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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 6

Verse 1

‘Come, and let us return to YHWH, for he has torn, and he will heal us, he has smitten, and he will bind us up.’

The carcass torn by the Lion and smitten and diseased (Hosea 5:13-14), is called on itself to ‘return’ (a favourite word of Hosea, see Hosea 3:5; Hosea 7:10; Hosea 14:1-2) to YHWH in repentance and hope, with a view to their being ‘healed and bound up’ and ‘revived’ and ‘raised up’. Note the inner chiasm, ‘torn -- heal -- smitten -- bound up.’ It is the smitten who are healed and the torn who are bound up. The picture is of God’s estranged people once more seeking His face and praying for full restoration. It occurred to some extent after the Babylonian exile (which had followed all the preceding exiles), and it occurred especially under the ministry of John the Baptist, and of course of Jesus Christ when a new Israel growing out of the old would be established (Matthew 2:15; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 21:41; John 15:1-6).

Verses 1-3

ISRAEL’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH IDOLS AND WITH ASSYRIA IS NOW DEPICTED AND WARNINGS GIVEN OF WHAT WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCE FOR THEM, AND THIS TOGETHER WITH A REMINDER THAT IF THEY RETURN TO HIM HE CAN PROVIDE ALL THAT BAAL PROVIDES AND MORE (Hosea 4:1 to Hosea 6:3 ).

Having illustrated Israel’s position in terms of an adulterous and unfaithful wife, Hosea now charges Israel more directly with their sins, and warns them of what the consequences will be if they do not repent and turn back to YHWH. These words were probably mainly spoken during the earlier phases of his ministry in the times of Jeroboam II and Menahem.

Verse 2

‘After two days will he revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him.’

The reference to ‘two days’ indicates that all will not occur instantly, even after their repentance. These are God’s days and therefore longer than those of men. But then YHWH will revive His people in readiness for the ‘third day’ when He will raise them up and restore them to full health so that they may begin to live before Him. The picture is of a man rising from the dead within the three day period while the soul was still in the body. Israel is thus seen as ‘rising from the dead’. While partially fulfilled after the Exile, the greater fulfilment came, first through the teaching and ministry of Jesus (when indeed many were also literally healed and bound up), and then in the period after His death and resurrection, when He was raised on ‘the third day’, and a new Israel came to life, a believing Israel (in contrast with the old unbelieving Israel which was cut off (Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20), and became as one of ‘the nations’ (Acts 4:25-27)), a new Israel which brought light to the Gentiles so that many responded and became a part of the new Israel (Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:10). It was an Israel raised up from the dead, and living before Him in resurrection life.

In view of the fact that Jesus clearly saw Himself as the representative of Israel this was possibly one of the passages that He had in mind (along, for example, with Isaiah 53:10-12, and Psalms 16:10-11) when He spoke of rising again on the third day, and which Paul had in mind when he spoke of ‘rising on the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:4).

Verse 3

‘And let us know, let us follow on to know YHWH. His going forth is sure as the morning, and he will come to us as the rain, as the latter rain that waters the earth.’

The second appeal is that they might again truly ‘know YHWH’ and go on knowing Him continually. Contrast here Hosea 4:1; Hosea 5:4. And this will be brought about by the activity of YHWH Whose going forth is as certain as the coming of morning after nightfall, and Who will come as fruitbearing rain that waters the earth (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 55:10-13). It is the latter rain that waters the sown seed and ensures that it becomes fruitful in the hot climate. So YHWH’s promise is that He will act like rain upon His repentant people, a picture taken up and used by John the Baptist with all his references to grain and fruit growing in terms of the coming Spirit Who will be provided by the Coming One, ‘He will drench you with the Holy Spirit’.

Verse 4

‘O Ephraim, what shall I do to you?

O Judah, what shall I do to you?

For your covenant love is as a morning cloud,

And as the dew which goes early away.’

We can see in this the cry of a father’s heart for his children (compare Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:4; Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8). God is, as it were, in despair at what to do with them because He loves them so much whilst they are unwilling to listen to what He says. He feels that He has tried everything. We can see those attempts for ourselves, starting from the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, moving through the conquest and the deliverances under the Judges, and coming to Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets, and the ups and downs which followed, before finally attaining the prosperous times under Uzziah and Jeremiah II, followed by the threat of the Assyrians. During that past they have again and again professed covenant love (obedience and response to the covenant in loving worship), but sadly it has always proved to be like a morning mist and like the dew, which, when the sun arises, which rapidly evaporate and disappear. It has never lasted for any great length of time. The morning mist and dew were common sights in Israel, and provided vital moisture outside the rainy season, and all knew how quickly they dissolved before the morning sun.

So in contrast to the sure work which, once they had repented, YHWH would do as sure as morning came after night time (Hosea 6:3), where the morning was a picture of certainty, here the coming of morning is simply a picture of how quickly their love and faithfulness has disappeared. Furthermore, in contrast with the latter rains from God which would water the earth and make if fruitful (Hosea 6:3), the behaviour of Israel and Judah was like a rapidly disappearing morning mist.

Verses 4-6

YHWH Makes Clear His Current View Of Israel And Judah Because Of Their Spiritual Bankruptcy (Hosea 6:4-6 ).

Hosea, in words of YHWH, now contrasts his future glowing picture of Israel’s restoration with the current situation in Israel and Judah. Judah is now firmly included with Israel in the condemnation. This may well have been because many Judeans had attended the feasts at Bethel and fully participated in them, bringing home to Hosea the fact that while the worship at the Temple continued seemingly satisfactorily (until the time of Ahaz), the hearts of much of Judah were similar to the hearts of the people of Israel.

The contrasts with Hosea 6:1-3 should be noted. Whereas in Hosea 6:3 YHWH’s coming work was as sure as the morning dawned after night time, here morning will for the current Ephraim and Judah be a false dawn in that like the morning mist and the dew their supposed covenant love quickly disappears. That is why, instead of mercy, YHWH’s judgment will at present come on them as the sun which goes forth, because to Him response to the covenant and a true heart knowledge of God was more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices, and they have not yet repented. It is a warning to us today lest our worship too become an empty ritual.

Analysis of Hosea 6:4-6 .

a ‘O Ephraim, what shall I do to you?

a O Judah, what shall I do to you? (Hosea 6:4 a).

b For your covenant love is as a morning cloud,

b And as the dew which goes early away.’ (Hosea 6:4 b).

c ‘Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets,

c I have slain them by the words of my mouth (Hosea 6:5 a).

b And my judgment will go forth as the light (sun) (Hosea 6:5 b).

a For I desire covenant love, and not sacrifice,

a And the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings (Hosea 6:6).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH looks with yearning upon His people, wondering what He can do with them (because of their failing covenant love) and in the parallel He explains why. It is because He wants covenant love more than their sacrifices, and a true knowledge of God rather that burnt offerings. In ‘b’ their covenant love is like a rapidly disappearing morning mist, and in the parallel His judgment goes forth like the sun in its permanence. Centrally in ‘c’ this is why He has spoken so harshly to them.

Verses 4-11

ISRAEL’S GROWING SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY AND DEGRADED BEHAVIOUR ARE DESCRIBED ALONG WITH THEIR RELIANCE ON IDOLS, FOREIGNERS, UNWORTHY KINGS AND THEMSELVES, AND THIS IN CONTRAST WITH YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR HIS FAILING SON (Hosea 6:4 to Hosea 11:12 ).

Hosea continues to describe the condition in which Israel find themselves, and rebukes their reliance on other things than YHWH. Conditions in Israel would appear to be politically much worse, and these words were therefore probably mainly spoken during the years of turmoil following the death of Menahem and his son Pekahiah, that is, during the reigns of Pekah and Hoshea. During this period there was an off-on relationship with Assyria which eventually caused the downfall of Pekah and the initial submission of Hoshea to Assyria, followed by his later turning to Egypt (and not to YHWH) in the hope of breaking free from Assyria’s yoke.

Verse 5

‘And my judgment will go forth as the light (or ‘as the sun’, the ‘greater light’ of Genesis 1:15-16).’

Using the same consonants as the MT but repointing (the pointing is not a part of the original text) YHWH now points out that because of their failure in covenant faithfulness and covenant love He is about to send forth His judgment which will come on them in the same way as the sun (or the morning light) causes the night to disappear. Thus like their covenant love, they themselves will soon ‘go early away’. Unlike the morning mist the sun (or period of light) lasts throughout the day, an indication of the certainty of God’s purposes. For the Hebrew word for ‘light’ being used to denote the ‘sun’ compare Judges 5:31, and see also Habakkuk 3:4.

The MT (Masoretic Text) reads, ‘your judgments are as the light (sun) which goes forth’. In that case ‘your judgments’ speaks of ‘the judgments which have come upon you’, and sees them as being as permanent and effective as the sun. But the original Hebrew text was simply composed of consonants with no joins between the words, and the reading suggested above is a translation of the MT consonants divided up in a slightly different way, using different vowel sounds. (The vowel signs were provided by the Masoretes some centuries after the coming of Christ and are therefore not an essential part of Scripture).

Verse 6

‘For I desire covenant love, and not sacrifice,

And the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.’

The reason for God’s judgment on Israel and Judah is now explained. It will be because their religion has been both false and formal. It was true that they were continually offering sacrifices and burnt offerings, even doing it in the name of YHWH, but they were doing it on the basis that they were, as it were, engaged in a kind of bargain. Their idea was that they played their part in offering their gifts and the gods were then expected to play theirs by sending the rain and causing the earth to be fruitful, regardless of how the ‘worshippers’ behaved. Each scratched the back of the other. But YHWH is pointing out that He is not just ‘one of the gods’. He is not so limited. He is the living God Who requires covenant love, resulting in obedience to His moral and religious requirements (both of which were being ignored), rather than sacrifices used simply as a formal bargaining counter. Sacrifices were, of course acceptable to Him when presented in the right way and from the right motive, for He Himself had ordained them. But they were not acceptable if they were not offered by those whose hearts were full of love and obedience, for that was indeed the whole point of them, as Samuel had previously made clear (1 Samuel 15:22).

Furthermore He required that they come to a true knowledge and awareness of Himself, without which burnt offerings were pointless. Dedicatory offerings were meaningless unless they were presented to One Whom they knew in their own spiritual experience, and to Whom they rendered obedience on the basis of that knowledge. For if they truly knew God they would not allow social injustice (see Hosea 4:2), nor would they engage in false sacrifices in cultic centres and at shrines on the mountains (Hosea 4:13; Hosea 8:11). This was the same point that Isaiah, the Judean prophet, would soon equally stress in Isaiah 1:11-18. (Compare also Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Psalms 51:16-17). It was the final explanation as to why there could be nothing but judgment in the short term.

Verses 7-8

‘But they like Adam (or ‘men’) have transgressed the covenant.

There have they dealt treacherously against me.

Gilead is a city of those who work iniquity,

It is stained with blood.

Three views are taken of the interpretation of these verses. The first is that ‘adam’ refers to Adam, the original man, the second that it refers to men in general (adam is a word for ‘man’), and the third is that it refers to the city of Adam (Joshua 3:16), thus paralleling the mention of the city Gilead.

The first interpretation describes Israel as being like Adam who transgressed his original covenant with God and acted in a treacherous way against Him, possibly with the implication that the city of Gilead was like Cain, his murderous ‘son’. This would tie in with the language in Hosea 7:2 b where Israel’s behaviour is openly revealed ‘before the face’ of YHWH in a similar way to Adam’s, for Adam hid among the trees from ‘before His face’ (Genesis 3:8). The problem this then raises is as to what the ‘there’ refers to in the second line. This is not too much of a problem, however, as it may simply be a general indication and refer to wherever they were.

This interpretation is very forceful and would have been very telling. All were aware of how Adam had been faithless and disobeyed God. Thus they were being warned that by breaking YHWH’s covenant with them they were repeating the sin of Adam in being faithless and disobedient. They were having their part in the first gross sin. This interpretation also fits well with the idea of treachery. And it is made even more vivid by the fact that it is connected with a city of spilt blood, in the same way as Cain spilled the blood of Abel.

The second interpretation sees men in general as having transgressed the covenant, and Israel having therefore done so ‘as men’. It lacks both force and vividness (although it could still be right).

The third interpretation sees it as referring to the city of Adam near the River Jordan (Joshua 3:16). It is argued that this makes a good parallel to the city Gilead mentioned in the third line. However, it can conversely be argued that Gilead in fact parallels Shechem as a city of blood (Hosea 6:8-9), rather than ‘Adam’. It can also be argued that it is difficult to see why an obscure city like Adam would have been chosen by Hosea, while everyone would know who the man Adam was. Some who hold this interpretation translate as ‘at Adam’, but this requires altering the Hebrew consonants which is not to be encouraged.

An example of the breach of covenant is then given with reference to the city Gilead. This may have been Ramoth-gilead, or the Gat-gilead mentioned in the Ugaritic texts. Or it may have been some other city in the area of Gilead. And it is described as a city where there was much iniquity and where murder was commonplace. Alternatively it may be referring to a particularly hideous murder which had stained its reputation. This may have been the murder of Pekahiah by Pekah and ‘fifty men of Gilead’ (2 Kings 15:25).

Verses 7-11

The Sinfulness Of Israel/Ephraim Is Totally Exposed And Judah Is Briefly Warned Of What Will Come On Them As Well (Hosea 6:7 to Hosea 7:2 ).

The sinfulness of Israel is now exposed commencing from Gilead (Hosea 6:8), and moving through Shechem (Hosea 6:9) to Samaria (Hosea 7:1). They are revealed as covenant breakers (seen as a gross sin in those days) and murderers (Hosea 6:7-8), their priests are exposed as murderers, highway robbers and perpetrators of ‘mischief or ‘heinous crime’ (Hosea 6:8), the house of Israel is found to be guilty of ‘whoredom’, both literal and spiritual, and Samaria is described as a place of ‘wickedness’ where falsehood abounds, theft is commonplace, and bandits await any who leave the city. But what they overlook is that YHWH remembers all their wickedness, and that what they do so gathers round them as a spectacle that it is openly apparent before the face of YHWH.

And this occurs despite YHWH’s desire to restore them (Hosea 6:11 to Hosea 7:1 a), a desire which proves futile because it only helps to reveal their sinfulness. Judah also are warned in a brief aside that they too have a harvest of judgment to reap (compare Matthew 13:30 for the idea of a harvest of judgment).

Analysis of Hosea 6:7 to Hosea 7:2 .

a But they like Adam (or ‘like men’) have transgressed the covenant. There have they dealt treacherously against me (Hosea 6:7).

b Gilead is a city of those who work iniquity, it is stained with blood (Hosea 6:8).

c And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way towards Shechem. Yes, they have committed mischief (Hosea 6:9).

d In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing, there whoredom is found in Ephraim (Hosea 6:10 a).

e Israel is defiled (Hosea 6:10 b).

f Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you (Hosea 6:11 a).

e In my bringing back the captivity of my people, when I would heal Israel (Hosea 6:11 to Hosea 7:1 a).

d Then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria (Hosea 7:1 b).

c For they commit falsehood, and the thief enters in, and the troop of robbers ravages without (Hosea 7:1 c).

b And they consider not in their hearts, that I remember all their wickedness (Hosea 7:2 a).

a Now have their own doings beset them about, they are before my face (Hosea 7:2 b).

Note that in ‘a’ they have, like Adam, transgressed God’s covenant, and have dealt treacherously against Him, and in the parallel their own doings beset them about, and they are ‘before His face’ (compare how though Adam hid ‘from the face of YHWH’ in Genesis 3:8, he too had necessarily been ‘before His face’). In ‘b’ the iniquity of Gilead is revealed, and in the parallel their wickedness is remembered by God. In ‘c’ the priests are like troops of robbers, and they commit ‘indecency’, and in the parallel a troop of robbers ravages without, and Ephraim commit falsehood. In ‘d’ whoredom is found in Ephraim, and in the parallel the iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered. In ‘e’ Israel is defiled, and in the parallel YHWH desired to heal Israel from her defilement. Centrally in ‘f’ a harvest of judgment is also appointed for Judah.

Verses 9-10

And as troops of robbers wait for a man,

So the company of priests murder in the way towards Shechem,

Yes, they have committed mischief (or ‘a heinous crime’),

In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing,

There whoredom is found in Ephraim,

Israel is defiled.

Just as Gilead was a city of blood, so was Shechem. But even worse in this case was that, (if we take it literally), the blood was being shed by priests who were acting as bandits. They (or their appointees) would wait in the road that led to Shechem and murder people for their possessions. The word translated ‘mischief’ can mean a heinous crime. However, the comparison ‘as troops of robbers wait for a man’ may suggest that we are to see the reference to the priests’ activities as to be interpreted metaphorically with the idea being that by their activities as priests of the false cult they are symbolically ‘murdering men’. This would tie in well with the words that follow, where the activities of the false cult are certainly in mind. But the literal interpretation appears more likely. In that case the reference to ‘the house of Israel’ must be seen as bringing up a new sin, the practise of idolatry accompanied by sacred prostitution. The ‘house of Israel’ may refer to the cult temple at either Shechem or Bethel. Both were ancient sanctuaries. And this would fit well with the use of ‘there’. However, the general use of the phrase by Hosea is to refer to the people of Israel (Hosea 4:1; Hosea 4:6; Hosea 5:1; Hosea 11:12), in which case the crime of which they are guilty is both spiritual and literal whoredom by engaging in the activities of the false cult. The horror with which this was looked on comes out in the description of it as a ‘horrible thing’. It left Israel/Ephraim totally defiled.

Verse 11

In my bringing back the captivity (distressed state) of my people,

‘When I would heal Israel,

Then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered,

And the wickedness of Samaria,

For they commit falsehood, and the thief enters in,

And the troop of robbers ravages without.’

Having given his warning shot to Judah Hosea immediately turns back to Israel, citing the words of YHWH. He does not want to divert attention from what He is saying to Israel/Ephraim. The word rendered ‘captivity’ may indicate that, in an attempt to heal Israel, YHWH was preparing to arrange for those already in exile to be returned, or it may simply indicate the distressed state into which Israel had fallen from which He wished to restore them. Either way His attempt fails because in seeking to attempt it He somehow ‘uncovers the iniquity of Ephraim’, and ‘the wickedness of Samaria’. Such language is of course anthropomorphic. His attempts may have taken place through men who were taking part in negotiations with Assyria, during which the perfidy of Israel was revealed. In mind may be attempts to parley with Assyria and leave the parts of Israel which had been captured in their hands as part of the price of relative freedom. In YHWH’s eyes this would have been seen as treachery indeed (Hosea 6:7). But primary to the verse is the fact of the sin that ‘His investigation’ has turned up. They were committing falsehood, there were a multiplicity of thieves breaking into other people’s properties, and the roads were unfit to travel because of lurking bandits (possibly partly to do with the priests in Hosea 6:9). Israel and Samaria are now therefore revealed as a hotbed of lawlessness. Justice is almost non-existent. This was the consequence of having lawless kings who were simply adventurers.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/hosea-6.html. 2013.