God’s relationship with the nation of Israel was based on his personal relationship with Abraham and his descendants. The name Israel was given to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, when Jacob prevailed in a wrestling match with God. Jacob was told, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Jacob’s power was essentially an ability to overcome or not give up. One interpretation of the name Israel is “he struggles with God” (note on Hosea 12:4). Jacob’s personality could be seen in the nation that bore his name when Israel relied on its own self-sufficiency to deal with the oppressive Assyrian empire. Like Jacob, the nation of Israel thought it could outwit the king of Assyria, but Hosea declared, “the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return” (Hosea 11:5).
Initially, Jacob’s family went to live in Egypt because of a widespread famine that depleted the food supply in Canaan (Genesis 41:57). While they were living in Egypt, the people of the children of Israel increased in numbers and became stronger than the Egyptians, so they were made slaves and were afflicted by Pharaoh. “But the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1:12).
Israel’s ability to handle affliction was in a sense what made it both great and stubborn at the same time. Describing Israel’s sin against God, Hosea declared, “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints” (Hosea 11:12).
Ephraim, the recipient of Jacob’s blessing, was described as a liar and a cheat in keeping with the character of Jacob, who stole his brother’s birthright (Genesis 25:31) and lied to his father to obtain his blessing (Genesis 27:19). Hosea went on to say, “Ephraim feedeth on the wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians” (Hosea 12:1).
One way to look at Hosea’s condemning remarks was that Israel’s trouble was all Ephraim’s fault. Jacob’s grandson had become just like him and Ephraim was the instigator of his nation’s decline. The cause of the decline was Ephraim’s self-sufficiency and pride. Hosea stated, “And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin” (Hosea 12:8).