Matthew Poole's 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.God’s judgments against the sins of the people, Hosea 4:1-5, and of the priests, Hosea 4:6-11, and against their idolatry, Hosea 4:12-14. Judah is exhorted to take warning by Israel’s calamity, Hosea 4:15-19.
Hear; attend, consider, and duly weigh: it is the hearing of the mind, as well as of the ear, is here required.
The word of the Lord; he that speaks is the great God, though the messenger be a man; the message is not man’s, but it is the word, the message of the sovereign, holy; just, and mighty Jehovah, who ever speaks most important things, things that respect our duty and safety.
Ye children of Israel; you of the ten tribes, with whose ancestors my covenant was made, who received the law by the disposition of angels, but have not kept it, you that have turned aside from your God to idols.
The Lord; who knoweth your sins, who hateth, threateneth, and will judge, and punish unless you repent, it is he that speaketh, and summoneth you to plead with him.
Hath a controversy; just matter of debate or arguing against you; you have wronged him, and he will right himself, yet so that he will be clear in his judgment, all shall see that the just Lord doth justly, and that this people’s sins are the cause of all their sufferings, that God doth not delight to afflict the children of men.
With the inhabitants of the land; who dwell in the cities and towns of Israel, divided from the house of David, and from the house of God; ye that dwell with idolatrous neighbours: it is not a few, but the generality of the inhabitants; it is the whole land I have an action against.
There is no truth, no faithfulness, in their minds, words, or works; they cover falsehood with fair words, till they may fitly execute their designed frauds. There is neither plain-heartedness nor constancy in their purposes and words.
Nor mercy, kindness or gentleness of mind; all are hardened, and restrain their bowels, which should be opened toward the indigent and necessitous. There is neither compassion nor beneficence among them, they pity not, nor relieve any.
Nor knowledge of God; all generally are ignorant, know not what God hath done for them, or what God is in himself, or what candour and truth, or what tenderness and beneficence, he requires in his word; if they have a slight knowledge of those things, yet they consider them not. They have rased the knowledge of God out of their minds.
In the land: this speaks the universal ignorance, mercilessness, and unfaithfulness of that age.
By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.By swearing; either falsely or profanely, or cursing and wishing evil to one; instead of truth here is perjury; instead of compassion here is execration and evil-speaking.
Lying of all kinds; affirming of falsehoods, denying of truths, defrauding, lessening good, and representing it what it is not, greatening what is in others ill, and so flattering in some cases, and defaming in other cases, &c.
Killing: though God hath forbidden all kinds and degrees of murder, this people, through ignorance of God, do fill the land with murders, either open or secret; by cruelty withholding relief from some, by violence and falsehood cutting off others: the temper of this people was toward killing, their designs laid for it, &c.
Stealing; injuring one another, either by taking away what was another’s, or detaining what should have been his, or giving less to another than was his due: every one inclined to frauds, many addicted to secret thefts, and some openly practicing it.
Committing adultery; which was a sin grown high among them, a sin directly against the truth and mercy which should have been among them. Under this, all degrees of adultery, unchaste thoughts, words, and gestures are included.
They break out; as waters that swell above all banks, or as unruly beasts that break over all hedges, so you, O Israelites, have broken down the hedge of the law, which expressly forbids what you daily practise.
Blood toucheth blood; slaughters are multiplied: by blood the Scripture understandeth slaughter, Genesis 4:10, &c.; Psalm 58:10. Possibly the wrong done by the adulterer was (as Ammon’s) revenged with the slaughter of the adulterer; or possibly it may refer to murders committed in the very court of the temple; so the blood of the murdered touched the blood of sacrifices. It is too particular to refer it to the blood of Zechariah slain between the porch and the altar, and which (some say) ran down to the altar and touched the blood of the sacrifice. Or what if this should refer to what will be ere long, when Jeroboam is dead, when Zachariah is murdered by Shallum, 2 Kings 15:10; Menahem slew Shallum, 2 Kings 15:14, and ripped up women with child in Tiphsah, 2 Kings 15:16; when Pekah slew Pekahiah, and Hoshea slew him? These kings being thus slain, no doubt much blood was spilt; all which happened in less than forty years; for from Zechariah to Pekah’s usurpation are but fourteen years, from Pekah’s entrance on the throne to Hoshea’s conspiracy are twenty years.
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.Therefore, since their sins are so many and so great, for those very sins already mentioned in the 1st and 2nd verses,
shall the land, which the ten tribes did now inhabit, mourn: it is a metaphorical expression, for properly it cannot be spoken of the senseless and inanimate creatures; but as men and women mourn under the loss of their comforts and joys, as they neglect themselves in their habits, and go less neat, so when the sins of the people shall bring an enemy upon the land, when war shall first spoil their cities, towns, vineyards, and oliveyards, and finally shall carry the people captive, all shall run into horrid and saddest state, and into doleful plight. The same expression see in Isaiah 24:4, and much like Amos 1:2.
Every one that dwelleth therein; no sort of men but had provoked God and sinned, no sort but should be punished; all that continue in the land till these threatened judgments overtake them.
Shall languish; shall with grief and vexation pine away; what they see with their eye shall make their heart ache, and faint with greatest dejectedness and despair, as the word imports, Isaiah 16:8 Joel 1:12.
With the beasts of the field: these are elsewhere menaced, Zephaniah 1:2, which see. God punisheth man in cutting off what was made for man’s benefit and comfort; and it is probable that the tamer cattle were starved for want of grass or fodder, all being eaten up and consumed by the wasting armies.
With the fowls of heaven; the tamer and innocent either killed by enemies, or, offended with stench and noxious air, die or forsake the country, or are devoured by eagles and birds of prey, which in those countries wait on armies.
Yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away; whether by drying up the waters of rivers, lakes, and ponds, or by corrupting them with blood and carcasses, or by what other way we know not, he can do it, who saith he will; and we are sure it speaks the greatness of the threatened desolation.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.Yet; though judgments great and wasting are so sure, though the approaching calamities will lay all utterly waste.
Let no man; none of private capacity, no priest or prophet, any more open their mouths to reason and debate with this people; let all know they are so obstinate and hardened it is to no purpose to warn any more.
Strive; contend, as in causes pleaded before a judge; lay not the law before them, who have so often refused to hear it.
Nor reprove; no more chide, or sharply inveigh against their sins and ways. Or this whole passage may be thus read,
Yet certainly there is none that may or can strive, & c. All are so corrupted, that there is none free who may with confidence argue against others. But our version is better of the two.
Thy people; thy countrymen, Hosea, if the former words be the words of God to the prophet. Or else, if they be the words of the prophet to the people, then he speaks to them of the temper of their neighbours and people with whom they dwelt. It is much one which we take, for Hosea was now among them; and whether his people or no, they are still the same persons spoken of.
Are as they that strive with the priest; there is no ingenuity, modesty, or fear of God or man left among them, they will contend with their teachers, reprovers, and counsellors; they will justify themselves, and contemn all reproof; they will adhere to sin, and reject all better advice, just as they Malachi 1:2,7 2:14. This doth not suppose, much less assert, the priests of Baal and the calves to be true priests; but were they as true as they are false, yet such is the temper of the people, they would not hear, consider, and amend, whoever contested with them. Let them alone therefore to perish with obstinate sinners.
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.Therefore, because thy sins are so many and so great, and thou art incorrigible in them,
shalt thou fall; the prophet turns his speech to the people, thou, O Israel; he speaks to them as to one person, they were all of one piece in sin, and should be so one in punishment. Fall; stumble, and fall, and be broken.
In the day; or this day, i.e. very suddenly, your fall shall be presently effected by your enemies’ power, vigilance, and successes; it shall be no longer delayed.
The prophet; who spake smooth things, who prophesied lies; the false prophets of Baal and the groves, Jeremiah 14:13-16 23:15.
Shall fall; be in as sad calamitous condition as any.
With thee; either the prophet that is with thee, that lived with and prophesied to this people; or, as we read it, when the people are ruined and captivated, with them the false prophet shall be likewise ruined and captivated.
In the night; either proverbially taken, people and prophet shall continually fall; or allusively, both shall fall as a man that falls in the night. Or else, the prophet shall fall in the darkest calamities, he shall be covered with thickest clouds, who falsely foretold and promised light unto such people.
And I, the Lord, against whom thou hast sinned, will destroy, cut off, or make to cease or be silent for ever: see Hosea 1:4.
Thy mother; both the state, or kingdom, and the synagogues, or mock churches: the public is as a mother to private persons: so all shall be destroyed; which also came to pass before the prophet Hosea died, he lived to see his threats fulfilled.
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.My people: the divorce was not yet issued out, the ten tribes yet were in some sense Ammi. Are destroyed; not only in the prophetic style, are, because ere long they shall most certainly be destroyed, but in the course of the history it is plain in matter of fact; many of them were cut off by Pul king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15, and many were destroyed by the bloody and cruel tyranny of Menahem, and more were ruined in their estates by exactions and impositions. The civil wars, the seditions, the usurpations of some and the deposing of others, were things the prophet Hosea lived to see, and I believe speaks of here as things that had already destroyed many.
For lack of knowledge of God, his law, his menaces, his providences, and government of the world. Had they known his holy nature, his jealousy for his own glory, his hatred of sin and his power to punish it, had they known their God, they would either have forborne to sin, or repented of what sins they had committed, and so prevented his wrath. Because thou: the prophet now turns his words from the people to the priests among them. The people’s ignorance was much from the ignorance and profane humour of their priests, and this the prophet doth tacitly charge on the priests, to whom he speaks as to one particular person:
Thou, who callest thyself, art accounted by the people, and goest under the name of a priest.
Hast rejected knowledge: strange perverseness! they who should direct others, who should be teachers, are and will be ignorant, will not know, reject knowledge; detestest to know, as the Chaldee paraphrase.
I will also reject thee; with equal dislike I will reject time, I will destroy your church constitution, and with that I will destroy your priesthood; and I will do this with detestation and abhorrence too.
Thou hast forgotten the law of thy God: O Israel, and you, O priests, you have all sinned together, slighted and disrespected the law, broken all the precepts of it, set up other gods, other worship, other priests than the law directs.
I will also forget; I will pay thee in thy own coin, I will forget, i. e. slight and disregard.
Thy children; the people of Israel, the whole kingdom of the ten tribes; both those pretended priests and their ghostly children with them.
As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.As they; kings, priests, and people of that age, that is, Jeroboam the Second, great-grandson of Jehu, who raised the kingdom to its highest pitch and glory.
Were increased; both multiplied for number, and grew great in riches, power, and honour. Such temper were they of, Isaiah 1:2.
So they sinned against me: sin grew with their wealth and honour; God who raised them was by them provoked the more, they turned his bounty into sin: too usual a return from sinners to God.
I will change, turn by a just retaliation,
their glory into shame: they turned their glory, all that in which they might glory above others, into sin; I will turn it into shame; that shall be their dishonour which, had it been well used, might have been their honour. I will degrade their priests, impoverish the people, captivate both.
They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.They, the priests who minister to the idols,
eat up the sin of my people; live upon with delight, maintain themselves and theirs; either by conniving at their sins, not reproving as they deserve, lest thereby they should disoblige persons, and lessen their bounty to them; or leave them to sin first, and next look for sacrifices for those sins, like some that make gain by the sins of people with whom they dispense. Or more plainly, by
sin is meant sin-offering, in which the priest had his share.
My people: see Hosea 4:6.
And they; covetous, luxurious, idolatrous priests, the priests of Baal and the calves,
set their heart on their iniquity; watch to, and earnestly desire, hope, and expect the people will sin, and bring offerings for sin, which is the iniquity as well as gain of these priests.
And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.The sum of these words is this, that God will certainly punish; for the sins both of priests and people are such that God will no further forbear either; and when he comes to punish, he will do it according to the ways and doings of both; where sins have been equal, punishment shall be equal too, both priest and people shall be led into captivity, and there used without any differencing respect of one or other.
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.For, or And, Heb. This is another part of their punishment, and it is better rendered as a particular part of their curse, than as a cause of that which was spoken in the former verse.
They shall eat, and not have enough: in Hosea 4:8 they are said to eat up the sin of that people, i.e. by sinful courses they project for their livelihood; now comes the curse God will punish this sin with. He will withhold his blessing, they shall not be nourished, not satisfied, with what they eat. See Haggai 1:6.
They shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase; though they multiply wives to relieve them under the curse of barrenness and want of children, or by fornication seek to multiply their offspring, though they do this which they ought not to do, they shall not hereby increase the number of their children; either the women shall not bear, or the children not live.
Because they have left off to take heed to the Lord; they have apostatized and turned from the true God, from his worship and law.
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.Whoredom; unlawful converse with wanton women, the forbidden pleasures of an adulterous bed.
And wine and new wine; excess of drinking, and indeed all immoderate pleasures; one kind being put for all.
Take away the heart; besot men, and deprive them of the right use of their Understanding and judgment. By these courses both priests and people here have disabled themselves to discern aright between good and bad, between safe and dangerous.
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.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.
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.They, both priests and people,
sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains; where their altars were sometimes to God, sometimes to idols: these were the high places, chosen out by themselves, and where their sacrifices offered to God were esteemed little else than idolatry, Isaiah 57:7.
Burn incense upon the hills; another piece of idolatry they practised, which as it usually was joined to their sacrifices, so is it here added by the prophet. This idolatry abounded in Israel, where without control it had been in use ever since their revolt, if not before: a wood so deep-rooted, that the best kings of Judah could not quite extirpate it.
Under oaks; some say pines, or the alder.
Poplars; the white poplar.
Elms; or lime-tree, or the tree whose boughs stretched out together cast a pleasant shadow. Under all these it is certain the ancient heathen did perform their idolatrous services; so did this people choose all these great trees which, having many and great boughs, do afford the darkest and coolest recesses, Ezekiel 20:28.
Because the shadow thereof is good; convenient for the sacrificers, while the smoke and smell of the sacrifice went up through the boughs, and the coolness of the shady place kept their persons from sultry heat; it may be they thought (as the heathen did) that the numen, deity, delighted to dwell or be often in such places.
Therefore; for these sins of yours, though you account them no sins, for your harmonizing with heathenish superstitions; for your leaving my temple, and, against my commands, sacrificing where best liketh you.
Your daughters shall commit whoredom; shall dishonour themselves and their families by their lewdness and unlawful converse with fornicators. The sin of the fathers is thus punished, that they might see God’s just hand punishing, and the sin punished. Here is spiritual whoredom punished with giving up daughters to their wandering lusts.
Your spouses shall commit adultery; or, spouses of your sons, as the French version; a great unhappiness to any family, to be disparaged and wronged by adulteresses, and a grievous punishment, where or whensoever executed; and this is here foretold it will be so, not countenanced.
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.I will not punish, or visit upon,
your daughters; God will not any more lay on them such restraints, as remarkable punishments are usually to all that observe them. They are threatened thus to be thrown up to their own hearts’ and others’ lusts. You have rejected my law which directed the correction and punishment of such sins, and do you think I will by extraordinary courses restrain, where you cast off the ordinary? You shall have no bitter water of jealousy to discover, convict, and torment an adulterous wife, as Judah hath, Numbers 5:12, &c., nor will I by unusual strokes of my hand smite them. This impunity will in. crease your grief and shame, and so you shall be punished.
Themselves, the husbands and fathers, are examples to wives and daughters; those are
separated with the lewd women, which either they took to them upon putting away their lawful wife, which these men did to satisfy their lusts; or else separated, i.e. withdrawn from the company or their fellow idolaters, that in privacy they might commit whoredom with the women they choose to themselves for that end.
They sacrifice with harlots; perform the rites of sacrifices, both in offering first and in feasting next, in which feasts wine and women would prove great and prevalent temptations to whoredom among those men.
Therefore the people that doth not understand: by all this it is evident this people is a sottish, ignorant people, that know not God, as Hosea 4:1,6,11.
Shall fall; be utterly ruined, broken into pieces, and scattered; broken at home first by intestine wars, next by foreign invasions, and carried away at last by conquering enemies.
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.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.
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.There is just cause why Judah should not imitate Israel, and this cause is here assigned.
Israel; the ten tribes
As a backsliding heifer, grown lusty, fed and wanton, will neither endure the yoke to work, nor be confined in her allowed. pastures, breaks over all bounds, casts off all service, so as Israel, as Hosea 4:7, which see.
Now; ere long, or suddenly; so Hosea 2:10.
The Lord, offended by their sins, and provoked to displeasure,
will feed them as a lamb in a large place; in their sinning they were like an untamed heifer, boundless, strong, and stood upon their defence, but in their punishments they shall be like a lamb, solitary, full of fears, in a large place or wilderness, where is no rest, safety, or provision: such shall be the condition of the ten captivated tribes. This is a proverbial speech, setting forth the forlorn state which Israel ere long should fall under.
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.The children of Ephraim were numerous and potent among the ten tribes, a principal part of them, and out of which tribe the first idolater and usurper did arise, 1 Kings 11:26; and therefore the whole body of the ten tribes, and the rulers among them, are here particularly pointed at.
Is joined to idols; associated as friends to friends, or joined as lovers are joined to lovers; married to idols, and will not be taken off.
Let him alone; he is indeed obstinately bent on his old courses, and as such throw him up; he will not return; let him wander, but let it be alone, O Judah, be not his companion, his friend, go not with him.
Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye.Though in their idol feasts they drink wine and strong drinks, yet this is either sour and unpleasant, or corrupt and hurtful, there is no good savour in it; therefore, O Judah, decline thou the intimate familiarity, and have nothing to do with the idolatries, of Israel.
They have committed whoredom, both spiritual and corporal, continually, without ceasing from Jeroboam’s time to this day, two hundred years, one king after another, and one idolater after another; not one but either was an idolatrous worshipper of Baal or the calves, &c.
Her rulers with shame do love, Give ye; beside all this, there is shameful oppression and bribery among them; and what good then, O Judah, canst thou look for from society and friendship with them?
The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.The whirlwind of wrath from God hath already seized this old adulteress, and carried some of her children away already, 2 Kings 15:19,29. Execution of judgment is already begun, and therefore, O Judah, keep distance from Ephraim.
They shall be ashamed; greatly confounded and disappointed of their hopes: as thou, O Judah, wouldst prevent this shame, flee the society of these idolaters.
Because of their sacrifices; what they made their confidence shall be their shame, their own idols cannot help them. but their idolatry shall surely undo them. Their idols which they worshipped and depended on shall be their shame and confusion, for thy God, O Judah, hath cursed such people. Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols, Psalm 97:7. If Israel do, yet, O Judah, do not thou so.