Devotional Commentary on Hosea 8


In this chapter there are many times the comment by the editors of the BHS in the lower register that some words are part of a gloss that was added. My comments to these cases are that when one is dealing with an old man of nearly 90 years old, then one must expect that he can add and recast his own story and text in the process of multiple retelling. One cannot delete ad hoc just because something sounds strange in a certain position. There are cases where the editors of the BHS wished to transpose the sentences, for example, when they wanted to move a section of verse 9 to the beginning of verse 8. My reaction to this is that the way geronti communicate is similar and it is better to leave it the way they speak. In verse 13 the editors are attempting to improve on the text or harmonize seemingly inconsistencies by suggesting that what is the third person singular should actually be changed to the first person singular. This methodology was exactly what created the problems in the Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint. Harmonization and the desire to read sensibly made them add, delete and improve ad hoc.

It appears as if the Targum of the sixteenth century had a Vorlage similar to the Greek translator of the fifth century CE in front of him and what Jerome saw as a beth and the Greek translator of the fifth century CE saw as a kaph this Targum reader incorporated both by reading the kaph and the beth.

The Lord is speaking here instructing someone with a shophar to blow it. As we have pointed out in Hosea 5:8, the blowing of the shophar was done in the fulfillment of the executive judgment against Jericho in 1410 BCE. It is probable that the Lord is asking the angels (or one angel) to blow the shophar as a witness to His investigative judgment that found that they have transgressed and trespassed. That would inaugurate His executive judgment. Hosea 5:8-10 is dealing with the same theme. In both cases it is only one shophar that should be blown. In Revelation 8:6ff. there are seven angels with trumpets and they blew it successively and there followed certain executive judgments upon the earth. Their problem is twofold namely that they have transgressed His covenant and His Law. His covenant is His relationship with them and His law is the ten commandments that He wrote with His own finger to them and are the precepts of that covenant-relationship. The person has to blow the shophar "as an eagle over the house of the Lord". This means, similar to an eagle who has wings and can circle slowly over one spot. That is why it is interpreted here to be an angel. The shophar is blown over the house of the Lord because that is the place where His law was kept and where the economy of atonement for transgressing it was to take place. Absence of atonement leaves the transgressor of the law (in toto or any one of its precepts) in a broken covenant relationship.

In verse 2 God says through Hosea: "To me they shall cry: 'My God, we know you, Israel.'"

The Targum interpreted it to mean that cymbals are too noisy and should not be used for worshipping God. "In all the times that came upon them limit cymbals before me and calling: Now we know because that is not to us, God, a son from you. Save us. Because we are your people Israel".In the Syriac there was an omission by haplography and the translation reads: "For me they are screaming and they say: our God, we know you."

What is personal in the direct speech is made corporative to agree with the indirect speech in the Peshitta or Syriac translation: "For me they are screaming and they say: our God, we know you." The Septuagint manuscripts made a mistake of haplography here due to the closeness of the double reading in the last part of this verse and the beginning of the next verse. They deleted "Israel". The Syriac manuscripts did the same probably due to cross-contamination or vice versa. That means we do not know whether the Syriac manuscripts got it from the Greek manuscripts or whether the Greek manuscripts got it from the Syriac. The interesting feature is that the Syriac added the variant synonym of the Targum "and they said" as a plus to the text next to "they scream". It appears as if the Syriac translator had both the Vorlage of the Greek of the fifth centuries and the text of the Targum in front of him for this verse.

The Targum of the seventeenth century is reading the same as the Greek of the fifth century in the variant where it is not reading "my God" but only "God".

At some point in the transmission history of this verse, not only was there a misreading of characters but also a double entry. The variant could have originated in the following phases:


Phase one (correct original)

misread of some characters due to illegibility

Phase two

omission of last word due to haplography

Phase three

Phase two and three could have been at the same time and was the basis for the misreading in the Greek of the fifth centuries. The handwriting of this manuscript was not good at the area of "my God" for there were problems in this area also by the Syriac and the Targum.

uncertain correction of misreading above by addition

Phase four

harmonizing of suffixes and addition of "our"

Phase five

This was the basis for the Syriac translation.

a decision to retain only one of the two entries and to add "Israel" according to the Masoretic Tradition

Phase six

This was the basis for the Targum translation of the seventeenth century.


There are two lines of thinking that we can follow according to this scenario: either the mistakes entered into Hebrew copies in the transmission history or, alternatively, the translators used the same Hebrew manuscript as the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition but that they made reading errors (half reading etc.). To entertain the idea that they consulted each other and that errors entered their translations through cross-mutation is an excellent idea for one verse, but the problem is that it is not consistent. The bottom line is: who translated like a drunk fly getting out of an alcohol invested bottle in circles over the versions and picking up variants in all colors and shapes ad hoc from any version with no concern for the form of the text at all? To explain this situation for one verse, namely the cross-mutation theory, is wonderful "Einsicht" or insight, but surely is empty of "Perspektiv" or perspective. As the late prof. Charles Fensham, a student of Albright but my teacher used to say: "Hulle het die bome gesien maar nie die bos nie" (they saw the trees but not the forest).

The editors of the BHS want (prp = probably) to change the preposition to "unto" but that is not necessary and to be very frank, pure speculation based on no textual, translational, or version evidence. The prediction is that when they receive the executive judgment that they will cry out: "My God, we know you, we are Israel". There is a parable in the gospels of people coming to say to the Lord in the day of reckoning: "Lord didn't I cast out demons in your name?" and He will say to them: "Go away, I do not know you". This is the same emotion that is at stake here.

The verdict of God on Israel's spiritual condition is that they rejected good and an evil enemy would come (verse 3). "Israel rejected good, an enemy will pursue him."

The Targum interpreted it homiletically and is way off the text of the Hebrew original of Hosea: "The house of Israel went astray from my worship because it was in poverty. I will send over them the good. From now the enemy shall follow them." There is no promise by God of good that will be sent. The Targum is patching evil up to look good here.

The Targum text read apparently the same Vorlage as the Greek translation of the fifth century CE but it divided the next verse later than the Greek namely after two more letters were pulled back into this verse giving the reading "them". The Greek of the fifth century read here an extra two letters in the initial part of the verse, but then it must be remembered that it also omitted "Israel" from the last part of the previous verse. Could it be that the letters were so illegible at this part of the verse that the Greek read "Israel" as "because"? Even if this theory would uphold, then it means that in a later stage the Targum reader or another copier decided to keep the "because" but to restore the omitted "Israel" existing in the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition in the previous verse. Jerome who could have used the same manuscript as the Greek did not read it the same way simply because he could see the correct reading either in a second manuscript that he consulted or he simply guessed the letters correctly?

Israel rejected the goodness of God and the result is that an enemy will pursue him. We know that Israel was particularly inclined to be orientated towards Aramaean political powers, but that with the upsurge in Assyrian power, they will suffer after 734 BCE. A few verses further this prediction was carried out. Hosea was by now a man of about 47 years old when this event occured. He was warning Israel about this problem for the past nearly 20 years of his life. These were the years that Pekah was the king of Samaria and he followed in the sins of Jeroboam I which features prominently in the list of sins that Hosea is complaining about.

In verse 4 the Lord is complaining that they have engaged in setting up the monarchy king after king without consulting God. They made idols and worshipped them. "They, they have set up kings but not from me. They have made princes and not did he notify me. Their silver and their gold they made unto them idols so that he may be cut."

God rejected the calf they made at Samaria (verse 5). "He rejected your calf Samaria. My anger is kindled upon them. Until when can they not be innocent?"

The ad mty: "Until when" question was used also by the prophet Daniel in his prophecy in Daniel 8:13-14. Here the third person singular is the Lord Himself. He has rejected the calf of Samaria. It is not a continuation of the previous third person singular in the previous verse. There is a fluctuation here of an indirect speech and a direct speech, of a third person singular to a first person singular. We have indicated that in Ancient Near Eastern historiography this was a common phenomenon and also the fact that some of the material of Hosea's book could have been recasted by himself in his old age. Retelling the story could cause him to fluctuate and add "explanatory footnotes". God's anger is kindled upon them. They are not innocent anymore and the question is asked: "until when can they not be innocent?" This question "until when" is one that features prominent in Daniel 8:13-14. In that verse it was asked by a divine being.

The question was how long will that which is predicted to happen in the vision lasts?

In Daniel 8:14 an answer was given as to the dating, but in Hosea there is no time periods given.

These idols of Samaria is predicted by God to be broken in future (verse 6). "Therefore from Israel, and he, his workman made it and not God is he, for pieces it shall be, calf of Samaria."

It appears in this verse that Jerome switch two Hebrew characters around (an error known as metathesis). He thus translated with a preposition "in". A word is read differently by Jerome.

The second error that occured in this verse was of course the misreading of a /tav/ where it should have been a /mem/.

The targum reader read the above metathesis example from Jerome the same as a variant as the Greek translation of the fifth century CE. This probably indicates that this area in the Hebrew manuscript was illegible and they all consulted the same Hebrew manuscript. The Targum read the letters for "God" differently and translated it as "worthless".

Two groups are addressed in this verse: Israel is condemned for his idols. Samaria receives the prophecy of the breaking of the calf. They will not be innocent since it is from Israel that a workman was assigned the task of making their idols and the workman was not God. The result of this workmanship is that it is a purely human construct and they are calling those objects their god now. It will be in pieces. This calf of Samaria will be in pieces. This verse is typical of the way one would expect a person of 90 years will speak. The thoughts are not necessarily coherent. It is erratic and jumping back and forth. There is no need to improve the text or read it otherwise. Our task is to understand the prophet the way he speaks and under what constraints he is speaking. We have to understand him, 87 years old or not.

Evil works this way that if one sow small the results are big and destructive in a wider sphere (verse 7). "For a wind they have sowed and a whirlwind they will reap. Standing is not for him a stalk. Not shall he make a bud. If so it makes, strangers will swallow it".

In 190 CE the Old Latin translator called the wind they sow a "corrupt wind" = corrupta vento. Jerome in 389-403 removed the "corrupt" of the Vetus Latina in his Vulgate Latin translation. The later Jewish Targum translator translated: "The house of Israel is like he that sows to the wind and reap confusion".

The form of the Targum text in this verse gives us an understanding to the kind of misreading that could have resulted by the Greek translator. The letters of the Targum of the seventeenth century as it is in Walton's polyglot and the misreading in the same section for the Greek translator of the fifth century a word of the Hebrew original became something else for the Greek translator of the fifth century. With metathesis and letter-confusion it is possible to see how the Greek translator could have misread the characters in this area. Did the Greek translator of the fifth century consult an Aramaic Targum Vorlage? The meaning is not the same but we don't know whether the copiers of these manuscripts could always understand what they were copying and whether the process became just a mechanical "nine to five job" that must be done so that they can go home? Did a copier of the Greek Vorlage consult an Aramaic Targum causing the changes in the reading? Some would like to make it just a translation technique but we must remember that a translation technique is only applicable when all other cases are ruled out. It takes more time to investigate a variant as a Vorlage possibility than a translation technique and that is why modern scholars prefer to just allocate variants to translation techniques. That means, keep versions away from each other and treat them separately. This method will not always work. There are cases where all the versions went bananas on a particular word and nearly in all cases the variants share the same Hebrew characters in different word order. Is this just coincidence that the translation differences just happen to be the same Hebrew characters? I don't think so. Illegibility of a shared Hebrew manuscript is behind this but even if this is the case what puzzles me is why are not all the variants shared? If it is cross-mutation, why is the cross-mutation eratic and non-consistent? The eratic non-consistent character of the variants is a big headache to me. It seems to me we are working with the tip of the iceberg and that the process far below is more complex than we think.

The Aramaeans are like a wind and Israel had good relations with them. The problem was that Assyria came against the Aramaeans like a whirlwind. There would be no harvest and if there is strangers would take it.

The result is that Israel is swallowed-up and they are among nations like a vessel with no desire in it (verse 8). The Old Latin said the vessel is "useless" = inutile but Jerome changed the reading in Latin later to "unclean". The Old Latin read almost the same as the Targum with "like a vessel of which there is no use in it".

The Targum did not follow the variant of the Greek and the Latin at the end but this variant of these two translations from the same or nearly the same century cause us to rethink the situation as an origin of a variant due to translation technique per se. It seems as if both had a manuscript at hand that was illegible at the last two words and furthermore seems to have been written with continuous script for Jerome (as so often) connected the letters differently (see the contrary in Johann Erbes, The Peshitta and the Versions: A Study of the Peshitta Variants in Joshua 1-5 in Relation to Their Equivalents in the Ancient Versions. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Semitica Upsaliensia 16 [Stockholm: Elanders Gotab, 1999] 52):“The assumption that the Hebrew text was of scriptio continua can, with the Qumran material now at hand, no longer be generally maintained.”Johann Erbes was my teacher at Andrews University and was excellent in his linguistic abilities.

This is the year in which Tiglath-Pilezer came and many parts and cities of Israel was taken. As we will show in the next verse, there are many times that Israel was swallowed up by Tiglath-Pilezer, in 743 BCE, 727 BCE and Israel was also swallowed up in 721 BCE by another Assyrian king. Hosea lived through all these troubled times. He had the ability not only to predict, but to experience and then to reflect on both the prediction and experience.

It is possible that verse 9 dates between 743-731 CE "For they, they went up to Assyria. A wild ass unto him. Ephraim has hired lovers". Origen in 240 CE read that "Ephraim loved gifts". The Coptic translation is "Ephraim has given gifts to his lovers".

The case of the variant with Jerome deserves attention. One can argue that it is just his translation technique to be tautologous in entering two translations for one Hebrew word, but that would not solve the problem. Is it just coincidence again that the two words that he entered happened to have the same Hebrew characters? Is it Jerome's translation technique to imagine other similar Hebrew words and then to translate them also? I don't think so.

This reading of "gifts" is also shared by the Greek translation of the fifth century CE. Here Jerome and this Greek translation of the fifth century CE are the same. Again just coincidence? Cross-mutation?

It is a mystery why the Targum of the seventeenth century misread the Hebrew at another area in the text. The Targum shares with the other versions the addition of the prepostion /l/ to the word "Assur" to read "to Assur".

The Syriac translator shares the omission with the Targum and also the comparative particle that is attached to "wild ass" namely "like a wild ass" but then mostly follow the reading of the Greek of the fifth century CE.

Did the Syriac translator use the same Vorlage as the Greek here and a similar Vorlage as the Targum had for this verse borrowing from both? One can say that he was using the same Hebrew manuscript that was used by the Greek translator of the fifth century CE but was the Syriac translator the introducer of the comparative particle "like" and the omission of the preposition /l/ meaning "to himself"?

What is amazing is to see the mosaic in the variants of each versions, sometimes agreeing with one, two or all and sometimes running its own course. Scholars would like to see this as follows: when they agree, it is due to cross-mutation. When they disagree, it is due to translation technique. This approach is too simplified and cannot answer all the problems. Jerome for one, was very insistent to translate the Hebrew literally as opposed to the Greek of the fifth century that was not done literal enough in his opinion. The two points of translation technique and cross-mutation cannot answer some of the variants of Jerome. The appearance of variants in the same text zone is also a situation that cancels the above two considerations especially when the word displays the same Hebrew characters but in different order in the word for each of the versions in the retroversion section of our analysis.

The Israelites went up as captives to Assyria. They were like a wild ass unto Assyria. On the big relief in the throne room of Sennacherib displaying the captivity of Lachish, the donkey is very prominent in one of the sketches. Of course the donkey is only carrying belongings but it is part of the great trek to Assyria. Sennacherib ruled from 707 BCE from Babylon with his father and from 705 BCE out of his own accord at the death of his father. This iconographical piece is thus too late for Hosea to draw any parallels for. It could be that the donkey in such captivity scenes were prominent and vivid. In 1892/1876 BCE in the 6th year of Sesostris II, a total of 37 Asiatics visited Khumhotep III (an Egyptian official) bringing stibium (alimony) for khol (eye shadow). The leader has an Amorite name Abishar and is called a Hyksos or "ruler of a foreign country". It is the famous Beni Hasan relief (see K. van Wyk, "The Archaeology of Jacob to Egypt until the Exodus" in Archaeology in the Bible and Text in the Tel [Berrien Center, Michigan: Louis Hester Publications, 1996], 57-74, especially 60-65). According to biblical chronology, Joseph died in 1880 BCE, and according to the latest Egyptian chronology, the Beni Hasan relief dates twelve years before the death of Joseph (old reckoning) and three years after the death of Joseph (new reckoning). When the animosity against Amorites in Egypt started according to the evidence in the Berlin and Brussels execration texts, Joseph was already dead. Exactly thirty years after the death of Joseph the enslavement period started in Egypt in which Israel had to work very hard. It is on that Beni Hasan relief that we also see a donkey used by these West-Semitic traders. Working with two iconographical extremes like this it is thus not farfetched to conclude that the donkey was a prominent part of transportation in trading in the Ancient Near Eastern context. Even in Africa we still have the joke/idiom when someone works very hard in carrying something by saying: "You need a donkey or a secretary".

Ephraim is accused as hiring lovers. We know that Ahaz seeked the help of Assyria in 727 BCE against the Aramaeans.  Sixteen years before this incident a disaster strucked Israel when Tiglath-Pilezer III came against some cities of Israel in 743 BCE and he deported people from Gilead and Galilee and all of the land of Naphtali to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). This is the time "Israel was swallowed up" (Hosea 8:8) and they were dispersed among the nations. They were "an undesireable vessel".

Israel went up to Assyria in 743 BCE (Hosea 8:9) and they were a "wild ass" unto Assyria. In this verse the description of Hosea jumps sixteen years by saying that "Ephraim has hired lovers" referring to the pact that was made between Pekah and Rezin of Aram or Syria around 731 BCE. Hosea 8:9 should be seen as a descriptive comment of Hosea giving explanation to the words of the Lord that continue in verse 10 again in the first person. We cannot separate Hosea's words and the verbatim words of the Lord as human words as opposed to divine words. The total scripture is the Word of God and He took care of it even when Hosea commented. 

Even though they are taken by force among the nations God is willing to gather them to give them another chance but they will still suffer some burdens due to their attitude (verse 10). Atheists will cry whether God cannot just leave them alone. The answer is, no. He created them perfect, many things went wrong. He died for them to bring them back to perfection. So He has a right twice to not giving up ever.

"Also that they are given among the nations, now will I gather them and they shall sorrow a little from the burden of the king's princes."

If one looks at the variants among the versions one can see that the Latin and Targum had problem readings at the same area. Nearly all of these versions share the variant of the inclusion of the waw-copulative at the end before "princes". Jerome reads one word in the original again double. It means that he either translated it twice or his Vorlage really read it that way. If it is his translation technique then this is another example of a double translation for a single entry. The letters of the manuscript that the Targum used was very poor since at two places different words were read with nearly the same characters. Surely this is not done on purpose although the Targumist is elaborating in his own way exegeting on phrases throughout his translation. From an exegetical point (in our view) all the versions made a mistake in the addition of the waw-copulative since the application of the "king" is Jotham but the "princes" is firstly Ahaz (and other probably sons of Jotham?). Jotham was good and Ahaz was bad. The origin of the suffering is not from the king but from the princes and that is why there is no waw-copulative. If there is an "and" between the king and the word for princes it will mean that they both equally share responsibility for the suffering incured upon the people but the historical text of the book of Kings and Chronicles only places the responsibility upon the prince Ahaz.

This is a verbatim uttering of the Lord and Hosea is quoting it as he received it. Hosea has supplied the detail of past experiences in Israel and Ephraim and thus the listeners or readers can now understand the verbatim words of the Lord better by knowing that He is referring in this instance to a time after 743 BCE at which date "they are given among the nations" to another time closer to 727 BCE when they were to be brought back "now will I gather them" (Hosea 8:10). This "now" in the text refers in all probability to a time shortly before the 16th year of Jotham king of Judah (who was apparently a good king 2 Kings 15:34 'and he did the straight thing in the eyes of the Lord'). The text continues to say that they will suffer a little from the king's princes. The king was good but the princes were bad. Ahaz's reign is counted from his father's 10th year and it was in his (Ahaz's) eighth year that he became sole ruler and appealed for help from Assyria. Ahaz was very young (20 years old) when he started to reign as crownprince with his father. We are not sure whether Jotham had other sons too and probably he did since Hosea is talking in this verse of "princes". Jotham lived to see the year 727 BCE and in our calculation Ahaz made war with Rezin and Pekah even when his father was still alive, that means a time before 731 BCE. During the siege of Jerusalem in 729 BCE that followed in this dispute of Ahaz with the Israelites (when Ahaz was about 23 years old), many people suffered for the Judean people in Elath was driven out of the city (2 Kings 16:6). This uttering of the Lord is probably made in 732-731 BCE when the dispute started. The suffering (729 BCE) is fully described in 2 Chronicles 28:5-8. A large number were taken to Damascus. 120 000 Judean soldiers were killed. We know that Ahaz had at least three sons since he offered one as a sacrifice, and during this war with Syria described here, his son Maaseiah was killed. 200 000 Judean women and children were taken to Samaria. Hezekiah the third son of Ahaz survived and was a good son of Ahaz. The "king" is Jotham and the "princes" is at least Ahaz [and other sons of Jotham?]. The historical entry about Jotham in 2 Kings 15:34 and 35 contains positive data but also a very negative footnote that the shrines and worship of images continued. It is our understanding that this footnote is against Jotham but that the actual activities were carried out by the newly appointed crownprince Ahaz who started at the age of 20 to rule with his father in the year 734 BCE. During the years 734-731 BCE Ahaz participated in the erection of these practices since the resulted dispute with Syria and Israel in 731 BCE is described as a punishment for such practices by Ahaz. That is why Hosea refers to "suffering" by the "king's princes" and that is why the historical account in the book of Kings has a negative footnote interspersed in the description of the reign of Jotham. The chronology of the Hebrew Kings we have discussed at length supra in the Introduction section of this commentary.

Ephraim's problem is that they never learned from their mistakes. They multiplied idol altars (verse 11).

"For Ephraim multiplied altars. To sin is life to him. Altars unto sin."

The Septuagint did something strange to the end of the verse. It translated "altars they loved". This phrase is then repeated at the end of the next verse as a plus to the original text. Plusses at Qumran cannot help to establish the reliability of a text. It does not mean that if Qumran agrees with the Septuagint that one must now change the Masoretic text to align with those texts. The date of the placing of these scrolls in the caves are not ipso facto established. There are too many problems. On the other hand the dates and differences in the Greek manuscripts calls for an alert. Cross-contamination must first of all be ruled out before one can make any decisive claims. In more than fifty years of research on Qumran that has not been done effectively. It is a challenge still ahead and not likely to be reached. Jerome did not read the Septuagint way here. He translated the last part as "arae in delictum". Delictum is "sin" and his translation is the same as ours.

The misreading of the original for "to sin" at the end of the verse by the Targum is interesting. The letters of the Hebrew word was misread as  in Aramaic which is another word in Hebrew.

All the versions had problems with the reading of the last word. Is this again a case of cross-mutation when they are all reading variants at the same place but each one differently with sometimes no correlation in the Hebrew characters between any of them? It seems rather that they all consulted a Hebrew manuscript that was illegible at this part of the verse that gave rise to many variants. Since so many Hebrew manuscripts do exist that they all could have consulted it seems that this particular illegible Hebrew manuscript had some famous and popular "cloud" around it that they all felt they are obliged to try to read it in particular as opposed to other available possibilities.

Altars were multiplied in the cult centers of Ephraim which include Bethel. It is known that Ahaz had a special interest in the altar of Tiglath-Pilezer III that he erected in Damascus, but he made the replica for the temple in Jerusalem and one cannot connect Ephraim to this event. The description is very telegraphic and in short style. It is almost the speech of an old man who is suffering from shortness of breath. If this particular sentence was recorded by a writer who listens to the prophet speaking at his senior age then he is recording what he hears. Short sentences by an old man out of breath.

This verse opens with the causative particle "because" going back to the reason for the "suffering" mentioned in Hosea 8:10. Why do they suffer so severe as is said in the previous verse, is now explained in this verse. Hosea 8:11 refers back to 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 cf. 2 Kings 16:2-4.

This is a biographical statement about the life of Ahaz which is no different in these historical books on the Kings of Israel and Judah. The old sources supported what Hosea was saying. The only difference is that Hosea was predicting and recounting before and during the very event and these events were then recorded by palace and temple personnel which were later used in the composition of the book of Kings and Chronicles. The scribes of Kings and Chronicles are looking at events that happened already. Hosea is looking at events that will and is happening. In Hosea's case he does not refer to the king's name directly. In the books of Kings and Chronicles the king's name is mentioned directly. We interpreted this time of the making of the altars as before the war in 731 BCE thus between 734-731 BCE.

God has revealed Himself to them about His law and its greatness but they considered the law as something strange (verse 12). "I have written to him, its greatness, my law. It was considered like something strange".

The Lord said that He has written to Ahaz about the greatness of His law but those preceps were considered as something strange. In our interpretation the law in this verse refers to the Ten Commandments as is recorded in Exodus 20. Ahaz has broken the first two of the ten commandments by making images of idols and altars of the heathen gods. He worshipped to them and broke the second commandment. All the commandments are inter-twined so that if you break one you break all of them. For an artist to make an image or statue or replica of anything that comes to his mind is not in this category of the first commandment. It is when art lovers and people start to communicate to these art pieces with a fever of sentimentalism and awe that the zones of danger are crossed over. The young singers here in Japan appear on the stage from the rising smoke, fires, lightning, and all kinds of visual effects dressed in a fashion keeping to the theme of their kind of music and the content of their music. They want the crowds to be in a frenzy of howling, jumping, shaking and chanting "out of themselves" in awe inspiring impression about their own singing "idols" as they call them here in Japan. We have to keep perspective what is a truely vertical experience and what is a horizontal experience. At times they appear to be the same and they can be confused for the same. It is an awesome responsibility to face people and be in a position to influence them with one's words and deeds. Unless that person is born again with the Spirit of God, humble in His grace, unselfish in his pursuit, the crowds will be fascinated by his eloquent niceties and deceivingly drawn away by their own imaginations. Even if it is a preacher for God, he can be an idol of worship. Any worshipper who sighs when he sees who is preaching that Sabbath as opposed to another favorite preacher whom he prefer to listened to, has crossed the danger zone mentioned above. If the worshipper must be exited by the speaker, must be attracted by the speaker, must be emotionally controlled by all kinds of technical support, then that worshipper is only worshipping an idol, a preacher idol.

When Ahaz saw the ten commandments it was as something strange to him. The ten commandments is the Law of God. It is the Law of the Lord. They convict people of sin. Someone who is breaking one of the ten commandments and knows it, will rationalize the effects of the other nine also. It will seem strange to him/her. But when the Spirit of God takes control in the life of the worshipper, the worshipper can see his/her sin clearly and humbly begging God for grace and forgiveness will find it and stand up again. The more the person comes to God the more the person will realize his/her own imperfections. The person will feel that he/she is a breaker of the law but the freedom from that feeling is a daily submission to the grace of forgiveness. Even if nobody can point anymore against any commandment that the worshipper is breaking, to the point of not breaking anything, the worshipper will still feel inside that something is broken for the relationship spirals up to God. It is eratic and wild and wide in the beginning but the deeper it goes with God the smaller the circles of the spiral in a never ending pattern of grace and forgiveness until the righteousness of God will rain from heaven at the end of times and all imperfections will be made perfect.  

The cycle of human sin and suffering is clear here in the life of Ahaz: the young man Ahaz sins in many ways between 734-731 BCE. Grace approached him with the ten commandments to convict him from sin. Someone wrote it or copied it for Ahaz visually because Grace desired to imprint it upon the heart of Ahaz. It was to Ahaz like something foreign. Ahaz was so full of himself that he couldn't see any meaning in it. His rejection of it shut out the opportunity Grace gave him to repent. The very ten commandments that was to be his prompter to Grace now became his accuser in an executive judgment scene. Ahaz had to suffer for his sins and punishment was meted out by God for him in 731 BCE with the dispute of Israel and Syria.

Coming back from a short spiritual detour we have to say that the style is that of an old man out of breath. We will not follow the editors of the BHS who want to delete the pronominal-suffix at the end of the noun to follow the reading of the Septuagint and the Syriac translation.

The Syriac reader was reading a Hebrew Vorlage since the next error could only have occured in a Hebrew context. He came to the end of the line and since it was written in scriptio continua or continuous script he or someone in the copy process of the Hebrew manuscript that he was using read the first word of verse 13 as if it belongs to verse 12 but misread the Hebrew characters from the original. If a Hebrew copier made the mistake at an earlier stage preceding the Vorlage that the Syriac was using then it could mean that a certain copier made a double entry of the Hebrew word in the form that resembles it. In our understanding the second entry was so illegible that another copier copied it as something different. At this stage that Hebrew Vorlage fell in the hands of the Syriac reader and either the letters of the previous copy phase was misread by himself or a Hebrew copier misread those letters one phase before him (Syriac reader). This is not a case of translation technique or exegesis nor of cross-mutation from other versions. We need to make some qualifications here: the word dbry or "words" exists only in Hebrew not in Aramaic. However, the word in verse 13 of the Hebrew text is always in Syriac and Aramaic in the form ????. This form is even closer than the Hebrew form to the variant. Does this mean that the Syriac reader was surrounded with a Hebrew manuscript similar to the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition plus a Hebrew manuscript with Qumrannic characteristics similar to the Septuagint plus an Aramaic text that also served the Targum of the seventeenth century? Was this double entry in the Aramaic and did the Syriac reader made the mistake when he just for a moment consulted what he at that moment by mistake thought was the Hebrew text when it was indeed the Aramaic text? Did he see the double entry with the first one very illegible thinking that it is the Hebrew word. This last possibility seems very plausible at this case. Aramaic and Hebrew scripts are the same and in a hurry one can make such an error especially if one is surrounded by a number of manuscripts to consult. In the next verse the Greek translation read something extra in the beginning of the verse of which at least two characters could resemble the last two characters in this word of the Syriac included here at the end of verse 12. The Greek added in verse 13 at the beginning of the verse the words "therefore if". A very interesting double reading in the Hebrew Vorlage of Jerome's Latin translation can be found in the beginning of verse thirteen. Suddenly everything falls into proper perspective. The origin of the Syriac reading is then in the fact that the Syriac translator was using a similar Hebrew manuscript as that which Jerome had in which there indeed was a double entry of the root "word" substituting the root "offering" in the original. Lets look at the structures in the Latin, Syriac and the Greek here:

What this means is that in the same area of the text the Latin Greek and the Syriac are sharing some problems in the same zone of the reading. This variant is particularly insightful since it is now understandable where the Syriac got its reading of "my words" of at the end of verse 12. He read the same Hebrew manuscript that Jerome was using reading the root dbr twice subtituting the root zb?. This area in the Hebrew manuscript was somewhat illegible but that the copier did enter the word twice and substituted one word in the original. The Greek translators of the fifth century CE probably consulted the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition here and kept to a conditional format "if" which was also used by Jerome translating in the same century. This Hebrew Vorlage had typical Qumrannic characteristics in the copy errors that one can see. Here is thus a number of errors by the copiers and translators:

1. misreading of Hebrew characters

2. double entry of words

3. substitution of roots

4. misdivision of the end of the verse or the beginning of the next.

If one reads the translations other than in this commentary, it is not so easy to see these connections but we have consulted alternative translations for example the word in Latin adfer in verse 13 which does not only mean "offer" but also "speak" and the root for "speak" and "word" are the same in semitic languages which finally led us to see the connection with the Syriac version's addition in verse 12.

There is one variant that all the versions share and that is the omission of the pronominal suffix "its" of "its greatness". Many modern scholars use this vote count to decide how to change the Hebrew text and like that editors of the BHS with their incomplete information they agree similar to the lower register of the BHS in this verse to follow (only the Greek and the Syriac!) in leaving out this suffix. Lets look at the issue. What must we do when we are confronted with a variant in the versions that all agree against the reading of the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition? Change it? God forbid. If the Qumran material did not contain a text that is 100% the same as the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition I would have been a strong contender to "pick and choose" with an eclectic method a "better" text. But, the absolute precision over more than a millenium in this tradition as opposed to the flaky and swinging condition of the other versions definitely places the other versions in a secondary position. Some of the Greek readings can be found in the Qumran material but only minor phrases occasionally and then not always with exactitude. The same can be said about the Vulgate and Syriac and Targum with varying degrees of correspondence but none of them get even close to 50% correspondence. The evidence speaks for itself. And despite the evidence you still find scholars pushing for the importance of one or some of the versions. Hermann-Joseph Stipp is one who pushes for the superiority of the Greek of Jeremiah over the Hebrew of the Masoretic tradition. The true philosopher Edward Heppenstall once said that the Word of God cannot be decided by the opinion of scholars or the voice of the majority or the vote of a committee. It is the Word of God by itself.

Sinful habits continued in against God's promptings to stop, leads to God "not accept them". In verse 13 Hosea continues saying: "Now will He remember their iniquity and He will visit their sins. They themselves shall return Egypt."

Notice how the later Jewish Targum recoiled the text to take an action away from the Lord and put it in the hands of Israel. It is for the Targum scribe not that God does not accept the offering rather than that Israel has no desire for it: "They shall offer distress that is plundered. They shall offer flesh and they shall eat, and before the Lord not is their a desire in them. Now he shall return their sins and let loose their iniquities. They themselves shall return to Egypt".

The Septuagint manuscripts are adding some words at the end to the original, namely: "and in Assyria they will eat unclean things". This is an attempt by the translators of the Septuagint or their copyists in the Middle Ages to harmonize the text in accordance with what is known elsewhere in the same book. In this case they have taken a similar phrase in Hosea 9:3 and conflated it with this verse and aligned it subsequently. We do not even know if it was corrupters to the Septuagint that did this conflation of data. The original Septuagint that we do not have could have been very much similar to the Vulgate text form but shortly after 100 CE it was corrupted? resulting in the attempts by private translators like Theodotian, Symmachus and Acquila to rescue the situation. Given also the fact of anti-semiticism prevailing at certain times during this early period and also the power struggle of the Roman empire and the Christian Church, this theory is not impossible (see the research of Franken in the Victorian Age on the Septuagint). The current Septuagint that we have seems to have had translators that reserved for themselves the right to add, delete, transpose, harmonize, make explicit what is implicit, identify what is not clear. The disagreements in the many Greek manuscripts at various points makes it impossible to come to a clear understanding of what the original Septuagint read. J. Wevers said that he does not live under the illusion that the Gottingen edition that he has help to create is in any way the real Septuagint. Before we can give any positive value to the Septuagint we need to clarify the following situations: 1. it was not a careless translator; 2. there was not a misreading (human error); 3. there is not genre differences; 4. there is not an attempt to give a dynamic-equivalence translation; 5. that the word division were not changed; 6. that there is not evidence of Aramaisms; 7. that there were no exegetical considerations in the translation process; 8. that there were no harmonizations; 9. that there were no contextualizations. Only then can one assume the presence of a Vorlage different than the Masoretic consonantal text that has legitimization to change the Masoretic text. Unfortunately, impossible. The reason that Jerome started to use Hebrew manuscripts in Bethlehem was his concern on the state of the Septuagint. He did not add these words that the Septuagint is doing here in his Latin translation.

The Syriac in this verse used a Hebrew manuscript with many problems. It is not uncommon to find similar kind of problems in manuscripts discovered at Qumran. The problems in the Hebrew Vorlage consulted by the Syriac in this verse is related to the problem in the initial zone of the verse that all the versions share here, but in the other additions and changes it stands alone. Nearly all the versions read their own way the major variants in the beginning of this verse. There is one semantical connection between the Vulgate with hostias and the Syriac in the first that is worth noting. However, the other problems of the Syriac is not found in the Latin. What makes a translator like the Syriac follow the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition, follow at times the Hebrew Vorlage that the Septuagint had, follow at other times the Hebrew Vorlage that the Targum had, and even use the same Hebrew Vorlage that Jerome used but then suddenly used a very defective Hebrew Vorlage? It leads us to the consideration that the translator of the Syriac had at least five Hebrew manuscripts around him. One can argue for translation technique in this verse but if so is the break in consistency due to the switch in translators? Did a second translator come to continue the work with a more free translation technique than the previous translator in the Syriac of the same chapter?

It is a misconcept to try to change the original text as if it is reading the first person. A fluctuation in persons is a normal phenomenon in the historiography of Ancient Near Eastern literature (see A. Kirk Grayson, "Assyria and Babylonia" Or 49/2 [1980]: 140-194, especially 165-167). Examples include the 30th and 31st years of Shalmanezer III on the Black Obelisk a century before Hosea's text. The editors of the BHS stands under severe correction here. The narrative art of people in modern times illustrate well how a person can fluctuate from using the direct speech of a person he/she is impersonating with the usage of the first person singular to an indirect speech using the third person singular. To smooth out and harmonize the text is to fall captive of the same methodological errors that one can find in the Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint. The Lord will not accept their sacrifices that they offer to Him. As punishment for their sins they shall return Egypt. The original text does not read any preposition here but all the versions tried to add a preposition in their translations before the word "Egypt". The text just reads "they shall return Egypt". It does not read "in Egypt" or "to Egypt" or "unto Egypt". What this means is that sometimes when countries are in negotiation with each other the diplomatic representatives are visiting the court. When something embarasing happen these diplomats return to their own countries. That is what is meant here. We know that in 730 BCE Ahaz seeked help from Egypt during the time of Sheshonk V, in vain (see our comments at 5:13 and again at 7:11). We also know that they received help from Tirhaka the king of Egypt in 688/9 BCE (K. van Wyk, "Black Presence in Israel in the days of Isaiah: Tirhaka the Ethiopian" in Archaeology in the Bible and Text in the Tel [Berrien Center, Michigan: Louis Hester Publications, 1996], 281-297, especially 289-290). Hezekiah died in 686 BCE and we are not told that Hosea lived longer than his reign (Hosea 1:1). We must remember that Hezekiah was born in 740 BCE and he was 25 years old in 716 BCE and started to reign for the next 29 years until his death in 687 BCE. There were two countings for Hezekiah. One counting started in the same year that Ahaz took the throne and could be by some people  who objected to Ahaz going to Damascus to see the Assyrian throne in 727 BCE. The other counting is of course from 716 BCE when he actually ascended the throne at the age of 25 years old. As we have pointed out about the date of the Syro-Ephraimite war, it was in the year 731 BCE which is the third year of Ahaz counting as crownprince but not sole ruler. It was in 730 BCE that Ahaz seeked help from Egypt for this suffering that came over them in our interpretation of events (using the book of Hosea to fill in gaps in the history of the Kings). Sheshonk V could not help them and he died in that year. In later years some settlements like Elephantine would house many Jews but that was after the death of Hosea.

This is a rehearsal of events between 734-731 BCE when they were offering to images and idols. The words "they themselves return Egypt" means that during these years of their sins a conflict started in 731 BCE with Syria and Israel and that in 730 BCE they seeked help from Sheshonk V. The diplomats came but Sheshonk V died and they (Ephraimite court) had to send them back themselves.

Judgments are sent by God against Israel and Judah for they forgot the Lord their God (verse 14).

"And Israel shall forget their maker and he shall built temples and Judah shall increase cities in rocks and I will send fire in the cities and I will devour their palaces."

It is amazing how all the versions follows in this verse very close to the consonantal reading of the Masoretic text. It seems as if they have consulted what was available in translation and original and when the translations and Hebrew Vorlages were illegible or run apart, they felt that they have a license to make their own decision coming up with a further variant and or a new reconstruction and or a new composition. In this verse they all kept to the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition which seemed to be the guiding line or principle all were to follow? Does it mean that the superiors told their copy scribes or translators the following rules:

1. Follow the consonantal text of the Masoretic tradition when the versions agree and there are no apparent problems.

2. If the versions display differences and the Hebrew manuscripts have similar problems, use your own discression.

Unfortunately we do not know if this was the case. These rules we only deduct from our own modern investigation of the nature of variants. Compare Hosea 8:14 with verse 13 and verse 12.

It seems as if this verse could be a continuation of the last part of the previous verse. The meaning would then be that Israel would seek refuge in Egypt and settle there and built temples. At Elephantine temples were indeed found during the Persian period. Judah is said that they will increase cities in rocks. God will send a fire there and will devour their palaces. During the war in 729 BCE much destruction resulted and this verse should be seen as part of the description of the results of the Syro-Ephraimite war with Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria. In 2 Chronicles 28:25 it reads that Ahaz built shrines in every city of Judah. The Philistines came and raid the cities of Judah and took possession of many of them during his time as a punishment for his deeds.


Dear God

How many times you tried to bring us under Your protection and like Israel of old we also keep running our own ways. Enough is enough and so we want to stay steadfast in You knowing that with You is all our blessed future. In Jesus Name, Amen.