Hearts of Passion. In an age of hedonism like our own, it is not surprising that a life of pleasure is the first step toward habitual unfaithfulness. As Americans we practically cut our teeth on immodest dress, lewd behavior, premarital and extramarital sex, and are now confronted with a variety of sexual aberrations beyond even these. Unfortunately, Hosea finds these same sins among God’s people: “They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. . . . For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. All of them are hot as an oven” (Hos 4:4-7). The ESVSB unpacks the prophet’s language well, noting the progression of their passion: at first it is quiet, then repressed, but it ultimately consumes those who play with its fire.
Passions, of course, vary from person to person. Some are natural and should be tempered by wisdom and self-control (1Co 7:36; 1Ti 5:11; 2Ti 2:22). Others are unnatural and can only be conquered through a lifetime of grace and submission (Rom 1:26-27; 1Co 6:9-11). But in either case, passions wage war against our souls, our minds and our brethren (1Pe 2:11; Eph 2:3; Jam 4:1). And because of this constant internal pressure, we are at times led astray from our Lord to both physical and spiritual death (1Th 4:5; 2Ti 3:6; Rom 7:5). For this reason, God calls us to turn away from our passions in defiance, to nail them to the cross of Christ, and to kill the sin within us (Rom 6:12; Gal 5:24; Col 3:5), reminding us of the redemption he has purchased at so great a cost: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit 2:11-12).
Hearts of Pride. Those who have witnessed the tragic departure of a brother or sister in Christ know that pride follows passion. Once a soul has succumbed to its own desires, it has substituted its own will for God’s; and when we reject God’s will for our lives we have rejected his plan to save us (1Pe 4:2; Heb 10:36; 1Jo 2:17). Unfortunately, the pride that leads us astray is the same pride that keeps us away, and so we seek consolation and strength elsewhere. The Israelites demonstrate this well: “Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hos 7:8). While we continue in sin, our religion lacks its main ingredient—true devotion to God—leaving our faith half-baked and therefore good for nothing.
But pride brings us no strength at all; in fact, it is a sign of weakness. As Solomon reminds us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pro 16:18). Hosea therefore points out the irony of boastful rebellion to God: “Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this” (Hos 7:9-10). Israel was not the young man he used to be; his strength was failing and his hair was getting grayer, but he failed to see this for what it was. God would break their pride; if they would not humble themselves, he would humiliate them. As James reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” therefore, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jam 4:6-10).
Hearts of Lies. There is simply no subsitute for the holy word of God. So when we reject it, we reject any hope of knowing him as Creator and Redeemer. After several disciples left Jesus because of the boldness of his testimony, “Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68). Israel, however, gave the opposite response, and instead tried to fly the coop: “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation” (Hos 7:11-12).
They were leaving the God who redeemed them for the very places he had redeemed them from and would sell them to! So while Yahweh stood ready to save, Israel’s impenitence forced him to judge: “Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me” (7:13). As Mays notes, “The God of the Exodus is unchanged in His will, but because of Israel’s lies there will be no ‘exodus’ from the Assyrian danger” (in the BKC). When you live a lie, you can’t possibly be saved by the God of truth.
Hearts of Idolatry. Hosea completes his cycle of metaphors by confronting the most blatant transgression of all: Israel’s worship of Baal. Deep down they realized they had gotten something wrong. They longed for the good ol’ days, but they hadn’t the faintest idea how to get them back (see Jer 6:16). Their own passions and pride prevented them from seeing that blessings flow from truth, and truth from God. “They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. . . . They return, but not to the Most High” (Hos 7:14-16; see ESV margin). Like the false prophets on Mount Carmel, though, Israel’s gods would be asleep or on their porcelain thrones; in either case unable to help them (see 1Ki 18:26-29).
Of course, most people these days know that “an idol has no real existence” (1Co 8:4), but they are just as likely to be blind to the idols they have erected in their own lives. You don’t have to pray to silver and gold to allow something to come between you and your God (but see Mat 6:24, 33). As Paul asks, then, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2Co 6:16). We must therefore turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” accepting the apostolic testimony “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1Th 1:9; 2:13).
When our hearts aren’t right with God, any attempt at religion will backfire. Hearts of passion, pride, lies and idolatry cannot cultivate a faith of love, humility, truth and praise. Like a bad bow, Israel could not be trusted to shoot without missing the mark and harming the shooter (Hos 7:16). And because of this, they were nowhere near true faithfulness. As Christ himself quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mat 15:8-9). It is time to start living by our confession, to start worshipping according to his word, and to start teaching what he has revealed. Because when we respond to God in true repentance and faith, we open ourselves to the radical redemption he offers, a heart surgery only he can perform: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Eze 11:19; see 18:31; 36:26).