Warnings for Israel and Judah!
God seeks to stop sin so its contagious nature will not infect Judah as it has Israel.
Israel, if you act promiscuously, don’t let Judah become guilty! Do not go to Gilgal or make a pilgrimage to Beth-aven, and do not swear an oath: As the Lord lives!
Hosea 4:15 (HCSB)
Hosea prays that his own people in the nation of Judah will not follow the example of their northern kinsmen. Surely, God will have a remnant of his people who will be faithful and not fall into the Canaanite trap.
Gilgal was Israel’s first place of worship after Joshua brought the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land (Josh. 5:9-10). But it was no longer a place holy to the Lord.
Neither was Bethel, sarcastically spelled Beth Aven (“house of disaster or of injustice”), in spite of its many connections with the patriarchs (Gen. 28:19). These were not the places God had chosen for His people to worship.
Similarly, the oath formula as surely as the LORD lives! had long served Israel in its worship of God and its promise to keep its word (1 Kings 22:14). But such an oath by people who no longer served the living God was a sin, breaking the third commandment (Jer. 5:2)
For Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn cow. Can the Lord now shepherd them like a lamb in an open meadow?
Hosea 4:16 (HCSB)
God turns to a pastoral metaphor and a rhetorical question to get his point across. God wants to be the shepherd of His sheep (Ps. 23) and let then act like docile young lambs. But Israel is a stubborn heifer. Israel is throwing a stubborn fit of rebellion just like a young cow that does not want to obey its master. A stubborn and rebellious son deserved the death sentence (Deut 21:18-21); did a stubborn nation deserve any less?
Ephraim is attached to idols; leave him alone!
The word Ephraim was often used to signify the entire Northern Kingdom. They had joined or allied themselves with idols or false gods. They were supposed to be allies of God, members of His covenant community. Instead, they had forsaken their commitment to the Lord’s covenant to make a treaty with false gods. God has one command about His stubborn people. Let them rest in peace. Don’t touch them.
How can He say this in face of such sin?
The sentence has already been announced. Israel faces destruction.
When their drinking is over, they turn to promiscuity. Israel’s leaders fervently love disgrace.
Hosea 4:18 (HCSB)
What does Israel dearly love?
Two passions consume them – drink (Hos. 4:11) and prostitution within the fertility cult (Hos. 4:12-14). Either one alone would be enough to bring the death penalty to the nation. Combined, these sinful crimes assure God’s judgment.
A wind with its wings will carry them off, and they will be ashamed of their sacrifices.
Hosea 4:19 (HCSB)
Verse 19 introduces a new figure of speech – being wrapped in the wings of a bird (NIV sweep them away). The image has Hebrew ruach as its subject, so that it may be translated as wind, breath, spirit, or Spirit. This sounds like a positive event. Surely, God will conclude His word to Israel with a positive promise as He often does.
But the spirit here is the same as that in Hosea 4:12. Israel is flying high in the spirit of adultery. Their sacrifices do not have the expected result. The land does not become fertile. The needed rains do not pour down. Abundant crops never appear. All Israel reaps is shame. The threat of Hosea 4:3 becomes reality. God’s people must serve the sentence He has pronounced because of their sin and guilt.
Holman Old Testament Commentary