Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 2 (Hosea 8:7-10)

Thank you for joining me today in our study of Hosea—a love story turned tragic.  Yahweh, who had betrothed Israel to Himself in covenant, finds Israel totally and persistently unfaithful.  Thus, he must judge them.

Derek Kidner notes…

“If there is one theme that unifies the diversity of this chapter, it is that of Israel’s dangerous self-reliance, with its self-appointed kings, its man-made calf, its expensive allies, its own version of religion, and its impressive fortresses.  What God makes of all this, and what kind of test it could survive, these people have not troubled themselves to ask” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 75).

D. A. Carson says…

PERHAPS THE SINGLE ELEMENT that holds together the various sins condemned in Hosea 8 is human self-reliance.

How about it?  When push comes to shove, do you tend to depend upon yourself—your own ingenuity, your own strength, your own efforts?  Or do you turn to God—trusting and depending upon Him and His help?

Today we pick up Hosea 8 in verse 7…

7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.  The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. 8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. 10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up.  And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute. 11 Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. 12 Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. 13 As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and eat it, but the LORD does not accept them.  Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. 14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.

Israel had forgotten her Maker.  They had put Yahweh out of their minds in favor of the Baals, gods of their own making.

Verse 7 climaxes the condemnation for not depending upon or worshipping Yahweh with a promise that Israel will suffer greatly for her sins.

7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

We reap what we sow.  We don’t reap the same day we plant.  We reap more than we sow.  Israel would sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

This moral law of action and consequence is just as certain as the physical laws which govern the operation of the universe.  Yet we often ignore it.

H. Ronald Vandermey notes: “The two centuries that Israel sowed the wind have yielded two millenia in which she has reaped the whirlwind (cf. 9:17). The divine law of the harvest will be meted out” (Hosea, Amos, p. 53).

Israel will finally learn that God is a God of justice and righteousness and rules a moral universe in which sin has its natural consequences that must be paid.  In reflecting on this passage, Kyle Yates has acknowledged: “Unforeseen terrors are in store for the one who has carelessly plunged into sin” (Preaching from the Prophets, p. 77).

But who sows wind?  Isn’t that a silly idea?  You can’t sow wind.

But that’s just the point.

Israel was sowing nothingness, nothing that mattered, nothing that would last.  They were wasting opportunities.  By turning first to idols and then to other nations, they were investing in emptiness.

Ironically, they sow the wind by trusting in Assyria for help against Egypt, then (although this is outside the purview of the book of Hosea) they reap the whirlwind as Assyria turns against them and destroys and exiles them.

We see this happen on a personal, and even a national scale, as little sins and offenses snowball and become huge problems and even wars.

Ethan Longhenry comments:

Hosea may have been perceived as a cantankerous lunatic in 752 BCE, but after the whirlwind of 722 it was painfully obvious just how accurate he was (Hosea 14:9). The benefit of hindsight we have regarding the failings of the people of the God before us proves relatively useless to us if we do not apply it in foresight of our current situation. May we seek to ascertain those ways in which we are not really trusting in God but trust in our own strength or in the ways of the world, turn and repent, and be saved in Christ!

In the figure of “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind” we have two laws in view: the law of the harvest and the law of multiplication.  According to the law of the harvest, you reap what you sow. If you sow wheat, you reap wheat; if you sow weeds, you reap weeds; if you sow wind, you reap wind. The law of the harvest operates in the spiritual and moral realms as well as the physical. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).  The people of Israel had invested their time and resources and energies into that which would bring no eternal benefits.  The folly and futility of their self-centered, idolatrous way of life is succinctly captured in the figure of “sowing wind.”

Am I sowing to the wind?  If I made a list of all the things I’ve done this week, how many of them will really matter in eternity?

The law of multiplication means that you get back more than you put in. Sow a few wheat seeds and you reap a field of wheat; sow a few dandelion seeds and you reap a “golden lawn”; sow the wind and you reap a whirlwind! “Whirlwind implies not only more wind; it implies devastating and destructive wind.

Several years ago I was trying to help a young man who had drinking problems and had been involved in domestic abuse, trying to get his life back together.  He was complaining that it seemed to be taking so long for things to turn around.  I occurred to me, and I told him so, that he had dug a deep pit for himself with all his bad habits, and he wouldn’t be able to climb out with just a few weeks of Bible reading.

We don’t reap the same day we sow.  It takes time for the harvest to come in.  This is what makes it so difficult.  We sow to the flesh, and we don’t reap destruction that day…it may not come for weeks or months, even years.  Thus, we grow more emboldened to sin, because we aren’t reaping destruction right away.

On the other hand, we often get discouraged when sowing to the spirit, that we don’t reap life and peace and other good benefits right away.  We live in an instant society which expects results quickly, and it is hard for us to stick to tasks that don’t pay off right away.  But we must.

Also, we sometimes complain that the sentence doesn’t fit the crime, that we are experiencing judgment that is worse than our sins.  Certainly it seems that way.  But usually our sin was sown over a long period of time, unfelt by us until we experience the contracted period of judgment.

Hosea 12:1 will again speak of Israel “feeding on the wind.”  What does that mean?  Have you ever tried to eat a “wind sandwich” or “wind fingers”?  Wind will never satisfy our hunger.  There is no sustenance and there are no nutrients in wind.

Israel was feeding itself with the “good things” of the “good life” and listening to the words of the false prophets saying, “peace, peace,” but it was all wind.  They stuffed themselves with the allurements and attractions of the surrounding pagan nations and filled themselves with the all-too-appealing words of the false prophets.  But they ended up empty and starved.

Is it not true that this is also quite possible today?  Isn’t it common to fill up on this world’s delights and end up feeling empty?  We see it all the time.  The woman at the well was a woman who tried to fill her emptiness with husbands.  Jesus showed her that even the fact that she had to come to the well to draw water every day was a form of relying on this world to satisfy.  Only living water from Jesus could truly satisfy, and she eventually believed that was satisfied.

The remainder of verse 7 says…

The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.

He’s saying, you are going to look out at your fields, and see nothing grow to maturity.  In the end, all your work will produce nothing.  And if that weren’t frustration enough, even if you were to get yield from your crops, foreigners would come in a swoop it up and enjoy it instead of you.

This emptiness of fields would come, according to Kidner, either “as the fertility cult of Baal failed its devotees (see v. 7a, b with 2:5, 9), or as the punitive armies stripped the land (v. 7c).

This compact pseudo-sorites has parallels elsewhere.  This all indicate that there is no final survivor.  For example, Joel 1:4 says…

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.

Yahweh wants them to know that the frustration they will feel, that nothing in life is working, is due to them “sowing the wind,” depending upon idols and allies to provide life and health and security for them.

Not only will Israel’s crops be swallowed up by invaders, but they would be as well.

8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel.

Being “swallowed up” is a figure of judgment, as Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).  It speaks of a final end.  The cup, which has no value anymore, and is destined to be thrown away, is the first of three images (donkey, paying whore, v. 9) which convey that all their attempts to gain help from other nations will merely make them helpless in the end.

At some point, the nations would no longer be interested in draining away (cup image) the wealth of Israel through tributary payments and would happily discard them once those resources were drained away cf, 7:9; Isa. 1:7).

As long as Israel remained faithful to Yahweh, he made sure that anyone who tried to devour them got devoured themselves, as Jeremiah recounts:

2:3 Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest.  All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”

Psalm 124 also speaks of God’s protection in this way…

1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side– let Israel now say–2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, 3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; 4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; 5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Yahweh longed to be their protection, but they would not turn to Him.  They thought they knew a better way, that they could take care of themselves.

Israel, who right now enjoyed a land of their own, and national sovereignty, would soon be “among the nations,” scattered in exile.  Those nations from whom they had curried favor, would consider them a “useless vessel.”

Back in 7:16 Hosea had predicted this sad judgment: that they would face derision in the land of Egypt.  John Trapp says, “To have Egyptians deride us, and that for sin, is a heavy judgment.  So here, to be disdained and vilified by such, as an old broken vessel, fit for none but unclean uses.

And why is this?  Verse 9 tells us.

9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers.

Emissaries had been sent to Assyria to secure protection.  This possibly happened under Menahem (cf. 2 Kings 15:19-20).

Israel had depended upon Assyria for help, instead of turning to Yahweh.  They would become useless and foolish because they had failed to depend upon the Lord.

Jamieson points out that…

“Usually foreigners coming to Israel’s land were said to ‘go up‘; here it is the reverse, to intimate Israel’s sunken state, and Assyria’s superiority.”

“The main context here is foreign policy, but the main issue is faith–and fidelity. As the last chapter shows (7:11ff), Israel was gambling on one hunch after another, forever changing sides and (as our verse 10 points out) desperately bidding for influential friendships” (Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 80).

Anderson and Freedman also note the geographic reference, saying…

“In relation to the Exodus and Egypt generally, verb usage is commonly “to do down” (to slavery and Egypt) and “to come up” (to freedom and from Egypt.”

Two figures of speech indicate the nature of Israel’s dependence upon foreign powers for protection.  First, they are “a wild donkey wandering alone.”  This indicates that they were being stubbornly willful in turning away from Yahweh to Assyria.  They were like a stubborn ass intent upon following its own path.  It will not listen to Yahweh.

The description of Israel “wandering alone” indicates that although Israel had joined itself to Assyria in hopes of remaining independent, they would soon by all alone, with no help from anyone.

Secondly, Israel is compared to a harlot, but even worse than a harlot.  Not only did she pimp herself out to other gods and other nations, but she paid them to do so, rather than being paid.  She gained no benefit whatsoever from the union.

Ezekiel 16:33 records as an extreme of depravity the situation in which the prostitute pays men to make love to her.

Whereas Yahweh’s nature is to graciously and freely give, the idols and nations demanded payment in order to provide necessities and protection.

David Hubbard says that this verse…

“points to the picture of a people so lonely, so cut off from covenant roots, that they are no longer attractive (cf. “useless vessel” in v. 8) and now have to pay others to give them the attention they crave.:

This corresponds to Jeremiah’s later picture of Judah’s lust combines the two images:

2:24 a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind!  Who can restrain her lust?  None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her.

Hosea points out the reality of what would happen in their dependence upon Assyria…

10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up.  And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.

Hiring allies would do them no good whatsoever.  Even though Assyria would be the one to conquer them and take them away, it was Yahweh who is ultimately responsible for gathering them up into exile.

The “gathering up” mentioned in verse 10 is not the gathering up of Israel from the nations in salvation (as predicted for some future time in 1:10), but gathering Israel to the nations for judgment.

This verse came about as a result of Tiglath-Pilesar’s foray into Israel in 734 B.C.  During the Syro-Ephraimite war against Judah, Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help (the impact for Judah would be felt later).

The Assyrian King, while not really needing it to act, had an open invitation to invade the Northern Kingdom with support from Judah to the South. The Assyrian armies began to deal one by one with the rebellious nations. In 734, Tiglath-Pileser’s armies decimated the Philistine territories along the coast southwest of Judah, cut off any assistance from Egypt to the south, and then turned back north to deal with Israel. By 733 the Assyrians had taken most of the northern territories of Israel and surrounding areas, and were poised to take Samaria, the northern capital (2 Kings 15:29). Later, they would strike further north and ravage the Syrian territories.

It makes sense that, at this point, that Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea who took control of the Northern Kingdom.  During the reign of Hoshea, the aristocracy would writhe because of tribute that was due Assyria.  When Hoshea (732-724 B.C.) came to the throne, he immediately surrendered the Northern Kingdom to Shalmaneser V (some think this was Shalmaneser IV), the new king of Assyria, and paid tribute (2 Kings 17:1-3).  This action probably saved Samaria from destruction, at least for a while, but only put the Northern Kingdom more firmly in the grasp of the Assyrians.

There was no doubt still a faction within Israel that wanted independence.  While Hoshea had acted to save what remained of the nation, he eventually saw what he thought was an opportunity to break free of Assyrian control.  He made an alliance with Egypt, thinking he could rely on them for military assistance, and withheld tribute from Assyria (2 Kings 17:4).  But Egypt at this time was weak and was worthless as a military ally.

As H. Ronald Vandermey says…

Although the imposition of tribute upon the people had led to “suffering for awhile,” a greater suffering was soon coming in the form of activity. (Hosea-Amos, p. 54)

Shalmaneser’s army attacked the reduced Israelite Kingdom in 724, captured most of the land, and took Hoshea prisoner.  Only Samaria remained.  It was besieged for 3 years, and was finally taken in 721 (2 Kings 17:5-6).  The city was destroyed, the northern Kingdom transformed into a province of the Assyrian Empire, a number of the people taken as prisoners or exiles to Assyria, and other people resettled in the captured territory (2 Kings 17:24-34).

The Northern Kingdom had ceased to exist. Even though there were continued prophetic dreams of a restored and unified Kingdom (for example, Ezek 37:18-22) it would forever disappear from history.  The writer of 2 Kings gives a long theological evaluation of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, attributing their demise to faithlessness to their covenant with Yahweh in worshipping other gods (2 Kings 17:7-18), which is exactly as Hosea predicted.

David Hubbard summarizes:

They have a habit of dependency on foreign support which they can no longer afford.  The proverb of sowing and reaping with which this section began will more than come true in Ephraim’s experience. (Hosea, p. 161)

One wonders what Hosea would say to us today, in the US of A.  Would he warn us of turning our backs on him and engaging in worthless lives, even giving approval to wickedness? (This is what a culture does as it goes swirling down the drain, according to Paul in Romans 1:18-32, see esp. v. 32).

If so, we may “reap the whirlwind” ourselves.  It is time to turn now and begin sowing to the Spirit, engaging in activities that will have value for eternity.

Links I Like

Sin is Cosmic Treason by R. C. Sproul

It is sometimes difficult, especially for those of us who grew up in Christian homes, to feel the gravity of our sinfulness.  R. C. Sproul calls it “cosmic treason.”

5 Steps to Feeling Better About Killing Unborn Children by Grah

Have you ever wondered at how anyone could possibly justify killing a child?  Of course, one way is to redefine them as sub-human, not fulling human.  But this article identifies five anesthetic justifications: (1) Use cold, scientific, dissociative terms; (2) major in women and forget the foetus; (3) ignore the evils of “service providers” such as Planned Parenthood; (4) speak about victory, progress, and triumphs; and (5) believe the lies.

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 1 (Hosea 8:1-6)

Thank you for joining me today in our study of the book of Hosea.  I know that these messages have primarily focused upon the sad news of judgment, judgment, judgment.  Just realize that this is the place that Israel had come to—they had rejected God and His ways so long, that now was the time of judgment.

Hosea is writing in the couple of decades prior to the sack of Samaria by Assyria in 722 B.C.  These last two decades were filled with intrigue and assassinations, with having to pay tribute to Assyria and growing weaker economically, with defeat in battle and a society that was falling apart.

In a word, they were reaping what they had sown.  Verse 7 in Hosea 8 says, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”  In Galatians 6, Paul spells it out a little more in depth:

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Paul is focused upon the positive truth—keep on working, for you will reap a good harvest.  Hosea is focusing upon the negative side—keep on sinning, and you will reap the kind of harvest you do not want!

Listen to Hosea’s words in Hosea 8:

1 Set the trumpet to your lips!  One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. 2 To me they cry, “My God, we–Israel–know you.” 3 Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him. 4 They made kings, but not through me.  They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. 5 I have spurned your calf, O Samaria.  My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? 6 For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces. 7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.  The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. 8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. 10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up.  And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute. 11 Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. 12 Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. 13 As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and eat it, but the LORD does not accept them.  Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. 14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.

Hosea 8 explains the tragic results of a nation who had forgotten their maker.  The relationship between Yahweh and Israel was unique, going all the way back to the call of Abraham, and in another way to the Exodus event.

Yahweh rescued them out of Egypt and “found” them in the desert and betrothed them to Himself through covenant.  Hosea presents those early days (even though by no means perfect) as the honeymoon period.  Israel was Yahweh’s bride, his luxuriant vine (Hosea 10:1).  But before long, delight gave way to disappointment, because she forgot the one who rescued her, who betrothed her.

They forgot the covenant and turned to idols.  They treated God’s laws as “strange things.”  “She substituted other gods for Yahweh, made other contracts to take the place of the covenant, and put her faith in her own devices…” (David Garland, Hosea, p. 59).

In verse 1 Yahweh brings another word of judgment against “the house of the Lord.”  He is not talking about the temple in Jerusalem, but the nation of Israel, in particular, the northern ten tribes known as Israel and Ephraim.

Back in Hosea 7:9 Hosea had said…

Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not.

So here the Lord commanded Hosea to announce coming judgment by telling him to put a trumpet to his lips.  The blowing of the shophar would alert them to an imminent threat, that an invader, Assyria, was coming (cf. 5:8).  Israel’s enemy would swoop down on the nation as an eagle (or vulture) attacking its prey (cf. 5:14; Deut. 28:49).  The image suggests swiftness and a voracious appetite.

A “[vulture] … over the house of the LORD” is a way of saying that Jerusalem is as good as dead: the carrion eaters are already gathering for their feast. The people might be living in relative prosperity and peace, but the ominous signs were there for those with eyes to see. (D. A. Carson)

The reason for this judgment was Israel’s transgression (an overt overstepping) of Yahweh’s covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) and the nation’s rebellion against His Law (the Mosaic Law; cf. 7:13).

The ESV Study Bible has this clarification:

Note that he says “transgressed,” not “annulled” (cf. 6:7).  The Lord had not “annulled” his covenant with Israel; she was still his estranged wife.  While it was a foregone conclusion that Israel would violate the covenant, provisions for reconciliation were put in place (Lev. 26:40–45Deut. 31:27–29; cf. Deut. 30:1–10).

The covenant between Yahweh and Israel stands at the heart of this passage.  It is mentioned in this indictment, implied in the “law” and the covenant cry “we know you” as well as the form of judgment against them.

Hosea is Yahweh’s response to Israel’s cry in verse 2: “My God, we—Israel—know you.”  Hosea 8 proves the hypocrisy of this claim.  Pious words without a changed heart could not reverse the planned judgment.

“We know you God.”  It is possible that this very cry was used as they worshipped the Baals!

It is a reliance on birth and breeding reminiscent of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day saying, “we are descendants of Abraham”; “we are disciples of Moses.  We know…” (John 8:33; 9:28f).  The divine reply in both cases is “your actions drown out your words.”

The same test is applied to us in 1 John 2:4: “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,”

In verse 2 the Israelites claimed that they acknowledged (knew) the authority of their God, but their transgressions and rebellion proved that they did not (cf. 4:1, 6; 5:4).  Their knowledge of Him was only historical and traditional (cf. John 8:33), not vital and relational.

This is important.  The reality is that there will be many, many church goers even, to whom on that day Jesus will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

In that context of that chilling statement are people who claimed to work, even do miracles, in Jesus’ name.  Surely, we would say, these are God’s people.  But God says, “I never knew you.”

Eugene Peterson’s The Message, says it like this:

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me.  What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills.  I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’  And do you know what I am going to say?  ‘You missed the boat.  All you did was use me to make yourselves important.  You don’t impress me one bit.  You’re out of here.’”

That is why Paul, in Philippians 3, casts aside all his pedigree and achievements, and counted them as trash, compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  From then on, Paul made it his highest aim and deepest determination to know Christ.  And a big part of that meant being “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

Do you know Jesus Christ?  Does He know you?

You may be a Sunday school teacher, a preacher, a lifelong missionary, but do you know Him?  Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by faith?  It starts with being “found in him,” not trusting in yourself and your own efforts, but fully and solely trusting in the work of Jesus Christ in your behalf.

Do you know Christ in this way?

You can know all about him.  You can quote theologians and have a precise doctrinal statement, but do you know Him?

Israel didn’t know Yahweh, not in this way.  They knew about Him, they knew the Scriptures, but they were not trusting in Him.

The Israelites cried out, “God, we know you.”  But they were living in their delusions; God did not know them, and they did not know God.  This possibility makes us cry out for our own hearts to be sincere and truly seeking the Lord.

Verse 3 then explains what happens when one has no personal relationship with Yahweh—we reject what is good.

Because Israel had rejected the good (i.e., the Lord’s moral and ethical requirements), an enemy would pursue him (cf. Deut. 28:45).

Do you realize that God’s laws set up boundaries that are good for you?  Many people rebel against God’s laws today, thinking that they restrict our freedom to pursue our own good.  In reality, God sets up these boundaries (like sex only within marriage between a husband and wife) to protect us and give us the greatest joy.

But Israel was rejecting the good.  They were choosing to do their own thing, whenever and however they wanted…and the result was that they experienced the bad.

In Hosea, the bad they would experience would be the appearance of the “vulture,” in this context likely a reference to Assyria.  They were the prey.  These “lovers” whom Israel had turned to would turn and devour them.

When we reject the good, we fall for a bargain that is no bargain and end up paying for it.

One of the ways they showed they were rejecting the good, is that they “made kings, but not through me.  They set up princes, but I knew it not.” (v. 4a).  This is referring to that tumultuous decade in which four kings had been assassinated.  The word “they” in they made kings is emphatic.  It was them, not God, who determined who would be king.

The problem is that they did not consult God in setting up kings and princes.  They flaunted their autonomy and did it themselves, at their own whim.  It was not that Yahweh had no idea what was going on, but that they did not include Him in the process.

James Montgomery Boice warns: ““To choose leaders without the direction of God is not only sinful, it is foolish.  Those who follow their own wisdom in the choice of leaders inevitably get what they deserve.”

Stuart reminds us…

“Yahweh alone determines who can be king either by charismatic gifts or by direct revelation through a prophet.  He gives kings to the nations (e.g., 1 Kgs 19:15-16); they do not decide who their kings will be. … The king was Yahweh’s representative or regent, not the people’s choice.” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 131).

Kidner notes:

“This disastrous king-making was part of a long series in Scripture, starting as far back as Abimelech, that ‘bramble’ only fit to start a forest fire (Judges 9:15) and reaching its spiritual climax in the cry, ‘Not them man, but Barabbas!; (Jon 18:40).  That cry is echoed wherever the voice of the people (our vaunted democracy) drowns the voice of God; where we set up leaders and regimes supposedly answerable only to ourselves, where we treat even the moral law as subject to the vote or to the climate of opinion” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 77).

God was to determine who would be their king by appointing the first in a monarchic line. He chose Saul (1 Sam. 9:17), and later appointed David (1 Sam. 16:13).  Even among the northern kings He was active, supporting such kings as Jehu (2 Kings 9:6).  But in the dark days of assassination, opportunists were not interested in the choice of the living God.  Violently seizing political power had nothing to do with justice or righteousness.  And the people of Israel seemed to approve.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.  They also “made idols.”  These man-made gods had an even longer history than there man-appointed kings, going back to the foot of Mount Sinai where Aaron made a golden calf (Exodus 32:1ff).

They took their silver and gold, and cast them in the form of some creature and then worshipped them, thinking that they would provide fertile crops and fertile wombs and protect them from their enemies.

Instead, it would end up in “destruction.”  The idea behind this word is to be “cut off.”  As a covenant was “cut” when it was made and enacted, so the judgment for violating it was to be “cut off.”

What does the bull represent?  Brute strength and sexual potency–power and pleasure–two of the gods of our own (well, all) age.  These are qualities that a corrupt heart and society idolizes.

Samaria’s calf was situated at Bethel.  Hosea clearly links the calf of Bethel with the citizens of Samaria when he describes their mourning at its departure in 10:5-6.

What are you making, or choosing, that will end up in your own destruction?

Just as Israel rejected the good laws of God (v. 2), verses 5-6 indicate that Yahweh will reject the calf they worship.

5 I have spurned your calf, O Samaria.  My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? 6 For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.

[Actually, there is debate over whether the phrase means that Israel had spurned their calf, having finally seen the lie in it, or that the calf had spurned Israel, but the most likely reading is that Yahweh spurns Israel’s calf.]

The calf spoken of is likely the golden calf that Jeroboam erected both in Dan (the far north) and in Bethel (near the border between Ephraim and Judah).  Jeroboam wanted to make it easier for them to worship.  Instead of having to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship, they could worship “closer to home.”  This is referred to in 1 Kings 12:28-30…

28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

There is evidence of the worship of the calf at Tel Dan in northern Israel today.

From the ESV Archaeology Bible…

Excavations at Tel Dan have uncovered the ritual center from the time of Jeroboam I (930–910 BC).  The installation lay at the northern edge of the mound near the city spring. It was built upon previous pagan cult centers at the site.  The Israelite sanctuary had three principal parts: a square enclosure that included a sacrificial altar, a series of side rooms for storage and administration, and a podium that served as a high place for the housing and worship of the golden calf.  The high place or bamah was a monumental edifice measuring more than 50 feet (15 m) long and constructed of ashlar masonry.  The sacrificial altar to the south of the podium/high place was rectangular in shape, measured c. 16 by 19 feet (4.8 by 5.7 m), and was also built of ashlar blocks.

Later in the ninth century BC the cult installation at Dan was rebuilt on a grander scale.  The podium/high place was enlarged, a new paved courtyard was built around the podium and the altar, and numerous rooms were added to the complex.  It is not certain who did the rebuilding, although it may have been King Ahab, who did much monumental building throughout the land of Israel.  In any event, the expansion of the structure at this time probably reflected an increase in its use and importance for the northern kingdom.

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The calf Jeroboam erected, however, became a stumbling block to Israel.  It failed to represent Yahweh in the first place (breaking the 2nd commandment), and soon became the symbol for the worship of Baal.  Yahweh rejected this “god” in the form of a calf.

Archaeologists have found sculptures of Baal standing on a bull.

“Your calf is rejected” “is literally ‘your calf stinks.’” (Wood)  That’s what God thought of their idols!

Yahweh is infuriated.  The honor of a jealous God has been offended just like in Exodus 32 where both Moses and Yahweh were incensed by Aaron’s golden calf.  His righteous countenance has been set ablaze and will only be quenched by Israel’s full return (11:9; 14:4).

“That burning wrath, not forgiving love, is Yahweh’s disposition here is due both to the lack of Israel’s penitence and to the intensity of their sin” (David Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 157-158).

His anger burns against Israel because of their idolatry, and He asks, “How long will they be incapable of innocence?”

All idols are man-made.  God did not make this idol, or any other.  This is the irony of it all—that a “god” would be worthy of worship when you and I are its creators!  It is foolish, that’s what it is.

They made it, it is not God.  They should have known that it was not God, but they believed the lie.

Hosea’s charge continues: Israel is “incapable of innocence” (8:5b).  What will it take for this situation to change?  Verse 6 may be an insight into the psychology of idolatry.  As long as the image remains, it will influence the people in a certain way.  The calf had become a universal psychosis: the people imagined that it represented God.  They knew that a craftsman made it; they knew it was their own creation.  But as long as it remained, they were unable to conceive of God apart from it—they could not be “innocent” before him.  The only cure for this spiritual situation was to forcibly remove the idol.  Thus, it will be “broken to pieces.” (ESV Expository Commentary)

Then, at the end of v. 6, Yahweh pronounces judgment against this idol.  As the calf-idol in Aaron’s day was pulverized, so this idol shall be broken to pieces (compare also 2 Kings 23:15).

Worshipers cannot autonomously ignore his commands forever and be blessed by him.  Idols and false gods, on the other hand, do not require an inner change of heart.  They do not demand a monogamous relationship.  Why would they care how many other gods are worshiped?  But Israel’s Maker considers all other objects of faith to be rivals for the hearts and minds of his people and thus an evil influence, a source of spiritual adultery. (ESV Expository Commentary)

As Hosea will go on to explain throughout this chapter, the places of worship (“altars”), presumably set up for the purpose of taking care of their sins, seeking forgiveness, instead become occasions for further sin (8:11).  “This was so because the primary motive for these sacrifices was not the restoration of a right relationship with Yahweh, it was an effort at satisfying their insatiable desires” (David Garland, Hosea, p. 60).

Israel’s worship is unacceptable. Judgment must fall (v. 13). Such judgment will indeed befall not only God’s people who rebel against him but also those from any people who reject him. But those who look to his Son Jesus Christ in contrition for deliverance find the cross of Calvary to be the location of their judgment—what they deserve at the end of history has befallen Christ in the middle of history (1 Pet. 3:18). (ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible)

Why There Was No Hope of Recovery for Israel (Hosea 7)

Today we’re going to take a deeper dive into Hosea chapter 7:

1 When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. 2 But they do not consider that I remember all their evil.  Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. 3 By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. 4 They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. 5 On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. 6 For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. 7 All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers.  All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me. 8 Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. 9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. 10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this. 11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. 12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. 13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!  Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!  I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. 14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue.  This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.

Roy Hunnicutt summarizes Israel’s sins here as corrupt (vv. 1-7), compromised (vv. 8-10), capricious (vv. 11-13) and careless (vv. 15-16).

Here is the situation—and it’s really this way all the way through the book of Hosea—Yahweh wants to restore Israel.  God wants to save them, to favor them.  But every time He seeks to do so, they shove their sins in His face.  They betray Yahweh with deepest treacheries.  They consistently behave in ways that make it impossible for God to restore them.

How about you?  Do you live in patterns of persistent sin?  Are you missing out on God’s blessing because you are in love with your sin?  Are you nursing a grudge?  Listen to the chilling words of Hebrews 12:15

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Grace may be all around us, but we can miss it if we allow a “root of bitterness” to take root and spring up.

Israel was missing out on God’s gracious restoration because their loyalty was shallow, as we saw back in Hosea 6:4-11.  Now, at the very moment God would heal Israel, the continuing corruption of the people was revealed (vv. 1-2).  They believed their sins were hidden, secret.

The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs warned us:

Take heed of secret sins.  They will undo thee if loved and maintained: one moth may spoil the garment; one leak drown the ship; a penknife stab and kill a man as well as a sword; so one sin may damn the soul; nay, there is more danger of a secret sin causing the miscarrying of the soul than open profaneness, because not so obvious to the reproofs of the world; therefore take heed that secret sinnings eat not out good beginnings.

On the other hand, listen to the prayer of Christina Rossetti:

O Lord, grant us grace never to parley with temptation, never to tamper with conscience, never to spare the right eye, or hand, or foot that is a snare to us; never to lose our souls, though in exchange we should gain the whole world.

Instead of Israel taking heed to their lives and aligning themselves in obeying God’s will, their sins just kept piling up, a stench in God’s nostrils.  “If it were not for the full payment for sin made upon Calvary, we too would stand eternally unacceptable before God” (H. Ronald Vandermay, Hosea, p. 48).

Instead, 1 Peter 3:18 comforts us…

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…

What can God do?  When people continue in unrepentant sin, He cannot forgive.  He must judge.  Here in Hosea, every time that God is at the point of restoring His people, fresh evidences of corruption surface.

Israel’s chronic ailment, disloyalty to God, had now spread like a cancer into the social and political systems of the land.  From verses 1-3 we can observe that the whole kingdom—from priests to princes to people—were “living a lie.”

Israelite society was enjoying an early version of the “new morality,” encouraged political corruption, and winked at the rising crime rate.  Verse 1 tells us “they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside.”

But there is a tragic flaw in in all their sinning—the people didn’t consider the reality that all their wickedness was clearly seen by Yahweh.  They are “before my face,” or maybe we would say it today “in my face.”  But even worse, they are “remembered” by Yahweh.  He takes it into account.

The excuse “everybody’s doing it” will not cover their sins.  Just let that sink in…No matter how private your sin, no matter how prevalent it is in society, God sees it and He will judge it.  Listen to these verses, scattered throughout Scripture…

Rev 3:1 “I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

Pro 15:3  The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Psa 69:5  O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Don’t be deceived.  You will reap what you sow.

God cannot “forget” our sins until they are forgiven.  There is a precious promise for those who come to God under the New Covenant: For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34).  We often wish that time would make God forget our sin, but it doesn’t.  Only the atoning substitute of Jesus, crucified in our place under the New Covenant makes God forget our sin.

The effect that the breakdown in religious and moral standards had on the political powers of the land is delineated in vv. 3-7.  Rather than rising above the wickedness, the kings and princes were willing participants in the thrill of doing “what was right in their own eyes.”

They are compared to an oven, which gets hotter and hotter until it blazes out destructively.  Their ambitions, left unchecked, would lead to a series of assassinations.  Apparently, this was fueled by alcohol, as verse 5 says they were “heated by wine.”  It seems that it was the inebriation of the princes, like the sleep of the oven watcher, that left their sovereign to the mercy of the plotters.

“On the day of our king” (v. 5) likely refers to the anniversary of a coronation date, a date that Derek Kidner notes should have had the stamp of greatness and celebration on it, rising to the vision of such a Psalm as 72

1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! 6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! 7 In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

Instead, it was an orgy of passions and ambitions for power.  Passions would flare into murder, stirred by wine.  “With such a fever running at every level of society, it was no coincidence that Israel’s last three decades were a turmoil of intrigue, as one conspirator after another hacked his way to the throne, only to be murdered in his turn,” says Derek Kidner (The Message of Hosea, p. 71).

In verse 7, Hosea wails, “all their kings have fallen,” a reference not only to the murders of Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah, but also to the disastrous reign of Menahem, who allowed Israel to become a vassal state of Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) and then prophetically to Hoshea, who would soon by imprisoned by Assyria (2 Kings 17:4) and be the last of the kings of Israel.

A continuing dynasty, as existed in Judah, never succeeded in the North.  The reason was that none of the Israelites sought the Lord.  Yes, they offered sacrifices, but not to Yahweh.  They tried everything else, but didn’t cry out to the Lord.

Verses 8-16 give us a third reason for the inability of Yahweh to restore Israel to favor and the blessings of the covenant—their dependence upon other nations for their security.  Instead of turning to Yahweh to be their protector, they were foolishly playing one nation against another, first going to Assyria against Egypt and then Egypt against Assyria.  This political roulette would backfire against them.

In the wilderness God had chosen Israel to be a nation holy and separate unto Himself.  He didn’t want them to associate with or depend upon the other nations because of the inevitable contamination it would bring (Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 33:28).

But, in the words of Hosea 7:8 “Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples…”  In particular, instead of turning to and trusting in Yahweh to be their protector, Ephraim had turned to other nations.

Yahweh compares Ephraim to an “unturned cake” in v. 8.  Ephraim had mixed itself with the pagan nations like unleavened dough mixed with leaven, so she was like a pancake that the cook had not turned over, all burnt and black on one side, and soggy and runny on the other.  In other words, she was only half-baked, worthless, not what God intended or what could nourish others.  She was hard and crusty toward Yahweh but soft and receptive toward other nations and their gods.

Ephraim was now useless to God and to their mission to be a light to the nations.

Security could only be found in Yahweh and trusting in Him.

Nothing is more foolish than thinking you are strong when you are not.  It is like Samson shorn of his locks trying to fight off the Philistines.  Israel’s foolishness is seen in that they don’t realize how weak they are.

Hosea says…

9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not.

Roy Hunnicutt explains:

“A note of tragedy rests in the [repeated] fact that ‘he knows it not.’  There are fewer more pathetic situations than one in which in individual loses power and influence without being aware of it himself.  Consequently he becomes as joke or a buffoon at best, a fool at worst” (Roy Hunnicutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 47).

The fact is that Israel’s strength had been steadily drained away through the tributes Menahem had been paying to Assyria, and by the disastrous and costly Syro-Ephraimite war, in which she allied with Syria (Isaiah 7:2) and lost.

Now Ephraim is like a man who believes he is still young and strong, but doesn’t see or admit age creeping up on him, and she will be soundly defeated by Assyria.  She will have no strength to stand because Yahweh is no longer in her corner.

Israel was finished.  Everyone know it before she did.  Life was swiftly ebbing away.  She had come upon her last days, but was not aware of it.

“This is the way of compromise.  It saps your strength without your awareness, until suddenly you are no more than a joke among those who see you as you actually are, a buffoon or a fool who cannot see what compromise has done” (Roy Hunnicutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 47).

Ironically, they believed that they hid their sins from Yahweh, but He knows (v. 2), and they themselves did not know their own weaknesses (v. 9).

All the warning signs are there—just like gray hairs—but Ephraim remains ignorant.  Even the testimony of the Lord their God, the “pride of Israel,” could not provoke this apostate nation to reverse her course and seek the Lord.

It makes me wonder just how far down this path the United States of America has transgressed.

What kept them from turning back to Yahweh?  Their pride.  They believed they could figure it out themselves and take care of it themselves.  They didn’t need God.  Verse 10 says…

10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this.

Instead of taking pride in Yahweh, they took pride in themselves.  Despite all of Yahweh’s overtures to them, they ignored him, despite “all this.”

Lack of proper response to God is a dominant theme of this entire section:

  • and none of them calls upon me (v. 7)
  • and he knows it not (v. 9, 2x)
  • nor do they seek him for all this (v. 10)
  • but they speak lies against me (v. 13)
  • they do not cry to me from their heart (v. 14)
  • they rebel against me (v. 14)
  • yet they devise evil against me (v. 15)

“No wonder that God has to keep turning up the volume of his judgment, a judgment implied in for (or ‘in’) all this, until it reaches an intensity that captures Israel’s attention.  Only after judgment has reached the terrifying magnitude of destruction of the entire kingdom and the exile of its people will the seeking and retuning take place (3;5: 11:10; 14:1-2)” (David Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 148-149).

So Hosea introduces another simile to describe how Ephraim was acting and why it was impossible for God to restore them to favor…

11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. 12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.

Ephraim flies first to one nation, then to another, uncertain about where to turn, displaying no loyalty and no sense.  She kept faith with no one, least of all with God, but changed alliances with every shift of the political wind.

The words “without sense” are literally “without heart.”  It expresses the lack of heart towards God which then resulted in silly and foolish decisions.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Fear of man makes one foolish.

The true senselessness of her foreign policy is shown by Ephraim’s crying out to her natural enemies Egypt and Assyria in times of distress.

An historical example of that occurred during the time of Pekah, who sent to Egypt for assistance while under the vassalship of Assyria.  For his disloyalty to Assyria, Pekah lost both his country and his life (2 Kings 15:29-30).

As is announced in verse 12, Ephraim’s freedom to pursue the help of other nations was fast coming to an end.  With Ephraim now securely trapped in Yahweh’s net, the Lord finally would chastise them “according to the report made to the congregation.”

Whereas earlier in vv. 8-9 judgment was a matter of natural cause and effect–stupid conduct receives dire results (Galatians 6:7), verse 12 reminds us that Yahweh is also directly involved in bringing judgment against Israel.

The word “chastise” or discipline, is the term normally used for the training of a child.  It does not represent destruction, but the warnings and disciplinary acts of a parent.  It is quite possible that this is referring to all of God’s past acts of giving them the law and sending them prophets to rebuke them.

The report made to the congregation likely refers to the spelling out of covenant blessings and curses back in Deuteronomy 32.  The tragedy is that Israel could have lived under God’s blessing and favor, enjoying the land and long lives.  Instead, they had chosen death and destruction.

Verse 13 rehearses the Lord’s utter chagrin that Israel had strayed from him and rebelled against him.

13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!  Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!

The case against Ephraim (and Judah) has been built up, charge upon charge, until the evidence is overwhelming.  The wicked skirmishes between north and south (5:8-12), the foolish overtures to Assyria (5:13), the empty ploy of shallow repentance (6:1-3), the priestly plots of violence and assassinations (6:7-10; 7:3-7), Ephraim’s stupid foreign policies (7:8-12)–these have all left Yahweh no recourse but to announce the advent of his judgment, yet he does so with great pain and no joy.

For the people’s transgressions, Yahweh pronounces a “woe” upon them, a word of judgment normally reserved for judgments upon heathen nations.  Such a woe is well deserved because of Israel’s treacherous betrayal of Yahweh’s love and grace.

The word “strayed” is better translated “fled,” to indicate a deliberate attempt to escape God’s sovereignty, which is magnified by the word “rebelled.”

Plaintively Yahweh cries, “I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.”

He would reclaim them once again.  He would rescue them as He had before.  This word redeem should remind them of God’s gracious act and mighty power in saving them out of Egypt.  Yahweh would do that again, He wanted to, but he cannot.

How do they “speak lies”?  In that they pretended to worship Yahweh, but instead worshipped other gods.

14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.

That they had again returned to their worship of the Baals is evident by the words “beds” (where they engaged in ritual prostitution, Mic. 2:1), “grain and wine” (the gifts they sought from the Baals, Hosea 2:8, 9, 22) and “gash themselves” (the ritual cutting in hopes of gaining Baal’s attention, 2 Kings 18:28; Jere. 16:6).

Idolatry itself is the greatest lie, lying about God and who He really is, or who is really God.

What can God do with the insincere?  What can he do?  Nothing.

“They rebel against me” not only summarizes the unrelenting waywardness of vv. 13-14 but of the whole section beginning back in 5:8.

To rebel against God is bad enough, but what the Lord is repeatedly pointing out throughout Hosea (both in his own life and through his prophecies) is that they are sinning against love–the greatest, most faithful love that exists.

The betrayal of it all is expressed again in verse 15

15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me.

Yahweh was the one to found them in the desert.  God had redeemed them, fought for them, trained them and strengthened them to take a land for themselves.  They had prospered under God.

But now, their hearts are so warped that they “devise evil against” the very one who had so lovingly helped them.  They plot in their hearts treason and betrayal against God!

The language here speaks of Yahweh’s parental grief at having put so much effort into training and helping Israel, only to have them turn on him.

That Israel’s dependence upon other nations for help was a personal affront to God is driven home by the repeated: “rebelled against me,” “speak lies against me” (v. 13), “do not cry to me,” “rebel against me” (v. 14) and “devise evil against me” (v. 15).

So Hosea bemoans:

16 They return, but not upward;

Oh, they go to worship, but not to worship Yahweh.  They go for themselves, not for His glory.  So they are like a “treacherous bow” which can never hit its target.  Unlike some of the other similes, this produce a life or death situation.  When you can’t depend upon your weapon in battle, you’re a goner.

Return is what is needed, but Israel cannot even get that right.

The indictment against Israel closes with a few broken lines that fall on the page like tears from one with a broken heart.  No matter how much Yahweh did for Israel, they betrayed him by joining forces with the side of evil.  But all Israel did for herself ultimately failed her, like a treacherous bow betrays the archer.

[A deceitful bow never hits its target.  That is the picture Paul uses with the word “sin” (hamartia) in Romans 3:23.  Sin always “misses the mark” of God’s glory.]

Without Yahweh, who was Israel’s strength (Psalm 28:7), they would fall helplessly prostrate at the feet of her captors.  God wanted to redeem them again, but they would fall at sword-point, matching their own destructive role in the collapse of the monarchy (7:3-7).  In other words, they will reap what they sow.

Egypt, watching Ephraim’s pro-Assyrian policy reduced to shambles, will have the last laugh (v. 15).

“For Hosea, who treasured the rich grace manifested in the exodus (13:4-5) and who longed for Israel’s new answer which would signal a new exodus (2:14-15), letting the last word of this substantial section (5:8-7:16) go to Egypt must have been painful indeed” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 153).

Further Evidences of Faulty Repentance (Hosea 6:7-7:16)

In Hosea 6 we’ve seen an apparent, though shallow, repentance of Israel, seeking God’s healing.  However, God’s appraisal of their repentance is that it was “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”  He wanted “steadfast love,” something that would not only last, but would also express a deep and real change in their hearts.

Starting in 6:7, Hosea again enumerates the sins of Israel and Judah, illustrating why they were ripe for judgment.  Verse 7 begins with a strong contrast from what God desired from them.  He wanted “steadfast love” and “knowledge of God”…

7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. 9 As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. 10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. 11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people.

Aside from the brief dramatization of the nation’s return to God pictured in 6:1-3, we pick up the detailing of Israel’s sins and Yahweh’s leveling of judgments against Israel that began in chapters 4 and 5.

The section begins with the charge that Israel had “transgressed the covenant” (6:7a).  That is, they had broken some covenant, the breaking of which was said to be “like Adam.”

This could refer to the literal, historical father of the human race, who “broke covenant” by disobeying God’s direct order not to eat from the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  If it is a reference to Adam, it just represents the first in an endless stream of human beings who have broken covenant with their God.

Also, it would highlight the high place of blessing that Adam occupied, as God’s crowning creation in the garden, only to turn away from God’s blessing.

And, as Adam was driven from God’s presence in the garden because of his sin, so Israel would be driven from their homeland.

Another possibility is that this refers to some unknown covenant betrayal at a place called Adam.  References to other place-names in verses 8 and 9 may support this view.

Map showing Adam and Gilead

The town of Adam was on the east bank of the Jordan River in Gilead, about one-third of the way north between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, near the Jabbok tributary.  It is mentioned in Joshua 3:16 as the place where the waters stood in a heap when the Jordan parted.

In this case, it could refer to the Mosaic covenant, which was broken at that place.

Duane Garrett suggests that, although it is the place that is focused upon here, the prophet is also making a pun based on the name of the original transgressor.  His meaning is, “Like Adam (the man) they break covenants; they are faithless to me there (in the town of Adam).”

The result is that they “transgressed the covenant,” the agreement between them and their sovereign and “dealt faithlessly with me.”  That last statement, along with 8:1 (“they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law”) makes it virtually certain that the “covenant” in view is the Mosaic covenant.

In addition, the kinds of sins and curses pronounced in the Sinai covenant dovetail precisely with the warnings of the prophet: the end of agricultural prosperity, military disaster, foreign exile, the demise of their offspring, and a return to slavery in Egypt.  In sum, the crisis in Israel was Israel’s failure to keep covenant.

Israel’s sins are worse than simply violating the code of law: they repudiate the gracious covenant that is the foundation of their life and hope and relationship with the living God.

But what is the treachery to which he refers?  Hosea 6:8–9 might provide the answer, if we understand verse 8 as referring to Adam—which was in the region of “Gilead”—as the “city of evildoers” and verse 9 as describing the act of evil committed there: priests murdering Israelites on their way to Shechem.  This would indeed be treachery against the covenant under which Israel lived (Ex. 20:13).

Gilead, mentioned in v. 8, is another of Hosea’s allusions to former glories (Judg. 10:17–11:11).  It is the mountainous area extending north and south of the river Jabbok east of the river Jordan.  There was also a city in that region, east of Mizpeh, often called Ramoth-Gilead.  The name Gilead first appears in the biblical account of the last meeting of Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:21-22), which Laban accused Jacob of treachery.

The Bible records the war, during the time of the judges, between the Gileadites and Ammon, under the leadership of Jephthah the Gileadite (Judg. 11), which resulted in bloody conflict between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites (ibid. 12:1–6).

from the Satellite Bible Atlas

Garrett points out that the word “evildoers” in v. 8 is awen, which is sometimes used as a word play on Bethel, Beth-awen,” instead of the house of God, the house of evil.

Bethel was the place where Jacob had fled Esau in Canaan, and met God (Genesis 28:11-22).  Gilead, therefore, as the place where he was caught by Laban as he returned to Canaan, and as the region where he met the angel of God while preparing to face Esau, corresponds to Bethel as the end of Jacob’s flight corresponds to its beginning.

Bible Atlas

It is evident, therefore, that Hosea is working the story of Jacob into his prophecy; he will return to this story in 12:2-4.  The point here appears to be that the Israelites have taken on the worst characteristics of Jacob—selfishness and cunning—without having his redeeming experiences—encounters with God. (Duane Garrett, p. 163).

Jacob’s descendants, instead of being transformed into Israel, into people of God, remained Jacob, so that they remain “tracked with blood.”

On the road to Shechem, the primary religious and political center of Israel, the priests became involved in a conspiracy to assassinate defenseless people.  Whether this is actual or hyperbole, it expresses how degraded the priesthood had become.

Again, there is telling history there, for it was at Shechem that Dinah was raped and her brothers avenged her by having the men of the city circumcised and then slaughtering them (Genesis 34).  The assertion that the priests carry out a wicked plan appropriately describes the deceit of Simeon and Levi at Shechem.

The word for villainy (Hb. zimmah) is a powerful term for human depravity.  Elsewhere it refers to the vilest of sexual sins (e.g., Lev. 18:17; 19:29; Judges 20:5-6; Job 31:9-11).

Shechem and Ramoth-Gilead were cities of refuge where people could supposedly flee for safety (cf. Josh. 20:1-2, 7-8), but instead they had been contaminated by blood.  Those fleeing for refuge were being cut down on the road before they reached safe haven.  Shechem stood on the route between Samaria and Bethel, therefore many pilgrims traveled through Shechem.

“The times were so evil, in fact, that even the religious leaders joined hands with the robbers to plunder and murder the helpless population.” (David Garland, p. 51).

The Lord had observed a horrible thing.  The Israelites as a whole had practiced harlotry by going after pagan gods and had thus made themselves unclean.  Religious apostasy combined with sexual immorality, so both forms of harlotry are doubtless in view.

Whenever the first table of the law is broken, men justify breaking the second.  If God is practically dead, anything goes.

There action validates God’s amazement expressed in vv. 4-6.  What can God do with a people who affirm repentance (vv. 1-3), but act in such vile, inhumane ways…violating covenant with God and man?

All of this seems to have been current events, since Hosea gives so little information about them and there are no antecedents in biblical history.  David Hubbard believes it encapsulates “a momentous event in which priests collaborated in a conspiracy, perhaps against the royal family,  Gilead was remembered as the launching site for at least one such plot: in his coup d’état against Pekahiah, Pekah was joined by “fifty men of the Gileadites” (2 Kings 15:25).  He believes that this event connects with the Syro-Ephraimite war and the references in 7:3-7 of the baker’s oven.

Hubbard also believes that the “whoredom” of Ephraim mentioned in v. 10 is more likely, in this context, to refer not to their worship of the Baals, but rather their failure to trust Yahweh for protection, expressed by courting other nations as allies.

In Hos. 6:11 a harvest is appointed.  Expressed in such a way, it was as sure as the judgment against Ephraim mentioned in 5:9.

A harvest, which is supposed to depict joy will instead depict tragedy.  Thus it is a “harvest” of judgment (cf. Joel 3:13Rev. 14:18–19).

Yet the hope of eventual restoration was clear, as v. 11 ends with “when I restore the fortunes of my people.”  This would be another type of harvest, a harvest marked by blessing and restoration, and that is the one primarily in view here.  Like most of the prophets, messages of judgment are mixed with, or concluded with, messages of hope.  Yahweh’s longing to show mercy is expressed in his desire to return Israel, his battered and beleaguered people (5:10-14), i.e., the entire land (cf. on 1:9-2:1; 2:23; 4:1, 6, 8, 12) to a robust state of social, spiritual, and material health.

God’s desire is to “heal Israel,” as expressed in Hosea 7:1, to bring them back to life again.

Although there was a partial fulfillment in the return of the Jews to Judah after the Babylonian captivity, the fuller fulfillment awaits the return that will occur during the tribulation and millennial kingdom.

When those judgments are completed, at some future time a convicted and purged nation will once more be deserving of the title “My people.”

God is warning Judah to learn from history, to learn from the sins and judgments against Israel.  But Judah had not learned any lessons and would soon head down the same path to judgment.

Scholars agree that v. 11b, “whenever I restore the fortunes of my people” goes with 7:1 “whenever I would heal Israel.”  It speaks of the merciful heart of God who will one day accomplish these miracles, but could not at the moment.

Why, look at the secret, hidden sins of Israel which were being thrust out into the open:

1 When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. 2 But they do not consider that I remember all their evil.  Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. 3 By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. 4 They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. 5 On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. 6 For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. 7 All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers.  All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me. 8 Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. 9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. 10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this. 11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. 12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. 13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!  Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!  I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. 14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue.  This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.

Israel’s domestic sins is the focus of the first seven verses of Hosea 7.  The Lord longed to heal Israel, but when He thought about doing so, new evidences of her sins presented themselves.  The prophets He had sent to them were mainly ineffective in stemming the tide of rebellion.  The response had largely been rejection and hardening of hearts.

Verse 1 indicates that they were lying to one another and stealing from each other, thus breaking covenant with one another.

They hoped (v. 2) that God wouldn’t notice and hold their sins against them, but their wickedness is flaunted before His face and He couldn’t ignore it even if He wanted to.  Whatever direction He turned, their sins were “in His face.”

God cannot “forget” our sins until they are forgiven.  There is a precious promise for those who come to God under the New Covenant: For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34).  We often wish that time would make God forget our sin, but it doesn’t.  Only the atoning substitute of Jesus, crucified in our place under the New Covenant makes God forget our sin.

The political leaders, who should have encouraged the people to act in justice and kindness, and led the way in behaving thus, instead rejoiced that the people were sinning because it made it easier for them to get away with sinning.

This phrase, together with princes have made him sick (Hosea 7:5) and all their kings have fallen (Hosea 7:7) probably all refer to one of the successful assassination plots against the throne of Israel during the ministry of Hosea.  Since there were four kings violently overthrown during his ministry, it’s hard to exactly know which one he means.

Verses 4-7 indicate that Israel’s heart was still inflamed towards their idols.  They are compared to an oven, first heated to cook, but left untended, grows into an uncontrolled fire.  Paul used the same image of “burning with lust” in 1 Corinthians 7:5.

“Like every revolutionary state that has no faith in anything beyond itself, Israel was burning up in its own anger” (James Luther Mays, Hosea: A Commentary, pp. 106-107).

The princes eagerly plotted to overthrow the king.  Their anger with him smoldered for a long time and was not obvious to him, like a fire hidden in an oven (v. 4), but at the proper time it flared up and consumed him and his supporters.  Hosea saw this happen four times.  Shallum assassinated Zechariah, Menahem assassinated Shallum, Pekah assassinated Pekahiah, and Hoshea assassinated Pekah (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30).

A continuing dynasty, as existed in Judah, never succeeded in the North.  The reason was that none of the Israelites sought the Lord.  Even though they offered sacrifices (5:6), it was empty ritual.

Since this prophecy is undated, we do not know when Hosea gave it, but it must have been during the tumultuous times when Israel’s final kings reigned (ca. 752-722 B.C.).

Yahweh compares Ephraim to an “unturned cake” in v. 8.  Ephraim had mixed itself with the pagan nations like unleavened dough mixed with leaven, so she was like a pancake that the cook had not turned over, all burnt and black on one side, and soggy and runny on the other.  In other words, she was only half-baked, worthless, not what God intended or what could nourish others.  She was hard and crusty toward Yahweh but soft and receptive toward other nations and their gods.

Foreign alliances had sapped Ephraim’s strength rather than adding to it, but the Israelites were ignorant of this.  Like the first showing of gray hairs, they live in ignorance and denial.  Therefore, v. 10, they in their pride would not go to Yahweh for help.  Instead, like a silly dove, they flit about from one nation (Egypt—2 Kings 17:3-4) to another (Assyria—2 Kings 15:29).  So (v. 13) the Lord pronounced doom on the Israelites because He would judge them for straying from Him like sheep from their Shepherd.

The final verses of Hosea 7 indicate that Israel returned, but not to the Lord.  They recognized their plight, but instead of confessing their sin and seeking Yahweh, they turned to other nations for help.

When God’s hand is against man, he easily sees he has a problem but often does not see it as sin against the LORD.  So when Israel had problems, they wailed upon their beds, but not to the LORD.  They sought remedies, but not from the Most High.

They try every trick they know, every new self-help fad, every new idea from a talk show host or television doctor — but they dismiss God as useless and irrelevant.

Thus, Yahweh says that Israel is like a “treacherous bow” which can no longer shoot straight.  Rather than being able to shoot at their enemies, they “shot” their own leaders, assassinating their kings.

How about you, are you a flaming oven of passion for the wrong things?  Are you a flitting bird, moving from one “solution” to another instead of turning to God?  Are you an unturned cake, hard towards God but soft towards the world?  Are you a treacherous bow, harming those you should be protecting?

Yahweh’s Exasperation Over Israel’s Disloyalty (Hosea 6:4-6)

In many ways grace is what the book of Hosea is about.  Although Israel is consistently unfaithful and turns to idols and other nations for help instead of turning to their God, His heart is broken and He longs for their true return.

Our problem is that we don’t take sin seriously enough and our repentance, therefore, is insufficient.  We heard the words of Israel’s repentance last week.  They certainly sounded good.

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

In these verses they express their intention to turn back to God for healing, expecting that He would revive them.  They believed that if they pressed on to know Him, He would return to them.  But, alas, their repentance never addressed their sin.  Sure, they wanted healing, but didn’t ask for forgiveness.  They wanted their circumstances fixed, but left their sin intact.

Listen to Yahweh’s response to this seemingly good repentance:

4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim?  What can I do with you, Judah?  Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. 5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun. 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

In this text Yahweh speaks of his frustration with the transitory devotion of Israel (v. 4).  He then declares this is the reason for issuing judgments against them (v. 5) and proclaims that what He really wants is loyal love, not outward shows of religious zeal (v. 6).

You can hear the frustration, the cry of exasperated love in Yahweh’s voice.  G. Campbell Morgan calls this paragraph “The Difficulty of God.”

“What can I do with you, Ephraim?  What can I do with you, Judah?

One must not miss this outburst of emotion, like an anguished father not knowing what to do with his wayward child, or a husband agonizingly frustrated with his promiscuous bride (cf. 11:8Luke 15:20).

Campbell Morgan notes how startling this question is:

I can understand a man saying, What shall I do to be saved?  But here is God saying, What shall I do to save him?  This is not the cry of the human soul seeking after God.  It is the cry of God seeking after the human soul.  This is not the picture of a man in difficulty because he cannot find God.  It is the picture of God in difficulty because He cannot deal with man.

Both kingdoms were equally exasperating to God.

It is as if God should say, I have done my utmost, as in Isaiah 5:5 (where Yahweh expresses his consternation over a vineyard, a symbol of Israel, that produces only rotten grapes), Micah 5:3, and now am I at a standstill, and can scarce tell what to do more.  Again, it is like Jesus’ cry in Matthew 23:37…

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

As the loving hen is always caring for her chickens, and calling them about her, that she may gather and guard them from the mischief of all predators; but they will persistently be straggling, and so perish; so if God’s people will not listen to his voice, if Israel will have none of him, what can he do less than give them up to their own hearts’ lusts?

He is perturbed at their seeming inability to acknowledge their sins and truly return to Him.  Because they were ungrateful of His blessings, they failed to love Him in return; instead loving other gods.

Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

They declared their love, and they showed it…but for a brief moment.  Then they were on to their next sin, their next love affair with another god.  Like us, it was not that there was no faithfulness at all, just barely any at all.

As John Trapp says…

In a word, they were both false and fickle, unsteady and unstable, constant only in their inconstancy.  Hence this pathetic complaint of them; God knew not where to have them, and therefore not what to do with them.

This pathetic pattern of loyalty-disloyalty-punishment had lodged in Israel’s psyche since the days of the Judges.  Now, however, this malignancy of disloyalty had spread throughout the nation.

It is good to have mountain top experiences, those moments of ecstasy, but what God wants is the slow, constant producing of fruit in our lives.  When we trust in those brief, beautiful moments, then God says, “What else can I do with you?”

Growing out of verse 3, there is a striking contrast between Yahweh’s hesed, which rises like the sun, and Israel’s, which disappears like the morning dew.

The word “love” in v. 4 is hesed, the word that describes loyal love, covenant faithfulness, devotedness.  It is not the presence of sin that so perturbs Yahweh, but the absence of love.

Whatever faithfulness and devotion there was, quickly evaporated like the morning dew in summer.  It is as ephemeral as a cloud, quickly blown away.  Yes, both can be beautiful, but neither is constant.

Genuine repentance has an abiding element.

The only real hope for Israel is their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But before Yahweh would send His Son, He sent His prophets.

5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun.

Throughout history God had sent them prophets to turn them back to Yahweh.  The priests had failed them, now the prophets have been sent to them.  God’s judgment goes out as a light, exposing their sins and idolatries.

The prophets would come, wielding the Word like a sword, bringing judgment and hope.  Hosea probably had in mind those earlier prophets of Israel, such as Elijah, Ahijah, Micaiah ben Imlah—prophets whose words were a sword.

The words of verse 6 take us back to the time of Samuel, while the “cutting in pieces” fits the time of Elijah.  It merely shows that faithfulness has been a longstanding problem with Israel.

By the way, the statement “my judgments go forth like the sun” is ironic, given the fact that Israel’s promise of return in vv. 1-3 depended upon Him coming to them “as the sun rises.”  What they hoped would bring healing, would instead bring judgment…at least for the immediate future.

The prophets would preach the word.  It is the Word of God that is powerful.  Hebrews 4:12 says…

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Just as a surgeon’s scalpel lays bare the flesh and organs, in order to bring healing, so God’s Word penetrates even deeper, into the soul and spirit, able to “judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  It exposes our motives behind our actions.

Jeremiah spoke of God’s Word as like a hammer; breaking the rock in pieces, like a winnow, separating wheat and chaff; like a consuming fire, destroying the chaff (Jere. 23:28ff).  The Word of God itself is performative (or in the words of Andersen and Freedman, “almost autonomous”), carrying within itself the power to transform.  Isaiah 55:10-11…

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

All we must do is preach the word, and it will do the work.  Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, once said…

“Take me, for example.  I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force.  I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing.  And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.  I did nothing: the Word did it all.  Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe.  But what would it have been?  A mug’s game.  I did nothing: I left it to the Word.”

Isaiah goes on to describe the kind of transformation that the Word of God can effect:

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.  This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”

It is impossible for a juniper to come from a thornbush, or a myrtle from thistles, but God’s Word can change the very nature of things, or people.  All we have to do is preach it.

Paul David Tripp, encouraging (and admonishing) pastors in his book Dangerous Calling, says,

The picture here is of fundamental, specific, and personal transformation.  When the Word of God, faithfully taught by the people of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, falls down, people become different.  Lusting people become pure, fearful people become courageous, thieves become givers, demanding people become servants, angry people become peacemakers, complainers become thankful, and idolaters come to joyfully worship the one true God (p. 51).

So God had sent Israel prophets.  Unfortunately, the words of the prophets sent to Israel were more judgment than transformation.  Their words were “deadly” and possibly refer to the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 30.

Yet what Israel found refuge in was religion, religious practices.  But Yahweh is always more concerned with reality over ritual, with relationship over religion.  Hosea 6:6 says…

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Andersen and Freedman note that the emotional verb “I desire” matches the early emotional expressions of disappointment and anguish (v. 4).

It is not that God wanted to do away with the sacrificial system (that would come later), but He is illustrating the higher importance of what goes on in the heart.  As Yahweh looked at their multiple sacrifices He saw no “loyal love” (this is the same word used in v. 4) and no real “acknowledgement” of God.

Sacrifices were meaningless, even offensive, unless offered out of a heart of love that demonstrated obedience to God’s Word (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11-17; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:6-8; Matt. 9:13; 12:7).

Jesus twice quoted this passage of Hosea to the religious leaders of His day (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).  They also missed the heart of God, focusing on the wrong and superficial things.   Israel brought animals for sacrifice, but they never brought themselves as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).  They missed what God really wants: a deep, close relationship with Him.

God wanted steadfastness over sacrifice and faithfulness over formality.  What they were doing, practicing rituals without real devotion, was meaninglessness and hypocritical.

Both Isaiah and Malachi called a stop to such sacrifices, because they were nauseating to God.  In Isaiah 1, Isaiah says…

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.  Your hands are full of blood!

Isaiah’s next words were a call to urgent repentance.

David recognized the greater value of a repentant heart over ritual sacrifices when he wrote (Psalm 51):

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Again, the prophets are not opposed to acts of worship, but merely recognizing that without a heart of loyal love behind it, it is worth nothing.

As Duane Garrett says…

In modern language one might appropriately rephrase this verse as: “I desire devotion and not hymn-singing, service and not sermons,” without thereby concluding that hymns and sermons were evil.

Or, in the words of Andersen and Freedman, “sacrifice is not denigrated; it is simply put in second place.”

Think about that as you worship this Sunday.  Whether you sing hymns or praise songs, is your heart engaged?  Are you singing from a heart that is deeply in love with Jesus, deeply grateful for all that He has done for you?  Are you singing from a heart ecstatic that your sins are forgiven?

Can you sing “I Surrender All” and really mean it?

This is what Yahweh looked for in Israel and Judah, and what Jesus looks for in us today.  He wants us to worship Him “in spirit and truth.”

Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their Experiencing God Day-by Day devotional, say…

No amount of activity for God will ever take the place of a heart that is right with Him.  Through the ages God’s people have been persuaded that they could please Him through their service and their offerings, regardless of their heart condition.  King Saul offered generous sacrifices, hoping God would overlook his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:22-23).  David may have assumed that after all he had done on God’s behalf, God would overlook his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-15).  Ananias and Sapphira thought that their generous gift to the church would compensate for their deceitfulness (Acts 5:1-11).  Paul was certainly one who had thought his zealousness would please God.  After his conversion, however, he concluded that even if he had faith to remove mountains, gave all he had to feed the poor, and offered his body to be burned for the sake of God, and yet had a heart that was not right, it would all be for nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

We are susceptible to the same misunderstanding as all of these people were.  We can be deceived into assuming God is more interested in our activity for Him than He is in the condition of our heart.  But His desire is that we devote ourselves to knowing Him and loving Him with all of our hearts.

Israel’s Faulty Repentance (Hosea 5:14-6:3)

Thank you for joining me again in our study of this great book of Hosea—this tragic love story played out on the human level between Hosea and Gomer, a story which is heartbreaking in itself—but also a story which illustrates the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, a much deeper betrayal in the spiritual realm.

Throughout Hosea we see Yahweh’s heart revealed—a heart that deeply desires to see genuine repentance from Israel, yet devastated by her continual unfaithfulness.  It reminds us how deeply God loves us as well, and how often He is disappointed by our own idolatries.

Today open your Bibles to the end of Hosea 5.  Yahweh has been predicting the destruction of Israel, judgment against their idolatries (turning to Baal rather than Yahweh for blessings and guidance) and their dependence upon other nations for protection rather than upon Yahweh.

Throughout chapter 5 it seems very obvious that Israel is on a path of destruction.  Despite many sacrifices, they would not longer be able to find Yahweh.  He would be to them the slow and gradual destruction illustrated by the “moth” and “dry rot” in v. 12 and the violent and ultimate death illustrated by being torn apart by a lion in vv. 14-15.

Let’s pick up our text in Hosea 5:14…

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue. 15 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Verse 14 adds another dimension to the judgment Yahweh would bring upon Israel.  Not only was there the slow, hidden, gradual process of destruction represented by the moth and dry rot, but there is also the ferocious and purposeful attack of a lion.

As a lion, He would tear them to pieces and carry them away in judgment, and there would be no one who could deliver them.  Egypt couldn’t.  No one could.

Israel fell to the Assyrians, in 722 B.C., after two previous Assyrian invasions (in 743 and 734-32 B.C.).  Judah escaped Assyria in 701 B.C., due to King Hezekiah’s trust in the Lord, but Babylonia finally fulfilled this prophecy to her in 586 B.C.

In verse 15 Hosea describes the lion retreating to its lair to finish off Israel.  All is lost.  All is hopeless.  No one and nothing could rescue them from this fate.  Just as no one could rescue an animal from the lion’s den, so Israel’s fate was sealed.

But notice that God’s judgment is not punitive, but restorative.  What is God’s purpose, God’s desire?  It is “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.”

Now, the big question in this passage is whether Hosea 6:1-3 expresses a genuine return by Israel?  Verses 4-6 show God’s disappointment in how shallow and transient it would be.  Does that mean it is not genuine, or just that it was short-lived?  I believe that it was genuine, at least among a remnant, but that, like us, their faithfulness was short-lived and shallow.  It was genuine, but not permanent.

Their return to Yahweh, pictured in vv. 1-3 of Hosea 6, seems to lack an acknowledgement of guilt.  They sought Yahweh to relieve them of their distress, but did not admit their sins and curry His forgiveness.  Many today want Jesus to fix their problems—to save their marriages, restore fulfillment in their jobs, to recover from sickness, but don’t come to Jesus desiring forgiveness for sins.

Some believe that vv. 1-3 represent the encouragement of the priests to the people.  They had failed to instruct the people in righteousness, which would have kept them from judgment, and now that judgment was upon them they urgently appeal to the people to turn back to Yahweh.  It would be too little, too late.

Again, the focus seems to be upon their wounds and seeking relief from national disaster, rather than focusing upon their sins and seeking forgiveness for their sins.  As David Garland says, “It did not reach to the real problem, sin, which could not be cared for in the healing and binding up.  It could only be cared for through genuine repentance.”

They do believe, however, that God can do what no one else could do.  No one could rescue them or help them, but Yahweh will heal them and bring them back to life.

Like us, they wanted this healing to come in a relatively short time “after two days…and on the third…”  They believed that God would speedily restore their former status.

This will eventually happen, but not so speedily as they hope.  This national resurrection, for resurrection is what they ask for…”he will raise us up that we may live before him” would also be prophesied by Ezekiel in the famous vision of the valley of dry bones and Daniel’s prediction…

12:1 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble [the 7-year tribulation period], such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

That passage is speaking about a general resurrection at the end of the millennial kingdom.

Ezekiel 37 begins with Ezekiel seeing a valley full of bones, but they were dry as dust and really, fully dead.  There was no flesh upon them.

When Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones, they began to come together and then be clothed with sinew and flesh and then skin.  But they were still dead bodies because they had no breath, no life in them.  Ezekiel then called for the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, to fill these still dead bodies, and they would come to life.

Yahweh interprets this vision for Ezekiel, saying…

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

The nation of Israel will someday come to life and return to the land of Israel.  At this time, God will forgive them their sins.  Although a partial fulfillment occurred in 1948 when the Jews returned from around the world to live in Israel, the fullest fulfillment of these verses will come in the end times when Israel en masse returns to the Lord through genuine repentance and spiritual cleansing.

The reference to three days, although not a direct reference to the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, seems to be the only place Paul could be referring to when he says that Jesus rose “on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

Just as Christ rose and we will rise, so Israel will one day rise.  We will rise to eternal life in new resurrection bodies.  Israel will rise to endure the tribulation period (although seven years a relatively brief time) and then reign with their Messiah in the millennial kingdom of Christ.

Verse 3 contains the exhortation to “press on to know the Lord.”  The desire was there: “Let us know” and the recognition was present that it required personal effort, “let us press on to know the Lord.”  This makes up for what was previously lacking (any real life-changing knowing of God) and displaces their previous passionate pursuit of the Baals.

This, of course, was the essential element that was lacking in Israel’s corporate life at this time.  Back in 4:6 Hosea had said that they “rejected knowledge,” which verse 1 had clarified was “no knowledge of God in the land.”  With no knowledge of God—in other words they banished God from their thoughts, they had plunged into moral chaos, just as our culture has reaped the consequences of the “death of God” as proclaimed by Nietzsche.

Romans 1 indicates that when we deny God—His existence and His authority over all—then we reap the consequences of immorality, homosexuality and a depraved mind that readily excuses any and every sin.  We live in that culture today.

Although we may not be able to turn the tide in our culture, we certainly can pursue the knowledge of God in our own lives.  This is what Paul prayed for the Colossian when he made “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10) one of his prayers for them.

A.W. Tozer once said that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

What we believe about God has practical impact on our lives here and now, and throughout eternity.  In fact, the very essence of eternal life is “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

As Steve Altrogge probes…

When you go through a hard time, what you think about God will affect how you do.  Do you think God is sovereign and loving and good?  Do you think God is in control and always faithful?  Do you believe he loves you and is using this for your good?  Or do you think he’s uninvolved and uncaring?

When you’re tempted to sin, what you think about God will affect how you respond.  Do you believe God knows your every thought and sees your every action?  Do you believe he is holy and hates sin?  Or do you believe God doesn’t really know or care?

See, it makes a difference what we know and believe about God.  It would have made a difference in the way Israel had lived as well.  There is nothing more important than knowing God.  Jeremiah said…

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

In life and on our deathbeds, it doesn’t matter what we know, how powerful or how rich we are, if we know not Jesus Christ, we have everything to lose.  Paul was willing to give up all the former advantages he had inherited or achieved in Judaism, everything that had made him who he was, for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.  Listen to his impassioned words in Philippians 3:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

All the trophies of his past life—things to really be proud of—he tossed in the trash.  They were worthless now, compared to knowing Jesus Christ.  Graham Kendrick wrote a song, entitled Knowing You.  It goes like this:

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die

So let us press on to know the Lord.  And let it be our lifelong pursuit, seeking every day to know Him better and deeper so that our present lives are shaped and conformed by what we know and our eternity is enriched by what we have begun.

Nothing brings us more pleasure, joy and delight both now and throughout eternity than knowing Jesus Christ.

As we pursue Him, He comes to us.  Hosea says, in verse 2 “his going out is sure as the dawn.”  Although it is a difficult sentence to translate, the use of “light” or “dawn” is surely positive in this context and it matches our pursuit.  Before, he had drawn away into his lair, now he comes out—not to tear again, but to heal.

The words “is sure” matches the certainty of the judgment that would come first.  Back in 5:9 the day of punishment upon Ephraim “is sure.”  Both the impending judgment and the ultimate reconciliation are sure and certain.  Thus as the dawn arises every morning, so He is sure to come.

Israel understood the benefits of this personal, intimate relationship with Yahweh.  It would be “as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”  Adam Clarke remarks, ““The first, to prepare the earth for seed; this fell in autumn: the second, to prepare the full ear for the harvest; this fell in spring.”

And this is just God’s way.  He doesn’t just give us grace, he “lavishes us with grace.”  He wastes grace upon us like the prodigal’s father did.

One of the judgments, or figures of judgment that was soon to come was “drought.”  Certainly, without both the Fall and Spring rains, the early and latter rains, crops would dry up.  As significant as rain was for crops, so the coming of Yahweh would be for them—blessing and fruitfulness.

But, as David Hubbard reminds us, “They have faced their woundedness (v. 2; cf. 5:12-13) but not their waywardness.  Healing is sought, even resurrection, but not specific sin is mentioned.  This absence of repentance and failure to confess sins by name contrast with Hosea’s closing song of penitence (14:1-3).  And God’s complaint (vv. 4-5) seems to indicate His dismissal of the song as inadequate, whereas Israel’s final song is followed by Yahweh’s promise of love and healing and then by his own love song (14:4-7).

As noble as were the exhortations and encouragements found in 6:1-3, an essential factor was missing.  There was no clear word of repentance.  Though they may have intended their actions to convey an attitude of repentance, they seem to have reflected no more than sorrow and regret because they had suffered….Their only concern was with being healed and bound up—restored to their former wholeness.  There were not interested in being restored to a proper relationship with Yahweh. (David Garland)