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Hosea: Prophet of Mercy - Book 2

Hosea's failed marriage was a prophetic type of God's failed marriage with Israel. Hosea's harlot wife, Gomer, was named to represent Israel, because Gomer was the official name which the Assyrians called Israel. Her divorce and subsequent redemption shows the mercy of God.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 16

The Jacobite Dispute

Hosea 11:12 should properly begin the twelfth chapter of Hosea, for it introduces a new section showing the dispute between God and Israel, and even with Judah. Hosea 11:12 says,

12 Ephraim surrounds Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, even against the Holy One who is faithful.

Israel-Ephraim is full of deception and fraud; Judah wanders off all the time as well, inquiring after false gods. The indictment against Israel is the most serious, but Judah is guilty as well, though not as bad as Israel. Their attitudes and actions provide a stark contrast to “the Holy One who is faithful” (aman, “true, sure, steadfast, faithful”).

Hosea 12:1 continues,

1 Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind continually [kol yom, “all day”]; he multiplies lies and violence. Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

To pursue the east wind was a metaphor for turning toward Assyria to the east. Israel’s King Omri had first pursued this east wind, and for this reason the Assyrians knew Israel by his name, House of Omri (Beth Ghomri, or Gamirri). The Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer pictured in Book 1, page 14, shows King Jehu bowing before the Assyrian king, giving him tribute or presents. Hoshea, the last king of Israel, also continued to pay tribute to Assyria, for we read in 2 Kings 17:3,

3 Shalmanezer king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute.

Tribute was often paid in wine, wheat, or oil in addition to silver and gold. Thus, the prophet speaks of Israel’s covenant with Assyria to protect them from Egypt, and yet in Hosea 12:1, when Assyria becomes a threat, they carry oil as a present to Egypt, asking Pharaoh to protect Israel from Assyria.

This is what happens when political leaders have no faith in God as their Protector. The kings of Israel saw little evidence of God’s protection, other than stories from the past, because their idolatry and spiritual adultery had brought divine retribution, not His protection. So the kings of Israel felt it necessary to turn to other nations to protect themselves against the judgments of God.

The Pattern of Jacob’s Deception

Hosea 12:2, 3 says,

2 The Lord also has a dispute with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God.

The prophet now shows how Jacob’s deceptive practices set a pattern and precedent for his children. Note that the prophet here does not call them Israel, but Jacob. Jacob means “supplanter, usurper, deceiver,” literally a heel-catcher. He was so named because he had been born holding on to his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26). Though Jacob was a believer, he was a deceptive believer, relying upon his own strength and cunning to gain an advantage over his older brother.

In his sibling rivalry, Jacob succeeded against Esau, and he succeeded again in overcoming Laban. It was only when he finally wrestled with the angel that he found an adversary too powerful for him to overcome. He could only hang on and ask for a blessing. Yet it was his recognition of failure that caused him to succeed, for then he learned that God was sovereign.

Hosea 12:4, 5 continues,

4 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us, 5 even the Lord, the God of hosts; the Lord [Yahweh] is His name.

Jacob’s name was then changed to Israel, which means “God rules.” From then on, he bore a new testimony of the sovereignty of God. He had learned that God did not need his fleshly help in fulfilling His word.

God had promised, even before the children were born, that “the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Jacob, along with his mother, did not truly have faith that God was sovereign enough to keep His word. Hence, when it appeared that the promise would fail, he and his mother felt it necessary to deceive Isaac (Gen. 27:19, 24) in order to fulfill the prophecy.

When Jacob’s eyes were finally opened, and he saw that the man with whom he was wrestling was not Esau, but an angel of God, then he became an overcomer. For all of his previous life, he thought he had been contending with Esau, but in fact, he had been fighting God Himself. When he recognized this, then truth and faith was instilled in him. He was then given the name Israel, “God rules.” (When el comes at the end of a name, it is always God doing the action.)

Judah was Like Jacob

Hosea 12:2 indicates that Judah—not Israel—was following the pattern of Jacob. “The Lord also has a dispute with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways,” he says. Though Israel was in open rebellion against God, acting much like Esau, Judah maintained its religious forms, but like Jacob, Judah did not truly believe that God was sovereign. The judgment upon Judah was not as severe as upon Israel. Israel was to go into a long captivity to Assyria and beyond, but Judah was to go to Babylon for just seventy years.

In Hosea 12:4 we read that Jacob found God at Bethel, “and there He spoke with us.” This is one of the few references to Bethel in the book of Hosea, who usually refers to the place as Beth-aven. But here the prophet was referring to a historic event, where God revealed Himself first to Jacob and later to Israel. It was the place where Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending in a dream (Gen. 28:12). There he made a vow and anointed the stone that he had used as a pillow, naming the place Bethel, “house of God.”  (Gen. 28:18, 19, 20).

Years later, after returning from Haran to Canaan, God told him to go back to Bethel, where he received a fresh anointing after his name had been changed to Israel (Gen. 35:1). There God also confirmed by direct revelation that his new name was Israel (Gen. 35:10).

In the two trips to Bethel, we also see how the two covenants play into the picture. Jacob's first encounter at Bethel caused him to make a vow to God. In the second encounter, God made a vow to Jacob, saying, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name."

These two encounters prophesied of the two covenants that his descendants were to have with God. In the first encounter, God brought them to Mount Horeb, where the Israelites made a vow to God (Exodus 19:8). In the second, God brought them to the plains of Moab, where God made a vow to them (Deut. 29:1, 10-15).

The story of Jacob provided Hosea with the root causes of Israel’s apostasy at Bethel, where Jeroboam had set up one of the golden calves. We also are given the spiritual roots of Judah’s deceptive religious practices. But more than that, the prophet also provided both nations with the answer to their spiritual problems. If they could see that they were imitating their father Jacob, then perhaps they could find the way to truly become worthy of the name Israel, recognizing God’s sovereignty.

After pointing out the failure of Jacob and the success of Israel, Hosea 12:6 says,

6 Therefore, return [shuv] to your God, observe kindness [chesed] and justice [mishpat], and wait for your God continually.

Jacob’s bondage in Haran under Laban, the Syrian, set a pattern for Israel’s bondage to Assyria many centuries later. Jacob's deceptive character caused him to pursue an “east wind.” But Jacob’s return to Canaan at the end of his time of bondage set the pattern of returning (that is, repentance) as well.

Hosea says, “return to your God.” The Hebrew word shuv was used not only to describe a physical return (from a journey), but also as a call to repent, or to turn from one’s wicked ways back to the true path. Hosea was calling both Israel and Judah to “return” to God, even though they had not yet gone into captivity. He spoke of a spiritual return, patterned after Jacob’s physical return to Canaan.

On a prophetic level, we can see too that Israel was to follow the pattern of Jacob, returning to Bethel after their long captivity. This implied that during Israel’s captivity, they would remain Jacobites, having an imperfect faith, not truly recognizing God’s sovereign ability to fulfill His word, thinking that God needed fleshly help by deception in order to fulfill prophecy.

From other prophets we understand that at the end of the age there will be a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which will be (in effect) the end-time call to return to Bethel for a fresh anointing. While many Holy Spirit revivals have come and gone over the centuries, they have all come during the time of the Jacobites. The final outpouring, however, will come in the time of the Israelites.

Hence, it is important to have an understanding of the difference between Jacob and Israel and to see how the final outpouring of the Spirit will differ from previous revivals.

Imitating Canaanites

After giving Israel instructions on how to repent, Hosea 12:7 compares Israel to a dishonest merchant, saying,

7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress.

The Hebrew word translated “merchant” is a kena’aniy, a Canaanite, which means lowlander, merchant, banker, and zealous. In other words, the prophet literally calls Israel a Canaanite in the sense that the moral values of the nation resemble the lawless, idolatrous nations of Canaan.

In particular, Israel was like a merchant with “false balances.” Many things, including grain and silver, were bought and sold according to weight, so every merchant had his own set of weights to measure things. If he was dishonest, he could try to deceive the other party by using weights that were lighter or heavier than the standard.

The Law of Just Weights and Balances

Such false balances and unjust weights are unlawful, for we read in Lev. 19:35, 36,

35 You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

So Hosea tells Israel-Ephraim that “he loves to oppress” (or defraud) by the use of unjust balances. In this way the Israelites were like the Canaanite merchants, who had a reputation for deceitful business practices that were banned in the divine law.

Yet the Israelites claimed to be innocent, for Hosea 12:8 continues, saying,

8 And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they will find in me no iniquity, which would be sin.”

Hosea’s point is to illustrate Israel’s fraudulent practices that characterized Jacob himself prior to his revelation that made him an Israelite. Jacob did not really comprehend how displeasing he was to God during his years as Jacob, the supplanter or deceiver. He knew God, but not as he ought to know Him. He knew God, but he depended upon the power of flesh. He could not truly enter into God’s rest, for he did not understand the sovereignty of God.

So also was it with his descendants, the Israelites in Hosea’s time. They were religious, and they thought that they had “no iniquity” in their business practices. When sin becomes common, it becomes normal. When sin is normal, it is then ingrained into the culture and is accepted in the religious definition of goodness.

The law itself links this ban on unjust weights and measures to a larger issue of justice itself. Unjust measures form the root problem of unjust applications of the law. So Jesus said in Matt. 7:1, 2,

1 Do not judge, lest you be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

In other words, God will judge us according to our own standard of measure by which we judge others. To put it in merchant terms, if we judge our own sin on the scales of justice, putting our sins on one side and an unjust heavy weight on the other, it may appear that our sin is “lighter” than it really is. But when we judge other men’s sins, we use a lighter weight to make it appear that their sin is weightier than it really is. In this way, we do injustice to others.

But God says that if we do this, He will judge us according to the way we have judged others, holding us to the same standard by which we have judged others.

Equality of Justice

The law itself specifically mandates that all men were to be judged by the same law and the same standard of measure. Just before setting forth the law banning unjust weights and measures, we read in Lev. 19:33, 34,

33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

Equality of justice was and still is the divine standard for Israel and for the Kingdom of God. Num. 15:16 says, “there is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.” Israelites were not to oppress Canaanites or any other people that they met. They were not allowed to use unjust weights and measures when doing business with the Canaanites or Philistines or Egyptians or Syrians. The law of God was equally applicable to all men, regardless of their genealogy or nationality.

When a nation thinks of itself as being better than others (or “chosen” on account of their biological connection to Abraham), such a mindset soon evolves into a sense of privilege and inequality. The flesh then begins to justify fraud and deception, allowing the “chosen” ones the privilege of oppressing or enslaving the lesser people.

But Paul makes it clear that only the remnant of grace was chosen, or “elect” (same Greek word). In Rom. 11:4-7 he tells us that only 7,000 Israelites were “chosen” in the days of Elijah—out of millions of Israelites. Those who are truly “chosen,” Paul says, are those whose eyes have been opened, because “the rest were hardened” (Rom. 11:7 NASB) or “blinded” (KJV).

Because Israel as a whole was “blind” (Isaiah 42:19), it is clear that the vast majority of the biological Israelites were not God’s “chosen” people. Being chosen is based upon one’s spiritual relationship with God, not upon one’s biological relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel.

Hosea thus tells us that the Israelites of his day loved to oppress people with unjust weights and measures. He does not specifically tell us they loved to oppress Canaanites, but the law of God was originally set forth in the context of such unequal treatment of aliens. Israel was to be God’s example to the nations of righteousness and honesty.

Further, God bans such inequality on the grounds that Israel had been oppressed in this manner by the Egyptians. In other words, the Israelites ought to know better, because they had been subjected to unequal justice in Egypt. So the prophet tells Israel not to act like the Canaanites either, for they were as deceptive and oppressive as were the Egyptians.

God is Faithful

Hosea 12:9, 10 continues,

9 But I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again, as in the days of the appointed festival [moed, “appointed time, feast day”]. 10 I have also spoken to the prophets, and I gave numerous visions; and through the prophets I gave parables.

This is another New Covenant statement, in which God tells the people what He intends to do with them. He does not ask for their opinion, nor does He contemplate their opposition. God is confident in the strength of His own will to change men’s hearts. In this case, He tells us that He will make Israel keep the feast of Tabernacles,

To keep the feast of Tabernacles is ultimately to come into immortality, for the feast itself was a prophetic depiction of leaving one’s dead house (mortal body) and dwelling in a booth or tent made of living branches (immortal body). That is how Paul describes it in 2 Cor. 5:1-4. In order to keep the feast of Tabernacles, of course, one must first keep Passover and Pentecost, for the spiritual principle is that one must first be justified by faith and filled with the Spirit in order to be changed into His likeness with an immortal body at the feast of Tabernacles.

Hence, God’s Statement of Intent shows that in spite of Israel’s rebellion and deception, God is powerful enough to accomplish His will in spite of all fleshly opposition. He was able to overcome Jacob’s fleshly nature, and He is well able to change the Jacobites (and all men) as well.

God is indeed faithful. More than that, He is capable of doing what He has vowed to do, for His power is unmatched by any opposing power in heaven or in earth. His will is stronger than man’s will.

With Jacob as the example, we can see that the angel of God will always win the wrestling match in the end. And when the angel wins, the man wins as well, for it is in losing to God that all men are able to win in the end.

Not only does God intend to cause fleshly people (like Jacob) to keep the feast of Tabernacles, but in verse 10 He also has sent them prophets, giving them “visions” and “parables” to show the way.

Hosea 12:11 continues,

11 Is there iniquity in Gilead? Surely they are worthless. In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls, yes, their altars are like the stone heaps beside the furrows of the field.

As translated by the NASB, this verse seems out of place. The Revised Standard Version renders the first part in a better way: “If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to naught.” This rendering provides better continuity with the thought in the previous verse, for it is then evident that it is part of God’s Statement of Intent.

It is about what God intends to do about the problem of fleshly thinking in Israel. Even if there is idolatry, or iniquity in the land of Gilead, God’s intent is to make it “come to naught,” that is, to come to a dead end. The same is true with the many altars in Gilgal. No matter how bad they are, God is able to overcome all opposition in order to change them from Jacobites to Israelites.

Hosea 12:12 says,

12 Now Jacob fled to the land of Aram [or Syria], and Israel worked for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.

Here again the prophet returns to the theme of Jacob and his exile to Syria. This entire chapter is really about Jacob and how God was able to use his exile to change his heart at the end of his slavery under Laban in Syria. Hosea implies that God will do the same with his descendants of the house of Israel after their long Assyrian captivity has ended.

Hosea 12:13 says,

13 But by a prophet the Lord brought Israel from Egypt, and by a prophet he was kept.

In this case the prophet was Moses, who “brought Israel from Egypt” and “kept” Israel alive during their wilderness journey. Hosea reminds them of this so that they would know that God would take care of them during their own wilderness journey and would again bring them out of captivity through another prophet like Moses.

That prophet, of course, is Jesus, the One who was raised up like Moses (Deut. 18:18, 19; Acts 3:22, 23). The main difference is that Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, while Jesus was sent as the Mediator of the New Covenant.

Hosea 12:14 concludes,

14 Ephraim has provoked to bitter anger; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him, and bring back his reproach to him.

Israel, then, was to go into a long captivity to Assyria. They could not hope to avoid this. But the New Covenant, mediated by Jesus Christ, was to bring that captivity to an end in the distant future. In their regathering, when they “return” to God, many others will come with them (Isaiah 56:7, 8), for Jesus Christ came to save all mankind and not just biological Israelites.

This is the resolution of the Jacobite dispute.