The prophet threatens to deport the population and their scattering. Then their worship will be over. The land will be left devastated. For the depopulation of the country, the prophet uses events that appeal to the imagination: no more birth, mother’s womb or conception and making them childless by extraditing to the murderer what is left of children. What is left is driven out of the land by God. He rejects them. The reason is given in the last verse: “Because they have not listened to Him.”
1 Wrong Exultation
1 Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations!
For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God.
You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor.
God certainly has no aversion to joy. Somberness has nothing to do with God and His service. God rejoices too. He is the God who wants to fulfill His people with “all joy” (Rom 15:13). But the joy of Israel is a false joy. They are like the eldest son in the parable in Luke 15. That boy also wanted to be happy, but only with his friends, without his father (Lk 15:29). The joy we notice here in Israel is a joy “like the nations”. God is excluded.
The prosperity that the people knew under Jeroboam II and that has become visible in an abundant harvest, they use for their own pleasures. They give them to Assyria to buy his favor. In this way they enter into an adulterous relationship. They do not realize that only God can give a solution and that human help is of no use (Psa 60:11b).
Verse 1 suggests that Hosea expresses his message while the people are feasting (cf. verse 5). Possibly it is a harvest festival, the Feast of Booth, or at least that which Jeroboam I invented as a substitute. For the announcement of the approaching judgments of God the prophets have several times made use of the great appointed festivals, because then there are many people together. Hosea must have been seen as a great killjoy there.
He admonishes them to stop having fun. They rejoice like the nations, and therein lies their harlotry. Through their covenant with God they have entered into a marriage relationship with Him. Every other connection has to be renounced. At such festivals, in addition to the spiritual harlotry practiced by the people, there is often literally harlotry as well. Hosea wants to awaken them from their rush of frivolous joy, because there is no reason at all for celebrating (Jam 4:9).
2 Taking Away the Cause of Joy
2 Threshing floor and wine press will not feed them,
And the new wine will fail them.
God’s judgment begins to strike the Israelites in their harvest. When there is nothing left to eat, there is also nothing left to party with. Probably due to lack of rain there will be no yield. Hosea’s message is: ‘Now you are celebrating, but soon there will be no more wheat to harvest and no more wine to be merry.’ Whoever finds his joy in the Lord Himself and not only in what He gives, will be able to rejoice in the Lord, even if there is want (Hab 3:17-18).
3 Removed from the Land of the LORD
3 They will not remain in the LORD’s land,
But Ephraim will return to Egypt,
And in Assyria they will eat unclean [food].
The judgment of the crop failure will be followed by the judgment of their removal from the land. The land ceases to feed and host the people. The land is here called “the LORD’s land”. The land is God’s exclusive property (Lev 25:23). It should be “a land of right” (Isa 26:10), a land where everyone gets his share of the abundance it brings (Deu 8:7-9).
However, they pretend it is their own land. They will be driven out of it as wicked people like Adam and Eve used to be from paradise. Those who do not submit to God’s law and do not open themselves to His mercy and love should not expect to remain in His land. God owns the right of ownership not only with respect to the land of Israel. His right of ownership concerns the whole earth (Psa 24:1). Therefore, every evil one will eventually be removed from it.
Egypt and Assyria are the countries to which they will be taken. Assyria is the land that will actually carry out the judgment (Hos 11:5). Mentioning Egypt should probably be seen more symbolically. Egypt is symbolic of the slavery from which Israel used to be liberated. In this slavery they end up again because of their unfaithfulness (cf. Hos 8:13), but now the king of Assyria will exercise power over them. In any case, Egypt and Assyria are the countries in which they have placed their trust instead of in God.
Anything they will eat under the slave yoke of the king of Assyria will be unclean because it does not come from the soil of the land of the LORD. Nor will the food be selected and prepared as Moses prescribed it, nor will it be sanctified because its first fruits have not been offered to God (Lev 23:10-12).
4 Sacrifices That Are Not Pleasing to the LORD
4 They will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the LORD,
Their sacrifices will not please Him.
[Their bread will be] like mourners’ bread;
All who eat of it will be defiled,
For their bread will be for themselves [alone];
It will not enter the house of the LORD.
The people do not think of giving anything of the fruit of the land to the LORD. They will “not pour out drink offerings of wine” to Him. Everything is for themselves. And if they bring anything as a sacrifice, it is also only to be able to eat it themselves (Hos 8:13). Once removed from the land, it is over with all the external, ceremonial service of Israel. There is one place of worship (Deu 12:5-6). This leaves no room for offering sacrifices in the foreign country to which they will be deported.
But even if they wanted to bring their sacrifices to Jerusalem, God would not accept them. Their sacrifices are not pleasing to Him. He does not want them in His house because their hearts are not humbled. When someone has died, they eat bread of mourning (cf. Jer 16:7). This is unclean through death (cf. Deu 26:14). So everything they want to sacrifice or eat will carry this character because it happens in an unclean land and by an unclean people.
5 A Question to Speak to Conscience
5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival
And on the day of the feast of the LORD?
Once taken away to Assyria they will not be able to make any more sacrifices. But they would not be able to feast either. During their stay outside the land, they will think of Jerusalem with homesickness and of the joy that was their part in the feasts of the LORD, but which has come to an end because of their unfaithfulness. The question of the prophet “what will you do?”, should bring them to reflection. They must understand the situation in which they find themselves and that the judgment is approaching.
6 Every Escape Cut Off
6 For behold, they will go because of destruction;
Egypt will gather them up, Memphis will bury them.
Weeds will take over their treasures of silver;
Thorns [will be] in their tents.
To escape the Assyrians, some will go south. But that land of their exile will also become their grave. By Egypt possibly again Assyria is meant. Memphis is famous for its enormous pyramids and numerous graves. It is also possible that they will seek refuge in Egypt for the Assyrians and will hope to return soon. That will not happen, however.
While they themselves will perish, all their treasures and all their wealth will be covered by weeds and thorns, which are an indication of what is reprehensible and will be burned. It will bring them nothing. As far as they will survive, there will be no peace in their tents, their homes. Prickly things, the irritations in their mutual relationships, will sour their lives. Thistles are the result of sin (Gen 3:18).
7 The Messenger of God Scorned
7 The days of punishment have come,
The days of retribution have come;
Let Israel know [this]!
The prophet is a fool,
The inspired man is demented,
Because of the grossness of your iniquity,
And [because] your hostility is [so] great.
Hosea sees that “the days of punishment” and “the days of retribution” have come. He means to say that they are at the door. There is also no doubt that Israel will experience the punishment and retribution in person. It seems that the people declare the prophet “is a fool” and call “the inspired man”, the man who is led by the Spirit of God, “demented”. This is how the people react to the man who clearly points out their sins to them. With these words, Israel will then taunt the true prophet. They may see that the prophet is in spirit. He is fully involved in his message (Isa 21:3).
We can imagine this as follows. After Hosea has announced the days of the judgment in the middle of the feast square, someone shouts: ‘The prophet is a fool! Away with that man, he disturbs our party.’ In this way the Lord Jesus is also scolded. From Him they say: “He has lost His senses” (Mk 3:21) and “He has a demon and is insane” (Jn 10:20). Also Paul is mocked in this way: “You are out of your mind! [Your] great learning is driving you mad” (Acts 26:24). In fact, anyone who is a true follower of the Lord Jesus can agree with what Paul says of himself and his associates: “We are fools for Christ’s sake” (1Cor 4:10).
By calling Hosea a fool, it is said that the prophet is someone to whom you should not pay any attention. When someone speaks harsh words that touch the conscience, it is best to call him insane, someone who rages. Then you immediately have an excuse not to listen to him.
After the prophet has interrupted and he has been scolded, he goes on imperturbably. He even agrees with the words of the mocker. Yes, he is insane, but the cause of this lies in the enormous scale of the iniquities of the people. At the sight of so much iniquity one cannot remain unmoved, can one? Does not that strike you? All the more so when you also see what a heavy judgment God will bring on this. It speaks of real love for the people to point this out to them and to continue even after rejection.
As the prophet warns the people in his love for them more and more vehemently, the reaction of the people becomes more and more painful for him and he is emphatically rejected. Behind the prophet we see God Himself. How must the reaction of the people have also grieved Him intensely. The sin to which the messenger of God points and from which one does not want to renounce, is the cause of their actions. The great enmity with which the people treat the prophet is in fact enmity against God. It shows great courage to continue faithfully, despite the reaction, to proclaim that a storm is brewing for a people who only want bread and plays.
8 Watchman With God
8 Ephraim [was] a watchman with my God, a prophet;
[Yet] the snare of a bird catcher is in all his ways,
[And] there is [only] hostility in the house of his God.
The prophet is a watchman with God for the benefit of the people (Eze 3:17). He is kept informed by God of His plans and with that he may serve the people (Hab 2:1). Being a watchman with God is a great privilege. This privilege is enjoyed by relatively few, even though the Lord Jesus says to all: “Be on the alert!” (Mk 13:37).
In addition to warning of impending doom, watchmen may also look forward to the morning (Isa 21:11-12). They may hear what God says (Hab 2:1). As already mentioned, the warnings of the prophet are not received in gratitude. An explanation of the sentence “the snare of a bird catcher is in all his ways” may be that people see the prophet as a snare. This may mean that they feel imprisoned by his words, that if they listen to him, they lose their freedom to live according to their own pleasures. They love sin too much to give up that life again.
Another explanation could be that the prophet must be aware that snares are hidden on his ways. The people to whom he addresses his message will do their best to silence his voice (cf. Amos 7:10-17). To do so, they will set traps and make pitfalls. They are lurking in wait to silence the prophet, or to catch him at his word, as they have always tried to do with the Lord Jesus.
The prophet does not experience this enmity from people outside God’s people. The bitter thing is that the prophet encounters such fierce opposition in the very house of his God. Where he wants to serve God, is where he experiences the most enmity (cf. Psa 55:12-14).
9 What Used to Be There, Is Still There Today
9 They have gone deep in depravity
As in the days of Gibeah;
He will remember their iniquity,
He will punish their sins.
The prophet points not so much to the place of Gibeah as to “the days of Gibeah” (cf. Hos 10:9; Judges 19-21). With this he points to what happened in the days of the judges in Gibea, but also to how they dealt with it, how the people reacted to it. It indicates the atmosphere in which that terrible sin is taking place and in which it becomes public what lives in the hearts of all who are involved.
By referring to the days of Gibea, Hosea says that it is no different in his days with the people. It is possible that sin does not manifest itself in the same way as it did in Gibea, where it is clearly perceptible. But certainly the atmosphere of that time is present in his days. That is why “they have gone deep in depravity”.
It is terrible, but the worst evil can happen, even now in the church. It is even more terrible if that sin is not judged or is only judged in a spirit of haughtiness and pride and for its own sake. God will ensure that sin is judged and that His people, in the midst of whom sin has taken place, learn to think about it and thereby learn to act as He does.
Sin never dies a natural death, but must be judged completely. When sin is admitted whether in the life of a person or in a local church, it will continue to do its work until it is judged. This judgment must be made by the person himself, or by the church; otherwise God will do it.
10 The Object of Their Love
10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness;
I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first [season].
[But] they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame,
And they became as detestable as that which they loved.
In the following section, the prophet refers three times to the beginning of the existence of Israel as a people (Hos 9:10; 10:1; 11:1). Each time he shows how unfaithful Israel has become to his Divine calling. God found Israel (Deu 32:10a). At that time He saw the whole people as grapes and figs. He had the joyful expectation of the full harvest. As an Owner He saw His people as someone who discovers the first grapes on his vine or who sees the first early figs on his fig tree in spring. This is how God looked at His people in the beginning and had His expectations of them. God reminds Israel of their feelings toward Him at that time (Jer 2:2-3).
Unfortunately, what was joyfully expected turned out to be a bitter disappointment. Baal-peor became a trap and exposed the unfaithfulness of the people (Num 25:3-18). Peor is a mountain in Moab to which the idol Baal is connected. Hosea not only points back to that first unfaithfulness, but also says that they have been behaving like that ever since. By devoting themselves to that “shame” or “shame-god”, the people have become just as horrible to God as the shame-god itself.
People start to look more and more like the object that is being admired. One will identify more and more with it and that will only increase as one becomes more absorbed in and surrendered to this object of his love. If something receives more attention and love than God in this way, we become “detestable” to Him. God cannot allow us to give the honor that belongs to Him to others.
11 As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird—
No birth, no pregnancy and no conception!
After the hunger in verse 2 and the deportment into captivity in verse 3, barrenness now follows as a judgment of God. This is a punishment that has never been threatened before. Ephraim means “double fruitfulness” (Gen 41:52), but “their glory”, the power of having many children (Psa 127:3-5; 128:6), will not be there. The people will not increase, but decrease. No more children will be born; the earlier stages, conception and pregnancy, will also be a thing of the past. Contrary to the general social views of today, it was then a great lack, almost a disgrace, not to have children.
12 Child Mortality
12 Though they bring up their children,
Yet I will bereave them until not a man is left.
Yes, woe to them indeed when I depart from them!
Of the children who have already been born, they will not enjoy for long. God Himself will see to it that they will die, perhaps because of a disease. The generation of people to whom Hosea addresses will be completely eradicated. There will be no succession. The way in which God will carry out this judgment is simple, but painful: He will depart from them. When God departs from someone, it is truly a “woe”. Outside of God, no life is possible. Everything that someone creates without God will perish.
13 Ephraim Like Tyre
13 Ephraim, as I have seen,
Is planted in a pleasant meadow like Tyre;
But Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter.
Tyre stands for strength and wealth, but also for pride and self-assurance. This is how Israel has developed. Unfortunately, they used all their prosperity for themselves and forgot from Whom they received all their blessings. Just as Tyre boasts of his own efforts, so has Israel (Deu 32:15). Those who raise their children in that spirit seek their doom. That doom is that they are slaughtered by someone who takes the life of the child.
The ‘slaughter’ can also happen by the circumstances we create ourselves that will make our children totally unwilling to live with God. This can happen when they see the character traits of Tyre in our lives as well. To see a child perish is bad, but it is even worse when we have to realize that it happened because of our own fault, because we searched for the things of the world and did not listen to God’s voice.
14 The Prayer of the Prophet
14 Give them, O LORD—what will You give?
Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
Hosea asks God to judge His people. With this he clearly chooses God’s side against the unfaithfulness of the people. Thus Elijah prays for drought (Jam 5:17). This may seem harsh, but only in this way can the people be reached and hopefully come to repentance. Hosea leaves the punishment to the LORD. The proposal he makes is the worst he can think of. He knows no worse judgment than death by miscarriage and lack of maternal nutrition.
It seems that he prays with bumps and knocks. He wants to ask something, but does not really know what. He leaves it to God, God must know. In that surrender he expresses what is necessary to strike God’s people. You feel how he struggles to save his people, to bring them back to God.
15 What God Cannot Love
15 All their evil is at Gilgal;
Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels.
God cannot tolerate sin in His house. His house here is the people of Israel. God can no longer say anything in favor of them, therefore He can no longer love them. God can never approach rebellion against His authority with love. It is good to think of that, especially in our time, when the love of God is so light-heartedly talked about. Someone can say: ‘He accepts us with our sins because He knows how we mean it.’
16 No Fruit For God
16 Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up,
They will bear no fruit.
Even though they bear children,
I will slay the precious ones of their womb.
Ephraim is compared to a sick plant. It will be similar to the cursed fig tree (Mk 11:12-14,20-25). The miracle in which the Lord Jesus curses the fig tree so that it withers from its roots is His only miracle of judgment. The meaning of this miracle is, that of the people who live in their own righteousness, there will never be any fruit for God. Ephraim, that is Israel, has proven this clearly in his history: all his descendants have shown the same rebellion. They have presented this rebellion to their children, raised them in it. God has no choice but to judge them.
17 My God will cast them away
Because they have not listened to Him;
And they will be wanderers among the nations.
Hosea here speaks of “my God”. With this he indicates that he fully agrees with God in His dealings with the people. He also indicates that He is no longer the God of Israel when the people will have been taken away. The reason for their removal and scattering among the people is clear, namely that they did not listen to God. Also the first king of Israel, Saul, is rejected because he did not listen to God (1Chr 10:13; 1Sam 15:23). This clearly indicates the importance God attaches to how we deal with His Word and what we do with it. But God never speaks like that.