So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on record. Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him, but he is a child without wisdom; when the time arrives, he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb. I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? “I will have no compassion, even though he thrives among his brothers. An east wind from the Lord will come, blowing in from the desert; his spring will fail and his well dry up. His storehouse will be plundered of all its treasures. The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” – Hosea 13:11-16 NIV
This passage begins with a reminder that the people of Israel asked for a king to replace God and God relented and gave them an earthly king. Ultimately earthly kings will fail “Ephraim”. I had to circle back and relearn who Ephraim was so that I could better understand why God refers to him here. Back in Jeremiah 31:7-14 Ephraim is referred to as “my firstborn son” and God described caring for this remnant of the people of Israel with new wine after a difficult road.
Ephraim in Hebrew apparently means “fruitful”. It also refers to a geographic region north of Jerusalem and the second son of Joseph, whose decedents compromise one of the twelve tribes of Israel. I think it is being used here as a proxy for all the people of Israel. God is not happy with his “child” and says “The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on record. Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him, but he is a child without wisdom” – ouch. The people of Israel have changed from “fruitful” to a “child without wisdom”.
The language then turns prophetic as Ephraim (Israel), at some future time, will apparently be caught sleeping, “when the time arrives, he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb”. It sounds like Israel will be given an opportunity for rebirth, but will decide to “remain in the womb”. This sounds like a “reflection of Him” to me – the coming of the promised Messiah. God will “deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death”. Jesus certainly did, and still does, both of these things for all of those who choose to be children of God by having the sense to “get out of the womb”.
I think “the womb” is a metaphor for the comfortable coffin our souls inhabit here on Earth which can become permanent unless we leave it and accept the rebirth God has promised here. The passage continues with more interesting prophetic language, “An east wind from the Lord will come, blowing in from the desert”. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus, after spending time in the wilderness, “blew in from the desert” to begin His ministry of rebirth and redemption. Once again I am blown away by the hidden wells here in the old testament.
Ephraim will fail this “Meribah test” and as a result “his spring will fail and his well dry up.” Springs and wells are what Ephraim was relying on rather than God, the great cistern. God is describing a time when the “water supply” of the people of Israel will be replaced with something better, but they will not have the wisdom to see it and they will “remain in the womb”.
Prayer: God help us to have the sense to leave the womb so that we can have rebirth in You.