Also in this chapter the two things are discussed that in the prophecy of Hosea are, as it were, fighting for priority. On the one hand there is God’s indignation over the sin of His people and His righteous wrath over it. On the other hand, we see His love and desire, to bless, according to His counsel, this people, which He will do if they have converted to Him in the future. These two sides are brought forward in the abrupt changes known from Hosea. People do not like to be made aware of their sins or the dangers arising from them. But God does not get tired of warning.
The prophet announces the judgment over Ephraim as a last thunderstorm. King or prince can bring them no benefit. Assyria, which is compared to a scorching east wind, will completely destroy the land. But between the lines on judgment, some rays of the future blessing can be discovered. God will not give them up completely to the realm of the dead. He has provided a solution. Christ, through His work on Calvary, swallowed up death in victory. The glorious results of this are given in Hosea 14.
1 From Privilege to Perdition
1 When Ephraim spoke, [there was] trembling.
He exalted himself in Israel,
But through Baal he did wrong and died.
The prophet continues to explain the state of Ephraim, but now more from a historical perspective. In the beginning Ephraim – here seen as a tribe and not as a nation of the ten tribes – was always the first and spoke with authority. He had been given a privileged place in Israel. Thus, God calls him His “delightful child” (Jer 31:20). Leaders such as Joshua and Deborah came from Ephraim. These are all things the flesh can boast of.
That is exactly what happened. The Ephraimites abused their privileged place. They think they have more rights because of their position. They are jealous when other tribes do not acknowledge their position (Jdg 8:1-3). That jealousy has gone so far, that later on, as described in the book of Judges, a civil war starts that costs the lives of no less than forty-two thousand people (Jdg 12:1-6). Ephraim becomes arrogant, he exalts himself. The first king of the ten tribes, Jeroboam, comes from Ephraim. The ten tribes realm is thereafter often referred to by the name of Ephraim.
The history of Ephraim is the spiritual history of many who started well, but ended badly. This is because they did not listen to the exhortation “to remain [true] to the Lord” with resolute heart (Acts 11:23).
Ephraim has a glorious past, but a sad present. That present begins with the introduction of idolatry by King Jeroboam. He places calves in Bethel and Dan (1Kgs 12:28-30). In this way the death of the people begins. Baal can gain a foothold on the path that has been taken. Baal has been served since Ahab. Ephraim is dying further and further away. That dying typifies a life without God. God, the living God, gives life; idols are death and also bring death.
This does not work differently in the church. Diotrephes is a spiritual descendant of Ephraim. He wants to be the first (3Jn 1:9). There have been many ‘Diotrephesses’ in the history of Christianity, all of them people who have claimed a place of authority for themselves. This attitude, leads, via the great Babylon, who “glorified herself” and says in her heart, “I sit [as] a queen” (Rev 18:7), eventually to the judgment of a Christless Christianity in the end times.
History always shows that after blessing comes self-exaltation, followed by idolatry and spiritual death with finally the judgment of God. Leaving God always begins with self-exaltation, which ultimately leads to death.
Contrary to Christianity, there is restoration for Ephraim, the ten tribes, in the future. Ephraim will, freed from his jealousy, be restored in his country (Isa 11:13).
2 Idols According to One’s Own Ideas
2 And now they sin more and more,
And make for themselves molten images,
Idols skillfully made from their silver,
All of them the work of craftsmen.
They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!”
Acting according to one’s own insight with a view to one’s own advantage has already been denounced by Hosea (Hos 8:4). But without result. Ephraim continues to sin. It goes from bad to worse.
In the same way, Paul speaks to Timothy about the developments in Christianity: “But evil men and impostors will proceed [from bad] to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2Tim 3:13). In the following verses, he points out to Timothy how he can prevent being dragged along, namely by sticking to the Scriptures.
Ephraim, attached as he is to idols (Hos 4:17), makes those images according to their own judgment. A molten image can easily be multiplied. First there is a template, a form. Molds are made of it. This is how it goes with every image. It is a religion that is molded into a certain form and can be introduced anywhere. It is a religion of dead orthodoxy that consists only of forms, which can be fulfilled by anyone who feels comfortable with these forms.
The form can be described and anyone can keep to it. There is no need for any exercise of conscience. Whoever observes the established commandments is certainly not troubled by his conscience. One can even think that God is satisfied with them. At the same time one can control oneself, and also others, with them and thus establish how one’s religiosity is doing.
The Ephraimites spend their silver for it. It may cost a bit, but then it also becomes their own possession. And although it is the work of human hands, they go into it with all their soul.
Every human being has a built-in need for God. Idolatry is the false answer to the religious consciousness of human nature. Every human being has his god and gives it the most power of his life. For some it is for example music, for others it can be sport, art, business, family, at home. When man has lost the right view on God, he makes a god according to his own insight.
Jeroboam has done that. He does not deny the existence of the LORD, but he devises in his own heart (1Kgs 12:33) how the LORD should be served and in what place. He does so out of political motives and establishes a new center of worship. He does not deny the LORD, but according to his own insight he makes a likeness of God. With that a false representation of God is born. Evil proliferates and finds its climax, or rather its nadir, with Ahab. Then things are not worshiped as objects to represent God, but the LORD is completely replaced by the idol.
The curse of idolatry always becomes visible. Man becomes equal to his idol, he identifies himself with it. A few actual examples. The tension around the duels of soccer events often results in a large number of heart attacks. Once there was a report in the newspaper that it was possible for soccer fans to be buried in an orange coffin (orange is the Dutch national color). During pop concerts it happens that fans are trampled underfoot. Their idol becomes their death.
There is a vicious circle: man makes an idol that is equal to himself and he himself becomes more and more like the idol made by himself (Psa 115:4-8). They show their love, their reverence for their idol by kissing him (1Kgs 19:18). However, God says: “Do homage to [literally: kiss] the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish [in] the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (Psa 2:12).
3 He Who Commits Idolatry Evaporates Like Smoke
3 Therefore they will be like the morning cloud
And like dew which soon disappears,
Like chaff which is blown away from the threshing floor
And like smoke from a chimney.
Persistence in the sin of verse 2 will have only one result. The word “therefore” with which verse 3 begins points back to the previous verse and gives the reason for what follows. Hosea outlines the result in four terms: “morning cloud”, “dew”, “chaff” and “smoke”. This is how Ephraim has become. For centuries, until today, they are untraceable. They have disappeared like a morning cloud disappears, like the dew disappears when the sun rises, like the chaff is blown away by the wind and like the smoke flies away out of the chimney (cf. Psa 68:2). Ephraim’s prosperity is just as gone as the things mentioned that give no hold and disappear elusive.
4 There Is No One Outside of God
4 Yet I [have been] the LORD your God
Since the land of Egypt;
And you were not to know any god except Me,
For there is no savior besides Me.
After this presentation of the insignificant idols that offer no security or support, God appears here in all His power and majesty. He declares His Being and His actions. The contrast is enormous! We have to let that sink in well. Read again in verses 2-3 about the idols and the people who make them. Then read again what God is saying here about Himself. Who is foolish enough, then, no matter to what extent, to continue to give His love to any form of idolatry?
God is the LORD. That is to say, He is in connection with His people. He alone is their God. Since He redeemed them from Egypt, they have not known any other God but the LORD, that is, they have not experienced any other God as Helper and Savior (Isa 45:21). As in Hosea 12, we see again the memory of the beginning (Hos 12:9).
In the same way, God is also the Father of everyone who is redeemed from the world by the Lord Jesus, of which Egypt is a picture (Gal 1:4). If God has made Himself known in this way, how would those who have been brought into a relationship with Him follow other gods? Or have many of those who confess Him forgotten that there is no salvation in anyone else (Acts 4:12)? Many who confess that only the Lord Jesus has been able to save them live as if their salvation still depends on something else. Experiencing that unique salvation through the Lord Jesus in everyday life is too difficult for many. After all, life offers, in their opinion, so much that is pleasant.
So many certainties are offered that it is hardly necessary anymore to rely on the Lord Jesus for daily things. The trust in Him is abandoned unnoticed and we are going to put more and more trust in the things of this life. This is how idolatry is born. Therefore: back to the origin, back to Him Who redeemed us.
5 He Cares for Us
5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
In the land of drought.
Ephraim is not only reminded of the beginning, but also the people are reminded of the hard time in the wilderness, after the redemption from Egypt. God has made Himself known as not just a Friend, but as a Friend in their need. The word “cares” means that He has taken their fate upon Himself, that He has looked down upon them in mercy as His people.
The word “cared” also contains something of election. In the wilderness they only had ‘God and the sand’ and they had to count on Him from step to step. God’s care is not only perceptible in salvation, but also in all the care that is needed afterwards during the journey to the promised land.
This principle also applies to us. God knew how, during our conversion, the world would change for us. At first, we were friends of the world, we felt at home there. Now that we have been freed from it through the work of salvation of the Lord Jesus, that same world where we had our friends and who knew us as its friend has changed into an environment where we experience enmity (Jn 16:33). While the world no longer knows us, it is a great encouragement to know that the Lord Jesus knows us and cares for us.
6 Forgetting the LORD
6 As [they had] their pasture, they became satisfied,
And being satisfied, their heart became proud;
Therefore they forgot Me.
God took care of His people in the wilderness. This was expressed every morning through the manna He gave them. “As [they had] their pasture” refers to the peace in which they dwelt and in which He satisfied them with manna. All they had to do was collect it and eat it. What you do not expect to find in a wilderness is simply there when the LORD cares for His people. The wilderness then becomes a benevolent pasture.
They have experienced His care from step to step. But their reaction was that their heart became proud and therefore they forgot Him. You can hear, as it were, the disappointment in the voice of God. This ‘forgetting’ is a guilty ‘forgetting’. God was entitled to expect that the people, through all the goodness He had proven to them, would remain grateful to Him forever. But that did not happen. Thus, the unfaithfulness and ungratefulness of the human heart is revealed.
Moses warns the people not to forget Who cared for them so much and to whom they owe their blessings (Deu 8:11-20). In his prophetic view of the situation that will follow if the people do not take his words to heart, Moses warns them that they will forget the LORD, because they will enjoy the blessings as something from and for themselves alone (Deu 32:15,18).
Like the people, we, too, have difficulty with space, because we get lost in it. We cannot deal with freedom because it so easily leads to debauchery. We also have difficulty with abundance, because we soon think that we no longer need the Lord.
7 - 8 God’s Retribution for Their Ingratitude
7 So I will be like a lion to them;
Like a leopard I will lie in wait by the wayside.
8 I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs,
And I will tear open their chests;
There I will also devour them like a lioness,
[As] a wild beast would tear them.
The way in which the people have reacted to God’s care causes the prophet to announce the judgment again. From a good Shepherd who pastures and satiates His people, the LORD now becomes a tearing animal for His people. Because of their gross ingratitude and forgetting Him, God has had to treat them that way. The lion, the leopard, the bear, the lioness and the wild beasts of the field, they are all found in Israel. They are known for the horrible way they kill their prey.
One more word about the lion as an opponent of God’s people. When the devil goes around “like a roaring lion” (1Pet 5:8), there is a way out with the Lord. But if the Lord Himself becomes a roaring lion, no salvation is possible (cf. Hos 5:14).
9 God as Helper
9 [It is] your destruction, O Israel,
That [you are] against Me, against your help.
If someone needs help, but he consciously rejects it, it causes his destruction. The only hope and help for sinful people is in the sovereign grace of God. Not only do they pass by this grace, but they also even turn against Him. This attitude is tantamount to committing suicide, both nationally and spiritually. They blame their destruction on themselves, precisely because they consciously reject their only Helper. The thought is that they will perish because they live in rebellion against God, while they need all the help they can get from Him.
10 Own Choice Does Not Give Support
10 Where now is your king
That he may save you in all your cities,
And your judges of whom you requested,
“Give me a king and princes”?
The people no longer need God as their Helper. They reject Him consciously. In response to their attitude the LORD now mockingly asks for their king. After all, just now they must be delivered from their enemy, haven’t they? But no man can replace Him. That is why their king can do nothing for them, just like the princes, who are all responsible in the government of the land. And they have asked for such people themselves (1Sam 8:4-8; 1Kgs 12:8-16)!
11 God Gave a King and Took Him Away
11 I gave you a king in My anger
And took him away in My wrath.
This verse relates to Saul. The people want a king and God gives them Saul as their king (1Samuel 8-10). God does not do this wholeheartedly, but in His anger. The request of the people is not based on faith, but on unbelief. God gives His people a king according to their own ‘taste’. Saul turns out to be a king who ultimately does not take God and His will into account. He is therefore a model for the whole people.
Such a king God cannot maintain. He takes Saul away in wrath about his disobedience (1Chr 10:13-14). The same goes for the kings who reign over the ten tribes realm. Every king has come to the throne under the permission of God. But because they are unfaithful, God also permits them to disappear again, in any way. Many die a violent death.
The lesson for us is that God sometimes responds to what we compulsively ask. But He does so that through the hearing we will experience how great the foolishness of our questions has been. Decisive is not what we ask, but how we ask and for what purpose.
12 What Is Hidden Comes to Light
12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
His sin is stored up.
Instead of confessing his sin, Ephraim persists in his sin and stores or hides it. This is how Ephraim deals with his sin. But God also stores Ephraim’s sin. The words chosen by Hosea are reminiscent of the oriental custom of binding money and other valuables together in a bundle and putting them somewhere. This is done for safety.
The idea is that God preserves and stores the sins that Ephraim has committed and will not let go as a bundle of iniquity until the day of retribution (cf. Deu 32:33-34). Sins that have not been confessed will one day be judged righteously. On the other hand, we know that what has been confessed is truly removed by God: “Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:19b).
13 Pains of Childbirth, but No New Life
13 The pains of childbirth come upon him;
He is not a wise son,
For it is not the time that he should delay at the opening of the womb.
Pains of childbirth on the one hand indicate a time of distress and on the other hand they are ‘messengers’ of new life. When Hezekiah is in similar circumstances as the ten tribes here, he sends a message to Isaiah in which he also describes his situation as that of a woman about to give birth (Isa 37:3). The sequel shows that God hears the prayer of Hezekiah and gives salvation. Hezekiah and his people get, as it were, new life because God removed the threat of death from Hezekiah.
However, the people to whom Hosea addresses do not react that way. The enemy, Assyria, also threatens them. The distress, the threat of death, is abundantly present. But instead of new life coming, both mother and child perish here. They do not take refuge in the LORD.
The illustration used by Hosea is, in a certain sense, unusual. He compares Israel both with a woman in pains of childbirth and with a child that is born. Of this child Hosea says that it is not a wise child, because “it is not the time that he should delay at the opening of the womb”. This means that God brings punishment on the people, so that they will be reborn, so that they will follow Him again the way He wants them to. But they are so foolish not to seize this opportunity. God, always with this goal in mind, has already disciplined His people in different ways, but always without result.
14 Death Does Not Have the Last Word
14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O Death, where are your thorns?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion will be hidden from My sight.
The first part of the verse speaks of the people who are redeemed from the power of Sheol and from death. It is intended as an encouragement to the God-fearing among the people to take away from them the thought that they might also belong to the child that “is not a wise son” of the previous verse. Their feared enemies will never gain power over a people redeemed by God. These are thoughts that refer to the glorious future that lies ahead for the people.
Here, in the midst of the judgments that stand on their doorstep, is just another promise for the future. Again, and unsolicited, God wants to encourage His people. The total hopelessness of man is for God the opportunity to work for His people.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul quotes this verse from Hosea. First he says that death is swallowed up in victory (1Cor 15:54). This will be seen at the coming of Christ. Then the result of the work of “our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2Tim 1:10) becomes fully visible. All the living who believe in Him will be changed at His coming and all the dead who have died in faith in Him will be raised. Then the proof will have been given that through the death and resurrection of Christ, death has been swallowed up in victory.
Then Paul can also say, as a kind of victory call, following our verse here in Hosea, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” What Paul quotes from Hosea and uses in connection with the resurrection from the dead of those who belong to the church also applies in a literal sense to the Israel of the future. If all seems lost, if death from all sides threatens His people, the people will be redeemed by Christ (Isa 25:8-9). Also the ultimate liberation of Israel is based on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Hos 6:2).
If the LORD takes the matter in hand, He will not only subdue the enemies, but also Sheol and the grave. The last line of the verse, “repentance shall be hid from mine eyes” (Darby Translation) means that when the people return and are liberated, God will restore them without ever being sorry that He restored them.
15 Drought and Plunder
15 Though he flourishes among the reeds,
An east wind will come,
The wind of the LORD coming up from the wilderness;
And his fountain will become dry
And his spring will be dried up;
It will plunder [his] treasury of every precious article.
This verse brings us back to the reality of the moment. The flourishing may refer to the time of prosperity under Jeroboam II. Even if that time were to come once, it would also come to an end. By the east wind the Assyrians are meant, who in the year 722 BC would carry away the people like a sirocco, the aforementioned scorching desert wind. This judgment wind is called “the wind of the LORD” because this judgment emanates from him. God calls Assyria “the rod of My anger” (Isa 10:5) which He will send against His people (Isa 10:6).
Through the action of Assyria, “fountain” and “spring” will dry up. All the land will wither because of the lack of water. Also, the people will lose all their strength and prosperity. The road that leads away from God is a road full of loss and destruction.
16 Samaria Has to Pay
16 Samaria will be held guilty,
For she has rebelled against her God.
They will fall by the sword,
Their little ones will be dashed in pieces,
And their pregnant women will be ripped open.
Samaria here represents the entire northern empire of the ten tribes. The constant rebellion against his God is the reason why God has to carry out the judgment, which He postponed for so long. Thus, the punishment announced (Hos 9:11-12) is actually carried out. The judgment is radical.
The sword will do its pernicious work in three stages of life.
1. First the adults fall prey to the sword, especially of course those who can resist;
2. then the little children, for they will be able to resist in the future;
3. finally, the unborn child, which also prevents the growth of the people.
The atrocities described here do not only happen in primitive times or by primitive peoples. They are not only of that time, but they are also there in our time and they will also be there in the end times.