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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 5

 

 

Verse 1

‘Hear this, O you priests,

And listen, O house of Israel,

And give ear, O house of the king,

For to you pertains the judgment,

For you have been a snare at Mizpah,

And a net spread on Tabor.’

The call comes to priests, people and royal house to listen to what YHWH has to say. All are involved. The word rendered ‘judgment’ can mean either ‘justice, the carrying out of what is right’ or ‘judgment’ in our normal use of the term. Thus some see ‘to you pertains justice’ as a reminder to them, and especially to the royal house and the priests, that it was their responsibility to ensure the maintenance of justice and the carrying out of what was right, something which they had failed to do in the religious sphere where they had rather set a snare and a trap for the people. Others see ‘to you pertains judgment’ as indicating that all Israel, including its leadership, is to be judged by YHWH. Either interpretation is possible, but it may well be that Hosea had both ideas in mind because if they have not carried out what is right, (and have as a result been a snare to Israel) they are certainly liable to judgment. In a country like Israel’s ‘carrying out what is right’ would include doing so religiously as well as in ‘secular’ life. Thus it included the need to keep the religion of the people pure.

But instead of encouraging what was right they have been like bird hunters on Mizpah and Tabor, (two eminences where there would be many birds available to be hunted), setting snares and traps for the people by leading them astray. All the males who heard Hosea would probably have had memories of hunting for birds, and setting snares for them, in the mountains, and would have been able to picture the helpless birds struggling in the hands of their captors. It was a salutary thought that this was what they were like themselves. Furthermore Tabor was in the far north west of the country, and if the Mizpah (fortress, watchtower) was the well known Mizpah of Gilead in Transjordan, the two might well have been seen as including within their compass the whole of Israel on both sides of the Jordan, including all Israel in the indictment as a consequence.

Tabor was a mountain conjoining the northern tribes of Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali in the north west, north of the Valley of Jezreel, thus bringing into account the distant tribal areas. Mizpah (fortress, watchtower, and therefore a popular name for a town), was a name given to a number of towns. Most well known (certainly to us) was the Mizpah which was one of the centres where Samuel carried out his official duties, (the others being Bethel and Gilgal - 1 Samuel 7:16). This was in the territory of Benjamin in the central highlands. It was where the army gathered in the days of the Judges (Judges 20:1; Judges 20:3; Judges 21:1; Judges 21:5; Judges 21:8; 1 Samuel 7:5-6). But there were also a number of other Mizpahs including a well known Mizpah in Gilead in Transjordan (Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11; Judges 11:29; Judges 11:34 and possibly Joshua 13:26).

Other have argued that Tabor and Mizpah were mentioned because they were cultic centres where Baalism flourished, and it may well be true that they were cultic centres, for most towns would probably have been cultic centres, in the same way as such centres proliferated on the mountains. But that is not to be seen as the main reason for their mention here, for as cultic centres they were nothing exceptional. They were presumably mentioned, either because they were well known places for snaring birds, or because they represented the whole of Israel, or both.


Verses 1-7

Judgment Is Announced On The Priests, People And Royal House Of Israel Because Of Their Going Astray In Their Ritual, Something Which Has Prevented Them From Turning To YHWH And Has Made Them Unacceptable To Him, And The Consequence Will Be That They Will Be Devoured (Hosea 5:1-7).

Hosea now involves every section of society, including royalty, in their ‘going against YHWH’, and points out that what they are is known to YHWH. On the other hand their behaviour and attitudes have been so affected by their false ritual that they have reached a position where they themselves do not really know God as He is, and therefore cannot turn to Him. As a consequence when they do seek Him it will be in vain, because He has withdrawn Himself from them as a result of their behaviour and the consequences that result from it, children with no natural families. As a consequence their new moon will not be a time of celebration and feasting, but will rather be a time when their land portions given to them by YHWH are ‘devoured’.

Analysis of Hosea 5:1-7.

a Hear this, O you priests, and listen, O house of Israel, and give ear, O house of the king, for to you pertains the judgment (Hosea 5:1 a).

b For you have been a snare at Mizpah, and a net spread on Tabor (Hosea 5:1 b).

c And those who err are gone deep in slaughter, and I am a chastener of them all (Hosea 5:2).

d I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me, for now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel is defiled (Hosea 5:3).

e Their doings will not allow them to turn to their God, for the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know YHWH (Hosea 5:4).

d And the pride of Israel testifies to his face, therefore Israel and Ephraim will stumble in their iniquity, Judah also will stumble with them (Hosea 5:5).

c They will go with their flocks and with their herds to seek YHWH, but they will not find him. He has withdrawn himself from them (Hosea 5:6).

b They have dealt treacherously against YHWH, for they have borne strange children (Hosea 5:7 a).

a Now will the new moon devour them with their fields (or ‘portions’) (Hosea 5:7 b).

Note that in ‘a’ judgment is to be exercised against the priests, people and royalty of Israel, and in the parallel their allotted portions are to be devoured. In ‘b the leadership have been a snare and net to all Israel, and in the parallel they have dealt treacherously against YHWH. In ‘c’ their erring leaders have indulged in huge (false) sacrifices, with the result that YHWH will chasten them, and in the parallel they will take their flocks and herds to seek YHWH (by offering sacrifices) and will find that He has withdrawn Himself from them. In ‘d’ Ephraim and Israel are not hid from Him, and are defiled, and in the parallel reference is made to the pride of Israel and Ephraim through which they will be caused to stumble, along with Judah. Central in ‘e’ is the fact that their behaviour and attitude prevents them turning to God with the result that they do not know YHWH.


Verse 2

‘And those who err (shettim = rebels, swervers, wanderers) are gone deep in slaughter,

And I am a rebuker (correcter, chastener) of them all.’

Here we have explained the reason why they were seen as setters of snares. It was because in their behaviour they were behaving like rebels against YHWH by involving themselves in ‘deep slaughter’, that is in offering large numbers of sacrifices to Baal (on every high hill and under every green tree - compare Hosea 4:13), and even in child sacrifice. They were erring through teaching the people falsehood. In consequence YHWH will rebuke them by chastising them severely without exception. And that was something that could only occur through invasion and exile.

An alternative translation suggested has been, ‘And they have gone deep to stretch out (spread out) excesses, but I am a chastisement to them all’. This is because the word translated ‘those who err’ can also refer to ‘that thing in which they erred’, i.e. their excesses, and because the consonants for the word translated ‘slaughter’ may also be seen as containing the idea of spreading out. A further alternative translation is ‘They have made deep the whoredom (sacrifices to idols) of Shittim’, (compare Numbers 25:1), with shettim (swervers from the right way) being repointed as Shittim, and the slaughter of sacrifices being seen as whoredom. But reference to Shittim is unlikely here, partly because when using names he usually uses twos and fours, and partly because a literal explanation of Hosea 5:1 is required here in accordance with his usual pattern. The translation makes too much of assumptions.


Verse 3-4

‘I know Ephraim,

And Israel is not hid from me,

For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,

Israel is defiled.

‘Their doings will not allow them,

To turn to their God,

For the spirit of whoredom is within them,

And they do not know YHWH.’

There is an interesting inclusio and play on ideas here in that YHWH is said to ‘know Ephraim’ (Israel) whilst Ephraim and Israel ‘do not know YHWH’. YHWH is omniscient and Israel are blind. The idea behind YHWH knowing Israel is that nothing that they do is hidden from Him (so the parallel). He is aware of all that they do. As a consequence He is fully aware of their idolatry and their playing the harlot after false gods. And the result is that their behaviour will not allow them to turn to the One Who is truly their God. This is because they are possessed with the spirit of whoredom and as a consequence do not have the true knowledge of YHWH.

Note how the change from personal address by YHWH to a third person reference to Him brings out that they no longer have any relationship with ‘their God’. They have lost Him, and now have no place before Him.


Verse 5

‘And the pride of Israel testifies to his face,

And Israel and Ephraim will stumble in their iniquity,

Judah also will stumble with them.’

Indeed He is aware of their pride and self-reliance which testifies to His face (or their own face), revealed both in their false worship and their social injustice (Hosea 4:2). By their actions they are boldly declaring to His face that they want nothing to do with Him and His covenant. The word for ‘testify’ is a legal word. They are making their statement as if in a court of law. They are acting as their own accusers.

Consequently He will make them stumble and fall, and because of Judah’s participation in events Judah will stumble and fall with them. This is an advance on the previous exemption of Judah (Hosea 1:7). Time has moved on. Judah are now becoming more involved with Israel’s apostasy as a result of being attracted to their cultic centres. He had warned them in Hosea 4:15, but they had not listened. Now they too are in danger of ‘stumbling’. The idea of stumbling in such contexts always leads to a fall.


Verse 6-7

‘With their flocks and with their herds,

They will go to seek YHWH,

But they will not find him,

He has withdrawn himself from them.’

‘Against YHWH have they dealt treacherously,

Because they have borne strange children.

Now will the new moon devour them,

With their fields (portions).’

When judgment comes on them they will turn to YHWH with an abundance of sacrifices, of both small and large animals. But it will be too late. They will not find Him, because He will already have withdrawn Himself. This will be because they have been unfaithful to YHWH and produced children who are not acceptable to Him. This may either be because their children too were seen as born under the shadow of spiritual whoredom, or because it is referring to the illegitimate children of prostitutes produced in their religious orgies. And the consequence of their ‘illegitimacy’ is that they no longer have any ‘right by inheritance’ to the land allotted under the covenant.

‘Now will the new moon devour them’ may indicate that just as the new moon was a time when animals were devoured in sacrifice, so now Israel/Ephraim also will be devoured. Or it may mean that instead of their new moons being a time of celebration in the future as they look forward to that future, they will rather become a time when they and their fields (their portions allotted by YHWH) will be devoured.


Verse 8

‘Blow you the ram’s horn in Gibeah,

And the trumpet in Ramah,

Sound an alarm at Beth-aven.

Behind you, O Benjamin.’

The picture is vivid. The call is to the watchmen on the watchtowers to sound the alarm at the sight of invading armies, using both ram’s horn and metal trumpet, and is made to the area of Benjamin (in which Gibeah and Ramah were situated), indicating that they were to ‘watch their backs’. All are to be on the alert for invasion. The order of the cities appears to indicate that the invasion will be taking place from the south.

For the order of the cities is given moving northwards on the road to Bethel through Gibeah and Ramah, and as a result has been seen as indicating an invasion by Judah, coming after Israel had been seriously weakened by the Assyrians, with the aim of regaining land which had been annexed by Israel in the days of Jehoash and Jeroboam II (2 Kings 13:12; 2 Kings 14:11-14; 2 Kings 14:28), or even during the war with the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Gibeah and Ramah were in Benjamite territory which had once belonged to Judah. On the other hand the order may simply illustrate the call going out from the border cities right up to the central sanctuary at Bethel (Bethaven) in terms of the area best known to Hosea. The call is certainly in readiness for an invasion, and Benjamin are told to watch their backs, a suggestion that the invasion will come from an unexpected direction.

But under Ahaz Judah was occupied by Assyrian troops, who may well therefore have made an incursion into Israelite territory from the south, in combination with another invasion from the west and north, whilst if the Assyrians were approaching from the direction, say, of Gaza, as at times they did, they might well have taken a route through Judah (they would not consider it necessary to ask permission). And as already mentioned, Hosea may simply have been picturing the event in terms of the cities with which he was familiar. In our view the foe in mind could only be Assyria, because the impression given is that both Israel and Judah are suffering. But whichever way it was Hosea was not really interested in the detail, only in the fact that it was evidence that YHWH was carrying out His judgments. And that because it was ‘the day of rebuke’.


Verses 8-15

Ephraim Are To Prepare For An Invasion Which Will Lead To Their Desolation Whilst Judah Will Be Punished For Taking Advantage Of The Situation To Seize Land. Both Will Suffer As A Consequence. Meanwhile A Plea From Ephraim To Assyria Will Not Solve Her Problems, Whilst YHWH Will Be Waiting For Their Repentance (Hosea 5:8-15).

This is the first indication of invasion actually taking place against Israel. The secure (even though sinful) days of Jeroboam II are now clearly over. The question is as to whether this is describing a retaliatory attack by Judah when seeking to seize land after Israel had been sorely weakened by Assyrian invasion, or whether it actually has the Assyrian invasion in mind as a result of Ahaz’s appeal to Assyria for help, or possibly an earlier one. If Assyria had first attacked Philistia they would then approach Israel from the south, and Judah could do nothing to prevent it. The order in Hosea 5:8 might suggest the former, and that might be seen as supported by Hosea 5:11 where the removal of the landmark might indicate annexation of territory. On the other hand it may be that in mind is the earlier Assyrian invasion that caused Ephraim (Israel) to seek to make peace with Assyria (Hosea 5:13) in the first place, something supported by the mention of the ‘day of rebuke’ in Hosea 5:9. Whichever way it is both Ephraim and Judah would suffer under the Assyrian response to the situation for it was YHWH’s purpose to chasten them by means of that invasion, and after that to wait until they truly repented and sought His face. This was because He knew that eventually such affliction would turn their thoughts towards Him in earnest, a hope which will be expressed by Hosea in Hosea 6:1-3.

Analysis of Hosea 5:8-15.

a Blow you the ram’s horn in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah, sound an alarm at Beth-aven. Behind you, O Benjamin (Hosea 5:8).

b Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke, among the tribes of Israel have I made known what will surely be (Hosea 5:9).

c The princes of Judah are like those who remove the landmark, I will pour out my wrath on them like water. Ephraim is oppressed, he is crushed in judgment, because he was content to walk after man’s command (Hosea 5:10-11).

d Therefore am I to Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness (Hosea 5:12).

c When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king, but he is not able to heal you, nor will he cure you of your wound (Hosea 5:13).

b For I will be to Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away, I will carry off, and there will be none to deliver (Hosea 5:14).

a I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me earnestly (Hosea 5:15).

Note than in ‘a’ the call to face an invasion is made, and in the parallel they will seek YHWH in their affliction. In ‘b’ Ephraim’s desolation is described, and the same in the parallel. In ‘c’ both Judah and Ephraim face God’s anger and are to suffer, and in the parallel both recognise that they have been wounded and we have the response of Ephraim to the situation. Centrally in ‘d’ YHWH reveals what He will do to both.


Verse 9

‘Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke,

Among the tribes of Israel have I made known what will surely be.’

The consequence of the invasion, and the certainty of those consequences, is now described. Ephraim will become a desolation (a virtual desert) on the ‘day of rebuke (chastisement, punishment)’. This was Hosea’s equivalent of ‘the day of YHWH’ of Amos. God was about to ‘have His day’ in fulfilment of His warnings of judgment. And the certainty of it (‘what will surely be’) is underlined, a certainty which YHWH has made known to ‘the tribes of Israel’ (sometimes called ‘the ten tribes’).


Verse 10

‘The princes of Judah are like those who remove the landmark,

I will pour out my wrath on them like water.’

Judah also is to face YHWH’s chastisement although not to the same degree. There is no mention of desolation, but they will nevertheless experience the pouring out of YHWH’s anger on them like water. And this was because their princes had become like those who ‘remove the landmark’. Landmarks where a feature of those days, marking off what land belonged to one person from what belonged to another. The removal of such landmarks was seen as a heinous offence. As Deuteronomy 19:14 declares, “You shall not remove your neighbour's landmark,” something underlined in the group of curses connected with the covenant in Deuteronomy 27, “Cursed be he who removes his neighbour's landmark” (Deuteronomy 27:17).

The reference here is probably to the fact that the princes of Judah have allowed Judah’s standards to slip by easing the requirements of the Law and allowing the men of Judah (including themselves) to participate in Israel’s syncretistic cult (compare Hosea 4:15). Or even as referring to their collaboration with Assyria which was certainly like removing a landmark, the landmark which kept Judah independent as YHWH’s people, for the consequence of it would be the introduction of an Assyrian altar into the house of YHWH. Either way the charge is one of compromising the true worship of YHWH. Alternately some see it as referring to Judah’s invasion of Israel in order to take back territory previously purloined. But it is difficult to see how that is the equivalent of removing the landmark, for in that case it was Israel who could be charged with having removed the landmark, although the thought may simply be that Judah should not have taken advantage of Israel’s catastrophe for their own ends (compare how Edom would later be punished for doing the same to Judah - Obadiah 1:11).

But the verse parallels the previous one suggesting that both Israel and Judah will suffer in similar ways, even if for different reasons, a thought which is repeated later (Hosea 5:13). This makes Judah appearing in the guise of an invader very unlikely.

And because of Assyria’s activity YHWH’s wrath would be poured out on them like water (see Psalms 69:24-25). Compare the vivid description in Isaiah of Assyria’s incursion into Judah around this time (Isaiah 8:7-8) with Judah in trouble up to its neck in flood water. So Israel and Judah are both in trouble, the difference being that Israel have gone too far, while for Judah there is still hope.


Verse 11

‘Ephraim is oppressed,

He is crushed in judgment,

Because he was content to walk,

After man’s command.’

The spotlight turns back on Ephraim (Israel). They are being oppressed, they are being crushed in judgment, and while the mills of God grind slowly, they are grinding exceeding small. Both expressions were often used of how the rulers oppressed and crushed the poor (compare Amos 4:1). Thus what they had done to others was now being done to them. And this was because Israel had listened to man rather than to God. They had walked in accordance with the commands (tsaw) and teaching of men, rather than obeying the commands and teaching of YHWH, by engaging in false worship and by setting aside His commandments. We might even translate as, ‘they walked after man’s ‘blah, blah, blah’. (Compare the use of the word in Isaiah 28:10; Isaiah 28:13). Others relate the word tsaw to a verb meaning ‘to stink’ and so translate the word tsaw here as ‘filth’, but with the same connotations. They had followed after what was but filth. And not only had they done so, but they had been satisfied in their hearts while they did so. They had been ‘content’. Others consider that what they were being condemned for were their relations with Aram (Syria) and Assyria.


Verse 12

‘Therefore am I to Ephraim as a moth,

And to the house of Judah as rottenness (decay).’

Central to the passage (see the analysis above) is a description of what YHWH is to both Israel and Judah. To Israel He is as a moth, devouring them like clothes are devoured by moths, to Judah He is like the rottenness in fruit that spreads and spreads rendering the fruit inedible (compare the similar parallel descriptions in Job 13:28). In both cases the idea is that He is slowly executing His judgment on them because of their failure in respect of the covenant.


Verse 13

‘When Ephraim saw his sickness,

And Judah saw his wound,

Then Ephraim went to Assyria,

And sent to the Great King,

But he is not able to heal you,

Nor will he cure you of your wound.’

The main warning here is to Israel, but there is a spin off to Judah, possibly because Ahaz was still considering his options (compare Isaiah 7). Let Judah consider the fact that the king of Assyria will prove of no help in the end to Israel, whose king Menahem had parleyed with him (2 Kings 15:19-20). Or the reference may be to Hoshea’s submission to him in order to gain the throne (2 Kings 17:3), in which case it is after Ahaz submitted to the king of Assyria. Both Israel (Ephraim) and Judah are seen as sick and wounded as a result of YHWH’s judgments, but it is Israel who at this juncture look to Assyria for help. They ‘went to Assyria, and sent to the Great King’ (dividing the consonants mlky rb, the y being an intermediate helping vowel to aid pronunciation, thus giving the title by which the kings of Assyria was known in an Assyrian inscription and Assyrian records, instead of mlk yrb, which gives the reading King Yereb or warrior king)’. But the king of Assyria could be of no assistance to them in their present state, for their condition was due to YHWH, the truly Great King, and not to Assyria. Thus the king of Assyria was helpless to do anything about it.

Judah are seen as having a putrefying wound (compare Isaiah 1:6) but possibly still as not yet committed to Assyria, otherwise they would be mentioned here (we must not insert what Hosea did not put in), which would support the parleying at this time as being done by Pekah. While the last two lines appear to tie in with the first two lines (sickness -- wound -- heal -- cure wound) this may simply be due to poetic balance with the last two lines referring to Israel (as the middle two lines suggest), rather than in order to include Judah, for Judah’s wound would be healed for a time when Hezekiah and Josiah were on the throne.


Verse 14

‘For I will be to Ephraim as a lion,

And as a young lion to the house of Judah.

I, even I, will tear and go away,

I will carry off, and there will be none to deliver.’

It is now emphasised that it was YHWH Who was responsible for the troubles of both Israel and Judah, because they had been faithless to Him and His covenant, both in their false worship and disobedience to the covenant commandments, and in their very seeking to Assyria rather than to YHWH. He would be like a lion who came across someone in a lonely place, seizing them and tearing them, and then leaving their carcasses, or carrying them off with no one there to rescue them (Baal being unable to deliver them). The ‘young male lion’ was especially dangerous as, having left the pack, he roamed around, possibly with other young males, looking for a kill.


Verse 15

‘I will go and return to my place,

Until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face.

In their affliction they will seek me earnestly.’

The thought of the lion going away to the shelter of his lair having torn his prey is now applied to YHWH’s treatment of Israel. He too will go away, leaving Israel torn and bleeding and deserted, and return to His place (to Heaven). But it will only be ‘until they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face.’ YHWH’s aim was always repentance. The problem was that it would be a long time before Israel would repent. In the end, however, they will do so, for as a result of their long affliction in exile they will eventually seek Him earnestly. These words are a perfect build up to Hosea 6:1-3.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hosea-5.html. 2013.

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