Repentance Must Precede Restoration

Blow the horn in Gibeah,
    the trumpet in Ramah.
Sound the alarm at Beth-aven;
    we follow you, O Benjamin!
Ephraim shall become a desolation
    in the day of punishment;
among the tribes of Israel
    I make known what is sure.
10 The princes of Judah have become
    like those who move the landmark;
upon them I will pour out
    my wrath like water.
11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
    because he was determined to go after filth.
12 But I am like a moth to Ephraim,
    and like dry rot to the house of Judah.

13 When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you
    or heal your wound.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

15 I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me. Hosea 5:8-15 ESV

Since we’re not Israelites, it’s a bit difficult for us to figure out what is going on in these verses. Hosea begins verse 8 by listing three different cities that most of us know little or nothing about. But they would have had significance to the original readers of his book. Hosea’s mention of them was intended to provide geographic reference points that help establish a context for what follows. Gibeah and Ramah were cities located in the southern kingdom of Judah. Both were just north of the capital city of Jerusalem and not far from the border Judah shared with Israel. Beth-haven was located just across the border in the southern kingdom of Israel. Hosea has purposefully altered the name of this particular town in order to drive home a point. The actual name of the city was Bethel and it had a long, rich history among the descendants of Abraham. In Hebrew, the name Bethel means, “house of God,  but Hosea repeatedly refers to it as Beth-haven, which can be translated as “house of wickedness.”

With this less-than-flattering name change, Hosea is making a powerful statement about the spiritual state of Israel. At one time, Bethel had held a special significance among the descendants of Abraham. They would have been very familiar with the story of Abraham’s call by God, recorded in the book of Genesis. Not long after God had led Abraham to the land of Canaan, He had communicated His promise to make of Abraham a great nation. He also promised to give the entire land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring. This would have included the land on which Gibeah, Raman, and Bethel sat. Genesis records that, not long after receiving this promise from God, Abraham traveled to Bethel, where he erected an altar to Yahweh.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. – Genesis 12:7-9 ESV

Years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, would have a divinely inspired dream in which God reiterated the very same promise He had communicated to Abraham.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

And Jacob would respond in awe and wonder at this gracious pronouncement by God.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” – Genesis 28:16-17 ESV

As a result of this remarkable dream and the promise it contained, “He called the name of that place Bethel” (Genesis 28:19 ESV). Jacob set up a sacred pillar to Yahweh, thereby establishing Bethel as a permanent worship site in Israel. Years later, he  returned to that same sight and built an altar to the Lord, renaming it El-Bethel (God of Bethel). At one time, the Ark of the Covenant was kept at there. So, for generations, the Israelites had recognized this site as holy and dedicated to Yahweh. But when the kingdom was divided in half, King Jeroboam deemed Bethel as one of the locations for the worship of his false god. He built a temple there and placed within it one of the golden calf idols he had made.

Bethel sat at the boundary between the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin and eventually delineated the border between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. So, when Hosea points out these three cities, he is focusing his attention on the literal heart of Israel. They are each located at the center of the land that God had given to the 12 tribes of Israel.

And Hosea announces that the sound of trumpets would be heard in these three cities. But these would not be trumpets of joy or celebration. They would be the warning signs of coming destruction. The armies of Judah and Israel would be summoned for war, but they would prove ineffective against the enemies that God was bringing against them.

One thing is certain, Israel:
    On your day of punishment,
    you will become a heap of rubble. – Hosea 5:9 NLT

Both nations were guilty and, as a result, both would suffer the consequences for their sin and rebellion.

“The leaders of Judah have become like thieves.
    So I will pour my anger on them like a waterfall.
The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment
    because they are determined to worship idols.
I will destroy Israel as a moth consumes wool.
    I will make Judah as weak as rotten wood.” – Hosea 5:10-12 NLT

The nations of Judah and Israel had each violated their covenant agreements with God. But they had also violated their covenant agreements with one another. When Moses had allotted each tribe their portion of the land of Canaan, they had agreed to respect the boundaries the God had established for them. But Judah had stolen land that belonged to Benjamin. And ever since the division of the kingdom, Israel had repeatedly invaded and plundered land belonging to the tribe of Judah. By violating God’s commands as communicated through the Mosaic Law, the people of Israel and Judah no longer had a basis for knowing right from wrong.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all.

What’s interesting to note is that, when both nations found themselves suffering God’s judgment for their sin, they attempted to escape it by turning to foreign powers for help. And on of the nations from which they sought assistance was the Assyrians. The kings of Judah and Israel had repeatedly sought salvation from the ruthless and morally corrupt Assyrians, but it had done them no good.

“When Israel and Judah saw how sick they were,
    Israel turned to Assyria—
to the great king there—
    but he could neither help nor cure them. – Hosea 5:13 NLT

False gods and foreign powers were no match for God Almighty. There was no army big enough, no country powerful enough, and no god mighty enough to provide escape from the righteous wrath of God. They could run. They could hide. They could hire help. But in the end, God was going to do exactly what He said He would do.

“I will be like a lion to Israel,
    like a strong young lion to Judah.
    I will tear them to pieces!
I will carry them off,
    and no one will be left to rescue them.” – Hosea 5:14 NLT

And God warns them that they will find Him non-existent and unrelenting in His judgment until they admit their guilt and return to Him in humility and brokenness. This statement reflects the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, hundreds of years earlier. Consider the words of his prayer closely.

“If they [Israel] sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to their land far away or near.  But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.’ If they turn to you with their whole heart and soul in the land of their enemies and pray toward the land you gave to their ancestors—toward this city you have chosen, and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name—then hear their prayers and their petition from heaven where you live, and uphold their cause. Forgive your people who have sinned against you. Forgive all the offenses they have committed against you. Make their captors merciful to them, for they are your people—your special possession…” – 1 Kings 8:46-51 NLT

As David wrote in one of his psalms, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). God was looking for a heart of humility and repentance from His people. And until they were willing to bow before Him in contrition and confession, they would search for Him in vain.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson