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Monday, July 15th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


The first three verses of this chapter record what, at first glance appears to be a bona fide appeal on the part of the people to God for their deliverance; but the sentiment of Hosea 6:4 ff makes it impossible thus to understand it. As a sincere return to God, the appeal falls short in that there is no evidence or promise of repentance, no rejection of their false worship; and, as Hindley expressed it:

“There is no understanding or acknowledgment of guilt; on the contrary, there are signs of self-interest, and echoes of Baalism. The Lord’s response is to reject their words and restate his own terms of reconciliation.”(F1)

It is not possible to say exactly whether these first three verses are Hosea’s prediction of what the people would say, an ironic reference to what they are actually saying, or just why they appear in this context; and, for that reason, some have been quick to protest that Hosea did not place them here, but that they appear as the result of some later editor’s placement of them. This of course, must be rejected, because the words clearly belong exactly where they are. Even the figure of the lion tearing his prey is continued from Hosea 5:14; and the balance of the chapter (Hosea 6:4-11) has the specific function of being a rejection of the first three verses as being in any sense an adequate response from Israel sufficient to avert their punishment.

Verses 1-3

“Come, and let us return unto Jehovah; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he receive us: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him. And let us know, let us follow on to know Jehovah: his going forth is sure as the morning; and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth.”

The best explanation we have encountered regarding these three verses is that of Ward:

“The repentance here is not something that comes on this side of national disaster; it is on the other side of it. So, the repentance that finally comes to the survivors of the nation’s death is not one that will serve to heal the nation as a whole and let it live. It is one that will effect an entirely new life with Yahweh, on different terms.”(F2)

The advantage of this interpretation of the place is that it sees the passage as a prophecy of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s will long after the old Israel has fallen short and has been rejected. The veiled prophecy of the resurrection of Christ in Hosea 6:2 fits such a view perfectly, thus making this brief passage exactly the same kind of proleptic vision that is found repeatedly in the prophecy of Revelation. The omission of Israel’s acknowledgment of guilt and claim of repentance would in this understanding of the place be due to abbreviation, included, but not stated.

“On the third day he will raise us up” This expression in Hosea 6:2 is generally viewed as the expectation of the people who supposed that their quick and easy repentance would result in their complete and immediate restoration; and this is in complete harmony with the passage as usually interpreted. However, our understanding of it as a prolepsis pointing to the “new life” that would yet rise out of the old Israel (a “new life” that could not ever come to pass except in Jesus Christ our Lord) surely allows the view that a veiled reference to Jesus’ resurrection is in this. Even Calvin, and other scholars taking a different view of the passage, and applying it to apostate Israel’s easy view of their return to God, stated that:

“I do not deny but that God has exhibited here a remarkable and memorable instance of what is here said in his only begotten Son.”(F3)

E. B. Pusey was of the firm opinion that the reference to the resurrection of Christ is primary and not secondary at all:

“What else can this be than the two days in which the body Of Jesus lay in the tomb, and the third day on which he rose again?”(F4)

We accept wholeheartedly the comment of Butler: “In the light of Hosea 11:1 (Matthew 2:15, and other such passages), we take the position that this phrase is a prophecy of Messiah’s resurrection.”(F5)

In accepting this view of the passage, we are not intimated by the bold declaration that: “Any direct allusion to the resurrection of Christ is proved to be untenable by the simple words and their context.”(F6) Many scholars, notably Hailey, accept such a statement as conclusive; but one might have said exactly the same thing about Caiaphas’ remark, “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people” (John 11:50), the remark, in context, having no reference whatever to Jesus’ vicarious death for the salvation of the people; but, as the apostle John was quick to point out:

“Now this he said, not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; and not the nation only, but that he might gather together into one of the children of God that are scattered abroad (John 11:51-52).”

It is thus clear that the fact of the context having no reference at all to the resurrection of Christ is incapable of refuting the interpretation of this passage which has persisted from the most ancient times. Furthermore, even if these three verses are but the statement of the people’s superficial show of a shallow and insufficient repentance, neither would that nullify the conviction that here is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Christ.

“As the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth” Most of the scholars see in this a demotion of the true God, in the attitude of Israel, to a status on a parity with the idol-gods of Canaan.

“Israel’s God is brought within the frame of reference of the deities of Canaan, whose activity was a function of weather and season. Rain is the peculiar provenance of Baal in Canaanite theology.”(F7)

We are in perfect agreement, that, if these three verses are a summary of what the people in Hosea’s time were saying, or even thinking, they are woefully lacking as any true manifestation of genuine repentance; but this would not apply in the event of the passage being a prolepsis having reference to the “new life” that would arise from the stock of old Israel (in the person of Christ) at a much later time historically. Our only real objection to the view of this place as the people’s expression of a superficial and inadequate repentance is that it clouds what we believe to be the true view of verse 2 as a reference to the resurrection of Christ. And yet, even, such an ascription of the passage to the people of Hosea’s day is not at all incompatible with what would be, in that case, an unconscious reference to the Lord’s resurrection (as in the case of Caiaphas mentioned above). Either interpretation is tenable.

Verse 4

“O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the dew that goeth early away.”

An important witness to the unity of Hosea is evident in the comparisons (morning cloud… dew), “for they correspond to those in Hosea 6:3(F8) (morning… latter rain). Any genuine goodness on the part either of Ephraim or of Judah is but a vanishing trace, disappearing like the dew, or the morning cloud.

“What shall I do unto thee…? This verse confirms what was said of the shallowness, inadequacy, and insincerity of the people’s response (Hosea 6:1-3). “It implies the will of God to do something about the impossible religious situation into which the nation has maneuvered herself.”(F9)

There also appears in the plaintive words, “What shall I do unto thee?” a measure of frustration, even upon the part of God Himself in his long and fruitless efforts to produce any lasting goodness in the “chosen people.” Isaiah also mentioned this same amazing truth:

“Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more (Hosea 1:5). What more could have been done in my vineyard that I have not done in it? (Hosea 4:4).

John Mauchline pointed out that the meaning of the double question directed to Ephraim and to Judah in this verse carries this message:

“The Lord had done everything possible in the way of training his people; now there was nothing more which he could do. What was the use of continuing to make endeavors to redeem a people whose love was a transient thing, like morning dew…?”(F10)

All of the sacred writers have recognized that God’s efforts to save are ultimately discontinued in the face of persistent and willful disobedience. The first chapter of Romans relates how God hardened and rejected the entire pre-Christian Gentile world. “God gave them up” is the ominous refrain repeated three times in that chapter (Hos. 6:24,26,28). There comes a time in the affairs of God and men that there is not any more that even God can do. Such is the awesome corollary of that freedom of the will with which God has endowed his human children.

Note the mention of both Ephraim and Judah in this verse. Despite the rebellious division of God’s people under Jeroboam I, the prophets, in their messages to either Judah or Ephraim never leave the whole people of Israel very far out of sight. It is not kingdoms, per se, that God addresses, but the whole covenant people. It is blindness to this fundamental truth that results in foolish and unprovable opinions to the effect that certain passages mentioning Judah are interpolations.

Verse 5

“Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.”

The tense of the verbs “hewed” and “slain” which appear in English as the past perfects could be considered prophetic, according to the Hebrew idiom of prophecy in which a future event, revealed as coming to pass, was referred to in the past perfect tense, being considered as certain to occur as if it had already happened. John Mauchline and others so construe the verb tenses in this verse;(F11) this would translate into English thus:

Therefore, I will hew them by the prophets, I will slay them by the words of my mouth,
And my judgments will go forth as the light.

Both meanings are inherent in the verse itself. Of course, God had already “hewn” and “slain” with reference to his chosen people, and the prophets and their messages were the instruments through which this was done. If the reference is only to what is past, then it still stands as an example of what God will continue to do to his rebellious children; and if the passage is prophetic and pertains to the future, then the certainty of its fulfillment is attested by the examples provided by God’s past actions. Inasmuch as Israel and Judah at this time were both yet standing, and in the light of the approaching doom and captivity for both, it is perhaps better to take the verbs here as prophetic past tense, pertaining to the future.

“By the words of my mouth” Note the power attributed here to the Word of God. As Myers said, “The Word of God had within it the power to carry out the intention of the Creator.”(F12) “The oracles not only inform, but inaugurate and execute the judgment of which they tell.”(F13)

Verse 6

“For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.”

It is truly amazing how many scholars interpret this verse to mean that, “God repudiates the externalism in religion”;(F14) or that it is a, “declaration rejecting sacrifice.”(F15) Such views would mean, of course, that God was rejecting what he himself had commanded in the law of Moses, and even much earlier, going back to the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel. Certainly, this view has to be incorrect. God was not here repudiating the covenant he had made with Israel, which surely included sacrifice, nor was he changing that covenant. What he did in this verse is to condemn the people, not for offering sacrifices, but for omitting the true devotion, loyalty to God, and integrity of heart that were necessary accompaniments of sacrifice. We are thankful indeed that a number of very able scholars have discerned this essential truth:

“It was not that God rejected such methods of worship, but that sacrifices and offerings ought to have been the expression of truly dedicated lives, and not a substitute for them. Remember the observation of Jesus in Matthew 23:23.”(F16)

The inference on the part of critics to the effect that God had never commanded sacrifice, that it was merely the adoption by Israel of a device found in the pagan cults around them is totally wrong. Hindley discussed this briefly, thus:

“Some critics have seen in this and the five similar passages (Isaiah 1:11-15; Isaiah 43:22-24; Amos 5:21-25; and Micah 6:6-8) a conflict between the prophets and the sacrificial cultus; but nowhere do the prophets deny the validity of sacrifice offered in the right spirit. In each case, they denounce sins of immorality, idolatry, self-righteousness, which violate the covenant and invalidate the sacrifices.(F17)

Concerning the sacrifices commanded in the Law of Moses, Jesus himself said, “These ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone (justice, mercy, and faith)” (Matthew 23:23). In this admonition, Jesus referred primarily to tithing certain things; and, since the tithing of flocks and herds was also included, it is a valid view that Jesus designated the sacrifices of the Law of Moses as legitimate, things which “ye ought to have done.” Furthermore, the prophetic and inspired designation of Jesus Christ as “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” inevitably points to the sacrificial system from which such a designation is derived, with the mandatory conclusion that the system was as authentic as the Christ which it identified. Therefore, the false notion that animal sacrifices were never really part of God’s will is to be rejected. They were a valid part of the Mosaic system, a system clearly introduced by God Himself.

“I desire goodness, and not sacrifice” Departing from the ancient manuscripts, and following more recent variations, the Revised Standard Version renders this place, “It is stedfast love and not sacrifice”; and, while this does no violence to the meaning of the prophet, it is nevertheless incorrect. “I desire goodness, and not sacrifice” is, in sense, parallel to the words of Samuel: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,” etc. (1 Samuel 15:22). That, of course, is precisely the meaning of it here. Many of the current generation of scholars are dedicated to removing the concept of obedience from God’s Word; and this, no doubt, resulted in the choice of “I desire stedfast love, etc.”; but it is often overlooked that love invariably includes obedience also. See John 14:15.

Verse 7

“But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.”

The appearance of the word “there” in the second clause seems to demand that “Adam” of the first clause be viewed as a place-name; and accordingly the Revised Standard Version rendered it, “At Adam they transgressed the covenant.” Note the three different renditions:

(1) King James Version...”Like men”

(2) American Standard Version...”Like Adam”

(3) Revised Standard Version...”At Adam”

The meaning is very similar, no matter how the passage is read. In (1), the meaning is that Israel had broken God’s covenant, like all mankind in general. (2) In this, the meaning is that Israel had broken God’s covenant just like Adam and Eve had broken it in Eden. (3) If this rendition is followed, the meaning is that Israel’s breaking the covenant with God was like that which had occurred at a place called Adam (usually identified with Tell ed-Damijej, one of the fords on the Jordan river).(F18) This third rendition is very attractive to most scholars because it rounds out the list of place-names appearing in this summary of Israel’s treachery: Adam, Gilead, Shechem, and the house of Israel (Bethel).(F19) In none of the places here cited, is it possible to identify, except in the most general terms, the exact nature of Israel’s transgression. As Smith put it, “The interpreter may have to be content with the recognition that each was related to the transgressing of the covenant.”(F20) Of course, there are some specific things related in the context.

Verse 8

“Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity; it is stained with blood.”

It is not even certain which of two Old Testament Gileads is meant here. If Ramoth-Gilead is the one, it was one of the cities of refuge; and its murderous image would be especially tragic.

Verse 9

“And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way toward Shechem; yea, they have committed lewdness.”

“Shechem” This was another of the cities of refuge; and, although speculative, it may be supposed that the priests of these cities, which were charged with providing refuge to persons guilty of involuntary manslaughter, were intent on robbing and plundering those persons instead of receiving and protecting them. Any person making a forced and sudden change of residence to a city of refuge would quite naturally have brought any wealth that he might have owned on his person, making such victims attractive indeed to the rapacious priesthood.

“They have committed lewdness” This was the “business in hand” as far as the pagan priests of that era were concerned.

Verse 10

“In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing: there whoredom is found in Ephraim, Israel is defiled.”

“House of Israel” here does not seem to be used in the sense of the covenant people of God, but of their “house” of pagan worship at Bethel. So Smith and others have understood it. As the place of residence for the northern kings, and as the location of the principal pagan establishment in northern Israel, one of the golden calves being set up there (1 Kings 12:29), “Bethel may well be what is referred to here.”(F21)

“There is whoredom found in Ephraim” This is the code.word in many of the minor prophets for spiritual adultery, or departure from the true way of God on the part of Israel. The designation is quite appropriate, because the licentiousness of pagan worship was at once its principal attraction and its chief characteristic.

Verse 11

“Alas, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for thee, when I bring back the captivity of my people.”

“Alas, O Judah” Thus we have another reference to Judah; and the knee-jerk response of many commentators is the allegation that, “This is an evident gloss, suggested to the later writer by Judah’s sins which so resembled those here charged to Israel.”(F22) “A Judean editor applies the prophecy to his own time and situation.”(F23) “This is the contribution of a Judean editor who glosses the text.”(F24) Etc. etc. etc... In such a cacophony of scholarly prejudice against this verse, it is refreshing to find McKeating injecting a mild note of caution: “The final comment (Hosea 6:11) is often suspected of being a later addition to the text, but we cannot be certain that it is so. Hosea displays an interest in both halves of the nation, and is critical of both.”(F25) Indeed, indeed, how true this is! Not only is any certainty about some so-called editor being the source of Hosea 6:11, impossible to find, but the context of this entire prophecy demands that Hosea himself be considered the divine author of it. The words of God’s covenant with Israel (both northern Israel and Judah) abound throughout Hosea, one such word occurring in this very verse, i.e., “my people.” Keil noted concerning that word:

Ammi, my people, means the people of Jehovah; and it is not Israel alone of the ten tribes, but the whole covenant nation as a whole.(F26)

To get rid of the many references to Judah in Hosea, including the one here, one would have to delete every reference to the covenant in the whole prophecy, after which practically nothing would remain.

Again we call attention to the fraudulent inconsistency of appeals so often made to consider Sacred Scripture the contribution of some nameless, unknown, unidentifiable, fictional, imaginary EDITOR! We reaffirm a conviction we have long held that the mythical “editor” of Biblical criticism is the Piltdown Man of the critical fraternity. The injection of such an allegd person into the works of Biblical commentaries is not scientific, nor scholarly, nor dependable, nor trustworthy; it is pure imagination! It is a notable fact that nobody ever gives the race, the age, the date, or the identification of this “editor.” If any editor ever touched Hosea, why did he conceal his name? From thoughts of modesty? How ridiculous! Modesty is a virtue improperly associated with any “editor” who would inject his own words into the Sacred Scriptures and fraudulently pass them off as the authentic words of an inspired writer.

The passion for pseudonymity among Biblical scholars is a malignant and fatal disease; and as Robinson declared, “There is an appetite for it that grows by what it feeds upon”;(F27) and although he was speaking of pseudonymity as it is accepted among New Testament scholars, we are certain that it applies equally to Old Testament scholars. Asking, “What is the evidence to support it,” he wrote: “The answer is nil.”(F28) Therefore, until such a time as the alleged interpolators and editors so frequently mentioned can be pinpointed as to time and place, and identified; the only scientific and faithful thing to do is to reject the very suggestion of such things as unproved and unprovable. As for the notion that pseudonymity was an acceptable literary convention, either in the church of Jesus Christ, or among the ancient Jews, it is simply not true.(F29)

Regarding the alleged “interpolations” regarding Judah in Hosea, J.B. Hindley effectively refuted the popular ignorance regarding that, noting that:

“There are fourteen references to Judah in Hosea, ten of them unfavourable… no 8th century prophet restricted himself to one kingdom. Each prophet occasionally cast a wistful glance at the sister kingdom; and it would cause surprise if this were not so… Furthermore, the eschatological figure of the bride (Hosea 2) necessarily included Judah. It is unthinkable that God should preach such love only to part of his people.”(F30)

Thus, the conclusion is mandatory that the repeated references to Judah in this prophecy are valid writings of the prophet himself, there being absolutely no hard evidence of any kind to the contrary.

“Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for thee, when I bring back the captivity of my people” Regarding the meaning of this beautiful verse, Butler accurately and concisely stated it thus:

“Judah also will be judged and chastened by captivity… This verse has nothing at all to say about when God will bring back the captivity of his people. The when has to be determined from other passages, which announce the exile of both Israel and Judah, and the eventual restoration of those who are converted to Jehovah (and it includes “all nations”). Thus we must conclude that the complete “bringing back the captivity” of God’s covenant people finds its ultimate fulfillment in the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom (the church of Pentecost) when all nations will “come up to Jerusalem.” The captivities of both Israel and Judah was the START of God’s plan of restoration. This is what is meant in this verse.”(F31)

The real captivity of God’s people had nothing to do with their being carried off to Assyria and to Babylon, those episodes having been the result of their captivity to sin, the real captivity with which God was ever concerned. This is apparent from the noble words of Jesus Christ himself in Luke, “He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18), a prophecy which Jesus gloriously fulfilled, without ever getting anybody out of jail! The great captivity is that of captivity in the service of the devil.

“The turning of captivity” or “bringing back the captivity” of God’s people is a formula, for, “the restoration of the lost fortune, or the well-being of a whole people, or of a person.” An example of this usage is found in Job 42:10: “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job.” This was stated concerning, that patriarch, despite the fact of his never have been either in prison, or carried away captive to some other land. All such speculations as the restoration of Palestine to the Jews and various millennial theories have no connection whatever with this passage.


One frequently encounters comments in the study of the prophets which are based upon altogether inaccurate conceptions of the purpose of the prophets in their writings.

(1) They did not write to reveal new levels of ethics and morality to God’s people, but they wrote their stern warnings to call the people back to the morality and ethics which they had forsaken. No prophet of God ever went beyond the Law of Moses in any manner whatever. “The prophets never attempted to improve upon the principles of the Theocracy, or to inculcate a morality that transcends that of the Decalogue.”(F32)

(2) The notion that the Jewish people, through their prophets, carried forward a development-process, gradually arriving at a conviction of what is right or wrong in the relationships between man and man, or man and God is totally false. They never “discovered” any of the sacred truths and requirements of true religion; on the other hand, all was revealed to them by God Himself. In particular, this is true of monotheism, along with everything else. Monotheism was not discovered by the Jews through a long development struggle; their ancestor Abraham paid tithes to Melchezedek, “Priest of God Most High.”

(3) The teaching of the prophets is one with the teaching of the Pentateuch. In no instance did they go beyond the Decalogue in the tiniest particular. What they were doing in the re-statement of the great moral and ethical requirements of true religion was endeavoring to recall the people to the values which they had forsaken.

(4) The trouble with Israel throughout their history was apostasy from the truth; and the great burden of the prophets was “to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17, Malachi 4:6, etc.)

(5) The “development” theory regarding the prophetic writings is actually a perverted application of the Theory of Evolution to the rise of God’s true religion upon the earth; and it should be rejected out of hand. The Judaic-Christian faith is either revealed in its entirety, or it is merely a product of human patience, ingenuity, and discovery, and having no cosmic or eternal value whatever. What is said here of the prophets applies likewise to the holy apostles of Jesus. They did not go beyond what Jesus taught. Christ revealed the true will of God from heaven; and the apostles’ function was merely that of remembering it and passing it on to the world.

In our studies of the prophets,, it will be well to keep these things continually in mind.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hosea-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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