COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 35
“ 8:8 Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. 9 For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. 10 Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes. 11 Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.” (Hosea 8:8-11)
How serious is it when a people forsake their God, seeking for assistance and attention from those who have neither made nor redeemed them? Is it an innocent gesture – a moral mistake that has no real consequences? God answers these questions in the history of His dealings with Israel. The doctrine of Divine holiness is exhibited in the record of Israel. There is no need for men to philosophize about how God reacts to sin – especially the transgression of forsaking Him and seeking help from those who are “no gods”(2 Kgs 19:18; Isa 37:19; Jer 5:7; Gal 4:8). There is an enormous amount of theological speculation and conjecture in Christendom about things on which God has spoken with remarkable clarity. Backsliding and forsaking the Lord in practical conduct rank high among these speculations. Much of this is the result of a fundamental ignorance of the things that have been written about Israel – which writing is “for our admonition” (1 Cor 10:11). The text before us is a case in point. Here we are beholding a lengthy revelation concerning God’s reaction to a people who forsake Him in deference to other interests. This is a record of a people who preferred to remain religious without remaining conscious of the Living God, who faithfully delivered and sustained them.
A VESSEL IN WHOM NO ONE DELIGHTS
“ 8:8 Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.”
The Lord continues His assessment of the people of Israel. He lingers long upon this subject because of the seriousness of their condition. Whether it was Moses, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, or the Apostles, apostasy was always treated extensively. Religious sins are always handled with the utmost seriousness. They are never swept aside as being incidental or without the most weighty consequences.
SWALLOWED UP. This phrase – “swallowed up” – is a synonym for being devoured, destroyed, or brought to an end. Thus we read of Aaron’s rod swallowing up the rods of the Egyptian sorcerers (Ex 7:13). Dathan and the company of Abiram were “swallowed up” when the earth opened up to receive them (Psa 106:17). The Lord will “swallow up death in victory” (Isa 25:8; 1 Cor 15:54), and mortality will be “swallowed up of life” (2 Cor 5:4). In all of these cases, something or someone was brought to an end.
Not only would the “stranger” swallow up what small fruitage was found in their crops (8:7), the people themselves would also be swallowed up. By saying “Israel is swallowed up,” the prophet announces the kingdom of Israel was being brought to an end. It is not that all of the people would be exterminated. Rather, their kingdom (the ten tribes) would be brought a conclusion, and they themselves would be scattered among the heathen.
This occurred when the Assyrians devastated the kingdom of Israel. During the conclusion of the reign of Israel’s last king, “in the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria [Shalmeneser] took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kgs 17:6). The reasons for them being “swallowed up” are given. (1) They sinned against the Lord their God. (2) They feared other gods. (3) They walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before them. (4) They did secretly things that were “not right against the Lord their God.” (5) They build “high places” to other gods in all their cities. (6) They set up “images and groves in every high hill.” (7) They “burnt incense in all high places” like the heathen. (8) They “wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger.” (9) They “served idols,” even though God told them not to do so (2 Kgs 17:7-12).
In order to stem the tide of their swelling iniquity, the Lord “testified against Israel . . . by all the prophets and by all the seers,” calling upon them to turn from their evil ways. “Notwithstanding,” the Lord testifies, “they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God” (2 Kgs 17:14). They “rejected” His statutes, His covenant, and His testimonies. They “followed vanity,” “became vain,” and “went after the heathen that were round about them.” They “left all the commandments of the Lord their God,” “made molten images,” “worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.” They even sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire, and practiced divination and sorcery (2 Kgs 17:15-17).
Do you wonder why they were “swallowed up?” Their punishment was preceded by a remarkably long period of Divine longsuffering, and the faithful warning and witness of holy prophets.
Sin makes a people impervious to Divine appeals. We do not need to speculate about this matter. It has been confirmed in the kingdom of Israel. It is sinful to philosophize about the effects of sin upon a person, when such abundant inspired testimony has been recorded on the subject.
A VESSEL WHEREIN IS NO PLEASURE. Other versions read, “like a vessel in which no one delights,” NASB “like a worthless thing,” NIV and “as a useless vessel.” NRSV Paul would call this being a “vessel” to dishonor (2 Tim 2:20). This perspective of Israel would be had “among the Gentiles,” or nations. The second time the Lord appeared to Solomon, He told him what He would do if Israel turned from Him: “Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for My name, will I cast out of My sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people” – an “object of ridicule among all peoples” NIV (1 Kgs 9:7). Hosea is declaring the fulfillment of this word. Once the nations feared Israel because of the mighty deliverance they had experienced, and their triumph over their enemies (Josh 2:10; 1 Kgs 20:31). But now, that very people had become a laughingstock among the nations, and were perceived as having no value, and not to be desired. That is what sin does to a people!
“ 9 For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. 10 though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes.”
GONE UP TO ASSYRIA. Israel went up to Assyria for help, to make an alliance with them. When Pul the king of Assyria came up against the land, Menahem, king of Israel, gave him a thousand talents (thirty-seven tons) of silver “to gain his support and strengthen his hold upon the kingdom” NIV (2 Kgs 15:19; Hos 5:13). Ezekiel said Israel “doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians her neighbors” (Ezek 23:5).
If one were to evaluate this sin of Israel according to appearance, it would look like a wise act – seeking to assuage the wrath of the enemy by a shrewd and calculating deed. However, that is not the way heaven viewed it. The courting of the favor of the Assyrians was likened to “a wild donkey wandering alone.” NIV I like the emphatic note of the KJV: “alone by himself.” The idea is that in spite of the Lord’s faithful working with them, they remained like a wild and untamed donkey, wandering about by itself. As charged through Isaiah, they had stooped beneath the nature of tamed beasts, and did not know their Master (Isa 1:3). Judging from their conduct, no one would have surmised that Israel even had a God, or that they had been delivered, or that multitudes of messengers had been sent to them from heaven. Those who watched them would never had concluded they had a good law, or had a covenant with the God of heaven.
That is what happens when those who have been delivered by God return like a dog to its vomit, and a sow that was washed to its wallowing in the mire (2 Pet 2:22). All witness of an alliance with God is thus destroyed, and religion becomes vain – not only for those who have forsaken the Lord, but for all those who behold them as well.
HIRED LOVERS. The depths to which sin brings a person is seen in this expression: “Ephraim has hired lovers.” The NIV gives a completely erroneous rendering of this text in reading, “Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.” In his case, however, the lovers did not pay her, as is the ordinary practice in harlotry. Rather, she “has given money to get lovers.” BBE Other versions read, “Ephraim hath rented lovers,” BBE and “hath given gifts to his lovers.” DOUAY
Ezekiel prophesied against Israel for this reprehensible sin. “Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot, in that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite” NKJV (Ezek 16:33-34). This is the heavenly view of men like king Menahem making payment to king Pul of Assyria.
This practice did not cease with Israel. Spiritual Babylon the great, the false church, is still making payments to the men of this world, seeking their aid and assistance. It is seen in the modern church’s quest for financial expertise, counseling knowledge, and motivational methodologies. Religious educational institutes are courting the favor of the world, and paying a large price to do so. It all may appear very wise, and to be yielding wonderful results. But it is really a form of harlotry – and a low form at that. Like Ephraim, the modern church “has rented lovers,” NJB foisting it off on the people as advancement for the present time. However, as with Israel, it is no advancement at all. Rather, it is a clear and unquestionable indication that it has rejected the Savior who bought it, in quest for being in the spotlight of this present evil world. It is a most serious condition!
I WILL GATHER THEM. There are two senses in which this word can be perceived – and both are true. First, Israel had gone among the nations, seeking help and assistance. In spite of this, God would gather them together in one heap, as it were, to pour His judgment upon them. In other words, the nations they had hired would not be able to help them. Second, and perhaps more primary, the Lord would gather together the nations in whom they had trusted, moving them to go against Israel. A parallel passage in Ezekiel confirms this to be the primary sense of the text. “Behold, therefore I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness” (Ezek 16:37). In other words, Israel would be punished and wasted publicly.
THEY WILL SORROW A LITTLE. This sorrow would come upon them from the Assyrian king (Isa 10:8). The annual tax levied by Pul and gathered by Menahem was 50 shekels of silver (1 1/4 lbs) from every man (2 Kgs 15:19). But that was only the beginning of their suffering, and would be accounted “a little” when compared to what they would ultimately suffer. This sorrow was produced by the very king whose favor they had sought.
ALTARS FOR SINNING
“ 11 Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.” Now the Lord will assess their religious offerings – their sacrifices upon their altars. Remember, in the eyes of the Israelites, they had become advanced in their religious ways. They saw more advantages in idolatry than in the worship of the true God. They considered the assistance of heathen nations of greater value than the merciful direction and care of the One who brought them out of Egypt, and sustained them in the wilderness.
MAKING ALTARS TO SIN. Here again, the NIV grossly misrepresents the text by saying, “Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings.” While, technically, Israel may have been offering what they conceived to be “sin offerings” on these altars, that is not at all the point of the text. First, the making of the altars themselves was an act of treason against God. God had established one altar for sin. In their wilderness wanderings, that altar was found in a place named by the Lord (Deut 12:5-6). I assume that place was where the tabernacle was set up. After entering the promised land and building the Temple, the place of sacrifice was “the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem” (2 Kgs 23:9). When Ezra was used to restore the proper service of God, he also spoke of sacrifices being made “upon the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:17). Israel had not honored this Divine arrangement, but had “increased the altars” (Hos 10:1).
More specifically, this refers to the sin of Jeroboam, whom Israel chose to be their king. Rather than going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, he reasoned that if the people returned to Jerusalem, their hearts would be drawn away from him to the king of Judah. Of that event, the Spirit says, “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem:: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan” (1 Kgs 12:26-29).
The Spirit says of that wicked deed, “And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan” (1 Kgs 12:30). That is the very point Hosea is making in this text. Although it had been many years since Jeroboam did this, God was now going to judge the people because of it. What was presented as a religion of convenience was actually the willing expression of iniquity, and that of the worst order.
ALTARS MADE SIN. “Altars shall be unto him to sin.” Other versions read, “They have become for him altars for sinning,” NKJV “these have become altars for sinning,” NIV “altars have become a cause for sin,” BBE “his altars have became occasions for sin,” NAB and “these very altars became places for sinning.” NLT
In the ultimate expression of their religion – sacrifices on an altar – the people were actually committing sin. Their religion was actually nothing more than transgression. Of it God Himself said, “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them” NKJV (Isa 1:13-14). Again, the Lord spoke through Amos the prophet: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:21-23).
In the words of our text, “these very altars became places for sinning.” NLT There is no greater sin than religious sin! When something is done in the name of the Lord, yet is wholly lacking in substance and reality, a sin of the greatest magnitude has been committed. This is precisely what Jesus was speaking of when He said, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23). Such a religion puts the soul to sleep, leaving the transgressor thinking that he has actually done something good, when he has really only sinned the more.
A considerable percentage of the Christianity of our time falls under the heading of our text. It is nothing more than sin. It has not stemmed the tide of iniquity or produced a revulsion for transgression. I do not doubt that a lot of what is supposedly being offered to God in the nominal Sunday morning worship service, is nothing more than “noise” in the ears of a holy God. Such services have become “occasions for sin.” NAB