The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hosea 13

Hos 13:1

WHEN EPHRAIM SPOKE, MEN TREMBLED: When members of the tribe of Ephraim spoke, the other Israelites trembled because they looked to Ephraim for leadership (Jdg 8:1-3; 12:1-6).

HE WAS EXALTED IN ISRAEL: Jacob had prophesied that Ephraim would lead (Gen 48:13-20), and the first king of the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam I, had come from the tribe of Ephraim (1Ki 11:26; 12:25). The Ephraimites exalted themselves in the North as well.

BUT HE BECAME GUILTY OF BAAL WORSHIP: But being leaders can be a dangerous responsibility, because it can result in great evil as well as great good. The men of Ephraim were also the leaders in Baal worship (cp 2Ki 17:16). Anything that we worship which is not God is an idol, so let us not deceive ourselves. This world, in which we live, thrives on covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5).

AND DIED: They were as good as dead, since God would judge idolaters.

Hos 13:2

NOW THEY SIN MORE AND MORE; THEY MAKE IDOLS FOR THEMSELVES...: The Ephraimites, and the other Israelites, had continued to sin more and more by making molten images and carved idols of silver (cf Exo 20:4,5; 34:17; Deu 5:8,9).

CLEVERLY FASHIONED IMAGES, ALL OF THEM THE WORK OF CRAFTSMEN: They took great pains to make beautiful idols by employing skilled craftsmen for their construction.

THEY OFFER HUMAN SACRIFICE: "The last two lines admit of two renderings: The key words in the last two lines are 'zobehe adam', which can mean either 'sacrifices of men' (ie, 'human sacrifices') or 'sacrificers among men' (ie, 'men who sacrifice'); here the second meaning is preferable. Our translation [the NIV] takes them to refer to 'human sacrifice.' This, however, seems unlikely since no other indication is given that human sacrifice was practiced at Bethel or Dan. The other and more likely rendering may be expressed as follows: 'In respect to the images [of the calves], they [leaders in this form of worship] are saying, "Let the sacrificers among men [ie, those who would sacrifice] do so by kissing the calf-idols." ' To kiss an image was to do homage to it (see 1Ki 19:18; cf Psa 2:12). Jeroboam I had first bidden the people to give this homage, and leaders in the worship were continuing the practice. Persistence in this sin, answered Hosea, would have but one outcome. This he traced in four striking figures (v 3) that reiterate how surely and speedily the offending people would disappear and perish" (EBC).

AND KISS THE CALF-IDOLS: For the men of Ephraim, there would be no half-hearted devotion in the service of these "gods". They also required that those who made sacrifices to them profess their devotion and homage by kissing the images. (In later times, Jews were compelled to kiss the image of a pig, set up in the temple, as a particularly hideous test of their allegiance to the Greek conquerors: cp 1Ki 19:18; Rom 11:4.)

Hos 13:3

Four things which are most easily dissipated, being driven by the wind and vanishing away. Judgment would come swiftly and surely upon Ephraim.

Hos 13:4

I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, WHO BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT. YOU SHALL ACKNOWLEDGE NO GOD BUT ME, NO SAVIOR EXCEPT ME: Yahweh had been Israel's God since the Israelites had lived in Egypt. He had commanded the Israelites not to acknowledge any gods beside Himself, because He was the only God who could save them (Deu 11:28; 32:17; Jer 9:2; 31:34). For them to become idolaters would only be frustrating and futile, for they would be abandoning their only hope of salvation.

Hos 13:5

God's miraculous provisions, of food and water, and shelter, for Israel in the wilderness.


Hos 13:6

Prosperity is often a greater temptation to depart from conscious dependence on God than adversity is, and Israel fell into this trap.

Hos 13:7

Vv 7,8: The lion, leopard, and bear were all wild animals native to Canaan that were notorious for their relentless manner of killing prey. The four beasts here recall the four Gentiles kingdoms symbolized in Dan 7, as well as the great beasts of Rev 12; 13 -- these would be the "destroyers" of Israel (v 9)! -- the "lion" (Dan 7:4), the "leopard" (Dan 7:6), the "bear" (Dan 7:5), and the "wild beast" (Dan 7:7,8).

A LION: The black Ethiopian lion.

A LEOPARD: Distinguished by its spotted skin.

I WILL LURK BY THE PATH: Hiding in the high underbrush, waiting to trap unsuspecting prey.

Hos 13:8

A BEAR ROBBED OF HER CUBS: And thus noted for its great ferocity: 2Sa 17:8; Pro 17:12.

A LION: Heb "labi" -- an old, strong lion.

Hos 13:9

How ironic that Israel's helper would become her destroyer!

Hos 13:10

WHERE IS YOUR KING, THAT HE MAY SAVE YOU?: All these other kings had proved ineffective in saving the Israelites. Only Yahweh was their savior (v 4).

WHERE ARE YOUR RULERS IN ALL YOUR TOWNS, OF WHOM YOU SAID, 'GIVE ME A KING AND PRINCES'?: Reference to the time Israel cast off God as their King, and demanded a human king from Samuel: 1Sa 8:1-9; 12:12. And, more recently, to the kings of Israel -- who were not of David's line but were kings of the people's own choosing (1Ki 12:16-20).

Hos 13:11

SO IN MY ANGER I GAVE YOU A KING, AND IN MY WRATH I TOOK HIM AWAY: God conceded to His people's request for a king, but it made Him angry because is expressed their reluctance to trust and obey Him. When Saul proved ineffective, since He did not trust in Yahweh, the Lord removed him, which also made Him angry (1Sa 30; 31). The Lord would also remove all the Ephraimite kings because they followed the pattern of Saul. The sins and bad times that all these kings' reigns brought on Israel were unnecessary and displeasing to Yahweh, who wanted His people to enjoy peace and prosperity.

Hos 13:12

THE GUILT OF EPHRAIM IS STORED UP, HIS SINS ARE KEPT ON RECORD: God would not forget Israel's sins. Its iniquities were rolled up (Heb "sarar") in a bundle like a scroll and stored up (Heb "sapan") like a treasure -- which would be revealed at the appropriate time. Then they would stand as irrefutable evidence to condemn the nation.

Hos 13:13

PAIN AS OF A WOMAN IN CHILDBIRTH... HE DOES NOT COME TO THE OPENING OF THE WOMB: Israel was like a baby that refused to come out of its mother's womb in the sense that it refused to leave its comfortable sin. Despite the mother's (God's) strenuous efforts to bring the child into freedom, Israel refused to repent. This was evidence that Israel was a foolish child. She would die rather than leave her sins apparently feeling that the proper time for repenting was not yet.

Or, Israel was like a woman travailing in childbirth, whose pain would never be alleviated.

Hos 13:14

I WILL RANSOM THEM FROM THE POWER OF THE GRAVE; I WILL REDEEM THEM FROM DEATH. WHERE, O DEATH, ARE YOUR PLAGUES?: The LORD asked rhetorically if He should buy the Israelites back out of death's hand. Should He pay a price for their redemption?

I WILL HAVE NO COMPASSION: And the answer, after reflection, is... No. In the case of Ephraim, compassion would be hidden from His sight; He would have no pity on them.

Later, we know, God DID provide a ransom for His people from the power of the grave, and a price of redemption from death. He did this through His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and rose again. God's future redemptive work for His people meant that death would not be the end for Israel -- even though judgment in the near future was inevitable.

Paul quoted this phrase in 1Co 15:55, and applied it to the effect of Christ's redemption on all of God's people. Because God did provide a ransom and redeemed His people, death and the grave are not the final judgment and resting place of the believer. God has a glorious future -- beyond His punishment for sin -- for His own people, both for national Israel (those who believe) and for Christians. God's purpose will not be fulfilled in a regathered 10-tribe (or even 12-tribe) Israel only, but in a calling of faithful believers out of all nations, to inherit the "hope of Israel".

Here in Hosea the promise is that the Israel of that day would indeed suffer death and the grave, not that she would escape it. But Paul turns the passage around, and shows that Jesus Christ's resurrection overcame the judgment and death that are otherwise inevitable for sinners.

Hos 13:15

With the removal of God's compassion (v. 14), Israel's prosperity would end. Hosea described that change like a hot eastern desert wind (cp Hos 12:1) sweeping over Israel and drying up all its water sources. Israel had flourished among its neighbors, as a plant does when it grows in shallow water among reeds. Like a sirocco Assyria would sweep over Israel from the east and cause the nation of Israel to wither. The Assyrians would plunder everything valuable in the land.

Hos 13:16

THEIR LITTLE ONES WILL BE DASHED TO THE GROUND, THEIR PREGNANT WOMEN RIPPED OPEN: These shocking brutalities are in keeping with the character of the Assyrians as revealed by archaeology (cp 2Ki 15:16; Amos 1:13). These were curses that the Lord warned would follow rebellion against the terms of His covenant (Lev 26:25; Deu 28:21; 32:24,25; Amos 4:10).

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