Originally posted March 9, 2015. Video from Aug 15, 2018.
One of the several recurring themes throughout the Old Testament is the relationship of a name to the person or object it represents. To know a person’s name and what it means is to know the person herself, and allows us to understand her place in God’s providential plan. Hosea has used several techniques to reinforce the image of Israel as an impenitent sinner. So far he has depicted Israel’s unfaithfulness through the example of Gomer (chs. 1-3), as a crime of adultery against her husband, the Lord (4:1-9:9), and as a violation of the natural and moral order, both past and present (9:10-11:11). He turns now, then, to several wordplays on the names of Israel, the Lord, and various cities in order to demonstrate the close connection between the people’s sin and their own identity.
First, God’s people were defined by their devotion to deceit. Israel’s sin has long since been established in the mind of the reader, but God’s people had still not gotten the message. Hosea therefore adds to the list of her charges: “Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit” (Hos 11:12; unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations are from the ESV); “they multiply falsehood and violence” (12:1); she is, “A merchant, in whose hands are false balances” (12:7). What is more, is that the nation had acted this way from before its birth, just like their father Jacob: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor” (12:3-4). As the NBC points out, though, Jacob’s deception is more than an historical note--it’s his name: “The name Jacob is connected with words meaning ‘follow at the heel’, or ‘supplant’ and means figuratively ‘to deceive’ (Gn. 25:26; 27:36). . . . Hosea uses the picture to illustrate how Jacob/Israel has been deceitful right from the beginning of his existence” (see our first post for Works Cited).
The prophet also draws on Jacob’s struggle with the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 32:22-32. There, alone and wearied from his journey, Jacob had fled from his father-in-law Laban but feared the homecoming planned by his brother Esau. Like a cornered beast, Jacob fights the Man who then approaches him, wrestling until the first light of morning. And when the fight is over, he has the wound to prove it—his hip is out of joint. Jacob, however, refuses to let him go; that is, until he blesses him. And then the Angel surprises us (and perhaps Jacob) by obliging: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). But Jacob knew strength when he felt it--the Angel let him win. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Gen 32:30). He prevailed because he had been saved; he was victorious only when he admitted defeat. But while Jacob had learned his lesson, Israel’s children were still striving against the Lord.
Secondly, Israel’s sin separated her from her Savior. The nation’s crimes were no mere misdemeanors; they were personal assaults on the character of Yahweh himself: “Ephraim surrounds Me with lies And the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful” (Hos 11:12 NASB). The contrast could not be more apparent: he is true, they are liars; he is faithful, they are traitors; he is holy, they are profane. The prophet tries to wake up the people to this irony in 12:6, but this time the Lord does not allow a chance for them to speak. Instead, he mocks them with disdain: “Ephraim has said, ‘Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin’” (12:7-8). And then the Lord’s laughter stops, and he answers in his fury: You may rich, but “I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast” (12:9, emphasis added).
It is a declaration Israel has heard before: “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Gen 15:7). “I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them” (Exo 29:46). “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). “You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God” (Lev 18:4). “You . . . shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18). “I AM WHO I AM. . . . The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob . . . . This is my name forever” (Exo 3:14-15). The “LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name” (Hos 12:5, all emphases added). Israel may have forgotten who they were, but their even greater sin was forgetting Jehovah, the Everlasting God; and God would not let them forget it.
And finally, God’s people would be punished because they played with his providence. An unholy people simply cannot dwell with a holy God, and since Israel had turned from the Holy One himself, they would have to leave the Holy Land. The justice of God demanded payment, and payment he would give: “The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds” (12:2). And so to drive home the point, Hosea piles on the word plays: “If there is [nothingness] in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps [galliym] on the furrows of the field” (12:11; see BKC, NET). Hosea first plays on synonyms that in Hebrew both mean nothingness/nothing, and then complements this connection by repeating the G and L sounds in Gilead, Gilgal and galliym. In other words, the very place Israel inaugurated her arrival in the Promised Land had become a seat of idolatry (Jos 5:8-12).
Hosea then draws an historical parallel based on the word for “guarded”: “Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds” (12:12-14, emphasis added). At first, the metaphors don’t seem to mix, but in essence, Hosea says, “Don’t forget your humble beginnings. What you have is not a result of your own efforts, but it is yours because God has been gracious to you” (LASB). But since God’s people had turned to other gods, they would now receive some unwanted attention from their Provider (Deu 4:25-31).
As Christians, there is no greater honor than the name we wear as disciples of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah records, the Messianic hope included the promise of a new designation for the people of God: “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give” (Isa 62:2). And only one name is worthy of such a promise--the name of Jesus: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9-11). And as his disciples, and his church, we take on the name of our Teacher, in both this life and the next (Acts 11:26; Rom 16:16; Rev 2:17).
But Christianity is more than a name; with this honor, comes an incredible responsibility: to live like Jesus. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1Pe 1:13-16). The Christian life requires laying all we have—all our mind, all our soul, all our passions, all our habits—at the feet of the Holy One we serve. Hosea’s plea to Israel therefore becomes our own call to repentance: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (Hos 12:6).