Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.Hosea 4:1. Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel — “The prophet here begins a third discourse, which is manifestly distinct from the preceding, both as to matter and manner. He was before predicting what should happen in future times, by way of prophetic vision; here he reproves those of the present time for such sins as then reigned among them; such as provoked God to send on them and their posterity the judgments foretold in the former chapter.” He seems to be addressing chiefly the Israelites of the ten tribes, though not exclusively, his reproofs and exhortations being so formed and expressed as to suit the case of the Jews also. For the Lord hath a controversy, &c. — Hebrew, ריב, a cause, contention, or matter of debate. The LXX. render the word, κρισις, judgment, or dispute; and so the Vulgate. The expression is taken from the actions, or pleas, which one man brings against another, for injuries or damages received: so here God is represented as entering into judgment, or bringing a plea, or complaint, against the people of the ten tribes, for their injustice and other sins, as being so many injuries to his honour, for which he demands satisfaction. The other prophets bring the same charges against this people, as we find from their writings. Because there is no truth, &c. — No faithfulness in their minds, words, or works; they cover falsehood with fair words, till they can conveniently execute their designed frauds. It appears they had no sense of moral honesty; made no conscience of what they said or did, though never so contrary to uprightness, and injurious to their neighbours. Much less had they any sense of mercy, or of the obligation they were under to help the indigent and necessitous. There was neither compassion nor beneficence among them; they neither pitied nor relieved any. Nor knowledge of God in the land — Here we have the cause of their want of integrity and benevolence: they had not the true and saving knowledge of God, they were neither acquainted with him, nor with his will, and their own duty: hence they were destitute of true piety, and therefore also of true virtue.
By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.Hosea 4:2. By swearing — False swearing seems to be here chiefly intended, which is here, as it is also elsewhere, joined with lying and stealing; because, in the Jewish courts of justice, men that were suspected of theft were obliged to purge themselves by an oath; and they often ventured to forswear themselves, rather than discover the truth. The Hebrew word, אלה, here used, is rendered αρα by the LXX., that is, execration, imprecation, or cursing, as Bishop Horsley renders it. Profane swearing, however, or taking the name of God in vain, is doubtless included. The next word, כחשׁ, rendered lying, means falsehood in general: and especially, as some think, the denying of deposites which had been left in their hands, and which, when the owners came to claim them, they absolutely denied having received. And killing, committing murders, either privately or with open violence. They break out — Hebrew, פרצו, they burst out, or overflow, a metaphor taken from rivers breaking their banks, and bearing down every obstacle by the impetuosity of their waters. The meaning is, There is an inundation of all manner of wickedness, and all law and equity is broken through and violated. And blood toucheth blood — One murder follows upon another, and many are committed in all parts of the country, and as it were, in a constant series and succession. This was probably spoken with an especial reference to the murder of their kings by those who aspired to succeed them; as Zechariah by Shallum, Shallum by Menahem, Pekah by Pekahiah and Hoshea. In such civil broils a great many of their friends and dependants are commonly slain with the kings themselves.
Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.Hosea 4:3. Therefore shall the land mourn — “Desolation, drought, and dearth shall come upon the whole land; shall consume both men, and beasts, and fowls, and shall even extend itself to the inhabitants of the waters.” A land is said, in Scripture language, to mourn, when it is deprived of its inhabitants, or lies desolate. A great part of the land of Israel was made thus desolate by Tiglath-pileser, and the rest by Shalmaneser. There may also be a reference to the drought foretold by Amos 1:2, or to the locusts, mentioned chap. Hosea 5:7. Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish — If any one remain therein, he shall languish for want of the proper necessaries of life. With the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven — Even the beasts and birds shall pine away with want; not only the fruits of the earth, but the herbs and grass also, being eaten up or spoiled by the enemies’ armies. Yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away — The fishes of the rivers and great waters, called seas in the Hebrew language, shall be killed through drought, or so diminished that they shall not supply the wants of this rebellious people: see Zephaniah 1:3.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.Hosea 4:4-5. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another — Bishop Horsley translates this clause, By no means let any one expostulate, nor let any one reprove; adding, by way of paraphrase, “For all expostulation and reproof will be lost upon this people, such are their stubbornness anal obstinacy. For my people are as they that strive (Are exactly like those who will contend, Horsley) with the priest — “To contend with the priest, the authorized interpreter of the law, and the typical intercessor between God and the people, was the highest species of contumacy and disobedience, and by the law was a capital offence, Deuteronomy 17:12. God tells the prophet that contumacy and perverseness, even in this degree, were become the general character of the people; that the national obstinacy, and contempt of the remonstrances and reproofs of the prophets, were such as might be compared with the stubbornness of an individual who, at the peril of his life, would arraign and disobey the judicial decisions of God’s priests.” In other words, that there was no modesty, nor fear of God or man, left among them, but they would contend with their teachers, reprovers, and counsellors. The LXX. translate this clause, Ο δε λαος
μου ως αντιλεγομενος ιερευς, My people are as a gainsaying priest, that is, as Houbigant interprets it, they follow the rebellion of the priest: or, are as wicked as those priests who infamously desert the service of God for that of idols. Pocock on the place quotes a MS. Arabic version, which considers the words as declarative, and translates them accordingly; a sense which is approved by Archbishop Newcome, who renders the verse, Yet no man contendeth, and no man reproveth; and as is the provocation of the priest, so is that of my people. While every kind of wickedness abounded, and crimes of all sorts were openly committed from one end of the land to the other, there was no person, either prophet, priest, or magistrate, who protested against such vices, or steadily opposed them. Therefore shalt thou fall — The last sentence was addressed to the prophet, “Thy people, O prophet;” this to the people themselves, “Thou, O stubborn people.” This sudden conversion of the speech of the principal speaker, from one to another of the different persons of the scene, is frequent in the prophets. In the day — Not for want of light to see thy way; but in the full daylight of divine instruction thou shalt fall. Even at the rising of that light which is for the lighting of every man that cometh into the world. In this daytime, when our Lord himself visited them, the Jews made their last false step, and fell. Thou shalt fall when it is least probable; when thou thinkest thy state most secure and prosperous. And the prophet also, &c., in the night — “In the night of ignorance, which shall close thy day, the prophet shall fall with thee; that is, the order of prophets among you shall cease.” Thus Bishop Horsley, who understands the words as spoken of true prophets. But it seems more probable that they are intended of false prophets, and that the meaning is, that their revelations, to which they pretended in the night, or in the darkness of ignorance and error, should be delusive and dangerous ones. Or, the people were to fall by day, the prophets by night, because the ruin of the latter would be the consequence of the ruin of the former: the prophets would then fall after the people, when the people, being destroyed, it should appear that the prophets had spoken falsely by predicting prosperity. And I will destroy thy mother — That is, the mother city, the metropolis. So Capellus, Houbigant, and Archbishop Newcome. If the prophet be considered as addressing the ten tribes only, Samaria is meant; but if he addressed the children of Israel in general, then Jerusalem must be intended: which city, and not Samaria, was the metropolis of the whole nation.
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.Hosea 4:6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge — The ignorance of the nature, necessity, and excellence of true religion, which prevailed among the Jews and Israelites, was one principal cause of those sins which drew down such heavy judgments upon them. Because thou hast rejected knowledge — That is, wouldest not use the means of knowledge which thou hadst. “But this lack of knowledge in the people was, in a great measure, owing to the want of that constant instruction which they ought to have received from the priests. The mention of it, therefore, occasions a sudden transition from general threatenings to particular denunciations against the priesthood.” I will also reject thee — The high-priest for the time being, as the representative of the whole order, seems to be here addressed; that thou shalt be no priest to me — “Since the person threatened was to be rejected from being a priest, he was priest at the time when he was threatened; otherwise he had not been a subject of rejection. The person threatened therefore must have been the head, for the time being, of the true Levitical priesthood, not of the intruded priesthood of Jeroboam. This is a proof, that the metropolis, threatened with excision is Jerusalem, not Samaria, and that the ten tribes exclusively are not the subject of this part of the prophecy.” — Bishop Horsley. Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God — Hast neither desired nor endeavoured to understand, or retain it in thy mind, nor to transmit the knowledge and remembrance of it to posterity. I will also forget thy children — Thy offspring, or the people whose priest thou art, and of whom thou oughtest to have taken a fatherly care; I will not look upon them any longer as the seed of Abraham, and children of my covenant.
As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.Hosea 4:7. As they were increased, so they sinned — Or, The more they were increased, the more they sinned against me — The greater the favours were which I heaped upon them, and the more I multiplied them, the more presumptuously they sinned against me: see Hosea 13:6. Instead of, as they were increased, Bishop Horsley reads, In proportion as they were magnified, (a translation the Hebrew word, כרבם, will well bear,) “the priesthood,” he observes, “among the Jews was, by God’s appointment, a situation of the highest rank and authority; and the complaint is, that, in proportion as they were raised in dignity and power above the rest of the people, they surpassed them in impiety.” Therefore will I change their glory into shame — Therefore I will divest them of all those glories for which they pride themselves, and lead them away in a poor and miserable condition into captivity.
They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.Hosea 4:8-11. They eat up the sin of my people — These priests, mentioned Hosea 4:6, live upon the sin-offerings of the people; and are so far from restraining them, that they take delight in seeing them commit iniquity, because the more they sin, the greater is the number of their sin-offerings, which are the priests’ portions. Bishop Horsley translates the verse, “Every one of them, while they eat the sin-offerings of my people, sets his own heart upon the crime;” that is, while they exercise the sacred function of the priesthood, and claim its highest privileges, their own hearts are set upon the prevailing idolatry. And there shall be, like people, like priest — “The people’s sins deserve to be punished with such priests; and such priests have helped to make the people thus wicked.” — Bishop Hall. Or, rather, the sense is, It shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; that is, as they are alike in sinning, so shall they be alike in punishment, which shall be correspondent to their crimes. For they shall eat and not have enough — Or, not be satisfied, as the word, ישׂבעו, is elsewhere translated. The expression may signify, either that their food should not afford due nourishment, for want of God’s blessing, or that they should be afflicted with a famine or scarcity, so that they should not have food enough to satisfy their craving appetites. The contrary phrase, To eat and be full, or satisfied, denotes plenty. They shall commit whoredoms, &c., and not increase — Though they think to multiply by taking a plurality of wives, or concubines, yet in this they shall find their expectations disappointed. Because they have left off to take heed to the Lord — Here the reason is given why they should eat and not have enough, &c., namely, because they had apostatized from the love and service of God; for how ready so ever we may be to attribute every thing to the operation of natural causes, yet the Scriptures always speak of God’s co-operation with them as necessary in order to the producing of their desired effects. Whoredom and wine, &c., take away the heart — Deprive men of their judgment, and darken their understandings. So a gift is said to destroy the heart, Ecclesiastes 7:7, that is, to bereave men of the use of their discerning faculties.
And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.Hosea 4:12. My people ask counsel at their stocks — Hebrew, בעצו, at their wood, that is, the images of their idols made of wood; these they consulted as oracles, that they might foretel to them what was to come, or give them advice, what measures to take. And their staff declares unto them — They seek to know things by means of rods, by which they think they can divine. This refers to a kind of divination by rods or staves, which was anciently practised in the East, of which different accounts are given by ancient writers. Some say, the person consulting measured his staff by spans, or by the length of his finger, saying as he measured it, “I will go, or I will not go; I will do such a thing, or I will not do it;” and as the last span fell out so he determined. Others, however, as Cyril and Theophylact, give a different account of the matter, and say, it was performed by erecting two sticks, after which they muttered forth a certain charm, and then according as the sticks fell backward or forward, to the right or left, they gave advice in any affair. The same kind of divination seems to be intended with that used by the Chaldeans, concerning which see the note on Ezekiel 21:21. For the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err — For their fondness for idolatry hath caused them to fall into all these absurd errors, through the example of the idolatrous nations whom they loved to imitate. They have gone a whoring from their God — They have left their God, the true God, and his laws, to follow the worship, customs, and rites of heathen idolaters.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.Hosea 4:13. They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains — The sacrificing upon the mountains and in shady groves was an ancient piece of idolatry, often mentioned and reproved by the prophets. They seem to have made choice of the tops of hills and mountains for their sacrifices and religious rites, as places nearer heaven; but what could be more absurd than to think that God, who is omnipresent, was nearer to them on the hills or mountains than in the valleys? Israel, says St. Jerome, loves high places, for they have forsaken the high God, and having left the substance are attached to the shadow. And burn incense under oaks, poplars, and elms — Under high and spreading trees. Because the shadow thereof is good — Extremely grateful in those hot countries. Hence the Israelites were inclined to worship there. Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom — Therefore your punishment shall be agreeable to your sin. As ye have committed spiritual whoredom, and have gone after idols, and have not regarded the commands of God; so your daughters shall go after their lusts, and commit whoredom, without any heed to your commands and exhortations. Great depravity and corruption of manners are generally the consequence of a disregard of God and religion.
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.Hosea 4:14. I will not punish your daughters, &c. — I will suffer your daughters to go on in their iniquity, and to fall from one degree of wickedness to another. For themselves — That is, for yourselves; are separated with whores — That is, you go aside and retire with the women who prostitute themselves in the groves, or in the precincts of the idolatrous temples. And sacrifice with harlots — Hebrew, עם הקדשׁות, with women set apart, or consecrated to prostitution. The meaning is, that the people partook in those rites of idolatrous worship in which prostitution made a stated part of the religious festivity. Such lewd practices were frequent in the heathen temples dedicated to Venus and other impure deities. The expressions seem to allude to the practice mentioned Bar 6:43, and minutely described by Herodotus, lib. 1. cap. 199. Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall — Hebrew, ילבשׂ, shall be thrown down, prostrated, dashed to the ground, or beaten, as the Vulgate renders it.
Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.Hosea 4:15. Though, &c. — “Here,” says Bishop Horsley, “a transition is made, with great elegance and animation, from the general subject of the whole people, in both its branches, to the kingdom of the ten tribes in particular.” Though thou, Israel, play the harlot — Though thou followest after idols; yet let not Judah offend — Let not Judah do so too: at least let her keep herself pure. Let her not join in the idolatrous worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, or mix idolatry with the profession of the true religion. The kingdom of Judah still retained, in a great degree, the worship of the true God, and the ordinances of the temple service. Therefore the prophet exhorts that people not to be led away by the bad example of their brethren of the ten tribes. Gilgal, it must be observed, was remarkable for being the place where the Israelites renewed their rite of circumcision, when they first passed over Jordan; but after Jeroboam set up idolatry, it became famous for the worship of false gods. And it appears, from this prophet and Amos, that it was particularly so in this period of the Jewish history. Beth- aven was the same with Beth-el, and was the place where one of Jeroboam’s calves was worshipped. The word Beth-el signifies the house of God, and was the name given to that place by Jacob, because of God’s appearing to him there, Genesis 28:17. But when it became a place noted for idolatrous worship, the worshippers of the true God called it, in detestation, Beth-aven, that is, the house of vanity. Nor swear, The Lord liveth — Do not mingle the worship of the true God with idolatrous rites, nor dare to swear by his name while worshipping idols, or before the calves, as if they represented him; for he abhors every such coalition.
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.Hosea 4:16. For Israel slideth back, &c. — As if the Lord had said, As for Israel, I give him up to a reprobate mind. And now the discourse passes naturally into the detail and amplification of Israel’s guilt. Bishop Horsley renders this clause, Truly Israel is rebellious like an unruly heifer; observing, “I restore the rendering of the Bishops’ Bible, and the English Geneva.” Certainly the word סררה, here used, properly means headstrong, untractable, or refractory, and describes a heifer, “indocili jugum collo ferens,” untamed to the yoke, which she will neither bear, nor be confined in her allowed pasture. Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb — Or sheep, solitary, timid, defenceless, and exposed to various beasts of prey; in a large place — That is, “In an unenclosed place, a wide common. They shall no longer be fed with care in the rich enclosures of God’s cultivated farm, but be turned to browse the scanty herbage of the waste. That is, they shall be driven into exile among the heathen, freed from what they thought the restraints, and of consequence deprived of all the blessings and benefits of religion. This dreadful menace is delivered in the form of severe derision; a figure much used by the prophets, especially by Hosea. Sheep love to feed at large. The sheep of Ephraim shall presently have room enough. They shall be scattered over the whole surface of the vast Assyrian empire, where they will be at liberty to turn very heathen. It is remarkable, however, that it is said that even in this state, Jehovah will feed them. They are still, in their utmost humiliation, an object of his care.” — Horsley.
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.Hosea 4:17-18. Ephraim, &c. — The Ephraimites were numerous and potent, and are here put for the whole ten tribes. Is joined to idols — The word עצבים, here rendered idols, properly means, sorrows and pains, idols being the cause of much misery to their worshippers. Bishop Horsley reads the verse, A companion of idols is Ephraim; leave him to himself. Leave him undisturbed in his idolatrous course. He is irreclaimable. Their drink is sour — Hebrew, is gone, turned, or vapid. “The allusion is to libations made with wine grown dead, or turning sour. The image represents the want of all spirit of piety in their acts of worship, and the unacceptableness of such worship in the sight of God; which is alleged as a reason for the determination, expressed in the preceding clause, to give Ephraim up to his own ways. ‘Leave him to himself,’ says God to the prophet, ‘his pretended devotions are all false and hypocritical. I desire none of them.’” — Horsley. They have committed whoredom continually. — They have gone on in a course of idolatry: or carnal whoredom may be intended. Her rulers with shame do love, Give ye — Their rulers, to their shame be it spoken, are continually asking or expecting bribes, or are greedy of gifts. The Hebrew word translated rulers, properly signifies shields: it is taken for rulers in Psalm 47:9, as well as here.
Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye.
The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.Hosea 4:19. The wind hath bound her up in her wings — Or rather, binds, or, is binding her up, the present tense being put to denote instant futurity. The passage is strongly figurative, to signify that they should be suddenly taken away out of their country, and carried with irresistible force, and incredible speed, into a distant land. It is not unusual, in other writers, to attribute wings to the winds, to express their swiftness; and when any thing is said to be bound up in the wings of the wind, the expression must signify its being taken far away with great celerity. “An admirable image this,”
says Bishop Horsley, “of the condition of a people, torn by a conqueror from their native land, scattered in exile to the four quarters of the world, and living thenceforward without any settled residence of their own, liable to be moved about at the will of arbitrary masters, like a thing tied to the wings of the wind, obliged to go with the wind which ever way it set, but never suffered for a moment to lie still. The image is striking now; but must have been more striking when a bird with expanded wings, or a huge pair of wings, without head or body, was the hieroglyphic of the element of the air, or rather of the general mundane atmosphere, one of the most irresistible of physical agents.” And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices — They shall be confounded to find, by experience, that all their sacrifices to idols have profited them nothing, but brought severe calamities upon them.