Q&A: Hosea 11 Interpretation

Hosea 11 Interpretation

Question

What is your interpretation of Hosea 11:2? Please share your thoughts on this interpertation: In Hosea 11:2 substitute the word "they" for Israel and the word "them" for Egypt (Egypt meaning bondage)and read the passage as: "The more Israel went from Egypt, the more Israel called Egypt. They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols."

Answer

Hosea 11:2 is part of God's complaint about his wayward people. In this particular verse, he is expressing his love for Israel and his dedication to them, especially as demonstrated in his patience toward them as they engaged in idolatry. Specifically, he is saying that he sent many prophets to Israel to encourage them to repent of their idolatry and to return to true worship. In response to these prophets, Israel ignored God's warnings and offers, and instead increased their idolatrous practices.

The text was written about the northern kingdom Israel, which went into exile in 722 B.C. But it was written to the southern kingdom Judah which had not yet gone into the exile. The purpose was to demonstrate God's patience and dedication to Judah (by implication from the example of Israel) so that Judah might repent of its sin, and so that if judgment did fall on Judah, they would not lose hope in later restoration knowing that God would remain dedicated to them.

The interpretation you suggest in intriguing, especially given the lack of explicit subects of the verbs in verse 2. Still, I have a
hard time reconciling the interpretation you have suggested with the context of the chapter. There are a few things that make
this interpretation seem unlikely to me:
  1. Grammatically, the order of the phrases is not the more Y went, the more X called, but rather the more X called, the more Y went. The meaning of the Hebrew appears to be that the call should have brought about a response of coming rather than of going, but that the actual response was one of going.

  2. In verse 1, God is the one who is calling Israel. In verse 2, the same verb for "call" appears (qara), and the sense seems to be that the actions in verse 2 take place despite the actions in verse 1. That is, despite the fact that God called Israel out of Egypt many centuries ago (a historical fact that should have made Israel faithful to God), of late Israel has not been responding favorably to God's continuing call. The shift from "I" to "they" (the more they called them) in this context seems best explained by the fact that in Hosea God indentifies his words as the words of prophets (compare for example Hos. 6:5; 12:10).

  3. Verse 5 also mentions Egypt, and in that verse Egypt is treated as a location/nation, not as a group of individuals or as a metaphor for bondage. Historically, Israel was in bondage in the land of Egypt, then God led them out, then they were later in bondage in the land of Assyria (722 B.C. and following). It seems to me that the passage is speaking of these two episodes of exile from the land of Canaan and bondage in a foreign land.

  4. Verse 7 is very similar to verse 2, even repeating the verb qara, and in the context it seems to be intended to repeat and emphasize the idea of verse 2. But in verse 7 God's people are bent on turning from him, and the call is to worship God. Thus, in this verse it seems clear that Israel is not calling Egypt (metaphorical or otherwise) to worship God -- Israel is rebelling in worship, not calling others to obey. This is God's problem with Israel throughout these verses.

  5. Granted, the lack of explicit subjects for the verbs in verse 2 makes the language somewhat ambiguous. Still, in my opinion, the context of the book of Hosea and of this chapter implies that God (through his prophets such as Hosea) has been calling his people to obey him, buy they have been rebelling and running after idols. I suppose the interpretation you have suggested might be read to suggest the same thing, but in the literary flow of the passage it does not seem to be the meaning which makes the most immediate sense of the language. When authors omit explicit subjects, they do so because they believe the subjects to be obvious or intuitive. In this case, especially since God has just been introduced as the subject of the calling action, it seems most intuitive to understand him (through his prophets) to be the subect of the call in verse 2. Also, since Israel has just been introduced as receiving God's call in verse 1, the most readily evident assumption given the lack of explicit alternatives is that Israel continues to receive God's call in verse 2.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.