Besides foretelling future events, one of the major roles of the prophets was to bring the people face-to-face with their sins and notify them of the judgments to come. This has been a consistent theme in the book of Hosea as well. Sometimes it is difficult for us to listen to passage after passage of judgments. We get weary of it. I’m sure Israel did too. But like Israel, it is important for us to listen.
Here are the words of Hosea in chapter 13. Hosea has just warned Israel that Yahweh would bring the judgment of exile against them because of their idolatries. Then he says…
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.
This morning we will be looking at two tragic choices that Israel made (which we can also make today): First, that Israel chose destruction over salvation. Verses 4-8 show Israel turning away from the only Savior. How many people do that today, rejecting Jesus as Savior, believing that they can find approval through their own good deeds. They, too, end up destroying themselves. Second, Israel chose human kings over the King of kings. They relied on human strength over divine strength. And how often do we today turn to ourselves—our own wisdom and ingenuity, our own efforts and strength, or own money to bail us out of situations we find ourselves in. But we cannot save our marriages, our families, our jobs by turning to ourselves.
In the face of Israel flirting with the Baals, Yahweh forcefully announces
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.
Although this is not as strong a statement about God’s essence as Deuteronomy 6:4 or the commandment in Exodus 20:3, it does clearly express the exclusive relationship that Israel was to have with Yahweh, the true God, “your God.”
Instead of flirting with idols, they should realize that the One who made covenant with them, Yahweh, is “your God,” who had brought them out of Egypt. This again is a reference to the Exodus as the courtship and marriage time between God and Israel (cf. vv. 5; 2:14; 9:10; 12:9).
Hosea has consistently accused Israel of lacking knowledge. In other words, of having no relational knowledge of God. Oh, they knew who God was, but they did not know him as their God. Forgetting God is not a lapse of memory, but active betrayal.
But, in contrast, they should have known “no God but me.” This is almost a direct phrase from the first commandment (Exodus 20:3; Deut. 5:7).
They should have had an exclusive, personal, intimate relationship with Yahweh. But they did not.
He is the only Savior (Isa. 43:3,11,14; 45:15,21-22; 63:8). He had saved them and is the only Savior of any person.
The opening words of the decalogue: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6-7). The force of that statement is a reminder that Israel was God’s possession (cf. Exod. 19:4-6) by right of redemption. Not only does the first commandment forbid the worship of other gods, but Israel must not even acknowledge any other so-called god. For none of these, or anything else including human undertakings, could provide deliverance for Israel. Indeed, there simply is no other Savior (Isa. 43:11).
To abandon the only Savior is to doom oneself to no salvation. Israel had changed, but the LORD God did not. He was still the only God and the only Savior, and His people would be left desolate when they left Him.
Not only was Israel’s fascination with foreign gods (e.g., Baal; cf. 11:7) and idolatry a sinful violation of the law and God’s person, but these contradicted the facts of Israel’s own history.
Yahweh was not only their savior from Egypt, but had lovingly and tenderly cared for them during their wilderness wanderings. Thus, verse 5 says…
5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;
Notice again the language of deep, intimate relationship, “I knew you.” “There was an interlocking, personal relationship between Israel and the Lord which flowed in both directions: from Israel to the Lord, and from the Lord to Israel” (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 88).
Implied is not only that Yahweh knew them, but took care of them. The passing work of the craftsmen who make idols (Hos. 13:2) stands in vivid disparity to the God who sustained Israel in the land of drought by his devoted care.
The words “land of drought” emphasizes the hardships that Israel faced in the wilderness. But they were never alone. Yahweh was with them and provided for them. He kept them alive with manna and water. It is a way of alluding to YHWH’s supernatural provision of water during the wilderness wandering period (e.g., Exod. 15:22-26; 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13; 21:16).
Yet, verse 6 indicates, as Moses had predicted, that when Israel prospered in the land, they forgot God.
6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.
What a tragedy! It is a strange and terrible aspect of human nature that when times are good, we often forget the God who blessed us, because we don’t need Him as much as when we are going through difficult times or times of lack.
You can see a definite downward progression in this verse: (1) they ate, and (2) became full. That condition continued in the words (3) they were filled. Then (4) “their heart was lifted up,” which describes an attitude of self-sufficient pride—“I did this, it was my efforts that produced this.” The end result (5) is that “they forgot me.” They no longer acknowledged God as the source of all their benefits.
Moses predicted that this would happen several times in the book of Deuteronomy. For example, Deuteronomy 6:10-12:
10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Notice how similar that last part of Deut. 6:12 is to Hosea 13:4
4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt
It had happened even as the Lord warned (cf. Deut. 8:10-18; 31:20). Therefore, in accordance with the warnings in the covenant God was about to punish His people (vv. 7-8; cf. Deut. 4:23-26; 8:19-20; 30:17-18).
Israel’s contentment and preoccupation with itself, which began already in the wilderness, carried on and grew progressively worse. By Hosea’s day God’s people no longer genuinely acknowledged God (cf. Hos. 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3; 8:2-3; 11:3; 13:4; with Isa. 29:13). As Hubbard remarks, “Self-reliance—including reliance on their self-adopted and self-sustained religion (cf. 2:13)—lay at the heart of the crime” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)
Thus, the Lord promises to be an enemy to His people. Once again the Lord’s judgment is presented in a series of strikingly violent similes. God’s power in executing His judgment is likened to that of five wild animals: the strength of a lion, the cunning of a leopard, the wild fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs, the eagerness of a lioness, and the ferocity of a wild beast.
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.
God has used the lion imagery before in depicting the violence of Israel’s coming judgment (Hos. 5:14-15).
He now adds the ferocity of two more animals: a lurking leopard and a bear robbed of its cubs (cf. Prov. 17:12; 2 Samuel 17:8).
Habakkuk uses the figure of the leopard by way of comparison with the dreaded Assyrian warhorses, which were “faster than leopards” (Hab. 1:8). The Assyrian military capabilities were quite profound and terrifying.
“Possessed of swift warhorses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty… . Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies” (Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, p. 137).
Likewise, the imagery of a bear robbed of its cubs attests to the strength and passionate aggressiveness of the coming judgment.
Duane Garrett suggests a relation of this figure with the loss of God’s people: “Yahweh has been robbed of its children (the common people of Israel) by his wife (the woman Israel, that is, the royal and priestly leadership). She has made them to be children of Baal” (Duane Garrett, Hosea, Joel, p. 259).
All three images underscore the aggressive viciousness of the coming attack by the Assyrians.
The viciousness of the Assyrian military is well documented in the Assyrian Annals. For example, in his eighth campaign against Elam Sennacherib boasts that he “raged like a lion” and with victory he tore apart the enemy nobility.
I cut their throats like lambs… . Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot … were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain like grass. (Luckenbill, ARA, 2:127).
Yahweh, through Assyria, would “tear open their chests,” literally “the enclosure of the heart” (i.e., the pericardium). He will completely consume them like a lion consumes its prey and rip them to shreds like wild animals with a carcass.
The uniqueness of Israel’s relationship to the Lord was the foundational premise on which the whole of her existence was built. Her glory rested in the Lord. Her salvation from bondage was brought about by him. Removed from him, there was neither glory nor salvation, only destruction and annihilation. (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, pp. 88-89).
In vv. 9-11 Yahweh attacks their misplaced confidence in the human kings and again asserts the certainty of their coming judgment. Verse 9 begins with a strong affirmation followed by a rhetorical question the Lord declares solemnly,
9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper.
By turning against the Lord who only desired to help them (cf. v. 4), the Israelites had done something that would result in their own destruction. How ironic it was that Israel’s helper would become her destroyer! Israel had forsaken their only Savior (v. 4) and their great helper (v. 9). Israel will surely be helpless through it all. That is how irrational sin turns out to be.
“As Israel plunges headlong over the waterfall, the Lord laments that His people have done everything possible to navigate around His helping hand” (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea-Joel, p. 72).
J. Vernon McGee reminds us:
“We often blame God for what happens to us. When you feel like that, this is a good verse to turn to. You have destroyed yourself, and you are responsible for your condition. But you can get help from God; He will furnish help to you.”
In a further rhetorical question the Lord implies that they could not count on their king (v. 10).
10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
They turned their backs on their only Savior (v. 4). When they now turn to their kings for help, they are nowhere to be found.
Indeed, toward the end of the Northern Kingdom there was a series of competing local kings and even their last king Hoshea proved to be inefficient and unfit for the task.
When these northern kings proved ineffective, since they did not trust in Yahweh, the Lord removed them, one by one, which also made Him angry. King Hoshea was the last of the Northern Kingdom kings. The Lord had removed the Ephraimite kings because they followed the pattern of King Saul, and later King Jeroboam I, and He would continue to do so until none were left. The sins and bad times, which all these Northern Kingdom kings’ reigns brought on Israel, were unnecessary and displeasing to the Lord—who wanted His people to enjoy peace and prosperity.
The Lord further points out the folly of His people’s clamor for a king so as to be like the surrounding nations (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4, 19-20).
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.
As Hubbard observes, “God had acceded to their begging for a king (1 Sa. 8:22). The monarchy as a whole was established in ambiguous circumstances which help to account for Yahweh’s anger; the people had brushed aside all its potential pitfalls, especially the competition it offered to God’s own kingship (1 Sa. 8:7)” (Hosea, p. 217)
Although the Lord acquiesced to His people’s request, their choice constituted a rejection of the theocracy and began the long downward spiral, which had brought them to the present turmoil. To be sure, God had made provision for kingship for His people, but such a one was to meet His high standards (e.g., Num. 24:17; Deut. 17:14-20). Israel now refused to acknowledge God, and turned to Baal and human leaders whether national or foreign.
Moreover, as Stuart observes, “The whole history of the kingship had been a manifestation of God’s anger/fury. Israel’s kings had been chosen without God’s consent (cf. 8:4) and the kingship itself had now been abolished by God as a portent of the coming national disaster (cf. Deut. 28:36)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 206)
Indeed, as Samuel had warned long ago, kingship as conceived and directed by the people had proven to be a disastrous failure (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10-17)—one that they themselves would come to regret: “If you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Sam. 12:25). The Lord’s words here bear an ominous echo of Samuel’s warning. Israel’s stood on the threshold of national disaster and no king or leader could save them. God Himself was about to bring down the curtain on the Northern Kingdom (v. 11).