Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
Ho 4:1-19. Henceforth the Prophet Speaks Plainly and without Symbol, in Terse, Sententious Propositions.
In this chapter he reproves the people and priests for their sins in the interregnum which followed Jeroboam's death; hence there is no mention of the king or his family; and in Ho 4:2 bloodshed and other evils usual in a civil war are specified.
1. Israel—the ten tribes.
controversy—judicial ground of complaint (Isa 1:18; Jer 25:31; Mic 6:2).
no … knowledge of God—exhibited in practice (Jer 22:16).
By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
2. they break out—bursting through every restraint.
blood toucheth blood—literally, "bloods." One act of bloodshed follows another without any interval between (see 2Ki 15:8-16, 25; Mic 7:2).
Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
3. land … languish—(Isa 19:8; 24:4; Joe 1:10, 12).
sea—including all bodies of water, as pools and even rivers (see on Isa 19:5). A general drought, the greatest calamity in the East, is threatened.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
4. let no man … reprove—Great as is the sin of Israel, it is hopeless to reprove them; for their presumptuous guilt is as great as that of one who refuses to obey the priest when giving judgment in the name of Jehovah, and who therefore is to be put to death (De 17:12). They rush on to their own destruction as wilfully as such a one.
thy people—the ten tribes of Israel; distinct from Judah (Ho 4:1).
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
5. fall in the day—in broad daylight, a time when an attack would not be expected (see on Jer 6:4, 5; Jer 15:8).
in … night—No time, night or day, shall be free from the slaughter of individuals of the people, as well as of the false prophets.
thy mother—the Israelitish state, of which the citizens are the children (Ho 2:2).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
6. lack of knowledge—"of God" (Ho 4:1), that is, lack of piety. Their ignorance was wilful, as the epithet, "My people," implies; they ought to have known, having the opportunity, as the people of God.
thou—O priest, so-called. Not regularly constituted, but still bearing the name, while confounding the worship of Jehovah and of the calves in Beth-el (1Ki 12:29, 31).
I will … forget thy children—Not only those who then were alive should be deprived of the priesthood, but their children who, in the ordinary course would have succeeded them, should be set aside.
As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.
7. As they were increased—in numbers and power. Compare Ho 4:6, "thy children," to which their "increase" in numbers refers.
so they sinned—(Compare Ho 10:1 and Ho 13:6).
will I change their glory into shame—that is, I will strip them of all they now glory in (their numbers and power), and give them shame instead. A just retribution: as they changed their glory into shame, by idolatry (Ps 106:20; Jer 2:11; Ro 1:23; Php 3:19).
They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.
8. eat … sin of my people—that is, the sin offerings (Le 6:26; 10:17). The priests greedily devoured them.
set their heart on their iniquity—literally, "lift up the animal soul to lust after," or strongly desire. Compare De 24:15, Margin; Ps 24:4; Jer 22:27. The priests set their own hearts on the iniquity of the people, instead of trying to suppress it. For the more the people sinned, the more sacrificial victims in atonement for sin the priests gained.
And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
9. like people, like priest—They are one in guilt; therefore they shall be one in punishment (Isa 24:2).
reward them their doings—in homely phrase, "pay them back in their own coin" (Pr 1:31).
For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.
10. eat, and not have enough—just retribution on those who "eat up (greedily) the sin of My people" (Ho 4:8; Mic 6:14; Hag 1:6).
whoredom, and … not increase—literally, "break forth"; used of giving birth to children (Ge 28:14, Margin; compare Ge 38:29). Not only their wives, but their concubines, shall be barren. To be childless was considered a great calamity among the Jews.
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
11. A moral truth applicable to all times. The special reference here is to the licentious orgies connected with the Syrian worship, which lured Israel away from the pure worship of God (Isa 28:1, 7; Am 4:1).
take away the heart—that is, the understanding; make men blind to their own true good (Ec 7:7).
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
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 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.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.
13. upon … mountains—High places were selected by idolaters on which to sacrifice, because of their greater nearness to the heavenly hosts which they worshipped (De 12:2).
elms—rather, "terebinths" [Maurer].
shadow … good—screening the lascivious worshippers from the heat of the sun.
daughters … commit whoredom … spouses … adultery—in the polluted worship of Astarte, the Ph�nician goddess of love.
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.
14. I will not punish … daughters—I will visit with the heaviest punishments "not" the unchaste "daughters and spouses," but the fathers and husbands; for it is these who "themselves" have set the bad example, so that as compared with the punishment of the latter, that of the former shall seem as nothing [Munster].
separated with whores—withdrawn from the assembly of worshippers to some receptacle of impurity for carnal connection with whores.
sacrifice with harlots—They commit lewdness with women who devote their persons to be violated in honor of Astarte. (So the Hebrew for "harlots" means, as distinguished from "whores"). Compare Nu 25:1-3; and the prohibition, De 23:18.
not understand—(Isa 44:18; 45:20).
shall fall—shall be cast down.
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.
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).
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
16. backsliding—Translate, "Israel is refractory, as a refractory heifer," namely, one that throws the yoke off her neck. Israel had represented God under the form of "calves" (1Ki 12:28); but it is she herself who is one.
lamb in a large place—not in a good sense, as in Isa 30:23. Here there is irony: lambs like a large pasture; but it is not so safe for them as a small one, duly fenced from wild beasts. God will "feed" them, but it shall be with the "rod" (Mic 7:14). It shall be no longer in the narrow territory of Israel, but "in a large place," namely, they shall be scattered in exile over the wide realm of Assyria, a prey to their foes; as lambs, which are timid, gregarious, and not solitary, are a prey when scattered asunder to wild beasts.
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.
17. Ephraim—the ten tribes. Judah was at this time not so given to idolatry as afterwards.
joined to—closely and voluntarily; identifying themselves with them as a whoremonger becomes one flesh with the harlot (Nu 25:3; 1Co 6:16, 17).
idols—The Hebrew means also "sorrows," "pains," implying the pain which idolatry brings on its votaries.
let him alone—Leave him to himself. Let him reap the fruits of his own perverse choice; his case is desperate; say nothing to him (compare Jer 7:16). Here Ho 4:15 shows the address is to Judah, to avoid the contagion of Israel's bad example. He is bent on his own ruin; leave him to his fate, lest, instead of saving him, thou fall thyself (Isa 48:20; Jer 50:8; 51:6, 45; 2Co 6:17).
Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye.
18. Their drink is sour—metaphor for utter degeneracy of principle (Isa 1:22). Or, unbridled licentiousness; not mere ordinary sin, but as abandoned as drunkards who vomit and smell sour with wine potations [Calvin]. Maurer not so well translates, "When their drinking is over, they commit whoredoms," namely, in honor of Astarte (Ho 4:13, 14).
her rulers—Israel's; literally, "shields" (compare Ps 47:9).
with shame … love, Give ye—(Pr 30:15). No remedy could be effectual against their corruptions since the very rulers sold justice for gifts [Calvin]. Maurer translates, "The rulers are marvelously enamored of shame." English Version is better.
The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
19. Israel shall be swept away from her land (Ho 4:16) suddenly and violently as if by "the wings of the wind" (Ps 18:10; 104:3; Jer 4:11, 12).
ashamed … of their sacrifices—disappointed to their shame in their hope of help through their sacrifices to idols.