Futility—trying one thing after another, with no success. Bryan Wilkerson, pastor of Grace Chapel, tells this story about futility…
Years ago, when our kids were young, we were out at a themed restaurant with TV’s all over walls, playing cartoons with no sound. Our youngest son, who was about four at the time, had his eyes glued to the TV screen. He was watching a continuous loop of Road Runner cartoons, watching as Wile E. Coyote strapped on rocket-propelled roller skates, or shot himself out of a cannon, or launched himself from a giant slingshot in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner. After watching intently for a long time, he had an epiphany. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he quietly announced to our family, “No matter what he does, he’s never going to get the chicken.”
“Chasing the wind” is the metaphor Hosea uses to express Ephraim’s futility. All their misguided efforts to pursue the good life would end up sabotaging what good life they had.
Our passage this morning is Hosea 12, but we’re including the last verse of Hosea 11, because it fits better conceptually with this chapter.
This is the beginning of the final section of Hosea which contains further messages concerning prevailing conditions in the Northern Kingdom that necessitate Israel’s judgment. The speeches contain both oracles of the prophet and divine speeches (e.g., 12:9-11; 13:4-16; 14:4-8). While it begins with a condemnation, it ends on a high note of God’s consolation: granted Israel’s repentance, God’s people will be restored to His favor and blessings forevermore.
David Hubbard points out that…
Hosea might have ended his book at 11:11 with the powerful, almost humorous, picture of God, the Lion, calling home his quivering family of birds. To that return the book has been driving relentlessly, reaching it once at 1:11, then at 3:5 and again at 11:11. But the prophecy has yet more to unfold of the nature of Israel’s sin, the intensity of God’s passionate judgment, and the glory of the ultimate reconciliation. So here, for the final time, it traces Israel’s march from punishment to restoration.
The glory of that future day will seem distant once again as their contemporary reality needed to be faced.
The northern kingdom is undoubtedly in its last decade as these words are preached to them.
12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. 1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt. 2 The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us– 5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” 7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. 10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.
Yahweh once again brings charges against Ephraim, establishing their guilt and predicting their punishment.
Richard Patterson tells us…
As this section of the book of Hosea opens, the Lord is expressing his displeasure with His people of both kingdoms. He begins with the Northern Kingdom. Israel has been a seedbed of treachery (v.1).
The charge of lying has been leveled previously when the Lord condemned the royal advisors for their false relations with the king (7:3). Because of the deceptive practices that infected the Northern Kingdom at the highest levels, all Israel had become corrupt.
It even affected its worship experience, for in these God’s people lie to the lord with regard to their supposed devotion (7:13). Through His prophet the Lord also had denounced Israel’s false dependence on its military strength rather than trusting in the lord (10:13).
In verse 12 of Hosea 11, Yahweh complained that Ephraim (Israel) had consistently lied and tried to deceive Him.
12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit
He described Himself as surrounded and under attack by His own people. Wherever He looked, all He saw was cheaters. Like their ancestor Jacob, they were deceivers.
Not only is Israel guilty of outright lies but also of deceit in all of its dealings, Israel has become a society where violence, which often leads to bloodshed, abounds (12:2,14), where dishonesty characterizes its business dealings (v.7), and in which lust for wealth accrued in whatever way it could be obtained was a way of life (vv. 8-9). Israel’s deception and fraud included its false—even pagan—religious rites (v.11) and its failure to heed the prophets whom God sent to guide and correct His people (v.10). It is small wonder, then, that Yahweh feels “surrounded” by Israel’s lies and deceit. For wherever He looked, there was only wanton debauchery.
God as likening Himself to a besieged city. He the holy city saw all around Him the siege machinery of lies, deceit, and total apostasy. There remained nothing for Yahweh to do but to defend His holiness by striking out in judgment against His debased nation.
Hosea also mentions Judah and David Hubbard aptly reminds us that “sin needs no passport,” but is highly contagious. The statement that Judah “walks with God” seems, on the surface, to be a positive statement. However, some have taken it negatively, as an unruly walk. This descriptive verb is somewhat rare (Heb. rud, wayward). In Jeremiah 2:31 it portrays Judah’s wandering away from the Lord.
There is also the question of whether it is Judah that is faithful to “the Holy One” or “the Holy One” who is faithful to Judah. It seems best to take this as saying that Judah remains faithful to Yahweh, and merely points out the inconsistency of their walk, which is sometimes wayward, sometimes faithful.
However, the description is actually “holy ones” plural and the term God is El. Hubbard points out that the term El could stand for a foreign god, an idol and that “holy ones” quite possibly describes the Canaanite pantheon (Hosea, p. 211).
We know that Yahweh—the true God, however, always remains faithful to His covenant promises, even when we are inconsistent in our devotion and faithfulness.
Thus, in Hosea 12:1 Ephraim is described as “feeding on the wind.”
1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long
The prophet Hosea builds upon the Lord’s previous statement in Hosea 11:12 by once again comparing Israel’s vacillating and deceitful foreign policy to the futility of pursuing these matters in a wrong way (12:1).
Both verbs in this passage emphasize continuous, consistent action. What is it they say about insanity? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
Like the earlier metaphor of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind in 8:15, so here it describes the utter futility and emptiness of their pursuit of foreign nations to help them. The word “pursues” can be translated “shepherd, tend.” It refers to a positive process, but here expresses ultimate futility.
A similar expression is used concerning man’s inability to discover abiding satisfaction through the multiplication of his possessions. Having enumerated various attempts he had made to find fulfillment through the accumulation of possessions the Preacher of Ecclesiastes summed up his endeavors by saying, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). (For wind used as an image this way, cf. Job 6:26; 8:2; 15:2; Ps. 78:39; Eccles. 1:14; 2:11; Isa. 26:18; 41:16).
The reference to the east wind suggests the hot, desert wind, called sirocco, which burns and sears and brings famine. Adam Clarke reminds us that the east wind: “They are not only empty, but dangerous and destructive. The east wind was, and still is, in all countries, a parching, wasting, injurious wind” (cf. Isaiah 27:8). No one in their right mind would pursue this, but Ephraim does.
Israel does not realize that its policies are a lost cause. For what Israel will find is only the emptiness and futility that the pursuit of wind implies. Yet when we betray our God, we are no less foolish.
Hosea again points our their deceptiveness, at the end of verse 1 when he says…
they multiply falsehood and violence
which seems best explained by the next statement…
they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.
In other words, they deal deceptively with their so-called allies, making agreements with Assyria on the one hand (cf. Hos. 5:13; 8:9) and at the same time making overtures to Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4; Hos. 7:11). Of course, they made these treaties with foreign nations rather than trusting in Yahweh. Making a treaty with another nation for protection implicitly involved trusting those foreign gods for protection over the protection offered by your own god.
Courting two enemies at the same time was not only an act of political madness destined to bring the wrath of both nations against them, but above all was an act of disloyalty to Yahweh.
Instead of trusting in the LORD, Israel trusted in deals and payoffs to the surrounding superpowers. It was foolish for them to think that Assyria or Egypt was more powerful or dependable than the LORD was.
“This actually took place during the reign of Hoshea, who endeavored to liberate himself from the oppression of Assyria by means of a treaty with Egypt (2 Kings xvii. 4).”
Or, as H. Ronald Vandermey describes more explicitly…
Assyria, like the blast from the sirocco, is not Ephraim’s friend, but an uncontrollable power that will mercilessly consume all that stands before its fiery rage. Whereas it was hazardous to make a covenant with the east wind (2 Kings 17:3), an even greater danger was created when that covenant was broken (2 Kings 17:4-6). Ephraim had deceived the wicked sirocco, a deception that would spell disaster as the enraged east wind swept over the land (Hosea-Amos, p. 68)
The whole of Israel’s actions throughout this chapter is well characterized as trying to “herd the wind.” Their futile attempts to save themselves, their failure to follow Jacob’s example, their false sense of security, forsaking God’s revelation to them through the prophets—each of these separate actions was foolish in itself, as foolish as trying to herd the wind.
By the way, that word “multiply” in verse 2, “multiply falsehood and violence,” is found several times throughout Hosea’s sermons
- lavished (multiplied) silver and gold, 2:8
- multiplied altars for sin, 8:11
- multiplied fortified cities, 8:14
- more (multiplied) altars, 10:1
- multiplied lies and violence, 12:1
- multiplied visions, 12:10
Again, the more Yahweh lavished his gifts upon Israel, the more Israel multiplied their sins.
As Stuart remarks, “In internal matters, the nations multiple immorality was well documented: it can be no surprise therefore that in external matters of diplomacy, their pattern of treachery continued true to form” (Hosea-Jonah, p. 190)
Although it is Ephraim/Israel that is singled out here for rebuke, the force of the context tends to suggest that although Israel is the primary focus, there is culpability in both Israel and Judah. As Andersen and Freedman point out, “Both countries are guilty of entering non-Yahwistic covenants… . The north and south tried to curry favor with Assyria at each other’s expense. There is also indication that they played Egypt off against Assyria” (Hosea, p. 605).
Judah and the northern tribes (Ephraim) both suffered lapses in fidelity to the Lord, but Judah, unlike Ephraim, had some good kings (in particular, Hezekiah). One of the highest points in Judah’s history was the victory over the Assyrians when Hezekiah was king (see 2 Kings 18–19, which was 20 years after Samaria fell) (ESV Study Bible)
You know, it might be appropriate today for us to ask ourselves: Am I feeding on wind?
Maybe you have invested your life in things that really don’t matter, that won’t matter 100 years from now. Maybe you have sought to mask your pain doing things which only cause you more sorrow. That is exactly what an idol does—it asks us to sacrifice for it and gives us nothing in return.
Oh, of course sin is a pleasure for a season. Sin would have no seductive power at all if it didn’t provide some pleasure. But the payoff is small and the enjoyment of it is short.
Never before has there been such an attractive array of wind food around for the Christian. And it’s not just the “junk foods” available through most movies and television. There are all kinds of wind salesmen around with appealing programs to “get into.” Getting heavily involved in secular clubs and associations rather than Christian fellowship, or becoming experts in a hobby at the expense of our spiritual health are examples of wind programs.
Even our studies and careers, which can consume enormous amounts of our time and energy, may become a feeding on wind if God is left out of the picture. We may feel fulfilled and satisfied now, but what about later?
We must have a steady diet of the solid food of the Word of God now if we are to avoid the stunted growth, starvation and emptiness that are associated with feeding on wind. Remember that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Let’s be careful of what we munch on and not lose our appetites for the Word of God.
John Piper, in his book on fasting entitled Hunger for God, gets down to the reality of this when he says…
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.”
Israel had lost their hunger for God, satiating themselves on the supposed material blessings that came from worshiping Baal, from their under-handed business practices, from creating alliances with foreign nations for protection. They thought they were gaining, but they were losing.
So the cry of my heart is that we would let nothing quench our appetite for God Himself.