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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 13

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verse 1

‘When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling,

He exalted himself in Israel,

But when he offended in Baal,

He died.

In a play on the use of the term Ephraim which can signify 1) Joseph’s Song of Solomon , 2 the tribe of Ephraim, 3) the whole of Israel, and 4) the rump of Israel left in the days of Hoshea, Hosea describes how Ephraim had previously been ‘feared’ and exalted in Israel. When he spoke (as the son of Joseph) men had trembled before him, and it was because YHWH had lifted him up. And later they had trembled before the powerful tribe of Ephraim in the land. Initially this was because Ephraim, as Joseph’s son, was a prince of Egypt, and then it was because the tribe of Ephraim had become the most influential in northern Israel (compare Judges 3:27; Judges 5:14; Judges 8:1). Furthermore from Ephraim had come both Joshua, the Servant of God (Joshua 24:30), and King Jeroboam I (1 Kings 11:26; 1 Kings 12:20) and his descendants. They were rivalled only by Judah.

But now Ephraim had sunk to the depths. They had offended through their worship of Baal. And that meant that in YHWH’s eyes they had ‘died’. They were as good as dead in His eyes. Initially their offence had been when Israel worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness, and subsequently it had been (a) at Baal-peor (Numbers 25:0); (b) through Baal worship in Judges 2:11-12; Judges 2:19, (c) as a result of the worship of the golden calves of Jeroboam, and (d) the consequence of the dedicated Baal worship under Ahab and Jezebel. And while Jehu had expunged the worship of the Tyrian Baal from Israel he had still not discouraged the worship of the golden calves, which were inevitably linked with Baal worship.

Verses 1-16


These words were probably mainly spoken during the latter part of the reign of Hoshea, with the destruction of Samaria threatening on the horizon. After a further appeal for repentance Israel is seen to be finally doomed, with any hope that they have lying far in the future because of their unrepentant hearts.

Verse 2

‘And now they sin more and more,

And have made for themselves molten images from their silver,

Even idols according to their own understanding,

All of them the work of the craftsmen.

They say of them,

“Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves.”

And they had continued to sin more and more, making themselves 1) molten images of silver, 2) idols which were derived from their own inventiveness, 3) idols which had been made by men’s hands, and which they had the encouraged men to kiss.

The descriptions bring out the folly of their position. The images were made from their own silver, they were inventions of their own minds, they were made with their own hands, and they could be kissed or not as men chose. They were ‘made in Israel’, from Israelite raw material, using Israel’s skilled workmen. And yet they bowed down to them. What folly! And then they even went so far as to persuade MEN to kiss CALVES! Had it not been true it would have been seen as incredible. And this was in direct disobedience to YHWH’s command that they should have no other gods before Him (Hosea 13:4; compare Exodus 20:3) and should not make graven images and bow down to them (Hosea 11:2; compare Exodus 20:4).

No doubt many Israelites would have claimed that when they bowed down to the calves and kissed them they saw themselves as worshipping YHWH and only ‘venerating’ the calves, but God knew that in their hearts it was a demeaned YHWH that they were thinking of, Who was being imagined as a nature god. By it they were stripping God of His unique deity.

Verse 3

‘Therefore they will be as the morning cloud,

And as the dew which passes early away,

As the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the threshing-floor,

And as the smoke out of the chimney.’

In consequence of their dismissal of YHWH, YHWH would dismiss them. They would become like the morning mist which simply vanishes as the sun continues to rise, like the dew which arrives early and evaporates into nothingness, like chaff which is blown from the threshing-floor by a whirlwind to disappear for ever, like smoke issuing from a chimney and being wafted away into the sky and vanishing. In other words they would be wafted away into nothingness by YHWH.

Verse 4

‘Yet I am YHWH your God,

From the land of Egypt,

And you shall know no god but me,

And besides me there is no saviour’.

And yet this should not have happened. It need not have happened. What they had overlooked was that He was unique. He was YHWH their God. He was the One Who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, He was the One Who had declared that they should have no other God instead of Him, and He was the only One Who could save men from whatever came against them. If only they had trusted in Him even Assyria could have done nothing to them. For He was the only, true and wholly capable Saviour.

Indeed if only they had realised it, they had been especially favoured. No other nation had had a God like Him. None other than their God could have brought them out of Egypt. None other could have brought them through the wilderness. None other could have given them the land. None other could always guarantee to save, no matter who was involved, and whatever the circumstances. This has been proved time and again, for He was unique in history. He was the Creator, the Controller of history, the sovereign over all things. He was the Lord.

Verses 5-6

‘I knew you in the wilderness,

In the land of great drought.

According to their pasture,

So were they filled,

They were filled, and their heart was exalted,

Therefore have they forgotten me.’

Furthermore when they had gone into the wilderness, YHWH had known them there. He had watched over them, protected them, provided for them, loved them. he had led them by their leading reins (Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4). Even in that land of great drought He had ensured that they were filled, providing them with ‘pasture’ through the manna and the quails. (Alternately the reference is to the produce coming from their later pasture land). But once they were filled their hearts had become exalted, with the result that they had followed their own way, gained too great an opinion of themselves, and had forgotten YHWH.

This was precisely what YHWH had warned against in Deuteronomy 8:11-12, when He said, ‘Take heed lest you forget YHWH your God, --- lest when you have eaten and are full, --- then your heart be exalted and you forget YHWH your God’. It is difficult to avoid the idea that Hosea had been reading Deuteronomy, and saw it as fulfilled here.

Verses 7-8

‘Therefore am I to them as a lion,

As a leopard will I watch by the way,

I will meet them as a bear which is bereaved of her whelps,

And will rend the enclosure of their heart,

And there will I devour them like a lioness,

The wild beast shall tear them.’

And because of their behaviour and attitude towards them He was about to hunt them down, and tear them apart. He would be like a lion (compare Hosea 5:14), like a leopard waiting by the way for prey to come along, leaping on it as it passed by, like a bear bereaved of its cubs, which in its anguish would tear apart men’s breasts which contain their hearts, like a lioness seeking its prey and devouring it. The wild beast would tear them apart.

One of the curses of Leviticus 26:0 had been that wild beasts would make a prey of the people, and the picture also no doubt includes human ‘wild beasts’ who will do similarly (compare Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6; Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3).

Verse 9

‘It is your destruction,

O Israel,

That you are against me,

Against your help.’

But they have turned away from the One Who is their help. And this is what will result in their destruction, the fact that they are against YHWH (something which they would no doubt have hotly denied, but which was nevertheless true), the One Who is their true Help.

Verse 10

‘Where now is your king,

That he may save you in all your cities?

And your judges, of whom you said,

Give me a king and princes?’

Let them consider that their king and princes have already been snatched away by the wild beasts. Where were they now? If this was just prior to the siege of Samaria, Hoshea, who had gone to the Assyrians to parley, was already in their hands, while many of their princes would have been captured in the fighting, both in defending their borders, and in defending their other cities which had already been destroyed. Thus there was no one left to save them as they waited helplessly in their cities. All the folk around would have crowded into these cities once the invasion came (compare Leviticus 26:25), looking for their king to come and save them. That was why they were built with stout walls. But they could not resist a determined invader.

However, the question may be asking where their king was simply because he was proving to be impotent in the face of the enemy. The implication is that whoever their king and judges were, they would be unable to save them. They had trusted in them, but they could not help them (while in contrast YHWH could - Hosea 13:9).

Verse 11

‘I have given you a king in my anger,

And have taken him away in my wrath.’

For the truth was that their king had been given to them by a God angry at their ways, and now in His wrath He had taken him away from them, as a lion or leopard or bear takes its prey. Israel’s initial king had been given to them in anger (1 Samuel 8:0), and whilst David had been God’s chosen one, all the following kings of Israel had failed YHWH, had fallen into idolatry, and had been bad news from YHWH, the result of their own disobedience to YHWH. But Israel had no excuse, for they also had been chasing idols and had got what they deserved.

Verse 12

‘The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up,

His sin is laid up in store.

And this was all because of the way in which Ephraim treasured their sins. They had packaged them up, they had laid them up in store. They wanted to cling on to them and possess them continually. They did not want to do away with sin. And thus they clung on to their sin and made it their own.

Verse 13

‘The sorrows of a travailing woman will come on him,

He is an unwise son,

For it is time he should not tarry,

In the place of the breaking forth of children.’

But there could be only one consequence of this. Instead of being a living son, led by leading reins, and protected in the wilderness (Hosea 13:5-6; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4), they would be like the son resulting from an untimely birth, trapped in the womb and without the strength to come forth. While his mother travails in sorrow and pain, he tarries in the womb and fails to proceed to the place of breaking forth of children. And finally he dies. And his mother dies with him. (It is not, of course, the still-born babe which is ‘unwise’ but those whom the still-born babe represents).

Verse 14

‘Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?

Shall I redeem them from death?

O death, where are your plagues?

O Sheol, where is your destruction?

Compassion (repentance) will be hid from my eyes.’

But what of the Redeemer from Egypt? What of the Deliverer from death? They had always relied on Him in the past (as was made clear in Hosea 13:4), and in the end He had always delivered them. Will He not then act now in this desperate situation when they are like a still-born child. YHWH considers His reply. ‘Shall I ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol was the dark underworld of the grave)? Shall I redeem them from death? And then with a shake of His head He says ‘No’, and then calls on death and the grave to seize them. He calls on Sheol to come forth with its destruction, and to death to come forth with its plagues, and then to inflict them on His people, because they are no longer His people and compassion is hid from His eyes. He will no longer be their Deliverer. This interpretation fits aptly into the sequence of the passage.

Some, however, argue that while it is possible to put the first two statements as questions, there are no specific indications for doing so in the Hebrew. They would therefore translate as ‘I will ransom them from the power of Sheol, I will redeem them from death’, in other words they would not be still-born, with the corollary being that it would be in order that they might face plagues and destruction. What might appear like mercy would in fact be the opposite. They would be delivered in order to face worse. Sheol and death would still inflict their prey (like the lion, and the leopard, and the bear).

A third alternative that is mooted is that it should be taken as a fully positive statement, in line with previous times when Hosea has suddenly introduced a positive note into a negative context (e.g. Hosea 1:10 to Hosea 2:1; Hosea 2:7; Hosea 6:1-3; Hosea 10:12; Hosea 11:12 b). The idea would then be that whatever might happens to Israel in the meantime, in the end YHWH will deliver them from Sheol, He will deliver them from the power of the grave. The plagues of death and the destruction of Sheol will be rendered powerless because Israel will live again (compare Ezekiel 37:1-14). And nothing can make YHWH repent of that fact, because ‘repentance is hid from His eyes.’ This would tie in completely with Paul’s use of the text in 1 Corinthians 15:55. The main problem with this interpretation is that there is nothing, not even a whisper, in the immediate context to support it. The emphasis in the context is all on death and destruction, while ‘repentance is hid from my eyes’ more naturally means that He will not repent because of the evil of their doings. On the other hand such an interpretation does sit well with Hosea 14:1-9.

Verse 15

‘Though he be fruitful among his brothers, an east wind will come,

The breath of YHWH coming up from the wilderness,

And his spring will become dry, and his fountain will be dried up,

He will make ruination of the treasure of all goodly vessels.’

And just as He had earlier declared that they would simply be blown away by Him into nothingness, now He declares that they will face the burning heat of His anger. Ephraim might at present appear to be fruitful to his brother conspirators among the nations (Egypt, Philistia, etc), but that fruitfulness would be dried up by the scorching east wind, coming from the desert like the breath of YHWH, and his water sources would become dry (compare Leviticus 26:20), and all his goodly treasures, safely stored in the treasure house in goodly vessels, would be ruined.

Verse 16

‘Samaria will bear her guilt,

For she has rebelled against her God,

They will fall by the sword,

Their infants will be dashed in pieces,

And their women with child will be ripped up.

For Samaria, Ephraim’s capital and leadership source, must now bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God. She is finally responsible for all the idolatry and all the covenant-breaking, and thus she must face the curses threatened by YHWH in Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 28:0. Her people will fall by the sword, their infant children will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open. God is not, of course, responsible for the detail. That results from man’s inhumanity to man. But it is He Who has willed the event and allowed it to happen.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/hosea-13.html. 2013.
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