At 11:12 and continuing through chapter 13, God contrasts how faithful He has been to the covenant and how unfaithful Ephraim (Israel) has been.
Hosea 11:12 NKJV – “Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; But Judah still walks with God, even with the Holy One who is faithful.
Ephraim has encircled Me with lies… Hosea has pointed out Ephraim’s deceitfulness time and again (Hos. 4:2, 6:7, 7:1, 3, 13, 10:4, 13). Idolatry itself is a lie.
Judah still walks with God… This seems to be a bad translation. There seems to be a problem with the Hebrew here. The NASB reads as follows… Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful. Thus, the real meaning of the statement seems to be quite the opposite to how the KJV and NKJV translators have stated it. Reading it thus we see no conflict with what is stated in Hos. 12:2 and has been stated elsewhere regarding Judah following in her sister’s footsteps.
Hosea 12:1 NKJV – “Ephraim feeds on the wind, and pursues the east wind; He daily increases lies and desolation. Also they make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried to Egypt.
Ephraim feeds on the wind… Instead of relying upon God, He Who will satisfy all of their needs, they have relied upon their own cunning and worldly wisdom in order to remain safe from invaders. The following statements regarding treaties and payoffs to the Assyrians and Egyptians are examples of their “feeding on the wind”. If one takes a mouthful of wind, they certainly are not going to be satisfied. In fact, quite the opposite will happen, the two nations will drain all of their resources.
He daily increases lies and desolation… To assert that they will be safe through these foreign alliances is to utter and believe a lie that will result in one being desolate (cf. Hos. 5:13, 7:11).
Hosea 12:2 NKJV – “The LORD also brings a charge against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his deeds He will recompense him.
also brings a charge against Judah… Unfortunately, Judah does not learn from the mistakes of her sister (cf. II Kings 16:2-4, Jer. 3:8).
According to his deeds… God judges and punishes according to one’s deeds (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10, Rom. 6:23).
Hosea 12:3-4 NKJV – (3) He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. (4) Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us–
he struggled with God… Just as Jacob struggled against God and ultimately came to find his strength in God (Gen. 32:24-31), so then these unfaithful descendants of Jacob must also struggle (repent) and find their strength in Him.
He found Him in Bethel… “Bethel” means “house of God”. What a sad case it was that now the very same place is a shrine for the worship of idols and has become “Beth-Aven” or “house of vanity” (cf. Hos. 4:15, 5:8, 10:5).
Hosea 12:5 NKJV – That is, the LORD God of hosts. The LORD is His memorable name.
God of hosts… This term means “The God of armies”. One may think it refers to the angelic army or heavenly host. It certainly includes that, but God is sovereign over all armies, even the Assyrian and Egyptian armies. Instead of seeking the favor of their enemies by paying them off, or trying to make treaties to pit one against the other, they should be seeking God’s favor. He is in control of them all! (Isa. 10:5)
Hosea 12:6 NKJV – So you, by the help of your God, return; Observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually.
return… Here is a command and admonition to repent and demonstrate that repentance through deeds (Lk. 3:7-14). Mercy, justice and dependence upon God are their “fruits” of repentance.
Hosea 12:7-8 NKJV – “A cunning Canaanite! Deceitful scales are in his hand; He loves to oppress. (8) And Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; In all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.’
A cunning Canaanite! “Canaanite” here means “merchant”. Instead of mercy and justice (v.6) they practice oppression and deceit. Instead of repentance they are persisting in wickedness.
I have become rich… Instead of depending upon God they consider themselves totally “self- reliant”. Consider the number of personal pronouns in v.8. They have failed miserably in heeding the warnings and admonitions of Deut. 8:14-20.
Hosea 12:9 NKJV – “But I am the LORD your God, Ever since the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, As in the days of the appointed feast.
make you dwell in tents… Just as the Israelites dwelt in tents during the wilderness wanderings and were to dwell in them during the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:40-44, Neh. 8:13-17), so they will dwell in them again in Assyria.
Hosea 12:10 NKJV – I have also spoken by the prophets, and have multiplied visions; I have given symbols through the witness of the prophets.”
God has done all possible to get these people to repent. He sent them prophets, He did not withhold from them but rather multiplied visions so the prophets had no lack of confidence in communicating God’s Word to the people. He instructed the prophets to use symbols or parables to help them understand (cf. Hos. 1:2-5, 4:16, 7:8, 16, 8:8-9). Ignorance is inexcusable. It is not that God’s Word is not available to them but rather that they have rejected it! (Hos. 4:6)
Hosea 12:11 NKJV – Though Gilead has idols–Surely they are vanity–Though they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal, indeed their altars shall be heaps in the furrows of the field.
their altars shall be heaps… It may be that they build and decorate elaborate altars to their idols and they offer sacrifices upon them, yet the vanity of them will be demonstrated in that when they are taken into Assyrian captivity. The altars will be abandoned and be nothing more than a heap of rocks similar to those that a farmer would make when clearing his field.
Hosea 12:12-13 NKJV – Jacob fled to the country of Syria; Israel served for a spouse, and for a wife he tended sheep. (13) By a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet he was preserved.
Israel served… Just as Jacob labored hard and long for his wife (wives?), so also the Lord worked diligently for His spouse by bringing her out of captivity in Egypt by the prophet Moses and protecting and providing for her (cf. Hos. chs. 1-3). Realizing this, the people should be faithful, but they committed spiritual harlotry.
Hosea 12:14 NKJV – Ephraim provoked Him to anger most bitterly; Therefore his Lord will leave the guilt of his bloodshed upon him, and return his reproach upon him.
provoked Him to anger most bitterly… In spite of all that God has done for Israel, they have still rejected Him and provoked Him to execute judgment upon them.
return his reproach upon him… Whereas their reproach was once rolled away (cf. Gilgal, Hos. 12:11 4:15, 9:15, Deut. 5:9), now it is returned upon them.