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A. Judgment for unfaithfulness 11:12-13:16
Hosea again established Israel’s guilt and predicted her punishment. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God receives special emphasis (cf. ch. 3).
2. Israel’s impending doom ch. 13
Again Hosea charged Israel with covenant unfaithfulness that called for destruction. Here he graphically portrayed the impending doom of the nation.
"In this passage Hosea brings to a close via climactic crescendo the predictions and warnings that comprise the bulk of the book." [Note: Stuart, p. 200.]
When members of the tribe of Ephraim spoke, the other Israelites trembled because they looked to Ephraim for leadership (cf. Judges 8:1-3; Judges 12:1-6). Jacob had prophesied that Ephraim would lead (Genesis 48:13-20), and the first king of the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam I, had come from the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26; 1 Kings 12:25). The Ephraimites exalted themselves in the North as well. Yet they were also the leaders in Baal worship. Therefore they were as good as dead since God would judge idolaters.
Israel’s sin against privilege 13:1-3
The Ephraimites, and the other Israelites, had continued to sin more and more by making molten images and carved idols of silver (cf. Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 34:17; Deuteronomy 5:8-9). They took great pains to make beautiful idols by employing skilled craftsmen for their construction. They also required that those who made sacrifices to them profess their devotion and homage by kissing the images. The NIV translation "they offer human sacrifice" is literally "sacrificers of men kiss calves." Human sacrifice is not in view here. There is no other indication that the Israelites practiced human sacrifice at Bethel or Dan. The idea is that those among the people (men) who sacrificed to idols kissed the images. How doubly ironical it was that they should worship things that they had created and that they should kiss images of animals!
Because they did this the Ephraimites would soon vanish from their land. They would disappear like fog or dew in the morning and like chaff from a threshing floor and smoke from a chimney that the wind blew away. Judgment would come swiftly and surely.
Yahweh had been Israel’s God since the Israelites had lived in Egypt. Israel first became a nation in Egypt. Before that the Israelites were just a large family (Genesis 46:3). He had commanded the Israelites not to acknowledge any gods beside Himself because He was the only God who could save them (cf. Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 32:17; Jeremiah 9:2; Jeremiah 31:34). For them to become idolaters would only be frustrating and futile. To abandon the only savior is to doom oneself to no salvation.
The perversity of Israel’s idolatry 13:4-8
The Lord also was the one who cared for the Israelites in the wilderness and who kept them alive in that barren wasteland. His provisions of manna and water are only two examples.
When they entered the Promised Land and began to enjoy rich pastures, they soon became self-satisfied, proud, and forgot their God. Prosperity is often a greater temptation to depart from conscious dependence on God than adversity is, and Israel fell into that trap.
In view of Israel’s behavior, the Lord promised to become as an enemy of His people, like a lion or leopard that laid in wait to attack a sheep grazing in rich pasture (Hosea 13:6). He would confront them as a mother bear crazed by the loss of her cubs (cf. 2 Samuel 17:8; Proverbs 17:12). He would tear them open like a bear and consume them like a lioness. The lion, leopard, and bear were all wild animals native to Canaan that were notorious for their relentless manner of killing prey.
By turning against the Lord who only desired to help them (cf. Hosea 13:4), the Israelites had done something that would result in their own destruction. How ironic it was that Israel’s helper would become her destroyer!
Israel’s misplaced confidence 13:9-11
The people had formerly asked their leaders to give them a king like all the other nations. They hoped that their king and his princes would provide deliverance for them. God had given them kings, first Saul (1 Samuel 8:4-9; 1 Samuel 12:12) and more recently the kings of Israel that were not of David’s line but were kings of the people’s own choosing (1 Kings 12:16-20). Yet all these kings had proved ineffective in saving the Israelites. Only Yahweh was their savior (Hosea 13:4).
God conceded to His people’s request for a king (Saul and or Jeroboam I), but it made Him angry because it expressed their reluctance to trust and obey Him. When these kings proved ineffective, since they did not trust in Yahweh, the Lord removed them, which also made Him angry. King Hoshea was the last of the Northern Kingdom kings. The Lord had removed the Ephraimite kings because they followed the pattern of Saul, and He would continue to do so until none were left. The sins and bad times that all these Northern Kingdom kings’ reigns brought on Israel were unnecessary and displeasing to the Lord who wanted His people to enjoy peace and prosperity.
God would not forget Israel’s sins. Its iniquities were rolled up (Heb. sarar) in a bundle like a scroll and stored up (Heb. sapan) like a treasure. They stood as hard evidence that condemned the nation.
Israel’s stubbornness and its consequences 13:12-14
Israel was like a baby that refused to come out of its mother’s womb in the sense that it refused to leave its comfortable sin. Despite the mother’s (God’s) strenuous efforts to bring the child into freedom, Israel refused to repent. This was evidence that Israel was a foolish child. She would die rather than leave her sins, apparently feeling that the proper time for repenting was not yet.
The Lord asked rhetorically if He would buy the Israelites back out of death’s hand. Would He pay a price for their redemption? No, compassion would be hidden from His sight; He would have no pity on them. He appealed for death (like a thorn bush) to torment the Israelites, as though thorns tore their flesh. He called on the grave (as a hornet) to sting them fatally.
Later in history God did provide a ransom for His people from the power of the grave, and He redeemed them from death. He did this when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again. God’s future redemptive work for His people meant that death would not be the end for Israel even though judgment in the near future was inevitable.
The Apostle Paul quoted the famous couplet in this verse in 1 Corinthians 15:55 and applied it to the effect of Christ’s redemption on all of God’s people. Death and the grave are not the final judgment and home of the believer because God did provide a ransom and redeemed His people. God has a glorious future beyond His punishment for sin for His own, both for national Israel and for Christians. Paul’s use of this passage does not support the view that the church fulfills God’s promises concerning Israel. Here in Hosea the promise is that Israel would indeed suffer death and the grave, not that she would escape it. Paul turned the passage around and showed that Jesus Christ’s resurrection overcame the judgment and death that are inevitable for sinners. [Note: See Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 366.]
With the removal of God’s compassion (Hosea 13:14), Israel’s prosperity would end. Hosea described that change as a hot eastern desert wind sweeping over Israel and drying up all its water sources. Israel had flourished among its neighbors, as a plant does when it grows in shallow water among reeds. Like a sirocco Assyria would sweep over Israel from the east and cause the nation of Israel to wither. The Assyrians would plunder everything valuable in the land.
Covenant unfaithfulness punished 13:15-16
This verse begins chapter 14 in the Hebrew Bible, but its connection is clearly with the preceding verse rather than with those that follow. Yahweh would hold Samaria, a metonymy for Israel, guilty for rebelling against Him, her covenant lord and God (cf. Hosea 7:13; Hosea 8:1). Israel’s soldiers would die in battle (cf. Leviticus 26:25), her children would suffer unmerciful executions (cf. Deuteronomy 28:52-57; Deuteronomy 32:25), and the Assyrians would even cut open her pregnant women with their swords (cf. 2 Kings 15:16; Amos 1:13). This gruesome form of execution killed both the mother and the unborn child making it impossible for the coming generation eventually to rise up and rebel against the conqueror. These were curses that the Lord warned would follow rebellion against the terms of His covenant (cf. Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21; Deuteronomy 32:24-25; Amos 4:10).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hosea 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13