The second half of Hoshea opens with the anticipation of Assyrian invasion (“As a vulture he cometh against the house of the LORD” [8:1] and “For they are gone up to Assyria, like a wild ass alone by himself; Ephraim hath hired lovers.” [1:9]) as the natural consequence of Israel’s actions.
One of my favorite verses in the Neviim is Hoshea 8:5:
Thy calf, O Samaria, is cast off; Mine anger is kindled against them; how long will it be ere they attain to innocency?
This verse might not seem like much, but the phrase “attain to innocency” is an important one. In English, innocence is something that generally cannot be regained once lost. It is a synonym for naivete, albeit carrying a more positive connotation. Here, though, we see the concept of innocence being used in the sense of the absence of immediate guild. There is nothing to discipline or punish, therefore there is innocence. If the Shomron were to cease from idolatry and wickedness and become holy and clean, they would also become innocent. That’s a powerful statement, and one that is directly useful in our own, individual lives.
Chapter 9 focuses on Ephraim, but the message is still about Israel. Note 9:10:
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig-tree at her first season; but so soon as they came to Baal-peor, they separated themselves unto the shameful thing, and became detestable like that which they loved.
Baal-peor is a reference to an incident related in Bamidbar (Numbers) 25, in which the Israelites worshipped Baal at Peor through the influence of the Moabites, at partially through ritual sexuality.
More intriguing, though, is the beginning of the verse: “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness.” This is a theme that will be used further by Yesheyahu (Isaiah). Where Hoshea compares Israel to wild grapes that Hashem finds and tends to make sweet, Yesheyahu 5 describes Israel as a well-tended vineyard that produces sour, wild grapes, grapes that were worthless to tend.
Micah 7:1 also plays with this metaphor. He mourns that there are neither grapes nor figs, as one who is hungry after the harvest. And Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) 8:13) likewise mourns:
When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.
Hoshea 10 continues the condemnation of Israel and the Shomron, and again uses imagery later toyed with by Yermiyahu:
Sow to yourselves according to righteousness, reap according to mercy, break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, till He come and cause righteousness to rain upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity, ye have eaten the fruit of lies; for thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.-Hoshea 10:12-13
In this passage, we are instructed that iniquity and redemption are both dependent on our own efforts, just as the harvest is dependent on the farmer’s labor. Those labors are hard work. Later, Yermiyahu will remind us that righteousness earned through Hashem’s correction is like the harvest of the farmer, where Hashem is the Farmer and we are the harvest. We may not enjoy being cultivated, but it is for our own good:
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
his God teaches him.
Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cumin with a rod.
Does one crush grain for bread?
No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
with his horses, he does not crush it.
This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom.
Hoshea 11 compares the correction and wrath of Hashem to that of a father for a rebellious son. Israel and Ephraim will not be destroyed. They will be banished to Egypt and Assyria until they are ready to be obedient sons. And they will return from their banishment when they have learned to fear their G-d.
Chapter 12 says that Ephraim “striveth after wind” in following Egypt and Assyria. This phrase is frequently used in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and adds depth to the Priest’s meaning. The word used in both books for “wind” also means spirit or ghost, and in the reference to Ephraim distinctly describes idolatry and following improper authorities. While the use of the phrase in Kohelet refers to pointless foci for one’s life, the two uses taken together would seem to indicate that all three references are related. When we allow the wrong things to guide our actions or be our goals, we are “striving after wind,” and striving after wind is very closely related to idolatry. We must be purposeful and have the correct purpose.
Chapter 13 recalls the story of the Exodus, concluding with a reference to the parting of the Sea of Reeds (the gate to the Egyptian mythological nether-world):
Shall I ransom them from the power of the nether-world? Shall I redeem them from death? Ho, thy plagues, O death! Ho, thy destruction, O nether-world! Repentance be hid from Mine eyes! For though he be fruitful among the reed-plants, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD coming up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up; he shall spoil the treasure of all precious vessels.-Hoshea 13:14-15
This time, Hashem’s east wind will be for the Israelites (and Ephramites) and not for the Egyptians, as it was in Shemot (Exodus) 14:21.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
This time the Israelites will not be redeemed from death and the nether-world among the reeds, as the Egyptians had seen them to be so long ago. I have to wonder if this prophecy was originally delivered during the Chag HaMatzot. The prophetic use of theatrics and timing to drive home the point would suggest it.
Finally, chapter 14 delivers a message of ultimate hope for Israel, Shomron, and Ephraim. They will be conquered by Assyria and brought to destitution. But that destitution will prevent them from making idols. They will have the material wealth neither to make or carry idols nor to make offerings to them. Instead, Hashem waits for them to make offerings of earnest repentance instead of bullocks. Once that repentance is made:
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for Mine anger is turned away from him. -Hoshea 14:5
But the message is not simply historical or national. It is also personal. And that is the lesson with which Hoshea (14:10) leaves us:
Whoso is wise, let him understand these things, whoso is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the just do walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein.