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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Hosea 10

 

 

Verse 1

‘Israel is a luxuriant vine,

Which puts forth his fruit.

In accordance with the abundance of his fruit,

He has multiplied his altars,

In accordance with the goodness of their land,

They have made goodly pillars.’

With withering sarcasm Hosea now depicts what Israel has become. They are indeed a luxurious vine which puts forth its fruit (something that they were no doubt claiming for themselves), but their response to having an abundance of fruit has been to build an abundance of altars. Most of the credit is going to Baal (and their own perverted sexual behaviour). And their response to the goodness of the land (the land, be it noted, of YHWH) as it produces abundantly is to erect goodly pillars. Such pillars were a symbol of Baal and were erected at their many sanctuaries in his honour. Many examples have been discovered archaeologically.

Note the play on ‘abundance of fruit’ and ‘multiplied altars’, ‘goodly land’ and ‘goodly pillars’, clearly stressing that the more they were blessed, the more they looked to Baal. So the more YHWH prospered Israel, the more Baalism was taking over their minds. They had never had it so good, and they gave Baal most of the credit, seeing it as a just response to all their exuberant worship and all their perverted sexual antics. They felt that they made a good partnership. And in so far as YHWH was still worshipped, it was as a part of this nature pattern. At the same time they were conveniently able to ignore the fact that they had already lost over half their land to Assyria, land which had become a province of Assyria, and also to overlook the fact of the threat of an Assyria looming ever larger, an ever threatening reality. Their eyes were simply on their own present with its fruitful harvests and freedom from all restraint, and they seemingly thought that it could go on for ever.


Verses 1-8

Israel’s ‘Fruitfulness’ Is Revealed By Their Setting Up A Multiplicity Of Altars And Religious Pillars, Declaring That They Are Responsible To No One, And Do Not Fear God, But They Will Shortly Discover That They Are Responsible To Someone, Even To The Great King Of Assyria, And That All Their False Altars Will Be Torn Down By A God Whom They Will Certainly Fear (Hosea 10:1-8).

Israel is here depicted as being like a luxuriant vine, but it is as one that turns out to be a vine of false promises because the ‘abundance of fruit’ that it produces will be in the form of altars to Baal and pillars of Baal. Furthermore they will declare their freedom from any restraint, whether by king or God, trusting to false covenants with nature gods. This reveals a state of anarchy and lawlessness within Israel unparalleled in the past. All restraint has broken down as they fling themselves headlong into dependency on Baal and Asherah. However, Hosea points out that they will inevitably discover that they are not free from restraint because they will discover in the end that they have to submit to a king, even the Great King, the King of Assyria, and at the same time they will be in terror of losing their ‘new’ gods. Furthermore they will discover that their high places will be destroyed, and that by the very One Whom they have despised.

Analysis of Hosea 10:1-8).

a Israel is a luxuriant vine, which puts forth his fruit. According to the abundance of his fruit he has multiplied his altars; according to the goodness of their land they have made goodly pillars (Hosea 10:1).

b Their heart is divided. Now will they be found guilty. He will smite their altars, he will destroy their pillars (Hosea 10:2).

c Surely now will they say, “We have no king. For we do not fear YHWH, and the king, what can he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3).

d They speak vain words, swearing falsely in making covenants, therefore judgment springs up as hemlock in the furrows of the field (Hosea 10:4).

c The inhabitants of Samaria will be in terror for the calves of Beth-aven, for the people in it mourn over it, and its priests who rejoiced over it, for its glory, because it is departed from it. It also will be carried to Assyria for a present to the great king. Ephraim will receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel (Hosea 10:5-6).

b As for Samaria, her king is cut off, as a twig on the water, the high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, will be destroyed (Hosea 10:7-8 a).

a The thorn and the thistle will come up on their altars, and they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us” (Hosea 10:8 b).

Note that in ‘a’ stress is laid on the multiplicity of their altars, and in the parallel we learn what will happen to their altars. In ‘b’ YHWH will smite their altars and destroy their pillars, and in the parallel the high places of Aven will be destroyed. In ‘c’ the people boast that they have no king and have no fear of YHWH, and want to know what a king can do for them, and in the parallel they are in terror for their gods and own the kingship of the Great King and admit the folly of their own counsel. Centrally in ‘d’ they speak lying words concerning religious covenants with the result that judgment will inevitably come upon them.


Verse 2

‘Their heart is divided (or ‘smooth, deceitful’).

Now will they be found guilty.

He will smite their altars,

He will destroy their pillars.’

But Hosea warned that it would not go on for ever. Their hearts were divided between YHWH and Baal, with YHWH demoted to a mere nature god, and as a result they were about to be found guilty, guilty of dishonouring and ignoring YHWH’s covenant and His special claim on them. And as a consequence He was about to smite their altars and destroy their pillars. For He had not overlooked Assyria. Indeed He was about to use Assyria as the rod of His anger (Isaiah 10:5).


Verse 3

‘Surely now will they say,

“We have no king.

For we do not fear YHWH,

And the king, what can he do for us?”

But their response will be to declare a reckless independence. They will declare, ‘We have no king’ with the implication that they are free to do as they like, and this because they no longer fear YHWH as their King, while their own king is too tied up in political affairs to bother them. All law and restraint has been abandoned, religious restraint and political restraint have both been set aside. They have rejected the kingship of YHWH, Baal allows them to do what they like and the king is too busy to take any notice.


Verse 4

‘They speak but words,

Swearing falsely in making covenants,

Therefore judgment springs up as poisonous weeds

In the furrows of the field.’

Hosea points out the folly of their words. They should recognise that they are but words, bold, brash, and foolish. For while they may still be swearing covenants, it is with gods who are unable to respond. They are false covenants. They are trusting in shadows. And that is why even now judgment is inevitably springing up around them, in the same way as poisonous weeds will inevitably spring up in the furrows of their fields, the aftermath of the abundant fruitfulness. The one is as inevitable as the other. And the Baal who does not prevent the hemlock, cannot prevent the judgment.

Alternately the false covenants may be those made with allies, or with Assyria itself. It would be their failure to observe the latter that would bring down on them what is threatened in Hosea 10:5.


Verse 5

‘The inhabitants of Samaria will be in terror,

For the calves of Beth-aven,

For the people in it mourn over it,

And its priests who rejoiced over it,

For its glory,

Because it is departed from it.’

The prophet now unveils the ironic situation. They have thrown off the restraint of YHWH and His covenant, the ‘fear of YHWH’ (Hosea 10:3), and what have they got in His place? Gods which they are in terror of losing! For soon those calves will be carried off, and the people will mourn over them, and the priests, who had indulged in such ecstasies over them, would also mourn over the lost glory which it once had, which has now deserted it. This is a god who can do nothing to save himself, powerless in the face of the enemy.

The ‘calves of Bethaven (Bethel)’ were the calves that had been set up by Jeroboam I as described in 1 Kings 12:28-33. It is possible that the one in Dan had been brought down to Bethel for safety. On the other hand, as 1 Kings 12:32 makes clear, the plural ‘calves’ could be seen as indicating just one (a plural of intensity). And Samaria were frightened of losing what it had and seeing its glory depart from it. (No one had ever suggested being frightened of losing YHWH, for He was above being lost, something which emphasises their folly in trusting in a god who could do nothing to prevent himself being carried off).


Verse 6

‘It also will be carried to Assyria,

For a present to the great king.

The ignominy of the idol’s situation is stressed. It will be carried to Assyria, no doubt on the back of a donkey (compare the Babylonian gods so graphically carried off by Assyria in Isaiah 46:1-2). And it will be given as a present to the Great King. Such is to be its ignominious fate.


Verse 6-7

‘Ephraim will receive shame,

And Israel will be ashamed of his own counsel (or ‘disobedience’).

As for Samaria, her king is cut off,

As a twig (wood chip) on the water.’

But the idol will not be the only thing to be shamed. Ephraim too will receive shame as he is carried off ignominiously to Assyria, and in turn, as Israel, he will be ashamed of his own disobedience, or of the failure of his own counsel. Alternately it has been suggested that the word for ‘disobedience’ (from the root ‘atsah) signifies rather ‘a piece of wood’ (see Jeremiah 6:6 where the same root in the feminine (‘etsah) means trees), the idea then being that they are ashamed of their idol which has been revealed to be just another mute piece of wood (‘golden’ only meant that it was gold-plated).

And what about Samaria? Her king will be cut off, falling as it were like a wood chip on turbulent water, ignominiously borne wherever the flow of the armies of Assyria decided to carry him.


Verse 8

‘The high places also of Aven, will be destroyed,

The sin of Israel,

The thorn and the thistle will come up

Upon their altars,

And they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,”

and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

And what has been left behind, the high places of Beth-Aven (or ‘of evil’) will be destroyed, because they represented ‘The Sin Of Israel’. Beth-aven more than anywhere else symbolised their unfaithfulness and apostasy. Thus, with their altars destroyed, there would be nothing left for the calves to come home to. They had failed the land, and the land had spewed them out. And their deserted altars will become overgrown with weeds, a place of thorns and thistles, symbolic of YHWH’s curse on the ground in Genesis 3:18 and an indication that the land has been cursed.

The final awfulness of the situation comes out in the final two lines. Such will be the desolation and misery that the people will call on the mountains to cover them with a rockslide, and will call on the hills to fall on them. They will not be able to bear the thought of what the future holds.


Verse 9

‘O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah.

There they took a stand.

Did not the battle against the children of iniquity

Overtake them in Gibeah?’

What had happened at Gibeah (Judges 19-21) was written deep into the heart of Israel. There Israel, in the person of the tribe of Benjamin, had sinned deeply in a perverted sexual way. And YHWH now tells Israel that they have not changed one iota. They have continued to sin in the same way since the days of Gibeah. They are no better than the people whom YHWH destroyed there.

In Gibeah Benjamin had taken its stand, and was in fact routed, and subsequently almost destroyed. The children of iniquity were truly overtaken in Gibeah. But what YHWH is saying here is that that was not the end of the battle against perverted sexual sin, for there were still children of iniquity, and the battle against them still continued. Indeed it was being fought against Israel in Hosea’s day, and Israel too would be decimated in the same way for the same reason. It was as inevitable as what had happened at Gibeah.


Verses 9-15

Israel Are Warned That They Face Another Gibeah Because Although He Had Chosen Them As His Servant (Like A Trained Heifer) They Have Responded With Disobedience And Wickedness. A Final War Of Destruction Is Therefore Inevitable Unless They Repent Deeply And Seek His Face (Hosea 10:9-15).

The present Israel is likened to the Benjamites in the day of Gibeah (Judges 19-21) who committed gross sin and were almost totally destroyed. YHWH will therefore deal with them in accordance with His will, and call them to account for their behaviour through warfare. For although YHWH had trained them up to serve Him faithfully, they had instead chosen their own way and would therefore be brought into harness like an ox and sentenced to hard labour. Their one hope was to repent and submit to the covenant in righteousness and covenant love, and then to seek YHWH until He came to rain righteousness on them. But instead they were set in the way of wickedness, and would therefore suffer final destruction at the hands of an enemy.

Analysis of Hosea 10:9-15.

a O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah. There they took a stand. Did not the battle against the children of iniquity overtake them in Gibeah? (Hosea 10:9).

b According to my desire I will chastise them, and the peoples will be gathered against them, when they are bound to their two transgressions (Hosea 10:10).

c And Ephraim is a heifer which is trained, which loves to tread out the grain, but I have passed over (a harness) on her fair neck, I will set a rider on Ephraim, Judah will plough, Jacob will break his clods (Hosea 10:11).

d Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to covenant love, break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek YHWH, until he come and rain righteousness on you (Hosea 10:12).

c You have ploughed wickedness, you have reaped iniquity, you have eaten the fruit of lies, for you trusted in your way, in the multitude of your mighty men (Hosea 10:13).

b Therefore will a tumult arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed. As Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle, the mother was dashed in pieces with her children (Hosea 10:14).

a So will Beth-el do to you because of your great wickedness, at daybreak will the king of Israel be utterly cut off (Hosea 10:15).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel were punished for their wickedness at Gibeah, and in the parallel they are again now to be punished for their wickedness. In ‘b’ YHWH would chastise them by gathering the peoples together against them, and in the parallel the nations will come against them and ravage them. In ‘c’ Ephraim have been trained to thresh, Judah to plough and Jacob to break up the ground, and in the parallel they have done so falsely. Central in ‘d’ is the call to repentance and intercession in order that they might again enjoy the mercy of God.


Verse 10

‘According to my desire,

I will chastise them,

And the peoples will be gathered against them,

When they are bound to their two transgressions.’

And this chastisement, severe as it would be (as it had also been for Benjamin as a result of Gibeah), would occur in accordance with YHWH’s will and desire, for YHWH was still sovereign over all. At the time when He calls them to account for (ties them in to) their ‘two transgressions’, the peoples of the nations will be gathered together against them (in the same way as Israel had gathered together against Gibeah).

There are differences of opinion as to what the ‘two transgressions’ are. Some see them as being their rebellion against YHWH and against the Davidic king (see Hosea 3:5; compare Hosea 8:4). Others see them as being their idolatry (constantly stressed) and disregard of social justice (Hosea 4:2). In a sense both go together, for their rebellion against YHWH was revealed by their idolatry, and their rejection of the Davidic king had resulted in permanent social injustice.


Verse 11

‘And Ephraim is a heifer which is trained,

Which loves to tread out the grain.

But I have passed over (a harness) on her fair neck,

I will set a rider (or ‘a yoke’) on Ephraim,

Judah will plough,

Jacob will break his clods.’

Ephraim had no excuse for their behaviour. Like a well trained heifer they too had been trained by YHWH to be His chosen servants. And just as the heifer loves to tread the grain (thereby threshing it) because it can eat the grain while doing it (‘you shall not muzzle the ox that treads the grain’ - Deuteronomy 25:4), so Israel had enjoyed walking with YHWH and receiving the benefits that He provided.

But because they had rejected their training and were revelling in sin, YHWH had now put a harness on their ‘fair neck’, and would set a yoke on them (or put a rider on them) so as to put them to the plough. Along with Judah they were sentenced to hard labour, ploughing the ground and breaking up the soil. But there is deliberately no mention of their benefiting by it. They will plough but not reap. The reaping will be for others. The introduction of Judah parallels similar examples elsewhere . Hosea was constantly faced with men from Judah who had come to the idolatrous feasts at Bethel and Gilgal to partake in the adulterous worship and brought home to him the danger that Judah was in.

The oxen would pull a heavy wooden plough strengthened with metal at the cutting edge, and would often have a rider on them to guide and spur them on. The Hebrew word actually usually means ‘rider’, but there are some grounds for translating as ‘set a yoke’, and the latter is a good parallel to ‘passed over’ i.e. a harness. It makes little difference. The point was that YHWH was now driving on both Judah and Israel. Jacob, in parallel with Judah, probably indicates the ten tribes.

The unique (for Hosea) use of ‘Jacob’ for Israel prepares for his later use of Jacob as an example in chapter 12. ‘Jacob’ are not behaving like Jacob.


Verse 12

‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness,

Reap in accordance with covenant love,

Break up your fallow ground,

For it is time to seek YHWH,

Until he come and rain righteousness on you.’

Ever ready to respond to repentance God now called on Israel and Judah to turn back to Him in response to the covenant. While they were to go on sowing, reaping and breaking up the ground they were to do it in righteousness and covenant love. But as Hosea 10:13 brings out, the words go deeper than that, for they have reference to their inner lives. Rather than reaping iniquity they were to sow righteousness in their behaviour, both in their inner thoughts and in their behaviour towards others. And what they constantly reaped in their lives was to be continually in covenant love. Furthermore they were to ‘break up’ their inner hardness. And once they had established themselves in love and righteousness and humility, and their hearts had become softened, they would be able to seek YHWH with the expectancy that He would come and rain righteousness on them. They could sow and reap, but only God could send the rain, and here was an indication that even at this last moment, if they ‘truly repented’ He would have mercy on them. In this latter case the raining of righteousness indicates the active working of God producing righteousness in His people (i.e. acceptability to YHWH through the shedding of blood and ‘inworked salvation’ as in Philippians 2:13).


Verse 13

‘You have ploughed wickedness,

You have reaped iniquity,

You have eaten the fruit of lies,

For you trusted in your way (or ‘power’),

In the multitude of your mighty men.’

But YHWH then charges Israel with being far from repentance. They have ploughed in wickedness by their way of living, they have reaped in their lives nothing but iniquity (compare Hosea 4:2), they have eaten the fruit of lies and deceit as they have followed the route of false worship while pretending to be faithful to the covenant. In fact their understanding of the covenant was so low that they probably thought that they had been observing it in their own light, interpreting it in terms of offering sufficient sacrifices and attendance at feasts. And all the while they were forgetting what YHWH really was because their trust was in their military power and what they saw as their powerful army. To people who had never seen the Assyrian army, their own standing army must have seemed impressive indeed.


Verse 14

‘Therefore will a tumult arise among your people,

And all your fortresses will be destroyed,

As Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle,

The mother was dashed in pieces with her children.’

But let them not doubt that problems were just around the corner. For shortly there would be a tumult among the people (battle cries and war cries and the anguished cries of the wounded and defeated), and all their fortresses would be destroyed (compare the curse in Leviticus 26:33), just as they had been in north west Israel when ‘Shalman’ had destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle, and both mothers and children were dashed in pieces by the soldiery. Shalman may be a diminutive of Shalmaneser V of Assyria, although Shalmaneser’s name is usually given in full (but not in Hosea) . Or it may refer to a Moabite king named Salmanu (Assyrian - Salamani), mentioned in a tribute list of Tiglath Pileser III, who had seemingly gained notoriety for his merciless treatment of an Israelite town. An Arbela is mentioned in 1 Maccabees 9:2 as on ‘the way that leads to Gilgal’ which may be in Galilee, which would support a reference to Shalmaneser.


Verse 15

‘So shall Beth-el do to you because of your great wickedness,

At dawn will the king of Israel be utterly cut off.’

The same treatment will be meted out to them by Bethel. In other words, because of their great wickedness carried out at Bethel, Bethel would bring destruction on them, and the king of Israel would be utterly cut off ‘at daybreak/dawn’. The cutting off of the king would usually be the signal of utter defeat. If it refers to Hoshea it was indeed ‘at dawn’, prior to ‘the day’ of the siege of Samaria, for he went out to meet the king of Assyria before the siege commenced, presumably in order to parley and was arrested as a rebel.

We should note how deeply YHWH felt the wickedness of the people. They were ‘grossly wicked’ (Hosea 9:15; Hosea 10:15); ‘guilty’ (Hosea 10:2); ‘exceedingly sinful’ (Hosea 10:8-9); ‘wayward’ (Hosea 10:9); ‘iniquitous’ (Hosea 10:10); ‘wicked’ Hosea 10:13; ‘grossly deceitful’ (Hosea 10:13). And this has been emphasised by the examples drawn from the past, the sin of Baal-peor (Hosea 9:10); the sin of Gibeah (Hosea 10:9); evil at Gilgal (Hosea 9:15); the sin of Bethel (e.g. the calves of Jeroboam I). All that was bad in the past could also be laid at their door.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 10:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hosea-10.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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