COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 54
“ 12:9 And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast. 10 I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets. 11 Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.” (Hosea 12:9-11)
When those to whom God has revealed Himself fall into sin, they have not done so without being duly warned and admonished. The wisdom of this world loves to provide explanations for sin – or to ask for men to account for their involvement in deviate behavior. This is not the manner of the Kingdom. The Lord, against whom, all sin is committed, not only gives an explanation for sin itself, but emphasizes that He was active in making provision for a cessation of iniquity and a recovery from its damaging effects. This text emphasizes the role of the Prophets in God’s dealings with Israel. That role was extensive and prolonged. Their presence, whether received or not, made Israel’s iniquity totally inexcusable. The Divine investment in them had been too great to allow for their aggressive involvement in immorality and idolatry, and their propensity to trust in the seeming military superiority of heathen nations. Although these things are very apparent to those who are seeking the Lord, they are not at all apparent to those who are living at a distance from the Lord. Therefore, the Lord sends a messenger to speak them out, forcing the Israelites, as it were, to hear the truth and deal with it – resulting in either its acceptance or rejection. This is a Divine manner, and is to be duly noted by believers today.
I AM THE LORD THY GOD
“ 12:9 And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.”
I AM THE LORD THY GOD. Other versions read, “I have been,” and NASB “I that am.” DARBY Now the Lord speaks to Israel as One who has been forgotten by them. He must once again acquaint them with Himself, for they have thrust Him from their minds and hearts. As Isaiah said, “they have removed their heart far from Me” (Isa 29:13).
When Israel was delivered from Egypt, God said “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2). Moses restated this in Deuteronomy 5:6, and Asaph in Psalm 81:10. Isaiah called upon Israel to remember, “I am the Lord thy God” (Isa 43:3; 48:17; 51:15). Hosea will reaffirm this fact in the next chapter (13:4).
The words “thy God” do not affirm ownership by Israel, but identity with Israel by God. It is a statement from God’s point of view. It is the truth, and was therefore to be accepted by Israel. God had chosen them to be a special people to Himself (Deut 7:6; 14:2) – He was, in truth, “their God” Ex 29:45,46). He loved them, even affirming “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3) – He was “their God.” He led them, even “forty years in the wilderness” (Deut 29:5), leading them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Psa 78:14) – He was “their God.” When He “led them through the deserts,” they “thirsted not” – He was “their God.”
But iniquity had moved them to forget all of this, so the Lord must bring it to their minds. They had their minds set on golden calves, the Egyptians, and the Assyrians, and had therefore forgotten the greatness of “their God.”
FROM THE LAND OF EGYPT. This expression means God was their God from the original time they spent in Egypt. Thus other versions read, “ever since the land of Egypt,” NKJV “since the land of Egypt,” NASB and “who brought you out of Egypt.” NIV
When Israel was in Egypt, the Lord heard their cries (Ex 2:23) – He was their God from the land of Egypt. When the Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh, He told him to say, “Let MY people go” (Ex 5:1; 7:16; 8:1; 9:1,13; 10:3) – He was their God from the land of Egypt. Moses reminded the people, “with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt” (Ex 13:9) – He was their God from the land of Egypt. He had maintained His identity with them over several centuries, being known as “the God of the Hebrews” (Ex 10:3) and “the God of Israel” (Num 16:9; 1 Sam 1:17; 1 Kgs 11:31; Ezra 3:2; Psa 59:5; Isa 48:1; Jer 19:15; Ezek 8:4; Zeph 2:9; Mal 2:16). He was their God from the land of Egypt.
There was no valid reason for Israel forgetting their God! He had made Himself known to them (Ezek 20:5), gave them His statutes and showed them His judgments (Ezek 20:11), and made a covenant with them (Ex 34:27). He even “reproved kings for their sakes” (1 Chron 16:21; Psa 105:14). What possible reason could be adduced for Israel forgetting God – even “their God?”
WILL YET MAKE THEE. A proper reading will have a semi-colon after Egypt: i.e. “Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents.” NKJV Other versions read, “I will give you tents for your living-places again” BBE and “I will make you live in tents again.” NLT
Dwelling in tents refers to the Feast of Tabernacles, a seven-day feast Israel observed (Lev 23:34). It was held in commemoration of their sojourn through the wilderness, when they dwelt in temporary abodes – “tabernacles,” or tents. The feast was in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt, and the safe passage of the faithful into the promised land.
Here, the idea is not that God would make them keep this feast again, and remember again the deliverance that they had forgotten – although that probably would take place. Some do believe this to be the primary meaning of the text. However, I do not think this is the case. Rather, the Lord is saying He will be their Redeemer in a higher sense, and “cause” them to have an even greater remembrance of the fact that He is “their God.” This refers to their deliverance from their present captivity – from which, to this day, they have never recovered. He has already promised, “I will allure her” (2:14), “thou shalt call Me Ishi” (2:16), “I will take away the names of Balaam out of her mouth” (2:17), “I will betroth them unto Me in righteousness” and “faithfulness” (2:19-20), “I will sow her to Me in the earth” (2:23), and “They shall walk after the Lord” (11:10). They will yet respond to His love!
AS IN THE DAYS OF THE SOLEMN FEAST. This is when Israel was faithfully assembled, as in Ezra’s day (Ezra 3:4) and that of Nehemiah (Neh 8:14-18). Jesus also observed this feast (John 7:2,14). The point is that Israel’s future celebration would be sure, insightful, and effective. They would rejoice in the Lord rather than forget Him.
THE MINISTRY OF THE PROPHETS
“ 10 I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.”
It is the Lord’s manner to remind His people of the advantages He has sent to them. Even though they are forgetful of Him, yet He diligently sets before them the blessings they have willingly forfeited in order to follow their own miserable ways.
SPOKEN BY THE PROPHETS. Other versions read, “I have also spoken unto the prophets,” ASV “My words came to the ears of the prophets,” BBE “I sent My prophets.” NLT Here the emphasis is on the source of the prophet’s message. Essentially, they were God’s prophets carrying His message (1 Chron 16:22). Therefore the people were told, “believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chron 20:20). However, it is said of Israel, “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chron 36:16). Now, in the wake of severe chastening, the Lord reminds the people that He Himself had spoken to them “by the prophets.” In response the people had said, “let us not give heed to any of his word” (Jer 18:18). Now, with their nation about to fall about, and the people on the verge of being dispersed, God reminds them of His words through the Prophets.
MULTIPLIED VISIONS. Other versions read, “I gave numerous visions,” NASB “gave them many visions,” NIV and “gave them visions in great number.” BBE The message of the prophets took a variety of forms, of which “visions” was one. Early in their history God said He would make Himself known to a real prophet “in a vision” (Num 12:6-8).
A “vision” was a sort of animated presentation of the truth. Men who received visions include Abraham (Gen 15:1), Jacob (Gen 46:2), young Samuel (1 Sam 3:15), Nathan (2 Sam 7:17), Isaiah (2 Chron 32:32; Isa 1:1), Zechariah (2 Chron 26:5), Ezekiel (Ezek 8:3; 37; 40), Daniel (Dan 7:1), Obadiah (Obed 1:1), Habakkuk (Hab 2:2), and Nahum (Nah 1:1).
The prophets faithfully related their visions to the people. If they would have given heed to them, the Lord would have directed them into pleasant pathways. However, they chose treat the visions with contempt, refusing to give heed to them. For this reason God deprived them of wisdom, even as He did the ostrich (Job 39:13-17) As it is written, “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned” (Isa 29:11-12). Oh, the penalty for refusing to receive what God gives is enormous!
SIMILITUDES. Other versions say “symbols,” NKJV “parables,” NASB “comparisons,” BBE “examples,” NAB and “similes.” YLT A “similitude” is a comparison, when a person or condition is likened to something that is familiar. It is a physical resemblance that can be readily recognized by the mind, or a pattern with which one is acquainted. Sometimes it takes the form of an “allegory” (Gal 4:24), or a “parable” (Ezek 17:2).Sometimes the prophets likened the people to impersonal creatures: “a silly dove” (Hos 7:11), “a speckled bird” (Jer 12:9), or “a wild ass” (Hos 8:9). Other times He likened them to a “degenerate plant” and a “strange vine” (Jer 2:21), and “sottish [stupid] children” (Jer 4:22). The Lord likened false prophets to “dumb dogs” who “cannot bark,” and to “greedy dogs” (Isa 56:11).
The prophets spoke of Israel’s restoration as the raising of a valley of dry bones (Ezek 37), the breaking forth a stream of living waters (Ezek 40), streams breaking out in the desert (Isa 35:6), and the raising again of the “tabernacle of David” (Amos 9:11; 15:16).
The Lord extended Himself to bring things Israel need to see within their reach. Their failure to remember the truth, and their propensity to wander was not owing to any lack of resources or deficiency of Divine effort. It was essential that they be faced with these facts.
“THE MINISTRY OF THE PROPHETS.” Other versions read, “witness of the prophets,” NKJV and “mouths of the prophets.” BBE The word “ministry” comes from a word that literally means “the open hand.” HEBREW The idea is that the prophets held what the people needed within their reach, making it fully accessible to them – like extending an open hand filled with needed supplies. Ordinarily, the word “ministry” assumes some degree of receptivity on the part of the one to whom the person ministers. But, alas, this was not portion of the prophets. They brought good and needful things, but were, for the most part, rejected by the people. Jesus described Jerusalem in scathing words: “that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee” (Matt 23:37). We honor the prophets for their faithfulness to in the midst of an unfaithful people, and for being faithful ministers of God. God did hew the people by His prophets (Hos 6:5), refusing to allow them to remain unchecked in their sin.
INIQUITY IN GILEAD
“ 11 Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.”
IS THERE?? The prophet now raises a sarcastic question. He is not seeking for an answer, but is going to unfold the absurdity of Israel’s condition? The idea is that Gilead was a most unlikely place for iniquity to be found? It would be like saying, “Of all places, iniquity is actually found in Gilead!”
This is where Jacob fled from Laban, finding refuge in its mountainous regions (Gen 31:21). Gilead was a place where a city of refuge was located (Josh 21:28). This is the place where Gideon’s army was reduced by 22,000 (Judges 7:3) This should have been a sacred place for Israel – a place where holy memories were awakened and preserved.
THEY ARE VANITY. The word “vanity” means worthless, or “without value.” BBE There, in Gilead, where there was spiritual “balm,” and the spiritual health of the people could have been “recovered” (Jer 8:22), the Israelites had become “vain,” “worthless,” and “without value.” Where unspeakable advantages could have been found, futility sprang forth. That is the unavoidable result of giving oneself to iniquity.
BULLOCKS IN GILGAL. “Gilgal” was the place where God rolled away “the reproach of Egypt” (Josh 5:9). It is where the Israelites first kept the Passover in Canaan and ate some of the produce of the new land (Josh 5:10). This is where Samuel took the people to “renew the kingdom,” and recover some of the ground the people had lost. It is where they “made Saul king before the Lord,” sacrificed “sacrifices of peace offerings unto the Lord,” and “rejoiced greatly” – a new beginning (1 Sam 11:14-15). Elijah went up with Elisha “from Gilgal” when he was taken up by God into heaven “by a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:1). What marvelous associations there were with “Gilgal.”
But Israel gained no benefit from these holy recollections. Instead, they played the harlot there (Hos 4:15), and wrought “wickedness” at Gilgal, provoking God to say, “I will love them no more” (9:15). Amos said they “multiplied” their transgression there (Amos 4:4) – in the very place where remarkable blessings had been realized. Now, Hosea says, they “sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal,” but it was not to the God of heaven!
THEIR ALTARS ARE HEAPS. “Their altars” were not the altar ordained by God. These were “altars” of their own making. They had replaced “the altar” that God had ordained (Lev 1:5), and which Hezekiah had re-instituted (2 Chron 32:12). God had ordained, that sacrifices be made on the altar, and in the place, specified by Himself (Deut 16:2; Josh 9:27). However, Israel had ignored Divine direction, raising up their own altars in places of their own choosing.
Now, the prophet says, their altars are “like piles of stones in a plowed field.” NIV That is, in the mundane field where they were plowing, they gathered up stones and made a convenient altar. They did not have to leave the field to use it. They altars were reared up more to clear the cherished fields that to worship the Lord. Now those very altars were nothing more than dilapidated heaps, cluttering their cursed and abandoned fields.
Israel had fallen into a religion of convenience – a religion that did not require much from them, and allowed them to stand aloof from God – even with the sound of prophetic words ringing in their ears. Their religion dulled their conscience, hardened their hearts, and blinded their eyes. They had chosen a broad way, and it led them to destruction.
APPLICATION. We must allow ourselves to be taught by Israel’s example! The things that “happened” unto them were “for our examples: and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor 10:11). When men abandon the pursuits God has ordained, choosing their own way to please God, they are in a most serious condition. When the repeated warnings of the Lord concerning not loving the world (1 John 2:15), not being a friend of the world (James 4:4), and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), are pushed away in favor of an easier and more accommodating way, the wrath of God is being awakened.
Much of the religion of our day is self-serving, and does not bring glory to the Lord. It allows too much room for flesh, which is to be “crucified,” not coddled (Gal 5:24). It allows men to live too close to “this present evil world” from which Jesus has delivered us (Gal 1:4), and too far from God, to whom, we have been reconciled (Col 1:21). When a person’s religion causes sin to appear tolerable, and distance from God to be acceptable, deception has gripped the heart, and the “old serpent” is in control. Let every soul be sensitive to the words of God’s messengers, and tender hearted toward God Himself.