Hosea 12
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Again poetry is dispelled by prose, and the infidelity of both kingdoms forces itself on the prophet’s mind. Such prose is all the more wearisome to an idealist, because the history of the patriarch Jacob seems to lift up a standard which ought to be dear to his descendants. O that Israel would yet return to his allegiance! Such is the purport of Hosea 11:12 to Hosea 12:6.

Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.
1. wind … the east wind] Note the climax; the parching east wind combines the ideas of destructiveness and emptiness. Comp. Job 15:2; Job 27:21, and note on Hosea 13:15.

lies and desolation] Rather, lies and violence. But the Septuagint reads, ‘lies and falsehoods’—more plausibly, as the other combination is unparalleled.

a covenant with the Assyrians, &c.] Comp. Hosea 5:13, Hosea 7:11. Oil was one of the most precious natural products (Deuteronomy 8:8; Ezekiel 16:19; Ezekiel 27:17), and is mentioned as a present sent to ‘the king’ in Isaiah 57:9. Comp. on Hosea 7:11.

The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.
2. Jacob] Here used for the northern kingdom, to prepare the way for the etymological allusion in Hosea 12:3.

He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
3. He took his brother by the heel] As if Jacob meant, The Supplanter. The same verb is used by Esau in an unfavourable sense in Genesis 27:36; but Hosea here evidently means to edify his people by the allusion. Observe that Jacob is described as the head and representative of his family (comparing this with Hosea 12:2).

had power with God] Rather, contended with God. Again an etymological allusion, ‘Israel’ being explained (rightly or wrongly) as ‘God’s combatant.’ The word used for God is elôhîm, which is applicable to any divine or superhuman form (comp. 1 Samuel 28:13). Hence in the next verse we find ‘angel’, or, rendering etymologically, ‘administrator’ (mal’akh), substituted for it, to prevent misunderstanding. Comp. Genesis 16:10; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19.

3–6. Two episodes (for a third, see Hosea 12:12) in the history of Jacob are applied to the spiritual wants of his descendants. Jacob in the very womb seemed ambitious of the blessing, and when a grown man, he wrestled with the angel for a still higher blessing than before. But, as we are led to interpret the prophet’s thought, the Israelites, instead of justifying their name, and ‘waiting upon their God’, have denied Jehovah, and sought for weak human help.—The parallel passages in Genesis are Genesis 25:26 a, Genesis 32:28 b (both ascribed to ‘the Jehovist’), though we cannot conclude with positive certainty that they were known to Hosea, for in Hosea 12:4 he introduces a detail not mentioned in Genesis. Hosea may have drawn from oral tradition.

Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;
4. he had power over] Rather, he contended with.

he wept, &c.] (The subject is Jacob, not the angel.) This feature is not given in Genesis 32; it is however well adapted to the hortatory object of Hosea. The Septuagint has, ‘they wept’, &c.

he found him in Beth-el] (The subject is Jehovah.) Two visions of Jacob’s are recorded in explanation of the name Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22; Genesis 35:9-15). They proceed from different documents, and either of them may have been current in the circle to which Hosea belonged; the latter is of course pure conjecture. The Septuagint strangely has, ‘They found me in the house of On’ (i.e. Aven or Beth-aven instead of Bethel, comp. Hosea 4:15).

there he spake with us] i.e. ‘in the loins of Jacob’ (Horsley, &c.); comp. the twofold use of ‘Israel’ in Hosea 12:12-13. But this spoils the consistency of the historical picture. The Peshito, Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and probably the Septuagint (πρὸς αὐτοὺς), read with him, i.e. with Jacob. (This is better than assimilating the pronoun in the preceding clause, with a few Hebrew MSS.)

Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.
5. Even the Lord God of hosts, &c.] The Hebrew runs more abruptly, ‘And Jehovah’ &c., i.e. ‘and the name of Him who spoke with Jacob is Jehovah.’ ‘Jehovah’ to the prophets conveys the ideas of almightiness, unchangeableness, and faithfulness (comp. Isaiah 41:4; Malachi 3:6). ‘God of Hosts’ is a title specially characteristic of the regal period; the hosts were (1) the stars, (2) the armies of Israel (see the commentators on Isaiah 1:24).

his memorial] i.e. his name; comp. Exodus 3:15 ‘This is my memorial unto all generations.’

Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.
6. Therefore turn thou to thy God] Lit., ‘And thou—return thou in thy God’; i.e., such being the character of God, who lets Himself be won by wrestling prayer, return thou to thy God, and rest in Him. (For this condensed expression there is no exact parallel.) And how is this ‘return’ or repentance to have its reality proved? By thine observance of the rules of blended justice and kindness towards man and trustfulness towards God (comp. Micah 6:8).

He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.
7. He is a merchant, &c.] Rather, Canaan! in his hand are deceitful balances; he loveth to extort. The geographical term ‘Canaan’ simply means ‘lowland’, and therefore might be, and was, applied to Phœnicia (Isaiah 23:11) as well as to other lowland parts of Palestine; ‘Canaanite’ too became a synonym for ‘merchant’ (Job 41:6; Proverbs 31:24, comp. Zephaniah 1:11; Ezekiel 17:4), as ‘Chaldean’ was a synonym for ‘astrologer.’ Hosea uses the word collectively and metaphorically:—his ‘Canaan’ is a degenerate Israel. The sarcasm derives its point from the low repute of the Phœnician merchants for honesty (comp. Odyss. xiv. 290, 291).

And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.
8. And Ephraim said …] Better, Ephraim indeed said, Surely I have become rich, I have gotten me wealth: all my profits shall bring me no iniquity that were a sin. Ephraim congratulates himself on his riches, and with callous conscience maintains that they have been won quite honestly; or if he be not absolutely innocent, yet his few trifling lapses will not be reckoned a sin. He reminds us of the mercenary shepherds in Zechariah 11:5, who say ‘Blessed be Jehovah that I become rich.’ There is a better connexion however with the next verse if we adopt one or two slight emendations, and render the latter part thus, (but) all his profits will not suffice for (i.e. to expiate) the guilt which he has incurred, i.e. though he gave them all up as ‘a ransom for his soul’ (Exodus 30:12), the sacrifice would be inadequate. Comp. the Septuagint, πάντες οἱ πόνοι αὐτοῦ οὐχ εὑρεθήσονται αὐτῷ δἰ ἀδικίας ἂς ἥμαρτεν. We thus get rid of the unnatural distinction supposed above between ‘iniquity’ and ‘sin.’

8–15. Not Israel, but Canaan should he be called; for his ideal is Canaan’s. The end justifies the means, and his end is—to become rich! But how bitterly will he be disappointed. He must in short begin his history over again, and repeat his wilderness-wanderings. Or to speak more plainly, idolatry must be rooted out. Jehovah must take up the challenge thrown down by Ephraim. Just before the severe final rebuke, Hosea resumes his appeal to the instructive history of Jacob; but Hosea 12:12-13 may be misplaced.

And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.
9. And I] Rather, For I. It is explanatory of the vague hint of an inexorable doom.

thy God from the land of Egypt] Who is therefore ever ready to help you (Isaiah 46:3), but who will also, if necessary, punish you as He did of old (comp. Numbers 14:26-30).

will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles] Rather, will again make thee to dwell in tents. The analogy of a parallel passage (Hosea 2:14) at once suggests the idea that this prediction is a threat and not (as St Jerome, Kimchi, and Calvin would have it) a promise. Not indeed a threat without a tinge of promise (see on Hosea 2:14), but the unrelieved worldliness of the speech in Hosea 12:9 calls forth a declaration of God’s purpose as uncompromising in its earnestness. ‘Again’ alludes to the journey through the wilderness. On the rendering yet, see further note in Introduction, part v.

as in the days of the solemn feast] Better, of the festal season. The word used is mô‘çd (lit. appointed time), which is used rather more widely than khag ‘festival.’ Here however the prophet does mean one of the three ancient festivals, viz. the so-called Feast of Tabernacles (or rather, Booths). This was the most popular of all the feasts (see on Hosea 9:1): it was originally a time of rejoicing for the ‘ingathering’ (whence its name in Exodus 23:16) of the latest crops of the year, and the ‘booths’ or ‘tents’ (as they are here, for once, called) were simply designed (as at the analogous festivals of other nations) to promote the enjoyment of the simple-minded rural merrymakers. Another object is indeed ascribed to the festival in the Book of Leviticus, viz. to remind the Israelites of the tent-life of their fathers in the wilderness, but this, as Mr Clark and others have well shown (see Speaker’s Commentary on Leviticus 23:43), can only have been an after-thought, as the nomad Israelites are never said to have dwelt in ‘booths’ or ‘huts’, but always in ‘tents’ (of skin or cloth). Hosea’s reference to the Feast of Booths points a striking contrast. The predominant tone of the Israelites is now one of exuberant joyousness (Hosea 9:1), culminating in the merry, out-of-door life of the local autumn-festivals, but soon they shall dwell in tents again, not for amusement, but by bitter compulsion.

I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.
10. It is not for want of warnings that this calamity comes upon the Israelites. In the most various ways has Jehovah spoken, not to, but by the prophets.

Visions … similitudes] A prophetic vision is, properly speaking, an intuition of some divinely revealed truth clothed in ‘outward and visible signs’, but the term is also extended (e.g. Isaiah 1:1; Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1) to the entire contents of a prophecy. ‘Similitudes’, i.e. parables whether implicit (as Hosea 9:10) or explicit (as Hosea 7:4-7; Isaiah 5:1-7).

Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.
11. The ruin of two famous centres of idolatry, representing together the entire northern kingdom.

Is there iniquity, &c.] More probably, If Gilead is (given to) idolatry, mere vanity shall they (the Gileadites) become, i.e. apostacy from Him who is the only source of life leads to sure destruction; ‘they that make the idols become like unto them.’ The town of Gilead has already been singled out for reprobation in Hosea 6:8-9. For the historical fulfilment of the prophecy, see 2 Kings 15:29—‘in the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and took … Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria’ (compare Tiglath-Pileser’s own account of his expedition against Philistia in b.c. 734; G. Smith, Eponym Canon, p. 123, Schrader, The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, on 2 Kings 15:29).

they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal] Or, as it might well be stated in the margin, ‘in Heap-town’ (see next note). They affront Jehovah by sacrificing at idolatrous shrines, especially at Gilgal (see on Hosea 4:15). So the Targum. Others, by a slight emendation, ‘they sacrifice to the bullocks in Gilgal’, i.e. to the steer-gods; but there is no parallel for such a use of the word ‘bullocks.’ St Jerome’s ‘bobus immolantes’ is an ungrammatical rendering of our present text (see his note).

yea, their altars are as heaps, &c.] Rather, so then their altars shall he as stone-heaps, i.e. like heaps of stones which a careful husbandman has gathered out of his ploughed field (comp. Micah 1:6). The idiom employed (lit., ‘also their altars’ &c.) indicates the correspondence between cause and effect, a sin and its retribution (comp. Isaiah 66:3 b, 4a); the tense is the prophetic perfect. There is a paronomasia in Gilgal (as if ‘Heap-town’, comp. Joshua 4:20), and gallim (‘heaps’); the very name of Gilgal seems to suggest its impending fate. Some think the name ‘Gilead’ is also included in the paronomasia, but in spite of the apparent support of Genesis 31:47-48, this is not the more natural view of Hosea’s language. At most, there is a play upon the similarity of sound in Gilead and Gilgal; not upon any supposed similarity of meaning.

And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.
12. fled into the country of Syria] Comp. Genesis 27:43; Genesis 28:2. Hosea’s phrase, the field of Aram, is the exact equivalent of ‘Padan-Aram’ (rather Paddan-Aram) in the latter passage; the Assyrian padânu has for one of its meanings ‘field’ (also ‘park’).

served for a wife, &c.] Comp. Genesis 29:18-20; Genesis 30:31; Genesis 31:38-41. The last passage gives a vivid idea of the hardships summed up in the simple phrase ‘he kept (sheep).’

12, 13. As Ewald remarks, ‘this is probably the oldest instance of a spiritualizing of the ancient history, though the way to it had been long prepared by the conception, so familiar to Hosea himself (chaps, 1–3), of the community of Israel as Jehovah’s bride.’ The verses however come in very abruptly, and are really, as Rashi long ago observed, a continuation of the didactic survey of the life of Jacob interrupted at Hosea 12:6 (comp. on Hosea 12:14).

And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.
13. by a prophet] i.e. Moses (comp. Deuteronomy 34:10). Hosea contrasts the helplessness and the hardships of Jacob-Israel with the wonderful deliverance and preservation of his descendants. Comp. Isaiah 51:2, ‘I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.’ Note the double use of the term Israel in Hosea 12:12 and Hosea 12:13.

Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.
14. This verse would be less abrupt if it immediately followed Hosea 12:11, of which it might be taken to furnish a fuller justification.

provoked] Rather, hath provoked.

therefore shall he leave his blood] Rather, and his bloodshed will he cast; i.e. Jehovah will bring sudden retribution upon him for his bloodguiltiness (comp. Hosea 1:4, Hosea 4:2).

his reproach] i.e., the insult to Jehovah in Israel’s idolatry (comp. Isaiah 65:7).

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