Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. To me they cry, “My God, we — Israel — know you.” Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him. They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. 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. – Hosea 8:1-6 ESV
Ever since the split of the kingdom, the northern nation of Israel had made a habit of ignoring God, transgressing His covenant and rebelling against His law. It had all begun with King Jeroboam’s disastrous decision to make his own gods, in an attempt to keep the people from going back to Jerusalem in the south to worship.
So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. – 1 Kings 12:28-31 ESV
Jeroboam had deemed himself a god-maker and led the entire nation into idolatry. And now, years later, after decades of unfaithfulness to God, the Assyrians were poised, ready to wreak destruction on the people of Israel – as part of God’s punishment for their blatant forsaking of Him as their god. But now that their world was falling apart, they had suddenly decided to call on God, saying , “My God, we — Israel — know you.” But nothing could have been further from the truth. Had they truly known God, they would not have committed the blatant acts of unfaithfulness that had marked their brief and less-than-stellar history. They had appointed kings without God’s approval. They had set over themselves princes and leaders without seeking God’s direction. And the original two golden calves had not been the only idols they erected and worshiped. Idols to Baal and other false gods were located throughout the kingdom.
But God condemned their idols, made with human hands, and He declared, “It is not God.” They were going to discover the simple truth behind that statement as they called out to their false gods in hopes of escaping the wrath of the Assyrian army. And when their idols failed to provide them with a miracle of deliverance, they would finally turn to God. But it would prove too little, too late. Their return would not be heartfelt and would lack true repentance. Their sorrow was not for their sins against God, but because of their circumstances. They weren’t repentant. They were simply remorseful. And their calling on God was nothing more than a last-minute attempt to escape the disaster looming over them.
It is not God. That is the key lesson they were to learn. Their false gods were not gods at all. They were man-made objects lacking life and devoid of any ability to provide help or hope. Their golden calves would end up broken and destroyed. Their places of worship would be torn down. Their reliance upon Egypt and other foreign powers would prove futile. Their real hope should have been in God alone. As the psalmist wrote, “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalms 20:7 NLT). The prophet Isaiah warned against placing your trust in anything other than God. “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the LORD, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 31:1 NLT).
But how easy it is to trust in what we can see. How quickly we can turn to those things that appear to be real and worthy of our trust – instead of trusting in God. But as God’s people, we are to place all our confidence in Him. He is to be our strength, our comfort, protector and provider. But God is not to be treated like an in-case-of-emergency button. He doesn’t want to be our go-to God when all else fails. And yet, so often, we turn to God only after we have exhausted all other options. When we no longer have any tricks up our sleeves, we reach out to him for help. Our desperation prompts us to display an insincere form of remorse. But what God wants is true repentance, a brokenness of heart that causes us to reach out to Him in love and sincere sorrow. David said it well. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). The prophet Joel provided a picture of the kind of response God desires from His people:
That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord your God as before. – Joel 2:12-14 NLT
God desires hearts that are sincerely sorrowful over their sin. He longs for His people to return to Him in heartfelt repentance, legitimately willing to turn from worshiping false gods and ready to place their hope in Him. If our only goal is to escape His judgment, we miss the point. If our repentance is not motivated by His love and a desire to be restored to a right relationship with Him, we are treating Him as nothing more than a get-out-of-jail-free card. Sometimes our difficulties and trials are an opportunity for us to realize that the thing we have been worshiping is not a god. The things we have been putting all our hope in is incapable of delivering what we have been expecting. It is not God. But He is. And He wants to be the God of our lives, providing hope, healing, help, and an ever-increasing holiness of character in our lives.