COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 12:3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: 4 Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him: he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us; 5 Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.” (Hosea 12:3-5)
In this text, the Lord reviews Israel’s notable beginning, tracing them back to their father, Jacob. When reviewing those who have once walked with Him, yet have backslidden, it is God’s manner to recapitulate the heights from which they have fallen. He did this when speaking of the devil himself: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground” (Isa 14:12). And again, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezek 28:15). When examining the church at Ephesus, who had left their “first love,” Jesus said, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev 2:5). If any individual, church, or nation can point to a time when they were closer to the Lord, more determined to please Him, or more advanced in their character, they have “fallen.” Beginnings are not intended to be the acme of spiritual life, but the point at which advancement starts to be realized. This was true of Israel, it is even more true of the church, which is the body of Christ. We must steadfastly resist any tendency to be deluded into the thought that noble beginnings are an end of themselves, or will compensate for a lack of spiritual growth and advancement. This will by no means be easy, for there is a spirit afoot in the religious world that contradicts this perception.
JACOB BEGAN WITH SUPERIOR STRENGTH
“ 12:3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb . . . ”
The Scriptures are a rich resource for the people of God. They contain the Word of God by which we live (Luke 4:4). They reveal the “eternal purpose” of God, into which we are called in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:11-12). They make known how this purpose has been implemented, and the work that was required to carry it out. This involves the history of Israel, through whom the Savior came (Rom 9:5). The Scriptures also provide a nomenclature, or language, that allows for the conveyance of the thoughts of God to men (1 Cor 12:13). Our text confirms they also contain the record of key events that serve to interpret the manner of spiritual life – events that were orchestrated by God for the purpose of our edification and comfort (1 Cor 10:11).
HE TOOK HIS BROTHER BY THE HEEL. The “he” of reference is “Jacob,” to whom verse two refers: “The Lord . . . will punish Jacob according to his ways.” Jacob is the one whom Israel honored by her very name: “Israel.” This was the name the Lord gave to Jacob following His confrontation with him in Peniel: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel” (Gen 32:28). The Scriptures make a point of this, namely that the children of Israel were the offspring of Jacob: “the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel” (2 Kgs 17:34; 1 Chron 16:13; Psa 105:6). Now the Lord will show that it is wrong to claim identity with anyone whose character contradicts our own.
The Lord is referring to the birth of Jacob – something that is twice mentioned in Scripture. The “brother” of reference is Esau, twin brother of Jacob. The record of the birth is found in Genesis 25:26. “And after that came his brother [Jacob] out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob.” The idea is that when Jacob was born, he was already holding on to Jacob’s heel. Thus other versions read, “And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel.” NASB/NIV Jacob had taken hold of Esau’s heel while they were yet in the womb, and he held on until Esau had, in a manner of speaking, escorted him from the womb.
This was a display of strength that was not ordinary to infants, and was doubtless given to the infant Jacob by God Himself. Jacob taking hold of Esau’s heel was similar to the infant John the Baptist leaping in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:41,44). Neither event conformed to the laws of nature. The kingdom of Israel, who descended from Jacob and wore his name, could have been characterized by the same supernatural power. The people were sprouts from a strong root, and ought to have been noted for the advanced qualities found in that root.
Before Jacob and Esau were born, God announced both their character and their destiny: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:11-13; Mal 1:2-3). “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). Yet, this did not exclude the hearty effort of Jacob. The Lord strengthened him in the womb to hold on to Esau’s heel. That was like a pledge to his offspring, that He would do the same for them, if only they would trust Him to do so.
The idea here is this: If God could strengthen Jacob in the womb, enabling him to take hold on Jacob’s heel, maintaining the grip until he exited from the womb, what possible reason could there be for his offspring failing to maintain their grip upon God and the things of God?
APPLICATION. While faith itself cannot be passed from one generation to another – each must believe for themselves – certain advantages CAN be passed to other generations. Godly surroundings can be the context in which experiences with God can be realized. If it is true that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor 15:33), then it is equally true that there are certain advantages realized by godly affiliations. The ultimate example of this reality is our fellowship with Jesus (1 Cor 1:9). It is also realized in our fellowship with the brethren – those who have themselves received the love of the truth. Those brethren are the ones through whom Jesus administers edification and comfort to His people (Eph 4:15-16; Col 2:19). Think of the advantages that Timothy had in a godly mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15). There is also such a thing as children being raised “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
THE NOBLE BEGINNING
“ 3b . . . and by his strength he had power with God. 4a Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him . . . ”
The Lord now reminds the people of Jacob’s agonizing experience at Jabbok. Jacob was on his way to meet his brother Esau, whom he had not seen for some time. The last time he had seen him, Esau was determined to kill him Gen 27:41). Now Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, and Jacob feared for his life and that of his wife and children. Fervently he asked God to deliver him from his brother Esau (Gen 32:11). He then sent a present to Esau of 200 she goats, 20 he goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 milking camels with their colts, forty cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. These were to be delivered to Esau with a message of peace (Gen 32:14-21). Jacob then sent his family to a place of safety, and “was left alone.” It was then that “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Our text now refers to that particular event.
BY HIS STRENGTH HE HAD POWER WITH GOD. This refers to Jacob’s later struggle with the Lord when he was a mature man, rather than when he was in the womb of Rebekah. Thus some versions read, “In his maturity he contended with God,” NASB “as a man he struggled with God,” NIV and “in his manhood he strove with God.” NRSV
During the wrestling, the “man” saw that he was not prevailing against Jacob. Proving that he was not a mere men, he then “touched the hollow” of Jacob’s thigh, throwing it out of joint (Gen 32:25). Later we are told that when that “touch” took place, the “muscle (sinew) shrank” (Gen 32:32). Still, no doubt in severe pain, Jacob wrestled on. As the day began to break the “man” said, “Let me go!” Jacob refused, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen 32:26).
The prophet attributes Jacob’s tenacity to “his strength.” It was not natural strength, to be sure, for he was wrestling with “the angel.” It was God who made Jacob equal to the occasion. Thus, “out of weakness,” Jacob was made “strong” (Heb 11:34), for God’s strength is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
HE HAD POWER OVER THE ANGEL, AND PREVAILED. The greatness of the power is seen in his refusal to let the angel until he was blessed by him. Knowing that “the less is blessed by the greater” (Heb 7:7), Jacob sought a blessing from one whom he readily acknowledged was greater – even though our text says Jacob “prevailed.” He “prevailed,” not in the sense of triumphing over the angel, whose mere touch crippled Jacob, for afterward he “was limping because of his hip” NIV (Gen 32:31). Rather, he “prevailed” in the sense of obtaining the blessing.
We should learn from this that there are blessings that can only be obtained by refusing to give up in the struggle until the blessing is actually procured. This is what is meant by the phrase, “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
HE WEPT AND MADE SUPPLICATION UNTO HIM. The Genesis account of this event does not say that Jacob wept, although it is certainly not difficult to believe, seeing that Jacob’s thigh was out of joint while he wrestled – a condition that is associated with the most severe pain. The supplication of Jacob was, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” NASB Note, Jacob did not plead, “Do not hurt me anymore.” He did not supplicate, “Please, let me go!” He did not even pray, “Heal my thigh!” The patriarch knew that for which to ask – a blessing! He knew what Moses would say much later, that God can “command a blessing” (Lev 25:21; Deut 28:8). Years after Moses, David also said, “the Lord commanded the blessing” (Psa 133:3).
To wrestle with the Lord and leave without a blessing makes the experience to be of no profit. The main thing is to obtain the blessing – to gain the benefit that God is willing and ready to give. This may involve extraordinary effort and even much pain. However, as every faithful person can testify, it is well worth the effort.
The point of this verse is that Israel had a heritage that testified to them of the way to blessing. They only had to engage in the appropriate effort to obtain the benefit.
APPLICATION. In our day, there is still the tendency in people to identify themselves with noble men and movements, while coming miserably short of the godly character of those men. Men love to identify themselves with Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Campbell, and the likes, yet they bear no resemblance to them in character, devotion, or understanding. This is not to mention identity with the Lord Jesus, which is the greatest of all associations. Yet, where there is no commonality in the character of the people, the claim to association is not only pretentious, but becomes the basis for their condemnation. There is something to ponder!
THE LORD OF HOSTS – HIS MEMORIAL
“ 4b . . . he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us. 5 Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.”
The Spirit elaborates on Jacob’s experience. He is showing Israel the way back to God, and why it is inexcusable that they have not taken it. Their return to the Lord will involve a hearty effort, much difficulty, and even considerable pain. However, they must not shrink back from such a return. They will thus obtain the blessing.
HE FOUND HIM IN BETHEL. That is, Jacob found God at Bethel. Bethel was the place where Jacob first confronted the Lord in a full way. It was there that he, with “stones” for his “pillows,” dreamed of a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching into heaven. Further, the “angels of God” were “ascending and descending upon it,” as though going to the earth to minister, and then returning to heaven (Gen 28:11-12). We are told that the Lord “stood above” that ladder and spoke to Jacob. He said He was the God of Abraham and Isaac, and would give the land, whereon he slept, to him and his seed. The Lord promised Jacob that his offspring would be “as the dust of the earth,” and would spread abroad to the west, east, north, and south. Further, He said, “in thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The Lord pledged He would be with Jacob, and keep him “in all places,” wherever he went, affirming, “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen 28:13-15).
Awaking from his sleep, Jacob exclaimed, “Surely the Lord IS in this place; and I knew it not . . . this is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:16-17). Jacob took the stone upon which he had slept, set it up “for a pillar,” and “poured oil upon the top of it.” He then “called the name of the place Bethel.” Jacob found God in Bethel! Keenly aware of what he had experienced, Jacob then made a vow to God. “If God will be with me . . . then shall the LORD be my God . . . and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee” (Gen 28:20-22). Jacob found God in Bethel, and thus made a sacred vow to Him!
THERE HE SPAKE WITH US. The idea here is that what God said to Jacob was intended for all of his offspring as well. Approximately six years after Jacob had wrestled with the angel, the Lord said to him, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there” (Gen 35:1). While there, the Lord “blessed him,” saying “I am God Almighty . . . the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land” (Gen 35:10-12). That word was spoken to all of the people, and was not to be forgotten. But now, with sin dominating the people, they were going to be cast out of the land, and dispersed in other places. There had been a word for them – an unwavering promise – but they chose to ignore it, and thus God turned against them. Who is able to articulate the tragedy of such an occasion? To be judged by the God who spoke to bless is a judgment that must be preceded by hardheartedness, rebellion, and a stubborn refusal to receive the blessing. How utterly unlike their father Jacob they had become! He had refused to let go until he received the blessing. They had refused to receive the blessing! How far they had fallen.
THE LORD. Here the prophet identifies who it was that spoke to Jacob and “with” Israel. It was God personally – not an angel. The word “LORD” (in uppercase letters) is the Hebrew word “Jehovah” – the self-existent or eternal One. This word (“LORD”) appears 6,469 times in the Old Testament Scriptures. It speaks of the God who has personally revealed Himself, and is known to the degree of that revelation. The word “Jehovah” appears four times in the King James version. Twice it is expressly said to be God’s “name” (Ex 6:3; Psa 83:18). Twice it is combined with “LORD” – “LORD JEHOVAH” (Isa 12:2; 26:4). The American Standard Version uses “Jehovah” consistently. Here, the point is that God has made Himself known to Israel, giving them every possible advantage in life. He had identified Himself with them, given them a holy law, and certain promises that were unique and excellent.
GOD. This word comes from the Hebrew word “Elohiym” (el-o-heem), and means “Supreme, Ruler, and Judge.” This emphasizes God’s supremacy and power, while “LORD” emphasizes the disclosure of Himself. It is used 2,605 times in Scripture. Here, the point is that the God of all power, who is above all, had identified Himself with Israel alone.
OF HOSTS. The “hosts” of reference are the enumerable angels, dispatched to care for the Israelites, with even the chief angel Michael who oversaw their affairs (Dan 10:21). “Lord of hosts” is mentioned 245 times in Scripture, and speaks of the Divine commitment to those who stand in His favor.
THE LORD IS HIS MEMORIAL. Other versions say, “the LORD is His memorable name,” NKJV and “the LORD is His name of renown.” NIV “The LORD God of hosts” is how the Lord wanted to be remembered, for that is how He had revealed Himself. Israel, however, had chosen not to remember Him in this manner. Instead, they had given His glory to Baalam and sought help from the Egyptians and Assyrians. These poignant revelations will become the basis for a powerful plea for the people to return to God.