Welcome again to our study of Hosea. We are nearing the end of this wonderful book which expresses the love that Yahweh had for Israel. Time and again He blessed Israel, wooed Israel and spared Israel…but judgment was on the horizon.
Here are Yahweh’s words in Hosea 13. Here is the rising crescendo of judgment.
1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window. 4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. 9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath. 12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
Although Hosea 13 is the climax of Yahweh’s judgment against Israel, it does not represent the climax of the book. Once again Yahweh would extend a word of grace to Israel.
Israel has been ungrateful to the Lord and gone after gods of its own choosing (vv. 1-2). God’s people have forgotten who it was that redeemed them out of Egypt and cared for them along the way to the Promised Land. In their stubborn and foolish pride, and self-satisfaction they fail to acknowledge Him and all He has done for them (vv. 4-6). Likewise, Israel has failed to recognize Yahweh as its ultimate king (vv. 9-11). A final pronouncement of judgment because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord in order to establish its own type of monarchical government with its own civic and political policies (vv. 9-14) is concluded with a simile presented in the form of a pseudo-sorites (vv. 15-16).
Hubbard notes that Hosea recapitulates a number of dominant themes in Hosea and sets the stage both for the final words of judgment in vv. 15-16 and the calls to return in 14:1-8.
“The themes summed up in chapter 13 are these: idolatry by calf worship (v. 2; cf. 8:5-6; 10:5, 7, for idolatry in general, cf. 2:8; 3:1, 4; 4:12, 17; 8:4: 9:6, 10; 10:2, 6; 11:2); ingratitude for the exodus (vv. 4-6; cf. 8:14; 9:10; 11:1-2; 12:9, 13), foolish trust in political leaders (vv. 10-11; cf. 7:7; 8:4; 9:15; 10:3, 15), complacency in the face of judgment (v. 13; cf. 4:4, 16; 5:6-7; 6:1-3, 4-5; 7:2, 9-10; 8:2; 9:7; 12:8-9). They not only recapture Hosea’s major emphases, but also prepare for the precise words of penitence spelled out in the call to return with which the book closes; idolatry must be renounced (14:3c, 8), gratitude must be expressed (14:2c), trust in political alliance and military might rejected (14:3ab), and complacency replaced by dependence on God (14:3d)” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 224).
Once again Hosea indicates the heights from which Israel had fallen. Once favored by God and strong, now they would be weak and destroyed.
Previously, “when Ephraim spoke, there was trembling.” Whether merely among the tribes of the northern kingdom or more broadly, among the nations, Ephraim formerly had power and influence.
Ephraim had been the strongest tribe in Israel and represents Israel in many places throughout the prophets (cf. Judg. 8:1-3; 12:1-6). The Lord’s prophet reminds Ephraim that it always held a special place in Israel’s history. Not only did Ephraim receive Jacob’s patriarchal blessing instead of his older brother Manasseh (Gen. 48:12-20), but Jacob’s prophetic blessing (cf. that of Moses, Deut. 33:17) became realized in Ephraim’s leading role among the other tribes (e.g., Judg. 7:24-8:1). This became especially pronounced when the Ephraimite Jeroboam was crowned as Israel’s first king at the time of the division of the united kingdom.
Ephraim often came to serve as metonymy for all of God’s people (e.g., Hos. 11:3) and especially for the Northern Kingdom (e.g., Hos. 8:11).
The emphasis in the present context is upon that role of Ephraim, which as the particular representative of the northern ten tribes enjoyed a special prominence. Therefore, Ephraim also had a distinct responsibility.
However, a consistent theme in Hosea is how the early promise of a nation blessed by God had alas come to frustrating ruin. Hosea consistently laments the “lost glory” of Israel. Departure from the Lord means that “Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird” (9:11) or “it’s glory has departed from it” (10:5).
Why? Because Ephraim had led the northern kingdom into idolatry. Instead of “walking worthy of their calling” they worship the Baals. Instead of being a leader in righteousness, Ephraim had caused the hearts of the people to depart from the Lord.
Jeroboam I was instrumental in the introduction of the state religion of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Not content with these, he became guilty of worshiping false gods and the idolatry that accompanied it (cf. 1 Kings 14:9-11). It was not long, therefore, that Baal became the leading pagan divinity in the Northern Kingdom, a condition that brought about the eventual demise of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:16-17).
Kidner indicates this all-too-normal declension of cultures, such as happens here to Israel, with these words:
If there is one fact about human fortunes which history almost dins into us, it is their instability; and historians can show any number of economic, political and other reasons for the changes that turn the giants of one era into the weaklings of the next. Here, not the power-changes abroad nor the factions at home are blamed for the sad state of Ephraim, but a much earlier and subtler shift within the mind: from the Lord to Baal (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 114).
The consequence was certain judgment, such that Ephraim could rightly be called “dead” (i.e., no longer playing any productive role in God’s plan and going into exile) because of their guilt. Though, like Adam died when he sinned, but still lived on, so Israel had died, but would still exist for another decade.
The illusion in their minds is that if it is good to worship one god, it is better to worship more than one.
Verse 2 describes the idiocy of their idolatry in detail:
2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”
It has been a consistent theme of Hosea that Israel has multiplied their sinning. The idea is that they are now taking every opportunity to spit in God’s face with this sin of idolatry.
H. Ronald Vandermey notes: “Having cut themselves off from the Lord and His righteousness, Israel’s sin increased like an unchecked infection” (Hosea-Amos, pp. 71-72). It reminds one of Romans 1, where God “gives them over” to on sin after another because of the hardness of their hearts.
Not only are they engaged in the expensive process of making idols, but the end of the process is presented in the “three scandalous words” (Kidner, p. 115), “[they] kiss calves.”
E. B. Pusey says…
“This seems to be a third stage in sin. First, under Jeroboam, was the worship of the calves. Then, under Ahab, the worship of Baal. Thirdly, the multiplying of other idols, penetrating and pervading the private life, even of their less wealthy people. The calves were of gold; now they made them molten images of their silver, perhaps plated with silver.” (Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1:126)
As Hubbard observes, “What Jeroboam I had begun and Jeroboam II sponsored, the people of Samaria continued with unbridled enthusiasm (v. 2) in Hosea’s time.”
Of course, this violates the first two words of the commandments that Yahweh had stipulated to His redeemed people—not to worship other gods or make images for worship. Anderson and Freedman note the words “make for themselves” echoes the prohibition in Exodus 20:4 of “making for yourselves images.”
Yahweh will brook no rivals for their affections, and knows how dependent we are upon our senses, thus he warns against constructing any image which cannot help but capture only a caricature of who Yahweh is and not the fulness of who He is.
“Truth itself is intolerant,” said Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner. He explained…
“If it is true that twice two are four, then it is simply false to say that twice two are five or three. If it is true that Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15 of the year 44 B.C., then it is false to say that he died a natural death in the year 45. Truth is always single and exclusive. If there is only one God, then there is not more than one.”
As Yahweh will very matter-of-factly say in verse 4:
4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.
This is echoed in the exclusivistic claims of Jesus and about Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus makes no apologies in saying in John 14:6…
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
There might be many ways to God, but only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ. There is really only one God and one mediator between God and man. There is no other way of salvation other than the way God the Father has provided—through His Son Jesus Christ.
In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaims…
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
In the context, that name is Jesus. There is no other name but the name of Jesus that provides salvation.
Now, back to Hosea.
The NIV and ESB both translate the end of verse 3 “offer human sacrifice.” However, there is no indication historically that this happened until the last king of Israel, Hoshea. This is recorded in 2 Kings 17:16-17…
16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.
If Hosea is directing a charge against Israel for human sacrifice at this time, he seems only to make a passing reference to such a heinous sin As Garrett observes, “Human sacrifice is not the sort of thing one mentions as an aside, especially if it was regularly practiced.”
It is best to view the present text as the condemnation of the routine apostasy of the people in worshipping Baal.
“Viewed together, [this verse shows that their] sin is a total perversion of values. A craftsman’s work is elevated to divine status; human beings sacrifice their offspring to a metal object from whose lifeless form they also beg help; persons embrace with adulation the images of the very animals that they use for ploughing, threshing and hauling” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227). Viewed rationally it makes no sense at all. But then sin never does.
I like what J. Vernon McGee says, and I can almost hear him say it in his southern drawl:
“It is nonsense to go around kissing something as an act of worship of the living and true God. You worship Him, my friend, by the life that you live. You worship Him in the way you conduct your business, carry on your social life, the way you run your home, and the way you act out on the street—not only in the way you act in the sanctuary. We are the ones who have made a distinction between the sanctuary and the street, but in God’s sight there is no difference at all.”
Garrett notes how the idea of kissing the calf finds resonance with the Exodus passage where Israel worshipped the golden calf at the proclamation, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8). This was echoed in 1 Kings 12:20-33 when Jeroboam I established his golden calves at Dan and Bethel.
Robinson summarized what he called “seven of the principal steps in Israel’s downfall, which led straight to the precipice of national ruin”: lack of knowledge (4:6), pride (5:5), instability (6:4), worldliness (7:8), corruption (9:9), backsliding (11:7), and idolatry (13:2) (George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, pp. 23-25).
Earlier, in Hosea 6:4, Yahweh had likened the faithfulness of Ephraim and Judah to the “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” Here he presses that point home again, piling up metaphors, except this time it is not their character which soon disappears, but they themselves.
3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.
“A four-fold simile of fading into nothingness is Hosea’s powerful way of intensifying the picture by multiple repetition” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227).
Like all these temporary, vanishing things, Israel’s existence would disappear, swiftly and surely.
What is said of Israel here is said elsewhere of individual sinners (disappear “like the chaff” in Psalm 1:4) and of all God’s enemies (like “smoke,” Psa. 62:8).
“The point is that idolatry carries its own punishment: you worship nothing, you get nothing, you end as nothing” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 228).
Stuart expresses it well: “The four examples of disappearance—mist, dew, chaff, smoke—combine to emphasize how utterly Israel’s destruction will be accomplished by her avenging God… . When mist, dew, chaff, and smoke vanish, the result is nothingness. Israel will similarly disappear and become desolate (cf. Lev. 26:31-35; Deut. 28, 29).”
Garrett points out that these last two verses give exposition to the riddle back in 12:11, “If Gilead is deception, surely they are nothing.”
There was a time when Israel experienced glory; she was exalted (v. 1). Through compromised theology and worship (v. 2), she forfeited that glory and was destined to become a transient, homeless people; without national identity, wanderers who are as insecure and temporal as the morning mist or dew, as the chaff on the threshing floor, or the smoke from a house (v. 3).