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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


We are grateful indeed to find a wonderful evaluation of the endless and contradictory emendations (corrections!) that scholars have presumed to make in this chapter. The following quotation from James Ward expresses exactly how this writer feels concerning the text of the Holy Bible. We shall take the liberty of quoting somewhat at length from him:

Nowhere is the text of Hosea more obscure than in Hosea 12… One impulse that comes over the commentator as he works over these lines is to re-arrange them. Few have resisted the impulse. I have pondered them all and played with new combinations of my own. In the end, I have found them all failures… The only genuine alternative to this counsel of despair is to make sense boldly of the text as it comes to us. (We say, Amen)… Perhaps I have stared at the received text (the Masoretic text) of Hosea 12 too long and have finally seen order where none exists. Nevertheless I do see order there, in the poetic structure of the larger components if not in every line or phrase. This order becomes clearer to the reader of the Hebrew text as he finds it resisting his effort to refashion it into some other form.(F1)

We have stressed this remarkable insight of Ward’s, because this is a concise statement of our attitude toward all of the countless changes which modern critical scholars attempt to make in nearly any passage of the Holy Bible. None of them, nor all of them put together, affords any genuine improvement, serving only to obscure and confuse what the sacred writers wrote. It is our conviction that the duty of a faithful commentator on the Word of God is that of interpreting the text as we have received it, instead of guessing what the prophet should have written, or intended to write! The Bible makes sense as it is written, and the speculative guesses of uninspired men, who in not a few instances are evil men, afford a very poor substitute for the passages of Scriptures they presume to displace. If, as Ward stated, this chapter of Hosea (admittedly one of the most obscure in the Bible) makes sense when studied and understood, how much more is it true of the whole Bible?

Verse 1

“Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he continually multiplieth lies and desolation: and they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt.”

Feedeth on wind… east wind” This is a similar metaphor to the one used earlier (Hosea 8:7), “Sowing to the wind, reaping the whirlwind.” What is clearly meant is the vanity and fruitlessness of Ephraim’s self-directed efforts to secure his safety and prosperity while pursuing a rebellious course contrary to the will of God.

“Multiplieth lies and desolation” This is more adequately explained in the next line, where the courting of both their mortal enemies at the same time is mentioned. Ephraim, in order to provide against the eventuality of an Assyrian invasion, made a covenant with Assyria, but at the same time he was trying to buy the friendship of Egypt with gifts of oil. Ward’s rendition of this verse is:

“Ephraim herds a wind, chases an east wind all day. He compounds lies with violence,
They make a covenant with Asshur, and oil is carried to Egypt.”

This conduct on the part of Ephraim was reprehensible because, “Rather than seeking the Lord and keeping the Covenant, they were playing the game of international politics and perhaps intrigue.”(F2) “The outcome of Ephraim’s activity, according to the figure, is something void and empty.”(F3)

Verse 2

“Jehovah hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.”

The judgment visible in these first two verses is not at all confined either to Israel or Judah, but is to fall upon Jacob, a fitting title here for both Ephraim and Judah, since Jacob was the great ancestor of both. “The prophet pronounces his judgment upon both Israel and Judah.”(F4)

“Jehovah hath also a controversy” “The language of Hosea 12:2 is technical.”(F5) Just as in Hosea 4:1, Hosea is presenting the case against all Israel (both houses) in the terminology of a formal indictment and trial, a trial at which the Lord is both the prosecuting attorney and the Judge.

The use of the same terminology here which was used earlier in Hosea’s lawsuit against Gomer points up the analogy. Just as Gomer was divorced and put away for adultery, a similar rejection and reduction of the status of all Israel will follow in this replay of the former scene. It will also be remembered that Gomer never returned as Hosea’s wife. “Thou shalt not be wife to any man!” (Hosea 3:3). The Word of God has no promise whatever of the old secular, fleshly, Israel again playing a historical role as Jehovah’s wife.

Verse 3

“In the womb he took his brother by the heel; and in his manhood he had power with God.”

The reference to Jacob in this passage seems to have been with a double purpose: (1) for demonstrating that the cunning, deceit, and guile of the Israel in Hosea’s day was in character with that of the old “heel catcher” from whom they had all descended, and (2) in order to emphasize that, with all of Jacob’s faults, he did honor the promises of God, struggled with God to receive his blessings, tenaciously fought onward against all obstacles in order to receive the blessing.

“Took his brother by the heel” This, of course, is a reference to the Genesis account of Jacob’s birth. The most amazing comment encountered on this passage is May’s denial that Hosea knew this story as recorded in Genesis!(F6) The inconsequential difference in details given, such as Jacob’s weeping (Hosea 12:4), or his taking his brother by the heel “in the womb” instead of after he came out, are no basis whatever for denying that here we have a solid reference to the Book of Genesis.

“In his manhood he had power with God” Some would take this as a negative statement with reference to Jacob, but the fact of God’s speaking with Jacob must be understood as desirable and complimentary to Jacob. Furthermore, the context reveals that God’s speaking to Jacob was upon behalf of all of his posterity, and not for his benefit only. See under Hosea 12:4, below.

Uniting the twin purposes of the references to Jacob by Hosea in these verses, it is clear that, “The prophet urged the people to return to God as Jacob did after his spree of deception and guile.”(F7)

“Both nations of the covenant people may have God’s mercy, if they would exercise the same zealous faith to obtain it that their progenitor, Jacob, exercised in obtaining the birthright.”(F8)

Verse 4

“Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto him: he found him at Bethel, and there he spake with us.”

“Yea, he had power over the angel” Gen. 32:34 has, “There wrestled a man with him”; and some have tried to make a contradiction out of this; but that very passage makes the supernatural identity of the wrestler absolutely certain. The fact of his being introduced first as “a man” is exactly in harmony with the way angels were usually introduced in the Old Testament, as for example the angels who spent the night with Lot (Genesis 19:5). Angels customarily appeared as men, their full identity being apparent afterward. Thus, Lot “entertained angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:1).

Mays, whose critical comment on this passage denied the validity of Jacob’s weeping, as mentioned here, wrote: “The weeping is possibly Hosea’s embellishment; the Genesis story knows nothing of it.”(F9) Aside from the uncertain placement of the expression “he wept” which might very well have been Hosea’s allusion to the weeping that Jacob was said to have done upon that very same day and in connection with that very event (Genesis 33:4), the matter of Hosea’s inspiration should also be considered, making the information (if it pertains here) to be supplementary to the Genesis account.

“He found him at Bethel, and there he spake with us” Jacob’s experience at Bethel was God’s renewal of the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob; and it corresponds in all of its essential details exactly with the promise to Abraham. Here again the prior existence of Genesis, and the absolute familiarity with it on the part of both Hosea and his hearers is undeniable. It included the promise that God would give the land of Canaan to the Jews, and that in Jacob and his seed “all the families of the earth should be blessed.” The Israelites of the northern kingdom, however, had construed this promise as unconditional, whereas, in truth, it was contingent upon their fidelity to the holy Covenant God made with the people when they were brought up out of the land of Egypt. “There at Bethel, Jehovah had spoken to Jacob, and through him to his descendants.”(F10) “Hosea here regarded the promises of God to Jacob as made to the people of Israel, which in fact they chiefly concerned.”(F11) Hindley is doubtless correct in seeing the purpose of Hosea’s mention of the event at Bethel as that of reminding Israel that the true God of Israel was inseparably linked to that place, instead of the vulgar bull-gods which they were worshipping there instead of Jehovah. “It was to link Jacob’s vision at Bethel with Jehovah’s name and title,”(F12) next mentioned in Hosea 12:5, below.

Verse 5

“Even Jehovah, the God of hosts; Jehovah is his memorial name.”

The full messages of these verses was thus summarized by Hailey:

“The power of Jacob to prevail was the power of Israel of Hosea’s day if they would but avail themselves of it. The power was in the name of Jehovah, the God of hosts, and was to be laid hold upon by weeping and supplication, as in the case of Jacob.”(F13)

“Jehovah, the God of hosts; Jehovah is his memorial name...


The sacred Hebrew Tetragrammaton, the mystic four-letter word used of the Deity, is composed of the four Hebrew consonants Y-H-W-H, usually translated “Jehovah” in the American Standard Version (Exodus 17:15). The true and original pronunciation of it has been totally and completely lost. That loss came about because the Jews took a very strict and almost fanatical view of the third commandment (Exodus 20:7), and decided not to pronounce the name at all. That way they could keep from taking God’s name in vain! This occurred about 300 B.C. When they came to that word in reading, they pronounced the word “[~’Adonay],” meaning Lord; and thus when the Septuagint (LXX) was translated, they rendered it “Lord,” which is the rendition found in the AV. The American Standard Version renders it Jehovah. The Tetragrammaton is derived from a root word, meaning “To be,” and is related to “I am that I am” of Exodus 3:14. The word means that God is the Absolute, the Uncaused One, holy and eternal.

There are no less than ten combinations of the name Jehovah in the Old Testament. These were listed by Butler as:

  • [~Jehovah-ropheka], “Jehovah hath healed thee” (Exodus 15:26)

  • [~Jehovah-mequaddeshkem], “Jehovah who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13)

  • [~Jehovah-tsabaoth], “Jehovah of hosts” (1 Samuel 1:3)

  • [~Jehovah-elyon], “Jehovah Most High” (Psalms 7:17) [~Jehovah-roi], “Jehovah my Shepherd (Psalms 23:1)

  • [~Jehovah-jireh], “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14)

  • [~Jehovah-nissi], “Jehovah is my banner” (Exodus 17:15)

  • [~Jehovah-shalom], “Jehovah is peace” (Judges 6:24)

  • [~Jehovah-shammah], “Jehovah is there” (Ezekiel 48:35, margin)

  • [~Jehovah-tsidkenu], “Jehovah is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:6; Jeremiah 33:16)(F14)

Hosea’s emphasis upon that holy name in this passage indicates that Israel had slipped away from any real recognition of the true God.

Verse 6

“Therefore turn to thy God: keep kindness and justice, and wait for thy God continually.”

Israel no longer knew God, hence the challenge here for them to turn to God. The real hope of Israel could not lie in the vulgar pagan worship of their licentious bull-gods, even at Bethel, made sacred in Hebrew memory by the place’s association with their patriarch Jacob; the real God was not what they were worshipping there. The true God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Kindness and justice” The social results of the false worship were serious and detrimental to the life of the people; but such things had come about from their forsaking God, and no return to them could come about in any other way except by a return to Jehovah.

Verse 7

“He is a trafficker, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.”

Certain words in this verse are capable of other renditions. Ward rendered it, “A merchant with crooked scales, he loved to cheat.”(F15) The word “trafficker” is actually “a Canaanite,”(F16) a word that came to mean merchant or trader, and especially a deceitful and crooked one. It was originally applied to the old Phoenicians whose reputation for deceitfulness and dishonesty was known all over the world. Homer’s Odyssey (XIV, 290,291) mentioned them, and Given thus renders one of the references to them:

“A false Phoenician of insidious mind, Vers’d in vile arts, and foe to mankind.”(F17)

Thus, the old Canaanite traders gave humanity a word, in the same sense that the Corinthians did. “To Corinthianize” meant to debauch; and “Canaanite” meant a crooked, false trader. The significance of that old word surfacing here in Hosea is that Israe! had become one in character with the vile Canaanites who preceded him in that land. The spiritual overtones of the passage are this: God had destroyed the Canaanites to permit Israel to occupy the land; now that Israel had become “Canaan,” God would displace them also.

Verse 8

“And Ephraim said, Surely I have become rich, I have found me wealth: in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that were sin.”

This is an astounding defense by Ephraim. Sure, he is as crooked as any of the old Canaanites ever were, but he got rich; that makes it right! His wickedness is not “sin,” because it works! Here is the old doctrine that the end justifies the means. There was in the crooked weights and false balances of Ephraim a brazen and arrogant denial of covenant obligations as spelled out in Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13; Deuteronomy 25:15, and Proverbs 16:11. As a result of his violation of God’s law, Ephraim had become guilty; and all his wealth could not cleanse him of his guilt. Thus, we understand, “the second half of the verse as a rejoinder to the first part.”(F18)

Verse 9

“But I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt; I will yet again make thee to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast.”

“God from the land of Egypt” has the meaning of “thy God since the days when I brought thee up out of Egypt.” It is a mistake to see in this the origin of the Covenant in Egypt or even in the wilderness. God brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt because of the Covenant already in existence and dating from the times of Abraham. The Exodus was a result of the Covenant, not the cause of it.

“I will yet again make thee to dwell in tents” This plain reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, during which the children of Israel lived in make-shift outdoor shelters as a reminder of their once great poverty, is another example of the way the Book of Genesis and the whole Pentateuch dominate every word of Hosea. Without that prior written Covenant in all its details, Hosea has no meaning whatever.

What is promised here is that Israel shall again dwell in tents, not for a few days, as in the feast, but permanently. God will again reduce the nation to poverty, slavery, and deprivation, because they forgot the Lord and walked in wicked ways.

Verse 10

“I have also spoken unto the prophets, and I have multiplied visions; and by the ministry of the prophets have I used similitudes.”

Hailey has a concise paraphrase of this as follows:

“They had no excuse for their ignorance of Jehovah, for he had spoken to them through prophets, through multiplied visions, and by the use of similitudes through which they should have learned.”(F19)

“I have spoken unto the prophets” In addition to the great prophet Moses, “That Prophet like unto Christ,” Calvin gave the following list of prophets who had preceded Hosea: “Abijah the Shilonite, Shemaiah, Iddo, Azariah, Hanani, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Joel, and Amos.”(F20)

“I have used similitudes” There were a number of acted parables of God’s Word in the Old Testament, but for sheer dramatic impact, nothing exceeds the example of Hosea himself in his relationship with Gomer, a type of the rejected Israel.

Verse 11

“Is Gilead iniquity? they are altogether false; in Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field.”

“Gilead” is mentioned in Hosea 6:8 and was one of the places in Israel associated with wickedness and false worship. Altars and shrines devoted to the bull-gods had been multiplied there, and this verse pronounces a judgment against them.

“Is Gilead iniquity…?” This is a sarcastic question designed to say that, “Of course, Gilead IS iniquity!”

“In Gilgal they sacrifice bullocks” There was one altar where the Jews were commanded to worship God, but they had perverted that by multiplying and setting up altars all over the nation. Gilgal was especially associated with the worship of the bull-gods; see under Hosea 4:15, above.

“Their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field” This is the judgment, uttered in the prophetic tense. It is already a fact, as much so as if it had already happened. All of those altars upon which Israel had lavished wealth and adoration would finally be nothing more than rubble that a farmer had to plow around when working his field.

Verse 12

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

This was spoken by way of reminder to Ephraim who now styled himself as a rich man, that he was, in fact, descended from a man who was a servant, not much better off than a slave, in Padan-Aram, where he served his uncle Laban for fourteen years for his wife. With an experience like that in his great ancestor, Ephraim should have been willing to acknowledge the providence of God in his temporary prosperity. “The tending of cattle was one of the hardest and lowest descriptions of servitude.”(F21)

Verse 13

“And by a prophet Jehovah brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.”

The intervention of God had made all the difference in the history of Jacob’s posterity. Their whole nation was hopelessly locked in the most galling slavery, but God, through Moses, intervened, visited his wrath upon the Egyptians, smote their nation with and with a high hand led the people out of into liberty and independence.

“And by a prophet was he preserved” Furthermore, the prophetic arm had guided and protected Israel throughout the period of their wilderness wanderings, providentially aided them in driving out the Canaanites, defended them against their enemies, preserved and watched over them continually, all of this contrasting with the state of slavery in which both Jacob and the entire nation had once been submerged. As a result of all that providential interference upon his behalf, Ephraim was lifted up with pride against his God, glorifying himself, boasting of his riches, forgetting God altogether, and lavishing his favors upon his false gods and even upon his enemies! The blow of eternal justice was poised to fall, and fall it did! “Ephraim had rejected the hand that led him and fed him; it was the sheep deserting the shepherd, the wife the husband, the child the father, and such opposition could not go unpunished.”(F22)

Verse 14

“Ephraim hath provoked to anger most bitterly: therefore shall his blood be left upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.”

If God’s people today are to avoid the error of Ephraim, they must have regard, not only to the grace and mercy of the Lord, but also to the fact, “Of God’s demands upon the covenant community.”(F23) Nobody ever trusted any more completely in God’s promises than did Ephraim; but he made the mistake of supposing that they were unconditional, a mistake exactly like that of people today who fancy that they are “saved by faith alone.” Ask Ephraim! God had promised Ephraim that he would give the land of Canaan (Genesis 30:13-15) to them; and Ephraim, like the Pharisees long afterward, concluded that this promise on God’s part was theirs, no matter what they did, how they lived, or anything else! He was operating by faith alone, and it did not work. You say, “but that was not real faith!” Of course, it was not, and neither is it when people presume to be saved without obeying the gospel, without being baptized, without belonging to the church, without taking the Lord’s Supper, without anything else, really, just their so-called “faith.”

Polkinghorne summarized the terse sentence of judgment pronounced in this verse thus:

Hosea 12:14 gives the final verdict on Israel from the patriarchal period onward. His severe provocation of the Lord necessitates the death penalty, which it is not proposed to waive. Only here does Hosea use the Hebrew word for “Lord,” “[~’Adonay],” as distinct from [~YHWH].(F24)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hosea 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hosea-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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