Hosea – Chapter 4

A Rebellious Cow?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Hoshea told the Jews to listen to G-d because He has some issues with them. There is no truth, kindness or knowledge of G-d among them. There is only deceit, corruption, murder, theft and adultery. The people have no limits. The land will therefore be destroyed and all the creatures that live there will be reduced. The people warn the real prophets not to rebuke them, preferring the comforting words of false prophets. Therefore, they will stumble in daylight, from a lack of leadership. The false prophets will stumble by night, from their own misleading words. The nation will thereby be silenced – they will have no response to this turn of events.

The people were silenced because they had no one to lead them in the proper ways. They rejected knowledge, so G-d rejects them from serving Him. They overlooked His Torah, so He will overlook their children. (This is because, when the Jews accepted the Torah, they offered their children as a guarantee that it would be kept. Rashi cites this familiar Midrash, found in Tanchuma and elsewhere.) The better things got for them, the more the Jews rebelled, so G-d will trade their honor for shame.

The false prophets, rather than legitimate kohanim (priests), eat the sin offerings of the people; they actually hope for the people to sin so that they can profit! Both the people and their spiritual leaders will receive the same punishment: they will eat and not be satisfied. They will be promiscuous, but not procreate. This is because they have ignored G-d. They have gone astray and turned to idols of wood. Their daughters are promiscuous and their daughters-in-law commit adultery, but G-d will not punish them with the “bitter waters” (see Numbers 5), since the husbands are equally guilty. The nation refuses to get the message, so G-d will knock them around a bit.

Even though the northern kingdom of Israel “cheats on” G-d, the kingdom of Judah is not (yet) guilty. They should be careful to avoid places of idolatry and not to swear in G-d’s Name (which was often done falsely). Israel has acted like a rebellious cow, so now G-d is treating them like a sheep in a pasture. (The cow was fattened; the sheep has sparser food supplies.) Ephraim is too attached to their idols; they’re a lost cause. They have introduced drunken bacchanalia. The wind will carry them off like a bird, into exile, where they will be ashamed. (Ephraim is a common way of referring to the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes, whose first king was from the Tribe of Ephraim.)

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