Hosea 13
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.
1. When Ephraim spake trembling, &c.] The Hebrew is difficult, and the soundness of the text is perhaps questionable. At any rate, the rendering will depend on one’s impression of the requirements of the context. To the present writer, no translation appears preferable to that of King James’s Bible, and he has a pleasure in finding himself in accord with this version, which must of necessity rarely be the case in obscure passages. The single objection to the rendering is that expressed by Mr Huxtable in the Speaker’s Commentary, viz. that it ‘would give to the tribe of Ephraim a character out of harmony alike with Hosea’s description of it in Hosea 5:5 and with the history.’ But the passage referred to requires to be explained differently, and as to the history of the tribe, we are not here concerned with the facts as viewed critically, but as they presented themselves to a preacher in search of edification. Hosea has once already pointed the people of Israel to the golden age of the past, when Israel as a whole was comparable to ‘grapes in the wilderness’ and ‘the firstripe in the fig tree’ (Hosea 9:10, see note); he conceives of Jehovah as kindly overlooking the human frailty of his child in consideration of Israel’s latent possibilities. ‘When Ephraim spake trembling’, &c., may therefore be expanded thus, ‘When the Ephraimites in trembling accents responded to the divine call (comp. Hosea 2:15), they rose to the exalted position which its prophetic ancestor foreshadowed (Genesis 49:22-26).’ The reference is partly to the leadership of the Ephraimite Joshua, partly to the prosperity which attended the tribe of Ephraim even when it no longer supplied a general, a judge, or a king to the entire nation. The other chief renderings are, ‘When Ephraim spake, [there was] terror’, &c., i.e., men listened to Ephraim with fear and trembling; and, ‘When Ephraim spake of revolt (?), [and] lifted itself up [as a rebel] in Israel’, continuing in the next clause, ‘it became guilty through Baal, and died.’ In the latter case, the reference is to the revolt of the Ten Tribes, and the public sanction then given to a retrograde religion. The advantage of this view is that it enables us to give precisely the same meaning to Ephraim in both parts of Hosea 13:1; but as the text stands, the writer feels unable to accept it, as the sense of ‘revolt’ cannot be justified. It is very possible that the text is corrupt.

but when he offended in Baal, he died] Rather, if the Authorized Version’s view of the meaning be retained, but he became guilty through the Baal, and died. That is, in course of time, the Ten Tribes severed themselves definitely from the progressive teaching of the higher spiritual prophecy, and by so doing sealed their doom as a nation. The Baal-worship spoken of is not the form of religion against which Elijah thundered; that was introduced from Phœnicia, whereas a simpler but still idolatrous worship was offered by the northern Israelites to Jehovah under the name of ‘Baal’ (see on Hosea 2:13; Hosea 2:16). Finding a multitude of Canaanitish sacred places dedicated each to its own ‘Baal’ or patron-deity, they forthwith identified this Baal with their own Jehovah, and so fell under the same condemnation as their heathen predecessors. They failed to go forward with Amos and Hosea, and so they could not but fall behind to a degenerate and lower type of religion.

died] Ephraim was ‘dead while he lived’ (1 Timothy 5:6, comp. Proverbs 9:18, and Dante, Inferno XXXIII. 139–157). So Genesis 2:17, ‘in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.’ Till Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, there was the hope that, though not created immortal, he might yet be exempted from decay and death. So, till Ephraim deliberately corrupted his religion, there was always the possibility that God might recognize him as a permanent factor in the religious history of the world. Comp. on Hosea 5:12.

1–8. Israel signed his own death-warrant when he lapsed into Baal-worship. Foolish as it is to ‘kiss calves’, they persist in the practice. Therefore the nation can but drift away, like cloud, or chaff, or smoke. How little Jehovah deserves such treatment! But Israel’s destruction has already begun: they shall be torn piecemeal.

And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.
2. And now, &c.] The present race is no better; they go on adding to their guilt.

idols according to their own understanding] Sarcastically. Sept., Targ., Vulg., however, read ‘according to the pattern of idols’ (there could be no art, then, in these repetitions of archaic images).

they say of them, &c.] This part of the verse is very difficult; it will be best to clear up first the meaning of the closing words. There are two rival renderings, ‘sacrificers of men, they kiss calves’ (so substantially the Sept., the Vulg., Rashi, Aben Ezra, Calvin, Horsley, Kuenen), and human sacrificers, they kiss calves (so Kimchi and many moderns). Either rendering implies a strong touch of sarcasm. In the first case, it is the strange perversity of slaying men and kissing calves which the prophet lashes; in the second, the affront to human reason in doing homage to dumb animals. The objection to the former explanation is the fact that human sacrifices were not, so far as we know, offered to the calf- or rather steer-gods, and indeed were hardly known in the land of Israel before the time of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3). Besides, would the prophet have referred to such abominable cruelty in such a casual way, more, as has been well said, in a vein of satire than of indignation? Now let us turn to the opening words of the sentence. The parallelism in this and the following verse is so thoroughly carried out, that for symmetry’s sake we can hardly help rendering, unto such [the idols] do they speak. The sarcasm is as manifest here as in the following words; what can be more absurd than to address vows and prayers to the worshippers’ own handiwork, to things ‘which have mouths, and speak not.’ The objection is, that the meaning ‘speak’ is not a common one for ’âmar (properly ‘to say’), but Psalm 4:5 shows that the verb in question may be used absolutely, even in classical Hebrew. It is possible however that there is a corruption, and that we should read, for instance, for ‘speak’ (or ‘say’), ‘burn incense.’

kiss] ‘Kiss’, viz. as a sign of adoration or homage, by a transition like that in the usage of προσκυνέω. So whenever (a) idols, or (b) supposed divine beings, or (c) kings are referred to; comp. (a) 1 Kings 19:18, (b) Job 31:27, (c) Psalm 2:12 (Genesis 41:40; 1 Samuel 10:1 can hardly be quoted here). The ‘kiss’ of adoration consisted sometimes, as in Job l.c., in kissing the hand towards the idol (comp. προσκυνέω again). For the kiss of homage, comp. the Assyrian phrase ‘they kissed my feet.’

the calves] i.e., the small images of an ox, such as are referred to in 1 Kings 12:28.

Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.
3. the early dew, &c.] Rather, the night-mist that early passeth away. See on Hosea 6:4.

as the chaff … the floor] A familiar figure, but here expressed with more fulness than usual. The point of it is partly in the elevated situation of ‘the floor’ (comp. 1 Samuel 19:22 Sept.; 2 Samuel 24:18; 2 Chronicles 3:1), partly in the suddenness of the whirlwinds in Palestine, which start up ‘as if by magic or spirit-influence’ (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 154).

chimney] Rather, lattice.

Yet I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me.
4. Yet I am the Lord thy God] Hosea persistently refuses to recognize that the god whom the Israelites worship is really Israel’s God, Jehovah. The use of an idolatrous symbol has so unspiritualized the object of their worship that the mere retention of the name Jehovah gives them no claim upon Hosea’s sympathy. The prophet therefore introduces Jehovah as expostulating with the Israelites for the abandonment of their hereditary religion.

thou shalt know no god but me] Rather, thou knowest, &c.; the experience of history bore witness to Jehovah’s help, and his alone. Comp. Deuteronomy 32:12. Hosea however does not deny the existence of other gods besides Jehovah; only their equality to Him in power. It was only by degrees that the truth involved in the revelation of Jehovah was fully realized. See Introduction.

I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
5. I did know, &c.] Better, It was I that knew, &c. ‘To know’=‘to take favourable notice of’, as Psalm 1:6 and often.

in the land of great drought] Or, ‘of burning thirst’ (the word occurs nowhere else). Comp. the description in Hosea 2:3.

According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.
6. According to their pasture, &c.] Rather, When they fed, they waxed full. The idea of the verse is that Israel’s apostasy sprang from his enjoying God’s gifts without thinking of the Giver, comp. Hosea 2:8, Hosea 4:7, Hosea 10:1. The expressions were probably prophetic commonplaces; comp. Deuteronomy 8:11-15; Deuteronomy 31:20; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18.

Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them:
7. I will be] Rather, I have become. The evident decay of Israel as a nation shows that the punishment has begun (see Hosea 7:8-10).

the leopard] Familiar to the Hebrews and Assyrians under the same name (nâmçr, nimru). Its habit of springing from an ambush is again referred to in Jeremiah 5:6.

by the way will I observe them] According to another pronunciation of the consonants, the Septuagint, Peshito, and Vulgate (supported by some MSS. and many editions of the Hebrew Bible), render ‘in the way to Assyria’, an allusion being supposed to Israel’s dallying with the great northern empire (Hosea 5:13). So also Hitzig and Ewald. But the prophet has to deal now with the disease itself, not with a mere symptom.

I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.
8. as a dear] A striking but uncommon comparison. Comp. Lamentations 3:10.

the caul of their heart] Rather, the enclosure of their heart, i.e., not the pericardium, which is what the Authorized Version appears to have supposed, but the breast.

as a lion] Most render, as a lioness; but this is at any rate uncertain. There is nothing as in Job 4:11 specially to suggest the female. The masculine undoubtedly occurs in Psalm 57:5 (Hebr.). The root-idea is probably voracity; but unfortunately there is no cognate in Assyrian. The numerous words for lion in Hebrew are as trouble-some to express in English, as the translators of the Sept. found them in Greek (Sept. here has σκύμνοι δρυμοῦ).

O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.
9. Hosea, ‘in the spirit’, sees the future as if it were past. Hence the use of the perfect.

O Israel, &c.] This rendering agrees with that of the Jewish commentator, Rashi (similarly the Targum). It belongs to a numerous series of attempts (see Poole’s Synopsis ad loc.) to explain one of Hosea’s most abrupt sentences. The text, as it stands, means literally, ‘He (or, It) hath destroyed thee, O Israel, because (or, that) on (or, against) me, on (or, against) thy help’, that is, as most moderns interpret, This is thy destruction, O Israel, that to me, to thy helper, (thou hast been unfaithful): the abruptness is attributed to the ‘labouring voice, interrupted by sobs’ (Ewald) of one whose pity is only less strong than his regard for justice. Turning to the versions, we find the Septuagint rendering, Τῇ διαφθορᾷ σου Ἰσραήλ τίς βοηθήσει; the Peshito, ‘I have destroyed thee, O Israel; who shall help thee’; the Vulgate, ‘Perditio tua, Israel; tantummodo in me auxilium tuum.’ As Louis Cappel long ago saw, the slight variation of a single letter implied in the Septuagint and Peshito renderings greatly improves the latter part of the verse. Accepting this, we may render the whole, ‘He hath destroyed thee, O Israel; yea, who Is thy help?’ By ‘Israel’ of course Ephraim, i.e. N. Israel, is meant. For the idiom ‘in thy help’= invested with the character of a helper, comp. Delitzsch’s note on Psalm 35:2. The alternative is to suppose that a word has dropped out of the text. Ewald’s explanation (above) is forced.

I will be thy king, &c.] Rather, Where, now, is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities? The prophet looks a little way before him to the fulfilment of the predictions in Hosea 10:14 (‘all thy fortresses’) and Hosea 11:6 (‘his cities’).

thy judges] The ‘judges’ appear to be synonymous (comp. Hosea 7:7) with ‘king and princes’, who, of course, in Israel as well as in Judah (Jeremiah 21:11-12) shared the judicial functions. See on Hosea 3:4, Hosea 8:12.

Give me a king] Some compare 1 Samuel 8:5 (of Saul), but Hosea is not opposed to royalty in itself. See next note.

9–15. An alternation of cries expressive of the contending thoughts and emotions of the tender-hearted but truthful prophet. The punishment is inevitable; yea, it is begun. Yet—if Israel would only repent! Indeed, his Father must interpose. And yet, on the other hand, rebellion must be punished.

I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?
I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.
11. I gave thee, &c.] Rather, I give thee kings [lit., a king] in mine anger, and take (them) away in my wrath. The reference is to the elevation of Jeroboam I., but also to the various dynasties which from time to time forced their way to the throne (comp. on Hosea 7:7). Indulged self-will brought with it its own punishment—hardening of the heart in apostasy. Thus our passage seems to mediate between the two different views of Jeroboam’s act presented to us in Hosea 1:11 (see note) and 1 Kings 11:29-39 respectively. In one sense Jehovah ‘gave’; in another, he ‘gave’ not.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid.
12. But this instability of government is not Israel’s full punishment.

bound up] Tied up as in a bag (comp. Job 14:17).

hid] Rather, laid by in store (as Job 21:19).

The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children.
13, 14. These verses, at least down to the last clause of Hosea 13:14, seem a slight digression. The prophet declares that the troubles which are already closing around Israel, are in reality a last opportunity graciously vouchsafed of repentance. But he in his unwisdom neglects to embrace it, though every moment of delay increases his danger. Notice the two-fold application of the figure of childbirth. Israel is first of all the travailing woman, and then the child whose birth is imperilled by its weak will. Mr Huxtable well compares the abruptness with which St Paul shifts the application of an image; see e.g. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; 2 Corinthians 3:13-15.

The sorrows … shall come] Rather, The pangs … come (are in the process of coming). The divine judgment is compared to the pangs of trouble, as in Micah 4:9; Matthew 24:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

he is an unwise son] Comp. Deuteronomy 32:6, ‘Do ye thus requite Jehovah, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father’, &c.

for he should not, &c.] Or better, ‘for at the (right) time he standeth not’, &c. But as the rendering ‘at the (right) time’ is doubtful, it is better still to alter the points (as in Ezekiel 27:34) and render, for now he standeth not in the place where children break forth. The passage is akin to Isaiah 37:2, where Judah’s utter incapacity to emerge out of its troubles is compared to the inability of a woman to perform the act of bringing forth. Here, however, to suggest a moral lesson to Israel, the weak will of the child is represented as the cause of the failure. It is a new birth which Israel needs; and if calamity only had its right effect on the conscience, the language ascribed to Israel in Hosea 6:2 would be verified, ‘on the third day … we shall live in his sight.’ For the two-fold aspect in which Hosea here views the judgment, comp. Hosea 6:1.

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
14. But a father cannot long endure to contemplate the prospect of his child’s ruin.

from the power of the grave … from death] Rather, from the hand of Sheól … from Death. Sheól and Death are used synonymously for the nether world (as in Isaiah 28:15; Psalm 6:5; Psalm 49:14). In Isaiah 5:14 Sheól has an enormous mouth; so here a hand.

O death … destruction] So Gesenius, following the Targum and Vulgate. But, as Dr Pusey remarks, on this view of the construction, we must render ‘I would be thy plagues’, &c., whereas the context requires an absolute declaration. Render therefore, Where are thy plagues, O Sheól? where thy pestilence, O Death? (Comp. Psalm 91:6 Hebr.). ‘The plagues are the mille viœ leti the many kinds of sickness, the most terrible of which is called “the firstborn of Death”, Job 18:13 (Hitzig). Though all the plagues which fill the dark city of Sheól were let loose upon Israel as a nation, they would be incapable of destroying Jehovah’s ‘son.’ St Paul quotes these words (1 Corinthians 15:55) in a translation of his own either as proving the doctrine of the Resurrection, or simply as well expressing his own triumphant feelings. Triumphant the tone of Hosea’s words certainly is, and hence some have thought Jehovah calls for the pestilences as agents in Israel’s threatened destruction, taking the first part of the verse interrogatively, ‘From the hand of Sheól should I ransom them? from Death should I redeem them?’ But this is not the most natural explanation, nor is it required on the above view of the context.

repentance shall be hid] Rather, repentance is hid. Perhaps an assurance of the irrevocable nature of the promise. But as the tone of promise is so transient, it seems better to take this clause in connexion with the threat of judgment in Hosea 13:12 of which indeed it may possibly once have formed the third member. At any rate, we need a resumption of threatening here, to prepare the way for the stern announcement in Hosea 13:15.

Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.
15. Though he be fruitful, &c.] Rather, For though he bear fruit, &c. Evidently there is an allusion to the meaning of the word Ephraim (‘fruitfulness’?); for another see Hosea 14:8. The verse carries on the idea of the last clause of the previous verse. ‘In fact, though his name and his nature indicate fruitfulness, yet a remorselessly severe punishment shall come upon him.’ His ‘brethren’ are his fellow tribes, which are compared to trees. There is another reading (’âkhîm for ’akhîm) ‘among reed-plants’, comp. Genesis 41:2; Genesis 41:18. This is adopted by Delitzsch, and has considerable Rabbinic authority (e.g. that of Rashi and Abulwalîd), but is found in extremely few extant manuscripts. It certainly completes the figure, but is philologically difficult.

the wind of the Lord, &c.] Rather, a wind of Jehovah, coming up from the desert. The parching and destructive east or south-east wind is referred to, which blew from the desert (comp. Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 13:24; Job 1:19). It is a figure for the Assyrian conqueror (somewhat as Isaiah 21:1), who at the end of the verse comes forward in his undisguised awfulness.

spring] Rather perhaps, reservoir.

he shall spoil] ‘He’ is emphatically expressed; ‘he’ whom the east wind figures ‘shall spoil’ (or, plunder).

pleasant vessels] Rather, precious vessels (whether jewels, or objects of worked gold or silver, or rarities of any kind).

Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
16. become desolate] Rather, be dealt with as guilty (as Hosea 10:2).

their infants, &c.] Rather, their children (those of an age to play, comp. Jeremiah 6:11; Jeremiah 9:20). The same barbarities were predicted in Hosea 10:14. Such a fate would be simply retributive justice (see 2 Kings 15:16).

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