Judgment to Come on Israel and Judah (Hosea 5) March 3
As mentioned earlier, from this point on in the prophecy, the tribe of Ephraim gets special mention. It is Ephraim that receives the greatest condemnation. The Bethel altar was in Ephraim, which meant that it played a leading role in influencing the whole nation. And, being the leading tribe of Israel, Ephraim "is used here to represent the entire northern kingdom" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 4:17-19).
The reference to "snare" and "net" in verse 1 is to tools for trapping prey. "The figure is that of people being hurt, as if hunted and trapped, by the religious and civil leaders of the day" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 1). Mount Tabor was in the northern part of the northern kingdom while Mizpah was in the extreme south, just north of Jerusalem. "From top to bottom, from north to south, seemingly on every hill in the land, idolatrous traps were set to ensnare the Israelites in sin" ("Gotcha!," Word in Life Bible, 1998, sidebar on 5:1).
Israel is pictured wallowing in spiritual harlotry (verses 3-4). Hosea says, "They do not know the Lord" (verse 4). As we later learn from the apostle John: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3-4). Israel, refusing to obey God, does not know Him. The people "seek" the Lord, wanting the benefits of His blessings (verse 6), but they aren't prepared to follow His ways (verse 7). They have even corrupted their children (verse 7)."The 'illegitimate' children [as the NIV renders it, 'pagan' in the NKJV] are literally 'strange' (zar). Their parents' sins have twisted them as well. Never suppose that our sins have no impact on our children. They do!" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 7).
Hosea then turns his attention to Judah. Gibeah and Ramah (verse 8) were strategically important cities of the tribe of Benjamin on the northern border of Judah (Benjamin was a part of the kingdom of Judah). Beth Aven apparently being a reference to Bethel through a play on words—common in the Hebrew Bible—the warning is even more important since Bethel was on the southern border of Israel, close to the Benjamite cities. "Thus Benjamin faced a dual challenge: to resist the corrupting spiritual influence of the North, and to prepare to resist the Assyrians who would soon invade Israel" (note on verse 8). Yet Judah's leaders are also shown to be behaving badly. Hosea likened them to someone who moves the boundary lines of property, intent on stealing (verse 10). Therefore, God pronounces judgment on both nations (verses 10-12). End-time Judah, the Jews of today, have likewise followed the modern descendants of ancient Israel in many sins.
We next see Israel and Judah looking to Assyria for help. While Hosea preached, Israel began paying tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19-20) and Ahaz of Judah sought assistance from Assyria (16:5-9). The reference to King Jareb (verse 13) is uncertain. There is no historical Assyrian reference to such a king, but the word jareb meant "warrior," "fighter," or "he will contend." Some translate "King Jareb" as simply "the great king." Most commentators believe this to be a reference to Tiglath-Pileser III. Yet, as the prophecy is likely also, or even primarily, for the last days, the reference would seem to apply first to the end-time Assyrian ruler, apparently the coming European dictator referred to in the book of Revelation as "the beast."
Verses 14-15, while perhaps having some application to the ancient Assyrian invasion, refer mainly to the coming Great Tribulation, as Hosea 6:1-3 makes clearer. (We will examine this further in our next reading, which includes these verses.) In fact, it appears that Israel and Judah are shown here being devastated at the same time (5:14). This did not happen in ancient times, but it is going to happen in the future. The chapter ends with God going away until His punishment has its intended effect of bringing Israel and Judah to repentance.