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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 12

 

 

Verse 1

‘Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind, he continually multiplies lies and desolation, and they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt.’

To feed on wind is to feed on what is insubstantial. The idea is that Ephraim, instead of feeding on the Law of God, had rather chosen to follow lies. To pursue the east wind is to pursue the scorching desert wind which sweeps in from the east, a symbol of judgment and desolation. Before the east wind nothing lives, who then with any modicum of intelligence would pursue it? The indication therefore is that, without realising it, Ephraim were foolishly pursuing the course that would lead to desolation.

And they did both in no half measure. They ‘multiplied’ lies and desolation (the idea of multiplying was a favourite of Hosea’s - see Hosea 4:7; Hosea 8:11; Hosea 8:14; Hosea 10:1; Hosea 10:13). The lies included all the religious deceit whereby they pretended to be worshipping YHWH but were in fact worshipping Baal and Asherah. One way in which this attitude of heart came out lay in the fact that they had first made a covenant with Assyria (2 Kings 17:3). This had only been necessary because they had forsaken YHWH and had followed their false gods. But it had been compounded by the fact that they had then broken their treaty by carrying olive oil to Egypt (2 Kings 17:4).

The thought in the latter was not that they were trading with Egypt, for that would have been permissible, but that they were taking presents to the king of Egypt in order to obtain his backing in a rebellion against Assyria. They were thus doubly treacherous. Had they looked to YHWH there would have been no need for a vassal treaty with Assyria, as Isaiah would point out to Ahaz in Judah (Isaiah 7:1-11). Thus by looking to Assyria they were openly rejecting YHWH. But once having made a sacred treaty with Assyria, to deceitfully go behind their backs and seek assistance from Egypt (see 2 Kings 17:4) was to indulge in double treachery and deceit, and was to court desolation. It was a double rejection of YHWH, for it indicated that in seeking deliverance from Assyria (something that the Deliverer from Egypt was good at if only they would realise it), they instead sought help from Egypt. It was a double whammy.


Verses 1-7

YHWH Makes A Further Appeal To Ephraim And Judah On The Basis Of What Their Ancestor Jacob Did (Hosea 12:1-7).

Having first stressed Ephraim’s total folly and unacceptable deceitfulness, and the fact that they will be punished if they do not mend their ways, Hosea calls on them to remember their ancestor Jacob and the vigour that he showed in his dealings with God, and how he three times thereby prevailed with God, firstly when he seized Esau by the heel (Genesis 25:26), later obtaining for himself Esau’s birthright (Genesis 25:33-34) and blessing (Genesis 27:27-29; Genesis 27:36), secondly when he met God at Penuel and prevailed with Him by means of God-given power (Genesis 32:22-32), and thirdly when, having returned to the land, he and the people met God at Bethel and were restored to Him, receiving the confirmation of the promises given to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 35:1-15). Indeed what Jacob and the people did at Bethel was precisely what Hosea was calling on Israel to do, put away their strange gods and worship YHWH only.

On the basis of this he calls both Judah and Israel to repentance, calling them to return to God, renew their covenant love, and establish justice, although closing by recognising that Ephraim, instead of following Jacob’s zeal for God, rather followed less desirable traits in Jacob’s character, his deceit and wily trafficking.Analysis of Hosea 12:1-7.

a Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind, he continually multiplies lies and desolation, and they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt (Hosea 12:1).

b YHWH has also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob in accordance with his ways, according to his doings will he recompense him (Hosea 12:2).’

c In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he had power with God, yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed. He wept, and made supplication to him. He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name (Hosea 12:3-5).

b Therefore turn you to your God, maintain covenant love and justice, and wait for your God continually (Hosea 12:6).

a He is a trafficker, the balances of deceit are in his hand, he loves to oppress (Hosea 12:7).

Note that in ‘a’ Ephraim is a deceiver, and having made a covenant with Assyria trades with Egypt, and in the parallel he is a deceitful trader. In ‘b’ YHWH has a controversy with Judah, but it is Jacob who will be punished for their deeds, and in the parallel God calls on both rather to respond to Him, to maintain covenant love and justice, and wait continually for Him in trust, prayer and obedience. Central in ‘c’ is the example given of Jacob who prevailed with God.


Verses 1-9

AN APPEAL IS MADE TO JACOB’S EXAMPLE WHICH SIMPLY SERVES TO REVEAL ISRAEL’S PARLOUS STATE AND GUARANTEES THE COMING JUDGMENT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE EXILE BUT IT IS WITH THE PROMISE OF FINAL RESTORATION AND FRUITFULNESS IN VIEW (Hosea 12:1 to Hosea 14:9).

These words were probably mainly spoken during the latter part of the reign of Hoshea, with the destruction of Samaria threatening on the horizon. After a further appeal for repentance Israel is seen to be finally doomed, with any hope that they have lying far in the future because of their unrepentant hearts.


Verse 2

‘YHWH has also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob in accordance with his ways, according to his doings will he recompense him.’

But as ever Hosea also remembers the visits by men of Judah to the Israelite feasts and therefore brings Judah into the sphere of his prophecies. YHWH also had a controversy with Judah. This prophecy was spoken while Ahaz was reigning in Judah, and also busy in rejecting YHWH. And they too were multiplying altars to themselves in hillside sanctuaries. Thus comes the prophetic warning that Judah will not escape YHWH’s surveillance. He knows the way that they take. But it is Jacob/Israel who at this stage will bear the brunt of YHWH’s displeasure. They will be punished in accordance with their ways, and paid back according to their doings. For it is their ways and doings that reveal what is in their hearts. By their fruits they are known.

Compare Hosea 10:11 for a parallel mention together of ‘Ephraim - Judah - Jacob’. It is typical of Hosea.


Verses 3-5

‘In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he had power with God, yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed. He wept, and made supplication to him. He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name.’

But it need not be so. Let them consider Jacob their ancestor. In the womb he seized Esau by the heel (and subsequently, sadly by deceit and treachery, stole his birthright and blessing), but once he reached manhood, (having to some extent been chastised for his deceit and treachery), he met with God and ‘had power with God’. This resulted in a true repentance which resulted in God finding him at Bethel where YHWH renewed His covenant with him and revealed Himself in all the fullness of His being (by His ‘memorial Name’). And as Hosea 12:6 points out, the same could be true for Ephraim/Israel now.

Note the description of YHWH as ‘the God of hosts’. He was the God of the hosts of Heaven, the God who controlled all earthly hosts, and the God Who had in the past given victory to the hosts of Israel. Thus He was the ideal One to have on your side.

So Hosea highlights three important incidents in the life of Jacob, and applies them to Israel:

· The first was when, whilst still in the womb, Jacob took his brother by the heel, the symbol of his replacing him in the line of blessing, something which sadly he achieved by deceit and treachery. It was the same attitude of heart that Israel were pursuing, except that Israel were doing it by following after idols and after earthly kings. They were eating wind and pursuing the east wind. But what they should have done was be like Jacob, eager after God and His blessing (without using Jacob’s methods of obtaining the blessing).

Hosea shows no suggestion of rebuking Jacob, and does not mention his deceit. Thus the point is that Jacob was so determined to have God’s blessing that he sought it forcefully right from the womb, with the implication that Ephraim/Israel/Jacob should do the same.

· The second was when, on preparing to return to the land of God’s promises, Jacob met with God at Penuel. And once again he had shown the same determination to obtain God’s blessing, for he had powerfully wrestled with the angel of God and had prevailed. The introduction of ‘the angel’, an idea not found in the Genesis account, may simply be with the intent of bringing out that, in Hosea’s view, such wrestling had to be with the angel of YHWH, a manifestation of YHWH, and not with YHWH Himself as He was in Himself (the Angel of YHWH is well evidenced elsewhere in Genesis). And it may well be that the idea had already become traditional in Israel in relation to Jacob. The implication is that Ephraim should do the same. They too should seek God and ‘wrestle’ with Him in repentance and supplication.

‘He wept, and made supplication to him.’ Hosea may have intended us to see that this happened at Penuel, in which case the weeping was a thought added by him in order to be more descriptive, probably because he wanted Ephraim to see the necessity for tearful repentance, or it may be that he intended us to see this as occurring subsequently to Penuel, as a precursor to the third incident which follows. Either way he is clearly desirous of emphasising the need for Ephraim to mourn over their sin and earnestly seeking YHWH.

· The third incident occurred after Jacob had entered the land. ‘He found him at Beth-el, and there he spoke with us, even YHWH, the God of hosts. YHWH is his memorial name.’ The first ‘he’ could be referring to God as subject, or it could be referring to Jacob. In view of the purpose of the illustration (to stress Jacob’s taking of the initiative) the latter is probably the case. On the other hand in Genesis 25 it was very much God Who took the initiative. But either way the important fact was that at Bethel God had spoken to ‘us’ (incipient Israel) and had revealed Himself as YHWH the God of Hosts, with an emphasis on YHWH (He will be) as a significant title indicating Him as the One Who will be whatever He wants to be, the One Who has all power to accomplish what He wishes. And in the same context what God wanted was that Jacob’s descendants would inherit the land, the very thing that Israel was now about to forfeit. It was a final appeal to current Israel to put away their false gods (especially the golden calf at Bethel) and seek YHWH in all the fullness of His Being. Then and then only could they find hope.

So the illustrations from the life of Jacob were positive (compare Hosea 2:14-20; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4), and were a calling to a full and deep repentance, which Hosea now spells out specifically. Some try to interpret Jacob’s three experiences in a negative way, but that is only made possible by ignoring what Hosea emphasises and considering things in the background which he does not emphasise.


Verse 6

‘Therefore turn you to your God, maintain covenant love and justice, and wait for your God continually.’

He calls on Israel to turn themselves to their God in repentance and submission (compare Paul’s to the Thessalonians, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ - 1 Thessalonians 1:9), following this up by maintaining covenant love and justice, and waiting on God continually. Even at this last moment they were being given the opportunity to repent. But it had to be a deep seated repentance that went right to the heart and resulted in true worship in accordance with the Law, and deep-seated justice, not the shallow kind of ritual in which they were indulging. It required a full and loving response to the covenant, revealing a true and demonstrative love towards YHWH and towards their fellow covenanters.

Furthermore it also indicated that even if they did not respond now there would always be a way back in the future for the remnant who remained. God was leaving a permanent way open for them whenever they would repent. It was an offer that would later be taken up by the followers of Jesus and by those who came after them.


Verse 7

‘A trafficker (a Canaanite), the balances of deceit are in his hand, he loves to oppress.’

But Hosea had no illusions about what Israel really were at that time, and he adds the terse comment above, which was a reminder to them of the sins that they must deal with. It indicated that they were unscrupulous dealers, carrying and using false weights, and filled with oppression. They got their way by deceit and bullying, rather than by covenant love (which is totally true and honest) and justice. The stark contrast between Hosea 12:6 and Hosea 12:7 is deliberate. He wants them to be in no doubt concerning the truth about themselves (compare Isaiah’s ‘we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy (menstrual, and therefore totally ‘unclean’ and abhorrent) rags’ - Isaiah 64:6).

There is a double entendre here for the word for ‘trafficker’ also means ‘Canaan’ or ‘Canaanite’. They were not only dishonest traffickers but had also proved themselves to be perverted Canaanites at heart, that is, to have Canaan in their hearts.


Verse 8

‘And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself, in all my labours they will find in me no iniquity that was sin.”

In total contrast with Hosea’s accusation in Hosea 12:7 we have Ephraim’s opinion of themselves, describing themselves as totally honest traders who cannot be faulted, and who have mainly done it on their own (‘I have found wealth for myself’). They considered that although they had become rich there was no one who could question their methods (no doubt they argued ‘its business’ and saw themselves as hard-headed businessmen). Anyone who wanted could examine their way of working and would find nothing at all to criticise in it. And it was mainly due to their own efforts with a little help from God. Indeed that was surely why they had been blessed with prosperity, was it not? This was a clear indication that they did not agree with Hosea’s verdict on them. Rather they were very pleased with themselves. Thus they did not see themselves as needing to repent.


Verses 8-14

Having Made His Appeal For Repentance Hosea Now Indicates That Ephraim Are So Confident In Themselves That Their Only Hope Will Be After They Have Been ‘Brought Down A Peg Or Two’ (Hosea 12:8-14).

This passage opens with Ephraim’s boast about their own righteousness. The whole attitude is in contrast with Hosea 12:7. There they were depicted as traders who were dishonest and shady in their behaviour. Here Ephraim boast about their absolute honesty. They are confident that no fault can be found in them. YHWH therefore emphasises that because they are altogether false (Hosea 12:11) He will bring them out of their rich houses into tents, as in wilderness days (Hosea 12:9), and will force them to go into a foreign country where they will have to engage in basic labour for what they want, acting as servants to others (Hosea 12:12). However, YHWH stresses alongside this that He will finally bring about their restoration through the work of His prophets.

Analysis of Hosea 12:8-14.

a And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself, in all my labours they will find in me no iniquity that was sin” (Hosea 12:8).

b But I am YHWH your God from the land of Egypt, I will yet again make you to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast. I have also spoken to the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the ministry of the prophets have I used illustrations (Hosea 12:9-10).

c Is Gilead wicked? They are altogether false. In Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks, yes, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field’ (Hosea 12:11).

b And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep, and by a prophet YHWH brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved (Hosea 12:13).

a Ephraim has provoked to anger most bitterly, therefore will his blood be left on him, and his reproach will his Lord return to him (Hosea 12:14).

Note that in ‘a’ we have Ephraim’s view of themselves, and in the parallel we have Hosea’s view of them. In ‘b’ their downward descent is described followed by prophetic activity, and in the parallel we have a similar situation. Central in ‘c’ is YHWH’s view of Israel in terms of the falsity of Gilead on the east side of Jordan and the falsity of Gilgal and its multiplied altars on the west side of Jordan.


Verse 9

‘But I am YHWH your God from the land of Egypt, I will yet again make you to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast.’

In reply YHWH reminded them of Who He was. He was not a comfortable Canaanite god. He was a wandering God and a tent-dweller (compare 2 Samuel 7:6). He was YHWH their God from the land of Egypt, the One Who had accompanied them there and had been with them there in their distress, Who had delivered them through the Red Sea and accompanied them through the wilderness where they had dwelt in tents, as He also had. This was something that they remembered yearly at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) when they celebrated the end of the harvest season and remembered their delivery from Egypt. It had been prior to their entering the land, and building for themselves grand houses. Now His warning was that He would ‘yet again make you to dwell in tents’ (outside the land is assumed). It was an indication that they would shortly be taken back into wilderness days by being taken into exile where they would have to live in crude accommodation.

‘As in the days of the solemn feast.’ There may have been a double meaning here, referring on the one hand to their solemn feasts at Sinai, continuing on in the Tabernacle once it had been erected, and on the other to the regular feast of Tabernacles when they dwelt in booths (or if that was not being observed in that way at some other such feast. For when huge numbers gathered at small cities living in tents would be essential.).


Verse 10

‘I have also spoken to the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and by the ministry of the prophets have I used illustrations.’

He reminded them also that their situation did not arise out of the fact that He had failed to warn them previously. He had spoken to their prophets, He had multiplied visions to them, and He had spoken in many illustrations and parables. Thus they had no excuse for their failure to listen. They had brought what was coming on themselves. Note how this is partly His verdict on Hosea 12:8, something which will be exemplified in Hosea 12:11. His implied question was, ‘How could they then possibly have been so blind?


Verse 11

‘Is Gilead wicked?

They are altogether false.

In Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks,

Yes, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field.’

His indictment of Israel continues. Is Gilead (representing the east of Jordan) wicked? The answer is ‘yes, they are altogether false’. In Hosea 6:8 Gilead is seen as tainted with blood. Furthermore in Gilgal (compare Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15), representing Israel west of Jordan, they sacrifice bullocks on a multiplicity of altars. Indeed their altars are as numerous as piles of stones in the furrows of the field. Each field would be divided up between owners of various strips, and each owner would pile up loose stones in small piles when clearing his land. Thus a field would be dotted with a multitude of small piles. In the same way Gilgal was dotted with a multitude of altars.

There is a double emphasis on assonance. Gilead and Gilgal, which themselves assonate, both contain consonants also found in galal (heaps). This was probably one reason, along with their association with great evil (Hosea 6:8; Hosea 9:15), why they were selected as representative of rebellious Israel.


Verse 12

‘And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.’

He reminds them that just as Israel had gone into Egypt, and had been delivered by redemption so as to be YHWH’s wife, so had Jacob fled to the countryside of Aram and had made a marriage payment for his wife. There, outside the promised land, he had had to work as a servant tending sheep in order to make this marriage payment for his wife, whom of course he would bring back with him to the promised land. Thus he was typical of the fact that Israel would now flee from the land (either to Egypt for refuge, or to Assyria in exile) where they would be subjected to hard living until YHWH again redeemed them to be His wife (Hosea 3:1-5) and brought them back to the land. The idea of ‘shepherding’ is then paralleled in the next verse.


Verse 13

‘And by a prophet YHWH brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he shepherded.’

The close connection of this verse with Hosea 12:12 demonstrates that Hosea intended the two descriptions to be seen as connected in their significance, confirming what we have said in Hosea 12:11. But as Jacob was not brought back to the land ‘by a prophet’ the illustration had to be altered so that another shepherd, a prophet, could be introduced, in order to bring out the fact that Israel’s movements were now to be ‘determined’ by prophets. Thus Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and preservation until they reached the land (from which Jacob had fled) was described as brought about by YHWH through a shepherd and prophet, an indication that that was also the way in which Israel’s present and future situations would similarly be affected.

As observed a main connection between the two verses is that just as Jacob was a shepherd (shamar), so would Moses shepherd (shamar) God’s sheep as he had shepherded sheep in Midian.


Verse 14

‘Ephraim has provoked to anger most bitterly, therefore will his blood be left on him, and his reproach will his Lord return to him.’

Once again Hosea ends a passage with a judgment on Israel. He had commenced it with a description of Ephraim’s view of themselves (Hosea 12:8), had centred on YHWH’s view of Ephraim (Hosea 12:11), and now he himself presents his own view of them. They have provoked YHWH to anger most bitterly through blood guilt, and it will therefore be left on their shoulders (the singular nouns and pronouns refer to the whole of Ephraim). And in the end their Lord will return it to them, that is, will heap it up on them and will punish them accordingly. Note the reference to ‘his Lord’. That was a notion that Ephraim had forgotten.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hosea-12.html. 2013.

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