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Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 37, The Jacobite Dispute, part 2

Jan 11, 2017

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 even means 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 Leviticus 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 rest, knowing that God was sovereign.

So also was it with his descendants, the Israelites in Hosea’s time. They were religious and 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. For this reason, Jesus said in Matthew 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, Leviticus 19:33, 34 says,

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. Numbers 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 Romans 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” (Romans 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. 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. The prophet now 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 Corinthians 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 Israelites (and all men) as well.

God is indeed faithful. Moreso, 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 He also has taken steps to send 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 destroy it or make it “come to naught.” 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 to Laban in Syria. Hosea implies that God will do the same with his descendants of the house of Israel after their 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 (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Acts 3:22, 23). The main difference is that Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, while Jesus is 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.


This is part 39 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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