COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 13:1 When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died. 12 And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves. 13 Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.” (Hosea 13:1-3)
This prolonged assessment of Israel reveals the manner of the Old Covenant. This was a covenant made with a recalcitrant people. Its most lofty promises had to so with an earthly land and “success” in this world. Because the people were fundamentally unchanged, the writings of the prophets are filled with rebukes, records of chastening, and a Divine commentary on the waywardness of the people. Those same writings, however, were sprinkled with the sanctifying promise of a coming Savior, who would deliver the people from their wandering ways, giving them a new heart and a new spirit. Now that Jesus has come, and a new people have been “formed,” God speaks quite differently to His people. A comparison between any of the Epistles and Hosea will confirm this to be the case. Although God still rebukes sin and solemnly warns the people of its sure results, there is a different tone. In Christ, God addresses the people as those who have been reconciled, appealing to them to live by faith, put on the new man, and not quench the Holy Spirit. He shows the unreasonableness of sin, and the way to sure triumph. Under the Law, obedience was the emphasis, and faith was not mentioned. Under grace, faith is the emphasis, and obedience is the sure result. Through Israel, God revealed the degenerating nature of the flesh, and His disdain of the same. In Christ He reveals the triumphant nature of faith and His delight in the same. With these things in mind, let us behold the manner in which God speaks of the Israelites, comparing it with the way He speaks to those in Christ.
HE SPAKE TREMBLING - - BUT DIED
“ 13:1 When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died. ”
Up to this point, the Lord has spoken of the Kingdom of Israel as a whole, calling them “Ephraim.” Now he speaks of the tribe of Ephraim itself, confirming why that name is so appropriate for Israel. Special benefits were vouchsafed to this tribe, yet it counted them but a small thing, degenerating into the chasm of idolatry.
EPHRAIM SPAKE TREMBLING. Other versions read, “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling,” NASB “When Ephraim spoke, men trembled,” NIV and “When Ephraim spoke, horror seized Israel.” BBE
Meaning #1. First, the words “spake trembling,” indicate a humility in the tribe of Ephraim – an awareness that it was being blessed by the Lord for the sake of Joseph, and not because of any virtue of its own (Josh 14:4).
Meaning #2. Second, Ephraim was a strong people with impressive power and influence. Early on Joshua said to the house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), “Thou art a great people, and hast great power” (Josh 17:17). Thus they were reckoned among the principal tribes of Israel. When Ephraim spoke, it commanded the respect and attention of the other tribes. Two examples will suffice to buttress this point. When Gideon called upon the people to fight against the Midianites, he did not call the men of Ephraim. They came to him and rebuked him for not calling them. Scripture says, “And they did chide him sharply.” It was only when Gideon offered a sound answer “that their anger was abated toward him” (Judges 8:1-3). A similar thing happened when Jephthah fought the children of Ammon, and also did not call upon the men of Ephraim. They said to him, “Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? We will burn thine house upon thee with fire.” Jephthah responded that they had not delivered him before, and thus he did not call upon them again. He then gathered the men of Gilead and fought against and defeated Ephraim (Judg 12:1-4). The point is that their word was bold and induced either trembling or some other action among those hearing it.
Both of these meanings are true. In the beginning, Ephraim was meek, speaking with trembling, or a respect for the fact that they were blessed because of another. Genesis 49:22-26 declares the preeminent blessing that was upon Joseph. He would be a “fruitful bough,” and his branches would “run over the wall.” His “bow” would be strong, and the “mighty God of Jacob” would make his hands “strong.” He would be blessed “with blessings from heaven above,” the “blessings of the deep,” and the “blessings of the womb.” The blessings of his father Jacob would be upon him, as well as a distinctive “crown.”
All of those blessings were passed on to Ephraim. That is the ONLY reason they were strong, influential, and their word provoked respect among those who heard it. The abundance of their people, the strength of their military, and the honor they received was owing to the blessing of the Lord through Joseph.
HE EXALTED HIMSELF. Other versions read “he was exalted in Israel,” NIV/NRSV and “he was lifted up in Israel.” BBE This is not a description of pride, but of the result of Divine blessing. Ephraim waxed great, strong, and prominent among Israel. However, it was for Joseph’s sake, and was a great display of Divine mercy. If any people should have been thankful and consistent in their service, it was Ephraim. This is the point that God is making through Hosea. He is confirming that there was no legitimate reason for the decline of the tribe of Ephraim. They had been given every possible advantage, and had made significant progress.
HE OFFENDED THROUGH BAAL AND DIED. That is, he “became guilty of Baal worship and died.” NIV The worship of Baal started with Ahab, Jeroboam’s successor. “And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him” (1 Kgs 16:31). The figure is now transferred to the whole of the ten tribes of Israel. Thirteen times Israel is said to have served Baal (Judges 2:11; 3:7; 8:33; 10:6,10; 1 Kgs 18:18; 22:33; 2 Kgs 10:21; 21:3; 2 Chron 28:2; Jer 11:17; ; 23:13; Hos 13:1). When this dreadful practice started, Israel “died.” That is, the sentence of death was passed upon them. Their iniquities had separated them from God (Isa 59:2).
Throughout all time, death has been the result of sin. The Divine nature will not tolerate iniquity in those who have been identified with Him. Sin is an offence to God (2 Chron 28:13). It impacts upon how God views the people and what He does toward them.
THEY SINNED MORE AND MORE
“ 2 And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.”
MORE AND MORE. Other versions read, “they keep on sinning,” NRSV “their sins are increased,” BBE “sinned increasingly,” Septuagint “compound their sin,” NJB and “add to sin.” YLT
The sins of Israel increased. First the calves of Jeroboam (2 Kgs 10:29), then the Baal worship of Ahab, Manasseh, and others (1 Kgs 21:3). Now they multiplied their graven images, transgressing the first two commandments: (1) “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” (2) “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve . . . ” (Ex 20:3-5). It is written that they “multiplied” their “whoredoms” (Ezek 16:25), “fornication” (Ezek 16:29), and “abominations” (Ezek 16:51).
Like Amon, Israel “trespassed more and more” (2 Chron 33:23). Even though they were chastened severely, still they “revolted more and more” (Isa 1:5). Through Jeremiah the Lord said, “thy sins were increased” (Jer 30:14,15). Those who were insightful confessed “our iniquities are increased” (Ezra 9:6). How tragic that it was said of them, “their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased” (Jer 5:6).
God had “multiplied her silver and gold” (Hos 2:8). A precedent had been set for the proper use of silver and gold in the building of the Tabernacle and Temple. In those places precious metals were devoted to the service of the Lord. Now Israel corrupted the use of these metals by fabricating idols. Speaking of this propensity Isaiah said, “Turn ye unto Him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted. For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin” (Isa 31:6-7). But Israel “refused to return” (Hos 11:5), choosing to sin “more and more.”
ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN UNDERSTANDING. Other versions read, “according to their own skill,” NKJV “idols skillfully made,” NASB “cleaverly fashioned,” NIV and “after their design.” BBE
Here a comparison is made with the construction relating to the Tabernacle and Temple. Those structures and related apparatus, were not fashioned according to human understanding. Rather, they were made according to “the pattern” that was given by God Himself (Ex 25:40; 26:30; 1 Chron 28:11,12,18,19). Now Israel has made idols according to “their own understanding,” which was fundamentally corrupt.
THE WORK OF THE CRAFTSMEN. When the Tabernacle was built, the Lord endued people with “the spirit of wisdom” (Ex 28:3), filling them “with the Spirit of God in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.”This was employed to devise “cunning works, and to work with gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving timber” (Ex 31:3-5). Such men were not found when Israel built their idols. The understanding was their own, and the craftsmen had only natural aptitude. Thus their work was basically corrupt, even though it may have been very impressive to the eye. The idols were the work of craftsmen, not the work of God!
KISS THE CALVES. And what did the people say of these idols? How did they regard what God declared to be an “an abomination” (Deut 7:25)? They told the people to sacrifice to these idols, and to “kiss the calves,” giving them the honor that was due to the Lord alone. In Elijah’s day there were those who “kissed” Baal (1 Kgs 19:18). Thus the very people who were called, delivered, led, and nurtured by God, were calling upon their peers to make sacrifice to idols and to kiss them, thus giving them honor and dignity.
APPLICATION. It is the nature of sin to multiply and increase. It grows like leaven (1 Cor 5:8), and spreads like cancer (2 Tim 2:17). Evil men, by nature, “wax worse and worse” (2 Tim 3:13). That is not a trait of the evil men of a certain generation, but of evil men in general. There is such a thing as expressions that “increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Tim 2:16). Once caught in the vortex of sin, the individual is pulled deeper into iniquity. When it comes to the service of God, human invention is fraught with jeopardy. By “human invention” I mean religious matters that spring from the well of nature. They are not driven by revelation but by human reasoning. They are to the Christianity of our day what the idols and idol-makers were in the time of Hosea.
Valid human expression must proceed from faith, and conform to revelation. If this does not occur, a departure from God begins. God cannot be served with the natural mind, for it is not capable of receiving the things of Spirit of God or knowing them (1 Cor2: 14).
CLOUDS, DEW, CHAFF, AND SMOKE
“ 13:1 Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.”
Here we see the results of drifting from God, choosing to follow self-made paths rather than to walk in the light and favor of God. When this occurs, as it did in Israel, men become characterized by a certain worthlessness. Rather than being in control, as they imagine they are, these poor souls are “carried about,” becoming slaves to the sins they have chosen (Eph 4:14; Heb 13:9; Jude 1:12).
THE MORNING CLOUD. Some versions read “morning mist.” NIV/NRSV Hosea also mentioned “the morning cloud” in the sixth chapter, stating Israel’s “goodness is as a morning cloud”(6:4). The “morning cloud” is dispersed by the rising of the sun. Its misty vapors cannot endure the heat and light of the sun. Such a cloud does not come with the day, but is a remnant of the night.
THE EARLY DEW. While “the morning cloud” is in the sky, the “early dew” is upon the ground. Hosea 6:4 also refers to “the early dew” that “goeth away.” The passing of the “early” dew is not the result of time, but the consequence of light and warmth. It is also the remnant of the night, and does not belong to the order of the day. At first it glistens in the bright sunlight, as the “morning cloud” which also reflects the light of the rising sun. But it is all short-lived, and soon the dew “passeth away” from both vision and utility.
THE DRIVEN CHAFF. The chaff is the housing for the grain – the useless hull. When it is beaten off of the grain, the wind drives it away, for it cannot remain when the strong wind blows upon it. Job said “the storm carrieth it away” (Job 21:18). David said of the chaff, “which the wind driveth away” (Psa 1:4). Isaiah said the flame consumes the chaff (Isa 5:24). John the Baptist affirmed that those who were like “chaff” would be burned up “with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12).
SMOKE OUT OF THE CHIMNEY. One version reads “like smoke escaping through a window.” NIV The idea is that “smoke” cannot ultimately remain where the fire is. It rises into the air and is finally carried away. Smoke is known for rising (Judges 20:38). It is the residue of the fire, and is ultimately useless. The “chimney” vents it upward, else it will cause defilement and harm if it remains.
THE POINT. There is something that all of these have in common – the morning cloud, the early dew, the driven chaff, and the rising smoke. Ultimately, all of them are worthless, none of them are stable, none of will sustain life, and all are temporary. The morning cloud and the early dew have a certain luster at their beginning, but it fades. The chaff and the smoke are related to something valuable, but are separate from it.
Israel had an impressive beginning – like the morning cloud and the early dew. They were associated with the precious things of God – like the chaff is with grain, and the smoke is with fire. However, God was going to dislodge them from the land because of their iniquity. Soon they would pass from sight like the morning cloud and the early due. Soon the anger of the Lord would drive them away like the storm removes the chaff. Soon the Lord would kindle a fire in their land, and they would be nothing more than smoke.
APPLICATION. Throughout history, the professed “church” has been noted for periods in which it was nothing more a morning cloud – impressive on the horizon of history for a while. It glistened as the morning dew, and men were impressed with its deeds and doctrine. There have also been times when the professed church was nothing more than a useless hull – something separated from the life of God, noted for its instability. Too, it has sometimes been like a noxious smoke rising into the air, hiding the light of redemption’s day, and blinding the eyes of men.
Why have such things occurred? Is it just a sort of cycle that comes and goes with time? Is this what we are to expect from those who are in Christ Jesus? Are they nothing more than Israel of old? Indeed not! If Israel had advantages, the church has more – much more! The cloud of glory upon the redeemed is not the “morning cloud,” nor does it quickly pass as the “early dew.” What we receive in Christ is not “chaff,” driven away by gusts of moral and spiritual wind. The truth as it in Christ Jesus is a fire that does not emit smoke. It warms the soul and lightens the path of life.
The trouble arises when men begin to operate in their own understanding – when they shut off the life and direction of God by becoming absorbed in the manners of this present evil world. As soon as that happens, the people themselves become morning clouds, early dew, driven chaff, and rising smoke. Separated from the life of God, they are destined for destruction. These things do not have to be learned by experience.