Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria: for they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without.1–7. The moral degradation of Israel, especially of its ruling class, which, so far from stemming the tide of corruption, applauds and encourages its progress
1. How foolish is the conduct of Israel! When the great turning-point in her fortunes arrives, the day of mingled punishment and mercy, all his wickedness will be remembered and brought to light. To improve the sense and restore balance to the opening of the verse, it is expedient to read thus, with Ewald, When I turn the fortunes of my people, when I heal Israel, then will be manifest Ephraim’s guilt and Samaria’s wickedness, how they practise falsehood, and the thief cometh in, and bandits roam abroad without. Comp. Hosea 4:2. Samaria is mentioned, as the abode of the princes next spoken of.
And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face.2. they consider not in their hearts] Rather, as margin, they say not to their heart. ‘Heart’ here = self; the meaning is therefore they have no pricks of conscience.
now their own doings have beset them about] They are so entangled in sin (to use a more familiar figure) that they cannot even try to repent.
they are before my face] Comp. Psalm 90:8.
They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies.3–6. The highest personages are not too refined for the most sensual pleasures. A consuming passion inflames them as if with the heat of a furnace. Their way of celebrating a royal commemoration is to indulge in monstrous excess.
They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened.4. as an oven …] The fire corresponds to sensual lust, the oven is the heart. The baker ceaseth from kindling (so we should render), when the oven has reached a certain heat, and then he leaves the fire to smoulder, till the fermentation of the dough is complete, and a fresh heating is necessary. So after passion has once been gratified, it smoulders for a time, but is afterwards kindled to a greater heat than before, when some attractive object comes within its range.
In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners.5. Here the figurative description is interrupted by one from real life.
In the day of our king] Either the coronation-day (so the Targum), or (comp. Matthew 14:6) the royal birthday is meant. The prophet quotes the words of the princes. He was himself too loyal to the house of David to adopt the phrase seriously.
have made him sick with bottles of wine] Rather, are become sick with the fever of wine. The Auth. Version probably means to imply that the princes meant to assassinate the king when he was drunk; but there is no evidence of this (see on Hosea 7:7).
he stretched out his hand with scorners] i.e. he (the king) entered into close relations with proud, lawless men (comp. Proverbs 21:24). So Isaiah too calls the politicians of Judah ‘men of scorn’ (Isaiah 28:14). Hosea may perhaps refer to some lawless project decided upon in the intoxication of the revel.
For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire.6. For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait] Better, with Ewald, ‘Yea, almost like the oven have they made their heart in their intrigue’, if there were only sufficient justification for the rendering. This view of the verse makes it a climax to Hosea 7:5. Better still, by self-evident corrections of the text, For their inward part is like an oven, their heart burneth in them (the reason for the strong expression ‘scorners’).
their baker] Better, to follow the vocalizing of Targum and Peshito, and render, their anger, viz. against the destined victims of their intrigue.
sleepeth all the night] Rather, still retaining the consonants of the text, smoketh all the night (for the phrase, comp Deuteronomy 29:20). The night is mentioned as the time when evil devices are matured.
They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me.7. The consequence of all this licence. King after king falls a victim to the violent passions he has fostered in his subjects. Four regicides are recorded within forty years (2 Kings 15). And yet no one calls to Jehovah for help! Sacrifices indeed were not wanting (Hosea 6:6), but those who offered them had no true ‘knowledge of God’, and so they profited them not.
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.8–16. The outward evidences of Israel’s decay
8. he hath mixed himself among the people] Rather, he mixeth himself among the peoples. How? By courting the favour now of Egypt, now of Assyria (Hosea 7:11).
a cake not turned] Burnt to a coal at the bottom, raw dough at the top: an apt emblem of a character full of inconsistencies (Bishop Horsley). The explanation is plausible, as long as we look at the figure by itself. But the context, which refers only to Israel’s political decline, favours another view. ‘A brand snatched from the burning’ is a figure of a country, rescued only just in time from destruction. Hosea’s ‘cake not turned’ may equally well be an emblem of a country half ruined by calamities, and not rescued. The calamities of Israel, alas! are of his own making; by mingling with ‘the peoples’ he sought for warmth, but found a destroying conflagration (cf. Isaiah 47:14). The ‘cake’ is the round flat cake of bread which was baked on hot stones (1 Kings 19:6) or on hot ashes, and required frequent turning, to prevent its being burned.
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.9. Strangers have devoured his strength] By heavy tribute and desolating invasions. The ‘strangers’ would be Hazael and Benhadad (2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:7), Pul (2 Kings 15:19-20), and Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29), though the two last are really the same person, Pul being the private name of a usurper who took the old royal name of Tiglath-Pileser (as proved by Mr Pinches).
gray hairs are here and there upon him] Lit., ‘are sprinkled upon him.’ That a state has different stages, analogous to the periods of human life, was a familiar idea; comp. Hosea 11:1; Isaiah 46:4; Psalm 71:18 (where the speaker is probably the personified people, comp. Hosea 7:20 in the Hebrew).
And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this.10. And the pride of Israel …] Repeated from Hosea 5:5, just as Hosea 12:9 a is repeated in Hosea 13:4 a. It is not the prophet who speaks condemning a bad quality in his people, but Jehovah, Israel’s true Pride, and the source of Israel’s prosperity, who utters a solemn word of warning translated into act. How much more suitable this explanation is in such a context than either of the alternatives mentioned on Hosea 5:5.
for all this] i.e. in spite of all this chastisement, comp. Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21.
Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.11. Ephraim also is like …] Rather, But Ephraim is become like a silly dove without understanding. This verse does not begin a fresh section, but is closely connected with the preceding. As a dove, fleeing from a hawk, is snared in the fowler’s net, so Ephraim, when afraid of Assyria, calls in the assistance of Egypt, and when afraid of Egypt, applies to Assyria (see Introduction). In his folly he does not observe the snare which the false friend, or rather (Hosea 7:12) Jehovah, prepares for him.
When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven; I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard.12. When they shall go] Rather, As soon as they go.
I will spread my net] The image of Jehovah’s net is not a frequent one; see however Job 19:6; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 17:20; Ezekiel 19:8; Ezekiel 32:3. Here the net means captivity.
I will bring them down] Apparently by placing a bait to draw them to the earth, at least if the figure is to be continued. Amos 9:2 is therefore not parallel.
as their congregation hath heard] Lit., ‘according to the announcement to their congregation.’ Comp. Isaiah 53:1, ‘Who hath believed our announcement’ (a cognate word) = ‘that which we heard’. The punishment, says Hosea, will agree exactly with his own repeated predictions (comp. Hosea 5:9).
Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me.13. they have fled from me] like birds scared out of their nest (Isaiah 16:2); but the Israelites have only themselves to blame for the fatal consequence. They have left their true home, and shall find no second (see on Hosea 9:17).
transgressed] Or, ‘rebelled; strictly, ‘broken away.’
though I have redeemed …] Rather, I indeed would redeem them, but they, &c. The ‘lies’ of the Israelites related (see next verse) to Jehovah’s power and willingness to save.
And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.14. with their heart, when they howled] Rather, in their heart, but they howl. The prophet contrasts the quiet communion of the heart with Jehovah and the wild-beastlike ‘howling’ of the impenitent Israelites, who murmur at the withdrawal of material blessings. Comp. Isaiah 24:11.
they assemble themselves] i.e. to lament together in their affliction. But the rendering is doubtful. Ewald, better, ‘they excite themselves’ (or, are inwardly moved). But it is much more natural to suppose that Daleth has become altered into Resh, and that we should read differently. Render therefore, with the Septuagint and some Hebrew MSS., they cut themselves. It is an allusion to a well-known sign of mourning, forbidden indeed by the Law (Deuteronomy 14:1; Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5), but habitually practised in Palestine (Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5; Jeremiah 48:37), and still noticeable in the time of St Jerome (comm. on Jeremiah 16:6).
Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me.15. Though I have bound and strengthened their arms] Rather, I indeed have trained and strengthened their arms. The Israelites had had a proof of this not long since when ‘Jehovah saw the affliction of Israel that it was very bitter’, and ‘saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash’ (2 Kings 14:27).
They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.16. They return, but not to the most High] Rather, They turn (i.e. shift or change), but not upwards (as Hosea 11:7). They are not content with passive complaints; they have reached a turning-point in their history, but their way only leads them further and further from the ‘knowledge of God.’
like a deceitful bow] i.e. like a bow which shoots an arrow in a wrong direction, ‘not upwards’, towards Israel’s ‘strong rock’, but earthwards. Cf. the same figure in Psalm 78:57.
for the rage of their tongue] ‘Rage’; or insolence (i.e. towards God). The root-meaning (as gathered from Arabic) is to make a grumbling sound, like an irritated camel. Hence the appropriateness of the mention of the tongue. The verb is sometimes rendered ‘to curse.’
their derision in the land of Egypt] Probably an embassy had boasted of Israel’s strength, to entice the Egyptians into an alliance. We may probably assume that the ‘sword’ by which the princes were to fall is that of the Assyrians.