Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
3. Israel's Apostasy and God's Fidelity - Hosea 12-14
For the purpose of proving that the predicted destruction of the kingdom is just and inevitable, the prophet now shows, in this last division, first that Israel has not kept the ways of its father Jacob, but has fallen into the ungodly practice of Canaan (Hos 12:1-14); and secondly, that in spite of all the manifestations of love, and all the chastisements received from its God, it has continued its apostasy and idolatry, and therefore perfectly deserves the threatened judgment. Nevertheless the compassion of God will not permit it to be utterly destroyed, but will redeem it even from death and hell (ch. 13-14:1). To this there is appended, lastly, in Hos 14:2-9, a call to conversion, and a promise from God of the forgiveness and abundant blessing of those who turn to the Lord. With this the book closes (Hos 14:1-9 :10). Thus we find again, that the contents of this last division fall very evidently into three parts (Hos 12:13, Hos 12:14, and Hos 14:2 -10), each of which is still further divisible into two strophes.
Israel's Degeneracy into Canaanitish Ways - Hos 12:1-14 (Eng. V. 11:12-12:14).
The faithlessness of Israel and Judah's resistance to God bring righteous punishment upon the entire posterity of Jacob (11:12-12:2); whereas the example of their forefather ought to have led them to faithful attachment to their God (Hos 12:3-6). But Israel has become Canaan, and seeks its advantage in deception and injustice, without hearkening to its God or to the voice of its prophets, and will be punished for its idolatry (Hos 12:7-11). Whereas Jacob was obliged to flee, and to serve for a wife in Aram, Jehovah led Israel out of Egypt, and guarded it by prophets. Nevertheless this nation has excited His wrath, and will have to bear its guilt (vv.12-14). The two strophes of this chapter are 11:12-12:6 and 7-14.
(Heb. Bib. Hosea 12:1). "Ephraim has surrounded me with lying, and the house of Israel with deceit: and Judah is moreover unbridled against God, and against the faithful Holy One. Hos 12:1 (Heb. Bib. 2). Ephraim grazeth wind, and hunteth after the east: all the day it multiplies lying and desolation, and they make a covenant with Asshur, and oil is carried to Egypt. Hos 12:2. And Jehovah has a controversy with Judah, and to perform a visitation upon Jacob, according to his ways: according to his works will He repay him." In the name of Jehovah, the prophet raises a charge against Israel once more. Lying and deceit are the terms which he applies, not so much to the idolatry which they preferred to the worship of Jehovah (ψευδῆ καὶ λατρείαν, Theod.), as to the hypocrisy with which Israel, in spite of its idolatry, claimed to be still the people of Jehovah, pretended to worship Jehovah under the image of a calf, and turned right into wrong.
(Note: Calvin explains סבבני correctly thus: "that He (i.e., God) had experienced the manifold faithlessness of the Israelites in all kinds of ways." He interprets the whole sentence as follows: "The Israelites had acted unfaithfully towards God, and resorted to deceits, and that not in one way only, or of only one kind; but just as a man might surround his enemy with a great army, so had they gathered together innumerable frauds, with which they attacked God on every side.")
Bēth Yisrâ'ēl (the house of Israel) is the nation of the ten tribes, and is synonymous with Ephraim. The statement concerning Judah has been interpreted in different ways, because the meaning of רד is open to dispute. Luther's rendering, "but Judah still holds fast to its God," is based upon the rabbinical interpretation of רוּד, in the sense of רדה, to rule, which is decidedly false. According to the Arabic râd, the meaning of rūd is to ramble about (used of cattle that have broken loose, or have not yet been fastened up, as in Jer 2:31); hiphil, to cause to ramble about (Gen 27:40; Psa 55:3). Construed as it is here with עם, it means to ramble about in relation to God, i.e., to be unbridled or unruly towards God. עם, as in many other cases where reciprocal actions are referred to, standing towards or with a person: see Ewald, 217, h. קדושׁים נאמן, the faithful, holy God. Qedōshı̄m is used of God, as in Pro 9:10 (cf. Jos 24:19), as an intensive pluralis majestatis, construed with a singular adjective (cf. Isa 19:4; Kg2 19:4). נאמן, firm, faithful, trustworthy; the opposite of râd. Judah is unbridled towards the powerful God ('El), towards the Holy One, who, as the Faithful One, also proves Himself to be holy in relation to His people, both by the sanctification of those who embrace His salvation, and also by the judgment and destruction of those who obstinately resist the leadings of His grace. In Pro 9:1 the lying and deceit of Israel are more fully described. רעה רוּח is not to entertain one's self on wind, i.e., to take delight in vain things; but רעה means to eat or graze spiritually; and rūăch, the wind, is equivalent to emptiness. The meaning therefore is, to strive eagerly after what is empty or vain; synonymous with râdaph, to pursue. קדים, the east wind, in Palestine a fierce tempestuous wind, which comes with burning heat from the desert of Arabia, and is very destructive to seeds and plants (compare Job 27:21, and Wetzstein's Appendix to Delitzsch's Commentary on Job). It is used, therefore, as a figurative representation, not of vain hopes and ideals, that cannot possibly be reached, but of that destruction which Israel is bringing upon itself. "All the day," i.e., continually, it multiplies lying and violence, through the sins enumerated in Hos 4:2, by which the kingdom is being internally broken up. Added to this, there is the seeking for alliances with the powers of the world, viz., Assyria and Egypt, by which it hopes to secure their help (Hos 5:13), but only brings about its own destruction. Oil is taken to Egypt from the land abounding in olives (Deu 8:8), not as tribute, but as a present, for the purpose of securing an ally in Egypt. This actually took place during the reign of Hoshea, who endeavoured to liberate himself from the oppression of Assyria by means of a treaty with Egypt (Kg2 17:4).
(Note: Manger has given the meaning correctly thus: "He is looking back to the ambassadors sent by king Hoshea with splendid presents to the king of Egypt, to bring him over to his side, and induce him to send him assistance against the king of Assyria, although he had bound himself by a sacred treaty to submit to the sovereignty of the latter." Compare also Hengstenberg's Christology, vol. i. p. 164 transl., where he refutes the current opinion, that the words refer to two different parties in the nation, viz., an Assyrian and an Egyptian party, and correctly describes the circumstances thus: "The people being severely oppressed by Asshur, sometimes apply to Egypt for help against Asshur, and at other times endeavour to awaken friendly feelings in the latter.")
The Lord will repay both kingdoms for such conduct as this. But just as the attitude of Judah towards God is described more mildly than the guilt of Israel in Hos 11:12, so the punishment of the two is differently described in Hos 12:2. Jehovah has a trial with Judah, i.e., He has to reprove and punish its sins and transgressions (Hos 4:1). Upon Jacob, or Israel of the ten tribes (as in Hos 10:11), He has to perform a visitation, i.e., to punish it according to its ways and its deeds (cf. Hos 4:9). לפקד, it is to be visited, i.e., He must visit.
"He held his brother's heel in the womb, and in his man's strength he fought with God. Hos 12:4. He fought against the angel, and overcame; wept, and prayed to Him: at Bethel he found Him, and there He talked with us. Hos 12:5. And Jehovah, God of hosts, Jehovah is His remembrance." The name Jacob, which refers to the patriarch himself in Hos 12:3, forms the link between Hos 12:2 and Hos 12:3. The Israelites, as descendants of Jacob, were to strive to imitate the example of their forefather. His striving hard for the birthright, and his wrestling with God, in which he conquered by prayer and supplication, are types and pledges of salvation to the tribes of Israel which bear his name.
(Note: "He shows what good Jacob received, and the son is named in the father: he calls to remembrance the ancient history, that they may see both the mercy of God towards Jacob, and his resolute firmness towards the Lord." - Jerome.)
עקב, a denom. from עקב, "to hold the heel" = אחז בּעקב in Gen 25:26, which the prophet has in his mind, not "to overreach," as in Gen 27:36 and Jer 9:3. For the wrestling with God, mentioned in the second clause of the verse, proves most indisputably that Jacob's conduct is not held up before the people for a warning, as marked by cunning or deceit, as Umbreit and Hitzig suppose, but is set before them for their imitation, as an eager attempt to secure the birthright and the blessing connected with it. This shows at the same time, that the holding of the heel in the mother's womb is not quoted as a proof of the divine election of grace, and, in fact, that there is no reference at all to the circumstance, that "even when Jacob was still in his mother's womb, he did this not by his own strength, but by the mercy of God, who knows and loves those whom He has predestinated" (Jerome). בּאונו, is his manly strength (cf. Gen 49:3) he wrestled with God (Gen 32:25-29). This conflict (for the significance of which in relation to Jacob's spiritual life, see the discussion at Genesis l.c.) is more fully described in Hos 12:4, for the Israelites to imitate. מלאך is the angel of Jehovah, the revealer of the invisible God (see the Commentary on the Pentateuch, pp. 118ff. transl.). ויּכל is from Gen 32:29. The explanatory clause, "he wept, and made supplication to Him" (after Gen 32:27), gives the nature of the conflict. It was a contest with the weapons of prayer; and with these he conquered. These weapons are also at the command of the Israelites, if they will only use them. The fruit of the victory was, that he (Jacob) found Him (God) at Bethel. This does not refer to the appearance of God to Jacob on his flight to Mesopotamia (Gen 28:11), but to that recorded in Gen 35:9., when God confirmed his name of Israel, and renewed the promises of His blessing. And there, continues the prophet, He (God) spake with us; i.e., not there He speaks with us still, condemning by His prophets the idolatry at Bethel (Amo 5:4-5), as Kimchi supposes; but, as the imperfect ידבּר corresponds to ימצאנּוּ, "there did He speak to us through Jacob," i.e., what He there said to Jacob applies to us.
(Note: "Let it be carefully observed, that God is said to have talked at Bethel not with Jacob only, but with all his posterity. That is to say, the things which are here said to have been done by Jacob, and to have happened to him, had not regard to himself only, but to all the race that sprang from him, and were signs of the good fortune which they either would, or certainly might enjoy" (Lackemacher in Rosenmller's Scholia).)
The explanation of this is given in Hos 12:5, where the name is recalled in which God revealed Himself to Moses, when He first called him (Exo 3:15), i.e., in which He made known to him His true nature. Yehōvâh zikhrō is taken literally from זה זכרי לדר דּר; but there the name Jehovah is still further defined by "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," here by "the God of hosts." This difference needs consideration. The Israelites in the time of Moses could only put full confidence in the divine call of Moses to be their deliverer out of the bondage of Egypt, on the ground that He who called him was the God who had manifested Himself to the patriarchs as the God of salvation; but for the Israelites of Hosea's time, the strength of their confidence in Jehovah arose from the fact that Jehovah was the God of hosts, i.e., the God who, because He commands the forces of heaven, both visible and invisible, rules with unrestricted omnipotence on earth as well as in heaven (see at Sa1 1:3).
To this God Israel is now to return. Hos 12:6. "And thou, to thy God shalt thou turn: keep love and right, and hope continually in thy God." שׁוּב with ב is a pregnant expression, as in Isa 10:22 : "so to turn as to enter into vital fellowship with God;" i.e., to be truly converted. The next two clauses, as the omission of the copula before chesed and the change in the tense clearly show, are to be taken as explanatory of תּשׁוּב. The conversion is to show itself in the perception of love and right towards their brethren, and in constant trust in God. But Israel is far removed from this now. This thought leads the way to the next strophe (Hos 12:8 -15), which commences afresh with a disclosure of the apostasy of the people.
"Canaan, in his hand is the scale of cheating: he loves to oppress. Hos 12:8. And Ephraim says, Yet I have become rich, have acquired property: all my exertions bring me no wrong, which would be sin." Israel is not a Jacob who wrestles with God; but it has become Canaan, seeking its advantage in deceit and wrong. Israel is called Canaan here, not so much on account of its attachment to Canaanitish idolatry (cf. Eze 16:3), as according to the appellative meaning of the word Kena‛an, which is borrowed from the commercial habits of the Canaanites (Phoenicians), viz., merchant or trader (Isa 23:8; Job 40:30), because, like a fraudulent merchant, it strove to become great by oppression and cheating; not "because it acted towards God like a fraudulent merchant, offering Him false show for true reverence," as Schmieder supposes. For however thoroughly this may apply to the worship of the Israelites, it is not to this that the prophet refers, but to fraudulent weights, and the love of oppression or violence. And this points not to their attitude towards God, but to their conduct towards their fellow-men, which is the very opposite of what, according to the previous verse, the Lord requires (chesed ūmishpât), and the very thing which He has forbidden in the law, in Lev 19:36; Deu 24:13-16, and also in the case of ‛âshaq, violence, in Lev 6:2-4; Deu 24:14. Ephraim prides itself upon this unrighteousness, in the idea that it has thereby acquired wealth and riches, and with the still greater self-deception, that with all its acquisition of property it has committed no wrong that was sin, i.e., that would be followed by punishment. און does not mean "might" here, but wealth, opes, although as a matter of fact, since Ephraim says this as a nation, the riches and power of the state are intended. כּל־יגיעי is not written at the head absolutely, in the sense of "so far as what I have acquired is concerned, men find no injustice in this;" for it that were the case, בּי would stand for לי; but it is really the subject, and יצמצאוּ is to be taken in the sense of acquiring = bringing in (cf. Lev 5:7; Lev 12:8, etc.).
"Yet am I Jehovah thy God, from the land of Egypt hither: I will still cause thee to dwell in tents, as in the days of the feast. Hos 12:10. I have spoken to the prophets; and I, I have multiplied visions, and spoken similitudes through the prophets. Hos 12:11. If Gilead (is) worthlessness, they have only come to nothing: in Gilgal they offered bullocks: even their altars are like stone-heaps in the furrows of the field." The Lord meets the delusion of the people, that they had become great and powerful through their own exertion, by reminding them that He (ואנכי is adversative, yet I) has been Israel's God from Egypt hither, and that to Him they owe all prosperity and good in both past and present (cf. Hos 13:4). Because they do not recognise this, and because they put their trust in unrighteousness rather than in Him, He will now cause them to dwell in tents again, as in the days of the feast of Tabernacles, i.e., will repeat the leading through the wilderness. It is evident from the context that mō‛ēd (the feast) is here the feast of Tabernacles. מועד (the days of the feast) are the seven days of this festival, during which Israel was to dwell in booths, in remembrance of the fact that when God led them out of Egypt He had caused them to dwell in booths (tabernacles, Lev 23:42-43). אד אושׁיבך stands in antithesis to הושׁבתּי ot si in Lev 23:43. "The preterite is changed into a future through the ingratitude of the nation" (Hengstenberg). The simile, "as in the days of the feast," shows that the repetition of the leading through the desert is not thought of here merely as a time of punishment, such as the prolongation of the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years really was (Num 14:33). For their dwelling in tents, or rather in booths (sukkōth), on the feast of Tabernacles, was intended not so much to remind the people of the privations of their unsettled wandering life in the desert, as to call to their remembrance the shielding and sheltering care and protection of God in their wandering through the great and terrible wilderness (see at Lev 23:42-43). We must combine the two allusions, therefore: so that whilst the people are threatened indeed with being driven out of the good and glorious land, with its large and beautiful cities and houses full of all that is good (Deu 6:10.), into a dry and barren desert, they have also set before them the repetition of the divine guidance through the desert; so that they are not threatened with utter rejection on the part of God, but only with temporary banishment into the desert. In Hos 12:10 and Hos 12:11 the two thoughts of Hos 12:9 are still further expanded. In Hos 12:10 they are reminded how the Lord had proved Himself to be the God of Israel from Egypt onwards, by sending prophets and multiplying prophecy, to make known His will and gracious counsel to the people, and to promote their salvation. דּבּר with על, to speak to, not because the word is something imposed upon a person, but because the inspiration of God came down to the prophets from above. אדמּה, not "I destroy," for it is only the kal that occurs in this sense, and not the piel, but "to compare," i.e., speak in similes; as, for example, in Hos 1:1-11 and Hos 3:1-5, Isa 5:1., Ezekiel 16 etc.: "I have left no means of admonishing them untried" (Rosenmller). Israel, however, has not allowed itself to be admonished and warned, but has given itself up to sin and idolatry, the punishment of which cannot be delayed. Gilead and Gilgal represent the two halves of the kingdom of the ten tribes; Gilead the land to the east of the Jordan, and Gilgal the territory to the west. As Gilead is called "a city (i.e., a rendezvous) of evil-doers" (פּעלי און) in Hos 6:8, so is it here called distinctly און, worthlessness, wickedness; and therefore it is to be utterly brought to nought. און and שׁוא are synonymous, denoting moral and physical nonentity (compare Job 15:31). Here the two notions are so distributed, that the former denotes the moral decay, the latter the physical. Worthlessness brings nothingness after it as a punishment. אך, only = nothing, but equivalent to utterly. The perfect היוּ is used for the certain future. Gilgal, which is mentioned in Hos 4:15; Hos 9:15, as the seat of one form of idolatrous worship, is spoken of here as a place of sacrifice, to indicate with a play upon the name the turning of the altars into heaps of stones (Gallim). The desolation or destruction of the altars involves not only the cessation of the idolatrous worship, but the dissolution of the kingdom and the banishment of the people out of the land. שׁורים, which only occurs in the plural here, cannot of course be the dative (to sacrifice to oxen), but only the accusative. The sacrifice of oxen was reckoned as a sin on the part of the people, not on account of the animals offers, but on account of the unlawful place of sacrifice. The suffix to mizbechōthâm (their sacrifices) refers to Israel, the subject implied in zibbēchū.
This punishment Israel well deserved. Hos 12:12. "And Jacob fled to the fields of Aram; and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife did he keep guard. Hos 12:13. And through a prophet Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt, and through a prophet was he guarded. Hos 12:14. Ephraim has stirred up bitter wrath; and his Lord will leave his blood upon him, and turn back his shame upon him." In order to show the people still more impressively what great things the Lord had done for them, the prophet recals the flight of Jacob, the tribe-father, to Mesopotamia, and how he was obliged to serve many years there for a wife, and to guard cattle; whereas God had redeemed Israel out of the Egyptian bondage, and had faithfully guarded it through a prophet. The flight of Jacob to Aramaea, and his servitude there, are mentioned not "to give prominence to his zeal for the blessing of the birthright, and his obedience to the commandment of God and his parents" (Cyr., Theod., Th. v. Mops.); nor "to bring out the double servitude of Israel - the first the one which the people had to endure in their forefather, the second the one which they had to endure themselves in Egypt" (Umbreit); nor "to lay stress upon the manifestation of the divine care towards Jacob as well as towards the people of Israel" (Ewald); for there is nothing at all about this in Hos 12:12. The words point simply to the distress and affliction which Jacob had to endure, according to Genesis 29-31, as Calvin has correctly interpreted them. "Their father Jacob," he says, "who was he? what was his condition?... He was a fugitive from his country. Even if he had always lived at home, his father was only a stranger in the land. But he was compelled to flee into Syria. And how splendidly did he live there? He was with his uncle, no doubt, but he was treated quite as meanly as any common slave: he served for a wife. And how did he serve? He was the man who tended the cattle." Shâmar, the tending of cattle, was one of the hardest and lowest descriptions of servitude (cf. Gen 30:31; Gen 31:40; Sa1 17:20). Sedēh 'ărâm (the field of Aram) is no doubt simply the Hebrew rendering of the Aramaean Paddan-'ărâm (Gen 28:2; Gen 31:18 : see at Gen 25:20). Jacob's flight to Aramaea, where he had to serve, is contrasted in sv. 10 with the leading of Israel, the people sprung from Jacob, out of Egypt by a prophet, i.e., by Moses (cf. Deu 18:18); and the guarding of cattle by Jacob is placed in contrast with the guarding of Israel on the part of God through the prophet Moses, when he led them through the wilderness to Canaan. The object of this is to call to the nation's remembrance that elevation from the lowest condition, which they were to acknowledge with humility every year, according to Deu 26:5., when the first-fruits were presented before the Lord. For Ephraim had quite forgotten this. Instead of thanking the Lord for it by love and faithful devotedness to Him, it had provoked Him in the bitterest manner by its sins (הכעיס, to excite wrath, to provoke to anger: tamrūrı̄m, an adverbial accusative = bitterly). For this should its blood-guiltiness remain upon it. According to Lev 20:9., dâmı̄m denotes grave crimes that are punishable by death. Nâtash, to let a thing alone, as in Exo 23:11; or to leave behind, as in Sa1 17:20, Sa1 17:28. Leaving blood-guiltiness upon a person, is the opposite of taking away (נשׂא) or forgiving the sin, and therefore inevitably brings the punishment after it. Cherpâthō (its reproach or dishonour) is the dishonour which Ephraim had done to the Lord by sin and idolatry (cf. Isa 65:7). And this would be repaid to it by its Lord, i.e., by Jehovah.