COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 9:8 The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore He will remember their iniquity, He will visit their sins. 10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hosea 9:8-10)
In delineating the condition of Israel, the Lord charges both the people and their prophets with corruption. They had developed a sort of religious system that fed itself, perpetuating spiritual obtuseness and moral weakness. The people themselves were not only rotten within, but had made their condition worse by heaping to themselves prophets that assisted them in maintaining an outward religious system, while remaining in an inwardly defiled condition. This, of course, is the most profane of all religious systems – one that not only fails to make the people sensitive of their condition, but actually promotes decline. The greatest of all weaknesses is religious weakness, for it removes all sensitivity of sin, focusing upon the will and preferences of those who are living in alienation from the God of heaven. This passage should be of especial interest to us because of the times in which we are living – times when the weakness of the church is the religion it has adopted – a form of godliness that denies the power thereof. Although it has been offered much more than Israel, the modern church is found grossly deficient.
THE WATCHMAN OF EPHRAIM AND THE PROPHET
“ 9:8 The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God.”
THE WATCHMAN OF EPHRAIM. The various translations of this verse provide a remarkable haberdashery of confusion. “Ephraim was a watchman with my God,” NASB “The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim,” NIV “The prophet is a sentinel for my God over Ephraim,” NRSV “Ephraim a watchman with my God?” DARBY “The watchman of Ephraim should be with my God,” GENEVA and “Ephraim is looking away from God.” YLT Thus we have significantly different views presented: (1) A individual watchman with God. (2) Ephraim (Israel) itself being a watchman with God. (3) God and the prophet being the watchman together. (4) A sarcastic questioning of Ephraim being a watchman. (5) The watchman should be with God. (6) Ephraim was no watchman at all.
I view the text as it is translated in the KJV, NKJV, DOUAY, Septuagint, NJB, and other versions. The “watchman” is not synonymous with “the prophet,” but is contrasted with “the prophet.” “The watchman” was appointed by God, and was with Him. The “prophet” was the selection of the people, and was corrupt. Further, “the watchman” is the one who was hated by the people – an extension of the thought introduced in verse seven: “and the great hatred.” In this verse, “the watchman of Ephraim” is a God-ordained calling, not as particular person.
WITH MY GOD. The idea of the text is that “the watchman” was an office ordained by God. The strength of “the watchman” was his identity with God. As the Lord said through Isaiah, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence” (Isa 62:6). The purpose of “the watchman” was to alert the people to danger, or announce an imminent blessing. Through this office, Israel was given an advantage – a means of remaining within the favor of God and being alert to dangers and corrupting influences.
Now the Lord will contrast watchman who remained with God with the prophets that had flooded the landscape of Israel. These prophets could have been men that were once with God, like “the watchman,” and then defected. I prefer to see them as prophets set up by the people, who were never sent by God – which is the way in which false prophets are represented in Scripture (Jer 14:14-15; 23:32). These are the prophets which fulfilled the will of the people: “Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isa 30:10).
THE PROPHET IS A SNARE. Now “the prophet” accepted by Israel is contrasted with the faithful “watchman” – “BUT the prophet . . . ”
A “fowler’s snare” is the trap of a “bird catcher” NASB – a net that entraps the foolish bird, removing its liberty and making it the captive of its enemy. Note, the prophets themselves are a snare. While the words of the prophet are doubtless included, the Spirit goes to the heart of the matter. The false prophet was a snare “in all of his ways.” That is, he was headed in the wrong direction, had the wrong spirit, and had no association the God of heaven. His message was the product of his own spirit. Thus the Lord said of them, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD” (Jer 23:16). It is not that they were simply unlearned, or were deficient in their understanding. Their hearts were fundamentally corrupt, and their persons were defiled. That is why they accepted the mandate of the people rather than the commandment of the Lord. When their message was received, it trapped the people in iniquity, confining them to state in which they provoked God.
HATRED IN THE HOUSE OF HIS GOD. Instead of “hatred,” other versions read, “enmity,” NKJV “only hostility,” NASB “madness,” DOUAY and “harrassment.” TNK
The idea is that the house Israel had identified with God, and the events that took place there, was nothing more than the expression of their hatred of the true God. They had embraced lies because of their hostility against the God of truth and the truth itself. In their religion, they fulfilled the psalm concerning the wicked: “He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made” (Psa 7:15). Not only was their own hatred for God revealed, but God hated what they did in His name. As it is written, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21). Although warned by God, they proceeded in their provocation of Him: “Howbeit I sent unto you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate” (Jer 44:4) – “hatred in the house of God!” Such a condition can still be found.
THEY HAVE DEEPLY CORRUPTED THEMSELVES
“ 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore He will remember their iniquity, He will visit their sins.”
DEEPLY CORRUPTED THEMSELVES. Other versions read, “They have gone deep into depravity,” NASB “They have sunk deep into corruption,” NIV “They have gone deep into evil,” BBE and “They have sunk to the depths of corruption.” NAB
Here again, the defiling effects of corrupt religion are emphasized. This has been made known in at least three different ways. First, when the Gentile world corrupted religion by worshiping and serving “the creature more than the Creator,” God “gave them up to vile affections.” It was then that all manner of moral perverseness broke out – deep corruption (Rom 1:25-27). The same thing happened with Israel, as is declared in our text. In response to Israel’s departure from the Lord in preference of corrupt religion, the Lord said, “So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels” (Psa 81:12). It was then that they descended even further into the pit of corruption, becoming “deeply corrupted.” Tragically, the same thing has happened in the professed church. Rejecting the truth of God, the nominal church has embraced a “form of godliness” that denies “the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5). The result is that the false church has descended deeper into the pit of corruption, with its cup being “full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Rev 17:4). Because of this condition it will fall, and will eventually become “a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” NKJV (Rev 18:2).
All corruption is not the same – there is the condition of being “deeply corrupted.” All sin is not the same – there is sin that is “very grievous” (Gen 18:20). All transgression is not the same – there is transgression from which recovery is not possible (Isa 24:20), and there is a sin that is “unto death” (1 John 5:16). All sin and blasphemy are not equal – there is a blasphemy that “shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matt 12:31). Evil men and seducers do not occupy a static position. They are in a state that grows “worse and worse” (2 Tim 3:13).
Israel had turned from the Lord in a most reprehensible way. Isaiah referred to their departure in these words: “the children of Israel have deeply revolted” (Isa 31:6). He also mentioned the extent of their corruption: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isa 24:5). The possibility of such a terrible state needs to be known!
AS IN THE DAYS OF GIBEAH. The record of the corruption of Israel “in the days of Gibeah” are recorded in Judges, chapters 19through 21. This was the occasion when a Levite took his dead abused concubine, cut her in pieces, and sent them throughout all the country (Judges 19:29-30; 20:5-7). Such judgment fell upon the tribe of Benjamin, which had corrupted itself, that only six hundred men escaped (Judges 20:47-48). Now, the Lord says, Israel as a whole has descended to those same depths.
HE WILL REMEMBER THEIR INIQUITY. When God remembers iniquity, it is never to bless. Such remembrance is always a prelude to severe judgment. This is something that is done by Divine intent: i.e. “He will now remember their iniquity” (Jer 14:10). This is not a memory that comes uninvited upon the Lord. This is when the sins of men reach “unto heaven,” no longer able to be overlooked (Rev 18:5). When the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was duly remembered by God, He destroyed them (Gen 18:20). The Chronicles speak of a sinful “rage” that reached up into heaven (2 Chron 28:9). In the days of Ezra, the scribe knew the trespass of the people had “grown up into heaven” (Ezra 9:6). This is when iniquity is “remembered.”
It is no wonder the Psalmist prayed, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions” (Psa 25:7). And again, “O remember not against us former iniquities” (Psa 79:8). God is greatly to be praised that, in Christ, He remembers our sins “no more” (Heb 8:12).
HE WILL VISIT THEIR SINS. Other versions read, “punish their sins.” NKJV,NASB To “visit their sins” means the people will reap what they have sown. They will experience the consequence of their iniquity. If sins are not forgiven, it is God’s manner to visit them upon the people (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9). Such a visitation never results in blessing. It is always the result provoking God to anger by a stubborn insistence to continue in sin. Such visitations are always preceded by Divine forbearance and longsuffering, together with warnings. God can “visit” His people to “perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jer 29:10). However, when His people refuse such a gracious invitation in deference to sin, the Lord will visit their sin upon them.
GRAPES IN THE WILDERNESS
“ 10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.”
GRAPES IN THE WILDERNESS. Here the Lord refers to the beginning of His associations with Israel. He did not find them in a plenteous state, well advanced in their quest for God, and exceeding in righteousness above other nations. They were deficient from the beginning – like sparse grapes found here and there in the wilderness. The Lord loved them like a hungry man loves to find even the smallest cluster of grapes in the desert.
The Lord makes frequent references to Israel’s beginning, accenting that it was His love that drew Him to them, not their works or achievements. “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live” (Ezek 16:6). The Lord referred to that time as the days of Israel’s “youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood” [like a stillborn child] (Ezek 16:22). In their beginning, they were “the fewest of all people” (Deut 7:7), with nothing to recommend them to the God of heaven. His love for them is what made them unique. When they went down into Egypt, there were only “seventy souls” (Ex 1:5) – like grapes here and there in an unproductive desert. Moses provides another picture of their beginnings: “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye” (Deut 32:10).
THE FIRST RIPE. The Lord also refers to Israel’s “fathers” – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were like first figs, noted for their preference and succulence. Isaiah refers to this kind of fruit as “the first-ripe fig prior to summer; Which one sees, And as soon as it is in his hand, He swallows it” NASB (Isa 28:4).
The point being made is that Israel had every reason to have excelled, and no reason to have degenerated into such a state. Divine love had been showered upon them from the beginning, even though they were few. The Lord was attracted to them, and tenderly cared for them, even though they were like an unborn child lying in its own blood.
THEY WENT TO BAALPEOR. And how is it that Israel responded to such unprecedented love? “BUT they went to Baalpeor!” Baalpeor means Baal of Peor, and refers to a Moabitish idol. This reference the time when Balaam told Balaak the only way for Israel to be cursed, was to be lured into sin with the women of Moab. It is written of that occasion, “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel” (Num 25:1-3). The wrath of the Lord broke forth, and 24,000 people died in a plague. The plague was stopped only when Phineas took a javelin in his hand and, finding an Israelite man and a Moabitish woman in a tent, “thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel” (Num 25:8; Psa 106:29-31).
Before Moses died, he reminded the people of that dreadful occasion when the Lord destroyed much people. “Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you” (Deut 4:3). Now Hosea reminds the people they have returned to the worship of Baal (Hos 2:8) – even though they had previously been judged for the very same sin.
SEPARATED INTO SHAME. The “shame” to which Israel separated itself was the idol Baalpeor. The NIV reads, “But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.” What they had come to call a god, to whom, they gave credit for the corn, wine, oil, silver, and gold that God had given to them (Hos 2:8), God called “that shame.” That is, that idol, together with the religion associated with it, brought shame and disgrace upon the people.
ABOMINATIONS ACCORDING TO LOVE. “ . . . and their abominations were according as they loved.” The idea is that the people became like the abominable and shameful god they were serving. Other versions read, “They became an abomination like the thing they loved.” NKJV and “they became as detestable as that which they loved.” NASB
Men become like what they serve, receiving the traits of their master. Spiritually, there are only two masters – Christ and Belial (2 Cor 6:15). Naturally, there are only two federal heads – Adam and Christ (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:49). Every person is becoming more and more like either Christ or Satan! – like the one they love.