Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.XI.
(1) Comp. Hosea 9:10 and Exodus 4:22-23. In this context there cannot be a prophecy of the Christ, for obstinate conduct and rebellion would thus be involved in the prediction. It is true that Matthew 2:15 quotes the passage in illustration of the fact that the true Son of God was also submitted in His youth to the hard schooling of a cruel exile. The calling out of Egypt of the Messiah gave a new indication of the cyclical character of Hebrew history. The passage helps us to understand what is meant by the formula, “that it might be fulfilled,” &c.
As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.(2) As they (i.e., the prophets) called them, so they (Israel) went from them.—Sought to avoid the voice and presence of the men of God.
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.(3) Read, Yet it was I who guided Ephraim’s steps, taking him by his arms. There is a beautiful parallel to this in Deuteronomy 32:10-11.
Knew not . . .—This obtuseness to the source of all mercies—the refusal to recognise the true origin in Divine revelation of those ideas which, though they bless and beautify life, are not recognised as such revelation, but are treated as “the voice of nature,” or “development of humanity,” or “dictum of human reason “—is one of the commonest and most deadly sins of modern Christendom. The unwillingness to recognise the Divine Hand in “creation,” “literature,” “history” takes the opposed forms of Pantheism and Pyrrhonism. To each of these the prophet’s words apply.
I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.(4) Cords of a man.—In contrast with the cords with which unmanageable beasts are held in check. Israel is led with “bands of love,” not of compulsion. Render the last clause, And gently towards them gave I food to eat, expressing the tenderness, delicacy, and condescension of his personal regard.
He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return.(5) It is best, with Ewald, to take the two clauses as interrogative, Shall he not return into the land of Egypt? And shall not the Assyrian, &c.? (See Notes on Hosea 8:13; Hosea 10:3-6. Comp. also Hosea 11:11.)
Return—i.e., to God.
And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.(6) The rendering of the English version is here incorrect. Render, Then shall the sword be brandished amid his cities, and utterly destroy his princes. The word for “princes” is, literally, bars, the heroes, leaders, or defenders of the state being aptly called barriers, or bulwarks. Analogous metaphors frequently occur in the Old Testament; such is the interpretation of the Targum.
And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.(7) No imagery is used, as of unfaithful wife, recalcitrant heifer, or furnace-piling baker, but homely literal commonplace. The people were called by sufficient means to the highest worship, but they were bent on the lowest.
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.(8) In the depth of despair the prophet delivers himself of one of the most pathetic passages in Hebrew prophecy. On the darkest cloud gleams the bow of promise. A nation so much beloved as Israel cannot be destroyed by Him who has fostered it so tenderly. As the prophet loved his faithless bride, so Jehovah continued to love His people. The “how?” of this verse expresses the most extreme reluctance. Admah and Zeboim were cities of the plain destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah, which are often referred to as the type of irremediable catastrophe. (Comp. Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 13:19; Matthew 10:15.)
Mine heart is turned within me.—Better, against me—a violent revulsion of feeling. Divine compassion pleads with Divine justice.
I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.(9) This sublime passage is remarkable as drawing illustrations from human emotions, and yet repudiating all human weakness. It suggests a hint of Divine mercy in its greatness, and of Divine justice too, which shows how, both being alike infinite, they can adjust themselves beyond the power of human experience and imagination.
The Holy One in the midst of thee is such a blending of justice and mercy.
I will not enter into the city.—So ancient versions. “Enter”—i.e., as a destroyer. (Comp. Hosea 11:6.) But many commentators interpret the Hebrew b‘îr (“into the city”) to mean in wrath. This is preferable.
They shall walk after the LORD: he shall roar like a lion: when he shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west.(10) Render, They shall go up after Jehovah, who roars as a lion; yea, he shall roar so that the children, &c. Lions accompanied Egyptian monarchs to the battle-field. Read the picturesque description of Rameses II. in his battle with the Kheta, by George Ebers in Uarda. “West” means the coast and islands of the Levant.
Tremble—i.e., come with an awe-stricken joy to the voice of the Divine summons.
They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria: and I will place them in their houses, saith the LORD.(11) Will place them.—Better, will cause them to dwell. The prophetic word looks beyond the restoration of the sixth century B.C. to the gathering together of some from east and west, from all the places where they are hidden in exile under the lion of the tribe of Judah; the broader and grander accomplishment will satisfy and more than fulfil the yearnings of the spiritual Israel.
Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints.(12) Should stand as the first verse of Hosea 12, just as in the Hebrew text. The rest of the prophecy appears as a distinct composition, a new commencemen, of judgment and incrimination, followed at last by one more utterance of Divine promise.
The rendering of the latter part of the verse in the English version was that of the Jewish scholars who saw here a reference to the reign of Hezekiah, but it is opposed to the mention of the “controversy with Judah” in Hosea 12:3. Accordingly, the rendering adopted by Ewald, Wünsche, Nowack, and others, is more probable:—“And Judah still roves unbridled towards God, and towards the faithful Holy One,” Judah’s inconstancy being contrasted with the faithfulness of God. The plural form, the Holy Ones, may, like the plural forms, Elohîm, Adonîm, suggest personalities within the substance of deity. The LXX. seem to indicate that we have not the right Hebrew text here.