Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 9 (Hosea 10:3-7)

Thank you for joining me today is our study of the book of Hosea.  Because of Israel’s idolatries and their unwillingness to trust in Yahweh—instead turning to political alliances for protection—Israel is about to experience the final judgments that God had warned them about in the Palestinian covenant back in Deuteronomy 28-30.  The controlling metaphor since chapter 8 has been…”they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7) and time after time Hosea is showing them that they are getting exactly what they deserve, that their judgment is the same in kind as their sin.

So let’s pick up our study in Hosea 10:3-7 this morning…

3 For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king–what could he do for us?” 4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. 5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests– those who rejoiced over it and over its glory– for it has departed from them. 6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. 7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” 9 From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? 10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity. 11 Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. 12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. 13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, 14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. 15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.

Verse 3 follows the progression of vv. 1-2.  Although Israel had been planted as a vine designed to give Yahweh good fruit, their luxurious growth (in this case, material prosperity) had only given them opportunity to bestow their gratitude and worship and petition upon other gods instead of Yahweh.

And because they were “biting the hand that fed them” Yahweh would destroy all their places of worship.  These gods would do them no good at all in the foreign lands to which they would be exiled.

Since v. 2 references the Assyrian invasion it is likely that Hoshea is in view here, that he is now (soon to be) dead and gone.

Verse 3 speaks of a time when there was no longer any king over Israel.

3 For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king–what could he do for us?”

It is true that in Israel’s final years they would have a quick succession of kings, none of whom were fitting the role or very effective as leaders.  Thus, it would be true to say that they “had no king” during these years.  None like David or Solomon, or even Jeroboam II had been on the scene for 30 years now.  And that can seem like a long stretch of political nightmares.

Those kings were Zechariah (753 B.C.), Shallum (752 B.C.), Menahem (752-742 B.C.), Pekah (752-732 B.C.), Pekahiah (742-740 B.C.), and Hoshea (732-723 B.C.).  If you remember, in Hosea’s opening he mentioned four Judean kings and only one Israelite king.  Since Hosea was ministering to the Israelites this must signify his relative insignificance in comparison.

One of the reasons that they had no effective kings is that they—and the men who led them—did not fear the Lord.  Unlike Solomon, who charged his son, his protégé, to fear the Lord, they did not.

In other words, not only did they lose any respect or hope in human political leaders, but declared themselves free of any rule, human or divine.

Duane Garrett notes…

In connection with the vineyard metaphor [cf. vv. 1, 4], this line constitutes the people’s rejection of Yahweh’s claim to their “fruit” and is analogous to the conspiracy of the workers in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 21:33-46) (Hosea-Joel, p. 208)

I don’t think that the fear of the Lord primarily means that we are terrified of God, that we are afraid of being in His presence.  While it is true that our sin should cause us concern, knowing that God knows it and will judge it, I think it is more accurate to think of the fear of Yahweh as that attitude which always holds Him high and wants to please Him.

Fearing the LORD means that we believe that He exists, believe that He sees, and believe that we will be held accountable for every sin, whether public of private.

Psalm 147:10-11 says…

10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

So it seems to be a more positive thing, than walking on eggshells afraid we’re going to experience His wrath.  It is compared here to one who hopes in Yahweh’s steadfast love.

Stephen Altrogge says…

The “fear of God” that brings God pleasure is not our being afraid of him, but our having a high and exalted, reverential view of him.

And…

To fear God means to dwell upon his beautiful, glorious holiness which is the very opposite of sin and evil, and to revere God and know that he loves us so much that he desires us to hate and turn away from sin.

 R.C. Sproul, speaking of Martin Luther, said this:

Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

The late Jerry Bridges wrote:

We cannot separate trust in God from fear of God.  We trust Him only to the extent that we genuinely stand in awe of Him (The Joy of Fearing God).

Thomas Watson, in his book The Great Gain of Godliness, noting that the fear of God is mixed with love for Him in Psalm 145:19-20, says…

The chaste spouse fears to displease her husband because she loves him.  There is a necessity that fear and love be in conjunction.  Love is as the sails to make swift the soul’s motion and fear is as the ballast to keep it steady in true religion.  Love will be apt to grow wanton unless it is counterbalanced with fear (accessed through Google Books, pp. 14-15).

Regardless of how we may define it, the Israelites did not possess it at this time.  And when you don’t submit to divine authority, you have little respect for human authorities.

Derek Kidner summarizes:

We might well wonder whether arrogance or apathy is the greater of two evils for a nation.  For Israel, the mood had swung between the two, marked by their changing attitudes towards the throne: at one moment pinning all their hopes to kingship (“, 13:10), at another cheapening it with debauchery and tearing it apart with assassinations (7:3-7); finally, here in verse 3, shrugging it off as meaningless, along with everything else, from the Lord downwards.  Only their superstition, their talisman the golden calf, will awaken any sense of loss by its removal.

It sounds much like our own political aspirations today, blowing in the wind, pinning our hopes on one politician and wanting to assassinate him or the rivals.

So, not only did they reject their own human king, but effectively rejected Yahweh as divine king as well.  “It was because they did not believe that Yahweh could cure them that they sent to the Great King (5:13), the king of Assyria.  Israel’s cry was “He will save us.”  Hosea 14:4 shows that Assyria was now cast in this role.

There would be no new king, for God’s help would only come to those who fear Him.  Without Yahweh’s backing, human kings are no help at all.

Roy Honeycutt believes that Hosea is introducing a glimmer of hope here—that when the people realize that all their hopes in human kings and government has failed them, that they will then turn again to Yahweh as their only hope.

Verse 4 possibly speaks to the intrigue and assassinations throughout their last 30-year political history.

4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.

The “false heart” from back in verse 2 is here described as evidence of the absence of the fear of Yahweh in the hearts of the Israelites.  Any pretense to loyalty either to Yahweh or the king is hollow talk—they swear to be faithful to the covenant and the king with fingers crossed.

I like what Derek Kidner says here:

When heaven is considered empty (‘we fear not the Lord’, 3) words and promises soon follow suit, and justice, so-called, becomes a parody of its true self–no longer towering impartially above the strong and the weak, but earthbound and tortuous, spring from the thoughts and policies of the moment; no longer a force for good and the nation’s health, but a source of poison (Hosea, p. 93).

Hubbard contends that the covenant is not with Yahweh, but either with their kings or with the foreign nations they sought to ally to themselves.  But, of course, those covenants with their kings would compromise Yahweh’s role in their theocracy and covenants with foreign kings betrayed their lack of trust in Yahweh as well as the temptation to trust in the gods of those pagan nations.

Garrett takes a different approach, saying that their hollow words illustrate their disloyalty to Yahweh…

They go through the liturgical declarations of fealty to Yahweh, but these mean nothing to them.  They do not fear him (Hosea-Joel, p. 208).

In this context, justice (which is a better translation that judgment) sprouts up as poison.  It kills rather than gives life.  As they had been a vine that God had made luxuriant (v. 1) yet had failed to produce good fruit for Yahweh, now justice would turn into injustice.  Again, they would reap what they had sown.

The “furrows of the field” were places that should produce good fruit.  Hosea 12:11 emphasizes that Israel’s idolatries appeared there, as well as on the high places.

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.

H. Ronald Vandermey notes that…

While America has In God We Trust on her coins, she has likewise deemed it expedient to make covenants with treacherous nations who despise the Lord (Hosea-Amos, p. 61)

This “poisonous plant” is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:32 as “the vine of Sodom with “grapes of poison.”  Israel is thus a destructive, deceptive vine, serving only itself and yielding the false fruit of impiety, hypocrisy, and paganism.

Finally Hosea gets to the thing they would miss the most, and pine for, in captivity…

5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven.  Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests– those who rejoiced over it and over its glory– for it has departed from them. 6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king.  Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.

Duane Garrett notes the parallels between vv. 1-4 and 5-8…

Both begin with a general statement of the sin of the nation; first it is the vine analogy, but here it is the bull-idol.  Both then describe the pagan worship of Israel and the punishment that shall come.  Furthermore, both assert that the cunning of the Israelites will be exposed (vv. 2, 6b).  Also, whereas in the vine text the people declare they have no king (v. 3), v. 7 similarly presents them as a nation under a weak king.  In addition, both texts describe what the people are saying: first it is cynicism and hypocrisy (vv. 3-4), and second, it is panic and despair (v. 8b).  Finally, the desolation of the pagan altars in v. 8a, when they are covered with weeds and thistles, appropriately looks back to the metaphor of vv. 1-4: Israel had been a well-plowed, carefully managed field, but it yielded only the poisonous fruit of paganism.  As a result, God would allow the field to be overrun with weeds that would consume the destructive vine of the fertility cult (Hosea-Joel, p. 209).

They would mourn the loss of their precious idol—the idol that had done nothing for them, that had betrayed them in their moment of need, that had cast them into captivity.

When God destroyed Israel’s altars (v. 2), specifically the golden calf at Beth-aven (i.e., Bethel, cf. v. 8; 4:15; 5:8), –which Jeroboam I had erected (cf. 4:15; 5:8; I Kgs. 16:28-29) the Israelites who lived in Samaria, Israel’s capital, would fear.  Notice that they would not fear God (v. 3), but they feared the loss of their idols.

Anderson and Freedman note that “calf” is actually feminine plural, “heifers,” perhaps referring to a female counterpart (Hosea, p. 555).

Notice the word play.  The name “Bethel” means “house of God,” but Yahweh changes its name to match its character, for “Beth-aven” means “house of wickedness.”

“Beth-aven” may stand not merely for Bethel, but also for the entire official, semi-pagan religious set-up in Israel.

The people would frantically mourn, and the idolatrous priests (Heb. kemarim; cf. 2 Kings 23:5; Zeph. 1:4) who served there would bewail the demise of this altar, since its glory had departed from the land.  That word “glory” again points back to Yahweh as the truly glorious One, but here it is used sarcastically to point out the failure of the pagan gods to act gloriously and bring victory.

The word “mourn” is a word used back in 9:1 to refer to the ecstatic, frenzied worship of the Baalim.  Now these same wild emotions would overcome them as their pagan gods are carried away.

Both altars (vv. 1, 8) and idols (vv. 6, 7) would be eliminated.

The Assyrians would carry their golden calf to their land in honor of their king (cf. 8:10).  In the eyes of the ancient near eastern people they defeat of a nation meant the defeat of their god, showing how weak they are in comparison to the gods of the conquering empire.  The fact that it had to be “carried” away is another expression of its weakness, a common prophetic dig at the impotency of their man-made idols to help (Isaiah 45:20; 46:1, 7; Jeremiah 10:5).

Isaiah 45:20

Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.

Isaiah 46:1, 7

1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts.

6 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship!7 They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.

Jeremiah 10:5, speaking of the religious tendencies of the nations…

5 Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”

So Hubbard concludes

As Hosea has more than once reminded them, the calf-god has no value beyond the material wealth of which it was fabricated (2:8; 8:5-6; 9:6).  In fact, its gold overlay has come to mean nothing to Israel, since they have to give that away, and Hosea rightly brands the calf a “wooden” idol (Hosea, p. 185).

The god they trusted to save them would be handed over to the king of Assyria as booty.  The king of Assyria (“Great king,” cf. 5:13) would be identified as Shalmaneser V at the time of the assault on Samaria and as Sargon II at the time of the ultimate collapse (2 Kings 17:3-6) in 722/721 B.C.

Israel would then feel great shame because the Israelites had decided to trust in a foreign alliance with the Assyrians for their security (cf. 5:13; 7:8-9, 11; 8:9-10).

You see, alliances in the ancient near east were not just political promise devoid of spiritual implications.

Pritchard and Ellison explains that…

“…in those days the secular state did not exist, and so in practice it was impossible to distinguish between a state and its gods. In an extant treaty of peace between Rameses II of Egypt and Hattusilis the Hittite king it is a thousand of their gods on either side who are the witnesses to and guarantors of it (Footnote 1: James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, pp. 200-201).

So even a treaty on equal terms with a neighbouring country would have involved for Israel a recognition of the other country’s deities as having reality and equality with Jehovah.  To turn to Assyria or Egypt for help implied of necessity that their gods were more effective than the God of Israel” (H. L. Ellison, The Prophets of Israel: From Ahijah to Hosea, p. 131)

So now they would reap what they had sown—their trusts in these gods where were no-gods, would result in them reaping the utter shame of having trusted them and been let down.

Richard Patterson explains…

This will be like adding insult to injury. God’s people will suffer the disgrace of witnessing that their national treasure, which they revered, will not only be unable to watch over them, but the god whose worship was entailed in the idol could not even protect himself.  Israel will be doubly shamed for its reliance on a mere “wooden idol” (https://bible.org/seriespage/3-further-charges-against-unfaithful-israel-hosea-101-1015).

Finally

The Great King, whose favor Israel sought, will also carry off the king of Israel (v. 7).

7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters.

Israel’s titular head will be as helpless as a chip of wood floating “on the surface of the waters.” The simile employed here speaks of the helpless state of Israel’s powerless king.

No longer a strong, massive oak, the king would be a twig upon the river waters, pushed along without any semblance of control.

As Garrett remarks, “Such a king is like a stick on water in that he can exercise no control over events.  A nation with such leadership is doomed” (Hosea-Joel, p. 212).  In all practicality, they had “no king” (v. 3) because he was powerless to do anything to help the nation.  Neither political rulers nor religious gods would save them from destruction.

Anderson and Freedman take a different approach, suggesting that there was no king in Samaria and that since Israel had rejected Yahweh, it was a pagan god (as a piece of wood) that is being referred to in v. 7 (Hosea, p. 558).

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 8 (Hosea 10:1-2)

Charles Dickens begins his novel The Tale of Two Cities with the line

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

There were many characteristics of Hosea’s generation to suggest that it truly was the “best of times” in Israel.  It was a time of financial prosperity, religious zeal and the rise of the first generation of Israel’s prophets—Amos and Hosea.

But it was also the worst of times.  Both Amos and Hosea were written off as “fools” and “madmen” (Hosea 9:7) and Amos was banished to Judah (Amos 7:12).  Their wealth had often been gained at the expense of the poor and their worship was at best mere external formality and at worst devotion to false gods.

We find many of the same conditions in our nation today.

Thus, it was really a time to “seek the Lord” (Hosea 10:12).

Thank you for joining me today in our study of the book of Hosea—a tragic love story between Yahweh and Israel, mirrored by the tumultuous relationship between faithful Hosea and Hosea, who prostituted herself among lovers just like Israel did with false gods and untrustworthy allies.

Back in Hosea 8 Hosea had used a metaphor that went like this…

“they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind…” (8:7)

Like Paul in Galatians 6:6, you reap what you sow.  You reap in like kind as you sow; you don’t reap in the same season than you sow; and you tend to reap even more than you’ve sown.

And since then we have seen Hosea employ the reality of this spiritual principle over and over again.  In the very areas that they sinned, they will reap judgment.  They worshiped fertility gods, their crops and their children will be taken from them.  They allied themselves with foreign nations for protection and those very nations will ravage them.

Today, as we begin Hosea 10, that metaphor is continued.  The frightful predictions recorded in the 10th chapter bring to a close the section of Hosea that etches in the mind of his readers the justice of Almighty God.

Let me read the whole chapter.

1 Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars. 3 For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king–what could he do for us?” 4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. 5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests– those who rejoiced over it and over its glory– for it has departed from them. 6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. 7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed.  Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” 9 From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued.  Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? 10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity. 11 Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. 12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. 13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.  Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, 14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. 15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.

In some ways Hosea will seem like a broken record, picking up themes he has presented before.  The overall point is that judgment is certain and it is imminent.  One last time Hosea appeals to them “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (10:12) but it would not happen.  The people would not listen.

Again, Hosea will point out two geographical sites—Bethel (called Beth-aven or Aven, cf. on 4:15) and Gibeah (cf. on 9:9) just as the prior section, 9:10-17, turned on the events at Baal-Peor (9:10) and Gilgal (9:15).

David Hubbard notes:

Hosea is keen on naming time and place in his documentation of Israel’s history of sin.  His conviction seems to be that Israel will understand neither the genesis of their rebellion nor its gravity unless they will see themselves as extensions of their past. (Hosea, p. 181).

Thomas Constable summarizes:

The allusion that opens this series of messages is similar to the ones in 9:10, 10:9, and 11:1, in that it refers to Israel’s early history.  A mood of loss of confidence and protection marks this section.  As so often occurs in Hosea, evidences of covenant unfaithfulness begin the section followed by announcements of punishment for unfaithfulness.  In this one: announcement of the fate of the nation’s cultic symbols (altars, idols, sacred standing stones, and high places) gives way to announcement of judgment on Israel’s political symbol (the king).

The two primary themes from Hosea’s concern in this chapter are (1) broken altars (10:1-8) and (2) a broken nation (10:9-15).

As in 9:10, Israel is initially presented as a surprise and delight.  9:10 pictured Israel as “grapes in the wilderness” and “first fruit on the fig tree in its first season.”  Here in 10:1 Israel is pictured as a “luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.”

The grapevine was a common figure for Israel.  Yahweh had planted Israel in Canaan as a vine and had blessed it with fruitful prosperity (cf. Ps. 80:8-10; Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 19:10-11).  This example suits Hosea’s repeated pattern that Israel got off to a good start but then went wrong.

Isaiah, too, would describe Judah as a vine.

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

Jeremiah, a later prophet, used the same figure of speech, as he described the nation as a “ degenerate vine.”  Ezekiel, on four or five occasions, used the symbol of the vine, and that in most remarkable ways.  Describing Israel as a “luxuriant vine” would at first seem quite flattering to Israel, but sarcasm dripped from Hosea’s mouth.

Israel and Judah (together in the exodus account) should be before Yahweh as a nation alive and vibrant and growing, that would produce the good fruit of righteousness and devotion to Yahweh.  Instead, Israel and Judah both produced bad fruit—wild grapes, poisonous fruit.  Israel produced fruit for himself, not for the Lord.

Duane Garrett explains:

“A vinter does not look for a vine to yield fruit for the benefit of the vine but for the benefit of the harvest he will receive.  A vine that yields fruit “for itself” is only taking up space that should be used by productive plants, as Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:7.  Thus Israel is a destructive vine in that it takes up valuable soil, crowds out productive plants, and gives benefit only to itself and not to its owner” (Hosea-Joel, p. 206).

The emphasis of verse 1 in chapter 10 seems to be that God blessed Israel to produce fruit in the sense of material prosperity and that prosperity caused them to multiply and improve “altars.”  The prosperity of this age is reflected not only in the prophetic literature of Amos and Hosea, but also in the historical narratives of 2 Kings and in archaeological discoveries.

But these altars were not locations of true, genuine worship of Yahweh, but rather places where they would devote their worship and their wealth to the Baals.  These altars to false gods proliferated and took people’s hearts away from worshiping the only true God, Yahweh.

Here, as in most sin, Yahweh and Israel are at cross-purposes—Yahweh’s abundant grace is squandered and misused to sin.

Hubbard translates verse 1b

As God multiplied Israel’s fruits

Israel multiplied (cf. 8:11) [their pillars] at their altars.

As Yahweh multiplied good to His land.

Israel made the pillars better.

While Yahweh outdid Himself in working for the betterment of the land, all that excess bounty was poured by Israel into the adornment and decoration of the pillars whose purpose in Hosea’s time had become largely pagan (cf. on 3:4).

Judgment is anticipated in Hosea’s play upon the Hebrew participle translated here as “luxuriant.”  It would appear that the prophet is employing a double entendre here, for the more normal understanding of the Hebrew word carries with it meanings such as “barrenness” or “emptiness.”  Accordingly, Hosea emphasizes the fact that although Yahweh blessed His people abundantly, they have consumed His benefits on selfish ends.  Worse, they have attributed their successes and prosperity to Baal.  Therefore, their commitment toward these ends has violated the covenant with the Lord again and again, and they can expect His judgment.  They have been “abundantly blessed” but will now be made “barren” due to God’s judgment (vv. 1). (Richard Patterson, Hosea 10 at bible.org)

Thus, Yahweh swears to tear down those altars…

2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

Like the Philistine god Dagon falling down before the Ark of the Covenant, so the altars and pillars dedicated to the worship of Baal will be torn down and desecrated.

Although Israel’s prosperity had abounded, it had also been abused.  Their hearts were false, so their worship turned in the wrong direction—to Baal rather than Yahweh.  Through the law, Israel had received a sense of what was right, but that sense was met by an overwhelming love for doing what was wrong.

Israel’s altars had become places of sinning (Hosea 8:11) so that Amos would indicate Yahweh saying, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21).

The heart is the control center of our life.  It is the place, biblically speaking, where our thoughts, affections and decisions take place.

Hosea describes their hearts as “false.”  This is a word that can mean “divided” or “slippery” in the sense of deceptive.  David, in Psalm 86:11, cries out for an “undivided heart.”  He asks God to “unite my heart to fear your name.”

Jeremiah said,

17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Hubbard notes:

The false heart, whose working will be amplifies in verse 4, underscores the depths of the sin—not accidental but premeditated.

Anderson and Freeman note that “Hosea, unlike Elijah, does not find in Israel indecision, a ‘limping between two different opinions’ (1 Kings 18:21).  The people had quite made up their minds, as vv. 3 and 4 show.  They had formally renounced Yahweh, and given allegiance to another god” (Hosea, p. 552).

This is not to say that the Israelites deliberately set out to misuse and abuse worship, but their hearts were “slippery” and “smooth,” and their religious activities became warped and twisted.

J.Vernon McGee applied this to our worship today when he said:

“My friend, you cannot go to church on Sunday and sing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,’ then walk out, and on Monday morning go to your work and take His name in vain—lose your temper and use His precious name to damn everything that irritates you.  That kind of divided living is exactly the same kind of divided heart that brought judgment upon Israel.”

Honeycutt explains…

Doubtless, worshipers of Hosea’s generation saw nothing wrong with combining features of Baalism with the worship of the Lord; no more than contemporary persons deliberately set out to compromise and adulterate contemporary religious life.  But thoroughly sincere persons may be thoroughly wrong. (Hosea and His Message, p. 68).

Hear that last sentence again, for it bears repeating: “Thoroughly sincere persons may be thoroughly wrong.”

That is just as true with religious experiences today.  They must be tested against the authority of the Word of God instead of against the whims of experience.  Anything can “feel good,” at least for a moment, but true worship is defined by the Scriptures.

As Solomon reminds us:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.  (Prov. 14:12)

It was just as Moses had warned in Deuteronomy 8:11-14

11 Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statues, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…

A theme of Hosea is that Israel had forgotten Yahweh, they did not think of Him.  The paid Him no attention.  When it came to their blessings, they thought Baal had given them.  The more blessings Yahweh gave them, the more they worshiped Baal.

Abundance is risky; God’s people could not handle it.  That is why Agur wisely prayed (cf. Prov. 30:7–9)…

7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to be before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying [the kind of hearts that Israel presently had]; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [my daily bread], 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Paul warns against the same sin in Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Sometimes as Christians we take the liberty and blessing God gives and use them in ungodly ways.

Israel had this divided, insincere heart and expressed it on the altars of idolatry.  Now, He will break down their altars.

“Now GOD will do in judgment what they should have done in contrition, ‘break down their altars, and spoil their images’” (Adam Clarke)

Israel will “bear their guilt” and pay for their sins.  How thankful we should be that we do not have to bear our guilt, for Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24) and “became a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) so that all our sins could be forever forgiven.

And let’s carry the image of chapters 9 and 10 further into our lives today.  Are we bearing fruit, good fruit, for Jesus Christ?  He is the Vine and we are the branches.  We only bear fruit as we stay attached to Him, as we consistently trust His promises and obey His commands.  We stay connected to the Vine by fellowship with Him in the Word and prayer and then allow Him to live His obedient life through us by faith.

Galatians 2:20 says…

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Trust Jesus to live His life through you as you offer your body to Him and renew Your mind in His Word (Romans 12:1-2).

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 7 (Hosea 9:11-17)

Over the last seven weeks we’ve heard Hosea tell Israel how they had sown the wind and they were about to reap the whirlwind.  Hosea gives example after example of how God was reversing the blessings of the covenant and they would be experiencing its curses.  We noted last week how they may have wanted so much more, but were settling for less.

So let’s dive back into Hosea 9, starting back in v. 10

10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.

Of course, one of the reasons Israel worship Baal is that he was a fertility god—promising fertile crops and wombs.  Therefore, listen to Yahweh’s judgment against them…

11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

In ancient near Eastern cultures, it was considered a curse to be barren and devastating to lose one’s children.  Glory means “weighty, substantive,” and can be a name for Yahweh himself, the departure of which is surely a supreme disaster.  But here it refers to their children, the glory of parents.

The glory of the Ephraimites, in this case their numerous children, would fly away like a bird, suddenly and irretrievably.  They will experience both barrenness and bereavement.  Ephraim is receiving the proper punishment for falsely crediting her fertility to Baal.

The text emphasizes the departure of Yahweh in order to make the point that it is he, not Baal, who has given them successful pregnancies and healthy, thriving children.  Without God’s aid their children will languish (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 200).

First, barrenness.  Stated in reverse order, there would be “no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!”  None of the steps necessary for national survival will work.  Calvin notes that Yahweh’s judgment did not come all at once, but by degrees, with Yahweh’s vengeance at last reaching the highest point.

This is an ironic play on the name “Ephraim” here, which sounds somewhat like the Hebrew word meaning “twice fruitful.”  The Ephraimites had looked to Baal for the blessing of human fertility, but Yahweh would in turn withhold it in judgment. Ephraim, the doubly fruitful, would become Ephraim, the completely fruitless.

Then, in v. 12, “even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left.”  No children, no future.  Ultimately, extinction.  As Deuteronomy 32:25 forewarned, the death of living children would occur through the ravages of war.

Whereas v. 11 is unclear as to the cause of their barrenness, their bereavement is definitely from the hand of Yahweh himself, “I will bereave them till none is left.”

To seal this threat Yahweh adds a brief “woe,” which contains no mention of the crime (v. 10 has taken care of that), but announces the grief in store for Israel—the felt and final departure of Yahweh.

The Prophet means by these words, that men become miserable and accursed, when they alienate themselves from God, and when God takes away from them his favour. (John Calvin)

It is an expression of ultimate judgment because Yahweh has departed from them.  When Israel departs from Yahweh, He departs from them.

Hubbard says…

The threat to be active in depriving them of children (v. 12a) and to withdraw from them are one and the same act.  It is Yahweh’s vital presence that makes possible the cycles of life; for him to withdraw is a sentence of death (Hosea, p. 176).

Verse 13 again expresses the disappointment with Israel

13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.

In the past, Yahweh had cared for them tenderly, but now their children will be led out to slaughter.  A pleasant meadow of peace will become a place of slaughter.

Calvin notes the dangers of such blessings of peace and prosperity when he says…

Hosea here confirms his previous statements that the Israelites in vain trusted in their present condition, for the Lord could reverse their prosperity whenever it pleased him.  Men, we know, harden themselves in their vices, when they enjoy their wishes and when they are sunk in pleasures; for prosperity is not without reason often compared to wine, because it inebriates men; nay, rather it dementates them.

These leads Hosea to a painful prayer in v. 14…

14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

“There comes a time, when the only thing left is drastic surgery” (Jacob M. Meyers)

Anderson and Freedom note:

Here the prophet is not holding back the wrath of God by intercession as Amos (Amos 7) and Jeremiah (15:11) did.  On the contrary, he is urging Yahweh to proceed with extreme penalties, endorsing what Yahweh says in vv. 12 and 16 about murdering children (Hosea, p. 544).

Hosea asks God to take away their children, that there would be no newborns among them.  But why?

Maybe Hosea had been poised to ask God to give them something else, something more desirable, something that would help them survive.  Instead, he asks that children would die in the womb and never be born.  Why is that?

Several suggest that what Hosea was asking for was mercy.  He was asking that no children would be born to suffer through the consequences of the judgment that was coming upon Israel.

How terrible is that?  But that is the plight of those who depart from God and turn to other gods, hoping that they will satisfy their desires, but end up settling for less.  We reap what we sow.  Israel, who had worshiped the fertility gods and allied themselves with other nations to avoid war, would face infertility and war, exactly what they hoped to avoid.

The combination of “womb” and “breasts” is a pairing that describes human fruitfulness (cf. Gen. 49:25).  It reverses the blessing of Jacob upon the Joseph tribes (Gen. 49:25).  It also hints back to the sexual nature of their idol worship.

They could have had so much more, but settled for less.  They would not become the glorious people of God’s elective race, but would become nothing more than castaways, “wanderers among the nations” (v. 17).

As we move into the last paragraph of Hosea 9, Hosea focused upon another piece of Israel’s geography—Gilgal.

15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.

Thomas McComiskey notes:

“The previous section (vv. 10-14) began with a tender expression of Yahweh’s love.  This section (vv. 15-17) begins with an affirmation of his hatred.  The previous section looked back to the wilderness; this section looks back to Gilgal.  Hosea views God as acting in history; thus historical events and the geographical sites where they occurred become vehicles of divine truth.  The events of the exodus from Egypt spoke volumes about God, as did the events that took place in the wilderness and at Gilgal.  To Hosea God’s response to the people at those places forever remains as crystallized truth about the nature of God.” (“Hosea.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary, 1:1-237. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992, 1993, and 1998, p. 154).

What the Israelites did at Gilgal caused the Lord to hate them.  This is covenant terminology meaning He opposed them and rejected them; personal emotion is not the main point.

He did so because they practiced “every evil” there.  “Gilgal is the quintessential city of Israel—it contained every evil that the book of Hosea condemns” (Garret, Hosea-Joel, p. 202).  It was their “wickedness,” particularly their practice of the pagan fertility cult (cf. 4:15; 12:11) that God was driving them from “His house.”  They had disgraced God’s house by preferring the altars of Baal, thus they would be driven from the temple where Yahweh’s presence actually dwelt.

The decision to drive Israel from its land is presented under the imagery of being forced out of a house. Israel has forgotten that where they lived was God’s land where He, too, dwelled.  As Gomer was put out of Hosea’s house for a period of time (Hos. 2:7), so Israel will be driven out of the Lord’s “house” because of its infidelity and rebellious ways.

Yahweh would drive His people out of the land, as He had expelled Adam and Eve and the Canaanites, because they had sinned and had adopted the ways of sinners. He would love (choose to bless) them no more, as He had in the past, because all their leaders rebelled against Him.

As mentioned before in Hosea 4:15, God despised the city of Gilgal as a center of idolatry in Israel.  At one time, Gilgal was a place where prophets were trained under Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:1; 4:38).  But in Hosea’s day it had become a center of false worship (Hosea 4:15, 12:11; Amos 4:4, 5:5).

Gilgal had been the place where, in rebellion, the Israelites had chosen a human king to be “like the nations” (1 Samuel 11:14-15; cf. 1 Sam. 8:7; Hos. 3:4; 8:3-7; 8:4; 10:3, 7, 15) and it had become the place for a shrine to Baal (4:15; Amos 4:4; 5:5; cf. Hos. 12:4).  Thus, this place symbolized a double rejection of divine sovereignty and true, divine worship.  Notice that the end of verse 15 emphasizes “all their princes are rebels.”

Amos, with barbed mockery (Amos 4:4), cries out…

4 “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;

Roy Honeycutt reminds us that Yahweh’s rejection of Israel “had its beginning as early as Gilgal.  Sin is no temporary and relatively insignificant occurrence; it is deeply ingrained in historical existence, reaching far back into the realm of the community of faith.  This is not to excuse a given generation.  But it is to suggest that one wrestles with powers far greater and farther reaching than a personal failure.” (Hosea and His Message, p. 65)

Thus, God would drive them out forcefully.  In most places where this term garash is used, aside from in the book of Genesis, it describes what God did to the inhabitants of Canaan when Israel entered the land.  It was a reversal of the glorious conquest under Joshua.

Thus, Hubbard says…

There is a quiet irony about Yahweh’s threat, I will drive them out, since it echoes the promises given to Israel at the exodus and conquest (Exod. 23:29-30; Joshua 24:18; Judges 2:3; 6:9) and reverses them. (Hosea, 178).

In the book of Genesis, it parallels with Adam and Eve being driven out of the Garden of Eden for their sin (Gen. 3:24) just like Israel would be driven out of the “pleasant meadow” (9:13) that God had planted for Ephraim.

A second parallel is found in the correspondence between verse 15 and the request of Sarah that Abraham would drive out Hagar and her son Ishmael (Gen. 21:10).  Like Hosea’s son Lo-ammi (“not my people”), Israel would be driven out from the presence of God’s love.

Achtemeier expresses the situation well: “From the first, as a political entity among other nations, the Israelites spurned their God.  God therefore now spurns them, and the people shall become “wanderers among the nations,” verse 17, without homeland, without God, without future” (Minor Prophets,1:83-84).  They would be reverting to their original status as wanderers.

David Hubbard notes:

There may be a hint that Yahweh, an aggrieved husband, is banishing his faithless wife (cf. on 9:1-3).  Yet another metaphor possibly implied in God’s rejection of Israel from my house is that of an offended Host, who has offered impeccably generous hospitality to his guest only to have the guest prove ungrateful, abusive and disloyal.

This picture of Yahweh as host is expressed in Psalm 23:5-6

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

This is what Israel was forfeiting by putting their trust in pagan gods and kings.

Verse 16 emphasizes once again that one of the severe judgments Israel would face would be the loss of a generation—they would be unable to give birth to children and what children they did have would be taken away from them.

In the language that began back in v. 10 and will be picked up again in verse 1 of chapter 10, Israel is pictured as a vine—one that was given all the resources it needed to bear good fruit, but instead bore poisonous fruit in wickedness and idolatries.

So now they would be fruitful no more.  “Their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit” repeats the judgment from verse 11, whereas “Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death” hearkens back to v. 12.

Hubbard makes reference to the presence of child sacrifice in Israel at the time and says that “God’s judgment may have been a gesture both to condemn it and to forestall it.  The children belonged to Him; He would go to any length to prevent their consecration to the gods of Canaan” (Hosea, p. 179).

That word “beloved” emphasizes just how precious their children were to them and how devastating their loss would be.  It also reminds me that God did not spare His own beloved Son to die in our place so that we would not have to endure eternal separation from God.

As an outcast, Ephraim, the doubly fruitful plant, would dry up and bear no more fruit.  She had tapped into the wrong source of nourishment and would therefore wither and die.

David Hubbard acknowledges

Again, God reverses the historic meaning of Ephraim’s name which spoke of the fruitfulness (Heb. root prh) promised by God to Jacob (Gen. 48:3-6) and by Jacob to Joseph (Gen. 49:22).  Hosea enjoyed punning on Ephraim’s name both as a sign of judgment (cf. here and 8:9) and restoration (cf. 14:8) (Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 178-179)

A final parallel use of garash may be found in the relation between verse 17 and the story of Cain in Genesis 4:14.  Just as God drove out Cain from His presence and caused him to be a fugitive in the earth, so also God decreed that Israel would be driven out and “shall be wanderers among the nations” (v. 17).  They had already wandered from Him (7:13) by seeking help from Egypt and Assyria; now wandering among the nations (cf. 7:8), whose pagan practices they had aped (9:1) was to become their way of life (cf. “wild ass wandering alone,” 8:9).  From the time of Hosea’s threat until the present the vast majority of Israel’s daughters and sons have listed Diaspora as their address.

“My God” at the beginning of verse 17 captures both the prophet’s intimate relationship with Yahweh and the people’s distance from Yahweh (cf. 8:2; 9:8)

McComiskey rightly points out that the judgment associated with verses 15-17 reflects the punishment for sin and covenant violation expressed in the law:  “This section of the prophecy (9:15-17) appears to be a crystallization of Deuteronomy 28:62-64.  That passage affirms the diminution of the population should they fail to obey God…. The concept of wandering among the nations occurs in Deuteronomy as well…. (v. 64, NRSV). Hosea had the unhappy task of announcing to his people that the curses of Deuteronomy were soon to overtake them (McComiskey, “Hosea,” 157).

The rejection which is called for here in v. 17 harks back to Samuel’s denunciation of Saul in 1 Samuel 15:23, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”  The tie in with Saul is strengthened by the fact that they “have not listened” to Yahweh.

“As has been true in any generation, those today who fail to hearken unto the voice of the Lord will walk alone into the misery of eternal separation from God.  Spiritual and physical death await such persons!” (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea-Joel, p. 60).

Like Hosea with Gomer, the only hope for restoration was first to judge Ephraim, to drive them out so that eventually they would return.

This is exactly what the Lord promised under the terms of the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:24-28).  Thankfully, we can come to God by faith in a new covenant, where He promises to forgive us and remember our sins no more.

Hebrews 10:16-17

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 6 (Hosea 9:10)

For several weeks now we have listened to Hosea telling Israel that they will soon reap what they have sown.  This week, like last week, we will see that Israel’s apostasies and idolatries are actually rooted way back in their history.  Their deviancy from God’s will was not a recent, sudden habit, but one that percolated below the surface and shot up regularly throughout their history, like the geyser Old Faithful.  So this section of Hosea’s prophecies takes a look back into Israel’s history…

10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.

Following 9:1-9, which describes famine conditions, this text goes a step further and foresees not just the ruin of crops but the obliteration of the next generation of Israelites.

In the next four sections of Hosea’s prophecies, Israel is presented as a nation which had such promise, such potential, but all in all it had not materialized.  These four main divisions, as noted by David Hubbard, are signaled by metaphors that describe Israel’s past relationship with God.  They were as…

  • Grapes in the wilderness (9:10-17)
  • A luxuriant vine (10:1-10)
  • A trained heifer (10:11-15)
  • A beloved child (11:1-11)

In each section, the tone of nostalgia and hope is offset by shock at Israel’s apostasy.  It is a tragic reversal, a grave comparison between the fruitful intimacy that once was (even for a brief time) and the barren apostasy which now existed.  Thus, announcements of judgment dominate these sections.

The agricultural imagery of the first two sections (9:10-10:10) link it back to Hosea’s dominate metaphor of “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.”  Israel’s early innocence is pictured as grapes and figs, but those are replaced by a withered root (9:16) and weeds (10:4) and thistles (10:8; cf. 9:6).

But that Israel had betrayed that early intimacy is evident through a litany of places of sin: Baal-Peor (9:10; cf. Num. 25:1-9)), Gilgal (9:15; cf. 1 Sam. 11:14-15), Bethel (called Aven in 10:8; cf. on 4:15), Gibeah (10:9; cf. on 9:8), Admah and Zeboiim (11:8; cf. Gen. 10:19; 14:1-17; Deut. 29:23).

The section begins with the tender reminiscence of Israel’s past, with Yahweh saying, “I found Israel.”

In the early days of Israel’s history in the wilderness, the Lord took great delight in His people, as one rejoices to find grapes in a desert or the first figs of the season.  These delights, whether unexpected or expected, were Yahweh’s experience with early Israel, which both Jeremiah (2:2-3) and Ezekiel (16:6-14) remember so ardently.

Grapes speaks of refreshment.  One does not expect to find edible grapes in the desert.  Found in the wilderness connotes both joyful surprise at finding such delight in an unlikely place and his provision for Israel in that desolate setting.

Adam Clarke says…

“While they were faithful, they were as acceptable to me as ripe grapes would be to a thirsty traveler in the desert.”

Remember that for Hosea, the wilderness represents both the picture of coming judgment and the exodus honeymoon that Yahweh anticipates with Israel in the distant future.

Likewise, the figs stand for refreshment.  Hubbard notes “Waiting all winter and spring is difficult but waiting for the five or six years necessary for a tree to bear delectable fruit cannot help but put an edge to the farmer’s appetite when the first ripe figs appear.  So God recalls His delight at His new covenant relation with Israel’s ancestors” (Hosea, p. 174).

But like Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, that cherished relationship was disappointingly cut short.

Both metaphors point to the belief that great things would come from this new find—a prospect what would soon be dispelled.  This same movement from joy to despair is found in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32).  Both Moses and Hosea disclose the treacherous way in which the people of Israel abused the love of God and both announce that such idolatry and harlotry will be punished by exile and death (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea, p. 58).

But the mood of the verse quickly turns, from delight to deep disappointment.

When they came to Baal-Peor, where they worshipped Baal and committed ritual sex with the Moabite and Midianite women (Num. 25), they became as detestable to Yahweh as the idols they loved.  They failed to reach their potential.

This first instance of Baal worship set the pattern of Israel’s idolatry that followed in the land and resulted in her present judgment.

Baal-Peor holds a prominent place in Israel’s “geography of shame” (Hubbard). Israel was right on the edge of the land that Yahweh had promised to them, encamped at Abel-shittim.  Baal-peor refers to the mountain in Moab from which Balaam, at Balak’s repeated request, was supposed to curse Israel (Numbers 23:27-28).  Unable to accomplish this, Balaam finally suggested to Balak a plan that did work.

bibleatlas.org

biblicalgeographicdotcom

[The plains of Moab (Shittim) would be the dark area in the middle, while Baal-Peor would be on the mountain heights to the right.]

Numbers 25 records this event…

1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

“It was not only the Moabite women but their local Baal that had seduced the men of the exodus; and we have already heard Hosea’s protests against the same two levels of adultery in his day” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 88).

That chapter ends with Yahweh telling Moses to take vengeance upon the Midianites:

16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor

The only reason the plague stopped was because Phineas rammed his spear through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman caught in the act (Numbers 25:7-15).

Reference to this event served two purposes:  First, it reminds that reader that Israel had already begun its apostasy to Baal before it even entered into the land.  Second, it shows the kind of drastic action that had to be taken to put this kind of immorality to a halt.

Psalm 106:28-29 recounts:

Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

Furthermore, the psalm goes on to describe the child sacrifice that would be involved with the Baal cult:

36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.

As Duane Garrett says…

The psalm brings out the hideous paradox of the fertility cult: a major objective of the cult was to enable women to give birth to many healthy children, but that same cult consumed children in ritual sacrifice (Hosea-Joel, p. 200).

To me this sounds very similar to our current culture, which glorifies sex without either marriage (through pre-marital sex and adultery) or children (through abortion), thus sacrificing those very children, the blessing of their womb, so they can continue to flaunt God’s instructions about sex.

There, they “consecrated themselves,” vowing their loyalty to false gods.  They yoked themselves to Baal, a thing of shame.  The prophets linked Baal with shame (bosheth).  They even transformed the name Ish-baal (the name of a man found in 1 Chronicles 8:33) into Ish-bosheth (“man of shame,” found in 2 Samuel 2:8).

The Lord labels the Israelites’ depraved conduct at Baal-peor with the word shame (Hebrew bosheth), which is the same term used to describe the effect of Baalism on the land of Israel (Jer. 11:13) (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea, p. 58)

Thus, when one worships idols (and we all do), it is an abomination to God and results in shame.  Thus Calvin says, “The Prophet, I doubt not, connects here the Israelites with idols and with Baal-peor itself, that he might strip them of all that holiness which they had obtained through God’s favour.”

Hubbard notes the significance of this event:

Biblical faith saw the Baal-Peor episode as far more than a causal dalliance.  It shook the structure of the covenant to its very foundations and for a reason that Hosea explains: the character of the one whom we worship rubs off on us. (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 175).

This truth is repeated in Psalm 115:8, speaking of idols, says…

Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

Likewise, Jeremiah plaintively asks a question which links the shame along with the reflective nature of our worship, in Jeremiah 2:5

5 Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?

We are made to reflect God and His glory, not other gods in their shame. [https://www.tms.edu/blog/gods-glory-on-display/]

In Philippians 2:15 Paul likens us to shining stars, and the word shine means to reflect.  The scientific term is albedo.  It’s a measurement of how much sunlight a celestial body reflects.  The planet Venus, for example, has the highest albedo at .65.  In other words, 65 percent of the light that hits Venus is reflected.  Depending on where it’s at in its orbit, the almost-a-planet Pluto has an albedo ranging from .49 to .66.  Our night-light, the moon, has an albedo of .07.  Only seven percent of sunlight is reflected, yet it lights our way on cloudless nights.

In a similar sense, each of us has a spiritual albedo.  The goal?  One hundred percent reflectivity.  We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord.  You cannot produce light.  You can only reflect it. (Mark Batterson, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities (Baker Books, 2015), page 220)

We are made to reflect God and His glory.

That is why Yahweh commanded Israel to “have no other gods before me.”  Let’s pause a moment and see just how significant this is.

Greg Beale titled his landmark book We Become What We Worship.  His thesis is simple: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.”  We either revere the world and are conformed to the sinful patterns of the world, or we revere God and are progressively conformed into his likeness.

Ligon Duncan, in a sermon on Psalm 97 entitled, “You Become Like What You Worship,” notes that…

If you worship money, you will become greedy and stingy.  Now, nobody sets out to worship money.  You don’t sit down one day and say, ‘You know, I think I’ll worship money.’  But you might start out by worshiping self-security.  Or you might set out by worshiping finding material security in what you have, and it leads to the worship of money…which does not make you more human, it makes you less human.  It doesn’t make you more noble, it makes you greedy and stingy and ungenerous.

If you worship sex, you’ll become more and more self-obsessed and narcissistic.  Now nobody sits down one day and says, ‘I think I’m going to worship sex.’  But they may start out by saying, ‘I desire gratification for myself above other concerns,’ and suddenly they find themselves, whether they realize it or not, worshiping sex.  And they don’t become better people, they become self-absorbed people.

If you worship power, you’ll become scheming and heartless.  And we could go on and on down the list.  What you desire determines what you will become.  And if you set your desires on anything other than the true God, you will become like that, and it will not be pretty.  Desire that is set on the right object — the one true God — ennobles and grows a human being.  Desire set on the wrong thing corrupts us and debases us.

So be careful what you worship, for it will change you.  You will develop desires and habits which drive you farther and farther away from God’s design for you.

Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens.  He played with the chickens and ate with the chickens.  After a while that goose thought he was a chicken.  One day a flight of geese came over, migrating to their home.  They gave a honk up there in the sky, and he heard it.

Kierkegaard said, “Something stirred within the breast of this goose.  Something called him to the skies.  He began to flap the wings he hadn’t used, and he rose a few feet into the air.  Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard.  He heard the cry, but he settled for less.”

Leighton Ford, “Hope for a Great Forever,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 96.

That is us.  When we worship other gods, we invariably settle for less.  Even though there is a yearning in our hearts to live differently, to rise above, we settle for less.  That’s our life, settling for less.

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 5 (Hosea 9:6-9)

Over the last four weeks we’ve been seeing how Hosea keeps pounding the message in—telling the Israelites that they will reap what they sow.  This is a basic law of nature and of life.  It is a lesson that we must learn as well.  We cannot afford to think that we can get away with sowing to the flesh and get away with it.  We will eventually reap what we sow, and what we reap will be worse than what we’ve sown.

The next portion of Hosea’s prophecy we’re going to look at this morning is Hosea 9:6-9…

6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them.  Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. 7 The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. 10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.  But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house.  I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.  Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.

Actually v. 6 gives a reason for the exasperation that Israel will express while in captivity that was expressed in verse 5.

5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?

The previous verses had indicated that Israel would be taken into captivity and while there would be unable to provide sacrifices to Yahweh or enjoy their feast days.  These significant events would be taken away from Israel.

Verse 6 expresses a reason for their exasperation:

6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents.

The Israelites would leave their land because of the destruction Yahweh would send.  Egypt and Memphis, as two undertakers, would bury the exiles.  Failing to trust in Yahweh for protection, believing Egypt would protect the coming destruction, would be a deadly mistake.

Memphis (near modern Cairo) was an Egyptian city famous as a burial site because of the pyramid tombs there.

As Andersen and Freedman point out, “The reference to Egypt has a sinister note, and the feminine verbs show that Egypt and Memphis are the subjects of the activity, and not just the location.  The Israelites will not conduct their own burial rites. Even the patriarchs, through living in Egypt, could be taken back to Canaan for burial in the family cemetery; Joseph’s bones were brought back in due time.  This privilge will be denied the Israelites of the present generation.  It will be their final defilement to be buried in a pagan cemetery” (Hosea, p. 530)

Thus, God’s exiled people will “succeed” only in leaving behind all that was precious to them including the tents (their homes) where they lived.  Back in the land of Israel, thorns and thistles would grow up, overgrowing all their treasures and their households.

Duane Garrett notes how giving their silver to Egypt, only to die there, is a reversal of the “plundering of the Egyptians” when Israel left Egypt.  “Indeed, this entire text can be taken to be an undoing of the exodus and thus an erasure of Israel’s redemption history” (Hosea-Joel, p. 194)

Yahweh had warned them of these curses back in Deuteronomy 28:36-46.  The ravages of an invading army and then insects (Deut. 28:42) would turn once fertile lands into wilderness.  The land has been rendered uninhabitable.

Derek Kidner says…

Israel’s judgment would be all too fitting (you reap what you sow).  For her political flirtations she would have her fill of foreign loves, her people captive in Assyria and fugitives in Egypt.  For her religious flirtations, too, she would pay the proper price of having scattered her favours everywhere: her people ending up with nothing fit for God, and nowhere to hold their beloved festivals (The Message of Hosea, p. 85).

Hosea brings the first portion of this oracle (vv. 7-9) to a close by warning his hearers that the days of threatened judgment with all of their drastic conditions (vv. 1-6) were even now close at hand.  It was time for Israel to receive the reward of its infidelity, to reap what they had sown.

7 The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it.

One cannot abandon Yahweh without impunity.

Repetition (as “Babylon is fallen, is fallen,” and as Ezekiel 7:5-7, the prophet tells them, “The end is come, is come, is come”; and so some ten or twelve times) and the use of the past tense both emphasize the certainty of this coming doom.  Israel shall “know it” likely means Israel would experience it.  As E. B. Pusey explains:

“Israel would not know by believing it; now it should know, by feeling it.” (The Minor Prophets, 1:91)

Blinded by their own folly, God’s people have considered the prophets, whom God has sent to warn them, to be but fools and madmen (v. 7).  Although they are God’s appointed “watchmen,” to care for and warn the people of danger, yet they face only danger themselves for the godly stand they have taken (v. 8).

Another reason for her judgment was that the Israelites had regarded the prophets whom the Lord had sent to them as demented fools (cf. 2 Kings 9:11; Jer. 29:26-27).  This likely included Hosea.

The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God.

Likely verse 7 are words in the mouths of the kings, princes, priests and people.  They believed that the prophets were fools and wind bags.  The word “prophet” means a “seer,” but the people believe they are unreliable guides because they cannot “see” the future.  Likewise, the word “spirit” is ruach, meaning breath or wind.  Thus, they believed these “wind bags” were demented.

“Out of his head, chattering senselessly, prompted neither by wisdom nor the divine word—so ran the popular estimate of the prophet” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 169)

Even Jesus was accused of being demon possessed! (John 7:20; 8:48).  That’s why he told us to expect such reaction from most people.

Boice notes:

“They said in effect, ‘Who in his right mind would prophesy a judgment like this when we are in the midst of such a bountiful harvest, in itself a proof of God’s blessing?’”

As Roy Honeycutt reminds us…

“Prophets of any generation are liable to be written off as “fools” and “mad” when the content of their message is inconsistent with prevalent practices by the people.  The prophet well acceptable to the masses is well characterized by Micah:

“If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people.’” (Micah 2:11) (Hosea and His Message, p. 62)

Why do people react this way?  Because they are living in sin and thus hate the truth.  They prefer to live in the darkness.  “Because of the character of their own lives, people cannot bear exposure and condemnation.  When truth becomes relevant to one’s sin, self-defense distracts that the prophet be discredited as a fool and a madman” (Roy Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 63).

Amos said of the same generation:

5:10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.

Jesus says in John 3:

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

David Hubbard says…

“As is typical of our human behavior, when we cannot acknowledge our guilt we may react towards our accusers with anger.  Hosea’s critics answered sharply not because they thought he was wrong but because, deep down, they knew he was right” (Hosea, p. 159)

So it has always been true that we hide our sins and do not want them exposed.  Whenever someone addresses our sins we are more likely to discredit them than listen to them.

But God has a better name than “fool” for his man.  The real profession of a prophet was to be a “watchman,” to give Israel warnings of the consequences of their actions and the reality of coming judgment.  “The prophet scans history, warning the people of impending doom, certain that his own life will be either validated or condemned according to the fidelity with which he fulfills his role (cf. Ezek. 33:2ff)” (Roy Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 63).

Verse 8 looks longingly back into the past when even Ephraim had been a watchman with my God.

Notice that Hosea had said that a prophet was a watchman of Ephraim “with my God.”  UItimately, we all, but especially prophets, play to an audience of one.  It is God whom we must please, not the people. (Although Hubbard believes this means that the prophet was privy to the divine council where he heard first-hand Yahweh’s word, Hosea, p. 170).

The vindication of a prophet comes from God, not man.  And God would judge Israel for their unrepentant attitudes.

Prophets have to commit their cause to God, as Jeremiah said…

11:20 But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Jesus himself had the same attitude, as Peter reminds us and encourages us to follow:

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Whenever someone attacks us, or criticizes us unjustly, we simply “entrust ourselves to him who judges justly,” we leave it in his hands.  This is also what Paul outlined in Romans 12:

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

If you remember our teaching on Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, we noticed that Paul is saying that someone who maintains a bitter spirit, allows Satan a foothold (the Greek word is topos, a place) in our lives and relationships, whereas someone who is willing to forgive and allow God to deal with the other person in justice, gives “room” (topos) to God to work.

So whether you are a prophet or just a man on the street, whenever we are attacked, we commit ourselves to the one who judges justly, and that leaves room for God to work in our lives and relationships.

It is difficult to know whether the last line in verse 8 describes the prophets, that snares have been set for them because those who should love him (people “in the house of God”) hate him instead.

Thus Constable says…

Ephraim had tried to entangle the prophets God had sent the people, like a hunter catches birds in a net.  Thus there was nothing but hostility in the land of Israel between the Ephraimites and the true prophets of Yahweh.  Ephraim saw nothing as a prophet and criticized the prophets for preaching what they saw, namely: coming judgment.

The other possibility is that it describes Israel, that the snare is for them because God has rejected their worship.

Duane Garrett notes that Yahweh himself is a “snare and a trap” for the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Isaiah 8:14 and says…

“The point in this ext is that the prophets, in speaking to the unrepentant people, would not be the means of their salvation but of their downfall, similar to Paul’s understanding of his own ministry as the “smell of death’ to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:15-16)” (Hosea-Joel, p. 196)

In the remainder of chapter 9 Hosea will point to two places in Israel’s history (Gibeah and Gilgal), where Israel sinned greatly against Yahweh and one another.  The tragedy at Gibeah is mentioned first in verse 9, Gilgal in v. 14.

Gibeah (meaning ‘hill’) was a city in the hill country just to the north of Jerusalem. Situated alongside the main road from Bethlehem to Shechem (see Judges 19:10-15), the site of ancient Gibeah has been identified as Tel el-Ful 3 miles / 5 km north of Jerusalem, and next to the modern Israeli settlement at Pisgat Ze’ev. After the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites in c.1406 BC, Gibeah was allocated to the tribe of Benjamin (see Joshua 18:28).

Subsequently, Gibeah became the site of what might be regarded as the only ‘civil war’ in the history of Israel. The story of the Levite and his concubine (see Judges 19:1-30) may seem strange to modern ears, but in the days of the ‘Judges’, it was quite common for a man to have a ‘concubine’ as well as a wife. A concubine had the legal status of a marriage partner, but had less esteem than a wife and was treated more like a servant. When the Levite’s concubine was gang raped and left for dead on the doorstep of his overnight host at Gibeah, the other Israelite tribes decided to bring the unrepentent men of Gibeah to account for this atrocious crime. In the ensuing Battle of Gibeah, most of the tribe of Benjamin were wiped out – which resulted in the Benjamites subsequently being the smallest of the twelve tribes (see 1 Samuel 9:21).  (The Bible Journey)

9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins.

What Hosea is referring to is the rape of a Levite’s concubine by the men of Gibeah in Judges 19 (the whole story is in Judges 19-21).  This is a sordid time in Israel’s history, a time when “everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25) being a “law unto themselves.”  Here, an outrage was committed that had “never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day” (Judges 19:30).  Ephraim has fallen to the level of the most corrupt generation in Israel’s history.  Hosea will return to this event in 10:9.

Because of their sin, the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out, only 600 survived.  Not only was the sin similar, but the their judgment would be just as devastating and complete.

As Kidner points out, this story leaves Sodom and Gomorrah with nothing they could teach this city!

As Garrett remarks, “Hosea declares that the people of his day have fallen to the level of this most corrupt generation of Israel’s history” (Hosea-Joel, p. 196).

Hosea is saying that the Israelites of his day have just as “deeply corrupted themselves.”  They had hit rock bottom in their corruption.

Because of their deep corruption, Yahweh “will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins.”

Kidner points out, to our great joy, how that sentence is the exact opposite of the promise of the New Covenant, where Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.”

But for now time had come when God could no longer withhold His just judgment of Israel for their sins. Israel has prostituted itself beyond recall.  Not only are God’s people guilty of violating their covenant with Yahweh (cf. Hos. 2:18-23; 4:1, 12; 5:4-7; 6:7; 8:1-6) via their entrenched idolatry (cf. 4:14-19; 5:1; 8:4-6), but this has led to moral corruption at every level (cf. 5:10-11; 6:8-10; 7:1-10).  Simply put, Israel has become a prostitute (cf. 4:14-19; 5:3-4; 6:10), a thing forbidden in God’s law (Deut. 23:17).

Unfortunately, Israel has come to regard God’s law as “something totally unknown to them” (Hos. 8:12).  Because God’s people no longer acknowledge Him (cf. 4:1; 6:3) and in their infidelity have pursued their own idolatrous and immoral ways, it was now time for God to “repay them for their sins” (v. 9).

Harry Ironside reminds us…

“Sin never dies a natural death; it must be thoroughly judged.  Like leaven, it [must be] stopped by fire—by ‘judgment,’ self-judgment or God’s judgment; for sin ever works on until it is judged.  When indulged in by an individual, or permitted in a company, it continues working, though often imperceptibly, until it is judged, either in oneself, or by God’s people, or by God Himself.” (Notes on the Minor Prophets, pp. 71-72)

And George Robinson notes…

“One general lesson is taught by Hosea of ever permanent worth, namely, that inward corruption in a nation is more dangerous to its existence than their external enemies.   And a kindred lesson closely related to this is: that the truest of all patriots is he who, like Hosea, identifies himself with his people, sorrows over their calamities as though they were his own, and repents for their sins as though he had committed them himself.” (The Twelve Minor Prophets, p. 26)

 

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 4 (Hosea 9:1-5)

Hosea 9 is where we are today in our study of the book of Hosea.  After sowing the wind for two centuries, the nation of Israel is granted in Hosea 9-10 a glimpse of the whirlwind that will sweep her into judgment.  Throughout this section we see how God’s judgment in each case is a fulfillment of the reap-sow principle.

1 Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. 2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. 3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. 4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him.  It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD? 6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them.  Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. 7 The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. 10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.  But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left.  Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.

Derek Kidner summarizes:

The sentencing of Israel to a wandering existence, in the final verse, will round off a chapter which has fully paved the way to it.  This people has been restless enough, ogling one nation after another; heedless enough, dismissing as madmen its look-out men, the prophets; fickle enough, forsaking the LORD for Baal even from the days of Moses.

Most scholars believe the setting for this portion of Hosea is the fall harvest.  Duane Garrett suggests further that it is possible that Hosea had in mind the festival of the 15th day of the 8th month that was established by Jeroboam II in order to insure the loyalty of the Israelites to the northern shrines (1 Kings 12:32).  Since it is called the “feast of Yahweh” is was likely a counterfeit to the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:39-43) (Hosea, p. 193).

That is what makes Hosea’s first statement so shocking, “Rejoice not!”  It was to be a time of great joy and gladness, for it signaled God’s blessing and enough food so that survival was no longer the top priority and daily focus.

Hubbard notes:

The autumn harvest festival was a sacrament of life for them, a symbol of their expectations of survival, a proof of the soundness of their religious zeal.  The more bountiful the crops—the grain for a year’s supply of bread (v. 1), the must (v. 2) for a year’s stock of wine, the olives whose oil supplied their food, light, hygiene and medication—the more affirmed was Israel in the lightness of their religion.  (Hosea, p. 165)

Instead, there seems to be the failure of the harvest.  Instead of seeking Yahweh’s blessing, they had turned to the fertility gods, the Baals.  But this time these gods would fail the Israelites and their joy would disappear.

If Yahweh allowed their apostasy to be accompanied by material prosperity, they would only dig themselves more deeply into their pagan habits.  Intervention was necessary; Yahweh’s chosen means was exile (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 165).

The opening, “Rejoice not!” reads like an inversion of what would have been the normal harvest proclamation, something like “Rejoice, Israel, for Yahweh has given you a harvest!”

Joel 2:23-24, for example, reads:

23 “Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. 24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”

But those days were gone.

Israel the harlot thought that the fertility cult would give her prosperity, but she received only barrenness.

Duane Garrett points out:

Hosea interprets the failed harvest under three points.  The first is that the bad harvest, as a sign of Yahweh’s displeasure, indicates that greater calamities—military defeat and exile—are on the horizon (vv. 1-3).  Second, he draws the people’s attention to another adversity that accompanies famine conditions, namely, the inability of the people and priesthood to make suitable offerings to God (vv. 4-6).  Third, he asserts that the people had dismissed the prophets when they warned that such troubles were coming (vv. 7-9).  In linking a failed harvest to military defeat, and in regarding the famine as especially calamitous because it brought about the end of sacrifice and offering to Yahweh, Hosea’s words call to mind Joel’s prophecy [in Joel 2].  In confronting an Israelite establishment that was dismissive of Yahweh’s prophets, Hosea’s experience paralleled that of Amos and many other prophets. (Hosea-Joel, p. 190)

The statement “exult not like the peoples” has the idea of not working yourself into a frenzy.  The worship of pagan nations often involved ecstatic and frenzied worship, like the cutting of the prophets of Baal in the showdown on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18.  Their frenzied worship would do no good; Yahweh would not listen to them.

Why? “For you have played the whore, forsaking your God.”  Their harvest has failed because they had sought the blessing of other gods instead of Yahweh.

The prophet envisioned Israel as a “harlot,” committing adultery on a threshing floor by worshipping idols there.  “Threshing floors” and “winepresses” were common places throughout Canaan where ritual prostitution had taken place for centuries.  It was through these rites that the worshippers sought to stimulate the gods to engage in sex and so bestow fruitfulness on them and their land.

The “wages of the prostitute at every threshing floor” has a hint of desperation and has a double meaning.  “It is literally the immoral acts that often accompanied the party atmosphere of the harvest, but it is also figuratively the large harvest that the fertility cult ostensibly promised.  The supposed benefits of this fertility cult were sexual license and agricultural prosperity, but like so many of Satan’s seductions, they proved to be illusory.

Instead

2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them.

What Yahweh gives, He can take away.  Their freedom and their survival were gifts they had spurned and now would forfeit.

There shall be neither grain nor wine.  They will reap nothing.  Historically, this spoke of the ravages of their occupation by Assyria and the famines that Yahweh brought upon them.

This judgment upon the land was a signal of the exile that Israel would be forced into.  Like Joel, famine is a precursor to military defeat and exile.

3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.

Behind this text stands Deuteronomy 28:38-41, where famine conditions are the last stroke of divine punishment prior to the departure of the people into captivity.  There, before God brought them into the promised land, Moses warned them…

38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity.

This passage went on to warn them…

45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things,  48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. 51 It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. 52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land.  And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.

63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 64 “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.  65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you.  Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.

These covenant curses were just over the horizon for Israel, soon to be experienced.

Israel had turned for help to her neighbors (Egypt and Assyria) instead of turning to Yahweh.  Because Israel had “sowed” a fondness for mixing with her neighbors, the Lord is arranging for her to enjoy those pleasures on a more “full time” basis—in exile.  You reap what you sow!

Now, in stating that Israel will “return to Egypt” Hosea is primarily indicating that Israel had forfeited the right to the freedom she had enjoyed and would return to an “Egypt-like” bondage.

Moses had commanded the people never to return to Egypt, a law they had transgressed frequently.

But Israel’s bondage would occur in a place far worse than Egypt, in the land of Assyria.  In Assyria, Israel would reap the deserved reward for ignoring Yahweh’s law and would be required to “eat unclean food” there.

The two phrases “Yahweh’s land” and “unclean food” relate to each other.  Because they have defiled themselves in idolatries, they will be unfit for residence in the holy land and will instead eat defiled food in a foreign land.

For far too long all the foods that Israel had presented and consumed had been unclean before Yahweh, because she had failed to present to Him the firstfruits of each food (cf. Exod 22:29; 23:19; 34:22-26; Lev. 23:10-17).

She would eat defiled food in a defiled land because she had defiled herself with sin.  She would reap what she had sown.

The ramifications of living in uncleanness are envisioned in vv. 4-5.

4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him.  It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?

Israel had not truly been sacrificing to the Lord in her own homeland, so therefore she will endure the penalty of knowing that all sacrifices offered in foreign captivity will be void of any meaning (v. 4).

Opportunities for legitimate worship would end in exile since Israel had corrupted legitimate worship in the land. Drink offerings of wine, which accompanied certain sacrifices, would cease (cf. Num. 15:1-12), and sacrifices offered there would be unacceptable to Yahweh.

Any offerings they made in the shrines during times of drought would be of very poor quality and thus unusable as offerings.

The phrase “like mourner’s bread to them” refers to the fact that those who are in mourning, and who must deal with the burial of a dead body, contaminate the food they touch with uncleanness and it could not be used to serve God.

The food would be good only for eating and not for offering.  Such bread might be suitable for human consumption, but it was unacceptable as an offering to God.

Charles Feinberg notes:

Israel is this hour still suffering the predicament of verse 4, “not pleasing to God, because the reconciliation brought about through Christ’s sacrifice has not yet been received by faith (see Romans 10:1-4).”

 Verse 5 is expressed as bewilderment:

5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?

The answer is “nothing,” for they will be no more.  The effect upon Israel during the normal times of her feasts days would be the grief felt by a parent on the birthday of a recently deceased child or on a wife on the anniversary of a recently deceased husband.

John Trapp expresses it well:

How will you be able to support yourselves, to keep your hearts from dying within you, when you call to mind and consider your former solemnities and festivities, which now (alas!) in your captivity you are utterly deprived of?  There was a time when you went with the multitude to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day, Psalms 42:4, with dancing, eating, drinking, and joy, Deuteronomy 16:14-15, 21:19-20.  But now the scene is altered; your singing is turned into sighing, your mirth into mourning, your joy into heaviness; and you must needs hold yourselves so much the more miserable, that you have been happy.

We don’t realize how significant a loss this was to the Israelites.  Their pattern of festivals, stories and customs gave structure to their life and identities, the disintegration of which would leave them totally adrift.

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 3 (Hosea 8:11-14)

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.

Robert Chisholm:

“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.

Image result for lachish reliefs

Lachish Relief

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”.

Image result for sennacherib's campaign against Judah

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.