For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

5:1.  Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor.”

God’s addressing the priests, the people, and the king, makes it clear that the whole nation, from the highest to the lowest, was guilty: the idolatry wasn’t confined to just one section of society.  Having exhausted God’s patience, they were now to experience His judgment.

The reference to snare and net (instruments used in the capture of animals and birds), is the declaration of the truth that as these traps brought death to the creatures snared and netted, so would her idolatry bring death to Israel, that death coming in the form of captivity in Assyria; for Judah, in the Babylonian captivity; and to a later generation of both, in the Diaspora of AD 70.  These judgments, however, are but foreshadowings of the more terrible Tribulation judgments yet to envelop, not just Israel, but the whole world.

The mention of Mizpah in the south, and meaning watch-tower; and of Tabor in the north, and meaning thou wilt purge, declare that the evil had spread over the whole land like a plague.  Both appear to have been centers where the evil was particularly rampant.  The meanings of the names remind us that God, from His “watch-tower” in heaven, takes note of all that men do, and in His own perfect time will purge evil.

According to Jewish tradition it was in the vicinity of these two places that assassins lurked and killed those going up to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah.

5:2.  “And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all.”

“... profound to make slaughter” is literally that they were deeply involved in making or causing slaughter, i.e., by encouraging the people in their idolatry, these rebellious priests had provoked the anger of God so that He would come in in judgment and slaughter them, using the Assyrians as His instrument.

Rebuker is associated with the idea of chastisement, warning, instruction; but the reference in verse one to the priests as being like hunters of the people, has led some translators to see the same figure here, so that they have translated the phrase as, “But I am the one who is the hunter and all of you shall be my prey,” - Phillips, for example.

5:3.  “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled.”

In using a tribal name as well as the national, God is declaring that He knows every individual as He does also the whole nation.  The spiritual defilement of the nation was the result of the spiritual and literal adultery of the individuals comprising it.  So is it with every corporate body, whether it be a local church or a nation, it reflects the character of its people.

5:4.  “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and thy have not known the Lord.”

It was their evil doings that kept them enclosed in idolatry, and prevented them from returning unto God, and they would not give up their evil.  They were possessed by the spirit of idolatry so that it governed every phase of their lives, and shut them off from the knowledge of Jehovah.

5:5.  “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them.”

The Jerusalem Bible translates the first clause as, “The arrogance of Israel is his own accuser,” while the Lamsa translation renders it, “The pride of Israel shall be humbled before his presence.”  Both are true, for Israel was indeed arrogant, sinning brazenly against God, but she was about to be humbled, as will all who refuse to repent and avail themselves of His mercy.  The continued use of the double name Israel and Ephraim emphasizes that the nation and every guilty individual within it would be destroyed by the judgment of the Lord.

The brief mention of Judah’s fall also is the reminder that all things are known to God.  Even though Judah’s judgment might be postponed to give her opportunity to repent, because her sin had not yet reached the magnitude of Israel’s, He Who knows the end from the beginning, knew that she would fail to profit by Israel’s destruction, and would go on to merit the same condemnation and judgment.

5:6.  “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.”

Upon discovering, that in spite of all their offerings to the Baalim, their harvests were still being blighted, and their flocks and herds diminished, they would try offering sacrifices to Jehovah again, but it would be too late.  Hypocritical ritualistic worship is abhorrent to God.  They had exhausted His patience, and all the offerings they might bring would not placate Him.  It is a terrible thing for either man or nation to provoke God and reject mercy so long that He ceases to offer it; to refuse to listen to Him until He will no longer listen to them.

5:7.  “They have dealt treacherously against the Lord: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions.”

Not only had their promiscuity produced many illegitimate children literally, but their failure to teach their children the knowledge of God had caused those children to grow up neither knowing nor caring about Him, with the result that judgment was imminent: it could fall within as short a time as a month, bringing ruin to them and their fields.

5:8.  “Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Beth-aven (Bethel), after thee, O Benjamin.”

“Blow the cornet,” means to sound the alarm or battle cry.  Gibeah means a hill; and Ramah, the height; and to cry at Beth-aven house of vanity or emptiness means to sound an alarm or raise the battle cry there.  It is instructive to note that the other name of Beth-aven was Bethel, meaning house of God.  Their wickedness had turned the house of God into the house of vanity or emptiness.

“... after thee, O Benjamin” means literally “the enemy is after you, O Benjamin,” or, “... make Benjamin to tremble,” or, “... Benjamin is confounded.”  This conveys a double warning.  Benjamin meaning son of the right hand was the warrior tribe, and if the foe caused him to tremble, there was no hope that the other tribes would be able to deliver themselves.  And the second warning lies in the fact that Benjamin was associated with Judah.

Together they constituted the southern part of the nation which hadn’t yet incurred the anger of Jehovah, but clearly the day was coming when they too would make themselves the objects of His wrath, and they would be delivered into the hand of Babylon in spite of having had the warning of seeing the ten northern tribes, Israel, carried captive by the Assyrians.

Christendom’s judgment will be the more terrible by virtue of having had the warning of Israel’s captivity in Assyria; Judah’s, in Babylon; and the dissolution and scattering of the whole nation again in AD 70.

5:9.  “Ephraim shall be desolate (laid waste) in the day of rebuke (punishment): among the tribes of Israel have I made known that which shall surely be.”

For the significance of Ephraim see comments on 4:17.  Israel had no excuse when God’s judgment fell, for she had been well warned, but had chosen to ignore the warning.  Christendom also has been warned, and has ignored the warning, but to our shame we who are believers must admit that the warning has come largely from the Bible which men won’t read today, rather than from the fearless call from us in the gospel calling on men and women to repent and flee from the wrath to come, saving themselves by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  That same Bible which warns sinners to repent and prepare themselves to meet God, also warns us that our failure to fearlessly warn them will result in our suffering loss when we stand before the Lord at His judgment seat.

5:10.  “The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound: therefore I will pour out my wrath upon them like water.”

God’s foreknowledge of Judah’s failure to learn from the experience of Israel is announced here again, her guilt being compounded by her failure to see in the coming Assyrian captivity of Israel, the assurance that similar judgment would fall upon her if she repeated her sister’s sin.

The reference to Judah’s being like one who removed the bound (the boundary marker of a neighbor’s field) in order to extend the size of his own field, is a striking figure of the brazen perversion of God’s Word which would make wrong right, and right wrong, see e.g., Mal 1:2,6-7, “”I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us.... O priests that despise my name, and ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? .... Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee?” and 2:17, “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words.  Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him?  When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them....” 

Judah would repeat Israel’s sin.  She would remove the Divine prohibition in order accommodate her own evil activity, for that is exactly what Israel had done by making the worship of Baal just as pure as the worship of Jehovah, thus reducing Him to the level of being just another “god,” and making Him a liar when He had explicitly forbidden the worship of anyone or anything else.

Christendom too has made herself a land thief.  She too has brazenly removed God’s boundary between right and wrong in order to accommodate her evil activity, but for her too a day of judgment is coming. 

The likening of His judgment to overwhelming waters is common in Scripture, see, e.g., Ps 42:7; 69:1-2, 14-15; 88:6-7, 16-17, where the same figure is used to describe the outpouring of His wrath against Christ when He took our guilty place at Calvary.

Some believe that the reference to Judah as being like those who remove landmarks, refers to their seizure of territory in the northern kingdom after Israel had been carried into captivity in Assyria.

5:11.  “Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment (man’s commandment?).”

While some translations make Ephraim to be the one who is oppressed and broken, the more accurate seem to be those which take him to be the oppressor and the perverter of right judgment, for clearly his own judgment had not yet occurred.

“... after the commandment” is translated by some as “after man’s commandment,” but others understand it to mean vanity or filth, so that the translation would be “he (Ephraim) walked after filth or vanity.”

5:12.  “Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness.”

The activity of the moth destroys garments, but since garments are one of the biblical symbols of righteousness, the truth being declared here is that Ephraim’s idolatry, and his involvement in all its accompanying evil, would insidiously destroy his righteousness, and expose him to the judgment of God.

The rottenness mentioned here is that caused by a worm; and like that caused by the moth, it goes on silently and unseen, the owner of the house, like the owner of the garment, being unaware of the damage until too late.  As Ephraim (the ten tribes), and Judah continued in evil so would God continue to act towards them: little by little, and without their even being aware of it, He would bring them slowly but surely to complete destruction. 

Literally, continual careful inspection of garment and house would have detected the damage before it became irreparable, and so is it in the spiritual realm, hence the need to examine our lives daily in the light of God’s Word, and to put away that, which ignored, will bring spiritual ruin, and eternal loss at the Bema, see 1 Cor 11:31-32, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

Some have seen in the destruction of Israel under the figure of a moth; and that of Judah, under the figure of a worm, the swiftness and nearness of Israel’s judgment, and the slower but equally certain judgment of Judah.

5:13.  “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.”

This seems to refer to what is recorded in 2 Ki 15.  When Menahem king of Israel was invaded by Assyria he gave Pul the Assyrian king a thousand talents of silver, not only to withdraw, but also to help him Menahem maintain control of Israel. 

Jareb is unknown as the name of any king, but its meaning let him contend indicates that it may have been simply a general term used to describe the militancy of the Assyrian rulers.

Then in 2 Ki 16 we learn that when besieged by Rezin king of Syria, and by Pekah king of Israel, Ahaz king of Judah used treasure from the temple to pay Tiglath-pilezer king of Assyria to aid him.

The Assyrian, however, while delivering Israel and Judah from each other, couldn’t deliver them out of God’s hand. 

5:14.  “For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him.”

God’s warning continues to include Judah as well as Israel.  As a lion kills its prey and carries it off, so would He carry off Israel to Assyria, and later, Judah to Babylon, where that disobedient generation would die, their places being taken by a new generation from which, in a day still future but now near, He will yet bring a repentant remnant back to Himself, and establish them in their own land as an undivided nation, to enjoy the blessings of the Millennium.

5:15.  “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.”

Many insist that “acknowledge their offence” ought to be “till they bear their punishment.”

Heaven is undoubtedly the place to which God has returned, but it must be noted that though a remnant eventually returned to the land from Assyria and Babylon, they have not yet acknowledged their offence, and sought God’s face.  They have, in fact, compounded their guilt by the one sin which makes their idolatry look trivial by comparison.  In spite of their failure to acknowledge their sin, God in grace and mercy beyond human comprehension, sent His Son to die to make atonement for their many sins, but they rejected that Son, mocked Him, spat on Him, abused Him, and finally stood taunting Him while He died on the cross to which they had persuaded the Romans to nail Him!  But even that didn’t exhaust God’s mercy.  He was willing to attribute their act to ignorance, and pardon them if they would but repent, see Ac 3:17, but their response was to kill Stephen also, with the result that in AD 70 God again cast them out of their land, scattering them among the hated Gentiles where they have remained for two thousand years.  During that time He has hidden Himself from them, and has been calling out from the Gentiles a people for Himself, to be the bride of that Son Whom Israel crucified.  That outcalling is almost complete, and the moment surely very near when that bride will be taken up to heaven, following which there will be the seven year era of the Tribulation, the judgments of which will do what past judgments haven’t: lead Israel to repentant confession, and saving faith in that same Son Whom their fathers rejected and crucified.  That repentant remnant will then be led into the enjoyment of the millennial earth.

What a prolonged judgment Israel has compelled by her stubborn refusal to repent!  Those long centuries of suffering, however, are as nothing compared to the eternal torment in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire, which awaits those who die also unrepentant.

[Hosea 6]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough