False Gods. False Hope.

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. Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt. – Hosea 7:14-16 ESV

These three verses paint a very pitiful picture of the state of the people of Israel. They had become so addicted to their worship of Baal and other false gods, that even in their times of greatest need, they continued to turn to the very gods that were the cause of their problem. Like a addict who takes more drugs to stem off the tremors caused by withdrawal from those drugs, the Israelites couldn’t bring themselves to turn away from their false gods. God describes them as wailing upon their beds in agony and discomfort, but refusing to call on Him. And in order to convince the god, Baal, to give them abundant harvests of wine and grain, they gashed themselves as part of their worship. This should remind us of the encounter between the prophet, Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah had challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a contest to prove whose god was the one true God.

Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” – 1 Kings 18:23-24 ESV

Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to go first, reminding them, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it” (1 Kings 18:25 ESV). And we read, “they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made” (1 Kings 18:26 ESV). As Elijah mocked their efforts and the seeming indifference of their god, they amped up their efforts.

And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. – 1 Kings 18:28-29 ESV

As part of their religious ritual, they cut themselves, mutilating their bodies in an attempt to get the attention of their god. But no one answered. No one paid attention. There was no voice and no response, because there was no god. And God accused the Israelites of calling on Baal in the same pitiful way, cutting and gashing their bodies in an effort to get the attention of a non-existent god. And the sad reality was – all they had to do was call on God in repentance and He would have answered them. He was the one who had “trained and strengthened their arms” (Hosea 7:15 ESV) and yet they refused to turn to Him. In fact, they were guilty of turning to anyone but God in their moments of need. They appealed to their false gods and they sought the aid of pagan nations, in the hopes that these unhealthy alliances would protect them from the threat posed by Assyria.

It would be easy to roll our eyes in disbelief at the stubbornness and stupidity of the Israelites. We could wonder how they could be so hardheaded as to refuse to turn to God when He was the one disciplining them for their rebellion against them. But before we shake our fingers in judgment, we need to take stock of our own lives and see if we are not guilty of the same thing. How many times have we turned to our own “gods” of comfort, and convenience when we have faced difficulty? How often have we looked to something other than God when confronted when confronted with a need of some kind? We find it so easy to turn to our own capabilities and rely on our own intelligence. If we’re sad or despondent, we turn on the TV in the hopes of finding relief, even if just for a moment. If we face a financial need, we find it easier to go into debt to get what we need rather than to ask God for help. And in doing so, we end up worse off than when we started. Our false “saviors” never alleviate or eliminate the problem, they only enhance it. Our sophisticated “gods” give us the same response as the prophets of Baal received: No voice. No answer.

One of the saddest outcomes of all of this is that the lost world laughs at those who call themselves followers of Christ, because our beliefs seem to make no difference in our lives. We claim to believe in God, but we tend to turn to anything and anyone other than God for our help and hope. We go to church on Sunday, but the rest of the week we put our faith in the gods of this world: government, money, materialism, entertainment, health, wealth, work, pleasure, and human reasoning. We chase these false gods, spiritually mutilating and harming ourselves in an effort to make them respond to our calls for help. But God wants us to call on Him. He wants us to trust Him and rely on Him for all our needs. God will not tolerate our affections for other gods. He will not compete for our love. He has proven Himself faithful and loving. He will allow us to chase after our false gods until we realize that they provide neither help or hope, and we return to Him in humble repentance.