11:1-2 “When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, ‘My son!’—called him out of Egypt. But when others called him, he ran off and left Me. He worshiped the popular sex gods, he played at religion with toy gods. Still, I stuck with him.”
After a long series of accusations and announcements of punishment in Hosea 4-10, we now see a picture of God’s nurturing love, with the image of God as a dutiful, patient and spurned Parent, still reaching out to a wayward child, Israel.
God reviews the record of His dealings with Israel, beginning with the exodus out of Egypt. That event and the giving of the law at Sinai launched Israel as a nation. Calling Israel “child” reinforces that this was a formative experience. God is determined that the leadership and people of Israel understand the coming prophecy first and foremost in terms of His love. The writer of Matthew uses this text to describe the return of young Jesus from Egypt (Matthew 2:15), the connection being that Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love.
In verse 2, the reference to “sex gods” seems to refer to the idols prevalent among the Canaanites. The worship of these idols gave people permission to indulge in behavior that was beneath God’s standard of holiness. Still, the Divine Parent reached out to the wayward child.
*Idol worship involves placing anything (money, power, prestige) or anyone (spouse, child, parent, lover, self) ahead of God on our list of priorities. When that happens, we indulge in behavior and thinking and that estranges us from God because it is beneath God’s standard of holiness.
7-10 My people are hell-bent on leaving Me. They pray to god Baal for help. He doesn’t lift a finger to help them. But how can I give up on you, Ephraim? How can I turn you loose, Israel? How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah, devastated like luckless Zeboim? I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on My anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why? Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst. “The people will end up following God. I will roar like a lion—Oh, how I’ll roar! My frightened children will come running from the west.
Though the people still offer sacrifices to God and make gestures of worship, they also pray to idols—indicating their double-mindedness. Because of their refusal to abandon idolatry, God will not exalt them by delivering them.
Verse 8 employs the parallel structure of Hebrew poetry. The second question creatively rephrases the first. “Ephraim” is a reference to the northern kingdom of Israel (Hosea 5:3; 6:10). Also, the fourth question rephrases the third: “Admah” and “Zeboim” were sister cities destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:23). The thought, however, of punishing Israel as He did those cities breaks God’s heart. And so, He declares that He will temper His anger (see II Samuel 24:15-25).
*God is One who takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11).” While people tend to overreact in their anger, God is always thoughtful and measured in his action.
God refers to Himself as “the Holy One among you,” reminding His covenant people that, though He is present with them, He also is entirely different from them. In verse 9 we see God’s two overarching characteristics of holiness and love. Neither one is subordinate to the other. God’s holiness calls forth retributive expressions of his wrath (Genesis 6:5-7), while God’s love calls for restorative expression of his wrath (Deuteronomy 8:5: Hebrews 12:5-7).
Centuries after the time of Hosea, the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will satisfy the requirements of both God’s holiness and love. As sin is punished to satisfy the requirements of God’s holiness, the path to eternal life is thereby opened in satisfying the requirements of God’s love. Life in the presence of our holy God becomes possible as sin’s price is paid (Romans 3:21-26).
12:1-2 Ephraim, obsessed with god-fantasies, chases ghosts and phantoms. He tells lies nonstop, soul-destroying lies.
Both Ephraim and Judah made deals with Assyria and tried to get an inside track with Egypt. God is bringing charges against Israel. Jacob’s children are hauled into court to be punished. In the womb, that heel, Jacob, got the best of his brother. When he grew up, he tried to get the best of God. But God would not be bested. God bested him.
In Hosea 12, God begins an indictment of Ephraim/Israel by accusing them of lies and deceit. The futility of Ephraim’s deeds is poetically described as chasing “god-fantasies… ghosts and phantoms.” Knowing the history of the time, this is clearly referring to treaties with Assyria and Egypt. Rather than seeking God as an ally, the king of Israel has turned to world powers for security (Hosea 5:13; 7:11).
*It is always a mistake to try to make agreements with empires and systems that are contrary to God’s direction and authority. Regardless of our motivation—expedience, pragmatism, incentives, etc.—such behavior is a clear indication that our reliance is not on God, but on ourselves.
In verse 2, God presents the metaphor of a courtroom, where formal charges are brought against Judah (“Jacob” here represents all of “Judah”). Judah would do well to see how God judges the north and repent while there is still time.
6 What are you waiting for? Return to your God! Commit yourself in love, in justice! Wait for your God, and don’t give up on Him—ever!
The call to, “return to your God,” is a call for repentance. By definition, “repentance” involves a change of mind that is matched by a change in behavior. Any turn of the heart must be accompanied by practicing the love and justice that mirrors God’s own character.
“Wait for your God,” is not simply a suggestion of passive patience. It’s an imperative that implies an active and complete trust in God’s plans and timing (Psalm 130:5; Isaiah 8:17; Micah 7:7).
7-8 The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud. They love to rip people off! Ephraim boasted, “Look, I’m rich! I’ve made it big! And look how well I’ve covered my tracks: not a hint of fraud, not a sign of sin!”
God describes the nation as a greedy shopkeeper who delights in using dishonest means to defraud or cheat customers (see Leviticus 19:36). That successful fraud breeds arrogance (compare Ezekiel 28:5). If unchecked, this arrogance will eventually result in a self-deluding sense of invincibility. But all of Judah’s riches can never offset the guilt he has incurred.
9-11 “But not so fast! I’m God, your God! Your God from the days in Egypt! I’m going to put you back to living in tents, as in the old days when you worshiped in the wilderness. I speak through the prophets to give clear pictures of the way things are. Using prophets, I tell revealing stories. I show Gilead rampant with religious scandal and Gilgal teeming with empty-headed religion. I expose their worship centers as stinking piles of garbage in their gardens.”
Warnings have been given, for God has spoken through the prophets, calling Israel to obedience. God has revealed the impotence and corruption associated with idol worship, but still Judah has forsaken God. Earlier in the prophecy, God had introduced Gilgal as the site of a major pagan shrine. The location of Gilead is unknown, but it parallels Gilgal in wickedness. God speaks of the people’s pride in both the shrine and their agricultural wealth. But Gilead’s altars to idols make it unfruitful as if its fields were sown with garbage instead of fertile soil.
To “put you back to living in tents,” refers to the time when a wandering Israel lived in temporary huts, or booths. God is saying that, to bring the people back to Him, God will send them through a wilderness experience again, in the form of exile.
12-14 Are you going to repeat the life of your ancestor Jacob? He ran off guilty to Aram, then sold his soul to get ahead, and made it big through treachery and deceit. Your real identity is formed through God-sent prophets, who led you out of Egypt and served as faithful pastors. As it is, Ephraim has continually and inexcusably insulted God. Now he has to pay for his life-destroying ways. His Master will do to him what he has done.
God continues the criticism of Judah by noting Jacob’s experiences with Laban. Although Jacob initially fled to Laban for safety (Genesis 27:42-45), Jacob did not find the haven he hoped for. Jacob was deceived in marriage and ultimately sensed the need to flee. Similarly, Israel is looking to Egypt and Assyria for safety but will eventually find Egypt to be powerless and Assyria to be a deadly enemy.
Finally, in verse 14 God repeats his warning: Ephraim (Israel) will face the consequences of its actions (compare Ezekiel 18:13). God’s protection will be withdrawn. Arrogant Israel’s injustice and idolatry will cause national destruction.