Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Ho 12:1-14. Reproof of Ephraim and Judah: Their Father Jacob Ought to Be a Pattern to Them.
This prophecy was delivered about the time of Israel's seeking the aid of the Egyptian king So, in violation of their covenant with Assyria (see Ho 12:1). He exhorts them to follow their father Jacob's persevering prayerfulness, which brought God's favor upon him. As God is unchangeable, He will show the same favor to Jacob's posterity as He did to Jacob, if, like him, they seek God.
1. feedeth on wind—(Pr 15:14; Isa 44:20). Followeth after vain objects, such as alliances with idolaters and their idols (compare Ho 8:7).
east wind—the simoon, blowing from the desert east of Palestine, which not only does not benefit, but does injury. Israel follows not only things vain, but things pernicious (compare Job 15:2).
increaseth lies—accumulates lie upon lie, that is, impostures wherewith they deceive themselves, forsaking the truth of God.
desolation—violent oppressions practised by Israel [Maurer]. Acts which would prove the cause of Israel's own desolation [Calvin].
covenant with … Assyrians—(Ho 5:13; 7:11).
oil … into Egypt—as a present from Israel to secure Egypt's alliance (Isa 30:6; 57:9; compare 2Ki 17:4). Palestine was famed for oil (Eze 27:17).
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. controversy with Judah—(Ho 4:1; Mic 6:2). Judah, under Ahaz, had fallen into idolatry (2Ki 16:3, &c.).
Jacob—that is, the ten tribes. If Judah, the favored portion of the nation, shall not be spared, much less degenerate Israel.
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
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).
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. the angel—the uncreated Angel of the Covenant, as God the Son appears in the Old Testament (Mal 3:1).
made supplication—Ge 32:26: "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
he found him—The angel found Jacob, when he was fleeing from Esau into Syria: the Lord appearing to him "in Beth-el" (Ge 28:11-19; 35:1). What a sad contrast, that in this same Beth-el now Israel worships the golden calves!
there he spake with us—"with us," as being in the loins of our progenitor Jacob (compare Ps 66:6, "They … we;" Heb 7:9, 10). What God there spoke to Jacob appertains to us. God's promises to him belong to all his posterity who follow in the steps of his prayerful faith.
Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.
5. Lord God—Jehovah, a name implying His immutable constancy to His promises. From the Hebrew root, meaning "existence." "He that is, was, and is to be," always the same (Heb 13:8; Re 1:4, 8; compare Ex 3:14, 15; 6:3). As He was unchangeable in His favor to Jacob, so will He be to His believing posterity.
of hosts—which Israel foolishly worshipped. Jehovah has all the hosts (saba) or powers of heaven and earth at His command, so that He is as all-powerful, as He is faithful, to fulfil His promises (Ps 135:6; Am 5:27).
memorial—the name expressive of the character in which God was ever to be remembered (Ps 135:13).
Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.
6. thou—who dost wish to be a true descendant of Jacob.
to THY God—who is therefore bound by covenant to hear thy prayers.
keep mercy and judgment—(Mic 6:8). These two include the second-table commandments, duty towards one's neighbor, the most visible test of the sincerity on one's repentance.
wait on thy God—alone, not on thy idols. Including all the duties of the first table (Ps 37:3, 5, 7; 40:1).
He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.
7. merchant—a play on the double sense of the Hebrew, "Canaan," that is, a Canaanite and a "merchant" Eze 16:3: "Thy birth is … of Canaan." They who naturally were descendants of pious Jacob had become virtually Canaanites, who were proverbial as cheating merchants (compare Isa 23:11, Margin), the greatest reproach to Israel, who despised Canaan. The Ph�nicians called themselves Canaanites or merchants (Isa 23:8).
oppress—open violence: as the "balances of deceit" imply fraud.
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—that is, Notwithstanding.
Yet I am … rich—I regard not what the prophets say: I am content with my state, as I am rich (Re 3:17). Therefore, in just retribution, this is the very language of the enemy in being the instrument of Israel's punishment. Zec 11:5: "They that sell them say … I am rich." Far better is poverty with honesty, than riches gained by sin.
my labours—my gains by labor.
they shall find none—that is, none shall find any.
iniquity … that were sin—iniquity that would bring down the penalty of sin. Ephraim argues, My success in my labors proves that I am not a guilty sinner as the prophets assert. Thus sinners pervert God's long-suffering goodness (Mt 5:45) into a justification of their impenitence (compare Ec 8:11-13).
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—rather, "And yet." Though Israel deserves to be cast off for ever, yet I am still what I have been from the time of My delivering them out of Egypt, their covenant God; therefore, "I will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles," that is, to keep the feast of tabernacles again in remembrance of a new deliverance out of bondage. Fulfilled primarily at the return from Babylon (Ne 8:17). Fully and antitypically to be fulfilled at the final restoration from the present dispersion (Zec 14:16; compare Le 23:42, 43).
I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.
10. by … the prophets—literally, "upon," that is, My spirit resting on them. I deposited with them My instructions which ought to have brought you to the right way. An aggravation of your guilt, that it was not through ignorance you erred, but in defiance of God and His prophets [Calvin]. Ahijah the Shilonite, Shemaiah, Iddo, Azariah, Hanani, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Joel, and Amos were "the prophets" before Hosea.
visions … similitudes—I adopted such modes of communication, adapted to man's capacities, as were calculated to arouse attention: I left no means untried to reform you. The first, second, and third chapters contain examples of "similitudes."
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. Is there iniquity in Gilead?—He asks the question, not as if the answer was doubtful, but to strengthen the affirmation: "Surely they are vanity"; or as Maurer translates, "They are nothing but iniquity." Iniquity, especially idolatry, in Scripture is often termed "vanity." Pr 13:11: "Wealth gotten by vanity," that is, iniquity. Isa 41:29: "They are all vanity … images." "Gilead" refers to Mizpah-gilead, a city representing the region beyond Jordan (Ho 6:8; Jud 11:29); as "Gilgal," the region on this side of Jordan (Ho 4:15). In all quarters alike they are utterly vile.
their altars are as heaps in the furrows—that is, as numerous as such heaps: namely, the heaps of stones cleared out of a stony field. An appropriate image, as at a distance they look like altars (compare Ho 10:1, 4; 8:11). As the third member in the parallelism answers to the first, "Gilgal" to "Gilead," so the fourth to the second, "altars" to "vanity." The word "heaps" alludes to the name "Gilgal," meaning "a heap of stones." The very scene of the general circumcision of the people, and of the solemn passover kept after crossing Jordan, is now the stronghold of Israel's idolatry.
And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.
12. Jacob fled … served—Though ye pride yourselves on the great name of "Israel," forget not that your progenitor was the same Jacob who was a fugitive, and who served for Rachel fourteen years. He forgot not ME who delivered him when fleeing from Esau, and when oppressed by Laban (Ge 28:5; 29:20, 28; De 26:5). Ye, though delivered from Egypt (Ho 12:13), and loaded with My favors, are yet unwilling to return to Me.
country of Syria—the champaign region of Syria, the portion lying between the Tigris and Euphrates, hence called Mesopotamia. Padan-aram means the same, that is, "Low Syria," as opposed to Aramea (meaning the "high country") or Syria (Ge 48:7).
And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.
13. by a prophet—Moses (Nu 12:6-8; De 18:15, 18).
preserved—Translate, "kept"; there is an allusion to the same Hebrew word in Ho 12:12, "kept sheep"; Israel was kept by God as His flock, even as Jacob kept sheep (Ps 80:1; Isa 63:11).
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. provoked him—that is, God.
leave his blood upon him—not take away the guilt and penalty of the innocent blood shed by Ephraim in general, and to Molech in particular.
his reproach shall his Lord return unto him—Ephraim's dishonor to God in worshipping idols, God will repay to him. That God is "his Lord" by right redemption and special revelation to Ephraim only aggravates his guilt, instead of giving him hope of escape. God does not give up His claim to them as His, however they set aside His dominion.