Bible Commentaries
Hosea 13

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

Verses 1-16

Chapter 13

In Me Is Thy Help

The opening words, which are really a continuation of the burden begun in the last verse of chapter 11, remind us forcibly of the word of the Lord to Saul when he had turned back from obeying His voice. (See 1 Samuel 15:17.) “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel: but when he offended in Baal, he died” (ver. 1).

These words give us the spiritual history of thousands who have begun well, but ended badly, because of failure to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart. As we trace out the biographies of many of the kings of Judah, we see the same thing exemplified. And if it is otherwise with the kings of Israel, it is only because not one of them began with God at all. They were idolators, all of them; and of the entire number, Jehoahaz is the only one of whom it is stated that he ever sought the Lord, and that only when in deep distress.

But among Judah’s rulers there were many who started out well, of whom it might be said that “as long as he sought the Lord, the Lord made him to prosper.” With most of them, however, failure came in eventually, to mar their testimony, and bring sorrow and trouble in its train.

When God first took Ephraim up, he “was little in his own eyes,” and “he spake trembling;” that is, realizing in some measure his weakness and insufficiency, he was humbled when the word of the Lord came to him. God says, “To this man will I look; even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). Such was Ephraim in the freshness of early days. And when this was his condition, “he exalted himself in Israel. But when he offended in Baal, he died.” Alas, that the last sentence had ever to be penned! How much happier had it been for Ephraim, as for untold thousands more, if they had never left their first love! These things are our types, and from them God would have us learn not to trust our own deceitful hearts, but to walk softly before Him, in reverence and godly fear. In no other way shall we be preserved from a moral and spiritual breakdown. Self-confidence is ever the prelude to severe and crushing defeat.

And it is generally found that, the first step taken away from God, each succeeding one becomes easier and easier. Twinges of conscience are less frequent; the strivings of the grieved Holy Spirit attract less and less attention as the heart becomes hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. So was it with Ephraim. “And now they sin more and more,” says the prophet, as he proceeds to picture the gross idolatry which everywhere pervaded the land, prevailing among all classes of people (ver. 2). Consequently they are to be carried away in judgment. “They shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney” (ver. 3). In this way the Lord was about to “purge His floor.”

But, as so frequently declared, He did not purpose to make a full end of them, the people of His choice. On the contrary, He remained the only true God, the Lord who had been their God from the land of Egypt. The day would come when they should own Him alone, and know no God besides Him; for He only was the Saviour of Israel. In the wilderness-that dry and thirsty land-He had sustained them, till their heart was exalted: and when they were filled with all good things they had forgotten Him, therefore He who had given them all these mercies would be to them as a leopard by the way, and as a bear bereaved of her whelps, who would rend the caul of their heart, and tear them like a lion. The wild beast was appointed to devour them (vers. 4-8).

In the figures here used it would seem that we have more than a hint of the character of the Gentile empires which were to become successively the oppressors of Israel. If the passage be compared with Daniel 7:0, I think most readers will feel that it is more than a mere coincidence that the lion was there used as the symbol of Babylon; the bear, of Medo-Persia; and the leopard, of Greece. The generic term, “the wild beast,” or, “the beast of the field,” is possibly a veiled reference to the last beast, “dreadful and terrible,” typifying the Roman empire, for long years the persecutor of Israel, and which, though now fallen, is yet to be revived in the first beast of Revelation 13:0, when the time of the end is come, and the great tribulation shall conclude the sufferings of Jacob.

They alone were responsible for all that had befallen them, and for all that should yet come upon them. “O Israel,” God says, “thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help” (ver. 9). Their self-will had been their ruin; but He waited still to save, ready to make bare His arm for their deliverance, if there were any sign of repentance and self-judgment. None other could avail for their salvation if they turned not to Him. “Where is thy king?” He asks. (See margin.) Hoshea,13 in whom they trusted, was a prisoner in the hands of Shalmaneser, king of Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-4). Where was any other that could save them, in all their cities? They had asked for a king, to be like the nations around them; God had granted their request; but where was the power of their king and his judges? They had been trusting in a bruised reed.

It may seem strange, so many centuries after the establishment of the monarchy, and at the close of the history of the ten tribes as such, that God should thus reproach them for the sin of asking a king in the days of Samuel. This but illustrates the remarks already made in seeking to expound chapter 7. The same spirit of independency that led them to desire a king to go in and out before them (when Jehovah Himself was their King), prevailed among them still; and for that, judgment must fall. Solemn are the words, “I gave thee a king in Mine anger, and took him away in My wrath” (ver. 11). So may God often allow His children to have what they desire, when their hearts are away from Him; giving them their requests, but sending leanness into their souls. It is well when the will is subject, and in all our prayers and supplications we say, “Thy will be done.” He knows so much better than we possibly can what is best for us; and where there is subjection of heart He will reply, not according to our faulty petitions, but according to His own loving-kindness and wisdom. When it is otherwise, He often has to answer our prayers in judgment, and we may have years to regret our folly in not having left all our affairs in His hands.

To all his other failures Ephraim added this, that he kept his iniquity bound up and his sin covered (ver. 12). As long as this is the case with any, God’s hand must be on them in discipline: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper.” On the other hand, the moment all is out in the light, and sin is judged and confessed, God Himself provides a covering, and the evil is gone from His sight forever. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalms 32:0:l, 2).

Because of Ephraim’s persistency in covering his own sin, the sorrows as of a travailing woman must come upon him. This at once suggests another simile. He is an unwise son, remaining where his presence can only be most embarrassing and foolish. So he persisted in his folly when warned and entreated to cease therefrom (ver. 31).

The last two verses continue the general subject, declaring the terrible extent of the disastrous judgments they must undergo. But ere these solemn scenes are depicted, a precious word of grace, like a rainbow of hope in the gloomy, wrath-laden sky, is seen in ver. 14. He who is about to visit them in His anger speaks of mercy and kindness, giving a promise of the triumph of His love at last. “I will ransom them from the power of sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from Mine eyes.”

What could be more blessed than such a promise in the midst of so solemn an arraignment? In wrath God will remember mercy. He will yet appear as the Redeemer of His chosen, despoiling death and sheol (synonymous with hades, the unseen world of spirits-not hell nor the grave) of their prey, and saving all who turn to Him in brokenness of spirit, owning their guilt. Of His purposes of grace He will never repent; they shall abide forever in His goodness and mercy.

For centuries now Israel has been like a dead man, buried among the nations, wandering like a shade in sheol; but the hour is not far distant when the closing message to Daniel shall be fulfilled, as also the prophecy of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:0. “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1, Daniel 12:2). Such also is the testimony of an older prophet, Isaiah (ch. 26:19, R. V.). “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth her dead.” All these passages will have their glorious fulfilment when the Kemnant of Israel and Judah are awakened from their death-sleep, and shall come forth at the call of God to return to Zion with singing and with everlasting joy upon their heads.

Literally, too, there will be a wondrous fulfilment when “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection!” (John 5:28, John 5:29; Revelation 20:6).

It would be happy indeed to close our chapter with this precious reminder of the grace of our Saviour-God. But it is salutary and necessary to be reminded that the day of Jehovah’s power and Messiah’s appearing has not yet come; so we are once more turned back to contemplate the lamentable estate of Israel and the dark days awaiting them ere the glory dawns.

As we dwell upon the solemn words of verses 15 and 16, the “rainbow like unto an emerald” seems to fade away; the dark clouds of doom gather heavier and heavier above the land of promise; while “out of the throne proceeds lightnings, and thunderings, and voices,” presaging the dreadful storm about to burst upon those who, having eyes to see, saw not, and having ears to hear, heard not the ominous rumblings of the approaching day of wrath, till it was too late to find a hiding-place. An east wind from Jehovah “shall come up from the wilderness,” drying up all the springs of hope and fountains of joy, and spoiling all the vessels of desire. Desolation should enwrap Samaria in midnight gloom and direst woe; “for she hath rebelled against her God.” Therefore they should fall beneath the avenging hand of the bloodthirsty Assyrian, who would spare neither age, sex, nor condition.

All this has had a fulfilment in the march of Shalmaneser’s hordes through the land. It shall have another and more dreadful one when the last Assyrian sweeps down,14 like a resistless flood, till stopped by the breath of the Lord.

With this the body of the prophecy closes. The next, and last, chapter is a tender call addressed to the backslidden people, exhorting them to return to Him, who is their only good and their only hope.

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hosea 13". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.