Israel, a hooker’s heaven
God takes Israel to court1Everyone in Israel,
Listen to what the LORD has to say.
The LORD is charging you with crimes:
You can’t be trusted.
You’re not loyal.
And you’re clueless about God.
2You lie, cheat, and murder.
You steal and commit adultery.
You commit crime after crime.
3You’re destroying the planet,
And killing everyone who lives here.
You’re driving wild animals to extinction,
With birds of the air and fish of the sea.
No excuses4Don’t try to defend yourselves
Or try to blame someone else.
You priests are to blame.
5You’ll stumble and fall one day.
Prophets will fall in the night.
I’ll wipe out you and your families,
6My people will die because they don’t know me.
They don’t know me because you reject me.
Well, now I reject you.
You’re not my priest anymore.
You ignored the laws I gave you.
So, I’ll ignore the children I gave you.
7The richer you priests got
The worse you became.
Once you were glorious.
Now you’re a shame.
8The more the people sin
The more sin offerings you eat.
So, it’s a fact:
Your greed feeds on their sin.
Priests sin, everyone suffers9What I do to the priests,
I’ll do to the people.
I’ll punish them all for what they’ve done.
I’ll pay them back what they deserve.
But they’ll never get enough.
They’ll have sex with shrine prostitutes,
But they won’t get the children they want.
It’s because they’ve been unfaithful to God.
11Prostitution and wine—
Both the new and the old—
Dull the thinking of my people.
12They’re so dull
They ask a piece of wood for advice.
They ask a divining rod,
to predict the future.
They took the path of prostitution
And it got them tragically lost.
They prostituted themselves
And walked away from God.
13They sacrifice on mountaintops.
They give offerings on the hills.
The do it under oaks, poplars, and terebinth trees
—locations picked for shade.
So, your women are unfaithful:
Your daughters are prostitutes,
Your daughters-in-law are adulterers.
14But I won’t punish your daughters for prostitution
Or your daughters-in-law for adultery.
Your men do those things literally.
They’ll have sex with hookers
And offer sacrifices with cult prostitutes.
These people don’t know any better.
And their ignorance is going to get them killed.
15Israel, just because you commit adultery,
That doesn’t mean you should let Judah do it, too.
Don’t go to Gilgal.
Don’t go to Beth-aven.
And don’t go around making promises,
Swearing you’ll do or not do something,
“As sure and the LORD lives.”
Israel, stubborn as a cow16Israel is stubborn as a young cow.
So, should God reward them
With the good pastures he gives his lambs?
17Ephraim’s tribe led Israel,
Hooking the people up with idols.
Well, let them do their thing.
18When they’ve had their fill of wine,
They’ll take their fill of sex.
And they’ll do it with prostitutes.
Rulers pick orgies over glory.
19A wind will pick them up
And blow them away.
But their sacrifices on pagan altars
Will live on as a legacy of shame.
The phrase is more literally, “The more you increased.” That could mean they got richer or they grew in the number of priests. Take your pick. Scholars do. This era was Israel’s golden age because many top citizens, such as priests, had become rich. And some Jews taught that wealth was a sign of God’s approval. So the rich but sinful priests might have figured their sinning was okay with God. Hosea came to correct that.
This is a presumption based on the literal phrasing in Hebrew: “You feed on the sin of my people.” One way priests might do that is by eating their share of sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 7:28-38). The more the people sinned, the more sacrifices they had to bring to the place of worship. Even today, churches often take in more money during times of crisis. That’s because church attendance increases.
More literally and cryptically, “They’ll prostitute but not multiply.” What does that mean? People in some regional religions, such as Baal worship, would have sex with a priest/prostitute as a prayer. It might have been a request for more children or for a good harvest. If the sex entertained the god, the god might grant the request. This was a tempting religion not only because it seemed to work for many farmers, but because it could sound exciting and fun—for some reason, especially for guys. Ladies, on the other hand, might have worried what their husbands would do if their first-born sons looked more like Father Thaddeus than Daddy.
God’s law says their place of sacrifice was chosen for its sanctity, not its shade. God chose one place alone for Jews to come together and worship him with sacrifices and prayer (Deuteronomy 12:5). It was the Jerusalem Temple that King Solomon drafted artisans to build. Northern rulers of Israel didn’t want their people returning to Jerusalem to worship. They feared reunification under one king from David’s descendants. And it wouldn’t be them. So, they built shrines at Bethel and Gilgal (Amos 5:5). The people apparently built many other shrines, too, to various gods.
This may be only a metaphor, comparing unfaithfulness to God with prostitution. Some scholars say there doesn’t seem to be evidence of women getting involved in the ritual sex. Some speculate otherwise, and say this verse might refer to practices such as a bride’s father-in-law deflowering her at a shrine, in what might amount to a prayer for lots of children. The sex—like fasting for many Christians—is a way to express deep concern. However, some scholars say if the northern Jews of Israel had been doing that, at least one of the southern prophets would have called them on it.
Beth-aven was a sarcastic, slap in the face nickname for Bethel. A little like Filthadelphia for Philadelphia or Liverpuddle for Liverpool. “Bethel” translates as beth = house, and el = god. House of God. “Beth-aven” is the opposite of the joy that comes with having God in the house. It means House of Trouble. Bethel was the main worship center in Israel (1 Kings 12:28-30).
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