You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:13-15 ESV
At times, even as believers, we are surprised at the outcomes of some of our decision making. We are somehow amazed that our lies have consequences. We are shocked when our love affair with materialism leaves us struggling with greed, envy, covetousness, worry and anxiety. We wonder why we are so angry, yet never connect the dots to our daily consumption of violence-filled media. We wrestle with lust, but never seem to associate it with the sexually explicit programming that fills our TV screens each and every night.
The Israelites were also oblivious to the cause-and-effect nature of their lives. So God made it clear to them: “you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins” (Hosea 10:13 NLT). In other words, they were reaping exactly what they should have expected. No surprises. Just the natural consequences of living their lives apart from God. They had consumed a daily dose of lies about everything. They had been told that God would not punish them for their sins because they were His chosen people. They had been promised that alliances with foreign powers would protect them from destruction. They believed that the gods of pagan nations were anything but false. But while a steady diet of lies may taste good going down and make you feel good for the moment, it will leave you spiritually weak, malnourished, and starving to death.
Self-reliance and misplaced trust were behind the behavior of the Israelites. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 ESV). The prophet, Jeremiah, recorded a similar indictment from God against the people of Judah. “My people are foolish and do not know me. They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” (Jeremiah 4:22 NLT). They thought they knew better than God. They rejected His commands and ignored His warnings. They lived life according to their own terms. They stopped trusting God and, instead, placed their hope in false gods. When things got tough and they found themselves threatened by outside forces, they turned to alliances with countries like Egypt. They refused to rely on God. He had become small, insignificant and insufficient to meet their needs. The God who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and given them the land of Canaan had become too weak to meet their needs. They had long ago forgotten the words of David:
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV
Not only did they doubt God’s salvation, they denied His judgment. They really did not believe that they could fall. They were so confident in their status as God’s chosen people, that they believed they were invincible. And yet, they never seemed to recognize the fact that their protection by God was based on their obedience and faithfulness to him. He had warned them that disobedience would bring His discipline. Unfaithfulness would have consequences. So God gave them the bad news: “Now the terrors of war will rise among your people” (Hosea 10:14 NLT). Their army would be impotent. Their alliances would prove useless. Their fortresses and defensive measures would be insufficient. And their false gods would be exposed for what they were: non-existent and, therefore, no help in time of need.
The devastation would be horrific. Referring to a past battle, God warned them that their fall would be brutal and merciless: “as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children” (Hosea 10:14b ESV). The Assyrians were going to show no mercy. Their destruction of the nation of Israel would be complete and no one would escape their wrath. From king to commoner, priest to prostitute, the influential to innocent infants – all would feel the wrath of the Assyrians and the judgment of God.
These kinds of passages make us uncomfortable as believers. They paint a picture of God that seems to contradict our view of Him as loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful. But too often, our understanding of God can become one-dimensional. We prefer to emphasize His love while downplaying His holiness and hatred of sin. We find comfort in His grace, but don’t want to think about His righteous wrath and divine obligation to punish sin. In doing so, we diminish the value of the gift of His Son. But it is in understanding the severity of sin’s offensiveness to God and His just and righteous obligation to punish sin that we fully comprehend the magnitude of what Christ has done for us. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus “was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). The inescapable reality was that “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:5 NLT).
Our sin was real. God’s judgment against our sin was deserved. And yet He showed us mercy – in spite of our sinfulness. Grace does not diminish the gravity of sin. It actually reveals the amazing love of God as He provides a means of salvation that is capable of satisfying His wrath against sin. He gave His Son. It was the death of Jesus alone that could propitiate or satisfy the just judgment of God against the sinfulness of mankind. Nothing else would do. No other payment could have been made that would have paid the debt that was owed. So when we elevate God’s love while ignoring His wrath, we actually diminish the amazing nature of that love. He loved us in spite of us, not because of us.
And yet, we continue to sow and reap, sin and suffer, because we don’t fully appreciate the gravity of sin and the greatness of His grace. We justify our actions, rationalize our sinful behavior and then wonder why we reap discontentment, dissatisfaction, anger, joylessness, envy, greed, and immorality. It is an accurate understanding of the grace of God that should produce in us the fruit of righteousness. As God told the people of Israel, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).