COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 53
“ 12:6 Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually. 7 He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. 8 And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.” (Hosea 12:6-8)
The very fact that God is reasoning with Israel is confirmation that a return to Him is possible. In fact, His reasoning is designed to provoke such a return. Where hearts are beyond recovery, such reasoning is not found. God did not reason with the world of Noah’s day. He did not reason with Sodom and Gomorrah, or with the Gentile world who did not retain God in their knowledge (Rom 1:28). However, He had made a large investment in Israel, giving them His holy Law, and sending them His prophets to awaken them to their condition. Too, there was a remnant among them who were discontent with the degeneracy that was found among them. In addition, the promised Messiah was to come through their lineage, and thus He “hewed them by the prophets,” Hosea included, in order that they might not be utterly fallen. Additionally, He had made certain promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He was intent upon keeping them, for He cannot lie. Thus, we have a fourfold reason for God continuing to plead with Israel. (1 His investment in them. (2 The remnant among them. (3 The coming of the Messiah. (4 His promise to their fathers.
What we are seeing here is God tending His vineyard, ridding it of unprofitable things, nurturing what can be preserved, and preparing it for an ultimate harvest. You should be able to also perceive God’s care of the church, which is also His vineyard, or “husbandry” (1 Cor 3:9). Remember, Jesus said, “My Father is the Husbandman” (John 15:1).
TURN, KEEP, AND WAIT
“ 12:6 Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.”
THEREFORE. This is a word of Divine reasoning. It is a sort of bridge between a previous thought and a current one. Beyond that, “therefore” confirms the reasonableness of the exhortation that follows. It is as though the Lord said, “Behold how Jacob, in a weakened state, asked for a blessing in Bethel, and obtained it (verse 4). Consider how God has included you in the promises He made to Jacob, referring to his “seed,” or offspring” (verse 5). With that in mind, the word that follows proves to be a most encouraging one.
TURN TO THY GOD. Other versions read, “by the help of your God, return,” NKJV/RSV “you must return to your God,” NIV and “turn back with God’s help.” NJB That is, Jacob could never have prevailed over the angel if God did not help him, and Israel cannot return to God unless He helps them. The point here is that God WILL help them, if they just set out to return to Him. If they will set their face toward the Lord, and determine to come back to Him, He will enable them to do so. They only have to “look unto” Him, and they will be saved, even though they are scattered “to the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22).
Turning to the Lord is the same as seeking Him with all of the heart. The Lord promised such a pursuit would not be in vain. “And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). Through the Spirit, Jeremiah is calling upon the people to change the direction of their lives, living toward the Lord instead of toward self. The Lord is not to be sought only in a crisis. That is not bad, but it is not the best. The Psalmist spoke of this kind of resort to the Lord in the 107th Psalm. “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psa 107:23-31). This is not the kind of turning Hosea is urging. Rather, he calls for a turning that does not have to be repeated. It is one that leaves the people depending on the Lord at all times. It is the only turning of value.
KEEP MERCY AND JUDGMENT. Other versions read “observe mercy and justice,” NKJV “observe kindness and justice,” NASB “maintain love and justice,” NIV and “hold fast to love and justice.” NRSV The idea is that those who receive consideration from God are not to conduct their lives in a way that contradicts the ways of the Lord.
It is imperative that a return to the Lord be followed by godly living. Conduct toward fellow men is summarized in two words: “mercy and judgment.” “Mercy” is love with the accent upon consideration and care. “Judgment” has to do with equity, fairness, and with a mind to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This is summarized in the Law: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18). Isaiah expanded the concept of judgment by saying, “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). “Judgment” involves proper assessments, and proper responses to those assessments. The word “keep” indicates that this is to be done consistently, as compared to occasionally or erratically.
WAIT ON THY GOD CONTINUALLY. Other versions read, “wait for your God continually,” NASB “wait for your God always,” NIV “always hope in your God,” NAB and “always live in confident dependence on your God.” NLT Waiting for God is not a state of inactivity, but one of expectancy, anticipation, and confident hope. This kind of waiting requires faith. It means that men come to rely upon the Lord, knowing that He will do what He has promised, even though He may “bear long” with them (Lk 18:7).
Waiting upon the Lord – confidently expecting Him to do what He has promised – is one of the means through which we become strong. It is written, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa 40:31). That is, while we wait for the Lord to do what He has promised, He Himself strengthens us, enabling us to walk through fire, run through a troop, and fly over the heads of our enemies. The posture of waiting is one in which we receive from the Lord, and are made the better for it. No person who waits on the Lord will be disappointed.
THE DECEITFUL MERCHANT
“ 7 He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.” The reference here is to the person who does not “keep mercy and judgment,” or wait “continually” upon the Lord. Instead he takes matters into his own hands, seeking advantage through the manipulation of his peers.
HE IS A MERCHANT. Other versions read, “A cunning Canaanite,” NKJV “The merchant,” NIV “A trader,” NRSV “He is a trafficker,” ASV “He is like Chanaan,” DARBY “like crafty merchants,” NLT and “Canaan!” YLT
Here there is a very unique employment of language. “He” refers to Ephraim, or corrupted Israel. The word from which “merchant” is translated is “Canaan,” the name of the son of Ham, through whom the Phoenicians and Canaanites came. These people became renown for being merchants, and continual references are made to them in this capacity (Isa 23:2,8; Ezek 27:13,21-24; 38:13).
The idea is that Israel, whom God had separated from the other nations (Deut 7:6; 14:2), had so degenerated that there was no longer any difference between them and the heathen. Instead of being known for the “righteous” law they possessed (Deut 4:8), and the God who is “above all gods” (2 Chron 2:5), they were now know as “a merchant” – one who trafficked in worldly goods. They were no longer known for what they received from and gave to God, but for their worldly trading and commerce. To the carnal mind, this does not appear to be all that serious – but it is most weighty, indeed. When the Lord separates a people from the world, it is a transgression of the greatest magnitude for that people to again become like the world from which they were once delivered (Gal 1:4).
Application. The same type of language is used to describe “Babylon the Great,” the false church. She traded with the “merchants of the earth,” who became wealthy through her. It is written of her, “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Rev 18:3).The fact that she committed “fornication” confirms she was unfaithful to God. She chose an alliance with those who traffic in worldly goods, rather than dealing with the spiritual realities and substance to which God calls us. When Babylon falls, we are told the “merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her” (Rev 18:11), for they were “made rich by her” (Rev 18:15). God upbraids spiritual Babylon, referring to her “merchants” who were “the great men in the earth” (Rev 18:23). What a plummet she experienced, descending from the “heavenly places,” into which the saved are initially raised, falling into the low plains of this world!
BALANCES OF DECEIT. When men identify with the world, they take unto themselves the ways of the world. That is how it was with Israel. Instead of doing justly, they fixed their balances to give themselves the advantage. They cease to trust in the Lord, and trusted in their own ways. This led them into deceit, fraudulence, and dishonest gain. It is written, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight” (Prov 11:1). It is an abomination because the Lord must be ignored to do it. The Lord Himself always deals righteously and fairly, for “A just weight and balance are the Lord's: all the weights of the bag are His work” (Prov 16:11).
“Balances of deceit” represent themselves as giving a proper measurement, but they only lie. Such balances are like a scale that is calibrated to have 15 ounce pounds, always coming short of what is really being delivered.
There is a phenomenal amount of religious activity that is deceitful, failing to deliver what is promised. It pretends to represent the Lord, but brings nothing from Him to men. Its programs are impotent and its ways sterile. It serves up a spiritual meal that falls far short of what is affirmed. Such are “balances of deceit,” and are an abomination to the Lord.
LOVING TO OPPRESS. Other versions read, “he loves to defraud,” NIV “he takes pleasure in twisted ways,” BBE and “they love to cheat.” NLT To “oppress” is to violate, defraud, get deceitfully, wrong, and extort. It is not physical oppression, but exploitation – obtaining profit by oppressive means – like the Pharisees devouring widows houses (Matt 23:14).
The love of oppression does not refer to a delight in seeing people suffer – that is too apparent. Rather, this refers to obtaining benefits through the disadvantage of others. Amos referred to this practice as making the ephah small and the shekel bigger (Amos 8:5). That is, when the people brought their grain in for sale, the “merchants” would make the standard measurement smaller, and the payment given for it larger. Thus the seller would be the poorer, and the miserable merchant would be the richer. That is “loving to oppress.”
A DISADVANTAGE OF RICHES
“ 7 And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.”
It appeared as though Israel had actually profited from her devious ways. Now she makes her boast in her shrewdness, by which she imagines herself to have become rich. The attitude being rebuked is this: because Israel thought she was doing very well, she scoffed at the rebuke of the prophets. How could she be wrong since she was prospering so much? To Israel, her condition proved she was really doing nothing wicked.
I AM BECOME RICH. Other versions read, “Surely I have become rich,” NKJV “I am very rich,” NIV “Ah, but I am rich,” RSV and “nevertheless I have become rich.” DARBY
Israel dismissed the warnings of the prophets by pointing to her seeming prosperity. Contented with their condition, they gave no heed to those whom God sent to them. The reasoning is this: “Since riches come from God, and I am rich, then God cannot be displeased with me.” It is like saying, “I was in the right, for I have been successful.” Thus going down to Egypt for help, and consorting with Assyria was considered proper, for Israel was made rich by such arrangements – at least that is the way it appeared.
This kind of reasoning has not become obsolete among the sons of men. You may recall that Laodicea was one of the churches with whom Jesus had a serious controversy. Although He was ready to spew her out of His mouth, she had reasoned, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” She was completely oblivious of her real condition. Jesus said she did not know she was actually “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17).
Any person or church that has consorted with the world, gaining goods and popularity, is in a dangerous position. Such an alliance with the world dulls the heart, causing one to reason erroneously. Such suppose that the absence of trouble means they are walking in Divine approval. They imagine that having a lot means they have been blessed by God. But this may not be the case at all, just as it was not the case with Israel.
I HAVE FOUND SUBSTANCE. Other versions read, “I have found wealth for myself,” NKJV “I have become wealthy,” NIV “I have made a fortune,” NAB and “I have gotten it all by myself.” NLT
God had warned Israel through His servant Moses that this kind of thinking could rise among them. “And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which He sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deu 6:10-12). Israel’s sin had proved even worse than this. They were not basking in what God had given them, but in what they had gained by trading with the heathen and extorting from their brethren.
Solomon once prayed, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? . . .” (Prov 30:8-9). Israel had forgotten that word, and had adopted the attitude of Nebuchadnezzar who said of Babylon, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). They were like the rich fool of whom Jesus spoke. He reasoned upon the bumper crops he realized, referring to them as his own fruits. “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods” (Luke 12:18). That night his soul was required of him, and he left this world taking nothing with him.
NO INIQUITY IN MY LABORS. Other versions read, “no offense has been found in me that is sin,” NRSV “so sin may be seen in me,” BBE and “my record is spotless.” NLT
Sin is so deluding that the person caught in its snare does not think any sin can be found in him. This Israel reasoned they had done nothing wrong in fattening their coffers by unjust means and unholy alliances. Their reasoning is after this manner: “God would not treat me so good if there was iniquity in me. My success proves this is true.” Verily, Solomon spoke the truth when he said, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (Prov 30:12). Jeremiah charged Israel with saying, “I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim” (Jer 2:23).
This is the attitude that is found in spiritual Babylon, of whom it is said, “she hath glorified herself and lived deliciously” (Rev 18:7,9).