Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.XII.
(1) East wind.—Comp. Isaiah 27:8 and Job 27:21. On the latter passage Wetzstein remarks:—“This wind is more frequent in winter and early spring, when, if it continues long, the tender vegetation is parched up, and a year of famine follows. Both man and beast feel sickly while it prevails.” Hence, that which is unpleasant and revolting in life is compared by Orientals to the east wind. The idea expressed by the east wind here is the same as in Job 15:2, combining the notions of destructiveness and emptiness. The covenant with Assyria refers to the events of the reign of Hoshea. Covenants with Assyria, and presents to Egypt were to Hosea curses in disguise. (See Note on Hosea 7:11.)
The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.(2) Jacob refers to the northern kingdom.
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:(3, 4) Had power.—Should be, strove. Prayers and tears were the weapons used in the memorable struggle for pardon, reconciliation, peace in the self-conquest as well as the God-conquest which was achieved. “At Bethel He (Jehovah) found him (Jacob)” not once only, but on repeated occasions (Genesis 28:11; Genesis 35:1),and in the subsequent history of the children of Israel.
Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.(5) Lord God of hosts.—See Cheyne’s Isaiah, vol. 1, pp. 11, 12, and Nowack’s commentary on this passage. Probably the hosts were the stars which were conceived of as celestial spirits standing upon or above Jehovah’s throne in Micaiah’s vision, on the right hand and on the left (1Kings 22:19). These are to be identified, in all probability, with the sons of God (Genesis 6:2), described in Job 1:6 as presenting themselves in council before Jehovah. In Psalm 103:21 they are described as God’s ministers; also in Psalm 104:4, quoted in Hebrews 1:7.
Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.(6) Therefore . . .—More correctly, But do thou return to thy God. There is an implied contrast between the patriarch and his degenerate descendants in the days of Hosea.
He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.(7) He is a merchant.—The vivid and fierce light of the prophet’s words is obscured in the English version. The rendering “he is a merchant” originates from the fact that Canaan (rendered “merchant”) is often used predominantly of Phœnicia, and Canaanites of Phœnicians, the great trading race (Isaiah 23:11; Job 40:30). Translate: As for Canaan, in his hand are false balances. He loves cheating. The descendants of Canaan (the son of Ham, the abhorred son of Noah) became in their whole career a curse and a bye-word in every religious and ethical sense. The princes of Tyre, the merchandise of Phœnicia, were, perhaps, then in the prophet’s mind. (Comp. Ezekiel 27)
Moreover, the prophet hints that Ephraim had imbibed Phœnicia’s love of gain and habits of unscrupulous trade. The literature of this period contains frequent references to these tendencies in Israel (Amos 2:6; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10).
And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.(8) Translate, And Ephraim saith, Surely I have become wealthy; I have gotten me substance (i.e., by legitimate means, not robbery): all my earnings bring me not guilt as would be sin (i.e., requiring expiation). Such a coarse pursuit of wealth, and such glorying in the innocence of the entire process by which it has been obtained, has its parallel in the moral position of the Laodicean Church, rebuked by our Lord (Revelation 3).
And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.(9) Tabernacles.—The prophet here speaks of Israel’s moral restoration under the form of a return to “the old ideal of simple agricultural life, in which every good gift is received directly from Jehovah’s hand.” To the true theocratic spirit the condition here spoken of is one of real blessedness, but to the worldly, grasping Canaan or Ephraim it would come as a threat of expulsion, desolation, and despair. (Comp. Hosea 2:14; Hosea 3:3.)
Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.(11) Translate, If Gilead be worthless, surely they have become nought. In Gilgal they sacrificed bullocks; their altars also are like heaps upon the field’s furrows, referring to a past event, the desolating invasion of Gilead by Tiglath-pileser, in 734 B.C. To this military expedition we have undoubted references in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser II. But unfortunately they are in a very mutilated condition. From one passage we learn:—“The city Gil [ead] and [A] bel [Maacha] which is on this side the land Beth Omri (Samaria) the distant . . . I joined in its whole extent to the territory of Assyria.” The biblical passage, 2Kings 15:29, supplements this account by stating that Napntali and Galilee also fell victims to the victorious arms of the invader. From the verse before us we infer that Gilgal, on the western bank of the Jordan near Jericho (see Note on 4:15), likewise felt the heavy hand of the conqueror, or perhaps the inhabitants fled in panic and the local shrines became deserted ruins. From this time forth we hear no more of Gilgal as a religious centre. Nowack, however, follows Ewald in regarding the passage as prophetic of a coming calamity. (See Introduction.) In the word for “heaps” (gallîm) there is a play on the name Gilgal.
And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.(12) Jacob . . . Israel.—Resuming the retrospect over early patriarchal history, begun in Hosea 12:4. Notwithstanding the loneliness and humble position of the patriarch, God took care of him, and he won the mighty name of Israel, and gave it to his descendants.
Country.—More accurately, plain.
And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.(13) A prophet.—Moses is here referred to, and there is, perhaps, a hint that the Lord would yet again save Israel from worse than Egyptian bondage by the words and warnings of a prophet.
Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.(14) But the rift in the clouds closes again, and another severe rebuke follows. “Jacob” and “Israel” give place to the proud tribal name of Ephraim. This portion of the whole house of Israel incurs the charge. Read, Ephraim hath provoked bitter feeling. The bloodguiltinese of Moloch sacrifices and other iniquity God will not remove. (Comp. Genesis 27:43; Genesis 27:28-29, for the foundation of these references.)