Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
A continuation of the same indictment along a new line of illustration. Jehovah bids the prophet put the trumpet to his lips and blow a shrill blast, announcing the approach of disaster.
Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law.(1) Eagle.—The image of swiftness (Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40). So Assyria shall come swooping down on Samaria, to which Hosea, though with some irony, gives the name “House of Jehovah,” recognising that the calf was meant to be symbolic in some sense of Israel’s God. (See, however, Note on Hosea 9:15.)
Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee.(2) Should be rendered, To me they cry, My God, we know Thee, we Israel.
Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him.(3) Cast off.—Jehovah’s reply to Israel’s hollow repentance. The word “cast off” means a scornful loathing of what is putrescent or obscene. “The thing that is good” is the name of God, which is the salvation of Israel (Aben Ezra).
They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.(4) Set up kings.—It is possible that the prophet alludes to the history of the northern kingdom as a whole. Though the revolt of the Ten Tribes received Divine sanction (1Kings 11:9-11), it was obviously contrary to the Divine and prophetic idea which associated the growth of true religion with the line of David (Hosea 3:5). But it is best to regard the passage as referring to the short reigns of usurpers and to the foul murders which disgraced the annals of the northern kingdom since the death of Jeroboam II. Jehovah repudiates all participation in their anarchy.
Knew it not.—Should be, knew them not—viz., the gold and silver splendours wherewith Israel had adorned its apostacy.
Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to innocency?(5) Thy calf . . . hath cast thee off.—Rather, is loathsome, Nothing can exceed the scorn of this outburst. The last clause should be rendered, How long are ye unable to attain purity? The attribution of consuming fire to God is not peculiar to the prophet. (Comp. Hebrews 12:29.)
For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces.(6) It is best to abandon the Masoretic punctuation, and translate, For it (i.e., the calf) is from Israel (not of Divine origin); as for it, an artificer made it, and it is no god. Yea, the calf of Samaria shall be shattered to fragments (literally, become splinters or fine dust).
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.(7) Wind . . . whirlwind.—The great law of Divine retribution, the punishment for sin being often a greater facility in sinning—indifference to God becoming enmity, forgetfulness of duty or truth becoming violent recoil from both. “Wind” expresses what is empty and fruitless, and the pronoun “it” refers, in accordance with the metaphor, to such unproductive seed.
It hath no stalk.—Not even incipient prosperity, as in the days of Jeroboam II. “The growth shall yield no grain,” as we might express the play of words in the Hebrew.
Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.(8) Vessel wherein is no pleasure—i.e., worthless (comp. Jeremiah 48:38; Psalm 31:13; 2Timothy 2:20); a vessel devoted to vilest uses, or smashed up as worthless.
For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers.(9) Gone up to Assyria.—The word thus translated is elsewhere used for “going up” to the sanctuary of the Lord. (See Note on Hosea 7:11.) Wild ass is the image of untamed waywardness (Job 39:5, sea.) it is described by Wetzstein as inhabiting the steppes, a creature of dirty yellow colour, with long ears and no horns, and a head resembling a gazelle’s. Its pace is so swift that no huntsman can overtake it. It is seldom seen alone, but in herds of several hundreds. From Jeremiah 2:24 we infer that the animal wanders alone after the object of its lust. Israel, like a solitary wild ass, seeks strange loves, courts strange alliances. On the last clause, see Ezekiel 16:32-34. Ephraim pays abnormally for her own shame.
Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes.(10) There is much difference of opinion as to the interpretation of this verse. Much depends on the reference of the word “them.” We prefer to regard it as referring to Ephraim rather than to the nations (i.e., Assyria and Egypt). Render, I will gather them (Israel) together, so that in a short time they may delay (this translation approved by Ewald, Wünsche, and Simson) to render the tribute burden due to the king of princes (i.e., the Assyrian monarch). “Gather them together,” i.e., in restraint, so that they cannot roam so wildly, seeking help (Ewald). This accords with Hosea 2:8-9; Hosea 3:4. Such non-payment of tribute actually occurred a few years later (2Kings 17:4). Others render it: I will gather these nations (of the East) round about her to look scornfully on her ruin, and they shall sorrow a little (used ironically) at the imposition of the king of the princes.
Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.(11) Many altars.—Multiplication of altars was condemned in the law (Deuteronomy 12:5 seq.). The narrative in Joshua 22 shows that unity of altar and sanctuary was essential to the unity of the nation. The last clause should be rendered, he had altars for sinning. The worship of God was degraded into the sensuous approaching Baal-worship. In the first clause sin equals transgression, in the last transgression plus guilt and peril.
I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.(12, 13) The rendering should be, though I write for him a multitude of my precepts. The tense “I write” is imperfect, and represents the continuous process—the prophetic teaching as well as the ancient Mosaic law. In the wild lust for a foreign religion the pure and spiritual Mosaic worship and the religious influence of prophecy had been forgotten. It seemed something “strange;” as Christ’s cross and claims have been accounted strange by so-called Christians.
They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.(13) They sacrifice flesh . . .—Should be, “They sacrifice the sacrifices of my gifts—flesh, and eat it.” Clear reference to the Mosaic institute. Ye shall go back to Egypt, says the prophet, and there learn again the bitter lessons of the past—either the positive return to Egypt or the disastrous hankering after Egyptian alliances.
For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.(14) Temples.—The word here used for temple is used sixty times for Jehovah’s temple. The building of these temple-palaces was a distinct sin against the unity of the Godhead.
Judah hath multiplied fenced cities.—Referred to by Sennacherib, in the inscription relating to the campaign of 701 B.C. “Forty-six of his (Hezekiah’s) strong cities, fortresses . . . I besieged, I captured.” These were erected by Uzziah and Jotham (2Chronicles 26:10; 2Chronicles 27:4). With the allusions to Israel’s temples (palaces) compare Amos 3:11; Amos 3:15.