Hosea 12:3
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
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(3, 4) Had power.—Should be, strove. Prayers and tears were the weapons used in the memorable struggle for pardon, reconciliation, peace in the self-conquest as well as the God-conquest which was achieved. “At Bethel He (Jehovah) found him (Jacob)” not once only, but on repeated occasions (Genesis 28:11; Genesis 35:1),and in the subsequent history of the children of Israel.

Hosea 12:3. He took his brother by the heel in the womb — From the mentioning of Jacob in the foregoing verse, the prophet takes occasion to put his posterity in mind of the particular favours God had bestowed upon him; partly with a view to encourage them to imitate him in endeavouring to obtain the like blessings, and partly to convince them of their ingratitude and degeneracy from him. His taking his brother by the heel, signified his striving, by a divine instinct, for the birthright and blessing. Even before his birth he reached forth his hand to catch hold of it, as it were, and if possible to prevent his brother. It denoted, also, that he should prevail at last, gain his point, and in process of time become greater than his brother. And this prognostic of his prevalence and superiority was the effect of God’s will and power, and not of Jacob’s, who was not then in a capacity of acting of himself: see note on Genesis 25:26. It is justly observed here, by Bishop Horsley, that his “taking his brother by the heel is not mentioned in disparagement of the patriarch. On the contrary, the whole of these two verses is a commemoration of God’s kindness for the ancestor of the Israelites, on which the prophet founds an animated exhortation to them, to turn to that God from whom they might expect so much favour. By his strength he had power with God, &c. — This alludes to his wrestling with the angel, as recorded Genesis 32. That bodily strength, wherewith he was endued by God, and enabled to wrestle with this heavenly being, was a token of the strength of his faith, and of the fervency of his spirit in prayer. This is mentioned here by the prophet, as another instance of God’s favour to Jacob. He not only, when an infant in the womb, was enabled to perform the emblematical action just mentioned; but, in his adult age, he was endued with such supernatural strength of mind and body, that he was enabled to continue wrestling till he obtained the blessing. The prophet, in this clause, alludes to those words of his, I will not let thee go except thou bless me; intimating the strength of his faith, and prevalency of his prayers with God. The words, He had power with God, and those that follow, He had power over the angel, are equivalent; and plainly prove that this person, who assumed a human shape, was really God, that is, the Son of God, and the angel of the covenant, by whom all the divine appearances recorded in the Old Testament were performed; the affairs of the church being ordered by him from the beginning. This subject is learnedly handled by Dr. Allix in his Judgment of the Jewish Church, against the Unitarians, chap. 13.-15., by Archbishop Tenison in his Discourses of Idolatry, chap. 14., and by Bishop Bull in his Defence of the Nicene Faith. 12:1-6 Ephraim feeds himself with vain hopes of help from man, when he is at enmity with God. The Jews vainly thought to secure the Egyptians by a present of the produce of their country. Judah is contended with also. God sees the sin of his own people, and will reckon with them for it. They are put in mind of what Jacob did, and what God did for him. When his faith upon the Divine promise prevailed above his fears, then by his strength he had power with God. He is Jehovah, the same that was, and is, and is to come. What was a revelation of God to one, is his memorial to many, to all generations. Then let those who have gone from God, be turned to him. Turn thou to the Lord, by repentance and faith, as thy God. Let those that are converted to him, walk with him in all holy conversation and godliness. Let us wrestle with Him for promised blessings, determined not to give over till we prevail; and let us seek Him in his ordinances.He took his brother by the heel in the womb - Whether or no the act of Jacob was beyond the strength, ordinarily given to infants in the womb, the meaning of the act was beyond man's wisdom to declare. Whence the Jews paraphrased , "Was it not predicted of your lather Jacob, before he was born, that he should become greater than his brother?" Yet this was not fulfilled until more than 500 years afterward, nor completely until the time of David. These gifts were promised to Jacob out of the free mercy of God, antecedent to all deserts. But Jacob, thus chosen without desert, showed forth the power of faith; "By his strength he had power with God." : "The strength by which he did this, was God's strength, as well as that by which God contended with him; yet it is well called his, as being by God given to him. "Yet he had power with God," God so ordering it, that the strength which was in Jacob, should put itself forth with greater force, than that in the assumed body, whereby He so dealt with Jacob. God, as it were, bore the office of two persons, showing in Jacob more strength than He put forth in the Angel." "By virtue of that faith in Jacob, it is related that God "could" not prevail against him. He could not because he would not overthrow his faith and constancy. By the touch in the hollow of his thigh, He but added strength to his faith, showing him who it was who wrestled with him, and that He willed to bless him." For thereon Jacob said those words which have become a proverb of earnest supplication, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me, and, I have seen God, face to face, and my life is preserved" Genesis 32:26, Genesis 32:30. : "He was strengthened by the blessing of Him whom he overcame." 3. He—Jacob, contrasted with his degenerate descendants, called by his name, Jacob (Ho 12:2; compare Mic 2:7). He took Esau by the heel in the womb in order to obtain, if possible, the privileges of the first-born (Ge 25:22-26), whence he took his name, Jacob, meaning "supplanter"; and again, by his strength, prevailed in wrestling with God for a blessing (Ge 32:24-29); whereas ye disregard My promises, putting your confidence in idols and foreign alliances. He conquered God, ye are the slaves of idols. Only have Jehovah on your side, and ye are stronger than Edom, or even Assyria. So the spiritual Israel lays hold of the heel of Jesus, "the First-born of many brethren," being born again of the Holy Spirit. Having no right in themselves to the inheritance, they lay hold of the bruised heel, the humanity of Christ crucified, and let not go their hold of Him who is not, as Esau, a curse (Heb 12:16, 17), but, by becoming a curse for us, is a blessing to us.

power with God—referring to his name, "Israel," prince of God, acquired on that occasion (compare Mt 11:12). As the promised Canaan had to be gained forcibly by Israel, so heaven by the faithful (Re 3:21; compare Lu 13:24). "Strive," literally, "as in the agony of a contest." So the Canaanitess (Mt 15:22).

his strength—which lay in his conscious weakness, whence, when his thigh was put out of joint by God, he hung upon Him. To seek strength was his object; to grant it, God's. Yet God's mode of procedure was strange. In human form He tries as it were to throw Jacob down. When simple wrestling was not enough, He does what seems to ensure Jacob's fall, dislocating his thigh joint, so that he could no longer stand. Yet it was then that Jacob prevailed. Thus God teaches us the irresistible might of conscious weakness. For when weak in ourselves, we are strong by His strength put in us (Job 23:6; Isa 27:5; 2Co 12:9, 10).

He, Jacob,

took his brother, Esau, by the heel in the womb: the matter of fact you have Genesis 25:26; the design of mentioning it in this place is to mind them of that goodness which God showed to them in their father Jacob, who was by a miracle foretold to be superior to Esau, that he and his should have the birth-right: this.should never be forgotten. The true worship of God they should have preserved, since in the priesthood, part of the primogeniture, it was included both as privilege and duty; justice and equity they should have maintained as a flower of the crown and kingly authority included in the birth-right, and a double portion or share in God’s blessings was theirs too. But all these blessings are forfeited by their apostacy, for which at once they should blush, repent, and humble themselves, and at last remember their primogeniture, and labour to recover to a temper worthy this their original. Jacob strove for the blessing in the womb, but you profanely neglect it in full age.

By his strength; this strength was not of nature, But of grace, a fruit of the Divine love and election, strength from God.

He had power with God; strength received of God was well employed betimes, in it he wrestled for and obtained the blessing; but you let it slip out of your hands, and sin it away. There was somewhat of heroic, a conqueror from his birth, but you are revolters from the womb. He took his brother by the heel in the womb,.... That is, Jacob took his brother Esau by the heel, as he came forth from his mother's womb; the history of it is in Genesis 25:25. It is here observed, upon mentioning the name of Jacob in Hosea 12:2, meaning the posterity, of the patriarch; but here he himself is intended, and occasionally taken notice of, to show how very different his posterity were from him, and how sadly degenerated; as well as to upbraid them with ingratitude, whose ancestors, and they also, had received such and so many favours from the Lord; Jacob the patriarch was a hero from the womb, but they transgressors from it; this action of his observed was a presage and pledge of his having the superiority of his brother, and of his getting the birthright and blessing from him. So the Targum,

"prophet, say unto them, was it not said of Jacob, before he was born, that he would be greater than his brother?''

see Romans 9:11. In this action there was something divine, miraculous, and preternatural; it was not the effort of nature merely, but contrary to it, or at least above it; and not done by chance, but ordered by the providence of God, as a prediction and testification of his future greatness, and even of his posterity's, in times yet to come, as Kimchi observes, who refers to Obadiah 1:18;

and by his strength he had power with God; the Targum is, with the angel, as in Hosea 12:4; he is called a man in the history of this event in Genesis 32:24; not that he was a mere man, since he is here expressly called God, and afterwards the Lord God of hosts; and there it is evident, from the context, he was a divine Person, and no other than the Son of God; who, though not as yet incarnate, appeared in a human form, as a presage of his future incarnation; though this was not a mere apparition, spectre, or phantasm, as Josephus (t) calls it; for it was not in a dream, or in a visionary way, that this wrestling and striving was between this divine Person in this form and Jacob, but in reality; it was a real substance which the Son of God formed, animated, actuated, and assumed, for that time and purpose, and then laid it aside; which touched Jacob, and he touched that, laid hold on it, and held it fast, and strove with it, and had power over it, and over God in it; even over him that is God over all, the true God and eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ; not a created God, or God by office, but by nature; as the perfections that are in him, and the works and worship ascribed to him, declare: now Jacob had power over him "by his strength"; not by his natural strength; either of his body, which could not have been equal to the strength of this human body assumed for the time, as it was used and managed by a divine Person, unless he had been extraordinarily assisted and strengthened; or of his mind and soul, not by any spiritual strength he had of himself; but by what he had from this divine Person, with whom he wrestled; who put strength into him, and supported and increased the power and strength of faith in prayer; so that he prevailed over him, and got the blessing, for which reason his name was called Israel, Genesis 32:28.

(t) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 20. sect. 2.

He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had {d} power with God:

(d) Seeing that God in this way preferred Jacob their father, Judah's ingratitude was the more to be abhorred.

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.Verse 3. - He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power (margin, was a prince, or, behaved himself princely) with God. In this verse and the following the prophet looks away back into the far-distant past; and this retrospect, which is suggested by the names Jacob and Israel, reminds him of two well-known events in the life of the patriarch-The meaning and intention of this reminiscence are differently interpreted. The two leading views are the following:

(1) Some are of opinion that the prophet means to give an example by way of warning, and to mention a trait of Jacob's overreaching cunning, and likewise of his violence, and thereby show that Jacob had incurred guilt in a manner resembling that of the then present generation; that is to say, his conduct had been like to theirs in deceit, lying, and violence. But

(2) according to others, and we agree with them, the object of the prophet in these verses is to admonish them to imitate the conduct of their progenitor, and to remind them of the distinction which he had obtained thereby, as an encourage-merit to them to go and do likewise.

(3) Another interpretation, somewhat similar to

(2), is that of those who admit that Jacob's laying hold of his brother's heel in the womb is proposed to his posterity by the prophet for the purpose of emulation and encouragement, at the same time to exhibit God's electing grace from eternity. Thus Jerome: "While he was yet in the womb of Rebekah, he laid hold of his brother's heel, not by his own strength, it is true, who was incapable of perception, but by the mercy of God, who knows and loves those whom he has predestinated." So also Rashi: "All this I have done to him; he took his brother by the heel for a sign that he would prevail over him." Calvin explains more fully thus: "Their ingratitude is showed in this, that they did not acknowledge that they had been anticipated, in the person of their father Jacob, by the gratuitous mercy of God. The first history is indeed referred to for this end, that the posterity of Jacob might understand that they had been elected by God before they were born. For Jacob did not, by choice or design, lay hold of the heel of his brother in his mother's womb; but it was an extraordinary thing. It was, then, God who guided the hand of the infant and by this sign testified his adoption to be gratuitous. In short, by saying that Jacob held the foot of his brother in his mother's womb, the same thing is intended as if God had reminded the Israelites that they did not excel other people by their own virtue or that of their parents, but that God of his own good pleasure had chosen them." Aben Ezra and Kimchi explain the seizing of Esau's heel by Jacob as owing to the impartation of Divine power, but as a sign of victory over his enemies. We must reject

(1) for the following reasons:

(a) The reference is not to Genesis 27, where Jacob's overreaching Esau is recorded, but to Genesis 25:26, where it is written, "After that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel;"

(b) the patriarchs are always exhibited as patterns of piety - besides, Hosea never employs the name Israel in any but an honorable sense. We must elect between

(2) and

(3); and we incline to

(2), as the gist of the passage is to exhibit Jacob's earnestness in seeking the Divine blessing as an example to his posterity. Already in his mother's womb, before he saw the light of the world even in his condition of unconsciousness, he had laid hold of the heel of his elder brother Esau, in order to anticipate him as the firstborn, and thereby appropriate the Divine promises. The second clause describes how with zeal, by labor and effort, he had struggled for the position of pre-eminence, sorely struggling for the Divine blessing. In the maturity of his manhood he wrestled with God, or rather with the angel of the covenant, and prevailed so that his name was changed to Israel. This picture the prophet presents to Jacob's posterity for their imitation, with implied promise of like happy result. Though Aben Ezra and Kimchi, in their exposition of the verse, rather explain in their own way the significance of the original event as recorded in Genesis than the application which the prophet here makes of it, yet it may not be out of place to subjoin their comments, which are as follows: Aben Ezra, "With respect to him who explains 'in the womb' in the sense that Jehovah then decreed the matter of the birthright and blessing, I know not how the meaning of 'in the womb' bears on that, as the Scripture says, 'Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee.' According to my opinion it should be taken according to its literal sense, that ' he took his brother by the heel in the womb; ' and this is made clear by' and his hand took hold on Esau's heel.' Now the purport is, 'Why do the sons of Jacob not remember that I chose their father, and effected preeminence for him over all that are born? For when he was in the womb I gave him strength to lay hold of the heel, and this was as the working of a miracle, for the fetus has, in the womb and at the time of the opening of the matrix, no strength to lay hold of anything until it comes forth from the womb into the air of the world. And lo! when he was in the womb I gave him strength; and afterwards he wrestled with the angel, and he (the angel) did not prevail over him, although one angel slew the whole host of Assyria, and from his sight the children of men flee in terror as David who was frightened; how much was it to wrestle with him.' The meaning is that all the children of the world should know that his (Jacob's) seed shall endure for ever, and in the end conquer his enemies. But Ephraim thinks that Ephraim himself has found the power." The comment of Kimchi on the first part of the verse is much the same with that of Aben Ezra just cited; while on the concluding clause he remarks, "And yet another sign I have shown him to be a sign to his children after him, for I gave him strength to wrestle with the angel and to be a prince in relation to him as if he was in the same rank with him. And this sign I showed him that his sons would be the portion of Jehovah alone, that star and angel should not prevail over them all the time they would do my pleasure, and by the signs of the heavens they should not be terrified, for they have no strength (physical) nor power (moral) over them, because the providence of God most blessed cleaves to them during all the period they would do my will, nor shall they succumb to any accident of time." To confirm the certainty of this most joyful turn of events, the promise closes with the summons in Hosea 2;Hosea 1:1-11 : "Say ye to your brethren: My people; and to your sisters, Favoured." The prophet "sees the favoured nation of the Lord (in spirit) before him, and calls upon its members to accost one another joyfully with the new name which had been given to them by God" (Hengstenberg). The promise attaches itself in form to the names of the children of the prophet. As their names of ill omen proclaimed the judgment of rejection, so is the salvation which awaits the nation in the future announced to it here by a simple alteration of the names into their opposite through the omission of the לא.

So far as the fulfilment of this prophecy is concerned, the fact that the patriarchal promise of the innumerable multiplication of Israel is to be realized through the pardon and restoration of Israel, as the nation of the living God, shows clearly enough that we are not to look for this in the return of the ten tribes from captivity to Palestine, their native land. Even apart from the fact, that the historical books of the Bible (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) simply mention the return of a portion of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites, under Zerubbabel and Ezra, and that the numbers of the ten tribes, who may have attached themselves to the Judaeans on their return, or who returned to Galilee afterwards as years rolled by, formed but a very small fraction of the number that had been carried away (compare the remarks on 2 Kings 17:24); the attachment of these few to Judah could not properly be called a union of the sons of Israel and of the sons of Judah, and still less was it a fulfilment of the word, "They appoint themselves one head." As the union of Israel with Judah is to be effected through their gathering together under one head, under Jehovah their God and under David their king, this fulfilment falls within the Messianic times, and hitherto has only been realized in very small beginnings, which furnish a pledge of their complete fulfilment in the last times, when the hardening of Israel will cease, and all Israel be converted to Christ (Romans 11:25-26). It is by no means difficult to bring the application, which is made of our prophecy in 1 Peter 2:10 and Romans 9:25-26, into harmony with this. When Peter quotes the words of this prophecy in his first epistle, which nearly all modern commentators justly suppose to have been written to Gentile Christians, and when Paul quotes the very same words (Hosea 2:1, with Hosea 1:10) as proofs of the calling of the Gentiles to be the children of God in Christ; this is not merely an application to the Gentiles of what is affirmed of Israel, or simply the clothing of their thoughts in Old Testament words, as Huther and Wiesinger suppose, but an argument based upon the fundamental thought of this prophecy. Through its apostasy from God, Israel had become like the Gentiles, and had fallen from the covenant of grace with the Lord. Consequently, the re-adoption of the Israelites as children of God was a practical proof that God had also adopted the Gentile world as His children. "Because God had promised to adopt the children of Israel again, He must adopt the Gentiles also. Otherwise this resolution would rest upon mere caprice, which cannot be thought of in God" (Hengstenberg). Moreover, although membership in the nation of the Old Testament covenant rested primarily upon lineal descent, it was by no means exclusively confined to this; but, from the very first, Gentiles also were received into the citizenship of Israel and the congregation of Jehovah through the rite of circumcision, and could even participate in the covenant mercies, namely, in the passover as a covenant meal (Exodus 12:14). There was in this an indirect practical prophecy of the eventual reception of the whole of the Gentile world into the kingdom of God, when it should attain through Christ to faith in the living God. Even through their adoption into the congregation of Jehovah by means of circumcision, believing Gentiles were exalted into children of Abraham, and received a share in the promises made to the fathers. And accordingly the innumerable multiplication of the children of Israel, predicted in Romans 9:10, is not to be restricted to the actual multiplication of the descendants of the Israelites now banished into exile; but the fulfilment of the promise must also include the incorporation of believing Gentiles into the congregation of the Lord (Isaiah 44:5). This incorporation commenced with the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles by the apostles; it has continued through all the centuries in which the church has been spreading in the world; and it will receive its final accomplishment when the fulness of the Gentiles shall enter into the kingdom of God. And as the number of the children of Israel is thus continually increased, this multiplication will be complete when the descendants of the children of Israel, who are still hardened in their hearts, shall turn to Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Redeemer (Romans 11:25-26).

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