A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.– Hosea 12:7-11 ESV
The people of Israel lived a lie. They seriously thought they were able to pull the wool over the eyes of God, that He was somehow ignorant of their sinfulness. They even believed that their many blessings, in the form of wealth, power, abundant crops, and growing families, were a sign of God’s approval of them. Yet, like a dishonest grain merchant who cheats his customers by using rigged scales, the Israelites were guilty of deceit and dishonesty. They simply saw themselves as clever and resourceful, and they believed their success was a sign of God’s approval. They prided themselves on their wealth and arrogantly believed their sins were somehow hidden and undetectable by others.
Like so many Christians today, the Israelites saw their material abundance and wealth as a sign of God’s approval. They believed their affluence could be directly attributed to God and His pleasure with them. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to radically re-align their perspective. They were going to go from living lives of abundance and wealth to abject poverty. They would find themselves living in tents just like their ancestors had done while slaves in the land of Egypt. No more plush, comfortable homes. Gone would be the days of sumptuous clothes and delicious meals. Once a year, at the Feast of Booths, the Israelites would build temporary shelters made from branches in order to commemorate the years their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. Now they were going to experience what it was like to live in these shanties 365 days out of the year. Their sudden fall from grace would be a rude awakening, shattering their ill-conceived notion that affluence was somehow a sign of God’s approval.
God had sent His prophets, and they had warned the people to repent or face His coming judgment. They had had visions, spoken in parables, and repeatedly pleaded with the people to hear what they were saying and return to the Lord. But the people had rejected their messages and, in some cases, killed the messengers. Even Jesus declared of the city of David, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV). The people of Israel were unwilling to return to God. They had stubbornly refused His prophets, rejected their message, and remained committed to living life on their own terms. But God warned, “they shall surely come to nothing” (Hosea 12:11 ESV). Their altars to false gods would become like heaps of stones lying at the side of a plowed field. Their entire way of life was going to come to an end. Everything they put their faith and hope in – their wealth, material assets, false gods, fruitful fields, prolific families, and foreign alliances – would prove unreliable and no longer be available.
Ungodliness is essentially God-lessness. It is attempting to live your life with God removed from the center of it. It is the result of refusing to include Him in every area of life, of not giving Him access to and influence over the everyday affairs of life. When we convince ourselves that God doesn’t care about what we watch on TV, what we purchase with our money, how we spend our time, or where we place our hopes, we become ungodly. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is immoral or sinful. It simply means that God becomes less and less an influence over the everyday decisions of life. Our lives become essentially God-less. And it doesn’t take long for a God-less life to manifest itself in godless decisions and ungodly behavior. The Israelites had long ago left God out of the everyday mix of life. He had become an afterthought. He was their god in name only. They gave Him lip-service but not heart-allegiance. They wanted His blessings, but not His influence over their lives. As God declared through the prophet Isaiah:
These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT
God went on to declare:
What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT
God-lessness can take the form of us deliberately leaving God out of our lives or simply assuming He is oblivious to what is going on. But any thought on our part that God does not care or that we can keep Him in the dark is misguided and, ultimately, dangerous. God wants to be engaged and involved in every area of our lives. But when we deliberately decide to leave Him out, our decision making will become God-less and our lives will gravitate toward ungodliness. And while we may experience what appears to be success and enjoy what feels like happiness, we will soon discover that abundance, without God, is actually poverty. Happiness, apart from God, will only result in misery. The call of Jesus to the church in Laodicea applies to many of us today:
“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Revelation 3:17-19 NLT