Hosea 9
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Here the discourse takes a new start. The prophet is a witness of the wild rejoicings of harvest, and warns his people not to be so exuberant, for they must go forth into captivity. Three times in this and the two next chapters he recurs to the early history of the Israelites, and shows how they have constantly met the divine mercy with rebellion and idolatry, so that Jehovah has no choice but to thrust them away.

Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou hast gone a whoring from thy God, thou hast loved a reward upon every cornfloor.
1. for joy] Rather, too loudly (lit. ‘unto exultation’).

as other people] Rather, as the peoples. The exuberant joy of the wild nature-worships of Palestine was abhorrent to the calm and deep moral religion of the prophets. To the heathen nations certain material blessings were the final object of the forms of worship; to the prophets and their disciples, the outward gifts of the Deity stood in a close relation to states of the character, as being the rewards of moral obedience (comp. Deuteronomy 28:1-4).

for thou hast gone …] The blessings of the ingathering were falsely ascribed by Israel to the Baalim (see on Hosea 2:13). As long as they were enjoyed, Israel felt as much pledged by them to her false gods as the harlot is bound by her ‘hire’ to her paramour. At every recurring season of harvest Israel gratefully connected these blessings with her supposed protectors, and offered first-fruits to them, or, as Hosea puts it, she loved a harlot’s hire (comp. on Hosea 2:12) upon all corn-floors, alluding to the various local festivals (comp. on Hosea 12:9). Observe, Hosea finds fault with the Israelites, not for neglect of a centralizing ordinance, such as Deuteronomy 16:15, but for honouring the Baalim in preference to the true spiritual God. Contrast the reference to the autumn festival in a post-exile prophecy (Zechariah 14:16-19).

1–9. A vivid picture of the bitterness of the calamity in prospect. It does but equal the Gibeah-like wickedness of Israel.

The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her.
2. the winepress] Rather, the vat (within the press) into which the grape-juice or the oil flowed; comp. Joel 2:24.

shall fail in her] Rather, shall fall her (lit. ‘shall lie unto her’, as Habakkuk 3:17). There is a good various reading (supported by the versions and by the Babylonian codex) ‘in them’, but the same interchange of pronouns occurs in Hosea 4:19. Idolatrous Israel is personified as a harlot. Wine-drinking was, in fact, so closely connected with the customs of idolatry (comp. Jdg 9:27; Amos 2:8), that the Nazirites bound themselves by a vow of ‘total abstinence’ (Numbers 6:3).

They shall not dwell in the LORD'S land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria.
3. in the Lord’s land] ‘For I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel’, Numbers 35:34. The expression originated in the popular belief that as, for example, Chemosh was the God of the Amorites, so Jehovah was the God of the Israelites (Jdg 11:24), a belief which could lead even Jonah to imagine that he could ‘flee unto Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah’ (Jonah 1:3).

shall return to Egypt, &c.] A repetition of the threat so well calculated to deter the Israelites from disobedience (see on Hosea 8:13).

shall eat unclean things in Assyria] Comp. Ezekiel 4:13, ‘Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their bread defiled among the nations whither I will drive them.’ The prospect held out is not that the captive Israelites would be reduced to the necessity of eating prohibited food, but that, since all heathen lands were ‘unclean’ (Amos 7:17), all the products of the soil would also be unclean. The ‘uncleanness’ in both cases was caused by the absence of sanctuaries dedicated to Jehovah. See the foll. notes.

They shall not offer wine offerings to the LORD, neither shall they be pleasing unto him: their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted: for their bread for their soul shall not come into the house of the LORD.
4. They shall not offer wine offerings to the Lord] Libations of wine were accompaniments of the burnt-offerings and the peace-offerings, and so are naturally mentioned in connexion with the ‘sacrifices.’ It is implied that wine in general would become ‘unclean’, if a certain measure of it were not devoted to this sacred and sanctifying purpose. The clause is therefore equivalent to this—‘The wine that they drink shall not be pleasing to the Lord’; comp. the following words.

neither shall they be pleasing (lit. sweet) unto him] Strangely enough, the accentuation of the text separates between the verb and its subject; the Sept., Targ., and Peshito preserve the obviously right view of the construction, neither shall their sacrifices be pleasing unto him. The peculiar accentuation was possibly caused by a wish to preclude a misinterpretation of Hosea’s language, viz. that the Israelites would go on sacrificing to Jehovah even when in captivity. But the truth is that the Hebrew zébakh (like ἱερεῖον, see Mahaffy’s Old Greek Life, p. 32) has a twofold meaning: 1, a sacrifice, and 2, a feast of animal food. Fleshmeat was not the habitual food of the Israelites, any more than it is of the Arabs at the present day; to partake of it was a special divinely given privilege (comp. Genesis 9:3), and those who from time to time availed themselves of this privilege had to make an acknowledgment of it by presenting, at the very least, the blood before Jehovah (comp. 1 Samuel 14:32-35). The Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 17:3-4) prescribes that the blood of all slain beasts should be offered to Jehovah at the door of the tabernacle, and though a milder rule is given in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12:15-16), yet, from what we know of the religious habits of the people, we may safely assume that not only did they worship Jehovah at the ‘high places’, but they also in one way or another presented any animal food of which they partook at the local shrines, as well as at the central sanctuary. Hence we may very probably lay down that in old Hebrew as in old Greek life the conceptions of sacrifice (and presenting the blood was a minor kind of sacrificial act) and of feasting upon animal food were inseparable; indeed, we find in the semi-secular Book of Proverbs two synonymous proverbs, in one of which a feast is described as ‘a stalled ox’, and in the other as ‘sacrifices’ (comp. Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 17:1). Consequently, we might, in the clause before us, with equal justice render ‘neither shall their sacrifices’, and ‘neither shall their feasts (i.e. meat-meals) be pleasing unto him.’ It must be admitted, however, that the sense is improved if, with Kuenen, we alter a Beth into a Caph, and render, neither shall they lay out their sacrifices before him (upon the altar); comp. Hosea 3:4. Such a mistake in the reading of the text would escape notice the more easily, because the phrase produced by it is so idiomatic (comp. Jeremiah 6:20 b). If we accept this emendation, all that has been said on the connexion of sacrificing and feasting will still retain its explanatory value. We may illustrate this connexion further by Ezekiel 39:17, where Ezekiel is bidden to invite ‘every feathered fowl’ to the ‘sacrifice’ (so A.V.) that Jehovah doth ‘sacrifice for them’; ‘sacrifice’ (zébakh) is here evidently equivalent to ‘feast’ (in the sense described above).

their sacrifices … mourners] Rather, (their bread) shall be unto them as the bread of mourning; the first two words seem to have fallen out of the text. ‘Bread of mourning’ means such as was eaten during the seven days of mourning, when everything in the vicinity of the dead body was regarded as unclean (Numbers 19:14); it is therefore the emblem of utter impurity. Or there may possibly be a more special reference to the funeral feasts, which lingered on among the Israelites, as St Jerome has noticed (see his note on Jeremiah 16:7 and see Deuteronomy 26:14), but which are to be distinguished from the offerings made at intervals (in Sirach’s time) at the grave (Sir 7:33; Sir 30:18). See Ewald, Antiquities, E. T., p. 153, Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, p. 132, Tylor, Primitive Culture, ii. 27.

for their bread for their soul …] Rather, for their bread shall be (only) for their hunger (i.e. to satisfy their appetite); it shall not come into the house of the Lord. They will not have the joy which belongs to those who have duly presented the tithes of their corn, or the firstlings of their flock, or offered their burnt sacrifices—the joy of the sense of the divine favour. They cannot have this, because their food lacks the consecration of ‘the house of the Lord’ (not the temple at Jerusalem, but any of the ‘high places’ dedicated to Jehovah).

What will ye do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the LORD?
5. What will ye do, &c.] The festivals, which were kept up in N. Israel, even after the schism, were seasons of popular merry-making (see Hosea 2:11). But now as each ‘feast of Jehovah’ comes round in the calendar, ye will neither have the mechanical performance of ritual forms, nor the accompanying holiday-mirth, to fill up the vacant hours.

For, lo, they are gone because of destruction: Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis shall bury them: the pleasant places for their silver, nettles shall possess them: thorns shall be in their tabernacles.
6. Hosea ‘in the Spirit’ sees the Israelites already being carried into captivity.

because of destruction] Rather, from the devastation. They have left their desolated country.

shall gather them up] viz. in burial; comp. Ezekiel 29:5; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 25:33.

Memphis] The most ancient of the capitals of Egypt, on the west bank of the Nile, south of old Cairo, elsewhere called in the Hebrew Noph (Isaiah 19:13; Jeremiah 2:16), but here Moph. The Egyptian name, given to it by Menes, accounts for both forms—Men-nufre ‘the good’ or ‘perfect mansion’; the Assyrians called it Mimpi. All that is left of Memphis is its necropolis ‘stretching north and south nearly twenty miles’, where Hosea threateningly declares that the Israelites shall find a grave, remote, dishonoured, and ‘unclean.’ Contrast Exodus 14:11, where the Israelites reproach Moses with having deprived them of their right to sepulture in the vast cemeteries of Egypt.

the pleasant places for their silver] Rather, their precious things of silver, i.e. costly silver ornaments.

their tabernacles] i.e., either the idol-tents of the high places (comp. Ezekiel 16:16), or simply their dwellings (comp. 2 Samuel 20:1).

The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come; Israel shall know it: the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred.
7. are come] Rather, come. The sense is that the days of punishment shall surely come (the tense is the prophetic perfect).

shall know it] i.e. by experience; as Isaiah 9:9. Another view of these words (in connexion with the following clause) is, ‘Israel shall perceive (but too late) how it has been deceived by its prophets.’ But a false prophet would never be called a ‘man of the spirit’, but rather ‘one that followeth his own spirit’ (Ezekiel 13:3); and neither ‘a fool’ nor ‘mad’ suggests the idea of falsehood or hypocrisy.

the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad] These words evidently convey a reproach, for though ‘mad’ might be taken in a good sense (= frenzied with sorrow, as Deuteronomy 28:34), ‘a fool’ could hardly be. But if so, introductory words must have dropped out of the text, such as ‘who say in their pride.’ ‘The spiritual man’ is, literally, ‘the man of the Spirit’, i.e. ‘the inspired man’, Sept. ἄνθρωπος ὁ πνευματοφόρος. ‘Mad’, or ‘a madman’, ‘a fanatic’, is a term applied disparagingly to a prophet’s disciple in 2 Kings 9:11, and to Jeremiah by an opponent in Jeremiah 29:26. The expression was doubtless received from those early times, in which the acts performed by prophets were often strange and startling.

for the multitude …] Rather, for the greatness of thine Iniquity, and because the enmity hath been great. These words are to be connected with the preceding. Israel spoke thus because its iniquity was great, and great also the enmity which certain classes (probably) felt towards the higher prophets. The priests and the lower class of prophets would be at one in their hostility to Hosea. More is said of this feud in the next verse.

The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God.
8. The watchman of Ephraim was with my God] Rather, is with my God. There is a various reading ‘his God’ (so also Rashi), but ‘my God’ can be well defended; for the watchman spoken of is Hosea himself. We have ‘my God’ again in Hosea 9:17. The figure implied is developed more fully in Jeremiah 6:17, ‘Also I set watchmen over you, (saying,) Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.’ ‘With my God’ = ‘in communion with’ or ‘helped by.’ The connexion will, however, be improved if we suppose that, owing to the fact that ‘Ephraim’ ends with a Mem, the same letter has dropped out at the beginning of the next word. In this case, render (connecting this and the next clause), Ephraim’s watchman, appointed by my God [comp. in the Hebrew, Isaiah 8:11], even the prophet—a fowler’s snare is, &c. An entirely wrong view of the construction is suggested by the vowel-points (which of course form no part of the text proper), viz. ‘Ephraim looketh out (for help) beside my God’; but ‘beside’ cannot mean ‘apart from’; or ‘Ephraim is a lier in wait (in his fight) against my God.’

but the prophet is, &c.] See last note. The prophet meant is a true not a false prophet (as Keil takes it), for though the false prophets might be likened to a fowler’s snare, their conduct could not be spoken of as ‘envious’ or ‘persecuting’ towards Ephraim. It is rather the Ephraimites who are always laying snares (comp. Isaiah 29:21) for their troublesome ‘watchman.’

hatred] Rather, enmity (or, hostility; or, persecution).

in the house of his God] This must to some extent be equivalent to the parallel words ‘in all his ways.’ In Hosea 9:15 ‘mine house’ means the land of Canaan, and so probably here. Jehovah is not their God, for they (Israel) ‘know’ Him not; and they cannot abide those who, like Hosea (Hosea 9:8) and the psalmist (Psalm 73:23), are ‘continually with Him.’

They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins.
9. as in the days of Gibeah] The atrocity described in Jdg 19:22-30, and referred to by Hosea again in Hosea 10:9. All the Benjamites were destroyed except 600 men (Jdg 20:46-48)—a warning for Ephraim!

I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.
10. like grapes in the wilderness] With such delight as a traveller would unexpectedly find grapes in the desert, did Jehovah regard the children of Israel at the beginning of their national existence. Comp. Jeremiah 2:2, ‘I remember for thy good the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness.’ Jehovah condescends to overlook the frailties and inconsistencies of ancient Israel, and even idealizes its character. Comp. Hosea 2:15, Hosea 13:1.

as the firstripe in the fig tree] So the better portion of the people of Judah are compared to ‘very good figs, even as the figs that are first ripe’ (Jeremiah 24:2). The white fig of Palestine ripens much before the black, sometimes as early as April; the ordinary fig-harvest is not till the middle of August, but early ripe fruit might be found in June. Hence the fitness of Hosea’s image (comp. Isaiah 28:4; Micah 7:1).

at her first time] i.e., when it begins to be ripe.

they went to Baal-peor, &c.] So early did they fall away; comp. Hosea 11:1-2. Baal-peor is here (as the form of the construction shows) put for Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 3:29, &c.), the place where Baal-peor was worshipped. The open falling-away to this heathen deity was one of the most startling episodes of the period of the wanderings (see Numbers 25). It is commonly held, but is really a pure conjecture, that the worship of Baal-peor was licentious. If this be correct, it will give a special significance to the last clause in the verse, which may however merely mean that the idols, being abominable to the true God, make their worshippers abominable, just as Shame may refer, not to the shameful rites of this Baal, but to God’s abhorrence of idolatry. In 1 Kings 11:5 and elsewhere ‘an abomination’ is a synonym for an idol, apart from the character of the worship.

separated [i.e. consecrated] themselves unto that shame] Rather, unto Shame (Heb. bosheth). See above, and compare the substitution of bosheth or besheth for baal in proper names, e.g. Jerubbesheth (for Jerubbaal), Ishbosheth (for Eshbaal), Mephibosheth for Meribbaal (comp. Prof. Kirkpatrick on 2 Samuel 2:8).

and their abominations, &c.] Rather, and became abominations like that which they loved (comp. on Hosea 12:11).

10–17. But not only in the days of Gibeah; from the very first, the nation trespassed against Jehovah. Awful shall be the judgment for the continued infidelity—so awful, that Hosea can hardly bear to contemplate it. He seems uncertain whether extermination or dispersion will be the penalty, but concludes with an announcement of the latter.

As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
11. The prophet leaves us to supply the idea that Ephraim’s present transgressions are as heinous as those of old, and passes on to the punishment.

their glory … like a bird] Rather, like birds. All their earthly prosperity shall take to itself wings, because, as we have already heard, ‘they have exchanged their (true) glory for infamy’ (Hosea 4:7). Kimchi narrows the meaning too much, when he says, ‘He calls children “glory”, for they are the glory of fathers (Proverbs 17:6).’ But of course populousness formed a part of the Israelite’s conception of national prosperity.

from the birth, &c.] Rather, that there shall be no birth, nor being with child, nor conception. Such is the retribution for their sins against chastity (see on Hosea 4:10).

Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
12. But what shall be the fate of the children already born? A lurid light is next thrown upon this.

Though] Rather, Yea, though.

bereave them] Or, ‘make them childless’; comp. 1 Samuel 15:33.

when I depart from them] Better, (reading with a Shin instead of a Sin), when I look away from them. The sense of the passage is, even to turn away my face would sink them in an abyss of ruin. The ordinary reading does not allow us easily to account for the ‘also’, or rather, ‘even’, which precedes.

Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.
13. Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, &c.] The passage is most obscure, and it is difficult to believe that Hosea meant what A.V. supposes. ‘As I look at Tyre’, would be better; but then it becomes difficult to extract a sense. Tyre is, in fact, very much out of place in a description of the fortunes of Ephraim; and it is a relief to find that it has been introduced by critics contrary to Hebrew usage, for Tyre is elsewhere spelt without a Vâv. How, too, can Ephraim be said to be planted, without any explanatory figurative words? The Sept. seems to have had a different text, ‘As for Ephraim, according as I see, they have set their sons for a prey’; and this seems preferable to the received text. The prophet sees in imagination the Ephraimites taken like wild beasts, and put to death by their cruel captors.

but Ephraim shall, &c.] Taking the passage as a contrast between Ephraim’s past glory and the dreadful fate impending over it. But if Hosea is throughout describing the judgment, render rather, and Ephraim shall (or better, must), &c.

Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
14. The prophet recognizes the necessity of a judgment, but pleads for a mitigation. Love for his people burns within him, and prompts him to do all that is consistent with his moral perceptions and the revelation made to him. Comp. the conduct of Moses in a similar case, Exodus 32:11-14.

what wilt thou give them?] The prophet considers what he had best ask for. He is a patriot, but he is also a prophet; he loves his nation with a feminine tenderness, but in zeal for his God he is not inferior to Amos or Isaiah. Hence his momentary perplexity. And yet this is perhaps too literal an interpretation. Rather is it, to use Ewald’s language, ‘a paroxysm of despair.’ Better were it that the Israelites should be condemned to barrenness than lose their choicest young population thus! It is an involuntary cry from the heart.

All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.
15. All their wickedness is in Gilgal, &c.] The dangerous attractiveness of Gilgal has been mentioned already (Hosea 4:15): the corruption of the northern kingdom had its focus there. At Gilgal, then, Jehovah has learned to ‘hate’ His unnatural children (comp. Hosea 11:1) so much that He must drive them out of His House (i.e. the Holy Land, as Hosea 8:1).

all their princes are revolters] Those who should be the leaders in cheerful subordination to the revealed will of God, are the foremost in transgression. The same paronomasia as in Isaiah 1:23—as if he had said, they are not sârîm but sôrerîm.

15, 16. Continuation of the speech of Jehovah, which had been interrupted at Hosea 9:13.

Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.
16. Ephraim is smitten …] Ephraim’s population is compared to the branches of a tree, and the national vitality to the root. The tree is ‘smitten’ by the withering heat, or by lightning, or, like Jonah’s ‘ricinus’, by ‘worms’ (Jonah 4:7), so that root and branches dry up; the idea of Hosea 9:11 b in figurative form. Comp. Amos 2:9; Malachi 4:1.

yea (even) though they bring forth] The prophet steps out of the language of metaphor, and repeats in effect Hosea 9:12 a. This defines the meaning of ‘bear no fruit’,

My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations.
17. The prophet has quelled his brief paroxysm, and calmly proceeds. But the threat is not now extermination.

My God] No longer, alas! Israel’s God. Comp. Isaiah’s ‘this people’ for ‘my people’ (Isaiah 6:9).

wanderers] Or, fugitives (it is the participle of the verb used in Hosea 7:13, see note).

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