COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 11:4 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. 5 He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. 6 And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels. 7 And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.” (Hosea 11:4-7)
The Lord continues to assess the people of Israel. Their fallen condition was not owing to any lack of concern or expression on God’s part. They did not leave God because He had abandoned them or had drawn back from them. Every possible advantage was given to them, yet they “went backward and not forward” (Jer 7:24). This is resounding confirmation that the Law, or first covenant, was “weak through the flesh” (Rom 8:3). Even chosen and blessed flesh is not adequate to fulfill the word of the Lord. However, under the Law, this does not provide an excuse for sin, for the Law demanded perfection and consistency. From, the very beginning this was made plain. The Lord set before the people both “blessing and cursing,” and urged them to “choose life” (Deut 30:19). Plainly, He set before them “life and good, and death and evil” (Deut 30:15). All of the blessings were read to the people from mount Gerizim (Deut 28:1-13), and all of the curses from mount Ebal (Deut 28:14-68). There was not the slightest ambiguity about what the Lord said. Add to that the faithful ministry of the prophets and the various chastenings of the Lord, and you have the reason why God is speaking so harshly to these people. All of this should have led to a cry from Israel for mercy. Instead, they moved away from the Lord, and insisted on living without Him in their thoughts. That is the nature of the flesh.
CORDS OF A MAN AND BANDS OF LOVE
“ 11:1 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.”
The Lord emphasizes His own activity toward Israel. It had been consistent, and was done out of a preference for the people.
I DREW THEM. Other versions read “I led them.” NASB/NIV The word “drew,” however, does not mean “led.” From the standpoint of language the word means “to draw, drag, seize, lift out, or draw out.” STRONG’S It could mean “lead,” if leading is seen as leading an animal with a leash. The emphasis in the word “drew” is placed upon God. He intervened, as it was, in the affairs of men, attracting them to Himself – versus men discovering Him by research. Here, the “drawing” is much like that of Pharaoh’s daughter and the infant Moses, when she “drew him out of the water” (Ex 2:10). The next phrase of this verse will elaborate upon precisely how this was done.
The Scriptures speak of God drawing people out of many waters (2 Sam 22:17; Psa 18:16). Solomon depicted his lover saying, “Draw me, we will run after thee” (Song of Sol 1:4). Jesus spoke of His Father drawing men to Him (John 6:44). He said if He was lifted up (speaking of His death), He would “draw all men” to Himself (John 12:32). This speaks of the initial attraction of men to God. It is the process whereby men become aware of the Lord and His accessibility. This does not begin with human reasoning, but with a Divine initiative. In other words, if God does not begin this work, it will never happen. In regards to our text, if God had never drawn Israel, they would never have had any form of association with Him. This is too difficult for some men to receive, but it is part and parcel of the solid declaration, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
CORDS OF A MAN. Other versions read, “gentle cords,” NKJV “cords of human kindness,” NIV “cords of compassion,” RSV “cords of kindness,” ESV “human cords,” NAB, “cords of human kindness,” NIB and “human ties.” NJB The idea here is that God did not deal with Israel as though they were mindless beasts, treating them harshly and striking them down when they toddled about in ignorance. He appealed to their reason, confirmed His love, and was gentle with them as a mother is with her newborn child. Isaiah put it this way: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”(Isa 63:9). Kindness, consideration, and gentleness combined in the Lord’s dealings with Israel. They were the means through which He was drawing them to Himself. His desire for them was being revealed in these gentle, yet powerful, means.
BANDS OF LOVE. Other versions read, “bonds of love,” NASB “ties of love,” NIV “leading strings of love,” NJB “ropes of kindness and love,” NLT and “thick cords of love.” YLT The idea here is that of tender and loving leading, as compared with the “bit and bridle” used to tame and direct a horse or mule (Psa 32:9). In other words, God did not drag the people out of Egypt, or pull them kicking through the wilderness. He had, indeed, “hewed them by the Prophets” (Hos 6:5), but in a tender and compassionate way – not as Satan, who threw a devastating blow at Job in a single day (Job 1).
TAKING OFF THE YOKE. Other versions read, “lifts the yoke from their jaws,” NASB “lifted the yoke from their neck,” NIV and “eases the yoke from their jaws.” RSV The picture is of a considerate master gently lifting the yoke from the ox and pushing it backward, in order that it may eat with more comfort. It is a picture of allowing the oxen to rest from its plowing, and feed on the corn it is treading. The Lord did not impose weighty burdens upon the people, or cause them to faint in the way.
I LAID THE MEAT. Other versions read, “stooped and fed them,” NKJV “bent down and feed them,” NASB “bent down to them, and fed them,” NRSV “gently caused them to eat,” BBE and “put his meat to him that he might eat.” DOUAY The idea is that God laid down, or placed, the nourishment before Israel – putting it within their reach. He did not throw it down in the dirt, or place it too high for them to reach. His love and truth were placed where they could obtain it – He made them accessible to Israel. Only then did He admonish them, “choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut 30:19).
All of these were remarkable advantages to Israel, if only they would have given heed to them. God, in His mighty power, turned their circumstances so they were favorable and conducive to finding the Lord. He humbled Himself, stooping down, as it were, to give them advantages Godward. He made the truth accessible, confirming His love for them, and repeatedly stating He had good “thoughts” toward them, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer 19:11). The fact that Israel spurned these merciful dealings has given rise to the judgment that is being announced by Hosea.
JUDGMENT IS COMING
“ 5 He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. 6 And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.”
The declared judgments of God are as sure as His promises for good. No person and power can avert God’s promise for good to those who believe that promise. Conversely, no person or power can avert the judgment God announces when those promises are not believed. God is in control of the nations (Psa 22:28). That control is expressed in His judgments as well as in His blessings.
HE SHALL NOT RETURN. Here the versions differ significantly. “He will not return to the land of Egypt.” KJV/NKJV/NASB “Will they not return to Egypt?” NIV “They shall return to the land of Egypt,” NRSV “He shall no more return into the land of Egypt,” GENEVA and “He will not have to go back to Egypt.” NJB Previously, Hosea had prophesied that the people would, in fact, go down into Egypt (8:13; 9:3). They had applied to Egypt for help (Isa 31:1; 36:6; Ezek 17:15). Now, however, God would make that kind of action impossible. They will no more have access to Egypt, as the following clause confirms.
God can take away all seeming advantages. He has power to do this. This was done in prohibiting mankind from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:24). It happened when Israel was in Egypt, having to gather their own straw (Ex 5:7). Isaiah depicted such action as God taking away the protecting “hedge” from Israel (Isa 5:5).
THE ASSYRIAN SHALL BE HIS KING. Other versions read, “will not Assyria rule over them?” NIV “Assyria will be his king instead,” NJB and “be forced to serve Assyria.” NLT This is not mere foreknowledge, as ordinarily considered. God is not announcing what He sees is coming. Rather, this is the annunciation of what the Lord is going to make happen. The Lord will cause the people to serve the Assyrians, whether they want to or not. This is not speaking of Israel seeking assistance from the Assyrians, as in Hosea 5:13. Rather, this is the reaffirmation that Israel would be “carried into Assyria” (10:6). It was initially fulfilled when “Tiglathpileser king of Assyria [came], and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria” (2 Kgs 15:29). It happened again when Shalmaneser king of Assyria “carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kgs 17:6). Whatever a person may think of man’s free will, or volitionary capacities, Israel was absolutely powerless to stop this from happening. They were “made to serve,” and only God could bring relief to them (Isa 14:3).
THEY REFUSED TO RETURN. Other versions read, “because they refused to repent,” NKJV “because they refused to return unto Me,” NASB and “because they would not come back to Me.” BBE Jeremiah uses exactly the same words (Jer 5:3). Let it be clear in your mind: those who leave the Lord are responsible for coming back to Him. In the books of the Kings, the Lord is even more specific about their failure to return to Him. “Yet the LORD testified against Israel . . . saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you . . . Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks . . . they rejected His statutes, and His covenant . . . and His testimonies . . . and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them” (2 Kgs 17:13-15). Thus judgment came upon the people, for God never treats rebellion kindly.
THE ABIDING SWORD. Here the idea is that the sword – or hostile and devastating warfare – would rage against their cities. It would be continual, or “go through their towns.” BBE Israel would not be able to keep itself from being attacked and overcome. None of their cities, however fortified, would be able to stand. God would “give them to the sword,” and they would not be able to do anything about it (Jer 25:31).
BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN COUNSELS. Other versions read, “because of their schemes,” NRSV “because of their evil designs,” BBE and “because of plots.” NJB It was the manner in which Israel thought, and the objectives that she established, that caused her to be brought down. Thus, Israel would be made “ashamed of his own counsel” (Hos 10:6). Their purposes would be utterly frustrated. As Solomon well said, “the expectation of the wicked shall perish” (Prov 10:28), and “the hope of unjust men perisheth” (Prov 11:7). It is possible for God to severely judge people because of what they desired and purposed. Whatever is required to avoid this kind of judgment is worthy of any and every effort expended to do so. May the Lord grant us grace to avoid judgment brought on by the way we think!
BENT ON BACKSLIDING
“ 7 And My people are bent to backsliding from Me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt Him.”
MY PEOPLE. God refers to “My people” at least 186 times in the Scriptures: 180 in Moses and the Prophets, and six in the New Covenant writings. In Hosea’s time, this referred to the offspring of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob. These were God’s people by virtue of HIS choice, not their own. When they were in Egypt, God “put a division” between Israel and the Egyptians (Ex 8:23) – they were His people. God chose to walk among them, thus making them His people (Lev 26:12). The Lord delighted in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, choosing “their seed after them” – they were His people. God “set” His love upon them because He “loved” them, even though they were “the fewest of all people” – they were His people. They were “called” by His name – identified with Him, and favored by Him (2 Chron 7:14) – they were His people. The assessment that follows is made all the worse because Israel was the people of God. Iniquity is never so bad as when it is found in those toward whom God has extended Himself.
BENT ON BACKSLIDING. Other versions read, “bent on turning from Me,” NASB “determined to turn from Me,” NIV “giving up to sinning against Me,” BBE and “bent to rebellion against Me.” GENEVA The word “bent” means to be inclined to backsliding – like a branch that grows in the direction in which it is pointed. Israel’s focus was wrong, so their living was wrong. They adjusted their lives to show God their back instead of their face (Jer 2:27). For that reason they steadily grew further and further from Him.
“Backsliding” accents the rapidity with which a decline from God accelerates. Four times the Lord refers to these people as “backsliding Israel” (Jer 3:6,8,11,12). Notice, the backsliding is from God: i.e., “from ME.” Ultimately departures are from the Lord Himself, not from a position or institution. Such departures are always deliberate or intentional, never inadvertent. Sin always produces more of a willingness to sin. It develops and cultures a fundamental propensity to sin, thereby enslaving the one committing it.
THEY CALLED THEM TO THE MOST HIGH. Here, the reference is to the Prophets who consistently called the people back to God (Jer 35:15). Some versions represent this verse as referring to the people themselves, who call unto the Most High in hypocrisy. “They call to the Most High,” NKJV and “Even if they call to the Most High.” NIV However, the context of this passage, together with the clause that follows, does not justify such a view. The idea is that the people continued to backslide even though God had called repeatedly to them, urging them to return to Him. This circumstance confirmed the hardness of their hearts, and the appropriateness of the judgment leveled against them.
NONE AT ALL WOULD EXALT HIM. Some versions say this refers to God refusing to raise the people. “He will by no means exalt them,” NIV and “but He does not raise them up at all.” NRSV However, the idea here is that all of the pleas of God through the prophets proved to be useless. The people refused to “exalt” the Lord by an appropriate response to His pleadings. The Hebrew literally reads, “together they exalted not.” That is, as a nation, they exalted themselves and their will above the Lord and His will. They would not come forward (compared with backsliding) and serve God (as compared with seeking their own will.
In certain circles, there is a lot of talk about exalting the Lord. We hear people say, “We exalt Thee!” That is a good expression, but the expression itself has no weight. It is when the individual yields to the Lord and His “good and acceptable and perfect will” that God is duly exalted. Technically, the people themselves do not put the Lord in an exalted position. God is already “exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh 9:5). It is the perception and expression of that exaltation that is intended here.
Under the New Covenant, the Lord Jesus has been “highly exalted” (Phil 2:9). The declaration is, “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). When this is perceived, received, and articulated in both life and words, men have exalted the Lord. However, until that is done, no verbal expression claiming to “exalt” Him is of any worth.
Application. There is a certain pattern of Divine thought revealed here. Until men respond in faith to Divine overtures, they are considered to have refused to exalt Him. Once this is seen, as revealed in this text, our assessment of contemporary religion will be quite alarming. We are living in the time of great light and better promises, with the heavens opened, and access to God granted. Yet, the response to God that is generally found is more akin to that of recalcitrant Israel than believers in the book of Acts.