Bible Question:

Last evening in a Bible study group the question came up about the translation of Hosea 11:12. Some translations indicated that Judah was unruly against God. Other translations indicated that Judah “still walks” with God and is faithful. We understand that Hosea wrote this book at the decline of Israel - just before its fall. But why the discrepancy regarding Judah's faithfulness? We know that the Southern kingdom fell shortly after Israel. And Judah too was following idolatry and immorality. So we don't understand the extreme differences in translations. Can you shed some light on this?

Bible Answer:

The translations of Hosea 11:12 can vary widely.  Any time the wording of two or more translations significantly disagree, that is a clue that there is a problem understanding the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. In this case, there is uncertainty in the meaning of a Hebrew word. Sometimes the order or grouping of the words might be confusing. Hosea 11:12 is one of those passages. It is a difficult passage to translate.

Different Translations Disagree

Therefore, various translations read significantly differently. We will start with the New International Version (NIV).

Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
Israel with deceit.
And Judah is unruly against God,
even against the faithful Holy One. Hosea 11:12 (NIV)

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads as follows,

Ephraim surrounds Me with lies
And the house of Israel with deceit;
Judah is also unruly against God,
Even against the Holy One who is faithful. Hosea 11:12 (NASB)

Both the NIV and NASB are very close in their translation of the Hebrew text. Most translations agree with the NIV and NASB, but the KJV and ESV disagree significantly and imply that Judah is faithful to God and is opposed to the Holy One.

Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints. Hosea 11:12 (KJV)

Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
and is faithful to the Holy One. Hosea 11:12 (ESV)

Reason For The Disagreement 

The Tanakh, a Jewish translation of the Old Testament scriptures, has a footnote that states that the, “Meaning of Heb. [is] uncertain.”[1] That is, the meaning of the last half of the verse is uncertain.[2] The reason for the differences in translation is due to uncertainty in the meaning of the Hebrew word rudwhich is translated as “unruly” in the NASB and “ruleth” in the KJV. This Hebrew word, rud, occurs four times in the Old Testament (Genesis 27:40; Psalm 55:2; Jeremiah 2:31 and Hosea 11:12). The Hebrew word is translated three different ways: restless, roam and unruly in the NASB. The KJV translates the word four different ways: have, mourn, lords and ruleth. The KJV is inconsistent in its translation of rud.

Therefore, the interpretation of this passage hinges on the meaning of the Hebrew word, rud. Keil and Delitzsch, noted biblical Hebrew scholars, have demonstrated strong evidence that rud means “ramble.”[3] Harris, Archer and Waltke state that rud means “to wander restlessly, roam, or stray.”[4] It can also mean “freely move around, and be homeless.” But strong support does not exist that the KJV captured the correct meaning.

Correct Translation 

The correct understanding of the last half of the passage is Judah is wandering, restless, roaming or straying with respect to God. They were inconsistent in their devotion to God. They worshipped other gods and the true God, but Yahweh was faithful. Here is a more literal translation of the verse,

Ephraim surrounds Me with lies
And the house of Israel with deceit;
Judah is again wandering against God,
Even against the Holy One who is faithful. Hosea 11:12 (NASB)


The passage is a sad one. Ephraim or Israel and Judah were wandering in their relationship with God. The Old Testament books of Kings, Chronicles and the major and minor prophets reveal that Judah were not faithful to Yahweh. King Solomon is an example of what they did.

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. 1 Kings 11:5-6 (NASB)

We are like Judah. We ignore the One who has always been there for us. God is the One who loves us more than our children, parents, or spouse. We ignore Him and attempt to live without Him. But He is not far from us. He can be found in the pages of the Bible and in our life experiences. Praise the Lord.



  1. Tanakh. The Holy Scriptures. The Jewish Publication Society. 1985. p. 1000.
  2. Duane Garrett. Hosea, Joel. The New American Commentary. B&H Publishing. 1997. vol. 19A. pp. 230-231.
  3. Keil and Delitzch. Commentary on the Old Testament. Hendrickson Publishing. 2006. vol 10. pp. 94-95.
  4.  R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.Moody Press, 1999, p 835.