free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Any paragraph division of this chapter is quite arbitrary, for all of it deals with the iniquity and rebellion of the northern Israel, referred to as Ephraim. All of the commentators complain of the deterioration of the condition of the text which leaves some of the renditions very questionable. Some of the critics engaged in extensive "emendations" leading to variations of the alleged meaning. There is no claim of competence here that could justify our choosing among multiple proposed translations; and therefore, we shall interpret the chapter as it stands in our version (American Standard Version).
"When I would heal Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria; for they commit falsehood, and the thief entereth in, and the troop of robbers ravageth without."
In this verse, as extensively in Hosea, both Ephraim and Samaria are used as alternate names of the northern Israel, Ephraim being the largest and dominant tribe, and Samaria being the capital city, the residence of their kings, and location of the principal commercial enterprises of the country.
The situation described in this chapter is one of practical anarchy. The people were no longer safe either in their homes or in the streets. Even the priests who serviced the pagan temples were robbers and thieves (Hosea 4:8; 6:9). Significantly, God was still willing to heal his people had their own behavior justified it.
"And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now have their own doings beset them about; they are before my face."
The people approach God, if at all, as though he were some pagan deity, totally indifferent to the quality of their lives, and with no recollection whatever of the glorious revelation in Israel's history which entitled them to a status as "God's own people." The sacred covenant they have long ago forgotten; and even their religion had degenerated until it had become licentious paganism. As Mays wrote:
They do not remember the history of Yahweh's revelation ... Now their deeds surround them like the wall of a prison. When they worship ... he is ready to heal and restore; but when he looks upon them he must see the reality before him - the evil, the iniquity, and the sin.
"They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies."
The king and the princes, who should have been the leaders of the nation were, instead, wholehearted participants in the evil ways of the people. Corruption had reached the highest level of their society, and the total and complete ruin of the nation had occurred. This is certainly th meaning of the passage, despite the several ways that the scholars render this verse. As Mauchline suggested:
"The text here is very uncertain, and every scholar has his own way of emending it; but it is remarkable that when we analyze the proposed emendations, the differences among them are slight, so that there is substantial agreement as to the general meaning of the verse."
"They are all adulterers; they are as an oven heated by the baker; he ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough, until it be leavened."
This message of the heated oven is to be understood in the sense of a banked fire, ready to flare up at any time. The ovens of Hosea's times were bell-shaped adobe furnaces in which fires were built; when they were ready to be used, the fire was taken out and the hot interior was used for baking. A fire left in the oven for a long period, such as over-night, or while the bread was rising, when stirred, would flame up suddenly. The comparison seems to be that the evil passions of the people were like such fires, ready to flame up on the slightest opportunity. McKeating expressed it thus: "When left alone, the fire may look black and dead, but fierce heat is below the surface. It can be stirred into life at a moment's notice."
Some stress the baker's part in this metaphor who knows how to control the fire until the appropriate time to use it, with the meaning that Israel's leaders skillfully used their evil passions by plotting intrigues and other evil deeds, controlling them until exactly the right time for the indulgence of their wickedness. Those following this line usually see reference in this passage to the repeated revolutions of that period during which several kings were overthrown. We prefer the former view.
"On the day of our king the princes made themselves sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with scoffers."
Again, the text here is uncertain; but the broad meaning is clear enough. On some festival day, perhaps the king's birthday, or some other notable occasion, even the princes of the realm drank themselves into a state of insensibility; and the king himself "stretched out his hand with scoffers." Here are a few of the ways in which translators have rendered this clause:
He joins in the orgies of arrogant men...New English Bible
He stretched forth his hand with loose fellows...
The hand is stretched out by the host to offer the cup to his fellows. Revelers holding out the cup and drinking to one another's health.
All of these meanings would appear to be included in the passage.
"For they have made ready their heart like an oven, while they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all night; in the morning, it burneth as a flaming fire."
The fires of their evil passions never went out. When not actually engaged in the commission of some crime, they were still like a smoldering oven, ready to flame into action at the slightest provocation. A number of modern commentators find a direct reference here to a specific intrigue leading to the overthrow of one of the various murdered kings of that period; but this does not appear certain. See under Hosea 7:7, below.
"They are all hot as an oven, and devour their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me."
This is the third usage of the oven metaphor, as follows: (1) They are like the banked fire ready to flare up at the slightest chance, Hosea 7:4. (2) They were an oven fire, waiting while preparations are being completed, using the occasion to plan new evil, Hosea 7:6. (3) They "are hot as an oven"; their evil passions are a vicious, burning lust. Commenting on this multiple use of such a figure of speech, McKeating wrote:
"Hosea's exploitation of metaphor is masterful, though the Hebrew technique of using the same metaphor, in the same context, to make different and sometimes unrelated points is unfamiliar to us, and to our minds often confuses more than it clarifies. But like most literary conventions it makes sense once one realizes what the writer is doing."
"They ... devour their judges ... all their kings are fallen ..." This is Hebrew parallelism, both expressions referring to the rapid failures of the central government during this anarchic period of Israel's history. Concerning that era: Pusey, as quoted by Butler, has this:
"The kingdom of Israel, having been set up in sin, was throughout its whole course, unstable and unsettled. Jeroboam I's house ended in his son Baasha. Baasha killed Jeroboam's son Nadab, and Baasha's house ended in his son Elah; Omri's ended in his son, God having delayed the punishment of Ahab's sins for one generation, on account of his partial repentance: then followed Jehu's in whose house God, for his obedience in some things, continued the kingdom for four generations. With these two exceptions, in the houses of Omri and Jehu, the kings of Israel either left no sons, or left them to be slain. Nadab, Elah, Zimri, Tibni, Jehoram, Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah were put to death by those who succeeded them. Of all the kings of Israel, Jeroboam, Baasha, Omri, Menahem alone, in addition to Jehu and the three next of his house, died natural deaths. Therefore, God's Word said of Israel, "all their kings have fallen." The captivity was the tenth change after they had deserted the house of David. And yet such was the stupidity and obstinacy both of kings and people, that, amid all these chastisements, none, either people or king, turned to God and prayed him to deliver them. Not even distress, amid which almost all betake themselves to God, awakened any sense of religion in them. "There is none among them that calleth unto me!"
When Israel rebelled against God and demanded a king like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:7), it was the beginning of the end for Israel. In the bloody affairs of the northern Israel during the days of Hosea, the final dissolution of Ephraim was at hand; but it took several centuries more for the end to come for the southern Israel, Judah. They indeed continued until the times of the Messiah, but it was their inordinate desire for an earthly king that continued to blind their eyes, resulting in their rejection of their true Lord and Messiah and the judicial hardening of the apostate nation. (Romans 11:25).
"Ephraim, he mixeth himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned."
The breaking of the ancient covenant is stressed here. God had specifically commanded that Israel was not to intermingle with the pagan nations they were displacing.
"He mixes himself among the peoples ..." The very purpose of the chosen people involved their segregation from the pagan populations of the earth; it was by this device that God sought to preserve the truth of monotheism among the sons of earth. As Given said:
"The best comment on this verse is Psalms 106:35,36,39 ... They were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols which were a snare unto them ... Thus, they were defiled with their own works, and went a-whoring with their own inventions."
"Ephraim is a cake not turned ..." As a metaphor of flawed personality, this homely saying has entered all languages. "Half-baked" is a designation that carries blunt and unflattering accusation against any person who is made the object of it. Hailey stated that Ephraim was:
"Burned on one side, raw on the other, fit for nothing. They were cooked by heathenism, but uncooked, raw, in their relations to God.
"Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not."
The tragedy in view here is that Ephraim (or Israel) had permitted the paganism of the old Canaanites with whom they had intermingled to rob them of their relationship to the true God, a pathetic situation compounded and multiplied by the fact that Ephraim was absolutely unaware of what had happened to him.
"Gray hairs ... and he knoweth it not ..." Gray hairs are employed here as a symbol of advanced age, and the senility and weakness that precede death; but even such evident signs as these had been ignored, and he still proceeded as if his strength was unabated.
The twin metaphors of the half-baked cake and the gray hairs were employed for the sake of stressing the vacillation of God's people and the impending approach of their death as a nation.
"And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: yet they have not returned unto Jehovah their God, nor sought him, for all this."
"The pride of Israel ..." has two possible meanings, God Himself being referred to as "the pride of Israel"; but this is apparently not the meaning here, which we understand to be "The arrogance or false pride of Israel" testifies against them before God. In harmony with this understanding of it, the New English Bible translates this line, "So, Israel's arrogance cries out against them."
God had yielded to their foolish demands for a king; and their total history had demonstrated what a sorry lot were their kings; and when Hosea wrote, the country was sinking into anarchy; corruption had entrenched itself throughout the whole nation and was seated upon the throne itself; but nobody even thought of returning to the Lord! There was really nothing else for God to do except remove them from the face of the earth, a thing that took place shortly after this prophecy was written.
"And Ephraim is like a silly dove, without understanding: they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria."
Neither Egypt nor Assyria had any interest whatever in Israel, except in the sense of being ready to invade and plunder it at any time the opportunity presented itself; but such was the perverse blindness and stupidity of God's people that, in their extremity, they did not return to the Lord, but sought help from their very worst enemies. They must have been the laughing-stock of the whole ancient world. "Silly dove" is indeed an apt metaphor for such naive and irresponsible conduct on the part of a nation that fancied that it knew how to govern itself. "The dove is the proverbial creature of innocence and thoughtlessness. It can be easily snared into a trap by food .... or it can lose itself, blissfully ignorant of the danger that surrounds it." The mention of both Egypt and Assyria suggests that there were probably pro-Egypt and pro-Assyria parties in Samaria; and as conditions changed, first one and then the other had the ear of the gullible and indecisive king. "This panicky dependence on foreign powers was also condemned by other prophets of the time (See Isaiah 30:1-7)."
"When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the birds of the heavens; I will chastise them as their congregation hath heard."
McKeating made the startling comment on this that, "So Israel, in her foreign diplomacy, flaps around, not knowing that God is waiting with his shotgun!" This is surely the meaning of the passage. This is another verse in which the scholars have great difficulty agreeing on a translation, due to difficulties in the Masoretic text. We are not certain just what kind of "net" is meant here, or how it could "bring down" like the birds of the heavens; but the general meaning is undeniable. Israel's methods of self-preservation would prove worse than useless, and God would punish them as he had promised and as they richly deserved.
"Woe unto them! for they have wandered from me; destruction unto them! for they have trespassed against me: though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against me."
Smith pointed out that in the Hebrew:
"The construction of the phrase is impressive ... "And I, I would have redeemed them, but they, they spoke lies against me." The contrast between the Lord's intention and Israel's action is deliberately pointed."
There is infinite pathos in the heart-cry of the Father over his wicked people. The descendents of the patriarchs had reverted to paganism, denied the god of their fathers, and greedily walked in the drunken and licentious ways that led to God's removing the Canaanites and replacing them with Israel. Historically, there was never any greater tragedy, except the same people's rejection of the Son of God as their Messiah.
"And they have not cried unto me with their heart, but they howl upon their beds: they assemble themselves for grain and new wine; they rebel against me."
The New English Bible version of this verse should be noted: "For all their howling on their pallets and gashing of themselves over corn and new wine, they are turning away from me." This is another difficult passage, as regards the MT, and the New English Bible is perhaps as good a guess as any as to what the place actually says. The picture is a scene from the pagan worship of Baal at a place like Bethel, where the beds beside the altars were the site of the orgiastic type of worship they practiced. The gashing of themselves as they cried to Baal was a bona fide practice of paganism. There is an excellent Biblical picture of this sadistic behavior in 1 Kings 18:25-30, where the prophets of Baal cut themselves with knives and wailed before their idol-god. How deplorable it was that after so short a time, God's people had taken up the same heathenism. In so doing they had turned away from the true God who cannot be worshipped by such pagan rites.
"Though I have taught and strengthened their arms, yet do they devise mischief against me."
It was a part of the divine plan for God to make Israel strong that they might be able to exist despite the hatred of their enemies; and this verse is a reference to the countless occasions when God had intervened upon their behalf. For example, when the army of Pharaoh was overwhelmed in the Red Sea, it occasioned the arming of Israel with the very weapons that the Egyptians had sought to employ against them. There were many other similar things which God did, and this verse is a pathetic remembrance of all of them.
"They return, but not to him that is on high; they are like a deceitful bow; their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue; this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt."
The people returned all right, but not to God. They returned to the immoral orgies of Bethel, to the drunkenness, immorality, and vice which were the stock in trade of paganism.
"They are like a deceitful bow ..." Some scholars have understood this to be "a slack bow, one that looks good but has no spring, packs no power to propel the arrow." However, Harper thought that:
The comparison is not to a bow which has lost its elasticity (See Psalms 120:2f; 78:37), nor one that cannot be used because it is relaxed, nor one whose string breaks without shooting the arrow, nor one which strikes and wounds the bowman, but rather to a bow which is expected to shoot in one direction but actually shoots in another, thus failing to accomplish its end."
Harper is probably correct, such a view emphasizing the truth that Israel had failed to achieve the purpose for which God had called them and established them in the land of Canaan. Their purpose was to preserve for the benighted citizens of Adam's race the knowledge of the one true God, as distinguished from the gross idolatry into which the entire pre-Christian Gentile world had fallen. Instead of doing so, they promptly joined in the near-universal paganism and themselves forgot the true God. Their purpose included the segregation of the chosen people for the objective of ushering the Messiah into the world, when, in the fulfillment of God's plans, the Saviour would be born in Bethlehem; but instead, Ephraim had so mixed himself with the pagan peoples of his day that the fulfillment of God's purpose became impossible. Israel (the northern country) was useless for the achievement of such holy purposes, and therefore God removed them. The fulfillment of the high hopes and purposes of God would thenceforth rest in its entirety upon the southern kingdom of Judah, and Israel would be forsaken forever.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 7". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29