Paul, Apostle of Joy

Today we’re starting a new series of message on the book of Philippians.  The tone throughout the book is one of joy.

Joy is a central theme in the book of Philippians (even if not the primary theme). There are 15 explicit references to some form of either the noun “joy” (chara in Greek) or the verb “rejoice” (chairo) in this short letter.

    1. Paul prays for the Philippian believers with joy (chara) because of their partnership with him in the gospel. (1:4-5)

    2. He rejoices (chairo) that Christ is proclaimed – even when Christ is proclaimed with impure motives. (1:18)

    3. He rejoices (chairo) that his current hardship will turn out for his deliverance, through the prayers of the believers and the help of the Spirit. (1:18-1:19)

    4. Paul is convinced that the continuation of his ministry to the Philippians will contribute to their “progress and joy (chara) in the faith”. (1:25)

    5. Paul has joy (chara) when the believers are unified and single-minded. (2:2)

    6. Paul would be glad (chairo) in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain. (2:17)

    7. Paul would rejoice with (synchairo) the believers in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain (2:17)

    8. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also be glad (chairete) in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)

    9. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also rejoice with (synchairete) him in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)

    10. Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus back to them, so that they can rejoice (chairo) in seeing him again and be less anxious about his health. (2:28)

    11. Paul encourages the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus back with joy (chara), since he risked his life for the work of Christ. (2:29)

    12. Paul has no problem with frequently repeating the reminder to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord,” because he knows how important it is. (3:1)

    13. Paul encourages the Philippians to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord always.” (4:4)

    14. For added emphasis, Paul again commands the Philippian believers to rejoice (chairo). (4:4)

    15. The Philippians’ renewed ability to support his ministry caused Paul to rejoice (chairo) in the Lord greatly. (4:10)

I think we can rightly say that Paul himself was an apostle of joy.  I teach my congregation at Grace Bible Church that joy comes from thanking God for His grace.  You see, in the Greek language, all three words—joy, give thanks and grace—come from a common Greek word root—Char.  “Joy” is Chara, “give thanks” is eucharisteo and “grace” is charis.  I believe that God, and Paul, intentionally links these words together to show us a key spiritual truth—whenever we need more joy, we need to concentrate on identifying God’s gracious dealings with us and then intentionally and verbally give thanks for them.

Paul’s joy is not at all dependent on his circumstances.  Although he has been imprisoned for almost four years (1:12-18), he still rejoices (1:18).  Even were he to be sentenced to death for his ministry, still he would rejoice (2:17, 18).  Paul had learned to be content in whatever his present condition (4:11).

Paul’s joy was related to his calling and his personal experience of the free gift of God’s grace.  He referred to “my grace” (1:7).  The grace he had been given was the reason he could rejoice in spite of his chains.  He had an enormous passion for preaching the grace given through Christ (1:12-18).  His joy came from knowing the name of Jesus was getting the attention it deserved.  That’s what mattered most to Paul.  When our joy lies in actually fulfilling our calling, the criticisms and persecutions of the world won’t make much difference.

Paul’s joy was also in people.  His life and sense of well being were always tied to the success in the faith of those he ministered to.  He calls the Philippians “my joy and crown” and exhorts them to stand fast (4:1).  He urges the church to “complete my joy” (2:2).  He describes in detail how they can do that (1:27—2:18).  If they will accomplish it, he says, he will be able to rejoice that his labors with them have not been in vain (2:16).  Self-centered people don’t have that kind of feeling for others.  Neither do they have much joy.  The joy of Paul and the Philippians was related to the bond that joined them (2:17, 18).  We don’t pay enough attention to that bond these days.  There should be great joy in our oneness, our fellowship, our common bond in Christ.

Finally, Paul’s joy was primarily related to Christ.  Paul said, “We . . . glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3:3).  That is the explanation of everything else Paul has said.  Paul wanted the Philippians to know bad circumstances do not rob him of joy because his joy is in Christ.  Paul’s joy was in preaching Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of the followers of Christ.  It is Christ that was Paul’s joy, confidence and righteousness.  Paul knew that nothing matters but knowing Him (3:3-14).  We can know that when the Lord Himself is our joy (cf. Psalm 73:25) nothing can take it away.  Along with Paul we can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (4:4).

Unlike other people, who can let us down and sometimes stifle our joy, Jesus Christ is a rock who never changes.

Paul was born in the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 21:39; 22:3).  He was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5), originally named “Saul” but became known as “Paul,” an apostle to the Gentiles.

Image result for tarsusImage result for tarsus

Paul was brought up as a strict Pharisee (Acts 23:6), the protégé of Gamaliel (Acts 5:24; 22:4).  He excelled as a Pharisee (Acts 22:4; Phil. 3:5) and became a persecutor of the early Christians (Acts 7:58; 8:3-22; 26:9-11).  He had also learned the trade of tent stitching (Acts 18:3-20; 1 Cor. 4:12).

Image result for Acts 9 map

from Paul Miller’s Casual English Bible, Acts

Paul was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), his destination for arresting Christians.  After his conversion he started preaching (Acts 9:20-22), but then spends 3 years in the Arabian desert (Gal. 1:11-17), getting some private tutoring from Jesus Christ.  He returned then to Damascus (Acts 9:23), then Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29), where he faced opposition and had to flee to Tarsus (Acts 9:30).  He spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:25), then returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30).

Back at Antioch Paul and Barnabas were commissioned for the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3).

Image result for first missionary journey

Map by Mark Meynell

This happened in A.D. 46-48.  That first missionary journey took them to Cypress and Asia Minor (what we call Turkey, today), where they made disciples and established new churches (Acts 13:13-14:21a).  Then they returned to encourage those new congregations (Acts 14:21b-25a), returned to Antioch to give a missions report (Acts 14:26-38).  They then went to Jerusalem to defend a grace-oriented gospel before the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

It was on Paul’s second missionary journey in 49-52 A.D. that Paul, Silas and Timothy first came to Philippi.  We will talk more about that next week.

Paul established a church there.  This newly established church was immediately willing to help Paul financially.

While in Thessalonica for the space of “three Sabbaths” the Philippians sent Paul funds more than once (Phil. 4:15-16). Turmoil and opposition (this time, Jewish) again forced him to leave town, and he traveled through Berea, Athens, and finally, Corinth, where he received a divine promise of protection, allowing him to settle down for eighteen months (50-51 CE).  During his stay at Corinth, the Philippian church again sent him aid (cf. 2 Cor. 11:7-9).

Paul's Second Missionary Journey, Baker Publishing Group

(3) In the spring of 52 CE, Paulbegan his third missionary journey.

Paul's Third Missionary Journey, conforming to JesusThis journey involved more than church-planting or follow-up; it also involved raising money for the Jerusalem congregations (cf. Acts 18:23; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:1-2, 12-23). “There was a theological as well as practical reason behind this effort. Paul’s emphasis on the gospel of grace entailed accepting Christian Gentiles without their being required to fulfill any Jewish ceremonies (cf. Gal. 5:2-6).  This approach raised a few eyebrows in some Jewish circles, created serious tensions even among moderate groups, and provoked furious opposition elsewhere (cf. Acts 15:1-5; Gal. 2:1-16).”  The opposition Paul was facing was from “Judaizers,” who attempted to sabotage Paul’s ministry of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

After almost three years in Ephesus, Paul resumed his fund-raising trek to Jerusalem.  He came to Macedonia in the spring of 55 CE.  Since the Philippians had given so much to Paul’s ministry, he asked nothing of them for this Jerusalem project.  However, they insisted, even though they themselves were poor (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5).

Paul finally brought the money to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:17-19).  Shortly after the visit, he was arrested and spent two years in prison in Caesarea (spring, 56 CE–summer, 58 CE).  During this imprisonment, the Philippians were both uncertain as to Paul’s fate, and lacked funds to help him (Phil. 4:10).

When Paul appealed to Caesar in the summer of 58 CE, he sailed for Rome for trial (Acts 25:10-12; 27:1).  News of his appeal would certainly have spread to his churches.  The Philippians once again would have wanted a share in his expenses (Phil. 4:10).

We can see why this congregation had become so dear to Paul.

So they dispatched Epaphroditus to Rome with their gift (Phil. 4:18).  But Epaphroditus came with more than money: he also had questions for the apostle about the church’s opponents, and the members’ own poverty (cf. Phil. 3:2, 18-19; 4:6, 19).  As well, the church was hoping that Paul would retain Epaphroditus as his assistant and send Timothy back to them (Phil. 2:19-30).

Paul, however, was unable to send Timothy until he found out more about his own circumstances. Instead, he decided to send Epaphroditus back (Phil. 2:25-30).  “Aware that the Philippians would be deeply disappointed to see Epaphroditus rather than Timothy return, Paul was faced with a serious challenge.  How would he cushion the inevitable disappointment?”

So Paul wrote this letter and dispatched Epaphroditus with his letter to the Philippians.

Moises Silva says,

“The very difficulty of the task that was before the apostle would draw from him, under divine inspiration, a message full of comfort and joy, rebuke and encouragement, doctrine and exhortation.  Quite beyond Paul’s own powers of anticipation, the letter he was about to dictate would speak to the hearts of countless believers for many centuries to come.”

So why did Paul write this letter?

First, it is a “thank you” letter to the Philippians thanking them for their most recent gift and reminding them how faithfully God takes care of him AND them.

Secondly, it is a response to the various questions and problems raised by Epaphroditus, including issues of poverty, quarrelsomeness, selfishness, as well as outside opposition to Paul’s gospel.

Finally, the letter is a diplomatic reintroduction of Epaphroditus in light of the Philippians’ hope that Timothy would be sent.

Daniel Wallace says that…

Philippians is essentially a “thank you” letter for the sacrificial giving that the Philippians had made on Paul’s behalf.  But because their own sacrifice was so great they began to doubt God’s continued provision.  Thus the themes of (1) thanksgiving for God’s provision, (2) regarding one another as more important than oneself, (3) rejoicing over their salvation in the face of opposition, and (4) trusting God for his care are all found in this occasional letter.

So let’s talk for a few minutes about joy.  Few people realize how important joy is to the Christian life, and fewer experience it consistently.

Of course, joy can be distinguished from happiness (although not all agree).  Happiness can be said to be tied to happenings, to favorable circumstances, so that we experience a certain degree of pleasure and satisfaction when circumstances turn out in a positive way for us.

On the other hand, and we see it in this epistle, joy is something that is present even when circumstances are not favorable.  Paul is in prison, unsure whether he will get out or continue to live, yet he expresses joy.

As I mentioned earlier, in order for us to experience joy, we have to tie that joy to things that are unchanging—like God’s character and promises.  We have to anchor it in unchanging spiritual truths about God and ourselves.

While temperament and the rigors of daily life can certainly challenge our joy, the real joy-sapper is living in sin.

Thus, Jim Johnston says…

But the most miserable Christians I’ve seen are those who live with a foot in both worlds.

They hedge their bets.  They have one eye on heaven and one on earth.  They call on the name of Christ, but they still try to find security, satisfaction, pleasure, or fulfillment from this world.  They’re riding the fence.  And they’re not happy.

Is that you?  The only way to have joy is to say a full “Yes” to God.  Which means saying “No” to the world.

The Psalms drive this truth home.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)

And again,

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)

And again,

I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are . . . my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

In the New Testament, James writes,

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:16–17)

Calvin put it this way:

It will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him. (Institutes, 1.2.1)

John Piper believes that God’s glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive, but that they fit together hand in glove.  When we find God to be our greatest joy, as He rightly is, then He is most glorified.  He says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.”

That is what is so wonderful about being a Christian—that we are clued in to what we bring us the greatest joy.

Sources for this message



Sources for this message

Love That Will Not Let Me Go, part 2 (Hosea 14:4-9)

Today is our last day in the book of Hosea.  I’ve enjoyed this series.  Hosea is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  In it, God calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Why?  Because God wants to illustrate the pathos of His love for faithless Israel.  Israel would betray Yahweh’s love by running to the Baalim and would rather trust in political alliances to save them than Yahweh’s mighty power.

In Hosea 14 Yahweh calls them once again to repentance.  He has been faithful to forgive them time and time again, but He is also just and will bring discipline.  Vv. 4-8 of Hosea 14 describes what Yahweh will do for Israel when they do finally turn in true repentance.

That will happen right at the end of the tribulation period, as described in Zechariah 12 when “the nations of the earth” are gathered against Jerusalem (12:3).  But Yahweh will deliver them so undeniably that the clans of Judah outside the city of Jerusalem will say “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the LORD of hosts, their God” (12:5).  “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.  And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (12:8-9).

Then notice what happens in the hearts of those who are delivered.  Verse 10 says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

I believe that is the moment Paul speaks about in Romans 11:26 when he says “All Israel shall be saved.”  Those Jews who survive to the end of the tribulation period will see Yahweh’s deliverance and realize that they crucified their Messiah and they will repent and believe.  Then Yahweh will do for them what he describes here in Hosea 14:4-8

4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew of Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

Remember that the name “Ephraim” means “fruitfulness.”  Yahweh is reminding them, and they will finally realize, that their fertility does not come from themselves or from the Baalim, but from Yahweh alone.

Like many promises of God, verse 4 starts with two “I will…” statements:  “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely.”  Why?  “Because my anger has turned from them.”

When they turned, or returned, to Yahweh, His anger would turn away from them.  That anger had to be satisfied before he could heal them and love them freely.  And God did that by offering His own Son to take the place of sinners and satisfy the wrath of God against sins.  That is our only hope and it is their only hope.

When God’s wrath is satisfied, He is no longer angry, but can love them freely and heal them.

Warren Wiersbe notes:

“When a person collapses with sickness, it’s usually the result of a process that’s been working in the body for weeks or months.  First an infection gets into the system and begins to grow. The person experiences weariness and loss of appetite, then weakness, and then the collapse occurs.  When sin gets into the inner person and isn’t dealt with, it acts like an insidious infection: it grows quietly; it brings loss of spiritual appetite; it creates weariness and weakness; then comes the collapse.”

That is what had happened to Ephraim, to Israel.  Soon, Assyria would come and conquer their armies, ravage them land and destroy their idols.  These Jews would never see their homeland again.

But at a future time—still future even today (though growing closer)—Israel will begin to return to the land and will finally repent and Yahweh will be able to heal them.

Israel was wounded (Hos. 5:12-14; 13:7-8) but could now be healed.

He will also love them freely, without constraint.  His justice being satisfied He can lavish them with love, just as He does to us who have believed in His Son Jesus Christ.

Now, remember that the book of Hosea has been about a love story.  Hosea married Gomer to illustrate Yahweh’s marriage to Israel.  As did Gomer, a returning Israel would find their “Husband” receiving them freely because of His great love for them.

In the earlier imagery Hosea had been told to seek his erring wife and bring her back to the family (3:1).  By that action he would demonstrate God’s own intention to “allure” His wayward wife Israel into a return to covenant relation with Himself (2:14-20).

God had warned His people again and again of their certain judgment and that He would withdraw Himself and leave them to their fate for whatever time was necessary (5:15a), yet He never stopped loving His people (11:8-9).  The implication was clear. Through Hosea His prophet God has been appealing to His people.

Although Israel’s restoration lay in the distant future because God’s people must yet suffer their deserved punishment, they have had divinely sent encouragement for them to return to full covenant relation with the Lord (6:1; 14:1-3).

In the verses that follow, there is language that is very reminiscent of the language between the lovers in Song of Solomon.

Yahweh will be able to love them lavishly and it will produce great expressions of love towards Israel.

In the familiar threefold literary style of the book the Lord uses three similes employing imagery of refreshment and revitalization (v. 5).

The Lord first promises to be “like the dew to Israel.”  Earlier Israel’s faithfulessness toward the Lord was declared to be as lasting and fleeting as the morning dew (6:4).  Subsequently, both Israel’s idolaters and idols were soon to disappear “like early morning dew” (13:3).  In a reversal of imagery the dew becomes symbolic here of a life-giving vitality that provides the source of renewed life and strength for Israel—God Himself—“I will be like the dew to Israel.”

Renewed water sources can bring health, beauty, and fragrance to a landscape.  A second simile promises that as once again in fellowship with the true Rain-giver (NOT Baal) Israel will “blossom like a lily.”  The image speaks of a renewed spiritual life that brings fresh blessings from the Lord of the covenant.

The lily may well also speak of the restored love relationship between wife Israel and “Husband” Yahweh, as we read in Song of Solomon 2:2; 5:13.  This spiritual restoration gives them life and health, true shalom.

In a third simile future Israel’s new strength and prosperity is compared to a cedar tree and its strong root system.  Although the word “cedar” does not appear in the Hebrew text, it is generally assumed that the reference is to the cedars of Lebanon.

It was those very cedars whose strength and fragrance were famous that were utilized in the building of the Temple complex (1 Kings 6:9; 7:2; 10:17; 1 Chron. 22:4).

Walton, Matthews & Chavalas (Bible Background Commentary, p. 760) remark that the cedars of Lebanon were “considered the most useful of the large growth trees in the ancient Near East” and sought after for their lumber as a “source for construction and a symbol of wealth in Mesopotamian literature, including the Gilgamesh Epic and the Annals of many kings from the Sumerians through the Assyrians.”

The idyllic imagery is furthered in verse 6 by stressing in yet another threefold list the growth and progress that will occur in a restored Israel.  New “shoots” testify that the nation is alive and well again.  That they are spreading out indicates that the nation is once again growing and expanding.

As Laetsch says

“No longer shall she be like a withered, dying, heath in the desert, but like a vigorous, flourishing plant spreading its shoots ever farther and farther” (Minor Prophets. P. 109).

 Israel’s prominence and influence will be felt far and wide (Jer. 16:19; Zech. 14:6).

In that day Israel’s splendor will be “as majestic as the olive tree, and will have the fragrance of Lebanon’s cedars.  Such will be the position of God’s people among the nations.“

Here, the attractiveness of Israel would appeal to both the eye and the nose.

Thus, “The three lines of the triplet allude to three aspects of Israel’s future status: stability (‘his shoots’), visibility (‘his splendor’), and desirability (‘his scent’)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 216).

This image also finds reflection in Song of Solomon 4:11, where the bride is addressed with the words “the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.”

God’s portrait of Israel’s grand future concludes with scenes of living once again in the Promised Land.  The people will find protection and rest under the shade of the new tree that is Israel.  Others will also seek to find their blessings in connection with the renewed Israel.

As Garrett observes, “If Israel is the metaphorical tree in whose shade others dwell, the conceptual unity of the text is maintained and the implied expectation, that Gentiles would in the eschaton would find blessing in Israel, agrees with many other prophecies of the future of the people of God.”

The remainder of verse 7 points to further productivity in the land.  Together with the previous mention of the olive tree, grain, and wine signifying God’s renewed blessings upon a newly faithful covenant people (cf. Hos. 2:8-9; Deut. 7:12-13; 11:13-14) the mention of the vine testifies to Israel’s fruitful condition.

Earlier Israel was likened to a luxuriant vine that had become wayward (Hos. 10:1-2).  In the future Yahweh would replant them and they would be luxurious.

The metaphor of Israel as a vine is quite familiar in the Scriptures (e.g., Isa. 5:2-6).  Together with the fig tree the vine often symbolized the blessedness of Israel’s covenant relation with Yahweh.  These included such things as security and serenity (cf. 1 Kings 4:25).  All of this God’s people will once again enjoy (Mic. 4:3-4).

The Lord’s final word through Hosea to His people is an impassioned one (v. 8).  Once more the most responsible tribe of Ephraim is singled out for rebuke.  It is expressed in terms of a rhetorical question (MT): “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?”

The expected answer is: “Absolutely nothing!”

Duane Garrett clarifies

“God’s parting word … does not mean that God once had business with idols but no longer does.  Rather, the point is that he has already spoken as much as he can endure to speak about the gods of Canaan” (Hosea-Joel, p.

Even more to the point is the fact that God and the false gods, which the idols represent, have nothing in common.  God has been patient with Israel’s idolatry even though this has been an affront to His holy character.  When Israel has been chastised and corrected, all traces of idolatry will disappear.

Israel has never needed or benefited from its fascination with idolatry.  As a matter of fact, it is Yahweh who has cared for Israel all along. That provision will be especially true of the promised future.

The promise that God would “answer” Ephraim is predicated upon Israel’s words of confession and petition for forgiveness, which Hosea has just urged his people to communicate to God (14:2-3).

God’s promise to answer is reminiscent of the familiar call-answer motif that so often speaks of intimate communion between God and His people.  The call-answer motif underscores the fact of God’s ready availability to come to the aid of His people for refuge and deliverance from danger or distress (Pss. 20:6-9; 81:6-7; 102:1-2; 138:8).

Unfortunately, Israel has failed to do so (Hos. 7:7), choosing rather to call upon human resources (7:11).

As here, the motif also has an eschatological setting (cf. Zech. 13:7-9).  So sweet will be that future restored fellowship between Yahweh and His covenant people that, “Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).

Israel must realize that its only basis for life lived on the highest plain is the Lord.  Previously Israel’s future blessing would make it “like an olive tree” (v. 6). In a reversal of imagery and in an unusual simile Yahweh compares Himself to a luxuriant tree with strong roots.

He alone is Israel’s true and unfailing source of power and success and it is He who provides real “fruit” to those who follow Him.

Ephraim was previously shown to be a fruitless plant (9:16), even though it had once been a fruitful vine.  For it had misconstrued and misused its God –endowed blessings by attributing its “fruit” to pagan deities such as Baal (10:1) and to raw military power (10:13).

Yet there is hope.  A repentant forgiven Israel could and will once again be fruitful for it will receive and acknowledge that its fruit comes from the Lord.  The life of God’s people will be lived out in true spiritual success that comes from their relation to Yahweh and surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.

The similes likening both Israel (v. 7) and Yahweh (v. 8) to trees is instructive.  If Israel is to be a productive, fruitful tree, it is because its character reflects and partakes of that of the Divine Tree.

The principle here anticipates Jesus’ teaching concerning the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). Christian believers produce “fruit” (Gal. 5:22-23) on the basis of their union with the risen Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27).

Hosea’s closing maxim provides the epilogue of the book.

9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Here Hosea is calling Israel to hear and give heed to what he has been preaching to them.  Whether they are wise and discerning is proven by their ability to understand and respond positively to his teachings.

Throughout the book Hosea has charged Israel with lack of knowledge and discernment.

As the recipient and transmitter of divine revelation Hosea issues here a final challenge.  The people should understand that it is God’s ways that are right.  Indeed, “The message of this wisdom saying and the entire Book of Hosea hinges on the categorical assertion that ‘the ways of the LORD are right’” (Charles H. Silva, “The Literary Structure of Hosea 9-14,” BibSac 164 (2007): 435-453).

But like the parables of Jesus centuries later, some would find those ways and walk in them, and others would stumble.

Unlike the rebellious or wicked person (cf. Ps. 1:6) who will stumble and bring on his own punishment (Prov. 16:25; 18:6-7), the wise man will succeed and avoid evil (Prov. 16:16-17), and also experience the Lord’s rich blessings (Ps. 119:1-3; Prov. 16:20).

Hosea’s advice is still relevant to today’s believers who walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and in the light of God’s revealed truth (1 John 1:5-7).

I hope that you have enjoyed the book of Hosea and will stay with me as we begin the book of Philippians next week.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go, part 1 (Hosea 14:1-3)

One of the things I love about the parable of the prodigal son is that it communicates the message: It’s always OK to come home.”  But coming home involved repentance on the part of the younger son.  In order to come home, we have to truly repent of our sins.

In Hosea 14 there is a call to come home and that call to come home must pass through the process of genuine repentance.  There is no other way.

Fortunately there is a way, a way out of our present predicament, a way beyond the level of our personal efforts.  Here in Hosea 14 we see Yahweh through Hosea calling the people to turn back, to make an about face and return to him.

It is the normal pattern for the Hebrew prophets to predict coming judgment but ultimate hope.  Hosea is not out of character here.  He has spent many chapters nailing Israel to the wall.  Their sins would be punished.  But beyond punishment lay hope.  Listen to the words of Hosea 14:

1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 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.” 4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. 9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

This is our last chapter in the book of Hosea.

Charles Spurgeon remarks on this chapter:

“This is a wonderful chapter to be at the end of such a book. I had never expected from such a prickly shrub to gather so fair a flower, so sweet a fruit; but so it is: where sin abounded, grace doth much more abound. No chapter in the Bible can be more rich in mercy than this last of Hosea; and yet no chapter in the Bible might, in the natural order of things, have been more terrible in judgment. Where we looked for the blackness of darkness, behold a noontide of light!” (Charles Spurgeon)

David Hubbard summarizes what we’ve seen in Hosea so far.  He points to the threats of judgment that have built up in the third section of Hosea (11:12-13:16), announcing a total and irreparable judgment that was soon upon them.

Here, in Hosea 14, Hosea is speaking to Israel’s distant future.  “His hope is that the divine constancy that has insisted on punishing a people who have abandoned their calling will reveal God’s holy love in forgiveness when the tattered remnant of the people seek it.  His approach to the future, there begins with a call to return (14:1-3), spelling out in detail the steps Israel must take to leave the days of judgment behind and move towards reconciliation.  That call is complimented by a record of God’s response in the form of a love song (14:4-8)” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 237).

Each term in the call to return (14:1-3) is chosen to recall and distill major aspects of Hosea’s messages to Israel.

This appeal is made to “Israel,” the nation.  We know from Israel’s history that Hosea’s generation of Israelites did not repent, but nevertheless, God’s invitation was open and genuine.  They cast off their God, but God did not cast off His people, whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:2).

The word “return” has been the characteristic way of stating God’s unfulfilled desire for Israel throughout the book (2:7, 9; 3:5; 5:4; 7:10, 16: 11:5; 12:6).  It is an old friend of Hosea.  He uses it twenty five times throughout his book.  But, as Derek Kidner aptly states: “Up to now it has brought only disappointment and reproach” (The Message of Hosea, pp. 120-121).

This word occurs four times in this concluding chapter (vv. 1, 2, 4, 7), expressing Yahweh’s longsuffering heart for Israel, as well as standing in contrast to the half-hearted return which Israel proposed in the earlier song in Hosea 6:1-3.  Remember that passage, the unfulfilled hope that it portrays?

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

How promising that had sounded!  But Yahweh saw right through the pretense and shallowness.

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

The reality is that Israel had persistently turned the wrong way, away from the Lord, as Hosea had described in 11:7

7 My people are bent on turning away from me

Although the term “backsliding” has been used to describe such a disloyalty, the reality is that this was not an accidental mistake, but a perverse and stubborn treachery, born of pride (7:10) and a settled preference for their sin (5:4).  That is why Yahweh knew that any attempts at repentance now was false.

Yahweh is named specifically as the destination of their return (“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God…”) because Israel’s confusion as to his nature and exclusive sovereignty over Israel has been the bone of contention between the prophet and people (cf. 2:16-17, where the very names of the Baals have to be eradicated in order that Yahweh’s true lordship be honored).

That exclusive right to their loyalty is driven home more forcefully by the addition, “the LORD your God…” (cf. 12:9 for this same self-introduction).

The need for return is expressed in the terms “stumbling” and “iniquity.”  That they have “stumbled” indicates the multiplicity of consequences that have accrued upon this defiant people, whose whole existence had become unstable and treacherously dangerous.

Sin makes life harder, as Jeremiah describes:

18:15 But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,

Later, Isaiah would tell Judah that the same fate had befallen them:

Isaiah 3:8 For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.

And even more graphic is Isaiah 59:10

10 We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men.

This word has been used twice before in Hosea in criticizing the attitude and actions of his people. In the first instance Hosea had challenged and condemned the priests as those most responsible for society’s spiritual infidelity and immoral behavior. For they have misled the people with their syncretistic teachings (Hos. 4:4-5).  In the following chapter (5:1-5) Hosea broadened the condemnation to include not only priests but also the upper class of society, especially those from the tribe of Ephraim (vv. 4-5).

They have all stumbled.

Given the paths they chose, Israel simply could not walk steadily and uprightly.  What they tripped over was their own iniquity.  According to Hosea 4:8 and 13:12, Ephraim was clinging to their iniquities as if they were priceless treasures.

The word “iniquity” itself has a sense of crookedness, which naturally causes stumbling.  “With a whole repertoire of terms at his disposal, Hosea chose this as the most encompassing and effective way of describing the endemic and manifold evil he decried.”

Again, this word “return” is used 4 times in this concluding chapter of Hosea’s prophecy.  First, Hosea calls his people to repent (vv. 1-2).  Then, Yahweh promises that his anger will turn (the same Hebrew word) from them (v. 4) and that the people would eventually return to Yahweh for their protection (v. 7).

The terms of a genuine return are listed in vv. 2-3:

2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 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.”

While we may be tempted to say “words are cheap,” they still reflect the reality that repentance involves a verbal confession.

The worship of the Israelites at this time was full of action—sacrificing to Baal, so Yahweh calls them to respond to him in words.  It is through heartfelt words that they would return to the Lord.

This is the same idea that Paul expressed in Romans 10:8-10But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. God commands us to communicate with Him in words, not only ideas or feelings or actions.

So E. B. Pusey says…

  1. “He bids them not bring costly offerings, that they might regain His favor; not whole burnt offerings of bullocks, goats or rams; with which, and with which alone, they had before gone to seek Him [cf. 5:6]; not the silver and gold which they had lavished on their idols; but what seems the cheapest of all, which any may have, without cost to their substance; words; worthless, as mere words; precious when from the heart; words of confession and prayer, blending humility, repentance, confession, entreaty and praise of God.” (1:136)

Some believe that the words are words of confession.  We know from the Greek language that confession meaning “saying the same thing.”  In particular, confessing our sins means that we say about our sins what God has said about them.

We don’t excuse them, minimize them, rename them, we acknowledge that we have sinned sins which God has condemned.  Possibly the best example of a confession in Scripture is found in Achan’s confession:

20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them.  And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Achan acknowledged that he had indeed sinned against Yahweh and describes exactly what he did, including the motivation (“I coveted them”) as well as the actual sin (“took them”).

Of course, David speaks about his confession in Psalms 32 and 51.

We are encouraged to confess our sins in 1 John 1:9

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Clearly, confessing our sins is a normal part of the act of repentance.

But most commentators believe we should treat “take with you words” as if it had a colon after it and the contents of the rest of vv. 2 and 3 are the actual things they were to say to Yahweh.

The first cry of their hearts will be “take away all iniquity.”  The word “all” comes first in this sentence, emphasizing the extent of their iniquity and completeness of the forgiveness they desired.

“The forgiveness pled for her is precisely what was denied in 1:6 and can be offered now only because judgment is complete.  Forgiveness deprived of justice would be a travesty of divine righteousness.  As 1 John 1:9 puts it ‘he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.’  The cross is the ground of forgiveness because it is also the seat of judgment.” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 239).

We are forgiven not because God winks at our sin, but because our sin was judged on the cross.  Jesus paid the cost in full and God’s justice was satisfied.

“Accept what is good” is notoriously difficult to translate in Hebrew, but it seems to suggest  the desire that Yahweh would take what was good in their confession at face value, even if not all of it was commendable.  Their confession was well meant and to be trusted.  Their prayer and praise were now “purged of the evil influence of Baalism” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 271).

The next clause is also difficult to translate, but the idea seems to be to pay God with the fruit of our lips.  “The prayer here is that God would pardon their transgressions and accept their prayers and praise as acceptable and good rather than reject them as tarnished by sin” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 271).  It describes a commitment to fulfill the promises they are making.

The three pledges of verse 3 wrap up the major needs of reform.  Each contains the word not and represents a turning in Israel’s behavior.

“Assyria shall not save us” is both a fact and a commitment.  The silly dove has finally come to his senses and ceased his flitting (7:11); the unturned loaf of bread is finally done to a turn (7:8); the chronic sufferer has decided at last to change doctors (5:13); the wild ass is seeking to eat from the Trainer’s hand (8:9); the true identity of the Great King has been discovered, and his palace is not on the Tigris (5:13; 10:6).

The clause “we will not ride on horses” makes sense when we recognize the military significance of horses (cf. 1:7; Joel 2:4).  This is therefore a graphic way of denouncing all trust in military might for survival or expansion (cf. 8:14; 10:14).  Since the kings and the military commanders are often linked in Hosea as sources of national weakness or wickedness (7:7, 16; 8:4, 10; 10:3; 13:9-11), this vow may carry with it an unspoken commitment to a different role for the monarchy, as had been hinted at in 1:11 and 3:5.

Finally, “and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands” show their renouncing their former trust in idols.  The phrase “the work of our hands” epitomizes the folly of idolatry as Hosea saw it: human beings worshiping what they outrank; “they use the creativity granted to them by their Creator, in whose image they are made, to fashion images to pray to—a blatant case of a creator bowing before a creature and hence turning all of reality topsy-turvy (cf. on 2:8; 4:12; 8:5-6; 13:1-2).  The tragedy is that the idol lacks the capacity of inter-personal exchange: We may say ‘Our God’ to what we make; it can never say ‘my people’ to us (cf. 2:23)” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 240).

The closing confession “In you the orphan finds mercy” heads us full circle back to the opening of the book.  It says, in effect, that Not-pitied is counting on divine pity and that Not-my-people orphaned by the severing of the covenant, is now trusting for restoration to the family (1:9-10; 2:23).

When we come to God with our words, it involves admitting the truth about ourselves and acknowledging the truth about God.  The truth is, as John Newton once said, “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior.”  And we, too, have been adopted into the family of God, never to be separated from His love.


There is No Other, part 3 (Hosea 13:12-16)

Thank you for joining me this morning in the book of Hosea.  Sadly, this book written to the northern kingdom of Israel, records the continuing rebellion of Israel and their determined judgment.  Yahweh had redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and taken them as a bride to himself.  He had cared for them, providing for them and protecting them.  They showed such promise in the beginning.  But very quickly their true colors began to show.  Even before Moses could descend from the mountain with the tablets of the law, Israel was dancing around a golden calf.  Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory and even from the beginning Israel would prove unfaithful to Yahweh, choosing to worship other gods.

Because of that, judgment was coming.  By the time Hosea is writing in chapter 13 of his prophecy, judgment was surely no more than a decade away.  Yet no one sees their destruction until it is too late, even those who are warned about it.

So, starting in Hosea 13:12 we read…

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pang of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Verses 12 and 13 give us a double picture of Israel’s complacency: first, by picturing all their unforgiven sin as a well-kept store of trouble for the future; then, by the analogy of a birth that goes terribly wrong.  Where there had been signs of early promise in Israel, it had all gone horribly wrong, like a still birth.

The first metaphor in v. 12, with the verbs for binding and keeping, or hiding, suggest how firmly and intentionally Ephraim cherishes her sinful behavior.  In the words of Jesus in John, she “loved darkness.”  She bundled it up and stored it like a precious family heirloom.

This idea of the sin of Ephraim being unforgiven (and by this point, unforgiveable), was first introduced to us back in chapter 10, verse 2, where Yahweh had proclaimed, “now they must bear their guilt.”

The worst words we could ever hear is that we must bear our own guilt.  The Father has provided His Son to bear our guilt, to take our curse upon Himself.  Yet, when we reject that sacrifice and try to satisfy God with our own righteousness, we end up bearing our own guilt.

I said a moment ago that Ephraim’s sin would be unforgiven and by this point unforgivable.

Listen to me, there will come a point when, if we continue to reject God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sin, instead trusting in our own goodness and righteousness, then we will be bound to our sin and have to bear it ourselves.

God’s wrath is against sinners.  Only those who by faith in Jesus Christ have their sin and guilt transferred to Him have any chance at forgiveness.  The reason hell is eternal torment for sins is that there is only one thing that can satisfy God’s wrath against sins and that is the death of His Son.

Like Israel, we may start out with early signs of promise, yet tragically find that it all comes to nothing.  All our righteousness is “like filthy rags” says Isaiah (64:6).  To get an idea of a modern equivalent, would you take used toilet paper, frame it, and hang it in a prominent place in your home?  Yet that is what we do with our righteousness.  “Look at me, look at how good I am (especially when compared to that guy).”

But God says, “No, the only thing that matters is my son.  He alone lived a righteous life.  Unless you rely upon His righteousness to become your righteousness you will die in your sins.”

Thomas Constable says…

Israel was like a baby that refused to come out of its mother’s womb, in the sense that it refused to leave its comfortable sin.  Despite the mother’s (God’s) strenuous efforts to bring the child into freedom, Israel refused to repent.  This was evidence that Israel was a foolish child.  She would sooner die, rather than leave her sins, apparently feeling that the proper time for repenting was not yet.

Oestreich sees in the metaphor of the unwilling baby “a strange and absurd idea.”  He goes on to give several reasons why such imagery “can be called absurd.  First, naturally the unborn son has no way of deciding whether he will be born or not… . Second, the son that does not want to be born denies his own existence” and … “the birth of a son is normally an occasion of great joy.”

Interestingly, Hezekiah, when Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against the city of Jerusalem, clothed himself in sackcloth and sent two emissaries in sackcloth to Isaiah the prophet, saying, “This day is a day of distress, or rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (2 Kings 19:3).  This is certainly a figure of speech relaying the fact that at a time when strength is needed (against the Assyrian army), none is to be found.

Hubbard remarks:

“The time of his birth—his rejection of his haughty independence and the declaration of his total commitment to Yahweh—was being strongly and regularly signaled [like a mother’s contractions] both by historic events and prophetic proclamation.  But he was not moving–a stubbornness that endangered the life of both mother and child” (Hosea, p. 232).

Hezekiah went on to suggest that maybe God had heard Rabshekah, the spokesman for Shalmaneser mocking God and that God Himself would rebuke those words.  Hezekiah was not an “unwise son” like Israel at this moment, but had wisely put His trust in Yahweh’s help.

Remember that Israel had put their trust in their own political leaders and alliances with other nations, but that was all for naught.  Their own kings were weak and the other nations had become deceptive.

So the real issue was not the strength to come to birth, but the wisdom to trust in the right strength.  The absence of wisdom was well documented in Hosea.  They were “without sense” in 7:11, engaged in practices “which take away the understanding” (4:12) and thus became “a people without understanding” (4:14).

It was in particular the inability to make the wise decision to trust God and return to him—that stands at the core of Israel’s folly.  This need for wisdom will be sounded again at the very end of Hosea’s prophecy, in the words “whoever is wise…” (14:9).

We should see some irony in this verse.  The worship of Baal in particular was an attempt to control fertility, both personally and agriculturally.  Yahweh here declares that their cult will be cut down and their hope in Baal was futile, indeed self-destructive.

Indeed, Israel is foolish.  It has chosen to ignore the fact that its accumulated and stored-up sins would surely one day come in for judgment.  Although in this very late hour there yet might be hope for divine forgiveness based upon genuine repentance and return to the Lord, God’s people nevertheless go on in their own stubborn ways.  They are like the unwise son who delayed or refused to submit to the birthing process.

So, verses 12-13 leave us with the picture that Israel would die in a still birth due to their folly.

Yet, Yahweh’s grace is never far away.  Verse 14 says…

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?

Whereas v. 13 indicates coming death, verse 14 promises coming rescue, or at least potential rescue.  I think Hubbard is right in saying that “verse 14a [is] an expression of his compassionate intent which has been frustrated by Ephraim’s foolish stubbornness” (Hosea, p. 233).  Thus, he translates these verbs, “I wanted to ransom…I wanted to redeem.”

Certainly Yahweh can rescue them even from the very precipice of death.  Rescuing beyond death will have to await the resurrection of Jesus.  The Psalms are filled with David’s expressions of confidence that Yahweh would rescue him from Sheol or death.

“This combination of sovereignty over the powers of death and the frustration at Ephraim’s failure to avail himself of this power—which failure turned his mother’s womb into his grave—lies at the heart of the divine complaint (cf. 11:1-9) and issues in the sharp commands implied in the rhetorical questions with which verse 14 closes” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 234).

The Lord asked, rhetorically, if He would buy the Israelites back out of Death’s hand.  Would He pay a price for their redemption?  No, compassion would be hidden from His sight; He would have no pity on them.  He appealed for Death (like a thorn bush) to torment the Israelites, like thorns tearing their flesh.  He called on the Grave (as a hornet) to sting them fatally.

Later in history, God would provide a ransom for His people from the power of the grave, and He redeemed them from death.  He did this when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again.  God’s future redemptive work for His people meant that death would not be the end for Israel, even though judgment in the near future was inevitable.

The Apostle Paul quoted the famous couplet in this verse in 1 Corinthians 15:55, and applied it to the resulting effect of Christ’s redemption on all of God’s people.  I love this declaration of the victory of the resurrection over death:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are words not of judgment and death, but salvation and victory—a reminder of the difference Jesus has made.

Death and the grave are not the final judgment and home of the believer, because God did provide a ransom and redeemed His people.  God has a glorious future, beyond His punishment for sin—for His own people—both for national Israel and for Christians.

In the long term, Israel will see the glory of God’s redemption and His power over sin and death.  In the near term, Israel will be chastened for their rebellion against God.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Once again (v. 15), Yahweh indicates how Israel had once showed supremacy.  He “flourishes” or “thrives” among his brothers.  You might remember that the name Ephraim means “flourishing” or “fruitful.”  In fact, Ephraim was a fertile area and, up until recently, had experienced great economic prosperity.

The imagery of Ephraim being compared to a fruit plant is in keeping with Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim’s father Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful bough near a spring whose branches climb over the wall” (Gen. 49:22).

This statement hearkens back to the promise that was once there, as we saw in verse 1 of this chapter:

1 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel.  But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.

Israel had once flourished in such a fertile setting (13:5-6).  But that greatness would soon be destroyed.  Ephraim’s wealth was vulnerable like an orchard to the east wind.

That “east wind” was Assyria, who invaded from the east and north.  Assyrians from the east were already on the move.  When that happens, all of Israel’s goods and treasures will be plundered and carried off.

Notice that this wind is also “the wind of the LORD.”  In all events, God is sovereign.  Assyria did not act or become victorious just because they decided and were stronger.  This wind blew and overcame Israel because Yahweh determined that they would.  This should be obvious from all the predictions of judgment Hosea has been leveling against Israel.

This wind of judgment “shall come,” a strong indication that what Yahweh predicted would definitely happen.

Then, in picturesque language Hosea said, “and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched.”  The figure of the “east wind” naturally fits with drying up the source of life.  Without water, one dies.

Like a sirocco, Assyria would sweep over Israel from the east and cause the nation of Israel to wither.  The Assyrians would plunder everything valuable in the land.

Then, speaking very literally, Hosea says…

it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

For years Israel had prospered, now “every precious thing” would be stripped from them.

Again, v. 16 emphasizes how Israel (in this case “Samaria” likely stands for the only part of Israel still independent), “shall bear her guilt.”  We’ve seen several times how Israel has come to the place where there is no hope of forgiveness.

I believe this is what the unpardonable sin is in the Gospels.  It is not a particular sin, or even one sin done many times, but is the sin of rejecting the provision for salvation God has given.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day attributed the works of Jesus to Satan and just proved their stubborn refusal of the grace that is found in Jesus.  In other words, the only truly unpardonable sin is just stubborn unbelief.

That is evident on ancient Israel’s part by the inclusion of the words “she has rebelled.”

In a very literal, and gruesome description, Hosea foretells that Assyria would slaughter Israel’s soldiers in battle (cf. Lev. 26:25), unmercifully execute Israel’s children (cf. Deut. 28:52-57; 32:25) and even cut open her pregnant women with their swords (cf. Hosea 10:14; 13:8; 2 Kings 15:16; Isaiah 13:16; Amos 1:13).  Thus, because of Israel’s foolishness, the child would not be born.

This gruesome form of execution killed both the mother and the unborn child, making it impossible for the coming generation to rise up eventually and rebel against the conqueror.  These were curses that the Lord warned would follow rebellion against the terms of His covenant (cf. Lev. 26:25; Deut. 28:21; 32:24-25; Amos 4:10).

Garrett concludes:

The final outcome of the fertility cult is the carnage of babies and pregnant mothers throughout the country.  The metaphor of Lady Israel and her three children, Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, has reached its denouement in a slaughter that is anything but literary and symbolic (Hosea-Joel, p. 268).


There is No Other, part 2 (Hosea 13:4-11)

Besides foretelling future events, one of the major roles of the prophets was to bring the people face-to-face with their sins and notify them of the judgments to come.  This has been a consistent theme in the book of Hosea as well.  Sometimes it is difficult for us to listen to passage after passage of judgments.  We get weary of it.  I’m sure Israel did too.  But like Israel, it is important for us to listen.

Here are the words of Hosea in chapter 13.  Hosea has just warned Israel that Yahweh would bring the judgment of exile against them because of their idolatries.  Then he says…

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. 9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?  Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath. 12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

This morning we will be looking at two tragic choices that Israel made (which we can also make today):  First, that Israel chose destruction over salvation.  Verses 4-8 show Israel turning away from the only Savior.  How many people do that today, rejecting Jesus as Savior, believing that they can find approval through their own good deeds.  They, too, end up destroying themselves.  Second, Israel chose human kings over the King of kings.  They relied on human strength over divine strength.  And how often do we today turn to ourselves—our own wisdom and ingenuity, our own efforts and strength, or own money to bail us out of situations we find ourselves in.  But we cannot save our marriages, our families, our jobs by turning to ourselves.

In the face of Israel flirting with the Baals, Yahweh forcefully announces

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.

Although this is not as strong a statement about God’s essence as Deuteronomy 6:4 or the commandment in Exodus 20:3, it does clearly express the exclusive relationship that Israel was to have with Yahweh, the true God, “your God.”

Instead of flirting with idols, they should realize that the One who made covenant with them, Yahweh, is “your God,” who had brought them out of Egypt.  This again is a reference to the Exodus as the courtship and marriage time between God and Israel (cf. vv. 5; 2:14; 9:10; 12:9).

Hosea has consistently accused Israel of lacking knowledge.  In other words, of having no relational knowledge of God.  Oh, they knew who God was, but they did not know him as their God.  Forgetting God is not a lapse of memory, but active betrayal.

But, in contrast, they should have known “no God but me.”  This is almost a direct phrase from the first commandment (Exodus 20:3; Deut. 5:7).

They should have had an exclusive, personal, intimate relationship with Yahweh.  But they did not.

He is the only Savior (Isa. 43:3,11,14; 45:15,21-22; 63:8).  He had saved them and is the only Savior of any person.

The opening words of the decalogue: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6-7).  The force of that statement is a reminder that Israel was God’s possession (cf. Exod. 19:4-6) by right of redemption.  Not only does the first commandment forbid the worship of other gods, but Israel must not even acknowledge any other so-called god. For none of these, or anything else including human undertakings, could provide deliverance for Israel. Indeed, there simply is no other Savior (Isa. 43:11).

To abandon the only Savior is to doom oneself to no salvation.  Israel had changed, but the LORD God did not.  He was still the only God and the only Savior, and His people would be left desolate when they left Him.

Not only was Israel’s fascination with foreign gods (e.g., Baal; cf. 11:7) and idolatry a sinful violation of the law and God’s person, but these contradicted the facts of Israel’s own history.

Yahweh was not only their savior from Egypt, but had lovingly and tenderly cared for them during their wilderness wanderings.  Thus, verse 5 says…

5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;

Notice again the language of deep, intimate relationship, “I knew you.”  “There was an interlocking, personal relationship between Israel and the Lord which flowed in both directions: from Israel to the Lord, and from the Lord to Israel” (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, p. 88).

Implied is not only that Yahweh knew them, but took care of them.  The passing work of the craftsmen who make idols (Hos. 13:2) stands in vivid disparity to the God who sustained Israel in the land of drought by his devoted care.

The words “land of drought” emphasizes the hardships that Israel faced in the wilderness.  But they were never alone.  Yahweh was with them and provided for them.  He kept them alive with manna and water.  It is a way of alluding to YHWH’s supernatural provision of water during the wilderness wandering period (e.g., Exod. 15:22-26; 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13; 21:16).

Yet, verse 6 indicates, as Moses had predicted, that when Israel prospered in the land, they forgot God.

6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.

What a tragedy!  It is a strange and terrible aspect of human nature that when times are good, we often forget the God who blessed us, because we don’t need Him as much as when we are going through difficult times or times of lack.

You can see a definite downward progression in this verse: (1) they ate, and (2) became full.  That condition continued in the words (3) they were filled.  Then (4) “their heart was lifted up,” which describes an attitude of self-sufficient pride—“I did this, it was my efforts that produced this.”  The end result (5) is that “they forgot me.”  They no longer acknowledged God as the source of all their benefits.

Moses predicted that this would happen several times in the book of Deuteronomy.  For example, Deuteronomy 6:10-12:

10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you–with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant–and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Notice how similar that last part of Deut. 6:12 is to Hosea 13:4

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt

It had happened even as the Lord warned (cf. Deut. 8:10-18; 31:20). Therefore, in accordance with the warnings in the covenant God was about to punish His people (vv. 7-8; cf. Deut. 4:23-26; 8:19-20; 30:17-18).

Israel’s contentment and preoccupation with itself, which began already in the wilderness, carried on and grew progressively worse.  By Hosea’s day God’s people no longer genuinely acknowledged God (cf. Hos. 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3; 8:2-3; 11:3; 13:4; with Isa. 29:13).  As Hubbard remarks, “Self-reliance—including reliance on their self-adopted and self-sustained religion (cf. 2:13)—lay at the heart of the crime” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 217)

Thus, the Lord promises to be an enemy to His people.  Once again the Lord’s judgment is presented in a series of strikingly violent similes. God’s power in executing His judgment is likened to that of five wild animals: the strength of a lion, the cunning of a leopard, the wild fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs, the eagerness of a lioness, and the ferocity of a wild beast.

7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.

God has used the lion imagery before in depicting the violence of Israel’s coming judgment (Hos. 5:14-15).

He now adds the ferocity of two more animals: a lurking leopard and a bear robbed of its cubs (cf. Prov. 17:12; 2 Samuel 17:8).

Habakkuk uses the figure of the leopard by way of comparison with the dreaded Assyrian warhorses, which were “faster than leopards” (Hab. 1:8).  The Assyrian military capabilities were quite profound and terrifying.

“Possessed of swift warhorses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty… . Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies” (Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, p. 137).

Likewise, the imagery of a bear robbed of its cubs attests to the strength and passionate aggressiveness of the coming judgment.

Duane Garrett suggests a relation of this figure with the loss of God’s people: “Yahweh has been robbed of its children (the common people of Israel) by his wife (the woman Israel, that is, the royal and priestly leadership). She has made them to be children of Baal” (Duane Garrett, Hosea, Joel, p. 259).

All three images underscore the aggressive viciousness of the coming attack by the Assyrians.

The viciousness of the Assyrian military is well documented in the Assyrian Annals.  For example, in his eighth campaign against Elam Sennacherib boasts that he “raged like a lion” and with victory he tore apart the enemy nobility.

I cut their throats like lambs… . Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot … were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain like grass. (Luckenbill, ARA, 2:127).

Yahweh, through Assyria, would “tear open their chests,” literally “the enclosure of the heart” (i.e., the pericardium).  He will completely consume them like a lion consumes its prey and rip them to shreds like wild animals with a carcass.

The uniqueness of Israel’s relationship to the Lord was the foundational premise on which the whole of her existence was built.  Her glory rested in the Lord.  Her salvation from bondage was brought about by him.  Removed from him, there was neither glory nor salvation, only destruction and annihilation. (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea and His Message, pp. 88-89).

In vv. 9-11 Yahweh attacks their misplaced confidence in the human kings and again asserts the certainty of their coming judgment.  Verse 9 begins with a strong affirmation followed by a rhetorical question the Lord declares solemnly,

9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper.

By turning against the Lord who only desired to help them (cf. v. 4), the Israelites had done something that would result in their own destruction.  How ironic it was that Israel’s helper would become her destroyer!  Israel had forsaken their only Savior (v. 4) and their great helper (v. 9).  Israel will surely be helpless through it all.  That is how irrational sin turns out to be.

“As Israel plunges headlong over the waterfall, the Lord laments that His people have done everything possible to navigate around His helping hand” (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea-Joel, p. 72).

J. Vernon McGee reminds us:

“We often blame God for what happens to us.  When you feel like that, this is a good verse to turn to.  You have destroyed yourself, and you are responsible for your condition.  But you can get help from God; He will furnish help to you.”

In a further rhetorical question the Lord implies that they could not count on their king (v. 10).

10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?

They turned their backs on their only Savior (v. 4).  When they now turn to their kings for help, they are nowhere to be found.

Indeed, toward the end of the Northern Kingdom there was a series of competing local kings and even their last king Hoshea proved to be inefficient and unfit for the task.

When these northern kings proved ineffective, since they did not trust in Yahweh, the Lord removed them, one by one, which also made Him angry.  King Hoshea was the last of the Northern Kingdom kings.  The Lord had removed the Ephraimite kings because they followed the pattern of King Saul, and later King Jeroboam I, and He would continue to do so until none were left.  The sins and bad times, which all these Northern Kingdom kings’ reigns brought on Israel, were unnecessary and displeasing to the Lord—who wanted His people to enjoy peace and prosperity.

The Lord further points out the folly of His people’s clamor for a king so as to be like the surrounding nations (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4, 19-20).

Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

As Hubbard observes, “God had acceded to their begging for a king (1 Sa. 8:22).  The monarchy as a whole was established in ambiguous circumstances which help to account for Yahweh’s anger; the people had brushed aside all its potential pitfalls, especially the competition it offered to God’s own kingship (1 Sa. 8:7)” (Hosea, p. 217)

Although the Lord acquiesced to His people’s request, their choice constituted a rejection of the theocracy and began the long downward spiral, which had brought them to the present turmoil.   To be sure, God had made provision for kingship for His people, but such a one was to meet His high standards (e.g., Num. 24:17; Deut. 17:14-20).  Israel now refused to acknowledge God, and turned to Baal and human leaders whether national or foreign.

Moreover, as Stuart observes, “The whole history of the kingship had been a manifestation of God’s anger/fury. Israel’s kings had been chosen without God’s consent (cf. 8:4) and the kingship itself had now been abolished by God as a portent of the coming national disaster (cf. Deut. 28:36)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 206)

Indeed, as Samuel had warned long ago, kingship as conceived and directed by the people had proven to be a disastrous failure (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10-17)—one that they themselves would come to regret: “If you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Sam. 12:25).  The Lord’s words here bear an ominous echo of Samuel’s warning.  Israel’s stood on the threshold of national disaster and no king or leader could save them.  God Himself was about to bring down the curtain on the Northern Kingdom (v. 11).

There is No Other, part 1 (Hosea 13:1-3)

Welcome again to our study of Hosea.  We are nearing the end of this wonderful book which expresses the love that Yahweh had for Israel.  Time and again He blessed Israel, wooed Israel and spared Israel…but judgment was on the horizon.

Here are Yahweh’s words in Hosea 13.  Here is the rising crescendo of judgment.

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window. 4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. 9 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers– those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath. 12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Although Hosea 13 is the climax of Yahweh’s judgment against Israel, it does not represent the climax of the book.  Once again Yahweh would extend a word of grace to Israel.

Israel has been ungrateful to the Lord and gone after gods of its own choosing (vv. 1-2).  God’s people have forgotten who it was that redeemed them out of Egypt and cared for them along the way to the Promised Land.  In their stubborn and foolish pride, and self-satisfaction they fail to acknowledge Him and all He has done for them (vv. 4-6).  Likewise, Israel has failed to recognize Yahweh as its ultimate king (vv. 9-11).  A final pronouncement of judgment because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord in order to establish its own type of monarchical government with its own civic and political policies (vv. 9-14) is concluded with a simile presented in the form of a pseudo-sorites (vv. 15-16).

Hubbard notes that Hosea recapitulates a number of dominant themes in Hosea and sets the stage both for the final words of judgment in vv. 15-16 and the calls to return in 14:1-8.

“The themes summed up in chapter 13 are these: idolatry by calf worship (v. 2; cf. 8:5-6; 10:5, 7, for idolatry in general, cf. 2:8; 3:1, 4; 4:12, 17; 8:4: 9:6, 10; 10:2, 6; 11:2); ingratitude for the exodus (vv. 4-6; cf. 8:14; 9:10; 11:1-2; 12:9, 13), foolish trust in political leaders (vv. 10-11; cf. 7:7; 8:4; 9:15; 10:3, 15), complacency in the face of judgment (v. 13; cf. 4:4, 16; 5:6-7; 6:1-3, 4-5; 7:2, 9-10; 8:2; 9:7; 12:8-9).  They not only recapture Hosea’s major emphases, but also prepare for the precise words of penitence spelled out in the call to return with which the book closes; idolatry  must be renounced (14:3c, 8), gratitude must be expressed (14:2c), trust in political alliance and military might rejected (14:3ab), and complacency replaced by dependence on God (14:3d)” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 224).

Once again Hosea indicates the heights from which Israel had fallen.  Once favored by God and strong, now they would be weak and destroyed.

Previously, “when Ephraim spoke, there was trembling.”  Whether merely among the tribes of the northern kingdom or more broadly, among the nations, Ephraim formerly had power and influence.

Ephraim had been the strongest tribe in Israel and represents Israel in many places throughout the prophets (cf. Judg. 8:1-3; 12:1-6).  The Lord’s prophet reminds Ephraim that it always held a special place in Israel’s history.  Not only did Ephraim receive Jacob’s patriarchal blessing instead of his older brother Manasseh (Gen. 48:12-20), but Jacob’s prophetic blessing (cf. that of Moses, Deut. 33:17) became realized in Ephraim’s leading role among the other tribes (e.g., Judg. 7:24-8:1).  This became especially pronounced when the Ephraimite Jeroboam was crowned as Israel’s first king at the time of the division of the united kingdom.

Ephraim often came to serve as metonymy for all of God’s people (e.g., Hos. 11:3) and especially for the Northern Kingdom (e.g., Hos. 8:11).

The emphasis in the present context is upon that role of Ephraim, which as the particular representative of the northern ten tribes enjoyed a special prominence. Therefore, Ephraim also had a distinct responsibility.

However, a consistent theme in Hosea is how the early promise of a nation blessed by God had alas come to frustrating ruin.  Hosea consistently laments the “lost glory” of Israel.  Departure from the Lord means that “Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird” (9:11) or “it’s glory has departed from it” (10:5).

Why? Because Ephraim had led the northern kingdom into idolatry.  Instead of “walking worthy of their calling” they worship the Baals.  Instead of being a leader in righteousness, Ephraim had caused the hearts of the people to depart from the Lord.

Jeroboam I was instrumental in the introduction of the state religion of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Not content with these, he became guilty of worshiping false gods and the idolatry that accompanied it (cf. 1 Kings 14:9-11).  It was not long, therefore, that Baal became the leading pagan divinity in the Northern Kingdom, a condition that brought about the eventual demise of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:16-17).

Kidner indicates this all-too-normal declension of cultures, such as happens here to Israel, with these words:

If there is one fact about human fortunes which history almost dins into us, it is their instability; and historians can show any number of economic, political and other reasons for the changes that turn the giants of one era into the weaklings of the next.  Here, not the power-changes abroad nor the factions at home are blamed for the sad state of Ephraim, but a much earlier and subtler shift within the mind: from the Lord to Baal (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 114).

The consequence was certain judgment, such that Ephraim could rightly be called “dead” (i.e., no longer playing any productive role in God’s plan and going into exile) because of their guilt.  Though, like Adam died when he sinned, but still lived on, so Israel had died, but would still exist for another decade.

The illusion in their minds is that if it is good to worship one god, it is better to worship more than one.

Verse 2 describes the idiocy of their idolatry in detail:

2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”

It has been a consistent theme of Hosea that Israel has multiplied their sinning.  The idea is that they are now taking every opportunity to spit in God’s face with this sin of idolatry.

H. Ronald Vandermey notes: “Having cut themselves off from the Lord and His righteousness, Israel’s sin increased like an unchecked infection” (Hosea-Amos, pp. 71-72). It reminds one of Romans 1, where God “gives them over” to on sin after another because of the hardness of their hearts.

Not only are they engaged in the expensive process of making idols, but the end of the process is presented in the “three scandalous words” (Kidner, p. 115), “[they] kiss calves.”

E. B. Pusey says…

“This seems to be a third stage in sin. First, under Jeroboam, was the worship of the calves.  Then, under Ahab, the worship of Baal.  Thirdly, the multiplying of other idols, penetrating and pervading the private life, even of their less wealthy people.  The calves were of gold; now they made them molten images of their silver, perhaps plated with silver.” (Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1:126)

As Hubbard observes, “What Jeroboam I had begun and Jeroboam II sponsored, the people of Samaria continued with unbridled enthusiasm (v. 2) in Hosea’s time.”

Of course, this violates the first two words of the commandments that Yahweh had stipulated to His redeemed people—not to worship other gods or make images for worship.  Anderson and Freedman note the words “make for themselves” echoes the prohibition in Exodus 20:4 of “making for yourselves images.”

Yahweh will brook no rivals for their affections, and knows how dependent we are upon our senses, thus he warns against constructing any image which cannot help but capture only a caricature of who Yahweh is and not the fulness of who He is.

“Truth itself is intolerant,” said Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner.  He explained…

“If it is true that twice two are four, then it is simply false to say that twice two are five or three.  If it is true that Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15 of the year 44 B.C., then it is false to say that he died a natural death in the year 45.  Truth is always single and exclusive.  If there is only one God, then there is not more than one.”

As Yahweh will very matter-of-factly say in verse 4:

4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.

This is echoed in the exclusivistic claims of Jesus and about Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus makes no apologies in saying in John 14:6…

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

There might be many ways to God, but only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ.  There is really only one God and one mediator between God and man.  There is no other way of salvation other than the way God the Father has provided—through His Son Jesus Christ.

In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaims…

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In the context, that name is Jesus.  There is no other name but the name of Jesus that provides salvation.

Now, back to Hosea.

The NIV and ESB both translate the end of verse 3 “offer human sacrifice.”  However, there is no indication historically that this happened until the last king of Israel, Hoshea.  This is recorded in 2 Kings 17:16-17…

16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

If Hosea is directing a charge against Israel for human sacrifice at this time, he seems only to make a passing reference to such a heinous sin  As Garrett observes, “Human sacrifice is not the sort of thing one mentions as an aside, especially if it was regularly practiced.”

It is best to view the present text as the condemnation of the routine apostasy of the people in worshipping Baal.

“Viewed together, [this verse shows that their] sin is a total perversion of values.  A craftsman’s work is elevated to divine status; human beings sacrifice their offspring to a metal object from whose lifeless form they also beg help; persons embrace with adulation the images of the very animals that they use for ploughing, threshing and hauling” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227).  Viewed rationally it makes no sense at all.  But then sin never does.

I like what J. Vernon McGee says, and I can almost hear him say it in his southern drawl:

“It is nonsense to go around kissing something as an act of worship of the living and true God.  You worship Him, my friend, by the life that you live.  You worship Him in the way you conduct your business, carry on your social life, the way you run your home, and the way you act out on the street—not only in the way you act in the sanctuary.  We are the ones who have made a distinction between the sanctuary and the street, but in God’s sight there is no difference at all.”

Garrett notes how the idea of kissing the calf finds resonance with the Exodus passage where Israel worshipped the golden calf at the proclamation, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8).  This was echoed in 1 Kings 12:20-33 when Jeroboam I established his golden calves at Dan and Bethel.

Robinson summarized what he called “seven of the principal steps in Israel’s downfall, which led straight to the precipice of national ruin”: lack of knowledge (4:6), pride (5:5), instability (6:4), worldliness (7:8), corruption (9:9), backsliding (11:7), and idolatry (13:2) (George L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, pp. 23-25).

Earlier, in Hosea 6:4, Yahweh had likened the faithfulness of Ephraim and Judah to the “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”  Here he presses that point home again, piling up metaphors, except this time it is not their character which soon disappears, but they themselves.

3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

“A four-fold simile of fading into nothingness is Hosea’s powerful way of intensifying the picture by multiple repetition” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 227).

Like all these temporary, vanishing things, Israel’s existence would disappear, swiftly and surely.

What is said of Israel here is said elsewhere of individual sinners (disappear “like the chaff” in Psalm 1:4) and of all God’s enemies (like “smoke,” Psa. 62:8).

“The point is that idolatry carries its own punishment: you worship nothing, you get nothing, you end as nothing” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 228).

Stuart expresses it well: “The four examples of disappearance—mist, dew, chaff, smoke—combine to emphasize how utterly Israel’s destruction will be accomplished by her avenging God… . When mist, dew, chaff, and smoke vanish, the result is nothingness. Israel will similarly disappear and become desolate (cf. Lev. 26:31-35; Deut. 28, 29).”

Garrett points out that these last two verses give exposition to the riddle back in 12:11, “If Gilead is deception, surely they are nothing.”

There was a time when Israel experienced glory; she was exalted (v. 1).  Through compromised theology and worship (v. 2), she forfeited that glory and was destined to become a transient, homeless people; without national identity, wanderers who are as insecure and temporal as the morning mist or dew, as the chaff on the threshing floor, or the smoke from a house (v. 3).

Look Back & Learn, part 4 (Hosea 12:12-14)

Welcome back to our study of the book of Hosea.  This is a tragic love story, with Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as the backdrop, but the real issue is the adulterous relationship between Yahweh and Israel.  Although they had been warned by Moses back in Deuteronomy of the sorry potential they had to forsake the true and living God for idols, and although God had sent them many prophets to force them to face the reality of what they had been doing and turn back to Yahweh, Israel persisted in worshipping the Baals, the gods of the Canaanites they had displaced.

Now exile was awaiting them.  In a few short years the Assyrian king Shalmanesar V would end the siege of Samaria and take captives from the northern kingdom and “seed” them throughout other conquered countries, while planting Gentiles in the northern kingdom.  The descendants of these transplants would come to be known as the “Samaritans” famous from the stories of Jesus.  Most of these Jews would never return to Israel.

Now we come to the final verses of Hosea 12.  Hosea has been encouraging Israel to look back and learn from their past.  Their ancestor Jacob had schemed and connived for the birthright and the blessing, but finally in his older age he wrestled with the angel of the Lord and was blessed.  His name was changed to Israel.  Now, Jacob didn’t always live up to this new name in his latter years, but he did sometimes.  It was an act of grace that God changed his name and redeemed his character.

Unfortunately, as Hosea had pointed out in vv. 2-6, Israel was not acting like Israel, the new man, but rather far too much like Jacob, the old, conniving man.  They tried to rule their own destiny by praying to the idols and making treaties with foreign nations.  All the while they should have been trusting God to provide for them and protect them.

Now, in the last 3 verses of Hosea 12, we read…

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.

So Hosea returns to the story of Jacob to again cause Ephraim to reflect on their ways, and perchance repent.  Hosea has given Israel many reasons to repent and opportunities to repent.  It reminds me of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2, when Paul is instructing Timothy about dealing with false teachers.

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

These Jews of Hosea’s day were just as captive to the devil as the false teachers of Timothy’s day.  But Hosea interacts with Israel in this same gentle, but firm way, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance…”

So Hosea again reminds them of their humble origins in the person of Jacob.  Jacob was, in essence, a refugee who migrated to the land of Aram, modern day Syria.

This was surely to point out to them that they, too, would soon be refugees in lands away from their homeland.

While in Aram Jacob had to work for a wife.  Remember that this was an unfair arrangement that Laban had required of Jacob to have Rachel.  He had to work as a shepherd, a very humble occupation (cf. Deut. 26:5).  Jacob was even lower than a despised shepherd: he was the servant of his father-in-law.

With an experience like that in his great ancestor, Ephraim should have been willing to acknowledge the providence of God in his temporary prosperity.

Not only would the Israelites be exiled into a foreign country, like Jacob, but Yahweh, as we have observed several times, would reverse the exodus, putting them back under slave-masters.

However, Yahweh would be faithful to bring Jacob back to the land promised to his grandfather Abraham so that he could father the twelve tribes of Israel there.

Jacob and his descendants one day found themselves in Egypt.  After several centuries passed, the latter part of which was marked by hard labor for the Hebrews, Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, led His people out of Egypt by His under-shepherd Moses (Exod. 12:1-36; Deut. 26:5-8).  This is what verse 13 is referring to…

13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded.

John Calvin notes this connection between vv. 12 and 13.  First…

he shows what was the first origin of the people, that they were from Jacob; and then he shows what was their second origin; for God had again begotten them when he brought them out of Egypt. And they were there, as it is well known, very miserable, and they did not come out by their own valour, they did not attain for themselves their [own] liberty; but Moses alone extended his hand to them, having been sent for this end by God.  Since the case was so, it was strange that they now provoked God, as he says in the last verse, by their altars.

He goes on to say…

The Lord says, “Acknowledge what you owe to me; for I have chosen Jacob your father, and have not chosen him because he was eminent for his great dignity in the world; for he was a fugitive and a keeper of sheep, and served for his wife.  I afterwards redeemed you from the land of Egypt; and in that coming forth there was nothing that you did; there is no reason why you should boast that liberation was obtained by your valour; for Moses alone was my servant in that deliverance.  I did then beget you the second time, when I redeemed you.  How great is your ingratitude, when you do not own and worship me as your Redeemer?”

Notice that in both cases hard labor was experienced, and in both cases a “bride” was secured.  Jacob finally married Rachel after seven years of service, and Yahweh rescued his bride out of Egypt.  Remember that Israel as God’s bride is the chief metaphor of Hosea’s messages.

Although Hosea was considered, along with other prophets, but a “fool” and “madman,” like Moses they could have led the Israelites into greater blessing.  Instead, they would return to slavery in a foreign land.

Not only had Moses “brought them up” and “guarded” them, giving them victory over the very Canaanites that they were imitating both in their religious and in their social lives.

It is possible that Hosea does not name Moses as the prophet of the Exodus to stress the similarities between Israel at the time of the exodus and Israel in his day.  As Yahweh brought the nation from bondage in the days of Egypt through a prophet, accomplishing such a wonderful miracle, so now He has sent a prophet to them for their good, to save them from being enslaved again in a new Egypt—Assyria.

In spite of these mercies, the Israelites had provoked the Lord to bitter anger with their idolatry many times (cf. Deut. 4:25; 9:18; 31:29; 32:16, 21; Judg. 2:12; 1 Kings 14:9, 15).  Consequently, He would not remove the guilt of their sins by forgiving them, but would pay them back with punishment and shame.

Adam Clarke notes the connection between this verse, and verse 11, which spoke of Gilead:

Joshua succeeded Moses, and brought the Israelites into the promised land; and when they passed the Jordan at Gilgal, he received the covenant of circumcision; and yet this same place was now made by them the seat of idolatry!  How blind and how ungrateful!

Thus, Yahweh says…

14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

James Coffman comments on Ephraim’s disobedience:

Nobody ever trusted any more completely in God’s promises than did Ephraim; but he made the mistake of supposing that they were unconditional….Ask Ephraim!  God had promised Ephraim that he would give the land of Canaan (Genesis 30:13-15) to them; and Ephraim, like the Pharisees long afterward, concluded that this promise on God’s part was theirs, no matter what they did, how they lived, or anything else!

“Bitter provocation” reminds me of how God felt during the years before the flood.

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

You’ve probably felt this way as a parent—your children irritate you and exasperate you, they grieve you and break your heart.  Eventually you have to do something about it.  You have to discipline them.

This bitter provocation likely referred to their worship of Baal on the high places.

Ephraim had provoked God and it grieved him greatly.  As he had expressed back in Hosea 11:8, He deeply loved them.  But now He would have to judge them.  There was no other way.

By the way, notice that the word for Lord here is not “Yahweh,” but “Adonai.”  It was the word which means “master.”  Israel was about to learn in a hard way that the Lord was its real master, not Baal (a name that also can carry with it the idea of master or husband) and that they were accountable for how they had responded to His commands with disobedience and disdain.

The sad phrase “leave his bloodguilt on him” means that he would have to bear his own guilt.

Jesus speaks in a similar way in the gospel of John.  In John 3:36 Jesus says…

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

And Jesus said to the Pharisees after he healed the man born blind…

John 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Aren’t we glad that our guilt can be passed on to Jesus Christ?  When we trust in His work that He did on the cross for us, we don’t have to pay for our sins, our guilt is placed upon Jesus Christ and He paid it in full.

The blood guilt may refer to murder or child sacrifice (i.e., to Molech).

But Israel would not turn to Yahweh, and therefore must bear the guilt of their own sins themselves.  In His justice Yahweh would “repay him for his disgraceful deeds.”

The people celebrate Jacob in their ceremonies and call themselves his descendants, but the God of Jacob will no longer guard Ephraim as he did their patriarch.  Instead, he will “repay” them.  The Hebrew term translated “repay” is shub, the same word that elsewhere carries the sense of “turn, return.”  Since Israel will not return (shub) to the Lord (v. 6), the Lord will return (shub) Israel’s reproach back onto the nation (v. 14).

Israel had come to the point of no return. Hopelessly apostate and thoroughly wicked as a nation, it was now time that the Lord must judge His people.  Israel demonstrated its contempt by rejecting Him and His standards, and by choosing to create its own religiosity and charting its own course of life.  Therefore, the rewards of such decisions and such conduct would soon earn their proper reward (cf. Prov. 22:8; 26:27; 28:10; Eccles. 10:8; Gal. 6:7).

It may be as Craigie suggests: “The final word of judgment is a word spoken in grief.  Though beyond the coming disaster words of grace would be heard once again, the judgmental word would soon be experienced in Israel in all its terrible reality” (Craigie, Twelve Prophets,1:78).

Or, in Calvin’s words:

They cannot, he says, escape the authority of God, though they have spurned his law; though they have become wanton in their superstitions, they shall yet know that they remain under the hand and power of God, they shall know that they effect nothing by this their petulance; though they thus wander after their abominations, yet the Lord will not lose his right, which he had obtained for himself by redeeming Israel.

What they receive is just and right.

The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible has this note:

In summary, the comparisons seem to work like this: Jacob was a sinner in the land (v. 3), met God in his flight from the land (v. 4), served another to gain a wife (v. 12) outside the land, and then was restored to the land knowing God (vv. 4b–5).

This also corresponds to the way the nation later went down to Egypt (through the events and legacy of Jacob’s son, Joseph), multiplied there, then met God at Sinai, and was shepherded through the wilderness by Moses (cf. vv. 9–10, 13).

This pattern is being repeated in Hosea’s day as, like Jacob, Ephraim (the largest tribe of Israel, used by Hosea to represent the nation) sins in the land (vv. 2–3, 7–8), will be driven into exile and sustained there by the Lord, and then, as at the exodus from Egypt, will meet God and return to the land to dwell there with him (cf. vv. 5, 11–14).

These patterns are fulfilled in Jesus. Not only did he have a sojourn in Egypt (see Matt. 2:13–15), he also became the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) in fulfillment of the exodus pattern to redeem his people (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23), provided a place of rest for them by making them the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and gives them a new law for a new and continuing relationship with God (1 Cor. 9:202 John 5–6).  It is Christ himself who provides God’s people with spiritual food and drink for their sojourn through the wilderness (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–13; 11:17–34), on the way to the new and better heavens and earth, the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17), where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13).

In a day which champions “God is love” and excuses every sin, we need to remember that God is infinitely merciful AND infinitely just.  Because of His simplicity—He cannot be divided up into various parts with various passions—He is a God of both infinite mercy and infinite justice. The Lord is not only “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” but He is also the One “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:6–7).

In fact, the only way we can escape God’s infinitely just punishment for sin is through the satisfaction of His justice.  And by means of satisfaction of justice, mercy is poured out on us.

Only one thing satisfies the justice of God against our sins—the perfect life and voluntary, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.  Eternity in hell is not long enough to satisfy God’s justice; only the death of His precious Son.

We do not contribute to that satisfaction at all.  God initiates and accomplishes it. Look at who is doing the action in 2 Corinthians 5.  In verse 14, we read of “the love of Christ” (emphasis added), that is, not merely Paul’s love for Christ but Christ’s own love for sinners.  In verse 18, Paul says “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (emphasis added), and then again in verse 19, “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . . and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (emphasis added).  Verse 20 amazingly says that it is “God” who is “making his appeal through us.”

God’s only begotten Son was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might be satisfaction for us.  Someone has to be punished for sin.  Christ has offered to take our place and receive our punishment, but that only applies to us when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin.

Is there any gospel promise more beautiful in all the Scriptures than 2 Corinthians 5:21?  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That means: “For our sake” the righteous God “made” His Son Jesus Christ “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in” Jesus Christ “we might become the righteousness of God.”  Paul says that God Himself has provided for us a vicarious sacrifice, a great exchange between His judgment on our sins and Christ’s righteousness to our benefit.