The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 4, 2014

Immediate Background: Chapter 8 opens with the prophet calling for the sounding of the war horn, for the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel is quickly approaching. The nation is like carrion, being circled by birds of prey because of covenant infidelity and transgressions of the Law (Hos 8:1).  They cry out to the God they have rejected as if they still know Him, but they have rejected that which is good for them and will be beset by enemies (Hos 8:2-3).

Read Hosea 8:4. God Himself had willed the political division of the 12 Tribes of Israel into two different kingdoms because of the sins of Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-43). Thus there formed in the northern part of the Holy Land a new monarchical entity consisting of 10 tribes which retained the name Israel; while in the south the remaining two tribes (Judah and Benjamin)–along with elements from other tribes–continued to be ruled over by the line of David and became known as the Kingdom of Judah (after the tribe to which David had belonged) .  For all of this one can consult 1 Kings 12:1-25.

The first king of the new northern kingdom, Jeroboam, son of Nebat (Jeroboam I), soon instituted a religious division against the south  because he feared that since his subjects still had to go to the temple in Jerusalem–political capital of Judah–they might want to reunite with the line of David, forcing him from power (1 Kings 12:26-32). This event became known as “the sin of Jeroboam” and every king in the north who came after Jeroboam I maintained it, ultimately leading to the downfall of the kingdom (2 Kings 17:21-23).

The final (approximately) 25 years of the northern kingdom during which Hosea preached was marked by a string of very worthless kings. After the death of Jeroboam, son of Joash (called Jeroboam II) who was reigning when Hosea was called to ministry (Hos 1:1), six kings came and went in fairly rapid succession. Four of these were assassinated, the other two were removed from power by the Assyrians. None of these kings ruled by divine warrant and thus they were kings not made by God, princes set up without his knowledge. They were the result of human political power-plays (Hos 7:3-7). In a sense, one could call these kings idols made by human hands; for both these kings and the calf altar of Jeroboam were made by human hands (see verse 5 below)

All of this havoc and chaos can be attributed to the idols of gold and silver which permeate the northern kingdom, but especially of the calf altars Jeroboam I had erected (see verse 5 below, and 1 Kings 12:26-32).

Read Hosea 8:5. God’s anger has been kindled  against the calf altar since it construction by order of King Jeroboam I (1 Kings 13:1-3), but the people have not allowed God’s punishing judgments to purify them, bringing them to repentance. For God’s punishment is intended to purify and lead to repentance (Deut 30:1-10; Hos 2:10-25; Amos 4:6-11; Isa 1:18-31; 2:4-6).

Read Hosea 8:6. The verse expresses stock prophetic polemic against idols; man cannot make gods, let alone the One God. The contrary is vanity (see next verse).

Read Hosea 8:7. It seems to me that this verse can be seen as transitional, and as applying both to the vanity of idolatry/false worship (Hos 7:13-16) and the vanity of foreign political alliances (Hos 7:8-12). Indeed, in Hosea their is a very close connection between the two. Having just denounced the idolatry in the kingdom in the preceding verses, the prophet now turns to denounce the kingdom’s foreign alliances (Hos 8:9-10), then returning again to denounce strange worship (Hose 8:11-13).

This verse consists of two proverbs, the second of which has a threat attached to it. The point of the first is this: What one does now has consequences in the future: one reaps what one sows. In the bible wind is often associated with vanity and judgment (Eccl 1:14; Prov 11:29; Job 7:7; 21:18 Ps 1:4; 35:5). To sow these thing in order to reap more is foolish.

The point of the second is this: That which begins with nothing, ends with nothing. Protestant scholar James Luther Mays notes that this verse employs a rhyme, a rarity in Hebrew; he translates as follows (Hebrew words in parenthesis):  “Grain without growth (semah) yields no meal (qemah).” As the threat makes clear, even if the stalk of grain which produced no ear could in fact yield grain, aliens would devour it. This reference to aliens should recall Hos 8:1-3 and its reference to impending doom by enemies.

Read Hosea 8:11.  The multiplicity of altars and what took place on and before them is a sin which increases sinning. Here there is probably a dig against both the calf altars erected by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:28-30) in violation of the law of one sanctuary (Deut 12:1-14), and the Baal worship that was practiced in the groves and high places (Hos 4:12-19).

Read Hosea 8:12. So far gone are the people that even if God were to multiply his statutes as the people have multiplied their altars they would remain alien to the people who have themselves become alien to God (Hos 5:7).

Read Hosea 8:13. The people want their sacrifices rather than steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness, obedience and true devotion (Hos 6:4-6).

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