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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Hosea 11

 

 

Verse 1

1. A child — The childhood of Israel is the earliest stage of its national existence, here identified with the stay in Egypt (compare Hosea 2:3; Hosea 9:10).

I loved him — Or, I began to love him (compare Hosea 9:15).

Called my son out of Egypt — Literally, called for my son, that is, to be my son. Out of all the nations of the earth Jehovah selected Israel to sustain filial relations to him. Other passages (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1, etc.) imply that Jehovah regarded Israel as his son even while in Egypt, not that he called him from Egypt to become his son. This seeming difference of conception has led commentators to propose various emendations. The simplest, supported in part by LXX., is to omit the preposition le. With this omission the text reads, “I called my son.” It should be noted, however, that, especially in later Hebrew, the preposition le is used to introduce the direct object (G.-K., 117n). Following this rule even the present text might be read, “I called my son.” 1b is interpreted as Messianic in Matthew 2:15.


Verses 1-11

THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR THE PRODIGAL SON, Hosea 11:1-11.

Once more the prophet reverts to the early history of Israel (compare Hosea 9:10; Hosea 10:9). He points out how great, strong, and tender has been the divine love (Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4), and how unappreciative and ungrateful the chosen people (Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7); hence justice demands the execution of judgment (Hosea 11:5-6). But Israel is still the son of Jehovah, and the divine compassion goes out for the prodigal (Hosea 11:8); therefore the punishment will be tempered by mercy; and after the judgment has accomplished its disciplinary purpose, Israel will be restored to the divine favor (Hosea 11:9-11). Hosea 11:12 (in Hebrews 12:1) is connected more closely with chapter 12.


Verses 2-4

2. Jehovah’s love was met with bitter ingratitude.

As they called — R.V., “The more the prophets called.” The prophets is not in the Hebrew, but the Revisers were correct in supplying it as the subject (compare Hosea 11:7). Jehovah did not cease calling when the efforts of Moses proved a partial failure; he raised up prophets (Amos 2:11-12), but the more earnestly these labored the more stubborn the resistance of the people (compare Isaiah 6:9-10; Jeremiah 7:25-26). Notwithstanding the people’s obstinacy, the activity of the prophets was not a failure; it resulted in the preservation of a remnant out of which might grow a new nation of God.

Much did the prophets expect of this remnant, and much did it accomplish, though not all that the prophets expected. Nevertheless it prepared the way for him who alone was able to finish the work. A very slight change in the text, supported in part by LXX. and Peshitto, would give, “The more I called them, the more they went from me.”

Baalim — See on Hosea 2:5.

Burned incense — See on Hosea 2:13.

Graven images — See on Micah 5:13. Hosea 11:1-2 aptly describe the religious history from the Exodus to the days of Hosea; on the one hand, the intense love and care of Jehovah, on the other, the persistent rebellion of the people.

Hosea 11:3 presents the tender care of Jehovah under the figure of a parent’s gentle dealings with his child. I — Emphatic in Hebrew; in contrast to the Baalim.

Ephraim — The northern kingdom.

Taught… to go — Directed their footsteps in a providential way, kept them from falling and, when they did fall, helped them to rise again. Taking them by their arms —Literally (though the Hebrew form is peculiar), he took them upon his arms. R.V., following most ancient versions, “I took them on my arms.” A climax to the preceding. I lovingly taught the young child to walk, and when he grew weary I lovingly took him upon my arms and carried him (Isaiah 63:9; Deuteronomy 1:31).

They knew not — See on Hosea 2:8.

That I healed them — A common figure in Hosea (Hosea 5:13; Hosea 6:1; Hosea 7:1; compare Exodus 15:26). To get the full meaning it is necessary to supply the thought, “When in their attempt to walk they fell and hurt themselves.”

Hosea 11:4 contains a new figure of the fatherly care of Jehovah. “Israel is no longer the wanton young cattle of the previous chapter (Hosea 10:11), which needs the yoke firmly fastened on the neck but a team of toiling oxen mounting some steep road.” Jehovah acted not the part of a cruel driver, but in a humane manner assisted the animal to accomplish its task.

Drew — Not drove; he lent a helping hand to the weary beast.

Cords of a man — Such as are adapted to a human being; these are bands (cords) of love — Used in a spirit of love. Through love he sought to control and guide.

Take off [“lift up”] the yoke on their jaws — While he gladly assisted the animal, he did not — and could not — take the whole task upon himself. The yoke remained upon the animal, but he placed it so it would not press too heavily upon the neck and jaws (cheeks) and make them sore. The manner of easing the yoke to which the prophet refers is not quite clear, since we do not know sufficiently the form of the ancient yoke.

I laid meat unto them [“food before them”] — Literally, and gently I laid food before them, or, better still, And I bent toward him and gave him food. The task done, plenty of food was given to the animal. Thus in an indulgent and compassionate manner Jehovah supplied the needs of his people.


Verses 5-9

5-7. All this loving-kindness Israel met with shameful ingratitude; therefore judgment, in the form of an exile, will surely come (Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3).

He [“they”] shall not return into… Egypt — An evident contradiction of Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3-6; Hosea 11:11. What we would expect is, “they shall return to Egypt.” LXX. removes this difficulty by connecting the word translated not with the preceding sentence and rendering it for him, which involves the change of one consonant without affecting the pronunciation; but this creates a grammatical difficulty in the preceding clause. Another attempt to remove the difficulty is to read 5a as a rhetorical question: “Shall they not return?” This implies the answer, “They surely shall return.” A rhetorical question, however, seems out of place, and a more natural way out of the difficulty is to omit the negative. Assyria is, as in the other passages, joined with Egypt.

But — Hebrew, “and.” The exile will come because Israel failed to turn to Jehovah in repentance and obedience (compare Amos 4:6 ff.).

Hosea 11:7 is the natural continuation of 5b, Hosea 11:6 of 5a. Some omit Hosea 11:6 as a later insertion, but without sufficient reason; nevertheless it is possible that the text has suffered in transmission. Hosea 11:6-7 contain an emphatic and explanatory reiteration of the thought of Hosea 11:5.

Sword — The symbol of war (Ezekiel 14:17).

Abide on [“fall upon”] — The literal rendering is stronger, rage in, or, whirl about in.

Branches — Better R.V., “bars.” Defenses in general (compare Amos 1:5). The meaning of the Hebrew word used here is not quite certain.

Because of their own counsels — Compare Hosea 10:6. Modern commentators, almost without exception, consider the text of Hosea 11:7 hopelessly corrupt. The Hebrew is awkward and obscure, and the ancient versions differ both from the Hebrew and from one another. If the text is correct the translations of A.V. and R.V. are on the whole as satisfactory as any; however, the translation of 7b may be improved by reading: “Though they call them upward, none at all will lift himself up.” There is a complete moral apathy, no one even attempts to mend his ways; and this apathy is due to the spirit of apostasy which has taken complete possession of them.

They — The prophets.

Called them — The people.

To the most High — To higher things in morals and religion, It is not necessary even to enumerate the different attempts to improve the text of Hosea 11:7. The reconstruction by Harper may serve as an illustration of the radical character of some of these proposed emendations: “And my people having wearied me with their rebellions, unto the yoke (that is, captivity) Jehovah will appoint them, since he has ceased to love them.”

Justice demands the casting off of Israel. Will the divine love and compassion permit it? Hosea 11:8 pictures the struggle between love and justice. The result is, in a sense, a compromise. Judgment will indeed be executed, but instead of annihilating the nation it will serve to purify it. The judgment having accomplished its disciplinary purpose, Jehovah will visit his people with salvation.

How — Introduces an exclamation, not a question.

Give thee up — To destruction. The parallel clause is a repetition of the same thought, for the sake of emphasis.

Admah… Zeboim — Two cities near Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 10:19; Genesis 14:8), which, according to Deuteronomy 29:23, were destroyed with the cities of the Plain. In Genesis 19 nothing is said concerning their overthrow (but compare Genesis 11:25).

Mine heart is turned — In sympathy and sorrow (Lamentations 1:20).

My repentings — Better, R.V., “my compassions.”

Are kindled together — Are thoroughly aroused. G.A. Smith, “my compassions begin to boil.” The same author calls this “the greatest passage in Hosea — deepest, if not highest, of his book — the breaking forth of that exhaustless mercy of the Most High which no sin of man can bar back nor wear out.”

The outcome of the struggle is expressed in Hosea 11:9.

Not return (or, turn) to destroy Ephraim — Though judgment is decreed it will not be executed in the fierceness of the divine wrath. Having chosen and trained Israel for his own purpose, Jehovah cannot now turn around and undo all his former work. Why?

I am God, and not man — Jehovah is, “in the grandeur of his covenant steadfastness and long-suffering, removed to an infinite height above the vacillations and impatience of man.” The covenant was intended to be an everlasting covenant, and to it Jehovah must remain faithful.

Holy One — Consequently free from the resentments of vengeance. The prophetic conception of the divine holiness is admirably expressed in the words of Kirkpatrick: “Primarily the Hebrew root from which the word is derived seems to denote separation. It represents God as distinct from man, separate from the creation which he has called into existence. Then, since limit is the necessary condition of created things, and imperfection and sinfulness are the marks of humanity in its fallen state, the term grows to denote the separation of God from all that is limited, imperfect, and sinful. But it does not rest here in a merely negative conception. It expands so as to include the whole essential nature of God in its moral aspect.… His purity and his righteousness, his faithfulness and his truth, his mercy and his loving-kindness, nay, even his jealousy and his wrath, his zeal and his indignation — these are the different rays which combine to make up his holiness.”

In the midst of thee — These words affirm the close relation existing between Jehovah and Israel (compare Isaiah’s “the Holy One of Israel”).

I will not enter into the city — A meaningless sentence. R.V., giving an entirely different meaning to the last word, reads “I will not come in wrath” (compare Jeremiah 15:8), which is to be preferred. Some, changing one letter, read, “I will not come to consume.”

Hosea 11:8-9 are in the highest degree anthropomorphic; but it is not proper to infer from this poetic portrayal that Hosea thought of Jehovah as being fickle, and subject to the same mental or spiritual processes as man. He simply attempted to describe vividly and forcibly the love and compassion of Jehovah, the depth of which had been impressed upon him by his own domestic experience; and this he could do only by comparing divine emotions with human emotions, and describing them in language familiar to his hearers.


Verse 10-11

10, 11. No promise is made that judgment will be withheld entirely. It must come, but it will not result in destruction. When it has accomplished its purpose the divine mercy will again manifest itself in the home-gathering of the dispersed exiles.

They shall walk after Jehovah — Can, in this connection, mean only that when he gives the signal they will readily respond.

Roar like a lion — That is, with a powerful voice. Not as in Hosea 5:14; Hosea 13:7, but to summon the scattered people (Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 49:22). When the signal is heard the exiles shall tremble [“come trembling”] — Though they recognize the call as the call of love, they tremble before the majesty and power of the caller (compare Hosea 3:5).

The children — In Hebrew without the article, “sons” or “children”; only those whom he may acknowledge as sons (Hosea 11:1; Hosea 1:10).

From the west — Literally, from the sea, the Mediterranean, which is west of Palestine; perhaps equivalent to “the islands of the sea” (Isaiah 11:11). Hosea expects the Israelites to go into exile to Assyria and to Egypt (Hosea 11:11), that is, to the south and east. Only in this passage he introduces a third place of exile. This peculiarity leads some to change the text so as to read, “from their captivity.”

Bird… dove — Ordinarily the flight of birds represents swiftness (Psalms 55:6; Isaiah 60:8). If so here, come trembling cannot be a correct reproduction of the prophet’s thought. “A thrill of eagerness doubling the speed of motion is what is meant”; equivalent to they shall come swiftly (see the comparison in Hosea 7:11).

I will place them — For the promise to re-establish Israel in the old home see also Hosea 2:23.

Most recent commentators consider Hosea 11:10-11 later additions, because (1) they are thought to be out of harmony with Hosea 11:9 where the withdrawal of judgment is announced, while in these verses a dispersion is presupposed; (2) the verses contain expressions foreign to Hosea. To these verses are sometimes added Hosea 11:8-9, in part, or even entire. The chief objection to these two verses is that they contain a promise which, it is said, weakens the preceding threat. In reply it may be said (1) Hosea 11:8-9 do not imply a complete withholding of judgment; (2) the only peculiar expression is “from the west” (Hosea 11:10); (3) a promise does not necessarily weaken a previous threat. It would do so only if the promise were unconditional. Hosea believes that the divine favor may be regained; but he makes it perfectly clear that it can be done only on condition of sincere repentance (Hosea 14:1-3). As soon as the conditional character of a promise is recognized, the promise, far from weakening a threat, may become a strong incentive to repentance, to avert the fulfillment of the threat. Hence it will be seen that the objections raised against the originality of these verses are not conclusive.


Verse 12

CONDEMNATION OF ISRAEL’S FAITHLESSNESS EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE, Hosea 11:12 to Hosea 12:6.

The following appears to be the most probable interpretation of this exceedingly difficult section, Hosea 11:12, begins a new series of indictments. Israel proved false to Jehovah when it entered into covenants with foreign nations (Hosea 11:12; Hosea 12:1). If the references to Judah are original they cannot be interpreted as a eulogy of Judah, for north and south were equally guilty. The three incidents in the life of the patriarch Jacob are mentioned in order to present in glaring colors the contrast between the ancestor so anxious for the divine blessing and the descendants so indifferent to Jehovah (2-5). If they would only turn to the God of Jacob he would surely have mercy upon them (6).


Verse 12

12. Compasseth me — The lies were so numerous that Jehovah could see nothing else; they surrounded him completely.

Lies [“falsehood”]… deceit — Practiced not against one another (Hosea 11:7), but against Jehovah. A condemnation of their foreign policy (Hosea 7:11; Hosea 10:4; Hosea 10:13).

Ephraim… House of Israel — The northern kingdom. 12b is of uncertain meaning.

But Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints — Margin, “with the most holy,” that is, God; R.V., “with the Holy One” (see on Hosea 11:9). This translation makes 12b a eulogy of Judah, which is thought to be better than Israel. Such sentiment seems out of place here (Hosea 12:2; see also on Hosea 1:7). The Revisers, conscious of this difficulty, offer in the margin the alternative reading, “and Judah is yet unsteadfast (faithless) with God, and with the Holy One who is faithful.” This is certainly to be preferred; otherwise 12b must be regarded as a later addition.

Yet — The faithlessness has continued for a long time, and still there is no sign of improvement.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hosea 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/hosea-11.html. 1874-1909.

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