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. 26:40–45; Deut. 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).
“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.
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)