COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 40
“ 9:11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. 12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. 14 Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” (Hosea 9:12-14)
The unusually harsh language continues, for the Lord has been provoked to anger through the insolence of His people. This is the result of the condition Isaiah described so vividly: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Isa 1:4). The remarkable longsuffering of the mighty God has been brought to an end. Prophets were sent to Israel, clarifying their condition, and summoning them to repentance – but they had given them no heed. They had experienced chastening at His hand, many times over an extended number of years – yet they returned to their ways, departing from the Lord and forgetting His goodness toward them. Although their condition was inexcusable, it confirms the impotence of the flesh and the weakness of the Old Covenant. We are witnessing why it was necessary for a “better covenant” to be given that was “established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6). In order to put a proper value on this “better covenant,” we must allow the words of this text to penetrate both heart and conscience. They confirm to us the Lord’s reaction to instability and waywardness – a reaction that reveals His character. If we can see it, salvation is a provision for the Lord as well as for us. It provides a means for Him to be gracious toward a fallen race.
I WILL BEREAVE THEM
“ 9:11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. 12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!”
THEIR GLORY SHALL FLY AWAY. The glory of reference is their offspring – their children. Children are “the crown of old men” (Prov 17:6). Originally, the blessing of the Lord for Ephraim was fruitfulness. When Joseph named his second-born son, he called him Ephraim, which means “double fruit,” for, said Joseph, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen 41:52). When Jacob blessed Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph’s sons, he bestowed the blessing of the firstborn upon Ephraim: “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen 48:16). This was the glory to which Hosea referred – fruitfulness.
Now, the Lord says, their glory will fly away from them like a bird – “from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.” The NIV reads, “no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.” God can close up wombs, so that no births occur (Gen 20:18; 1 Sam 1:5). He can also open them so they will be fruitful (Isa 66:9). The “fruit of the womb is His reward” (Psa 127:3). However, Israel had so provoked the Lord that instead of growing as they did in Egypt (Ex 1:7,12), they began to diminish – their glory flew away.
THOUGH THEY BRING UP THEIR CHILDREN. Other versions read, “even if they rear children,” NIV “even though their children have come to growth,” BBE “even if your children do survive and grow up,” NLT and “though they nourish their sons.” YLT The previous verse pronounced a judgment upon the fruitfulness of Israel. Now the prophet addresses another way in which their glory would depart from them. The mothers of Israel would not be totally barren. They would bear children – even raise them up. However, it would all be in vain. Some may have imagined the people really were excluded from the judgment pronounced in the previous verse. How wrong they were!
I WILL BEREAVE THEM. The word “bereave” means to “make childless.” Though these children were born, nourished up, and brought to maturity, yet the Lord would take them from the people. This is vivid portrayal of labor being “in vain” – like putting wages into a bag filled with holes (Hag 1:6). The book of Job speaks of the increase of a man’s house departing, and his goods flowing away in the day of God’s wrath (Job 20:28).
NOT A MAN LEFT. Other versions read, “I will bereave them to the last man,” NKJV and “I will bereave them until not a man is left.” NASB This language jars the sensitive soul, but we must not thrust it from us, for it is making known the reaction of an angry God. The children that were brought up, seemingly escaping the Divine edict of fruitlessness, were taken from the people in famine and by the sword. As it is written, “Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle” (Jer 18:21). This was Jeremiah’s prayer when Israel rejected his word concerning the Babylonian captivity. When that captivity came, God did, indeed, bereave the people of their children. It was thorough, so that no strong men were left. When, for example, Nebuchadnezzar took Judah captive, he carried away “the mighty of the land . . . all the men of might . . . and craftsmen and smiths . . . and all that were strong and apt for war” (2 Kgs 24:15). This was the manner in which the Lord bereaved the people of their children, together with the famine and the sword.
WOE WHEN I DEPART. Here the judgment of Israel is traced back to the Lord departing from them. At that point they became vulnerable to all who passed by. When the Lord “departed” from Samson, he immediately became vulnerable to the Philistines (Judges 16:20-21). When the Lord departed from king Saul, an evil spirit troubled him (1 Sam 16:14), and the Philistines later distressed him (1 Sam 28:15).
It is no wonder that holy men prayed, “Hide not Thy face far from me; put not Thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation” (Psa 27:9), “leave me not to my oppressors” (Psa 119:121), and “Forsake me not, O Lord” (Psa 38:21). It is said of the Lord, “He was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men” (Psa 78:59-60). It is, indeed, a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Heb 10:31). There is such a thing as provoking the Lord, but let it not once be named among us (1 Cor 10:22).
A PLEASANT PLACE, BUT NO ADVANTAGE
“ 13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.”
AS I SAW TYRUS. The phrase “as I saw Tyrus” means that Israel had been given advantages like Tyrus [or Tyre] had. Other versions read, “like as I have seen Tyre,” ASV “as a Tyre,” DARBY and “was like Tyre.” NAB
PLANTED IN A PLEASANT PLACE. “Planted in a pleasant place.” Other versions read, “a beautiful place,” DARBY “founded in beauty,” DOUAY “in a pleasant meadow,” NJB and “planted in comeliness.” YLT The meaning is that Israel, like Tyre, had all manner of advantages. However, instead of giving God the glory, she became puffed up with pride.
Tyre is described as “the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth?” (Isa 23:8). God told Ezekiel to prophesy against Tyre, because it had spoken against Jerusalem, the city of God (Ezek 26:2). He was then told to take up a lamentation against Tyre – a lamentation that spoke of her advantages. “O thou that art situate at the entry of the sea, which art a merchant of the people for many isles, Thus saith the Lord GOD; O Tyrus, thou hast said, I am of perfect beauty. Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty” (Ezek 27:3-4). The lushness of Tyre is confirmed by Solomon’s employment of Hiram for working on the Temple. It is said of Hiram that he “was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to king Solomon, and wrought all his work” (1 Kgs 7:14). Great timber of cedars from Tyre was used in that building (1 Chron 14:1; 2 Chron 2:3). Tyre was a “pleasant place,” filled with all manner of advantages.
Yet Tyre was overthrown because of its foolishness, advantages not withstanding as prophesied by Ezekiel (Ezek 26:1-28:26). Jesus referred to Tyre, comparing the generation to which He ministered, to it. He affirmed that if the works that had been done in Chorazin and Bethsaida had been done in Tyre, it would have repented “a great while ago” (Lk 10:13).
The fall of Israel was not owing to any lack of advantages. Moses said of Joseph, from whom Ephraim sprang, “Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, and for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren” (Deut 33:13-16). Her beginnings were attended by an unparalleled promise, contingent on their faithfulness to the God who created them. “The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and He shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Deut 28:8).
Like man’s beginning in Eden, Israel had started with every possible advantage. They lacked no favor from God. However, like the Gentiles who knew not God they “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful” (Rom 1:21). Therefore God would treat them as He dealt with the unfaithful before them, who also despised His benefits.
Israel was like a tender tree that had been cared for by the Lord of glory. Jeremiah said she was like a “noble vine” that had been planted by the Lord, and given every possible advantage. Yet she proved to be nothing more than a “degenerate plant and a strange vine” to the One who planted her (Jer 2:21).
It is no wonder Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Receive not the grace of God in vain!” (2 Cor 6:1). Paul confessed that he refused to “frustrate the grace of God” (Gal 2:21). Israel’s record confirms that such thing is possible. This is not a subject for debate.
CHILDREN FOR THE MURDERER. “But Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.” Other versions read, “bring out his children for slaughter,” NASB and “must lead forth his sons to slaughter.” NRSV That is, when the enemy came upon them, they would lead their sons against them, only to see them slaughtered by the foe.
This is an example of God visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, which is God’s manner: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9).
It should surprise no one that when the favor of God is spurned, and after His longsuffering has been despised, and after His holy prophets have been rejected, the Lord “whets” His “glittering sword,” rendering vengeance to His enemies (Deut 32:41; Psa 7:12).
A MISCARRYING WOMB
“ 14 Give them, O LORD: what wilt Thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” Other versions read, “Give them, O LORD! give them what? Give them an unfruitful womb, and dry breasts!” NAB and “O LORD, what should I request for your people? I will ask for wombs that don't give birth and breasts that give no milk.” NLT
These are hard words, but they concern a hard-hearted people. This is a lamentation and supplication that exudes from the heart and lips of the prophet. Like Jeremiah’s lamentation, it is said with grief and tears. As with Jesus’ announcement that Jerusalem would be destroyed, it was preceded by a Divine visitation to bless.
WHAT WILT THOU GIVE? This is not asking the Lord what He has determined to do. Rather, it is Hosea probing for the manner in which to supplicate for the people. His heart ached for them. He could say with Jeremiah, “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people. Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission” (Lam 3:4 8-49). And again, “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (Jer 4:19).
The man of God cannot simply acquiesce to the destruction of the people he loves, even though they have been more than worthy of Divine retribution. Thus Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Stephen also prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Paul said of those upon whom “the wrath is come to the uttermost” (1 Thess 2:16): “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom 10:1).
Now Hosea searches for the way in which he should pray for the people – a people who had sinned against the Lord, rejected His counsel, and demanded their own way. What will he say? How will he present them before the Lord? He knows that a Divine determination to judge Israel has already gone forth, just as the decree to destroy Jerusalem went forth when Jesus dwelt there (Luke 19:43-44).
As David, he chose to ask that the people fall into the hands of the Lord rather than their merciless enemies: “I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for His mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam 24:14).
MISCARRYING WOMBS. The judgment Hosea was announcing was yet to come. He could not avert it, for it had already been determined. He knew it would come upon the children of a godless generation. Thus he prays that the children will not be born. “Miscarrying wombs” are wombs that “do not give birth,” BBE “unfruitful wombs.” NAB Conception takes place, but birth is not realized. Hosea is praying in concert with a condition Jesus mentioned – one that applied to Judas: “it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). It is the same spirit Jesus possessed when He told His disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem: “But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:23). And again, “And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day” (Matt 24:20).
DRY BREASTS. “Dry breasts” are those that cannot succor the child – it speaks of the deprivation of the means of sustaining newborn children. Jesus spoke in this very manner when foretelling the terrible judgment that was coming on the holy city.; “For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck” (Luke 23:29).
Some have considered this an imprecatory prayer, such as David prayed against his enemies (Psa 109:9,10,12). Perhaps it was a pray such as Jeremiah prayed against those who rejected and persecuted him (Jer 15:15; 17:18; 18:21-23). Or, it may have been like Paul who prayed against Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14). While all of these were righteous prayers, I do not believe that is the focus of Hosea’s prayer. He is praying that a relatively small number of their progeny would experience the ferocity of Divine wrath.
This reflects the spirit of Habakkuk, who also prophesied of coming destruction because of the sins of the people. “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2). It reflects one of the Lord’s revealed qualities: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek 33:11). The person who lives close to the Lord will find occasions to pray in this manner – a manner that cannot be dictated by law.