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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Hosea 8

 

 

Verses 1-3

6

1. THE CONFUSION OF THE NATION

Hosea 7:8-16; Hosea 8:1-3

Hosea begins by summing up the public aspect of Israel in two epigrams, short but of marvelous adequacy:-[Hosea 7:8]

"Ephraim-among the nations he mixeth himself:

Ephraim has become a cake not turned."

It is a great crisis for any nation to pass from the seclusion of its youth and become a factor in the main history of the world. But for Israel the crisis was trebly great. Their difference from all other tribes about them had struck the Canaanites on their first entry to the land; [Numbers 23:9 b; Joshua 2:8] their own earliest writers had emphasized their seclusion as their strength; [Deuteronomy 33:27] and their first prophets consistently deprecated every overture made by them either to Egypt or to Assyria. We feel the force of the prophets’ policy when we remember what happened to the Philistines. These were a people as strong and as distinctive as Israel, with whom at one time they disputed possession of the whole land. But their position as traders in the main line of traffic between Asia and Africa rendered the Philistines peculiarly open to foreign influence. They were now Egyptian vassals, now Assyrian victims; and after the invasion of Alexander the Great their cities became centers of Hellenism, while the Jews upon their secluded hills still stubbornly held unmixed their race and their religion. This contrast, so remarkably developed in later centuries, has justified the prophets of the eighth in their anxiety that Israel should not annul the advantages of her geographical seclusion by trade or treaties with the Gentiles. But it was easier for Judaea to take heed to the warning than for Ephraim. The latter lies as open and fertile as her sister province is barren and aloof. She has many gates into the world, and they open upon many markets. Nobler opportunities there could not be for a nation in the maturity of its genius and loyal to its vocation:-

"Rejoice, O Zebulun, in thine outgoings:

They shall call the nations to the mountain;

They shall suck of the abundance of the seas

And of the treasure that is stored in the sands." [Deuteronomy 33:18-19]

But in the time of his outgoings Ephraim was not sure of himself nor true to his God, the one secret and strength of the national distinctiveness. So he met the world weak and unformed, and, instead of impressing it, was by it dissipated and confused. The tides of a lavish commerce scattered abroad the faculties of the people, and swept back upon their life alien fashions and tempers, to subdue which there was neither native strength nor definiteness of national purpose. All this is what Hosea means by the first of his epigrams: "Ephraim-among the nations he lets himself be poured out," or "mixed up." The form of the verb does not elsewhere occur; but it is reflexive, and the meaning of the root is certain. "Balal" is to "pour out," or "mingle," as of oil in the sacrificial flour. Yet it is sometimes used of a mixing which is not sacred, but profane and hopeless. It is applied to the first great confusion of mankind, to which a popular etymology has traced the name Babel, as if for Balbel. Derivatives of the stem bear the additional ideas of staining and impurity. The alternative renderings which have been proposed, "lets himself be soaked" and "scatters himself" abroad like wheat among tares, are not so probable, yet hardly change the meaning.

Ephraim wastes and confuses himself among the Gentiles. The nation’s character is so disguised that Hosea afterwards nicknames him Canaan [Hosea 12:8] their religion so filled with foreign influences that he calls the people the harlot of the Ba’alim.

If the first of Hosea’s epigrams satirizes Israel’s foreign relations, the second, with equal brevity and wit, hits off the temper and constitution of society at home. For the metaphor of which this epigram is composed Hosea has gone to the baker. Among all classes in the East, especially under conditions requiring haste, there is in demand a round flat scone, which is baked by being laid on hot stones or attached to the wall of a heated oven. The whole art of baking consists in turning the scone over at the proper moment. If this be mismanaged it does not need a baker to tell us that one side may be burnt to a cinder, while the other remains raw. "Ephraim," says Hosea, "is an unturned cake."

By this he may mean one of several things, or all of them together, for they are infectious of each other. There was, for instance, the social conditions of the people. What can better be described as an unturned scone than a community one half of whose number are too rich, and the other too poor? Or Hosea may refer to that unequal distribution of religion through life with which in other parts of his prophecy he reproaches Israel. They keep their religion, as Amos more fully tells us, for their temples, and neglect to carry its spirit into their daily business. Or he may refer to Israel’s politics, which were equally in want of thoroughness. They rushed hotly at an enterprise, but having expended so much fire in the beginning of it, they let the end drop cold and dead. Or he may wish to satirize, like Amos, Israel’s imperfect culture-the pretentious and overdone arts, stuck excrescence-wise upon the unrefined bulk of the nation, just as in many German principalities last century society took on a few French fashions in rough and exaggerated forms, while at heart still brutal and coarse. Hosea may mean any one of these things, for the figure suits all, and all spring from the same defect. Want of thoroughness and equable effort was Israel’s besetting sin, and it told on all sides of his life. How better describe a half-fed people, a half-cultured society, a half-lived religion, a half-hearted policy, than by a half-baked scone?

We who are so proud of our political bakers, we who scorn the rapid revolutions of our neighbors and complacently dwell upon our equable ovens, those slow and cautious centuries of political development which lie behind us-have we anything better than our neighbors, anything better than Israel, to show in our civilization? Hosea’s epigram fits us to the letter. After all those ages of baking, society is still with us "an unturned scone": one end of the nation with the strength burnt out of it by too much enjoyment of life, the other with not enough of warmth to be quickened into anything like adequate vitality. No man can deny that this is so; we are able to live only by shutting our hearts to the fact. Or is religion equally distributed through the lives of the religious portion of our nation? Of late years religion has spread, and spread wonderfully, but of how many Christians is it still true that they are but half-baked-living a life one side of which is reeking with the smoke of sacrifice, while the other is never warmed by one religious thought. We may have too much religion if we confine it to one day or one department of life: our worship overdone, with the sap and the freshness burnt out of it, cindery, dusty, unattractive, fit only for crumbling; our conduct cold, damp, and heavy, like dough the fire has never reached.

Upon the theme of these two epigrams the other verses of this chapter are variations. Has Ephraim mixed himself among the peoples? "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not," senselessly congratulating himself upon the increase of his trade and wealth, while he does not feel that these have sucked from him all his distinctive virtue. "Yea, grey hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knoweth it not." He makes his energy the measure of his life, as Isaiah also marked, {Hosea 9:9 f.} but sees not that it all means waste and decay. "The pride of Israel testifieth to his face, yet"-even when the pride of the nation is touched to the quick by such humiliating overtures as they make to both Assyria and Egypt-"they do not return to Jehovah their God, nor seek Him for all this."

With virtue and single-hearted faith have disappeared intellect and the capacity for affairs. "Ephraim is become like a silly dove-a dove without heart," to the Hebrews the organ of the wits of a man-"they cry to Egypt, they go off to Assyria." Poor pigeon of a people, fluttering from one refuge to another! But "as they go I will throw over them My net, like a bird of the air I will bring them down. I will punish them as their congregation have heard"-this text as it stands: can only mean "in the manner I have publicly proclaimed in Israel." "Woe to them that they have strayed from Me! Damnation to them that they have rebelled against Me! While I would have redeemed them they spoke lies about Me. And they have never cried unto Me with their heart, but they keep howling from their beds for corn and new wine." No real repentance theirs, but some fear of drought and miscarriage of the harvests, a sensual and servile sorrow in which they wallow. They seek God with no heart, no true appreciation of what He is, but use the senseless means by which the heathen invoke their gods: "they cut themselves, and "so "apostatize from Me! And yet it was I who disciplined them, I strengthened their arm, but with regard to Me they kept thinking" only "evil!" So fickle and sensitive to fear, "they turn" indeed "but not upwards"; no Godward conversion theirs. In their repentance "they are like a bow which swerves" off upon some impulse of their ill-balanced natures. "Their princes must fall by the sword because of the bitterness"-we should have expected "falseness"-"of their tongue: this is their scorn in the land of Egypt!" To the allusion we have no key.

With so false a people nothing can be done. Their doom is inevitable. So

"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."

"To thy mouth with the trumpet! The Eagle is down upon the house of Jehovah!" Where the carcass is, there are the eagles gathered together. "For"-to sum up the whole crisis-"they have transgressed My covenant, and against My law have they rebelled. To Me they cry, My God, we know Thee, we Israeli" What does it matter? "Israel hath spurned the good: the Foe must pursue him."

It is the same climax of inevitable war to which Amos led up his periods; and a new subject is now introduced.


Verses 1-14

THE THICK NIGHT OF ISRAEL

Hosea 4:1-19; Hosea 5:1-15; Hosea 6:1-11; Hosea 7:1-16; Hosea 8:1-14; Hosea 9:1-17; Hosea 10:1-15; Hosea 11:1-12; Hosea 12:1-14; Hosea 13:1-16; Hosea 14:1-9

It was indeed a "thick night" into which this Arthur of Israel stepped from his shattered home. The mists drive across Hosea’s long agony with his people, and what we see, we see blurred and broken. There are stumbling and clashing; crowds in drift; confused rallies; gangs of assassins breaking across the highways; doors opening upon lurid interiors full of drunken riot. Voices, which other voices mock, cry for a dawn that never comes. God Himself is Laughter, Lightning, a Lion, a Gnawing Worm. Only one clear note breaks over the confusion-the trumpet summoning to war.

Take courage, O great heart! Not thus shall it always be! There wait thee, before the end, of open Visions at least two-one of Memory and one of Hope, one of Childhood and one of Spring. Past this night, past the swamp and jungle of these fetid years, thou shalt see thy land in her beauty, and God shall look on the face of His Bride.

Chapters 4-14 are almost indivisible. The two Visions just mentioned, chapters 11 and Hosea 14:3-9, may be detached by virtue of contributing the only strains of gospel which rise victorious above the Lord’s controversy with His people and the troubled story of their sins. All the rest is the noise of a nation falling to pieces, the crumbling of a splendid past. And as decay has no climax and ruin no rhythm, so we may understand why it is impossible to divide with any certainty Hosea’s record of Israel’s fall. Some arrangement we must attempt, but it is more or less artificial, and to be undertaken for the sake of our own minds, that cannot grasp so great a collapse all at once. Chapter 4 has a certain unity, and is followed by a new exordium, but as it forms only the theme of which the subsequent chapters are variations, we may take it with them as far as Hosea 7:7; after which there is a slight transition from the moral signs of Israel’s dissolution to the political-although Hoses still combines the religious offences of idolatry with the anarchy of the land. These form the chief interest to the end of chapter 10. Then breaks the bright Vision of the Past, chapter 11, the temporary victory of the Gospel of the Prophet over his Curse. In chapters 12-14:2 we are plunged into the latter once more, and reach in Hosea 14:3 if. the second bright vision, the Vision of the Future. To each of these phases of Israel’s Thick Night-we can hardly call them Sections-we may devote a chapter of simple exposition, adding three chapters more of detailed examination of the main doctrines we shall have encountered on our way-the Knowledge of God, Repentance, and the Sin against Love.


Verses 4-13

2. ARTIFICIAL KINGS AND ARTIFICIAL GODS

Hosea 8:4-13

The curse of such a state of dissipation as that to which Israel had fallen is that it produces no men. Had the people had in them "the root of the matter," had there been the stalk and the fiber of a national consciousness and purpose, it would have blossomed to a man. In the similar time of her outgoings upon the world Prussia had her Frederick the Great, and Israel, too, would have produced a leader, a heaven-sent king, if the national spirit had not been squandered on foreign trade and fashions. But after the death of Jeroboam every man who rose to eminence in Israel, rose, not on the nation, but only on the fevered and transient impulse of some faction; and through the broken years one party monarch was lifted after another to the brief tenancy of a blood-stained throne. They were not from God, these monarchs; but man-made, and sooner or later man-murdered. With his sharp insight Hosea likens these artificial kings to the artificial gods, also the work of men’s hands; and till near the close of his book the idols of the sanctuary and the puppets of the throne form the twin targets of his scorn.

"They have made kings, but not from Me; they have made princes, but I knew not. With their silver and their gold they have manufactured themselves idols, only that they may be cut off"-king after king, idol upon idol. "He loathes thy Calf, O Samaria," the thing of wood and gold which thou callest Jehovah. And God confirms this. "Kindled is Mine anger against them! How long will they be incapable of innocence?"-unable to clear themselves of guilt! The idol is still in his mind. "For from Israel is it also-as much as the puppet-kings"; a workman made it, and no god is it. Yea, splinters shall the Calf of Samaria become." Splinters shall everything in Israel become. "For they sow the wind, and the whirlwind shall they reap." Indeed like a storm Hosea’s own language now sweeps along; and his metaphors are torn into shreds upon it. "Stalk it hath none: the sprout brings forth no grain: if it were to bring forth, strangers would swallow it." Nay, "Israel hath let herself be swallowed up! Already are they becoming among the nations like a vessel there is no more use for." Heathen empires have sucked them dry. "They have gone up to Assyria like a runaway wild-ass. Ephraim hath hired lovers." It is again the note of their mad dissipation among the foreigners. "But if they" thus "give themselves away among the nations, I must gather them in, and" then "shall they have to cease a little from the anointing of a king and princes." This willful roaming of theirs among the foreigners shall be followed by compulsory exile, and all their unholy artificial politics shall cease. The discourse turns to the other target. For Ephraim hath multiplied altars-to sin; altars are his own-to sin. Were I to write for him by myriads My laws, as those of a stranger would they be accounted. They slay burnt-offerings for Me and eat flesh. Jehovah hath no delight in them. Now must He remember their guilt and make visitation upon their sin. They-to Egypt-shall return" Back to their ancient servitude must they go, as formerly He said He would withdraw them to the wilderness. [Hosea 2:16]

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hosea 8:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/hosea-8.html.

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