Verses 1–6

In these verses,

I. Ephraim is convicted of folly, in staying himself upon Egypt and Assyria, when he was in straits (Hos. 12:1): Ephraim feeds on wind, that is, feeds himself with vain hopes of assistance from man, when he is at variance with God; and, when he meets with disappointments, he still pursues the same game, and greedily pants and follows after the east wind, which he cannot catch holy of, nor, if he could, would it be nourishing, nay, would be noxious. We say of the wind in the east, It is good neither for man nor beast. It was said (Hos. 8:7), He sows the wind; and as he sows so he reaps (He reaps the whirlwind); and as he reaps so he feeds—He feeds on the wind, the east wind. Note, Those that make creatures their confidence make fools of themselves, and take a great deal of pains to put a cheat upon their own souls and to prepare vexation for themselves: He daily increaseth lies, that is, multiplies his correspondences and leagues with his neighbours, which will all prove deceitful to him; nay, they will prove desolation to him. Those very nations that he makes his refuge will prove his ruin. Those that stay themselves upon lies will be still coveting to increase them, that they may build their hopes firmly upon them; as if many lies twisted together would make one truth, or many broken reeds and rotten supports one sound one, which is a great delusion and will prove to them a great desolation; for those that observe lying vanities the more they increase them the more disappointments they prepare for themselves and the further they run from their own mercies. The men of Ephraim did so when they thought to secure the Assyrians in their interests by a solemn league, signed, sealed, and sworn to: They make a covenant with the Assyrians, but they will find there is no hold of them; that potent prince will be a slave to his word no longer than he pleases. They thought to secure the Egyptians for their confederates by a rich present of the commodities of their country, not only to purchase their favour, but to show that their friendship was worth having: Oil is carried into Egypt. But the Egyptians, when they had got the bribe, dropped the cause, and Ephraim was never the better for them. Oleum perdidit et operam—The oil and the labour are both lost. This was feeding on wind; this was increasing lies and desolation.

II. Judah is contended with too, and Jacob, which includes both Ephraim and Judah (Hos. 12:2): The Lord has also a controversy with Judah; for though he had a while ago ruled with God, and been faithful with the saints, yet now he begins to degenerate. Or though, in keeping close to the house of David and the house of Aaron, and in them to the covenants of royalty and priesthood, they were so far in the right, in the former they ruled with God and in the latter were faithful to the saints, yet upon other accounts God had a controversy with them, and would punish them. Note, Men’s being in the right in some things, in the main things, will not exempt them from correction, and therefore should not exempt them from reproof, for those things wherein they are in the wrong. There were those of the seven churches of Asia whom Christ approved and commended, and yet he adds, Nevertheless I have something against thee. So here; though the seed of Jacob are a people near to God, yet God will punish them according to the evil ways they are found in and the evil doings they are found guilty of; for God sees sin even in his own people, and will reckon with them for it.

III. Both Ephraim and Judah are put in mind of their father Jacob, whose seed they were and whose name they bore (and it was their honour), of the extraordinary things which he did and which God did for him, that they might be the more ashamed of themselves for degenerating from so illustrious a progenitor and staining the lustre of so great a name, and yet that they might be engaged and encouraged to return to God, the God of their father Jacob, in hopes for his sake to find favour with him. He had called this people Jacob (Hos. 12:2), threatening to punish them; but how shall I give them up? How shall that dear name be forgotten?

1. Three glorious things concerning Jacob the person Jacob the people are here put in mind of; but by brief hints only, for it is presumed that they knew the story:—(1.) His struggling with Esau in the womb: There he took his brother by the heel, Hos. 12:3. We have the story Gen. 25:26. It was an early act of bravery, and an effort for the best precedency, a pious ambition for that birthright in the covenant which Esau is justly branded as profane for despising. But his degenerate seed, by mingling with the nations, and making leagues with them, profaned that crown, and laid that honour in the dust, which he so gloriously put in for. Then it was that the dominion was given to him: The elder shall serve the younger. Then he was owned of God as his beloved: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. But they had by their sin forfeited both the love of God and dominion over their neighbours. (2.) His wrestling with the angel. “Remember how your father Jacob had power with God by his own strength, the strength he had by the gift of God, who pleaded not against him by his great power, but put strength into him,” Job 22:6. The angel he wrestled with is called God, and therefore is supposed to be the Son of God, the angel of the covenant. “God was both a combatant with Jacob and an assistant of him, showing, in the latter respect, greater strength than in the former, fighting as it were against him with his left hand and for him with his right, and to that putting greater force.” So, Dr. Pocock. The providence of God fought against him when he met with one danger after another, in his return homewards; but the grace of God enabled him to go on cheerfully in his way, and, when his faith acted upon the divine promise that was for him prevailed above his fears that arose from the divine providences that wee against him, then by his strength he had power with God. But it refers especially to his prayer for deliverance from Esau, and for a blessing: He had power over the angel and prevailed, for he wept and made supplication. Here was a mixture of the greatest courage and the greatest tenderness, Jacob wrestling like a champion and yet weeping like a child. Note, Prayers and tears are the weapons with which the saints have obtained the most glorious victories. Thus Jacob commenced Israel—a prince with God; his posterity was called Israel, but they were unworthy the name, for they had forfeited and lost their communion with God, and their interest in him, by revolting from their duty to him. (3.) His meeting with God at Bethel: God found him in Bethel, and there he spoke with us. God found him the first time in Bethel, as he went to Padanaram (Gen. 28:10), and a second time after his return, Gen. 35:9 It is probable that this refers to both; for in both God spoke to Jacob, and renewed the covenant with him, and the prophet might very well say, There he spoke with us who are the seed of Jacob, for both times that God spoke with Jacob at Bethel he spoke with him concerning his seed. Gen. 28:14; Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and Gen. 35:12; This land I will give unto thy seed. Thus God then covenanted with him and his seed after him. Now justly are they upbraided with this; for in that very place which their father Jacob called Bethel—the house of God, in remembrance of the communion he there had with God, did they set up one of the calves, and worship it; thus they turned that Bethel into a Beth-aven—a house of iniquity. There God spoke with them exceedingly great and precious promises, which they had despised and lost the benefit of.

2. Two inferences are here drawn from these stories concerning Jacob, for instruction to his seed:—

(1.) Here is a use of information. From what passed between God and Jacob we may learn that Jehovah, the Lord God of hosts, is the God of Israel; he was the God of Jacob, and this is his memorial throughout all the generations of the seed of Jacob (Hos. 12:5)-- the more shame for those who forgot the memorial of their church, deserted the God of their fathers, and exchanged a Lord of hosts for Baalim. Note, Those only are accounted the people of God that keep up a memorial of God, such a memorial of him as he himself has instituted, by which he makes himself known and will have us to remember him. Here are two memorials of his, by which he is distinguished from all others, and is to be acknowledged and adored by us. [1.] The former denotes his existence of himself. He is Jehovah, much the same with I AM, the same that was, and is, and is to come, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Jehovah is his memorial, his peculiar name. [2.] The latter denotes his dominion over all: He is the God of hosts, that has all the hosts of heaven and earth at his beck and command, and makes what use he pleases of them. Jacob saw Mahanaim—God’s two hosts, about the time that he wrestled with the angel (Gen. 32:1, 2), and so learned to call God the God of hosts, and transmitted it to us as his memorial. God’s names, titles, and attributes, are the memorials of him; there is no need for images to be such. And that which was a revelation of God to one is his memorial to many, to all generations.

(2.) Here is a use of exhortation, Hos. 12:6. “Isa. this so, that Jacob thy father had this communion with the Lord God of hosts, and is this still his memorial?” Then, [1.] Let those that have gone astray from God be converted to him: Therefore turn thou to thy God. He that was the God of Jacob is the God of Israel, is thy God; from him thou hast unjustly and unkindly revolted; therefore turn thou to him by repentance and faith, turn to him as thine, to love him, obey him, and depend upon him. [2.] Let those that are converted to him walk with him in all holy conversation and godliness: “Keep mercy and judgment, mercy in relieving and succouring the poor and distressed, judgment in rendering to all their due; be kind to all; do wrong to none. Keep piety and judgment” (so it may be read); “live righteously and godly in this present world; be devout and be honest. Do not only practise these occasionally, but be careful, and constant, and conscientious in the practice of them.” [3.] Let those that walk with God be encouraged to live a life of dependence upon him: “Wait on thy God continually, with a believing expectation to receive from him all the succours and supplies thou standest in need of.” Those that live a life of conformity to God may live a life of confidence and comfort in him, if it be not their own fault. Let our eyes be ever towards the Lord, and let us preserve a holy security and serenity of mind under the protection of the divine power and the influence of the divine favour, looking, without anxiety, for a dubious event, and by faith keeping our spirits sedate and even; this is waiting on God as our God in covenant, and this we must do continually.