2. PRIESTS AND PRINCES FAIL
The line followed in this paragraph is almost parallel to that of chapter 4, running out to a prospect of invasion. But the charge is directed solely against the chiefs of the people, and the strictures of Hosea 7:7 ff. upon the political folly of the rulers are anticipated.
"Hear this, O Priests, and hearken, House of Israel, and House of the King, give ear. For on you is the sentence!" You who have hitherto been the judges, this time shall be judged.
"A snare have ye become at Mizpeh, and a net spread out upon Tabor, and a pit have they made deep upon Shittim; but I shall be the scourge of them all. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me-for now hast thou played the harlot, Ephraim, Israel is defiled." The worship on the high places, whether nominally of Jehovah or not, was sheer service of Ba’alim. It was in the interest both of the priesthood and of the rulers to multiply these sanctuaries, but they were only traps for the people. "Their deeds will not let them return to their God; for a harlot spirit is in their midst, and Jehovah," for all their oaths by Him, "they have not known. But the pride of Israel shall testify to his face; and Israel and Ephraim shall stumble by their guilt-stumble also shall Judah with them." By Israel’s pride many understand God. But the term is used too opprobriously by Amos to allow us to agree to this. The phrase must mean that Israel’s arrogance, or her proud prosperity, by the wounds which it feels in this time of national decay, shall itself testify against the people-a profound ethical symptom to which we shall return when treating of Repentance. Yet the verse may be rendered in harmony with the context: "the pride of Israel shall be humbled to his face. With their sheep and their cattle they go about to seek Jehovah, and shall not find" Him"; He hath drawn off from them. They have been unfaithful to Jehovah, for they have begotten strange children." A generation has grown up who are not His. "Now may a month devour them with their portions!" Any month may bring the swift invader. Hark! the alarum of war! How it reaches to the back of the land!
"Blow the trumpet in Gibeah the clarion in Ramah
Raise the slogan, Beth-Aven: ‘After thee Benjamin!’"
"Ephraim shall become desolation in the day of rebuke! Among the tribes of Israel I have made known what is certain!"
At this point (Hosea 5:10) the discourse swerves from the religious to the political leaders of Israel; but as the princes were included with the priests in the exordium (Hosea 5:1), we can hardly count this a new oracle.
"The princes of Judah are like landmark-re-movers"-commonest cheats in Israel-"upon them will I pour out My wrath like water. Ephraim is oppressed, crushed is his right, for he willfully went after vanity. And I am as the moth to Ephraim, and as rottenness to the house of Judah." Both kingdoms have begun to fall to pieces, for by this time Uzziah of Judah also is dead, and the weak politicians are in charge whom Isaiah satirized. "And Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his sore; and Ephraim went to Asshur and sent to King Jareb-King Combative, King Pick-Quarrel," a nickname for the Assyrian monarch. The verse probably refers to the tribute which Mena-hem sent to Assyria in 738. If so, then Israel has drifted full five years into her "thick night." "But he cannot heal you, nor dry up your sore. For I, Myself, am like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, I rend and go My way; I carry off and there is none to deliver." It is the same truth which Isaiah expressed with even greater grimness. God Himself is His people’s sore; and not all their statecraft nor alliances may heal what He inflicts. Priests and Princes, then, have alike failed. A greater failure is to follow.
A PEOPLE IN DECAY: 1 MORALLY
Hosea 4:1-19 - Hosea 7:7
PURSUING the plan laid down in the last chapter, we now take the section of Hosea’s discourse which lies between chapter 4 and Hosea 7:7. Chapter 4 is the only really separable bit of it; but there are also slight breaks at Hosea 5:15 and Hosea 7:2. So we may attempt a division into four periods:
1. Chapter 4, which states God’s general charge against the people;
2. Hosea 5:1-14, which discusses the priests and princes;
3. Hosea 5:15 - Hosea 7:2, which abjures the people’s attempts at repentance; and
4. Hosea 7:3-7, which is a lurid spectacle of the drunken and profligate court.
All these give symptoms of the moral decay of the people, -the family destroyed by impurity, and society by theft and murder; the corruption of the spiritual guides of the people; the debauchery of the nobles; the sympathy of the throne with evil, -with the despairing judgment that such a people are incapable even of repentance. The keynotes are these: "No truth, nor real love, nor knowledge of God in the land. Priest and Prophet stumble. Ephraim and Judah stumble. I am as the moth to Ephraim. What can I make of thee, Ephraim? When I would heal them, their guilt is only the more exposed." Morally, Israel is rotten. The prophet, of course, cannot help adding signs of their political incoherence. But these he deals with more especially in the part of his discourse which follows chapter 7:7.
3. REPENTANCE FALLS
Hosea 5:15 - Hosea 7:2
Seeing that their leaders are so helpless, and feeling their wounds, the people may themselves turn to God for healing, but that will be with a repentance so shallow as also to be futile. They have no conviction of sin, nor appreciation of how deeply their evils have eaten.
This too facile repentance is expressed in a prayer which the Christian Church has paraphrased into one of its most beautiful hymns of conversion. Yet the introduction to this prayer, and its own easy assurance of how soon God will heal the wounds He has made, as well as the impatience with which God receives it, oblige us to take the prayer in another sense than the hymn which has been derived from it. It offers but one more symptom of the optimism of this light-hearted people, whom no discipline and no judgment can impress with the reality of their incurable decay. They said of themselves, "The bricks are fallen, let us build with stones," and now they say just as easily and airily of their God, "He hath torn" only "that He may heal: "we are fallen, but" He will raise us up again in a day or two." At first it is still God who speaks.
"I am going My way, I am returning to My own place, until they feel their guilt and seek My face. When trouble comes upon them, they will soon enough seek Me, saying":-
"Come and let us return to Jehovah;
For He hath rent, that He may heal us,
And hath wounded, that He may bind us up.
He will bring us to life in a couple of days;
On the third day He will raise us up again,
That we may live in His presence."
"Let us know, let us follow up to know, Jehovah:
As soon as we seek Him, we shall find Him
And He shall come to us like the winter-rain,
Like the spring-rain, pouring on the land!"
But how is this fair prayer received by God? With incredulity, with impatience. What can I make of thee, Ephraim? what can I make of thee, Judah? since your love is like the morning cloud and like the dew so early gone. Their shallow hearts need deepening. Have they not been deepened enough? "Wherefore I have hewn" them "by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgment goeth forth like the lightning. For real love have I desired, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings."
That the discourse comes back to the ritual is very intelligible. For what could make repentance stem so easy as the belief that forgiveness can be won by simply offering sacrifices? Then the prophet leaps upon what each new year of that anarchy revealed afresh-the profound sinfulness of the people.
"But they in human fashion have transgressed the covenant! There"-he will now point out the very spots-"have they betrayed Me! Gilead is a city of evil-doers: stamped with the bloody footprints; assassins in troops; a gang of priests murder on the way to Shechem. Yea, crime have they done. In the house of Israel I have seen horrors: there Ephraim hath played the harlot: Israel is defiled-Judah as well."
Truly the sinfulness of Israel is endless. Every effort to redeem them only discovers more of it. "When I would turn, when I would heal Israel, then the guilt of Ephraim displays itself and the evils of Samaria," these namely: "that they work fraud and the thief cometh in"-evidently a technical term for housebreaking -" while abroad a crew" of highwaymen foray. And they never think in their hearts that all their evil is recorded by Me. Now have their deeds encompassed them: they are constantly before
Evidently real repentance on the part of such a people is impossible. As Hosea said before, "Their deeds will not let them return." [Hosea 5:4]
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hosea 5". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany