Avraham ben Yaakov
HOSEA CHAPTER 11
The Bible editors who introduced the chapter system universally used in our printed Bibles broke Hosea into chapters that are in most cases approximately equal in the number of verses they contain. However, the conventional chapter system frequently violates the traditional breaks of Parshah Pethuhah and Parshah Sethumah as contained in the handwritten scrolls.
This is particularly confusing in studying Hosea chapters 11 and 12, because the conventional chapter division implies that these are separate prophecies, which they are not. They are in fact the latter part of the first section and the first part of the second section of one long prophecy that began at Hosea 10:9, breaks with a Parshah Sethumah at 12:1 and runs continuously without a break until 13:11. In order to see this entire prophecy as one lengthy discourse falling into two parts, it is best to study Hosea 10:9-13:11 as a continuous piece.
The entire prophecy is castigating Israel under the leadership of Ephraim for their original demand at Giv'ah for a king like other nations (Hosea 10:9) - a sin that led to the rebellion of the Ten Tribes against the House of David and to Jeraboam's establishment of the cult of golden calves in Beith El and Dan. The prophecy might in some ways be characterized as an expression of a "love-hate" parent-child relationship in which all the love is from God while all the rebellion is from Ephraim, who having waxed rich from His blessings proceeded to serve the work of his own hands and trust in his own might. Through the overthrow of Ephraim's kings by the very nations they had wooed like a harlot and through the harsh tribulations of exile, God will teach them His righteousness. It is with the final overthrow of their rebellious kings that the prophecy climaxes (13:10-11).
One of the underlying metaphors of the entire prophecy is of Ephraim as a calf that was intended to learn to bear the yoke and plow the field of Torah and mitzvos, but which rebelled. The metaphor is bound up with the fact that Joseph (father of Ephraim, corresponding to the constellation of Shor, Taurus, the "Ox") was blessed by Moses as a "first-born ox" (Deut. 33:17).
God's love for Israel as expressed in this prophecy is evoked through references to the essence of the Torah - righteousness and kindness -- (10:11-12; 12:7), as a yoke applied with kindness (11:4) and to God's merciful redemption of Israel from Egypt by Moses (11:3; 12:14; 13:4-5). In the second section of the prophecy which starts in ch 12 v 1, God's love for Israel is evoked in particular through telling of God's mercies to Jacob (12: 4-5 and 12:13f.).
The prophecy repeatedly juxtaposes God's mercies and His calls for repentance through His true prophets with the people's callous deceptions: the more they are called to repent, the more they run to their idols (11:2). Yet in spite of their rebellions, God's eternal love for Israel cannot allow Him to reject his first-born son - for He is God and not a man (11:9) - and woven into the fabric of this prophecy is how He will redeem Israel and enter the celestial city of Jerusalem only when the Temple is rebuilt in the earthly Jerusalem (11:9-10).
The opening of chapter 11 v 1 must be understood as the direct continuation of the passage at the end of the previous chapter (Hosea 10:9-15), the beginning of the prophecy, recounting how Israel sinned from the days of Giv'ah and were repeatedly chastised, and how although God sought to train the wayward calf in the ways of righteousness and kindness, they rebelled and trusted in their strength and might, causing their own coming doom through the destruction of Beith El and the kingship of Israel (11:15).
Chapter 11 v 1 answers why all this is coming upon the people - "Because Israel is a NAAR." - lit. a "foolish youth", stripped (ME-NU'AR) of all goodness (Rashi ad loc.) - YET EVEN SO, "I have loved him." God has been calling Israel through his prophets from the time He brought them up from Egypt .
V 2: As much as the prophets called to them, so the people went after their idols.
V 3: God wanted to train Ephraim, the Ox - he sent them Moses, who "took them on his arms" (Numbers 11:12) - but the people did not know it was He that healed them.
V 4: In His mercy, He put upon them the yoke of Torah with loving tenderness.
V 5-6: He promised them they would not see their Egyptian enemies any more (Exodus 14:13). But the result of Israel 's rebelliousness was that now Ashur is their king - it was the Assyrians who took the Ten Tribes into exile, because they refused to repent. Because of their own foolish counsel, their cities were to be scourged with the sword and their "branches" (=the mighty warriors) consumed.
V 7: The people are in doubt about whether to repent. The prophets "call them TO ABOVE (=EL AL), but none at all would raise himself". [Yes indeed, it is from this verse that the Israeli national airline takes its name. And travelers look forward to the days when the captains will start every flight with a call to all the passengers and crew to join in lifting our hearts TO ABOVE, up to God, and offering Him our prayers for the safety and success of all.]
Vv 8-9: Yet as the loving Father, God is wracked with pain, as it were, over how to chastise His wayward son. "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I surrender you, Israel ? My heart is turned within Me. All my compassion is kindled. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger, I will not turn to destroy Ephraim. For I am God and not a man; the Holy One in the midst of you, and I will not come as an enemy." The moving eloquence of these verses speaks for itself.
An alternative translation for the closing words of v 9, "I will not come as an enemy", would be: "I will not come into (another) city" - i.e. I am the Holy One in your midst and in spite of everything I will always dwell only in Jerusalem . A third interpretation - on the level of allusion - is given in Taanis 5a: "I will not come into the city." "The Holy One blessed be He said, I will not come into the heavenly Jerusalem until I come into the earthly Jerusalem , for the two are interconnected" (cf. Psalms 122:3). In other words, the perfection of creation - when God as it were enters and reigns in His celestial city - will come about only with the rebuilding of the earthly Temple in Jerusalem .
Vv 10-11 prophesy the future awakening of Israel in response to God's call, and how the exiles will come trembling [as Haredim?] from the west, from Egypt [the exile in Islamic countries in the south] and Ashur [the exile in the Christian countries in the north] and return to their homes. This promise of future redemption concludes the first section of the prophecy.
* * * The Sefardic custom is to read Hosea 11:7-11 and 12:1-12 as the Haftara of Parshas Vayeitzei, Gen. 28:!0-32:2 * * *
The second section of the prophecy that started in Hosea 10:9 now begins with the opening of a Parshah Sethumah:
V 1: Despite all of God's mercies as recounted in the first section of the prophecy, "Ephraim compasses Me about with lies and the House of Israel with deceit." Yet " Judah still rules with God" - Judah is still ruled by the fear of God, their kings were still faithful to God.
V 2: But Ephraim is running after the wind in his international alliances, which will not save him on his day of doom.
V 3: "HaShem has also a controversy with Judah ." - God explains to Judah His grievances against Ephraim so that they will not be surprised when He punishes Jacob (=the people of Israel ) for his ways (Rashi).
V 4: God's grievance is that Israel has rebelled in spite of all His mercies to Jacob from the very time that he was in the womb, when God already gave him mastery over Esau, after which He enabled him to prevail over the angel with whom he struggled (Genesis 32:25ff).
V 5: This verse tells the story of Jacobs overcoming the angel, who wept and begged Jacob to release him, promising that he would later testify at Beith El that he and Esau agreed that Jacob deserved Isaac's blessings (Rashi; Hullin 92a).
V 6-7: God is eternally faithful - ready to bestow love on Ephraim now just as He did upon Jacob, asking Israel only to return to God and to guard the essential path of the Torah - kindness and Justice, always hoping in God.
V 8: But Ephraim is a merchant of deceit, a Canaanite! The Hebrew word KENA'AN in this verse has the connotation of "merchant" but also is used reprovingly of Israel , who are behaving like the Canaanites.
V 9: Ephraim trusts in his own wealth and power, even though he should realize that they will not save him on the day when he is judged for his sins.
V 10: God reminds Ephraim that He is the God who brought them out of Egypt, and despite their waywardness He will eventually bring them to dwell again in tents - the tents of Torah study - just as in the time when Jacob was pure and simple, dwelling in tents (Genesis 25:27; Rashi on Hosea 12:10).
V 11: God has repeatedly warned the people through His prophets. ".and I have used similes by means of the prophets". These words are an important source text for teachings about the methods of the prophets.
V 12: If destruction comes to Gil'ad (Reuven & Menasheh), it is only because of the idolatry that has continued in Gilgal and all over the rest of their territories.
V 13-14: The prophet returns to the theme of God's mercies with Jacob, father of Israel - as when he protected him in his flight from Esau to dwell with Laban, and when He took the people out of Egypt under the leadership and guardianship of Moses. This verse is the beginning of the Haftara of Parshas VAYEITZEI in Genesis (read in November) speaking of Jacob's flight to Laban. The Haftara of VAYEITZEI runs from Hosea 12:13 until 14:10.
V 15: Yet in spite of all God's mercies, Ephraim has provoked Him most bitterly, and He will requite him for this.
The prophecy continues in Ch 13:1-11, which will be discussed in the next commentary.
MAY GOD TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM AND RESTORE US TO OUR LAND AND BUILD HIS TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM QUICKLY IN OUR TIMES. AMEN.
* * * The sections in Hosea 12:13-15, 13:1-15 and 14:1-10 are read as the Haftara of Parshas Vayeitzei, Gen. 28:!0-32:2 * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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