Hosea 11 − Commentary

Israel Has Forgotten the Lord

1 'I, (the Lord), loved Israel when he was a child.

I called my son out of Egypt.

2 But the more I called to Israel,

the more they turned away from me.

My people gave sacrifices to Baal.

They burned incense

and offered this to idols.

3 But it was I who taught Ephraim to walk!

I took my people up in my arms!

It was I who healed her.

But she did not realize this.

4 I led her with love and kind words.

I lifted the yoke from her neck.

I bent down to feed her.

5 The people of Israel refuse to repent.

So they must return to Egypt.

Assyria will rule over them.

6 Swords will swing in their cities. People will break their city gates.

Their plans will come to nothing.

7 My people are trying hard to turn away from me.

But even if they call to God above,

he will not listen to them.

In chapter 11, God looks to the past in Israel's life. In verse 1, God remembers what has happened to Israel when she was a child. God spoke to Moses when he began his journey to Egypt. God said, 'Israel is my first son ... let my son go' (Exodus 4:22-23). It is when Israel became free. There are other places in the Old Testament where God describes himself as a father (Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:19). The word 'call' in verse 1 can mean different things in the Old Testament. It can mean that God wanted to bring the people of Israel together. The life of Jesus did this completely.

But Israel did not want to listen to God's call (verse 2). She showed this by her worship of the Baals and of other false gods. Israel chose new idols. They broke the first rule of the covenant. This was, 'You will have no other gods but me' (Exodus 20:3).

In verse 3, there is a beautiful picture of a father. Israel was like a small child whom God helped to walk. It was God who did this. Israel could not see that. When the people of Israel grew up, they did not want to live like true sons.

In verse 4, the picture changes a little. It is not clear what the verse means. Perhaps the verse means that God is like a farmer. He wants to be sure that his animals are well. He wants to be sure that they have enough food. This is the same way that God fed Israel in the desert (Exodus 16).

But in verse 5 the idea changes. Hosea tells Israel about exile again. The word 'Egypt' means the enemy. Assyria is the country that will take them into exile. Israel will not be a nation on its own. In 5:13 and 10:6 Hosea called the king of Assyria a 'great king'. Soon this king will make sure that Israel cannot choose where she lives. Israel did not thank God for what he had done for her. This was her sin.

Assyria will win against Israel in a war (verse 6). The people of Israel will not be safe. The walls of their cities will come down. The sword of the enemy will become the sword of God. He uses the sword to keep his covenant. The people will find it difficult to live without God. They will not want to turn away from him (verse 7). Then they will want to come back to God. But he will not listen. It will be too late.

The Lord Does not Want to Destroy Israel

8 Ephraim, I do not want to forget about you.

I do not want to give you to someone else.

I do not want to make you like Admah.

I do not want to make you like Zeboiim.

My heart will not let me do it!

My love for you is too strong.

9 I will not punish you in my anger.

I will not destroy Ephraim again,

because I am God and not a man.

I am the Holy One and I am with you.

I will not show my anger.

10 I will make a loud noise like a lion.

Then my children will come and follow me.

When I make a loud noise,

my children will come from the west.

They will come with fear.

11 They will be like birds from Egypt.

They will be like birds from Assyria.

They will come with fear.

But I will bring them back to their homes again.

I, the Lord, have spoken.

In verse 8 there is a change in ideas. Again, there is hope for Israel. In exile, Israel will turn back to God. God is a God of mercy. He does not want to punish Israel too much. He could never let other nations win against Israel. Admah and Zeboiim were cities that were near Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 10:19). God destroyed Admah and Zeboiim when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-25). This was when he was very angry. But God says that he will change his mind.

There is not a man anywhere who is completely true (verse 9). But God is not like this. He will be true to the love that he has shown to Israel in the past. This is the only place in Hosea where we see the word ' holy'. We see the word 26 times in Isaiah. God is different from men. He acts in different ways. This is not a promise for the people who are living with Hosea. It is a promise for the children of these people. God's 'anger' is the right attitude for him to show. This is when the people have done wrong things. But, because he loved them, he wanted them to repent. Then he could forgive them.

In the future, Israel will return to God (verse 10). Then they will be able to return from exile. God himself will tell everyone when this moment comes. He will make sure that everyone hears. Perhaps the lion means that God is calling people to hear his judgement (Amos 1:2, Joel 3:16). The west means the islands of the sea. It also means the land near the sea.

Israel will hurry home (verse 11). Birds can travel fast. Hosea uses the picture of a bird in a good way. (In 7:11 the dove meant that Israel was silly.) The people will 'fly' back to their homes. Nothing will stop them. The promise of 2:25 will happen − 'I will plant many seeds in the land'. But Israel's true return will only happen because of Christ. He begins and finishes the new covenant.

Israel and Judah are Both Guilty

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies.

Israel has told me false things.

And Judah has not obeyed God.

She has not been true to the Holy One.