Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.X.
(1) Empty in the English version is wrong, being inconsistent with what follows. (Comp. LXX. and Vulg.) Read luxuriant. The metaphors of the vintage (comp. also Genesis 49:22, and Introduction to Hosea 9) are still prevalent in the mind of the prophet. Wünsche has powerfully illustrated this wild strong growth of Israel as compared with Judah. Joash prevailed over Amaziah, and plundered Jerusalem (2Kings 14:12-14). Jeroboam II. extended his power as far as Hamath (2Kings 14:23-25). The kingdom had resisted the attacks of Syria, and had become insolent as well as idolatrous. The last clause should be rendered, The more abundant his fruit, the more he increased altars; the fairer his land, the fairer the Baal-pillars. On “Baal-pillars,” see W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, pp. 248, 425. (Comp. 9:1 and 2:5.) Misapprehending the cause of their temporal prosperity, and wilfully ignoring Jehovah’s forbearance and love, they attributed their mercies to the grace of Baal, and multiplied idolatrous shrines (see Romans 2:4.)
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.(2) Their heart is divided is the rendering of the LXX., Raschi, Aben-Ezra, and most ancient versions. But modern expositors prefer to translate “Their heart is treacherous (smooth).” The rest of the verse should run thus:—Now shall they suffer punishment. He shall break (the horns of) their altars; he shall destroy their pillars.
For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us?(3) To us.—Better, as for a king, what will he do for us? The prophet having witnessed a succession of Israelite kings overthrown, and anarchy as its consequence, predicts yet another time of confusion and helplessness, a full vindication of the threatenings of the prophet Samuel. (Comp. 1Samuel 8:19.)
They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.(4) Judgment—i.e., Divine judgments shall prevail not as a blessing, but as a curse; not as a precious harvest, but as a poisonous plant (poppy or hemlock) in the ridges of the field.
The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.(5) It is hard to express the sarcastic force and concentrated scoff of the original: “calves,” literally, she calves, the feminine form to express contempt, the plural in allusion to the scattered worship in numerous shrines throughout Israel (or, perhaps, a pluralis majestatis of mockery). The next clause should read thus:—For it (pers. pronoun, referring to the calf par excellence of the chief seat of worship at Bethel, here degraded into Bethaven), people mourn because of it, and its priests tremble because of it. (The word for “priests,” kemarîm, means always idolatrous priesthood.
It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.(6) Translate, Even that (i.e., the calf) shall be carried (in triumphant state) to Assyria, an offering to King Jareb. (See Hosea 5:13, Excursus.)
As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.(7) Foam . . . Water.—One of the most striking images in the prophecy. The word qetseph, rendered “foam”—Speaker’s Commentary reads “bubble”—properly signifies “chip” or “fragment.” Translate: Like a chip on the waters’ surface. The king is tossed on the raging seas of political life like a helpless fragment. Such was the instability of the throne of Israel at this period. (Comp. Hosea 13:11.)
The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.(8) Aven.—On Beth-Aven, see Note on Hosea 4:15. The “thorn and thistle” are part of the first curse upon apostate Adam (Genesis 3:18), and the prophet not only predicts utter ruin for king and calf, temple and shrine, but the future desolation which should conceal all. Meanwhile, the people shall desire death rather than life. The awful words in the latter part of this verse are used by our Lord concerning the terrors of the impenitent in the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 23:30), and twice by St. John (Revelation 6:16; Revelation 9:6), to denote the extremity of despair.
O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.(9) O Israel . . . Gibeah.—Thou didst commence thy obscene transgressions long before the disruption of the kingdom of Rehoboam, even at Gibeah. Gibeah is emblematic of gross and cruel sensuality, in allusion to Judges 19:20, just as Sodom is used for unnatural vice.
There they stood.—Or rather, remained sinning after the same manner. The rest of the verse should be rendered, Shall there not overtake them in Gibeah (used mystically) the war made against the wicked? (Comp. Judges 20) But Dr. Pusey and others take it categorically, implying that though the exterminating war against the men of Gibeah did not overtake them, and has not yet, it shall now, and soon. But the former interpretation is to be preferred.
It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows.(10) Translate (see Margin; so Jerome), When I desire, I will chastise them, and peoples shall be gathered against them, when I chastise them for their two iniquities (i.e., the two calves which had been the source of heresy and treason against Jehovah).
And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn; but I passed over upon her fair neck: I will make Ephraim to ride; Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods.(11) Heifer.—Translate, Ephraim is a trained heifer, which loves to thresh. Here the idea may be that Ephraim loves the easy and free work of treading out the corn, and so becomes fat and sleek; or the act of treading and threshing may point to the rough treatment which Ephraim has in her pride dealt out to her neighbours and enemies. But the former interpretation is more probable. The verse should continue to read thus:—And I passed by the fairness of her neck (to arrest her self-indulgence). I will harness Ephraim for riding—i.e., I will cause a rider, Assyria, to take possession of her, and she shall be bound in unwelcome toil to do the bidding of another.
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.(12) In their despair come some characteristic gleams of hope on the desolation; the eternal law which makes reaping a consequence of sowing will still apply. The mercy of God will be the harvest of a sowing to the Spirit. (Comp. Galatians 6:8; Romans 8:7-13; and Micah 6:8.) The very soil of the soul is fallow and unbroken. Break it up, seek Jehovah, and He will come as never before. This momentary rift in the storm-cloud shows the light behind it.
Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.(13) Thy way.—By a slight change of the Hebrew word thus rendered it acquires the sense, thy chariots, a reading followed by the LXX. and Ewald, Kuinöl, and Nowack. It establishes a good parallelism, and harmonises with prophetic teaching (Hosea 14:3; Isaiah 2:7). The Masoretic text gives, however, a fine meaning.
Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.(14) Then comes the crash of the thunder-peal. The prophet seems to hear the advance of the invading army, and see the fall of Samaria’s fortress.
Shalman.—The references in the margin are not to the same historic event. The allusion is very obscure. Schrader (Keilinschriften, 2nd ed., pp. 440-2) suggests two theories: one that it refers to an episode in the campaign of Shalmaneser III. to the “cedar country” (Lebanon), in 775 B.C., or to Damascus in 773. He might then have penetrated into the Transjordanic country, and destroyed Arbela, near Pella (Beth-arbel). The other theory, that we have here a mention of the Moabitish king Salmanu, whose name occurs in Tiglath-pileser’s inscription, is far-fetched and improbable. On the other hand, Geiger, following the hint of Jerome, identifies Shalman with Zalmunna (Judges 8:18; comp. Psalm 83:11). The kind of barbarity here referred to is illustrated by 2Kings 8:12; Psalm 137:8-9.
So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.(15) King . . . Cut off.—The close of the kingdom (721 B.C.), already more than once referred to (comp. Hosea 10:7), is here prophesied. Translate, So shall He do to you at Bethel.
In the morning.—Should be, in the early morning Hoshea was utterly cut off, leaving neither root nor branch.