What does Hosea mean when he says “out of Egypt I called my son” in Hosea 11:1?
In Hosea 11:1, we read these words:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (Hosea 11:1).
There’s no doubt that the incident in the prophet’s mind here is the exodus from the land of Egypt. At the time of the exodus, God called Israel his son in Exodus 4:22. This is not the first time Hosea mentions the exodus event in the book of Hosea. He refers to the exodus in 2:15, where he says that Israel’s return from the exile, her restoration and repentance to the Lord, would be like a new exodus, similar to the exodus from the land of Egypt. So, the theme of exodus from the land of Egypt becomes a type of God’s redemptive works in the people’s history. The prophet portrays the return from the exile as a new exodus, and thus sin and abandoning the Lord is portrayed by the prophet as going back to the land of Egypt. In Hosea 7:11, for example, this theme is asserted when he says that the people are turning to the land of Egypt, and in 7:16, that they will be mocked and derided in the land of Egypt. Also in 8:13, he affirms that the people of Israel will return back to the land of Egypt, and in 9:3, 6, we see the same idea.
Therefore, in 11:1, the event in Hosea’s mind is the exodus from Egypt, but he uses it as a type and picture for an event that will take place again, because the people will “return to the land of Egypt,” indicating that they have left the Lord and rebelled against his kingship, because they asked for protection from Egypt. In 11:5, the prophet clearly says that they will go back to Egypt. This verse is translated in some versions in a negative form: “They shall not return to the land of Egypt.” However, the precise translation is in the affirmative, that they will return to the land of Egypt. We know this because in the same chapter, in 11:11, the prophet says of the people that, “They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt.” In order for them to come trembling from Egypt — to exodus from Egypt — they had to first return back to Egypt. Thus, the theme of exodus and the return to Egypt, and returning from Egypt, indicates leaving the Lord, but also indicates the redemptive work of God, that he will restore once again and deliver once again his people from the land of Egypt. This is what the prophet meant in Hosea 11:1 when God said, “out of Egypt I called my son.” He was referring to the exodus in Moses’s days, but he also was expecting a new exodus that would take place in the midst of the people, when they would return to the Lord from the exile.