Welcome again to our study of the book of Hosea. Like most of the Old Testament prophets, Hosea is largely a book which levels accusations against Israel and shows how worthy they were of the judgment they received.
We’ve been looking, over the last three weeks, at how Israel was reaping the consequences of their infidelities towards Yahweh, primarily through making and then worshipping idols, and also turning to foreign nations to secure allies against other enemies, instead of turning to and trusting in Yahweh for protection.
The last three verses of Hosea 8 reinforce these accusations once again…
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 shows the hypocrisy of their worship in vv. 11 and 13, their lack of obedience in v. 12 and their lack of trust in v. 14.
Verse 11 indicates that quantity never supersedes quality. Ephraim had plenty of altars. These altars were supposed to be places where people would confess and forsake their sins; instead, they were places that encouraged sinning.
This is true of all religion—it is not how much we do of some religious act, but what we mean by it.
Not only are these religious acts thoughtless, they were motivating them to further sin. Back in chapter 4 Hosea had accused the priests with these words…
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. 5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity.
More sacrifices for sin meant more food for the priests, so they encouraged people in their sins, received more sacrifices, and ate and grew fat.
Also, many of the new altars they were building was not to worship Yahweh at all, but to engage in the worship of other gods. In both cases, more altars simply meant more sinning.
In spiritual things, it is never the quantity that is important, but the quality. Is it genuine? Is it done in faith? Is it done in love?
The church is told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 that it is not the amount of works we do in His name, but the quality of them that survives the fires of judgment.
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Some will serve Christ in very public ways, doing many acts of service for many years, but when the day of judgment comes, it could well be that the majority of those acts of service are “wood, hay and straw” and after fire of judgment will be a smoldering pile of ashes. On the contrary, someone may come to Christ and have only a few days or months in which to serve Him, yet find themselves with much treasure because it was “gold, silver and precious stones.” It is not the quantity, but the quality that matters.
So what makes the difference? I believe that the primary difference between wood, hay and straw vs. gold, silver and precious stones is that one is done for my own glory and the other is done for Christ’s glory. Another difference may be that one is done in my own strength which is not rewarded, but service done in conscious dependence upon Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:10-11) is rewardable.
The second accusation that Yahweh makes against Israel is that they were not obeying His commands.
12 Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing.
David Hubbard points out that…
This verse is poignant, sarcastic and hyperbolic all at once. It deliberately exaggerates God’s law-giving activity to show the magnitude of Israel’s sin of rejecting the law (Hosea, p. 162).
Just as quantity didn’t matter in v. 11, so it doesn’t matter here. But here the issue is God’s laws. Yahweh had given them to the law in written form. The Spirit guided the prophets to write God’s laws to guide the Israelites in worship and life.
God had not actually given then “ten thousands” of laws, but Hosea is merely pointing out the incongruity that with all that God had given them through special revelation, they were claiming “I don’t know this guy.”
Ironically, they were treating God’s law as something foreign and strange to them, while importing foreign and strange gods from other cultures. It indicates how deaf they had become to all appeal and instruction from Yahweh.
Their 180-degree error was this: Assyria, who should have been considered foreign was courted with a prostitute’s pay (vv. 9-10), but the laws of Yahweh written for Israel’s guidance and blessing were gainsaid as alien, even pagan, and worthless. (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 163)
The priests had so little respect for the Torah, however, and the people were so poorly taught (cf. 4:6) that some regarded the Torah as the religious laws of some foreign land! (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p.187).
Are you treating the Word of God as a stranger? The less we spend time with and in the Word of God, the more strange and foreign it may seem to us, not maybe so much to our thinking, but to our affections and aspirations. It just doesn’t fit with our desires anymore.
We too easily become “conformed” to this world and its perspectives and ways of thinking, so that the Word of God seems strange to us. We must consistently renew our minds with God’s Word so that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Thus Spurgeon warns us…
“If this be the Word of God, what will become of some of you who have not read it for the last month? Most people treat the Bible very politely… When they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers.”
God’s Word should not become strange and foreign either to our thoughts or our desires. Our feelings about the Word of God should be like the Psalmist’s in Psalm 119:103-104:
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Don’t allow God’s Word to become alien to you, whether through disuse or through disobedience! As you read, seek to be a doer and not just a hearer, for James tells us that those who only hear deceive themselves—they think they are nearer to God and more pleasing to Him than they actually are.
For Israel, as God’s Word, God’s voice, became more and more strange to them, they would find their strength devoured by strangers (v. 7). When we fail to devour God’s Word, judgment will devour us.
Third, Hosea again points to their worship, telling them that Yahweh no longer regards their sacrifices. They mean nothing to Him.
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.
Yahweh would not accept or take delight in their offerings, even though they were his (“my sacrificial offerings”), because they brought them not in order to seek forgiveness, but to cover their continuing sin. It may have salved their conscience, but it did not cleanse their souls.
David Hubbard points out that “for a people whose standard diet was cereal and vegetable, the savoury, fragrant meat of the sacrifices was mouth-watering beyond resistance” (Hosea, p. 163).
Consequently, He would call them into judgment for their sins and punish them.
He would not accept their sin offerings (because they were not genuine) but would remember and hold them accountable for their sins. He would punish them for the sins they were trying to cover up with their religious acts.
Sacrifices were common (v. 11), but they were mere ritual. They did not reflect a heart that was truly repentant over sin.
Derek Kidner indicates that this was a common complaint of the prophets, such as Amos (5:21ff), Micah (6:6ff) and Isaiah (1:11ff). He then points out…
Paul had to warn us of something very similar (1 Cor. 11:27). It seems to be an occupational disease of worshippers to think more of the mechanics than the meaning of what we do; more of getting it right than of getting ourselves right; and this can degenerate from thoughtlessness into something worse, ranging from cynical detachment, if we are sophisticated, to religious superstition if we are not. What the prophets show us is heaven’s strong reaction to such attitudes: that this parody of worship is not simply valueless, as we might have guessed, but insulting and even sickening to God, attracting the very judgment it is supposed to avert (The Message of Hosea, p. 81).
“Does not accept” means that God is insulted and turns his back on their sacrifices. God rejects their sacrifices, rather than accept them; He remembers their sin rather than forgetting it; and He sends them away into exile—the ultimate expression of His displeasure.
Duane Garrett points out this this reality may have been the exact opposite of the priestly blessing given at their sacrifices. It may have been something like this:
“Yahweh has accepted them. He will not remember their iniquity but will pardon their sins. He is Yahweh, you brought them out of Egypt.”
The two verbs “remember” and “punish” show how personally God is involved in reckoning with Israel’s paganized and patronizing worship, no matter what secondary means of judgment he may use.
In judgment Yahweh would send them back “to Egypt,” where they used to live as slaves before He redeemed them in the Exodus (cf. 9:3). Thomas Constable suggests that perhaps the Lord meant that He would send them to an Egypt-like place, which Assyria proved to be (cf. 11:5; Deut. 28:68). They would experience the kind of bondage they knew in Egypt, wherever that bondage might occur. They would return to the pre-covenant bondage they had experienced in Egypt.
“In the deliverance from Egyptian bondage Israel had experienced God’s grace. Having spurned that grace, she would return to slavery.”
They would spiritually retrace their steps to Egypt long before they did physically.
Later, in Hosea 11, Hosea will point out this contrast:
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
This “return to Egypt” in a spiritual sense, is fulfilled in their captivity to Assyria, as 11:5 points out:
5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
There, in this latter chapter, a word of grace shows up, in Hosea 11:11:
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD.
God has not done this yet, but He has promised it and will fulfill it in the latter times when he gathers the children of Israel out of all the countries to which they have been scattered.
Finally, Israel’s self-reliance is seen in their dependence upon their own fortresses.
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.
Notice that both Israel and Judah are complicit in this expression of self-reliance. Behind their dependence upon palaces and fortified cities is the deeper issue of having “forgotten his Maker.”
To forget is much more than a mere lapse of memory. It is a deliberate rejection of all that Yahweh had done for them. It was a failure to remember and recognize that Yahweh was their Savior, neither allies nor armaments.
Israel’s forgetting in v. 14 is set in direct contrast to Yahweh’s remembering in v. 13.
What they have forgotten specifically in this accusation is who made them a nation. With Psalm 100:3, Hosea uses Maker not in the sense of creator, but in the sense of initiator of the covenant, implementer of the exodus, giver of the law, provider of the land, protector of the people (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 164).
Derek Kidner marks the contrast between Israel now, and how Nehemiah would experience God in the post-exilic days:
Nehemiah, building his wall and carefully deploying his little work-force, showed the right priorities in his order of the day: “Do not be afraid of them [their enemies]. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14).
David reminded Israel of this important contrast in Psalm 20:7…
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
The stronghold was the most secure place within the city, it’s central citadel (1 Kings 16:18; 2 Kings 15:25; Psalm 48:3; Isaiah 25:4). Ephraim trusted religious shrines for security; Judah her armaments. Both will prove to be futile.
As for Judah’s “fortified cities,” the brutal answer to them was only a generation away. There were 46 of them, according to Sennacherib, and their fate is told in a single verse in 2 Kings (18:13).
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.
The only one to survive was Jerusalem and that only because Hezekiah humbled himself and prayed to Yahweh for deliverance. 2 Kings 19:30 tells us…
Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.
The Lachish reliefs are a set of Assyrian reliefs depicting the Assyrian victory over Judah in 701 B.C. The single inscription which identifies the location depicted in the reliefs reads: “Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment, before (or at the entrance of) the city of Lachish (Lakhisha). I give permission for its slaughter”.
Roy Honeycutt points out that the last sentence is in the Hebrew perfect tense, literally, I have sent a fire upon his cities, and it has devoured her strongholds.” Although the judgment is obviously in the future, Hosea presents it as if it has already happened, thus cementing the certainty of that coming judgment.