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.
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).