Hosea 4:15
Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.
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(15) Israel . . . Judah.—The prophet warns Judah of Israel’s peril, and perhaps hints at the apostacy of some of her kings, as Ahaziah, Joram, and Ahaz. He returns to the symbolic use of the word “whoredom”; and Judah is exhorted not to participate in the idolatries of Gilgal or the calves of Bethel. There are three different places named Gilgal mentioned in Joshua (Joshua 4:19; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 15:7), and a fourth seems to be mentioned in Deut. 9:30; 2Kings 2:1. The Gilgal here referred to is the first of these, which Joshua for a considerable time had made his head-quarters. In the days of Samuel it acquired some importance as a place for sacrificial worship and the dispensation of justice. Bethel had a grand history. But Hosea and Amos call it by the altered name Beth-aven (house of vanity, or idols), instead of Bethel (house of God). The LXX. in Alex. MS. read On instead of Aven in the Hebrew, On being the name for Heliopolis, the seat of sun-cultus, whence Jeroboam may have derived his calf-worship. (See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. “On.”) But the Vat. MS. has ἀδικίας, in accordance with the Masoretic tradition (similarly Aquila and Symmachus).

Hosea 4:15. Though, &c. — “Here,” says Bishop Horsley, “a transition is made, with great elegance and animation, from the general subject of the whole people, in both its branches, to the kingdom of the ten tribes in particular.” Though thou, Israel, play the harlot — Though thou followest after idols; yet let not Judah offend — Let not Judah do so too: at least let her keep herself pure. Let her not join in the idolatrous worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, or mix idolatry with the profession of the true religion. The kingdom of Judah still retained, in a great degree, the worship of the true God, and the ordinances of the temple service. Therefore the prophet exhorts that people not to be led away by the bad example of their brethren of the ten tribes. Gilgal, it must be observed, was remarkable for being the place where the Israelites renewed their rite of circumcision, when they first passed over Jordan; but after Jeroboam set up idolatry, it became famous for the worship of false gods. And it appears, from this prophet and Amos, that it was particularly so in this period of the Jewish history. Beth- aven was the same with Beth-el, and was the place where one of Jeroboam’s calves was worshipped. The word Beth-el signifies the house of God, and was the name given to that place by Jacob, because of God’s appearing to him there, Genesis 28:17. But when it became a place noted for idolatrous worship, the worshippers of the true God called it, in detestation, Beth-aven, that is, the house of vanity. Nor swear, The Lord liveth — Do not mingle the worship of the true God with idolatrous rites, nor dare to swear by his name while worshipping idols, or before the calves, as if they represented him; for he abhors every such coalition.

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.Let not Judah offend - The sentence of Israel had been pronounced; she had been declared incorrigible. The prophet turns from her now to Judah. Israel had abandoned God's worship, rejected or corrupted His priests, given herself to the worship of the calves; no marvel what further excess of riot she run into! But Judah, who had the law and the temple and the service of God, let not her, (he would say,) involve herself in Israel's sin. If Israel, in willful blindness, had plunged herself in ruin, let not Judah involve herself in her sin and her ruin. He turns (as elsewhere) incidentally to Judah.

Come ye not unto Gilgal - Gilgal lay between Jericho and the Jordan. There, ten furlongs from the Jordan, first in all the promised land, the people encamped; there Joshua placed the monument of the miraculous passage of the Jordan; there he renewed the circumcision of the people which had been intermitted in the wilderness, and the feast of the passover; there the people returned, after all the victories by which God gave them possession of the land of promise Joshua 4:19-20; Joshua 5:9-10; Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6-9, Joshua 10:43; Joshua 14:6. There Samuel habitually sacrificed, and there, "before the Lord," i. e., in His special covenanted presence, he publicly made Saul king 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:14-15; 1 Samuel 13:4-9; 1 Samuel 15:21, 1 Samuel 15:33. It was part of the policy of Jeroboam to take hold of all these associations, as a sort of set-off against Jerusalem and the temple, from which he had separated his people. In opposition to this idolatry, Elisha for a time, established there one of the schools of the prophets 2 Kings 4:38.

Neither go ye up to Bethaven - "Bethaven," literally, "house of vanity," was a city East of "Bethel" Joshua 7:2, "the house of God." But since Jeroboam had set up the worship of the calves at Bethel, Bethel had ceased to be "the house of God," and had become "a house or temple of vanity;" and so the prophet gave it no more its own name which was associated with the history of the faith of the patriarchs, but called it what it had become. In Bethel God had twice appeared to Jacob, when he left the land of promise Genesis 28:10, Genesis 28:19 a to go to Laban, and when he returned Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:9. There also the ark of God was for a time in the days of the judges removed from Shiloh Judges 20:26-27, near to which on the south Judges 21:19 Bethel lay. It too Jeroboam profaned by setting up the calf there. To these places then, as being now places of the idolatry of Israel, Judah is forbidden to go, and then to "swear, the Lord liveth." For to swear by the Lord in a place of idolatry would be to associate the living God with idols Zephaniah 1:5, which God expressly forbade.

15. Though Israel's ten tribes indulge in spiritual harlotry, at least thou, Judah, who hast the legal priesthood, and the temple rites, and Jerusalem, do not follow her bad example.

Gilgal—situated between Jordan and Jericho on the confines of Samaria; once a holy place to Jehovah (Jos 5:10-15; 1Sa 10:8; 15:21); afterwards desecrated by idol-worship (Ho 9:15; 12:11; Am 4:4; 5:5; compare Jud 3:19, Margin).

Beth-aven—that is, "house of vanity" or idols: a name substituted in contempt for Beth-el, "the house of God"; once sacred to Jehovah (Ge 28:17, 19; 35:7), but made by Jeroboam the seat of the worship of the calves (1Ki 12:28-33; 13:1; Jer 48:13; Am 3:14; 7:13). "Go up" refers to the fact that Beth-el was on a hill (Jos 16:1).

nor swear, The Lord liveth—This formula of oath was appointed by God Himself (De 6:13; 10:20; Jer 4:2). It is therefore here forbidden not absolutely, but in conjunction with idolatry and falsehood (Isa 48:1; Eze 20:39; Zep 1:5).

This summeth up the sins, the idolatries of the ten tribes; and is a transition to what next follows; either by way of exhortation, or admonition, or prayer and wish, for the two tribes which stuck to the house of David, as to the temple.

Let not Judah offend; commit like sins as Israel hath done, imitate none of their idolatry: possibly the prophet saw Judah inclined to backslide, or this might be preached in the beginning of Ahaz’s reign.

Come not ye, you of Judah, who have the temple and house of God with you, who have hitherto been preserved from Israelitish idolatry,

unto Gilgal; a place near Jordan, where the twelve stones were pitched, Joshua 4:9, the camp was pitched, circumcision revived, the passover kept, Joshua 5:2,10; there Joshua divided the land, Joshua 14:6, there the tabernacle was at first pitched after they came over Jordan, and there they sacrificed. There was in Ahab’s time a college of prophets; and now, whether out of reverence to the place on these accounts, or for what other reasons, it matters not, but certain it is, this Gilgal was chosen out by Jeroboam, or by succeeding idolaters, for a place of public worship of their idols, and grew famous for it. Go not up to partake of their idolatry, or to learn it. It is a concise speech, which forbids all the sins committed at Gilgal.

Neither go ye up to Beth-aven; which is Beth-el, where Jacob lodged, had a vision of angels, and a more comfortable vision of God, who appeared to Jacob, who for this gave name to the place, and called it Beth-el, house of God; but when Jeroboam made it the place of his calf worship, it became, and is called, Beth-avert, house of vanity or iniquity. Go not thither to worship. It is as the former, a prohibition of being of that religion which was in use at Beth-avert, and had been the established religion for two hundred years, or thereabouts, viz. ever since Jeroboam’s time.

Nor swear, The Lord liveth this is in itself lawful oath, and may be used; but in the circumstances wherewith it is here attended it is forbidden, because many who went thither yet pretended there to sacrifice only to the true God, that they owned him the only living God, reverenced him, swore by him; though they went up to Beth-avert or Gilgal, yet they worshipped God there. This is a synecdoche, a part being put for the whole worship of God, which the prophet warns them not to blend and mix with idolatries, which yet was done before Josiah’s time, Zephaniah 1:5, which see, with the annotations on it.

Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend,.... That is, though the Israelites, the people of the ten tribes, committed adultery, both corporeal and spiritual, in their idolatrous worship, as before observed, to which they had been used ever since the times of Jeroboam the first, and were hardened therein, and from which there were little hopes of reforming them; yet let not the men of Judah be guilty of the same crimes, who have as yet retained the pure worship of God among them; where the house of God is, and the priests of the Lord officiate, and sacrifices are offered up to him according to his will, and all other parts of religious service are performed: or the whole seems to be directed to Israel, as an exhortation to them, that though they had given into such abominations, yet should be careful not to offend Judah, or cause them to stumble and fall, and become guilty of the same sins, and so be exposed to the same punishment; and which would be an aggravation of Israel's sin, to draw others into it with them:

and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven; to worship idols in those places; otherwise it might be lawful to go to them on any civil accounts: Gilgal was upon the borders of the ten tribes, between them and Judah, where Joshua circumcised the Israelites; kept the first passover in the land; and where the ark and tabernacle were for a time; and perhaps for these reasons was chosen for a place of idolatrous worship: Bethaven is the same with Bethel, the name Jacob gave it, signifying the house of God; but when Jeroboam set up one of his calves here, the prophets, by way of contempt, called it Bethaven, the house of iniquity, or the house of an idol; though there was a place called Bethaven near Bethel, and Ai, as Kimchi observes, and as appears from Joshua 7:2, yet Bethel was sometimes so called, as it seems to be here, because of the idolatry in it; and so the Talmudists (u) say, the place called Bethel is now called Bethaven. Now the question is, whether Judah or Israel are here addressed; many interpreters carry it in the former sense, as if the men of Judah were dissuaded from going to these places for worship, when the temple, the proper place of worship, was in their own tribe; but the speech seems rather to be directed to the Israelites, to stop going to these places for worship; for being so near to Judah, they might be the means of ensnaring and drawing them into the same idolatrous practices:

nor swear, the Lord liveth; or swear by the living God, so long as they worshipped idols; for it was not well pleasing to God to have his name used by idolaters, or joined with their idols: especially as they meant their idol when they swore by the Lord.

(u) T. Hieros Avoda Zara, fol. 43. 1.

Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet {r} let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto {s} Gilgal, neither go ye up to {t} Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.

(r) God complains that Judah is infected, and wants them to learn to return in time.

(s) For even though the Lord had honoured this place by his presence, yet because it was abused by their idolatry, he did not want his people to resort there.

(t) He calls Bethel, that is, the house of God, Bethaven, that is, the house of iniquity, because of their abominations set up there, signifying that no place is holy, where God is not purely worshipped.

15. offend] Rather, become guilty, viz. by participation in Israel’s idolatry.

come not ye unto Gilgal] Gilgal was one of the chief seats of the idolatrous worship of the north, see Hosea 9:15, Hosea 12:11; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5. But which of the Gilgals (see Smith’s Bibl. Dict.) is meant? The Jewish commentators are agreed that it was the famous Gilgal ‘in the east border of Jericho’ where Joshua pitched his camp for the first time after crossing the Jordan (Joshua 4:19), and later on ‘the true centre of the whole people’ (Ewald, History of Israel, iii. 29). Probably they are right. No doubt, we should have expected this Gilgal to have belonged to Judah, but the natural boundary of the two kingdoms was not the historical one; ‘those places which their past history had rendered most sacred or memorable—Bethel, Gilgal, Jericho—were incorporated in the northern kingdom’ (Ewald, Hist. iv. 3).

neither go ye up to Beth-aven] A Beth-aven near Bethel is mentioned Joshua 7:2; 1 Samuel 13:5, but this Beth-aven, ‘house of vanity’, or ‘of wickedness’, is a keenly sarcastic substitute for the desecrated name Bethel, ‘house of God’ (see Hosea 10:5; Hosea 10:8, and comp. Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5; 1 Kings 12:29-33). ‘Go ye up’, because Bethel was situated on the slopes of a hill, comp. 1 Samuel 10:3, ‘going up to the Elohim (i.e. the sacred place) to Bethel.’

nor swear, The Lord liveth] Hosea may mean to say that the oath ‘As Jehovah liveth’ has been so profaned by the Israelites of the north that he wishes to see it abolished. It is more likely however (considering Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 4:2) that he deprecates oaths by the Jehovahs of Gilgal and Bethel—oaths which in the mind of the swearer are connected with idolatrous symbols of Jehovah, precisely as Amos denounces those who say, ‘As thy God, O Dan, liveth’, and ‘As thy God, O Beer-sheba, liveth’ (Amos 8:14, corrected partly from the Sept.).

15–19. Judah is cautioned not to fall into the same ruin as Israel, of which a deterrent picture is given.

Verses 15-17. - In this section the prophet, as if despairing of any improvement or amendment on the part of Israel, still resolutely bent on spiritual whoredom, addresses an earnest warning to Judah. From proximity to those idolatries and debaucheries so prevalent in this northern kingdom, and from the corruption at least of the court in the southern kingdom during the reigns of Joram, Ahaziah, and Ahaz, Judah was in danger; and hence the prophet turned aside, with words of earnest warning, to the sister kingdom not to involve herself in the same or similar guilt. Rashi's brief comment here is, "Let not the children of Judah learn their ways." Verse 15. - And come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-avert, nor swear, The Lord liveth. From a solemn warning in general terms, he proceeds to a specific prohibition. The prohibition forbids pilgrimages to places of idol-worship, such as Gilgal and Bethaven; it also forbids a profession of Jehovah-worship to be made by persons inclined to idolatrous practices. Gilgal, now the village of Jiljilia, which had been a school of the prophets in the days of Elijah and Elisha, had, as we may rightly infer from passages in Hoses and Amos, become a seat of idolatrous worship. The Hebrew interpreters confound the Gilgal here referred to with the still more renowned Gilgal between Jericho and the Jordan, where Joshua circumcised the people a second time, and celebrated the Passover, and where, manna failing, the people ate of the old corn of the land. "And why," asks Kimchi, "to Gilgal? Because at Gilgal the sanctuary was at the first when they entered the land; therefore when they went to worship idols they built high places there for the idols. But with respect to the tribe of Judah, what need has it to go to Gilgal and to leave the house of the sanctuary which is in their own cities?" And Beth-el, now Beitin, had become Beth-avon - the house of God a house of idols, after Jeroboam had set up the calf there. Judah was to eschew those places so perilous to purity of worship; also a practice hypocritical in its nature and highly dangerous in its tendency, namely, confessing Jehovah with the lips, and by a solemn act of attestation indicative of adherence to his worship, but belying that confession by complicity in idolatrous practices, like the peoples who "worshipped Jehovah, but served their own gods." Kimchi observes as follows: "For ye engage in strange worship, and yet swear by the Name of Jehovah; this is the way of incensing and despising him." Hosea 4:15A different turn is now given to the prophecy, viz., that if Israel would not desist from idolatry, Judah ought to beware of participating in the guilt of Israel; and with this the fourth strophe (Hosea 4:15-19) is introduced, containing the announcement of the inevitable destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes. Hosea 4:15. "If thou commit whoredom, O Israel, let not Judah offend! Come ye not to Gilgal, go not up to Bethaven, and swear ye not by the life of Jehovah." אשׁם, to render one's self guilty by participating in the whoredom, i.e., the idolatry, of Israel. This was done by making pilgrimages to the places of idolatrous worship in that kingdom, viz., to Gilgal, i.e., not the Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan, but the northern Gilgal upon the mountains, which has been preserved in the village of Jiljilia to the south-west of Silo (Seilun; see at Deuteronomy 11:30 and Joshua 8:35). In the time of Elijah and Elisha it was the seat of a school of the prophets (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38); but it was afterwards chosen as the seat of one form of idolatrous worship, the origin and nature of which are unknown (compare Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:12; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5). Bethaven is not the place of that name mentioned in Joshua 7:2, which was situated to the south-east of Bethel; but, as Amos 4:4 and Amos 5:5 clearly show, a name which Hosea adopted from Amos 5:5 for Bethel (the present Beitin), to show that Bethel, the house of God, had become Bethaven, a house of idols, through the setting up of the golden calf there (1 Kings 12:29). Swearing by the name of Jehovah was commanded in the law (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; compare Jeremiah 4:2); but this oath was to have its roots in the fear of Jehovah, to be simply an emanation of His worship. The worshippers of idols, therefore, were not to take it into their mouths. The command not to swear by the life of Jehovah is connected with the previous warnings. Going to Gilgal to worship idols, and swearing by Jehovah, cannot go together. The confession of Jehovah in the mouth of an idolater is hypocrisy, pretended piety, which is more dangerous than open ungodliness, because it lulls the conscience to sleep.
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