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1. The Confusion of the Nation.

Hosea vii. 8-viii. 3.

Hosea begins by summing up the public aspect of Israel in two epigrams, short but of marvellous adequacy (vii. 8):—

Ephraim—among the nations he mixeth himself:

Ephraim has become a cake not turned.

It is a great crisis for any nation to pass from the seclusion of its youth and become a factor in the main history of the world. But for Israel the crisis was trebly great. Their difference from all other tribes about them had struck the Canaanites on their first entry to the land:539539   Numb. xxiii. 9 b; Josh. ii. 8. their own earliest writers had emphasised their seclusion as their strength;540540   Deut. xxxiii. 27. and their first prophets consistently deprecated every overture made by them either to Egypt or to Assyria. We feel the force of the prophets' policy when we remember what happened to the Philistines. These were a people as strong and as distinctive as Israel, with whom at one time they disputed possession of the whole land. But their position as traders in the main line of traffic between Asia and Africa rendered the Philistines peculiarly open to foreign influence. They were now Egyptian vassals, now Assyrian victims; and after the invasion of Alexander the Great their cities became271 centres of Hellenism, while the Jews upon their secluded hills still stubbornly held unmixed their race and their religion. This contrast, so remarkably developed in later centuries, has justified the prophets of the eighth in their anxiety that Israel should not annul the advantages of her geographical seclusion by trade or treaties with the Gentiles. But it was easier for Judæa to take heed to the warning than for Ephraim. The latter lies as open and fertile as her sister-province is barren and aloof. She has many gates into the world, and they open upon many markets. Nobler opportunities there could not be for a nation in the maturity of its genius and loyal to its vocation:—

Rejoice, O Zebulun, in thine outgoings:

They shall call the nations to the mountain;

They shall suck of the abundance of the seas,

And of the treasure that is stored in the sands.541541   Deut. xxxiii. 18, 19.

But in the time of his outgoings Ephraim was not sure of himself nor true to his God, the one secret and strength of the national distinctiveness. So he met the world weak and unformed, and, instead of impressing it, was by it dissipated and confused. The tides of a lavish commerce scattered abroad the faculties of the people, and swept back upon their life alien fashions and tempers, to subdue which there was neither native strength nor definiteness of national purpose. All this is what Hosea means by the first of his epigrams: Ephraim—among the nations he lets himself be poured out, or mixed up. The form of the verb does not elsewhere occur; but it is reflexive, and the meaning of the root is certain. Balal is to pour out, or mingle, as272 of oil in the sacrificial flour. Yet it is sometimes used of a mixing which is not sacred, but profane and hopeless. It is applied to the first great confusion of mankind, to which a popular etymology has traced the name Babel, as if for Balbel. Derivatives of the stem bear the additional ideas of staining and impurity. The alternative renderings which have been proposed, lets himself be soaked and scatters himself abroad like wheat among tares, are not so probable, yet hardly change the meaning.542542   יִתְבֹּלֵל from בלל. In Phœn. בלל seems to have been used as in Israel of the sacrificial mingling of oil and flour (cf. Robertson Smith, Religion of Semites, I. 203); in Arabic ball is to weaken a strong liquid with water, while balbal is to be confused, disordered. The Syriac balal is to mix. Some have taken Hosea's יתבלל as if from בליל (Isa. xxx. 24; Job vi. 5), usually understood as a mixed crop of wheat and inferior vegetables for fodder; but there is reason to believe בליל means rather fresh corn. The derivation from בלה to grow old, does not seem probable. Ephraim wastes and confuses himself among the Gentiles. The nation's character is so disguised that Hosea afterwards nicknames him Canaan;543543   xii. 8. their religion so filled with foreign influences that he calls the people the harlot of the Ba'alim.

If the first of Hosea's epigrams satirises Israel's foreign relations, the second, with equal brevity and wit, hits off the temper and constitution of society at home. For the metaphor of which this epigram is composed Hosea has gone to the baker. Among all classes in the East, especially under conditions requiring haste, there is in demand a round flat scone, which is baked by being laid on hot stones or attached to the wall of a heated oven. The whole art of baking consists in turning the scone over at the proper moment. If this be mismanaged, it does not need a baker to tell us that one side may be burnt to a cinder,273 while the other remains raw. Ephraim, says Hosea, is an unturned cake.

By this he may mean one of several things, or all of them together, for they are infectious of each other. There was, for instance, the social condition of the people. What can better be described as an unturned scone than a community one half of whose number are too rich, and the other too poor? Or Hosea may refer to that unequal distribution of religion through life with which in other parts of his prophecy he reproaches Israel. They keep their religion, as Amos more fully tells us, for their temples, and neglect to carry its spirit into their daily business. Or he may refer to Israel's politics, which were equally in want of thoroughness. They rushed hotly at an enterprise, but having expended so much fire in the beginning of it, they let the end drop cold and dead. Or he may wish to satirise, like Amos, Israel's imperfect culture—the pretentious and overdone arts, stuck excrescence-wise upon the unrefined bulk of the nation, just as in many German principalities last century society took on a few French fashions in rough and exaggerated forms, while at heart still brutal and coarse. Hosea may mean any one of these things, for the figure suits all, and all spring from the same defect. Want of thoroughness and equable effort was Israel's besetting sin, and it told on all sides of his life. How better describe a half-fed people, a half-cultured society, a half-lived religion, a half-hearted policy, than by a half-baked scone?

We who are so proud of our political bakers, we who scorn the rapid revolutions of our neighbours and complacently dwell upon our equable ovens, those slow and cautious centuries of political development which274 lie behind us—have we anything better than our neighbours, anything better than Israel, to show in our civilisation? Hosea's epigram fits us to the letter. After all those ages of baking, society is still with us an unturned scone: one end of the nation with the strength burnt out of it by too much enjoyment of life, the other with not enough of warmth to be quickened into anything like adequate vitality. No man can deny that this is so; we are able to live only by shutting our hearts to the fact. Or is religion equably distributed through the lives of the religious portion of our nation? Of late years religion has spread, and spread wonderfully, but of how many Christians is it still true that they are but half-baked—living a life one side of which is reeking with the smoke of sacrifice, while the other is never warmed by one religious thought. We may have too much religion if we confine it to one day or one department of life: our worship overdone, with the sap and the freshness burnt out of it, cindery, dusty, unattractive, fit only for crumbling; our conduct cold, damp and heavy, like dough the fire has never reached.

Upon the theme of these two epigrams the other verses of this chapter are variations. Has Ephraim mixed himself among the peoples? Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not, senselessly congratulating himself upon the increase of his trade and wealth, while he does not feel that these have sucked from him all his distinctive virtue. Yea, grey hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knoweth it not. He makes his energy the measure of his life, as Isaiah also marked,544544   ix. 9 f. but sees not that it all means waste and275 decay. The pride of Israel testifieth to his face, yet—even when the pride of the nation is touched to the quick by such humiliating overtures as they make to both Assyria and Egypt545545   See above, p. 261, and below, p. 337.they do not return to Jehovah their God, nor seek Him for all this.

With virtue and single-hearted faith have disappeared intellect and the capacity for affairs. Ephraim is become like a silly dove—a dove without heart, to the Hebrews the organ of the wits of a man—they cry to Egypt, they go off to Assyria. Poor pigeon of a people, fluttering from one refuge to another! But as they go I will throw over them My net, like a bird of the air I will bring them down. I will punish them as their congregation have heard—this text as it stands546546   But the reading is very doubtful. can only mean "in the manner I have publicly proclaimed in Israel." Woe to them that they have strayed from Me! Damnation to them that they have rebelled against Me! While I would have redeemed them, they spoke lies about Me. And they have never cried unto Me with their heart, but they keep howling on their beds for corn and new wine. No real repentance theirs, but some fear of drought and miscarriage of the harvests, a sensual and servile sorrow in which they wallow. They seek God with no heart, no true appreciation of what He is, but use the senseless means by which the heathen invoke their gods: they cut themselves,547547   For יתגררו read יתגדדו. and so apostatise from Me! And yet it was I who disciplined them, I strengthened their arm, but with regard to Me they kept thinking only evil! So fickle and sensitive to fear, they turn indeed, but not upwards; no Godward conversion theirs. In their repentance they are like a bow which swerves—off upon276 some impulse of their ill-balanced natures. Their princes must fall by the sword because of the bitterness—we should have expected "falseness"—of their tongue: this is their scorn in the land of Egypt! To the allusion we have no key.

With so false a people nothing can be done. Their doom is inevitable. So

"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."

To thy mouth with the trumpet! The Eagle is down upon the house of Jehovah!548548   Wellhausen's objection to the first clause, that one does not set a trumpet to one's gums, which חֵךְ literally means, is beside the mark. חֵךְ is more than once used of the mouth as a whole (Job viii. 7; Prov. v. 3). The second clause gives the reason of the trumpet, the alarum trumpet, in the first. Read כי נשר (so also Wellhausen). Where the carcase is, there are the eagles gathered together. For—to sum up the whole crisis—they have transgressed My covenant, and against My law have they rebelled. To Me they cry, My God, we know Thee, we Israel! What does it matter? Israel hath spurned the good:549549   Cf. Amos: Seek Me = Seek the good; and Jesus: Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord; but he that doeth the will of My Father in heaven. the Foe must pursue him.

It is the same climax of inevitable war to which Amos led up his periods; and a new subject is now introduced.


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