Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The prophet now addresses himself more definitely to the priests and royal house of Israel, at the commencement of the reign of Pekah.
Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor.(1) House of the king refers to his following on both sides of the Jordan—Mizpah on the east side, in Gilead, and Tabor on the west. They are singled out as being military strongholds, where the princes of the royal house, with the apostate priests, exercised their deadly hold upon the people, waylaying them, as birds and beasts are snared in the mountains of prey. (Comp. Hosea 6:8-9.)
Judgment is toward you.—More accurately, is meant for you.
And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all.(2) Are profound to make slaughter.—Ewald, followed recently by Nowack, is right in interpreting the Heb. text as meaning, “The apostates have gone deep in iniquity.” In the last clause the Authorised version is again incorrect. Render, But I (i.e., Jehovah) am chastisement to them all. The deceivers and deceived shall alike perish.
They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD.(4) The margin, “Their deeds will not suffer (them),” requires the introduction of the word “them,” not in the Hebrew. It is favoured by the Jewish commentators, Schmoller, and others, but it is better to render, with the Authorised version, They frame not their doings, &c. The knowledge of the only true God is life.
And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them.(5) The pride of Israel may be either the true object of pride and boasting, viz., Jehovah Himself (comp. Amos 8:7), or the false object of pride to which they had yielded. The latter interpretation is to be preferred, and is supported by Amos 6:8. Arrogance led Ephraim, on numerous occasions in earlier sacred history, to resent the supremacy of Judah. This jealousy culminated in the rebellion of Jeroboam I., and characterised their history till the reign of Ahab. Arrogance will be their ruin now; and in this Judah is represented as likewise involved. This last feature is a new note in prophetic utterance. (Comp Hosea 4:15.) We are therefore justified in regarding Hosea 5 as delivered at a later time than the oracle standing immediately before it.
They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.(6) The vain effort to repent when it is too late. The spirit with which sacrifices of flocks and herds were offered is of more consequence than the multitude of such oblations (Micah 3:4; Isaiah 1:11; Psalm 40:6). Ghastly and revolting results follow the substitution of ritual of any kind for the weightier matter of the law.
They have dealt treacherously against the LORD: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions.(7) Strange children refers to offspring that followed in the ways of their mother. (Comp. Hosea 1) Some reference is involved to the consequences of intermarriage with heathen. The “month” may be a personification of the period of a month (Henderson), during which takes place the now closely impending (perhaps already commenced) invasion by Tiglathpileser (2Kings 15:29; 2 Chron. 19:21). This invasion was due in part to Ahaz having sought the aid of Assyria against Pekah and Rezin.
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Bethaven, after thee, O Benjamin.(8) Cornet . . . trumpet.—The two kinds of trumpet mentioned here are the cornet, made like the bent horn of an animal, and the long, straight metallic trumpet, used for sounding an alarm and convoking the congregation (Numbers 10:2). Gibeah and Ramah were lofty hills on the northern boundary of Benjamin. From the parallel passage, Isaiah 10:29, we conclude that Gibeah lay between Jerusalem and Ramah (the modern Er Ram), not far from the road which passes in a northern direction from Jerusalem to Mount Ephraim. A lofty hill, which satisfies these conditions (Tel el Ful), has been discovered by Robinson, where there is a prospect over almost the whole tribal region of Benjamin, and with this spot Gibeah is probably to be identified. Hosea does not mention the metropolis, but he reveals the imminent peril of Jerusalem if these high towers, within sight of her defenders, were giving the alarm at the approach of the Assyrian king.
After thee is obscure. Translate, He (the enemy) is behind thee, O Benjamin, the tribe in which the metropolis was situated. This combined disaster for both Israel and Judah is reiterated in a variety of ways. “The tribes of Israel “are in parallelism with “Ephraim.”
The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound: therefore I will pour out my wrath upon them like water.(10) The princes of Judah, such as Ahaz, whose pusillanimity brought untold evil on both Israel and Judah (2Kings 16:10-18).
Like them that remove the bound (landmark).—A practice prohibited in Deuteronomy 19:14, and included in the curses of Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:17), an indication that this very legislation existed before the time of the prophet. They break down the barrier between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, between Jehovah and Baalim.
Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment.(11) Broken in judgment.—The Authorised version is probably right in this rendering, the phrase having reference to rights pertaining to individuals. Interpreters differ as to the rare word tsav, translated “commandment.” It only occurs in one other place (Isaiah 28:10; Isaiah 28:13). Ewald regards it as meaning “wooden post,” i.e., their idol, but this has no basis in Old Testament usage, though etymologically ingenious. The majority of Jewish and modern commentators take it as meaning the evil ordinance of Jeroboam, who demanded the reverence of his subjects for the calf-symbol of Jehovah. The LXX. had another text (shav instead of tsav), which they render “vanities,” and are followed by the Targum and Syriac version. This is worthy of attention.
Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness.(12) Rottenness.—The Authorised version is right in this rendering (the disease caries) rather than worm (margin). Both images express concealed causes of irreparable destruction which come suddenly to view when it is too late.
When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.(13) To the Assyrian.—Their adversity leads Ephraim to seek protection from their formidable foe instead of turning to the Lord. (On “Jareb,” see Excursus.)
EXCURSUS A: ON JAREB (Hosea 5:13).
Schrader, in his “Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament,” has the following note:—“King Combat, or Contention (Jareb), is not a proper name—none such being found in the Assyrian lists. In the prevailing uncertainty respecting Biblical chronology, it is hard to determine what Assyrian monarch is meant by this appellative. If we are to understand Salmanassar III. (781-772) as the king in Hosea 10:14, under the name Salman, the allusion here may be to Assur-dan-ilu (771-754), who conducted a series of expeditions to the West.” But when we turn to Schrader’s comment on Hosea 10:14, we find that he abandons the theory that Salman is Salmanassar III. (see ad. Loc.). On the other hand, Tiglath-pileser, whom Schrader and Sir H. Rawlinson identify with the Pul of Scripture, was a warrior of great prowess, to whom such a designation as “King Combat” from Hosea and his contemporaries would admirably apply. The verse might then be taken to refer to the events of the reign of Menahem (2Kings 15:19, see also Introduction). But this explanation, probable as it is, is complicated with questions of Biblical chronology. (See Introduction).
For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him.(14) As a lion.—First the trans-Jordanic tribes, then additional provinces, and lastly the whole population, were carried away as in the teeth of a beast of prey. (Comp. Amos 3:6.) Assyria is here referred to as represented by Tiglath-pileser. We might also quote from the inscription of Sargon in fulfilment of this prediction: “Samaria I besieged; I captured 27,290 people dwelling in the midst of it; I carried captive” (George Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon, p. 125). A similar fate overtook Jerusalem in 587 B.C., at the hands of Babylonia, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (2Chronicles 36:4-10; 2Kings 24:10-16; 2Kings 25:1-11).
I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.(15) Tenderness blends with judgment, and insulted love bleeds and hopes. The image of the lion is dropped. Jehovah speaks of “His own place”—Heaven. He will cause all manifestations of His regard for them to cease till “they suffer punishment, and seek my face,” and, like the prodigal in the flush of a new morning, will arise and go unto the Father.