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Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 36, The Jacobite Dispute, part 1

Jan 10, 2017

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 blatant, but Judah is guilty as well, though not as bad as Israel. Their attitudes and actions are 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 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 when Assyria becomes a threat, they carry oil as a present to Egypt, asking Pharaoh to protect Israel from Assyria. This is the situation when political leaders have no faith in God as their Protector. They 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. 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, 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” (Genesis 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, they felt it necessary to deceive Isaac (Genesis 27:19, 24) in order to fulfill 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 did not truly believe that God was sovereign. Hence, 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 (Genesis 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.”  (Genesis 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 (Genesis 35:1). There God also confirmed by direct revelation that his new name was Israel (Genesis 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 (Deuteronomy 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, and also 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 identify these Israelites properly.


This is part 38 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Hosea


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