of the whole Law of God was evident in the rampant immorality, violence, and deceit which characterized the conduct of Israel in the days of Hosea.
"Blood toucheth blood ..." This is evidently some kind of idiomatic expression referring to massive and continual violence. The New English Bible translates this phrase, "nothing but one deed of blood after another."
"Therefore shall the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the fields and the birds of the heavens; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away."
God is both the prosecuting attorney and the judge in this arraignment and prosecution of Israel. The reasons for judgment have already been cited, and the judgment is impending. The various elements mentioned here may be summed up in a word, disaster!
"The land shall mourn ..." By metonymy, the whole people of Israel are those who shall mourn. The inclusion of the lower creation in this mourning (the animals, birds, and fishes) merely emphasizes the extent and universality of the suffering; but there may also be a reference to the primeval curse of the ground "for Adam's sake" (Genesis 3:17-21), with a strong intimation that it will be continued and perhaps intensified by the kind of behavior that marks the response of Israel to the love of God. God's curse upon the earth because of human sin would also inevitably involve the lower creation. Given thought that the inclusion of the lower order of creation here was for the purpose of "representing the severity of the judgment in its totality."
"Yet let no man strive, neither let any reprove; for thy people are as they that strive with the priest."
Mauchline paraphrased this verse: "It is God who has the controversy with his people; therefore, let no man enter into it." The forbidding of any man to reprove, however, might also be referred to any who might have sought to reprove the prophet Hosea for pronouncing such stern judgments against Israel. In any case, the judgment is of God, and is not merely that of Hosea. Due to certain imperfections in the text, some scholars have understood the meaning of this rather ambiguous verse thus: "Let not anyone contend or make complaint, because the people are not really to blame"; but we cannot believe that even the reprobate priesthood who led the people in their sins could absolve them of guilt or blame.
"Thy people are as they that strive with the priest ..." This is a plain reference to Deuteronomy 17:8-13, condemning all of those who rejected the judgment of the priests acting in conformity with God's will. The sentence against persons thus rebelling against authority was death. Thus, the last clause of this verse is an emphatic declaration that Israel deserved the judgment of death that God pronounced upon them. It may be viewed as a mitigating circumstance for the people generally that their priesthood was illegitimate from its inception. Beginning with Hosea 4:5, below, Hosea directed God's judgment against the priesthood.
"And thou shalt stumble in the day, and the prophet shall also stumble with thee in the night; and I will destroy thy mother."
The alternative reference to day and night in this verse is not restrictive but inclusive. It means prophet and priest shall fall by the sword day and night; there shall be no safety anywhere at any time. The prophet in this passage is not a reference to any of God's legitimate prophets, but to the type of retainer who was a part of the paid staff of the pagan establishments. Their mutual identity with paganism is inherent in the grouping of the two together and in their common fate.
A discernment sadly lacking in many writings on Hosea was achieved by McKeating, who stated that, "Hosea's rejection of the northern priesthood seems to be all of a piece with his questioning of the legitimacy of their monarchy and his assertions that it does not enjoy divine favor." Of course, this is correct. Neither the monarchy nor the priesthood of Israel had any standing whatever in the eyes of God. How could the priesthood have been legitimate, when it was instituted by Jeroboam I, for the specific purpose of supporting his throne, and made up of Jews who were "the lowest of the people" and "not of the sons of Levi," contrary to the Word of God (2 Kings 12:31)? It is nothing short of amazing that so many commentators on this part of the Bible seem to be utterly blind to the true nature of Israel's apostasy. Even Mays speaks of Israel's priests as having their "vocation given to them by Yahweh," but this cannot be true at all. They were in no sense priests of God, but priests of Jeroboam, presiding over a bastard religion made up of a few elements of Judaism, grossly perverted, and overlaid with a rich veneer of pure paganism. Adultery, debauchery, drunkenness and many other sinful rites marked the very "services" of Baal, whom they worshipped instead of God. The central idols in this paganism were the golden calves set up at Dan and at Bethel by Jeroboam I.
Therefore, Hosea quite properly rejected both the monarchy and the worship installed by that monarchy.
"And I will destroy thy mother ..." This refers to "the whole nation, as such, - the kingdom of Israel." Hosea also referred to Israel as "your mother" earlier (Hosea 2:2). Some have questioned this, but there is no satisfactory alternative. Mauchline thought that "Aaron" might be referred to; but these priests were not Levites! One alternative would be to make Baal the mother of those priests, or the paganism of Israel. Hindley thought "the mother" here to be, "the tribe of Levi, into which all priests were born"; but there was no way in which this could be correct. As noted above, the priests of Israel were recruited from the lowest class of people and without regard to Levitical descent. Besides this, the wife of Ahab, the notorious Jezebel had murdered practically all of the true priests and had imported a vast horde of pagan priests from Sidon. As time went on, it must have been a rare thing indeed for any descendant of Levi to have enjoyed the office of the priesthood in Israel.
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children."
Harper was of the opinion that "I will reject thee" in this passage indicates that "Hosea had at one time recognized the Northern priesthood as legitimate," but this is by no means a necessary deduction. The rejection of knowledge on the part of the priests (a past event when Hosea spoke) had already resulted in God's rejection of them, but the rejection here will be total and final. They had been tolerated, even in their state of illegitimacy, for a long while; but now their rejection will be terminal, final, and complete. They shall be exterminated, along with the apostate nation which they have led into ruin.
"Thou shalt be no priest to me ..." It is a mistake to understand this as reference merely to the priesthood which was pagan. It is the nation which is addressed here: "My people ... thou ... thou shalt be no priest to me." The spirit and intention of Exodus 19:6 dominate this verse. It is the nation of Israel as a nation of priests unto God.
"Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God ..." is necessarily a reference to the nation, and absolutely not to the pagan priesthood which had never had any knowledge of the law of God, except in the corrupted elements of it which they had mingled with their paganism.
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge ..." Educators and public leaders like to quote this verse, but all too frequently they are unaware of what is meant by knowledge in this passage. It is not scientific, secular, or technical knowledge that is meant, but religious knowledge, the knowledge of God through his revealed will, the Bible; and even more than this is meant; it means conformity to the will of God. H. G. Wells said that, "Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe," but only a fool today believes that secular education alone can stave off catastrophe. Will Durant found the great hope of humanity (as he viewed it) envisioned in a society where, "Every child would be schooled until his twentieth year, and should find free access to the universities, libraries, and museums that harbor and offer the intellectual and artistic treasures of the race!" It is the knowledge and worship of God alone that can lead either men or nations into the good life, In the light of all that we have learned in this present century, "How inadequate now seems the proud motto of Francis Bacon, `Knowledge is power'"? "Catastrophe overtakes a civilization not because it lacks intelligence, but because it lacks integrity."
Why does integrity, or morality, depend upon the knowledge and worship of God in the fullest sense of those words? Simply because the naive notion that if men know right they will do it is a fool's nightmare. Only the true religion of God can endow moral and ethical behavior with cosmic significance. "There are no significant examples, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion." Will Durant held to the opinion that our own liberal society in the United States would be able to achieve what no other ever did, that is, maintain morality and integrity without regard to true religion; hence his inclusion of the phrase "before our time" in the passage quoted. The events of the first decade following his statement, however, have already demonstrated the fantastic dimensions of his error. Without a widespread reawakening of the national conscience and a wholesale return to the teachings of the Word of God, our own beloved America is already launched upon a collision course with disaster. These remarkable chapters in Hosea have an urgent relevance to our entire generation.
It should not be thought that Israel's "forgetting" God's law was merely an innocent slip of the memory. No! They had consciously rejected, ignored, and eventually forgotten that which they had neither desire nor intention to remember.
"Law of thy God" is a clear and positive reference to the Decalogue and related commandments which formed a basic part of the holy Covenant between God and Israel. The word here is "Torah," and, despite the efforts of Mauchline and others to read this as teachings delivered to people by their priests, the technical and specific meaning of the term is apparent. In a word, it is a reference to the Pentateuch. A book like Hosea could not possibly have been written except in the shadow of the first five books of the Old Testament.
"I also will forget thy children ..." This is generally misinterpreted to refer to the children of the pagan priesthood; but that renegade and reprobate institution hardly appears here at all, except in the catalogue of their sins about to be enumerated. It is the nation of Israel, particularly the northern kingdom, that is here prophesied to suffer the penalty of God's forgetting their children. As Keil wisely observed:
"It is not the priests who are addressed here, but the whole nation of the ten tribes which adhered to the image-worship set up by Jeroboam, with its illegal priesthood (1 Kings 12:26-33), in spite of all threats and judgments...and who would not desist from this sin of Jeroboam. The Lord would therefore reject it (the nation) from being priest, would deprive it of the privilege of being a priestly nation (Exodus 19:6), would strip it of its priestly rank, and make it like the heathen.
"As they were multiplied, so they sinned against me: I will change their glory into shame."
This verse, as the passage before it, has its primary reference, not to the pagan priesthood, but to Israel the priest of God in the national sense (Exodus 19:6). The evidence that this is the true interpretation is strengthened by the frantic efforts of some scholars who have vainly tried to move Exodus 19:6 into post-exilic times." The more the nation increased and the greater became their prosperity, the more and more they were estranged from their true God. The reason for this was that they attributed their prosperity, not to God who was the genuine author of it, but to their pagan idols. They therefore interpreted their increased strength and glory as the blessings of their idols, being consequently further and further estranged from God.
"They feed on the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity."
"They feed on the sin of my people ..." Hosea had already mentioned the false priests and prophets (Hosea 4:5); and here he returned to the subject of the evil priesthood, as indicated by the contrast between "they" and "my people" in the same clause. Harper gave the meaning of this accurately, thus:
"The priests encouraged the people to sin in order that they the priests might have larger numbers of sin offerings, greater perquisites ... they live upon the vice of the day."
"And they set their heart on their iniquity ..." There is a change from the plural "priests" in the first clause to the "they" in the second, indicating that "my people" is the antecedent and that the second clause here means that the northern kingdom have set their heart, not upon God, but upon their sins which they love. Before leaving this, it should be noted that "sin offerings" may not appear in this verse at all, despite the possible understanding of the terms in this sense as cited above in the quotations from Harper. Mauchline is undoubtedly correct in his assertion that: "The words may have the less specific meaning that the priests have an appetite for human guilt and gloat over iniquity." As was noted in our commentary on Amos 5:21 and related passages, there is no evidence that the pagan worship in Northern Israel included any such thing as a sin-offering, none whatever being mentioned in Amos. In view of that, the view of Mauchline should be preferred in this passage.
"And it shall be, like people, like priest; and I will punish them for their ways, and will requite them for their doings."
The mention of both "priest" and "people" here makes it quite evident that both were being spoken of in the preceding verse. What is indicated is the thorough paganizing of the whole nation. Even God's chosen people have at this juncture come to be exact copies of the reprobate pagan priesthood and at last had reached a state of total apostasy from God.
"And I will punish them ..." This is the explanation for the overwhelming destruction of the entire northern kingdom which was impending as a judgment of God upon his apostate people and soon to be fulfilled by the Assyrian armies in the valley of Jezreel. The destruction occurred in 722 B.C. Of course, both the evil priesthood and the people whom they had misled suffered the same fate.
"And they shall eat and not have enough; they shall play the harlot, and shall not increase; because they have left off taking heed to Jehovah."
The purpose of harlotry is not to produce offspring;, therefore, the meaning here is that Israel shall find their material prosperity quite inadequate and unsatisfactory; and their harlotry in the matter of Baal-worship shall prove powerless to remedy their want. As the punishment of God closes in upon the kingdom, the vanity, futility, and ineffectiveness of their apostasy will be finally evident.
"They have left off taking heed to Jehovah ..." This is by no stretch of imagination a reference to the fact that the pagan priesthood had ever heeded Jehovah. Can anyone believe that the vast horde of pagan priests imported by Jezebel ever for a single moment heeded the true God of Israel? Elijah had slaughtered a multitude of them on Mount Carmel for the simple reason that all of them were avowed enemies of God. This is again a reference to the people of the northern kingdom. "Harlotry is Hosea's thematic word for the whole religion" of Israel.
"Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding."
As Mays said:
"This is a general observation about how things work in life. Once a man turns to prostitutes and intoxicating drink for pleasure, he loses his judgment. Harlots and wine take away a man's mind (The Hebrew word is heart, the seat of the will and understanding in Hebrew psychology)."
Of course, all sin openly practiced and indulged results in the same destruction of the sinner; but Hosea probably focused upon this because, "It describes the excesses which were committed by the people on the festival days at the Baal shrines."
"My people ask counsel at their stock, and their staff declareth unto them; for the spirit of whoredom hath caused them to err, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God."
"This verse exhibits the private life of the people as depraved by sin and folly"; and Hosea 4:13, following, displays their public lives as corrupted by lewdness, gluttony, and debauchery as shamelessly practiced in the vulgar worship of the old Canaanite gods of fertility.
"Ask counsel at their stock, and their staff declareth ..." This foolish method of procuring advice or making decisions is called "rhabdomancy," a class name for several procedures, one of which was described by Keil thus:
"Two rods were held upright, and then allowed to fall while incantations were uttered; and the oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell, whether backwards or forward, to the right or to the left."
How blind to the loving providence of God are those who could seriously resort to such pagan devices as those mentioned here. The immoralities of their idolatrous worship had closed the windows of their minds, and they groped in darkness. Significantly, it was "the spirit of whoredom" that had caused them to err. This "spirit" pictures "the wildest possible indulgence of passions ... they are actuated by an impulse that leads to harlotry." It is not the mere physical result of this behavior, however, which is stressed here. The root cause of all their wickedness lay in the fact of their "departing from their God."
"They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery."
This verse enlarges upon the public conduct of the people who had turned away from God to worship pagan idols. The places mentioned, the mountain tops and hills, were chosen after the prejudice and blindness of paganism, because they were alleged to be closer to the residence of the so-called gods they adored. The good shades of large oaks, poplars and terebinths were also utilized as places of their depraved worship, because of, "their affording relief from the scorching sun, secrecy for licentious rites, and a sort of solemn awe felt in such shadows." Apparently, the mention of the terebinth tree was for the purpose of showing that smaller and less ample shade trees were pressed into the service of pagan worshippers, due to the proliferation of their godless rites. "The terebinth ("pistacia terebinthus") was a small tree resembling the ash, but smaller, and the original source of turpentine."
God had specifically commanded that upon their entry into Canaan, the Israelites should "utterly destroy" all of the places of pagan worship on the mountaintops and high hills and under every green tree (Deuteronomy 12:2); but instead of obeying God, they set up their own pagan idol worship in exactly the same places (2 Kings 17:10,11).
"Therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery ..." Smith noted that, "This is one of the few passages in the Old Testament which deliberately places women upon the same level of responsibility as men." Under their pagan system, there was respect neither for womanhood nor the sacred ties of marriage. Men who frequented high places and shrines and submitted to the enticements of their immoral pleasures should not have been surprised that their own wives and daughters also engaged in immorality. This passage "assumes that God will judge men upon the same basis as women; there is no double sexual ethic."
"I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with the prostitutes; and the people that doth not understand shall be overthrown."
"I will not punish your daughters ... nor your brides ..." This does not mean that God would allow such conduct, justifying it upon the basis of their husbands and fathers also being sinners; but it has the effect of saying, "I will not punish them apart from you, but I will overthrow all of you in total destruction." This clause should therefore be read in conjunction with the last, "The people that doth not understand shall be overthrown."
"With harlots ... with prostitutes ..." The two classes here are to distinguish between ordinary women who were immoral and the "cult prostitutes" who were the devotees and attendants of the pagan shrines, such female panderers to human lust being designated "holy ones" in the perverted pagan culture. Both male and female prostitutes were employed at the pagan shrines and high places; and these were called "[~qadesh]," usually translated "sodomites," and "[~qedeshah]," translated "prostitutes" in this passage. These words actually mean "holy ones," after the ancient meaning of the term holy, dedicated to a god. In the same sense, Christians are called "holy"; "But of course, moral and ethical values enter when one is dedicated to the true God."
"Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, As Jehovah liveth."
The injection of the name of Judah into this passage was at one time made the basis of allegations that the verse is an interpolation; but as Unger declared, "More recent criticisms tend to deny this ... Actually, there is no compelling reason for denying to Hosea any of the prophecy." The holy writers of the New Testament affirmed the utmost confidence in all that Hosea wrote. See Matthew 2:15; 9:13; 12:7; Luke 23:20; Romans 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15:55; and 1 Peter 2:10, all of which have references to Hosea as the Word of God.
Gilgal and Bethaven were locations of the more prominent pagan shrines; and it was understandable that Hosea forbade Judah to have anything to do with them, but it is a little surprising, at first glance, that the prohibition against swearing by Jehovah should have been included; but this is actually the prophet's warning that swearing, As Jehovah liveth, could not justify the shameless "worship" that was indulged at such places. This swearing by Jehovah was a device for lulling the conscience to sleep, and Hosea uttered the Word of God against it. As Keil put it,
"Going to Gilgal to worship idols and swearing by Jehovah cannot go together. The confession of Jehovah in the mouth of an idolater is hypocrisy, pretended piety, which is more dangerous than open ungodliness, because it lulls the conscience to sleep."
The "Bethaven" of this place is actually a derogatory name for Bethel, both Hosea and Amos using it (Amos 5:5), substituting Beth-aven (place of vanity) for Beth-el (place of God). We reject the pedantic objection of Mauchline that, "this reference to Judah is quite undeveloped." It has all of the development that it needs, having the full meaning that Judah should not walk in the rebellious ways of Israel.
"Gilgal ..." As for the location of this place, it is somewhat uncertain due to the fact of their having been two places with that name, the one on the border between Manasseh and Ephraim, between Shechem and Joppa, and the other near the Jordan river where Israel had camped when they crossed the Jordan to enter Canaan. Hailey is very likely correct in identifying it as the latter. But it is not the exact location of Gilgal which is important; it was the shameless idolatrous worship which was practiced there; and the prohibition was against Judah (or any of God's people) having anything to do with it.
"For Israel hath behaved himself stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer: now will Jehovah feed them as a lamb in a large place."
Instead of behaving as a lamb and following patiently in God's flock, Israel was like a stubborn heifer that refused to submit to the yoke. As a result of such rebellious conduct, God will feed Israel, not any more as a patient lamb in the flock, but as a stray lamb in the vast wildness of the wilderness, such being the most likely meaning of the "large place" mentioned here. Of course, such a lamb would almost immediately fall prey to wild beasts and destructions of every kind. Nothing is any more helpless and doomed to death than a lamb in such a "large place," It does not have the gift of swiftness in flight from danger. It cannot find its way back to where it belongs. A pigeon could do that, or even a dog, but a sheep, never. Its very cries are the signal for its enemies to close in for the kill. This verse is God's promise to abandon the Northern Kingdom to its enemies.
The Revised Standard Version makes the last clause of this verse interrogative, with the meaning implied that the "large place" is desirable, having the sense, "Can the Lord now feed them in a large place, since they have rebelled?" Of course the negative is implied anyway; and, for this reason, it is better to accept the ASV, as in the text we are using.
"For Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone."
Ephraim, of course, was a part of the Northern Kingdom, his name in fact standing as an alternate designation of it. Thus the address here is still to Judah, mentioned in Hosea 4:15. Jamieson's comment on this is:
"Leave him to himself. Let him reap the fruits of his own perverse choice. He is bent on his own ruin; leave him to his fate, lest instead of saving him thou shalt fall thyself."
"Ephraim ..." This is the first of 37 usages of this expression for Israel in the Book of Hosea. Polkinghorne discerned the significance of this as a "denial to Israel of that title, so long as they refused to accept the authority of David's dynasty." Of course, Israel was indeed a sacred name, and this view could be correct.
"Their drink has become sour; they play the harlot continually; her rulers love shame."
"Her rulers love shame ..." The word here rendered "rulers" actually means "shields," but this is a figurative designation of the princes who ruled the people, as in Psalms 47:10. It is said that they love shame in the sense that they loved the sins and indulgences which brought shame both to themselves and to the people.
"The wind hath wrapped her up in its wings; and they shall be put to shame because of their sacrifices."
"The wind ..." "The wind here is the strong storm-wind of Divine wrath that will seize on Ephraim and carry her away."
"They shall be put to shame ..." These verses are the pronouncement of God's judgment of Israel and the impending punishment that would destroy the northern Israel and remove it from the stage of history permanently. The use of the past tense is prophetic and shows that the judgment was as certain as if it had already occurred.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26