When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.
But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. – Hosea 13:1-8 ESV
It would seem that the northern kingdom of Israel was unfamiliar with the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Because that is exactly what they had done. They were guilty of turning on the very one who had chosen them and blessed them by making them a nation. When God had divided the nation of Israel after Solomon’s epic fall from grace, He had chosen Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim to be the first king of the northern kingdom. That is why God held the tribe of Ephraim responsible for the direction the nation had taken. It was Jeroboam who came up with the bright idea to make two golden calves and establish their own places of worship, so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Eighteen years into his reign, Jeroboam rebelled against the southern kingdom of Judah and declared war against them. King Abijah of Judah had some very condemning words to say to the people of Israel just prior to their battle.
And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods. Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. – 2 Chronicles 13:8-9 ESV
Abijah warned them, “O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12 ESV). And he was proved right. The southern kingdom of Judah ended up routing the Israelites in battle, destroying 500,000 of their men in the process. “Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18 ESV). King Jeroboam escaped, but would never regain his power. In fact, the chronicler tells us, “Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died” (2 Chronicles 13:20 ESV). As Hosea puts it, “He incurred guilt through Baal and died” (Hosea 13:1 ESV).
But Jeroboam left a legacy. His golden calves, false priests and pagan worship centers remained. And as Hosea makes clear, even with Jeroboam gone, the people of Israel “sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen” (Hosea 13:2 ESV). Despite their humiliating defeat by Judah and the loss of their king, the people of Israel remained committed to their false gods. They stubbornly clung to their man-made idols, crafting them out of precious metals and then kissing them, desperately hoping that these false gods could become viable substitutes for the one true God.
But Hosea warns that their efforts will prove futile. Their days are numbered. He describes their future as bleak, saying, “they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney” (Hosea 13:3 NLT). And God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4 ESV). He was to be their one and only God. Those idols to whom they offered sacrifices were not gods at all. They were statues made by men and were incapable of hearing them, let alone helping them. There was only one source of salvation and that was God. He alone could be their savior. He alone had the power to hear their prayers and provide them with help and hope. It was He who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan. It was He who had provided them with victory over the inhabitants of the land and given them farms, vineyards and houses they had not built. As God reminded Joshua, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build – the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them” (Joshua 24:13 NLT). And Joshua would go on to warn the people:
So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT
The people had chosen. They had decided to serve false gods rather than the God who had delivered them from captivity and blessed them beyond measure. They gladly accepted the blessings of God, but then became fat and happy, slowly forgetting the one who had chosen them and set them apart. They ended up biting the very hand that fed them. God pulls no punches in describing their unfaithfulness: “they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6 ESV). Once they had become satisfied with the blessings of God, they ended up forgetting the God behind the blessings. The provisions became more important than the Provider. The gifts meant more to them than the Giver. And in their minds, they rationalized that if one God is good, more gods is better. In fact, their philosophy seemed to be: the more, the merrier. More gods, more blessings. More shrines, more potential saviors. But they were going to learn that there was no other savior. Like a wild beast, God was going to attack them, and their false gods would prove poor substitutes for Him and lousy saviors from destruction.