Class 2 - Tour of the Land

Class 2 - Tour of the Land

Reading: Hosea 4; Hymn 183


Hosea presents a challenge for Bible students who like to put events in order and neatly put them in a box.  There are no nice little milestones given to say what year or month a prophecy happened.  Beyond the first verse, there are no indications to who was reigning.  There are no common markers like, “thus sayeth the Lord.” 

On top of that, Hosea was a master of metaphor and word plays, going from one to another.  This can make for difficult reading if you’re trying to get the overall flow of the argument.  It gives me the feeling of reading Proverbs.  The words are short staccato sayings meant to quickly impact and awake the hearer.

That being said, there are subtleties that give the feeling that this is a collection of Hosea’s prophecies over a long period.  Remember, according to the kings list, his ministry lasted for approximately 70 years.  Possibly the only key marker is in the various cities that he mentions.  I get the sense that Hosea was a travelling prophet.  He wandered from place to place seeing the wickedness of the children of Israel and he would prophecy on the spot.

Hosea on Tour

Let’s go with Hosea then and see some of the stops he made while touring around the land and what lessons there are to learn from them.

Location #1 – Gilgal and Bethaven

(Hosea 4:15)  "Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth."

Gilgal and Bethaven are two of the most mentioned cities.  They were centers of idolatrous worship.  Bethaven means “house of wickedness” and is closely associated or is actually the same as Bethel, the “house of God”.  Bethaven is so important that we will save that for our next talk.

Location #2 – Mizpah and Tabor

(Hosea 5:1)  "Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor."

Mizpah on the border of Israel and Judah means “watchtower” and was one of the places Samuel judged and where Saul was anointed king.  It was therefore an influential center of government at one time.  Tabor to the north in the valley of Jezreel means “broken” and was a significant military strategic point (Judges 4:6).  This may well be more a political part of the prophecy then a religious one as it is in verse eight.

Location #3 – Gibeah and Ramah

(Hosea 5:8)  "Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Bethaven, after thee, O Benjamin."

Why blow trumpets in Gibeah and Ramah?  In this case, it refers to the alert given to gather for war.  Ramah was where Samuel lived (1 Sam. 7:17) but it was also built up as a fortification by Baasha king of Israel (1 Kings 15:17).  This relying on building fortifications and trusting in their own strength is a key message in Hosea.  One of these passages is in 8:14,

(Hosea 8:14)  "For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples [palaces in modern translation]; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces [strongholds - ESV] thereof."

Gibeah was where Saul reigned from (1 Sam. 15:34; Isa. 10:29) but it also has the ignominious history at the end of the judges of being responsible for the acts that led to the civil war where Benjamin was nearly annihilated.  That lurid history at the end of judges showed the depravity of Israel at the time.  Their wickedness utterly devoured them.  Hosea sees no difference between his days and that of the days of Gibeah.  He mentions it again in 9:9,

"They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins."

And again in 10:9,

"O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them."

Another translation might be in order here.  The ESV is interesting.

“From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?”

You see here how the phrase “there thy stood” has the idea that their hearts had never really left that mindset at Gibeah of self and self-serving at all costs.  While the wicked may feel no effects of their sin, it is bound to catch up with the habitual sinner.  The paraphrase in the New Living Translation catches the sense,

“The LORD says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah, there has been only sin and more sin! You have made no progress whatsoever. Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?  {10} Now whenever it fits my plan, I will attack you, too.  I will call out the armies of the nations to punish you for your multiplied sins.”

Progress is what God is after.  He doesn’t expect us to be perfect but he doesn’t expect us to be standing still either.  Growth in the aspects of holiness and righteous living are what God wants.  Stagnation and stunted growth is only a failure.

Location #4 – Gilead and Shechem

The effects of their sin was unprecedented violence which was also reflective of Hosea’s next location in 6:8,

"Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood."

Gilead, over the Jordan, is a somewhat out of the way place to be prophesying against.  For Hosea, this more than likely refers to Pekah who with fifty Gileadites slew the king of Israel and reigned in his stead (2 Kings 15:25,29; ISBE Vol. 2 pg. 469).  It was a very bloody time.

"But Pekah the son of Remaliah, a captain of his, conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the palace of the king's house, with Argob and Arieh, and with him fifty men of the Gileadites: and he killed him, and reigned in his room."

Gilead which was known for its healing balm (Jer. 8:22; 46:11) ironically brought no healing in this case.  The judgment against the nation of Israel came in waves.  For Pekah and Gilead it came in 2 Kings 15:29,

"In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria."

Up to this point, the cities Hosea has spoken against have come in pairs.  The same is true in Hosea chapter 6 but the King James hides it by translating Shechem[1] as “consent”, for that is what it means.  This is how the ESV reads in 6:8-9,

“Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood.  As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy.”

Shechem is loaded with historical significance.  We’ll talk about this in fuller detail later but at this point it is interesting to note that Jeroboam the first king of Israel set up his seat of power in Shechem (1 Kings 12:25).  The capital would change in the reign of Omri who builds and establishes Samaria as the new capital of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 16:23-24).

Location #5 - Samaria

This is why we read of the kings, like Pekah, during Hosea’s time reigning from Samaria (2 Kings 15:25).  For this reason then many of Hosea’s prophecies are towards Samaria as in 7:1,

"When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria: for they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without." (also 8:5-6)

While Bethaven/Bethel is the religious center the city of Samaria is the political center.  Will look at these important places in more detail in the next class.

Second Tour

From then on Hosea goes around again to Gilgal, Samaria, Bethaven and Gilead.

(Hosea 9:15)  "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters."

(Hosea 10:5)  "The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it." (see also v. 7,8,15 in this chapter)

(Hosea 12:11)  "Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields."

(Hosea 13:16)  "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up."

A prophet to Israel, Judah or both?

All these places show us the significant scope of Hosea’s prophecy that was mainly to the northern tribes.  You can see him on the border towns though and including Judah in what he had to say.  In fact, what he says about Judah does change seemingly with the changes in the kingdom from good to bad and then to good kings again.[2]  A classic example is the juxtaposition between 11:12 and 12:2,

(Hosea 11:12)  "Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints."[3]

Then suddenly in the next chapter, God has a problem with Judah,

(Hosea 12:2)  "The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him."

As an aside, it is interesting that he never mentions Jerusalem.  It is also interesting that in the first verse that lists the kings there is only one mentioned from Israel when there were many during his time.  That’s curious if this prophecy is mainly for Israel.  Does it reflect the fact that after the house of Jehu the mess of kings that established themselves were not of God?

The rise and fall of Ephraim – Shiloh and Shechem

The brunt of Hosea’s message is to the northern tribes known as Israel but also referred to as Ephraim.  Typically, they are interchangeable terms but knowing the way Hosea likes name plays there may be more significance to it.  It is apparent that something is up by doing a word count compared to other books.

We see here that Hosea really stands out as using this name way more than others use, especially among the prophets.  Even more striking is to take a “hits per 1000 words” view and Hosea’s usage of the name Ephraim really stands out as unique. 

His contemporary Amos never uses it.  Why is this?  First, let’s establish why Ephraim, one of the ten tribes, comes to represent the whole.  After that, we will look at what Hosea is doing here.

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph born to him in the land of Egypt.  The names Joseph gives to his sons are packed with meaning.  We read about it in Genesis 41:50-52,

"And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him. {51} And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. {52} And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."

The meaning of Ephraim’s name is “fruitful” or “double fruit”.  This will become very important in our studies.  In addition we learn that he is the second born.  You may recall when Jacob came to bless Joseph’s sons he switched the order.  He did this deliberately as we read in Genesis 48 starting at verse 1,

"And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. {2} And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself [notice the significant name change from Jacob to Israel[4]], and sat upon the bed. {3} And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz [a.k.a. Bethel] in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, {4} And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful [root word of Ephraim], and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. {5} And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh [notice the order is all ready switched], which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine."

You know the story.  When Israel goes to bless the two boys he “guided his hands wittingly” putting his right hand on the head of Ephraim.  Joseph tries to correct his father but Israel assures Joseph that he knows what he is doing and he blesses Ephraim in verse 19-20,

"And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. {20} And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh."

Israel, under God’s guidance, prophesies of the prominence of Ephraim to come.  When it came time to enter the promised land by Joshua, an Ephraimite himself, they set the tabernacle up in Ephraim’s portion, in Shiloh, based upon Joshua 18:1.

"And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them."

Another place on the border of Manasseh and Ephraim, Shechem, would become the central place for important national decisions[5] as we read in Joshua 24:1,

"And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God."

A study of Judges shows how prominent Ephraim was among the nation.  But Ephraim’s failure to lead the nation spiritually would lead to all of Israel’s downfall.  Jeremiah would use their judgment as an example to Judah in Jeremiah 7:14-15,

"Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. {15} And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim."

This is also brought out in stark terms in Psalm 78 starting at verse 58,

(Psa 78:58-60)  "For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. {59} When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: {60} So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;"

(Psa 78:67-69)  "Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: {68} But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. {69} And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever."

This is why Ephraim is often put for the whole of Israel.  He had chosen Shiloh to place his name there.  At the beginning, that is where the people were to go worship.  However, it was a dismal failure and God “refused the tabernacle of Joseph” and moved the place of his sanctuary to Judah. 

The Significance of Israel vs. Ephraim

We can see now why this name Ephraim has such significance and why I think Hosea uses it in very subtle ways to bring home the lesson.  I will suggest to you that throughout the prophecy Israel is put in a good or better light then Ephraim because that is what they were still to attain, to be Israel, to have “power with their God” (Hos. 12:3).  By calling them Ephraim it is a dig into what they should have been.  Ephraim was supposed to be fruitful but Hosea in 9:16, in a dramatic name play, shows their true character.

"Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb."

Ephraim is always portrayed in a negative way in the book with one notable exception at the end.  In contrast, when Hosea uses the term Israel he gives it a more positive hopeful spiritual outlook even though in some cases Israel too is dragged down by the degradation of Ephraim.

Let’s look at some examples…

The first use of Ephraim is in 4:16-17,

(Hosea 4:15-17)  "Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth. {16} For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place. {17} Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone."

This is a great example for we see a parallel here between verse 16 and 17.  Israel and Ephraim are both sinning in departing from God but the reaction is different.  For Israel, in a sense, God says, “now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.”  Most modern translations but this as a question, like the ESV, “Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lord now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture?”  You notice the tenderness in the question in comparison to Ephraim’s “let him alone!”  This blunt statement seems to be actually quoted by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 15:13-14,

"But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. {14} Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

Notice here that the mention of pulling up plants is an allusion to the meaning of Ephraim.  The analogy is apt.  The tribe of Ephraim was to be a leader among the tribes but the Pharisees were like them in leading the people into a ditch.

Continuing in Hosea, we see another example in 5:3,

"I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled." (repeated in 6:10)

Can you see the subtle difference here in that Ephraim’s whoredoms defile Israel?  We see something similar in 7:1,

"When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria: ..."

How about this example in 12:13-14 and 13:1,

"And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved. {14} Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.  {1} When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died."

As interesting an exercise as this may be there is a point.  It helps to highlight the utter wonder of the last use of Ephraim.  It is in chapter 14:8.

"Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found."

In the first instance, Ephraim was joined to idols (4:17) and now he says, “what have I to do any more with idols?”  In another place, Ephraim is described as smitten, dried up and bearing no fruit (9:16) but here he is a green fir tree bearing fruit to the Lord.  It is a beautiful picture of the restoration of Israel.  No matter what God’s love for them will prevail.  How wonderful is that?


The problem then as it is now is a lack of leadership.  There was an allowance to let the great salvation of the Lord become commonplace, nothing of significance.  The expectations to high standards of holiness before the Lord began to wane.  There was a slow eroding of the zeal and knowledge that was needed to keep the communities light burning bright.  That was the problem then as it is now.  This is the great lesson throughout the history of Israel.  Do we think it will not affect us?  Having such a high and holy calling will we let it slip?  Where it began to go wrong for Ephraim is in Judges 2:7 & 10,

"And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel."

"And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel."

It was a terrible tragedy for that generation that “knew not the Lord.”  I’m sure they knew who God was but they didn’t really know God in the deeper more significant meaning.  What they knew had not sparked that fire inside of them to change their lives and seek after God more fully.  It was the same for the generation in Hosea 4:1,

(Hosea 4:1)  "Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land."

The indictment here is not so much against the people but against the priests who were to be the ones instructing in knowledge.  To get a real sense of what is being said here let’s read 4:4-9 from the NLT,

“Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame!  My complaint, you priests, is with you. {5} So you will stumble in broad daylight, and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.  And I will destroy Israel, your mother.  {6} My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me.  Since you priests refuse to know me, I refuse to recognize you as my priests.  Since you have forgotten the laws of your God, I will forget to bless your children. {7} The more priests there are, the more they sin against me. They have exchanged the glory of God for the shame of idols. {8} “When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed. So the priests are glad when the people sin! {9} ‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’ So now I will punish both priests and people for their wicked deeds.”

Knowledge is the key.  It is not just a simple intellectual knowledge but also a knowledge that has experienced the love of God.  It’s our ability to pass on that fire to other generations.  The dangers are as real for our ecclesias as they were for the Israelites of old.  We are, as Peter says, “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”  It was the role of the priest to “keep knowledge.”  Woe unto us if God would say of our ecclesias, “they are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

God’s calling is for us to be leaders, to be involved and seeking what is best for others.  I remember a long time ago having a conversation with a brother who was not attending regularly if at all.  So I asked him about it.  He said that he just didn’t need to go to meeting every Sunday.  He felt he was fine spiritually without it.  That may be true but as I pondered that response, I began to realize how he was completely self-absorbed.  Of course we all like to “get something” out of our meetings but it shouldn’t be our sole focus.  How does Paul put it in Philippians 2:4?

(NASB) “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

The priests during Hosea’s time were looking out only for themselves.  We are not to be priests like that.  Being a part of the ecclesia means being an ensample.  You can’t be an example if you are not there.  To be effective leaders, passing on knowledge, inspiring to higher ways we have to be a motivator.  An author named Alan Loy McGinnis studied the great leaders and authored a book called, “Bringing Out the Best in People”.  While it’s meant to be a leadership book it does have a Christian bent.  He boiled it down to twelve principles which I’d like to share with you.  Maybe while looking at these you can think of one or two verses which would fit the principle.

12 Rules for Bringing Out the Best in People

  1. Expect the best from people you lead – This has to do with the hope we should have for anybody.  Everybody has potential and drive we just have to tap into it.  If we have someone’s respect and they know our expectations, in most cases they will go to great lengths to live up to our expectations.  Isn’t this how God works with us?
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs – Real leaders know that if they listen long enough, people will explain how they can be motivated.
  3. Establish high standards for excellence – It’s true for companies, families and ecclesias, that the ones with well defined and enforced standards are the most successful.  As leaders we should have a dogged devotion to superior work.
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal – We all make mistakes and the best leaders realize that and encourage others in coping with failure and learning from mistakes.
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons – If someone has ideas and goals that are heading in the right direction we encourage them on that path.  People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be - not what you nag them to be.
  6. Employ models to encourage success – Stories of other people convince us because they appeal to our hearts rather than our heads.
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement – Everyone one of us is starving to be appreciated.  We should be thankful to everyone.
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement – We have to understand that fear is also sometimes a motivator
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge – Competition can be a good thing but we must know how to balance it.
  10. Place a premium on collaboration - People are drawn not so much to the leader but to the group feeling - the high-energy atmosphere. Good leaders set out to do far more than build allegiance to themselves, which is important, of course, but it is not enough. It is also necessary to build into the organization an allegiance to each other.
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms - There is no way to get away from troublesome personalities, and if we do not learn to handle them, we will be running from difficult situations all our lives.
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation high – Every leader is bound to run into criticism no matter who they are. We do need to find ways to motivate ourselves by being around other positive people, taking time for our learning and spiritual time.  Most great motivators have been a minority of one in certain situations. Anyone who looks carefully at the biographies of Jesus cannot help being impressed with the loneliness with which he conducted much of his ministry. People did not understand him, they could not stay loyal to him, and eventually they abandoned him. Yet he steadfastly set his face forward and achieved more than anyone who has ever graced the face of this earth.


Hosea spent many years travelling and seeing a broken land.  He knew Israel had so much potential but everywhere he turned they were given to violence and idolatry.  It must have been heart rending for him to see his ecclesia in such a state.  There was “no truth, nor mercy nor knowledge in the land.”  He must have felt lonely at times.  He must have felt beaten.  He must have felt like giving up but he never did.  Let’s be like that brothers and sisters, seeking to motivate and inspire the next generation towards the glory of God.


[1] All modern translations have Shechem.

[2] The good ones are in 1:7; 4:15; 11:12 while the bad ones are in 5:10-14; 6:4, 11; 8:14; 12:2.

[3] Some modern translation have a negative translation here.

[4] Israel will be used exclusively from verse 4 to the end of the chapter.

[5] The Israelites rebelled against Rehoboam at Shechem (1 Kings 12:1).  Jeroboam I built up Shechem and dwelt there (1 Kings 12:25).