Hosea 4:15 (ESV) reads:

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
nor go up to Beth-aven,
and swear not, “As the LORD lives.”

What is the significance of Gilgal and Beth-aven in this verse? Were they places of false worship? And how is that connected to swearing by the name of Yahweh?

5 Answers 5


The NET Bible notes:

Beth Aven means “house of wickedness” in Hebrew; it is a polemic reference to “Bethel,” which means “house of God.” Cf. CEV “at sinful Bethel.”

Bethel was also a worship center established by Jeroboam for the people of the Northern Kingdom. Hosea seems to be referring to the same place where a golden calf was worshiped, sacrifices where made to idols, and ritual prostitution was practiced.

Wikipedia suggests several referents to Gilgal:

  1. The location on the east side of the Jordan where Israel encamped mentioned in Joshua.
  2. A stop on Samuel's annual circuit mentioned in Samuel.
  3. The home of prophets associated with Elijah and Elisha.

It also suggests the Hebrew word means circle of standing stones, but according to Strongs, it simply means wheel. I don't know what to make of the difference or even if there is a difference of opinion.

By the time of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the place (or at least place name) was clearly associated with sinfulness and especially illicit sacrifice. If altars were still being used at Gilgal after the temple was established in Jerusalem, then travelling there would represent the breaking of the covenant.

Both places are associated with idolatry and wickedness during the Divided Kingdom period. In the larger context of his prophetic work, Hosea illustrates Israel's separation from God by marrying a prostitute named Gomer who is unfaithful to him. The broken relationship also seems to symbolize the Northern Kingdom's separation from Judah, which is sometimes shown to be more faithful to God in the text (e.g., Hosea 11:12).

  • 1
    +1 After asking the question I read Calvin on it. Your answer agrees with his comments.
    – Kazark
    Commented May 22, 2012 at 22:51

Can't improve on Jon Ericson's splendid answer, but would like to make some comments on the parallel passage Amos 5:5:

Do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing. (NIV)

This page mentions much the same thing as what Jon is saying. Interestingly, Clarke's commentary mentions some play on letters and words. I heard a sermon on Amos 5:5 in church a long time ago, which if memory serves applied the passage to the life of the individual Christian something like this:

Gilgal and Bethel were both places where something good had happened to Israel in the past. But God says, do not seek them. Instead, in Amos 5:6, God says to seek Him instead. As human beings we often dwell on past victories that God gave us and get too focused on such things. But God says, seek Him now.


"House of wickedness" is not the only possibility for what Hosea means here. In both Joshua and Samuel, the name "Beth-aven" (בֵּית אָוֶן) is a place distinct from Bethel, but nearby it.

  • Joshua next sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven and east of Bethel (Joshua 7:2)

  • Saul chose three thousand of Israel, of whom two thousand remained with him in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel... They came up and encamped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.

In Hosea, Beth-haven is the place where one of the golden calves was located (the other was in the northern town of Dan). It is not completely certain that he was using "aven" pejoratively. The word "aven" often came to be associated with evil, but its origins seem to be related to "proper" or working in vain. According to Stong's, "aven" is:

From an unused root perhaps meaning properly, to pant (hence, to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught); strictly nothingness; also trouble. Vanity, wickedness; specifically an idol -- affliction, evil, false, idol, iniquity, mischief, mourners(-ing), naught, sorrow, unjust, unrighteous, vain, vanity, wicked(-ness)

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Regarding Gilgal, it was an important center of Israelite worship in earlier days. Joshua, with the assistance of the priests, established a memorial of twelve stones there (Joshua 4:20). It was one of the several sanctuaries visited yearly by Samuel (1 Samuel 7:16). Saul's kingship was to be confirmed there (1 Samuel 11:14). However, in Hosea's day, people were required to go to the altar of Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices. Hosea denounces Gilgal and its memorial stones in dramatic terms:

In Gilead is falsehood, they have come to nothing; in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls, But their altars are like heaps of stones in the furrows of the field. (Hosea 12:12)

Conclusion: Beth-aven was originally a distinct location from Bethel. However, Hosea clearly speaks of the "calf of Beth-aven," so he equates the two places. Beth-aven may have been absorbed into Bethel in Hosea's time. If Hosea was engaging in wordplay with aven, then either "vanity" or "iniquity/evil" would be his meaning. Gilgal and Bethel were both accepted sanctuaries of Israelite worship in earlier days but were no longer approved and had fallen into corruption and/or idolatry. Hosea denounces both of them an warns the Israelites not to "prostitute themselves" by worshiping there.


‘Swearing’ by the name of the Lord is disfavored for the very reason Hosea’s verse warns. It’s an obscene way to vouchsafe one’s credibility. It is taking God’s name in vain. The air of spirituality is particularly repulsive to the Almighty.

As for the loss of God’s favor, the reasons are made clear throughout Hosea. There’s always a reason. God’s favor is never arbitrary, is it? Nor is the loss of that favor. The idolatry of God’s people brought about God’s wrath. The sinner’s judgment is always well-deserved.

  • Welcome to the Hermeneutics forum, Rick. This forum is different from most others in that answers have to be supported by specific scriptures, word studies, comparisons of translations, and other evidence. Answers can't just be an opinion or based solely on logic. You might want to look at some highly rated answers as examples. Best wishes,
    – Dieter
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 1:16

It’s not that swearing by or making an oath to God is evil. What is sinful is making an oath to the Almighty and not keeping it, much like sacrifices. Psalm 51 is only half quoted by Christian opponents to the Law. In the latter half David says that once God cleanses his heart, he will offer sacrifices again in the Temple.

  • 1
    Welcome to the group. This is more of a comment than an "answer," but as a new user, you need more "reputation" before you can make comments, so I hope people don't downvote your answer. Please take the Tour and look at the help section (links at the bottom of the page) to under stand the system. Looking forward to more from you. Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 12:43

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