COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 12:12 And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep. 13 And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved. (Hosea 12:12-13)
Through Isaiah, the Lord charged Israel with not thinking like Him or conducting their manners like Him: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9). With men – even some religious men – this is not a serious matter. With God, however, it is critical. Alienation from God begins with the mind, when men are dominated by spiritual “ignorance” (Eph 4:18). In this section of Hosea the Lord is reasoning with Israel. Their noble beginning are placed before them – a strong beginning that is seen in Jacob. In Jacob the ability to overcome is confirmed – both in his birth, and when he wrestled with the angel. That example was not intended to be a mere point of history. Rather, it provided a sort of index to godly manners. Maintaining is as important as beginning – if not more so. However, both history and this present time confirm men have exceeding difficulty comprehending this truth. In our text, God is confirming how foolish it was for Israel to conduct themselves as they did, and how righteous it was for Him to punish them for their waywardness. He is pointing to their history to confirm this reality. While this reasoning is very apparent to the spiritual mind, it is not at all rational to the carnal mind. History – particularly religious history – is boring to the natural man. However, for those who are bold to believe, the heart is convinced sacred history “happened” for an example unto us. Therefore, we can profit from it.
“ 12:12 And Jacob . . . ”
The text before us is about surviving in adversity – about maintaining faith when everything seems against us. This kind of tenacity was demonstrated in the birth of Jacob, when he held on to Esau’s heel until he exited from the womb (verse 3). It was seen when he refused to let the angel go until he blessed him (verse 4). This is the manner of the Kingdom – it is what those who walk with God DO, not what they ought to do. Israel had drifted from God, and has thus became weak and insipid, running here and there for help instead of to the God who formed her. That is what happens when people leave God.
Now God will point to other facets of Israel’s beginning. He will show there is every reason to expect the faith of the father to be found in the children, even though that is not often the case. Notwithstanding, it was God’s intention to bless the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the fathers themselves. That is why He reaffirmed to all of them that the covenant He was making was for their “seed” as well as themselves (Abraham: Gen 12:7; 13:15,16; 15:5,13,18; 17:7-12; 22:17-18; Isaac: Gen 26:3,4,24: Jacob: Gen 28:4, 13-14; 32:12; 35:12; Joseph: Gen 48:4).
The Lord did not let this matter go, but continually reminded Israel of the relevancy of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their offspring, the children of Israel (Lev 26:42; Deut 1:8; 1 Kgs 18:36; 2 Kgs 13:23; Psa 105:9-10). There was no reason for Israel to question whether God was for them or not. They sinned grievously in turning from Him to other gods, and seeking assistance from other heathen nations. Their history spoke to them of a certain Divine commitment to them. In that history they could have found verification that it is not vain to serve the Lord, or to trust wholly in Him.
Keep in mind, God is calling upon Israel to consider their origin – the source from which they proceeded. He has already reminded them that they “came up out of the land of Egypt” (2:15; 11:1). He has declared that God has written to Israel “the great things” of His “law” (8:12). They have had every reason to be consistent, and no reason for being unfaithful, vacillating, and even blasphemous. They had a good beginning!
This is a Divine manner of reasoning. As it is written, “ . . . look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Isa 51:1). Their nation had been mothered by three barren women: Sarah (Gen 11:30), Rebekah (Gen 25:21), and Rachel (Gen 29:31). Their progenitor begat Isaac when he was “as good as dead” (Heb 11:12; Rom 4:19). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles,” not houses (Gen 17:8; 23:4; 28:4; 25:27; Acts 7:5-6; Heb 11:9).
That was a hard beginning, yet Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept the faith, clinging to the promise of the Lord, even though circumstances seemed to contradict it. When Abraham was in the land of Canaan, there was a famine (Gen 12:10). When Isaac was in the promised land there was a famine (Gen 26:1). When Jacob dwelt in Canaan there was a famine (Gen 41:41-2). Yet all three of them, together with their families, were preserved by Divine direction. In all of this God was making a statement about Himself, His word, and His covenant. Israel should have picked up on this, and determined to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart – as their “fathers” did.
As a body of people, Israel had a rough commencing. In the beginning, God promised Abraham his “seed” would be as the “stars” of heaven (Gen 15:5). Two hundred and five years later, the total number of Abraham’s covenanted seed was “seventy souls” (Ex 1:5). A “small” beginning, indeed! Yet, like the seemingly insignificant beginning of Zerubbabel’s Temple project, it was not to be despised. (Zech 4:10). Now God will elaborate on their beginning by siting two well known facts about their father Jacob – after whom, they had been named (Gen 32:28).
APPLICATION. Noble beginnings are not always large and impressive, as the flesh prefers. Jesus began life in this world as a helpless infant subjected to death threats. His chosen disciples numbered only twelve. The church started in the city of a small country, on a Jewish holy day, preceded by a gathering of one hundred and twenty disciples (Acts 1:15). Certainly a small beginning for a work that would eventually involve the earth being “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14). Even the day of Pentecost, when three thousand were added to the church in a single day (Acts 2:41), was a relatively small beginning – a harvest that involved over three years of prodigious ministry by the Lord Jesus, and was destined to “shake all nations” (Hag 2:7). The grand conclusion of God’s “great salvation” will confirm that every believer has good cause to be optimistic about the future, even though the present may not seem to justify such hope.
THE EARLY EXPERIENCE OF JACOB
JACOB FLED INTO SYRIA. He will now show that Jacob did not begin with a lot of obvious advantages. The history of God’s dealings with him did not begin in a palace, or with everything going well – and Israel had no right to expect that it would be any different with them. Moses referred to Jacob as an evidence of Israel’s miraculous beginning “And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deut 26:5).
The time to which this refers followed the occasion when Esau despised his birthright, selling it to Jacob for some bread and stew (Gen 25:31-34). Because Esau “sold his birthright” (Heb 12:16), God orchestrated things so that his decision was made official through an act of deception – Jacob disguising himself as Esau, and obtaining the cherished covenantal blessing from his father Isaac. This was done under the direction of his mother, Rebekah (Gen 27:6-40). Although religious sophists have criticized this act of deception, the Scriptures make clear that this was the means by which the predetermination of God Himself was implemented (Gen 25:23; Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13). The work was righteous because Esau “despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34).
Following the covenantal blessing of Jacob, it is written, “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him,” determining to kill Jacob after Isaac died (Gen 27:41). When these words were told to Rebekah, she called for Jacob and said, “Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; And tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away” (Gen 27:42-44).
Rebekah then went to Isaac and told him she was “disgusted with living” NIV because of the “Hittite women” NIV around her. She said she was concerned about Jacob taking a wife from these heathen. Isaac immediately called Jacob, ordering him “not to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.” Instead, he told him to “go to Padanaram,” to the house of his mother’s father, and take a wife from the daughters of Laban, Rebekah’s brother.
Thus, from one point of view, Jacob “fled” from Esau (Gen 27:43), while, from another view, he was “sent” by Isaac (Gen 28:6). From still another point of view it is written, “Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram” (Gen 28:7). What seeming disadvantages he had – yet good came from it all, he survived, and the nation of Israel was formed from the twelve sons Jacob begat under these circumstances.
ISRAEL SERVED FOR A WIFE. Although Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” after he “served for a wife,” the Lord refers to his new name when describing what he had to do to obtain a wife. One might imagine that everything would go smoothly for Jacob, seeing that he had obtained “the blessing of Abraham” (Gen 28:4). That is how flesh thinks, but faith does not reason on this wise.
The circumstance to which this text alludes is a most notable one. When Jacob arrived at the house of Laban, his mother’s brother, he found that he had two daughters: Leah, whose eyes were “weak,” NASB and Rachel who was “beautiful of form and face.” NASB Jacob “loved Rachel,” and told Laban “I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.” Laban agreed to the arrangement, telling Jacob, “Stay here with me.” NIV The Scriptures day of those seven years, “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (Gen 29:20).
At the conclusion of the seven years, Jacob asked for his wife. Unknown to him, treacherous Laban gave him Leah instead. When Jacob objected, saying he had served for Rachel, Laban responded, “It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn” (Gen 29:26). The outcome was that Jacob had to serve Laban “seven other years” in order to have Rachel as his wife. Jacob “did so,” serving a total of fourteen years for Rachel. During that time, Laban “deceived” Jacob, changing his wages “ten times.” However, God did not allow Laban to “hurt” Jacob (Gen 31:7).
That traumatic period is referred to in these words, “And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” Israel gloried in their name, “Israel,” yet had forgotten the difficult circumstances under which their progenitor had kept the faith and prevailed. He took hold of Esau’s heel in the womb – and was born. He wrestled a mighty angel and was crippled, yet obtained the blessing. He fled from Esau, yet survived. He served as a shepherd for fourteen years, yet obtained his wife. What possible reason could Israel site for abandoning the Lord? How is it that they could go to Egypt and Syria for help with such a noble example in their father Jacob? That is what sin does to a people!
BROUGHT OUT OF EGYPT BY A PROPHET
“ 13 And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.”
The Lord continues to speak of Israel’s beginnings. First, the twelve tribes had a beginning in a man who received the blessing contrary to nature. Second, their beginning was connected with a man who had to flee to another place. Third, their progenitor had to serve fourteen years to obtain the wife he favored. Now we move to another beginning.
BY A PROPHET. The prophet of reference is Moses – who himself had a rather shaky beginning. He was born during a time of oppression, when his parents had to take special measures to ensure that he would live (Heb 11:23). He was raised up in Egypt, spending his first forty years there. Ultimately, he chose rather to “suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb 11:25). He too was noted for fleeing, and being “a stranger” in the land of Midian for another forty years (Ex 2:15; Acts 7:29). It was there, at the age of eighty, that God called him to lead His people out of Egypt, where they were suffering bitter bondage (Ex 7:7).
BROUGHT ISRAEL OUT. God did not bring Israel out of bondage by a “judge” like Othniel (Judges 3:9), a “king” like David (2 Sam 5:17), or a “captain” like Abner (1 Sam 17:55). After four hundred and thirty years (Ex 12:40), God delivered Israel from Egypt by the hand of a prophet – Moses. This was no ordinary “prophet.” It is said of him, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut 34:10). Of him the Lord said, “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold” (Num 12:6-8).
Moses did not lead a military campaign against Egypt. He did not marshal an army to force Egypt to let Israel go. He came with a word and a rod, speaking for God and working mighty wonders. God brought the people out of Egypt having “plundered the Egyptians” NKJV (Ex 12:36). There were 600,000 men on foot beside children, together with a “mixed multitude,” “flocks, and herds,” and “very much cattle” (Ex 12:37-38). No swords were drawn, and not an arrow was shot. A “prophet” brought the people out. Empowered by God, Moses did what no military strategist could have done. In their adversity – hardship that lasted over four centuries – they found deliverance from God through a prophet.
ISRAEL WAS PRESERVED. From Egypt to Canaan, throughout their wilderness wanderings, the Lord preserved Israel by a prophet – Moses. That preservation included their clothes not wearing out and their feet not swelling (Deut 8:4). When they lacked water, God used Moses to cause rivers to issue forth from the flinty rock, so that they stood like a lake after gushing from the rock like mighty rivers (Psa 78:15-16; 114:8). He supplied miraculous daily bread, fully meeting the dietary needs of every person for forty long years. After crossing the Red Sea, the Lord supplied them with a miraculous outpouring of quail that covered the entire encampment (Ex 16:13).
Through Moses, the people were preserved from certain enemies, including Sihon king of Heshbon, Og the king of Bashan (Deut 29:7), and king Arad of the Canaanites (Num 21:1). They were preserved from the wilderness itself, which is described as “that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water” (Deut 8:15).
O, how the Lord desired for Israel to reflect upon the singular mercy that had been given to them. Through Isaiah He said, “Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? where is He that put His holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name” (Isa 63:11-14). But now, Israel had forgotten their illustrious past, and sought for help from the hand of their enemies.
To this very day there are people who have experienced great deliverance and direction from the Lord, who have forgotten Him. Like Israel, they have turned from His prophets to worldly kings and princes, forgetting they were purged from their “old sins” (2 Pet 1:9). Such forgetfulness, though quite common, is intolerable with God. Those who forget what He has done through Jesus will be judged worthy of far greater punishment than those who forgot what was wrought through Moses (Heb 10:29). Let every child of God culture holy memories, and zealously shun what causes them to be easily forgotten!