Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 20, Gibeah and Ramah, part 2
Dec 16, 2016
The prophet says in Hosea 5:8, “cry aloud at Beth-aven, “After thee! O Benjamin.” This is a cry of warning used in battle. Today we would shout, “Behind you!” to warn someone of danger approaching them from the rear. In other words, the prophet was issuing a warning to the tribe of Benjamin.
Why Benjamin? Why not another tribe? As we said earlier, both Gibeah and Ramah were in the territory of Benjamin, and Rachel gave birth to Benjamin on a hilltop called Ramah. This son of Rachel was in danger at birth, because it was a difficult childbirth, in which Rachel died. So she named her son Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow,” though Jacob named him Benjamin, “son of my right hand” (Genesis 35:18).
The implication in this prophecy is that danger was overtaking all of the tribes from the rear, and they did not know it. All of them were about to fulfill the name Ben-oni and experience sorrow. This is explained in the next verse. Hosea 5:9 says,
9 Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke. Among the tribes of Israel have I made known that which shall surely be.
Perhaps the parallel here is in the fact that when Rachel died in childbirth, she was no longer to be found. Benjamin was “desolate,” in the sense that he was alone, not being able to find his mother. In the same way, Israel as a whole would not be able to find their God, because He had withdrawn Himself from His children.
Judah Judged for Usurping God’s Land
Hosea 5:10 continues,
10 The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound [ghebul, “boundary, border”]; therefore I will pour out my wrath upon them like water.
This refers to the law about moving a neighbor’s boundary marker, or landmark, which is found in Deuteronomy 19:14,
14 Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.
To move a landmark was to usurp a neighbor’s property by stealth. A person doing this would be altering the legal boundary, so that it gave the appearance that the property legally belonged to him. The law defines boundaries, and this is why it is also pictured as a wall of a city. To move a boundary is to alter the law, pretending that the person has legal rights which he really does not have.
So Hosea tells us that the kings of Judah, who were the highest enforcers of the divine law, had altered the law to legalize theft and violation of other men’s rights. In this case, Hosea probably was referring to the violation of God’s rights. God claims ownership of the land (Leviticus 25:23), and when men usurp it for their own unlawful purposes, treating it as if it were their own, they moved the boundaries, legally speaking.
Because they had usurped God’s land, judgment was to come upon them in equal measure. The land was to be taken from them, and they were to go into captivity. It is of interest, then, that Judah is specifically mentioned, because Judah was taken to Babylon more than a century after Israel was taken to Assyria.
Ephraim and Judah Judged
Hosea 5:11, 12 says,
11 Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the [idolatrous] commandment. 12 Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness [raqav].
Ephraim is condemned here for following after the commandment of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28), who had commanded Israel to worship the golden calves. Hence, God said He would act as a moth and a worm to eat away at their houses (of Israel and Judah) and rot them away.
Hosea 5:13 says,
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.
It appears that during Hosea’s time, Israel and Judah already saw their political and military weakness, brought about by the “moth” that was eating away their houses. Unfortunately, they did not see that the real weakness was a moral corruption, so instead of repenting, they instead sent ambassadors to “king Jareb” of Assyria to make some kind of peace treaty.
Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes about who king Jareb was.
“13 king Jareb. Professor Sayce (Higher Criticism and the Monuments, pp. 416, 417) thinks ‘Jareb’ may be the birth-name of the usurper Sargon II, the successor of Shalmanezer. Shalmanezer did not take Samaria, but his successor did, as stated in an inscription found in the palace which he built near Nineveh.”
So it appears that Jareb is Sargon. Kings, and even ordinary people, often had more than one name, because they often changed their names to reflect a change of character or of some victory or famous act that they did later in life. Jareb (Yarev) means “a contender,” and is a name used in Scripture only by Hosea, here and again in Hosea 10:6.
The prophet chides Israel and Judah for their attempts to prevent captivity—or, to use his metaphor, to find healing from the rottenness in their houses. Their ambassadors, the prophet says, will fail, because God Himself has decreed this captivity. Hosea 5:14 says,
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.
Here the prophet changes metaphors. God calls himself a lion, who “will tear and go away,” and there is no one who can rescue him. The word translated “tear” is taraf, “to tear in pieces,” a word used in reference to eating morsels of food. While Assyria itself was to do the military work of consuming the House of Israel, God called Himself a lion and took credit for doing this.
Again, it is of interest that Hosea knew that both Israel and Judah were destined for captivity. He does not tell us that Judah will be consumed by Assyria itself, but only that God will tear both nations apart and consume them as a lion eats his prey.
Hosea 5:15 says,
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 [shakhar, “early, earnestly”].
The Hebrew word shakhar also means “dawn or morning.” The word pictures a man searching the eastern sky earnestly or anxiously to see the first signs of light which will end the long night. The prophet uses the same term a few verses later in Hosea 6:3 KJV, where it is translated “morning.”
The prophet knows that this captivity was to end at some point in history, so he gives Israel hope. The hope is that God would bless them and end their captivity after they acknowledged their offence. The requirement, even in the law (Leviticus 26:40, 41, 42) was that they had to repent and confess their hostility toward God before God would “remember” (activate) His covenant.
The purpose of tribulation or “affliction” was to motivate them to seek God’s face earnestly. The judgments of God do not destroy permanently, for they are corrective in nature. Though both Israel and Judah were to go down to the grave (as nations), yet God promised to reverse death by raising them from the dead. That is the message of the prophet in the next chapter.
This is part 22 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones