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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 8

 

 

Verse 1

‘The ram’s horn to your mouth!

Like an eagle he comes against the house of YHWH,

Because they have transgressed my covenant,

And trespassed against my law.

The opening lines are brief and to the point, being literally:

‘ “The ram’s horn to your mouth!” Like an eagle against the house of YHWH’

In other words the prophet is to sound the alarm (compare Hosea 5:8; Amos 3:6) because in vision the eagle has been sighted , and it is coming against ‘the house of YHWH’. This does not refer to the Jerusalem Temple for that Temple is nowhere under consideration by Hosea, nor does it refer to the Temple at Bethel (or even in Samaria) which were never described as houses of YHWH. Rather ‘YHWH’s house’ is either the land of Israel (Hosea 9:15) or the people of Israel (Hosea 1:4; Hosea 1:6; Hosea 5:1; Hosea 6:10).

The picture of the eagle swiftly descending on its prey (which is ‘the silly dove’ - Hosea 7:11) is taken from Deuteronomy 28:49. It is a part of the Deuteronomic curses on those who ‘do not observe His commandments or His statutes’ (Deuteronomy 28:15). Compare also the picture in Ezekiel 17. And here it comes on those who ‘have transgressed My covenant and trespasses against My Law’. It was because Israel were neglecting God’s requirements as laid down by the covenant of Sinai (see Hosea 4:2) that they would now be snatched away from their land.


Verses 1-3

When The Enemy Descend Like An Eagle Because They Have Broken The Covenant And Cast Off What Is Good, Israel Will Cry In Vain, ‘”O God Of Israel We Know You” (Hosea 8:1-3).

The present hopelessness of Israel’s current situation comes out strongly here. The enemy are coming against them like an eagle descending on its prey (compare Deuteronomy 28:49), and this because they have broken the covenant and disobeyed His Law. So desperate will the situation be that Israel will appeal to YHWH on the grounds that He is their God and known to them. But it will do them no good because they have ‘cast off what is good’, that is have rejected Him, His covenant and His ways. Therefore all that remains is for them to be effectively pursued by their enemy (compare Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:45;

Analysis of Hosea 8:1-3.

· “The ram’s horn to your mouth!” Like an eagle he comes against the house of YHWH. (Hosea 8:1 a).

· Because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law (Hosea 8:1 b).

· To me they will cry, “O God of Israel, we know you” (Hosea 8:2).

· Israel has cast off what is good (Hosea 8:3 a).

· The enemy will pursue him (Hosea 8:3 b).

Note that in ‘a’ the eagle will some against the house of YHWH (the people of Israel), and in the parallel the enemy will pursue them. In ‘b’ they have transgressed His covenant and trespassed against His Law, and in the parallel they have cast off what is good. Centrally in ‘c’ they make their false and hypocritical cry to YHWH.


Verse 2-3

‘To me they will cry,

“O God of Israel, we know you.”

Israel has cast off what is good,

The enemy will pursue him.

In its extremity Israel will then call out, ‘O God of Israel we know you’. They would assume that because God wastheirGod, the God of Israel, He must listen to them in their need and respond to their call because they ‘knew His Name’. This would include the idea that they knew how to manipulate Him through the cultus and could thus persuade Him to do what they wanted. And they would make this claim even though Hosea and YHWH had both made clear that that was far from the truth (Hosea 4:1; Hosea 4:6; Hosea 5:4; Hosea 6:6), for had they truly known Him they would have known that they could not manipulate Him and would have obeyed His commandments. Their failure had lain precisely in the fact that they had seen Him as just another nature god, and not as the living God Who required obedience. In other words they had not had a true knowledge of YHWH.

And because they did not know YHWH they had ‘cast off what was good’, that is the covenant and the Law and true worship and social justice. Thus the consequence was that ‘the enemy would pursue them’. Pursuit by the enemy was one essential aspect of the curses in Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:45. Thus the Levitical/Deuteronomic curses are being seen as being fulfilled on faithless Israel.

Some translate as, ‘Israel has cast off the Good One’, but there is no precedent for it elsewhere, and ‘casting off what is good’ fits the context, and indeed includes the idea of casting off the Good One as part of what is good.

‘O God of Israel.’ In the Hebrew text ‘God’ and ‘Israel’ are divided by the word ‘we know you’ (thus producing some of the unusual translations), but in fact the separating up of titles in this way so as to fit in with the metre was a feature of Hebrew poetry.


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 they have made idols for themselves,

That they may be cut off.’

YHWH’s first complaint was that Israel had set up kings and made princes without consulting YHWH, and this appears to have been so from the beginning, for while prophetic voices certainly were raised in support of Jeroboam I and Jehu, these were in private messages and not publicly proclaimed (1 Kings 11:30-38; 2 Kings 9:1-10). There is no suggestion anywhere that the people attempted to discover YHWH’s will as to who should reign over them, or who should be their princes, something which very much indicated that YHWH’s will was not very important to them. In Israel the king was supposed to be YHWH’s representative who acted in the Name of YHWH, but this made it quite clear that the people of Israel did not care about that one jot. And both Jeroboam and Jehu then proceeded to sin grievously, so that both were subsequently condemned by YHWH (1 Kings 14:7-16; 2 Kings 10:28-31; Hosea 1:4). Furthermore at this time when Hosea was speaking kings were being replaced by means of assassination with none seemingly objecting that YHWH’s representative had been removed. YHWH’s will was being treated as irrelevant.

YHWH’s second complaint was that instead of bringing their treasures to Him they were using them to make idols for themselves. This would certainly include the golden calves set up by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28-29), but would almost certainly also include smaller images of Baal and Asherah and other gods made in both silver and gold. And this in itself was the guarantee that Israel would be ‘cut off’.

It was as a consequence of the appointment of inept kings and princes without YHWH’s agreement that the golden idols were being set up which were mainly responsible for the downfall of Israel, and that strangers would be able to come in and seize their crops (Hosea 8:7). It is the former which will be dealt with first.


Verses 4-7

Israel Have Laid False Foundations In Kingship And Religion, And YHWH, Despairing Of There Being Any Likelihood Of Their Becoming Pure, Will In Anger Both Destroy ‘The Calf Of Samaria’ And Minimise Their Harvest (Hosea 8:4-7).

Having appointed kings and princes without regard to YHWH, and having used their God-given wealth in order to make idols for themselves, Israel is subject to the anger of YHWH, Who despairs of their ever becoming pure in the near future. He will therefore destroy the calf of Samaria and break it in pieces, and will make their fields barren, while anything that is produced will be swallowed up by foreigners.

Analysis of Hosea 8:4-7.

a They have set up kings, but not by me, they have made princes, and I knew it not, of their silver and their gold they have made idols for themselves, that they may be cut off (Hosea 8:4).

b He has cast off your calf, O Samaria (Hosea 8:5 a).

c My anger is kindled against them. How long will it be before they attain to innocency? (Hosea 8:5 b).

b For from Israel is even this, the workman made it, and it is no God. Yes, the calf of Samaria will be broken in pieces (Hosea 8:6).

a For they sow the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind, he has no standing grain, the blade will yield no meal. If so be it yield, strangers will swallow it up (Hosea 8:7).

Note that in ‘a’ their kings and princes are strangers to YHWH, and their wealth they have turned into idols, that they may be cut off, and in the parallel their fields will be fruitless (fruitfulness was the main aim of Baalism), and strangers would swallow up anything that they did produce, because their kings and princes would be unable to prevent it. In ‘b’ the bull of Samaria has been cut off, and in the parallel it is because it was made by workmen and is no God, which is why it will be broken in pieces. Centrally in ‘c’ YHWH is angry with them and despairs of their ever becoming pure.


Verse 5-6

‘He has cast off (is disgusted at) your calf, O Samaria,

My anger is kindled against them,

How long will it be before they attain to innocency?

For from Israel is even this,

The workman made it, and it is no God,

Yes, the calf of Samaria will be broken in pieces.’

YHWH has especially determined that ‘the calf of Samaria’ will be cast off in His disgust, and will be broken in pieces, and it is spoken of prophetically as something already accomplished. The use of ‘cast off, be disgusted at’ here contrasts with its use in Hosea 8:3. In Hosea 8:3 Israel had cast off, and been disgusted at, that which was good. Here YHWH is disgusted at their golden calf. That this refers to the calf at Bethel can hardly be doubted for there is no suggestion anywhere else of the making of ‘calves’ other than at Bethel and Dan (compare Hosea 10:5). But the one at Dan had probably by this time been melted down or taken as ‘hostage’ by invaders (Dan, being on the northern border was very vulnerable). Thus the one at Bethel was probably called ‘the calf of Samaria’. This may have been (a) because ‘Samaria’ as their leading city was seen as standing for the people of Israel, or (b) because the golden calf of Bethel had itself been taken to Samaria, or simply (c) because it was the centre point of the worship of the people of Samaria..

It was both their casual attitude as to who should reign over them, and their willingness to worship before the golden calves, that had made YHWH angry with them, and caused Him to despair as to when they would return to a state of purity. For by this they were both disregarding His rule and debasing His Name. The calves may well have been seen by them as the base on which the invisible YHWH stood, in the same way as the god Hadad stood on the back of a bull, but this made them no more acceptable to YHWH, for it meant that they were still involving graven images in their worship contrary to His commandment, and YHWH knew, even if they did not, that that inevitably led to idolatry. It is significant in this regard that the graven image was not seen as acceptable even though the sophisticated among them no doubt argued that they did not worship it, for God knew their hearts and recognised that, whether they themselves recognised it or not, a great deal of their worship was being directed at the calf itself (Baal was worshipped in the form of a bull). The same applies today when people argue that they are only ‘venerating’ images and using them as a means of worshipping God. The sad truth is that there is often little difference in many of these cases between veneration and worship, and it is not long before worship begins to be directed at the images.

The debased condition of Israel was further revealed by the fact that ‘this’ (we can sense the contempt behind the word), which was a graven image made by the hands of a workman, was being worshipped even though it was ‘no God’. And the total folly of worshipping it was revealed by the fact that men would later ‘break it in pieces’. So they worshipped a god that could be broken in pieces? What kind of a god was that?

‘He has cast off your calf, O Samaria.’ The change of person to ‘He’ might indicate that this was an interjection by Hosea himself, but it is not necessary to see it in that way for we often have such changes of person being used in the prophets to bring out a special emphasis, without the person involved being changed, especially when that person was God.


Verse 7

He has no standing grain,

The blade will yield no meal,

If so be it yield,

Strangers will swallow it up.’

The ‘he’ refers to Israel. Israel will have no standing grain, all will be flattened, their blades of corn will yield no meal, and any that they do yield will simply be swallowed up by strangers. The picture is one of total devastation and famine, and complete defencelessness (so much for their nature gods, and their kings and princes). Alternately it is an indication that they will be no longer be there but in exile, while their land will be given to others. The strangers who swallowed it up would be wandering tribes (similar to bedouin) who swept down and seized all that was available.


Verse 8-9

‘Israel is swallowed up.

Now are they among the nations,

As a vessel in which none delights.

.

For they are gone up to Assyria,

A wild ass alone by himself,

Ephraim has hired lovers.’

Not only will Israel’s crops be swallowed up (Hosea 8:7), but the same will happen to Israel themselves. For they are now to be found courting the nations, although turning out to be a sad deserted figure (like a wild ass alone in the desert lands) welcomed finally only by Assyria. They had sought many allies against the Assyrians, but they had all deserted her for one reason or another (they had not delighted in her), driving her into the arms of the Assyrians. But now that Israel are a part of the Assyrian empire they have many hired lovers, including the Assyrian gods, for all the good it does them. Note the play on words of ’pr (Ephraim) and pr’ (wild ass).

We can see in this a picture of the last decades of Israel prior to 722 BC, when they first sought alliances against Assyria (instead of looking to YHWH), and then finally, deserted by those allies, had to look to Assyria itself.


Verses 8-14

Because Israel Have Deserted YHWH And Looked To Others, (Both Nations And Gods), In Spite Of Having Received His Abundant Instruction, He Will Desert Them And They Will Return To Egypt And See Their Cities Destroyed By Fire (Hosea 8:8-14).

The argument now swings to consider Israel’s attitude towards other nations. YHWH had delivered Israel from Egypt in order that they might look to Him and to Him alone. But far from doing this Israel were hiring lovers and looking to Assyria. Well, they would soon discover that that was costly. Being under ‘the king of the princes’ did not come cheap. And meanwhile they are multiplying altars at which they can sin, in spite of YHWH having provided them with abundant instruction.

In consequence YHWH will take note of their sin and ‘return them to Egypt’, that is, bring them once more into slavery and subjection. And this because by their actions they have forgotten their Maker and put their trust in fortified cities which can easily be put to the flame.

Analysis of Hosea 8:8-14.

a Israel is swallowed up. Now are they among the nations, as a vessel in which none delights (Hosea 8:8).

b For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself, Ephraim has hired lovers (Hosea 8:9).

c Yes, because 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 (Hosea 8:10).

d Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, altars have been to him for sinning (Hosea 8:11).

e I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law, but they are counted as a strange thing (Hosea 8:12).

d As for the sacrifices of my offerings, they sacrifice flesh and eat it, but YHWH does not accept them (Hosea 8:13 a).

c Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins, they will return to Egypt (Hosea 8:13 b).

b For Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities (Hosea 8:14 a).

a But I will send a fire on his cities, and it will devour its castles. (Hosea 8:14 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel is swallowed up, and rejected, and in the parallel its cities and castles are devoured by fire. In ‘b’ Israel has gone up to Assyria for protection, and has hired lovers, and in the parallel he has looked to fortified cities for protection, and has forgotten his Maker. In ‘c’ Israel begin to be diminished as a result of the burden of the king of Assyria, and in the parallel their iniquities are remembered and their sins are visited on them in that they return to Egypt. In ‘d’ Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, and in the parallel they sacrifice flesh and eat it. Centrally in ‘e’ He has written for him ten thousand things of His Law, but they count them as a strange thing.


Verse 10

‘Yes, because 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.’

YHWH therefore intends to ‘gather’ them for judgment and slowly squeeze them dry by reason of the financial demands of the king of Assyria, ‘the king of princes’. This began with Menahem’s payment of tribute, extracted from the rich in the land (2 Kings 15:19-20), and continued through the years as greater and greater tribute was demanded as a consequence of their continuing rebellions.


Verse 11

Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning,

Altars have been to him for sinning.’

Meanwhile they have also continued to multiply altars at which they could sin (or ‘offer a sin offering’), establishing their altars ‘on every high hill and under every green tree’. Indeed all that their altars had done for them was to make them sin even more deeply. And this was true whether they were syncretistic altars at which both YHWH and Baal were worshipped, or altars merely for the Baalim.

We should not overlook the fact that according to Elijah there were a number of legitimate ‘altars of YHWH’ in Israel which had been torn down because of the new Baal cult (1 Kings 18:30; 1 Kings 19:10), which may subsequently have been restored (without them there could have been no legitimate worship in Israel), but those are not in mind here.


Verse 12

I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law,

But they are counted as a strange thing.’

It was not that Israel did not know better. God had written for them ‘the ten thousand things of my Law’, in other words a large number of instructions. But they had counted them as a strange thing, something that was to be avoided. Note the use of ‘ten thousand’ to indicate ‘a large number’.


Verse 13

‘As for the sacrifices of my offerings,

They sacrifice flesh and eat it,

But YHWH does not accept them,

Now will he remember their iniquity,

And visit their sins,

They will return to Egypt.

And even when their sacrifices were ‘offered to YHWH’ and they sacrificed flesh and ate it before Him in a ceremonial meal, YHWH did not accept their sacrifices because they continued sinning without restraint and were treating Him as the equivalent of a nature god. Therefore He would remember their iniquity and visit their sins on them, causing them to ‘return to Egypt’. The idea of ‘returning to Egypt’ might be symbolic, indicating that Israel would once more become a slave nation. But we must not forget that Egypt would in fact offer a safe haven for refugees from Assyria, so that we need not doubt that many Israelites fled there, only to find themselves ‘enslaved’, or in trying circumstances, once more (see Deuteronomy 28:68).


Verse 14

For Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces,

And Judah has multiplied fortified cities,

But I will send a fire on his cities,

And it will devour its castles.’

And all this was because Israel had forgotten its Maker (compare Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18) and were therefore, along with Judah, busy making themselves substitutes, this included multiplied fortified cities, palaces and castles, and multiplied altars. But once the one living God had been dispensed with, replacing Him would prove impossible. However, all these would be destroyed by fire, just as their false sacrifices had been.

The mention of Judah makes Judah’s inclusion in Hosea’s indictments all the more clear. They are not now simply seen as involved in the cult, but it is indirectly confirmed that they were in danger of being in wholesale rebellion against YHWH. His knowledge concerning the fortification of their cities brings home how familiar he was with what was going on in Judah.

We may summarise the situation of Israel as follows:

1) They had usurped Yahweh's sovereign authority over the nation (Hosea 8:4).

2) They were blatantly worshipping idols (Hosea 8:4-6).

3) They were depending on foreign treaties rather than on God (Hosea 8:9-10).

4) They had adopted and perpetuated a corrupt system of worship (Hosea 8:5-6; Hosea 8:11; Hosea 8:13).

5) They had arrogantly disregarded YHWH's Law (Hosea 8:1-3; Hosea 8:5; Hosea 8:12; Hosea 8:14).

6) They had forgotten their Maker (Hosea 8:14).

It was no wonder that God purposed final judgment upon them until they could in the distant future be brought back to repentance.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hosea-8.html. 2013.

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