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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 4

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-19


Jehovah pleads with Israel his Beloved but Unfaithful Spouse
Hosea 4-14


Hosea 4-11


Hosea 4-7

A. Against the People as a Whole on Account of their Idolatry and the Corruption of their Morals (Promoted by the Priests)

Hosea 4:1-19

1 Hear the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel!

For Jehovah has a difference with the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no fidelity and no goodness
And no knowledge of God in the land;

2 (Only) cursing and lying,

And murdering and stealing and adultery;
They break in, and murder follows upon murder.

3 Therefore will the land mourn,

And all who dwell therein shall languish,
With the beast1 of the field and the bird of heaven;

And the fish of the sea also shall be swept away.

4 Only let none contend,

And let none reprove (another);
And thy people2 is like those that strive with the priest.

5 And thou shalt fall in the day-time.

And the Prophet also shall fall with thee in the night,
And I will destroy thy mother.

6 My people are destroyed for want of knowledge!3

Because thou despisest knowledge,
So do I despise thee3 to be my Priest;

Because thou dost forget the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children.

7 The more they increased the more they sinned against me;

Their glory will I turn into shame.

8 They eat [make profit of] the sin of my people,

And direct their desires after their transgressions.

9 And so it is: as the people, so the priest,

And I will visit their ways upon them,
And reward to them their deeds.

10 Then they shall eat and not be satisfied,

Will practice whoredom and not spread abroad,
Because they forgot4 Jehovah, to regard Him.

11 Whoredom and wine and new wine

Will take (possession of) a heart.

12 My people5 inquires of its wood [idols],

And their staff shall declare to it;
For the spirit of whoredom has deceived them,
And they commit whoredom (departing) from under their God.

13 They sacrifice on the summits of the mountains,

And burn incense on the hills;
Under the oak and poplar and terebinth,
Because their shadow is pleasant.
Therefore your daughters commit whoredom
And your daughters-in-law commit adultery.

14 Yet I will not visit upon [punish] your daughters because they commit whoredom,

Nor your daughters-in-law because they commit adultery;
For they [you] themselves go aside with prostitutes,
And sacrifice with temple-girls,
And the people without understanding shall be cast down,

15 If thou commit whoredom, O Israel!

Let not Judah become guilty,
Go not to Gilgal,
And ascend not to Beth-aven,
And swear not: by the life of Jehovah.

16 For Israel is as intractable as an unbroken heifer;

Now Jehovah will pasture them
Like a lamb in a wide field.

17 Ephraim is joined to idols—let him be.

18 Their drinking-feast is spoiled;

They keep on whoring.
Their shields [rulers] keep on loving shame.6

19 The tempest seizes them with its wings:

And they shall be ashamed of their sacrifices.


Four strophes may be supposed with Keil (Hosea 4:1-5; Hosea 4:6-10; Hosea 4:11-14; Hosea 4:16-19), although it can hardly be maintained in general, that our Prophet observes a strict strophical division.

Hosea 4:1. Hear the word of Jehovah, etc. Jehovah appears against Israel as a Judge (that is, Israel of the Ten Tribes, comp. Ver 15), who raises the accusation, and pronounces the sentence and punishment. In a certain sense this first strophe contains the sense of the whole. Jehovah has a contest = legal action, comp. Micah 6:2, and with relation to the heathen, Joel 3:2.—אֶמֶת is faithfulness, trueness to one’s word. חֶסֶר is affection, kindness, love. These qualities are frequently mentioned together; usually as divine attributes, but sometimes also as human virtues. חסר is here probably special kindness towards the feeble and distressed (Keil). The opposites are primarily moral defects. But they have their root in the knowledge of God, i.e., they do not know the living God or know Him any longer—naturally through their own fault—since they do not care to serve Him.

Hosea 4:2. Along with the negative description of the corruption we have the positive. The sins are not described by substantives, but are expressed in a lively manner as actions by verbs, and that with special emphasis by the inf. absol. Five sins are thus mentioned, corresponding to five of the Ten Commandments, and at the fidelity and goodness. Swearing along with lying naturally=false swearing, or, at all events, wanton swearing. פָּרָצוּ forms the transition to the finite verb; the last three sins, especially murder, are represented in the concrete, and at the same time as something fearfully prevalent. [The literal translation of the last three words is: and bloody deed touches bloody deed. רּמִּים meant originally: drops of blood, then transferred to deeds of blood in general, and it is altogether probable that this word was chosen here to present to the imagination the picture of a swift succession of murderous assaults, following so closely that drops of the blood of one victim might be conceived as meeting and mingling with those of another. If so, this is a striking illustration of Hosea’s wonderful power of graphic poetical delineation. Henderson: “What the Prophet means is that murder was so common that no space was left between its acts. LXX.: αἵματα ἐφ αἵματι μίσγουσι. Coverdale: one bloudgiltyness foloweth another. And Ritterhusius powerfully in his poetical metaphrase:—

—‘Sic sanguini sanguis

Truditur, et scelerum nullus finisve modusve est.’ ”

See 2 Kings 15:0; Micah 7:2.—M.]

Hosea 4:3. Therefore will the land mourn, etc. The punishment of that moral deprivation; a great and universal drought, such, e.g., as prevailed under Ahab, was a judgment of God. This is described in its effects: The mourning of the land is a lively figurative expression for the scorching away of all vegetable productions, and the languishing of animal life, and the beasts are named, because the drought was, so to speak, to be described from its natural side (comp. Joel 1:10 ff.). It is just in this condition of nature generally that God executes judgment upon man. The drought is not be conceived of as existing at present, but is threatened, as the whole chapter generally is occupied with threatening. בָּהּכָל־ישֵׁב probably does not refer to the men themselves but is specified by the following בְּ, and therefore refers to the beasts, etc. [Keil: בְּ׳ is used in the enumeration of the individuals as in Genesis 7:21; Genesis 9:10. The fishes are mentioned last, and introduced by the emphatic וְגַם to show that the drought would prevail to such an extent that even lakes and other bodies of waters would be dried up. הֵאָסֵף: to be collected, to be taken away, to disappear or perish.”—M.]

Hosea 4:4. Only let none contend, and let none reprove, etc. These words appear quite unexpectedly and are not quite clear. There seems to be a verbal reference to Hosea 4:1; and it may be that there is a contrast to that contending there announced on the part of God. The sense would then be: The Lord will contend, but it is presumptuous for men to strive against Him; none are to contend or reprove. Or we might forego the reference to Hosea 4:1, and explain generally: let none contend or reprove! The hardened hearts of the people would then be referred to, who would listen to no rebuke. So Luther after the Vulgate: yet let none rebuke, etc. But אַךְ is thus falsely rendered. It is not=yet. Therefore others hold that there is a demand “only” to neglect pleading with and rebuking the corrupt people. There would indeed be much to rebuke, but it would be to no purpose (Keil). But this thought is not suitable to the context. It is just on the part of God that the רִיב does take place, and is not the whole prophetic discourse a rebuke? Others suppose a demand to the people not to resist God and his judgment. But הוֹכִיחַ will not suit here; it must be taken in the sense of censuring: let none censure God and his deeds. The explanation of Wünsche is therefore better: let none quarrel with another and attribute to him the blame of the calamity. And thy people as those who contend with the priest, that is, are like those, etc. With the first explanation of the preceding words, the ones now considered would surround them with still greater difficulties: let none contend—uttered with respect to the spirit of contradiction among the people—and they act as, etc. With the second explanation the words serve to support the preceding, to show the uselessness of contending and rebuking: yet thy people are like, etc. The explanation of Wünsche shows the best connection: the reason is given why none should reproach the others: the whole people are alike. In form however the sentence is not a confirmatory one, being simply coördinated by וְ [This objection is not conclusive. ו very often introduces a reason. See Green, Gr., § 287, 1. The opinion assigned to Wünsche is that not only adopted in E. V. but approved by most of the recent English commentators. Noyes prefers the view assigned above to Keil. On attempts to amend the text for other renderings, see the Textual note.—M.] Contend with the priest—an unexpected expression, perhaps to be explained by Deuteronomy 17:12 f. The people are like those who in the Law are described as rebels against the authority of the priest. They are therefore those who would not allow themselves to be directed aright by those whose prerogative it was to direct them (Hengstenberg, Keil).

Hosea 4:5. כָּשַׁל naturally refers to the punishment [as the cause of the fall (destruction) of the people, whom the Prophet now directly addresses.—M.] Prophet, naturally=false prophets (comp. 1 Kings 22:6 ff.), “who followed prophesying as a source of gain.” In the day,—by night: a figurative representation distributed according to the members of the sentence. The meaning is: the people and prophets shall fall all the time. And I will destroy thy mother = the whole nation conceived of as the mother of the children of Israel.

Hosea 4:5. My people is destroyed.הַרַּעַת מִבְּלִי, not: unawares (Meier), but: from want of knowledge [see Gram. note], i.e., chiefly, knowledge of God. Yet the expression is to be taken primarily in its general reference; compare the beginning and end of the next strophe [Hosea 4:11-14]. This want of knowledge is blameworthy, a despising of knowledge. This shows the nearer reference to be to the knowledge of God. Israel could have gained this from the law, but had forgotten that law. And I will despise thee from being a priest to me. This does not refer to the priest simply. All Israel, according to Exodus 19:6, was to be a priestly people, and to be thus distinguished from the heathen, the profane. But they were to forfeit this high prerogative. The notion therefore=“shall be not-my-people,” chaps. 1–2.

Hosea 4:7. The more they increased, not merely in numbers, but in prosperity, power, etc.,—the more they sinned; comp. Hosea 2:7. They ascribed this prosperity to their idols, and were thus confirmed in idolatry. Accordingly Israel’s glory, consisting in their richness and greatness, shall be turned into shame, i.e., they shall lose their glory and stand dishonored.

Hosea 4:8. A transition to the Priests, according to the purport of the words, and the beginning of Hosea 4:9. They eat the sin of my people. They live upon, derive their support from, the sin of the people. That is their right to do so, the more the people sin, i.e., serve idols. For the very existence of the idol priesthood depended upon the idolatry of the people. Keil, still more specially, makes חַטַּאת עַמּי= sin-offering of the people (so also Luther). In the Law the priest was enjoined to eat the flesh of the sin-offering to blot out the sin of the people (Leviticus 6:19). But that became sin to the priests, because (second member of the verse) they directed their desires towards the transgression of the people, that is, wished their transgressions to multiply, so as to acquire a large supply of food from their offerings. The peculiar expression: eat the sin, may still bear allusion to the sacrificial ritual. But the notion is probably more general: they live upon the sin=the idolatry of the people, as they eat the flesh of the sacrifice offered to idols. He lifts up his soul towards = directs his desires towards. The singular suffix is anomalous; it is perhaps distributive: each one lifts up his soul. The meaning of the whole would be: Since they live upon the sin of my people, they wish for nothing more earnestly than that the people should keep on sinning more and more, namely, in idolatry. [So the expositors generally.—M.]

Hosea 4:9. Since the priests go hand in hand with the people, the people serving idols and the priests desiring their idolatry, a like punishment will overtake them all. [Henderson: “The rank and wealth of the priests will not exempt them from sharing the same fate with the rest of the nation.”—M.]

Hosea 4:10. They will eat, etc. “Eat” refers back to Hosea 4:8, and therefore the primary reference is to the priests—הזנו. The usual force of the hiphil=entice to whoredom, would hardly suit here, although it is the priests who are spoken of. The addition וְלוֹ יִפְלצוּ, is unsuitable to this sense, for an extension by the procreation of children, which is here denied of them, could be predicated of those who commit whoredom, but not of those who only seduce others into that sin. Therefore it probably=a strengthened kal, as in Hos 4:18; 2 Chronicles 21:13. The literal signification cannot here be excluded, if we take into account the conclusion of the verse, and especially the parallelism with “eat.” Hosea 4:11, also, necessitates the conjunction of whoredom with “wine and must”=debauchery, and thus supports the literal interpretation, as also in Hosea 4:13-14, the daughters are said to be actual whores. But yet all this is only the consequence of spiritual whoredom=idolatry, and in closest connection with it. It is that which is to be rebuked, and the figurative sense therefore predominates in Hosea 4:12, where idolatrous practices are specially denounced, in the expression: spirit of whoredom. Whoredom as a consequence of idolatry, and as connected with it, and idolatry itself, are to the prophet perfectly identical, because inseparably united. The reason why they will not be satisfied or be extended, which are negative expressions affirming strongly their opposite, is that they forsook to regard. The expression refers to Jehovah: they forsook Jehovah, to keep Him, to regard, to honor Him (comp. Psalms 31:7; Proverbs 27:18)=they forsook Him and ceased to regard, honor Him. [See Gram. note.—M.]

Hosea 4:11. Whoredom and wine and new wine takes possession of the heart, לֵב, “the centre of the whole spiritual and moral life, the understanding, the will, and the sensibilities” (Wünsche). Hence the capture of the heart=the obscuring and perversion of the understanding and the will, expressing generally the intellectually and morally polluting influence of a life given up to sensual enjoyment. Then in the first member of Hosea 4:12 a proof of this is adduced,—a special instance of apostasy from the living God.

Hosea 4:12. שָׁאַל בְּעֵצוֹ, inquire of idols framed of wood, especially teraphim, in order to gain a divine revelation; in direct contrast to יְהוָֹה שָׁאַל. The reproach is made keener by the contrasted words: my people, their wood: the people who are Jehovah’s seek to wood, which is made their god instead of Jehovah. Their staff shall instruct them. This was the so-called rhabdomancy: two staves placed upright were allowed to fall while incantations were being repeated, and an oracular response was supposed to be given by the direction of its fall, backwards or forwards, to the right or to the left. [So described by Cyril of Alexandria. Compare the use of divining-rods or wishing-rods.—M.] This course of action is expressly attributed to the influence of a spirit of whoredom: idolatry (in connection with its consequences, whoredom and debauchery) is a seductive, demoniacal power, which they could no longer resist. מִתַּחַת אֵל׳, literally, from under their God, like מֵאַחְַרֵי (Hosea 1:2), the normal relation to God is here regarded as one of subjection. It is from this that they withdraw themselves.

Hosea 4:13. Upon the summits of the mountains, etc. (comp. Deuteronomy 12:2; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Ezekiel 6:13). Mountains and hills, as is well known, were favorite places for idolatrous worship. So also were green and shady trees in pleasant places (here specified instead of the usual general expression, “under every green tree”). “Therefore”=because the places of idol-worship everywhere arranged gave abundant opportunity, therefore your daughters commit lewdness (Keil). “Lewdness” is here, at all events, used in its literal sense, see especially Hosea 4:14, second part. The prostitution of young maidens and of wives formed an essential portion of the nature-worship of Babylon and Canaan. It would seem from the mention of temple-girls in Hosea 4:14 that the worship of Astarte, or something similar, is implied. But, even apart from this, the sensuous character of idolatry commonly induced unchaste practices.

Hosea 4:14. Those who are young cannot be blamed, for those who are older are worse still. חֵם: they=husbands and fathers. פֵּרֵד, here intransitive: to go aside in order to be alone with the זֹונוֹת. קָדֵשׁ is one who is consecrated to the service of Astarte, or some similar Canaanitish divinity; women who prostituted themselves for gain. Offer with the temple-girls; appear with them at the altar. To such an extent did they carry their impudence and shamelessness. At the end of the strophe want of understanding is again emphasized; it is this that brings them to their fall.

Hosea 4:15-19 contain a warning to Judah not to participate in Israel’s idolatry and shameless conduct, in order to escape the dreadful ruin of the former.

Hosea 4:15. If thou, Israel, dost commit whoredom. Whoredom is here predominantly employed in its metaphorical, but includes also the literal sense. A participation in Israel’s idolatry would have been induced by pilgrimages to the shrines of the ten tribes, which still, presumably, were made. Such places were: Gilgal, southwest from Shiloh, now Djidjilia, formerly the seat of a School of the Prophets (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38); later a seat of idolatrous worship, and mentioned as such besides in our Prophet, Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:12, and Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5; and Bethel, south of Gilgal, near the borders of Israel and Judah; now Betin. This is probably meant here by Beth-Aven, the name being intentionally changed; comp. Amos 5:5; mentioned also in Amos 4:4 along with Gilgal. Swear not: by the life of Jehovah. This cannot be forbidden in itself, for in Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 20:20 it is directly enjoined. Swearing applied to the service of idolatry must be meant, and that in the two places above-mentioned. It appears evident that certain formulas of swearing characteristic of Jehovah’s worship were employed in idolatrous service, and that for the purpose of giving to the latter a seeming justification.

Hosea 4:16. The punishment of Israel is pointed out in order to strengthen the warning to Judah. סֹרֵר, intractable, stubborn, will not be subject to God. God then gives them a free course—bitter irony,—like a sheep on a wide plain: that is, they shall be dispersed far and wide. [Henderson: “The latter hemistich contains the language of irony. As lambs are fond of ranging at large, but are in danger of being lost or devoured, so God threatens to remove the Israelites into a distant and large country, where they would be separated from those with whom they associated in idolatrous worship, and thus be left solitary and exposed as in a wilderness. The phrase, to feed in a large place, is elsewhere used in a good sense. Isaiah 30:23.”—M.]

Hosea 4:17. Joined to idols, i.e., joined to them so fast that they cannot give them up; therefore probably חַנַּח־לוֹ = let them, that is, keep on, let them serve idols forever, the punishment will not delay. Ephraim was the most powerful of the ten tribes, and therefore often stands for the ten tribes generally. [The other interpretation, not so much favored, but numbering amongst its supporters Jerome, Grotius, Rosenmüller, and Maurer, is that the inhabitants of Judah are commanded to have nothing to do with the idolatry of Israel. This view has also the support of Cowles, but the other is approved by the majority of the English expositors.—M.]

Hosea 4:18. A difficult one. סֹבֶא liquor, then: a drinking-bout. Fürst assumes besides כוּר to turn aside, another סוּר to become worthless or corrupt, here=to be spoiled. So also Keil [so also Ewald, Horsley, Pusey, and others, with E. V.—M.]. Meier takes it in the usual sense, to be removed, disappear: their carousing has disappeared. He then takes the following as in sense a dependent sentence: the carousing of those who commit whoredom, whose shields, etc. But this is rather artificial. To be sure, the mention of the punishment might be expected here, but it is just as suitable that Hosea 4:18 should describe only their wicked conduct, and Hosea 4:19 pictures them as being seized by a storm-wind in the midst of it. [Henderson translates the first clause: when their carousals are over they indulge in lewdness. Here אִם is supposed to be omitted. Cowles suggests the impossible explanation: He (Ephraim) becomes more apostate from God through strong drink.—M.] Along with their debauchery they commit whoredom,—again in the double sense. [For the construction of the next clause, see Gram. note.—M.] The shame which they love is not expressed, but is clearly enough contained in the two preceding hemistichs, therefore=shameful conduct in a moral sense; not=what brings disgrace upon them in its punishment. Her shields = her princes, as defenders of the people. “Her” refers to Ephraim, regarded as the wife. The princes are named specially: the whole nation is corrupt from the highest to the lowest.

Hosea 4:19. In the midst of their sins destruction carries them away like a tempest with irresistible force. צַרַר=bind together; seize upon. It is the prophetic preterite. The tempest is regarded as already present. יֵבשׁוּ מִזִּבחֹתָם. This means either that they shall be shamed away from their sacrifices, because they were proved not to be able to help them, or that they shall be ashamed of their sacrifices. The sense is that both they and their sacrifices would be put to shame.


1. With bold freedom and with holy earnestness the Prophet here displays a picture of the religious and moral corruption of the nation, before which we tremble. He has an eye open for both, and expresses most clearly the inseparable connection between religion and morality. Not only is immorality censured, but the religious depravation also (Hosea 4:1-6; Hosea 4:10-13), so that it may be clearly perceived that this religious decline is the source of the moral corruption, and therefore the (true) religion, that belief in Jehovah is the root of all morality. Observe here how the knowledge of God is exhibited as the essence of religion, and the want of this knowledge as the great error in connection with religion. Apostasy from God therefore consists or is rooted in the loss of the knowledge of Him, which includes not merely a theoretical cognition, but also belief in Him, as the self-revealed God, and the acquaintance and intimacy with Him thence drawn by experience. It is thus that Hosea elsewhere also insists upon the “knowledge of Jehovah” (Hosea 5:4; Hosea 6:3, and especially 6). In contrast hereto the idolater is described as one who is “joined to idols” (Hosea 4:17), enters into conjugal intercourse with them. The Prophet, however, does not, in a one-sided fashion, pay exclusive attention to the conduct of the people with respect to religion, but lays just as much stress upon the moral consequences of their religious decline. In his several pictures he brands and rebukes the depravation of morals; want of fidelity and goodness, swearing, lying, stealing, murder, and adultery. Murdering and stealing, probably includes also deeds of violence committed against the poor, defenseless, etc. Special prominence is given to sins against the Sixth [Seventh] Commandment, which, on the basis of idolatry raged so violently in consequence of the terrible increase of unchaste practices during the prevalence of heathen religion and rites. The morally destructive influence of devotion to sensual and fleshly lusts is aptly described in the rebuke of Hosea 4:11 it takes possession of the heart, and the extent of that influence is shown in Hosea 4:13-14, where the complete destruction of all morality in domestic life is described. A large element of the moral corruption is the influence exerted by the corruption of the priests who make gain of the people’s sins (Hosea 4:8-9), partly also of the prophets. It is also here to be observed how, on the other hand, the moral corruption hastens the religious ruin of the people, drawn as they are ever further from God, and led deeper into idolatry, superstition, and unbelief. Comp. Hosea 4:12 in relation to Hosea 4:11. In Hosea 4:12 b, it is clearly indicated that men, through their estrangement from God and their immoral conduct, lose the power of voluntary self-determination, and become subject to a power, and evil “spirit,” which they must follow, and, in the end, against their bitter feelings. Where such universal corruption obtains a spirit will prevail by which the individual is easily borne along with it (comp. also Hosea 5:4).

2. Jehovah has a contest with Israel (Hosea 4:1). The expression evidently rests upon the covenant-relation in which two parties assume obligations conditioned on both sides. Israel with God and God with Israel. The relation is therefore a legal one. The one party is bound only so long as the other fulfills his obligations; if one party does not fulfill them, the other may accuse him of an infringement of the compact and institute legal proceedings against him. Thus Jehovah has a “suit-at-law” with Israel, because the latter did not fulfill its obligations. In Joel 4:2 the expression has a more general application to the judgment which God is to inflict upon the heathen; for they are also related to Jehovah as the Lord of the world. He will not be unjust with them, will not subject them to disadvantages, and will not do them injustice through his people; but they are not to infringe upon his rights, among which is his special relation to Israel. Attacking this, they attack Him also: hence this controversy with them. But alas! there is a dispute between Jehovah and his own people: instead of being united they are divided into two opposing parties. Because the land, shorn of fidelity, goodness, etc., is brought to shame through sin and infamous deeds (Hosea 4:1-2), it shall mourn and languish (Hosea 4:3)—be visited by drought—as the punishment decreed by God. If this “languishing” is extended even to the unintelligent creation, such a dispensation would express not merely the extent and degree of the visitation, but would show the lower animals to be also included in the punishment. Man, as lord of creation, has by his sin brought punishment upon the rest of the animal world: though these have not sinned, they must suffer with their master on account of his guilt. The punishment is elsewhere also set closely parallel to the guilt: in Hosea 4:9 and especially in Hosea 4:6; because Israel has despised and forgotten God, He shall also despise and forget them. In particular, I they show themselves unworthy of the high prerogative of being Jehovah’s priest, to which they were really called as being the chosen people.

3. Between Israel and Judah there was always an important distinction morally and religiously. Hence the kingdom of Israel could be held before to the kingdom of Judah as a warning example. And this must be done: for it may easily be understood how the example of Israel was most dangerous to Judah. We feel clearly, when the Prophet utters the warning: “If thou dost commit whoredom, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty,” how warmly his heart beats for Judah. He regards Judah not merely as a kingdom of kindred origin, but as the one which, after Israel’s apostasy, represented alone the people of God, and thus he must all the more desire to have Judah preserved from Israel’s ways. The position of a Prophet like Hosea, who was a citizen of the northern kingdom, was peculiar. In the discord that existed between Israel and Judah, such warm sympathy with the one would hardly be expected from a citizen of the other. But with a Prophet of Jehovah theocratic feelings, higher than natural ones, must prevail. In Judah was Jerusalem with the temple; in Judah the House of David ruled; Judah was always comparatively more faithful to God, and that was decisive. His heart must therefore turn towards Judah. He could regard the separation of Israel from Judah, partly in itself and partly on account of its disastrous consequences especially to Israel, which were so clearly manifested, only as something utterly false and unrighteous, as an act of injustice, and would behold the nation only in both kingdoms, so that the theocratic conception was in the deeper sense also the natural one. Yet in this he displayed his patriotism even in respect to his nearer home, just in his earnest testimony against the prevailing corruption, whose consequence he foresaw would be certain ruin. Hosea certainly does not expect this ruin to be averted, but only expects a religious and moral renovation through its influence, with which he could not but see the restoration of the national unity necessarily united. See further No. 4 in the Doctrinal and Ethical section on chaps. 5 and 6.


Luther: Hosea 4:1. Who will stand in the judgment in which he is accused by God? For then it will be no argument of words as before an earthly judge, but we ourselves bring against ourselves the testimony of our consciences as our indictment. What is the source of this evil in the world, that nothing true is found, but everything is done from a false heart, and that nowhere can any evidence of honest kindness be seen? The reason is, because there is no knowledge of God in the land, i. e., because men despise God’s Word.

[Matthew Henry: Sin is the great mischief-maker: it sows discord between God and Israel: God’s controversies will be pleaded; pleaded by the judgments of his mouth before they are pleaded by the judgments of his hand, that He may be justified in all He doth, and may make it appear that He does not desire the death of sinners. And God’s pleadings ought to be attended to, for sooner or later they shall have a hearing.—M.]

Hosea 4:2. Würt. Summ.: Faithfulness and sincerity among a people are like great and precious jewels in a land. So also are paternal confidence and love and pure and faithful preachers of the Word of God. So there is no greater need than when these things are absent; and especially when God’s Word and pure teachers and preachers are wanting. This is the fountain of all evil. For God’s Word keeps sin at a distance. Where it is not, or where it is not preached in its simplicity and purity, or men will not be reproved by it, nor follow it, nor amend their ways, there one blood-guiltiness and deadly sin follow after another, and all kinds of evil break in like a flood.

[Pusey: Speculative and practical knowledge are bound up together, through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of Him or acts towards Him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, and misbelief corrupts practice.—M.]

Hosea 4:4. Luther: It is not so great an offense for men to sin as for them not to be willing to suffer the reproval of sin. For when they live in such a way as that their hearts have a horror of the cure of their malady, punishment can no longer delay. This sin is the most common of our time. Just look at Christian churches, and you will see everywhere that the teachers are hated for rebuking sin so freely. But this only excites God’s wrath more fiercely against us. For not man but God rebukes and challenges the sinner.

Hosea 4:6. God will not be mocked. Men may reject God, but He is still beside them, and shows that He is there in his judgments. The self-deception of sin: in rejecting God (forgetting his commands) thou doest so as one who is rejected by Him.

[Matthew Henry: Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion that it is the mother of destruction.

Pusey: In an advanced stage of sin, men may come to forget what they once despised.—M.]

Hosea 4:8. There is nothing more shameful than to draw profit from the sin of our neighbor, and thus to strengthen him in his sin, or become the occasion of his sinning; doubly shameful if we abuse our office and more exalted position to do so.

[Pusey: What else is to extenuate or flatter sin than to dissemble it, not to see it, not openly to denounce it, lest we lose our popularity, or alienate those who commit it?—M.]

[Hosea 4:9. Matthew Henry: Sharers in sin must expect to be sharers in ruin.—M.]

[Hosea 4:10. Pusey: Single marriage, according to God’s law: “they twain shall be one flesh,” yields in a nation a larger increase than polygamy. Illicit intercourse God turns to decay. His curse is upon it.—M.]

Hosea 4:11. Luther: These two vices, whoredom and debauchery, so take possession of a man that he does not know what he thinks, speaks, or does. The boy Cyrus in Xenophon admirably says, that wine is mixed with poison. And the saying of Archilochus, with reference to impure love, is well known:—

“Πολλὴν κατ̓ ἔρως�,

Κλέψας ἐκ στηθέων απαλὰς φρένας.”

Comp. Luke 21:34; Ephesians 5:18.

Hosea 4:12. Luther: The spirit of whoredom is that evil spirit which takes away from men’s hearts true thoughts of God, and either perverts their hearts, or entirely subdues them by filling them with trust in the creature, which is true and sheer idolatry. For idolatry does not consist merely in calling upon idols, but also in trust in our own righteousness, works, and service, in riches and human influence and power. And this, as it is the most common, is also the most harmful idolatry.

[Pusey: The sins of the fathers descend very often to the children, both in the way of nature, that the children inherit strong temptations to their parents’ sin, and by way of example, that they greedily imitate, often exaggerate them. Wouldst thou not have children which thou wouldst wish unborn, reform thyself.—M.]

Hosea 4:13. Würt. Summ.: Corporeal and spiritual whoredom are commonly united, and mutually dependent. For how should he who does not abhor a departure from God through idolatry, abhor a life abandoned to fleshly lusts? For idolatry is a much greater sin than corporeal indulgence: the one offends against the first table of the law and against God Himself, but the other against the second table and our neighbor.

Starke: When worship is performed in any other way than God has appointed, God is honored no longer, and idolatry is committed.

Hosea 4:14. Experience teaches that children are prone to imitate the shameful and unchaste lives of their parents. When such is the case the parents are most responsible; they deserve the chief punishment.

Luther: If God gives his Word to men, and they will not receive his instructions, what else should He do with them, than give them up to a reprobate mind, i.e., let them live on according to their own counsel and pleasure, until they finally perish?

[Clarke: While there is hope, there is correction.

Pusey: To be chastened severely for lesser sins is a token of the great love of God toward us. To sin on without punishment is a token of God’s extremest displeasure and a sign of reprobation. “Great is the offense, if, when thou hast sinned, thou art undeserving of the wrath of God.”—M.]

Hosea 4:15. Pfaff. Bibelwerk: Ye pious and true believers, let not the ungodly seduce you to follow their steps, but beware of them lest ye also have part in their punishment. But ye sinners, if ye will go on sinning, do not seduce the innocent, and thus heap up the measure of your iniquities. Comp. Galatians 5:9.

[Matthew Henry: The nearer we are to the infection of sin, the more need have we to stand upon our guard. Those that would be steady in their adherence to God must possess themselves with an awe and reverence of God, and always speak of Him with solemnity and seriousness; for those who can make a jest of the true God will make a god of anything.—M.]

Hosea 4:16. The Prophet employs this simile of a lamb in the desert, because nothing is more pitiable than a little lamb which has lost its shepherd. For the same reason Christ employs this figure of the lost sheep, when He would show the piteous condition of the sinner, and his great compassion towards him.

Schmieder: He who will not submit to the restraints imposed by God, shall obtain a freedom which will at last become most irksome. This applies both to nations and to individuals.

[Scott: While sinners obstinately reject the easy yoke of Christ, they are bringing down the heavy load of his vengeance upon themselves.

Pusey: Woe is it to that man, whom, when he withdraws from Christ’s easy yoke, God permits to take the broad road which leadeth to destruction.—M.]

Hosea 4:19. Starke: God does indeed bear with sinners in great patience and long-sufferings, and calls them to repentance; but when they do not amend, his punishment is swift. 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

[Pusey: So does God, by healthful disappointment, make us ashamed’ of seeking out of Him those good things which He alone hath, and hath in store for them that love Him.—M.]


[1][Hosea 4:3.—בְּחַיַּת וג׳. בְּ is used here as in Genesis 7:21; Genesis 9:10, to specify or enumerate objects indicated before in the general. In usage, though not in grammatical function, it is equivalent to our namely.—M.]

[2][Hosea 4:4.—וְעַמְּךָ. Newcome gives a variety of emendations and transpositions, partly from other sources, in order to obtain a more natural sense than the one he draws from the text. He seems to have been misled by the difficulty suggested by Houbigant, who remarks that it could not be a crime to contend with idolatrous priests. These of course, are not meant. See the exposition. Among the ancient translators, the LXX., Aquila, and Arab. read עַמּי: my people, which seems more natural but is not necessary.—M.] Meier would point differently, and reads וְעִמְּךָ: with thee, against thee, namely, God, and makes the negation continue: (let no one be) against thee. This is forced. The יְהִי would be necessary, and עם would not be the proper preposition.

[3][Hosea 4:6.—We must not read מִבְּלִי דַּעַת unexpectedly (Meier). The article is essential—וָאֶמְאַסאךָ. According to the Masora the third א is superfluous, and therefore probably a chirographical error. According to Ewald it is an Aramaic pausal form. [Henderson: The third א is not found in a great number of Kennicott’s and De Rossi’s manuscripts, nor in some of the earlier printed editions; in others it is marked as redundant, and a few have קרי אמאסך.—M.]

Hosea 4:10; Hosea 4:10.—לִשְׁמֹר. Meier attaches this word to the following verse: to practice lewdness, etc. But this is forced. [Henderson cites the similar view of Saadias, Arnold, and Horsley, but thinks “there is something so repugnant to Hebrew usage in the combination: to observe fornication, wine and new wine, that it is altogether inadmissible.” But his choice of the term “observe” is arbitrary. In thus opposing Horsley, he overlooks the fact that the latter renders: to give attention to, a sense of the word which is not at all repugnant to Hebrew usage. It must be remembered that they “neglected “Jehovah or dropped Him from their thoughts; the antithesis would naturally be: to keep in mind lewdness, etc. This is the exact usage of the word in Genesis 37:11; Psalms 130:3. Horsley’s arguments are mainly based upon the double anomaly of the construction as formerly assumed, in which עזב was supposed to govern its object indirectly (and irregularly) by means of לְ with the infinitive, and שׁמר was regarded as governing (against usage) יהוה as its direct object: they forsook to regard Jehovah. עזב is now admitted by some to govern יהוה directly, and the pers pron.: him, is supplied after regard, as is done by Schmoller. But, even with this construction, the omission of the object in the original after לִשְׁמֹר would he unaccountable and very abrupt. To these considerations this other may be added, that under the present division of the verses, Hosea 4:11 is made unusually brief. These difficulties in the way of the ordinary constructions should lead us to regard the subversion of the mark of division between the verses with more favor than should ordinarily be shown to attempts at amending the text. The proposed change would give the translation: because they have neglected Jehovah to set their minds on whoredom and wine and new wine, (which) will take possession of the heart.—M.]

[5][Hosea 4:12.—Henderson: “The LXX. and most versions which follow them connect עַמַּי with לֵב at the end of the preceding verse; a mode of construction adopted by Michaelis and Dathe, but otherwise disapproved by modern translators.—M.]

Hosea 4:18; Hosea 4:18.—אָהֲבוּ הֵבוּ perhaps belong together, a pialal form from אהב, except that the doubling has been separated in an extraordinary manner. It is therefore really instead of אֲהַבְחֳבוּ. Wünsche would read אֱהַב אָהֲבוּ resembling the preceding הַזנֵה חִזְנוּ. [On this combination see Green, Gr., §§ 92 a, 122, 1; Ewald, § 120 a; Böttcher, § 1055 b. These grammarians, as well as the best critics generally, regard it as one word. The form with which it is usually compared is צִמחֻתוּנִי, Psalms 88:17. The last named author calls our form a Qetaltal, corresponding to the form adopted by Schmoller. The notion conveyed by such forms is that of intensity, or repetition. So Ewald: es lieben lieben Schmach seine Schilde. Comp the rendering of Delitzsch in the passage just cited: vernichtnichtigt. It the alternative of separate words be adopted, it would be almost necessary to adopt some such expedient as that of Wünsche given above; for the rendering of E. V.: her rulers with shame do love; give ye, is almost unintelligible.—M.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/hosea-4.html. 1857-84.
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