Tracing the Theme of “Egypt” in Hosea

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.

Egypt is mentioned 13 times in the book of Hosea (2:17 [2:15]; 7:11, 16; 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:1, 5, 11; 12:1, 10 [9], 14 [13]; 13:4), significantly more than any other prophetic book (Stuart, 17). This speaks to the importance of this theme within the book. Therefore, the interpreter does well to understand Hosea’s broader theology of Egypt while engaging particular “Egypt” references and allusions throughout the book.

In 2:17, YHWH speaks of a renewal of His relationship with Israel compared with their relationship at the glorious time of the Exodus. In 7:11 Hosea speaks of Israel’s leadership’s senseless, habitual behavior of fluttering between two foreign allies, Egypt and Assyria (see 2 Kgs 15:29; 16:5; 17:3-6) (McComiskey, 111). A handful of verses later, in 7:16, Hosea uses the previous time of Israel’s captivity in Egypt to depict her future captivity (presumably in Assyria; cf. 11:11). Hosea makes a similar redemptive-historical connection in 8:13, where he speaks of Israel “returning to Egypt.” He uses Israel’s captivity in Egypt as a prophetic paradigm (cf. Deut 28:68) for understanding her future captivity. Hosea does this again in 9:3, except this time he parallels Assyria—the actual location of Israel’s future exile—with Egypt—the redemptive-historical type. 9:6 depicts a reversal of salvation history. Israelites will flee to Egypt to escape destruction; but, instead of finding refuge, they will find their graves. In 11:1 Hosea recalls the days of Israel’s “youth” during which he was led out of Egypt in the Exodus. In 11:5 God reveals to the readers what they have come to suspect. Israel would not actually go to exile in Egypt (type), but in Assyria (antitype). Nonetheless, by equating Assyria with Egypt in 11:11, Hosea anticipates the return from Assyria as a new Exodus. Like one who tries to control the wind (Garrett, 235), Israel tries to control her fate by making treaties with Assyria and Egypt in 12:1 (2 Kgs 17:1-6). 12:10 associates YHWH with the events of the Exodus. YHWH is still the God of the Exodus (McComiskey, 206). 12:14 alludes to God’s use of Moses, a prophet, to lead the people out of Egypt. Finally, in 13:4 God again describes Himself as the God of the Exodus. It was in the Egyptian wilderness that God revealed Himself to Moses. It was in God’s saving acts in Egypt that He initially made Himself known to Israel.

After surveying this data, a few conclusions can be made. Note, Assyria is mentioned 9 times in the book. But, interestingly, all but three of these incidences occur parallel to Egypt (Stuart, 17). What this suggests, along with the use of “Egypt” throughout the book, is that Egypt serves as a metonymy for foreign captivity, namely in Assyria. Hosea is likely building on such usage of Egypt as found in Deut 28:68. In other words, Egypt can have a negative function, to serve as a model of Israel’s future captivity in Assyria. Nonetheless, in God’s past dealings with his people in Egypt, captivity led to redemption. Hence, Egypt also serves a positive function in Hosea, to reflect upon God’s saving activity in the Exodus. For Hosea, Egypt also signifies a pivotal moment in YHWH’s relationship with Israel. YHWH is the God “from Egypt.” It was there that He first revealed Himself to Israel. This moment in Israel’s history is painted as the epitome of YHWH’s relationship with Israel. In summary, Hosea uses Egypt as a redemptive-historical paradigm for God’s dealing with and relationship to Israel. For Hosea, history does not simply repeat itself. Redemptive history serves as the interpretive key for understanding God’s future dealings with His people.