COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 5:1 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. 2 And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all. 3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled.” (Hosea 5:1-3)
When there is apostasy from the faith, withdrawal from the Lord, or spiritual retrogression, it is not a simplistic thing. A great deal is involved in departing from the Lord, and the fault cannot be found in a single person or body of people. This section of Hosea confirms this is the case. Judgment will be leveled against the kingdom of Israel because of its departure from the Lord. While God is longsuffering, His lovingkindness and tender mercies are reserved for the penitent, not those who have no heart for Him. This is a distinction that has nearly been obscured by the current emphasis of the Western church. Longsuffering and lovingkindness are not synonymous terms. Longsuffering has more to do with the withholding of Divine wrath, while lovingkindness is associated with the gentle manner in which God deals with His children. Longsuffering, if not duly heeded, will terminate in destruction. If heeded, it leads to repentance. Lovingkindness results in its recipients trusting in the Lord, and is reserved for those who know the Lord. This section of Hosea will deal with Divine judgment – the result of the longsuffering of God being ignored in preference for other interests. It is a sobering section of Scripture.
HEAR, HEARKEN, AND GIVE EAR
“ 5:1 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.”
All of the people will be arraigned before the Lord – the rulers and the ruled, the teachers and the taught. A falling away necessarily involves all classes of the people. The rulers did not respond to the drifting of the people, and the priests did not blow the trumpet in Zion, warning the people of their departure from the truth.
PRIESTS. “Hear this, O priests.” The Lord begins at the highest ranking among His people – the “priests.” These are the ones who represent Him, speaking for Him. They were the Divinely appointed means of maintaining a consciousness of God. They were related to the service of God, which was the means of keeping God in the forefront of daily living. These priests did not respond appropriately to the degeneracy of the people. Therefore, God will judge them with the people.
God revealed this principle of Divine working to the prophet Ezekiel. “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek 3:18; 33:8).
There is a principle to be seen here. Although these priests were themselves sinful, and were intruding into the priests office, yet they were held accountable just as though God Himself had appointed them. The priests, therefore, are summoned to the Divine tribunal and commanded, “Hear ye this.”
HOUSE OF ISRAEL. “Hearken, ye house of Israel.” This refers to the people in general. They were not merely the victims of bad priests and worthless rulers, but had chosen the course that led them away from God. Isaiah said of Israel, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isa 1:3). The people were not exempt from judgment because of flawed leaders. They were responsible for rejecting false teachers (Deut 13:1-3). If the king led them down a faulty path, they were responsible for refusing to follow him. Elijah once challenged the people to go against the rule of Ahab and Jezebel, urging them to cease halting between two opinions, and choose to serve the Lord (1 Kgs 18:21). Now Israel is summoned before the judgment seat of the Almighty. They have not resisted calls to perverseness, and thus they will be judged. They are commanded to “hearken,” ore listen intently, to this word.
HOUSE OF THE KING. “Give ye ear, O house of the king.” The entire royal family, together with its various counselors and consultants are required to hear this judgment. Their position does not exclude them from hearing the judgment, or from the experience of the judgment itself, for God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
JUDGMENT IS TOWARD YOU. “Judgment is toward you.” Other versions read, “yours is the judgment,” NKJV “the judgment applies to you,” NASB and “This judgment is against you.” NIV That is, toward the priests, the people, and the king’s house. There is a sort of Divine sarcasm here. The priests and the kings had occupied seats of seats of judgment. Also, the people had chosen to judge differently than God regarding the proper course of life. Now, they will be judged by God. Their own will does not enter into this matter. Whether or not they want to be judged, has nothing whatsoever to do with this circumstance. Judgment is “toward,” or directed toward them, and there is no way to avert it. There is no choice in this matter, just as there was no choice in the flood, the fall of Sodom, or the fall of Jerusalem. Those who reject Divine overtures will ultimately have the right to choose withdrawn from them.
A SNARE AND A NET. “Ye have been a snare on Mizpeh, and a net spread upon Tabor.” Both Mizpah and Tabor were mountains (Gen 31:54; Judges 4:6). Mizpah was the place where a covenant was made between Jacob and Laban – when God was a witness between them. It was there that a pillar was raised up that testified to an acute awareness of God’s presence (Gen 31:49-54). Tabor was the mount from which Barak descended to soundly defeat the hosts of Sisera (Judges 4:14-15). However, rather than Israel honoring the Lord upon these notable hills, they had apparently used them for idolatrous practices. Thus, they had turned the blessing into a curse, profaning places of sacred remembrance.
This was the very principle upon which the church at Corinth was judged – for profaning something that was holy, the table of the Lord (1 Cor 11:24-30). Sin is always wicked but especially so when it is committed in places noted for Divine activity.
“ 5:2 And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all.”
Because “God is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psa 145:17), He is careful to declare precisely what has brought on His judgment. He does not act arbitrarily, indiscriminately, or without due cause. If He saves people, there is a reason why He does so. If He judges people, there is also a reason why He does so. Neither blessing nor cursing come without a cause. Men may confess, for example, that they do not see a reason for being blessed as they are, but there really is a reason, for God declares, “I have not done without cause all that I have done” (Ezek 14:23). God often affirms He did something “for this cause” (example: Ex 9:16; Rom 1:26; 1 Cor 11:30). Now He is declaring the cause for His judgement to wayward Israel.
THE REVOLTERS. Other versions read “rebels.” NIV A “revolter” is one who departs from the right way, or swerves off course. Some translations read in a manner that seems to have little to do with revolting. “And they have made deep the pit of Shittim,” RSV “They have gone deep in the evil ways of Shittim,” BBE “In their perversity they have sunk into wickedness,” NAB “You have dug a deep pit to trap them at Acacia.” NLT
The word used here is properly translated “revolt,” meaning “swerver, revolter, rebel, and deeds that swerve.” STRONG’S The KJV puts the emphasis on the character of the deeds being judged. Other versions, such as those cited, place the emphasis on what the deed was, which is specified in the next clause – “profound to make slaughter.”
PROFOUND TO MAKE SLAUGHTER. The word “profound” means the people had extended themselves to “make slaughter.” They had “plunged themselves” into deep sin – religious sin. What they had done required commitment, determination, and zeal. They had “sunk into wickedness,” NAB and had done so willingly and aggressively.
Here there is a significant play on words. This is a reference to the sacrifices they made to other gods “upon the tops of the mountains” (4:13). Now, instead of calling such things “sacrifice,” the Lord refers to it as making “slaughter.” Their idolatrous sacrifices were nothing more than butchery and carnage. Even if the people had said they were offering their sacrifices to God Himself, their corrupt hearts turned those sacrifices into a mere slaughterhouse. Perhaps this is involved in the “killing” that is mentioned in 4:2.
The overall idea here is this: In their attempt to dignify their departure from God, they engaged in all manner of religious practices, including sacrifices. However, God did not honor their practices, but viewed them as being even deeper involvement in sin. When men put a religious veneer on their sin, it makes it all the worse. Iniquity becomes even more profound when it is flavored with the salt of religion. Sacrifice is thus converted into slaughter, worship to blasphemy, and service to iniquity.
A REBUKER OF THEM ALL. Some versions put this in the last: “I have been a rebuker of them all.” KJV Some put it in the present: “Though I rebuke them all.” NKJV Still others put it in the future: “I will chasten all of them.” NASB
The idea of the passage is this: Israel cannot justify its involvement in sin by saying they were not warned or chastened by God. In keeping with His nature, God’s chastening had been upon them. Even at the present time He was dealing with them according to their iniquity. However, the visitation of judgment was not yet complete. The Lord would yet punish them for their wilful disregard of His Word, His warnings, and His works. All of them would be rebuked, because all of them were involved: priests, people, and king.
APPLICATION. There is an appropriate application of this text to our day and time. Israel was not the last people who sought to dignify their own lusts by flavoring them with religion. Solemnly we are told, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psa 51:17). Where the “broken spirit” is not present, religious sacrifices and offerings become mere slaughter. The heart actually grows more hard, and sin is more easily committed. This is why those who serve God are exhorted to lift up “holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim 2:8). It is why we are urged to approach the Lord “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). To do otherwise converts praise to perversity, worship to wickedness, and religion to rebellion. When the hearts of pretentious worshipers are corrupt, God responds to their praise by saying, “Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:23). The songs of such people are nothing more than “howlings,” as the prophet Amos declared (Amos 8:3).
KNOWN, AND NOT HIDDEN
“ 5:3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled.”
This is a Divine appeal to Israel – for them to be sensitive toward the Lord. Although they had forgotten it, they were fully known to Him. Everything they did was open and apparent to the Lord. Yet, their sin dulled their conscience, and they no longer considered what was apparent to them on the night of the Passover and at Sinai as well.
I KNOW EPHRAIM. Other versions read, “I know all about Ephraim.” NIV and “I know what you are like.” NLT “Ephraim” is the way in which Hosea most often refers to Israel, using that word 37 times to describe them. The word “Ephraim” means “double ash-heap,” STRONG’S a vivid picture of apostasy – like someone lifted out of the ashes (1 Sam 2:8), only to return to wallowing in them again (Ezek 27:30). This was fallen Israel’s spiritual name, like “Jezebel” was the name of the false prophetess in Thyatira (Rev 2:20).
By saying He knew the people, the all searching eye of God is emphasized. It is as though He said, “There is nothing about you that I do not know.” Much is made of this aspect of God’s character. Solemnly believers are told, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13). The Lord does not look upon people as men do, but “looketh on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7), searching the heart and understanding all of the “imaginations of the thoughts” (2 Chron 28:9). He “knoweth the secrets of the heart” (Psa 44:21).
Of course, when a person or a people depart from the Lord, they no longer comprehend this reality. In a display of total irrationality, those who depart from the Lord conduct their lives just as though God never looked at them, and knew nothing about them. That is how sin impacts the spiritual awareness of those living in it. Unwilling to allow this condition to continue, the Lord reminds His people that nothing is hidden from Him. He sees and He knows us, and it is our responsibility to live in that awareness.
ISRAEL IS NOT HID. The Lord affirms, Israel “is not hidden from Me.” NKJV Although sin makes people want to hide from God, or conceal themselves from Him, such a thing is not possible. Adam hid from God, but the Lord sought Him out (Gen 3:8-10). Sensing the impossibility of hiding from God, or of being in a place he could not be found, David spoke of this aspect of the Divine nature. “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee” (Psa 139:7-12).
David found this knowledge comforting, having no desire to be away from the Lord’s presence, even though it seemed at times as though that had happened. Faith delights in perceiving that God sees and knows all about us. Unbelief refuses to believe that, constraining the individual to live only for self – just as Israel was doing.
In Christ Jesus, an appeal is made to the faithful to reckon on God knowing everything, realizing that He will also reveal those things. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor 4:5). When we live by faith and walk in the Spirit, the prospect of having everything about us revealed is refreshing. When we do not so live, such a thought becomes a dismal prospect indeed.
It is refreshing to know that the One with whom we “have to do” knows all about us (Heb 4:13). This cannot be said of our enemy, the devil, and we do well to praise the Lord for that circumstance.
WHOREDOM AND DEFILEMENT. The language is strong, but this is because of the seriousness of transgression among God’s people. Here the twofold nature of sin is accented. First, it requires a fundamentally unfaithful spirit to retrogress into sin – “whoredom.” Second, the contaminating effects of sin cannot be avoided – “is defiled.” Satan makes every effort to hide these realities from those who wear the Lord’s name. However, the knowledge that God sees everything about us, what is required to go backward, and that sin has defiling effects upon us, serve to neutralize his efforts. That is why these things have been written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Cor 10:11).