Originally posted March 13, 2015. Video from Aug 29, 2018.
When we began our study of Hosea over a year ago, we noted that the book was among the most difficult in the Bible to read because of its tragic, satirical tone and graphic imagery. And yet the meaning of Hosea’s name points to a purpose beyond mere punishment: “Salvation.” God did not enjoy giving this message to his prophet, nor would he rejoice in seeing its fulfillment. Instead, the Lord speaks in hope that his people might once again listen to his voice and respond to his call. As Theodoret observed, “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” (Commentary on Hosea, “Introduction”; see our first post for Works Cited). God judges in order to save, but accepting his salvation means rejecting the sins that bring judgment in the first place.
Hosea begins this last portion of his work calling Israel to give the fruit of her lips to the husband of her youth: “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (14:1 ESV). Though their sin had separated them from their God (Isa 59:1-2) and they had felt the wrath of his hands, there was only one step back to grace: “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” (6:1). If she would remember her marriage vows, and put away her harlotries, God would have Israel back as his own: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (12:6; see 2:19-20; 3:3). God’s holiness had sent his bride away, but his love now called her back to his side.
Israel’s restoration, however, could only begin by confessing her own sinfulness, and the sinlessness of the God she had left: “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay the fruit of our lips. 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’” (14:2-3; words in italics follow the LXX and Syriac; see ESV margin; Heb 13:15). Israel had first turned away from God in adultery at the altar, and then sought glory through their own political and military might. But Israel could not simply show back up in the temple and pretend nothing had happened. God did not want her songs, her prayers, or even her offerings; he wanted to see her broken heart and grateful mind transformed through sacrificial living (Psa 51:13-19; 69:30-31). He would not accept their worship or restore fellowship with her until she had confessed her sins before her God.
And when Israel returned in confession and repentance, the Lord would forgive his people and restore to them the fruit of his fellowship. If they would reject apostasy for a life with him, his anger would flee and they would feel his loving embrace; rain and dew would return to their parched land; flowers would again blossom, and fields and vines would bear their fruit (Hos 14:4-7; see 13:15). If Israel would return and dwell with her God once more, he would be her Provider and Rest—a Husband only he could be (2:16). With her life of sin behind her, she could smile through her tears as God restates his own vows, “It is I who answer and look after you. . . . from me comes your fruit” (Hos 13:8).
In that fellowship, she would once again experience the grace enjoyed by one who walks with God. As John Cassian writes, “Holy people have never testified that they attained by their effort the right path to travel on as they made their way to the increase and perfection of virtue. Rather they would plead to the Lord and say, ‘Direct me in your truth’ [Psa 25:5] and, ‘Direct my way in your sight’ [Psa 5:8]” (Conference 3.13.1). As Paul would later point out, the fruits of obedience were themselves gifts of God and evidence of his work in our lives: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:12-13, emphasis added). But if our faith is not visible through a life of loving obedience, we are dead in our sins because God is no longer working within us (Jam 2:17, 26).
Israel’s confession to God would have been both lengthy and difficult, but that would not excuse her failure to give God the fruit of her lips. She had left the husband of her youth and borne him illegitimate children (1:1-2:1), she had traded the blessings of marriage for a half-life of harlotry (2:2-13), and had been driven to debt slavery by the depth and breadth of her whoredom (2:14-3:5). And rather than bringing her back to God, Israel’s leaders failed in every way (4:1-19): they convinced the people they could hide from the One who is everywhere (5:1-6:10), that their hearts of pride, lust and greed would be not only tolerated but commended (6:11-7:16), and that their alliances with Egypt and Assyria would keep them safe from any coming conflict (8:1-9:9).
But God’s wrath could no longer wait; they would be crushed as grapes in the winepress (9:10-10:10), harnessed and put to work like a common farm animal (10:11-11:11), punished for their complete devotion to the deceitfulness of sin (11:12-12:14), and for rejecting the Only One who could provide for them in times of feast and famine (13:1-16). Unfortunately, Israel’s repentance came only after retribution. Soon after Hosea completed his work, his prophecies were fulfilled through “at least six incursions into Palestine and its neighbors by an unstoppable Assyrian army” (ESVSB). The day of the Lord had come, and God’s own people had found themselves on the wrong side of the cataclysm.
For the church of Jesus Christ, the message is clear: we must repent of our harlotries and live once again as the bride of Christ. We cannot pretend to make disciples apart from the watery womb of rebirth (Mat 28:18-20; John 3:3, 5; Tit 3:4-7), we cannot follow men and wear their names without giving up our place as disciples of Christ (Mat 15:7-8; Luke 14:26-27), and we cannot excuse or return to the very sins from which we’ve been freed by Christ’s own blood (2Pe 2:20-22; 1Pe 1:17-21). Instead, we need elders, preachers, and deacons who understand their role as servant-leaders (1Pe 5:1-4; 2Ti 2:24-26; Acts 6:1-7), who point the church outside of herself and to her Lord and Savior (Php 3:30-21; 2Pe 3:18), and who cultivate a living faith to combat the sensual thinking of this age (Eph 3:14-19; Rom 8:9-17).
And if we do not, our names will be scrubbed clean from the book of life (Rev 20:11-12; 22:17), we will experience the fury of the wrath of God’s winepress (Rev 14:18-20), we will feel the pain of eternal chains of fire and the corruption of an undying death (Rev 20:13-15; Mark 9:43-48), and we will suffer an eternity without the One who makes eternity worth living (2Th 1:6-9).
Hosea’s name and work shows the depth of God’s steadfast love for his people, but he is not the only child of God with this name, much less the most important. For Hosea (Hebrew) shares his name with the one and only Son of God: the Lord Jesus (Greek). “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mat 1:21, emphasis added). But such a salvation comes only from a conviction of sin that pierces the heart and cries out for the Lord’s deliverance (Acts 2:36-37; Rom 10:8-10), a visible repentance through baptism and sanctified living (Acts 2:38-41; Rom 6:3-4), and a life of grace among God’s people in worship and work, faithfulness and fellowship (Acts 2:42-47).
We cannot merely show back up to worship; we cannot hide or ignore our sin. If we want to be free of it, we must give it to God in confession. “Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15). Only then will we see the beauty of Christ’s love and radiate his own splendor as his bride. And then we shall sing in that great multitude: “‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:6-8). Amen.
Originally posted March 16, 2015. Video from Aug 22, 2018, courtesy of our ministers in Warner Robins, Brother Tim Childs.
In the last three chapters or so of his work, Hosea summarizes much of the case he has brought against the nation of Israel. As we saw last week, this summary began by reminding them of who they are, whom they serve, and what the Lord had done for them (11:12-12:14). In chapter 13, he now continues his summary by recounting the charges on which Israel is being indicted. The chapter therefore contains many parallels to the first four chapters of the book, though stated with even greater force and brevity. In every case, though, Israel’s sin is depicted as an ungrateful abuse of the good things God had given them.
Israel’s primary offense is therefore stated again: they had traded their relationship with God for a hunk of metal. “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 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” (Hos 13:1-2 ESV)! During the height of Israel’s monarchy, they were truly a force to be reckoned with. Though never reaching the same proportions of the great empires of their day, Solomon “ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah” (2Ch 9:26-27; see too Isa 7:2). Yet from this very silver and these very trees, Israel sinned against the God who had given them both (4:12-13)!
The Lord would therefore punish his people for ungratefully turning their blessings into abominations, as he said before: “The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame” (4:7). When we use our fortunes for faithlessness, God has every right and all the power to remove them—and he will. Not only that, but he will remove from us even the most basic elements of living: grain and water. “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” (13:3). Like Israel’s faithfulness, her sinfulness would not last long (6:4); it would be carried away on the winds of judgment, fanning the flames of God’s wrath.
The once luscious land would therefore be turned into a wilderness, even worse than the Sinai. “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. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hos 13:4-6). Jehovah was their only God (12:9), he was their only Deliverer (11:1; 12:13), the one who dwelt among them (Exo 40:34-38), the one who provided them water, bread and meat (Exo 15-17; Num 11), and brought them into the Promised Land (Jos 21:43-45)—but the name of the Lord had been forgotten (Hos 2:13). So now his judgment would rise as “the east wind, the wind of the LORD . . . rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing” (13:15; 12:1; Jer 18:15-17).
And so the “land flowing with milk and honey” would become a fruitless forest filled with wild beasts (Exo 3:8; Hos 2:3, 9, 12). But the King of the beasts would not go hungry. Since God could not be their protector, they would become his prey: “So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 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” (Hos 13:7-8; see 5:14). For her unfaithfulness, Israel would be ripped open and feasted upon by the winged lion of Babylon, the devouring Persian bear, and the four-headed leopard of Greece (Dan 7:2-6, 17; 2:37-39); all under the command of the Lord of heaven and earth.
And since Israel had denied the Lord as their King, he would remove even their earthly rulers. “He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 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’? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath” (Hos 13:9-11). It was Israel who had requested a king in the first place, and though Yahweh allowed Samuel to accommodate their request, God pointed out what this meant for the people spiritually: “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them . . . forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (1Sa 8:7-9).
Israel’s dynastic history attests to this same unfortunate trend. Time and time again (through ten dynasties!) Jehovah would raise up a leader to judge Israel’s king, take the throne, and restore the nation. But greed, lust, and politics would interfere and turn away the hearts of even the deliverers, so that the Lord could say in truth, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not” (Hos 8:4). So when the kings were gone, the people knew they were done for; they had traded the Hope of heaven for the pleasures of earth, and would now lose both: “We have no king, for we fear not the LORD, and a king—what could he do for us” (10:3)?
So, having chosen the paths of death, they would now suffer the consequences of a life without God, that is, until that too was taken away. “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 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” (13:12-13). And not even their children would escape the carnage: “they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open” (13:16). Again, the prophet’s imagery is both tragic and graphic. Israel’s names are bound up as if in a scroll of sins, a record of wrongdoing; Hosea lists the stillborn and the slaughtered together, neither of whom could be delivered (Isa 8:16; Deu 32:34-35). Israel had born illegitimate children, and since they were Not His People, they would receive No Mercy (1:6-9).
But there would be no mother to mourn the loss of the child. The Lord thus asks rhetorically, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?” (Hos 13:14). He answers with a resounding, No, calling on the Grave to open wide and do his worst: “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.” If Israel wanted hell, then hell is what they’d have; without the compassion of God, they would find only the corruption of the Grave. As Korah’s sons sang of the fate of fools, “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd . . . . Their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home . . . [they] will never again see light” (Psa 49:14, 19).
God’s blessings become curses when we forget the Giver and use his gifts against him. Moses had foreseen these unfortunate trend during his own lifetime, and warned the people not to allow history to repeat itself: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deu 30:19-20). But Moses’ plea fell on deaf ears; Israel failed to listen and honor God for their blessings, so they would now suffer the curses of his covenant.
Unfortunately, time has not strengthened the ears of the church. We have traded the living God for lifeless idols of silver and gold (1Th 1:9; Mat 6:24), we have given up our inheritance for the wilderness of sin (1Co 10:1-12; Heb 3:7-12), we have rejected our King for the sake of license (1Ti 6:3-16), and we have accepted a half-life of harlotry in place of the romance of righteousness (1Ch 16:29; Eph 5:24-27). And yet the promises of God stand firm: if we seek, we will find him (Hos 5:15; Mat 7:7-8); if we will bow, we shall rise (Hos 13:14; 1Co 15:55); if we submit, we will reign with David’s Son (Hos 3:5; Rev 3:7; 2:26-28); and if we love, we shall wed (Hos 2:16-20; Rev 19:7-8). Israel had turned her God-given blessings into curses, but the curses would be reversed when they once again blessed the One who gave it all.