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The Lord longed to heal Israel, but when He thought about doing so new evidences of her sins presented themselves. The prophets He sent to them were mainly ineffective in stemming the tide of rebellion. Most people’s reaction to their messages was rejection and further heart hardening. The people lied to one another and stole from each other. These two crimes are a synecdoche for civil and social injustices in general.
Internal corruption 7:1-7
This section focuses on Israel’s domestic sins.
The Israelites apparently hoped that the Lord would not hold some of their sins against them, but He remembered all their wickedness. Their evil deeds surrounded them like a wall, so they were constantly before His eyes. They reminded Him of their sins whenever He looked in their direction.
Their political leaders rejoiced in the wickedness of the people because that made it easier for them to get away with sinning. These leaders, of course, should have opposed all forms of ungodliness since they were Yahweh’s representatives on earth.
The Israelites as a whole were all adulterers, both physically and spiritually. Their passion for wickedness was like the fire in a baker’s oven: very hot and constantly burning.
"The oven was so hot that a baker could cease tending the fire during an entire night-while the dough he had mixed was rising-and then, with a fresh tending of the fire in the morning, have sufficient heat for baking at that time." [Note: Wood, "Hosea," pp. 196-97. See Stuart, p. 119, for a fuller description of the bread-baking process.]
Hosea 7:5-7 describe the assassination of one or more of Israel’s kings, an example of the passion for wickedness just illustrated. The political leaders became drunk on a particular festive occasion that honored the king. The king himself joined in scoffing at what was holy.
The princes eagerly plotted to overthrow the king. Their anger with him smoldered for a long time and was not obvious to him, like a fire hidden in an oven (Hosea 7:4), but at the proper time it flared up and consumed him and his supporters. Hosea saw this happen four times. Shallum assassinated Zechariah, Menahem assassinated Shallum, Pekah assassinated Pekahiah, and Hoshea assassinated Pekah (2 Kings 15:10; 2 Kings 15:14; 2 Kings 15:25; 2 Kings 15:30).
All of Israel’s past kings had fallen. All the Israelite kings who followed Jeroboam II suffered assassination except Menahem and Hoshea (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-6). The Israelites murdered their leaders leaving themselves like a ship without a rudder. A continuing dynasty, as existed in Judah, never succeeded in the North. The reason was that none of the Israelites sought the Lord. Since this prophecy is undated we do not know when Hosea gave it, but it must have been during the tumultuous times when Israel’s final kings reigned (ca. 752-722 B.C.).
"So blinded had the people become that they did not realize that even though their kings had been of their own making, in destroying them they were destroying God’s order (Romans 13:1)." [Note: Ellison, p. 124.]
"Like every revolutionary state that has no faith in anything beyond itself, Israel was burning up in its own anger." [Note: Mays, pp. 106-7.]
Ephraim had mixed itself with the pagan nations like unleavened dough mixed with leaven. She had done this by making alliances with neighbor nations as well as by importing heathen customs and pagan gods into Israel.
"Hoshea’s lurching foreign policy is illustrative. In 732 B.C., Hoshea, after killing Pekah, suddenly shifted from alliance with Egypt, Philistia, and Aram-Damascus to alliance with Assyria. A few years later he broke that alliance, and coming virtually full circle, again sought alliance with Egypt. These confused policies are caricatured in the figurative sense of ’mixed up.’" [Note: Stuart, p. 121.]
Ephraim had become like all the other nations rather than distinctive, as Yahweh intended (Exodus 19:6). To use another figure, Ephraim was similar to a pancake that the cook had not turned over, all burnt and black on one side and soggy and runny on the other. In other words, she was only half-baked, worthless, not what God intended or what could nourish others. She was crusty toward Yahweh but soft toward other nations.
Reliance on foreigners 7:8-16
This pericope condemns Israel’s foreign policy.
Foreign alliances had sapped Ephraim’s strength rather than adding to it, but the Israelites were ignorant of this. They thought they were as strong as ever. Tribute payments to allies constantly drained the nation’s wealth and weakened its economy (cf. 2 Kings 15:19-20; 2 Kings 17:3). Israel was unaware of its real condition, as when a person’s hair becomes gray but he does not notice it. Others can sense the approach of death, but he does not. Israel was dying in the late 730s and early 720s, but its own people did not know it.
Despite Israel’s weakness, the nation was too proud to return to Yahweh and seek His help. Israel seems to have been living in the past glory days rather than in the present. The years following the reign of King Jeroboam II saw the weakening of Israel that this whole section of the book pictures.
Ephraim was behaving like a dove, a bird known for its silliness and naiveté (cf. Matthew 10:16). Expediency and human wisdom marked by vacillation had guided Israel’s foreign policy for years rather than the will of God. This was "bird-brained" diplomacy. Emissaries had fluttered off to Egypt (2 Kings 17:3-4) and Assyria (2 Kings 15:29) seeking aid without realizing the danger that these nations posed (cf. Hosea 11:11). Finally, because Israel turned from Assyria to Egypt for help against Assyria, Assyria snared and destroyed the Northern Kingdom.
Yahweh promised to bring Israel under His control and to subdue it, as when a hunter throws a net over birds. He would chasten His people in harmony with what He had earlier proclaimed to them when He gave them the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Leviticus 26:28).
"Vv 8-12 would appear to refer to Hoshea’s desperate, inconsistent attempts at foreign alliances. He came to power submitting to Assyrian hegemony, paying tribute, and thus preserving the central-southern portions of the nation not yet controlled by Assyria. Within a few years (i.e., sometime in the mid-720s) he stopped tribute payments to Assyria and appealed for support to a temporarily resurgent Egypt (1 [sic 2] Kgs 2 Kings 17:2-4). This was the ’mixed up’ foreign policy ’among the nations’ (Hosea 7:8) of a dying people (Hosea 7:9)." [Note: Ibid., p. 117.]
The Lord pronounced doom on the Israelites because He would judge them for straying from Him like sheep from their Shepherd. Destruction would be their punishment because they rebelled against Him. His desire was to redeem them from destruction, but they only spoke lies about His desire and ability to redeem them. That is why they made foreign treaties: to defend themselves since they thought Yahweh would or could not.
"The God of the Exodus is unchanged in His will, but because of Israel’s lies there will be no ’exodus’ from the Assyrian danger." [Note: Mays, p. 111.]
When the people cried out, it was not in prayer to God but out of self-pity over their miserable condition. These tears did not impress Him. They assembled (or gashed themselves, maybe both) to obtain food and drink from their idols. Crying out, wailing, and slashing oneself were all aspects of the self-destructive Canaanite worship style that the Israelites adopted (cf. 1 Kings 18:28). They turned away from Yahweh, the only one who could provide their needs, like stubborn children.
It was Yahweh who had taught His people how to be strong. He had also made them strong militarily (cf. Ezekiel 30:24-25), for example, during Jeroboam II’s reign (cf. 2 Kings 14:25-28). Yet they had used what He had given them to sin against Him (cf. Genesis 50:20). They treated Him as their enemy. This was further evidence of their ingratitude.
They had looked around to other nations for help, but they had not turned their hearts and eyes to heaven to seek the Lord’s help. They had become like a warped bow in Yahweh’s hands. Rather than shooting His enemies, they shot their own leaders and slew them (e.g., Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah). In the days of Jeroboam II the Israelites had also boasted insolently to the Egyptians about not needing Yahweh. But the Egyptians, their treaty partner on several occasions, would deride them for their weakness.
"As we review these images, we might take inventory of our own devotion to the Lord. How lasting is it? How deep is it? How strong is it? How serious is it? How dependable is it?" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 324.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hosea 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany