The syntactical function of “for” (כִּֽי) in Hosea 9:6

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.

In Hosea 9:6 Hosea states, כִּֽי־הִנֵּ֤ה הָֽלְכוּ֙ מִשֹּׁ֔ד. One’s understanding of the syntactical function of כִּֽי directly affects one’s understanding of the following two phrases—מִצְרַ֥יִם תְּקַבְּצֵ֖ם and מֹ֣ף תְּקַבְּרֵ֑ם—(and vice versa) and consequently one’s understanding of this entire half-verse. Therefore, one does well to investigate this matter—the syntactical function of כִּֽי in Hosea 9:6.

A significant factor involved in this exegetical issue is the syntactical function of the מִן preposition in מִשֹּׁ֔ד. Many translations suggest (1) an ablative function, i.e., away from destruction (ASV; ESV; HCSB; NET; NIV). But others suggest (2) a causal function, i.e., because of destruction (YLT; KJV; NASB). The potential differences in meaning are escaping (ablative) destruction, fleeing on account of (causal) destruction, or going [into exile] because of (causal) destruction, i.e., God’s judgment. With the ablative use, כִּי could have a concessive, conditional, of temporal function. Or similarly, כִּי would function asseveratively while הִנֵּה would carry the conditional function; cf. 1 Sam 9:7 (Stuart, 140). In this case (view #1), despite escaping destruction (temporarily), they will nonetheless experience destruction in captivity (מִצְרַ֥יִם תְּקַבְּצֵ֖ם מֹ֣ף תְּקַבְּרֵ֑ם), i.e., even if you escape destruction, it will get you eventually. However, with an ablative use of מִן, הָֽלְכוּ֙ מִשֹּׁ֔ד could be understood as somewhat coterminous with מִצְרַ֥יִם תְּקַבְּצֵ֖ם, i.e., (view #2a) they will escape destruction by going to Egypt. In this case, כִּי would have something like a causal use. As McComiskey states, “כִּי (for) gives the reason for the statement couched in the terms of the rhetorical question in verse 5 by connoting proximate causation” (141). Likewise, with a causal use of מִן, this verse would mean something quite similar, i.e., (view #2b) they flee because of destruction and are gathered by Egypt, their refuge from destruction. Again, in this case, כִּי would function causally. But finally, with a causal use of מִן, this verse could be understood as referring to exile (view #2c), i.e., they go [into exile]; in other words, they are “gathered” by Egypt. Garrett argues for view #2a. He states that “the particle הִנֵּה points to reality and virtually excludes a concessive meaning” (196). In support, he notes several other uses of כִּי הִנֵּה which mean “for behold” (Judg 13:15; Isa 3:1; 26:21; 60:2; 65:17–18; 66:15; Jer 1:15; 8:17; 25:29; 30:3, 10; 34:7; 45:5; 46:27; 49:15; 50:9; Joel 4:1 (Eng. 3:1); Amos 4:2).

In conclusion, view #2 (i.e., a causal use of כִּי) is found to be the most satisfactory. As Garrett notes, when used with הִנֵּה כִּי quite often means “for.” And as McComiskey notes, this view best explains the relationship between vv.5 and 6. However, this paper has not examined how best to understand the meaning of v.6, view #2a, b, or c.