Originally posted March 9, 2015. Video from Aug 15, 2018.
One of the several recurring themes throughout the Old Testament is the relationship of a name to the person or object it represents. To know a person’s name and what it means is to know the person herself, and allows us to understand her place in God’s providential plan. Hosea has used several techniques to reinforce the image of Israel as an impenitent sinner. So far he has depicted Israel’s unfaithfulness through the example of Gomer (chs. 1-3), as a crime of adultery against her husband, the Lord (4:1-9:9), and as a violation of the natural and moral order, both past and present (9:10-11:11). He turns now, then, to several wordplays on the names of Israel, the Lord, and various cities in order to demonstrate the close connection between the people’s sin and their own identity.
First, God’s people were defined by their devotion to deceit. Israel’s sin has long since been established in the mind of the reader, but God’s people had still not gotten the message. Hosea therefore adds to the list of her charges: “Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit” (Hos 11:12; unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations are from the ESV); “they multiply falsehood and violence” (12:1); she is, “A merchant, in whose hands are false balances” (12:7). What is more, is that the nation had acted this way from before its birth, just like their father Jacob: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor” (12:3-4). As the NBC points out, though, Jacob’s deception is more than an historical note--it’s his name: “The name Jacob is connected with words meaning ‘follow at the heel’, or ‘supplant’ and means figuratively ‘to deceive’ (Gn. 25:26; 27:36). . . . Hosea uses the picture to illustrate how Jacob/Israel has been deceitful right from the beginning of his existence” (see our first post for Works Cited).
The prophet also draws on Jacob’s struggle with the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 32:22-32. There, alone and wearied from his journey, Jacob had fled from his father-in-law Laban but feared the homecoming planned by his brother Esau. Like a cornered beast, Jacob fights the Man who then approaches him, wrestling until the first light of morning. And when the fight is over, he has the wound to prove it—his hip is out of joint. Jacob, however, refuses to let him go; that is, until he blesses him. And then the Angel surprises us (and perhaps Jacob) by obliging: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Gen 32:28). But Jacob knew strength when he felt it--the Angel let him win. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Gen 32:30). He prevailed because he had been saved; he was victorious only when he admitted defeat. But while Jacob had learned his lesson, Israel’s children were still striving against the Lord.
Secondly, Israel’s sin separated her from her Savior. The nation’s crimes were no mere misdemeanors; they were personal assaults on the character of Yahweh himself: “Ephraim surrounds Me with lies And the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful” (Hos 11:12 NASB). The contrast could not be more apparent: he is true, they are liars; he is faithful, they are traitors; he is holy, they are profane. The prophet tries to wake up the people to this irony in 12:6, but this time the Lord does not allow a chance for them to speak. Instead, he mocks them with disdain: “Ephraim has said, ‘Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin’” (12:7-8). And then the Lord’s laughter stops, and he answers in his fury: You may rich, but “I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast” (12:9, emphasis added).
It is a declaration Israel has heard before: “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Gen 15:7). “I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them” (Exo 29:46). “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). “You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God” (Lev 18:4). “You . . . shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18). “I AM WHO I AM. . . . The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob . . . . This is my name forever” (Exo 3:14-15). The “LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name” (Hos 12:5, all emphases added). Israel may have forgotten who they were, but their even greater sin was forgetting Jehovah, the Everlasting God; and God would not let them forget it.
And finally, God’s people would be punished because they played with his providence. An unholy people simply cannot dwell with a holy God, and since Israel had turned from the Holy One himself, they would have to leave the Holy Land. The justice of God demanded payment, and payment he would give: “The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds” (12:2). And so to drive home the point, Hosea piles on the word plays: “If there is [nothingness] in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps [galliym] on the furrows of the field” (12:11; see BKC, NET). Hosea first plays on synonyms that in Hebrew both mean nothingness/nothing, and then complements this connection by repeating the G and L sounds in Gilead, Gilgal and galliym. In other words, the very place Israel inaugurated her arrival in the Promised Land had become a seat of idolatry (Jos 5:8-12).
Hosea then draws an historical parallel based on the word for “guarded”: “Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds” (12:12-14, emphasis added). At first, the metaphors don’t seem to mix, but in essence, Hosea says, “Don’t forget your humble beginnings. What you have is not a result of your own efforts, but it is yours because God has been gracious to you” (LASB). But since God’s people had turned to other gods, they would now receive some unwanted attention from their Provider (Deu 4:25-31).
As Christians, there is no greater honor than the name we wear as disciples of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah records, the Messianic hope included the promise of a new designation for the people of God: “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give” (Isa 62:2). And only one name is worthy of such a promise--the name of Jesus: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9-11). And as his disciples, and his church, we take on the name of our Teacher, in both this life and the next (Acts 11:26; Rom 16:16; Rev 2:17).
But Christianity is more than a name; with this honor, comes an incredible responsibility: to live like Jesus. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1Pe 1:13-16). The Christian life requires laying all we have—all our mind, all our soul, all our passions, all our habits—at the feet of the Holy One we serve. Hosea’s plea to Israel therefore becomes our own call to repentance: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (Hos 12:6).
Originally posted March 10, 2014. Video from Aug 8, 2018.
As you now know all too well, Hosea’s message is designed to hurt before it heals. But that healing sometimes alludes us because of the work’s focus on judgment. The prophet’s emphasis, though, is intentional: “The reason that the God of all threatens punishment . . . is not to inflict it on those he threatens but to strike them with fear and lead them to repentance, and by ridding them of their wicked behavior extend to them salvation” (Theodoret, Commentary on Hosea, “Introduction”; see our first post for Works Cited). Throughout the book, though, there are glimmers of God’s love that shine through Hosea’s doom and gloom, offering hope to the people of God. Three weeks ago, I was reminded of this silver lining, when my granny (whom I called, Mama Ruby) passed away, joining Papa Troy in Paradise where he waited joyfully for fourteen years. So when Hosea continues his case against the Lord’s people by turning to the family farm, I find myself comforted by the hope of Yahweh’s plea: the hope of the farmer, the hope of the father, and the hope of coming home.
The Hope of the Farmer. Growing up, both of my parents worked indoors with relative stability and job security. Of course, teachers and accountants could be laid off (and we went through our fair share of those), but generally the work was steady and paid modestly. My dad’s parents, though, owned and worked a family farm. Papa Troy and Mama Ruby managed about 60 head of cattle on 120 acres in Rio Vista, Texas. I spent most of my free time on their farm until I realized it was no longer “cool.” As enjoyable as my time there was, though, I was also well aware of the risk involved in their way of life. My grandparents subsisted on two things: their own food and the Farm Bureau, and when one slackened the other would have to step up to make ends meet. Being a great farmer didn’t necessarily mean a great year. And yet, thankfully, Granny kept raising cattle with the help of her sons and grandsons until the work simply became too much (but not until after her 90th birthday, mind you). Her love for the life and the animals drove her through even the toughest times, including droughts, blights and the loss of her husband.
Jehovah understands the hopes and frustrations of the farmer, because he shares that same sense of hope for his people. The prophet therefore compares Israel again to the thing they worshipped: “Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself” (Hos 10:11 ESV). As Kidner points out, “threshing was a comparatively light task, made pleasant by the fact that the creature was unmuzzled and free to eat . . . as it pulled the threshing sledge over the gathered corn” (Love for the Loveless, 97-98 in BKC). Israel, though, had rejected the light burden of devotion to Yahweh and would instead experience the toil of hard labor (see vv. 13-14). But God obviously wants better for his people: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hos 10:12). Hosea here essentially sums up the message of every prophet sent to the Israelites over the years, and yet any penitent fruit it bore would last only a generation before sin would spring up again. So God would harness his people, and put them to work, while still holding out the hope of rest in his righteous love.
The Hope of the Father. One can understand a farmer’s frustrations and disappointments without being able to put himself quite into those same shoes. But as a parent, empathy with hurting parents is something none of us avoids. We try to do the best we can to train them up in the way they should go, but some still depart (Pro 22:6). God understands this pain as well. The Most High practically chokes back tears as he relates his time spent with young Israel. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (Hos 11:1-2). But it would be another 800 years before a son of Abraham would rise up and truly reflect his Father’s love (see Mat 2:15). God had loved them, God had called them, God had saved them, and yet within the year they had fallen in love with someone else. But just as at the beginning, Egypt would not be able to save them, nor would their new ties to Assyria (Hos 11:5-6).
Hosea then mixes metaphors by returning to the image of the young calf: “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos 11:3-4). The connection may seem strange, but even in English farmers and fathers share a deep connection, being called by the same word (husband) for most of our history. For me, though, the image here remains that of Granny. A young female calf had been born weak and the bull had made known his intentions to kill the calf early on. So Granny mended a fair sized dog run behind her house and kept the calf there, feeding it from a bottle, teaching it to walk, and leading the calf around on a dog leash. Rose (as my baby sister soon named her) might not have known it at the time, but Granny had saved her life (well, at least until adulthood). But while Rose seemed to enjoy the attention, Israel acted less than grateful: “My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all” (11:7).
The Hope of Coming Home. God, however, had not given up on his son. Yes, pain would come as a result of his sin, but he hoped that by holding back his mighty wrath and complete destruction some would still come back home. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos 11:8-9). God only asks these questions because he knows his answer: he had not loved so much, only to let them die. But Israel would return to a home that was not the same as the one they left. Old men would cry as they saw the temple in shambles, even after its renovations (Ezra 3:11-13). And all would struggle with many of the same problems as before (Ezra 9-10; Neh 13). When I visit Granny’s farm, I find myself with that same sense of longing: the ones who made it home are no longer there. As Darryl Worley sings, “Now all the rockin’ chairs are empty, I hate to think how tall the weeds have grown. I’d give back everything the good Lord gave me, If I could just go back where I belong.”
But God is the only one who makes us feel truly at home, in this life and the next; he never really left. “They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD” (Hos 11:10-11). God would send his people away, so they would listen for his voice, to await his call, “Come home.” The Lion of the tribe of Judah would again be their deliverer; and they would respond as doves, no longer stupidly denying God’s protection, but returning swiftly to his side (see 5:14; 7:11). Many times I either disobeyed Granny or simply wanted to be alone, and would roam the fields aimlessly (or at times, mischievously), but there was always one thing that brought me back: the sound of her voice. And whether I heard in it anger or fear, I knew that both were rooted in love.
God doesn’t want to be the bad guy; he doesn’t want to be the one whipping his people back into shape. But God judges because he is holy, and in his love he has given us not only the sole path to forgiveness, but the opportunity to share in his very being (1Pe 1:13-21). God’s discipline is therefore his testimony that you belong to him: “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:7-10, emphasis added). Not only that, but he will come again one day to call us home: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jam 5:7-8). Granny’s journey is over, but mine’s not, so whether I go to be with her, or she comes to take me away as well, after that day “we will always be with the Lord” (1Th 4:17), and that is one homecoming I do not want to miss.
Originally posted March 3, 2014. Video from Aug 1, 2018.
The image of grapes is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of both blessing and wrath. On one hand, the fullness of the winepress indicates the abundant blessings God has given and a call to share freely with those who have less. So, for example, the Israelites are commanded to provide for freed servants out of what God has provided them: “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him” (Deu 15:14; see too Num 18:27, 30; unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the ESV). But when these blessings are abused, the winepress also serves as a useful analogy for judgment. Isaiah records for us the terrible significance of the symbol. When the Lord ascends from Edom and Moab in robes of crimson red, the people ask why he’s covered in grape juice. Jehovah’s response is terrifying: “I have trodden the winepress alone . . . I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments . . . . I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isa 63:3-6). Hosea, though, sees an even more troubling future, one in which God’s own people are grapes prepared not for drinking, but for crushing.
First, we incur wrath when we refuse our love. The Lord’s unrequited love is one of the major themes of Hosea’s work. But Israel had always had an “open relationship” with God, as Yahweh himself points out: “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved” (Hos 9:10). Though the Lord had rejoiced in calling out a people for himself, his delight would soon turn to despair, finding out that his new bride had (literally!) prostituted herself to the god next door (see too 4:13-14; Num 25; Deu 7:14). But unrequited love can only last so long, even when your beloved is Love himself: “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more” (Hos 9:15, emphasis added). The Lord’s house is not a house of sin.
Many today would like to separate the God of love, grace and mercy from the God of holiness, purity and justice. They’d like to have Jesus as their Savior, but reject him daily as their Lord. Often times this takes a more theological form, casting dichotomies like law versus gospel, grace/faith versus works, or love versus obedience. But as the Bible itself points out, each one is integrally connected to the other. So while the Father and Son are both identified as our Savior in the New Testament (24 times in the ESV), it is far more common for them to be referred to as Lord (657!). Likewise, the gospel is referred to as “the law of liberty” (Jam 1:25), grace is said to inspire works (Tit 2:11-14), and our love is measured by our obedience to him (John 14:15). Our relationship to God rightly depends, then, on a proper response to his loving kindness. We must listen to the voice of the Lord, letting his words sink into our ears and responding in heartfelt obedience (John 10:16, 27; Luke 9:44). Otherwise, we will fail to love, fail to listen, fail to follow, and therefore be cut off: “My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations” (Hos 9:17).
The second point follows the first: we invite wrath when we refuse our thanks. Israel had forgotten the source of her blessings: “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars” (Hos 10:1-2). The image of Israel as a vine is a common one throughout the Old Testament (see too Psa 80:8-16; Jer 2:20-21; Eze 15:1-8; 17:1-10). Here, Hosea uses the image to demonstrate the misuse of Israel’s blessings (a theme that recurs often in his work; see 4:7, 12:8 and 13:6). And Israel could not look to their false god to save them from Jehovah; in fact, he would go with them! “The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—for it has departed from them. The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol” (Hos 10:5-6).
God is the source of all blessings, as James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jam 1:17). But when we reject God as the Giver of these blessings, only idolatry and covetousness can come of it (see Eph 5:5). As Paul writes of first-century heathens, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21). Paul warns Timothy of this problem as well, writing of the “many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction,” all because of their love of money and their unhealthy craving for more of it (1Ti 6:9-10; see Mat 19:23-24). Would, that we could pray with Solomon, “[Give] me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Pro 30:8-9).
And finally, we experience wrath when God refuses his blessings. Like a good parent, the Lord knows just how to handle possessiveness and ingratitude among his children. By taking away his blessings, he intends to show them just how much they live in his grace in order to call them to live out his grace, reflecting his own divine character. As the prophet then says, “Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird — no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim’s sons, as I have seen, are destined for a prey; Ephraim must lead forth his sons to slaughter” (Hos 9:11-13 RSV; compare the LXX, NET, 9:16; see our first post for Works Cited). This may at first seem harsh; after all, what good father kills his grandchildren to make a point!? But as before, Israel has chosen her own punishment. She chose to commit whoredom with Baal, she chose to bear illegitimate children; Yahweh merely recognizes what Israel has assumed all along: they are not his people (see Hos 1-2). Even Hosea now realizes the hopelessness of the situation. Though he had previously called the people to repentance in 6:1-3, the prophet now joins Jehovah’s tirade: “Give them, O LORD—what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts” (6:14 RSV).
There are two additional ironies in Israel’s situation. The first is that Israel’s purpose in conquering the Promised Land was to remove the presence of idolatry, including their high places and altars to false gods (Deu 12:2-3). But they not only failed to do this, they joined their neighbors in false worship! And because of this, the LORD himself will come to purify the land (see Lev 26:30-31; BKC). The second is that while it was political rebellion that caused their first problems, it is political rebellion and conquest that God will use to accomplish his ends: “Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us’” (Hos 10:7-8). Israel’s false prophets, false priests, false kings, and false god would not be able to save her. Instead, their persistent sin defined them as a rebellious nation that could only be gathered, bound and punished (Hos 10:9-10). Despising God and his blessings is the surest path to having those blessings removed.
As the church of our Lord, we as Christians are branches on the grapevine of Christ. While we remain faithful and grateful to him, we have absolutely everything we need or could ever want—he is everything to us. But apart from him we have nothing, can do nothing, and are good for nothing (John 15:1-11). But Jesus’ expectations for us are profoundly simple: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10, emphasis added). As members of the Lord’s covenant people, then, we are called to give ourselves completely to the Prophet promised long ago by Moses, saying, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:22-23, quoting Deu 18:15-19; emphasis added).
Our Christian moment therefore reaches back before the giving of the first covenant and forward to culmination of the second. Just as we have been grafted into the grapevine of the Lord, we too will be judged by our faithfulness to the Root of Jesse (Rom 11:17-24; 15:12). For one day the Lord will command his angel, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe,” and the servant will heed his Captain’s charge: “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” (Rev 15:18-20). The choice is simple: will you be covered by the blood of Christ, or will he be covered in yours (Rev 7:14; 12:11)?
Originally posted Feb 17, 2014. I re-taught this class on Sunday, July 29, 2018, but the video seems to have gone AWOL (lol). Maybe next time!
In our detour a few weeks ago, we noted that because of their inflammatory tendencies, most people would like to keep religion and politics as far away from each other as possible. But we cannot maintain a high view of biblical justice, honor and righteousness by keeping our faith out of the voting booth. The relationship between religion and politics runs deeply throughout Scripture. Peter reminds us to, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1Pe 2:17 NKJV; see our first post for Works Cited). Paul goes even deeper, calling “every soul [to] be subject to the governing authorities . . . for conscience’ sake,” since public figures are “God’s ministers” (Rom 13:1-7, emphasis added). Rebellion, then, is essentially a heart problem, rooted in the same sort of passion, pride, lies and idolatry that got Israel into trouble in the first place. It’s no wonder then that when Israel forsook God, she would turn to politics as the solution to her many problems.
Or perhaps we have it backward: in Israel’s case political rebellion led to spiritual rebellion. The Lord says in Hosea 8:4, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not” (unless otherwise indicated, all remaining Scriptures are taken from the ESV). It is not that Yahweh didn’t know who their rulers were; the problem lay in the fact that they ignored his will in choosing them. Even from the beginning of the Divided Kingdom, Israel had gone her own way. Though in his providence God allowed Israel to split for spiritual reasons, it was politics that drove away the northern tribes (1Ki 12:1-24). So while Judah was always led by the house of David, Israel was ruled by ten dynasties, all of which ended in bloodshed. In fact, “Between 752 and 732 B.C. four of Israel’s rulers were assassinated (cf. 2 Kings 15),” providing the background to several of Hosea’s statements (see Hos 7:5-7, from which this quote from the BKC is taken).
Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness is both a cause and effect of these upheavals. Remember that it was for pragmatic political reasons that Jeroboam built the calves at Dan and Bethel in the first place (1Ki 12:25-33). So while Jeroboam’s kingdom was entrusted to him so that he might restore the Law, he instead defied it further, repeating Aaron’s sin and explicitly violating the first two of the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:3-6; 32:1-4). But the Lord had had enough of being confused with cattle: “With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces” (Hos 8:4-6). It is with good reason, then, that Solomon warns, “My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change,” (Pro 24:21 NKJV) because when rebels rage, there’s no end to the destruction that can be done.
We also see that spiritual rebels seek political solutions. This is perhaps the greatest heresy of the modern age, and both conservatives and liberals are often guilty of it. When man ignores what the Bible says about right and wrong, justice falls as well; and where justice has fallen, nothing is sacred, twisting politics into naked greed and sheer power. Israel could identify the problems that faced her—famine, poverty, weakness—but she did not recognize them as the consequences of her sin. So instead she sought help elsewhere: “For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute” (Hos 8:9-10). But as the prophet pointed out before, Assyria would be their conqueror, not their savior (see 5:13; 7:11).
But this is not to say Israel could save herself by becoming a fortress and preparing for a siege. “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds” (8:14). As the ESVSB points out, “Ephraim trusted religious shrines for security; Judah her armaments. Both will prove to be futile.” So rather then experience the alleged fertility associated with Baal worship, they would instead find famine and the rations of exile: “Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria” (9:2-3; see 2:9-12). So Israel’s kings had done the exact opposite of what Moses had commanded, and exactly what Samuel had warned them against (Deu 17:14-17; 1Sa 8)!
And finally, spiritual rebellion invites political punishment. This is perhaps even harder to comprehend. Okay, sure, maybe there is a connection between one’s political views and one’s religious views, but does it really matter? If there is a God, does he really care about our political views? Why, yes. The God who providentially “works all things together for good” is the same God who providentially “rules the kingdom of men” (Rom 8:28; Dan 4:17, 25, 32; see Dan 2:20-22; 5:34-37). So while your politics can reflect your religious views, your political problems could also be consequences of your religion. Sometimes this means God’s people are employed as the means of judgment (Gen 15:16; Deu 20:16-18), but at other times they are just as guilty as anyone else (Jos 7:10-12, 20-21). Israel, however, had forgotten this, essentially voting against God for generations.
But the ultimate coup d’état was about to occur. The King of Israel would remind his people who was really in charge. Judgment is coming, and coming quickly. Listen to the Prophet: “Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD . . . the enemy shall pursue him” (Hos 8:1-3). “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. . . . Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel” (8:7-8). “Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents” (9:6). The trumpet had sounded, the battle lines were formed, vultures smelled blood in the air, the winds of war blew. Israel’s so called friends would form against her, shatter her strength, round up her refugees, and turn the plenty of the land to a barren wilderness. When we reject God’s claims over his people, we invite his righteous judgment.
As we have stated before, Jesus Christ is the ultimate political reality: he who created all things, redeems our fallen world, and reigns at his Father’s right hand (Col 1:15-20). The heart of Hosea’s indictment is still focused on the lack of true, spiritual worship (see 8:11-13; 9:1, 4-5), but politics played an important part in how these problems came about, how they got as bad as they did, and how God would repay them for it. As the late Russell Kirk once wrote, “Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems” (The Conservative Mind 8). So when we treat God’s messengers as crazy fools, when we outlaw his word as “hate speech,” when we back believers into a corner in public discourse, we know the result: “he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins” (9:7-9). The church, then, cannot place her trust in political half-measures, but must instead rely on the God who rules above, for “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psa 118:9). Nor can we allow our views to be dominated by economics, defense or foreign affairs, for “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pro 14:34). May we, then, as his people, intercede for our neighbors, that our nation might turn to God and repent of our rebellion against our Almighty God (Jer. 29:7; Gen 18:20-33).