Hosea 12:11
Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yes, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.
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(11) Translate, If Gilead be worthless, surely they have become nought. In Gilgal they sacrificed bullocks; their altars also are like heaps upon the field’s furrows, referring to a past event, the desolating invasion of Gilead by Tiglath-pileser, in 734 B.C. To this military expedition we have undoubted references in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser II. But unfortunately they are in a very mutilated condition. From one passage we learn:—“The city Gil [ead] and [A] bel [Maacha] which is on this side the land Beth Omri (Samaria) the distant . . . I joined in its whole extent to the territory of Assyria.” The biblical passage, 2Kings 15:29, supplements this account by stating that Napntali and Galilee also fell victims to the victorious arms of the invader. From the verse before us we infer that Gilgal, on the western bank of the Jordan near Jericho (see Note on 4:15), likewise felt the heavy hand of the conqueror, or perhaps the inhabitants fled in panic and the local shrines became deserted ruins. From this time forth we hear no more of Gilgal as a religious centre. Nowack, however, follows Ewald in regarding the passage as prophetic of a coming calamity. (See Introduction.) In the word for “heaps” (gallîm) there is a play on the name Gilgal.

Hosea 12:11-13. Is there iniquity in Gilead? — Or, Was there idolatry in Gilead? as the word אוןoften signifies. Surely they are vanity, &c., in Gilgal — The tribes settled about Gilead beyond Jordan, were already captivated by Tiglath-pileser. And God declares here by the prophet, that the idolatry still practised in Gilgal was equally abominable, and would bring down similar judgments upon the remaining tribes on the west of Jordan. Yea, their altars are as heaps — Notwithstanding this judgment of God upon Gilead, they continue to offer sacrifices to their idols in Gilgal; and their altars stand so thick, that they are discernible as stones gathered up, and laid in heaps in the fields. Some understand the sentence as containing a threatening that their altars should be demolished, and become so many ruinous heaps, 2 Kings 19:25. But Jacob fled into the country of Syria, &c. — “So opposite to yours was the conduct of your father Jacob, that he fled into Syria to avoid an alliance with any of the idolatrous families of Canaan; and, in firm reliance on God’s promises, submitted to the greatest hardships.” And therefore by a prophet, &c. — “And, in reward of his faith, God did such great things for his posterity, bringing them out of the land of Egypt, and leading them through the wilderness like sheep by the hand of his servant Moses.” — Horsley.12:7-14 Ephraim became a merchant: the word also signifies a Canaanite. They carried on trade upon Canaanitish principles, covetously and with fraud and deceit. Thus they became rich, and falsely supposed that Providence favoured them. But shameful sins shall have shameful punishments. Let them remember, not only what a mighty prince Jacob was with God, but what a servant he was to Laban. The benefits we have had from the word of God, make our sin and folly the worse, if we put any slight upon that word. We had better follow the hardest labour in poverty, than grow rich by sin. We may form a judgment of our own conduct, by comparing it with that of ancient believers in the like circumstances. Whoever despises the message of God, will perish. May we all hear his word with humble, obedient faith.Is there iniquity in Gilead? - The prophet asks the question, in order to answer it the more peremptorily. He raises the doubt, in order to crush it the more impressively. Is there "iniquity" in "Gilead?" Alas, there was nothing else. "Surely they are vanity," or, strictly, "they have become merely vanity." As he said before, "they become abominations like their love." "For such as men make their idols, or conceive their God to be, such they become themselves. As then he who worships God with a pure heart, is made like unto God, so they who worship stocks and stones, or who make passions and lusts their idols, lose the mind of men and become 'like the beasts which perish.'" "In Gilgal they have sacrificed oxen. Gilead" represents all the country on its side, the East of Jordan; "Gilgal," all on its side, the West of Jordan. In both, God had signally shown forth His mercies; in both, they dishonored God, sacrificing to idols, and offering His creatures, as a gift to devils.

Yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field - Their altars are like the heaps of stones, from which men clear the plowed land, in order to fit it for cultivation, as numerous as profuse, as worthless, as desolate. "Their" altars they were, not God's. They did, (as sinners do,) in the service of devils, what, had they done it to God, would have been accepted, rewarded, service. Full often they sacrificed oxen; they threw great state into their religion; they omitted nothing which should shed around it an empty show of worship. They multiplied their altars, their sins, their ruins; many altars over against His one altar; : "rude heaps of stones, in His sight; and such they should become, no one stone being left in order upon another." In contrast with their sins and ingratitude, the prophet exhibits two pictures, the one, of the virtues of the patriarch whose name they bore, from whom was the beginning of their race; the other, of God's love to them, in that beginning of their national existence, when God brought those who had been a body of slaves in Egypt, to be His own people.

11. Is there iniquity in Gilead?—He asks the question, not as if the answer was doubtful, but to strengthen the affirmation: "Surely they are vanity"; or as Maurer translates, "They are nothing but iniquity." Iniquity, especially idolatry, in Scripture is often termed "vanity." Pr 13:11: "Wealth gotten by vanity," that is, iniquity. Isa 41:29: "They are all vanity … images." "Gilead" refers to Mizpah-gilead, a city representing the region beyond Jordan (Ho 6:8; Jud 11:29); as "Gilgal," the region on this side of Jordan (Ho 4:15). In all quarters alike they are utterly vile.

their altars are as heaps in the furrows—that is, as numerous as such heaps: namely, the heaps of stones cleared out of a stony field. An appropriate image, as at a distance they look like altars (compare Ho 10:1, 4; 8:11). As the third member in the parallelism answers to the first, "Gilgal" to "Gilead," so the fourth to the second, "altars" to "vanity." The word "heaps" alludes to the name "Gilgal," meaning "a heap of stones." The very scene of the general circumcision of the people, and of the solemn passover kept after crossing Jordan, is now the stronghold of Israel's idolatry.

Is there iniquity in Gilead? in this concise interrogatory the prophet warns the refractory, ungodly Israelites by an example of God’s wrath on them. About A.M. 326.1, at Ahaz’s request and charges, Tiglath-pileser came up against Israel, and took Gilead among other towns, leading the inhabitants captives, 2 Kings 15:29; now some sixteen or seventeen years after doth our prophet mind the sinful and secure Ephraimites what they must expect, and doth it in this pungent question,

Is there iniquity in Gilead? i.e. is there only? or is there more? much like that of Christ’s, Luke 13:2,

Suppose ye them greater sinners? Be it so, captive Gilead was all iniquity, and Gilgal is no better. They that come up to Gilgal to sacrifice are idolaters, they sin against God in offering to them, and against their own welfare in trusting to them, both ways they appear to be vanity; whilst they multiply these altars and sacrifices, they multiply their sins, God’s displeasure is increased, and the danger more near and dreadful.

Their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields: idolatrous Israel, thou aboundest in altars; but if they are for number like heaps of stones, gathered out of ploughed land and laid in furrows, they are as common too, i.e. as far from sacred, as far from commending any offering to God, or stoning his displeasure. And canst thou, Ephraim, hope to escape, whose sins exceed the sins of captive Gilead? wilt thou never be wise, never warned, never repent? Is there iniquity in Gilead?.... Idolatry there? strange that there should be, seeing it was a city of the priests; a city of refuge; or there is none there, say the priests, who pretended they did not worship idols, but the true Jehovah in them: or, "is there not iniquity", or idolatry, "in Gilead" (e)? verily there is, let them pretend to what they will: or, "is there only iniquity in it" (f)? that the men of it should be carried captive, as they were by TiglathPileser, before the rest of the tribes; see 2 Kings 15:29; no, there is iniquity and idolatry committed in other places, as well as there, who must expect to share the same fate in time: or, "is Gilead Aven?" (g) that is, Bethaven, the same with Bethel; it is as that, as guilty of idolatry as Bethel, where one of the calves was set up:

surely they are vanity: the inhabitants of Gilead, as well as of Bethel, worshipping idols, which are most vain things, vanity itself, and deceive those that serve them, and trust in them:

they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal: to idols, as the Targum adds; and so Jarchi and Kimchi; according to Aben Ezra, they sacrificed them to Baal; this shows that Gilead was not the only place for idolatry, which was on the other side Jordan, but Gilgal, which was on this side Jordan, was also polluted with it. The Vulgate Latin version is,

"in Gilgal they were sacrificing to bullocks;''

to the calves there, the same as were at Dan and Bethel; so, in the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 12:29; it was formerly read: and so Cyril (h) quotes it, "he (Jeroboam) set the one (calf) in Gilgal, and the other in Dan"; hence the fable that Epiphanius (i) makes mention of, that, when Elisha was born, the golden ox or heifer at Gilgal bellowed very loudly, and so loud as to be heard at Jerusalem. The Targum makes mention of an idol temple here; and as it was near to Bethel, as appears from 1 Samuel 10:3; and from Josephus (k); and so Jerom says (l), hard by Bethel; some suspect another Gilgal; hence it might be put for it; however, it was a place of like idolatrous worship; it is mentioned as such along with Bethaven or Bethel, in Hosea 4:15; see also Hosea 9:15;

yea, their altars are as heaps in, the furrows of the fields; not only in the city of Gilgal, and in the temple there, as the Targum; but even without the city, in the fields they set up altars, which looked like heaps of stones; or they had a multitude of altars that stood as thick as they. So the Targum,

"they have multiplied their altars, like heaps upon the borders of the fields;''

and the Jewish commentators in general understand this as expressive of the number of their altars, and of the increase of idolatrous worship; but some interpret it of the destruction of their altars, which should become heaps of stones and rubbish, like such as are in fields. These words respect Ephraim or the ten tribes, in which these places were, whose idolatry is again taken notice of, after gracious promises were made to Judah. Some begin here a new sermon or discourse delivered to Israel.

(e) "an non in Galaad iniquitas?" Vatablus. (f) "En in Gileade tantum iniquitas?" Piscator. (g) "Num Gilead Aven?" Schmidt. (h) Apud Reland. Palestina Illustrata, tom. 2. l. 3. p. 783. (i) De Vita & Interitu Prophet. c. 6. & Paschal. Chronic. p. 161. apud Reland. ib. (k) Antiqu. l. 6. c. 4. sect. 9. (l) De locis Hebr. fol. 91. M.

Is there {k} iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.

(k) The people thought that no man dare have spoken against Gilead, that holy place, and yet the Prophet says that all their religion was but vanity.

11. The ruin of two famous centres of idolatry, representing together the entire northern kingdom.

Is there iniquity, &c.] More probably, If Gilead is (given to) idolatry, mere vanity shall they (the Gileadites) become, i.e. apostacy from Him who is the only source of life leads to sure destruction; ‘they that make the idols become like unto them.’ The town of Gilead has already been singled out for reprobation in Hosea 6:8-9. For the historical fulfilment of the prophecy, see 2 Kings 15:29—‘in the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and took … Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria’ (compare Tiglath-Pileser’s own account of his expedition against Philistia in b.c. 734; G. Smith, Eponym Canon, p. 123, Schrader, The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, on 2 Kings 15:29).

they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal] Or, as it might well be stated in the margin, ‘in Heap-town’ (see next note). They affront Jehovah by sacrificing at idolatrous shrines, especially at Gilgal (see on Hosea 4:15). So the Targum. Others, by a slight emendation, ‘they sacrifice to the bullocks in Gilgal’, i.e. to the steer-gods; but there is no parallel for such a use of the word ‘bullocks.’ St Jerome’s ‘bobus immolantes’ is an ungrammatical rendering of our present text (see his note).

yea, their altars are as heaps, &c.] Rather, so then their altars shall he as stone-heaps, i.e. like heaps of stones which a careful husbandman has gathered out of his ploughed field (comp. Micah 1:6). The idiom employed (lit., ‘also their altars’ &c.) indicates the correspondence between cause and effect, a sin and its retribution (comp. Isaiah 66:3 b, 4a); the tense is the prophetic perfect. There is a paronomasia in Gilgal (as if ‘Heap-town’, comp. Joshua 4:20), and gallim (‘heaps’); the very name of Gilgal seems to suggest its impending fate. Some think the name ‘Gilead’ is also included in the paronomasia, but in spite of the apparent support of Genesis 31:47-48, this is not the more natural view of Hosea’s language. At most, there is a play upon the similarity of sound in Gilead and Gilgal; not upon any supposed similarity of meaning."Therefore will I take back my corn at its time, and my must at its season, and tear away my wool and my flax for the covering of her nakedness." Because Israel had not regarded the blessings it received as gifts of its God, and used them for His glory, the Lord would take them away from it. אשׁוּב ולקחתּי are to be connected, so that אשׁוּב has the force of an adverb, not however in the sense of simple repetition, as it usually does, but with the idea of return, as in Jeremiah 12:15, viz., to take again equals to take back. "My corn," etc., is the corn, the must, which I have given. "At its time," i.e., at the time when men expect corn, new wine, etc., viz., at the time of harvest, when men feel quite sure of receiving or possessing it. If God suddenly takes away the gifts then, not only is the loss more painfully felt, but regarded as a punishment far more than when they have been prepared beforehand for a bad harvest by the failure of the crop. Through the manner in which God takes the fruits of the land away from the people, He designs to show them that He, and not Baal, is the giver and the taker also. The words "to cover her nakedness" are not dependent upon הצּלתּי, but belong to צמרי וּפשׁתּי, and are simply a more concise mode of saying, "Such serve, or are meant, to cover her nakedness." They serve to sharpen the threat, by intimating that if God withdraw His gifts, the nation will be left in utter penury and ignominious nakedness (‛ervâh, pudendum).
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