Hosea presented a warning from the Lord to Judah, the kingdom to the south. Judah was told to observe the evil Israel has done and the Lord’s response to it. Israel is referred to here as Ephraim, the northern kingdom. She and Judah did share a common ancestor in Jacob. In addition, both shared a predisposition or bent to act in the same way as Jacob did. He was a schemer and conniver who always tried to manipulate people to achieve prosperity and success. He even tried to manipulate the Lord. He struggled with Yahweh and was not willing to surrender himself fully to the Lord until the Lord wrestled him at Peniel. Israel and Judah wrestled with God too but they would find that they could not prevail against Him. Their attempts to fool God with hypocrisy and religion would cost them greatly. Hosea also mentioned the fact that the Lord had sent many prophets to speak words of wisdom and warning. Israel and Judah heard but refused to obey. Instead they tried to circumvent God’s commands. Therefore they are without excuse and deserve any punishment they reap.
In today’s world, because the mass media and the Internet have so blanketed the globe so that there are few if any people who have not heard about Jesus. Yet most ignore what they hear or disregard Him in favor of their own religions. Many find that God’s ways and His commands interfere with their own ideas, philosophies, plans and pleasures. Belief in Jesus means they must deny their own autonomy and independence in favor of accepting His will over theirs. It also means that they must admit their sinfulness and their inability to restrain it. Finally it means loving people they detest and laying down their lives for them. Israel and Judah rejected God’s commands to their destruction. Those in modern society who do the same will find the judgment of God upon them all unless they turn to Jesus.
During the time of Hosea, Israel enjoyed great prosperity in terms of agriculture and trade. The people became rich and attributed this to God’s acceptance of their worship and their religious devotion. The prophet, however, called on them not to rejoice: they were hypocrites who needed to repent. While they were celebrating the feast of the harvest they were told that Yahweh was going to carry our His judgment because they still did not acknowledge Him as the supreme and sole God nor did they serve Him as He commanded. Since they had forsaken God, He had forsaken them. The only prayer Hosea could make was that the people would not have children so that the impact of the coming suffering would be minimized.
These days God is often acknowledged as the author of blessings. People thank Him for whatever blessings because they feel God is obligated to them in some way because they think they have fulfilled their religious obligations. So when suffering comes their way, many will blame God and curse Him for depriving them of good things. They choose to ignore the possibility that their own hypocritical, selfish and sinful ways of living resulted in these unplanned yet inevitable consequences. Other people, however, will see the hand of God at work, examine themselves, turn to Him and repent. All of us will go through suffering, but it is far better to endure it knowing that God is with us in that time, drawing us closer to Him. Those who curse Him will have no true or lasting relief until they go to the Lord in humble prayer. That may mean of course that many will remain without hope separated from God. It is the calling of the Christian to reach out to such folks in their time of need and demonstrate to them God’s loving kindness.
Israel has chosen to totally ignore God. She has rebelled against Him by breaking His covenant and His law so that they also broke their relationship with Him although they claimed they had not. She failed to seek out His way and His will. She has chosen instead to seek out leaders who were unrighteous and who would lead them willingly in their pursuit of idolatry and its accompanying immorality. This idolatry was similar to that of the Israelites and the golden calf for one of the idols that the people worshiped was a bull who they believed represented Yahweh. Thus they could still claim they had relationship with Yahweh while still being able to live as their pleased.
Today there are many people who claim to have a relationship with Jesus but who choose to avoid His commands or else redefine them. These claim that relationship with God is developed and maintained through worship, prayer, spirituality and liturgy. How one lives his or her life is a matter of personal preference. People can disregard God’s laws and His word as elements of a rigid fundamentalism that is outdated and unnecessary. They do not realize that those who reject or ignore God’s Law cannot have a relationship with Him for their lives are an abomination to Him. Worship, singing, prayers, good works and spirituality no matter how dramatic, emotional or lively is meaningless unless one accepts God’s law and His definitions of sin and righteousness. Though right, orthodox belief is important to The Lord, he desires his children to dispense mercy and kindness to all, even those who do not deserve it, which in the final analysis, includes all human beings.
Hosea continued to drive home his indictment of the people of Israel with images that emphasized the insincerity of the people as well as the dangers of their failure to repent. These images initially seem positive but they are not. The first image is that of an oven. This represented the adulterous immorality of Israel. The oven burns continuously with passion not for Yahweh but for the physical desires and lusts of the people. The hot oven produced the second image, a half-baked cake that is uncooked on one side and burnt on the other, unfit for consumption and so unfit for the service of the Lord. Hosea also compared Israel to a dove that seems peaceful and calm but is really gullible, foolish and easily misled. She did not seek the help of Yahweh when in trouble but trusted in worldly kingdoms. Finally, Israel is a faulty weapon that again is useless in the service of the Lord.
As we know, despite these graphic images, Israel did not heed the word of Hosea. Neither do the people of the 21st Century. People in our contemporary society do not want to think about sin. This would include many churches even evangelical ones. The sins that many liberal churches emphasize are those of institutions and governmental systems such as racism, injustice, sexual abuse and religious fundamentalism. They tend to ignore the sins committed by individuals such as abortion, sexual immorality, materialism and pride sins which are rightly deplored by evangelical churches. Those same churches though seem to ignore the plight of the poor and the needy. God will judge the church and nation by its tolerance of all such evils.
While the people claimed a desire to acknowledge the Lord as sovereign, their confession was insincere. Hosea indicted the people for their lies and false profession. Their words reflected their belief that they expected the Lord to act automatically. That is, He wounds, and then He heals in a cycle that occurs independent of their response or action. What their statement lacked was crucial elements in God’s work: conviction of sin and repentance. The goal of the Lord’s affliction was to lead people to repentance. Thus their religious profession of faith was worthless no matter how dramatic or moving it seemed. God desires love which is demonstrated by unreserved obedience. A refusal to address their sinfulness showed that tough the people who offered sacrifices despises God, were not devoted to Him had no real relationship with him at all.
For us the lesson is not to presume upon God. When He allows affliction to come our way, He will not act automatically to deliver any of us. He allows such troubles to come our way for a purpose and reason, sometimes as punishment, sometimes as discipline, but more often to lead us to confess, renounce our besetting sins and repent. We may pray for relief, perform many good deeds or make promises in an effort to bargain with God, but our trial or affliction will continue until we repent which is something the people of Israel did not desire or like and neither do we. If we knew the Lord, had a personal relationship with Him, we would understand this. The trouble with a lot of those who call themselves Christians is that they assume that because they were brought up in the faith that they have such a relationship. But without genuine repentance such an assumption is flawed and deadly.
Hosea’s prophecy turns to focus on the Lord’s omniscience. Yahweh sees and knows everything that happens in the thoughts and acts of men. Israel cannot deceive Him for He knows what she is doing and all the reasons why. He knows that the attempts of the people to please Him with religious offerings and sacrifices are hypocritical and so lacking in sincerity. He knows that the people have refused to forsake their sins of idolatry and its accompanying immorality even though they pretend to honor Him with religious words and works. In addition, they demonstrated their lack of devotion to Yahweh for in their time of need they seek help from Assyria, not from Him.
One of the more troubling characteristics of God that causes sinners to run from Him is His omniscience. The Lord sees us through all our attempts to deny, cover up or atone for our sins. He sees though our outward displays of religious worship, good deeds and spiritual acts of piety. He sees that they are often done for our own enrichment and pleasure rather than out of a sense of sorrow or of thankfulness and love for Him, who He is and what He has done. This is scary and we run from Him or else we put up barriers of religious rules and feel good acts of worship that really separate us from Him. We do these things because we do not want to have our sins exposed. We do not want to confess that we are sinners nor do we want to admit that we need Him. And sometimes we run from God because we think He is angry and wants to punish us. Yet we want to look good and feel good without having to really obey His commands. It would be far better if sinners embrace that punishment now, confess their need for The Lord and repent rather than suffer everlasting torment separated from God forever.
Hosea brings charges against Israel and her people. They have sinned by being unfaithful to Yahweh, by not showing love and devotion to Him and by their consistent refusal to acknowledge Him as their sole and sovereign Lord. The Lord has decided that He will give them what they desire. This is detrimental to them because God is good and the source of all that is good. So because they choose to reject God and go away from Him, they will not find any good thing. They will seek pleasure and it will elude them. They will give way to gluttony, sexual immorality, and religious spirituality but none of these will satisfy them.
Today our culture is seeking God through many new (and not so new) forms of spirituality. These forms exalt the individual by helping find the god within, the essence of divinity which we are told we all are. Some refer to this as the “Christ” within. We Christians know that this is all a new form of the old Satanic lie of Genesis 3:5. The god the people of the world seek is neither Yahweh or Jesus, God incarnate. People reject the God of the Bible because they do not want to depend on anyone but themselves. They do not want to serve a God who will tell them what is right and wrong. They do not want to submit to the authority of anyone who will tell them how to live their lives. They prefer to do things their own way. Hence they will find, like the Israelites, that goodness and pleasure will elude them.