Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.XIII.
(1) There is a difference of opinion as to the construction and rendering of this verse. We adopt the interpretation, When Ephraim uttered terror, he rebelled in Israel; then he committed sin through Baal, and died. This points to the revolt of the Ten Tribes, and the consequent abandonment of the pure traditions of Jehovah worship for those of Baal. This idea and that of the previous verse (Hosea 12:14) may have been brought into prominence by the recent untoward antagonism aroused by the Syro-Ephraimitish war against Judah.
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) Ewald, following the hint of the LXX. (who had a slightly different text), renders “according to their pattern of idols.” (Comp. the language of satire in Psalms 115; Isaiah 44:10-17.)
Men that sacrifice.—More accurately, sacrificers from among men. Others would render “sacrificers of men.” But the former is quite consistent with Hebrew usage, while the latter compels us to adopt the unwarrantable supposition that human sacrifices formed part of the calf-worship. The calf images were kissed ike those of the Madonna in Roman Catholic churches at the present day. The Greek προσκυνέω, “to worship,” meant originally to adore by kissing (Curtius, Greek Etymology, p. 158).
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) Early dew . . .—Better, dew that early passeth away, like chaff that flies in a whirlwind from the threshing-floor, and like smoke from the window (i.e., the lattice beneath the roof through which it vanished).
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) The LXX. have an addition which was not found by Jerome in any Hebrew copy of his day, and was pronounced by him to be spurious: “I am the Lord thy God, that establisheth the heavens and createth the earth, whose hands have fashioned all the host of heaven; but I did not show them to thee that thou shouldest go after them, and I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know,” &c.
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.—Rather, As they pastured. (Comp. the language of Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Deuteronomy 31:20; Deuteronomy 32:15.) The gifts of Divine love concealing the giver.
Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them:(7) I will be . . .—More correctly, have become . . . as a panther in the way do I lie in wait. The idea of this and the following verses is that of a Divine judgment suspended over Israel, destined soon to fall with overwhelming ruin (721 B.C.). The English version follows the interpretation of the Targum. But the LXX., Vulg., and Syriac versions are based on a slightly different reading of the text contained in some Hebrew MSS. They render, “as a panther on the way to Assyria.”
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) The same imagery is continued to describe the destructive wrath of the Lord. “The caul of the heart” means here the covering of the heart, not the pericardium, but the breast in which the claws of the beast are fastened.
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.(9) In me . . . Help.—The close of this verse is rhetorically abrupt, which is altogether missed in the English version. Render, but against Me thy help. We must supply “Thou hast rebelled,” the construction being the same as in Hosea 13:16. “Thy captivity, O Israel, is from thee; thy redemption is from Me; thy perishing is from thee: thy salvation is from Me” (Pusey).
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?(10) The rendering should be, Where, pray, is thy king, that he may save thee? &c. The original demand for a king who should be a visible token to Israel of protection against their surrounding foes was adverse to the true spirit of the kingdom of God upon earth, and, though granted, proved to the united kingdom, and afterwards to the kingdom of Israel, an age-long curse. Probably the special reference here is to the latter—the erection of the Ten Tribes into a separate monarchy.
I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.(11) Gave . . . Took.—The past tenses should be present: “I give . . .” “take away.” The whole succession of Israelite kings, who generation after generation had been taken away, some by violent death, would close with Hoshea, who was to disappear as “a fragment on a stormy sea” (Hosea 10:7).
The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid.(12) Bound up . . . Hid.—The binding up and hiding away of Ephraim’s sin as in a secret place, for ultimate disclosure, prepares us for the terrible words that follow.
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) Travailing woman.—Ephraim is first addressed as a travailing woman; but the imagery passes to the condition of the unborn child, which tarries just where it should issue into the light of the world. Lack of seasonable repentance increases the danger at this critical stage of Israel’s destiny. The latter part of the verse is missed in the rendering of the English version. Read, For at the right time he standeth not in the place where children break forth. But the use of the Hebrew word for “at the right time” (‘ēth) is doubtful. Perhaps the word should be read ‘attah (“now”), as Buhl, in Zeitschrift für Kirchliche Wissenschaft, suggests. (Comp. Ezekiel 27:34.)
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) O death . . . O grave.—The rendering should be, Where is thy plague, O death? Where is thy sting, O Sheol? as the LXX. have it, and as it is quoted in 1Corinthians 15:55. The rendering of the English version is, however, supported by the Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, and many modern expositors. But the former interpretation is to be preferred. Many Christian interpreters (Henderson, Pusey, &c.) regard this as the sudden outburst of a gracious promise (as St. Paul takes it). The last clause then signifies that the gift and calling of God are without repentance. There is no room for any further merciful change of purpose. But the objection to this interpretation is that in the same breath the prophet rushes on to the most sweeping condemnation. Accordingly Schmoller, Wünsche, Huxtable (Speaker’s Commentary), and others understand the passage thus: “Shall I ransom them (doomed and dying in agonised travail) from the hand (or power) of Hades? Shall I redeem them from death? (Alas! no.) Where are thy plagues, O death? (Bring them forth.) Where is thy sting, O Hades? (Strike these reprobate ones.) Relenting is hid from my eyes.” It should be remembered that St. Paul quoted from Isaiah, “Death shall be swallowed up in victory,” and then, as here, calls in derisive irony upon death and Sheol to do their very worst at the very moment when they are about to be cast into the lake of fire.
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, 16) Fruitful.—Observe the play on Ephraim’s name.
Wind of the Lord stands in apposition to east wind. Render a wind of the Lord rising from the wilderness. The armies of Assyria are referred to.
Become desolate.—Or rather, suffer punishment. Thus rolls the thunder of Divine judgment in one last tremendous crash of doom, beyond which scarce anything worse can be thought or said. It is not until the awful silence is reached, after the blast of denunciation, that the prophet hopes that his appeal may not be in vain. In the last chapter, uttered in gentlest mood, he shows a bow of promise painted on the darkness of the storm-cloud.