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Thursday, September 28th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

Following the superlative denunciations recorded in the previous chapter, any further elaborations of Israel's guilt might, to some, have appeared superfluous; but not for the prophet Hosea. The same theme is continued in this chapter with no reduction whatever: in the impact of them. One of the final thoughts of Hosea 9 designated Ephraim as "rotten, root and branch"; and in this chapter, Hosea dug out the roots and shook them! The roots of Israel's ruin lay in two areas. First, there were the institutions of the nation's corporate life, the monarchy and the religious system, both of which were set up contrary to God's will and became the twin poisonous springs feeding the iniquity of the whole nation. Secondly, there was the stubborn unwillingness of the people to be restrained by the strict moral code of the Decalogue covenant. It is regrettable that most of the commentators have overlooked altogether this second and very important root of their national disaster, the same oversight being due to the fact of its being contained in the second reference to Gibeah (Hosea 10:9-10). All of the public symbols of the nation's life were pointed out one by one. As Mays wrote:

"The judgment falls upon every significant institution of Israel's religious and national life, altar, and pillar, king and capital, idol and high place - one by one they are blotted out until the people are left alone to face the wrath of Yahweh, crying out for the sanctuary of death in consternation."[1]

Hosea 10:1

"Israel is a luxuriant vine, that putteth forth his fruit; according to the abundance of his fruit he hath multiplied his altars; according to the goodness of their land they made goodly pillars."

"A luxuriant vine ..." The figure of a vine as the representation of Israel abounds in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Christ extended it and applied it to the new Israel, his church, and also to himself, with whom the New Testament unequivocally identifies his church. "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). The old Israel was the false vine; Christ and his church are the true vine.

The New English Bible rendered this place "a rank vine"; and some of the translators make it "empty .vine"; but the message of the whole verse is clear enough, "Prosperity led to the proliferation of false religion rather than true worship."[2]

"Multiplied his altars ... made goodly pillars ..." The sinfulness of the multiple altars lay in the fact that God had provided one altar only, that in Jerusalem, and in the further fact that these serf-authorized altars were Staffed and serviced with a bastard, illegitimate priesthood without regard to the tribe of Levi, and in the still more horrible corruption of the worship associated with them by the adoption of the gross rites of the old Canaanite pagans. The "goodly pillars" were Israel's device for getting around the prohibition against idols. They merely set up a pillar which, normally, would have been the pedestal for some idol god; but, in their case, they merely left the idol off, attributed sanctity to the pillar itself, and worshipped it! God commanded the destruction of such things. "In Canaanite religion it was identified with deity (especially male deity), an object of veneration, and therefore forbidden to the Israelites."[3] The pillar became, in practice, a phallic symbol! "The Israelites were told to destroy all they found (Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 16:22)."[4]

In this verse, the big thing appears in the false manner that Ephraim used his prosperity. "What people did with their prosperity was indicative of the direction of their heart."[5] This comment is likewise true in the present tense; and there is no greater danger today than that which is inherent in a Christian's false use of his wealth.

Verse 2

"Their heart is divided; now shall they be found guilty: he will smite their altars, he will destroy their pillars."

"Their heart is divided ..." Any expose of the roots of rebellion against God should begin with the heart, as Hosea began here. The heart, in Hebrew thinking, was never the seat of the emotions, but the seat of the will and the intelligence. The people simply chose to serve Satan rather than God for purposes of their own lust and gratification. It was for this reason that, "Under the appearance of devotedness to God, they still clung to idols."[6] For the scriptural documentation of this fact, see 2 Kings 17:9.

Verse 3

"Surely now shall they say, We have no king; for we fear not Jehovah; and the king, what can he do for us?"

"These verses have caused much discussion,"[7] as Mauchline said; and the meaning is somewhat ambiguous. "They describe the state of perplexity and resourcelessness which prevailed just before the judgment took place."[8]

"Surely now shall they say ..." would appear to be more accurately rendered as in the New English Bible, "well may they say, etc." A paraphrase of the intended message might be: "Well may the people say, `We have no king'; for we have forsaken God, and our king is powerless!" The impending judgment which formed the backdrop for such exclamations is stated, below, in Hosea 10:5-6.

Verse 4

"They speak vain words, swearing falsely in making covenants: therefore judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field."

"They speak vain words ..." Not merely the people only, but even the king is meant by this, "The rulers speak empty words, swearing falsely and making covenants which they do not intend to keep.[9] As a result of such perfidy, "Right is converted into wrong, and their justice has become a hemlock."[10]; Deuteronomy 29:18 identifies hemlock as a bitter and poisonous weed.

Verse 5

"The inhabitants of Samaria shall be in terror for the calves of Beth-aven; for the people thereof shall mourn over it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it."

"The calves of Beth-aven ..." We reject as irresponsible the affirmation that the plural "calves" here is inaccurate, "because probably only one image was set up in each place,"[11] or that, "The plural was used here with indefinite generality."[12] In the first place, as Hailey pointed out, there were two of these calves, one at Dan, the other at Bethel; and, furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that the original two set up by Jeroboam I had later been augumented by the addition of others, most probably one in Samaria (see under Hosea 8:6, above), and possibly many smaller idols patterned after the large ones in many other places. One may not suppose that the craftsmen of Ephesus were the ones who invented the business of making little gods like the big ones and getting rich selling them to the people, as in Acts 19:23. Also, the word Beth-aven, which was applied contemptuously to the city of Bethel earlier, is not Bethel proper. What is denoted by this word here, is "The place of Vanity," a title equally applicable to every pagan shrine in the whole country. Thus it was altogether proper and fitting that the plural should have been used here. However, he immediately pinpointed their mourning over one in particular.

The fact of the people's really worshipping that calf-god thing is very evident here. They would not have been terrified merely by the loss of some art object.

"Calves..." "This word is in the feminine gender, in order to express contempt for those idols Jeroboam had set up."[13] They were she-bulls! The Hebrew text of the Old Testament has "heifers."[14] There is also a hint here of the homosexuality that surfaces later in the chapter.

"The people thereof shall mourn over it ..." Some ancient renditions of this place give "priests" instead of people, "using a peculiar word derived from black garments, showing that the priests were pagan and not God's priests who ministered in white garments."[15]

Verse 6

"It also shall be carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel."

Butler's paraphrase of this verse is an excellent summary of what it means:

"But this idol, this calf-god thing, will be carried off helplessly into captivity with Israel, as a present to the great warrior king of Assyria. Israel and her calf-god will be disgraced; and then the advice and programs which Israel thought were so politically and religiously wise will appear foolish to Israel at that time."[16]

"Jareb ..." is variously understood as a symbolical name for all of the kings of Assyria, or as an early name of one of them prior to his ascension to power.

Verse 7

"As for Samaria, her king is cut off, as foam upon the water."

Some scholars insist that the comparison here is "as a splinter or as a chip on the waters"; but it actually makes no difference, for all these similes convey the idea dramatically. The comparison of Assyria to the great river Euphrates at flood stage was used by Isaiah very effectively:

"Therefore, behold the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the River, strong and mighty, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through; it shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel" (Hosea 8:7-8).

Significantly, Israel would not be the only one to suffer; the judgment was also impending for Judah likewise.

Verse 8

"The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us."

There is evident in this verse a principle to which we have repeatedly called attention in our discussion of the prophets, that all of the great punitive judgments of God, such as the locust plague of Joel, or the sweeping away of Israel into captivity here, are also typical of the ultimate punitive judgment upon the whole race of mankind at the time of the Second Advent, an echo of which is most assuredly present in the concluding words of this verse. These very words were used by Jesus in Luke 23:30, and by the prophet in Revelation 6:16, as a statement of the terror that shall accompany the final judgment.

"The high places of Aven ..." The omission of Bethel, sometimes used with this word shows that the stress is upon the "vanity" of the places where the idol-worship was indulged. Not merely some of such places, but all of them were to be destroyed, robbed of their treasures, stripped of everything useful, and left for the thorns and brambles to overrun them. This extended to all of the local places of idol-worship throughout Israel; and, as Myers said, "They were the scene, not only of illegitimate worship but of actual licentiousness and debauchery."[17]

Verse 9

"O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood; the battle against the children of iniquity doth not overtake them in Gibeah."

The commentators usually refer this sin mentioned here to the elevation of Saul and the rejection of the Theocracy, and that was no doubt the very thing signified in the first mention of it (Hosea 9:9); but by Hosea's mention of the same place again here, he evidently had in mind something more than the rejection of the Theocracy, a fact made almost certain by the mention of "their two transgressions" in Hosea 10:10, following. See more on that verse, below.

"There they stood ..." This carries the meaning that the evil conduct in view here did not change. Israel continued in it; even the war that followed and resulted in the near-extermination of the tribe of Benjamin did not even touch the real problem, the punishment of which God Himself would bring about in the forthcoming destruction of the whole kingdom. Well, what was the gross sin that lay at the very root of Israel's debauchery and apostasy from God? See under verse 10. As Given noted, "The words here meant that Israel, since the days of Gibeah, persevered in the same sin, or a like sin of the Gibeahites."[18]

Verse 10

"When it is my desire, I will chastise them; and the peoples shall be gathered against them, when they are bound to their two transgressions."

"I will chastise them ..." This refers to the judgment about to fall.

"The peoples shall be gathered against them ..." It is particularly the vast hordes of the Assyrian armies that were prophesied in this.

"Their two transgressions ..." There is no agreement whatever among scholars as to what these two transgressions were, although it is quite generally accepted that it was the rejection of the Theocracy in the enthronement of Saul that constitutes one of them. Some of the sins thought to be the other one are: (1) the establishment of the cult, (2) defection from the house of David, (3) the calves at Dan and Bethel, (4) their falling into idolatry, etc. However, it does not appear that any of such things were any more identified with the people of Gibeah than with other places of Israel. But there is one gross, reprobate sin that can be identified with Gibeah, in addition to their lifting up of Saul, and that is the homosexuality which was the total disgrace of the place. It is nothing short of amazing that none of the scholars whose works we have read picked this up. But read the account in Judges 19:13ff, in which a Levite, lodging overnight in Gibeah, was demanded by a roving band of "homos" who addressed the owner of the house thus: "Bring forth the man that came into thy house that we may know him, etc." The horrible scenes that ensued were Sodom all over again; and there can be no doubt whatever that the vile, heartless, sexual gut-lust of the Gibeahites was a crime that cried out to God for vengeance, no less than the crimes of Sodom. That particular crime did not appear to have offended Israel at all! No, they made a racial war out of it and almost exterminated the tribe of Benjamin; but, as the prophet said in Hosea 10:9, the battle did not overtake the perpetrators of this monstrous evil at all! Add to this the fact of sexual lust as the principal sin of the Israelites, however dressed up and disguised as worship to their calf-gods (their she-bulls!), and there appears the probable basis for Hosea's return to Gibeah as a long-standing source of Israel's wickedness. It could not have been merely the adultery, but homosexuality, because the adultery phase of their false worship had already been pinpointed as having had its principal inception at Baal-peor.

Verse 11

"And Ephraim is a heifer that is taught, that loveth to tread out the grain; but I have passed over her fair neck; I will set a rider upon Ephraim; Judah shall plow, Judah shall break his clods."

"Heifer that is taught ..." This agricultural metaphor compares Ephraim to a preferred animal used to "tread out the grain," on the threshing-floor. Such animals were allowed to eat at will from the threshing-floor itself, and consequently were always well-fed, sleek, and fat. This custom of not muzzling the animals used on the threshing-floors came from the Lord's instruction in Deuteronomy 25:4, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn." The prior existence of the Pentateuch, the universal knowledge of it among the Hebrews, and the implied public knowledge which lie behind Hosea's choice of this figure should not be overlooked.

"I have passed upon her fair neck ..." The New English Bible is more understandable here, rendering the passage thus: "Across whose fair neck I have passed a yoke ..." This teaches that the preferred treatment that Israel (both Ephraim and Judah) had received from God throughout their history was about to be withdrawn. Instead of having it fat and easy on the threshing-floor, they would both be harnessed to the plow.

"Judah shall plow, Judah shall break his clods ..." The southern kingdom will not be exempt. Their gross sins, exactly like those of Ephraim will bring upon them exactly the same punitive judgment. Judah was never for a moment left very far out of sight in the stern denunciations of this prophet. Abused privilege results always in the loss of the privileges. The metaphor of Hosea's marriage with Gomer also lies very close to the surface here. She would not be a faithful wife; very well, her husband would employ her as a slave! That is exactly what happened to the ancient Israel.

Verse 12

"Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to kindness; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek Jehovah, till he come and rain righteousness upon you."

We believe that Mauchline was correct in his opinion that:

"This verse is not to be interpreted as an appeal by Hosea to his contemporaries to turn from evil, but as the instructions that were given to Ephraim in the early days ... The instructions to Ephraim were not obeyed (as proved by Hosea 10:13)."[19]

"For it is time to seek Jehovah, till he come and rain righteousness upon you ..." Full agreement is felt with Butler who cautioned against the efforts of some commentators to construe this passage as a denial that "men must do righteous deeds in order to be pleasing to God." Such commentators write that:

"It is not a man-made righteousness, but the righteousness which the Lord is ready to grant abundantly as a gift of his grace to all that seek him and his righteousness ... prepared for you without any merit on your part, and sent by the Lord as freely, graciously, and abundantly as the rain from heaven."[20]

Such views, of course, are false. If God's grace is like the rain which falls on the just and unjust alike, then God's saving or condemning any person is altogether capricious. Now to be sure, no man can merit salvation; but, make no mistake about it, the Holy Scriptures teach that, "My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7). "Faith in God through Christ can be efficacious only if it issues forth in an obedient life of righteous deeds."[21]

Verse 13

"Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies; for thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men."

"Plowed wickedness ..." is a homely metaphor indicating that Ephraim had nourished and cultivated their wicked ways. Their fundamental error was in their believing that their way of immorality, calf-worship, and rebellion would actually cause them to be better off than if they had followed in the way of the Lord. This is always the primary delusion of sin. God made every man so that he would be better off, happier in every conceivable way, and given to far more wonderful blessings in the service of his Creator, than in the service of the devil; but men stubbornly refusing to believe this, stumble into all of the hurtful follies of sin.

Verse 14

"Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shallam destroyed Beth-arbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces with her children."

"A tumult shall arise ..." This is a reference to the terrors of war which are to come upon the people and overwhelm them, specifically, the invasion of the Assyrians.

"All thy fortresses ..." None shall stand; all alike shall be overthrown.

"Shallam destroyed Beth-arbel ..." Both the name of the ruler and the location of the battle mentioned are totally unknown. Butler thought it referred to an invasion of Sennacherib; but that came at a time later than this prophecy. Hindley believed that it might have been "Salamanu, king of Moab, the location of Beth-arbel being unknown, probably annihilated."[22] The type of brutal slaughter mentioned was not an uncommon thing at all in the culture of that era; and the point of Hosea's reference here derives from the fact that the brutal instance cited was well-known to the Israelites at that time.

Verse 15

"So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: at daybreak shall the king of Israel be utterly cut off."

"So shall Bethel do unto you ..." This carries the meaning that: "Your idolatrous calf at Bethel shall be the cause of a like calamity befalling you."[23]

"At daybreak shall the king of Israel be utterly cut off ..." This simply means that the king would be slain like most of the people. The military ruin of the nation would be complete and final. Of special interest is the phrase "at daybreak," which might be a doubtful rendition. The scholars have injected several meanings into the phrase as follows:

(1) In the morning of his work.

(2) In the morning dawn.

(3) As suddenly as comes the dawn after a night of slumber.

(4) In the storm.[24]

None of the above meanings that could be adopted would change the impact of the verse in any manner. What was prophesied was the utter dissolution and destruction of the northern kingdom, and the royal family were definitely included in the doom.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hosea-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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