COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 12:1 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. 2 The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will He recompense him.” (Hosea 12:1-2)
Speaking through Hosea, the Lord continues His assessment of Israel. It is not possible to overemphasize the seriousness of forsaking the Lord, or choosing one’s own will over His. This is particularly true when God has revealed Himself in unprecedented measures, and extended Himself to bless those He Himself has called and separated. One of the serious effects of a spiritually obtuse generation is that departures from the Lord are not seen as being grievous, They are too easily explained, and too many convenient excuses are offered to account for transgressions. Our text is confirming that such approaches are simply not acceptable. He will not ask Israel why they have departed from Him. Rather, He will tell them what has really happened. He will elaborate on their condition, and point out what He has particularly noted concerning their conduct.
It is important that we comprehend this Divine manner – that of judging His people. Under both covenants it is written, “The Lord will judge His people” (Deut 32:36; Psa 135:14; Heb 10:30). He will not be indifferent to their condition. This is more true under the New Covenant because of the greater investment that has been made in His people. In Jesus, God has come closer, given more, and held out greater promises. Because of this He expects more from His people. For someone in Christ to rise no higher than Israel of old, is a transgression of great magnitude. We do well to take “earnest heed” to this text.
FEEDING, FOLLOWING, INCREASE, AND DESOLATION
“ 12:1a Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation . . . ”
The continued exposure of Israel’s condition may tend to grow monotonous to the flesh, extending beyond the line of profitability. But this is only an imagination to be cast down, for God does not engage in meaningless dialog. When the Lord moves an individual to say a lot about a matter, it is because it merits a lot of attention, sober thought, and extended meditation. Men may be verbose, long-winded, and tedious, but God is not. An individual can thus judge the degree to which “the flesh” and its desires does or does not dominate them, by their reaction to the extensive or expansive teaching of the Spirit. A person who “walks with God,” as did Enoch and Noah, will delight in Divine elaboration. Such amplifications help to shape a proper understanding, establish appropriate perspectives, and direct us in making sound evaluations.
FEEDETH ON WIND. Other versions read, “Ephraim’s food is the wind,” BBE “Is fed with the wind,” GENEVA “chases the wind,” NAB and “is enjoying wind.” YLT
This is a vivid picture of vanity, emptiness, or absolute pointlessness. The idea is that they ate and were not satisfied. It is like gulping a lot of air. The mouth is filled, together with the throat, the chest, and the stomach. However, there is no resulting satisfaction, nourishment, or benefit. In fact, a certain misery occurs when one is filled with air.
Solomon referred to this kind of condition when he wrote, “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Eccl 1:8). He was speaking of life in general. Hosea was specifically addressing Israel’s religious condition, even though there was a secondary application to the entirety of life. Ezekiel addressed Israel’s condition more directly than Solomon: “Thou hast moreover multiplied thy fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith” (Ezek 16:29). Amos also spoke of the status of not being satisfied: “So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:8).
From the heavenly point of view, Israel was in a state of emptiness – feeding on the wind. They were like the church at Laodicea who said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). With Israel, as well as Laodicea, their satisfaction was only a delusion. They really did not have anything at all. They had been feeding on the wind.
It is necessary to say that feeding on the wind is still being practiced in religious circles. People are filling themselves with religious novelties that bring no nourishment to the inner man. Isaiah spoke of this in these words: “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isa 55:2). That is a vivid description of feeding on the wind.
FOLLOWETH AFTER THE EAST WIND. An “east wind” is particularly destructive. In Pharaoh’s dream of a coming famine, it was an “east wind” that destroyed the crops of corn (Gen 41:6). In the plague of the locusts that came upon Egypt, it was an “east wind” that brought in upon the land (Ex 10:13). The Psalmist said the mighty ships of Tarshish were broken by an “east wind” (Psa 48:7). The Scriptures even speak of the Lord as contending with His people “by His rough wind in the day of the east wind” (Isa 27:8).
The meaning of this expression is that Israel was eagerly pursuing what would hurt and destroy them. What their hearts desired, and what they zealously sought, would actually be their undoing. The book of Job speaks of a person who sought to “fill his belly with the east wind” (Job 15:2). Thinking to find satisfaction and benefit, such a person is taking in what will destroy him. Transgression is that deluding.
DAILY INCREASES LIES AND DESOLATION. Other versions read, “multiplies lies and violence,” NASB and “deceit and destruction and increasing every day.” BBE Earlier the Lord said Ephraim, in its religious practices, was surrounding Him with lies. In other words, their condition was growing worse. That is the nature of sin and transgression. It causes men to “wax worse and worse” (2 Tim 3:13), or “proceed from bad to worse.” NASB That is not what wicked men do sometimes, or in a particular period of time. That is what happens ALL of the time to those who prefer sin and their own way. This is a deterioration and decline from which one cannot escape unless they turn to the Lord. The two conditions into which this leads are entanglement and being overcome (2 Pet 2:20).
THE WRONG COVENANT AND THE WRONG PLACE
“ 1b . . . and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.”
THEY DO MAKE A COVENANT WITH THE ASSYRIANS. Other versions read, “He makes a treaty with Assyria,” NIV “they make a bargain with Assyria,” RSV “they make an agreement with Assyria,” BBE “comes to terms with Assyria,” NAB and “make alliances with Assyria.” NLT
How serious is it when the people of God enter into agreements with the enemies of God? This is not speaking of ordinary affairs that do not require a compromise of one’s faith. Abraham can enter into an agreement with the king of Sodom for food for his men, but will go no further than that (Gen 14:23-24). Israel can seek for an agreement with Sihon to allow them to pass peaceably through his land (Deut 2:27). This is not the kind of covenant, or agreement, that is mentioned in this text.
This refers to the kind of covenant that did not take the God of heaven into consideration. It had no wisdom in it, and was driven by the fear of man. This is the kind of alliance Jehoshaphat made with wicked Ahab to join in battling the Syrians. The prophet of God said to Jehoshaphat, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD” (2 Chron 19:2).
Through Hosea, God had earlier indicted Israel for going to Assyria for help. They found the king of Assyria could not heal them, or cure them of their deep spiritual wound (Hos 5:13). He also said they went down to Assyria for help, like a silly dove fluttering its way to its own destruction (Hos 7:11). Menahem, a king of Israel, once gave “Pul the king of Assyria” thirty-seven tons of silver to “strengthen the kingdom under his rule” NASB (2 Kgs15:19). We also read that king Hoshea paid tribute to “the king of Assyria” year after year, in order to remain within his favor (2 Kgs 17:4). The idea is that when danger loomed before them, instead of calling upon the name of the Lord, they sought to make an agreement with the enemies, thereby thinking to secure their future. They used their own counsel instead of seeking it from the Lord.
This is not an innocent act. From the very beginning God had affirmed He was their Help. Moses told them, “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Deut 20:1). The Lord told Joshua, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh 1:9). The people had no reason to doubt this word. It was confirmed in their deliverance from Egypt (Ex 20:2), their victory over Sihon and Og (Josh 2:10), and their conquest of Canaan (Josh 11:23). He had promised, “And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me” (Psa 50:15). But Israel made a covenant with Assyria, confirming that “flesh” cannot even remember the goodness of the Lord and His great deliverances. Even though Israel had access to the God of heaven, they made a covenant with Assyria.
OIL IS CARRIED INTO EGYPT. Other versions read, “sends olive oil to Egypt,” and NIV “oil is gone in the way of traffic to Egypt.” Septuagint The land of Israel was abundant with olive oil. It was said of the land, “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey” (Deut 8:8). They used their rich oil in trading (Ezek 27:17). Here, however, they were courting the favor of Egypt – the very land in which they had been held for over four hundred years (Gen 15:13).
Perhaps this text has reference to the time when Hoshea, king of Israel, had sent messengers to “So, king of Egypt,” seeking his help to break loose from the dominion of Assyria (2 Kgs 17:4). The point is that Israel used their precious resources to court the favor of their enemies, rather than calling upon the name of the Lord.
Early in Israel’s history, they were told to bring “pure olive oil” for the golden lampstand in the tabernacle (Ex 27:20). It was also used to make the holy anointing oil (Ex 30:23-25). It was also mixed into some of the sacrifices (Lev 2:1-6,15), and was used in coronations (1 Sam 10:1). Yet, with all of these holy associations, they “carried” oil into Egypt.
A PRINCIPLE. It is always wrong to court or solicit the favor of those who hate God – whatever the imagined benefit may be. When the people of God are moved to seek help from men rather than from God, they are being tempted to do evil. It is imperative that the people of God learn how to handle this circumstance. They must have their senses exercised to discern good and evil in this matter (Heb 5:14).
A CONTROVERSY WITH JUDAH
“ 2The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will He recompense him.”
It is God’s manner to respond to the sin that is found in His people. He will not simply overlook it. If it appears as though God is oblivious of the sin of His people, that appearance is nothing more than a delusion. The prophet Ezekiel told of people who reasoned, “the Lord seeth not” (Ezek 9:9). Isaiah said the people challenged the Almighty by saying, “Who seeth us? And who knoweth us?” (Isa 29:15). Again the prophet Isaiah said, “For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me” (Isa 47:10). However, God did see, and now He declares He will do something about what He has seen.
A CONTROVERSY WITH JUDAH. These words shake the soul of those who can hear them! The Lord spoke in this way several times. He had a “controversy with Zion” (Isa 34:8), a “controversy with the nations” (Jer 25:31), and “a controversy with the inhabitants of the land” of Israel (Hos 4:1). Micah referred to “the Lord’s controversy,” declaring “the Lord hath a controversy with His people” (Mic 6:2).
A “controversy” is a dispute with the people. NASB It is a “charge” that the Lord brings against the people, NKJV or an “indictment” against them. NRSV It is a “grievance” against the people, NAB or a “lawsuit” against them. NLT The word “controversy” is a strong one meaning, strife, dispute, quarrel, or contention. It is when there is a sharp conflict between man and God – when two parties are at war with one another, and no solution can be found as things stand. A “controversy” is not an issue to be settled by arbitration or discussion. Rather, it is a situation where man cannot win, and God is about execute His judgment. If the nature of the people does not change, a controversy is the sure prelude to their demise.
THE NEW COVENANT. A New Covenant example of the Lord having a “controversy” with His people is found in the message to the seven churches of Asia. There Jesus says to HIS churches, “I have somewhat against thee,” and “I have a few things against thee” (Rev 2:4,14,20). In such a circumstance, unless there was immediate repentance, Jesus said, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick,” “I will fight against thee,” “I will kill her children with death,” “I will come on thee as a thief,” and “I will spue thee out of My mouth” (Rev 2:5,16,23; 3:3,16).
When there is a variance between the ways of men and God, He has a “controversy” with them. What is more, God cannot ignore this clash of natures. For Him to do so would require that He “deny Himself,” and He “cannot” do that (2 Tim 2:13). The glory of the New Covenant is that it involves changing man’s nature and reconciling him to God, thereby removing the enmity between God and man and the controversy it causes.
PUNISHMENT ACCORDING HIS WAYS. Here punishment is meted out according the “ways” of the people – not because of something that was done. The “ways” of a person or people refer to their manners, tendencies, and inclinations. It is the course of their life, or their mode of action. Our “ways” are what make us do what we do and say what we say. Solomon said we are to “acknowledge” the Lord in all of our “ways” (Prov 3:6). Through Jeremiah the Lord said He would “destroy” His people because they would not return from “their ways” (Jer 15:7). A person’s way is to life what a highway is to a journey. It has more to do with the heart, for corrupt thoughts, words, and deeds proceed “out of the heart” (Matt 15:19). The word “conversation” refers to the “way” of a person – the direction in which their life is pointed and the manner in which they live.
Even though some people appear never to say or do anything that is obviously evil, they live as though there was no God. They conduct their lives just as though there were no Scriptures, heaven, hell, Savior, or devil. That is how they live, even though they may appear acceptable on the outside. However, God punishes people for their “ways.”
RECOMPENSE ACCORDING TO HIS DOINGS. When a person expresses their ways, those expressions are called “doings.” They have put into action the way they have thought, how they were inclined, and what they preferred. At that point they enter into the realm of harvest and wages. Israel was inclined AWAY from God (their ways), and therefore made idols and went to their enemies for help (their doings).
With God, there is an inviolable law of recompense: “Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people” (Heb 10:30). This will be according to their “doings” (Jer 17:10; 21:14; Ezek 36:19). The New Covenant declares judgment “according to their works” (2 Cor 11:15; Rev 20:12-13), and according to what a person has “done” (2 Cor 5:10). Our lives are to be lived with this in mind.