Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
It is now harvest and vintage-time—the period of annual vintage festivals, as at Shechem and Shiloh, to which the neighbouring villages gathered. The corn is being reaped, the wine-press is trodden, and the vats are overflowing. But behind this bright picture there looms to the prophet’s gaze a sombre background. This and the following two chapters, which form a connected whole, contains another outburst of prophetic denunciation of the follies of idolatrous Israel.
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.—Better, to exultation. “The harlot’s hire on every corn-floor” expresses in bold imagery the prophet’s scorn for the idolatrous corruption of the people. The bounteous yield of the harvest is called the “harlot’s hire,” which lures Jehovah’s faithless bride to worship the false deity from whose hands these gifts were supposed to come. The people’s momentary prosperity is attributed to their idols. (See Hosea 2:12; Jeremiah 44:17-19.)
The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her.(2) Winepress.—Read wine-vat (with margin), into which the tîrôsh, new wine (“ grape-juice “), flowed from the winepress. (Comp. Isaiah 5:2.) For “fail in her” read deceive her, with LXX. and Vulgate.
They shall not dwell in the LORD'S land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria.(3, 4) Canaan, the land of Jehovah, is holy, Assyria unholy (Amos 7:17), where there was no temple or sacred ordinances. Since meat was not a divinely sanctioned food, except in connection with a Jehovah festival, it became in the land of exile unclean. This became true in the eyes of Hosea of all eating. “In the family every feast was a Eucharistic sacrifice” (W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, pp. 235 and 237). (Comp. Ezekiel 4:13.)
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) Offer—i.e., pour out as a libation. A better rendering is to be obtained by abandoning the Hebrew accentuation: And their sacrifices will not be pleasing to Him; it shall be to them as bread of sorrow—i.e., funeral food, which defiles for seven days those who partake of it. Another reference to the Mosaic legislation (Deuteronomy 26:14)—Yea, their bread is for their appetite (i.e., only for bodily sustenance), it cometh not to Jehovah’s house as a sacred offering. These verses show that Hosea did not consider the worship of the Northern Kingdom as in itself illegal.
 Kuenen (Hibbert Lecture, p. 312) proposes an alteration in the text, whereby the parallelism becomes more harmonious and the construction simpler. He then renders, “They shall pour no libation of wine to Jehovah, and shall not lay out their sacrifices before Him: as food eaten in mourning is their food.” This agrees better with Hosea 3:4.
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) Translate, Behold if they have gone from the desolation (i.e., Palestine laid waste by the invader), Egypt shall gather them, Memphis bury them—Memphis, the vast city and necropolis of Ptah, where Apis and Ibis, kings and men, lay by thousands mummied, the religious shrine of Egyptian faith in the under-world, from which Israel had been emancipated at the Exodus.—There is a longing for their silver (i.e., they shall long for the silver left behind concealed in their desolate land.—The thistle shall possess them, the thorn shall be in their tents. Hosea prophesies an exile to Egypt after the anticipated invasion. That many exiles took refuge in Egypt in 721 B.C., after the great overthrow of the northern kingdom (as in the case of Judah in the days of Jeremiah), cannot admit of doubt. (Comp. Hosea 8:13 and Hosea 9:3 above; see Hosea 11:5, Note.)
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) The latter part of the verse should be translated Crazed is the prophet, mad the inspired one, because of the multitude of thy iniquity, while persecution is increased. The prophet is crazed either in the depraved public opinion that Hosea scornfully describes, or, he is driven mad, distracted, by the persecutions to which he is subjected. The latter is more probable. (Comp. the following verse.) Other commentators, including Maurer and Hitzig (preceded by Jerome and many Jewish as well as Christian expositors) take the words for prophet in this verse as signifying “false prophet,” and would connect the clauses thus:—“Israel shall recognise that the prophet (who prophesied good to them) is a fool, the inspired one a madman, because of,” &c. But it is doubtful whether the Hebrew for “inspired one” (îsh harûach) can bear this unfavourable sense, with the definite article affixed (comp. 1Kings 22:21, Heb.); so Nowack. The passage is very difficult, and no decisive superiority can be claimed for any rendering yet proposed.
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) Prophet.—Many hold that here (as in the previous verse) this word is used in a bad sense (false prophet), and standing contrasted with “the watchman of Ephraim” (or true prophet, Hosea himself, Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17). They would render:—“The watchman of Ephraim is with my God.” But the verse is capable of an altogether different, and, on the whole, more satisfactory interpretation: Ephraim is a lier-in-wait, in conflict with my God. As for the prophet, the fowler’s snare is in all his ways. (Comp. Matthew 23:34-35.) There is persecution in the house of his God. The objection to this rendering lies in this use of the Hebrew ‘im (“in conflict with”). But the word might be read ‘am, “people” (comp. LXX. on 2Samuel 1:2): “Ephraim, the people of my God, is a lier-in-wait”—a thought full of pathos, and in harmony with the main idea of this prophecy.
They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins.(9) For the reference to Gibeah, see Judges 19.
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) Grapes in the wilderness.—Rich dainties to the desert traveller. So had Jehovah regarded His people at the commencement of their national history in the wilderness.
Shame.—Heb. bosheth was a euphemism for Baal. Observe that names ending in “-bosheth” (Ish-bosheth, &c.) are replaced by the older forms in “-baal” in 1 Chron. Render the last clause, they have become abominations like their love (i.e., Baal).
As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.(11) From the birth . . .—Or rather, so that there shall be no childbirth, nor pregnancy, nor conception—an ascending climax. Progeny was the glory of ancient Israel (Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 7:13-14; Psalm 127:5; Proverbs 17:6).
Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.(13) The LXX. suggest a doubt as to the validity of our text. They render “Ephraim, even as I saw, gave their children for a prey.” The reference to Tyre is very obscure. Some would render the Hebrew word for “meadow” by “resting-place,” and interpret, “I look on Ephraim even as I look on Tyre, planted in a sure resting-place.” The impregnable fortress of Tyre was a conspicuous object in the days of Hosea. Similarly Samaria was a stronghold which was able to resist prolonged sieges. (Comp. Isaiah’s graphic words: Isaiah 28:1-4, and Amos 6:1)—“Yet Ephraim shall bring forth sons to the murderer,” i.e., in the impending overthrow and massacre, 721 B.C.
Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.(14) Better universal childlessness than that the off-spring should be exposed to so terrible a fate. Compare this with our Lord’s words: “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare,” &c.
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) Gilgal.—On Gilgal as a seat of idolatrous worship, see Hosea 4:15. “My house” here, and in Hosea 8:1 (“Jehovah’s house”), is interpreted by Wünsche and Nowack, with considerable show of reason, to mean the “holy land,” Canaan. This interpretation is confirmed by the use of the Assyrian word Bîtu, corresponding to the Hebrew bêth “house.” The term seems to have blended the conception of a people and the territory they occupied. (See Schrader, Keilinschriften und das alte Testament, p. 540, where the examples are cited Bît-Am-ma-na “Ammon,” Bît-A-di-ni, “Beth-Eden.”) Similarly, Egypt is called in Exodus 20:2, “the house of slaves.” We are reminded by the word “house” of the domestic episode (Hosea 1-3): Ephraim, like an adulterous wife, is turned out of house and home (comp. Hosea 3:4), and is no longer Jehovah’s people (Hosea 1:9).
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) They shall bear no fruit.—Ephraim, whose very name signifies fruitfulness.
My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations.(17) Wanderers.—Strangely confirmed from Assyrian monuments and the entire subsequent history of the bulk of Israel; and Israel still wanders, not coalescing with any nation, unless they lose their ancient faith by corruption into idolatry, or conversion to Christianity. (See Pusey.)