Hosea 11:12-12:6

We finished last week’s look at Hosea 4-11 on a positive note: God, depicted as a loving parent, unable to completely reject his rebellious son (despite the fact that he deserves it). Chapter 11 ended with the promise of restoration:

Hosea 11:11 They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.

Beginning with chapter 12, however, Hosea resumes his negative tone. This begins the third major section of the book, which we’ll study all this week. Here, he describes Israel’s rebellion using the imagery of their ancestor, Jacob. In effect, he’s telling the people of Israel: you’re acting just like your dad.

Hosea 11:12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One.

Ephraim, as we noted last week, was used to represent the northern kingdom. Its capital, Samaria, was located in Ephraimite territory.

What Judah (the southern kingdom) is doing here (and in 12:2) is difficult to work out: is God expanding his critique to include Jacob’s “other son”? Or is this a later updating of Hosea’s prophecy so that it speaks to a similarly rebellious generation in the south? We don’t know – and the debate is complicated – so let’s just assume that this critique is in some way inclusive of both northern and southern kingdoms, but focused (initially) on the north.

Hosea 12:1 Ephraim feeds on [or “shepherds”] the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.

You can’t “shepherd” the wind. It’s foolish. (Although apparently there are enough fools these days who will buy it: like this “air farmer” who sells bottled air from the English countryside to smog-filled cities in China.) But Hosea’s point is that Ephraim is foolish. Not only does he try to farm air, he pursues the east wind: a hot, dry, desert wind that anyone in their right mind would avoid.

Of course, those are metaphors: Israel’s real foolishness is described in the second part of the verse. They make their living by defrauding people (unjust trade). And they seek security by making treaties with powerful, ruthless foreign nations – making themselves subject to them in the process. In short, they’re trying to control and manipulate for their own gain, rather than trusting God to look after them.

Hosea 12:2 The Lord has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds.

Here, Hosea describes God’s people using the name of their ancestor, Jacob. (The one he renamed “Israel,” and from whom their name derives.) This is significant, as they are acting just like him – and will end up suffering the consequences of their actions, just like he did.

Hosea 12:3a In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;

You can read the story in Genesis 25 of how Jacob came out of the womb grasping his brother’s heel, interpreted as an indication that he wanted his brother’s status as firstborn. He was thus called “Jacob,” which means “he grasps the heel” – a common phrase for a deceptive person. And although God had already said to his mother, Rebekah, “the older would serve the younger,” both Jacob and Rebekah seemed keen to manipulate events to bring this about. Jacob caught Esau in a weak moment, and got Esau to trade his birthright for a meal of soup. Later (Genesis 27), Rebekah concocted a plan for Jacob to masquerade as his brother in order to deceive his near-blind father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing intended for the firstborn. The consequence of this was enmity with his brother: Jacob had to flee to a distant land in order to avoid being killed by him.

God’s people in Hosea’s day are carrying on the family tradition: seeking to deceive and manipulate, rather than trusting in God.

Hosea 12:3b-4a as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favour.

On Jacob’s way back to be reconciled with his brother, he encountered an angel of God (Genesis 32) and wrestled with him, refusing to let go until he received a blessing. At that point God blessed him, and his name was changed to “Isra-el” (“he struggles with God”). After this scene, he met Esau, and wept in reconciliation.

Hosea 12:4b-5 He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—the Lord God Almighty, the Lord is his name!

Despite all of his deceit and manipulation (trying to grasp for control rather than trusting in God) and despite suffering the consequences (away from his land, and estranged from his brother), in his struggle he still sought God. And God blessed him. God brought him out of “exile” and reconciled him with his older brother.

So the message Hosea wants to give Israel is this: you’re acting like your father, Jacob, deceiving and manipulating to get ahead. And you’ll suffer the consequences. (You’re already estranged from your brother, Judah, and you’re about to be in exile.) So learn from Jacob’s example: in your struggles, return to God; seek him, and wait on his provision.

Hosea 12:6 But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

To think about

Hosea used the story of Jacob as an object lesson for Israel, illustrating the consequences of trying to control things ourselves rather than waiting on God to fulfil what he promised.

I suppose, then, it can function similarly for us. How have you tried to control your life through deceit or manipulation (relationships? wealth/security? career?) rather than waiting on God to provide for you in his own good timing?

The call to repentance in verse 6 is still apt.

Hosea 12:6 But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

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