Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This oracle is probably in the beginning of Hoshea’s reign, and deals exclusively with the condition of the northern kingdom.
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) Translate, When I heal Israel (referring to a cessation in the attacks of the menacing foe, or to such a thrill of finer feeling as that which is recorded in 2Chronicles 28:8-15), then is revealed the iniquity of Ephraim and the wickedness of Samaria, that they commit falsehood. Samaria here sustains the same relation to Israel that Jerusalem does to Judah, and it is the very source of the corruption of the whole country.
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) Have beset them about.—The wicked deeds of the nation crowded around them as witnesses to reveal their treason against Jehovah.
They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies.(3) Glad.—The evil awakens no alarm, but rather sympathy and gladness, in the breasts of their kings and rulers, who are ready to follow suit in all deeds of violence.
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) Render, ceaseth heating from the kneading of the dough till its leavening. The baker is unremitting in his exertions to keep up the heat of the oven, the smouldering fire being fed on camel’s dung and the like fuel, except when he is obliged to occupy himself with preparing the dough for baking—an apt image of the incessant burning rage of lust and violence.
In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners.(5) Following the hint of the LXX. and other versions, the rendering of which is based on a slightly different punctuation of the Hebrew, we prefer to translate, the day of our king the princes have begun with the glowing (or fever) of wine—i.e., the carousal of the princely retinue in celebration of the sovereign’s coronation-day (or birthday) commences at an early hour, significant of monstrous excess. (Comp. Acts 2:15.) There is bitterness in the use of the pronoun “our” before “king.” Otherwise we must render, have made themselves ill with the fever of wine (the Authorised version is here inaccurate). The last clause is obscure; probably it means “he (i.e., our king) hath made common cause with scorners,” and is boon-companion of the dissolute and depraved. (Comp. Exodus 23:1.)
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) Render, Yea, they draw nigh together. Like an oven in their heart with their wiles. Their baker sleepeth all the night, &c. The metaphor of Hosea 7:4 is resumed. The baker, having left his dough to become leavened and his fire to smoulder, can afford to sleep. The baker may mean the evil passion which has been raging. Indeed, Wünsche and Schmoller, by a slight change of punctuation, obtain the rendering “their anger,” instead of “their baker,” which is supported by the Targum and Syriac version. After the murderous plots and carousal, the conspiracy ripens with the day; then will come the outburst of violence.
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.(8) Cake not turned.—Referring to the destructive effect of foreign influences. Ephraim was consumed by the unhallowed fire of Baal-worship, with all its passion and sensualism—a cake burnt on one side to a cinder, and on the other left in a condition utterly unfit for food. So the activity of foreign idolatries and foreign alliances, and the consequent unfaithfulness to Israel’s God, are the nation’s ruin.
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.(9) Have devoured.—The past tense may refer to the invasions of Tiglath-pileser. Both Egypt and Assyria had come to regard Israel as the earthen pipkin between iron pots. These strangers have devoured his strength—i.e., he has less power to resist aggression, less treasure, less land, smaller population. The signs of senility are upon him. “Grey hairs are his passing bell.” He is under sentence of death, and knoweth it not.
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) See Note on Hosea 5:5.
Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.(11) Silly dove.—No creature is less able to defend itself than the dove, which flies from the bird of prey to the net of the fowler. In this powerful metaphor we have a political allusion. King Hoshea is called Ausih on the Assyrian monuments. Having usurped the throne after the murder of Pekah, he “purchased his recognition as king of Israel by giving a large present to the Assyrian monarch” (730 B.C.). (See Geo. Smith, Assyria—S.P.C.K.) But while Hoshea was sending tribute to Assyria he was secretly coquetting with Egypt. The alliance between Egypt and the king of Israel, mentioned in 2Kings 17:4, took place later, after Tiglath-pileser’s death, and led to Israel’s ruin. On the other hand, many commentators (Ewald, Nowack, &c.) refer the allusions of this verse to the reign of Menahem.
Without heart.—Better, without understanding.
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.—Best rendered, Whenever they go, &c. The ultimate ruin produced by this policy of dependence on foreign states and of doubledealing intrigue was even at this early stage foreseen by the prophet, and portrayed under the simile of Jehovah’s net snaring the unwary bird.
As their congregation hath heard.—Should be, according to the report to their assembly—i.e., according to what they hear, perhaps from Hosea himself. The threatenings of the Pentateuch (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:13-68; Deuteronomy 32:15-35) find their echoes here.
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) Fled.—The word thus translated is used of the wandering flight of birds, and arises naturally out of the images employed in Hosea 7:11-12.
(13) Though I have redeemed.—Should be, Though I would fain redeem them: an impressive picture of all the insults to longsuffering Divine love.
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) Cried . . . Howled—God discriminates between a heart-cry to Him, and a howl of despair, resembling the yell of a wild beast. A howl upon their bed is not a sob of true repentance.
They assemble themselves.—To supplicate Jehovah for fruitful harvests. This rendering is supported by several eminent authorities. Others follow Ewald in translating,” they excite themselves” with dervish-like devices and cries. The LXX. render with great force, “they cut themselves.” (Comp. 1Kings 18:28; Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 16:6.) This is based on a slightly different reading, contained in some of Kennicott’s and De Rossi’s MSS., which is not improbably the right one. The charge is that all their simulated penitence is to secure physical comforts, not to show conformity with the Divine will.
Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me.(15) Bound.—Should be instructed. God has imparted skill and power to fight their enemies. (Comp. Psalm 144:1.) So the grace of the Spirit is often slighted by its recipients.
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) Like a deceitful bow.—Religious observance has the appearance of a bow with the arrow on the string, apparently aimed at some object, but the string being slack, the aim is diverted.
The “raving insolence of their tongue” may mean the boasts that were made of the friendship of King Shebaka of Egypt, who made Israel his tool. In the land of Egypt they would thus become objects of derision. (Comp. Isaiah’s warning to his countrymen, Isaiah 30:1-8.)