1 When Ephraim spake, there was trembling; he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.
The reference is to Baal-Peor, where the nation first encountered Baal and his worship, cf. Num 25:1-18.
2 And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, even idols according to their own understanding, all of them the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.
Kissing the image of the god or goddess was a part of the ritual, cf. 1 Ki 19:18.
3 Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the dew that passeth early away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the threshing-floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.
See again 6:4.
4 Yet I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt; and thou shalt know no god but me, and besides me there is no saviour.
The two images of God drawn here are quite remarkable. He is both deliverer and destroying, as the following verses will demonstrate.
5 I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
Yet it was in the wilderness that God showed his care most clearly. The wilderness was the “honeymoon” period of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel.
6 According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted: therefore have they forgotten me. 7 Therefore am I unto them as a lion; as a leopard will I watch by the way; 8 I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart; and there will I devour them like a lioness; the wild beast shall tear them. 9 It is thy destruction, O Israel, that thou art against me, against thy help.
In a series of five similes God is compared with brutal animals; animals which lay in wait for their prey.
10 Where now is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges, of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes? 11 I have given thee a king in mine anger, and have taken him away in my wrath.
These verses hark back to the anti-roy1 Sam 8:6-8. Not everyone in Israel believed a monarchy was the best form of government, and with every wicked king they had more ammunition for their opposition. Most of the prophets seem to fall into this anti-royalist camp.
12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is laid up in store. 13 The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for it is time he should not tarry in the place of the breaking forth of children.
Ephraim is portrayed here as a child in the womb which refuses to be born!
14 I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
This verse is either a series of questions implying judgment, or a series of statements demonstrating redemption. The Hebrew text is ambiguous, and can be translated both ways. It seems to me that judgment is the intended meaning -- as it comes at the end of a judgment oracle. Nevertheless, Hosea frequently interrupts the flow of judgment oracles with a word of hope. Perhaps that is the intention here as well.
15 Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the breath of Jehovah coming up from the wilderness; and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall make spoil of the treasure of all goodly vessels.
See Gen 41:52. The “wind of Yahweh” is the desert wind from the Saudi Arabian peninsula that literally dries up everything.
16 Samaria shall bear her guilt; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword; their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
See Ezekiel 16. Samaria will suffer horribly for her rebellion.
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