Hosea 11:8 reads, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (NKJV). I would like to give you a brief summary of this chapter to help you understand this verse, but before I do I will answer your first question. In short, Ephraim was the second son of Joseph (Manasseh was the first) who was later blessed by Jacob when he was dying and given the portion of the firstborn son (see Genesis chapter 48). When the twelve tribes of Jacob possessed the land of Canaan both sons were given an inheritance but Ephraim had the greater portion. Because of the greatness of Ephraim and his descendants, his name is often used interchangeably with Israel, and that is the case in Hosea chapter 11. So, when we read “Ephraim,” the whole nation of “Israel” is in view.

Verses 1-4: “When Israel was a child, I love him, and out of Egypt I called My son. As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” In these verses we have God, as a loving and gentle father, calling Israel/Ephraim out of Egypt yet instead of responding with gratitude and love, they rebelled against Him and worshipped idols.

Verses 5-7: “He shall not return to the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent. And the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them. Because of their own counsels. My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him.” We know that Israel, in their rebellion in the wilderness, desired to return to Egypt. One example of this is in Numbers 11:4-6, “So the children of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.” Israel REMEMBERED the good food they ate in Israel and despised God’s provision of manna, but they somehow FORGOT the bondage they were in as slaves to Pharaoh. Because of their constant murmurings and complaints, along with their idolatry, God determined NOT to send them back to Egypt, but to allow them to be taken captive to Assyria after being nearly completely destroyed by Assyria’s armies.

Verses 8-9: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboim? My heart churns within Me, My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror.” God’s grief over and love for Ephraim/Israel is seen clearly in this passage. Because He loves them He would have compassion on them and NOT completely destroy them as He did to Adman and Zeboim when He rained fire and brimstone down upon the cities of the plain. We read of this in Deuteronomy 29:23, “The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, ADMAN and ZEBOIM, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and wrath.”

Verse 10-11: “They shall walk after the LORD. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt, like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses, says the LORD.” These verses look on to a day yet future when Israel will be restored to the land. They will come with humbled hearts and be blessed!

I could end this meditation here but I want to point out two more things. First of all, verse 12 is actually part of the next chapter in the Hebrew Bible for it fits in perfectly with the context of chapter 12.  And secondly, though verse 1 of our chapter speaks literally of God calling Israel out of Egypt, yet Hosea was also inspired to write a “Messianic prophecy.” In Matthew chapter 2 we read of Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to Egypt when Herod was seeking “the young child to destroy Him” (verse 13). Verse 15 informs us that they were there “until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.” How can Hosea 11:1 be speaking of both Israel and Christ? Ah, because Israel was known as God’s “firstborn son” (see Exodus 4:22-23) and Christ is God’s “only begotten Son” (see John 3:16; 1st John 4:9-10). Both “sons” were “called out of Egypt.”  (359.1)  (DO)