Commentary on Hosea chapter 4
[See Also Hosea Four]
The Prophet Hosea in chapter four begins to describe the transgressions of Judah and Israel, i.e. of both Kingdoms. The emphasis however is on the northern Kingdom of Israel. Hosea depicts the situation in his own time. Even so, the points mentioned are also pertinent to our age. This is a Principle of Prophecy. The Prophets spoke in terms of their own experience. They would however extrapolate from what they saw into the Distant Future. All Prophecy is considered to have been applied to its own age and also to the End Times.
[Hosea 4:1] Hear the word of the LORD, You children of Israel, For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: There is no truth or mercy Or knowledge of God in the land.
Maimonides ("Guide to the Perplexed") taught that Divine Providence makes Itself apparent according to the degree of adherence by the individual and community to the Divine Will. The more Israel distances itself, the less the Almighty watches over it. "Knowledge" of God includes not only learning the Bible and religious matters but also the doing of good deeds and righteousness,
#...Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Was not this knowing Me? says the LORD (Jeremiah 22: 15-16).
[Hosea 4:2] By swearing and lying, Killing and stealing and committing adultery, They break all restraint, With bloodshed upon bloodshed.
By giving false witness and upholding dishonest viewpoints hope for social justice diminishes. Bloodshed, theft, and adultery are all linked. The one leads to the other, not necessarily in the same order. The same psychological framework breeds these offences.
[Hosea 4:3] Therefore the land will mourn; And everyone who dwells there will waste away With the beasts of the field
And the birds of the air; Even the fish of the sea will be taken away.
This message is very applicable to our own age with climate change and pollution of living space. Ecologists and environmentalists may sometimes exaggerate. Cases are known whereby their arguments are thinly concealed attempts to foist on the public a self-serving or even an anti-human agenda. Despite these exceptions, the environment is deteriorating. Fishes and wild life are dying out. They are reproducing degenerative specimens. Poisoned flesh is liable to affect us and our children for generations. Male fertility of humans in western nations is already going down drastically due apparently to industrial spinoff. This may be partly an inevitable concomitant of material progress but human greed and disregard for others has also been a factor. The Prophet links environmental degeneration and resource destruction to the sins of murder, stealing, and unbridled sexual license. This is indeed what happens. It occurs not only as a punishment but also as a concomitant outgrowth of the same psychological disposition.
If you despise your fellow man, lack respect for his health and life, take his woman, his health and wealth, then you will find it hard to prevent yourself from destroying the boundaries of nature itself.
[Hosea 4:4] Now let no man contend, or rebuke another; For your people are like those who contend with the priest.
[Hosea 4:5] Therefore you shall stumble in the day; The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; And I will destroy your mother.
The Book of Hosea is presented in the form of a parable. The relationship of Hosea with his marital partner is used to depict that of God with Israel.Â Hosea is upbraiding his whoring wife, and remonstrating with their children. He is using his words to the family as a framework of exhortation to the whole nation of Israel. The target of his speech, his audience, moves from his family back directly to Israel and from Israel it returns to his family.
[Hosea 4:6] My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
We need to acquire Knowledge about the Bible and Biblical Principles. The Hebrew translated above as "being priest for Me" is "cahan-li" which may be rendered as "serve as an administer for me." The sons of David are described in the Bible as "cohanim" which is translated as "chief ministers" (2-Samuel 8:18). The root "cohen" can signify merely "minister" or "official appointee" of any sort. On the other hand, the "Cohanim" translated as "Priests") were the descendants of Aharon brother of Moses. They did have the task of "ministers" in the religious sense. In this case it appears that both connotations are meant. The Israelites in some sense really were intended to serve as "priests" to the other nations. In continuation of the passage Hosea addresses the Israelite People in its collective role as officiating priests or ministers. The Hebrew implies, "I will contemptuously reject you from [continuing to] officiate [as a priest] for me": This is seemingly addressed to all the people of northern Israel. It shows that they had been intended to play a role as being in some way ministers of the Divine Purpose on a national level. Professor Zeev Wiseman ["Olam HaTanaach"] understands the Hebrew as saying that because of the religious leaders the people have gone astray. It is the religious leaders who determine the moral standards of the people. The concept is that religious leaders ("Cohens", "priests") even if they officiate at a false religion have a duty towards the people. They have been chosen by God and will have to give an account. Their responsibility is greater. In a sense anyone who teaches religion and what is connected to it is a religious leader. Religious leaders have a duty to strive to know the truth and to lead the people in the right path.
We would go further and apply the passage to the role of Israelites in general. The Israelite Nation has a God-given task. The Ten Tribes lost their identity because Divine Providence so decreed. God intended that they should loose their identity, degenerate to the level of the heathens, and become like unto the Gentile nations. From there they were destined to go up, to evolve to a higher plane and to drag the rest of humanity in their wake. The task included acting as a kind of moral guide to the rest of humanity. They still fulfill that role. The USA tries to teach the rest of mankind how to act. The Israelite nations of Britain, France, Holland, and Scandinavia through example, advice and assistance also direct the rest of humanity. In a sense they act as priests or teachers to the world. In the past a certain degree of Biblical awareness existed. There was an intuitive appreciation that the Almighty had chosen us, that we had some kind of Divine Purpose to fulfill. That feeling has diminished alongside a drastic lowering of moral standards. The Almighty is warning us. Instead of forgetting the little we knew we should have expanded our knowledge. We needed to inquire more, to realize who we are and to act accordingly.
[Hosea 4:7] The more they increased, The more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.
They were increased and they had glory. The greater and richer they became the more lacking in inhibition were they with their lives and life-style.
[Hosea 4:8] They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity.
The word translated here as "sin" is "Chatat" meaning "sin-offering" which was a sacrifice to atone for transgressions that had inadvertently been committed. We do not care enough. We sin through paying insufficient attention to important details. Our minds are not focused away from sinning. In addition we also transgress blatantly and with full awareness of what we are doing.
[Hosea 4:9] And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, And reward them for their deeds.
The great and the small are liable to pay the price. Their fates are interlocked. Our officials and ministers would take their role seriously if we expected them more to do so. We would be better people if they did do so. Punishment comes as a result of wrong actions.
[Hosea 4:10] For they shall eat, but not have enough; They shall commit harlotry, but not increase; Because they have ceased obeying the LORD.
This message may be understood at several levels. In its most basic sense it describes the situation today. There is a lot of emphasis on the act associated with physical reproduction. Babies are not coming out of it. We prevent conception before it occurs or terminate it through abortion. At the national level the entire people pays a price for this. Our demographic resilience is either diminishing or at least much less then it should be. Physical degeneration, sexual abuse, diseases, abortions, etc., also physically reduce the ability to have healthy normal children even when there is a wish to do so. Those who minister to us include not only our religious officiates but also all those we are influenced by such as politicians, the media, and entertainment industry. They tell us we may do what we like and not suffer for it. This is grossly misleading.
[Hosea 4:11] Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart.
Sexual immorality and substance abuse reduce our intellectual and emotional capabilities.
[Hosea 4:12] My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God.
# My people ask counsel from their wooden idols #: The Hebrew says, "My people will inquire of their tree" or "from their wood" : "and their stick tells them."
According to Herodotus, The Scythians used sticks for divining purposes. A portion of the exiled Israelites became identified with the Scythians.
[Hosea 4:13] They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, And burn incense on the hills, Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, Because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, And your brides commit adultery.
[Hosea 4:14] I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, Nor your brides when they commit adultery; For the men themselves go apart with harlots, And offer sacrifices with a ritual harlot. Therefore people who do not understand will be trampled.
The translation here renders the Hebrew word "calah" as bride. It may also connote daughter-in-law.Â If your daughters and the wives of your sons are unfaithful nothing is certain.
Zeev Wiseman ("Olam HaTanaach") points out that the father is commanded not to give his daughter over to whoredom, "DO NOT PROSTITUTE THY DAUGHTER, TO CAUSE HER TO BE A WHORE; LEST THE LAND FALL TO WHOREDOM, AND THE LAND BECOME FULL OF WICKEDNESS" (Leviticus 19:29). From this verse we learn the prohibition against sex before marriage. Both the male and female are commanded to abstain. Nevertheless the emphasis in Hebraic thought appears to be on the male more than on the female. With Arabs and most other peoples the emphasis of blame when sexual transgressions occur is placed on the female. Scripture requires both sexes to conduct themselves with restraint and propriety.
[Hosea 4:15] Though you, Israel, play the harlot, Let not Judah offend. Do not come up to Gilgal, Nor go up to Beth Aven,
Nor swear an oath, saying, As the LORD lives.
Judah is being spoken of here and warned not to follow after the bad example of northern "Israel." Judah is told not to swear by the name of the Living God and not go to places in "Israel" where idolatry is practiced. In a geographic sense Bethaven was adjacent to Bethel (north of Jerusalem) and could be used as synonymous with it. Beth-Aven was a real name but the words in Hebrew also connote "House of Iniquity" whereas "Beth-el" means "House of God". In this verse the Prophet preferred to use the name that had the negative association.
Our present chapter speaks (like most of the Book of Hosea) concerning the Ten Tribes. They had once been together with Judah in one kingdom but after the death of King Solomon separated and set up their own independent realm. When the Ten Tribes had split fromÂ from Judah they appointed Jeroboam the son of Nebat as their monarch. Jeroboam was the first King of Northern Israel. It was then the practice for all Israelites to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year at Festival Time. Jeroboam felt that if they kept this practice then eventually they would want to be reconciled with Judah. Chances are that they would thenÂ accept someone from the Hose of David (who ruled in Judah) over them. This would mean that he would no longer be needed. Consequently he had set up golden calves in Dan and Beth-el and ordered the Israelites to worship them.
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.Â 28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt! 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. 31 He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class [Hebrew "Katsi" i.e. "ends-of" possibly connoting lower classes] of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. 32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar.
In the time of Hosea the area of Dan in northern Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians, its inhabitants exiled, and its golden idol taken away. The golden bull calf in Beth-el still remained and was still worshipped.
On a physical map the mountain silhouettes besides Bethel form in Hebrew lettering the name of God (as seen from a satellite) and to the north the outline of the mountain tops forms the name of Ephraim, see below.As we noted Beth-el was also referred to as "Beth-aven." This too was a name given on old maps to the region formerly belonging to the Batavians in Holland in the region of the Hague and Rotterdam. This reference in Hosea 4:15 to idolatry and Beth Aven (Beth-el) reminds us of King Hosea, the last monarch of the northern Kingdom of Israel.
[2 Kings 17:1] In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years.
Hosea and Hoshea are different ways of pronouncing the same name. "Hoshea" is closer to the present Hebrew pronunciation. Hosea was destined to be the last King of the northern Kingdom of Israel, of the Ten Tribes. Hosea had killed Pekah his predecessor. He became king over Samaria. The eastern sections of Israel (Reuben, Gad, and half-Menasseh), the Galilee and north had all been conquered and their inhabitants exiled to different sections of the Assyrian Empire. There is a difference of opinion concerning the sequence of Exile: Some say that the inhabitants of northern Israel were taken away before those east of the Jordan.
An inscription of the King of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser-3 tells us:
# Bit-HumriaÂ [i.e. "House of Omri" meaning Israel] overthrew their king Pekah (Pa-qa-ha) and I placed Hoshea (A-u -si') as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, 1,000(?) talents of silver as their [tri]bute and brought them to Assyria. #
It is worth remembering that the name used by the Assyrians for northern Israel, Bit-Humria i.e. "House of Omri" is sometimes rendered as just "Humria" and that the initial letter represented by a "H" was probably pronounced like a "G" i.e. Gumria". This is similar to the name given to the Cimmerians. It also equates the Hebrew "Gomer". In the Book of Hosea the Ten Tribes are symbolized by a wayward women named Gomer and her children. Most of the Book of Hosea is dedicated to the Ten Tribes, their moral and political state just before their exile, and their future history. It is interesting to note that the Prophet Hosea has the same name as King Hosea the last king just before the Exile.
Concerning King Hosea of Israel Scripture tells us,
[2 Kings 17:2] And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel who were before him.
We see that King Hosea is described as being relatively better than the monarchs who went before him. The Sages (Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanit 4:5) said that Hosea did away with the barriers and guards at the border whose task had been to prevent those Israelites who wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at one of the thrice-yearly festivals from doing so. Jeroboam the son of Nebat had led the northern Tribes in seceding from Judah and setting up their own kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam had set up golden bull calves. One was located in Dan, the other in Beth-el. These calves may have originally been intended to somehow represent the God of Israel but they quickly received idolatrous status. Jeroboam did not want the Israelites to go up to Jerusalem. He did not want them to worship God in the same way as the Jews do. He demoted the Levites and put in their place officiates from the lower classes. Jeroboam also changed the Calendar ordering the people to celebrate Succoth at a later date. Jeroboam, says tradition, had placed the equivalent of policemen at the borders to present Israelites from going to Jerusalem for religious purposes. These preventive measures existed throughout the existence of the northern Kingdom until the time of Hosea. King Hosea did away with them. Hosea allowed those Israelites who so wished to worship at Jerusalem to do so. His failure, according to the Sages, was not insisting on this. He should have applied force to rectify effects of the injustice that had been forcibly enforced! In future the Ten Tribes will be led by a Messiah (Anointed Leader) descended from Joseph. This Mashiach ben Yosef will save the Israelites from oppression, defeat their enemies, and lead them back to the Land of Israel. He will also initiate re-unification with Judah and help Judah rebuild Jerusalem and possibly the Temple as well.
[Hosea 4:16] For Israel is stubborn like a stubborn calf; Now the LORD will let them forage like a lamb in open country.
The Hebrew translated here as "calf" in Hebrew is "parah" (×¤×¨×”) meaning a female cow and the word rendered as "lamb" is "ceves" (×›×‘×©) meaning an adult sheep. The Israelites are being addressed as "silly bovines" and senseless sheep who do not think for themselves.
[Hosea 4:17] Ephraim is joined to idols, Let him alone.
"Ephraim is joined to idols" in Hebrew, "Havur Etzavim Ephraim" which has a double meaning also implying "Ephraim is a union of idols." The Sages (Midrash Tanchuma) said that the verse hinted at Ephraim being unified even though they were idolaters. By virtue of this unity, they said, he is still formidable, "LET HIM ALONE."
[Hosea 4:18]Â Their drink is rebellion, They commit harlotry continually. Her rulers dearly love dishonor.
[Hosea 4:19] The wind has wrapped her up in its wings, And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
Yehudah Kiel ("Daat Mikra" on Safer Hoshea) explains the Hebrew verse (Hosea 4:19) to revolve around two key expressions: The Hebrew "Tsror" translated as "wrapped up" also connotes "storm." The expression "ruach" translated as "wind" also MEANS spirit, as we saw above (4:12) "the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray." It is as if one results in the other. The same word is used for both. The Hebrew ruach means both "wind" and "spirit." The spirit or wind of adultery causes the wind of the storm that will destroy them.
# A storm wind shall envelop and bind that nation,
Cf. Job 26: 8 He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them.
# This will carry the Children of Israel into Exile, cf.
Hosea 9: 11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
Perhaps there is reference here to air travel.
Several times in Prophecy we find predictions that depict Israelites as flying. This shows that air-travel as in our time was intended.
# But they shall fly down upon the shoulder [or from the Hebrew "fly by fixed wing"] the Philistines toward the west (Isaiah 11:14).
# Who are these who fly like a cloud, And like doves to their roosts? (Isaiah 60:8).
The Israelites will eventually return to the Holy Land. They will come back as prophesied, in airplanes. BEFORE they come back however they may suffer set-backs and punishments. These too may entail Exile on a local level for some of the Israelites. In some areas they may be forced to flee by air-flight from where they now are. The options are open. We need to realize who we are, make it known, and make ourselves better Israelites. We may not have time left.