Welcome again to our study in the book of Hosea. If you’ve been with this study from the beginning, you can see that it is a study rich in expressions of God’s love, but equally it confronts us with our sinfulness.
Hosea prophesied to Israel, in the decades before the Assyrians came and conquered Samaria and took them into captivity, spreading them throughout other people groups they had conquered.
One of the frightening things we see is that it is quite possible to take that one last step—and we don’t know when that might be—which sets us on a course that meets God’s wrath instead of His mercy. In other words, that point of no return is really there—we just don’t know exactly where…and that is reason for us to be vigilant over our lives and never allow our hearts to grow hard or cold towards God, never allow sin to become a friend to us.
Today we’re beginning Hosea 5. As we do, we face the frightening reality that there may come a point when we may seek God and not find him. This is brought out most forcefully in Hosea 5:6
When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them.
Finding the Lord always depends upon the attitude or manner in which we seek Him. The Scriptures promise us that one “…will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
When God withdraws, it is not that He is no longer there. The Bible teaches us that God is everywhere present. Jonah learned that the hard way. But God is not present everywhere in the same way. When God’s presence is taken away from us, it means we no longer sense His presence and the blessings of that presence.
Helmet Thielicke, the German theologian and writer wrote of the “silence of God,” when one experiences the awesome silence of God. St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul” when all sensible experience of God’s presence is gone.
Now, God can mean those times of abandonment to deepen our faith and draw us closer to Him. That is what C. S. Lewis was describing in the Screwtape Letters when Screwtape was instructed his nephew Wormwood in how to tempt and afflict his “patient” who had become a Christian. It is in the chapter called The Law of Undulation. In it they speak of troughs and peaks, the lows and highs we all experience.
To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
But of course the troughs afford opportunities to our side also. Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them,
Your affectionate uncle
Well, if you are going through a particularly difficult time, feeling like God has abandoned you, I hope Lewis’ words are an encouragement to you. BUT, I also want to emphasize that what Hosea is talking about has now gone beyond redemptive abandonment, to abandonment as judgment.
Listen to Hosea’s words in Hosea 5:1-7
1 “Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, royal house! This judgment is against you: You have been a snare at Mizpah, a net spread out on Tabor. 2 The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter. I will discipline all of them. 3 I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt. 4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. 5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. 6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. 7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children. When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.
This passage shows that Israel had reached the point of no return. Now grace can always find a way, but Israel was no seeking grace, they were using religion to twist God’s arm.
In verse 1 Hosea returns to the causative role that Israel’s leaders—both religious and political—had in the disintegration of covenant relationships. Ineffective leadership does not excuse the failures of the people. But it does clarify one reason for the erosion of genuine, Yahweh-focused religious commitment and the emergence of social faithlessness.
In vv. 1-2 Hosea identifies the participants (v. 1), isolates their practices (v. 2) and clarifies their punishment (v. 2).
The leaders of Israel—both religious and political—are uniquely responsible for the quality of justice in the land. Notice that “Israelites,” literally “house of Israel” is sandwiched between “priests” and “royal house” in verse 1. Some believe this is a third group, the clan leaders within each tribe. But it may refer comprehensively to all the people of Israel. They share the blame with the leaders.
Anderson and Freedman note that the royal house of Saul in the end failed to find God and turned to the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28). Hosea could be saying something similar about the last kings of Israel.
It is not possible to identify who the king of Israel was at this time, though some have guessed that it was Zechariah or Menahem.
Notice as we move through these three responsible groups, the summons to hear grows more intense: “hear…pay attention…listen.” Such words are used by God to call people to attention to hear the accusations of covenant breaking, but also of a parent or teacher as in the book of Proverbs. It can precede accusation or instruction.
Now the phrase in the middle of verse 1, which both the NIV and ESV translate “this judgment is against you.” Garrett suggests that it is more literally, “this judgment belongs to you.” In other words, they were responsible for justice.
Ironically, it was the priests’ responsibility to discern and teach the law. The clan chieftains were responsible for the local administration of justice.
But rather than promoting justice, they trapped people in a religious system that betrayed Yahweh and one another. Hosea uses metaphors of a “snare” and a “net.” Although charged with promoting justice, these leaders had perverted justice.
That religious defection is in view is clear from the towns mentioned—Mizpah, Tabor, and possibly another—Shittim.
There were several towns named Mizpah, but the one mentioned here is likely the one in the tribe of Benjamin ten miles north of Jerusalem. Like Gilgal and Bethel, Mizpah was one of the principal cities on Samuel’s normal ministry circuit (1 Sam. 7). A number of Astarte figurines, also known as Ashtoreth and Ishtar, dating back to the 8th century B.C. have been found there.
Tabor was the mountain further north, rising above the Jezreel Valley some 1,800 feet. It is up near the Sea of Galilee.
This place which had been the scene of Deborah and Barak’s victory over the Sisera was evidently now another “high place” desecrated by worship of Baal.
Verse 3 begins with a difficult to translate sentence: “The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.” Many believe a better translation is “and a pit they have dug in Shittim.” “Pit” would correspond to “snare” and “net” and there was a place by that name.
Shittim was on the other side of the Jordan and was the last staging area before the invasion of the land (Joshua 2:1), thus very similar to Gilgal (cf. Micah 6:5 where they are linked). It was the place of the Baal-Peor apostasy early in Israel’s history (Hosea 9:10), reported in Numbers 25.
Anderson and Freedman link this reference to Psalm 106, which has many affinities to Hosea. Psalm 106:28 preserves the idiom from Numbers 25:3, 5 for “linking themselves to Baal-Peor.” One of the primary references in Psalm 106 is to child sacrifice (Psalm 106:38).
“What the Moabites did originally at Peor, the kings of later Israel did at Mizpah and Tabor, and the rebellious leaders deeply corrupted themselves by offering child sacrifices at those places.”
Of course, child sacrifice was not limited to ancient Canaanite and Israelite cultures. It is happening today, as mothers and fathers sacrifice their children on the altar of convenience and success. It is really no different.
God’s response is “I will discipline all of them.” Everyone was guilty, the priests and the people, the leaders and the people—all of them. Neither the religious privileges of the priests, nor the multitude of the people, nor the civil dignity of the king, should exempt any from God‘s judgment. The kings and the priests had hitherto been the judges; now they were summoned before Him, who is the Judge of judges, and the King of kings.
The guilt of both was enhanced, in that they, being so entrusted with it, had corrupted it. They had the greatest sin, as being the seducers of the people, and therefore have the severest sentence. That is why James reminds us…
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
The word “discipline” here has overtones of teaching and instruction. In other words, it’s not just punishment, but moral instruction.
It is what God promises to those who are really His children. Even for us New Covenant believers discipline is an important part of our sanctification.
Lack of discipline, when we are living in sin, is a danger sign. Hebrews 12:7-8 says…
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
Therefore, we should want discipline. Hebrews 12:10 tells us that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” So God has a redeeming, purifying purpose in disciplining us.
Of the many great examples of believers who have expressed the spiritual benefits they have received from suffering, one of the greatest examples is that of John Bunyan. While he sat in the Bedford prison for preaching the Gospel, Bunyan wrote of the pain he felt when he thought about his wife and blind daughter. Bunyan wrote:
I found myself a man, and compassed with infirmities; the parting with my wife and poor children hath oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones, and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of those great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardship I thought my blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.
Nevertheless Bunyan explained:
I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all turns, and at every offer of Satan ‘to afflict me,’ &c. as I have found Him since I came in hither; for look how fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements, yea, when I have started, even as it were at nothing else but my shadow, yet God, as being very tender of me, hath not suffered me to be molested, but would with one Scripture and another strengthen me against all; insomuch that I have often said, were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comfort’s sake. Eccl. 7:14. 2 Cor. 1:5.
Again he wrote:
I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now; those Scriptures that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place and state to shine upon me; Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen Him and felt Him indeed: O that word, “we have not preached unto you cunningly devised fables,” 2 Pet. 1:16; and that, “God raised Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God,” 1 Pet. 1:2, were blessed words unto me in this my imprisoned condition.
As we can see, discipline or suffering may be redemptive (teaching us), restorative (turning us back to God) or retributive (an expression of judgment). It is retributive discipline that Israel would be facing.