Analyzing the metaphor “Ephraim is a cake not turned” in Hosea 7:8

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.

As is typical, Hosea uses much imagery in chapter 7 to convey his message. For example, in 7:8 Hosea depicts Ephraim (representative of Israel) as a cake that has been left in the oven unturned and, (implied) as a result, is burnt. In order to understand this rebuke, the interpreter does well to investigate this imagery and to try to determine its specific function and meaning in this verse.

עֻגָה is used seven times in the Hebrew Bible. In its six other occurrences (Gen 18:6; Ex 12:39; Num 11:8; 1 Kgs 17:13; 19:6; Ezek 4:12) עֻגָה is used in narrative (or in Ezek 4:12, instruction for a sign-act) to refer to actual bread-cakes. Hosea 7:8 is the only metaphorical use of עֻגָה. So, in terms of investigating the metaphorical use of עֻגָה, intertextuality is of no help here. However, some assistance comes from the immediate context. From 7:4 onward, Hosea has been using the image of a baker and his oven to represent Israel’s sin, specifically her adulterous practice (v.4) and the intrigue of conspirators (vv.6-7). It would seem that the עֻגָה imagery is related to this baking imagery. If so, those interpretations that satisfactorily handle this relationship should be given more weight. Then again, maybe this metaphor should be understood more so in terms of the following verses (see Dearman). McComiskey (108) states, “There is no contextual warrant for assuming that the oven motif extends to this section.” Either way, it’s worth noting that up until this point the baker has left the dough to itself until it leavens (related to adultery; v.4) and then slept as the oven’s fire increases (related to the conspirators’ intrigue; vv.6-7). Finally, Ephraim is said to be mixed (v.8; a cooking reference?), his strength eaten (v.9; related to the cake imagery?), and in the midst is the עֻגָה imagery (v.8). How is it to be understood? Garrett (170), who understands the sleeping baker to be the inattentive leaders susceptible to intrigue (symbolized by the increasing fire; v.6), argues that the unturned cake speaks of the leaders’ neglect of their duties, i.e., not turning their ‘cake.’ Maybe similarly (a shared implication of inactivity), Wolff (126) understands the metaphor as focusing on the result of an unturned cake—it will burn. But he sees the point of the metaphor as being to indicate Israel’s need to repent, not the leaders’ neglect. Dearman (206) understands the metaphor to refer to a “half-baked cake.” He interprets this metaphor in terms of its relation specifically to 7:8-16—international relations (not 7:3-7—internal intrigue). He concludes that the metaphor, depicting an inedible cake resulting from bad cooking, depicts Israel’s diplomatic situation. Likewise, Andersen and Freedman (466) state that this burnt cake represents Israel’s political folly. McComiskey states that the (implied) burned condition of this cake depicts Israel as “partially burned by its relations to Egypt and Assyria.”

In conclusion, although it seems necessary to relate this cake imagery to the baking imagery of 7:3-7, nonetheless, seeing a shift from internal to international affairs in v.8 (e.g., Ephraim is mixed with the nations, etc.), one should ultimately interpret אפרים היה עגה בלי הפוכה as referring to Israel’s international situation (the topic of 7:8-16). As such, Israel’s international condition is depicted here as a sorry state. Maybe one resulting from neglect (unturned; cf. the baker’s inactivity); but that is probably not the primary point here.