Israel was God’s beloved son. Their disobedience was a personal issue to the Lord, for he was their Father. He brought them out of Egypt because he loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-9). Egypt was their birthplace. He raised them as his own and taught them how to walk (Ezekiel 16:1-14), but Israel had forgotten all of that (Ezekiel 16:15-43). They turned to other lovers and thus God would send them back to Egypt, a symbolic reference to Assyria. Their sins pained God the Father. His own children left him. He bemoaned the loss and even became willing to overturn his judgment. Why? Not because they deserved it, but because he loved his children.
Admah and Zeboiim were two cities listed in the cities destroyed by divine judgment with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 10:19; 19:24-29). How could God treat his people like they were just another nation? He could not! Israel was his covenant people; there was no other nation like the people of Israel.
God’s holiness indicated his uniqueness. His behavior is distinct and his person is wholly other. He did for Israel what no other god or nation could do. As the Holy One, he possesses the power, authority and majesty that are manifested not simply in his wrath and judgment, but in his mercy and grace. He was faithful to his covenant promises, despite Israel’s faithlessness. He would fulfill his divine plan in Israel by all these qualities. Israel would be his son, his covenant people.
Yet, the Israel of Hosea’s day were full of deceit and lies. They were abusing and mistreating each other with their deception. The “lying and violence” in 12:1 could be interpreted two ways. The obvious way is to take them as two distinct sins, but nothing is made of the violence in this context. Another way is to translate them as qualifying one another. Thus, it would be translated “devastating lies.” The latter seems to flow better with the context of deception that runs throughout this section.
Hosea’s use of the Jacob story illustrates several things. Jacob’s grabbing of Esau’s heel was the beginning of his deceitful life, which led him on a path of confrontations and struggles with God. Only when he wept did he receive God’s blessings. Israel needed to learn to weep for their blessings as Jacob did, rather than continue to fight against God.
The Lord is God! No other god could match him in magnificence and glory. No nation could stand against him or protect his people like he could. Israel should have acknowledged this and repented. He brought them from Egypt and made them who they were. Like Jacob who worked for his bride and took her from Aram, God used his prophet Moses and took his bride from Egypt, only to be repaid with rebellion.
Questions for Home Study and Class Discussion
1. In 11:1, what was the significance of the statement, “Out of Egypt I called my son”? Who is “my son”? Why was this description used? How does Matthew 2:14-15 use this passage?
Israel became God’s son when the Lord brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:6). He showed them his love by delivering them from the bondage of slavery. The paralleling of “I loved him” and “out of Egypt” shows how God’s love was active. It was not stagnate. Israel was called to be God’s covenant people by his releasing them from the oppressive Egyptians. His redemptive work centered on Israel. God’s divine grace drew them from Egypt.
Hosea here describes the people of Israel according to their origin. This is similar to Paul’s reference to the baptismal act in Romans 6:1-3. Since sin made the grace of God more evident, Paul asked “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He replied: No! If we did continue in sin, what would that say about our baptism? He goes back to the beginning of the Christian life, where the sinner met God and God changed him, and shows that our beginning has a profound effect on our entire Christian life. This was true for Israel as well. God changed Israel and gave them a new way of life in his Law at the Exodus. They were given one of the greatest privileges a nation could be given. Yahweh became their father (Jeremiah 31:9).
According to Matthew 2:15, there were two special gifts that came from Egypt. The second and more important was Jesus. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt when Herod plotted to have Jesus put to death. They remained there until Herod’s death and then were able to return to the land of Israel. Matthew states that Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled in Jesus’ return. Just as Israel was given their special identity as God’s people and “called” to be God’s covenant people, Jesus would return to Israel after escaping the threat of death and establish a new covenant.
This idea of fulfillment is not the usual way most view prophetic statements. The usual view is that a prophet would make a prediction and it would have only one fulfillment, but this is not the case in most prophecies. Most refer to two events, one in the Old Testament (OT) and another in the New (NT). Here, Hosea makes a historical reference to the actual Exodus event, with no hint of a future fulfillment. Mathew sees something Hosea did not see. Matthew sees God at work in history. The event of the Exodus was the epitome of God’s redemptive work in the OT. It was at the heart of God’s work within Israel and symbolized God’s power to save. From this event, God made Israel his son. Matthew sees Jesus’ journey into Egypt as providential. God led Jesus to and out of Egypt in order to mirror the OT event. In this case Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel. He fulfills Israel’s role as Son in a perfect way and brings to the land of Israel a new covenant. God is once again at work, but this time offering to Israel a better way. There are no coincidences in redemptive history.
2. What does it mean in 11:3-4 that God “taught Ephraim to walk” (see Ezekiel 16:1-4)? How were they called? Why did they refuse to hear him and to learn how to walk (see Ezekiel 16:15-34)? How do not hear God today?
God’s teaching Israel to walk is related to the idea of God taking them in his arms. They are tender, parental phrases used to show how God cared for Israel and raised them. It is a concept any parent that has a child would understand, the concern and care a parent has for his child when trying to raise them. God cradled Israel like a parent cradles a child. Despite the tender way in which God dealt with Israel, they hurt him. Despite the fact that God led them with the cords of a man (treated them humanely) and with bonds of love, they refused to acknowledge him as their father. God had taken the yoke from their jaws and fed them (gave them life). Israel refused to acknowledge that God healed them. Because they did not acknowledge God’s healing, they had once again become sick. They rejected God’s care by seeking other gods, namely Baal. They rejected God’s calling because they were more concerned with fulfilling their own selfish desires than acknowledging God as their father. Everything that Baal had to offer, despite the fact it contradicted everything God had taught them, Israel believed they needed. They deluded themselves into believing their own lies (11:12-12:1). People refuse to hear God when they allow their own desires to be more important than God.
3. Read carefully the struggle God had with his decision to destroy Israel in 11:8-11. What does this say about God’s wrath and his punishing his people? What does this say to us about God’s character and our understanding of sin?
God could not annihilate his people as he did Admah and Zeboiim (see the introduction notes). He would not treat Israel like he does non-covenant nations. He would send Assyria (verses 5-7), but he would not allow them to completely destroy Israel. He would give them a future because they were his child, his beloved son. They had been given hope. His redemptive plan included Israel. He could not execute his full wrath, even though Israel deserved to be punished. His desire was to restore them and bring them home (verse 11). Like a roaring Lion, God would lead his people home, and like trembling birds and doves, weak and frail, his people would follow. Assyrian captivity would not be the end. “His sons” (verse 10) would be restored, the descendants of the faithless Israelites.
God does not treat his covenant people like non-covenant people. As the church today, we have that special relationship. Even though we may be weak and sinful, God works to make us a better people. He works through us to show the world his work in Christ. As for pagan nations and institutions, he has no need to allow them to exist within history forever. They contribute only to the formation and work of his kingdom and when he has no further use for them, he may decide to rid the world of them. All nations and institutions will eventually fall. There is no guarantee that any institution will exist forever, except for God’s covenant people.
4. What was God’s plan for Israel according to 11:5? Why would God allow Assyria, a culture of idolaters, to triumph over his own people? Read 1:5, where God promised to break the bow of Israel at the valley of Jezreel. This was a clear reference to Israel’s destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. How do we view God’s use of the unfaithful to discipline His people? Do you believe God is still doing this today? See Habakkuk 1:12-2:20.
God chose the Assyrian army to punish his people. They served God’s purpose of chastising his people, even if Assyria could not recognize their work. But why would God use a corrupt people like Assyria to kill many of his people? Habakkuk had a similar problem. He saw the corruption of the people of Judah (Habakkuk 1:1-4) and asked God why he allowed these things to continue. God told him he would not allow them to continue and he would send Babylon to destroy them (1:5-11). Habakkuk was shocked and asked God how he could send a people more corrupt than Judah to punish them (1:13). Habakkuk was told simply that the just (righteous) should live by faith (2:4). God used foreign nations to mold his people into the kind of people they should have been.
We cannot know the plans God has for the nations around us, but he uses them for sake of his kingdom. Sin has complicated this world, but it has not left God helpless. Nations come and go, but God and his kingdom endure. God works with a purpose in mind, intervening within history and the progression of nations in order to benefit his kingdom. He works with both the faithful and the unfaithful. We are too small to see the full intent of God’s work. We must accept God’s choices and realize that all he does is for the benefit of his plan of redemption. We must simply endure and hold onto God’s hand in hope of a better world where God is served by the faithful. No one can avoid serving God, it is simply a matter of choosing to be on his side or against him. Even those who reject him will fulfill a role in his work.
5. God’s commitment to continue his relationship with Israel was bound in his faithfulness and holiness. What do these qualities of God mean to us? What is the significance that God remained faithful to Israel even in their disobedience? How does his uniqueness and holiness fit into his desire to spare Israel (11:9)? What does this say to us about how we should live our lives?
God’s holiness is a reference to his uniqueness. In this context it stands in contrast to the nature of man. Israel deserved to be destroyed, but God, because of his uniqueness, refused to destroy them completely. In 11:9 it is said that God is not man. He is beyond vengeance and he does not demand the life of Israel even when he has the right to do so. Their sins against him demanded death. He had the right to seek the death penalty, but because he is holy and not a man, he refused to execute his divine wrath. It is because of his holiness that he refuses to destroy his people. Man may allow his desire for vengeance or justice to supersede mercy and compassion for others, but God does not treat his people that way.
God was also faithful to his covenant (11:12). Both Israel and Judah were the unruly ones. They lived lives of lies and deceit, believing that they were innocent of any wrongdoing (12:8), but it was God the Holy One who was truly faithful. His faithfulness to his promises had forced him to do what was best for his people. In this case, send the Assyrians to punish them (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He had promised them from the beginning that if they were unfaithful, he would punish them. He was true to his promise.
6. Ephraim is said to be full of lies and using dishonest scales (12:1, 7). God expected his people to maintain a life of integrity and to be truthful in their dealings with other individuals. What does dishonesty do to relationships? Is it ever justified? What leads someone to be dishonest and lie?
In 12:7, Israel is said to use false balances and in 12:1 they multiplied lies. Their normal way of dealing with each other was base on dishonesty and deceit. The Hebrew word for “merchant” in 12:7 is the same word for “Canaan”. The Canaanites were well known traders, especially in red-purple wool. It could be used here as an insult to the Israelite business men, reducing their practices to that of the pagans. This dishonesty in dealing with their fellow Israelites led to a corrupted community. A perverse division arose among God’s people and lies were at the heart of it. Honesty and integrity are essential in the life of God’s community. Israel’s lies stemmed from a desire of gain. They were willing to compromise their integrity to obtain from their fellow Israelites wealth and goods.
7. Why is Jacob used as an illustration of Ephraim’s conduct in 12:3-14? Is it a positive or negative example? What does Jacob’s struggle with God and God’s angel say about Israel’s condition (12:4)? What does this say about the nature of man’s relationship with God?
The illustration in 12:2-4 of Jacob’s life is used as an object lesson for Israel’s current state of affairs. The Lord was going to punish Israel/ Jacob for their sins (12:2). Hosea recounts the birth story, his wrestling with God at Peniel and his encounter with God at Bethel. These were all pivotal points in Jacob’s life. At his birth, it was prophesied that Jacob would prevail over his older brother Esau. At Peniel, Jacob overcame the angel and received a blessing. He begged and wept for God’s favor. It was also the place where God changed his name to Israel (which may mean “struggles with God”). At Bethel, he met God in a unique way and established a tithing system. God repeated the name change but gave it new meaning because of the events. Jacob’s life was struggle with God. He was at times unscrupulous and deceiving, but he sought God despite these qualities. He was willing to weep and seek God for his divine favor. Israel should have done the same.
In 12:12, Hosea uses the Jacob story once again. He reminds them how he had gone to the land of Aram and there “kept sheep” to procure for himself a wife. By a prophet, Moses, God went to Egypt and their procured for himself a wife: Israel. By this prophet, he gave the people his covenant and establish a relationship (“he was kept”).
Our relationship with God is a struggle, as is God’s relationship with us. As Jacob struggled with God to seek his favor, we too must.
8. What does it mean, “the LORD God Almighty, the Lord is his name of renown” and how is that a reason for Israel to “return to your God” in 12:5-6?
The word for “renown” is from the Hebrew word “remember”. God’s name, who he is and his nature, was to be constantly present in the minds of his people. In verse 6, the word “therefore” is used to connect it to this idea. They were called to return to God and be loyal (“love”) and seek justice for their fellow Israelites. They were to “wait” on God, devoting themselves to obedience and listening to God’s will. Why? Because of who God is. Correct living does not stem from motivations that are self-centered or seeking gain, but because we seek to emulate God and devote our lives to his will.
9. What was Israel’s (Ephraim’s) boast in 12:8? What was God’s response in 12:9? How is this a problem in our society today?
Ephraim’s boast was in their wealth . They claimed their riches were a result of their hard work. Their wealth was a snare. They believed their blessings were a sure sign of their innocence, but that was far from the truth. They were corrupted by their desire to have more. They had gained their wealth because of their sinful practices (false weights and oppression). It was because of this boast that God would then take away all his gifts. He would make them live in tents, as they did in the wilderness. They would lose their homes and revert to a nomadic lifestyle. He had warned them through his prophets but they refused to listen.
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