But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV
At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).
God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.
Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.
You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and mother … You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT
And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV
The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.
The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.