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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Hosea 11

 

 

Verse 1

‘When Israel was a child, then I loved him,

And called my son out of Egypt.’

With these beautiful words God describes His relationship with His chosen people as one of sovereign love. Out of His love for them He had called Israel as His son out of Egypt where they were in slavery. Compare Exodus 4:22-23 where He described Israel as ‘His firstborn’ and demanded that they be freed on that basis, and Deuteronomy 14:1, where He declares them to be His children. His redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 20:2) is being portrayed as the act of a loving Father delivering by the payment of a ransom His child who had been enslaved. He had paid a ransom in order that Israel might be set free.

And we do well to note at this stage who ‘Israel’ were. They were not all direct descendants of Abraham. They included descendants of Abraham’s 318 fighting men and their families (Genesis 14:14), and a ‘mixed multitude’ of peoples from many nations who, having taken part in the Exodus (Exodus 12:38), were received into the covenant at Sinai, and were circumcised at Gilgal (Joshua 5:2-9). They also included any who had later chosen to throw in their lot with Israel and enter by circumcision into the covenant (Exodus 12:48). Thus they were already a multinational people. For ‘Israel’ was never made up simply of people descended from Abraham himself (that was a legal fiction). They rather saw themselves as adopted by Him, on the basis that ‘those who are of faith, those are the children of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7). But all of them were loved equally by God and were seen as His children, having been accepted into the covenant as ‘Israel’.


Verses 1-12

YHWH Describes How He Had Called His Son (Israel) Out Of Egypt And Watched Over Him As A Faithful Father, Training Him In The Right Way, Only For His Son’s Heart To Remain In Egypt So That He Would Inevitably Return There Again. Nevertheless God Promises That He Will Not Give Them Up, And That One Day He Will Call Them Out Of Egypt Again And He Will Cause Them To Dwell With Him (Hosea 11:1-12).

In this tender passage YHWH describes how He ‘called His son (Israel) out of Egypt’ (compare Exodus 4:22-23; Deuteronomy 14:1). And how, in spite of the fact that He had led them, and watched over them and fed them (both in the wilderness and then in Canaan), they had spurned His love and turned to the Baalim and to graven images (both in the wilderness (Exodus 32) and now in Canaan), because their hearts were still ‘in Egypt’. And the consequence is to be that they will ‘return to Egypt’ (i.e. by being exiled among foreign nations or refugees in Egypt) because they have refused to turn to Him. Nevertheless He is determined not to finally give them up, and promises that although they at present only seek Him in a formal way, without there being any real heart in it, He will in His sovereignty one day bring them again out of their Egypt and ‘cause them to dwell in their houses’. It was in order to demonstrate that this promise was about to be fulfilled that Jesus (as the Supreme Representation of Israel) went as a young child into Egypt, and then returned to Palestine (Canaan) at the call of God, symbolising that the promised return of Israel to God through Him was about to happen, something which Matthew especially brings out by citing this passage (Matthew 2:15).

In spite of Ephraim’s failure Judah is at this stage seen as the exception because they still ‘ruled with God’ (had a Davidic king) and were ‘faithful with the Holy One’ (continued the observance of the covenant in accordance with the Law). This might suggest that these words were written in the days of Hezekiah when this was again true.

It should be noted that whilst the alterations in method of address (changing from third person to first person and back again, and from singular to plural and back again) may be a little confusing to us they were not confusing to Hosea’s listeners. In such niceties Hebrew grammar was not as precise as we are.

Analysis of Hosea 11:1-12.

a When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).

b The more they (the prophets) called them, the more they went from them, they sacrificed to the Baalim, and burned incense to graven images (Hosea 11:2).

c Yet I taught Ephraim to walk, I took them on my arms, but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who lift up the yoke on their jaws, and I laid food before them (Hosea 11:3-4).

d Will they not return into the land of Egypt, and Assyria be their king, because they refused to return to Me? And the sword will fall on their cities, and will consume their bars, and devour, because of their own counsels (Hosea 11:5-6).

e And my people are bent on backsliding from me, though they call them to (Me) on high, none at all will exalt (Me)’ (Hosea 11:7).

f How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I cast you off, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboiim? My heart is turned within me, My compassions are kindled together (Hosea 11:8)

e I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of you, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11:9).

d They will walk after YHWH, Who will roar like a lion, for He will roar, and the children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria (Hosea 11:10-11 a).

c And I will make them to dwell in their houses, says YHWH (Hosea 11:11 b).

b Ephraim compasses me about with falsehood, and the house of Israel with deceit (Hosea 11:12 a).

a But Judah yet rules with God, and is faithful with the Holy One (Hosea 11:12 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel’s relationship with God was good, and they were blessed by God and in the parallel Judah’s relationship with God is good. In ‘b’ Israel had turned to the Baalim and to graven images, and in the parallel they compassed God with falsehood and deceit. In ‘c’ God watched over His people as though they were His household, and in the parallel He will make them to dwell in (His) houses. In ‘d’ they will return to Egypt and Assyria, and in the parallel they will return from Egypt and Assyria. In ‘e’ Israel call to God on high, but do not exalt Him, and in the parallel God is exalted as the Holy One among them. Central in ‘f’ is the heart cry of God for His people in His compassion for them.


Verse 2

‘The more they called them,

The more they went from them,

They sacrificed to the Baalim,

And burned incense to graven images.’

But it is made clear that Israel in fact never came out of Egypt in their hearts, for the more that ‘they’ (the prophets) called them the more they deserted what they had been taught, and sacrificed to Baalim and graven images. It was made clear by this that idolatry and the ways of thinking of Egypt still possessed their hearts. In their hearts they had never left Egypt. ‘Burned incense to graven images.’ As well as the offering of sacrifices, the burning of incense in their many sanctuaries was a regular feature of Egyptian/Canaanite worship, and some of these incense altars have been discovered in what was Canaan.


Verse 3

‘Yet I taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them on my arms,

But they knew not that I healed them.’

Yet in a touching picture God describes how He had ‘taught Ephraim (Israel) to walk’ (through the covenant) and how He had upheld them in His arms (Deuteronomy 33:27), or alternatively had grasped them by the arms. But the sad fact was that they had been unresponsive to His guidance, not recognising the care that He took over their wellbeing. They ‘knew not that He healed them’ includes not only the thought that He looked after them when they were sick, but also that He continually watched out for their welfare. He had done for them all that was necessary.


Verse 4

‘I drew them with cords of a man,

With bands of love,

And I was to them as those who lift up the yoke on their jaws,

And I laid food before them.’

And in spite of their misbehaviour YHWH had not deserted them. He had drawn them along in their leading reins, bands which bound them to Him in love, and He had been to them like the man who takes out the horse’s or oxen’s bit so that he could feed them. He had constantly laid food before them (initially the manna and quails, and then the ‘old corn of the land’ - Joshua 5:12).


Verse 5

‘Will they not return into the land of Egypt?

And Assyria be their king?

Because they refused to return to me?’

But having failed to recognise that it was He Who had healed them (Hosea 11:3), they had refused to return to Him. Their hearts had remained in Egypt. Thus the inevitable consequence was that they would ‘return to Egypt’ and let the king of Assyria be their king. In other words their seeming hankering after being subject to, and in bondage to, Assyria was the consequence of their hearts being ‘still in Egypt’, still dominated by idolatry and foreign ideas. Of course many of the people, in order to avoid Assyrian domination, did flee to Egypt, and thus the exiles would be divided between Egypt and Assyria. That was the beginning of the build up of the huge number of ‘Jews’ in what would become Alexandria. In Hosea’s eyes Israel had never really left Egypt, for their hearts were still there.

Note the fact that they would ‘return to Egypt’ because they did not ‘return to Him’. That was the choice with which they were faced. God or Egypt. And they chose Egypt. That was why, when Jesus Christ came as their Redeemer and Representative in order to bear their sins, He had to come out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15).


Verse 6

And the sword will fall on their cities,

And will consume their bars,

And devour,

Because of their own counsels.’

So because of their refusal to respond wholly to Him the sword would fall on their cities, and the bars on their gates would be ‘consumed’ (broken ) so that the gates were no longer safe. The sword would devour them because of the kind of counsel that they followed. This counsel included the assurances of victory by false prophets, and the confident claims of the king’s advisers and their own leaders. After all, they might have argued, had not Assyria stopped short of Samaria previously? And would he not do so again when he saw its strength?

The word translated ‘bars’ is an unusual one and some have therefore suggested translating as ‘oracle priests’ (compare its use in Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 50:36), indicating those who advised on warfare through divination. An idolatrous Israel would have seen them as being as effective as bars on the gates.


Verse 7

And my people are bent on backsliding from me,

Though they call them to on high,

None at all will exalt him.’

This was all necessary and certain because of the fact was that the people were intent on backsliding from YHWH. Their hearts were set against Him. They might give the impression of calling on the One Who was ‘on High’ (compare Hosea 7:16), but really it was not with the intention of truly exalting Him. It was rather with a perfunctory and formal acknowledgement of His existence because of their historical past.

Alternately some see the reference as to Baal as Canaan’s high God, to whom the people sought, and who would be in no position to exalt Israel. They would thus discover that it was a waste of time. But Hosea 7:16 confirms that YHWH is meant.


Verse 8

‘How shall I give you up, Ephraim?

How shall I cast you off, Israel?

How shall I make you as Admah?

How shall I set you as Zeboiim?

My heart is turned within me,

My compassions are kindled together.’

YHWH’s response is a cry from the heart. How could He give up Ephraim, how could He cast off Israel? How could He do to them what He had done to the cities of the plain Admah and Zeboiim whom, along with Sodom and Gomorrah He had destroyed with fire? For this latter see Deuteronomy 29:23; Genesis 10:19; Genesis 14:2-8 with Genesis 19:24-25; Genesis 19:29. This response was the result of the fact that ‘His heart had turned within Him’. That is, He had ‘changed His mind and purpose’ with regard to final destruction (as opposed to temporary chastisement) and intended at some time to show mercy. And this was because instead of His anger being kindled, it was His compassionate heart that was being kindled to show compassion to His people. But it was a compassion that could only be revealed once Israel had learned its lesson. He could not just overlook what they had done. It was just that because of His very nature as God and not man, and as the Holy and unique One, His judgment was not to be seen as absolutely final.

This cry from the heart of God reveals God’s continual quandary. He longs to show mercy and forgive, but He cannot do so unless it is accompanied by men repenting and turning from their sin. The love of God does not exclude the judgment of God, for God is also ‘Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). Those who would experience His love must first come to His light. God cannot lower His standards however great His love.


Verse 9

I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger,

I will not return to destroy Ephraim,

For I am God, and not man,

The Holy One in the midst of you,

And I will not come in wrath.’

Thus while He would chastise them severely He would limit the way in which the fierceness of His anger was exercised. He would not totally destroy Ephraim. They would still have a hope in the more distant future once their chastisement was over. This was precisely what Moses had declared centuries before when he had led them out of the wilderness (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-29). And YHWH would do this because He was not a mere, vengeful man, but was God. He was the ‘Holy One’ of Israel in the midst of them, that is, the One Who was unique and of a wholly different nature from man, Who had chosen Israel. Thus while He would certainly visit them in wrath, it would not be in final wrath. He would chastise, but not finally destroy. Partial fulfilment of this future mercy took place in the restoration of Israel to the land, a restoration which would have drawn many exiles back to Palestine and resulted in the partly receptive Palestine to which Jesus came. But its greater fulfilment took place through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ Himself as He brought the remnant of Israel back to God, cutting off the old unbelieving Israel, and establishing a new believing Israel which would reach out to the world. But the restoration of old, unbelieving Israel to Palestine in the present day might also suggest that in the future there will be a great working of God among them so that they are once more ‘engrafted into the olive tree’ (Romans 11) by coming in submission to Jesus Christ (without which there can be no salvation for anyone).

MT indicates that the final phrase is ‘And I will not enter into the city’, which would then indicate that while Assyria might destroy Samaria, and the sword might enter into the city (Hosea 11:6), YHWH Himself would not enter into the city in final judgment. It would not have had the final death knell rung over it, but would take part in the future about to be described.


Verse 10

‘They will walk after YHWH,

Who will roar like a lion,

For he will roar,

And the children will come trembling from the west.’

For when the time came for Him to act in mercy He would roar like a lion, so that Ephraim would walk after YHWH. His roaring would cause them to respond to the covenant with all their hearts (compare Amos 3:8). He would roar, and his young lion cubs would come to Him ‘trembling’ (the word means ‘jumping with fear, shaking’) from the west’ (i.e. through the Valley of Jezreel to the west of Samaria, on their way from Assyria and Egypt). His people will once again know ‘the fear of YHWH’.

Some see ‘from the west (sea)’ as signifying from further afield, even from countries across the sea.


Verse 11

They will come trembling as a bird out of Egypt,

And as a dove out of the land of Assyria,

And I will make them to dwell in their houses,

Say YHWH.’

Responding in reverent fear His people will come ‘like a bird out of Egypt, and like a dove out of the land of Assyria. This may have in mind the dove that returned to the ark after God’s judgment on the world in the time of Noah, and be the indication of a new beginning. Or the idea may be in order to emphasise their defencelessness. Not like an eagle, but like a dove. And the thought is that God’s people will renounce Egypt once and for all, and will return from the place of exile in Assyria, and will come and make their homes with God. The metaphor is a picturesque one. The birds would be firmly settled in Egypt and Assyria until suddenly disturbed by the roar of the Lion, at which they will take to the skies and make for their homeland. It was partly fulfilled when Israel returned to the land in droves after the exile, it found a greater fulfilment when the Gospel reached out to the Jews from Palestine both north and south as witnessed to in Acts, resulting in their coming tremblingly to God, but its greatest fulfilment awaits the new Heaven and the new earth where Abraham too will finally find the city that he was looking for (Hebrews 11:10-14), and where all who are His will find their resting places (John 14:2).

And all this is certain of fulfilment because it has been declared by YHWH. The lion of Judah will be roused up (Genesis 49:9) and will roar (in the form of the Lamb as it had been slain - Revelation 5:5-6), Shiloh will come, and His people will be gathered to Him (Genesis 49:10).


Verse 12

‘Ephraim compasses me about with falsehood,

And the house of Israel with deceit,

But Judah yet rules with God,

And is faithful with the Holy One.

These words suggest that Hosea was now aware of the reforms of Hezekiah in Judah (see Hosea 1:1 and 2 Kings 18:1-6) and saw in them an indication that Israel’s hope for the future depended on the Davidic house. For he declares that Judah yet rules with God and is in faithful submission to Him, thereby indicating that Judah’s kingship is now responsive to YHWH and true worship has now been restored. We can indeed see that Hezekiah’s reforms must have come as a breath of fresh air to the prophets struggling to bring Israel to its senses, and may well have raised Messianic hopes.

He points out that whilst Ephraim were still ‘surrounding’ Him with falsehood, and the whole house of Israel were ‘surrounding’ Him with deceit, (the language might suggest that at this stage Samaria was ‘surrounded’ by the Assyrian army thus providing the symbolism used here) and were in fact about to crumble, Judah was yet reliable and ‘ruled with God’, that is, their king ruled in obedience to God. For in the third year of Hoshea Hezekiah had come to the throne of Judah and had submitted Himself to God (2 Kings 18:1-6). It was not said of Judah that they had ‘appointed kings, but not by Me’ (Hosea 8:4), for they still held to the Davidic kingship Thus the whole future of Israel was seen to depend on the firm foundation of the Davidic kingship, and on their faithfulness to the Holy One. and especially on the coming greater King Who would bring in righteousness (Isaiah 11:1-4). Once He came the lion would roar and the people would turn back to God, an apt picture of the ministry of Jesus Christ and what followed it after Pentecost.

(On the other hand the Masoretes in their Hebrew text and many modern scholars (the latter by repointing the consonants and altering the sense) see the verse as opening chapter 12, even though the Masoretes held to the text as translated above. But the analysis above indicates that its sentiments are required to round off the chiasm in chapter 11, whilst the translation above (following MT) more fully explains the reference to the lion in Hosea 11:11. It was Judah, who would be the lion’s whelp, from whom the Final Hope would come (Genesis 49:9-10)).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hosea-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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