Look Back & Learn, part 2 (Hosea 12:3-6)

They say that truth is learned better through example than through lecture.  Certainly trust must be taught, but it must also be lived out.  As a parent, your children won’t follow your instruction as much as they will imitate your behavior.

In the 12th chapter of Hosea, Jacob is brought up as an example for Israel.  Having called Israel by the name Jacob in verse 2, Hosea then says…

3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us–5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Jacob is one of my favorite characters in the Bible because he is so real, so fallible.  He stumbles along the path of discipleship.  He needs grace more than many others for anything good to come of his life.

Scholars debate whether Jacob is a negative example to avoid or a positive example to follow as he is presented here.  Certainly his life, like most of us, is a mixed bag of good choices and bad ones.  However, the exhortation in verse 6, which caps off this discussion of Jacob, seems to be encouraging them to act like Jacob and “return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”  Jacob certainly held fast and ultimately received the blessing.

Duane Garrett notes:

“Hosea here resumes the theme from 6:7-9 that Israel has inherited the worst traits of their ancestors without picking up any of the good qualities; in particular the people of Hosea’s generation are untouched by grace” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

He goes on to say…

“The portrayal of the life of Jacob here is not chronological but consists of passing allusions to details of the Genesis account that are thematically arranged in order to create a portrait of the patriarch as a desperate man transformed by God” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

Hosea first alludes to Jacob’s birth…

In the womb he took his brother by the heel

This refers back to Genesis 25:26…

Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.

Thus, Jacob was the “grasper,” the one who had to take things by force.  A civil war erupted in  Rebekah’s womb, though Esau eventually won that battle and was born first.  Jacob, true to his name, ended up, in rather underhanded ways, to take away Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Thus, we read in Genesis 27:36

Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob?  For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Jacob was a cheater and a taker.  As Derek Kidner reminds us: “Even Laban, that master of manoeuvre, found he had met his match in this man” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

Although it was God’s elective choice to bless Jacob over Esau, Jacob is presented here as one who felt like he had to help God out.

James Montgomery Boice explains:

“‘To grasp the heel’ also meant to go behind one’s back in order to deceive or trick him, and this became the dominant characteristic of the man.”

Not only did Jacob fight with Esau, but “in his manhood he strove with God.”  This describes Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Penuel in Genesis 32.

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

You see that God required him to admit the fact that he was a “striver,” a “grabber.”

28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.

Garrett points out that the comparative phrase “as a man” is a translation of the word awen, a word we’ve seen before as a description of the city of Bethel, Beth-Awen, or Aven.  There it described Bethel’s deceptive wickedness.  Although the end of that story in Genesis points to Jacob’s surrender and his renaming as Israel, thus God’s blessing, Hosea seems to indicate only the negative fact that Jacob wrestled with God.

Jacob’s attitude that he had a right for what was his and had to fight for it carried over into his relationship with God.  Thus, in Genesis 32:28, God said, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Scholars question how Hosea is relating the words “he wept and sought his favor” to the encounter at Penuel.  These words do not occur in the event of Genesis 32, but rather in the encounter between Jacob and Esau in Genesis 33.  It is used by Hosea to express the idea that Jacob ultimately sought mercy from God after years of ceaseless striving.

He finally understood the words, “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

God then renamed Jacob “Israel,” “prince.”

Hosea then moves back to a former event in the Jacob story when he says, “He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with [him].”  This refers back to Jacob’s vision of the heavenly stairway while he was en route to Haran and to God’s second appearance to Jacob on his return to Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22; 35:6-15).  Bethel was the place that the true God met Jacob; unlike in Hosea’s day when Jacob’s descendants were seeking false gods at Beth Aven.

Jacob had originally received the promise of the covenant from God at Bethel (Genesis 28:13).  “Hosea places Bethel at the end of his retelling of the story to create a contrast between the grace Jacob received and his life of conniving, scheming, and struggling.  That is, Jacob’s machinations and battles for survival represented his old life, his life without grace, whereas his reception of the promises at Bethel represented his new life…” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, pp. 238-239).

Kidner reinforces that this change in Jacob was not in his own enterprise but was a “classic display of grace unexpected, unsought, and overwhelming” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

When Jacob returned to Bethel the second time, he worshiped there (Genesis 35:1-14).  It is ironic that the place where Jacob got right with God was Bethel, since Bethel was the place where the Israelites had gotten wrong with Him by worshipping idols. Jacob’s return to God at Bethel provided a good example for the Israelites to get right with Him, there, too.

The structure of the text, which is what is called a chiasmus, reinforces the message that Jacob met the true God at Bethel and was converted into Israel.

Hosea’s emphasis, however, is that although God met Jacob at Bethel and fellowshipped with him there, God was virtually excluded from present day Bethel by contemporary Jacob (i.e., God’s people in Hosea’s day).  For Bethel (house of God) had become Beth Aven (house of deception/iniquity).  It was there that the people courted Baal and indulged in his pagan rites.  There they acted like the old Jacob, the unredeemed Jacob.

I think it is significant to Hosea’s argument that he says at the end of v. 4, “and there God spoke with us…”  Notice the “us” instead of merely “him.”  To Hosea, God did not speak only to the past Jacob at Bethel, but now to the present Jacob at Bethel.

Verse 5 is a revelation of the name of God.  David Hubbard reminds us:

“The hymn which features Yahweh’s name in contrast to Elohim and El in vv. 3-4 are a reminder of the dangers of confusing Israel’s LORD and Savior with the gods of the land, even the high-god El” (Hosea, p. 217)

On the basis of his reading of Genesis, Hosea can proclaim, “the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name.”  Hosea is referring to the covenant name, Yahweh here, indicating that He is the “God of hosts,” the God of the “angel armies.”

“The use of the full title Yahweh God of hosts (i.e. armies of heaven and earth, [2 Sam. 5:10] found here only in Hosea) moves the focus away from any local sacred sites like Bethel and centres attention on the universal power and glory of the Lord” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)

This name reminds us of the story of Elisha, when the king of Syria surrounded Dothan with “a great army” (2 Kings 6:14).  When Elisha’s servant went to the walls the next morning he was alarmed to find such a large army surrounding them and said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (6:15).  Then we read…

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Hosea did not get this name from the Genesis record, but Amos uses it frequently and Hosea may be borrowing it from him.  It describes the God of all the earth who holds all mankind accountable and calls them to repentance.

Yahweh is God’s “memorial name.” Names reveal and reflect character traits (e.g., Ps. 135:13).  The name YHWH, was revealed to Moses in Exod. 3:14.  Before this time the patriarchs addressed God as El Shaddai (cf. Exod. 6:2-3).

What is Hosea doing here, recalling the Jacob incidents?  He is reminding them that all their scheming and machinations and political alliances would not save them.  They are like Jacob in all their efforts to protect themselves and get God’s blessings for themselves.

But they needed to come to a point of desperation.  Unlike Jacob, they were not crying out to God in tears and repenting of their sins.  “The nation of Israel continues to live like Jacob the conniver, the man without grace.  Like old Jacob, they struggle for success and security not in God, but in wealth” not in trust but in scheming.

“Jacob’s ambitions put him out of phase with God’s character right at the start of his life (cf. v. 3).  His offspring, whether as individuals or collectively—the emphatic you is singular—had to be redirected from their ancestral pattern to return again” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 217-218).

Hosea calls for three things from his people: repentance, justice, and faith.  They had turned away from Yahweh to pursue the false gods of the nations, originally the gods of Egypt, then the gods of the Canaanites and now the gods of the nations they sought to ally themselves to.

Hosea thus calls for them to turn back to Yahweh, to turn their backs to the false gods and return to the true God.

Repentance, first a change of perspective, becomes then a change of behavior.  Knowing God as He really is (v. 5) and knowing ourselves as we really are (vv. 3-4) is the pre-requisite for repentance.  When we are faced with the holiness of God and our sinfulness, and when God’s Spirit brings conviction, then we will repent.

“Love and justice” (in v. 6) are shorthand for doing all that God requires while giving the greatest emphasis on the most important parts of the Torah.  Matthew 23:23 Jesus says…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Since Yahweh had brought a lawsuit against them (v. 2) for being unfaithful to the covenant stipulations, He now reminds them of their obligations that they had failed to fulfill.

Love and justice sum up our obligation to one another.  They are also the central aspects of Yahweh’s covenant character towards His people (cf. Hosea 2:19).

To these positive characteristics they were to “hold fast to.”  Just as Jacob had said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” so we are to be equally earnest to “hold fast” to God’s moral will and wait continually for His sovereign will to be fulfilled.

“Wait continually for your God” implies an attitude of faith that seeks security in God rather than in wealth or position or allies, that perseveres in that faith even when circumstances prove difficult.  On his deathbed, Israel was able still to give this testimony: “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Gen. 49:18).

“Jacob had snatched at his destiny time and again; so had Israel and Judah with land-grabs (5:8-10), rash treaties (10:4; 12:1), and pleas to Baal (7:14-16).  Their renewed style was to wait in full hope for the divine Redeemer to meet their needs” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 218).

The lesson was that, like Jacob, the Israelites should return to their covenant God.  They should practice loyal love and justice in dealing with one another, rather than being like the old Jacob.  And they should commit to waiting in faith for God to act for them, rather than seizing control of the situation, as Jacob so often had done.

If Israel will repent, they will become like their ancestor Jacob in the best sense.

Just as Jacob was literally wrestled into submission by an angel of God, just as Jacob pleaded with tears for God’s blessing — just so must Israel return to the Lord.

Notice that Hosea’s exhortations are prefaced by the phrase “by the help of your God.”  The only way they could possibly repent, become loving and just and consistently trust in God’s help, is “by the help of God.”  We cannot become repentant on our own, but need God’s help; we cannot become loving and just in our own strength, but we need God’s help.  We depend upon God’s help even to trust Him consistently.  Without the help of God we can do nothing, as Jesus reminded His disciples, “without me you can do nothing.”

“The implication for Israel is clear: they are nothing without Yahweh, just as Jacob was nothing without Yahweh” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 192).

Essentially, Hosea is telling them that repentance is expressed in—obeying and trusting.  Obey His moral will and trust His sovereign will to be worked out for your life.  Or, we could say that what God wants from us is to trust, to treasure and to trust.

The good news is that grace can come to and transform even the worst of us.  It changed Jacob into Israel.  Grace can transform a cheater and grabber into a prince with God.  Like Jacob, we must exchange our self-sufficiency for trusting God.




Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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