False Gods. False Hearts.

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?”  They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—for it has departed from them. The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. – Hosea 10:1-6 ESV

The nation of Israel as a prolific and fruitful grapevine was a common image in the Old Testament. The psalmist wrote, “You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine; you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land. You cleared the ground for us,
and we took root and filled the land. Our shade covered the mountains; our branches covered the mighty cedars. We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea; our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River” (Psalm 80:8-11 NLT). And over the years, Israel had been prolific, but also unfaithful, which led God to declare, “But I was the one who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21 ESV). It seemed that the more God blessed Israel, the more unfaithful the nation became. As they grew and prospered, the number of temples to false gods, shrines and high places they built. They were using the land given to them by God to build places of worship for other gods. They were using the grain, wine, and flocks that God had graciously provided for them to make sacrifices to false gods. Their ingratitude was shocking and their audacity was unbelievable.

God was going to forcibly remove their altars by removing them from the land. He would see to it that all their places of worship were destroyed and the people taken captive to Assyria. Their false gods would not protect them. Their allies would prove to be helpless in saving them. The day was coming when they would no longer have a king. Hoshea would be the last king over the northern kingdom of Israel. We can read of what happened in 2 Kings.

King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. When the king of Assyria discovered this treachery, he seized Hoshea and put him in prison. – 2 Kings 17:3-4 NLT

Even in defeat, the king of Israel remained stubborn and somehow thought he could escape the looming destruction, even though it had been decreed by God Himself. The fall of Israel would be great.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. They built pagan shrines for themselves in all their towns, from the smallest outpost to the largest walled city. They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the Lord’s anger. Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – 2 Kings 17:5-12 NLT

Sadly, when all this eventually took place, the people of Israel would mourn the loss of their idols. There would be no repentance, no sorrow over their sins. They would cry over their missing idols, even though these false gods had done nothing to protect them or prevent their defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. This reveals just how hardened their hearts had become. Over and over again, God had sent His prophets to call the people back to Him. But they had repeatedly refused to listen. “They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them” (2 Kings 17:15 NLT). So their lack of repentance led to their rejection by God.

Things had reached an all-time low in Israel. “They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the Lord’s anger” (2 Kings 17:17 NLT). But it had not happened over night. This had been a slow, steady decline that had begun with a refusal to obey God. And their failure to obey God was based on a lack of trust in His word. They had not believed that what He had said was true. They had not trusted that what He had promised He would do. Their disobedience had begun with disbelief and distrust. And that is how it always goes. Our failure to take God at His word creates doubt and the enemy works diligently to turn that doubt into disbelief. And soon our disbelief turns into unbelief, and before we know it we are placing our hope and trust in something or someone other than God. We look elsewhere for our satisfaction, security, safety, and salvation. Since we doubt God’s goodness, we seek it elsewhere. Since we don’t believe God will come through for us, we sell our affections to the highest bidder. Like Hosea’s unfaithful wife, Gomer, we end up prostituting ourselves to false lovers – turning our back on the One who loves us more than we could ever know. And while we may think this could never happen to us, we must always recognize that our hearts have a natural propensity for unfaithfulness. We can easily allow our disbelief to turn into disobedience. Our hearts can stray and our allegiances can shift from God to false gods. Which is why we need to seek Him constantly and trust Him diligently.