Investigating the possible meanings of “this their derision in the land of Egypt” in Hosea 7:16

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.

Israel was guilty of relying on foreign powers instead of YHWH for her rescue and security. And in Hosea 7 God rebukes Israel for such unfaithfulness. As the final clause of the reproof, Hosea says, ז֥וֹ לַעְגָּ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם (“This is their derision in the land of Egypt”). This brief paper will investigate the meaning and possible interpretations of this phrase.

Of primary significance in this discussion are three issues: (1) What is the referent or use of מִצְרַיִם (Egypt)? (2) The meaning of לַעַג in this particular use. And (3) the antecedent of זוֹ (this); what is Israel’s לַעַג in the land of Egypt? First, as noted in a previous exegetical paper, מִצְרַיִם (Egypt) is often used to refer to Assyria. As stated in that paper, “Hosea uses Egypt as a redemptive-historical paradigm for God’s dealing with and relationship to Israel.” So, just as Israel spent time in captivity in Egypt, Israel would be captive in Assyria. This is a sarcastic reversal of the Exodus motif found throughout Hosea (cf. 8:13; 9:3; 11:5) (Dearman, 215). As McComiskey (117) states,

“The use of Egypt to depict the impending Assyrian captivity is part of the larger philosophy of history that permeates the thought of many Old Testament writers. To them history could and would be repeated [cf. Deut 28:68]. … Hosea makes use of this motif in several places in his prophecy, for to him Egypt stands for the place of captivity.”

However, Garrett (175) interprets Egypt as a metonymy of all surrounding gentile powers, seemingly missing the typological use of מִצְרַיִם here. Likewise, Stuart (124) and Wolff (128) see Egypt, a former political ally (v.11), as the agent mocking Israel who has gone into captivity elsewhere (presumably Assyria). However, typological ‘Egypt’ is better understood as designating the location (cf. בְּאֶ֥רֶץ with a locative בְּ) of Israel’s captivity which results in her mocking. This verse does not refer to Egypt as the agent of the mocking (contra. NLT, Garrett, Wolff, Stuart), however true that may have been. Second—the meaning of לַעַג. לַעַג is used seven times in the Hebrew Bible. In Ps 44:13-16 and 79:4 (cf. Ps 123:4) לַעַג is used to refer to mocking or taunting. The people themselves have become a לַעַג, meaning that their situation, their very existence, became a joke. To use an illustration, the idea would be something much like how the Detroit Lions became the “joke of the NFL” in the 2008-2009 season with their 0-16 record, except much less trivial. In Job 34:7, “Like our expression ‘water off a duck’s back,’ so he [Job] ‘drinks scorn [לַעַג] like water’ (cf. 15:16), that is, he is impermeable to criticism” (Alden, Job, 333). In sum, as Deut 28:37 predicted, Israel “shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (ESV). Third—the antecedent of זוֹ (this). Stuart (124) states, “‘This’ (זוֹ) refers to the events predicted in the entire verse, not simply the death of the officials” (v.16). Likewise, McComiskey interprets the cause of their derision (זוֹ) as Israel’s impending doom. “The collapse of the nation will be a source of taunting on the part of their captors” (117). This seems to be the most natural understanding.

In conclusion, ז֥וֹ לַעְגָּ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם is best understood as referring to the mocking and taunting of which Israel would be the brunt due to her exile in Assyria. First, מִצְרַיִם (Egypt) is used as a prophetic paradigm of future captivity in Assyria. Second, לַעַג expresses the ridicule Israel will experience. And third, ז֥וֹ refers to the cause of this ridicule, presumably her impending judgment, captivity in Assyria.