For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

12:1.  “Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation: and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.”

Wind here seems to be used in the sense of breath or speech, so that his feeding on wind speaks of Israel’s folly in believing not only the lies of those who taught the superiority of Baal over Jehovah, and the imagined benefits accruing from worshiping Baal, but also the promises of Assyria and Egypt in the treaties they made with Israel.  Israel’s lies consisted of her empty formal hypocritical worship of Jehovah while she continued to worship the Baalim; and of her agreeing to honor the promises she made in the treaties with Assyria and Egypt when she looked for any opportunity to break them. 

Desolation means violence, oppression, robbery, so that her sin included also every form of social injustice.  All of this multiplied sin guaranteed her destruction.  Literally the wind mentioned here is the sirocco, a hot dry destructive wind from the eastern desert, and it is instructive to note that the east always has an evil connotation in Scripture, being invariably connected with sin and departure from God, the east wind being used also as a symbol of Divine wrath.  Israel’s foolish conduct was the equivalent of seeking the sirocco - something no sane person would do!  Many believe that the particular folly referred to is that described in 2 Ki 17:1-6.

The carrying of oil to Egypt signifies either export of oil, or the giving of it as a gift or as tribute.

12:2.  “The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.”

Some suggest that Judah here should be Jacob, but there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to reject the present translation, for God certainly foreknew that Judah would follow in Israel’s rebellious footsteps and thereby incur a similar judgment.  In support of the present translation is the fact that in 10:11 Judah and Jacob are also linked together, and apparently as being distinct from Israel (the ten northern tribes).

As Israel seems to have been the name used to describe the ten tribes as a corporate body; and Ephraim, the individuals comprising that body, so in regard to Judah it seems that Judah refers to Judah and Benjamin as a corporate body; and Jacob, to the individuals comprising it.  Jacob, however, is also the name frequently applied to the whole twelve tribes, for God never recognized the split which occurred under Jeroboam; and as the ten tribes were about to go into captivity, so also would Judah, though their captivity would be delayed for another one hundred and thirty years.

12:3.  “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:”

Jacob’s taking Esau by the heel even in the womb is the symbolic announcement of the truth that God had ordained him to the place of supremacy even before he was born.  This seems to justify the above interpretation of verse 2, for as Jacob the secondborn was appointed by God to have the supremacy over Esau the firstborn (a consistent principle with God), so was it ordained by God that in spite of initial failure, Judah the royal tribe from which Christ came, would ultimately be restored to his proper place of preeminence in the Millennium.

It is necessary to note that God’s predestination of Jacob to the place of supremacy over Esau, related only to the earthly state of both.  It did not predestinate Jacob to salvation, and Esau to perdition.  God does not predestinate any man either to salvation or destruction.  Each man is left to make the free will choice to remain condemned in Adam, or to choose eternal life by confessing himself a sinner, and trusting in Christ as his Savior.

Other translations of “... by his strength” indicate that the meaning is “in his manhood or maturity,” which tends also to confirm the interpretation suggested, for it will be when Judah is come to manhood or maturity, as he will be in the Millennium, that he will exercise the power of God in government over all the nations.

Some commentators have linked “He took his brother by the heel in the womb,” with Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac relative to the birthright (Ge 27), and used it to support the erroneous view that Jacob stole the birthright.  He did not steal the birthright.  He lied about his identity, but the birthright was his by God’s ordination from before his birth, and his also by right of purchase from Esau who despised it and sold it to Jacob for a meal of pottage (Ge 25:29-34).

It was by his acknowledged weakness and dependence on God that he had power with God, and so is it with every man.  He who would know the power of God in his life must be willing to admit that in himself he is without power.  Relative to that power made available to dependent faith, someone has described it as “the irresistible might of weakness.”  It is the power or strength spoken of by Paul in 2 Cor 12:9, where God declares, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” so that Paul could exult, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong,” 2 Cor 12:10.

12:4.  “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;”

It is generally agreed that the angel here is the Lord Jesus Christ.  The first part of this verse doesn’t mean that Jacob was more powerful than the angel, but that his persistence demonstrated the sincerity of his desire to be blessed, and secured for him what he so earnestly sought.  The practical lesson for us is that similar earnest desire on our part for blessing will secure it for us.

It is to be noted that in addition to wrestling, “he wept, and made supplication.”  The context would indicate that the weeping was that of repentance, so that the supplications would then be for pardon for the sins confessed.  It is futile to seek blessing without having first confessed our sins, repented of them, and sought God’s help to forsake them.

The conniving which had marked Jacob’s life up to that point was similar to that employed by the Israel addressed by Hosea, but the difference was that Jacob, broken and repentant, bowing to God’s will, was blessed, whereas Israel, refusing to admit guilt, and continuing to rely on her own crooked scheming, had filled her cup of iniquity to the brim, and must now suffer God’s judgment.

Prophetically, however, this takes us to the Tribulation era, when a weeping, supplicating, repentant remnant of Israel will also be blessed, and will pass into the enjoyment of millennial blessing.

“... he found him in Bethel.”  The “He” here is God, and Bethel means house of God.  The wrestling that night that resulted in the changing and blessing of Jacob is a picture of the conversion of a sinner, and surely no spiritual mind will fail to read the truth being conveyed in the words which follow, immediately “He (God) found Jacob in Bethel.”  The moment a sinner trusts Christ he is changed and blessed, and brought into God’s family (house).

Literally, however, the reference to Bethel relates to that night when Jacob, fleeing from Esau, had the experience recorded in Ge 28 where God promised to give the land to him and his posterity, whom He promised to multiply “as the dust of the earth.”  It was then that Jacob changed the name of the place from Luz meaning perverse, to Bethel house of God.  That promise of preservation, multiplication, and blessing had a partial fulfillment when God brought Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan, but the complete fulfillment will be when He regathers the repentant remnant after the Tribulation, and brings them into the enjoyment of millennial Canaan.

“... and there he spake with us.”  God is still the Speaker, but here the reference is to the meeting at Bethel years later, mentioned in Ge 35, and the truth being declared is that the promises given Jacob that night are also given to all believers, the only difference being that our blessings will be heavenly rather than earthly. (For a fuller exposition of the relative Scriptures, see Genesis, Verse by Verse, chapter 28, on this web site).

12:5.  “Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.”

“Memorial” is associated with the thought of remembering.

The Lord God of hosts Who wrestled with Jacob at Peniel that night was always remembered by Jacob, and acknowledged as the only God, and should have been similarly remembered by Jacob’s descendants, but the sad fact is that they forgot Him.  The only memory of God that has any value in His eyes is that which is associated with obedience, so that Israel’s hypocritical ritualistic worship was an insult rather than a remembrance, as Samuel reminded Saul, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Sa 15:22.

Until that night at Peniel when God wrestled with him and crippled him, Jacob had lived by a strange mixture of conniving and faith, but thenceforth he walked by faith in dependence upon God.  Israel (the ten tribes) had passed beyond the pale of mercy, but Hosea called upon Israel as represented by the Judah of his day - who were walking in Jacob’s early footsteps - to profit by his experience, to repent and walk by faith so that they too might be blessed.  Like the ten tribes, however, they also failed to heed the warning, with the result that they were carried captive into Babylon.  But a repentant remnant returned from that captivity, and were blessed, and in the coming Tribulation another remnant will also repent, and be brought into the blessings of millennial Canaan.

Israel’s failure to “remember” God has been duplicated by Christendom.  She too offends Him by the cold, ritualistic travesty which she mistakes for worship, but which is as offensive to Him as was that of forgetful Israel, and will just as surely be visited with His judgment.

12:6.  “Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.”

As noted in our discussion of verse two, the section ending with verse six is addressed to Judah for whom there was still hope of recovery.  They hadn’t plunged as wholeheartedly into sin as had Israel, and if they would but turn again to God, and give evidence of true repentance by exercising kindness and justice in their dealings with one another, and by placing all their trust in Jehovah, they would be delivered from judgment and would be blessed.

12:7.  “He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.”

Here the reproach is of Israel, not Judah, and he is described as a merchant, i.e., a Canaanite, meaning trafficker in the worst sense of the word, part at least of that charge relating to the spiritual realm involving the so-called worship of Jehovah while at the same time worshiping the Baalim, thus seeking to secure the favor of both.  Israel’s rejection of the knowledge of God as revealed in His Word, had left him to welter in ignorance of the fact that the Baalim were nothing more than the figment of man’s deluded mind. 

Beyond the metaphorically expressed truth, however, is the fact that in all their dealings with one another, and with foreigners, they were also like the Canaanites - deceitful.  “... he loveth to oppress” means literally that Israel loved to cheat and acquire ill gotten gain.

Who will deny that this is equally true of today’s Christendom?

12:8.  “And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.”

Israel’s conscience, national and individual, had become so seared by long continued sin that she apparently viewed her crooked methods, not as sin, but as smart business practices; nor is it any different with apostate Christendom.  God’s judgment, in the form of the Assyrian invasion and captivity, however, took away in one fell swoop all of Israel’s ill gotten wealth, as will the Tribulation judgments take away that of Christendom.

12:9.  “And I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.”

Some understand this as being God’s promise to ultimately restore them to the place of blessing, as was the case with Judah following the return from Babylon, see Zec 8:14-18, and as it will be in the Millennium, but the present context scarcely supports this view.  It seems rather that Jehovah was reminding them that He was the God Who had delivered them from Egypt’s bondage, and Who in the annual seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (the solemn feast), had reminded their fathers that He was the One Who blessed them with riches in the form of multiplied children, abundant crops, and multiplied flocks and herds.  During the celebration of that seven-day feast they were to dwell in booths.  It was a time of rejoicing, for the year’s work was ended, the last crop had been gathered in, and they could anticipate a time of rest until the Spring ploughing and planting again, see Le 23:33-44

This present promise to make them dwell again in booths, was to be in a very different context, however.  It would be, not a celebration of His blessing, but rather the sorrowful endurance of His judgment, in which He would take away all their ill-gotten wealth, and reduce them to such poverty that their dwellings would be booths or hovels.

12:10.  “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.”

God reminded them of all the warnings He had given them through the prophets, and of all the different ways He had had the prophets convey His message to the people (see also Heb 1:1), but to no avail.  Whether in explicit statement, or through visions given the prophets, or by the use of allegories, He had sought to warn Israel and turn her from the path of folly, but she would neither hear nor see.  She was bent on having her own sinful way, and would not be turned aside.

The OT contains, not only the record of those warnings, but also the record of their fulfillment, God having preserved them there for the instruction of all men; but succeeding generations,  Jews and Gentiles alike, have been just as adamant in refusing to heed them, so that now a guilty world is about to suffer the consequences in the form of the impending terrible Tribulation judgments.

12:11.  “Is there iniquity in Gilead?  surely they are vanity (iniquity): they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.”

The question is rhetorical: there was nothing but iniquity in Gilead and Gilgal.  All the so-called worship offered there was worthless, for that offered to Jehovah was sheer hypocrisy, and that offered the Baalim was equally worthless because those so-called gods existed only in the imagination of their deluded votaries.

Gilead’s being east of Jordan, and Gilgal on the west, is understood by some to declare the universal extent of Israel’s sin.

“... they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal” is understood by many to be better translated as, “they sacrifice to bull-gods in Gilgal,” the reference being to the golden calf set up there.  Determining the right translation is of little importance, however.  What matters is that the worship was idolatrous, and would bring down, not blessing, but judgment, as is declared in the final part of the verse, “their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields,” i.e., their altars would be thrown down, and would become like the heaps of useless stones accumulated round the fields over the years, having been thrown there by the plowmen after having been turned up by the plough.

12:12.  “And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.”

Here the narrative reviews the history of the whole nation.  Israel seeming to have reference to the ten tribes as a corporate body; and Ephraim, to the individuals comprising that body.  Jacob and Israel (Jacob’s new name), on the other hand are used in reference to Judah (Judah and Benjamin, the two tribes that remained loyal to the house of David).  In regard to those two tribes it seems that Judah is used of the corporate body; and Jacob, of the individuals comprising that body.  (As to why Judah and the ten tribes are both called Israel, the explanation is that God never authorized the split: with Him there was always only one Israel, and Judah, the royal tribe, represented that one nation).

The prophet now takes them back to the nation’s beginning, and specifically to the individual who was the father of the nation, Jacob; and it is necessary at this point to note that while in one context Jacob represents the individuals comprising the nation Israel, in another context the name Jacob represents the old nature; while his new name Israel, represents the new nature. 

Jacob’s fleeing into Syria was just after he had deceived his father Isaac relative to the birthright; and his flight from Canaan may well be a figure or type of the expulsion Israel was about to experience in their being carried captive to Assyria.  His serving for a wife refers to the seven years he served Laban for what he thought was Laban’s younger daughter Rachael, only to discover that he had been deceived by Laban, and had been given the older daughter Leah instead.  His keeping sheep for a wife refers to the additional seven years he had to shepherd Laban’s sheep so that he could marry Rachel.  In all those years of hardship and unjust treatment at the hand of Laban, however, Jacob hadn’t forgotten God’s protection and deliverance in the midst of all his troubles, but here his descendants had forgotten His deliverance of them from Egypt’s bondage, and all His abundant provision for them in the land of Canaan, and the result was that they were about to experience a much more severe chastisement in Assyria.  For a fuller discussion of these events, see the notes on chapters 27-29 of Genesis Verse by Verse on this web site.

12:13.  “And by a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.”

The history passes over in silence the long years of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, declaring only that “by a prophet” (Moses, type of Christ dying) the Lord brought them out of Egypt’s bondage, and by that same prophet guided them for the forty years of their wilderness wandering, and then under another leader, Joshua (type of Christ resurrected), brought them into the land of Canaan from which He was now about to expel them.  The Israel addressed by Hosea had forgotten all of these blessings, and turning away from the God Who had so blessed them, worshiped instead the Baalim.

Christendom, having been delivered from spiritual bondage by the vicarious death of the One typified by Moses; and having been brought into the enjoyment of transcendent spiritual blessing by the true Joshua (Christ resurrected), has also forgotten, and turned to worship false gods, with the result that they too are about to experience the wrath of God in the form of the terrible Tribulation judgments about to break upon this ungodly world.

12:14.  “Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.”

Having encapsulated Israel’s history in the two previous verses, God now returns to the then present, declaring the enormity of the nation’s sin, and emphasizing that the time had come when Israel, refusing to repent, must reap the harvest of her evil sowing.

“... leave his blood upon him” means that the punishment for Israel’s sin was death, i.e., the shedding of her life’s blood, and since the nation had refused to repent, she must die.  For the Israel represented by that unrepentant generation there was no pardon.

Some believe that “most bitterly” is related specifically to that part of Israel’s idolatry which involved the immolation of their children to Molech.  Christendom, failing to teach her children the knowledge of God, is also sacrificing them to the false gods she worships: Mammon, Education, and Pleasure, etc.

[Hosea 13]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough