Look Back & Learn, part 3 (Hosea 12:7-11)

Last week we saw in Hosea 12 how Yahweh called Israel to imitate their ancestor Jacob.  Jacob, although in many ways a scoundrel, eventually began to trust God instead of his own schemes, and thus inherited the name Israel.  Unfortunately, Hosea’s Israel was acting too much like the old Jacob rather than the new Israel.  Thus, Yahweh calls them once again to repentance, in verse 6:

6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

But, alas, this was not to be.  Instead, Hosea paints a picture for us of the continued decadence and stubborn rebellion of the descendants of Jacob in his day…

7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. 10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

These first few verses speak of a false sense of security that replaced a reliance upon the LORD.  It is true that Israel lived at the height of affluence during the age of Jeroboam II and although they were living off the fumes of that, they still were living above average, refusing to acknowledge that any of this was a gift from the LORD.

Hosea designates Israel here as a “merchant,” engaging in fraud.  They were cutting corners to get ahead “in the worst traditions of Israelite merchant’s ancestor Jacob” (Duane Garret, Hosea-Amos, p. 241).  But Hosea indicates that Ephraim was even worse than that!

The actual Hebrew word there is kena’an, or Canaan.  Most versions translate it “merchant,” “trader” or “trafficker” due to the context, but the King James Version and Jerusalem Bible translates “Canaan.”  Of course, that speaks to their character in business dealings.  They were “infected by the spirit of commercialism characteristic of the people whom he has supplanted” (JB, Hosea 12:7).

Clarke says, “Ephraim is as corrupt as those heathenish traffickers were.”

When the children of Israel entered the promised land, they were specifically told to separate themselves from the practices of the Canaanites, the people whom they were to destroy (Exod. 33:2; Deut. 7:1; 20:17; Joshua 34:10; 17:18). Rebelling against God’s plan, the Israelites chose to imbibe the spirit of the Canaanites (Joshua 16:10; 17:12; Judges 1:29-33).

This term has special reference to the Phoenician coast.  The Phoenicians were famous for their trading empire, which stretched across the water of the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond (cf. Zeph. 1:11).

In a double entendre Canaan thus applies as well to the business class of Israelite society upon whose unscrupulous tactics the Northern Kingdom depended as a source of its wealth.  As Stuart observes, “‘Canaan’ would appear to be a derogatory double entendre for Ephraim … Hosea declares Ephraim to be a greedy merchant, and at the same time no better than the Canaanites whose immoral culture deserved extinction (cf. Gen 15:16)” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 192).

Deceitful weights and measures were a continuous problem in commercial Israel, suggested by the numerous demands for “righteous weights” (cf. Amos 8:5-6; Deut. 25:13ff; Prov. 20:10).

It was a travesty of the times. “In an economy that did not have standardized weights and measures, traders were often tempted to cheat by falsifying the balances and measurements, often by using improper weights and false bottoms and other ways to alter the sizes of vessels” ((Walton, Matthews & Chavalas, Bible Background Commentary, p. 759).

And through their deceitful practices, they oppressed people, taking their possessions, their land and eventually casting them into debtor’s prison.

Notice how Hosea emphasizes their heart attitude by saying that Ephraim “loves to oppress” (although Hubbard believes it should be translated “oppresses loved ones”).  It wasn’t happening accidentally, nor was it simply an unavoidable consequence of doing business.  This expression indicates that Ephraim did this intentionally and with delight.

Their riches were also a source of pride to them. Hosea rebukes them by saying…

8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”

Verse 8 sounds a lot like the condemnable words of the church of Laodicea:

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

In both of these verses, the fact of riches is attributed not to the blessing of God, but to their own efforts.  Hosea says of Ephraim, “I have found wealth for myself” and John says of Laodicea “I have prospered.”  Neither of them attributed their riches to the gracious hand of God.

And, of course, what Hosea is saying is that what they did in “finding wealth” is that it came dishonestly.

Nevertheless, they trusted in their possessions and their success.  This led them to protest their own innocence: “in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”

In reality, they may be able to escape the judgment of the courts (usually by buying their way out), but they cannot escape the judgment of Yahweh.

In some ways this statement sounds like the prosperity theology of our day.  Wealth is believed to be something we deserve and whenever someone is wealthy we automatically think God is pleased with them and blessed them with wealth.

When things are good financially, it’s hard for people to believe that their society can be in deep trouble.  Or, as H. Ronald Vandermey says, “Unfortunately, monetary success has never been an accurate barometer of one’s status before God” (Psalm 37:16; Prov. 11:4; 23:4; Eccles. 8:11-14; Matt. 5:45), something which should be kept in mind today by those Christians who have achieved ‘the blessings of God’ through the same ruthless business practices used by their unbelieving fellow merchants” (Hosea-Amos, p. 69).

But to protest innocence in the face of all the evidence adduced by Hosea only compounds their guilt, adding atop their evil deeds a callousness that precludes a recognition of their guilt, making repentance highly unlikely.

I love the way the British commentator Derek Kidner says it:

“In cold print, his bland assurance that his extorted riches carry no guilt—or none to speak of—even put him above the law, is patently absurd.  Yet human attitudes, which venerate success and, at a safe distance, admire a clever rogue, still help to build up his cocksureness in the man who sells his soul to the present” (The Message of Hosea, p. 110).

Yahweh had told the generation which was about to enter the land how He had taken care of them, then warns them, in Deuteronomy 8:

6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, 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, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

Yahweh knew, and had warned them that a life of ease and affluence would be possible in the Promised Land, but it could very well cause them to think that they had done it by their own “power and might” (v. 17) and to forget the LORD and then go after other gods.  Because He knew they would do that very thing, he warned them that they would “surely perish.”

Yahweh then pronounces his response to their deluded reliance upon their own efforts and lack of recognition of Yahweh’s work on their behalf:

9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast.

Once again Yahweh declares that He will undo the Exodus and return Israel to the status of no longer being a nation.

“The LORD your God” is the full covenant title of Israel’s God (Exodus 20:2), the one who delivered them from Egypt.  He had not changed, but they had.  Yahweh is asserting His sovereignty as the one who redeemed them, and thus has the right to stipulate the conditions of their relationship—obedience to His commands and loyal to Him alone.

Yahweh’s self-introduction is the logical response to Ephraim’s boast.  It reminds them (and us) who is truly in charge.

Yahweh reminded His people that He had been their God since before the Exodus.  The fact that He delivered them is the foundation of the stipulations He laid upon His people through what we call the “Ten Commandments.”  Of course, they were avidly breaking these commandments right and left.

He was able to make them revert to a humble wilderness lifestyle again, which their yearly Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) reminded them about (cf. Lev. 23:33-43).  Doing this would remind them once again how utterly dependent they had been upon God to provide even the basic necessities of food and water many times over, helping them to once again remember that Yahweh was the true source of every blessing.

Again, Derek Kidner so aptly says that these three verses have a double thrust:

First: “Was it for this that I redeemed you?  To make you a bunch of Canaanites?”  And secondly: “When you re-live the Exodus every year, camping out as your fathers did, is it only make-believe?  Or is it to relearn the lessons of those days, that man does not live by bread alone?” (This Message of Hosea, p. 111).

What they had been doing for one week out of a year (and likely begrudgingly at that) Yahweh now says they would have to do permanently.  They would become homeless as Assyria scattered them among the conquered nations.

This is clearly an allusion to the coming captivity of Israel.  The LORD will make Israel a homeless people in the future as once they were in the past.

As David Hubbard says…

“The crucial events of the exodus and its subsequent wanderings have to be replayed, so that Ephraim may learn how dependent he is on Yahweh and how grateful he must be for such dependence” (Hosea, p. 219)

The announcement of captivity should come as no surprise to a people who had resolutely misplaced their trust.  Not only were they rejecting a reliance upon God, they were also rejecting the revelation of God through His prophets.

Verse 10 says…

10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.

God had done more than His part to keep Israel trusting and obeying Him.  He not only gave them His blessings, but had given them oral instruction through the prophets—through a variety of means—through instruction, visions and parables.  This indicates the certainty and clarity through which God had communicated to them.

The verb “I spoke” contains in it the noun “the word.”  But as a verb it suggests the creative power of God, like that which created the universe and all creation in Genesis 1.  It speaks of the power of God’s Word to accomplish what is spoken.  Isaiah speaks to this in Isaiah 55:10-13:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

When God speaks, things happen.  No word of His is empty and unproductive.

Notice how powerful God’s Word is.  Verse 13 indicates that it can even change the fundamental nature of something—a thorn bush will become a cypress and a stand of briers will become a myrtle.

Those of us who preach must believe that God’s Word is still powerful enough to change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.

Of course, speaking to the prophets describes an event, a time in history when God spoke.  The prophets “met with” God and He spoke to them.  Now, these prophets were speaking to the people, reminding them of God’s past revelation and making present proclamations of Israel’s guilt and Yahweh’s necessity in bringing the covenant judgments upon them.

The prophets’ role is thus God-given and unassailable.  Ephraim ignores Hosea at their own peril.  If you remember, back in Hosea 9:7 the people were saying that the prophets were “fools” and crazy.  But the prophet’s visions and parables were “mere eccentricities” but the very word of God.

Nevertheless, in spite of so many exhortations to return to the Lord, the people had not responded.

Not only would they lose their homeless, but their once stately and tall idols would be leveled.

11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.

The gods they now trusted in to save them would prove their impotency by being broken down into stone heaps.  When God’s judgment comes, all those altars will be brought low, so the only altars will be the hills made by the furrows of the field.

We need to remember this—where are we putting our trust?  In ourselves—our own strength and abilities, our own intellect and schemes, our own resources and bank accounts?  If we misplace our trust, God will bring us up short in some way.

Are we listening to the revelation of God?  How often do we read and heed what God has said in His Word?  How frequently do we ignore it, or discount it?  It is being planted deeply into our hearts so that it bears fruit?

Look Back & Learn, part 2 (Hosea 12:3-6)

They say that truth is learned better through example than through lecture.  Certainly trust must be taught, but it must also be lived out.  As a parent, your children won’t follow your instruction as much as they will imitate your behavior.

In the 12th chapter of Hosea, Jacob is brought up as an example for Israel.  Having called Israel by the name Jacob in verse 2, Hosea then says…

3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us–5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Jacob is one of my favorite characters in the Bible because he is so real, so fallible.  He stumbles along the path of discipleship.  He needs grace more than many others for anything good to come of his life.

Scholars debate whether Jacob is a negative example to avoid or a positive example to follow as he is presented here.  Certainly his life, like most of us, is a mixed bag of good choices and bad ones.  However, the exhortation in verse 6, which caps off this discussion of Jacob, seems to be encouraging them to act like Jacob and “return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”  Jacob certainly held fast and ultimately received the blessing.

Duane Garrett notes:

“Hosea here resumes the theme from 6:7-9 that Israel has inherited the worst traits of their ancestors without picking up any of the good qualities; in particular the people of Hosea’s generation are untouched by grace” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

He goes on to say…

“The portrayal of the life of Jacob here is not chronological but consists of passing allusions to details of the Genesis account that are thematically arranged in order to create a portrait of the patriarch as a desperate man transformed by God” (Hosea-Joel, p. 236).

Hosea first alludes to Jacob’s birth…

In the womb he took his brother by the heel

This refers back to Genesis 25:26…

Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.

Thus, Jacob was the “grasper,” the one who had to take things by force.  A civil war erupted in  Rebekah’s womb, though Esau eventually won that battle and was born first.  Jacob, true to his name, ended up, in rather underhanded ways, to take away Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Thus, we read in Genesis 27:36

Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob?  For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Jacob was a cheater and a taker.  As Derek Kidner reminds us: “Even Laban, that master of manoeuvre, found he had met his match in this man” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

Although it was God’s elective choice to bless Jacob over Esau, Jacob is presented here as one who felt like he had to help God out.

James Montgomery Boice explains:

“‘To grasp the heel’ also meant to go behind one’s back in order to deceive or trick him, and this became the dominant characteristic of the man.”

Not only did Jacob fight with Esau, but “in his manhood he strove with God.”  This describes Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Penuel in Genesis 32.

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

You see that God required him to admit the fact that he was a “striver,” a “grabber.”

28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.

Garrett points out that the comparative phrase “as a man” is a translation of the word awen, a word we’ve seen before as a description of the city of Bethel, Beth-Awen, or Aven.  There it described Bethel’s deceptive wickedness.  Although the end of that story in Genesis points to Jacob’s surrender and his renaming as Israel, thus God’s blessing, Hosea seems to indicate only the negative fact that Jacob wrestled with God.

Jacob’s attitude that he had a right for what was his and had to fight for it carried over into his relationship with God.  Thus, in Genesis 32:28, God said, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Scholars question how Hosea is relating the words “he wept and sought his favor” to the encounter at Penuel.  These words do not occur in the event of Genesis 32, but rather in the encounter between Jacob and Esau in Genesis 33.  It is used by Hosea to express the idea that Jacob ultimately sought mercy from God after years of ceaseless striving.

He finally understood the words, “cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

God then renamed Jacob “Israel,” “prince.”

Hosea then moves back to a former event in the Jacob story when he says, “He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with [him].”  This refers back to Jacob’s vision of the heavenly stairway while he was en route to Haran and to God’s second appearance to Jacob on his return to Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22; 35:6-15).  Bethel was the place that the true God met Jacob; unlike in Hosea’s day when Jacob’s descendants were seeking false gods at Beth Aven.

Jacob had originally received the promise of the covenant from God at Bethel (Genesis 28:13).  “Hosea places Bethel at the end of his retelling of the story to create a contrast between the grace Jacob received and his life of conniving, scheming, and struggling.  That is, Jacob’s machinations and battles for survival represented his old life, his life without grace, whereas his reception of the promises at Bethel represented his new life…” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, pp. 238-239).

Kidner reinforces that this change in Jacob was not in his own enterprise but was a “classic display of grace unexpected, unsought, and overwhelming” (The Message of Hosea, p. 109).

When Jacob returned to Bethel the second time, he worshiped there (Genesis 35:1-14).  It is ironic that the place where Jacob got right with God was Bethel, since Bethel was the place where the Israelites had gotten wrong with Him by worshipping idols. Jacob’s return to God at Bethel provided a good example for the Israelites to get right with Him, there, too.

The structure of the text, which is what is called a chiasmus, reinforces the message that Jacob met the true God at Bethel and was converted into Israel.

Hosea’s emphasis, however, is that although God met Jacob at Bethel and fellowshipped with him there, God was virtually excluded from present day Bethel by contemporary Jacob (i.e., God’s people in Hosea’s day).  For Bethel (house of God) had become Beth Aven (house of deception/iniquity).  It was there that the people courted Baal and indulged in his pagan rites.  There they acted like the old Jacob, the unredeemed Jacob.

I think it is significant to Hosea’s argument that he says at the end of v. 4, “and there God spoke with us…”  Notice the “us” instead of merely “him.”  To Hosea, God did not speak only to the past Jacob at Bethel, but now to the present Jacob at Bethel.

Verse 5 is a revelation of the name of God.  David Hubbard reminds us:

“The hymn which features Yahweh’s name in contrast to Elohim and El in vv. 3-4 are a reminder of the dangers of confusing Israel’s LORD and Savior with the gods of the land, even the high-god El” (Hosea, p. 217)

On the basis of his reading of Genesis, Hosea can proclaim, “the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name.”  Hosea is referring to the covenant name, Yahweh here, indicating that He is the “God of hosts,” the God of the “angel armies.”

“The use of the full title Yahweh God of hosts (i.e. armies of heaven and earth, [2 Sam. 5:10] found here only in Hosea) moves the focus away from any local sacred sites like Bethel and centres attention on the universal power and glory of the Lord” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)

This name reminds us of the story of Elisha, when the king of Syria surrounded Dothan with “a great army” (2 Kings 6:14).  When Elisha’s servant went to the walls the next morning he was alarmed to find such a large army surrounding them and said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (6:15).  Then we read…

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Hosea did not get this name from the Genesis record, but Amos uses it frequently and Hosea may be borrowing it from him.  It describes the God of all the earth who holds all mankind accountable and calls them to repentance.

Yahweh is God’s “memorial name.” Names reveal and reflect character traits (e.g., Ps. 135:13).  The name YHWH, was revealed to Moses in Exod. 3:14.  Before this time the patriarchs addressed God as El Shaddai (cf. Exod. 6:2-3).

What is Hosea doing here, recalling the Jacob incidents?  He is reminding them that all their scheming and machinations and political alliances would not save them.  They are like Jacob in all their efforts to protect themselves and get God’s blessings for themselves.

But they needed to come to a point of desperation.  Unlike Jacob, they were not crying out to God in tears and repenting of their sins.  “The nation of Israel continues to live like Jacob the conniver, the man without grace.  Like old Jacob, they struggle for success and security not in God, but in wealth” not in trust but in scheming.

“Jacob’s ambitions put him out of phase with God’s character right at the start of his life (cf. v. 3).  His offspring, whether as individuals or collectively—the emphatic you is singular—had to be redirected from their ancestral pattern to return again” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 217-218).

Hosea calls for three things from his people: repentance, justice, and faith.  They had turned away from Yahweh to pursue the false gods of the nations, originally the gods of Egypt, then the gods of the Canaanites and now the gods of the nations they sought to ally themselves to.

Hosea thus calls for them to turn back to Yahweh, to turn their backs to the false gods and return to the true God.

Repentance, first a change of perspective, becomes then a change of behavior.  Knowing God as He really is (v. 5) and knowing ourselves as we really are (vv. 3-4) is the pre-requisite for repentance.  When we are faced with the holiness of God and our sinfulness, and when God’s Spirit brings conviction, then we will repent.

“Love and justice” (in v. 6) are shorthand for doing all that God requires while giving the greatest emphasis on the most important parts of the Torah.  Matthew 23:23 Jesus says…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Since Yahweh had brought a lawsuit against them (v. 2) for being unfaithful to the covenant stipulations, He now reminds them of their obligations that they had failed to fulfill.

Love and justice sum up our obligation to one another.  They are also the central aspects of Yahweh’s covenant character towards His people (cf. Hosea 2:19).

To these positive characteristics they were to “hold fast to.”  Just as Jacob had said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” so we are to be equally earnest to “hold fast” to God’s moral will and wait continually for His sovereign will to be fulfilled.

“Wait continually for your God” implies an attitude of faith that seeks security in God rather than in wealth or position or allies, that perseveres in that faith even when circumstances prove difficult.  On his deathbed, Israel was able still to give this testimony: “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Gen. 49:18).

“Jacob had snatched at his destiny time and again; so had Israel and Judah with land-grabs (5:8-10), rash treaties (10:4; 12:1), and pleas to Baal (7:14-16).  Their renewed style was to wait in full hope for the divine Redeemer to meet their needs” (D. Hubbard, Hosea, p. 218).

The lesson was that, like Jacob, the Israelites should return to their covenant God.  They should practice loyal love and justice in dealing with one another, rather than being like the old Jacob.  And they should commit to waiting in faith for God to act for them, rather than seizing control of the situation, as Jacob so often had done.

If Israel will repent, they will become like their ancestor Jacob in the best sense.

Just as Jacob was literally wrestled into submission by an angel of God, just as Jacob pleaded with tears for God’s blessing — just so must Israel return to the Lord.

Notice that Hosea’s exhortations are prefaced by the phrase “by the help of your God.”  The only way they could possibly repent, become loving and just and consistently trust in God’s help, is “by the help of God.”  We cannot become repentant on our own, but need God’s help; we cannot become loving and just in our own strength, but we need God’s help.  We depend upon God’s help even to trust Him consistently.  Without the help of God we can do nothing, as Jesus reminded His disciples, “without me you can do nothing.”

“The implication for Israel is clear: they are nothing without Yahweh, just as Jacob was nothing without Yahweh” (Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 192).

Essentially, Hosea is telling them that repentance is expressed in—obeying and trusting.  Obey His moral will and trust His sovereign will to be worked out for your life.  Or, we could say that what God wants from us is to trust, to treasure and to trust.

The good news is that grace can come to and transform even the worst of us.  It changed Jacob into Israel.  Grace can transform a cheater and grabber into a prince with God.  Like Jacob, we must exchange our self-sufficiency for trusting God.

 

 

 

Look Back and Learn, part 1 (Hosea 11:12-12:1)

Futility—trying one thing after another, with no success.  Bryan Wilkerson, pastor of Grace Chapel, tells this story about futility…

Years ago, when our kids were young, we were out at a themed restaurant with TV’s all over walls, playing cartoons with no sound.  Our youngest son, who was about four at the time, had his eyes glued to the TV screen.  He was watching a continuous loop of Road Runner cartoons, watching as Wile E. Coyote strapped on rocket-propelled roller skates, or shot himself out of a cannon, or launched himself from a giant slingshot in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner.  After watching intently for a long time, he had an epiphany.  Without taking his eyes off the screen, he quietly announced to our family, “No matter what he does, he’s never going to get the chicken.”

“Chasing the wind” is the metaphor Hosea uses to express Ephraim’s futility.  All their misguided efforts to pursue the good life would end up sabotaging what good life they had.

Our passage this morning is Hosea 12, but we’re including the last verse of Hosea 11, because it fits better conceptually with this chapter.

This is the beginning of the final section of Hosea which contains further messages concerning prevailing conditions in the Northern Kingdom that necessitate Israel’s judgment.  The speeches contain both oracles of the prophet and divine speeches (e.g., 12:9-11; 13:4-16; 14:4-8).  While it begins with a condemnation, it ends on a high note of God’s consolation: granted Israel’s repentance, God’s people will be restored to His favor and blessings forevermore.

David Hubbard points out that…

Hosea might have ended his book at 11:11 with the powerful, almost humorous, picture of God, the Lion, calling home his quivering family of birds.  To that return the book has been driving relentlessly, reaching it once at 1:11, then at 3:5 and again at 11:11.  But the prophecy has yet more to unfold of the nature of Israel’s sin, the intensity of God’s passionate judgment, and the glory of the ultimate reconciliation.  So here, for the final time, it traces Israel’s march from punishment to restoration.

The glory of that future day will seem distant once again as their contemporary reality needed to be faced.

The northern kingdom is undoubtedly in its last decade as these words are preached to them.

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. 1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt. 2 The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us– 5 the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name: 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” 7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. 10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

Yahweh once again brings charges against Ephraim, establishing their guilt and predicting their punishment.

Richard Patterson tells us…

As this section of the book of Hosea opens, the Lord is expressing his displeasure with His people of both kingdoms. He begins with the Northern Kingdom.  Israel has been a seedbed of treachery (v.1).

The charge of lying has been leveled previously when the Lord condemned the royal advisors for their false relations with the king (7:3).  Because of the deceptive practices that infected the Northern Kingdom at the highest levels, all Israel had become corrupt.

It even affected its worship experience, for in these God’s people lie to the lord with regard to their supposed devotion (7:13).  Through His prophet the Lord also had denounced Israel’s false dependence on its military strength rather than trusting in the lord (10:13).

In verse 12 of Hosea 11, Yahweh complained that Ephraim (Israel) had consistently lied and tried to deceive Him.

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit

He described Himself as surrounded and under attack by His own people.  Wherever He looked, all He saw was cheaters.  Like their ancestor Jacob, they were deceivers.

Not only is Israel guilty of outright lies but also of deceit in all of its dealings, Israel has become a society where violence, which often leads to bloodshed, abounds (12:2,14), where dishonesty characterizes its business dealings (v.7), and in which lust for wealth accrued in whatever way it could be obtained was a way of life (vv. 8-9).  Israel’s deception and fraud included its false—even pagan—religious rites (v.11) and its failure to heed the prophets whom God sent to guide and correct His people (v.10).  It is small wonder, then, that Yahweh feels “surrounded” by Israel’s lies and deceit.  For wherever He looked, there was only wanton debauchery.

God as likening Himself to a besieged city.  He the holy city saw all around Him the siege machinery of lies, deceit, and total apostasy.  There remained nothing for Yahweh to do but to defend His holiness by striking out in judgment against His debased nation.

Hosea also mentions Judah and David Hubbard aptly reminds us that “sin needs no passport,” but is highly contagious.  The statement that Judah “walks with God” seems, on the surface, to be a positive statement.  However, some have taken it negatively, as an unruly walk.  This descriptive verb is somewhat rare (Heb. rud, wayward).  In Jeremiah 2:31 it portrays Judah’s wandering away from the Lord.

There is also the question of whether it is Judah that is faithful to “the Holy One” or “the Holy One” who is faithful to Judah.  It seems best to take this as saying that Judah remains faithful to Yahweh, and merely points out the inconsistency of their walk, which is sometimes wayward, sometimes faithful.

However, the description is actually “holy ones” plural and the term God is El.  Hubbard points out that the term El could stand for a foreign god, an idol and that “holy ones” quite possibly describes the Canaanite pantheon (Hosea, p. 211).

We know that Yahweh—the true God, however, always remains faithful to His covenant promises, even when we are inconsistent in our devotion and faithfulness.

Thus, in Hosea 12:1 Ephraim is described as “feeding on the wind.”

1 Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long

The prophet Hosea builds upon the Lord’s previous statement in Hosea 11:12 by once again comparing Israel’s vacillating and deceitful foreign policy to the futility of pursuing these matters in a wrong way (12:1).

Both verbs in this passage emphasize continuous, consistent action.  What is it they say about insanity?  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Like the earlier metaphor of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind in 8:15, so here it describes the utter futility and emptiness of their pursuit of foreign nations to help them.  The word “pursues” can be translated “shepherd, tend.”  It refers to a positive process, but here expresses ultimate futility.

A similar expression is used concerning man’s inability to discover abiding satisfaction through the multiplication of his possessions.  Having enumerated various attempts he had made to find fulfillment through the accumulation of possessions the Preacher of Ecclesiastes summed up his endeavors by saying, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).  (For wind used as an image this way, cf. Job 6:26; 8:2; 15:2Ps. 78:39Eccles. 1:14; 2:11Isa. 26:18; 41:16).

The reference to the east wind suggests the hot, desert wind, called sirocco, which burns and sears and brings famine.  Adam Clarke reminds us that the east wind: “They are not only empty, but dangerous and destructive. The east wind was, and still is, in all countries, a parching, wasting, injurious wind” (cf. Isaiah 27:8).  No one in their right mind would pursue this, but Ephraim does.

Israel does not realize that its policies are a lost cause.  For what Israel will find is only the emptiness and futility that the pursuit of wind implies.  Yet when we betray our God, we are no less foolish.

Hosea again points our their deceptiveness, at the end of verse 1 when he says…

they multiply falsehood and violence

which seems best explained by the next statement…

they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

In other words, they deal deceptively with their so-called allies, making agreements with Assyria on the one hand (cf. Hos. 5:13; 8:9) and at the same time making overtures to Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-4; Hos. 7:11).  Of course, they made these treaties with foreign nations rather than trusting in Yahweh.  Making a treaty with another nation for protection implicitly involved trusting those foreign gods for protection over the protection offered by your own god.

Courting two enemies at the same time was not only an act of political madness destined to bring the wrath of both nations against them, but above all was an act of disloyalty to Yahweh.

Instead of trusting in the LORD, Israel trusted in deals and payoffs to the surrounding superpowers. It was foolish for them to think that Assyria or Egypt was more powerful or dependable than the LORD was.

Keil notes

“This actually took place during the reign of Hoshea, who endeavored to liberate himself from the oppression of Assyria by means of a treaty with Egypt (2 Kings xvii. 4).”

Or, as H. Ronald Vandermey describes more explicitly…

Assyria, like the blast from the sirocco, is not Ephraim’s friend, but an uncontrollable power that will mercilessly consume all that stands before its fiery rage.  Whereas it was hazardous to make a covenant with the east wind (2 Kings 17:3), an even greater danger was created when that covenant was broken (2 Kings 17:4-6).  Ephraim had deceived the wicked sirocco, a deception that would spell disaster as the enraged east wind swept over the land (Hosea-Amos, p. 68)

The whole of Israel’s actions throughout this chapter is well characterized as trying to “herd the wind.”  Their futile attempts to save themselves, their failure to follow Jacob’s example, their false sense of security, forsaking God’s revelation to them through the prophets—each of these separate actions was foolish in itself, as foolish as trying to herd the wind.

By the way, that word “multiply” in verse 2, “multiply falsehood and violence,” is found several times throughout Hosea’s sermons

  1. lavished (multiplied) silver and gold, 2:8
  2. multiplied altars for sin, 8:11
  3. multiplied fortified cities, 8:14
  4. more (multiplied) altars, 10:1
  5. multiplied lies and violence, 12:1
  6. multiplied visions, 12:10

Again, the more Yahweh lavished his gifts upon Israel, the more Israel multiplied their sins.

As Stuart remarks, “In internal matters, the nations multiple immorality was well documented: it can be no surprise therefore that in external matters of diplomacy, their pattern of treachery continued true to form” (Hosea-Jonah, p. 190)

Although it is Ephraim/Israel that is singled out here for rebuke, the force of the context tends to suggest that although Israel is the primary focus, there is culpability in both Israel and Judah.  As Andersen and Freedman point out, “Both countries are guilty of entering non-Yahwistic covenants… . The north and south tried to curry favor with Assyria at each other’s expense. There is also indication that they played Egypt off against Assyria” (Hosea, p. 605).

Judah and the northern tribes (Ephraim) both suffered lapses in fidelity to the Lord, but Judah, unlike Ephraim, had some good kings (in particular, Hezekiah).  One of the highest points in Judah’s history was the victory over the Assyrians when Hezekiah was king (see 2 Kings 18–19, which was 20 years after Samaria fell) (ESV Study Bible)

You know, it might be appropriate today for us to ask ourselves: Am I feeding on wind?

Maybe you have invested your life in things that really don’t matter, that won’t matter 100 years from now.  Maybe you have sought to mask your pain doing things which only cause you more sorrow.  That is exactly what an idol does—it asks us to sacrifice for it and gives us nothing in return.

Oh, of course sin is a pleasure for a season.  Sin would have no seductive power at all if it didn’t provide some pleasure.  But the payoff is small and the enjoyment of it is short.

Never before has there been such an attractive array of wind food around for the Christian.  And it’s not just the “junk foods” available through most movies and television.  There are all kinds of wind salesmen around with appealing programs to “get into.”  Getting heavily involved in secular clubs and associations rather than Christian fellowship, or becoming experts in a hobby at the expense of our spiritual health are examples of wind programs.

Even our studies and careers, which can consume enormous amounts of our time and energy, may become a feeding on wind if God is left out of the picture.  We may feel fulfilled and satisfied now, but what about later?

We must have a steady diet of the solid food of the Word of God now if we are to avoid the stunted growth, starvation and emptiness that are associated with feeding on wind.  Remember that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Let’s be careful of what we munch on and not lose our appetites for the Word of God.

John Piper, in his book on fasting entitled Hunger for God, gets down to the reality of this when he says…

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.  It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.  Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.  It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.  It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.”

Israel had lost their hunger for God, satiating themselves on the supposed material blessings that came from worshiping Baal, from their under-handed business practices, from creating alliances with foreign nations for protection.  They thought they were gaining, but they were losing.

So the cry of my heart is that we would let nothing quench our appetite for God Himself.

 

Yahweh’s Passionate Love for Israel, part 3 (Hosea 11:8-11)

God’s love never fails.  His mercies are new every morning.  That is the nature of God.  But His love is a holy love and no matter how much He may want to save us from the consequences of our sins, like any good parent Yahweh disciplines us that we may learn and change our ways.  Unfortunately, Israel was not learning and not changing.  Instead, they were bent on rebellion.

As we pick up Hosea 11 this morning…

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 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. 12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.

We can see from this passage that although God has compassion for Ephraim, they were filled with lies, while Judah “still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.”  Therefore, Israel would soon go into captivity to Assyria, in 722 B.C., while Judah, the southern kingdom, would last another 150 years to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C., although they would experience other conflicts with the Babylonians prior to that.

Yahweh’s compassions are expressed so passionately in vv. 8…

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

These four rhetorical questions show just how hard it was for Yahweh to give them up to the ultimate punishment that God had warned them about in Deuteronomy 30.  They are strong expressions of divine emotion, specifically, love, for His chosen people.  He did not want to give them up or hand them over.

In highly anthropomorphic terms, the Lord pours out his irrepressible love; Isa. 49:15 and Jer. 31:20 express the same sentiment.  The relationship between God and his chosen must not be viewed as a formality.  These emotional outpourings demonstrate that the Lord is a person, filled with compassion—unlike the lifeless Baals.  His affection weighs heavier than Israel’s ingratitude, and he cannot bring himself to renounce his people, even though they renounce him. (ESV Study Bible)

He did not want to treat them as He had Admah and Zeboiim.  “Admah” and “Zeboiim” were cities that God annihilated along with Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 10:19; 14:2,8; Deut. 29:23).  Why Hosea mentions them instead of Sodom and Gomorrah is unknown.  God could not bring Himself to deal with the cities of Israel as He had with those towns.  He would not totally and finally destroy them.

His heart of judgment (which was entirely appropriate) was turned upside down into a heart of compassion.  Thus Wolff says…

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.”

Yahweh could not give them up because his heart recoiled within Him and his compassions were stirred up like a raging fire.  Because of who He is, He could not press ultimate judgment and destruction upon them.

Though their sin deserved it, God will not wipe out Israel.  He will leave a remnant, and will ultimately restore the nation.  The love that the Lord has for his children restrains him from obliterating them. He will preserve Israel through a remnant (cf. Rom. 11:5).

Again, Yahweh roots this surprising response in His own character: “for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

His sentence against His people was thus a matter of the necessary carrying out of the requirements against a wayward child (cf. Deut. 19-23) and not a matter of human vengeance.  Indeed, Yahweh is a holy God—One who desires to see that holiness resident and active in His people (v. 9).  And not seeing it, He must punish, but will not ultimately destroy them.

The mention of God as the Holy One is in accordance with His special relation to Israel as His covenant people.  Isaiah speaks of the Lord as “the Holy One of Israel” more than a score of times.

These verses, more clearly than anything except the example of Jesus Himself, show that God’s love is holy and His holiness is loving.  You cannot separate the two.  God will always act in loving holiness and holy love towards His chosen.

Jesus met the demands of God’s holiness and expressed God’s love at the cross, where sin was punished but we were forgiven.

James Smith, in an 1860 sermon entitled “Rills from the Rock of Ages,” emphasizes this difference between God and us…

Let us meditate on this declaration of our God for a few moments.

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I am infinitely patient, and not soon moved to take vengeance upon My sinful and rebellious creatures!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I am ready to forgive, and receive back the returning prodigal to My heart and home!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I receive great sinners, taking to My heart, and putting among My children — such despicable ones as no one else would notice or regard!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I pardon again and again, not only first offences — but repeated transgressions, forgiving and forgetting them forever!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore bear with such numerous affronts, such gross ingratitude, such inexcusable conduct — in My own people!

“I am God, and not man,” and therefore I invite, entreat, and beseech such base backsliders to return unto Me, and prove the power and freeness of My forgiving love!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I save freely, fully, and forever — such degraded, depraved, and desperate sinners, to the praise of the glory of My grace!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I remain faithful to My promises and covenant engagements, amidst all the changes and faithlessness of My fickle people!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I give such rich, costly, priceless gifts — to the poor, destitute, and unworthy sinners!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I hear, accept, and answer, such poor, imperfect, and worthless prayers — which, no one else could tolerate, much less approve!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I work such wonders — wonders in providence, and wonders in grace; wonders in the world, and wonders in the heart!

“I am God — and not man,” and therefore, I have prepared such mansions, and will confer such a glorious kingdom — on sinners who have no claim upon Me, nor the least reason to expect any good thing from Me!

Yes, because He is Jehovah, and changes not — therefore we poor, sinning, changeable creatures are not consumed!

Believer, to you the Lord says, “I am God — and not man!” Therefore expect from Him as God — and act toward Him as God!  He can do exceedingly and abundantly, above all that you can ask or think!  Do not measure His heart by yours — but remember that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts higher than your thoughts, and His ways than your ways!

Charles Spurgeon also observed that there are many differences between God and man in the matter of forgiveness.

  • Man cannot hold back his anger very long.
  • Man cannot bear with others when he is tired, stressed, or annoyed.
  • Man will not reconcile if the person who offended him is a person of bad character.
  • Man is often only willing to be reconciled if the offending party craves forgiveness and makes the first move.
  • Man is often only willing to be reconciled if the offending party will never again do the wrong.
  • Man, when he does reconcile, does not lift the former offender to place of high status and partnership.
  • Man, when he is wronged, does not bear all the penalty for the wrong done.
  • Man, when he attempts reconciliation, will not continue if he is rejected.
  • Man will not restore an offender without a period of probation.
  • Man will not love, adopt, honor, and associate with one who has wronged him.
  • Man will not trust someone who has formerly wronged them.

What passes for forgiveness among men is nothing like the amazing forgiveness of God.  “Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, ‘Well, yes, I forgive you; but I – I – I – cannot forget it’?  Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much” (Spurgeon).

God’s forgiveness is always so much more!

So, we’ve seen in vv. 1-7 Yahweh’s past dealings with Israel, how he found them in Egypt and raised them up so tenderly through the wilderness wanderings.  However, despite His lovingkindnesses towards them, they turned their backs on him.

In vv. 8-9 his present turmoil is recorded for us, so that Israel could see that Yahweh loved them despite their rebellion and judgment is not due to a vengeful attitude, but rather to the reality of His holy nature.  Sin must be punished; but Yahweh still loves the sinner.

Verses 10-11 record the future, Israel’s future.  Verse 12 really goes with chapter 12, so we will save if for next week.

10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 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.

Notice the contrast with verse 7.  Now Israel turned their backs on Yahweh, despite his tender kindnesses, but then, in the future, they “shall go after the LORD.”  That return is in response to Yahweh roaring “like a lion.”  This zoomorphism has been used before, where God has been presented as a lion (cf. 5:14; 13:7; Amos 1:2; 3:8).  However, this time it would not be as a lion about to devour them as its prey, but as a lion leading its cubs to safety.  The Israelites would follow Him, “trembling from the west” (cf. 3:5; Exod. 19:16).

Such vivid imagery!  Such contrast!  God as a roaring lion, his people as trembling sparrows and fluttering doves, once flitting between the nations trying to find an ally, will now return home.

There will be a new exodus of the people from all of the lands of their exile (v. 11).  Then God’s people will return to their homeland and settle down.  It will be even as Garrett remarks: “Hosea’s point here is that there is to be a new exodus in which God will again play the part of the lion and deliver his people from their enemies and into a new Promised Land” (Hosea-Joel, p. 229).

All of this was prefigured in the relation between Hosea and Gomer (2:14-23).  As Hosea was instructed to seek after Gomer in love and tenderness (2:14), so the Lord will call for His people to come back to Him.  As that response symbolized Israel’s putting away of Baal and the rites associated with him (2:16-17), so Israel’s fascination with false gods and idolatry will be over.

As Gomer/Israel would respond in renewed fidelity to her husband (Hosea/Yahweh; 2:19-20), so the future Israelites will come in reverential trust and love to the Lord.  As Gomer/Israel would experience renewed blessings based upon fidelity and a lasting relationship with Hosea/Yahweh, so God’s people will experience the long missing covenant blessings in the Promised Land.

As Stuart observes, “The faithful will ‘fly’ back not merely to the land as sojourners or the like, but to their ‘homes,’ an indication of true resettling in possession of original inheritances.  Throughout Israel’s history, residence in the land was a central blessing of their covenant with Yahweh (cf. 2:18[16], 20[18]).  Now would be fulfilled the promise of 2:25[23]” (Hosea-Jonah, p. 183).

Certainly Israel’s hope for the near future lay with the return from exile in lands such as Assyria and Egypt (cf. Ezra 2).  Yet the prophets also often speak of a distant future when God’s people will come and find the Promised Land as an everlasting place of residence and blessing (see e.g., Isa. 40:1-11; 60:1-22; 65:17-25; Jer. 23:5-8; 32:36-44; 33:15-16; Zeph. 3:14-20; etc.).

Thomas Constable notes:

Since Assyria lay to Israel’s east, it seems that this reference to regathering from the west does not refer to return from Assyrian captivity.  Apparently it refers to return from another worldwide dispersion.  Presently the Israelites live dispersed all over the world.

This verse then probably alludes to a still future restoration from our perspective in history.  It may refer to the restoration that Antichrist will encourage (Dan. 9:27), but it probably refers to the streaming of Israel back into the land following Jesus Christ’s return to the earth (cf. Isa. 11:11-12).

In many prophetic texts God’s near and distant future appear to blend together as a single hope (e.g., Isa. 52:4-13; 61:1-3; Jer. 16:14-15), which nonetheless does not negate a two-stage fulfillment.  Many prophecies appear to find a specific fulfillment yet without exhausting fully the details in the prophecy.  R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale House, 1971), 160-163 calls such cases “fulfillment without consummation.”

Accordingly, Hosea’s seemingly near future perspective may well veil a further, more final exodus.  Thus Wood suggests, “Egypt and Assyria typify the many nations from which God’s people will return in the future day.  Then he will settle them ‘in their homes’—an assurance of their permanent residence in their land (cf. 2:19)” (“Hosea,” 7:214).

Thus, Yahweh’s love will win out.  It is a holy love that requires Him to discipline Israel right now, but ultimately it will effect their salvation.  His faithfulness is not negated by their unfaithfulness.

And we can be thankful of that as well.  Paul tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can sever us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus.  In Romans 8:38-39 we hear their glorious words:

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Yahweh’s Passionate Love for Israel, part 2 (Hosea 11:3-7)

Last week we started Hosea 11, noting how grandly this chapter presents Yahweh’s love for Israel.  We noted that in verse 1 we have that nostalgic look back at Israel’s beginning and that seemingly bright future.  God, in His elective love, had chosen Israel out from among all the nations, not for anything good in themselves, but simply because He wanted to.

They, however, no matter how good God had been to them, spurned His goodness and His love and turned to other gods.  Those gods were less demanding, although they never delivered on their worshippers expectations.

This was represented in vv. 1-2, which we talked about last week:

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Today we will pick up at verse 3, but let me again read the whole chapter, verses 3-11…

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 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.

So Hosea continues the father-son metaphor into verse 3.  Just as a human father would give loving attention to a son trying to learn to walk, so Yahweh had taught them by supporting them and then healing them when they scraped their knees.

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.

As Roy Honeycutt says…

“There are fewer pictures which more graphically portray a parent’s loving care and a child’s complete dependence” (Hosea and His Message, p. 74).

H. Ronald Vandermey writes:

“Note how the words of this verse parallel Moses’ statement regarding Israel’s being carried through the wilderness as a father carries his son (Deut. 1:31-32; 32:10-11)” (Hosea-Amos, p. 65).

Israel in the wilderness was like an infant son.  Yahweh lovingly taught Ephraim to walk.  Just as we teach our children to walk, one of the first steps of independence in their lives, so Yahweh taught Ephraim to walk, with the hope that they would grow to maturity.

C. S. Lewis, in the chapter called The Law of Undulation in The Screwtape Letters, an imaginary tutelage between Screwtape, a senior demon, and Wormwood, his protégé. Screwtape is explaining to Wormwood how God treats his favorites, by taking away his presence just like a parent eventually stops holding their child, in order for him to learn to walk on his own. Here is what Lewis, through Screwtape’s devious, but accurate understanding, claims:

“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Not only was Yahweh there teaching Ephraim, but He was also nearby training them, being “present” so that He could, at times, hold them up and keep them from falling.  I don’t imagine Israel was aware of how often Yahweh had kept them from falling to temptation, just as we are not.

He keeps us from falling, guiding us in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2).  But He also heals us when we do fall.  Or, as David says in Psalm 25:11, he forgives our iniquity, “though it is great,” again, for His name’s sake.

The VERB “healed” (BDB 950, KB 1272, Qal PERFECT) is often used for God forgiving sin, as seen in Hosea 5:13, 6:1; 7:1; Exod. 15:26; the parallelism of Ps. 103:3; and Isa. 1:5-6, examples of national sin described in terms of a physical disease (also note Isa. 53:5 and I Pet. 2:24-25).

The sad reality is that we, like Israel, tend to forget how much God has helped us along the way.  Ephraim “did not know,” or, more accurately, “did not acknowledge,” or “did not call to mind” God’s help all along the way—teaching, holding, healing; instructing, training, forgiving.

Despite this dynamic expression of love and identification, “They did not know that I healed them” (v. 3).  How insensitive each of us can become to the Lord’s grace.  This theme appeared earlier in Hosea’s indictment of Israel for receiving the gifts of God but ascribing them to Baal (cf. 2:8).

The line “did not know that I healed them” (v. 3b) alludes to the story of the Exodus.  In particular it looks back to Exodus 15:22-26, the story of the bitter water at Marah, which Moses miraculously purified after praying to Yahweh.  God then commented on this incident

26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

Hosea’s allusion to this incident implies how the Israelites quickly forgot both how the Egyptians were afflicted and how God repeatedly restored health to Israel in the wilderness (e.g., Numbers 21:6-10).

Hosea is drawing a strong contrast here between Yahweh and Baal.  Although they now had affections for Baal, it was not Baal who had taken them out of slavery in Egypt and took care of them every step of the way to the Promised Land.  Baal had done nothing for them; Yahweh had done it all.

Although some believe that Hosea continues the image of a father and son in verse 4, it is likely that he is communicating the same underlying concepts through a different image, that of a master and his ox.  The image of a loving herdsman taking care of his animal is in view here.

The description here is in harmony with the figurative language built upon the agrarian imagery of Hosea 10:11-13 and also provides a literary hook between the two chapters.

It is instructive that the Scriptures teach us to be compassionate towards our animals, to not abuse them but to take good care of them.  Here Hosea continues the complaint of Yahweh against them…

4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.

Notice that unlike verse 3, which ended by showing how Ephraim failed to acknowledge all the good that Yahweh had done for them, here the emphasis is totally upon what Yahweh had done.  Verse 5 will pick up Ephraim’s failure.

Instead of driving Ephraim, he led them.  He led them “with cords of kindness, with the bands of love.”  Unlike Egypt, who had bound them with a heavy yoke and showed no compassion upon them, Yahweh leads them gently.

Of course, this should remind us of the great invitation of Jesus Christ, to those burdened down by Pharisaic legalism, bent under the weight of the stipulations and accretions to the law of Moses, Jesus said…

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Here Yahweh says that he loosens the yoke, enabling them to eat as they plow.  Leon Wood notes, “Often a cattleman would lift the yoke from an ox’s shoulders, so that when it bent over to eat, the yoke would not slide down over its face and impede its feeding” (Hosea, 212-213).

We are saved because we are drawn by the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s call.  In John 6:44 Jesus speaks of the impossibility of us coming to salvation apart from the Father drawing us…

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

Not many, not some, but no one can come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ unless the father draws him.

Of course, in another of John’s writings, in the book of Revelation, near the end John is told to write:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)

But even here, where our desires are involved, there is also the calling of the Spirit and the church (gospel preachers) that awakens the desire in the heart of those who have developed a spiritual thirst for Jesus Christ and eternal life.

So Spurgeon explains…

“Understand, then, it is true that no man comes to God except he is drawn; but it is equally true that God draweth no man contrary to the constitution of man, but his methods of drawing are in strict accordance with ordinary mental operations. He finds the human mind what it is, and he acts upon it, not as upon matter, but as upon mind. The compulsions, the constraints, the cords that he uses, are ‘cords of a man.’ The bands he employs are ‘bands of love.’” (Spurgeon)

We are also sanctified because of the drawing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, placing within us God-honoring, righteousness-loving desires, and then giving us the enabling to do that.  This is what Paul is saying in Philippians 2:12-13.  Beginning in the last part of verse 12…

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We don’t work for our salvation.  It is a free gift, according to Ephesians 2:8-9.  But we do work out our salvation, we live in the power of our salvation in every sphere of life day by day.  But, we can only do this because God works in us (v. 13).  He is always working in us “both to will” (giving us new and holy desires) “and to work” (giving us the power to say “no” to temptations and yes to Jesus).

Any time we have a desire to do what is right and good and true, it comes from God, not from ourselves.  Whenever we actually follow through and do what is right and good and true, that is not because we had the willpower and the strength to accomplish it, but because God provided that power.  It was working within us.

Yahweh was doing something similar for Ephraim.  He brought them out of slavery to Egypt, giving them freedom (within the boundaries of the law).  He loosened their restraints and “bent down and fed them.”

Almighty Yahweh, before whom we should always bow, stooped down to feed them.  This reminds me, and probably you as well, of that wonderful passage of Paul in Philippians 2, where he shows the servant attitude of Jesus Christ…

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Christ came down; He bent down; He served and died on the cross.  Yet He was and is and forever will be the King of kings and Lord of lords!

The point in these two verses is that just as any good father or animal owner would act and compassionately toward his child or animal, so the Lord has dealt tenderly—even most affectionately—with Israel.

Derek Kidner, in his characteristic way of driving the point home, says:

“Every detail of this pampering drives home the extraordinary graciousness that Israel has experienced, far beyond anything that she had any right to expect, or any prospect of receiving at the hands of their new masters.  The next paragraph will make the last point brutally clear” (The Message of Hosea, p. 102).

Referring to verses 1 through 4, and verse 8, G. Campbell Morgan wrote:

“… do you know of any passage in the Old Testament or the New, more wonderful in its revelation of the love of God than that?” (The Unfolding Message of the Bible, p. 202).

Having described His deliverance, and loving care and guidance for Israel (vv. 1, 3-4), the Lord now declares that judgment now must come to His people (vv. 5-6). This is because of their longstanding and abiding sinfulness (vv. 2, 7).

5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

Although it is against His deepest desires (cf. vv. 8-9), Yahweh will “give them over” like we read He does to any civilization (cf. Romans 1:24, 26, 28) which turns their back on Him.

“Ever since chapter 7, with its picture of Ephraim flitting between Egypt and Assyria like a flustered bird (7:11), every chapter has named one or both of these great powers as her obsession and her downfall” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 103).

God’s sentence for the near future remains the same as that delivered previously: in accordance with the covenantal stipulations Israel will return to Egypt (cf. 7:16; 8:13; 9:3-6). By “Egypt” is meant primarily Israel’s fall to the Assyrian forces and deportation to their lands.  Even though some of Israel’s exiles might escape to Egypt, theirs would not be a pleasant experience there.

Thus, what Hosea is saying is that Israel’s judgment will be like a reversal, back to the slavery they experienced in Egypt.  However, the actual physical location of this exile would be Assyria.  Having rejected Yahweh as King, they would henceforth have Assyria as their king.

The key issue is their failure, in fact their refusal, to repent.  Because Israel refused to “return” (Heb. shub) to Yahweh after so many appeals by His prophets (v. 2), He would “return” (Heb. shub) the nation to captivity.

This refusal to repent is ultimately what sent Israel into captivity.  It was not their sins, in particular, which deserved this judgment, but their refusal to turn back to God when they had the chance.

Likewise, no one is in hell because they have sinned, but because they refuse to repent of their sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation.  This is what John is referring to in John 3:19-21.

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. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

When sinners love their sin they will not come to the light, they love their sin and don’t want to be forgiven.

This condemnation of their refusal to repent is described further in v. 7…

7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.

Their inclination (their “bent,” a word that means “impaled, addicted to, hung upon”) is not to draw near to Yahweh, but to turn their backs on Him.  Truly, the nation was hooked on, addicted to, their sin and none was willing to turn back to Yahweh.  As a result, He would turn from them.  Apparently in the dire distress of those days, they would “call out to the Most High,” but it would be too late.  He would not hear them and would not deliver them “at all.”

David Hubbard notes that that the word “call” ties us back to vv. 1-2 which “play on the contrast between Yahweh’s call and the seductive calls of the Baals” (Hosea, p. 203.)

Their military defeat is pictured in v. 6

6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels.

False prophets would counsel them to depend upon their fortified cities when their former allies turned against them.  Enemy soldiers would swarm around Israel’s cities and break down the gate bars that secured them against foreign attack.  All places of refuge will fail when the day of reckoning arrives.

They would consume the Israelites because of the decisions the Israelites had made to depart from the Lord (cf. Mic. 6:16).  These were the result, in part, of false prophets’ advice.

Yahweh had fed His people (v. 4), but now the sword would feed on them (cf. Isa. 1:19-20).

Israel has put its trust in fortresses (v. 6; cf. 8:13-14; 10:14) and other gods (i.e., especially Baal, v. 7; cf. 9:10; 10:1), but none of these would be able to save them when the invader came.

In another listing of threes Israel’s cities are depicted as witnessing the flashing, swirling, cutting swords of the enemy, the fall of the city gates and their supposedly strong fortresses turned into graveyards.  For the dead shall lie everywhere within their precincts (v. 6).

It was all so needless. If only they had trusted Yahweh who alone could protect them rather than their supposedly impregnable fortresses.  Moreover, only the Lord could really promote the welfare, which no foreign power or supposed god could provide.  But to the contrary, they called to a “higher power” which could do neither (v. 7).

Even in the midst of this determined rejection, Yahweh goes on to cry out…

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

But we will have to wait until next week to answer the questions that these verses bring up.

Until next week, soak yourself in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

 

Yahweh’s Passionate Love for Israel, part 1 (Hosea 11:1-2)

Over the last few months we’ve been examining Yahweh’s judgments that He would bring upon Israel for their sin.  Yet, in spite of all their sins, Yahweh still loved them.  He couldn’t stop.  He had covenanted Himself to them at Sinai.  Actually, God’s faithfulness to faithless Israel goes back even further to the Abrahamic Covenant.  That covenant was unconditional and Yahweh will keep His promises to Abraham.

However, the Mosaic covenant was conditional.  To enjoy blessings within their homeland required obedience to the law and faithfulness to worship Yahweh alone.  Because they had rejected Yahweh in favor of pagan gods and had kept breaking the law, God must discipline them.  Yet, like a loving father or mother today, while disciplining their heart is breaking and they still love their child.

Hosea 11 contains the most poignant yet touching words in all of Hosea. It features a sharp contrast between God’s tender reminiscences of His early relationship with Israel and yet His sorrow at their rejection of Him for Baal despite all that He had done for them (vv. 1-4).  His people had taken for granted His love and care for them, and the Lord was concerned for their constant lack of fidelity, which now necessitated their coming judgment (vv. 5-7).

In a second display of His compassion the Lord reveals that His abiding love for Israel would mean that His judgment could not and would not spell the end for His people (vv. 8-9).  For in a future day Israel would respond to His call and they would return to their homes and His blessings (vv. 10-11). (Richard Patterson)

H. Ronald Vandermey also notices that Hosea delves into the past, present and future of redemption. Verses 1-4 show how the past love of God for Israel was met with ingratitude, then vv. 5-7 show the inevitability of punishment in the present, while vv. 8-11 reveal how Yahweh’s continued compassion spells hope of future restoration for Israel.

Hubbard believes that this chapter, through v. 11, “draws to a close the second major division of the book which began at 4:1.  Its final words of hope (vv. 10-11) recall the promise of 3:5

5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.

And anticipates Israel’s penitent return predicted in Hosea 14:3

3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.  In you the orphan finds mercy.”

Listen to how Hosea puts this now in Hosea 11…

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 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. 12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, better known as How Do I Love Thee goes like this:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

How does Yahweh love thee, O Israel?  Hosea says, “let me count the ways.”

  • He loved you when he called you to sonship, though there was nothing remarkable about you (vv. 1-2; Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
  • He loved you when you failed to acknowledge His gifts and rejected His love (vv. 3-4).
  • When you abandoned Him, He still loved you and loves you still (vv. 5-7)
  • He loves you with a compassionate agony that would not give you up (vv. 8-9)
  • He loves you with a persistence that will ultimately draw you back into a relationship of love with Him (vv. 10-11).

The theme of love is found in varied degrees throughout the book of Hosea.  From the love of the prophet, which was the basis of his purchase of Gomer, to Yahweh’s love for Israel, as reflected in one divine expression after another, the theme occurs.  Chapter 11 is the high-water mark of this emphasis.

Derek Kidner says…

This chapter is one of the boldest in the Old Testament—indeed in the whole Bible—in exposing to us the mind and heart of God in human terms.  We are always in danger of thinking of divine majesty in terms which we have learnt from earthly potentates [Kidner, by the way, is British]….Even when we speak of God as Father we may hesitate in case we read too much into the word.  But our chief danger is in reading too little from it, drawing our ideas either from an earthly father’s indulgence, caring too little for his children’s training, or from his self-indulgence, taking the convenient path of a domestic tyrant.

Here, by contrast we are made to see this tile in terms of accepted cost and anguish.  God as a father is rebuffed, torn between agonizing alternatives, may seem too human altogether; but this is the price of bringing home to us the fact that divine love is more, not less, ardent and vulnerable than ours….Once more, as in chapter 3, it is He, not we, who sets the pace and who stays the course against every discouragement and provocation that ingratitude can offer. (Kidner, Hosea, p. 100).

Hosea begins…

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

Notice that Yahweh uses both nouns (child, son) and verbs (loved and called) to shout out His amazing love for Israel.

Hosea again goes back to Israel’s beginning, when Yahweh delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the wilderness and cared for them.  More than once we’ve been reminded of the bright promise of Israel’s early days, only to rapidly fade (cf. 6:4; 9:10; 10:1, 11; 13:1, 4-6).

The word “child” indicates immaturity and helplessness, but the word “son” indicates a person who now has full rights and will be the heir.  The covenant Yahweh made with Israel was like an adoption, sealed at the Exodus and at Sinai (cf. Hosea 12:9; 13:4).

Love is the theme of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, just as it is with you and me.  Just as “in love he predestined us to adoption” (Ephesians 1:4), so in elective love God called Israel “my son.”

Here, by the way, notice that Hosea has shifted away from the husband-wife language so prevalent in chapters 1-3.  But if there is any love that is a near rival, it is the love between a parent and child, a father and son in this case.

What man among us has not longed for a close relationship with his father?

John Stevenson touches on this nerve when he writes:

That touches a nerve because there is something within all of us that hungers for the love of a father.  Perhaps you are one who hungered for that which was not given.  That is very often the case.  Or perhaps you had the love of your earthly father but still hungered for a greater expression of that love and acceptance than which you perceived.  I can still hear the words of my younger brother as we wrapped our arms around one another at the funeral of our father as he said, “Why didn’t he ever talk to me?” (http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/hosea11-01.html)

It reminds me of this story…

No one could really say why he ran away. Or perhaps he didn’t, but was kicked out of his home by his father for something foolish that he said or did. Either way, Paco found himself wandering the streets of Madrid, Spain, with hopes of entering into a profession that would most likely get him killed – bullfighting. Those who train under a mentor have a good chance of surviving this profession, but Paco’s memory of his mistakes and guilt over what happened blindly drove him to this one way street to suicide.

But that was the last thing his father wanted, which is why he tried something desperate which he desperately hoped would work. There was little to no chance that he would be able to find Paco by wandering the streets of Madrid, so instead he put an advertisement in the local newspaper El Liberal. The advertisement read, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.”

Paco is such a common name in Spain that when the father went to the Hotel Montana the next day at noon there were 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers … and waiting for the forgiveness they never thought was possible!

So in v. 1 the Lord first reminded His people that when Israel was in its early days as a nation, like a youth, He loved the nation (cf. Exod. 4:22-23).  As often is the case, loving refers to choosing (cf. Gen. 12:2-3; et al.).  God chose Israel for special blessing among the world’s nations and in this sense loved him.

Nothing in Israel (or us) merits God’s love.  It is freely and graciously given.  It was not because of Israel’s religious activities, nor her strength or numbers or potential, it was simply because Yahweh chose to love them.  Deuteronomy 7:7-8 reminded a new generation of Israelites…

7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The reference to the “oath that he swore to your fathers” in v. 8 is a reference back to the promise Yahweh had made with Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

It was this quality of unmerited love that called Israel into existence at the time of the Exodus.  When God met Moses at the burning bush, commissioning him to go deliver Israel from Egypt, he told him he should say to Pharaoh,

Exodus 4:23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'”

Just as it was God’s undeserved, unearned love that redeemed Israel, so it is that same undeserved, unearned love that redeemed us out of slavery to sin and Satan.  We are now part of God’s family—His sons and daughters.

This verse, Hosea 11:1, will be quoted by Matthew.  After the wise men had returned home, refusing to tell King Herod where the Christ child was, Matthew records…

13 Now when they [this is, magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Scholars debate over whether Matthew is taking this verse out of its context, or whether he gives us license to do the same.  One of the things we must remember is how often Matthew compared the experiences of Israel with that of Jesus.  In Matthew 3 Jesus is baptized, just like Israel was “baptized” by going through the Reed Sea.  In Matthew 4 Jesus triumphs over temptation after 40 days in the desert, unlike Israel which fell to temptation in their 40 years in the desert.  So it is not necessarily surprising that Matthew intentionally compares Israel and Jesus here.

Just like Yahweh called Israel, His Son, out of Egypt, so God will call Jesus, His greater Son, out of Egypt.  Kiel makes the comparison:

“Just as Israel grew into a nation in Egypt, where it was out of the reach of Canaanitish ways, so was the child Jesus hidden in Egypt from the hostility of Herod.”

Matthew did not mean that Hosea had Jesus Christ in mind or was predicting His exodus from Egypt when he wrote, but that Jesus’ experience corresponded to what Hosea had written about Israel.  He saw the experience of Jesus as analogous to that of Israel. (Thomas Constable)

The Scofield Bible also has this note:

“This is a reference not only to the exodus of Israel from Egypt but also to the fact that all of God’s dealings with Israel were based upon the love that He would show in calling His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, back from the comparative safety of Egypt in order that He might suffer and die to accomplish His great redemptive work.”

If Yahweh’s love is a constant theme in Israel’s history, so Israel’s stubbornness is persistent.  Verse 2 tells us…

2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

This “the more I…” “they more they…” has been a repeated emphasis of Hosea, found also in 4:7 and 10:1.  No matter how much good God did for them, they turned their backs on Him!

God’s calling of Israel was not just a one-time event.  Through the prophets He had called to them time and time again, calling them back to righteousness and covenant loyalty.  But the more the prophets appealed to the people to follow the Lord, the more the people turned aside from following Him.

This must be immensely frustrating to God, to abundantly pour out His blessings, to give His children chance after chance to repent so that they can really enjoy those blessing, and to see them turn away from Him to other gods.  Somehow, the empty calls of the idols had more drawing power than Yahweh’s goodness to them.

Kidner says that “Israel’s sin, so far from springing from ignorance or hardship, was their reply to heaven’s kindness and concern” (Kidner, Hosea, p. 101).

They even went so far as to embrace Baal and to burn incense to images.  Both were in clear violation of the standards in God’s law (cf. Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 5:7-8).

Although this was the present reality—Baal worship—in Israel, it is likely Hosea is again showing how this was a persistent problem in Israel by pointing back to the Exodus and the incident at Baal-Peor, where Israelites got their first taste of worshipping a Canaanite god.

A number of texts expand the historical perspective of the exodus account by recording the redeemed people’s whining ingratitude … (cf. Exod. 14:11; 15:14; 16:3; 17:2, 3; 32:1; Num. 11:1, 18-20; 14:2-4; 20:5; 21:5; Deut. 1:2-6).”

No matter how much Yahweh had done for them, it was never enough, never good enough.  Satan always deceives us into thinking that ultimately God is not being good to us, that He is withholding something from us that we need.  So, through sensuality or religion, he offers us something to relieve our pain or restore our pleasure.  But it is a lie.  It is an illusion.  It may bring “pleasure for a season” (Heb. 11:25) but it cannot deeply satisfy.

 

 

Israel Reaps the Whirlwind, part 10 (Hosea 10:8-15)

For several chapters now, from Hosea 8 to Hosea 10, Hosea has been showing Israel how they were reaping, and would be reaping, what they had sown.  The controlling metaphor throughout this section of Hosea comes from Hosea 8:7 “they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”  This is a basic principle of life, repeated by Paul in the New Testament when he tells us we “reap what we sow.”

As in agricultural life, we reap in like kind as we sow (wind and whirlwind; worshipping fertility gods, being childless; relying on other nations for protection and being destroyed by them).  We never reap at the same time we sow, which sometimes gives us the illusion that we can get away with it.  And we always reap more than we sow.

In Hosea 10 we’ve seen Hosea picture Israel as a vine, planted by God, but yielding bad fruit, in vv. 1-8.  Hosea changes metaphors in the last part of this chapter, calling Israel a stubborn calf, in vv. 9-15.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get to verse 8 last week, so although it goes with the previous section, we will deal with it today.  Hosea has been talking about the destruction of the nation—losing their homeland, their political leaders and their idols.  Then, continuing the devastation of their false religion he says…

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.”

Aven is Bethel, the place where Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves. The other was in Dan.  The Assyrians would also destroy the sites of the idolatrous shrines at “Aven” (wickedness, i.e., Bethel [or Beth-aven, cf. v. 5]), where the Israelites had sinned.  Ironically, when the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, the Lord had commanded them to destroy such places (Num. 33:52; Deut. 12:2-3).

Because they failed to obey, God would now use the Assyrians to destroy these idolatrous shrines.  The result, due to the exiling of the people of Israel, is that “thorn and thistle” would cover these altars, showing their disuse over a long period of time.  Not only would the land be devastated, but idolatry would become extinct in those places.  Once busy pagan altars would be “closed for business.”

Interestingly, the first time “thorn and thistle” occur together in the Scriptures is in the original curse upon Adam in Genesis 3:18, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”

It is also found in Hebrews 6:8

But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

That is speaking of unbelievers and how their lives will be fruitless and ultimately judged.

The fierce destructive force of the Assyrian army would lead the Israelites to ask for the mountain to “cover us” and the hills to “fall on us.”  If you think you’ve heard that before, it is the exact words out of the mouths of unbelievers during the tribulation period, when they begin to experience the judgments of the wrath of the Lamb are poured out in the breaking of the seven seals.

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Cf. also Luke 23:30)

Thus, both “thorns and thistles” and the desire for mountains to fall upon oneself only occur in judgment of sinners.

Thus, the Israelites end up preferring death to life.  Instead of rescue, instead of calling out upon Yahweh to save them, they call to “Mother Nature” to kill them.

Now, in vv. 9-15 Hosea focuses upon Israel’s impending war with Assyria.

This section also opens with a reference to an event in Israel’s past history (cf. 9:10; 10:1; 11:1).  Announcements of war punishment (vv. 9-10, 14-15) bracket Yahweh’s indictment of His people for their sins (vv. 11-13).  Notice also how Hosea once again looks back historically and geographically, locating their continued sin patterns in Gibeah (v. 9) and Bethel (v. 15).

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.

Hosea, in v. 9, again (as in 9:9) recalls the horrific sin that happened in Gibeah recorded in Judges 19.  It was such a despicable sin, so appalling, yet it typified the continued crimes of Israel against one another.  Notice how Hosea speaks of past sins “you have sinned” as continuing into the present.

Did Israel consider itself a scene of progressive grandeur?  Such is not the case, for current Israelite society is as vile as in those early days in the incident at Gibeah.  For immorality, violence, and injustice are rampant throughout the land.

I think Hosea intends to shock Israel.  He wants them to face the fact that indeed, they are “that bad.”  He doesn’t want them to justify themselves, or minimize what they have done, but to see it as the bald-faced atrocity that it is.

The Lord’s rhetorical question in verse 9 emphasizes the fact that war accompanied the evil acts of that time (cf. Judg. 20).  It would do so again.  The tribes had gathered together against Gibeah in that earlier episode: this time foreign nations will march against Israel and overwhelm it.

The Israelites had sinned consistently since the days of the atrocity at Gibeah (Judg. 19—20; cf. 9:9; Isa. 1:10).   Hosea seems to be calling the Israelites to take up arms, as the tribes had done against Benjamin back in Judges 19-20, to right the wrong that had been done.  Hosea asks…

Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?

Since there was no one to rise up, like Phineas at Baal-Peor, or the Israelites against Benjamin in Judges 20, Yahweh himself would bring another nation to discipline them.

10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

All that happens is by God’s pleasure.  Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”  Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will…”

The juxtaposition of God’s pleasure and the nations actions indicate that Yahweh is ultimately in control and the nations do as He desires.  God will use Assyria as His instrument of judgment upon Israel.  OT prophets frequently linked the first cause (the Lord) with secondary causes (here, the nations).

At the Lord’s chosen time, He would chasten (punish, discipline, cf. 5:2) His people by binding them as prisoners, harnessing them to their sins (cf. v. 11).

What is meant by Israel’s “double iniquity”?

It is possible that it refers to “their original guilt because of their sin at Gibeah and their present guilt because of their sin at Bethel” (Wolff, p. 184).  Another view is that it refers to the sin of forsaking God and the sin of forsaking His appointed Davidic kings (Keil, 1:133; Pfeiffer, p. 813).  It is also a play off the name Ephraim, which means “doubly fruitful.”

Hosea goes on to say…

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.

Vv. 11-13 is punctuated with agrarian images, again alluding to the issue of fertility.  “Ephraim was a trained calf” is another allusion to Israel’s beginnings.  The Lord had spared Israel the yoke; she loved to thresh in his field (cf. Deut. 25:4).  But that freedom has been abused.  Instead of justice and righteousness, Israel “plowed iniquity” (v. 13).  And again, they would reap what they had sown, reaping “injustice.”

Derek Kidner notes…

“Threshing was a comparatively light task, made pleasant by the fact that the creature was unmuzzled and free to eat … as it pulled the threshing sledge over the gathered corn” (Hosea, pp. 97-98).

Ephraim had abandoned this comparatively light service in preference for becoming yoked to sin (v. 10). As punishment, Yahweh would yoke the people of both Northern (Ephraim/Jacob) and Southern (Judah) Kingdoms to an enemy who would greatly restrict their movements and force them to do hard work.

Ephraim’s freedom had been misused, so now they would be brought under the yoke of slavery.

Unfortunately, Israel has abused her status with God by its sin and self-indulgence.  As McComiskey points out, “She was like a playful, unbridled heifer that enjoyed its freedom from the drudgery of hauling heavy loads.  Like the heifer in Hosea’s analogy she had not experienced the strictures of divine law; [but] the nation exulted in the unrestrained liberty of the nature cult.”

In the midst of the judgment in vv. 11 and 13 is another call to repentance.  They should cultivate righteousness with a view to reaping the Lord’s covenant loyalty (chesed).  The act of “breaking up fallow ground” is what a farmer does when he plows land that has remained untouched for a long time, even forever (cf. Jer. 4:3).

Their hearts had become hardened and needed to be broken.  Jesus spoke of seed that fell upon the path and upon the rocky soil.  In either case it could not take root because either on the surface or just beneath the surface, the soil was hard and the seed was unable to penetrate there and germinate.

This is a figure for confessing sins and exposing them to God when they have remained unconfessed under the surface of life for a long time.

They were to do this because “now” it was time to “seek the Lord.”  They should not wait another moment.  Just as Paul says “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2), so here the act of confession and repentance must be both deep and immediate.  They must not wait or it would soon be too late.  Not only should their repentance begin now, but it should continue “until’ that time that Yahweh responds to them.

Were they to truly confess and repent, forsaking their sins, God would rain righteousness upon them, delivering them from their enemies.

David Guzik reminds us…

God use of the figures of sowing and reaping remind us that harvest is sometimes a season away.  Sometimes people expect to sow sin for years, but to immediately reap in mercy after sowing righteousness for one day.  Stick with sowing in righteousness, you will reap in mercy in due time.

Seeking YHWH is sinful Israel’s only hope of avoiding destruction (cf. 10:12; Isa. 55:6-7; Amos 5:4,6).  Fortunately, Judah did respond to Yahweh with repentance and would have another 150 years before they were taken into captivity.

However, Hosea points out that Ephraim was not sowing righteousness, but rather “plowing iniquity.”  As a result, she was reaping “injustice.”

The last half of verse 13 goes with vv. 14-15, indicating why God would bring the Assyrian army against them.

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.

Trusting in one’s own strength, one’s own self, is always a losing proposition.  Despite the “multitude of warriors” “all your fortresses shall be destroyed.”  They would experience total devastation.

The identity of “Shalman” in v. 14 is undetermined.  “Shalman” may refer to King Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian who conducted campaigns in the West in the ninth century B.C.   Another identification of “Shalman” is King Salamanu, a Moabite ruler who was a contemporary of King Hoshea of Israel, whose name appears in a list of kings who paid tribute to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III.  A third possibility is the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, who prepared the way for Israel’s captivity by invading the land (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-6).

The location is also undetermined.  “Beth-arbel” could refer to the town of “Arbela,” about 18 miles southeast of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee), or to “Mt. Arbel,” two miles west of that sea.

In either case, the battle had been a bloody one that the Israelites of Hosea’s day remembered vividly.  The enemy had slaughtered mothers and their children without mercy.

This was a gruesome aspect of Assyrian exile.  The army killed all of the very old and very young who could not travel into exile.  This, of course, included pregnant women.  This was done to shock and traumatize the population (cf. 13:16).

Hosea closes this oracle with a strong warning that a similar fate awaits God’s people in the Northern Kingdom (v. 15).  For their spiritual wickedness, which began and yet continues in the cult religion at Bethel, has become so degraded that Israel must be annihilated.  When that day of reckoning would come, cult centers like that of Bethel would be destroyed and Israel would no longer have a king. It was a sober warning, which could be ignored only with deadly consequences.

Leon Wood points out…

“Since her destruction would occur ‘when that day dawns’ (meaning the very beginning of the day of battle), it is noteworthy that Israel’s final king, Hoshea, was taken captive by the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser V before the actual siege of Samaria began.” (“Hosea.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. p. 211)

Trusting in oneself is the essence of sin.  It leads to the pride which keeps us from admitting our need for God’s help or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Under the New Covenant we have to understand that we cannot trust in our own efforts to gain eternal life or even to free ourselves from our sin patterns.  The essence of the Christian life is taking our confidence off of ourselves and put in totally on Jesus Christ alone.