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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Hosea Chapter 4


hos 4:0

II. The Ungodliness of Israel. Its Punishment, and Final Deliverance - Hosea 4-14

The spiritual adultery of Israel, with its consequences, which the prophet has exposed in the first part, and chiefly in a symbolical mode, is more elaborately detailed here, not only with regard to its true nature, viz., the religious apostasy and moral depravity which prevailed throughout the ten tribes, but also in its inevitable consequences, viz., the destruction of the kingdom and rejection of the people; and this is done with a repeated side-glance at Judah. To this there is appended a solemn appeal to return to the Lord, and a promise that the Lord will have compassion upon the penitent, and renew His covenant of grace with them.

The Depravity of Israel, and Its Exposure to Punishment - Hosea 4-6:3

The first section, in which the prophet demonstrates the necessity for judgment, by exposing the sins and follies of Israel, is divided into two parts by the similar openings, "Hear the word of the Lord" in Hos 4:1, and "Hear ye this" in Hos 5:1. The distinction between the two halves is, that in ch. 4 the reproof of their sins passes from Israel as a whole, to the sins of the priests in particular; whilst in Hos 5:1-15 it passes from the ruin of the priesthood to the depravity of the whole nation, and announces the judgment of devastation upon Ephraim, and then closes in Hos 6:1-3 with a command to return to the Lord. The contents of the two chapters, however, are so arranged, that it is difficult to divide them into strophes.

The Sins of Israel and the Visitation of God - Hosea 4

Hosea 4:1

hos 4:1

Hos 4:1-5 form the first strophe, and contain, so to speak, the theme and the sum and substance of the whole of the following threatening of punishment and judgment. Hos 4:1. "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye sons of Israel! for Jehovah has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land; for there is no truth, and no love, and no knowledge of God in the land." Israel of the ten tribes is here addressed, as Hos 4:15 clearly shows. The Lord has a controversy with it, has to accuse and judge it (cf. Mic 6:2), because truth, love, and the knowledge of God have vanished from the land. 'Emeth and chesed are frequently associated, not merely as divine attributes, but also as human virtues. They are used here in the latter sense, as in Pro 3:3. "There is no 'ĕmeth, i.e., no truthfulness, either in speech or action, no one trusting another any more" (cf. Jer 9:3-4). Chesed is not human love generally, but love to inferiors, and to those who need help or compassionate love. Truth and love are mutually conditions, the one of the other. "Truth cannot be sustained without mercy; and mercy without truth makes men negligent; so that the one ought to be mingled with the other" (Jerome). They both have their roots in the knowledge of God, of which they are the fruit (Jer 22:16; Isa 11:9); for the knowledge of God is not merely "an acquaintance with His nature and will" (Hitzig), but knowledge of the love, faithfulness, and compassion of God, resting upon the experience of the heart. Such knowledge not only produces fear of God, but also love and truthfulness towards brethren (cf. Eph 4:32; Col 3:12.). Where this is wanting, injustice gains the upper hand.

Hosea 4:2

hos 4:2

"Swearing, and lying, and murdering, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break in, and blood reaches to blood." The enumeration of the prevailing sins and crimes commences with infin. absoll., to set forth the acts referred to as such with the greater emphasis. 'Alâh, to swear, in combination with kichēsh, signifies false swearing (= אלוה שׁוא in Hos 10:4; compare the similar passage in Jer 7:9); but we must not on that account take kichēsh as subordinate to 'âlâh, or connect them together, so as to form one idea. Swearing refers to the breach of the second commandment, stealing to that of the eighth; and the infinitives which follow enumerate the sins against the fifth, the seventh, and the sixth commandments. With pârâtsū the address passes into the finite tense (Luther follows the lxx and Vulg., and connects it with what precedes; but this is a mistake). The perfects, pârâtsū and nâgâ‛ū, are not preterites, but express a completed act, reaching from the past into the present. Pârats to tear, to break, signifies in this instance a violent breaking in upon others, for the purpose of robbery and murder, "grassari as פריצים, i.e., as murderers and robbers" (Hitzig), whereby one bloody deed immediately followed another (Eze 18:10). Dâmı̄m: blood shed with violence, a bloody deed, a capital crime.

Hosea 4:3

hos 4:3

These crimes bring the land to ruin. Hos 4:3. "Therefore the land mourns, and every dweller therein, of beasts of the field and birds of the heaven, wastes away; and even the fishes of the sea perish." These words affirm not only that the inanimate creation suffers in consequence of the sins and crimes of men, but that the moral depravity of men causes the physical destruction of all other creatures. As God has given to man the dominion over all beasts, and over all the earth, that he may use it for the glory of God; so does He punish the wickedness of men by pestilences, or by the devastation of the earth. The mourning of the earth and the wasting away of the animals are the natural result of the want of rain and the great drought that ensues, such as was the case in the time of Ahab throughout the kingdom of the ten tribes (Kg1 17:18), and judging from Amo 1:2; Amo 8:8, may have occurred repeatedly with the continued idolatry of the people. The verbs are not futures, in which case the punishment would be only threatened, but aorists, expressing what has already happened, and will continue still. כּל־יושׁב בּהּ (every dweller therein): these are not the men, but the animals, as the further definition בּחיּה וגו shows. ב is used in the enumeration of the individuals, as in Gen 7:21; Gen 9:10. The fishes are mentioned last, and introduced with the emphasizing וגם, to show that the drought would prevail to such an extent, that even lakes and other waters would be dried up. האסף, to be collected, to be taken away, to disappear or perish, as in Isa 16:10; Isa 60:20; Jer 48:33.

Hosea 4:4

hos 4:4

Notwithstanding the outburst of the divine judgments, the people prove themselves to be incorrigible in their sins. Hos 4:4. "Only let no man reason, and let no man punish; yet thy people are like priest-strivers." אך is to be explained from the tacit antithesis, that with much depravity there would be much to punish; but this would be useless. The first clause contains a desperatae nequitiae argumentum. The notion that the second 'ı̄sh is to be taken as an object, is decidedly to be rejected, since it cannot be defended either from the expression אישׁ בּאישׁ in Isa 3:5, or by referring to Amo 2:15, and does not yield any meaning at all in harmony with the second half of the verse. For there is no need to prove that it does not mean, "Every one who has a priest blames the priest instead of himself when any misfortune happens to him," as Hitzig supposes, since עם signifies the nation, and not an individual. ועמּך is attached adversatively, giving the reason for the previous thought in the sense of "since thy people," or simply "thy people are surely like those who dispute with the priest." The unusual expression, priest-disputers, equivalent to quarrellers with the priest, an analogous expression to boundary-movers in Hos 5:10, may be explained, as Luther, and Grotius, and others suppose, from the law laid down in Deu 17:12-13, according to which every law-suit was to be ultimately decided by the priest and judge as the supreme tribunal, and in which, whoever presumes to resist the verdict of this tribunal, is threatened with the punishment of death. The meaning is, that the nation resembled those who are described in the law as rebels against the priest (Hengstenberg, Dissertations on Pentateuch, vol. 1. p. 112, translation). The suffix "thy nation" does not refer to the prophet, but to the sons of Israel, the sum total of whom constituted their nation, which is directly addressed in the following verse.

Hosea 4:5

hos 4:5

"And so wilt thou stumble by day, and the prophet with thee will also stumble by night, and I will destroy thy mother." Kshal is not used here with reference to the sin, as Simson supposes, but for the punishment, and signifies to fall, in the sense of to perish, as in Hos 14:2; Isa 31:3, etc. היּום is not to-day, or in the day when the punishment shall fall, but "by day," interdiu, on account of the antithesis לילה, as in Neh 4:16. נביא, used without an article in the most indefinite generality, refers to false prophets - not of Baal, however, but of Jehovah as worshipped under the image of a calf - who practised prophesying as a trade, and judging from Kg1 22:6, were very numerous in the kingdom of Israel. The declaration that the people should fall by day and the prophets by night, does not warrant our interpreting the day and night allegorically, the former as the time when the way of right is visible, and the latter as the time when the way is hidden or obscured; but according to the parallelism of the clauses, it is to be understood as signifying that the people and the prophets would fall at all times, by night and by day. "There would be no time free from the slaughter, either of individuals in the nation at large, or of false prophets" (Rosenmller). In the second half of the verse, the destruction of the whole nation and kingdom is announced ('ēm is the whole nation, as in Hos 2:2; Heb 4:1).

Hosea 4:6

hos 4:6

This thought is carried out still further in the second strophe, Hos 4:6-10. Hos 4:6. "My nation is destroyed for lack of knowledge; for thou, the knowledge hast thou rejected, and so do I reject thee from being a priest to me. Thou didst forget the law of thy God; thy sons will I also forget." The speaker is Jehovah: my nation, that is to say, the nation of Jehovah. This nation perishes for lack of the knowledge of God and His salvation. Hadda‛ath (the knowledge) with the definite article points back to da‛ath Elōhı̄m (knowledge of God) in Hos 4:1. This knowledge Israel might have drawn from the law, in which God had revealed His counsel and will (Deu 30:15), but it would not. It rejected the knowledge and forgot the law of its God, and would be rejected and forgotten by God in consequence. In 'attâh (thou) it is not the priests who are addressed - the custodians of the law and promoters of divine knowledge in the nation - but the whole nation of the ten tribes which adhered to the image-worship set up by Jeroboam, with its illegal priesthood (Kg1 12:26-33), in spite of all the divine threats and judgments, through which one dynasty after another was destroyed, and would not desist from this sin of Jeroboam. The Lord would therefore reject it from being priest, i.e., would deprive it of the privilege of being a priestly nation (Exo 19:6), would strip it of the privilege of being a priestly nation (Exo 19:6), would strip it of its priestly rank, and make it like the heathen. According to Olshausen (Heb. Gram. p. 179), the anomalous form אמאסאך is only a copyist's error for אמאסך; but Ewald (247, e) regards it as an Aramaean pausal form. "Thy sons," the children of the national community, regarded as a mother, are the individual members of the nation.

Hosea 4:7

hos 4:7

"The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; their glory will I change into shame." כּרבּם, "according to their becoming great," does not refer to the increase of the population only (Hos 9:11), but also to its growing into a powerful nation, to the increase of its wealth and prosperity, in consequence of which the population multiplied. The progressive increase of the greatness of the nation was only attended by increasing sin. As the nation attributed to its own idols the blessings upon which its prosperity was founded, and by which it was promoted (cf. Hos 2:7), and looked upon them as the fruit and reward of its worship, it was strengthened in this delusion by increasing prosperity, and more and more estranged from the living God. The Lord would therefore turn the glory of Ephraim, i.e., its greatness or wealth, into shame. כּבודם is probably chosen on account of its assonance with כּרבּם. For the fact itself, compare Hos 2:3, Hos 2:9-11.

Hosea 4:8

hos 4:8

"The sin of my people they eat, and after their transgression do they lift up their soul." The reproof advances from the sin of the whole nation to the sin of the priesthood. For it is evident that this is intended, not only from the contents of the present verse, but still more from the commencement of the next. Chatta'th ‛ammı̄ (the sin of my people) is the sin-offering of the people, the flesh of which the priests were commanded to eat, to wipe away the sin of the people (see Lev 6:26, and the remarks upon this law at Lev 10:17). The fulfilment of this command, however, became a sin on the part of the priests, from the fact that they directed their soul, i.e., their longing desire, to the transgression of the people; in other words, that they wished the sins of the people to be increased, in order that they might receive a good supply of sacrificial meat to eat. The prophet evidently uses the word chattâ'th, which signifies both sin and sin-offering, in a double sense, and intends to designate the eating of the flesh of the sin-offering as eating or swallowing the sin of the people. נשׂא נפשׁ אל, to lift up or direct the soul after anything, i.e., to cherish a longing for it, as in Deu 24:15, etc. The singular suffix attached to naphshō (his soul) is to be taken distributively: "(they) every one his soul."

(Note: It is evident from this verse, that the sacrificial worship was maintained in the kingdom of Israel according to the ritual of the Mosaic law, and that the Israelitish priests were still in possession of the rights conferred by the Pentateuch upon Levitical priests.)

Hosea 4:9

hos 4:9

"Therefore it will happen as to the people so to the priest; and I will visit his ways upon him, and I repay to him his doing." Since the priests had abused their office for the purpose of filling their own bellies, they would perish along with the nation. The suffixes in the last clauses refer to the priest, although the retribution threatened would fall upon the people also, since it would happen to the priest as to the people. This explains the fact that in Hos 4:10 the first clause still applies to the priest; whereas in the second clause the prophecy once more embraces the entire nation.

Hosea 4:10

hos 4:10

"They will eat, and not be satisfied; they commit whoredom, and do not increase: for they have left off taking heed to Jehovah." The first clause, which still refers to the priests on account of the evident retrospect in ואכלוּ to יאכלוּ in Hos 4:8, is taken from the threat in Lev 26:16. The following word hiznū, to practise whoredom (with the meaning of the kal intensified as in Lev 26:18, not to seduce to whoredom), refers to the whole nation, and is to be taken in its literal sense, as the antithesis לא יפרצוּ requires. Pârats, to spread out, to increase in number, as in Exo 1:12 and Gen 28:14. In the last clause Lשׁמר belongs to Jehovah: they have given up keeping Jehovah, i.e., giving heed to Him (cf. Zac 11:11). This applies to the priests as well as to the people. Therefore God withdraws His blessing from both, so that those who eat are not satisfied, and those who commit whoredom do not increase.

Hosea 4:11

hos 4:11

The allusion to whoredom leads to the description of the idolatrous conduct of the people in the third strophe, Hos 4:11-14, which is introduced with a general sentence. Hos 4:11. "Whoring and wine and new wine take away the heart (the understanding"). Zenūth is licentiousness in the literal sense of the word, which is always connected with debauchery. What is true of this, namely, that it weakens the mental power, shows itself in the folly of idolatry into which the nation has fallen. Hos 4:12. "My nation asks its wood, and its stick prophesies to it: for a spirit of whoredom has seduced, and they go away whoring from under their God." שׁאל בּעצו is formed after בּיהוה, to ask for a divine revelation of the idols made of wood (Jer 10:3; Hab 2:19), namely, the teraphim (cf. Hos 3:4, and Eze 21:26). This reproof is strengthened by the antithesis my nation, i.e., the nation of Jehovah, the living God, and its wood, the wood made into idols by the people. The next clause, "and its stick is showing it," sc. future events (higgı̄d as in Isa 41:22-23, etc.), is supposed by Cyril of Alexandria to refer to the practice of rhabdomancy, which he calls an invention of the Chaldaeans, and describes as consisting in this, that two rods were held upright, and then allowed to fall while forms of incantation were being uttered; and the oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell, whether forwards or backwards, to the right or to the left. The course pursued was probably similar to that connected with the use of the wishing rods.

(Note: According to Herod. iv. 67, this kind of soothsaying was very common among the Scythians (see at Eze 21:26). Another description of rhabdomancy is described by Abarbanel, according to Maimonides and Moses Mikkoz: cf. Marck and Rosenmller on this passage.)

The people do this because a spirit of whoredom has besotted them.

By rūăch zenūnı̄m the whoredom is represented as a demoniacal power, which has seized upon the nation. Zenūnı̄m probably includes both carnal and spiritual whoredom, since idolatry, especially the Asherah-worship, was connected with gross licentiousness. The missing object to התעה may easily be supplied from the context. זנה מתּחת אל, which differs from זנה מאחרי (Hos 1:2), signifies "to whore away from under God," i.e., so as to withdraw from subjection to God.

Hosea 4:13

hos 4:13

This whoredom is still further explained in the next verse. Hos 4:13. "They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and upon the hills they burn incense, under oak and poplar and terebinth, for their shadow is good; therefore your daughters commit whoredom, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery." Mountain-tops and hills were favourite places for idolatrous worship; because men thought, that there they were nearer to heaven and to the deity (see at Deu 12:2). From a comparison of these and other passages, e.g., Jer 2:20 and Jer 3:6, it is evident that the following words, "under oak," etc., are not to be understood as signifying that trees standing by themselves upon mountains and hills were selected as places for idolatrous worship; but that, in addition to mountains and hills, green shady trees in the plains and valleys were also chosen for this purpose. By the enumeration of the oak, the poplar (lı̄bhneh, the white poplar according to the Sept. in loc. and the Vulg. at Gen 37:30, or the storax-tree, as the lxx render it at Gen 37:30), and the terebinth, the frequent expression "under every green tree" (Deu 12:2; Kg1 14:23; Jer 2:20; Jer 3:6) is individualized. Such trees were selected because they gave a good shade, and in the burning lands of the East a shady place fills the mind with sacred awe. על־כּן, therefore, on that account, i.e., not because the shadow of the trees invites to it, but because the places for idolatrous worship erected on every hand presented an opportunity for it; therefore the daughters and daughters-in-law carried on prostitution there. The worship of the Canaanitish and Babylonian goddess of nature was associated with prostitution, and with the giving up of young girls and women (compare Movers, Phnizier, i. pp. 583, 595ff.).

Hosea 4:14

hos 4:14

"I will not visit it upon your daughters that they commit whoredom, nor upon your daughters-in-law that they commit adultery; for they themselves go aside with harlots, and with holy maidens do they sacrifice: and the nation that does not see is ruined." God would not punish the daughters and daughters-in-law for their whoredom, because the elder ones did still worse. "So great was the number of fornications, that all punishment ceased, in despair of any amendment" (Jerome). With כּי הם God turns away from the reckless nation, as unworthy of being further addressed or exhorted, in righteous indignation at such presumptuous sinning, and proceed to speak about it in the third person: for "they (the fathers and husbands, not 'the priest,' as Simson supposes, since there is no allusion to them here) go," etc. פּרד, piel in an intransitive sense, to separate one's self, to go aside for the purpose of being alone with the harlots. Sacrificing with the qedēshōth, i.e., with prostitutes, or Hetairai (see at Gen 38:14), may have taken its rise in the prevailing custom, viz., that fathers of families came with their wives to offer yearly sacrifices, and the wives shared in the sacrificial meals (Sa1 1:3.). Coming to the altar with Hetairai instead of their own wives, was the climax of shameless licentiousness. A nation that had sunk so low and had lost all perception must perish. לבט = Arab. lbṭ: to throw to the earth; or in the niphal, to cast headlong into destruction (Pro 10:8, Pro 10:10).

Hosea 4:15

hos 4:15

A different turn is now given to the prophecy, viz., that if Israel would not desist from idolatry, Judah ought to beware of participating in the guilt of Israel; and with this the fourth strophe (Hos 4:15-19) is introduced, containing the announcement of the inevitable destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes. Hos 4:15. "If thou commit whoredom, O Israel, let not Judah offend! Come ye not to Gilgal, go not up to Bethaven, and swear ye not by the life of Jehovah." אשׁם, to render one's self guilty by participating in the whoredom, i.e., the idolatry, of Israel. This was done by making pilgrimages to the places of idolatrous worship in that kingdom, viz., to Gilgal, i.e., not the Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan, but the northern Gilgal upon the mountains, which has been preserved in the village of Jiljilia to the south-west of Silo (Seilun; see at Deu 11:30 and Jos 8:35). In the time of Elijah and Elisha it was the seat of a school of the prophets (Kg2 2:1; Kg2 4:38); but it was afterwards chosen as the seat of one form of idolatrous worship, the origin and nature of which are unknown (compare Hos 9:15; Hos 12:12; Amo 4:4; Amo 5:5). Bethaven is not the place of that name mentioned in Jos 7:2, which was situated to the south-east of Bethel; but, as Amo 4:4 and Amo 5:5 clearly show, a name which Hosea adopted from Amo 5:5 for Bethel (the present Beitin), to show that Bethel, the house of God, had become Bethaven, a house of idols, through the setting up of the golden calf there (Kg1 12:29). Swearing by the name of Jehovah was commanded in the law (Deu 6:13; Deu 10:20; compare Jer 4:2); but this oath was to have its roots in the fear of Jehovah, to be simply an emanation of His worship. The worshippers of idols, therefore, were not to take it into their mouths. The command not to swear by the life of Jehovah is connected with the previous warnings. Going to Gilgal to worship idols, and swearing by Jehovah, cannot go together. The confession of Jehovah in the mouth of an idolater is hypocrisy, pretended piety, which is more dangerous than open ungodliness, because it lulls the conscience to sleep.

Hosea 4:16

hos 4:16

The reason for this warning is given in Hos 4:16., viz., the punishment which will fall upon Israel. Hos 4:16. "For Israel has become refractory like a refractory cow; now will Jehovah feed them like a lamb in a wide field." סורר, unmanageable, refractory (Deu 21:18, cf. Zac 7:11). As Israel would not submit to the yoke of the divine law, it should have what it desired. God would feed it like a lamb, which being in a wide field becomes the prey of wolves and wild beasts, i.e., He would give it up to the freedom of banishment and dispersion among the nations.

Hosea 4:17

hos 4:17

"Ephraim is joined to idols, let it alone." חבוּר עצבּים, bound up with idols, so that it cannot give them up. Ephraim, the most powerful of the ten tribes, is frequently used in the loftier style of the prophets for Israel of the ten tribes. הנּח־לו, as in Sa2 16:11; Kg2 23:18, let him do as he likes, or remain as he is. Every attempt to bring the nation away from its idolatry is vain. The expression hannach-lō does not necessitate the assumption, however, that these words of Jehovah are addressed to the prophets. They are taken from the language of ordinary life, and simply mean: it may continue in its idolatry, the punishment will not long be delayed.

Hosea 4:18

hos 4:18

"Their drinking has degenerated; whoring they have committed whoredom; their shields have loved, loved shame. Hos 4:19. The wind has wrapt it up in its wings, so that they are put to shame because of their sacrifices." סר from סוּר, to fall off, degenerate, as in Jer 2:21. סבא is probably strong, intoxicating wine (cf. Isa 1:22; Nah 1:10); here it signifies the effect of this wine, viz., intoxication. Others take sâr in the usual sense of departing, after Sa1 1:14, and understand the sentence conditionally: "when their intoxication is gone, they commit whoredom." But Hitzig has very properly object to this, that it is intoxication which leads to licentiousness, and not temperance. Moreover, the strengthening of hisnū by the inf. abs. is not in harmony with this explanation. The hiphil hiznâh is used in an emphatic sense, as in Hos 4:10. The meaning of the last half of the verse is also a disputed point, more especially on account of the word הבוּ, which only occurs here, and which can only be the imperative of יהב (הבוּ for הבוּ), or a contraction of אהבוּ. All other explanations are arbitrary. But we are precluded from taking the word as an imperative by קלון, which altogether confuses the sense, if we adopt the rendering "their shields love 'Give ye' - shame." We therefore prefer taking הבוּ as a contraction of אהבוּ, and אהבוּ הבוּ as a construction resembling the pealal form, in which the latter part of the fully formed verb is repeated, with the verbal person as an independent form (Ewald, 120), viz., "their shields loved, loved shame," which yields a perfectly suitable thought. The princes are figuratively represented as shields, as in Ps. 47:10, as the supporters and protectors of the state. They love shame, inasmuch as they love the sin which brings shame. This shame will inevitably burst upon the kingdom. The tempest has already seized upon the people, or wrapt them up with its wings (cf. Psa 18:11; Psa 104:3), and will carry them away (Isa 57:13). צרר, literally to bind together, hence to lay hold of, wrap up. Rūăch, the wind, or tempest, is a figurative term denoting destruction, like רוּח קדים in Hos 13:15 and Eze 5:3-4. אותהּ refers to Ephraim represented as a woman, like the suffix attached to מגנּיה in Hos 4:18. יבשׁוּ מזּבחותם, to be put to shame on account of their sacrifices, i.e., to be deceived in their confidence in their idols (bōsh with min as in Hos 10:6; Jer 2:36; Jer 12:13, etc.), or to discover that the sacrifices which they offered to Jehovah, whilst their heart was attached to the idols, did not save from ruin. The plural formation זבחות for זבחים only occurs here, but it has many analogies in its favour, and does not warrant our altering the reading into מזבּחותם, after the Sept. ἐκ τῶν θυσιατηρίων, as Hitzig proposes; whilst the inadmissibility of this proposal is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that there is nothing to justify the omission of the indispensable מן, and the cases which Hitzig cites as instances in which min is omitted (viz., Zac 14:10; Psa 68:14, and Deu 23:11) are based upon a false interpretation.

Next: Hosea Chapter 5