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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 8

Verse 1

After this general announcement the prophet proceeds to call attention to the imminence of the judgment (Hosea 8:1), to describe the terror that will befall Israel (Hosea 8:2), and to point out the futility of the appeal for deliverance (Hosea 8:3).

Set the trumpet to thy mouth Literally, to thy palate the horn. Palate is equivalent to mouth (as in Job 8:7; Proverbs 5:3, etc.). On horn see on Hosea 5:8. The appeal is to the watchman to give the signal of alarm because the enemy is approaching (compare Amos 3:6). The second exclamation is, literally, “As an eagle against the house of Jehovah.” The thought is evidently that the enemy, on account of whose approach the signal is to be sounded, is coming with the swiftness of an eagle, or vulture (see on Micah 1:16). Wellhausen suggests to read without any change in the consonants apart from a different division “for” or “because” an eagle (comes against the house of Jehovah), instead of “as” an eagle; thus bringing out the causal relation existing between the first and the second clauses. G.A. Smith adds the pertinent comment, “Where the carcass is, there are the eagles gathered together.” As already suggested, the enemy is undoubtedly the Assyrian (compare Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3).

House of Jehovah Not as commonly, the temple, but, as in Hosea 9:15, the land of Israel. A similar expression, house of Omri, equivalent to land of Omri, is found in the Assyrian inscriptions. 1b sums up the accusations against Israel, thus supplying the reasons for the advance of the executioner.

Covenant Since it stands in parallelism with law it is probably equivalent to ordinance (Jeremiah 11:6); these ordinances were based on the covenant established between Jehovah and Israel at Mount Sinai.

Law See on Hosea 4:6. The impending doom will drive the people to Jehovah, temporarily at least; in their calamity they will cry unto Jehovah.

Verses 1-3


Israel has proved a disappointment; defiantly it persists in rebellion, therefore judgment has become inevitable indeed, it is rapidly approaching. Hosea 7:16 to Hosea 8:3, deals with the crisis that is imminent. The deep emotion of the prophet is indicated by the rapidity with which he moves from one thought to another.

Their princes shall fall All the eighth century prophets insist that the ruling classes are largely to blame for the prevalent corruption, therefore the first blow will fall upon them.

Rage of their tongue The word translated rage has received various translations and interpretations: roughness, deception, boasting, mockery, skepticism, insolence, bitterness, etc. The most satisfactory is probably “insolence,” that is, toward Jehovah. “The root meaning is to make a grumbling sound, like an irritated camel.” They have taken an insolent attitude toward Jehovah, hence he must vindicate himself by their overthrow.

This The overthrow of the princes.

Their derision in the land of Egypt Their false friends in the land of Egypt will laugh at them in scorn. Why the reference to Egypt? The eighth century prophets saw in Assyria the divinely commissioned executioner of judgment; the sword, therefore, should probably be understood as the sword of Assyria. During the same period the policy of Egypt was to incite, by promises of support, rebellion against Assyria among the nations throughout Syria and Palestine. The scheme was to keep the Assyrian armies busy, and thus prevent their advance against Egypt. Trusting in Egyptian promises, the nations frequently rebelled, but in the hour of need Egypt usually failed her allies; she looked on, laughing, while the nations suffered for their folly. This the prophet declares will happen now. It is quite possible that just at this time the Egyptian party in Israel was becoming prominent, favoring an alliance with Egypt and the throwing off of the obligations assumed by Menahem. New foreign entanglements the prophet condemns; he announces the speedy advance of Assyria, describes the overthrow of the vacillating princes, and pictures the derision with which Egypt will watch the humiliation of Israel. There is not sufficient reason for regarding “this shall be their derision” as a gloss, and for connecting “in the land of Egypt” with the preceding, so as to read, “The insolence of their tongue in the land of Egypt” that is, the insolence manifesting itself in the negotiations carried on with Egypt.

Verse 2

2. The reading of the R.V. is to be preferred, “They shall cry unto me, My God, we Israel know thee.” Such attitude will be in great contrast to their former turning from Jehovah; but when no other help is near they will remind him that they belong to him, and this relationship they will urge as a reason why he should help them (compare Isaiah 43:1).

My God Each individual cries; the singular passes into the plural, including the whole nation. Wellhausen, disregarding the accents and slightly altering the text, gets this translation, “To me they cry, My God! but I (Jehovah) know thee, O Israel.” And knowing their true character he will permit justice to have her way. The time of mercy is past.

Verse 3

3. Israel hath cast off the thing that [“that which”] is good Everything for which Jehovah stands; yea, Jehovah himself (compare Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6; Amos 5:14).

Cast off A strong word, to cast off with loathing. Now they must suffer the consequences; the enemy will execute judgment.

The enemy shall pursue him May also be rendered, let the enemy pursue him, expressing the decision of Jehovah that the enemy is to be allowed to proceed unhindered.

Verse 4

4. They have set up kings, but not by me Some understand this passage as a condemnation of the kingship in general; others, of the division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, which led to the election of kings not of the dynasty of David; still others connect it with the chaotic condition subsequent to the death of Jeroboam II, when royal assassinations became quite common. The last interpretation is the most probable, for the prophet seems to be concerned with the present and immediate past rather than with events which occurred centuries before his time. As in chapter 7, the prophet condemns the present condition of politics.

Princes Nobles (Hosea 3:4; Hosea 7:3, etc.). It seems to have been customary in connection with the royal assassinations to make a clean sweep, to destroy the entire royal family and court. With the new king a new set of nobles came to the front.

Knew The divine knowledge is not abstract; it involves approval or disapproval, loving care or abandonment; here equivalent to I did not approve (compare Psalms 1:6; Job 9:21).

As their political practices are an abomination to Jehovah so also their religious practices, culminating in idolatry.

They made them idols Though in Hosea 8:5 the “calf of Samaria” is specified the bulls set up by Jeroboam I in Beth-el and Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29) there can be no doubt that Hosea is condemning the idolatrous worship in general which was one result of the close contact between the Israelites and the Canaanites. Here for the first time in prophetic discourse we meet hostility to images. From the silence of the earlier prophets, Elijah, Elisha, and Amos, the inference has been drawn that they did not disapprove of them, and the further inference that the Decalogue, found in Exodus xx and Deuteronomy v, with its prohibition of image worship, was not known at or before this time. It is doubtful, however, whether these inferences are warranted. Every crisis in Israel called forth a prophet. Every prophet arose to meet a particular crisis. The earlier prophets were raised up to meet certain crises, serious in their own day and generation, and to these they gave exclusive attention. Their silence on other matters proves only that, with more important affairs in hand, they thought it wise to leave others for their successors. The earlier prophets were concerned with having Jehovah recognized as the supreme God; others might portray his nature and character. The representation of Jehovah by images was not a denial of his supremacy, though it was due to a misapprehension of his spiritual nature; the emphasis of the latter might well wait until the former was more generally recognized.

That they may be cut off The Hebrew verb is in the singular; LXX. reads the plural, which may be original. Some interpret these words as referring to the people. Since Israel did know, or at least could have known, better, their idolatrous practices were evidence that they were determined upon their own destruction. It seems better, however, to understand the words as referring to the idols; they make them only to be destroyed again.

Verses 4-14


In Hosea 8:4 the prophet renews his attack upon Israel. The political revolutions are rebellion against Jehovah (Hosea 8:4); their idolatry is an abomination to him (Hosea 8:4-6); they must reap what they have sown (Hosea 8:7); their appeals to foreign nations will not save them (Hosea 8:8-10). Once more he condemns their religious practices, and the section closes with a threat of judgment (Hosea 8:11-14).

Verse 5

5. Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off R.V., “He hath cast off thy calf, O Samaria.” The latter is a more accurate reproduction of the Hebrew, and gives better sense; but when taken with the context a difficulty remains; for the context suggests that Jehovah is the speaker, so that we would expect “I have cast off.” The addition of one single consonant to the verb form, with corresponding vowel changes, produces this reading. The emendation becomes unnecessary if the verb is given an intransitive meaning: “Abominable is thy calf.” Calf is a contemptuous designation of the bulls set up in Dan and Beth-el, and perhaps in Samaria, though the expression used here does not necessarily imply the presence of such calf in the capital, Samaria; the name of the capital may be used instead of the name of the country, Israel. Throughout the entire section the sentences follow one another in rapid succession without indication of the logical connection. The righteous anger of Jehovah is aroused, therefore he must make an end of the calf.

How long will it be ere they attain to innocency? An exclamation prompted by disappointment and sympathy. The exact force of the words “they attain to innocency” is disputed. The literal translation, “how long will they be incapable of innocency,” seems to come nearer to the real thought. The persistent idolatry reveals their incapacity for something better. Is this condition to continue forever?

Verses 6-14

6. From Israel was it also [“is even this”] What? Evidently the calf of Hosea 8:5. In its establishment Jehovah had no part; it is the work of Israel; therefore the former has cast it off. To join this clause more closely with 5a, 5b is transposed by some so as to stand before Hosea 8:5; Hosea 8:5 c is explained as a later gloss. Since the idol is made by human hands it can be no God (R.V.) These words imply that the people identify the image with the deity. To show its impotence it will be broken to pieces.

Under the figures of sowing, growing, and reaping (compare Hosea 10:12-13) the prophet pictures once more, in Hosea 8:7, the destruction of Israel. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Wind A picture of vain, unprofitable conduct. The harvest will be whirlwind Not only will they derive no benefit from their conduct, it will result in actual destruction. Of the sentences following G.A. Smith says, “Indeed, like a storm Hosea’s own language now sweeps along, and his metaphors are torn in shreds upon it.”

It hath no stalk R.V., “he hath no standing grain.” The figure differs slightly from the preceding. Israel is pictured as sowing corn, but it withers before the stalk develops. A.V. is to be preferred.

The bud [“blade”] shall yield no meal Even if the stalk forms it will yield no grain from which meal might be made. Should it bring forth grain Israel will not be benefited, for strangers shall seize it. Nothing but disappointment and ruin is ahead of the nation.

In Hosea 8:8-11 the prophet, in a sense, corrects himself. In Hosea 8:7 he has said that the destruction is sure to come, but as he looks upon the nation he sees that ruin is already present, and he cries out in agony,

Israel is swallowed up Foreigners have already begun to devour the nation (Hosea 7:8-9); complete destruction is only a question of time.

Now shall they be Better, R.V., “now are they”; the prophet is describing a present situation.

A vessel wherein is no pleasure [“none delighteth”] A worthless vessel. Its resources have been sapped (Hosea 7:9) by greedy nations; now it is cast aside like a vessel for which there is no further use (Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 48:38). In illustrating this phrase, Thomson speaks of the readiness with which pottery is cast away in the East: “The coarse pottery of the country is so cheap that even poor people cast it away in contempt, or dash it to pieces on the slightest occasion.”

What has caused this condition of affairs? Their own stubbornness. 9. They were determined to mingle among the nations, and these proved their destruction. Of the nations one is singled out.

Gone up to Assyria For assistance (Hosea 7:11).

A wild ass alone by himself To be taken with the preceding words; it is a description of Israel’s foreign policy. The point of comparison is obstinacy (Genesis 16:12; Job 39:5-8). Wild asses ordinarily move in droves, but sometimes a single animal, resisting the gregarious instinct, will run away and thus expose itself to danger.

Israel has been warned again and again, but resisting all warnings is determined to have its own way, whatever the consequences.

Ephraim hath hired lovers Literally loves. In the Hebrew there is a play upon words, the original for wild ass and for Ephraim being similar in sound. The reference is apparently to the gifts sent by Ephraim (Israel) to secure the friendship of Assyria or Egypt (Hosea 7:11; Hosea 12:1). LXX. has a different reading, but it is no improvement over the Hebrew. Various emendations have been proposed; for example, “Ephraim gives love gifts,” which requires but a very slight alteration. To restore the parallelism, as in Hosea 7:11; Hosea 12:1, some read “Egypt” in the place of “Ephraim”: “To Egypt they give love-gifts.” The thought is not altered by these emendations.

Of Hosea 8:10 it has been said, “No single word of this entire verse is of certain meaning.” As a result translations have been many and emendations not a few. The most recent commentators, Marti and Harper, relieve the situation by rejecting the verse as a later gloss, but for this there are no adequate reasons. For 10a, unless the text is changed, the interpretation suggested by the English versions, especially R.V., “though they hire among the nations,” seems the most satisfactory. Though they may succeed to some extent in gaining the support of the nations, Jehovah cannot permit the present policy to continue, for its continuation would frustrate completely the purpose of Jehovah for Israel.

Now will I gather them Israel, not the nations. Israel is to be gathered in like a flock, which is put in the fold to prevent the wandering of the sheep. They are to be put under restraint, their reckless negotiations are to be interrupted. Thus Jehovah may yet be able to teach Israel his ways. What the method of restraint will be is not stated, but the next sentence indicates that the prophet has in mind an exile. Hosea 8:10 b is even more difficult.

And they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes R.V., “and they begin to be diminished by reason of the burden of the king of princes.” Margin, R.V., goes back to A.V. With either translation the sense seems to be that Israel, when under restraint, will suffer from the burdens imposed by the king of princes the king of Assyria (compare Isaiah 10:8). In the inscriptions the Assyrian kings frequently call themselves “king of kings.” The translations do not agree as to the derivation of the verb; A.V. derives it from a verb to sorrow, to be sick, to suffer pain, while R.V. traces it to a verb begin, to which Von Orelli gives the additional meaning, release, relieve. As the form is written in the great majority of the Hebrew manuscripts the translation of R.V. is to be preferred. The policy of oppression practiced by the conquerors will diminish the prosperity and numbers of Israel. Why “begin”? A smoother reading, requiring but few changes in the original, is afforded by LXX.:” and they shall cease for a little while from the anointing of a king and of princes.” While the exile lasts they will be compelled to be without their own rulers (Hosea 3:4; compare Hosea 13:10). This threat is exceedingly appropriate here, and it is quite probable that LXX. has preserved the original text. What contrast to the ease with which they now place kings upon the throne! (Hosea 8:4.)

Hosea 8:11 introduces the justification for the threat of judgment, which is repeated in 13b. The substitution of a cold, formal ceremonial for obedience to the divine requirements is responsible for the downfall. The present text is made somewhat cumbersome by the presence of the first “for sinning,” or “to sin.” To remove the difficulty some read in its place “to make atonement,” which requires but a slight change in the vocalization of the verb form. Ephraim made the altars for purposes of atonement, but their purposes have become perverted. This is an improvement, but it is more likely that the first “for sinning” has come into the text through the carelessness of a copyist, whose eyes lighted accidentally upon the end of the second part of the verse, and that it should be omitted. With this omission the verse may be translated, “For though Ephraim made many altars, they have become to him altars for sinning.” The common notion was that the offering of sacrifice was sufficient to win the divine favor; the more numerous the altars the greater the divine pleasure. This false notion the prophet attacks (Isaiah 1:11 ff.; Amos 5:21 ff.); the altars have only increased Israel’s guilt. How? Hosea 4:12 ff., supplies the answer.

Hosea 8:12 also is full of difficulties. The translation itself is uncertain. R.V. differs from A.V. only in reading “the ten thousand things” instead of “the great things”; the latter is in accord with the Masoretic suggestion, the former follows the Hebrew text; in this R.V. is preferable. For “my law” LXX. and Vulgate read “my laws,” which is probably original. To get this reading no change in the consonantal text is required. The translation of the tenses also is uncertain; LXX. and Vulgate have the future, Targum and Peshitto the past. The first, verb in Hebrew is an imperfect, which expresses a variety of ideas but always implies incompleteness, Here the verb might be rendered, (1) “I did write” (and am writing still); (2) “I will write”; (3) “I am writing,” or “I am wont to write”; (4) “I did write repeatedly”; (5) it might be hypothetical, “Were I to write,” or (6) concessive, “Though I wrote,” or “Though I should write.” Which of these is the proper translation? Naturally, commentators disagree. To the present writer the choice seems to lie between (5) and (6), and of these (6) seems the more probable; and of the two possible renderings the former seems more in accord with the context. If this translation is accepted the whole verse will read: “Though I wrote for him the ten thousand of my laws, they were counted as strange things,” or “as those of a stranger.” The misconduct of Israel is not due to ignorance; Jehovah gave instruction continuously, but his laws were considered as something foreign, and therefore of no authority. Ten thousand or myriads is not to be understood literally; it simply means a great number. On law see comment on Hosea 4:6. The passage certainly implies the existence of written laws, but it does not prove the existence of the entire Pentateuchal legislation. On the contrary, the context seems to indicate that the laws did not deal to any great extent with the ceremonial or with sacrifice; of these Hosea speaks very lightly. He seems to emphasize rather the moral and civil legislation, such as is found, for example, in Exodus 21-23.

In Hosea 8:13 the prophet returns to the religious practices.

They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it R.V., “As for the sacrifices of mine offerings, they sacrifice flesh and eat it.” The latter follows the Hebrew text more closely. The word translated “mine offerings” occurs only here; its meaning is not quite certain, though it comes probably from a root to give. Sacrifices of mine offerings is ordinarily interpreted as equivalent to my sacrificial offerings, and, unless we assume a corruption of the text, this is the best interpretation. These sacrifices, consisting of flesh, are offered, but Jehovah does not care for them, since the right disposition is wanting and the givers neglect the weightier matters. Therefore “the only positive result is that the sacrificer has the luxury of a dinner of fresh meat” (compare Hosea 4:8). The whole is a condemnation of the heartless religious practices. The measure is full. The blood of the sacrificial animals cannot blot out their sins; he will remember them and will proceed to execute the judgment, which will take the form of an exile.

They shall return to Egypt The house of their former bondage. The mention of Egypt could not but suggest the sufferings of the early Israelites, but it is hardly correct to regard Egypt here as “merely a type of the land of bondage” (Keil), and thus to interpret the reference as a “poetic expression for captivity in general.” The prophet undoubtedly intended the words to be understood as predicting an exile in Egypt (compare Hosea 9:3; Hosea 9:6; Hosea 11:5). The Israelites appealed, now to Assyria, now to Egypt; these very nations will prove the ruin of Israel (compare Isaiah 7:18; Isaiah 11:11, etc.).

Hosea 8:14 sums up the cause of it all.

Israel hath forgotten his Maker This is the root of all evil (see on Hosea 2:20), but especially of the false policy which could see help only in human defenses, and which led them to seek help among the surrounding nations and build temples Better, with R.V., “palaces,” or “castles,” in parallelism with fenced [“fortified”] cities The building of palaces and fortified cities, as such, is not condemned by the prophet. What he does condemn is the fact that in these, and these alone, the people put their trust, to the absolute disregard of Jehovah. The latter will vindicate himself by utterly destroying the human defenses.

Fire War (as in Amos 1:4 to Amos 2:5). Hosea 9:14 b seems to be dependent upon Amos (Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7, etc.), who prophesied about twenty years earlier. Hosea might, therefore, have been acquainted with the words of the earlier prophet. Most modern commentators consider Hosea 8:14 an addition. The reasons for this opinion are summed up by Harper: (1) The reference to Judah is not called for; (2) the style resembles that of Amos rather than that of Hosea; (3) the natural conclusion of the discourse is in Hosea 8:13, hence Hosea 8:14 only weakens the climax; (4) the thought of Jehovah as Israel’s Creator is unexpected in Hosea’s time; (5) the verse is superfluous in the strophic system. Whether or not these reasons are conclusive against Hosea’s authorship of Hosea 8:14 each one must decide for himself.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hosea 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.