The Silly Dove
Because Israel refused to repent, Hosea prophesied that the nation would be destroyed and that the people would be taken into captivity to Assyria. Hosea 7:11 says,
11 So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense; they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.
It was common for Israel and Judah to look north or south for protection. When the kings perceived that Egypt was becoming a threat, they formed a military alliance with Syria or Assyria in the north. But when Syria or Assyria became a threat, they formed a military alliance with Egypt. Either way, since they were the weaker power, they became subject to the hegemony of a foreign nation and lost some of their independence.
They seldom had faith that God was their Deliverer who was perfectly capable of making the nation great. Almost never did they believe the prophets who told them that it was their rejection of the divine law and their immorality that had brought about their decline.
Having faith only in the flesh, they took steps to defend themselves from God—from the judgment that He had raised up against them. Their carnal defense may have postponed the inevitable, but in the end it failed, because as immorality and lawlessness increased, divine judgment always prevailed.
The Jonah Factor
Hosea calls Israel “a silly dove.” The Hebrew word for “silly” is pathah, which, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “open, roomy,” and is usually used in a mental or moral sense, “to be simple.” In other words, one who is silly is one who is roomy in his head. Today we might call such a person an “airhead,” having much empty space between his ears.
Prov. 20:19 uses the term, and the NASB translates it “a gossip.” Gesenius says that it refers to “one who opens his lips, used of a garrulous man, whose lips are opening continually.” In other words, he talks a lot, but says little that has substance. This is why the KJV and NASB call Israel “a silly dove.”
The Hebrew word for dove is yonah, or Jonah. Hence, this prophecy foreshadows a time when God would raise up Jonah to be a type of Israel (or Ephraim) being swallowed up by Assyria. Assyria’s capital city was Nineveh, “Fish City,” which ultimately swallowed up Israel, as we read later in Hosea 8:8, 9,
8 Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria….
Hence, the “silly dove” is said to be swallowed up by Assyria. Jonah himself depicted this in his own experience when he was swallowed up by the great fish. When he tried to run from God, he manifested the heart of Israel as a nation, making the prophet “a silly dove.” How silly it is to try to run from God!
But Jonah was an intercessor as well as a prophet, and intercessors take on the problem of the people for whom they are interceding. When an intercessor overcomes the problem in himself (or herself), he overcomes on behalf of the same people as well, so that he may bring many sons into glory.
So Hosea’s veiled reference to Jonah reveals Israel’s ultimate victory according to the mercy of God. Just as Jonah was vomited out of the belly of the whale, so also is there a resurrection from the dead. And the purpose of Jonah’s resurrection was to preach the word with boldness to the people of Nineveh, the Great Fish Nation. Israel’s enemy is to be converted to Christ in the end.
The irony here is that while Israel refused to repent, the enemies of God did repent.
A secondary prophetic story was developing through Jonah, because Jonah was a type of Christ (Matt. 12:39, 40). Hence, when Jonah was swallowed up by the great fish, it represented Christ’s death and burial. When he was vomited out, it represented Christ’s resurrection.
On still another level, the story represents Israel’s national death and resurrection.
On yet another level, it represents our own death and resurrection while we yet live, for legally speaking, we have died with Christ and have been raised up with Him by faith. On this level, both death and life have been imputed to us, so that we may preach the word to the enemies of God.
On another level still, our flesh—the old carnal self—is our Nineveh, the enemy of God, for it is not subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:7). Hence, on this most personal level, our old man of flesh is our own personal Nineveh, but yet when the Holy Spirit (dove) comes to indwell human flesh, we are raised in newness of life, and the living words of God come forth from our mouths.
All of these levels (and more) are interwoven in the prophecy of Jonah, which is mentioned briefly here by Hosea. Hosea speaks of Egypt and Assyria in the same breath, linking the two, because God’s ultimate intent is to bless both Egypt and Assyria along with Israel. We read of this in Isaiah 19:24, 25,
24 In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
This blessing, of course, is the fulfillment of the calling given to Abraham himself, saying in Gen. 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Yet as long as we suffer from SDS (Silly Dove Syndrome), as Jonah did, we do not truly know the mind of God. We cast aside the law of God and even try to undermine the divine plan for the salvation of all men (1 Tim. 4:10). Even when Jonah was successful in causing Nineveh to repent, he resented it when God cancelled their judgment (Jonah 4:1, 2). He preferred to see God’s enemies destroyed and cast out forever, rather than to destroy His enemies by making them His friends.
The inescapable conclusion, then, is that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the message that will come from our mouths must reflect the divine plan and intent to convert all of God’s enemies and put all things under the feet of Christ (1 Cor. 15:27, 28). The reality, however, is that many Christians are afflicted with SDS, reducing the effectiveness and purity of their message.
The Captivity is Assured
Hosea 7:12 says,
12 When they go [into captivity], I will spread My net over them; I will bring them down like the birds of the sky. I will chastise them in accordance with the proclamation to their assembly.
Here God pictures Himself as a bird hunter casting a net into the sky to capture the “silly dove” (Israel). The purpose is to “chastise them,” in the way that was proclaimed to their assembly in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In this case, the captivity was to be under an iron yoke, being carried captive to foreign lands.
Hosea 7:13, 14 continues,
13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. 14 And they do not cry to Me from their heart when they wail on their beds; for the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves, they turn away from Me.
Like a child being disciplined, Israel wailed and cried in order to stop the beating, but the iniquity had not been driven out of their hearts. Their self-will had not been broken. They had not learned to submit to the law of God. They were unhappy because the “grain and new wine” had been cut off, but they were unrepentant. They wanted the blessings of God’s covenant, while continuing to be disobedient children.
Hosea 7:15, 16 concludes,
15 Although I trained them and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me. 16 They turn, but not upward. they are like a deceitful bow; their princes will fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This will be their derision in the land of Egypt.
Israel was the wife of Yahweh, and the individual Israelites were His children. So God says that He “trained them and strengthened their arms,” as a good parent would do. But in spite of His parenting skills, God says that the Israelites were unruly and insolent children who remained in a state of rebellion in spite of all discipline.
He disciplined them with a wooden yoke previously, putting the people into captivity within their own borders, and such discipline brought temporary repentance. However, the wooden yoke was always forgotten by the next generation of Israelites. So this time the iron yoke was to be imposed on them. This was the ultimate discipline for the nation, comparable to a son being sold to foreigners as slaves.
“Egypt” here in verse 16 is not to be taken literally. Egypt was known as the place of bondage and was also a prophetic type representing the world and the place where foreign gods were worshiped. Going back to Egypt was a common theme, even in the days of Moses.
When the kings of Israel decided to defend themselves from God’s judgment, they were said to be returning to Egypt. So in Deut. 17:16 Moses gives instruction to future kings in Israel,
16 Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never again return that way.”
The prophet Isaiah had much to say about Israel’s silly reliance upon Egypt and their fleshly horses, instead of depending upon God for their defense. Isaiah 30:1, 2 says,
1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the Lord, “who execute a plan, but not of My Spirit, in order to add sin to sin, 2 who proceed down to Egypt without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt.”
Again, he says in Isaiah 31:1, 3,
1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord! … 3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit; so the Lord will stretch out His hand, and he who helps will stumble and he who is helped will fall, and all of them will come to an end together.
Hosea affirms that Israel had sought fleshly (military) strength as an alternative to repentance. But they could not save themselves from divine judgment, because “their horses are flesh and not spirit.” Those who seek help by strengthening the flesh (whether national or personal) will “fall” in the end.
The fact that Hosea was not referring literally to a return to Egypt is seen later in Hosea 9:3,
3 They will not remain in the Lord’s land, but Ephraim will return to Egypt, and in Assyria they will eat unclean food.
The prophet knew that the Israelites could not go to both places. “Egypt” was used figuratively, while “Assyria” was the actual place of their captivity. When the people accumulated fleshly “horses” to save them, they returned to Egypt from God’s point of view.
The actual judgment, however, was to be sent into Assyria, where they would “eat unclean food.” This is actually a reference to “eating” unclean doctrines and silly traditions of men.