My advanced Hebrew Reading class is currently working on Hosea's powerful prophetic poem of the love of God for wayward Israel in Hosea 11, with all its text-critical problems. Once again, I've been puzzling over the Hebrew problems in Hosea 11:5, where the MT literally reads, "They [i.e., Israel] shall not return to Egypt land."
With the exception of the NASB, almost all modern translations reject the traditional Hebrew and render the text the opposite way: "They shall return to Egypt" (e.g., see the NRSV). This makes the verse fit better with the rest of Hosea, where the prophet does forsee a new slavery in the land of the exodus (e.g., see later in this very passage, Hosea 11:11). However, to get this reading, one has to either produce a rather strained translation (NIV, NJPS; cf. NJB) or one has to move the negative word לא ("not") up to the end of v. 4 and change it to the similar sounding word לו ("to him") (NRSV, NAB, NLT). The idea behind the latter move would be to make the word into the object of the verb "feed" at the end of v. 4. Elsewhere in Bible, this verb takes direct objects, not indirect objects marked with ל, so this solution feels quite problematic to me.
I am left wondering whether we can make sense of the MT as it stands, with the לא in place as it is. Whatever meaning we suggest, it should preserve the poetic wordplay between the first and last cola of v. 11: They will not turn/return... For, they have refused to turn/return to me [God]. The poetry seems to want to suggest a punishment in the first colon that has a fitting correspondence to the crime in the final colon of the verse. Here is my question, then: Is there a sense in which God might block a conscious and wilfull attempt by the people to turn to Egypt, as a reaction to their refusal to turn to God?
Indeed, the people do display a shocking will to turn to Egypt in their need. God actually anticipates this crazy idea of Israel in places such as Exodus 13:17 and Deuteronomy 17:16. God stresses God's fervent oppostion to the idea: "You must never go back that way again" (Deut 17:16 NJB, cf. NLT). Also, we know of the same abortive will of Israel to turn to Egypt for aid from texts such as Hosea 7:11; 12:1; and 2 Kgs 17:4. Hence, perhaps our text should have some such meaning as the following: They [Israel] shall not be allowed to succeed in their abortive turn to Egypt for aid, ..., for they have refused to turn to me [God], the true source of their aid.
This is a preliminary suggestion, of course. Comments or critiques are welcome...