Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.
The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV
Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.
Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.
And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV
Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.
“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV
It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.
When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.