Egypt in Hosea

One of the interesting features of Hosea is the role(s) that Egypt plays in the text. The word “Egypt” shows up 13 times in Hosea (2.02 occurrences per 1000 words). That’s the highest concentration of occurrences of any book in the whole Bible outside of Exodus (3.45/1000 words), unless we divide Isaiah into the customary first and second parts. In that case, although my old version of accordance won’t tell me, I imagine First Isaiah’s concentration would be higher—31 of Isaiah’s 34 references to Egypt are in chapters 1-39. The similarity is no surprise, of course, because the historical situation of Isaiah 1-39 is contemporary to Hosea.

Hosea is steeped in the exodus tradition, so that he sees the departure from Egypt and the time in the wilderness as formative for Israel’s special relationship with God. But Hosea is also writing during a time when Egypt is appealing as an ally against the Assyrians. So he writes about Israel being called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1) by YHWH, and also about their “return” to Egypt. Egypt is a world power that offers an alternative security to that offered by YHWH, and Hosea sees reliance on any such power as a road to ruin—indeed, a return to slavery. That means that Hosea is able to play off the exodus tradition, suggesting that Israel’s flirtation with other powers will reverse the situation of the Exodus.  This is just another layer of the whole reversal position of Hosea—their current actions threaten a reversal of the entire covenant, though the Lord will eventually again reverse this judgment and restore them again. Hosea thus imagines a new exodus, this time from Egypt and Assyria (Hosea 11:11).

This is an interesting take on a theme present within many of the biblical narratives—Israel’s morbid obsession with forms of power that threaten and oppress them. (Egypt, Assyria, monarchy) Even post-exodus, Egypt has a strange allure. What once enslaved Israel calls her back, promising her relief from her current troubles.

This is, of course, a recurring theme not just with Israel, but humanity. Alcoholics, the greedy, the gluttonous, addicts of all flavors and the rest of us all have our Egypts, and when we find ourselves under pressure, they can sing a sweet, sweet song. Ultimately it is a song of death.