Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
How little has Israel effected, and how little will he ever effect, by his fits of repentance, which contrast so violently with his flagrant transgressions of God’s law!
Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.1. he will heal us] At any rate the Israelites have found out the true physician (comp. Hosea 7:1, Hosea 11:3). Assyria ‘could not heal them’ (Hosea 5:13).
1–3. The prophet enters into the feelings of the only too quickly repentant Israelites, and imagines them encouraging each other to return to Jehovah. These three verses are closely connected with the end of the preceding chapter; comp. ‘let us return’, ‘he hath torn’ (Hosea 6:1), and ‘his going forth’ (Hosea 6:3), with ‘I will go and return’ (Hosea 5:15), and ‘I, even I, will tear’ (Hosea 5:14). Hosea 6:2 is parenthetical. Comp. the similar profession of the Israelites in Hosea 8:2.
After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.2. This verse contains the germ of the striking allegory of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-10), and reminds us also of the prediction of an Israelitish resurrection in Isaiah 26:19. The idea is that, contrary to all human expectation Israel shall quickly emerge from the depths of trouble. What human skill could cure a dangerously wounded man in three days? Yet a wonder as great has happened to the sick man Israel. That the passage has primarily a contemporary reference, and contains a figurative description of a national revival, is admitted by Pococke, who however endeavours to combine with this view a very forced interpretation of pre-critical origin. He thinks the Jews ‘might say, after two days, &c., because by him whom God would so raise up deliverance should be wrought for them when their case was as desperate as of one that had been so long dead’; or, to put his view of the secondary meaning more clearly, the resurrection of the coming Christ was to the Israelites (though they knew it not) the justification of their hope of a national restoration. The view is ultimately traceable to the paraphrase in the Targum, ‘he will revive us in the days of consolation which are to come’, i.e. at the resurrection (see the Peshito of John 11:25, which shows that ‘consolation’ and ‘resurrection’ are synonymous in Aramaic). Pusey and many old expositors even take the supposed reference to our Lord’s resurrection to be primary. But the context certainly does not favour any such reference, whether primary or secondary. Calvin, with his usual fine perception, remarks, ‘sensus ille videtur mihi nimium argutus.’
live in his sight] Lit, ‘before him’, i.e., under his protection (comp. Genesis 17:18; Isaiah 53:2; Jeremiah 30:20.
Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.3. Then shall we know, &c.] But as this construction is resumptive of Hosea 6:1, we had better translate, Yea, let us know, let us be zealous to know, Jehovah, i.e., to know him as our master, protector, and friend. Why so? Because the want of this knowledge was the cause of Israel’s misery. It was however a hasty resolution, from which a full and free confession of sin was fatally absent (contrast penitent Israel’s words in Hosea 14:2). Hence the complaint of the omniscient Holy One which follows in Hosea 6:4.
his going forth] viz. from his ‘place’ in heaven (Hosea 5:15.)
is prepared as the morning] Or, ‘is certain as the grey of morning’ (which heralds the glories of sunrise). The speakers, then, are ‘a people that walk in darkness’ (Isaiah 9:1).
as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth] Rather, as the heavy rain, as the latter rain which watereth the earth. Comp. Psalm 62:6. The Israelites count upon the return of God’s favour with the same confidence with which, at the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, a farmer counts upon the former and latter rain. Their confidence is excessive; they presume on God’s forgiveness without complying with His conditions.
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.4. The answer of Jehovah, who cannot be satisfied with such a superficial repentance and such hasty resolutions of ‘knowing’ Him.
what shall I do unto thee?] ‘What other means can possibly be employed to move thee to a serious repentance?’ Comp. Isaiah 5:4.
your goodness] Rather, your piety. The word (khésedh) is the same as that rendered in Hosea 6:6 ‘mercy’; and so St Jerome here (‘the mercy which I had been wont to shew’), and Keil (explaining, as in Hosea 4:1, ‘your kindness to those in need’). But the context requires another sense—‘your love to God’, and this is what A.V. means, though it expresses it weakly. The Peshito also renders ‘goodness’, and again in Hosea 6:6.
as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away] Rather, … and as the night mist which early goeth away (so again Hosea 13:3). The ‘cloud’ spoken of, then, is a cloud such as Isaiah speaks of as coming ‘in the heat of harvest’ (Isaiah 18:4); more precisely, it is one of those dense masses of night-vapour, which the westerly winds of summer bear from the Mediterranean Sea, and which more than supply the place of dew. After ‘making a fair show’ in the bright morning light, they are soon sucked up by the hot sun, and pass away (Neil, Palestine Explored, p. 138). The cognate word in Arabic means a soft rain (comp. Deuteronomy 32:2). Comp. on Hosea 14:6.
Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.5. Similar fitful repentances have already forced Jehovah to interpose, like a severe but kind physician who will cut out the diseased part rather than suffer the evil to spread.
hewed them by the prophets] i.e. warned them of the fatal consequences of their conduct. The divine or prophetic word has a destroying power ascribed to it (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2; Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 5:14; 1 Kings 19:17).
thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth] ‘Thy judgments,’ i.e. those pronounced upon thee. According to this reading we have to supply ‘as,’ and suppose a sudden change of pronoun. The Septuagint, however, with the Peshito, and even the Targum, reads differently—my judgment shall go forth as the light (this simply involves a slightly different grouping of the letters). ‘My judgment’, viz. that upon Israel; ‘shall go forth’, for we are no longer in the imagined future (as in Hosea 6:1-3); ‘as the light’, that all may see it and tremble.
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.6. A further explanation of these severe judgments, the moral effect of which the prophet has been considering.
For I desired mercy and not sacrifice] Rather, for I delight in piety and not in sacrifice. The Hebrew is vague; khésedh ‘dutiful love’ may mean either ‘piety’ or ‘kindness’,—love to God or love to man. The parallel clause favours the former, the context at first sight the latter; but we may keep ‘piety’, for both love to God and the knowledge of God are regarded as leading to the imitation of God’s φιλανθρωπία (comp. Jeremiah 22:16 ‘was not this to know me’, and 2 Samuel 9:3 ‘that I may show the kindness of God unto him’). As Aben Ezra well remarks, it is stedfast love which the prophet means, not that which is like a cloud (Hosea 6:4). ‘And not sacrifice’ = ‘rather than sacrifice’; the prophet thinks comparatively little of sacrifices, but does not denounce them as positively displeasing to God. Comp. Isaiah 1:11-20; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 7:22-23 (though this is of doubtful interpretation). The sacrifices alluded to are those which the Israelites will at a future time offer in the vain hope of propitiating Jehovah (Hosea 5:6). This first half of the verse is twice quoted by our Lord (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). A striking parallel occurs in a saying ascribed to Buddha, who, however, unlike our Lord, denounced animal sacrifices as in themselves wrong: ‘If a man live a hundred years, and engage the whole of his time and attention in religious offerings to the gods, sacrificing elephants and horses, and other life, all this is not equal to one act of pure love in saving life’ (Beal’s Texts from the Buddhist Canon).
But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.7. The contrast between Israel’s conduct and Jehovah’s requirements.
But they like men …] Literally, But they—they like (other) men transgress the covenant (or, perhaps, the ordinance, see on Hosea 8:1). The word rendered ‘men’ (’âdâm) means ordinary or less privileged men, as in Psalm 82:7 and most probably Job 31:33, ‘If I covered like (common) men my transgressions.’ It is assumed (as in Job l.c.) that ordinary men are addicted to certain vices, and that such privileged persons as Job or the Israelites ought to act up to a higher standard. The mention of the transgressions of ‘(other) men’ reminds us of Isaiah 24:5, where the inhabitants of the world are said to have ‘transgressed commandments, violated the statute, broken the perpetual covenant’, partly perhaps with reference to the ‘law written in the heart’, and partly to Genesis 9:1-16. The Targum, the Talmud, and the Vulgate (followed by Delitzsch on Job 31:33) render, ‘like Adam’, but the Book of Genesis says nothing of a ‘covenant’ with Adam.
there] Implying a gesture of indignation. The divine speaker points to the northern kingdom as the scene of the unfaithfulness (comp. ‘there’ in Hosea 6:10).
Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood.8. Gilead] Here alone, and probably in Jdg 10:17, mentioned as the name of a town. We still find the name of Gilead (in its Arabic form Jil‘âd) lingering at various parts of the ancient Gilead, but we cannot venture on a combination with the prophet’s Gilead. Ramoth-Gilead would seem, from its importance, a not unlikely place to be meant.
polluted with blood] Rather, tracked with bloody foot-prints; comp. the striking expression used of Joab in 1 Kings 2:5. The Gileadites, half-civilized mountaineers, seem to have been distinguished for their ferocity (comp. 2 Kings 15:25). From the next verse we may perhaps infer that at Gilead too the priests were foremost in lawlessness.
8, 9. Two spots of specially ill fame are singled out—Gilead and the road to Shechem.
And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness.9. And as troops …] Rather, And as bandits lying in wait, (so doth) the company of priests; they murder on the road towards Shechem; yea, they commit outrages. The reference in the figure is either to the doings of native banditti (comp. Hosea 7:1), or to those of the guerilla-bands of Arameans, Moabites, &c., which were constantly invading Israel and Judah (2 Kings 5:2; 2 Kings 13:20), whenever the central power was weak. The word for ‘company’ (khébher) implies an organized guild (such as the Pharisees afterwards), so that there was no public opinion to check the offenders. Shechem had long ago been notorious for the highway robberies committed by its inhabitants, and was therefore destroyed by Abimelech (Jdg 9:25; Jdg 9:45). It lay on the road, which was doubtless much frequented, from Samaria and the north to Bethel, now the chief sanctuary of the so-called Ten Tribes. Gilead and Shechem together represent the eastern and western divisions of the kingdom.
I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled.10, 11. Jehovah is still the speaker. From his heavenly ‘place’ he points indignantly (as Hosea 6:7) to the abominations practised ‘there’, i.e. in the whole land of Israel, for even Judah has not escaped the infection. The structure of the verses becomes more symmetrical, if we attach the concluding words of Hosea 6:10 to Hosea 6:11, and turn Hosea 6:11 thus, altering one vowel-point, Israel is defiled; for thee also, Judah, a harvest is appointed. The Septuagint partly favours this, rendering ἐμιάνθη Ἰσραὴλ καὶ Ἰούδα. The concluding words of Hosea 6:11 should rather be attached to Hosea 6:1 of chap. 7.
Also, O Judah, he hath set an harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of my people.