Hosea 12:1-15 Return To God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Using old stories here about Israel, Hosea tells us the word of God.  It is the stories of their ancestor Jacob and the stories after the exodus from Egypt that Hosea is making use of here.  We might see the focus of his message in the line in verse seven.  "Return to God.  Preserve love and righteousness and always wait in hope upon your God," (12:6)*.

God Showed Mercy To Jacob

2.  With that then, we will begin reading from the next several verses**.


Ephraim with its lies,
The house of Israel with its deception
Has surrounded me.
Judah is still away from God and wandering about
They trust in idols as holy things.
Ephraim is become a shepherd of wind
All day long, it goes chasing after hot winds.
It lays deception and tyranny one after the other
It makes a covenant with Assyria
It pays tributes of oil to Egypt.
The Lord is indicting Judah.
He will punish Jacob according to his walk
He will repay him for his evil deeds.
For when jacob was in his mother's womb
He grabbed at the heel of his older brother
He exhausted all his strength and fought with God.
He fought with the messenger of God and won.
He cried and begged for a favor of grace.
God showed him at Bethel
There he spoke with him.
The Lord indeed is God of all armies
His name is recited as the Lord," (11:12 through 12:1-5).

4.  Here we have the names of Assyria and Egypt in the text.  The background in which these two country names are seen is given in the text of Second Kings chapter seventeen.  It was the reign of Israel's last king, Hoshea.  "When the Assyrian king Shalmaneser went up against [Israel], Hoseha submitted to him and paid him tribute.  But, when the king of Assyria found out that Hosea had plotted a rebellion, sent an envoy to the Egyptian pharaoh So, and did not pay the yearly tribute to the king of Assyria, he seized him and put him into prison," (Second Kings 17:3-4).

5.  Hosea saw that the real problems per se inside of Israel showed itself fittingly in its diplomatic policy and in its effects.  In other words, it meant that in a time of national crisis, they did not truly repent of their sins and turn back to God, but would at one time fawn upon Assyria and the other time turn to the great country of Egypt and would go back and forth between them.  Without even thinking about "What is the real problem?," they only thought of "What should we do for this situation now?"  And therefore, in their vacillating this way and that, they called destruction upon themselves.  Hosea calls this figure as we have it not a shepherd of sheep, but "a shepherd of wind."  It is vain to chase after wind.  He says that if you are swayed into thinking to evade only the immediate crisis right in front of you and you only consider implementing some human solution, then to do so is foolish like going after the wind.

6.  So, Hosea is referring to Jacob a forefather of [the nation] Israel.  The first thing we could make out of this is that "You will inherit the bad spots of your forefather just the way he was."  What kind of person was Jacob?  The circumstances of his birth are found in Genesis chapter twenty-five.  When we read it, it says in the text that when he was born he was born grabbing at the heel of his twin brother Esau, (Genesis 25:26).  In brief, the narrative tells us that Jacob was trying to become the elder son all by himself.  This episode symbolically expresses Jacob's whole life.  The reality is that Jacob did later trick Esau and get the privilege of the elder son to himself, and furthermore he also tricked his blind father and usurped the blessing that Esau was originally supposed to get, (Genesis chapters twenty-five, twenty-seven).  But, as for Jacob, it resulted in his life being sought after by Esau.  In the final analysis, because of what he did,  he drove himself to the depths of despair.  By showing this figure of Jacob the way he was, Hosea says that, "You too will be the same as him as you keep relying on the power of man and on scheming and when it's all done you will invite destruction upon yourself."

7.  However, Hosea cannot end the story of Jacob's birth here.  He goes on with the story with the events at Penuel (Genesis chapter thirty-two).    The expression of "he fought with the messenger of God and won" comes from a story in Genesis chapter thirty-two.  But, what Jacob actually did there was "he cried and begged for a favor," says Hosea.  He was beaten down by God, but still he hung on to Him.  Then, God showed him a blessing through the messenger and blessed Jacob.

8.  Then, the order is in reverse from Genesis, but Hosea speaks on the events at Penuel (Genesis 28:10ff).  It says there that, "Jacob left Beer Sheba and headed for Haran.  When he came to a particular place, as the sun settled, he decided to spend the night there.  Jacob took a rock that was there and made a pillow from it, and lied down there.  Whereupon, he saw a dream.  Stairs whose uppermost part reached up to heaven were stretching down to the earth.  Moreover, the angels of God were going up and down it.  The Lord stood  beside [him] and said, ' Look!  I am the God of Abraham your forefather, the God of Isaac, the Lord, ...'" (Genesis 28:10-13).

9.  The stairs which Jacob saw did not stretch down from the earth to heaven.  They were stretching from heaven to the earth.  This shows the one-sided nature of God's grace.  When he was in despair, Jacob did not find God out.  God found Jacob out while he was in the midst of his darkness.  Then he spoke with him.  It was the one sided grace of God.

10.  There is a second significance that we can make out of the reference to Jacob here.  It showed the grace of God which was being directed towards even a man like Jacob.  It means that God is so graceful towards the person who would repent and return, and more than that he moves towards them first before they ever think about returning.  Because of that then, Hosea continues to call out to them in a loud voice as follows:


"Return to God.
Preserve love and righteousness
Always wait in hope on your God," (12:6).

God Lead Israel Up Out Of [Egypt]

12.  Let's continue reading from verses eight to eleven.


"The merchant puts his hand on the deceptive scale and loves exploitation.
Ephraim says,
'I've gotten rich and gained wealth.
Nobody will ever notice that
All this property has been accumulated by sin and wickedness.'
I, indeed, am the Lord your God.
I lead you up out of the land of Egypt.
I will make you live in tents again
Just as in the days when I was with you.
I will speak a message to the prophets
I will show many visions
I have shown parables through the prophets," (12:7-10).

14.  In verse eight the text has [some] words from the people of Ephraim (Israel).  They say, "I've gotten rich and gained wealth."  But, Hosea knew that the kingdom was about to be destroyed by the forthcoming judgment of God and the treasures that they had built up were about to be lost as well.  Hosea is taking up here the narrative of the exodus.  The Lord is thus saying through Hosea, "I will make you live in tents again."  That was the time when Israel used to dwell in tents and they journeyed through the wilderness before settling in Caanan.  God says that he will send them back again to daily living in the wilderness.

15.  But, that doesn't mean that God has forsaken them.  The significance of this is already given in chapter two of this prophetic book.  The Lord spoke to the Israelites equivalent to an unfaithful wife who has betrayed her husband as follows, "Therefore, I will allure her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak a word to her heart.  In that place I will give her a vineyard and give her the valley of Achor (troubles) as a gateway to hope.  Then she will respond to me, like she did when she was a virgin as in the day she went up out of the land of Egypt," (2:14-16).  Even in the passage we read today the Lord says, "I will make you live in tents again.  Just as in the days when I was with you."  What the Lord is hoping for is that after they go back to the wilderness again, they will begin living with the Lord like they used to.  It is obvious that when it says the valley of Achor is truly a gateway to hope that it meant a time for them to begin living again with the Lord; [in our] troubles [we tend to be open to the Lord more than in our good days].  That is where the true intention of the Lord lies.  God is pointing right at himself and naming himself as "I, indeed, [am] the Lord, your God."  The Lord is truly  a God who keeps looking for the people to return to him and sends his word to the prophets, and calls out to the people with his word.

16.  And furthermore, it is written in verses twelve and following like this:


"There is something detestable in Gilead.
They are truly vain.
They are offering up sacrifices to a bull in Gilgal.
Its altar is no more than a rock mound piled up in a ridge in a field.
Jacob fled to the wilds of Aram
Israel served in order to obtain a wife
And he kept the flocks in order to obtain a wife.
The Lord by one of his prophets
Lead Israel up out of Egypt
By his prophet he preserved them.
Ephraim made the Lord severely angry.
The Lord gave him a retribution of bloodshed.
He returned him his shame," (12:11-14).

18.  There were holy places in both Gilead and Gilgal.  Worship was offered up in the name of the Lord.  But, it was actually  nothing but Baal worship, services to the agricultural god of Canaan, which were really being practiced.  The text says, "They are offering up sacrifices to a bull in Gilgal."  The images of the bulls that were placed in the various local holy places symbolized the power of fertility and procreation.  We see that what they were seeking so hard for by praying towards the image of a bull was just for many offspring, a harvest of crops, and prosperity.  They were never looking for a personal relationship with God or a life truly lived with God on a day to day basis.  Therefore, the Lord says those altars are "no more than rock mounds piled up in the ridges in a field."  Then Jacob is referred to again in the text.  After Jacob fled to Aram he served his uncle, Laban, in order to obtain a wife, (Genesis chapter twenty-nine).  We know that even though Jacob loved his uncle Laban, we also know that he didn't respect him.  He worked for him to get himself a wife.  The image of the Israelites worshipping Baal and looking for prosperity out of it overlaps that of the one in Jacob.

19.  But, in contrast to this, in making use of the events of the exodus from Egypt, Hosea points to the relationship those people [used to have] with God and how they used to be.  The Lord delivered Israel, who used to be an enslaved people, through one prophet, namely Moses.  Then he preserved them through their wilderness journeys by means of Moses.  But first and foremost they had God's love and grace in the forefront.  That was the relationship between Israel and God.  What God is looking for is that his people would just rely on his grace, live in response to his love, and walk with him.

20.  In this way, while using an old old story and making plain the sin of Israel, Hosea has been trying to speak forth the magnitude of this grace in which God is still trying to keep being their God.  Our focus is in verse seven as I already mentioned.  This is the message today, which God is speaking to us as well through an ancient tale.

21.  "Return to God.  Preserve love and righteousness and always wait in hope upon your God."

*Verse 7 in the Japanese text.

**Different versification in Japanese; it begins in English in Hosea 11:12, but in Japanese it goes from Hosea 12:1-6.  The rest of this translation will make the appropriate adjustments in verse addresses without notification.

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