Just to remind you, as in chapter 4 aimed at priests, this rant is still targeting the elite, the house of Israel, and the current monarchs who took power through assassination in Jezreel and throwing widowed Jezebel from the tower. This is not kicking the poor when they are down, but at those who let it happen.
The imagery is of the people of Israel as game, fleeing hunters. The elite of Israel are not the hunters, but tools for foreign killers. Israel’s leaders are snares, nets, pits used by the invaders to trap, capture and kill.
Ephraim, the big hill country tribe and northern region, traced to Joseph’s son, is singled out as a worst case, but the accusation stretches to all of Israel, and even to the south and Judah. The diction of whoredom does not refer to sex, but to loyalty or selfish seeking of ‘what’s in it for me’? Imagine such short-centred, narcissistic greed – it should be easy in our culture!
Hosea says that Ephraim will soon seek a reunion with Yahweh, but be denied. Nor can they rely upon their bastard children, who have learned the values they were shown in practice. The warnings repeat the slander of ‘Beth-El’, house of God, renamed by Hosea ‘Beth-Aven’, house of deceit. The threats ring Ephraim in Gibeah, northeast, and Ramah where Rachel died, and Benjamin, southwest of Ephraim and patrimony of Jacob’s youngest beloved child.
Ephraim’s warning is clear – the extension to Judah seems a bit of shift in the structure, perhaps due to later addition. The specific accusation in the south is likened to people who move a landmark. In Ontario, that would be moving a surveyor’s mark, or a fence, to encroach on a neighbour’s property. Judah, the affluent region, has abused its market power to cheat.
Ephraim, wounded, seeks help from Assyria, in futility, the patron dismissing the greedy supplicant client state. God acts like maggots in a wound, or rot in a house – not the source of the harm, but a consequence of it. An open wound can be cleaned by maggots in ancient medicine, and rot eats away the wet wood of a house.
The final image is of a pride of lions, tearing pieces from a carcass, and stalking away to gnaw at a choice limb at a distance, while the vultures feast on the remaining carrion. The threat is of exile before restoration of any remnant, and not a sanctuary for even the remnant, but a harrowing time.
Hosea Chapter 5
1 Hear this, O priests! Give heed, O house of Israel! Listen, O house of the king! For the judgement pertains to you; for you have been a snare at Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor,
2 and a pit dug deep in Shittim;* but I will punish all of them.
3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore; Israel is defiled.
4 Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know the LORD.
5 Israel’s pride testifies against him; Ephraim* stumbles in his guilt; Judah also stumbles with them.
6 With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the LORD, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them.
7 They have dealt faithlessly with the LORD; for they have borne illegitimate children. Now the new moon shall devour them along with their fields.
8 Blow the horn in Gibeah, the trumpet in Ramah. Sound the alarm at Beth-aven; look behind you, Benjamin!
9 Ephraim shall become a desolation on the day of punishment; among the tribes of Israel I declare what is sure.
10 The princes of Judah have become like those who remove the landmark; on them I will pour out my wrath like water.
11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgement, because he was determined to go after vanity.*
12 Therefore I am like maggots to Ephraim, and like rottenness to the house of Judah.
13 When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king.* But he is not able to cure you or heal your wound.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I myself will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.
15 I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their distress they will beg my favour: