COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 7:14 And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. 15 Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me. 16 They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.” (Hosea 7:14-16)
The Lord continues His lengthy diagnosis of Israel’s state before Him. In His words He is confirming His own righteousness in punishing them with such severity. Their defection had not only followed an unparalleled display of Divine longsuffering and faithful warnings from the holy prophets, they had actually grown worse while the Lord was dealing with them. In all of this there is a confirmation of the impotence of the flesh, and the absolute need for a new heart and a new spirit. Throughout the Old Covenant era, sensitive souls were aware of the need for a clean heart and a new spirit (Psa 51:10). Through the prophets, the Lord promised a time when He would give His people a new heart and a new spirit, causing them to walk in His statutes and ways. A consistent life toward the Lord, and the cessation of deviate behavior would be the result of this marvelous working. (Jer 32:39; Ezek 11:19; 36:26-27).
THEY DID NOT CRY WITH THEIR HEART
“ 7:14 And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.”
It is always a matter of utmost seriousness when a people to whom God has revealed Himself chooses to call upon someone else for help and protection – to place a greater value upon those who are “no gods” (2 Kgs 19:18; Gal 4:8). Because our present religious environment is so saturated with psychological values, religious multitudes are, for the most part, unaware of this. One of the functions of a text like this is that it provides a proper analysis of withdrawing from God and depending upon men.
THEY HAVE NOT CRIED UNTO ME. Other versions read, “did not cry unto Me with their heart,” NKJV and “do not cry unto Me from their heart.” NASB The word “cry” is a strong expression. It means to “cry out, call for help, to cry out in need, and to call out for aid.” STRONG’S Crying out to the Lord is frequently mentioned in the Psalms, which are like a Divine catalogue of spiritual experience. “I cried unto the LORD with my voice” (Psa 3:4). “I cried to thee, O LORD; and unto the LORD I made supplication” (Psa 30:8). “I cried unto Thee; save me, and I shall keep Thy testimonies” (Psa 119:146). Our blessed Lord also cried out to the Father. As it is written, “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared” (Heb 5:7). You can detect a sense of urgency and total dependence upon the Living God in these prayers.
But Israel did not cry out to the Lord – not even in severe trouble and hardship. God had promised, “And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psa 50:15). Yet, Israel did not take advantage of this invitation. Thus they were not delivered, nor did they glorify God.
By saying they did not call out to the Lord “with their heart,” there is a suggestion that they did engage in some religious formalities. However, their heart was “far from” the Lord (Isa 29:13; ; Matt 15:8). Their hearts were neither honest nor good (Lk 8:15).
This text also confirms the contemptible nature of a heartless religion. God is repulsed by a people who do not cry to Him from their hearts. God is not in the thoughts of such people (Psa 10:4). They do not love the Lord “with all of their heart” (Deut 6:5), and thus do not cry out to Him in the time of trouble, when they so desperately need Him.
THEY HOWLED UPON THEIR BEDS. Other versions read, “they wail upon their beds,” NASB and “make loud cries on their bed.” BBE The idea is that instead of crying out to the Lord, they lay upon their beds wailing, or lamenting, as though no help was available to them. Here was a people, cultured to rely upon the Lord, who lay on their beds of affliction and howled like brute beasts. They did not pour out their complaint to the Lord like David (Psa 142:12), but filled the air around their beds with futile and miserable howls – just as though they had never been exposed to the God of heaven, heard His voice, or experienced His care and direction. This is, indeed, a most miserable picture.
THEY ASSEMBLE FOR CORN AND WINE. Other versions read, “For the sake of grain and new wine they assembly themselves,” NASB “they have thought upon wheat and wine,” DOUAY and “they pined for oil and wine.” SEPTUAGINT Instead of crying out to the Lord, they murmured because of their lack of “corn and wine.” Their cries, which the Lord referred to as beastly howls, were for the appetites of the flesh, and for indulgence. They did not gather to seek for and cry unto the Lord, as the people did in Nehemiah’s time (Neh 9:4). Instead they lamented because their fleshly appetites were not being satisfied. Their sin had so hardened them that they did not know the Lord Himself had taken their corn and wine from them (Hos 2:9). Therefore, they did not seek Him or cry out to Him with all of their heart. Their primary consideration was their fleshly appetites. They thought more of their bellies than they did of God, an affliction that is still found among those who say they are identified with the Lord of heaven (Phil 3:19).
THEY REBEL AGAINST ME. Other versions read, “They turn away from Me,” NASB “they are departed from Me,” DOUAY “They are faithless to Me,” TNK and “They turn aside against Me.” YLT To “rebel” means “to turn aside, depart, and to be removed.” STRONG’S When the heart turns toward other supposed saviors, it is rebelling against the Lord. How often this charge was leveled against Israel (Num 20:24; ; 27:14; Deut 1:26,43; Neh 9:26; Psa 107:11; Isa 1:2). When we consider the state of the nominal church, this text becomes alarming. The contemporary quest for lesser things among those who profess the name of Christ is nothing more than rebellion against the Lord – and it is duly noted by Him.
THEY IMAGINED MISCHIEF AGAINST GOD
“ 15 Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me.”
Once again the Spirit points out the nature of Israel’s rebellion. It did not take place while they were abandoned by their God, but while they were being cared for by Him. This has always been, and continues to be, the nature of transgression. Adam and Eve fell by transgression when they had been afforded unfettered access to every tree in the Garden except one (Gen 2:16). Cain chose to dishonor God after his crops had been blessed by the Lord. Much later, Judas would betray the Lord of glory after he had enjoyed the benefits of being with Him for a little over three years.
I BOUND AND STRENGTHENED THEIR ARMS. Other versions read, “Though I disciplined and strengthened their arms,” NKJV “Although I trained and strengthened their arms,” NASB “I trained and strengthened them,” NIV and “they were instructed by Me, and I strengthened their arms.” SEPTUAGINT
They Were Bound. The word “bound” means to chastise, or hold within a certain moral perimeter, so that they could not fulfill all of their desires. This is a Divine manner. As it is written, “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained” NIV (Psa 76:10). Numerous times Israel was chastened for their transgressions. Here are a few of those occasions. God delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (Judges 13:1). He delivered them into the hands spoilers that spoiled them, and sold them into the hands of their enemies (Judges 2:14). He sold them into the hands of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia (Judges 3:8). The Lord strengthened Elog king of Moab against Israel (Judges 3:12). He sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan (Judges 4:2). The hand of Midian prevailed against Israel (Judges 6:2).He sold them into the hands of Sisera, into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab (1 Sam 12:9). The Lord sold them into the hands of the children of Ammon (Judges 10:7). Theirs was a history of chastening – yet they were not awakened from their spiritual slumber.
They Were Strengthened. There were also numerous times when the Lord strengthened Israel, making them equal to the challenges of their enemies. Joshua defeated five kings of the Amorites (Josh 10). Othniel, the first Judge, was strengthened by the Lord to overcome the king of Mesopotamia (Judges 3:10). The hands of Israel were strengthened against Jabin king of Canaan (Judges 4:24). David defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam 30). The hands of Zerubbabel and his builders were strengthened to lay the foundations and build the house of the Lord (Zech 4:9). The hands of Nehemiah and his builders were strengthened to rebuild the walls of the holy city (Neh 6:15).
THEY IMAGINE MISCHIEF AGAINST ME. Other versions read, “Yet you devise evil against Me,” NKJV “but they plot evil against Me,” NIV In spite of the faithful manner in which God dealt with Israel, they did not learn. Like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed with the wind, they were unstable in all of their ways (James 1:6-8).
The language is unusually strong. The word “imagine” means to fabricate, think maliciously against, or impute to. How is it that a people could plot against the Lord, since they could neither do Him good or evil?
It is the Lord’s manner to impute to men what they intend, whether it is for good or for evil. If, for example, a person with a tender and large heart desires to give much to the Lord, yet has little, his intention is credited to him as though it had been fulfilled (2 Cor 8:12). The same principle applies to those who speak against the Lord, seeking to shake off His restraints and go on in their own willful ways. Even though they cannot accomplish their will, yet it is imputed to them just as though they were capable.
Ponder the charges Israel made against the Lord. “The way of the Lord is not equal” (Ezek 18:25,29; 33:17,20). “It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it?” (Mal 3:14). “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge?” (Isa 58:3). “The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil” (Zeph 1:12). “Everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord” (Mal 2:17).
How does the Lord regard such foolish outbursts? They are like plots against Him! It is like saying, as the kings who took counsel against the Lord, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psa 2:3). Let no person foolishly regard God as indifferent to those who find it in their hearts to speak against Him. They have exhibited enmity, or hostility, against the Lord (Rom 8:7), and it will not be overlooked.
THEY DID NOT RETURN TO THE LORD
“ 16 They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.”
It is necessary to regard this as a Divine lamentation – like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). We are being exposed to the heart of a God who yearns over His people, yet cannot overlook their transgression. Isaiah depicted the Lord as grieving thus over Israel, “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isa 5:4). If we do not view this passage as the expression of a loving God, it will not have the proper effect upon our hearts and minds.
THEY RETURN, BUT NOT TO THE MOST HIGH. Other versions read, “They turn, but not upward,” NASB “They do not turn to the Most High,” NIV “They turn to that which does not profit,” NRSV “They turn to Baal,” RSV “They have again become useless,” NAB “They turn to that which does not exist,” NJB and “They look everywhere except to heaven.” NLT
The word, “return” carries the idea of retracing their steps – doing something they had done before. However, it was not a return to the Lord, but to their old ways that had previously brought the wrath of the Lord upon them. This again confirms the hardening effects of sin. The transgressor often forgets that sin creates a sort of vulnerability that makes it easy to violate the will of the Lord again and again. Those who make a practice of seeking help from inferior sources will not find it easy to return to the Lord under the most dire of circumstances. Sin so steels the heart than such a return is less likely to occur.
It is possible to make a change for the worse – to adjust our manners and conduct so that we descend into new depths and more profound error. Let it be clear that those who do not live for the Lord are culturing this kind of tendency – and it will surface in the time of trouble, making it all the more difficult to return to the Lord.
If it is a transgression of unspeakable magnitude to NOT return to the Lord, then it is a blessing beyond compare to return to Him. The Lord’s words to Israel were characterized by the utmost gravity and sincerity: “If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto Me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of My sight, then shalt thou not remove” (Jer 4:1). Let no person underestimate the value of returning to the Lord, or the unspeakable grace that is made known when such a return is realized.
LIKE A DECEITFUL BOW. A “deceitful bow” is a “faulty bow,” NIV or “defective bow.” NRSV It is a “treacherous bow” RSV because it cannot do what it is intended to do. When the time for an efficient bow arrives, and the arrow is put to it and drawn, it is discovered that the bow is useless. It cannot deliver its user or turn the tide of the battle.
It did not happen overnight, but Israel became like a powerless and useless battle-bow: “they are become like a deceitful bow.” JPS One version reads, “They are like a crooked bow that always misses its target.” NLT Do not think it is coincidence when slothful professors faint in the day of adversity (Prov 24:10)! When those who profess to know the Lord are wearied when running with mere footmen (Jer 12:5), it is because their religion has developed feebleness instead of strength. For those with faith, hardship and trial produce perseverance (Rom 5:3). This is a difficult but necessary lesson to learn.
THEIR PRINCES SHALL FALL. The princes, or leaders, would fall by the sword of the enemies, their bows being faulty and unable to deliver them. Yet, the cause goes deeper than this. Our text says they will fall “for the rage of their tongue,” or “for the cursing of their tongue.” NKJV Other versions read, “because of their insolent words,” NIV and “by reason of the unbridled state of their tongue.” SEPTUAGINT
This refers to the articulated imaginations mentioned in verse 15. Those who dare to speak against the Lord, or to question His judgment, will reap a miserable harvest in the hour of trial. Jesus said men would give an account for “every idle word” (Matt 12:36). Sometimes a reaping of those words begins in this world. It is true, the Lord is “able to keep you from falling”(Jude 1:24). However, when “stout,” or arrogant “words” are spoken against the Lord, that keeping power is forfeited, as the history of Israel confirms.
THEIR DERISION IN THE LAND OF EGYPT. These words mean the people will be derided in Egypt – the land of the enemy – because of their inability to stand: “For this they will be ridiculed in the land of Egypt.” NIV That is, “The land of Egypt will make sport of them” BBE as the Philistines did of Samson (Judges 16:25). It is worthy of the most hearty effort to avoid the ridicule of our enemies, brought on by spiritual impotence.