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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Hosea 8

 

 

Verse 1

The shift of emphasis in this chapter is to the broken covenant between God and Israel, as outlined in the Decalogue and the entire Pentateuch. The long prior existence of the Decalogue and the whole law of Moses in written form is the stark background against which every line of Hosea is written. Nothing in the prophecy makes any sense at all without the situation provided by that background. In vain, the critics have attempted to get rid of the stern echoes of God's written covenant through the employment of every device known to them. The echo of that holy Law which Israel had wantonly broken and disobeyed occurs in every other line of Hosea's entire writing. As Ralph Smith observed:

Chapter 8 is a summary of Israel's sins, especially related to covenant breaking, in which those who "sow the wind reap the whirlwind."[1]

But this chapter actually takes up no new theme; it is really a continuation of the sad lament and prophecy of forthcoming destruction which is the unique theme of the entire prophecy. Despite this, there are many new glimpses into the condition of Israel which are afforded in this chapter.

Hosea 8:1

"Set the trumpet to thy mouth. As an eagle, he cometh against the house of Jehovah, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law."

"Set the trumpet to thy mouth ..." A glance at the American Standard Version text will reveal that these are not full sentences in the Hebrew, the translators providing certain words which seem to be implied. If we were to leave out the supplied words, the text would read something like this: "Trumpet to mouth ... as an eagle against the house of Jehovah, etc." The meaning is clear enough. The first staccato sentence commands that a general alarm and warning be sounded.

"As an eagle he cometh against the house of Jehovah ..." Who is the eagle? It really makes no difference. Ward thought:

"The eagle was a familiar Assyrian state symbol; and since Assyria was the obvious threat to Israel's sovereignty in the eighth century B.C., there is every reason to conclude that the eagle symbolizes Assyria here."[2]

Whether Ward's comment is correct, or Keil's understanding of the eagle as "the judgment of Jehovah,"[3] the meaning is exactly the same either way, because God used Assyria as his chosen instrument in bringing about the destruction and captivity of the northern Israel, that, in fact, being his special object in the commission to Jonah; because, after their temporary repentance following the mission of Jonah, Assyria was preserved until the time was ripe for God to use that nation against Israel.

The actual figure of "eagle" could possibly be that of a "vulture," as the place is rendered in some translations. Neither the common turkey buzzard, nor the American bald eagle, however, is the actual bird used in this metaphor.

"It is the griffon vulture which is mentioned. The slaughter has already taken place, since this bird is a scavenger of carrion.[4] So Job, referring to this very eagle, writes: `Her young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there is she" (Job 39:30).'"[5]

Thus, the movement of the eagle against Israel here is spoken of prophetically, the destruction as sure to occur as if it had already done so.

"Against the house of Jehovah ..." This does not mean the temple, nor the land of Israel; but it means that the destruction is directed against the people of Israel. They are "God's house" as used here. Although directed especially against the northern Israel, they were nevertheless considered "God's house" because they were a part of the congregation of the Lord.[6] The New Testament writers also used this same terminology in speaking of ancient Israel (Hebrews 3:2).

"Because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law ..." What is this? if not the Pentateuch and the Decalogue. Why should God at that particular moment in history have destroyed Israel for idolatry and associated sins, and have refrained from destroying Assyria and all the other pagan nations for doing the very same things? The only answer lies in the prior existence of God's own sacred covenant with Israel and the specific terms of it spelled out in the Decalogue and the writings of Moses. It is difficult indeed to refrain from designating the blindness of many scholars in this matter as willful and self-induced. Without the prior fact of the Law of Moses and the tables of the Decalogue, Hosea's prophecy has no meaning at all. Furthermore, in this very chapter, as we shall see, Hosea spelled out specific instances in which the sacred covenant had been ignored and disobeyed. Israel had incurred the greater wrath of God because they had covenanted with the Lord to enter into his plans for redeeming all men in the eventual coming of the blessed Messiah into our world; and, in order to prevent the total frustration of that purpose, God punished and removed the northern kingdom and severely disciplined the southern kingdom.


Verse 2

"They shall cry unto God, We Israel know thee."

Israel itself thus became a witness to the fact that they indeed possessed prior knowledge and relationship with God; but, instead of conforming their lives to the requirements of such knowledge, they had presumptuously decided that it did not make any difference what they did. There is no need to suppose that Israel was insincere in this frantic appeal to God in their final extremity; but when the Assyrians were already at the border, it was far too late for them to plead for further days of grace.


Verse 3

"Israel hath cast off that which is good; the enemy shall pursue him."

We believe that Harper rendered the last clause more effectively than it stands in our version, "Let the enemy pursue him."[7] Our version is too mild a statement. The import of the passage is, "Let the destruction commence! The time for judgment and punishment had already come!

The reason for this destruction is not left out. It was because Israel had "cast off" that which was good. They had cast off the knowledge of the true God, forsaken all the blessed promises of the covenant, and taken up greedily the licentious and drunken ways of the pagan Canaanites, even wallowing in the sensuality of the immoral orgies of their shameful bull-gods. How could God use such a nation any further?


Verse 4

"They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off."

"They have made them kings ..." Most of the commentators limit the prophet's rebuke in this place to the murderous overthrow of one king after another in the closing year's of the northern monarchy; but we believe much more is included. The very conception of an earthly ruler over God's people was contrary to the will of God (1 Samuel 8:7ff). All of their kings, even Saul, were nothing more than a total rejection of the Theocracy; and, although God accommodated himself to their rebellion in that instance, there is no evidence at all that the secular kings were ever anything other than a snare and a pit for the chosen people. "The princes" were necessarily corollary to the existence of kings; hence both were mentioned here. The Pentateuch which was designated by Jesus as God's Word (John 10:34,35) had provided judges for Israel; and all of their kings were a violation of the prior written Law of God.

"Of their silver and their gold have they made them idols ..." This was a sin compounded by the fact that God had given them the very wealth which they were intent upon squandering in the promotion of their vulgar, orgiastic paganism.

"Idols ..." Not only were there the golden calves which Jeroboam I had set up at Dan and at Bethel, these, in all probability had proliferated (see under Hosea 8:5-6, below). Also May tells us that, "Besides the bull images at Bethel and Dan, figurines and plaques of various deities designed for use in private rites were abundant."[8] Now the big thing about Hosea's citation here is that the Decalogue specifically forbade the making of any graven image (Exodus 20:3-6,23; 34:17), not merely the worshipping of such devices; but the very making of them (as religious items) was also forbidden. If Israel's breaking of their agreement with God regarding idols is not in focus here, it may be inquired then, as to why God was any more provoked with Israel than he was with a whole world of pagan nations all around Israel? For this prophecy to have any claim whatever to validity, the prior existence of the Decalogue and the Old Testament laws related to it is absolutely necessary.


Verse 5

"Thy calf, O Samaria ..." One is amazed at the unwillingness of scholars to see in this the certain existence of a golden-calf idol in Samaria, as well as at Dan and Bethel. Yes, it is true that Samaria was the capital of the whole country and was often used as a name for all northern Israel; but if that had been the usage here, "calves" would have been in the plural. The singular strongly indicates that Samaria too had its golden idol. Some are quick to point out that there is no other Old Testament mention of a calf at Samaria; but what of it? God needs to say it only once! Besides that, can it really be supposed that in all that wretched parade of evil kings no one of them ever copied setting up a bull-god in his capital? "Samaria had not been built when Jeroboam set up the calves at Dan and Bethel; and it would not be surprising that an image was set up there when Samaria became the capital."[9]

"A number of the "translations" of this verse appear to have gone overboard. The New English Bible, for example, renders this, "Your bull-god stinks, O Samaria." It is enough to know that God rejected it totally, Keil rendered it "Thy calf disgusts, O Samaria."[10] The same author has another interesting rendition here, "How long are they incapable of purity,"[11] thus making this an expression of amazement that the wickedness of the people of God had continued such a long time, rather than a suggestion that there would ever be a time when they would be otherwise than wicked.


Verse 6

"For from Israel is even this; the workman made it, and it is no God; yea, the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces."

"It is no God ..." Polkinghorne accurately discerned this as proof that, "the calf itself was worshipped, not regarded as a mere throne for the deity."[12] McKeating has an especially irresponsible and inaccurate comment on this place, thus:

"This is a very early example of this type of argument against idolatry. It is also a very superficial argument, since it assumes that the idolater equates his image with the god. The idolater was no more likely to equate his image with his god than the Christian to equate his crucifix with Christ."[13]

This is totally wrong. The masses of the people did worship the idols themselves, as indicated here, not by Hosea's words, but by the Word of God. Furthermore, even if there were sophisticates among the people who did not do this, the very manufacture of such religious items had been condemned in the Decalogue, not merely the worship of them. McKeating's comment is one with the specious type of reasoning by which the Medieval Church has promulgated the adoration of sacred images in our own times; and there can be no doubt whatever of the sinfulness of such things.


Verse 7

"For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: he hath no standing grain; the blade shall yield no meal; if so be it yield, strangers shall swallow it up."

"Israel has done nothing but sow the wind in idolatry and national affairs at home and abroad. Now, according to both natural and spiritual law (Galatians 6:7), the harvest is due in great measure."[14]

The Septuagint (LXX) translated the word for "whirlwind" as [@katastrophe],[15] and for Israel the harvest would be a catastrophe indeed! (For a further discussion of "Sowing and Reaping," see in my commentary on Galatians-Colossians, pp. 99,100.)


Verse 8

"Israel is swallowed up: now are they among the nations as a vessel wherein none delighteth."

"Israel is swallowed up ..." Again, the prophetic tense speaks of the impending ruin of the nation as if it had already happened, which, in a sense, of course, it had.

"Vessel wherein none delighteth ..." Harper and others have rejected this as a gloss,[16] but the scriptural use of this very terminology in Rom. 9:22,2 Timothy 2:20 makes such a view untenable. Paul elaborated the figure used here, applying it specifically to the whole of Israel, not merely the northern kingdom. (See my commentary on Romans, pp. 346-348, for a full discussion of this.) Dummelow accurately defined the meaning of "vessel wherein none delighteth" as "a cheap and worthless piece of pottery."[17]


Verse 9

"For they are gone up to Assyria, like a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers."

The close proximity of these two figures of speech is puzzling, but apparently, the implied deduction is that Ephraim was more stupid than a renegade wild ass that kept his independence by remaining alone; but Ephraim made alliance with his enemies which resulted in his destruction. It is usually alleged that the wild asses went in companies; and therefore, this should be understood as a renegade. This interpretation just given is actually based upon some of the various readings, of which there are many in this part of . Hosea. In line with the text of our version (American Standard Version), it appears that Ephraim is like the wild, renegade ass in that he went stubbornly about doing his own thing, without any regard whatever for any restrictions, whether of common sense or divine commandment.


Verse 10

"Yea, though they hire among the nations, now will I gather them; and they begin to be diminished by reason of the burden of the king of princes."

There are sharp differences of opinion about whom God will gather, as stated in this verse. Pfeiffer considered it to be that: "God would gather the Israelites and send them into exile."[18] Keil believed that the reference is to God's gathering the nations together against Israel.[19] The reason for such differences of opinion is the poor condition of the Masoretic text. The translators have been compelled to supply many words, and in some instances, to rearrange clauses and phrases in an effort to understand what the prophet wrote. Despite such difficulties, however, the broad outlines of Hosea's message are impossible to misunderstand; and the uncertainties that exist pertain only to very minor and inconsequential details.

The meaning is simply this: no matter what Israel may do in their seeking alliances among their neighbors, God had already determined the issue of their destruction; and Hosea in these verses thundered the full certainty of it.

The burden of the king of the princes ..." This does not appear to be the burden imposed upon the people by the king and his company, but the burden which their whole godless system was to God, a burden that God would not bear indefinitely, but would remove utterly with the impending diminishing of the people.


Verse 11

"Because Ephraim hath multiplied altars for sinning, altars have been unto him for sinning."

The importance of this statement lies in the testimony which it furnishes to the existence of laws, or a code of laws, in Hosea's time.[20]

Of course, that code of laws was none other than the one given by the Lord himself in the Pentateuch. Hindley pointed out that:

At any one time, only one altar was to be set up for the nation in the place which God would choose (Deuteronomy 12:26f; 14:24; 27:4-8; 2 Kings 21:4,5). No special stress on write in the following verse suggests that Hosea was already familiar with a written law.[21]

"Altars have been unto him for sinning ..." The purpose of an altar was that of procurement of the forgiveness of sins; but in the case of Ephraim, his altars were only occasions for committing more sins. This derived not merely from the fact of their multiplicity, which in itself was sinful, but also from the fact of the vulgar and licentious "worship" associated with the altars of the fertility cult all over Israel. Sacred prostitution was their dominant feature. Having multiplied altars and having degraded them with the evil rites of paganism, the very purpose of the altars, in any holy sense, was lost to the nation of northern Israel.


Verse 12

"I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law; but they are counted as a strange thing."

This statement clearly assumes that Hosea knew a written form of Torah. Its precise content can only be guessed from clues like Hosea 4:2 with its reflection of the Decalogue.[22]

Of course, there is another way to KNOW exactly what was in that TORAH, and that is by reading the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament. Only that source will answer to "the ten thousand things" mentioned here. The so-called scholarship which seeks to destroy the integrity of the Pentateuch has failed; and scholars should not long be burdened by their pedantic fulminations against it.

"Ten thousand things of my law ..." As Hailey said, "This indicates the complete fullness of God's law in the covenant he had made with the nation."[23] It would have been impossible to choose an expression which any more eloquently teaches this. The covenant was a specific and detailed thing, having been written in its entirety by God Himself; it concerned practically every aspect of the life of the people; and it is impossible to construe a passage like this as being some kind of an extravagant reference to merely a few maxims which had been handed down among the people. NO! It is the Decalogue and the whole prior portion of the Old Testament that dramatically surfaces in such a word as this. "This law was extensive enough to cover every behavior of life, every thought, deed, and motive."[24] In the whole history of the world, there has never been anything else except the Law of Moses that undertook to do such a thing as this.


Verse 13

"As for the sacrifices of mine offerings, they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but Jehovah accepteth them not: now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins; they shall return to Egypt."

Hosea had already pointed out one thing which made their sacrifices unacceptable to God, and that was the very multiplicity and location of the altars themselves; but from the other prophets we learn that there were other glaring defects. They had ignored the law with regard to offering leaven with the sacrifices; there was the omission of any sin offerings; there were the licentious fertility rites that were carried on right side by side with the altars; there was the desecration of sacred vessels dedicated to God which were used for drinking, etc., etc.

"They sacrifice flesh and eat it ..." There was nothing to their sacrifices except the satisfaction of bodily appetite.

"Now will I remember their iniquity ..." The emphasis here is upon the word "now." The day of grace was past. God had exhausted every possible means of winning the wayward nation back to any acceptable loyalty to himself. Nothing was left except to order the punishment. As dramatically stated in Hosea 8:3, "Let the enemy pursue him."

"They shall return to Egypt ..." "Egypt is merely a type of the land of bondage, as in Hosea 9:3,6."[25] All of the redemptive work of God's calling and development of Israel will be nullified. They began as a nation of slaves; very well, they shall become so again. Given also noted the figurative nature of this expression:

"The turning point was now reached; their iniquity was full. God had delivered their fathers out of the bondage of Egypt; but now he will send their posterity into a bondage similar to or even worse than that of Egypt."[26]

As a matter of fact, the bondage into which the northern kingdom fell was far worse than that of Egypt, because: (1) the nation would not continue to grow as it had in Egypt; (2) there would be no terminus of it; and (3) the complete amalgamation of the once chosen people with their pagan captors would be final. They would no longer exist as a separate people, distinguished in any manner from the populations of the world.


Verse 14

"For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and builded palaces; and Judah multiplied fortified cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the castles thereof."

"For Israel hath forgotten his Maker ..." This is a reference to God as the creator of the human race in general, also to the fact of God's special intervention in the creation of the nation of Israel.

Critics intent upon plastering up the Bible with their own varieties of scissors and paste jobs sometimes attempt to delete this verse because of its reference to Judah; but Judah belongs here. That portion of Israel was not very far behind the northern kingdom in their apostasy; and it would be but a relatively short time before Judah also would suffer from the heel of the invader and the reduction to captivity already determined for Ephraim. Nor is this the only time that Judah appears in the prophecy, being never very far out of view in everything that Hosea wrote. There is no textual evidence whatever of any such thing as a gloss here. Mays indicated that "no confident argument" can sustain allegations of any such thing.[27]

"And builded palaces ..." This may not be a reference merely to spacious and luxurious dwellings; for, "The word translated palaces may equally well mean temples."[28] The Hebrew word literally means "great houses" or "great house," and was usually applied either to the residence of a king or to the temple of some god. If the latter is meant, it would indicate that Israel had entrenched and fortified paganism in their land with an elaborate system of magnificent buildings dedicated to pagan deities.

Answering the objection of some critics to the effect that this verse is "in the style of Amos," Hindley inquired, "Why should Hosea not have caught a phrase from the older prophet of Israel?"[29]

The mention of castles and fortified cities speaks of a people relying upon themselves rather than upon God. Also, in the case of Israel there seems to have been an inordinate glorying in such human achievements, as attested by the long and tedious records of the Kings and Chronicles of the Old Testament. Again from Hindley, "Human achievement is not always to the glory of God."[30]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 8:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/hosea-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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