Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1-23) Gives the explanation of the strange enigma of the first chapter. Hosea’s domestic misery and his symbolically named children pass out of sight, and Jehovah is represented as taking up the language of the prophet, and uttering His terrible and yearning cry over Israel, who had been unfaithful to Him, and who, by her idolatries, had forfeited all claim to His covenanted love.
Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.
Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts;(2) Plead with your mother . . .—Contend, or plead in judgment. Let the awakened conscience of the present generation rise up in judgment with the nation as a whole. By “mother” we are to understand the nation Israel, viewed as a collective abstract; and by the “children” (Hosea 2:4) the inhabitants who are units in the total aggregate. Ammi and Ruhamah without the negative prefix, show that this awakening of conscience has given them back their privileges.
Render, That she may put away her whoredoms from her face: i.e., her meretricious guiles, her unblushing idolatry, her voluptuous service of gods that are no God. This strong image was constantly on the lips of the prophets, and had been burned by cruel sorrow into the very heart of Hosea. It acquired portentous meaning in the hideous impurities of the worship of Baal-peor and Ashtoreth, against which the Jehovah worship was a tremendous protest.
Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.(3) Set her . . .—Reduce Israel to the destitute exposed condition in which she struggled into being in Egyptian bondage, and endured the wanderings and terrors of the wilderness. Probably we have here an allusion to the custom of female infanticide, which still prevails very widely in the East, as it did in the ancient world, the child being simply abandoned to death on the day that she was born. (Comp. Ezekiel 16:4.)
And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms.(4) Her children.—The children are like their mother: not only are they born of doubtful parentage, but are personally defiled. Not only is idolatry enshrined in the national sanctuary and the royal palace, but the people love to have it so. They endorse the degradation of their mother.
For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.(5) For their mother hath played . . .—We might render, with Ewald, yea, their mother hath played . . . This would more easily account for the change of person (“your “. . . “their “), which is, however, very frequent in Hebrew prophecy. The next “for” introduces a parenthetical clause—“her lovers”—a word used in a bad sense. The aggravation of her shame is that she seeks them, and not they her. She attributes to these idol-gods all those temporal benefits which theocratic history shows to have been Jehovah’s gift, and the consequence of loyalty to Him. The modern analogue of this sin of Israel is the use of “Fortune,” “Nature,” “Destiny,” “Impersonal Law,” and even “Humanity,” as the giver of all good things, as though it were superstitious or heretical to speak of God as the giver.
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.(6-7) Contains a brief introductory prelude, summarizing the general contents of Hosea 2:8-23. Jehovah addresses the adulterous wife: “I will erect impassable barriers that shall pierce and mangle her flesh. The path of evil shall be a path of thorns.”
Hedge up . . . and make a wall.—In accordance with most Hebrew texts, the literal rendering is, wall up her wall. Here, again, we have a sudden change of person.
She shall . . .—She may anticipate in her exile closer proximity to her idol-lovers, but in respect of national prosperity or religious satisfaction she will make complete mistake.
For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.(8) Translate in the present tense: and she knows not that it is I who gave, &c. This yearning of Jehovah over the results of his chastisements is a wonderful anticipation of Luke 15.
Corn, and wine . . .—Corn, wine, and oil are here mentioned as the chief indigenous products of Canaan (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 33:28, &c.). Gold was largely imported from Ophir (probably the west coast of India, where Tamil is spoken: Delitzsch, Genesis, pp. 258-9. On the other hand, Fried. Delitzsch, in his work on the Site of Paradise, p. 99, holds that Ophir was a coast or island between the north end of the Persian Gulf and the south-west corner of Arabia). Silver was obtained from Tarshish, through Phœnician markets. Observe that Israel at this time abounded in the possession of precious metals. (Comp. Isaiah 2:7; Wilkins, Phœnicia and Israel, pp. 111-116.)
Which they . . . Baal.—They have transformed Jehovah’s gift into an image of Baal. Baal-worship was anterior to calf-worship (Judges 2, 3, 8), and was diametrically opposed to Jehovah-worship, as gross Pantheism is to pure and stern Monotheism.
Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.(9) Therefore will I return, and take . . .—The Hebrew form of saying, “Therefore I will take back.” Jehovah resumes all that had been misappropriated. The king of Assyria (Tiglath-pileser, 734 B.C.) was the agency whereby this was to be accomplished. (Comp. Isaiah 10:5.) The raiment (wool and flax) was Jehovah’s gift to cover her nakedness, i.e., to meet the actual necessities of Israel. This He will tear away, and the idol-gods whom she has courted shall see her prostration, and their own helplessness to deliver or relieve.
I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.(11) Mirth . . . Cease.—The mirth is here indicative of the general character of the ceremonial—certainly not in itself a bad sign. David danced before the Lord, and justified the act. No one was to appear with sad countenance before Jehovah, any more than before an earthly potentate. (Comp. Nehemiah 2:2.)
The “feast days” are to be distinguished from the “solemn feasts.” The latter term is more generic in Hebrew, while the former denoted the three great festivals of the year (especially the Feast of Tabernacles). These feasts, which Jeroboam I. had instituted, are not spoken of in themselves as sinful.
And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.(12) Destroy.—For this read, with margin, make desolate. The vine and fig tree are employed as the symbol of possession and peace (1Kings 4:25; Isaiah 36:16, &c.). The desolation may be by fire or drought.
Make them a forest.—The LXX. render make them a testimony, reading in the Hebrew text l’‘ed instead of l’ya‘ar. The latter certainly yields a more vivid sense. The rest of the verse in the LXX. is amplified: “And the wild beasts of the field, and the birds of the heaven, and the creeping things of the earth shall devour them.” While no candid critic will deny the possibility that such words may have originally stood in the text, it is à priori more probable that it is a gloss from Hosea 2:18 (Hosea 2:20 in LXX.). Even so late as in Hadrian’s days wild beasts rushed in upon the blood-stained ruins of Jerusalem.
And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the LORD.(13) The days of Baalim.—The plural Baalim refers to the worship of the same deity in different places, with distinguishing local characteristics. Thus there was a Baal-Zephon, a Baal-Hermon, a Baal-Gad, &c. (See W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 229.) “The days of Baalim” mean the whole period during which Baal has been worshipped by the faithless Israel.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.(14) Therefore.—This word does not make God’s gentle treatment a consequence of the sin of Israel. Some prefer to render by nevertheless, but the Hebrew word lakhēn is sometimes used in making strong transitions, linked, it is true, with what precedes, but not as an inference. (Comp. Isaiah 10:24.) Grace transforms her suffering into discipline. The exile in Babylon shall be a repetition of the experiences of the wilderness in which she was first espoused to Jehovah. There will I speak to her heart; i.e., comfortingly, lovingly.
And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.(15) From thence—i.e., away from thence, meaning, as soon as she has left the wilderness of exile and discipline. The valley of Achor (or trouble) was associated with the disgrace and punishment which befel Israel on her first entrance into Palestine (Joshua 7:25-26), but it would in later days be regarded as the threshold of a blessed life. The sorrowful associations of the past were to be illuminated with happy anticipation.
Sing may suggest a reference to the dances and responsive songs at the village festivals, as well as to the triumphant strains of Exodus 15
And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.(16) Baali.—The husband of the bride was frequently called her “lord” (Isaiah 54:5; Exodus 21:22; 2Samuel 11:25; and Joel 1:8, in the Heb.). But such a name, as applied to Jehovah, was henceforth to be strictly avoided, on account of its idolatrous associations.
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.(18) Make a covenant . . .—There shall be harmony without corresponding to the moral harmony within. The brute creation shall change from hostility to man. (Comp. Hosea 2:12; so also Isaiah 11:6-9.) Wars with foreign foes shall not desolate Israel’s borders.
And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.(19, 20) Then Jehovah, turning again to the wife of His youth, says to her, “I will betroth thee” (as at the first, when maiden undefiled). Three times is this phrase repeated. “Righteousness” and “judgment” indicate the equitable terms on which God would accept the penitent; and lest this thought should crush her with fear, “lovingkindness” and “tender mercies” follow; and lest this should seem too good, He adds “with faithfulness” (to myself).
I will betroth thee.—It is in the betrothal of humanity to God in Christ’s incarnation that the human race, which had so deeply revolted, returns to Him, and knows the Lord.
And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the LORD, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth;(21-23) Will hear.—More correctly, I will answer (the prayer of) the heavens. A sublime personification! Heaven pleads with Jehovah, the earth pleads with heaven, and the products of the soil plead with the earth. To all these prayers an answer is vouchsafed. Jehovah answers the heavens with the gifts of dew and rain, wherewith the heavens answer the cravings of the earth, and the earth the cravings of the corn, wine, and oil. And these last, in their turn, answer the wants of Jezreel, a name which, like Achor, is to be invested with brighter meanings. It is to represent a Divine seed—the people whom the Lord hath blessed. (See Stanley, Lectures on the Jewish Church, II. Series, Lecture 32 ad fin., where this idea is eloquently set forth.)
And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.(23) St. Paul considers this great prediction to be truly fulfilled when, by the acceptance of the Divine hope of Israel, both Jews and Gentiles shall be called the children of the living God (Romans 9:25-26).