After the beautiful Hosea 11, in which we find so much love and promise from God for His people, this chapter focuses again on the sin of Israel. In a renewed attempt to make the people aware of their sinful condition, Hosea speaks about their father Jacob. Different events in Jacob’s life should make the people think.
The prophets are also mentioned. They have spoken on behalf of God. Moses is the most important of them. He led them out of Egypt. He is also a picture of the Lord Jesus, Who will deliver His people in the last days from all the powers that oppress them.
1 The Folly of Political Covenants
1 Ephraim feeds on wind,
And pursues the east wind continually;
He multiplies lies and violence.
Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria,
And oil is carried to Egypt.
Ephraim makes a tremendous effort to keep himself standing between Assyria and Egypt, the political superpowers of those days. The foolishness of this is indicated by the prophet by saying that Ephraim “feeds on wind”. Now, how can you feed on something as elusive as wind? The pursuit of wind indicates how vain the hope is that rests on people. How unteachable is the people – and that goes for every human being – who, despite the disappointment that the search for help with people always brings, look for help with people the next time.
This pursuit not only gives no advantage, but even has a major disadvantage: it works its own downfall. That is why it is not only the feeding on the wind, which indicates the futility of the efforts, but is also referred to as the east wind. This east wind, or sirocco, is the scorching wind from the wilderness, which, like a scourge, strikes down upon the harvest and destroys it (cf. Hos 13:15).
Israel’s persistent attempts to seek help from neighboring countries are also evidenced by the fact that they are working on it “continually”. Earlier, the complaint has been made that they keep on making covenants (Hos 10:4). They make a covenant with Assyria and also try to get Egypt on their hand by supplying them with oil. Their whole policy is to play off these superpowers against each other (2Kgs 17:3-4). In this we can also observe the unreliability of Israel. Sometimes they deal with Egypt, sometimes with Assyria, as it suits them.
2 Judah and Jacob
2 The LORD also has a dispute with Judah,
And will punish Jacob according to his ways;
He will repay him according to his deeds.
Again God’s finger points at Judah and now in a negative sense. Things are going from bad to worse with Israel, but Judah is also developing in the wrong direction. Judah will have to account for deviating from God. In Jacob, the ancestor of the twelve tribes, we may certainly see Ephraim and Judah, the ten and the two tribes together. God will have to punish them all for the way they went and what they did. But in the following verses, God first uses the history of Jacob to show that the way of repentance is still open for the whole people.
3 The Womb and Maturity
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
And in his maturity he contended with God.
In verses 3-4 attention is drawn to three events in Jacob’s life. These serve as examples for the whole of Israel, the twelve tribes. They are his birth (Gen 25:24-26), his ‘victory’ at Pniel (Gen 32:22-32) and the cleansing of his house in Bethel (Gen 35:1-15).
The first example concerns his birth. Taking by the heel can mean cheating. It is an allusion to the name Jacob, which means ‘heels keeper’. The explanation can also be positive, when we see that Jacob was, so to speak, already in the womb of the mother busy to possess the birthright, of which it turns out later how little value his brother Esau attaches to it. Esau sells his birthright for a dish of lentil stew (Gen 25:29-34).
However deceitful Jacob may have been, he has always been interested in God’s blessing and appreciated it. And that is what the people lack. That is why we can see in the reference to Jacob’s birth an exhortation for the people to stretch out and dedicate themselves to the blessing God wants to give. But not in the manner of Jacob. Jacob often wanted to obtain God’s blessing in the wrong way, namely through his own effort. He had to learn that this is not the way it goes with God.
Moreover, his own effort makes him struggle with people. That way of doing things has to be unlearned and that happened with the second incident that is mentioned of him: his contention with God at Pniel. That is an allusion to the name Israel, which means ‘prince of God’ or ‘warrior of God’.
4 How Jacob Prevailed
4 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;
He wept and sought His favor.
He found Him at Bethel
And there He spoke with us,
Jacob contended with God at Pniel. It has been said that Jacob wrestled with an evil angel. That should then be an interesting explanation that opens a new perspective. It would then have been a guardian angel of Esau. But that does not fit with the history mentioned in Genesis 32 (Gen 32:22-32). It also does not fit with what Hosea says here. It is clearly written in verse 3 that Jacob contended with God.
It is also clear that God in the form of an angel contended with Jacob. Everywhere in the Old Testament the form God takes when He shows Himself to people is that of an angel. Often there is then talk of ‘the Angel of the LORD’. In our verse “Angel” should be written with a capital letter.
The point of Hosea in quoting this history is to show how Jacob wrestled and prevailed here. Jacob wrestled in his maturity. But that did not give him the victory. It was in that power that God had to strike him. God hit him in his hip muscle, which contains the strength to walk. From that moment on Jacob walks crippled, as a constant reminder of his wrestling with God.
Yet Jacob has prevailed. Not by his strength, but by his weakness. His weakness has become the strength by which he has prevailed. In this he has gained the experience of Paul, who in his weakness is told by the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2Cor 12:9a). Jacob prevailed by weeping asking God for mercy. He fought with the weapon of prayer (cf. Col 4:12). This does not require physical strength, but spiritual strength. Therefore God always allows Himself to be prevailed.
The moment when someone begs God for mercy is always the moment when the fight stops and God is no longer an opponent, but becomes a supporter. You cry because you repent for your sins when you realize how much evil and wickedness there is in your life. You beg for mercy because you may trust that God will forgive all that evil and wickedness. Jacob won the victory by being weak. When we are lame and broken and can do nothing more than cling to God, we will experience His grace. Then God’s hidden treasures of blessing will open for us.
What a blessing it will be for Israel if they use Jacob’s method of fighting. What a blessing it will be for the Christian who learns to fight like Jacob did here.
At his birth Jacob has, as it were, already demonstrated that he appreciates the blessing of God by keeping his brother’s heel. In his fight we see that he receives the blessing by taking the right attitude towards God. Then there comes another event from which Israel and also we can learn the necessary things. It has to do with the relationship between God and His people. This is expressed in words “there He spoke with us”, which means fellowship.
It says “with us” and not ’with him’. Jacob represents the whole people. Hosea says as it were: ‘In His speaking to Jacob He spoke to us. What He says to Jacob there applies equally to us.’ A people that longs for fellowship with God has to get rid of the idols. That is what happened at Bethel. After Jacob cleansed his house, he meets God in Bethel (Gen 35:9-12). Ephraim and Judah should also do what Jacob did – cry out to God, humble themselves, get rid of the strange gods – but they did not do it.
5 The LORD Is His Name
5 Even the LORD, the God of hosts,
The LORD is His name.
From Jacob the spotlight now goes to God Himself. Here we see God in His glory and majesty. He is the leader of the hosts of Israel and of all earthly and heavenly hosts. He, Who now speaks to His people through Hosea, is the same Who appeared to Jacob at the time and spoke to him. They have to do with Him alone and with no one else, neither a calf in Bethel nor Baal in all kinds of other places.
His name “LORD” guarantees the connection with His people. It is His covenant name, the name with which He has revealed Himself to His people to be their God. Because of this, He will fulfill the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exo 6:1-7).
The fulfillment of all His promises lies also in His power. He is the God of hosts, which means that He is at the head of all powers. Everything is subject to His authority and everything is available to Him in order to reach His goal. What an encouragement for Israel to willingly submit to that great, impressive God, Who has so committed Himself to them. What a foolishness it is to distance oneself from that God, by which all blessing is lost.
6 Return to God!
6 Therefore, return to your God,
Observe kindness and justice,
And wait for your God continually.
Having set the events of Jacob’s life as an example and pointed to the LORD Himself, now follows the call to return “to your God”. It is striking to see how much effort God makes to make a return to Him attractive. Again and again He makes it clear what that yields. Anyone who thinks for a moment must come to the conclusion that returning to God is the only right thing to do. The striking “your” before “God” must give an extra impulse to the people to take that step.
Hosea addresses the whole people. He speaks to it as a unity. In order to enjoy that blessed relationship in which He connected Himself with Jacob in Bethel, Israel must repent or return to God, as Jacob did. Repentance can only take place in the sense of one’s own powerlessness, true humility, and a removal of the idols.
Once returned to God, the consequence will be that the attitude towards one’s neighbor will also change, with the characteristics of “kindness and justice”. Kindness will manifest itself in care for the poor and comfort for the sad. Justice will express itself in giving to everyone what is due to him or her.
There will be no more wandering away from God. Rather, it is to look forward to His intervention instead of expecting their redemption from earthly superpowers. Waiting for God means: wanting to be dependent on Him alone and on no one else, especially in circumstances when we need help and it does not seem to come.
7 What Canaan does
7 A merchant [or: Canaanite], in whose hands are false balances,
He loves to oppress.
How necessary the call to repent of the previous verse is, is evident from the verses that follow now. The people here are called “a Canaanite” to indicate that they are not acting like their ancestor Israel, but according to the customs of the former inhabitants of the country. The sudden introduction of this name implies contempt for the attitude that Israel now adopts. Israel has had to give a clear testimony of his God to the Canaanites and their horrors. Instead, they have adopted the atrocious practices of the Canaanites.
An application of the name Canaan for this time is that God addresses a local church with ‘World!’ There are churches where hardly any difference can be seen between the church of God and the world. The borders have practically disappeared there. The church is supposed to be a blessing for the world, but she has merged into it by allowing the world into her midst.
Canaan means ‘trader’. The Phoenician Canaanites were at that time one of the most successful trading people (cf. Isa 23:8; Ezekiel 26-27). Hosea thus connects the wrong attitude to his neighbor, which always follows a wrong attitude to God. This is manifested in the trade with one’s neighbor where “false balances” are used (Lev 19:36; Deu 25:13-16). False balances seem to be fair, but the counterweight does not meet the standard.
In this way they oppress their neighbors. That is already wrong, but they also find the greatest pleasure in it. Conscience does not react at all with these people anymore. But even if the buyer does not notice that he is being deceived, God sees it.
He also sees how we ‘weigh’ things in their spiritual application, also within the church. If things are to be judged there, it must also be done with honest ‘balances’. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. James points to the use of ‘false balances’ when he points out the difference in treatment of the rich and the poor (Jam 2:2-4). Every good or bad deed should be judged without regard to the person. And let’s be honest: how inclined are we to charge a bad deed of someone we do not like more than that of one of our friends? Then deeds are weighed with false balances.
8 I Have Become Rich
8 And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich,
I have found wealth for myself;
In all my labors they will find in me
No iniquity, which [would be] sin.”
Hosea’s accusation of verse 7 has not hit a target. What Ephraim says here is reminiscent of what the church in Laodicea says: “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Rev 3:17a). By pronouncing this, it turns out that, just like Ephraim, they are completely blind to their sins. In the last days, Christianity will be characterized by the same self-satisfaction as Ephraim was then.
For Ephraim, their richness is proof that it is all right with them. They think in the sense of: ‘If we were wrong, would God bless us like this?’ But riches are never proof of blessing. Prosperity often blinds us to sin. It is foolish to place your hopes in something like the uncertainty of wealth. James warns us about this miscalculation of wealth (Jam 1:9-10). Those who know the relative importance of riches will take the word to heart, “not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God” (1Tim 6:17).
With all riches, Ephraim moderates that no sin has been committed. Every accusation is declared unfounded in advance. Apparently, they have discovered loopholes in the law that allow them to delude themselves that their actions do not violate the law. People who only focus on themselves and their own advantage always have a good opinion of themselves. If there is any sin, it will be dealt with as ’not worth talking about’. There is no iniquity in them, they declare.
For carnal Christians, worldly prosperity and the success they have often confirms that they are correct as far as their way of life is concerned.
9 Living in Tents as Judgment and as Promise
9 But I [have been] the LORD your God since the land of Egypt;
I will make you live in tents again,
As in the days of the appointed festival.
The word “but” with which this verse begins indicates the contrast between Who is God and the attitude of the people as given in the preceding verse. When the people have sinned, God often reminds them of where they have come from. It should make the memory of the time when they were in bondage and by Whom they were redeemed from it alive. From that time on He is their God. If they would think about it quietly, they would have to acknowledge that God has always surrounded them with love and care ever since. But they do not take the time for that.
Now God will drive them out of their land because of their sins and they will have to live in tents again, just like when they were in the wilderness. Those tents speak of the temporality of the dwelling place they will find. It will not be final. After all, a tent has the characteristic that it is a temporary residence. This means that at the same time as the judgment of the exile, a promise is given to the people that this exile is not definitive and that it will come to an end.
“The days of the appointed festival” can be related to the feasts. The only feast where people live in tents is the Feast of Booth. This reinforces the thought that Hosea, with his judgement about living in tents again, is at the same time making a promise. The Feast of Booth is the last of the seven feasts of the LORD (Lev 23:33-43) and points prophetically forward to the millennial realm of peace.
10 The Prophets
10 I have also spoken to the prophets,
And I gave numerous visions,
And through the prophets I gave parables.
Prophets are the people through whom God connects with His people when the people have turned their backs on Him. Prophets have called the people time and again to return to God. In the end time, two witnesses of God will act as prophets (Rev 11:3,6). These two prophets will do things that Moses and Elijah also did. Moses as a prophet is also discussed later in verse 13 of our chapter.
It testifies of God’s goodness that He gives prophets. They pass on His thoughts to an errant people. To the people as a whole they proclaim the judgment. For the few among the people who listen to their words, they have promises, as encouragement.
11 Sin Destroys Former Glory
11 Is there iniquity [in] Gilead?
Surely they are worthless.
In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,
Yes, their altars are like the stone heaps
Beside the furrows of the field.
In this verse, the actual situation appears again in its entirety. We can see “Gilead” on the east side of the Jordan and “Gilgal” on the west side as the representatives of the situation as it is throughout Israel. Gilead is a place that is proverbial for luster and power (Jer 22:6a), a place also of healing (Jer 8:22). But nothing is left of all that glory. Sin has corrupted everything that is beautiful and offers healing. Gilead is no longer capable of anything good. Also of the former glory of Gilgal as a place of sacrifice nothing is left.
12 Jacob – Israel
12 Now Jacob fled to the land of Aram,
And Israel worked for a wife,
And for a wife he kept [sheep].
Once again the prophet reminds the people of their ancestor “Jacob”. The name Jacob is usually used to refer to Jacob as a weak man. Jacob is the person who is interested in the blessing of God, but who tries to get hold of that blessing through sneaky ways. He even uses deceit. With this way of acting he often gets in God’s way. Yet God knows how to use everything in Jacob’s life for the execution of His plans.
It is always impressive to read about God as ‘the God of Jacob’. God is the God of that weak Jacob. It is also an encouragement for all of us who often feel like a Jacob: wanting to be blessed by God, but having little patience and trying to secure God’s blessing in his own way. Not that God helps us in this, but He certainly does not let us go. If we then stop our own attempts and take refuge in Him, He is there for us and helps us further.
Jacob has fled because he stole the blessing from his father Isaak by deceit who intended it for Esau. This is now a good example of how Jacob, under the guidance of his mother Rebekah, works to appropriate the blessing God had promised him. God promised that blessing. So why not trust Him?
Because he acted like Jacob, he has to flee like Jacob. But then Hosea talks about “Israel” in connection with his working for a wife. Here Jacob’s faith and faithfulness come to the fore and then he is called “Israel”. Israel means ‘prince of God’ or ‘warrior of God’. The way Jacob worked to be able to marry Rachel has been a faithful service. Later, when he has fled from Laban and has been overtaken by him, he can testify to this. Thereby he gives God the honor (Gen 31:36-42). There he acts and speaks like Israel.
Again this should appeal to the people to whom Hosea addresses and bring them to repentance. The way God has gone with Jacob has not always been easy. Not easy because of Jacob’s own stubborn actions; not easy either because of what others have done to him. They are the same things that we too can have to deal with in our lives.
13 But by a prophet the LORD brought Israel from Egypt,
And by a prophet he was kept.
In verse 10 Hosea speaks about prophets who will play a role in the future for the benefit of the people. Now he looks back to the beginning, because also then a prophet played an important role. The prophet used by the LORD to lead Israel out of Egypt is none other than Moses. In Deuteronomy 15 Moses speaks about himself as a prophet (Deu 18:15).
He speaks in that verse even of “a Prophet … like me”. This verse is quoted in Acts 3:22. From the verses that precede and follow (Acts 3:18-26), it appears that the Prophet to Whom Moses refers is none other than the Lord Jesus. Just as Moses as a prophet liberated the people of God from Egypt and kept them as a shepherd in the wilderness, so now the Lord Jesus does, and always has. He saves from the world and from the power of the devil. He is the Shepherd who keeps and pastures His flock.
As a prophet Moses spoke the words of God to Pharaoh in Egypt and confirmed those words with signs and wonders, which for Pharaoh and his subjects are plagues. As a prophet, Moses spoke the words of God to God’s people in the wilderness. In them God shows, after the redemption from Egypt, His care for His people. Whoever listens, does well, whoever disobeys, perishes. God guards and protects His people through His Word.
Even today God still gives prophets to His people. They have nothing to do with predicting the future, but everything to do with passing on the words of God. When the church comes together to listen to God’s Word, brothers can be used as prophets. This happens when they speak “for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1Cor 14:3,26-37).
14 God Punishes Sin
14 Ephraim has provoked to bitter anger;
So his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him
And bring back his reproach to him.
Instead of being thankful to God for all the goodness He has shown by redeeming them from Egypt and taking care of them in the wilderness, His people have “provoked” Him “to bitter anger”. They praise Moses as their great leader, but they trample underfoot the words he passed on to them on behalf of God.
All their sins, especially those with which blood guilt is connected, will be paid back to them by the Lord, their Ruler. To bring down blood guilt on someone is the opposite of taking away or forgiving someone’s blood guilt. God is also a God of retribution. As “his Lord”, Adonai, which is like their sovereign Ruler, He will not let evil go unpunished.