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God's judgments against the sins of the people, and of the priests, and against their idolatry. Judah is exhorted to take warning by Israel's calamity.
Before Christ 870.
Hosea 4:1. Hear the word of the Lord, &c.— The prophet here begins a third discourse, according to the rabbies; which is manifestly distinct from the preceding, both as to the matter and manner. He was before predicting what should happen in future times, by way of prophetic vision; here he reproves those of the present time for such sins as then reigned among them; such as provoked God to send on them and their posterity the judgments foretold in the former chapter. The word controversy is forensic, and alludes to the actions of suits which one person has against another for injuries or damages received. So the Almighty is here represented as entering into judgment with the inhabitants of the ten tribes for their impieties, as being so many injuries to his honour, for which he demands satisfaction. The reader will find the same evils objected against this people by other prophets.
Hosea 4:2. By swearing, &c.— Swearing, and lying, and murther, and theft, and adultery break out, &c.
Hosea 4:3. Therefore shall the land mourn, &c.— Desolation, drought, and dearth shall come upon the whole land; shall consume both men, and beasts, and fowls, and shall even extend itself to the inhabitants of the waters.
Hosea 4:4. Yet let no man strive, &c.— Let no one expostulate or reprove; for all expostulation and reproof will be lost upon this people, such is their stubbornness and obstinacy.
For thy people are as they that strive, &c.— "It is in vain for you to reproach one another. You are given up as to an incurable malady; for you are as a man who strives with the priests; guilty of the highest degree of rebellion, and incapable of correction, by opposing the authorized interpreter of the law, and the typical intercessor between God and the people. This passage therefore refers to the Mosaic institutions." The law condemned those to death who resisted the authority of the priest, Deuteronomy 17:12. Houbigant renders it, after the LXX, For thy people follow the rebellion of the priest; that is to say, are as wicked as those priests who infamously deserted the service of God for that of idols.
Hosea 4:5. In the day— "Not for want of light to see thy way; but in the full day-light of divine instruction thou shalt fall: even at the rising of that light, which is for the lighting of every man that cometh into the world." In this day-time, when our Lord himself visited them, the Jews made their last grand false step, and fell.
In the night— In the night of ignorance, which shall close thy day, the prophet shall fall with thee; that is, the order of prophets among thee shall cease.
Thy mother— That is to say, the mother-city, the metropolis. So Capellus, Houbigant, and Archbishop Newcome. But Jerusalem is intended, not Samaria; for Samaria was the metropolis of the kingdom of the ten tribes, not of the whole nation, the children of Israel in general.
Hosea 4:6. Destroyed for lack of knowledge— "The ignorance of the true principles of religion which prevails among the people of the ten tribes is the cause of those sins which draw down such heavy judgments upon them." Houbigant, instead of, Thou shalt be no priest to me, reads, That thou shalt not have any command with me: for it is plain, that he addresses the people, and not the priests. But in the next verse he introduces the word priests, which he reads thus, As the priests were increased, so have they greatly offended me; and in the 8th verse, instead of, The sin of my people, he reads, The sin-offerings or sacrifices of my people; and confirm their hearts by their own iniquity: that is, they confirm the people in the worship of the calves, by partaking themselves in that worship.
Hosea 4:12. Ask counsel at their stocks— Consult their wood; that is to say, the images of their idols, made of wood, consult, as oracles, to foretel what is to come to pass, or to advise what measures should be taken.
Hosea 4:13. Oaks— That is to say, the evergreen oak, or ilex. And elms] The acorn-tree, or the common oak.
Hosea 4:14. Are separated— Take part. The chapter ought to end with this verse.
Hosea 4:15. Though thou, Israel, &c.— Here a transition is made, with great elegance and animation, from the general subject of the whole people, in both its branches, to the kingdom of the ten tribes in particular. "Whatever the obstinacy of the house of Israel may be in her corruptions, at least let Judah keep herself pure. Let her not join in the idolatrous worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, or mix idolatry with the profession of the true religion. As for Israel, I give her up to a reprobate mind." Then the discourse passes naturally into the detail and amplification of Israel's guilt.
Come not ye unto Gilgal— Gilgal was remarkable for the renewal of the rite of circumcision, when the Israelites first passed over Jordan; and after Jeroboam set up idolatry, it was famous for the worship of false gods. It is joined with Beth-el, called here Beth-aven, where Jereboam's calves were worshipped. Beth-el signifies the house of God, and was so called by Jacob upon God's appearing, to him there. But when it became the seat of idolatry, it was called Beth-aven, or the house of vanity. See Lowth, and Calmet.
Hosea 4:16. For Israel slideth, &c.— Houbigant renders it, As an untamed heifer, when the Lord would have fed them, &c. Dr. Chandler observes, that the word סררה sorerah, rendered backsliding, properly signifies an untamed, refractory, mischievous heifer, wantonly running and frisking about, or stung by the gad-bee, and vexed by it almost to madness. The LXX render the words emphatically, As a stung heifer madly leaps about, so hath Israel grown mad, refractory, and obstinate. See Chandler's Life of David, vol. 2: p. 59.
In a large place— That is to say, in an uninclosed place, a wide common. They shall no longer be fed with care in the rich inclosures of God's cultivated farm; but be turned out to browse the scanty herbage of the waste. That is, they shall be driven into exile among the heathen, freed from what they thought the restraints, and of consequence deprived of all the blessings and benefits, of religion. This dreadful menace is delivered in the form of severe derision: a figure much used by the prophets, especially by Hosea. Sheep love to feed at large. The sheep of Ephraim shall presently have room enough. They shall be scattered over the whole surface of the vast Assyrian empire, where they will be at liberty to turn very heathen.
Hosea 4:18. Their drink is sour— Drunkenness hath turned them away. Houbigant. Those who understand it according to our translation, suppose that the prophet means the wine which was poured out in libations to their false gods. The Chaldee renders it, Their princes have multiplied banquets by rapine. See Pococke. The allusion is to libations made with wine grown dead or turning sour. The image represents the want of all spirit of piety in their acts of worship, and the unacceptableness of such worship in the sight of God; which is alleged as a reason for the determination, expressed in the preceding clause, to give Ephraim up to his own ways. "Leave him to himself," says God to his prophet; "his pretended devotions are all false and hypocritical; I desire none of them."
Hosea 4:19. The wind hath bound her up, &c.— A whirlwind shall involve her in its eddies. Houbigant. One of the Jewish expositions is, "The wind is joined to her wings, as it is with a bird which it suffereth not to rest till it hath carried her afar off: so shall the armies of the enemy come against them, and carry them away captive:"—An admirable image of the condition of a people torn by a conqueror from their native land, scattered in exile to the four quarters of the world, and living thenceforward without any settled residence of their own, liable to be moved about at the will of arbitrary masters, like a thing tied to the wings of the wind, obliged to go with the wind whichever way it set, but never suffered for a moment to lie still. The image is striking now; but must have been more striking, when a bird with expanded wings, or a huge pair of wings without head or body, was the hieroglyphic of the element of the air, or rather of the general mundane atmosphere, one of the most irresistible of physical agents. Hath bound, should be rendered, is binding, the present tense, to denote instant futurity. See Bishop Horsley.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Israel's sins are the cause of all her miseries.
1. The prophet in God's name summons the people to attend the charge that he is about to lay against them. Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. Sin was the high offence, the cause of all their miseries and ours; and in God's chosen nation it was more exceeding sinful.
2. Their indictment charges them with many high crimes and misdemeanors; for one of a thousand of which they cannot answer him. There is no truth, hypocritical towards God, and faithless towards men, their professions were deceit, and their promises falsehood: nor mercy; for where honesty is banished, charity cannot subsist. They paid no regard to the distresses of the indigent; and, wrapped up in themselves, with unfeeling disregard beheld the miseries of others. Nor knowledge of God in the land: they desired not to know him, their hearts were averse from his teachings; and this wilful ignorance was at once the cause and aggravation of their other sins. By swearing, they increased their load of guilt, wantonly profane, and taking God's name in vain: and lying; they added perjury to profaneness, and in their ordinary conversation copied closely after their father the devil, who was a liar from the beginning: and by a complication of all the most enormous crimes they filled up the measure of their iniquities; by killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, with lawless violence, unrestrained by the laws of God or man, as a torrent, that sweeps away every mound, and deluges the country. And blood toucheth blood; so vast is the effusion of it, occasioned by the frequency of murders; or the dreadful massacres of the successive kings, each grasping at the crown over the corpse of his predecessor, 2 Kings 15:8-30.
3. An awful sentence is passed upon them: for such sins, wherever they are found, are sure to meet a just recompense of reward. Therefore shall the land mourn, laid waste and desolate with famine and the sword; and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, pining for want, or consumed with war and pestilence; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away, that no food may remain to satisfy their hunger. Note; God can quickly consume a sinful land: he has only to withdraw his mercies, and we perish immediately.
4. Their case is desperate. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: either these are the words of the incorrigible people, silencing their reprovers; or of God to the prophet, enjoining him and other good men to desist from their labours, and abandon them to ruin: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest; they are so impudent in sin, that they would fly in the face even of the priests of God who admonished them; or all were become so bad, that, if a priest dared reprove them, they retorted on him, Physician, heal thyself. Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, the day of vengeance approaching; or to-day, immediately the wrath shall go forth; and the prophet also, the false prophets who deceived them with lying divinations, shall fall with thee in the night of deep adversity, which approaches; and I will destroy thy mother, the nation in general; for the people of Judaea as well as the ten tribes are here doomed to utter ruin. Note; (1.) They who are deaf to rebuke are on the precipice of ruin. (2.) We are bound not to suffer sin upon our brethren, without friendly admonition; but when we perceive them exasperated, instead of humbled, silence becomes duty. (3.) When sinners strive with their faithful ministers, and refuse to hear, their blood is on their own heads. (4.) They who have contributed to seduce others shall meet the heavier vengeance in the day of recompense.
2nd, The sin and punishment of the ungodly priests correspond with each other.
1. They rejected the knowledge of God, and suffered the people to perish for lack of it. And though this will be no excuse for the people, who chose darkness rather than light, yet will their blood be required at the negligent watchman's hands. I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me, cut off both from the office and benefit of the priesthood. Note; (1.) Ignorance in a priest or minister of religion is doubly scandalous, and wilful ignorance the more atrociously criminal, as thereby not only their own souls but the souls of others are destroyed. (2.) Ignorance in the people is so far from being the mother of devotion, that it is the forerunner of destruction. (3.) Though, in such careless days as ours, men unqualified by ignorance, and scandalous by immoralities, are too often permitted to call themselves ministers of God, he will with abhorrence reject their pretensions, and in the great day drive them from his throne with a—Depart, accursed, I never knew you.
2. They forgot the law of God, took no pains to remember it themselves or inculcate it upon others; therefore God threatens, I will also forget thy children, the children of the priests, who should be degraded, and not succeed their fathers in the priesthood. Wicked parents thus bring a curse upon their own offspring.
3. The abuse of their blessings shall prove their bane. As they were increased in numbers, wealth, and power, so they sinned against me with the more daring profaneness and insolent ingratitude; therefore will I change their glory into shame, when, led into a wretched captivity, they should be stripped of all their possessions and honours, and mingle with the ignominious heathen.
4. They were luxurious. They eat up the sin of my people, feasting on the sin-offerings; and while they were careless about instructing the people concerning the nature and design of the sacrifices, they fattened themselves upon the choicest part of them; they set their heart on their iniquity, wholly given up to the indulgence of their appetites; or lifted up their soul thereunto, well-pleased that the people should continue to sin, because this would multiply the sacrifices, and provide food for their gluttony. And there shall be like people, like priest, equally ignorant, intemperate, and profane; for when priests shew such ill examples, no wonder that a general profligacy of manners ensues. And I will punish them for their ways: they who were companions in sin shall suffer together; and reward them their doings, pouring out that vengeance upon them which they have provoked: for they shall eat, and not have enough; either their insatiable appetites should ever be craving, and find no satisfaction; or during the famine; or in captivity, they should know the pinchings of hunger; and pine away for very want of sustenance.
5. They committed fornication, and thought to have a numerous issue by these unlawful means; but they shall not increase; God will disappoint their desires, or slay their children: because they have left off to take heed to the Lord; apostate from his service, and open violators of his law. Note; (1.) When God is disregarded, men stop at no abominations. (2.) God's curse will blast all unlawful ways of increase.
6. They had given their hearts to wine and wicked women. Whoredom and wine, and new wine, take away the heart, utterly estrange it from God; or such sins stupify the conscience, and rob men of their reason, so that they act as if infatuated. Thus does the curse ever follow the sin, close as the shadow does the body.
3rdly, The prophet goes on to charge upon the people of Israel those atrocious crimes which cried for vengeance.
1. Their sins were,
[1.] Idolatry. The spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err: their hearts were violently bent upon their idols, with such raging desires as govern the most licentious of mankind; and so astonishingly besotted, that they leave the living God, who would have been their husband, father, friend, almighty to help, all-wise to direct them, to ask counsel at their stocks; as if the log that they had squared and planed could teach them: and their staff declareth unto them; either some little image engraved on them, to which they paid their devotions: or they used the divinations of the heathen; and by the falling of their staff took directions for their conduct. To these senseless idols they offered their sacrifices and incense, upon the tops of the mountains, under oaks and poplars, and elms, because the shadow thereof is good, copying the manners of their heathen neighbours, and choosing the same places for the scenes of their impure rites and ceremonies.
[2.] Adultery. They are separated with whores, and sacrifice with harlots, the worship of their gods being celebrated with such abominations; and this continually, these crimes were their habitual practice.
[3.] Bribery, and perversion of justice. Her rulers with shame do love, Give ye. Nothing could be obtained of them without a fee, who should have administered justice freely; and gain, not right, swayed their decisions.
[4.] They obstinately persisted in their wicked ways. Israel slideth back, as a backsliding heifer, or refractory, that no fence can keep in; or that will not suffer the yoke, and, when goaded to draw, goes backward. So had they been, refusing to be restrained by God's law, or kicking against the pricks of the prophetic warnings and afflictive providences: and so wedded were they to their idols; sins these, which, wherever they are found, will assuredly, as here, provoke God's wrath and indignation against the guilty soul: for the people that doth not understand the danger and evil of their ways shall fall, and perish in their iniquities.
2. God threatens them with a variety of evils, as the righteous punishment of their transgressions.
[1.] Their daughters shall be given up to every vile and licentious practice, led by the bad examples of their husbands and fathers; and permitted with impunity to do so, as a punishment for the like crimes which they had committed.
[2.] They shall be given as sheep to the slaughter. The Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place, and their prosperity shall hasten their perdition; or as one lamb, separated from the flock and in a desart, falls a prey to the devouring wolves, so should they be given up to the hand of the Assyrians, and dispersed in their vast empire.
[3.] God will abandon them to their own hearts; and a heavier curse cannot fall upon the sinner, than when God withdraws all his grace, and saith, Let him alone; let my Spirit no more strive, nor ministers rebuke, nor conscience check, nor providences restrain, nor mercies affect him: then his doom is fixed.
[4.] God will make their sins their punishment, as the drunkard often proves. Their drink is sour, their stomachs ovvercharged, and sickness like death seizes them, till every table is filled with vomit.
[5.] They shall be hurried away captives. The wind hath bound her up in her wings: the Assyrians, like a whirlwind, shall carry all before them; and then, too late, they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices, when their folly, in trusting to idols, and departing from God, will be made manifest.
3. Judah is admonished to take warning by Israel's sin. Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend. Some interpreters suppose, that this is rather a caution to Israel, among all their other sins, not to draw their brethren of the house of Judah to offend with them, which would aggravate their guilt. But it is rather addressed to Judah, who might be tempted to join with the house of Israel in idolatry, which would be more criminal in them, who had the temple in the midst of them, and had not yet apostatized from God; and therefore they are forbidden to meet the Israelites in their places of idolatrous worship, Come not ye unto Gilgal, the chief scene of their wickedness, see chap. Hos 9:15 Hosea 12:11 neither go ye up to Beth-aven: once the name was Bethel, the house of God; but since the golden calf has been erected there, it is Beth-aven, a house of iniquity or vanity, and to be shunned as the plague: nor swear, The Lord liveth; profanely, or falsely, or thoughtlessly taking this awful name into their lips. Note; (1.) The more advantages we enjoy to know God, and the more obligations we are under to cleave to him, the more will every departure from him bring aggravated guilt. (2.) They who would abstain from sin must shun the company of evil men, and never venture into the places of temptation: when we are out of the path of duty we must not expect protection. (3.) They who draw no sacred reverence for God's name, evidently declare the profaneness and impiety of their hearts.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hosea 4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26