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Hosea 10:11

Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.

What do Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob represent?

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Hosea is writing at the time when Israel & Judah are separate kingdoms; their descent from Jacob is what they have in common. In the previous verses Hosea has referenced several other contemporary kingdoms.

The kingdom of Judah--aka the southern kingdom--was called "Judah" because the tribe of Judah was its dominant tribe. The kingdom of Israel--aka the northern kingdom--is also sometimes called "Ephraim", because Ephraim was its dominant tribe. This is the sense in which "Ephraim" is used in, for example, Isaiah 7:1-9.

(whether Ephraim is the dominant tribe because of numeric superiority or because of birthright is up for debate)

Based upon the previous few verses and the similar statements by Isaiah, I conclude that Ephraim & Judah are references to the northern & southern kingdoms, respectively, and Hosea is making metaphors about each, just as he did with respect to Samaria in verse 7.

Jacob their ancestor is the common ground for both kingdoms and seen as the source of their covenants as a people.

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Hos 10 contains a series of overlapping metaphors in a prophecy about the northern kingdom of Israel:

  • V1 - Israel was a luxuriant vine
  • V4 - So judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of a field
  • V5 - The people of Samaria will fear for the calf of Beth-aven. [Beth-aven  means house of wickedness . This is a derogatory term for Bethel (center of false worship in Israel), which means house of God ; see 1 Kings 12:28–29.
  • V7 - Samaria will be carried off with her king like a twig on the surface of the water
  • V11 - Ephraim is a well-trained heifer that loves to thresh; but I will place a yoke on her fair neck.

This double metaphor of the yoked heifer appears as a metaphor of what is said in the previous verse 10: "I will chasten them ... put them in bondage for their double transgression".

This is consistent with the thrust of the whole chapter of God's punishment inflicted by approaching doom. It is summarizes in V13 -

You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your mighty men,

The metaphor of the yoke heifer is extended to add insult to injury:

  • I will harness Ephraim, Judah will plow, and Jacob will break the hard ground.

This appears to predict (correctly) that the southern kingdom of Judah would outlast the northern kingdom of Israel (it did by about 200 years) and thus, Judah (and Jacob) would drive the yoked heifer and "break the hard ground". This latter metaphor is explained in the following V12:

Sow for yourselves righteousness and reap the fruit of loving devotion; break up your unplowed ground. For it is time to seek the LORD until He comes and sends righteousness upon you like rain.

This is precisely what the northern kingdom of Israel failed to do but the southern kingdom of Judah did (at least initially).

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