COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 43
“ 10:5 The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it. 6 It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel. 7 As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water. 8 The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.”
After a remarkably lengthy period of longsuffering, God is going to judge Israel for its unfaithfulness and aggressive transgression. She has chosen to retain the shell of religiosity, while making friends with the world and worshiping heathen gods. It has been a tragic trait of humanity to feign religion from the days of Cain, who offered the first unacceptable sacrifice. However, he was not the last one to do so. Through the history of Israel and the church itself, there have been men who have chosen empty religious form over involvement with the living God. This choice has always been completely unacceptable, and thus has been unanimously rejected by the Lord. The Spirit confirms in Israel that it is not possible to dignify heartless religion. God will not accept it, and thus men cannot be made the better by it. The judgment of Israel’s religion confirms that all lifeless approaches to God will meet with His sure assessment and punishment.
THE CALVES OF BETHAVEN
“ 10:5 The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.”
THE INHABITANTS OF SAMARIA. The city of Samaria was to Israel what Jerusalem was to Judah – it was their capital and fundamental city. The city remained the capital for the last two hundred years of Israel’s existence. The prophets frequently denounced it for its idolatry (Isa 9:8-9; Jer 23:13-14; Ezek 16:46-55; Amos 6:1; Mic 1:1). Ahab built an altar to Baal there (1 Kgs 16:32). A portion of this city came to be known as “the house of Baal” (2 Kgs 10:25). Now “inhabitants of Samaria” will be caused to fear. The city in which they have placed their trust, and with which idolatry has been associated will now be judged by the God they had refused to hear.
THE CALVES OF BETHAVEN. These were the golden calves made by Jeroboam. They were placed in Bethel and Dan. “Whereupon the king (Jeroboam, vs 26-27) 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” (1 Kgs 12:28). The Spirit affirms that Jeroboam made Israel to sin in doing this, bringing a blotch upon the nation. “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” (1 Kgs 12:28). He also expelled the Levites from the priests office, and ordained special priests “for the high places, for the devils, and for the calves that he had made” (2 Chron 11:14-15). These calves became a reference point for Divine denunciation: “And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of the LORD in the hand of the sons of David; and ye be a great multitude, and there are with you golden calves, which Jeroboam made you for gods” (2 Chr 13:8). Later this was said to have been the result of leaving “the commandments of the Lord their God” (2 Kgs 17:16).
“Bethaven” is the name the Lord ascribed to Bethel after the idols were placed there and in Dan. The word means, “house of vanity,” whereas “Bethel” means “house of God.” “Bethel” was named when Jacob wrestled with an angel, awakening to realize God had been in that place. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first” (Gen 28:16-19). Now, the very place once hallowed by Divine visitation had been given over to idolatry.
This is not the last time such retrogression has taken place. Jerusalem, where David reigned in glory, was also the city who knew not the time of its visitation by the Lord of glory (Lk 19:44). The temple where the infant Jesus was dedicated by Simeon became a “house of merchandise” (John 2:16), and a “den of thieves” (Matt 21:13). There are still places once noted for great spiritual awakenings that are now attached to shame and disgrace.
THE PEOPLE WILL MOURN OVER IT. The people would lament like Micah, a young Levite who had a “carved image” in his house. When some of the children of Dan “fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image,” Micah remonstrated. “Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away: and what have I more?”(Judg 18:24). When spiritual Babylon finally falls, those who have profited from its existence will also lament. As it is written, “And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more . . . And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought” (Rev 18:11,16-17a).
One of the greatest of all disappointments is when the religion in which one has trusted is overthrown, and the people are cast upon their own miserable wisdom and insipid strength. Whatever men can do to avoid such mourning must be done now.
THE GLORY IS DEPARTED FROM IT. As the glory of the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, and the glory of Jerusalem was the Temple, so the glory of Samaria was its golden calf. When that calf was removed by Divine judgment, Samaria’s pretentious glory also departed. The city which was always shameful before the Lord now became shameful before men. The city could well have been renamed “Ichabod” (1 Sam 4:21-22).
A PRESENT AND GREAT SHAME
“ 6 It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.”
Remember, this is the language of Divine judgment. This is the Lord’s reaction to corrupt religion. This is how He reacts when those whom He has delivered turn to other gods, and trust in things other than Himself.
CARRIED UNTO ASSYRIA. The Lord is still speaking of the golden calf in Bethaven. Previously, Hosea had said “but the calf of Samaria will be broken in pieces” (Hos 8:6). Now in language most condemning, the Lord says Israel’s false God will be taken away together with the people. A fitting judgment, indeed.
A PRESENT TO THE KING. It is one thing for a king to receive a “present” of silver and gold. It is quite another for the god of a people to be that “present.” This is the ultimate commentary on the vanity of idols – anything that takes the place of the true God. Earlier Hosea said the people had sent to Jareb, king of the Assyrians, for help; “yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound” (Hosea 5:13). No wonder idols are referred to as “vanities” (Deut 32:21). They cannot save themselves, much less those who trust in them.
The point here seems to be that the people themselves offered their golden idol to the king as a present, to appease him. That is surely the ultimate irony!
Application. Here is a Divine manner that is worth noting. When sanctified things are contaminated by wicked hands, the Lord judges the offenders. This is seen in the men of Bethshemesh looking into the ark (1 Sam 6:19). It is also confirmed in the judgment of Belshazzar when he drank from the golden vessels of the house of the Lord (Dan 5:23). Also, when unholy things are found in holy places, the wrath of God is awakened. This is seen in the judgment of Ananias and Saphirra, who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10), and the Corinthians, who conducted themselves thoughtlessly at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:28-30).
The religious culture of our land has hidden these things to nominal Christians. As a result, all manner of falseness has come rushing like a tidal wave into the church. We are faced with golden calves in Bethel that are spiritually impotent, yet have been made popular. They range from academia to worldly credentials, and popularity to pleasure. God will eventually visit these carnal trends, stripping them from the people.
EPHRAIM SHALL RECEIVE SHAME. Other versions read, “seized with shame,” NASB “disgraced,” NIV and “taken into captivity.” NAB The idea is that shame and disgrace will be imposed upon Ephraim, which is the name ascribed to wayward Israel. Their god will be broken to pieces and received as a present by the king of Assyria. That is the ultimate reproach!
ASHAMED OF HIS OWN COUNSEL. The religion of Israel was one of their own choosing. They did not choose in ignorance, like the Egyptians and Assyrians from whom they sought help. From their very beginning, God had revealed Himself to them in truth and with extensive wisdom and knowledge. Through outward circumstances He had shown Israel that he was absolutely unique: “for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might?” (Deut 3:24). He had delivered them from Egypt contrary to all human possibilities. He had taken them through the Red Sea, defying all impossibilities. He had fed them with miraculous food and assuaged their thirst with miraculous water. He gave them an excellent law. He sent them prophets to expound His Person, declare His purpose, and expose their waywardness. Their departure could in no way be justified.
Thus God would cause Israel to be ashamed of their “own counsel.” They would be ashamed of their choices and preferences. Later Hosea will say, “And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels” (Hosea 11:6). As Bildad said, “his own counsel shall cast him down” (Job 18:7). Isaiah put it this way, “Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion” (Isa 30:3). Jeremiah assessed the ancient people in these words: “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward” (Jer 7:24).
Backsliding is always the result of personal choice, and it always brings shame! God causes this shame to come – either in this world, or the one to come. It simply is not possible to choose to go away from the Lord, and yet be able to stand in the evil day. No person who rejects what God says, or places their trust in other things, can possibly remain in His favor. There is no need to speculate about this. God has declared the truth on this matter, and clearly displayed it in the nation of Israel.
DESTRUCTION AND DESPAIR
“ 7 As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water. 8 The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.”
CUT OFF AS THE FOAM. Other versions read, “like a twig on the water,” NKJV “like a stick,” NASB “like a chip,” NRSV “like mist,” BBE “like froth,” DOUAY and “straw drifting.” NJB The meaning of the word “foam” is not at all clear from several of these versions. The root meaning of the word is “wrath” or “anger.” From the etymological perspective “foam” is something light that is made up of bubbles, and floats upon the water. It may appear large at first, but in the end, is nothing more than weightless foam or spume that quickly dissipates.
The picture is of wrath being stirred up, as when foam appears on the surface of the water. In this case, the wrath is that of an earthly king – the king of Samaria. The greatest expression of his power will be nothing more than foam that quickly disappears, or a small twig, chip, or a stick that floats on the surface of the raging waves, then disappears.
Because “the King of heaven” (Dan 4:37) was against Israel, Samaria and her king could offer no more resistance to the chastening army that a fistful of foam upon the billows of the ocean. In other words they were easily overthrown.
We must learn from this that the world, its wisdom, and its strength cannot sustain us. It makes no difference how impressive these may appear, in the hour of crisis, they are always found to be disappearing foam and mist, for “vain is the help of man” (Psa 60:11; 108:12)! The Spirit looks at the loftiest displays of earthly power and says, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psa 146:3). Ignoring this admonition, Israel was easily brought down by her foes.
THE HIGH PLACES OF AVEN. “Aven” is the suffix the Lord had attached to “Beth” (BethAVEN). “Beth” means “house,” “El” means “God,” and “Aven” means “vanity,” or idolatry. Thus Israel’s “high places” – their supposed loftiest activities – were nothing more than places of iniquity. They are here called “the sin of Israel,” and they would, by Divine mandate, be destroyed.
At Sinai, when Israel worshiped the golden calf, Moses referred to that calf as “your sin, the calf which ye made” (Deut 9:21). According to appearance, it was the religion they chose. In reality, it was “their sin,” just as the golden calf in Bethhaven.
When the religion of a people is fundamentally false, it defaults to the place of their greatest sin – the sin for which they are noted in heaven. Of this circumstance Jesus said, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23).
THORNS AND THISTLES ON THE ALTARS. The very altars on which their vain sacrifices were being offered would now reap a harvest of thorns and thistles – a fitting crop, deed. This language speaks of the abandonment of false religion – a desertion that was forced upon the people. Earlier Hosea said of Israel, “nettles shall possess them: thorns shall be in their tabernacles” (9:6). Once, when Israel was being chastised, the ark of the covenant was taken by the Philistines(1 Sam 5:1). Another time, Nebuchadnezzar took away the vessels of the Lord’s house (Dan 1:2). Still another time Hezekiah divested the temple doors of its ornaments, giving them to the king of Assyria (2 Kgs 18:16). Is it not fitting, therefore, that the altars erected to false gods finally have thorns and thistles growing upon them? This was a testimony not only to their vanity, but to the fact that Israel was hurt, not helped, by the false religion they chose
CRYING TO THE MOUNTAINS. This is language that expresses the hearts of those who are running from the Lord because they are afraid of Him. Sin, particularly willing sin, makes people afraid of the Lord. It hides any tenderness that may be seen in Him, and, like an obscuring cloud, conceals His mercy. This is the response of sinful people to the wrath of the Lord, when it becomes evident that He is visiting the people’s sin upon them. Isaiah said it this way, “And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isa 2:19). Jesus said of the time of judgment that was coming upon Jerusalem because of its rejection of Him; “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us” (Luke 23:30). When John saw a vision of the heaven departing “as a scroll,” he heard the kings of the earth, and all of earth’s greatest men saying to the “the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (Rev 6:16).
This is the language of eternal despair, when those who have chosen to sin, behold the folly of their choice, yet are unable to do anything about it. However, for those who have chosen to serve the Lord, the day of wrath will only bring exceeding joy and unfettered liberty.