Bible Commentaries
Hosea 7

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2


Seeing that their leaders are so helpless, and feeling their wounds, the people may themselves turn to God for healing, but that will be with a repentance so shallow as also to be futile. They have no conviction of sin, nor appreciation of how deeply their evils have eaten.

This too facile repentance is expressed in a prayer which the Christian Church has paraphrased into one of its most beautiful hymns of conversion. Yet the introduction to this prayer, and its own easy assurance of how soon God will heal the wounds He has made, as well as the impatience with which God receives it, oblige us to take the prayer in another sense than the hymn which has been derived from it. It offers but one more symptom of the optimism of this light-hearted people, whom no discipline and no judgment can impress with the reality of their incurable decay. They said of themselves, "The bricks are fallen, let us build with stones," and now they say just as easily and airily of their God, "He hath torn" only "that He may heal: "we are fallen, but" He will raise us up again in a day or two." At first it is still God who speaks.

"I am going My way, I am returning to My own place, until they feel their guilt and seek My face. When trouble comes upon them, they will soon enough seek Me, saying":-

"Come and let us return to Jehovah;

For He hath rent, that He may heal us,

And hath wounded, that He may bind us up.

He will bring us to life in a couple of days;

On the third day He will raise us up again,

That we may live in His presence."

"Let us know, let us follow up to know, Jehovah:

As soon as we seek Him, we shall find Him

And He shall come to us like the winter-rain,

Like the spring-rain, pouring on the land!"

But how is this fair prayer received by God? With incredulity, with impatience. What can I make of thee, Ephraim? what can I make of thee, Judah? since your love is like the morning cloud and like the dew so early gone. Their shallow hearts need deepening. Have they not been deepened enough? "Wherefore I have hewn" them "by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgment goeth forth like the lightning. For real love have I desired, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings."

That the discourse comes back to the ritual is very intelligible. For what could make repentance stem so easy as the belief that forgiveness can be won by simply offering sacrifices? Then the prophet leaps upon what each new year of that anarchy revealed afresh-the profound sinfulness of the people.

"But they in human fashion have transgressed the covenant! There"-he will now point out the very spots-"have they betrayed Me! Gilead is a city of evil-doers: stamped with the bloody footprints; assassins in troops; a gang of priests murder on the way to Shechem. Yea, crime have they done. In the house of Israel I have seen horrors: there Ephraim hath played the harlot: Israel is defiled-Judah as well."

Truly the sinfulness of Israel is endless. Every effort to redeem them only discovers more of it. "When I would turn, when I would heal Israel, then the guilt of Ephraim displays itself and the evils of Samaria," these namely: "that they work fraud and the thief cometh in"-evidently a technical term for housebreaking -" while abroad a crew" of highwaymen foray. And they never think in their hearts that all their evil is recorded by Me. Now have their deeds encompassed them: they are constantly before

Evidently real repentance on the part of such a people is impossible. As Hosea said before, "Their deeds will not let them return." {Hosea 5:4}

Verses 1-7



PURSUING the plan laid down in the last chapter, we now take the section of Hosea’s discourse which lies between chapter 4 and Hosea 7:7. Chapter 4 is the only really separable bit of it; but there are also slight breaks at Hosea 5:15 and Hosea 7:2. So we may attempt a division into four periods:

1. Chapter 4, which states God’s general charge against the people;

2. Hosea 5:1-14, which discusses the priests and princes;

3. Hosea 5:15 - Hosea 7:2, which abjures the people’s attempts at repentance; and

4. Hosea 7:3-7, which is a lurid spectacle of the drunken and profligate court.

All these give symptoms of the moral decay of the people, -the family destroyed by impurity, and society by theft and murder; the corruption of the spiritual guides of the people; the debauchery of the nobles; the sympathy of the throne with evil, -with the despairing judgment that such a people are incapable even of repentance. The keynotes are these: "No truth, nor real love, nor knowledge of God in the land. Priest and Prophet stumble. Ephraim and Judah stumble. I am as the moth to Ephraim. What can I make of thee, Ephraim? When I would heal them, their guilt is only the more exposed." Morally, Israel is rotten. The prophet, of course, cannot help adding signs of their political incoherence. But these he deals with more especially in the part of his discourse which follows chapter 7:7.

Verses 1-16


It was indeed a "thick night" into which this Arthur of Israel stepped from his shattered home. The mists drive across Hosea’s long agony with his people, and what we see, we see blurred and broken. There are stumbling and clashing; crowds in drift; confused rallies; gangs of assassins breaking across the highways; doors opening upon lurid interiors full of drunken riot. Voices, which other voices mock, cry for a dawn that never comes. God Himself is Laughter, Lightning, a Lion, a Gnawing Worm. Only one clear note breaks over the confusion-the trumpet summoning to war.

Take courage, O great heart! Not thus shall it always be! There wait thee, before the end, of open Visions at least two-one of Memory and one of Hope, one of Childhood and one of Spring. Past this night, past the swamp and jungle of these fetid years, thou shalt see thy land in her beauty, and God shall look on the face of His Bride.

Chapters 4-14 are almost indivisible. The two Visions just mentioned, chapters 11 and Hosea 14:3-9, may be detached by virtue of contributing the only strains of gospel which rise victorious above the Lord’s controversy with His people and the troubled story of their sins. All the rest is the noise of a nation falling to pieces, the crumbling of a splendid past. And as decay has no climax and ruin no rhythm, so we may understand why it is impossible to divide with any certainty Hosea’s record of Israel’s fall. Some arrangement we must attempt, but it is more or less artificial, and to be undertaken for the sake of our own minds, that cannot grasp so great a collapse all at once. Chapter 4 has a certain unity, and is followed by a new exordium, but as it forms only the theme of which the subsequent chapters are variations, we may take it with them as far as Hosea 7:7; after which there is a slight transition from the moral signs of Israel’s dissolution to the political-although Hoses still combines the religious offences of idolatry with the anarchy of the land. These form the chief interest to the end of chapter 10. Then breaks the bright Vision of the Past, chapter 11, the temporary victory of the Gospel of the Prophet over his Curse. In chapters 12-14:2 we are plunged into the latter once more, and reach in Hosea 14:3 if. the second bright vision, the Vision of the Future. To each of these phases of Israel’s Thick Night-we can hardly call them Sections-we may devote a chapter of simple exposition, adding three chapters more of detailed examination of the main doctrines we shall have encountered on our way-the Knowledge of God, Repentance, and the Sin against Love.

Verses 3-7


There follows now a very difficult passage. The text is corrupt, and we have no means of determining what precise events are intended. The drift of meaning, however, is evident. The disorder and licentiousness of the people are favored in high places; the throne itself is guilty.

"With their evil they make a king glad, and princes with their falsehoods: all of them are adulterers, like an oven heated by the baker"

"On the day of our king"-some coronation or king’s birthday-"the princes were sick with fever from wine. He stretched forth his hand with loose fellows," presumably made them his associates. "Like an oven have they made their hearts with their intriguing. All night their anger sleepeth in the morning it blazes like a flame of fire. All of them glow like an oven, and devour their rulers: all their kings have fallen, without one of them calling on Me."

An obscure passage upon obscure events; yet so lurid with the passion of that fevered people in the flagrant years 743-735 that we can make out the kind of crimes described. A king surrounded by loose and unscrupulous nobles: adultery, drunkenness, conspiracies, assassination: every man striking for himself; none appealing to God.

From the court, then, downwards, by princes, priests, and prophets, to the common fathers of Israel and their households, immorality prevails. There is no redeeming feature, and no hope of better things. For repentance itself the capacity is gone.

In making so thorough an indictment of the moral condition of Israel, it would have been impossible for Hosea not to speak also of the political stupidity and restlessness which resulted from it. But he has largely reserved these for that part of his discourse which now follows, and which we will take in the next chapter.

Verses 8-10


MORAL decay means political decay. Sins like these are the gangrene of nations. It is part of Hosea’s greatness to have traced this, a proof of that versatility which distinguishes him above other prophets. The most spiritual of them all, he is at the same time the most political. We owe him an analysis of repentance to which the New Testament has little to add; but he has also left us a criticism of society and of polities in Israel, unrivalled except by Isaiah. We owe him an intellectual conception of God, which for the first time in Israel exploded idolatry; yet he also is the first to define Israel’s position in the politics of Western Asia. With the single courage of conscience Amos had said to the people: You are bad, therefore you must perish. But Hosea’s is the insight to follow the processes by which sin brings forth death-to trace, for instance, the effects of impurity upon a nation’s powers of reproduction, as well as upon its intellectual vigor.

So intimate are these two faculties of Hosea that in chapters devoted chiefly to the sins of Israel we have already seen him expose the political disasters that follow. But from the point we have now reached- Hosea 7:8 -the proportion of his prophesying is reversed: he gives us less of the sin and more of the social decay and political folly of his age.

Verses 8-16


Hosea begins by summing up the public aspect of Israel in two epigrams, short but of marvelous adequacy:-{Hosea 7:8}

"Ephraim-among the nations he mixeth himself:

Ephraim has become a cake not turned."

It is a great crisis for any nation to pass from the seclusion of its youth and become a factor in the main history of the world. But for Israel the crisis was trebly great. Their difference from all other tribes about them had struck the Canaanites on their first entry to the land; {Numbers 23:9 b; Joshua 2:8} their own earliest writers had emphasized their seclusion as their strength; {Deuteronomy 33:27} and their first prophets consistently deprecated every overture made by them either to Egypt or to Assyria. We feel the force of the prophets’ policy when we remember what happened to the Philistines. These were a people as strong and as distinctive as Israel, with whom at one time they disputed possession of the whole land. But their position as traders in the main line of traffic between Asia and Africa rendered the Philistines peculiarly open to foreign influence. They were now Egyptian vassals, now Assyrian victims; and after the invasion of Alexander the Great their cities became centers of Hellenism, while the Jews upon their secluded hills still stubbornly held unmixed their race and their religion. This contrast, so remarkably developed in later centuries, has justified the prophets of the eighth in their anxiety that Israel should not annul the advantages of her geographical seclusion by trade or treaties with the Gentiles. But it was easier for Judaea to take heed to the warning than for Ephraim. The latter lies as open and fertile as her sister province is barren and aloof. She has many gates into the world, and they open upon many markets. Nobler opportunities there could not be for a nation in the maturity of its genius and loyal to its vocation:-

"Rejoice, O Zebulun, in thine outgoings:

They shall call the nations to the mountain;

They shall suck of the abundance of the seas

And of the treasure that is stored in the sands." {Deuteronomy 33:18-19}

But in the time of his outgoings Ephraim was not sure of himself nor true to his God, the one secret and strength of the national distinctiveness. So he met the world weak and unformed, and, instead of impressing it, was by it dissipated and confused. The tides of a lavish commerce scattered abroad the faculties of the people, and swept back upon their life alien fashions and tempers, to subdue which there was neither native strength nor definiteness of national purpose. All this is what Hosea means by the first of his epigrams: "Ephraim-among the nations he lets himself be poured out," or "mixed up." The form of the verb does not elsewhere occur; but it is reflexive, and the meaning of the root is certain. "Balal" is to "pour out," or "mingle," as of oil in the sacrificial flour. Yet it is sometimes used of a mixing which is not sacred, but profane and hopeless. It is applied to the first great confusion of mankind, to which a popular etymology has traced the name Babel, as if for Balbel. Derivatives of the stem bear the additional ideas of staining and impurity. The alternative renderings which have been proposed, "lets himself be soaked" and "scatters himself" abroad like wheat among tares, are not so probable, yet hardly change the meaning.

Ephraim wastes and confuses himself among the Gentiles. The nation’s character is so disguised that Hosea afterwards nicknames him Canaan {Hosea 12:8} their religion so filled with foreign influences that he calls the people the harlot of the Ba’alim.

If the first of Hosea’s epigrams satirizes Israel’s foreign relations, the second, with equal brevity and wit, hits off the temper and constitution of society at home. For the metaphor of which this epigram is composed Hosea has gone to the baker. Among all classes in the East, especially under conditions requiring haste, there is in demand a round flat scone, which is baked by being laid on hot stones or attached to the wall of a heated oven. The whole art of baking consists in turning the scone over at the proper moment. If this be mismanaged it does not need a baker to tell us that one side may be burnt to a cinder, while the other remains raw. "Ephraim," says Hosea, "is an unturned cake."

By this he may mean one of several things, or all of them together, for they are infectious of each other. There was, for instance, the social conditions of the people. What can better be described as an unturned scone than a community one half of whose number are too rich, and the other too poor? Or Hosea may refer to that unequal distribution of religion through life with which in other parts of his prophecy he reproaches Israel. They keep their religion, as Amos more fully tells us, for their temples, and neglect to carry its spirit into their daily business. Or he may refer to Israel’s politics, which were equally in want of thoroughness. They rushed hotly at an enterprise, but having expended so much fire in the beginning of it, they let the end drop cold and dead. Or he may wish to satirize, like Amos, Israel’s imperfect culture-the pretentious and overdone arts, stuck excrescence-wise upon the unrefined bulk of the nation, just as in many German principalities last century society took on a few French fashions in rough and exaggerated forms, while at heart still brutal and coarse. Hosea may mean any one of these things, for the figure suits all, and all spring from the same defect. Want of thoroughness and equable effort was Israel’s besetting sin, and it told on all sides of his life. How better describe a half-fed people, a half-cultured society, a half-lived religion, a half-hearted policy, than by a half-baked scone?

We who are so proud of our political bakers, we who scorn the rapid revolutions of our neighbors and complacently dwell upon our equable ovens, those slow and cautious centuries of political development which lie behind us-have we anything better than our neighbors, anything better than Israel, to show in our civilization? Hosea’s epigram fits us to the letter. After all those ages of baking, society is still with us "an unturned scone": one end of the nation with the strength burnt out of it by too much enjoyment of life, the other with not enough of warmth to be quickened into anything like adequate vitality. No man can deny that this is so; we are able to live only by shutting our hearts to the fact. Or is religion equally distributed through the lives of the religious portion of our nation? Of late years religion has spread, and spread wonderfully, but of how many Christians is it still true that they are but half-baked-living a life one side of which is reeking with the smoke of sacrifice, while the other is never warmed by one religious thought. We may have too much religion if we confine it to one day or one department of life: our worship overdone, with the sap and the freshness burnt out of it, cindery, dusty, unattractive, fit only for crumbling; our conduct cold, damp, and heavy, like dough the fire has never reached.

Upon the theme of these two epigrams the other verses of this chapter are variations. Has Ephraim mixed himself among the peoples? "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not," senselessly congratulating himself upon the increase of his trade and wealth, while he does not feel that these have sucked from him all his distinctive virtue. "Yea, grey hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knoweth it not." He makes his energy the measure of his life, as Isaiah also marked, {Hosea 9:9 f.} but sees not that it all means waste and decay. "The pride of Israel testifieth to his face, yet"-even when the pride of the nation is touched to the quick by such humiliating overtures as they make to both Assyria and Egypt-"they do not return to Jehovah their God, nor seek Him for all this."

With virtue and single-hearted faith have disappeared intellect and the capacity for affairs. "Ephraim is become like a silly dove-a dove without heart," to the Hebrews the organ of the wits of a man-"they cry to Egypt, they go off to Assyria." Poor pigeon of a people, fluttering from one refuge to another! But "as they go I will throw over them My net, like a bird of the air I will bring them down. I will punish them as their congregation have heard"-this text as it stands: can only mean "in the manner I have publicly proclaimed in Israel." "Woe to them that they have strayed from Me! Damnation to them that they have rebelled against Me! While I would have redeemed them they spoke lies about Me. And they have never cried unto Me with their heart, but they keep howling from their beds for corn and new wine." No real repentance theirs, but some fear of drought and miscarriage of the harvests, a sensual and servile sorrow in which they wallow. They seek God with no heart, no true appreciation of what He is, but use the senseless means by which the heathen invoke their gods: "they cut themselves, and "so "apostatize from Me! And yet it was I who disciplined them, I strengthened their arm, but with regard to Me they kept thinking" only "evil!" So fickle and sensitive to fear, "they turn" indeed "but not upwards"; no Godward conversion theirs. In their repentance "they are like a bow which swerves" off upon some impulse of their ill-balanced natures. "Their princes must fall by the sword because of the bitterness"-we should have expected "falseness"-"of their tongue: this is their scorn in the land of Egypt!" To the allusion we have no key.

With so false a people nothing can be done. Their doom is inevitable. So

"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."

"To thy mouth with the trumpet! The Eagle is down upon the house of Jehovah!" Where the carcass is, there are the eagles gathered together. "For"-to sum up the whole crisis-"they have transgressed My covenant, and against My law have they rebelled. To Me they cry, My God, we know Thee, we Israeli" What does it matter? "Israel hath spurned the good: the Foe must pursue him."

It is the same climax of inevitable war to which Amos led up his periods; and a new subject is now introduced.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hosea 7". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".