Hosea 4:12
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declares to them: for the spirit of prostitutions has caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
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(12) Their stocks.—Blocks of wood fashioned into idols (Heb., his wood, the collective singular being maintained).

Their staff.—Cyril regarded this as referring to divinations by means of rods (ῥαβδομαντεία), which were placed upright, and after the repetition of incantations, allowed to fall, the forecast of the future being interpreted from the manner in which they fell. But perhaps the “staff” may refer, like the “stocks,” to the idol itself. The Canaanite goddess Asherah was worshipped under this form.

Hosea 4:12. My people ask counsel at their stocks — Hebrew, בעצו, at their wood, that is, the images of their idols made of wood; these they consulted as oracles, that they might foretel to them what was to come, or give them advice, what measures to take. And their staff declares unto them — They seek to know things by means of rods, by which they think they can divine. This refers to a kind of divination by rods or staves, which was anciently practised in the East, of which different accounts are given by ancient writers. Some say, the person consulting measured his staff by spans, or by the length of his finger, saying as he measured it, “I will go, or I will not go; I will do such a thing, or I will not do it;” and as the last span fell out so he determined. Others, however, as Cyril and Theophylact, give a different account of the matter, and say, it was performed by erecting two sticks, after which they muttered forth a certain charm, and then according as the sticks fell backward or forward, to the right or left, they gave advice in any affair. The same kind of divination seems to be intended with that used by the Chaldeans, concerning which see the note on Ezekiel 21:21. For the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err — For their fondness for idolatry hath caused them to fall into all these absurd errors, through the example of the idolatrous nations whom they loved to imitate. They have gone a whoring from their God — They have left their God, the true God, and his laws, to follow the worship, customs, and rites of heathen idolaters.4:12-19 The people consulted images, and not the Divine word. This would lead to disorder and sin. Thus men prepare scourges for themselves, and vice is spread through a people. Let not Judah come near the idolatrous worship of Israel. For Israel was devoted to idols, and must now be let alone. When sinners cast off the easy yoke of Christ, they go on in sin till the Lord saith, Let them alone. Then they receive no more warnings, feel no more convictions: Satan takes full possession of them, and they ripen for destruction. It is a sad and sore judgment for any man to be let alone in sin. Those who are not disturbed in their sin, will be destroyed for their sin. May we be kept from this awful state; for the wrath of God, like a strong tempest, will soon hurry impenitent sinners into ruin.My people ask counsel at - (literally, "on") their stocks They ask habitually ; and that, in dependence "on their stocks." The word "wood" is used of the idol made of it, to bring before them the senselessness of their doings, in that they asked counsel of the senseless wood. Thus Jeremiah reproaches them for "saying to a stock, my father" Jeremiah 2:27; and Habakkuk, "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, awake" Habakkuk 2:19.

And their staff declareth unto them - Many sorts of this superstition existed among the Arabs and Chaldees. They were different ways of drawing lots, without any dependence upon the true God to direct it. This was a part of their senselessness, of which the prophet had just said, that their sins took away their hearts. The tenderness of the word, "My people," aggravates both the stupidity and the ingratitude of Israel. They whom the Living God owned as His own people, they who might have asked of Him, asked of a stock or a staff.

For the spirit of whoredoms - It has been thought of old, that the evil spirits assault mankind in a sort of order and method, different spirits bending all their energies to tempt him to different sins . And this has been founded on the words of Holy Scripture, "a lying spirit," "an unclean spirit," "a spirit of jealousy," and our Lord said of the evil spirit whom the disciples could not cast out; "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" Matthew 17:21. Hence, it has been thought that "some spirits take delight in uncleanness and defilement of sins; others urge on to blasphemies; others, to anger and fury; others take delight in gloom; others are soothed with vainglory and pride; and that each instills into man's heart that vice in which he takes pleasure himself; yet that all do not urge their own perversenesses at once, but in turn, as opportunity of time or place, or man's own susceptibility, invites them" . Or the word, "spirit of whoredoms," may mean the vehemence with which people were whirled along by their evil passions, whether by their passionate love of idolatry, or by the fleshly sin which was so often bound up with their idolatry.

They have gone a whoring from under their God - The words "from under" continue the image of the adulteress wife, by which God had pictured the faithlessness of His people. The wife was spoken of as "under her husband Numbers 5:19, Numbers 5:29; Ezekiel 23:5, i. e., under his authority; she withdrew herself "from under" him, when she withdrew herself from his authority, and gave herself to another. So Israel, being wedded to God, estranged herself from Him, withdrew herself from His obedience, cast off all reverence to Him, and prostituted herself to her idols.

12. Instances of their understanding ("heart") being "taken away."

stocks—wooden idols (Jer 2:27; Hab 2:19).

staff—alluding to divination by rods (see on [1119]Eze 21:21, 22). The diviner, says Rosenmuller, threw a rod from him, which was stripped of its bark on one side, not on the other: if the bare side turned uppermost, it was a good omen; if the side with the bark, it was a bad omen. The Arabs used two rods, the one marked God bids, the other, God forbids; whichever came out first, in drawing them out of a case, gave the omen for, or against, an undertaking.

declareth—that is, is consulted to inform them of future events.

spirit of whoredoms—a general disposition on the part of all towards idolatry (Ho 5:4).

err—go astray from the true God.

from under their God—They have gone away from God under whom they were, as a wife is under the dominion of her husband.

My people; whom I chose, brought out of Egypt, and settled in this land, wire are not yet cast off, though they deserve it, who call themselves my people.

Ask counsel; inquire about future things, and what shall befall them. I threaten from heaven, they believe not me, but flatter themselves it will be better than my prophets say it will, and they inquire of their idolatrous priests concerning their fate.

At their stocks; wooden statues or idols with which their priests consult, and make them give answer suiting to the hope of these people.

Their staff declareth unto them: this was another kind of forbidden consulting with the devil; an art much in use in those times and places. You read of this Ezekiel 21:2. These were parts of their sottish idolatry. So they thought, they believed what their false prophets reported from the staff or stock. Unparalleled folly! not to believe God speaking from heaven, but at the same time believe a stock or staff, that knows not in whose hand it is, or what use it is put to.

The spirit of whoredoms; a heart addicted to and insnared with whoredoms, spiritual and corporal.

Hath caused them to err; hath blinded, misled, and deceived them. So Isaiah 40:20 44:14,18.

And they have gone a whoring from under their God; so they have left their God, refusing to be under his guidance, endeavouring to evade his corrections, and to fortify themselves, rebel-like, against his armies raised to chastise them, trusting herein to idols. My people ask counsel at their stocks,.... Or "at his wood" (a), or stick; his wooden image, as the Targum; their wooden gods, their idols made of wood, mere stocks and blocks, without life or sense, and much less reason and understanding, and still less divinity. Reference is here had either to the matter of which an idol was made, being the trunk of a tree, or a block of wood; as the poet (b) introduces Priapus saying, "olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum": or to sticks of wood themselves, without being put into any form or shape; for so it is reported (c), that the ancient idolaters used to receive for gods, with great veneration, trees or pieces of wood, having the bark taken off; particularly the Carians worshipped for Diana a piece of wood, not hewed, squared, or planed (d): though the first seems rather to be the sense here; and either was extremely foolish. And yet such was the stupidity of this people, whom God had formerly chose for his people and had distinguished them by his favours from others, and they had professed themselves to be his people, and as yet were not utterly cast off, as to forsake him and his divine oracles, and all methods of knowing his will; as to ask counsel of such wooden deities in matters of moment and difficulty, what should be done by them, or concerning things to come.

And their staff declareth unto them; what methods are to be taken by them in the present case, or what shall come to pass, as they fancy; that is, either their idol, made of a staff or stick of wood, or a little image carried on a staff; such as probably were the teraphim they consulted, instead of the Urim and Thummim; and imagined they declared to them what they should do, or what would befall them. Kimchi's father interprets it of the false prophets on whom they depended, and whose declarations they received as oracles. Perhaps some respect is had to a sort of divination used among the Heathens by rods and staves, called "rhabdomancy", which the Jews had learnt of them; like that by arrows used by Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel 21:21. This was performed by setting up a stick or staff, and as that fell, so they judged and determined what was to be done. The manner, according to Theophylact on the place, was this,

"they set up two rods, and muttered some verses and enchantments; and then the rods falling through the influence of demons, they considered how they fell, whether forward or backward, to the right or the left; and so gave answers to the foolish people, using the fall of the rods for signs.''

The Jews take this to be forbid by that negative precept, Deuteronomy 18:10, "there shall not be found among you any that useth divination". So Jarchi and Baal Hatturim on that text explain a diviner by one that holds his staff; and the former adds and says, shall I go, or shall I not go? as it is said, "my people ask counsel at their stocks", &c.; the manner of which they thus describe (e),

"when they are about to go on a journey, they inquire before they set out, i.e. whether it will be prosperous or not; and the diviner takes a branch of a tree, and takes off the bark on one side, and leaves it on the other, and then throws it out of his hand; if, when it falls, the bark is uppermost, he says, this is a man; then he casts it again, and if the white is uppermost, this is a woman; to a man, and after that a woman, this is a good sign, and he goes his journey, or does what be desires to do: but if the white appears first, and after that the bark, then he says, to a woman, and after that a man, and he forbears (that is, to go on his journey, or do what he desired): but if the bark is uppermost in both (throws), or the white uppermost in both, to a man after a man, and a woman after a woman, then his journey (as to the success of it) is between both; and so they say they do in the land of Slavonia.''

And from the Slavonians, Grotius says, the Germans took this way of divination, of which Tacitus (f) gives an account; and it seems by him that the Chaldeans also had it, from whom the Jews might have it. This way of divination by the staff is a little differently given in Hascuni: (g) the diviner measures his staff with his finger, or with his hand; one time he says, I will go; another time, I will not go; but if it happens, at the end of the staff, I will not go, he goes not.

For the spirit of whoredom hath caused them to err; a violent inclination and bias of mind to idolatry, which is spiritual adultery, and a strong affection for it, stirred up by an evil spirit, the devil; which so wrought upon them, and influenced them, as to cause them to wander from the true God, and his worship, as follows:

and they have gone a whoring from under their God; or

"erred from the worship of their God,''

as the Targum; from the true God, who stood in the relation of a husband to them; but, led by a spirit of error, they departed from him, and committed spiritual adultery, that is, idolatry; which is explained and enlarged upon in the next verse.

(a) "in ligno suo", V. L. Montanus, Calvin; "liguum suum", Pagninus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (b) Horat. Sermon. l. 1. Satyr. 8. (c) Alexand. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 6. c. 26. (d) Arnobius adv. Gentes, l. 6. p. 232. (e) Moses Kotsensis praecept. neg. 52. (f) De Moribus German. c. 10. (g) Apud Drusium in Deuteronomy 18.10.

My {n} people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the {o} spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.

(n) Thus he speaks by derision in calling them his people, who now because of their sins they were not his people: for they sought help from stocks or wooden images and sticks or idols.

(o) They are carried away with madness.

12. My people ask counsel at their stocks] Lit., ‘My people—he asketh counsel at his wood.’ Jehovah alone can give oracular ‘counsel’; not the teraphim, nor yet the bull-images of Jehovah. The latter did, indeed, seem to the Israelites to bring Jehovah near to their consciousness, but it was not the true Jehovah, who could not be represented by images (Hosea 8:6) and hated the rites of the Israelitish worship (Hosea 9:15); Hosea therefore calls them ‘wood’; comp. Habakkuk 2:19; Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 10:8. There is a touch of melancholy in ‘my people’; comp. Isaiah 3:12.

their staff declareth unto them] ‘Declareth’, with reference to secret things, as Isaiah 43:9; Isaiah 44:7. The ‘staff’ is probably the diviner’s wand; so in Ezekiel 21:21 the king of Babylon combines consultation of the teraphim with divination by arrows, which is merely another form of rhabdomanteia (Sept. substitutes ‘wands’, ῥάβδον, for ‘arrows’). Wands were one of the recognized instruments of soothsaying, in both East and West; see Pococke, Specimen Historiae Arabum, p. 327; Azraki, The Chronicles of the city of Mecca, Arabic and German by Wüstenfeld, 1. 73; Herodotus iv. 67; Tacitus, Germ. 10. Pococke however thinks ‘staff’ is synonymous with ‘stocks’, and that a staff is meant which had an idol carved at the top.

the spirit of whoredoms] i.e. an impulse prompting them to whoredom (in the literal sense, to avoid tautology); comp. ‘spirit of perverseness’ (Isaiah 19:14), ‘spirit of uncleanness’ (Zechariah 13:2), ‘spirit of jealousy’ (Numbers 5:14).Verses 12-14. - The first of these verses exhibits the private life of the people as depraved by sin and folly; the second their public life as degraded by idolatry and lewdness; while the third points to the corresponding chastisement and its cause. My people ask counsel at their stocks (literally, wood), and their staff declareth unto them. Rashi explains "stocks," or literally, "wood," to mean "a graven image made out of wood;" while Aben Ezra prefaces his exposition of this by an observation which serves well as a link of connection between the eleventh and twelfth verses. It is as follows: "The sign that they are in reality without heart, is that my people turn to ask counsel of its stocks and wood." Kimchi not inaptly remarks, "They are like the blind man to whom his staff points out the way in which he should go." The stupidity of idolatry and the sin of divination are here combined. By the "wood" is meant an idol carved out of wood; while the staff may likewise have an image carved at the top for idolatrous purposes, or it may denote mode of divination by a staff which by the way it fell determined their course. Theophylaet explains this method of divination as follows: "They set up two rods, and muttered some verses and enchantments; and then the rods falling through the influence of demons, they considered how they fell, whether forward or backward, to the right or the left, and so gave answers to the foolish people, using the fall of the rods for signs." Cyril, who attributes the invention of rabdomancy to the Chaldeans, gives the same account of this method of divination. Herodotus mentions a mode of divination prevalent among the Scythians by means of willow rods; and Tacitus informs us that the Germans divined by a rod cut from a fruit-bearing tree. "They (the Germans) cut a twig from a fruit tree, and divide it into small pieces, which, distinguished by certain marks, are thrown promiscuously on a white garment. Then the priest or 'the canton, it' the occasion be public - if private, the master of the family - after an invocation of the gods, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, thrice takes out each piece, and as they come up, interprets their signification according to the marks fixed upon them." The sin and folly of any people consulting an idol of wood about the success or otherwise of an undertaking, or deciding whether by a species of teraphim or staff divination, is sufficiently obvious. But the great aggravation of Israel's sin arose from the circumstance not obscurely hinted by the possessive "my" attached to "people." That a people like Israel, whom God had chosen from among the nations of the earth and distinguished by special tokens of Divine favor, and to whom he had given the ephod with the truly oracular Urim and Thummim, should forsake him and the means he had given them of knowing his will, and turn aside to gods of wood, evinced at once stupidity unaccountable and sin inexcusable. "The prophet," says Calvin, "calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous was the perfidy of the people, that, having been chosen, they had afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father.... Now this people, that ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff answers them!" For the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a-whoring from under their God. In this part of the verse the prophet attempts to account for the extreme folly and heinous sin of Israel, as described in the first clause. It was an evil spirit, some demoniac power, that had inspired them with an insuperable fondness for idolatry, which in prophetic language is spiritual adultery. The consequence was a sad departure from the true God and a sinful wandering away from his worship, notwithstanding his amazing condescension and love by which he placed himself in the relation of a husband towards them. Compassion and forgiveness are with the Lord our God; and these we need, for we have rebelled against Him. This thought is expanded in Daniel 9:10-14. The rebellion against God, the refusing to hear the voice of the Lord through the prophets, the transgression of His law, of which all Israel of the twelve tribes were guilty, has brought the punishment on the whole people which the law of Moses threatened against transgressors.
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