Bible Commentaries
Hosea 13

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The beginning of a new discourse, which, according to G.A. Smith, “has every mark of being Hosea’s latest.” Whether or not this is so, it is one of the most powerful and comprehensive in the book. It opens with a reference to the tribe of Ephraim, which in the beginning occupied a position of prominence in the nation but when it apostatized from Jehovah signed its own death warrant (Hosea 13:1). From this well-known example Israel should have learned its lesson, but it failed to do so; it persisted in shameless idolatry, therefore it will vanish like chaff before the whirlwind (Hosea 13:2-3). The rebellious attitude of Israel, the prophet continues, is unintelligible, since the God whom they have rejected is the God who led them from the time of the Exodus. Strange to say, the more Jehovah prospered them the more arrogant they became, the more forgetful of Jehovah; hence he will devour them like a lion (Hosea 13:4-8). By rebelling against Jehovah Israel courted destruction, which is now inevitable. No one can prevent it, Jehovah himself can show mercy no longer (Hosea 13:9-14). The discourse closes with a threat of utter destruction (Hosea 13:15-16).

Verses 1-3

1-3. Israel’s apostasy its own death warrant. Though the interpretation of Hosea 13:1 is not quite certain, that embodied in the translation of R.V. and suggested in the introductory remarks above is preferable to all others that have been proposed. Ephraim’s experience should have been a warning to the whole people.

Ephraim Not synonymous with Israel, as in practically every other case in the book, but the tribe of Ephraim.

When… spake trembling, he exalted himself If rendered thus the meaning of the passage would be, “When the Ephraimites in trembling accents responded to the divine call, they rose to the exalted position which their prophetic ancestor foreshadowed” (Genesis 49:22-26). This translation and interpretation are open to criticism on linguistic and other grounds, and there can be no doubt that R.V. has come nearer the truth: “When Ephraim spake, there was trembling.” The other tribes looked up to Ephraim with fear and trembling (Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1; compare Genesis 49:16; Deuteronomy 33:17).

He exalted himself Not in a bad sense, “he became proud,” but, “he became a leader, a prince.” Many commentators read, with a slight alteration, “he was a prince.”

He died Loyalty to Jehovah contained elements insuring permanence; apostasy, on the other hand, contained those elements that made death and destruction inevitable (Habakkuk 2:4). As soon as Ephraim apostatized the dying process began (Genesis 2:17).

He offended in Baal Or, became guilty through the Baal (compare Hosea 10:2). He became guilty when he accepted from the Canaanites Baal ideas and allowed these to corrupt the Jehovah worship (Hosea 2:5 ff.). Baal is identical with Baals in other parts of the book (see on Hosea 2:5). There may be also an allusion to the setting up of the “calves” (Hosea 8:5; Hosea 10:5) by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:29), who was of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26). The tribe of Ephraim, once so powerful, had become, in the days of Hosea, of little significance. The words of the prophet by no means imply that Ephraim alone was guilty, or that he alone suffered; only, in his experience the contrast between the former glory and the present oblivion illustrated most perfectly the lesson Hosea desired to teach. The experience of this one tribe should have had a wholesome effect upon the others. Not so.

Now In the prophet’s own day.

They The whole nation.

Sin more and more Or, they continue to sin (G.-K., 114m) notwithstanding the warnings.

The offense of Ephraim consisted in apostasy to the Baals; the nation as a whole gave itself to even grosser idolatry.

Molten images See on Nahum 1:14 (compare Exodus 34:17). These images may have been intended primarily to be representations of Jehovah (1 Kings 12:28).

Idols The general term for an image of a deity.

According to their own understanding Their own skill and proficiency. What, power can there be in such images? LXX. reads, and other ancient versions, in part, favor the reading, “They made them molten images of their silver according to the likeness of idols.”

The work of the craftsmen Whatever the exact reading of the preceding, this clause brings out the point of greatest importance: the images are man-made; there is nothing divine about them. Hosea 13:2 b is obscure. Various translations, all more or less forced, have been proposed. The text may be corrupt; at any rate, many emendations have been suggested.

They The indefinite people.

Say of them Or, concerning them, that is, the idols.

Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves The kiss is the kiss of homage (Psalms 2:12; 1 Kings 19:18). Those who offer sacrifice are urged ironically to bestow the kiss of homage upon the idolatrous calves. How absurd for human beings to kiss calves! Another possible translation is suggested in the margin, “Let the sacrificers of men kiss the calves.” This rendering emphasizes even more the absurdity of the religious practices. Men they sacrifice and beasts they kiss, instead of sacrificing beasts, and kissing men. That human sacrifices were offered in Israel at this time is not definitely stated in Hosea (but compare 2 Kings 17:17); in Judah the practice was not unknown (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6). A third possible translation, secured by dividing the words into two clauses, reads, “To them (the idols) they speak (in prayer).” How absurd to address prayers to the work of their own hands! “Men that sacrifice (or, sacrificers of men) kiss the calves.” Sacrificers of men is the more natural translation of the Hebrew, but the other is not impossible (G.-K., 1281). The two clauses would have to be understood as exclamations of disgust by the prophet. Which one of these interpretations is right cannot be asserted with certainty. The Hebrew is peculiar and may be corrupt. Of proposed emendations two may be mentioned. Marti, omitting several words, reads, “Sacrificers of men they are; calves they kiss.” Harper, “People sacrificing to demons; men kissing calves.”

Such a condition of affairs cannot be permitted to continue. 3. Swift retribution will overtake them. This thought is expressed very emphatically by the accumulation of four separate figures, each one describing utter destruction. On the first two see Hosea 6:4.

As the chaff The threshing floors were usually located on elevations, so as to take advantage of every breeze. The grain was winnowed by throwing it up into the air with shovels. The solid grains fell back to the ground, while the chaff was carried away by the wind. The stronger the wind the more quickly the chaff vanished; a whirlwind would drive it out of sight in a very short time (Psalms 1:4; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 41:15-16, etc.).

Smoke It also is swiftly driven away by the breeze (Psalms 68:2).

Chimney The same word is sometimes rendered “window”; literally, lattice (see on Joel 2:9).

Verses 4-8

4-8. Love Ingratitude Destruction. The conduct of Israel was the more shocking because Jehovah had always proved himself ready to be their helper and friend.

I am Jehovah Here the emphasis is upon the assistance rendered by Jehovah to Israel throughout their entire history (compare Hosea 12:9).

Thou shalt know Better, R.V. margin, “knowest.” The prophet appeals to present and past experiences.

No god but me Israel found no god able to help and to save besides the one who delivered them out of Egypt; the entire history revealed him and him alone as saviour and friend. Indeed, there is no other deliverer. How serious has been the mistake of the people (Hosea 2:5 ff.).

Verse 5

5. The loving care of Jehovah manifested itself in a special manner during the wanderings in the desert, when hunger and thirst threatened to destroy them.

I did know The Hebrew is more emphatic: “It was I (not some other god) who knew thee.” See on Hosea 8:4; here in a favorable sense care, protect (Psalms 1:6). Some of the ancient versions read, “I shepherded thee,” which is in accord with the figure in Hosea 13:6,

Land of great drought Or, of burning thirst (Deuteronomy 8:15; Exodus 17:1 ff.; etc.).

Verse 6

6. Jehovah’s care for Israel and the resulting prosperity failed to inspire gratitude; on the contrary, it made the people proud and arrogant and caused them to forget God.

According to their pasture The rich blessings bestowed upon them.

They were filled With prosperity; but they failed to recognize the giver (Hosea 2:8; Hosea 4:7; Hosea 10:1; compare Deuteronomy 8:11 ff; Deuteronomy 31:20, etc.). The verb is repeated for the sake of emphasis. It is possible, however, that the two verb forms, with a slight change in the second, should be combined to form one expression, “They were completely filled.”

Their heart was exalted Prosperity caused pride and arrogance.

Forgotten me Arrogance led to forgetfulness of God (Hosea 8:14; Isaiah 17:10); they felt that they could get along without the divine help.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. The flock, Israel, despised the good shepherd; now he will transform himself into a beast of prey seeking to devour the sheep.

Lion See on Hosea 5:14.

Leopard Mentioned on account of its fierceness (compare Isaiah 11:6). Leopards are still found in Mount Lebanon, though in small numbers.

Will I observe them R.V., “will I watch by the way,” waiting for the proper moment to spring. “It (the leopard) is specially noted for the patience with which it waits… expecting its prey, upon which it springs with deadly precision” (compare Jeremiah 5:6). Several of the ancient versions and some of the Hebrew manuscripts read, “in the way to Assyria” (Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:12). This would require only a slight change, but the other is to be preferred,

Bear When the country was covered with more abundant forests than at present bears were more numerous in Palestine; they are still quite numerous in the wilder regions of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, rarer in the mountains east of the Jordan, and very rare in western Palestine (compare Lamentations 3:10; Van Lennep, Bible Lands, 259ff.).

Bereaved of her whelps And therefore even more ferocious than usual (2 Samuel 17:8; Proverbs 17:12).

The caul of their heart Literally, the inclosure of the heart. In popular language probably equivalent to breast.

There In the very spot where he seizes the prey. There will be no delay.

Like a lion R.V., “lioness.” It is difficult to distinguish between the different words for lion used in Hebrew; the one used here is thought to denote the female, but this is not beyond question.

The wild beast shall tear them The beasts will assist Jehovah in despoiling Israel. “The end of the verse suggests a battlefield, where beasts of prey attack the corpses as the last avengers of God.” Certainly the whole is to be understood as a figurative description of the judgment about to fall.

Verses 9-16

Utter destruction the just punishment for Israel’s guilt, Hosea 13:9-16.

This discourse closes with another description of the hopelessness of Israel’s condition. It has rebelled against Jehovah, who alone can save; therefore destruction has become inevitable; it has already begun and will not stop until the whole nation has been consumed.

O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help This is one of the most abrupt sentences in the book of Hosea. On the assumption that the text is correct the abruptness has been explained as due to the profound emotion of the prophet, which caused him to break off before completing his thought. A more satisfactory rendering of the Hebrew though several words must be supplied in the English and in more complete accord with the context, is that of R.V.: “It is thy destruction, O Israel, that thou art against me, against thy help”; that is, by rebelling against Jehovah Israel signed its own death warrant. LXX. and Peshitto present a reading which removes in some measure the unusually elliptical character of the sentence, and adds strength to the utterance. Both read the latter part as a question: “who will be thy help?” In addition Peshitto reads the first part, “I have (a prophetic perfect) destroyed thee.” Following these translations, the whole verse may be read, “I am,” or, “he is,” “thy destruction; yea, who shall be thy helper?” This question connects naturally with Hosea 13:10. Neither king nor princes can save. Here again R.V. is to be preferred: “Where now is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities?” According to Hosea 10:14; Hosea 11:6, the destruction will fall upon the fortresses and cities; in their distress they will need and cry for help, but in vain. The king will be powerless against the wrath of Jehovah. Hosea 13:11 goes even further and states that the king will be entirely removed.

Thy judges Equivalent to “rulers,” as in Hosea 7:7, including “king and princes” mentioned in the last line. The second question is practically equivalent to the first.

Princes See on Hosea 3:4.

Give me Some commentators see here a reference to the demands for a king in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:5 ff.). It is more probable, however, that the prophet has in mind more recent events, when the people by actions rather than by word of mouth expressed their demands for new kings and placed them upon the throne (Hosea 7:3 ff; Hosea 8:4). When the calamity falls it will be seen how helpless is the king in whom they place their confidence.

The tenses in Hosea 13:11 are frequentatives. Jehovah did it on more than one occasion, and he is still doing it. In Hosea 7:7, and Hosea 8:4, the prophet speaks of the frequent changes in dynasties as having been brought about by violence and assassination. This was done without consulting Jehovah and without his approval. In this verse the prophet considers the same events from a different viewpoint. He makes the additional statement that, though Jehovah was not consulted, the changes could not be made without his consent and co-operation. In one sense, therefore, the people made the kings, in another, Jehovah gave them. “God humored them; but these kings who were wrung from him (Hosea 8:4) he gave them in anger; they were not kings by God’s grace, but by his displeasure.” As he gave them, so he took them away; and the anarchy and disorder following were equally due to his wrath (Isaiah 9:18 ff.).

Hosea 13:12-16 do not contain a promise, as is sometimes asserted, but an additional threat. Bad as is the present confusion, severer judgments are yet to come.

Ephraim The northern kingdom. Iniquity… sin Synonyms.

Bound up… hid R.V., “laid up in store” Also synonymous expressions. The case is closed, all the evidence is in, and carefully preserved. Nothing will be overlooked on the day of reckoning. With this record of iniquity before him, what can Jehovah do but allow justice to have its way?

Sorrows (better, pangs) of a travailing woman A common figure of extreme anguish and distress (Micah 4:9; Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 21:3, etc.). Ephraim is likened to the mother who is in the pangs of childbirth, but unable to bring forth and thus to put an end to the suffering. In the very next line the prophet changes the figure and likens Ephraim to the child about to be born. His folly is delaying the birth and is responsible for the continued suffering. Again and again the prophet shows that, whatever calamity may come, Israel alone is to blame for it.

Unwise Though aware of his duty in the matter, he failed to do his part. The exact translation of 13b is uncertain:

For he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children R.V., “for it is time he should not tarry in the place… “; margin, “when it is time, he standeth not in… “ It may be difficult to decide between these and similar translations suggested, but the point of the argument is easily seen. Ephraim prevented the birth at the proper moment, either by not presenting himself for birth at the proper time or by retarding the process. By his attitude he increased the pain and endangered the life of both mother and child, in this figure one and the same person. Applied to the history of Israel, the figure illustrates the folly of the people, manifesting itself in their failure to heed the warnings and exhortations of the prophets. The latter pictured the possibilities of a new life, and set forth the manner of entering into it; but Israel stubbornly refused to enter in, and thus came to the very verge of destruction.

Death seems inevitable unless a skillful physician can be secured. In Israel’s crisis Jehovah alone can bring relief. Will he interfere? Hosea 13:14 supplies the answer. This verse has received all kinds of interpretations. Broadly speaking, the different views may be grouped under two heads: (1) those interpreting Hosea 13:14 as a promise; (2) those interpreting it as a threat, continuing the threats of Hosea 13:9-13. The former interpretation finds its chief support in the use made of the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:55. But, New Testament usage does not decide finally the primary meaning of an Old Testament passage (compare Hosea 11:1, with Matthew 2:15); and there can be no doubt that the demands of the language and of the context are best satisfied by the second interpretation. If this interpretation is accepted, 14a as well as 14b must be read as a question. With either interpretation the translation of 14b in R.V. is to be accepted instead of A.V. If the interpretation of Hosea 13:14 as a threat is correct the verse must be translated, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” The first two are rhetorical questions. Ephraim had endangered his life in spite of the physician’s advice. Shall Jehovah now rescue him from impending death? The answer in an emphatic No! He rather encourages death and Sheol to do their worst.

I will be thy plagues;… I will be thy destruction Better, R.V., “Where are thy plagues?… where is thy destruction?” Bring them hither! You shall have unhindered sway. Repentance shall be hid I will show no compassion (Amos 7:8). Hosea 13:15-16 expand the threat of destruction.

The interpretation just suggested is certainly more in accord with the general argument of the prophet than that which sees in Hosea 13:14 a promise. The latter view, which is based upon the translation of R.V. that of A.V. is universally admitted to be incorrect assumes between Hosea 13:13-14 an abrupt change of sentiment; Hosea 13:13 pictures Ephraim at the point of death, but the divine father heart cannot endure the prospect of dissolution. His compassion in aroused, and in 14a he promises deliverance from death and Sheol. Having reached this decision, he turns to these powers and asks triumphantly, “Where are now your plagues and destruction?” They can do no more harm, since Jehovah has taken the part of Israel. The last clause is a promise that Jehovah will not change his mind concerning the promise just made.

Ransom… redeem Not simply deliver. Death is so certain of its victim that it will not let go without a ransom.

Grave Better, with R.V., “Sheol,” the place of departed personalities (Habakkuk 2:5; Isaiah 5:14). Both Paul (1 Corinthians 15:55) and Hosea call upon death and Sheol to do their worst, but there in a difference between the two. Hosea is in earnest because he can see only darkness and gloom beyond. Not so Paul; he defies their powers because he was acquainted with Him who brought immortality to light.

15, 16. Whatever the prosperity in the past, whatever the condition in the present, the future has only destruction in store.

He Must be the entire nation.

Fruitful A play upon Ephraim, for its Hebrew equivalent and the original of fruitful are similar in sound (Genesis 49:22; Hosea 8:9).

Among his brethren This translation requires that he be interpreted of the tribe Ephraim, his brethren being the other tribes; but the context makes this impossible. For this reason many modern commentators favor the reading, “among the reed grass” (Genesis 41:2; Genesis 41:18), which is found in a few Hebrew manuscripts and was accepted as original by a few early Jewish scholars. The word translated reed grass is an Egyptian loan word; this fact, and its similarity in Hebrew to the original for brethren may account for the confusion. Whether this reading is accepted or not, Israel is pictured as a flourishing plant with every prospect of bearing plentiful fruit.

East wind It will swiftly destroy the prospects (Hosea 12:1).

Wind of Jehovah So called because Jehovah uses the wind as an instrument of judgment.

Spring… fountain From it the plant draws moisture and nourishment. In the case of Israel, the resources needed for success. If the reading “reed grass” is correct, it may be an allusion to Israel’s dependence upon Egypt; at any rate, the “east wind” seems to be a figure of the Assyrian conqueror, who comes from the east (Isaiah 21:1). That a foreign invasion is in the prophet’s mind in made clear in the last clause of Hosea 13:15, which describes the calamity without the use of a figure.

He Emphatic in Hebrew. The enemy described as east wind. All pleasant [“goodly”] vessels All articles of value (Nahum 2:9; Jeremiah 25:34). Hosea 13:16 (Hosea 14:1, in the Hebrew) is the final summing up.

Samaria The capital represents the whole nation.

Shall become desolate R.V., more correctly, “shall bear her guilt” (Hosea 10:2), which consists in rebellion against Jehovah (Hosea 7:14; Isaiah 1:2).

Shall fall by the sword Compare Hosea 11:6. The most horrible cruelties of ancient warfare shall be visited upon them (Hosea 10:14; Amos 1:13; compare Psalms 137:9; 2 Kings 15:16). Indeed, a horrible fate is awaiting the apostate children of Jehovah.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hosea 13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.