In Hosea 6 we’ve seen an apparent, though shallow, repentance of Israel, seeking God’s healing. However, God’s appraisal of their repentance is that it was “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” He wanted “steadfast love,” something that would not only last, but would also express a deep and real change in their hearts.
Starting in 6:7, Hosea again enumerates the sins of Israel and Judah, illustrating why they were ripe for judgment. Verse 7 begins with a strong contrast from what God desired from them. He wanted “steadfast love” and “knowledge of God”…
7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. 9 As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. 10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. 11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people.
Aside from the brief dramatization of the nation’s return to God pictured in 6:1-3, we pick up the detailing of Israel’s sins and Yahweh’s leveling of judgments against Israel that began in chapters 4 and 5.
The section begins with the charge that Israel had “transgressed the covenant” (6:7a). That is, they had broken some covenant, the breaking of which was said to be “like Adam.”
This could refer to the literal, historical father of the human race, who “broke covenant” by disobeying God’s direct order not to eat from the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” If it is a reference to Adam, it just represents the first in an endless stream of human beings who have broken covenant with their God.
Also, it would highlight the high place of blessing that Adam occupied, as God’s crowning creation in the garden, only to turn away from God’s blessing.
And, as Adam was driven from God’s presence in the garden because of his sin, so Israel would be driven from their homeland.
Another possibility is that this refers to some unknown covenant betrayal at a place called Adam. References to other place-names in verses 8 and 9 may support this view.
The town of Adam was on the east bank of the Jordan River in Gilead, about one-third of the way north between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, near the Jabbok tributary. It is mentioned in Joshua 3:16 as the place where the waters stood in a heap when the Jordan parted.
In this case, it could refer to the Mosaic covenant, which was broken at that place.
Duane Garrett suggests that, although it is the place that is focused upon here, the prophet is also making a pun based on the name of the original transgressor. His meaning is, “Like Adam (the man) they break covenants; they are faithless to me there (in the town of Adam).”
The result is that they “transgressed the covenant,” the agreement between them and their sovereign and “dealt faithlessly with me.” That last statement, along with 8:1 (“they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law”) makes it virtually certain that the “covenant” in view is the Mosaic covenant.
In addition, the kinds of sins and curses pronounced in the Sinai covenant dovetail precisely with the warnings of the prophet: the end of agricultural prosperity, military disaster, foreign exile, the demise of their offspring, and a return to slavery in Egypt. In sum, the crisis in Israel was Israel’s failure to keep covenant.
Israel’s sins are worse than simply violating the code of law: they repudiate the gracious covenant that is the foundation of their life and hope and relationship with the living God.
But what is the treachery to which he refers? Hosea 6:8–9 might provide the answer, if we understand verse 8 as referring to Adam—which was in the region of “Gilead”—as the “city of evildoers” and verse 9 as describing the act of evil committed there: priests murdering Israelites on their way to Shechem. This would indeed be treachery against the covenant under which Israel lived (Ex. 20:13).
Gilead, mentioned in v. 8, is another of Hosea’s allusions to former glories (Judg. 10:17–11:11). It is the mountainous area extending north and south of the river Jabbok east of the river Jordan. There was also a city in that region, east of Mizpeh, often called Ramoth-Gilead. The name Gilead first appears in the biblical account of the last meeting of Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:21-22), which Laban accused Jacob of treachery.
The Bible records the war, during the time of the judges, between the Gileadites and Ammon, under the leadership of Jephthah the Gileadite (Judg. 11), which resulted in bloody conflict between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites (ibid. 12:1–6).
from the Satellite Bible Atlas
Garrett points out that the word “evildoers” in v. 8 is awen, which is sometimes used as a word play on Bethel, Beth-awen,” instead of the house of God, the house of evil.
Bethel was the place where Jacob had fled Esau in Canaan, and met God (Genesis 28:11-22). Gilead, therefore, as the place where he was caught by Laban as he returned to Canaan, and as the region where he met the angel of God while preparing to face Esau, corresponds to Bethel as the end of Jacob’s flight corresponds to its beginning.
It is evident, therefore, that Hosea is working the story of Jacob into his prophecy; he will return to this story in 12:2-4. The point here appears to be that the Israelites have taken on the worst characteristics of Jacob—selfishness and cunning—without having his redeeming experiences—encounters with God. (Duane Garrett, p. 163).
Jacob’s descendants, instead of being transformed into Israel, into people of God, remained Jacob, so that they remain “tracked with blood.”
On the road to Shechem, the primary religious and political center of Israel, the priests became involved in a conspiracy to assassinate defenseless people. Whether this is actual or hyperbole, it expresses how degraded the priesthood had become.
Again, there is telling history there, for it was at Shechem that Dinah was raped and her brothers avenged her by having the men of the city circumcised and then slaughtering them (Genesis 34). The assertion that the priests carry out a wicked plan appropriately describes the deceit of Simeon and Levi at Shechem.
The word for villainy (Hb. zimmah) is a powerful term for human depravity. Elsewhere it refers to the vilest of sexual sins (e.g., Lev. 18:17; 19:29; Judges 20:5-6; Job 31:9-11).
Shechem and Ramoth-Gilead were cities of refuge where people could supposedly flee for safety (cf. Josh. 20:1-2, 7-8), but instead they had been contaminated by blood. Those fleeing for refuge were being cut down on the road before they reached safe haven. Shechem stood on the route between Samaria and Bethel, therefore many pilgrims traveled through Shechem.
“The times were so evil, in fact, that even the religious leaders joined hands with the robbers to plunder and murder the helpless population.” (David Garland, p. 51).
The Lord had observed a horrible thing. The Israelites as a whole had practiced harlotry by going after pagan gods and had thus made themselves unclean. Religious apostasy combined with sexual immorality, so both forms of harlotry are doubtless in view.
Whenever the first table of the law is broken, men justify breaking the second. If God is practically dead, anything goes.
There action validates God’s amazement expressed in vv. 4-6. What can God do with a people who affirm repentance (vv. 1-3), but act in such vile, inhumane ways…violating covenant with God and man?
All of this seems to have been current events, since Hosea gives so little information about them and there are no antecedents in biblical history. David Hubbard believes it encapsulates “a momentous event in which priests collaborated in a conspiracy, perhaps against the royal family, Gilead was remembered as the launching site for at least one such plot: in his coup d’état against Pekahiah, Pekah was joined by “fifty men of the Gileadites” (2 Kings 15:25). He believes that this event connects with the Syro-Ephraimite war and the references in 7:3-7 of the baker’s oven.
Hubbard also believes that the “whoredom” of Ephraim mentioned in v. 10 is more likely, in this context, to refer not to their worship of the Baals, but rather their failure to trust Yahweh for protection, expressed by courting other nations as allies.
In Hos. 6:11 a harvest is appointed. Expressed in such a way, it was as sure as the judgment against Ephraim mentioned in 5:9.
Yet the hope of eventual restoration was clear, as v. 11 ends with “when I restore the fortunes of my people.” This would be another type of harvest, a harvest marked by blessing and restoration, and that is the one primarily in view here. Like most of the prophets, messages of judgment are mixed with, or concluded with, messages of hope. Yahweh’s longing to show mercy is expressed in his desire to return Israel, his battered and beleaguered people (5:10-14), i.e., the entire land (cf. on 1:9-2:1; 2:23; 4:1, 6, 8, 12) to a robust state of social, spiritual, and material health.
God’s desire is to “heal Israel,” as expressed in Hosea 7:1, to bring them back to life again.
Although there was a partial fulfillment in the return of the Jews to Judah after the Babylonian captivity, the fuller fulfillment awaits the return that will occur during the tribulation and millennial kingdom.
When those judgments are completed, at some future time a convicted and purged nation will once more be deserving of the title “My people.”
God is warning Judah to learn from history, to learn from the sins and judgments against Israel. But Judah had not learned any lessons and would soon head down the same path to judgment.
Scholars agree that v. 11b, “whenever I restore the fortunes of my people” goes with 7:1 “whenever I would heal Israel.” It speaks of the merciful heart of God who will one day accomplish these miracles, but could not at the moment.
Why, look at the secret, hidden sins of Israel which were being thrust out into the open:
1 When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. 2 But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. 3 By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. 4 They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. 5 On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. 6 For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. 7 All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me. 8 Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. 9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. 10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this. 11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. 12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. 13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. 14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
Israel’s domestic sins is the focus of the first seven verses of Hosea 7. The Lord longed to heal Israel, but when He thought about doing so, new evidences of her sins presented themselves. The prophets He had sent to them were mainly ineffective in stemming the tide of rebellion. The response had largely been rejection and hardening of hearts.
Verse 1 indicates that they were lying to one another and stealing from each other, thus breaking covenant with one another.
They hoped (v. 2) that God wouldn’t notice and hold their sins against them, but their wickedness is flaunted before His face and He couldn’t ignore it even if He wanted to. Whatever direction He turned, their sins were “in His face.”
God cannot “forget” our sins until they are forgiven. There is a precious promise for those who come to God under the New Covenant: For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34). We often wish that time would make God forget our sin, but it doesn’t. Only the atoning substitute of Jesus, crucified in our place under the New Covenant makes God forget our sin.
The political leaders, who should have encouraged the people to act in justice and kindness, and led the way in behaving thus, instead rejoiced that the people were sinning because it made it easier for them to get away with sinning.
This phrase, together with princes have made him sick (Hosea 7:5) and all their kings have fallen (Hosea 7:7) probably all refer to one of the successful assassination plots against the throne of Israel during the ministry of Hosea. Since there were four kings violently overthrown during his ministry, it’s hard to exactly know which one he means.
Verses 4-7 indicate that Israel’s heart was still inflamed towards their idols. They are compared to an oven, first heated to cook, but left untended, grows into an uncontrolled fire. Paul used the same image of “burning with lust” in 1 Corinthians 7:5.
“Like every revolutionary state that has no faith in anything beyond itself, Israel was burning up in its own anger” (James Luther Mays, Hosea: A Commentary, pp. 106-107).
The princes eagerly plotted to overthrow the king. Their anger with him smoldered for a long time and was not obvious to him, like a fire hidden in an oven (v. 4), but at the proper time it flared up and consumed him and his supporters. Hosea saw this happen four times. Shallum assassinated Zechariah, Menahem assassinated Shallum, Pekah assassinated Pekahiah, and Hoshea assassinated Pekah (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30).
A continuing dynasty, as existed in Judah, never succeeded in the North. The reason was that none of the Israelites sought the Lord. Even though they offered sacrifices (5:6), it was empty ritual.
Since this prophecy is undated, we do not know when Hosea gave it, but it must have been during the tumultuous times when Israel’s final kings reigned (ca. 752-722 B.C.).
Yahweh compares Ephraim to an “unturned cake” in v. 8. Ephraim had mixed itself with the pagan nations like unleavened dough mixed with leaven, so she was like a pancake that the cook had not turned over, all burnt and black on one side, and soggy and runny on the other. In other words, she was only half-baked, worthless, not what God intended or what could nourish others. She was hard and crusty toward Yahweh but soft and receptive toward other nations and their gods.
Foreign alliances had sapped Ephraim’s strength rather than adding to it, but the Israelites were ignorant of this. Like the first showing of gray hairs, they live in ignorance and denial. Therefore, v. 10, they in their pride would not go to Yahweh for help. Instead, like a silly dove, they flit about from one nation (Egypt—2 Kings 17:3-4) to another (Assyria—2 Kings 15:29). So (v. 13) the Lord pronounced doom on the Israelites because He would judge them for straying from Him like sheep from their Shepherd.
The final verses of Hosea 7 indicate that Israel returned, but not to the Lord. They recognized their plight, but instead of confessing their sin and seeking Yahweh, they turned to other nations for help.
When God’s hand is against man, he easily sees he has a problem but often does not see it as sin against the LORD. So when Israel had problems, they wailed upon their beds, but not to the LORD. They sought remedies, but not from the Most High.
They try every trick they know, every new self-help fad, every new idea from a talk show host or television doctor — but they dismiss God as useless and irrelevant.
Thus, Yahweh says that Israel is like a “treacherous bow” which can no longer shoot straight. Rather than being able to shoot at their enemies, they “shot” their own leaders, assassinating their kings.
How about you, are you a flaming oven of passion for the wrong things? Are you a flitting bird, moving from one “solution” to another instead of turning to God? Are you an unturned cake, hard towards God but soft towards the world? Are you a treacherous bow, harming those you should be protecting?