There is No Other, part 3 (Hosea 13:12-16)

Thank you for joining me this morning in the book of Hosea.  Sadly, this book written to the northern kingdom of Israel, records the continuing rebellion of Israel and their determined judgment.  Yahweh had redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and taken them as a bride to himself.  He had cared for them, providing for them and protecting them.  They showed such promise in the beginning.  But very quickly their true colors began to show.  Even before Moses could descend from the mountain with the tablets of the law, Israel was dancing around a golden calf.  Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory and even from the beginning Israel would prove unfaithful to Yahweh, choosing to worship other gods.

Because of that, judgment was coming.  By the time Hosea is writing in chapter 13 of his prophecy, judgment was surely no more than a decade away.  Yet no one sees their destruction until it is too late, even those who are warned about it.

So, starting in Hosea 13:12 we read…

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pang of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Verses 12 and 13 give us a double picture of Israel’s complacency: first, by picturing all their unforgiven sin as a well-kept store of trouble for the future; then, by the analogy of a birth that goes terribly wrong.  Where there had been signs of early promise in Israel, it had all gone horribly wrong, like a still birth.

The first metaphor in v. 12, with the verbs for binding and keeping, or hiding, suggest how firmly and intentionally Ephraim cherishes her sinful behavior.  In the words of Jesus in John, she “loved darkness.”  She bundled it up and stored it like a precious family heirloom.

This idea of the sin of Ephraim being unforgiven (and by this point, unforgiveable), was first introduced to us back in chapter 10, verse 2, where Yahweh had proclaimed, “now they must bear their guilt.”

The worst words we could ever hear is that we must bear our own guilt.  The Father has provided His Son to bear our guilt, to take our curse upon Himself.  Yet, when we reject that sacrifice and try to satisfy God with our own righteousness, we end up bearing our own guilt.

I said a moment ago that Ephraim’s sin would be unforgiven and by this point unforgivable.

Listen to me, there will come a point when, if we continue to reject God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sin, instead trusting in our own goodness and righteousness, then we will be bound to our sin and have to bear it ourselves.

God’s wrath is against sinners.  Only those who by faith in Jesus Christ have their sin and guilt transferred to Him have any chance at forgiveness.  The reason hell is eternal torment for sins is that there is only one thing that can satisfy God’s wrath against sins and that is the death of His Son.

Like Israel, we may start out with early signs of promise, yet tragically find that it all comes to nothing.  All our righteousness is “like filthy rags” says Isaiah (64:6).  To get an idea of a modern equivalent, would you take used toilet paper, frame it, and hang it in a prominent place in your home?  Yet that is what we do with our righteousness.  “Look at me, look at how good I am (especially when compared to that guy).”

But God says, “No, the only thing that matters is my son.  He alone lived a righteous life.  Unless you rely upon His righteousness to become your righteousness you will die in your sins.”

Thomas Constable says…

Israel was like a baby that refused to come out of its mother’s womb, in the sense that it refused to leave its comfortable sin.  Despite the mother’s (God’s) strenuous efforts to bring the child into freedom, Israel refused to repent.  This was evidence that Israel was a foolish child.  She would sooner die, rather than leave her sins, apparently feeling that the proper time for repenting was not yet.

Oestreich sees in the metaphor of the unwilling baby “a strange and absurd idea.”  He goes on to give several reasons why such imagery “can be called absurd.  First, naturally the unborn son has no way of deciding whether he will be born or not… . Second, the son that does not want to be born denies his own existence” and … “the birth of a son is normally an occasion of great joy.”

Interestingly, Hezekiah, when Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against the city of Jerusalem, clothed himself in sackcloth and sent two emissaries in sackcloth to Isaiah the prophet, saying, “This day is a day of distress, or rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (2 Kings 19:3).  This is certainly a figure of speech relaying the fact that at a time when strength is needed (against the Assyrian army), none is to be found.

Hubbard remarks:

“The time of his birth—his rejection of his haughty independence and the declaration of his total commitment to Yahweh—was being strongly and regularly signaled [like a mother’s contractions] both by historic events and prophetic proclamation.  But he was not moving–a stubbornness that endangered the life of both mother and child” (Hosea, p. 232).

Hezekiah went on to suggest that maybe God had heard Rabshekah, the spokesman for Shalmaneser mocking God and that God Himself would rebuke those words.  Hezekiah was not an “unwise son” like Israel at this moment, but had wisely put His trust in Yahweh’s help.

Remember that Israel had put their trust in their own political leaders and alliances with other nations, but that was all for naught.  Their own kings were weak and the other nations had become deceptive.

So the real issue was not the strength to come to birth, but the wisdom to trust in the right strength.  The absence of wisdom was well documented in Hosea.  They were “without sense” in 7:11, engaged in practices “which take away the understanding” (4:12) and thus became “a people without understanding” (4:14).

It was in particular the inability to make the wise decision to trust God and return to him—that stands at the core of Israel’s folly.  This need for wisdom will be sounded again at the very end of Hosea’s prophecy, in the words “whoever is wise…” (14:9).

We should see some irony in this verse.  The worship of Baal in particular was an attempt to control fertility, both personally and agriculturally.  Yahweh here declares that their cult will be cut down and their hope in Baal was futile, indeed self-destructive.

Indeed, Israel is foolish.  It has chosen to ignore the fact that its accumulated and stored-up sins would surely one day come in for judgment.  Although in this very late hour there yet might be hope for divine forgiveness based upon genuine repentance and return to the Lord, God’s people nevertheless go on in their own stubborn ways.  They are like the unwise son who delayed or refused to submit to the birthing process.

So, verses 12-13 leave us with the picture that Israel would die in a still birth due to their folly.

Yet, Yahweh’s grace is never far away.  Verse 14 says…

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?

Whereas v. 13 indicates coming death, verse 14 promises coming rescue, or at least potential rescue.  I think Hubbard is right in saying that “verse 14a [is] an expression of his compassionate intent which has been frustrated by Ephraim’s foolish stubbornness” (Hosea, p. 233).  Thus, he translates these verbs, “I wanted to ransom…I wanted to redeem.”

Certainly Yahweh can rescue them even from the very precipice of death.  Rescuing beyond death will have to await the resurrection of Jesus.  The Psalms are filled with David’s expressions of confidence that Yahweh would rescue him from Sheol or death.

“This combination of sovereignty over the powers of death and the frustration at Ephraim’s failure to avail himself of this power—which failure turned his mother’s womb into his grave—lies at the heart of the divine complaint (cf. 11:1-9) and issues in the sharp commands implied in the rhetorical questions with which verse 14 closes” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 234).

The Lord asked, rhetorically, if He would buy the Israelites back out of Death’s hand.  Would He pay a price for their redemption?  No, compassion would be hidden from His sight; He would have no pity on them.  He appealed for Death (like a thorn bush) to torment the Israelites, like thorns tearing their flesh.  He called on the Grave (as a hornet) to sting them fatally.

Later in history, God would provide a ransom for His people from the power of the grave, and He redeemed them from death.  He did this when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again.  God’s future redemptive work for His people meant that death would not be the end for Israel, even though judgment in the near future was inevitable.

The Apostle Paul quoted the famous couplet in this verse in 1 Corinthians 15:55, and applied it to the resulting effect of Christ’s redemption on all of God’s people.  I love this declaration of the victory of the resurrection over death:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are words not of judgment and death, but salvation and victory—a reminder of the difference Jesus has made.

Death and the grave are not the final judgment and home of the believer, because God did provide a ransom and redeemed His people.  God has a glorious future, beyond His punishment for sin—for His own people—both for national Israel and for Christians.

In the long term, Israel will see the glory of God’s redemption and His power over sin and death.  In the near term, Israel will be chastened for their rebellion against God.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Once again (v. 15), Yahweh indicates how Israel had once showed supremacy.  He “flourishes” or “thrives” among his brothers.  You might remember that the name Ephraim means “flourishing” or “fruitful.”  In fact, Ephraim was a fertile area and, up until recently, had experienced great economic prosperity.

The imagery of Ephraim being compared to a fruit plant is in keeping with Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim’s father Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful bough near a spring whose branches climb over the wall” (Gen. 49:22).

This statement hearkens back to the promise that was once there, as we saw in verse 1 of this chapter:

1 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel.  But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.

Israel had once flourished in such a fertile setting (13:5-6).  But that greatness would soon be destroyed.  Ephraim’s wealth was vulnerable like an orchard to the east wind.

That “east wind” was Assyria, who invaded from the east and north.  Assyrians from the east were already on the move.  When that happens, all of Israel’s goods and treasures will be plundered and carried off.

Notice that this wind is also “the wind of the LORD.”  In all events, God is sovereign.  Assyria did not act or become victorious just because they decided and were stronger.  This wind blew and overcame Israel because Yahweh determined that they would.  This should be obvious from all the predictions of judgment Hosea has been leveling against Israel.

This wind of judgment “shall come,” a strong indication that what Yahweh predicted would definitely happen.

Then, in picturesque language Hosea said, “and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched.”  The figure of the “east wind” naturally fits with drying up the source of life.  Without water, one dies.

Like a sirocco, Assyria would sweep over Israel from the east and cause the nation of Israel to wither.  The Assyrians would plunder everything valuable in the land.

Then, speaking very literally, Hosea says…

it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

For years Israel had prospered, now “every precious thing” would be stripped from them.

Again, v. 16 emphasizes how Israel (in this case “Samaria” likely stands for the only part of Israel still independent), “shall bear her guilt.”  We’ve seen several times how Israel has come to the place where there is no hope of forgiveness.

I believe this is what the unpardonable sin is in the Gospels.  It is not a particular sin, or even one sin done many times, but is the sin of rejecting the provision for salvation God has given.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day attributed the works of Jesus to Satan and just proved their stubborn refusal of the grace that is found in Jesus.  In other words, the only truly unpardonable sin is just stubborn unbelief.

That is evident on ancient Israel’s part by the inclusion of the words “she has rebelled.”

In a very literal, and gruesome description, Hosea foretells that Assyria would slaughter Israel’s soldiers in battle (cf. Lev. 26:25), unmercifully execute Israel’s children (cf. Deut. 28:52-57; 32:25) and even cut open her pregnant women with their swords (cf. Hosea 10:14; 13:8; 2 Kings 15:16; Isaiah 13:16; Amos 1:13).  Thus, because of Israel’s foolishness, the child would not be born.

This gruesome form of execution killed both the mother and the unborn child, making it impossible for the coming generation to rise up eventually and rebel against the conqueror.  These were curses that the Lord warned would follow rebellion against the terms of His covenant (cf. Lev. 26:25; Deut. 28:21; 32:24-25; Amos 4:10).

Garrett concludes:

The final outcome of the fertility cult is the carnage of babies and pregnant mothers throughout the country.  The metaphor of Lady Israel and her three children, Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, has reached its denouement in a slaughter that is anything but literary and symbolic (Hosea-Joel, p. 268).

 

There is No Other, part 2 (Hosea 13:4-11)

Besides foretelling future events, one of the major roles of the prophets was to bring the people face-to-face with their sins and notify them of the judgments to come.  This has been a consistent theme in the book of Hosea as well.  Sometimes it is difficult for us to listen to passage after passage of judgments.  We get weary of it.  I’m sure Israel did too.  But like Israel, it is important for us to listen.

Here are the words of Hosea in chapter 13.  Hosea has just warned Israel that Yahweh would bring the judgment of exile against them because of their idolatries.  Then he says…

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. 9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?  Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath. 12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

This morning we will be looking at two tragic choices that Israel made (which we can also make today):  First, that Israel chose destruction over salvation.  Verses 4-8 show Israel turning away from the only Savior.  How many people do that today, rejecting Jesus as Savior, believing that they can find approval through their own good deeds.  They, too, end up destroying themselves.  Second, Israel chose human kings over the King of kings.  They relied on human strength over divine strength.  And how often do we today turn to ourselves—our own wisdom and ingenuity, our own efforts and strength, or own money to bail us out of situations we find ourselves in.  But we cannot save our marriages, our families, our jobs by turning to ourselves.

In the face of Israel flirting with the Baals, Yahweh forcefully announces

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.

Although this is not as strong a statement about God’s essence as Deuteronomy 6:4 or the commandment in Exodus 20:3, it does clearly express the exclusive relationship that Israel was to have with Yahweh, the true God, “your God.”

Instead of flirting with idols, they should realize that the One who made covenant with them, Yahweh, is “your God,” who had brought them out of Egypt.  This again is a reference to the Exodus as the courtship and marriage time between God and Israel (cf. vv. 5; 2:14; 9:10; 12:9).

Hosea has consistently accused Israel of lacking knowledge.  In other words, of having no relational knowledge of God.  Oh, they knew who God was, but they did not know him as their God.  Forgetting God is not a lapse of memory, but active betrayal.

But, in contrast, they should have known “no God but me.”  This is almost a direct phrase from the first commandment (Exodus 20:3; Deut. 5:7).

They should have had an exclusive, personal, intimate relationship with Yahweh.  But they did not.

He is the only Savior (Isa. 43:3,11,14; 45:15,21-22; 63:8).  He had saved them and is the only Savior of any person.

The opening words of the decalogue: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6-7).  The force of that statement is a reminder that Israel was God’s possession (cf. Exod. 19:4-6) by right of redemption.  Not only does the first commandment forbid the worship of other gods, but Israel must not even acknowledge any other so-called god. For none of these, or anything else including human undertakings, could provide deliverance for Israel. Indeed, there simply is no other Savior (Isa. 43:11).

To abandon the only Savior is to doom oneself to no salvation.  Israel had changed, but the LORD God did not.  He was still the only God and the only Savior, and His people would be left desolate when they left Him.

Not only was Israel’s fascination with foreign gods (e.g., Baal; cf. 11:7) and idolatry a sinful violation of the law and God’s person, but these contradicted the facts of Israel’s own history.

Yahweh was not only their savior from Egypt, but had lovingly and tenderly cared for them during their wilderness wanderings.  Thus, verse 5 says…

5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;

Notice again the language of deep, intimate relationship, “I knew you.”  “There was an interlocking, personal relationship between Israel and the Lord which flowed in both directions: from Israel to the Lord, and from the Lord to Israel” (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 88).

Implied is not only that Yahweh knew them, but took care of them.  The passing work of the craftsmen who make idols (Hos. 13:2) stands in vivid disparity to the God who sustained Israel in the land of drought by his devoted care.

The words “land of drought” emphasizes the hardships that Israel faced in the wilderness.  But they were never alone.  Yahweh was with them and provided for them.  He kept them alive with manna and water.  It is a way of alluding to YHWH’s supernatural provision of water during the wilderness wandering period (e.g., Exod. 15:22-26; 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13; 21:16).

Yet, verse 6 indicates, as Moses had predicted, that when Israel prospered in the land, they forgot God.

6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.

What a tragedy!  It is a strange and terrible aspect of human nature that when times are good, we often forget the God who blessed us, because we don’t need Him as much as when we are going through difficult times or times of lack.

You can see a definite downward progression in this verse: (1) they ate, and (2) became full.  That condition continued in the words (3) they were filled.  Then (4) “their heart was lifted up,” which describes an attitude of self-sufficient pride—“I did this, it was my efforts that produced this.”  The end result (5) is that “they forgot me.”  They no longer acknowledged God as the source of all their benefits.

Moses predicted that this would happen several times in the book of Deuteronomy.  For example, Deuteronomy 6:10-12:

10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Notice how similar that last part of Deut. 6:12 is to Hosea 13:4

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt

It had happened even as the Lord warned (cf. Deut. 8:10-18; 31:20). Therefore, in accordance with the warnings in the covenant God was about to punish His people (vv. 7-8; cf. Deut. 4:23-26; 8:19-20; 30:17-18).

Israel’s contentment and preoccupation with itself, which began already in the wilderness, carried on and grew progressively worse.  By Hosea’s day God’s people no longer genuinely acknowledged God (cf. Hos. 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3; 8:2-3; 11:3; 13:4; with Isa. 29:13).  As Hubbard remarks, “Self-reliance—including reliance on their self-adopted and self-sustained religion (cf. 2:13)—lay at the heart of the crime” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)

Thus, the Lord promises to be an enemy to His people.  Once again the Lord’s judgment is presented in a series of strikingly violent similes. God’s power in executing His judgment is likened to that of five wild animals: the strength of a lion, the cunning of a leopard, the wild fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs, the eagerness of a lioness, and the ferocity of a wild beast.

7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.

God has used the lion imagery before in depicting the violence of Israel’s coming judgment (Hos. 5:14-15).

He now adds the ferocity of two more animals: a lurking leopard and a bear robbed of its cubs (cf. Prov. 17:12; 2 Samuel 17:8).

Habakkuk uses the figure of the leopard by way of comparison with the dreaded Assyrian warhorses, which were “faster than leopards” (Hab. 1:8).  The Assyrian military capabilities were quite profound and terrifying.

“Possessed of swift warhorses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty… . Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies” (Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, p. 137).

Likewise, the imagery of a bear robbed of its cubs attests to the strength and passionate aggressiveness of the coming judgment.

Duane Garrett suggests a relation of this figure with the loss of God’s people: “Yahweh has been robbed of its children (the common people of Israel) by his wife (the woman Israel, that is, the royal and priestly leadership). She has made them to be children of Baal” (Duane Garrett, Hosea, Joel, p. 259).

All three images underscore the aggressive viciousness of the coming attack by the Assyrians.

The viciousness of the Assyrian military is well documented in the Assyrian Annals.  For example, in his eighth campaign against Elam Sennacherib boasts that he “raged like a lion” and with victory he tore apart the enemy nobility.

I cut their throats like lambs… . Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot … were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain like grass. (Luckenbill, ARA, 2:127).

Yahweh, through Assyria, would “tear open their chests,” literally “the enclosure of the heart” (i.e., the pericardium).  He will completely consume them like a lion consumes its prey and rip them to shreds like wild animals with a carcass.

The uniqueness of Israel’s relationship to the Lord was the foundational premise on which the whole of her existence was built.  Her glory rested in the Lord.  Her salvation from bondage was brought about by him.  Removed from him, there was neither glory nor salvation, only destruction and annihilation. (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, pp. 88-89).

In vv. 9-11 Yahweh attacks their misplaced confidence in the human kings and again asserts the certainty of their coming judgment.  Verse 9 begins with a strong affirmation followed by a rhetorical question the Lord declares solemnly,

9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper.

By turning against the Lord who only desired to help them (cf. v. 4), the Israelites had done something that would result in their own destruction.  How ironic it was that Israel’s helper would become her destroyer!  Israel had forsaken their only Savior (v. 4) and their great helper (v. 9).  Israel will surely be helpless through it all.  That is how irrational sin turns out to be.

“As Israel plunges headlong over the waterfall, the Lord laments that His people have done everything possible to navigate around His helping hand” (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea-Joel, p. 72).

J. Vernon McGee reminds us:

“We often blame God for what happens to us.  When you feel like that, this is a good verse to turn to.  You have destroyed yourself, and you are responsible for your condition.  But you can get help from God; He will furnish help to you.”

In a further rhetorical question the Lord implies that they could not count on their king (v. 10).

10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?

They turned their backs on their only Savior (v. 4).  When they now turn to their kings for help, they are nowhere to be found.

Indeed, toward the end of the Northern Kingdom there was a series of competing local kings and even their last king Hoshea proved to be inefficient and unfit for the task.

When these northern kings proved ineffective, since they did not trust in Yahweh, the Lord removed them, one by one, which also made Him angry.  King Hoshea was the last of the Northern Kingdom kings.  The Lord had removed the Ephraimite kings because they followed the pattern of King Saul, and later King Jeroboam I, and He would continue to do so until none were left.  The sins and bad times, which all these Northern Kingdom kings’ reigns brought on Israel, were unnecessary and displeasing to the Lord—who wanted His people to enjoy peace and prosperity.

The Lord further points out the folly of His people’s clamor for a king so as to be like the surrounding nations (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4, 19-20).

Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

As Hubbard observes, “God had acceded to their begging for a king (1 Sa. 8:22).  The monarchy as a whole was established in ambiguous circumstances which help to account for Yahweh’s anger; the people had brushed aside all its potential pitfalls, especially the competition it offered to God’s own kingship (1 Sa. 8:7)” (Hosea, p. 217)

Although the Lord acquiesced to His people’s request, their choice constituted a rejection of the theocracy and began the long downward spiral, which had brought them to the present turmoil.   To be sure, God had made provision for kingship for His people, but such a one was to meet His high standards (e.g., Num. 24:17; Deut. 17:14-20).  Israel now refused to acknowledge God, and turned to Baal and human leaders whether national or foreign.

Moreover, as Stuart observes, “The whole history of the kingship had been a manifestation of God’s anger/fury. Israel’s kings had been chosen without God’s consent (cf. 8:4) and the kingship itself had now been abolished by God as a portent of the coming national disaster (cf. Deut. 28:36)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 206)

Indeed, as Samuel had warned long ago, kingship as conceived and directed by the people had proven to be a disastrous failure (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10-17)—one that they themselves would come to regret: “If you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Sam. 12:25).  The Lord’s words here bear an ominous echo of Samuel’s warning.  Israel’s stood on the threshold of national disaster and no king or leader could save them.  God Himself was about to bring down the curtain on the Northern Kingdom (v. 11).

There is No Other, part 1 (Hosea 13:1-3)

Welcome again to our study of Hosea.  We are nearing the end of this wonderful book which expresses the love that Yahweh had for Israel.  Time and again He blessed Israel, wooed Israel and spared Israel…but judgment was on the horizon.

Here are Yahweh’s words in Hosea 13.  Here is the rising crescendo of judgment.

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window. 4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. 9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath. 12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Although Hosea 13 is the climax of Yahweh’s judgment against Israel, it does not represent the climax of the book.  Once again Yahweh would extend a word of grace to Israel.

Israel has been ungrateful to the Lord and gone after gods of its own choosing (vv. 1-2).  God’s people have forgotten who it was that redeemed them out of Egypt and cared for them along the way to the Promised Land.  In their stubborn and foolish pride, and self-satisfaction they fail to acknowledge Him and all He has done for them (vv. 4-6).  Likewise, Israel has failed to recognize Yahweh as its ultimate king (vv. 9-11).  A final pronouncement of judgment because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord in order to establish its own type of monarchical government with its own civic and political policies (vv. 9-14) is concluded with a simile presented in the form of a pseudo-sorites (vv. 15-16).

Hubbard notes that Hosea recapitulates a number of dominant themes in Hosea and sets the stage both for the final words of judgment in vv. 15-16 and the calls to return in 14:1-8.

“The themes summed up in chapter 13 are these: idolatry by calf worship (v. 2; cf. 8:5-6; 10:5, 7, for idolatry in general, cf. 2:8; 3:1, 4; 4:12, 17; 8:4: 9:6, 10; 10:2, 6; 11:2); ingratitude for the exodus (vv. 4-6; cf. 8:14; 9:10; 11:1-2; 12:9, 13), foolish trust in political leaders (vv. 10-11; cf. 7:7; 8:4; 9:15; 10:3, 15), complacency in the face of judgment (v. 13; cf. 4:4, 16; 5:6-7; 6:1-3, 4-5; 7:2, 9-10; 8:2; 9:7; 12:8-9).  They not only recapture Hosea’s major emphases, but also prepare for the precise words of penitence spelled out in the call to return with which the book closes; idolatry  must be renounced (14:3c, 8), gratitude must be expressed (14:2c), trust in political alliance and military might rejected (14:3ab), and complacency replaced by dependence on God (14:3d)” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 224).

Once again Hosea indicates the heights from which Israel had fallen.  Once favored by God and strong, now they would be weak and destroyed.

Previously, “when Ephraim spoke, there was trembling.”  Whether merely among the tribes of the northern kingdom or more broadly, among the nations, Ephraim formerly had power and influence.

Ephraim had been the strongest tribe in Israel and represents Israel in many places throughout the prophets (cf. Judg. 8:1-3; 12:1-6).  The Lord’s prophet reminds Ephraim that it always held a special place in Israel’s history.  Not only did Ephraim receive Jacob’s patriarchal blessing instead of his older brother Manasseh (Gen. 48:12-20), but Jacob’s prophetic blessing (cf. that of Moses, Deut. 33:17) became realized in Ephraim’s leading role among the other tribes (e.g., Judg. 7:24-8:1).  This became especially pronounced when the Ephraimite Jeroboam was crowned as Israel’s first king at the time of the division of the united kingdom.

Ephraim often came to serve as metonymy for all of God’s people (e.g., Hos. 11:3) and especially for the Northern Kingdom (e.g., Hos. 8:11).

The emphasis in the present context is upon that role of Ephraim, which as the particular representative of the northern ten tribes enjoyed a special prominence. Therefore, Ephraim also had a distinct responsibility.

However, a consistent theme in Hosea is how the early promise of a nation blessed by God had alas come to frustrating ruin.  Hosea consistently laments the “lost glory” of Israel.  Departure from the Lord means that “Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird” (9:11) or “it’s glory has departed from it” (10:5).

Why? Because Ephraim had led the northern kingdom into idolatry.  Instead of “walking worthy of their calling” they worship the Baals.  Instead of being a leader in righteousness, Ephraim had caused the hearts of the people to depart from the Lord.

Jeroboam I was instrumental in the introduction of the state religion of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Not content with these, he became guilty of worshiping false gods and the idolatry that accompanied it (cf. 1 Kings 14:9-11).  It was not long, therefore, that Baal became the leading pagan divinity in the Northern Kingdom, a condition that brought about the eventual demise of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:16-17).

Kidner indicates this all-too-normal declension of cultures, such as happens here to Israel, with these words:

If there is one fact about human fortunes which history almost dins into us, it is their instability; and historians can show any number of economic, political and other reasons for the changes that turn the giants of one era into the weaklings of the next.  Here, not the power-changes abroad nor the factions at home are blamed for the sad state of Ephraim, but a much earlier and subtler shift within the mind: from the Lord to Baal (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 114).

The consequence was certain judgment, such that Ephraim could rightly be called “dead” (i.e., no longer playing any productive role in God’s plan and going into exile) because of their guilt.  Though, like Adam died when he sinned, but still lived on, so Israel had died, but would still exist for another decade.

The illusion in their minds is that if it is good to worship one god, it is better to worship more than one.

Verse 2 describes the idiocy of their idolatry in detail:

2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”

It has been a consistent theme of Hosea that Israel has multiplied their sinning.  The idea is that they are now taking every opportunity to spit in God’s face with this sin of idolatry.

H. Ronald Vandermey notes: “Having cut themselves off from the Lord and His righteousness, Israel’s sin increased like an unchecked infection” (Hosea-Amos, pp. 71-72). It reminds one of Romans 1, where God “gives them over” to on sin after another because of the hardness of their hearts.

Not only are they engaged in the expensive process of making idols, but the end of the process is presented in the “three scandalous words” (Kidner, p. 115), “[they] kiss calves.”

E. B. Pusey says…

“This seems to be a third stage in sin. First, under Jeroboam, was the worship of the calves.  Then, under Ahab, the worship of Baal.  Thirdly, the multiplying of other idols, penetrating and pervading the private life, even of their less wealthy people.  The calves were of gold; now they made them molten images of their silver, perhaps plated with silver.” (Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1:126)

As Hubbard observes, “What Jeroboam I had begun and Jeroboam II sponsored, the people of Samaria continued with unbridled enthusiasm (v. 2) in Hosea’s time.”

Of course, this violates the first two words of the commandments that Yahweh had stipulated to His redeemed people—not to worship other gods or make images for worship.  Anderson and Freedman note the words “make for themselves” echoes the prohibition in Exodus 20:4 of “making for yourselves images.”

Yahweh will brook no rivals for their affections, and knows how dependent we are upon our senses, thus he warns against constructing any image which cannot help but capture only a caricature of who Yahweh is and not the fulness of who He is.

“Truth itself is intolerant,” said Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner.  He explained…

“If it is true that twice two are four, then it is simply false to say that twice two are five or three.  If it is true that Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15 of the year 44 B.C., then it is false to say that he died a natural death in the year 45.  Truth is always single and exclusive.  If there is only one God, then there is not more than one.”

As Yahweh will very matter-of-factly say in verse 4:

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.

This is echoed in the exclusivistic claims of Jesus and about Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus makes no apologies in saying in John 14:6…

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

There might be many ways to God, but only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ.  There is really only one God and one mediator between God and man.  There is no other way of salvation other than the way God the Father has provided—through His Son Jesus Christ.

In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaims…

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In the context, that name is Jesus.  There is no other name but the name of Jesus that provides salvation.

Now, back to Hosea.

The NIV and ESB both translate the end of verse 3 “offer human sacrifice.”  However, there is no indication historically that this happened until the last king of Israel, Hoshea.  This is recorded in 2 Kings 17:16-17…

16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

If Hosea is directing a charge against Israel for human sacrifice at this time, he seems only to make a passing reference to such a heinous sin  As Garrett observes, “Human sacrifice is not the sort of thing one mentions as an aside, especially if it was regularly practiced.”

It is best to view the present text as the condemnation of the routine apostasy of the people in worshipping Baal.

“Viewed together, [this verse shows that their] sin is a total perversion of values.  A craftsman’s work is elevated to divine status; human beings sacrifice their offspring to a metal object from whose lifeless form they also beg help; persons embrace with adulation the images of the very animals that they use for ploughing, threshing and hauling” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227).  Viewed rationally it makes no sense at all.  But then sin never does.

I like what J. Vernon McGee says, and I can almost hear him say it in his southern drawl:

“It is nonsense to go around kissing something as an act of worship of the living and true God.  You worship Him, my friend, by the life that you live.  You worship Him in the way you conduct your business, carry on your social life, the way you run your home, and the way you act out on the street—not only in the way you act in the sanctuary.  We are the ones who have made a distinction between the sanctuary and the street, but in God’s sight there is no difference at all.”

Garrett notes how the idea of kissing the calf finds resonance with the Exodus passage where Israel worshipped the golden calf at the proclamation, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8).  This was echoed in 1 Kings 12:20-33 when Jeroboam I established his golden calves at Dan and Bethel.

Robinson summarized what he called “seven of the principal steps in Israel’s downfall, which led straight to the precipice of national ruin”: lack of knowledge (4:6), pride (5:5), instability (6:4), worldliness (7:8), corruption (9:9), backsliding (11:7), and idolatry (13:2) (George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, pp. 23-25).

Earlier, in Hosea 6:4, Yahweh had likened the faithfulness of Ephraim and Judah to the “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”  Here he presses that point home again, piling up metaphors, except this time it is not their character which soon disappears, but they themselves.

3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

“A four-fold simile of fading into nothingness is Hosea’s powerful way of intensifying the picture by multiple repetition” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227).

Like all these temporary, vanishing things, Israel’s existence would disappear, swiftly and surely.

What is said of Israel here is said elsewhere of individual sinners (disappear “like the chaff” in Psalm 1:4) and of all God’s enemies (like “smoke,” Psa. 62:8).

“The point is that idolatry carries its own punishment: you worship nothing, you get nothing, you end as nothing” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 228).

Stuart expresses it well: “The four examples of disappearance—mist, dew, chaff, smoke—combine to emphasize how utterly Israel’s destruction will be accomplished by her avenging God… . When mist, dew, chaff, and smoke vanish, the result is nothingness. Israel will similarly disappear and become desolate (cf. Lev. 26:31-35; Deut. 28, 29).”

Garrett points out that these last two verses give exposition to the riddle back in 12:11, “If Gilead is deception, surely they are nothing.”

There was a time when Israel experienced glory; she was exalted (v. 1).  Through compromised theology and worship (v. 2), she forfeited that glory and was destined to become a transient, homeless people; without national identity, wanderers who are as insecure and temporal as the morning mist or dew, as the chaff on the threshing floor, or the smoke from a house (v. 3).

Look Back & Learn, part 4 (Hosea 12:12-14)

Welcome back to our study of the book of Hosea.  This is a tragic love story, with Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as the backdrop, but the real issue is the adulterous relationship between Yahweh and Israel.  Although they had been warned by Moses back in Deuteronomy of the sorry potential they had to forsake the true and living God for idols, and although God had sent them many prophets to force them to face the reality of what they had been doing and turn back to Yahweh, Israel persisted in worshipping the Baals, the gods of the Canaanites they had displaced.

Now exile was awaiting them.  In a few short years the Assyrian king Shalmanesar V would end the siege of Samaria and take captives from the northern kingdom and “seed” them throughout other conquered countries, while planting Gentiles in the northern kingdom.  The descendants of these transplants would come to be known as the “Samaritans” famous from the stories of Jesus.  Most of these Jews would never return to Israel.

Now we come to the final verses of Hosea 12.  Hosea has been encouraging Israel to look back and learn from their past.  Their ancestor Jacob had schemed and connived for the birthright and the blessing, but finally in his older age he wrestled with the angel of the Lord and was blessed.  His name was changed to Israel.  Now, Jacob didn’t always live up to this new name in his latter years, but he did sometimes.  It was an act of grace that God changed his name and redeemed his character.

Unfortunately, as Hosea had pointed out in vv. 2-6, Israel was not acting like Israel, the new man, but rather far too much like Jacob, the old, conniving man.  They tried to rule their own destiny by praying to the idols and making treaties with foreign nations.  All the while they should have been trusting God to provide for them and protect them.

Now, in the last 3 verses of Hosea 12, we read…

12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

So Hosea returns to the story of Jacob to again cause Ephraim to reflect on their ways, and perchance repent.  Hosea has given Israel many reasons to repent and opportunities to repent.  It reminds me of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2, when Paul is instructing Timothy about dealing with false teachers.

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

These Jews of Hosea’s day were just as captive to the devil as the false teachers of Timothy’s day.  But Hosea interacts with Israel in this same gentle, but firm way, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance…”

So Hosea again reminds them of their humble origins in the person of Jacob.  Jacob was, in essence, a refugee who migrated to the land of Aram, modern day Syria.

This was surely to point out to them that they, too, would soon be refugees in lands away from their homeland.

While in Aram Jacob had to work for a wife.  Remember that this was an unfair arrangement that Laban had required of Jacob to have Rachel.  He had to work as a shepherd, a very humble occupation (cf. Deut. 26:5).  Jacob was even lower than a despised shepherd: he was the servant of his father-in-law.

With an experience like that in his great ancestor, Ephraim should have been willing to acknowledge the providence of God in his temporary prosperity.

Not only would the Israelites be exiled into a foreign country, like Jacob, but Yahweh, as we have observed several times, would reverse the exodus, putting them back under slave-masters.

However, Yahweh would be faithful to bring Jacob back to the land promised to his grandfather Abraham so that he could father the twelve tribes of Israel there.

Jacob and his descendants one day found themselves in Egypt.  After several centuries passed, the latter part of which was marked by hard labor for the Hebrews, Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, led His people out of Egypt by His under-shepherd Moses (Exod. 12:1-36; Deut. 26:5-8).  This is what verse 13 is referring to…

13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded.

John Calvin notes this connection between vv. 12 and 13.  First…

he shows what was the first origin of the people, that they were from Jacob; and then he shows what was their second origin; for God had again begotten them when he brought them out of Egypt. And they were there, as it is well known, very miserable, and they did not come out by their own valour, they did not attain for themselves their [own] liberty; but Moses alone extended his hand to them, having been sent for this end by God.  Since the case was so, it was strange that they now provoked God, as he says in the last verse, by their altars.

He goes on to say…

The Lord says, “Acknowledge what you owe to me; for I have chosen Jacob your father, and have not chosen him because he was eminent for his great dignity in the world; for he was a fugitive and a keeper of sheep, and served for his wife.  I afterwards redeemed you from the land of Egypt; and in that coming forth there was nothing that you did; there is no reason why you should boast that liberation was obtained by your valour; for Moses alone was my servant in that deliverance.  I did then beget you the second time, when I redeemed you.  How great is your ingratitude, when you do not own and worship me as your Redeemer?”

Notice that in both cases hard labor was experienced, and in both cases a “bride” was secured.  Jacob finally married Rachel after seven years of service, and Yahweh rescued his bride out of Egypt.  Remember that Israel as God’s bride is the chief metaphor of Hosea’s messages.

Although Hosea was considered, along with other prophets, but a “fool” and “madman,” like Moses they could have led the Israelites into greater blessing.  Instead, they would return to slavery in a foreign land.

Not only had Moses “brought them up” and “guarded” them, giving them victory over the very Canaanites that they were imitating both in their religious and in their social lives.

It is possible that Hosea does not name Moses as the prophet of the Exodus to stress the similarities between Israel at the time of the exodus and Israel in his day.  As Yahweh brought the nation from bondage in the days of Egypt through a prophet, accomplishing such a wonderful miracle, so now He has sent a prophet to them for their good, to save them from being enslaved again in a new Egypt—Assyria.

In spite of these mercies, the Israelites had provoked the Lord to bitter anger with their idolatry many times (cf. Deut. 4:25; 9:18; 31:29; 32:16, 21; Judg. 2:12; 1 Kings 14:9, 15).  Consequently, He would not remove the guilt of their sins by forgiving them, but would pay them back with punishment and shame.

Adam Clarke notes the connection between this verse, and verse 11, which spoke of Gilead:

Joshua succeeded Moses, and brought the Israelites into the promised land; and when they passed the Jordan at Gilgal, he received the covenant of circumcision; and yet this same place was now made by them the seat of idolatry!  How blind and how ungrateful!

Thus, Yahweh says…

14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

James Coffman comments on Ephraim’s disobedience:

Nobody ever trusted any more completely in God’s promises than did Ephraim; but he made the mistake of supposing that they were unconditional….Ask Ephraim!  God had promised Ephraim that he would give the land of Canaan (Genesis 30:13-15) to them; and Ephraim, like the Pharisees long afterward, concluded that this promise on God’s part was theirs, no matter what they did, how they lived, or anything else!

“Bitter provocation” reminds me of how God felt during the years before the flood.

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

You’ve probably felt this way as a parent—your children irritate you and exasperate you, they grieve you and break your heart.  Eventually you have to do something about it.  You have to discipline them.

This bitter provocation likely referred to their worship of Baal on the high places.

Ephraim had provoked God and it grieved him greatly.  As he had expressed back in Hosea 11:8, He deeply loved them.  But now He would have to judge them.  There was no other way.

By the way, notice that the word for Lord here is not “Yahweh,” but “Adonai.”  It was the word which means “master.”  Israel was about to learn in a hard way that the Lord was its real master, not Baal (a name that also can carry with it the idea of master or husband) and that they were accountable for how they had responded to His commands with disobedience and disdain.

The sad phrase “leave his bloodguilt on him” means that he would have to bear his own guilt.

Jesus speaks in a similar way in the gospel of John.  In John 3:36 Jesus says…

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

And Jesus said to the Pharisees after he healed the man born blind…

John 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Aren’t we glad that our guilt can be passed on to Jesus Christ?  When we trust in His work that He did on the cross for us, we don’t have to pay for our sins, our guilt is placed upon Jesus Christ and He paid it in full.

The blood guilt may refer to murder or child sacrifice (i.e., to Molech).

But Israel would not turn to Yahweh, and therefore must bear the guilt of their own sins themselves.  In His justice Yahweh would “repay him for his disgraceful deeds.”

The people celebrate Jacob in their ceremonies and call themselves his descendants, but the God of Jacob will no longer guard Ephraim as he did their patriarch.  Instead, he will “repay” them.  The Hebrew term translated “repay” is shub, the same word that elsewhere carries the sense of “turn, return.”  Since Israel will not return (shub) to the Lord (v. 6), the Lord will return (shub) Israel’s reproach back onto the nation (v. 14).

Israel had come to the point of no return. Hopelessly apostate and thoroughly wicked as a nation, it was now time that the Lord must judge His people.  Israel demonstrated its contempt by rejecting Him and His standards, and by choosing to create its own religiosity and charting its own course of life.  Therefore, the rewards of such decisions and such conduct would soon earn their proper reward (cf. Prov. 22:8; 26:27; 28:10; Eccles. 10:8; Gal. 6:7).

It may be as Craigie suggests: “The final word of judgment is a word spoken in grief.  Though beyond the coming disaster words of grace would be heard once again, the judgmental word would soon be experienced in Israel in all its terrible reality” (Craigie, Twelve Prophets,1:78).

Or, in Calvin’s words:

They cannot, he says, escape the authority of God, though they have spurned his law; though they have become wanton in their superstitions, they shall yet know that they remain under the hand and power of God, they shall know that they effect nothing by this their petulance; though they thus wander after their abominations, yet the Lord will not lose his right, which he had obtained for himself by redeeming Israel.

What they receive is just and right.

The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible has this note:

In summary, the comparisons seem to work like this: Jacob was a sinner in the land (v. 3), met God in his flight from the land (v. 4), served another to gain a wife (v. 12) outside the land, and then was restored to the land knowing God (vv. 4b–5).

This also corresponds to the way the nation later went down to Egypt (through the events and legacy of Jacob’s son, Joseph), multiplied there, then met God at Sinai, and was shepherded through the wilderness by Moses (cf. vv. 9–10, 13).

This pattern is being repeated in Hosea’s day as, like Jacob, Ephraim (the largest tribe of Israel, used by Hosea to represent the nation) sins in the land (vv. 2–3, 7–8), will be driven into exile and sustained there by the Lord, and then, as at the exodus from Egypt, will meet God and return to the land to dwell there with him (cf. vv. 5, 11–14).

These patterns are fulfilled in Jesus. Not only did he have a sojourn in Egypt (see Matt. 2:13–15), he also became the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) in fulfillment of the exodus pattern to redeem his people (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23), provided a place of rest for them by making them the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and gives them a new law for a new and continuing relationship with God (1 Cor. 9:202 John 5–6).  It is Christ himself who provides God’s people with spiritual food and drink for their sojourn through the wilderness (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–13; 11:17–34), on the way to the new and better heavens and earth, the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17), where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13).

In a day which champions “God is love” and excuses every sin, we need to remember that God is infinitely merciful AND infinitely just.  Because of His simplicity—He cannot be divided up into various parts with various passions—He is a God of both infinite mercy and infinite justice. The Lord is not only “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” but He is also the One “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:6–7).

In fact, the only way we can escape God’s infinitely just punishment for sin is through the satisfaction of His justice.  And by means of satisfaction of justice, mercy is poured out on us.

Only one thing satisfies the justice of God against our sins—the perfect life and voluntary, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.  Eternity in hell is not long enough to satisfy God’s justice; only the death of His precious Son.

We do not contribute to that satisfaction at all.  God initiates and accomplishes it. Look at who is doing the action in 2 Corinthians 5.  In verse 14, we read of “the love of Christ” (emphasis added), that is, not merely Paul’s love for Christ but Christ’s own love for sinners.  In verse 18, Paul says “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (emphasis added), and then again in verse 19, “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . . and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (emphasis added).  Verse 20 amazingly says that it is “God” who is “making his appeal through us.”

God’s only begotten Son was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might be satisfaction for us.  Someone has to be punished for sin.  Christ has offered to take our place and receive our punishment, but that only applies to us when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin.

Is there any gospel promise more beautiful in all the Scriptures than 2 Corinthians 5:21?  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That means: “For our sake” the righteous God “made” His Son Jesus Christ “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in” Jesus Christ “we might become the righteousness of God.”  Paul says that God Himself has provided for us a vicarious sacrifice, a great exchange between His judgment on our sins and Christ’s righteousness to our benefit.

Look Back & Learn, part 3 (Hosea 12:7-11)

Last week we saw in Hosea 12 how Yahweh called Israel to imitate their ancestor Jacob.  Jacob, although in many ways a scoundrel, eventually began to trust God instead of his own schemes, and thus inherited the name Israel.  Unfortunately, Hosea’s Israel was acting too much like the old Jacob rather than the new Israel.  Thus, Yahweh calls them once again to repentance, in verse 6:

6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

But, alas, this was not to be.  Instead, Hosea paints a picture for us of the continued decadence and stubborn rebellion of the descendants of Jacob in his day…

7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. 10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

These first few verses speak of a false sense of security that replaced a reliance upon the LORD.  It is true that Israel lived at the height of affluence during the age of Jeroboam II and although they were living off the fumes of that, they still were living above average, refusing to acknowledge that any of this was a gift from the LORD.

Hosea designates Israel here as a “merchant,” engaging in fraud.  They were cutting corners to get ahead “in the worst traditions of Israelite merchant’s ancestor Jacob” (Duane Garret, Hosea-Amos, p. 241).  But Hosea indicates that Ephraim was even worse than that!

The actual Hebrew word there is kena’an, or Canaan.  Most versions translate it “merchant,” “trader” or “trafficker” due to the context, but the King James Version and Jerusalem Bible translates “Canaan.”  Of course, that speaks to their character in business dealings.  They were “infected by the spirit of commercialism characteristic of the people whom he has supplanted” (JB, Hosea 12:7).

Clarke says, “Ephraim is as corrupt as those heathenish traffickers were.”

When the children of Israel entered the promised land, they were specifically told to separate themselves from the practices of the Canaanites, the people whom they were to destroy (Exod. 33:2; Deut. 7:1; 20:17; Joshua 34:10; 17:18). Rebelling against God’s plan, the Israelites chose to imbibe the spirit of the Canaanites (Joshua 16:10; 17:12; Judges 1:29-33).

This term has special reference to the Phoenician coast.  The Phoenicians were famous for their trading empire, which stretched across the water of the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond (cf. Zeph. 1:11).

In a double entendre Canaan thus applies as well to the business class of Israelite society upon whose unscrupulous tactics the Northern Kingdom depended as a source of its wealth.  As Stuart observes, “‘Canaan’ would appear to be a derogatory double entendre for Ephraim … Hosea declares Ephraim to be a greedy merchant, and at the same time no better than the Canaanites whose immoral culture deserved extinction (cf. Gen 15:16)” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 192).

Deceitful weights and measures were a continuous problem in commercial Israel, suggested by the numerous demands for “righteous weights” (cf. Amos 8:5-6; Deut. 25:13ff; Prov. 20:10).

It was a travesty of the times. “In an economy that did not have standardized weights and measures, traders were often tempted to cheat by falsifying the balances and measurements, often by using improper weights and false bottoms and other ways to alter the sizes of vessels” ((Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, p. 759).

And through their deceitful practices, they oppressed people, taking their possessions, their land and eventually casting them into debtor’s prison.

Notice how Hosea emphasizes their heart attitude by saying that Ephraim “loves to oppress” (although Hubbard believes it should be translated “oppresses loved ones”).  It wasn’t happening accidentally, nor was it simply an unavoidable consequence of doing business.  This expression indicates that Ephraim did this intentionally and with delight.

Their riches were also a source of pride to them. Hosea rebukes them by saying…

8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”

Verse 8 sounds a lot like the condemnable words of the church of Laodicea:

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

In both of these verses, the fact of riches is attributed not to the blessing of God, but to their own efforts.  Hosea says of Ephraim, “I have found wealth for myself” and John says of Laodicea “I have prospered.”  Neither of them attributed their riches to the gracious hand of God.

And, of course, what Hosea is saying is that what they did in “finding wealth” is that it came dishonestly.

Nevertheless, they trusted in their possessions and their success.  This led them to protest their own innocence: “in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”

In reality, they may be able to escape the judgment of the courts (usually by buying their way out), but they cannot escape the judgment of Yahweh.

In some ways this statement sounds like the prosperity theology of our day.  Wealth is believed to be something we deserve and whenever someone is wealthy we automatically think God is pleased with them and blessed them with wealth.

When things are good financially, it’s hard for people to believe that their society can be in deep trouble.  Or, as H. Ronald Vandermey says, “Unfortunately, monetary success has never been an accurate barometer of one’s status before God” (Psalm 37:16; Prov. 11:4; 23:4; Eccles. 8:11-14; Matt. 5:45), something which should be kept in mind today by those Christians who have achieved ‘the blessings of God’ through the same ruthless business practices used by their unbelieving fellow merchants” (Hosea-Amos, p. 69).

But to protest innocence in the face of all the evidence adduced by Hosea only compounds their guilt, adding atop their evil deeds a callousness that precludes a recognition of their guilt, making repentance highly unlikely.

I love the way the British commentator Derek Kidner says it:

“In cold print, his bland assurance that his extorted riches carry no guilt—or none to speak of—even put him above the law, is patently absurd.  Yet human attitudes, which venerate success and, at a safe distance, admire a clever rogue, still help to build up his cocksureness in the man who sells his soul to the present” (The Message of Hosea, p. 110).

Yahweh had told the generation which was about to enter the land how He had taken care of them, then warns them, in Deuteronomy 8:

6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

Yahweh knew, and had warned them that a life of ease and affluence would be possible in the Promised Land, but it could very well cause them to think that they had done it by their own “power and might” (v. 17) and to forget the LORD and then go after other gods.  Because He knew they would do that very thing, he warned them that they would “surely perish.”

Yahweh then pronounces his response to their deluded reliance upon their own efforts and lack of recognition of Yahweh’s work on their behalf:

9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast.

Once again Yahweh declares that He will undo the Exodus and return Israel to the status of no longer being a nation.

“The LORD your God” is the full covenant title of Israel’s God (Exodus 20:2), the one who delivered them from Egypt.  He had not changed, but they had.  Yahweh is asserting His sovereignty as the one who redeemed them, and thus has the right to stipulate the conditions of their relationship—obedience to His commands and loyal to Him alone.

Yahweh’s self-introduction is the logical response to Ephraim’s boast.  It reminds them (and us) who is truly in charge.

Yahweh reminded His people that He had been their God since before the Exodus.  The fact that He delivered them is the foundation of the stipulations He laid upon His people through what we call the “Ten Commandments.”  Of course, they were avidly breaking these commandments right and left.

He was able to make them revert to a humble wilderness lifestyle again, which their yearly Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) reminded them about (cf. Lev. 23:33-43).  Doing this would remind them once again how utterly dependent they had been upon God to provide even the basic necessities of food and water many times over, helping them to once again remember that Yahweh was the true source of every blessing.

Again, Derek Kidner so aptly says that these three verses have a double thrust:

First: “Was it for this that I redeemed you?  To make you a bunch of Canaanites?”  And secondly: “When you re-live the Exodus every year, camping out as your fathers did, is it only make-believe?  Or is it to relearn the lessons of those days, that man does not live by bread alone?” (This Message of Hosea, p. 111).

What they had been doing for one week out of a year (and likely begrudgingly at that) Yahweh now says they would have to do permanently.  They would become homeless as Assyria scattered them among the conquered nations.

This is clearly an allusion to the coming captivity of Israel.  The LORD will make Israel a homeless people in the future as once they were in the past.

As David Hubbard says…

“The crucial events of the exodus and its subsequent wanderings have to be replayed, so that Ephraim may learn how dependent he is on Yahweh and how grateful he must be for such dependence” (Hosea, p. 219)

The announcement of captivity should come as no surprise to a people who had resolutely misplaced their trust.  Not only were they rejecting a reliance upon God, they were also rejecting the revelation of God through His prophets.

Verse 10 says…

10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.

God had done more than His part to keep Israel trusting and obeying Him.  He not only gave them His blessings, but had given them oral instruction through the prophets—through a variety of means—through instruction, visions and parables.  This indicates the certainty and clarity through which God had communicated to them.

The verb “I spoke” contains in it the noun “the word.”  But as a verb it suggests the creative power of God, like that which created the universe and all creation in Genesis 1.  It speaks of the power of God’s Word to accomplish what is spoken.  Isaiah speaks to this in Isaiah 55:10-13:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

When God speaks, things happen.  No word of His is empty and unproductive.

Notice how powerful God’s Word is.  Verse 13 indicates that it can even change the fundamental nature of something—a thorn bush will become a cypress and a stand of briers will become a myrtle.

Those of us who preach must believe that God’s Word is still powerful enough to change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.

Of course, speaking to the prophets describes an event, a time in history when God spoke.  The prophets “met with” God and He spoke to them.  Now, these prophets were speaking to the people, reminding them of God’s past revelation and making present proclamations of Israel’s guilt and Yahweh’s necessity in bringing the covenant judgments upon them.

The prophets’ role is thus God-given and unassailable.  Ephraim ignores Hosea at their own peril.  If you remember, back in Hosea 9:7 the people were saying that the prophets were “fools” and crazy.  But the prophet’s visions and parables were “mere eccentricities” but the very word of God.

Nevertheless, in spite of so many exhortations to return to the Lord, the people had not responded.

Not only would they lose their homeless, but their once stately and tall idols would be leveled.

11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.

The gods they now trusted in to save them would prove their impotency by being broken down into stone heaps.  When God’s judgment comes, all those altars will be brought low, so the only altars will be the hills made by the furrows of the field.

We need to remember this—where are we putting our trust?  In ourselves—our own strength and abilities, our own intellect and schemes, our own resources and bank accounts?  If we misplace our trust, God will bring us up short in some way.

Are we listening to the revelation of God?  How often do we read and heed what God has said in His Word?  How frequently do we ignore it, or discount it?  It is being planted deeply into our hearts so that it bears fruit?

Look Back & Learn, part 2 (Hosea 12:3-6)

They say that truth is learned better through example than through lecture.  Certainly trust must be taught, but it must also be lived out.  As a parent, your children won’t follow your instruction as much as they will imitate your behavior.

In the 12th chapter of Hosea, Jacob is brought up as an example for Israel.  Having called Israel by the name Jacob in verse 2, Hosea then says…

3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us–5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Jacob is one of my favorite characters in the Bible because he is so real, so fallible.  He stumbles along the path of discipleship.  He needs grace more than many others for anything good to come of his life.

Scholars debate whether Jacob is a negative example to avoid or a positive example to follow as he is presented here.  Certainly his life, like most of us, is a mixed bag of good choices and bad ones.  However, the exhortation in verse 6, which caps off this discussion of Jacob, seems to be encouraging them to act like Jacob and “return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”  Jacob certainly held fast and ultimately received the blessing.

Duane Garrett notes:

“Hosea here resumes the theme from 6:7-9 that Israel has inherited the worst traits of their ancestors without picking up any of the good qualities; in particular the people of Hosea’s generation are untouched by grace” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

He goes on to say…

“The portrayal of the life of Jacob here is not chronological but consists of passing allusions to details of the Genesis account that are thematically arranged in order to create a portrait of the patriarch as a desperate man transformed by God” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

Hosea first alludes to Jacob’s birth…

In the womb he took his brother by the heel

This refers back to Genesis 25:26…

Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.

Thus, Jacob was the “grasper,” the one who had to take things by force.  A civil war erupted in  Rebekah’s womb, though Esau eventually won that battle and was born first.  Jacob, true to his name, ended up, in rather underhanded ways, to take away Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Thus, we read in Genesis 27:36

Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob?  For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Jacob was a cheater and a taker.  As Derek Kidner reminds us: “Even Laban, that master of manoeuvre, found he had met his match in this man” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

Although it was God’s elective choice to bless Jacob over Esau, Jacob is presented here as one who felt like he had to help God out.

James Montgomery Boice explains:

“‘To grasp the heel’ also meant to go behind one’s back in order to deceive or trick him, and this became the dominant characteristic of the man.”

Not only did Jacob fight with Esau, but “in his manhood he strove with God.”  This describes Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Penuel in Genesis 32.

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

You see that God required him to admit the fact that he was a “striver,” a “grabber.”

28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.

Garrett points out that the comparative phrase “as a man” is a translation of the word awen, a word we’ve seen before as a description of the city of Bethel, Beth-Awen, or Aven.  There it described Bethel’s deceptive wickedness.  Although the end of that story in Genesis points to Jacob’s surrender and his renaming as Israel, thus God’s blessing, Hosea seems to indicate only the negative fact that Jacob wrestled with God.

Jacob’s attitude that he had a right for what was his and had to fight for it carried over into his relationship with God.  Thus, in Genesis 32:28, God said, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Scholars question how Hosea is relating the words “he wept and sought his favor” to the encounter at Penuel.  These words do not occur in the event of Genesis 32, but rather in the encounter between Jacob and Esau in Genesis 33.  It is used by Hosea to express the idea that Jacob ultimately sought mercy from God after years of ceaseless striving.

He finally understood the words, “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

God then renamed Jacob “Israel,” “prince.”

Hosea then moves back to a former event in the Jacob story when he says, “He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with [him].”  This refers back to Jacob’s vision of the heavenly stairway while he was en route to Haran and to God’s second appearance to Jacob on his return to Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22; 35:6-15).  Bethel was the place that the true God met Jacob; unlike in Hosea’s day when Jacob’s descendants were seeking false gods at Beth Aven.

Jacob had originally received the promise of the covenant from God at Bethel (Genesis 28:13).  “Hosea places Bethel at the end of his retelling of the story to create a contrast between the grace Jacob received and his life of conniving, scheming, and struggling.  That is, Jacob’s machinations and battles for survival represented his old life, his life without grace, whereas his reception of the promises at Bethel represented his new life…” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, pp. 238-239).

Kidner reinforces that this change in Jacob was not in his own enterprise but was a “classic display of grace unexpected, unsought, and overwhelming” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

When Jacob returned to Bethel the second time, he worshiped there (Genesis 35:1-14).  It is ironic that the place where Jacob got right with God was Bethel, since Bethel was the place where the Israelites had gotten wrong with Him by worshipping idols. Jacob’s return to God at Bethel provided a good example for the Israelites to get right with Him, there, too.

The structure of the text, which is what is called a chiasmus, reinforces the message that Jacob met the true God at Bethel and was converted into Israel.

Hosea’s emphasis, however, is that although God met Jacob at Bethel and fellowshipped with him there, God was virtually excluded from present day Bethel by contemporary Jacob (i.e., God’s people in Hosea’s day).  For Bethel (house of God) had become Beth Aven (house of deception/iniquity).  It was there that the people courted Baal and indulged in his pagan rites.  There they acted like the old Jacob, the unredeemed Jacob.

I think it is significant to Hosea’s argument that he says at the end of v. 4, “and there God spoke with us…”  Notice the “us” instead of merely “him.”  To Hosea, God did not speak only to the past Jacob at Bethel, but now to the present Jacob at Bethel.

Verse 5 is a revelation of the name of God.  David Hubbard reminds us:

“The hymn which features Yahweh’s name in contrast to Elohim and El in vv. 3-4 are a reminder of the dangers of confusing Israel’s LORD and Savior with the gods of the land, even the high-god El” (Hosea, p. 217)

On the basis of his reading of Genesis, Hosea can proclaim, “the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name.”  Hosea is referring to the covenant name, Yahweh here, indicating that He is the “God of hosts,” the God of the “angel armies.”

“The use of the full title Yahweh God of hosts (i.e. armies of heaven and earth, [2 Sam. 5:10] found here only in Hosea) moves the focus away from any local sacred sites like Bethel and centres attention on the universal power and glory of the Lord” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)

This name reminds us of the story of Elisha, when the king of Syria surrounded Dothan with “a great army” (2 Kings 6:14).  When Elisha’s servant went to the walls the next morning he was alarmed to find such a large army surrounding them and said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (6:15).  Then we read…

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Hosea did not get this name from the Genesis record, but Amos uses it frequently and Hosea may be borrowing it from him.  It describes the God of all the earth who holds all mankind accountable and calls them to repentance.

Yahweh is God’s “memorial name.” Names reveal and reflect character traits (e.g., Ps. 135:13).  The name YHWH, was revealed to Moses in Exod. 3:14.  Before this time the patriarchs addressed God as El Shaddai (cf. Exod. 6:2-3).

What is Hosea doing here, recalling the Jacob incidents?  He is reminding them that all their scheming and machinations and political alliances would not save them.  They are like Jacob in all their efforts to protect themselves and get God’s blessings for themselves.

But they needed to come to a point of desperation.  Unlike Jacob, they were not crying out to God in tears and repenting of their sins.  “The nation of Israel continues to live like Jacob the conniver, the man without grace.  Like old Jacob, they struggle for success and security not in God, but in wealth” not in trust but in scheming.

“Jacob’s ambitions put him out of phase with God’s character right at the start of his life (cf. v. 3).  His offspring, whether as individuals or collectively—the emphatic you is singular—had to be redirected from their ancestral pattern to return again” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 217-218).

Hosea calls for three things from his people: repentance, justice, and faith.  They had turned away from Yahweh to pursue the false gods of the nations, originally the gods of Egypt, then the gods of the Canaanites and now the gods of the nations they sought to ally themselves to.

Hosea thus calls for them to turn back to Yahweh, to turn their backs to the false gods and return to the true God.

Repentance, first a change of perspective, becomes then a change of behavior.  Knowing God as He really is (v. 5) and knowing ourselves as we really are (vv. 3-4) is the pre-requisite for repentance.  When we are faced with the holiness of God and our sinfulness, and when God’s Spirit brings conviction, then we will repent.

“Love and justice” (in v. 6) are shorthand for doing all that God requires while giving the greatest emphasis on the most important parts of the Torah.  Matthew 23:23 Jesus says…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Since Yahweh had brought a lawsuit against them (v. 2) for being unfaithful to the covenant stipulations, He now reminds them of their obligations that they had failed to fulfill.

Love and justice sum up our obligation to one another.  They are also the central aspects of Yahweh’s covenant character towards His people (cf. Hosea 2:19).

To these positive characteristics they were to “hold fast to.”  Just as Jacob had said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” so we are to be equally earnest to “hold fast” to God’s moral will and wait continually for His sovereign will to be fulfilled.

“Wait continually for your God” implies an attitude of faith that seeks security in God rather than in wealth or position or allies, that perseveres in that faith even when circumstances prove difficult.  On his deathbed, Israel was able still to give this testimony: “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Gen. 49:18).

“Jacob had snatched at his destiny time and again; so had Israel and Judah with land-grabs (5:8-10), rash treaties (10:4; 12:1), and pleas to Baal (7:14-16).  Their renewed style was to wait in full hope for the divine Redeemer to meet their needs” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 218).

The lesson was that, like Jacob, the Israelites should return to their covenant God.  They should practice loyal love and justice in dealing with one another, rather than being like the old Jacob.  And they should commit to waiting in faith for God to act for them, rather than seizing control of the situation, as Jacob so often had done.

If Israel will repent, they will become like their ancestor Jacob in the best sense.

Just as Jacob was literally wrestled into submission by an angel of God, just as Jacob pleaded with tears for God’s blessing — just so must Israel return to the Lord.

Notice that Hosea’s exhortations are prefaced by the phrase “by the help of your God.”  The only way they could possibly repent, become loving and just and consistently trust in God’s help, is “by the help of God.”  We cannot become repentant on our own, but need God’s help; we cannot become loving and just in our own strength, but we need God’s help.  We depend upon God’s help even to trust Him consistently.  Without the help of God we can do nothing, as Jesus reminded His disciples, “without me you can do nothing.”

“The implication for Israel is clear: they are nothing without Yahweh, just as Jacob was nothing without Yahweh” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 192).

Essentially, Hosea is telling them that repentance is expressed in—obeying and trusting.  Obey His moral will and trust His sovereign will to be worked out for your life.  Or, we could say that what God wants from us is to trust, to treasure and to trust.

The good news is that grace can come to and transform even the worst of us.  It changed Jacob into Israel.  Grace can transform a cheater and grabber into a prince with God.  Like Jacob, we must exchange our self-sufficiency for trusting God.

 

 

 

Look Back and Learn, part 1 (Hosea 11:12-12:1)

Futility—trying one thing after another, with no success.  Bryan Wilkerson, pastor of Grace Chapel, tells this story about futility…

Years ago, when our kids were young, we were out at a themed restaurant with TV’s all over walls, playing cartoons with no sound.  Our youngest son, who was about four at the time, had his eyes glued to the TV screen.  He was watching a continuous loop of Road Runner cartoons, watching as Wile E. Coyote strapped on rocket-propelled roller skates, or shot himself out of a cannon, or launched himself from a giant slingshot in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner.  After watching intently for a long time, he had an epiphany.  Without taking his eyes off the screen, he quietly announced to our family, “No matter what he does, he’s never going to get the chicken.”

“Chasing the wind” is the metaphor Hosea uses to express Ephraim’s futility.  All their misguided efforts to pursue the good life would end up sabotaging what good life they had.

Our passage this morning is Hosea 12, but we’re including the last verse of Hosea 11, because it fits better conceptually with this chapter.

This is the beginning of the final section of Hosea which contains further messages concerning prevailing conditions in the Northern Kingdom that necessitate Israel’s judgment.  The speeches contain both oracles of the prophet and divine speeches (e.g., 12:9-11; 13:4-16; 14:4-8).  While it begins with a condemnation, it ends on a high note of God’s consolation: granted Israel’s repentance, God’s people will be restored to His favor and blessings forevermore.

David Hubbard points out that…

Hosea might have ended his book at 11:11 with the powerful, almost humorous, picture of God, the Lion, calling home his quivering family of birds.  To that return the book has been driving relentlessly, reaching it once at 1:11, then at 3:5 and again at 11:11.  But the prophecy has yet more to unfold of the nature of Israel’s sin, the intensity of God’s passionate judgment, and the glory of the ultimate reconciliation.  So here, for the final time, it traces Israel’s march from punishment to restoration.

The glory of that future day will seem distant once again as their contemporary reality needed to be faced.

The northern kingdom is undoubtedly in its last decade as these words are preached to them.

12 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. 1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt. 2 The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us– 5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” 7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. 10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

Yahweh once again brings charges against Ephraim, establishing their guilt and predicting their punishment.

Richard Patterson tells us…

As this section of the book of Hosea opens, the Lord is expressing his displeasure with His people of both kingdoms. He begins with the Northern Kingdom.  Israel has been a seedbed of treachery (v.1).

The charge of lying has been leveled previously when the Lord condemned the royal advisors for their false relations with the king (7:3).  Because of the deceptive practices that infected the Northern Kingdom at the highest levels, all Israel had become corrupt.

It even affected its worship experience, for in these God’s people lie to the lord with regard to their supposed devotion (7:13).  Through His prophet the Lord also had denounced Israel’s false dependence on its military strength rather than trusting in the lord (10:13).

In verse 12 of Hosea 11, Yahweh complained that Ephraim (Israel) had consistently lied and tried to deceive Him.

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit

He described Himself as surrounded and under attack by His own people.  Wherever He looked, all He saw was cheaters.  Like their ancestor Jacob, they were deceivers.

Not only is Israel guilty of outright lies but also of deceit in all of its dealings, Israel has become a society where violence, which often leads to bloodshed, abounds (12:2,14), where dishonesty characterizes its business dealings (v.7), and in which lust for wealth accrued in whatever way it could be obtained was a way of life (vv. 8-9).  Israel’s deception and fraud included its false—even pagan—religious rites (v.11) and its failure to heed the prophets whom God sent to guide and correct His people (v.10).  It is small wonder, then, that Yahweh feels “surrounded” by Israel’s lies and deceit.  For wherever He looked, there was only wanton debauchery.

God as likening Himself to a besieged city.  He the holy city saw all around Him the siege machinery of lies, deceit, and total apostasy.  There remained nothing for Yahweh to do but to defend His holiness by striking out in judgment against His debased nation.

Hosea also mentions Judah and David Hubbard aptly reminds us that “sin needs no passport,” but is highly contagious.  The statement that Judah “walks with God” seems, on the surface, to be a positive statement.  However, some have taken it negatively, as an unruly walk.  This descriptive verb is somewhat rare (Heb. rud, wayward).  In Jeremiah 2:31 it portrays Judah’s wandering away from the Lord.

There is also the question of whether it is Judah that is faithful to “the Holy One” or “the Holy One” who is faithful to Judah.  It seems best to take this as saying that Judah remains faithful to Yahweh, and merely points out the inconsistency of their walk, which is sometimes wayward, sometimes faithful.

However, the description is actually “holy ones” plural and the term God is El.  Hubbard points out that the term El could stand for a foreign god, an idol and that “holy ones” quite possibly describes the Canaanite pantheon (Hosea, p. 211).

We know that Yahweh—the true God, however, always remains faithful to His covenant promises, even when we are inconsistent in our devotion and faithfulness.

Thus, in Hosea 12:1 Ephraim is described as “feeding on the wind.”

1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long

The prophet Hosea builds upon the Lord’s previous statement in Hosea 11:12 by once again comparing Israel’s vacillating and deceitful foreign policy to the futility of pursuing these matters in a wrong way (12:1).

Both verbs in this passage emphasize continuous, consistent action.  What is it they say about insanity?  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Like the earlier metaphor of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind in 8:15, so here it describes the utter futility and emptiness of their pursuit of foreign nations to help them.  The word “pursues” can be translated “shepherd, tend.”  It refers to a positive process, but here expresses ultimate futility.

A similar expression is used concerning man’s inability to discover abiding satisfaction through the multiplication of his possessions.  Having enumerated various attempts he had made to find fulfillment through the accumulation of possessions the Preacher of Ecclesiastes summed up his endeavors by saying, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).  (For wind used as an image this way, cf. Job 6:26; 8:2; 15:2Ps. 78:39Eccles. 1:14; 2:11Isa. 26:18; 41:16).

The reference to the east wind suggests the hot, desert wind, called sirocco, which burns and sears and brings famine.  Adam Clarke reminds us that the east wind: “They are not only empty, but dangerous and destructive. The east wind was, and still is, in all countries, a parching, wasting, injurious wind” (cf. Isaiah 27:8).  No one in their right mind would pursue this, but Ephraim does.

Israel does not realize that its policies are a lost cause.  For what Israel will find is only the emptiness and futility that the pursuit of wind implies.  Yet when we betray our God, we are no less foolish.

Hosea again points our their deceptiveness, at the end of verse 1 when he says…

they multiply falsehood and violence

which seems best explained by the next statement…

they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

In other words, they deal deceptively with their so-called allies, making agreements with Assyria on the one hand (cf. Hos. 5:13; 8:9) and at the same time making overtures to Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4; Hos. 7:11).  Of course, they made these treaties with foreign nations rather than trusting in Yahweh.  Making a treaty with another nation for protection implicitly involved trusting those foreign gods for protection over the protection offered by your own god.

Courting two enemies at the same time was not only an act of political madness destined to bring the wrath of both nations against them, but above all was an act of disloyalty to Yahweh.

Instead of trusting in the LORD, Israel trusted in deals and payoffs to the surrounding superpowers. It was foolish for them to think that Assyria or Egypt was more powerful or dependable than the LORD was.

Keil notes

“This actually took place during the reign of Hoshea, who endeavored to liberate himself from the oppression of Assyria by means of a treaty with Egypt (2 Kings xvii. 4).”

Or, as H. Ronald Vandermey describes more explicitly…

Assyria, like the blast from the sirocco, is not Ephraim’s friend, but an uncontrollable power that will mercilessly consume all that stands before its fiery rage.  Whereas it was hazardous to make a covenant with the east wind (2 Kings 17:3), an even greater danger was created when that covenant was broken (2 Kings 17:4-6).  Ephraim had deceived the wicked sirocco, a deception that would spell disaster as the enraged east wind swept over the land (Hosea-Amos, p. 68)

The whole of Israel’s actions throughout this chapter is well characterized as trying to “herd the wind.”  Their futile attempts to save themselves, their failure to follow Jacob’s example, their false sense of security, forsaking God’s revelation to them through the prophets—each of these separate actions was foolish in itself, as foolish as trying to herd the wind.

By the way, that word “multiply” in verse 2, “multiply falsehood and violence,” is found several times throughout Hosea’s sermons

  1. lavished (multiplied) silver and gold, 2:8
  2. multiplied altars for sin, 8:11
  3. multiplied fortified cities, 8:14
  4. more (multiplied) altars, 10:1
  5. multiplied lies and violence, 12:1
  6. multiplied visions, 12:10

Again, the more Yahweh lavished his gifts upon Israel, the more Israel multiplied their sins.

As Stuart remarks, “In internal matters, the nations multiple immorality was well documented: it can be no surprise therefore that in external matters of diplomacy, their pattern of treachery continued true to form” (Hosea-Jonah, p. 190)

Although it is Ephraim/Israel that is singled out here for rebuke, the force of the context tends to suggest that although Israel is the primary focus, there is culpability in both Israel and Judah.  As Andersen and Freedman point out, “Both countries are guilty of entering non-Yahwistic covenants… . The north and south tried to curry favor with Assyria at each other’s expense. There is also indication that they played Egypt off against Assyria” (Hosea, p. 605).

Judah and the northern tribes (Ephraim) both suffered lapses in fidelity to the Lord, but Judah, unlike Ephraim, had some good kings (in particular, Hezekiah).  One of the highest points in Judah’s history was the victory over the Assyrians when Hezekiah was king (see 2 Kings 18–19, which was 20 years after Samaria fell) (ESV Study Bible)

You know, it might be appropriate today for us to ask ourselves: Am I feeding on wind?

Maybe you have invested your life in things that really don’t matter, that won’t matter 100 years from now.  Maybe you have sought to mask your pain doing things which only cause you more sorrow.  That is exactly what an idol does—it asks us to sacrifice for it and gives us nothing in return.

Oh, of course sin is a pleasure for a season.  Sin would have no seductive power at all if it didn’t provide some pleasure.  But the payoff is small and the enjoyment of it is short.

Never before has there been such an attractive array of wind food around for the Christian.  And it’s not just the “junk foods” available through most movies and television.  There are all kinds of wind salesmen around with appealing programs to “get into.”  Getting heavily involved in secular clubs and associations rather than Christian fellowship, or becoming experts in a hobby at the expense of our spiritual health are examples of wind programs.

Even our studies and careers, which can consume enormous amounts of our time and energy, may become a feeding on wind if God is left out of the picture.  We may feel fulfilled and satisfied now, but what about later?

We must have a steady diet of the solid food of the Word of God now if we are to avoid the stunted growth, starvation and emptiness that are associated with feeding on wind.  Remember that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Let’s be careful of what we munch on and not lose our appetites for the Word of God.

John Piper, in his book on fasting entitled Hunger for God, gets down to the reality of this when he says…

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.  It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.  Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.  It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.  It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.”

Israel had lost their hunger for God, satiating themselves on the supposed material blessings that came from worshiping Baal, from their under-handed business practices, from creating alliances with foreign nations for protection.  They thought they were gaining, but they were losing.

So the cry of my heart is that we would let nothing quench our appetite for God Himself.