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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Hosea 14

 

 

Verse 1

-16

2. THE LAST JUDGMENT

Hosea 13:1-16 - Hosea 14:1

The crisis draws on. On the one hand Israel’s sin, accumulating, bulks ripe for judgment. On the other the times grow more fatal, or the prophet more than ever feels them so. He will gather once again the old truths on the old lines-the great past when Jehovah was God alone, the descent to the idols and the mushroom monarchs of today, the people, who once had been strong, sapped by luxury, forgetful, stupid, not to be roused. The discourse has every mark of being Hosea’s latest. There are clearness and definiteness beyond anything since chapter 4. There are ease and lightness of treatment, a playful sarcasm, as if the themes were now familiar both to the prophet and his audience. But, chiefly, there is the passion-so suitable to last words-of how different it all might have been, if to this crisis Israel had come with store of strength instead of guilt. How these years, with their opening into the great history of the world, might have meant a birth for the nation, which instead was lying upon them like a miscarried child in the mouth of the womb! It was a fatality God Himself could not help in. Only death and hell remained. Let them, then, have their way! Samaria must expiate her guilt in the worst horrors of war.

Instead of with one definite historical event, this last effort of Hosea opens more naturally with a summary of all Ephraim’s previous history. The tribe had been the first in Israel till they took to idols.

"Whenever Ephraim spake there was trembling. Prince was he in Israel; but he fell into guilt through the Ba’al, and so-died. Even now they continue to sin and make them a smelting of their silver, idols after their own modelsmith’s work all of it. To them"-to such things-"they speak! Sacrificing men kiss calves!" In such unreason have they sunk. They cannot endure. "Therefore shall they be like the morning cloud and like the dew that early vanisheth, like chaff which whirleth up from the floor and like smoke from the window. And I was thy God from the land of Egypt; and god besides Me thou knowest not, nor savior has there been any but Myself. I shepherded thee in the wilderness, in the land of droughts"-long before they came among the gods of fertile Canaan. But once they came hither, "the more pasture they had, the more they ate themselves full, and the more they ate themselves full, the more was their heart uplifted, so they forgat Me. So that I must be to them like a lion, like a leopard in the way I must leap. I will fall on them like a bear robbed of its young, and will tear the caul of their hearts, and will devour them like a lion-wild beasts shall rend them."

When "He hath destroyed thee, O Israel-who then may help thee? Where is thy king now? that he may save thee, or all thy princes? that they may rule thee; those of whom thou hast said, Give me a king and princes." Aye, "I give thee a king in Mine anger, and I take him away in My wrath!" Fit summary of the short and bloody reigns of these last years.

"Gathered is Ephraim’s guilt, stored up is his sin." The nation is pregnant - but with guilt! "Birth pangs seize him but"-the figure changes, with Hosea’s own swiftness, from mother to child-"he is an impracticable son; for this is no time to stand in the mouth of the womb." The years that might have been the nation’s birth are by their own folly to prove their death. Israel lies in the way of its own redemption-how truly this has been forced home upon them in one chapter after another! Shall God then step in and work a deliverance on the brink of death? "From the hand of Sheol shall I deliver them? from death shall I redeem them?" Nay, let death and Sheol have their way. "Where are thy plagues, O death? where thy destruction, Sheol?" Here with them. Compassion is hid from Mine eyes.

This great verse has been variously rendered. Some have taken it as a promise: "I will deliver. I will redeem" So the Septuagint translated, and St. Paul borrowed, not the whole Greek verse, but its spirit and one or two of its terms, for his triumphant challenge to death in the power of the Resurrection of Christ. As it stands in Hosea, however, the verse must be a threat. The last clause unambiguously abjures mercy, and the statement that His people will not be saved, for God cannot save them, is one in thorough harmony with all Hosea’s teaching.

An appendix follows with the illustration of the exact form which doom shall take. As so frequently with Hosea, it opens with a play upon the people’s name, which at the same time faintly echoes the opening of the chapter.

"Although he among his brethren is the fruit-bearer"-yaphri’, he Ephraim-"there shall come an east wind, a wind of Jehovah rising from the wilderness, so that his fountain dry up and his spring be parched." He -" himself," not the Assyrian, but Menahem, who had to send gold to the Assyrian-"shall strip the treasury of all its precious jewels. Samaria must bear her guilt: for she hath rebelled against her God." To this simple issue has the impenitence of the people finally reduced the many possibilities of those momentous years; and their last prophet leaves them looking forward to the crash which came some dozen years later in the invasion and captivity of the land. "They shall fall by the sword; their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child ripped up." Horrible details, but at that period certain to follow every defeat in war.


Verses 1-9

4

THE FINAL ARGUMENT

Hosea 12:1-14 - Hosea 14:1

THE impassioned call with which the last chapter closed was by no means an assurance of salvation: "How am I to give thee, up, Ephraim? how am I to let thee go, Israel? On the contrary, it was the anguish of Love, when it hovers over its own on the brink of the destruction to which their willfulness has led them, and before relinquishing them would seek, if possible, some last way to redeem. Surely that fatal morrow and the people’s mad leap into it are not inevitable! At least, before they take the leap, let the prophet go back once more upon the moral situation of today, go back once more upon the past of the people, and see if he can find anything else to explain that bias to apostasy [Hosea 11:7] which has brought them to this fatal brink-anything else which may move them to repentance even there. So in chapters 12 and 13 Hosea turns upon the now familiar trail of his argument, full of the Divine jealousy, determined to give the people one other chance to turn; but if they will not, he at least will justify God’s relinquishment of them. The chapters throw even a brighter light upon the temper and habits of that generation. They again explore Israel’s ancient history for causes of the present decline; and, in especial, they cite the spiritual experience of the Father of the Nation, as if to show that what of repentance was possible for him is possible for his posterity also. But once more all hope is seen to be in vain; and Hosea’s last travail with his obstinate people closes in a doom even more awful than its predecessors."

The division into chapters is probably correct; but while chapter 13 is well ordered and clear, the arrangement, and, in parts, the meaning of chapter 12 are very obscure.


Verses 2-9

"I WILL BE AS THE DEW"

Hosea 14:2-9

LIKE the Book of Amos, the Book of Hosea, after proclaiming the people’s inevitable doom, turns to a blessed prospect of their restoration to favor with God. It will be remembered that we decided against the authenticity of such an epilogue in the Book of Amos; and it may now be asked, how can we come to any other conclusion with regard to the similar peroration in the Book of Hosea? For the following reasons.

We decided against the genuineness of the closing verses of Amos because their sanguine temper is opposed to the temper of the whole of the rest of the book, and because they neither propose any ethical conditions for the attainment of the blessed future, nor in their picture of the latter do they emphasize one single trace of the justice, or the purity, or the social kindliness, on which Amos has so exclusively insisted as the ideal relations of Israel to Jehovah. It seemed impossible to us that Amos could imagine the perfect restoration of his people in the terms only of re-quickened nature, and say nothing about righteousness, truth, and mercy towards the poor. The prospect which now closes his book is psychologically alien to him, and, being painted in the terms of later prophecy, may be judged to have been added by some prophet of the Exile, speaking from the standpoint, and with the legitimate desires, of his own day. But the case is very different for this epilogue in Hosea. In the first place, Hosea has not only continually preached repentance, and been, from his whole affectionate temper of mind, unable to believe repentance impossible; but he has actually predicted the restoration of his people upon certain well-defined and ethical conditions. In chapter 2 he has drawn for us in detail the whole prospect of God’s successful treatment of his erring spouse. Israel should be weaned from their sensuousness and its accompanying trust in idols by a severe discipline, which the prophet describes in terms of their ancient wanderings in the wilderness. They should be reduced as at the beginning of their history, to moral converse with their God; and abjuring the Ba’alim (later chapters imply also their foreign allies and foolish kings and princes) should return to Jehovah, when He, having proved that these could not give them the fruits of the land they sought after, should Himself quicken the whole course of nature to bless them with the fertility of the soil and the friendliness even of the wild beasts. Now in the epilogue and its prospect of Israel’s repentance we find no feature, physical or moral, which has not already been furnished by these previous promises of the book. All their ethical conditions are provided; nothing but what they have conceived of blessing is again conceived. Israel is to abjure senseless sacrifice and come to Jehovah with rational and contrite confession. {Cf. Hosea 6:6} She is to abjure her foreign alliances. {Cf. Hosea 12:2} She is to trust in the fatherly love of her God. {Cf. Hosea 1:7} He is to heal her, {Cf. Hosea 11:4} and His anger is to turn away. {Cf. Hosea 11:8-9} He is to restore nature, just as described in chapter 2 and the scenery of the restoration is borrowed from Hosea’s own Galilee. There is, in short, no phrase or allusion of which we can say that it is alien to the prophet’s style or environment, while the very keynotes of his book -"return," "backsliding," "idols the work of our hands," "such pity as a father hath," and perhaps even the "answer" or "converse" of Hosea 14:9 -are all struck once more. The epilogue then is absolutely different from the epilogue to the Book of Amos, nor can the present expositor conceive of the possibility of a stronger case for the genuineness of any passage of Scripture. The sole difficulty seems to be the place in which we find it-a place where its contradiction to the immediately preceding sentence of doom is brought out into relief. We need not suppose, however, that it was uttered by Hosea in immediate proximity to the latter, nor even that it formed his last word to Israel. But granting only (as the above evidence obliges us to do) that it is the prophet’s own, this fourteenth chapter may have been a discourse addressed by him at one of those many points when, as we know, he had some hope of the people’s return. Personally, I should think it extremely likely that Hosea’s ministry closed with that final, hopeless proclamation in chapter 13; no other conclusion was possible so near the fall of Samaria and the absolute destruction of the Northern Kingdom. But Hosea had already in chapter 2 painted the very opposite issue as a possible ideal for his people; and during some break in those years when their insincerity was less obtrusive, and the final doom still uncertain, the prophet’s heart swung to its natural pole in the exhaustless and steadfast love of God, and he uttered his unmingled gospel. That either himself or the unknown editor of his prophecies should have placed it at the very end of his book is not less than what we might have expected. For if the book were to have validity beyond the circumstances of its origin, beyond the judgment which was so near and so inevitable, was it not right to let something else than the proclamation of this latter be its last word to men? was it not right to put as the conclusion of the whole matter the ideal eternity valid for Israel-the gospel which is ever God’s last word to His people?

At some point or other, then, in the course of his ministry, there was granted to Hosea an open vision like to the vision which he has recounted in the second chapter. He called on the people to repent. For once, and in the power of that Love to which he had already said all things are possible, it seemed to him as if repentance came. The tangle and intrigue of his generation fell away; fell away the reeking sacrifices and the vain show of worship. The people turned from their idols and puppet-kings, from Assyria and from Egypt, and with contrite hearts came to God Himself, who, healing and loving, opened to them wide the gates of the future. It is not strange that down this spiritual vista the prophet should see the same scenery as daily filled his bodily vision. Throughout Galilee Lebanon dominates the landscape. You cannot lift your eyes from any spot of Northern Israel without resting them upon the vast mountain. From the unhealthy jungles of the Upper Jordan, the pilgrim lifts his heart to the cool hill air above, to the ever-green cedars and firs, to the streams and waterfalls that drop like silver chains off the great breastplate of snow. From Esdraelon and every plain the peasants look to Lebanon to store the clouds and scatter the rain; it is not from heaven but from Hermon that they expect the dew, their only hope in the long drought of summer across Galilee and in Northern Ephraim, across Bashan and in Northern Gilead, across Hauran and on the borders of the desert, the mountain casts its spell of power, its lavish promise of life. Lebanon is everywhere the summit of the land, and there are points from which it is as dominant as heaven.

No wonder then that our northern prophet painted the blessed future in the poetry of the mountain-its air, its dew, and its trees. Other seers were to behold, in the same latter days, the mountain of the Lord above the tops of the mountains; the ordered cite, her steadfast walls salvation, and her open gates praise; the wealth of the Gentiles flowing into her, profusion of flocks for sacrifice, profusion of pilgrims; the great Temple and its solemn services; and "the glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, fir-tree and pine and box-tree together, to beautify the place of My Sanctuary." [Isaiah 60:13] But, with his home in the north, and weary of sacrifice and ritual, weary of everything artificial, whether it were idols or puppet-kings, Hosea turns to the "glory of Lebanon" as it lies, untouched by human tool or art, fresh and full of peace from God’s own hand. Like that other seer of Galilee, Hosea in his vision of the future "saw no temple therein." [Revelation 21:22] His sacraments are the open air, the mountain breeze, the dew, the vine, the lilies, the pines; and what God asks of men are not rites nor sacrifices, but life and health, fragrance and fruitfulness, beneath the shadow and the Dew of His Presence.

"Return, O Israel, to Jehovah thy God, for thou" hast stumbled by thine iniquity. Take with you words and return unto Jehovah. Say unto Him, Remove iniquity altogether, and take good, so will we render" the calves of our lips"; confessions, vows, these are the sacrificial offerings God delights in. Which vows are now registered:-

"Asshur shall not save us;

We shall not ride upon horses (from Egypt)

And we will say no more, "O our God," to the work of our hands:

For in Thee the fatherless findeth a father’s pity."

Alien help, whether in the protection of Assyria or the cavalry which Pharaoh sends in return for Israel’s homage; alien gods, whose idols we have ourselves made, -we abjure them all, for we remember how Thou didst promise to show a father’s love to the people whom Thou didst name, for their mother’s sins, Lo-Ruhamah, the Unfathered. Then God replies:-

"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: For Mine anger is turned away from them. I will be as the dew unto Israel: He shall blossom as the lily, And strike his roots deep as Lebanon: His branches shall spread, And his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, And his smell as Lebanon- smell of clear mountain air with the scent of the pines upon it. The figure in the end of Hosea 14:6 seems forced to some critics, who have proposed various emendations, such as "like the fast-rooted trees of Lebanon," but any one who has seen how the mountain himself rises from great roots, cast out across the land like those of some giant oak, will not feel it necessary to mitigate the metaphor."

The prophet now speaks:-

"They shall return and dwell in His shadow.

They shall live well-watered as a garden,

Till they flourish like the vine,

And be fragrant like the wine of Lebanon."

God speaks:-

"Ephraim, what has he to do any more with idols!

I have spoken for him, and I will look after him.

I am like an evergreen fir;

From Me is thy fruit found."

This version is not without its difficulties; but the alternative that God is addressed and Ephraim is the speaker-"Ephraim" says," What have I to do any more with idols? I answer and look to Him: I am like a green fir-tree; from me is Thy fruit found"-has even greater difficulties, although it avoids the unusual comparison of the Deity with a tree The difficulties of both interpretations may be overcome by dividing the verse between God and the people:-

"Ephraim! what has he to do any more with idols:

I have spoken far him, and will look after him."

In this case the speaking would be intended in the same sense as the speaking in chapter 2. to the heavens and earth, that they might speak to the corn and wine. Then Ephraim replies:-

"I am like an ever-green fir-tree;

From me is Thy fruit found."

But the division appears artificial, and the text does not suggest that the two I’s belong to different speakers. The first version therefore is the preferable.

Some one has added a summons to later generations to lay this book to heart in face of their own problems and sins. May we do so for ourselves.

"Who is wise, that he understands these things?

Intelligent, that he knows them?

Yea straight are the ways of Jehovah,

And the righteous shall walk therein, but sinners shall stumble upon them."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hosea 14:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/hosea-14.html.

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