The King Has Come

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45 ESV

Before we look at Mary’s impromptu trip to visit Elizabeth, it’s essential that we notice an important point of contrast that Luke has established. He began his gospel account with a brief but significant mention of Herod’s kingship over Judea (Luke 1:5). But when Gabriel delivered his message to Mary that she had been chosen to bear and give birth to the Son of God, he had told her what the child’s name and mission would be.

“…you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

Her son was going to be the Messiah of Israel of whom the prophets had spoken and for whom the people of Israel had long been waiting. And when He arrived, He would become the true and rightful King of Israel.

The message Gabriel delivered to Mary seems to have been based on the words of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

Mary would have recognized the connection between Gabriel’s words and the prophetic pronouncement of Isaiah. Part of the reason for Mary’s willing acceptance of the angel’s bizarre news was that she was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and what they promised about the coming Messiah. Isaiah had also prophesied regarding the Messiah’s miraculous birth to a virgin.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The Messiah’s very name would signify His divine mission and identity. In Hebrew, Immanuel means “God with us.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would become pregnant with the Son of God and, with His birth, God would come to dwell with men. It would be just as John the apostle described it in the beginning of his gospel account.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

But Jesus would enter the world as King. Though His mother would be an obscure and seemingly unimportant Jewish girl, and His birthplace would be the insignificant town of Bethlehem, Jesus would arrive on the scene as the rightful heir to the throne of David. And the prophet Isaiah had predicted that fact as well.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

While Mary had been shocked by the news she received from Gabriel, she was also overjoyed because she understood the significance of all that he had told her. She had been selected to give birth to Immanuel, the Son of God. God had graciously chosen her to be the means by which the long-awaited Messiah made His entrance into the world. Israel was finally going to have a real King, not some puppet potentate who served the Romans and wasn’t even a descendant of David.

And this exciting reality drove Mary to make the arduous journey to the hill country of Judah to see her cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel had informed Mary about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.

“…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:36 ESV

Mary sensed that God’s sovereign hand was behind all that was going on, but she still had to wrestle with the fact that she was about to be an unmarried pregnant woman in a culture that would consider that condition a crime and not cause for celebration. At this point, she had to be thinking about how Joseph would react when he heard the news that she was pregnant. Would he believe her story? Or would he break off their betrothal in a fit of rage? All of these conflicting questions had to have coursed through Mary’s young mind as she made her way to Judah.

But Mary’s unsettled heart would soon find comfort in the words of Elizabeth. As soon as Mary walked into Elizabeth’s home and stated her name, another miracle of confirmation took place.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?” – Luke 1:41-43 NLT

Anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given divine insight into her cousin’s unique role as the mother of the Messiah. There is no way that Elizabeth could have known this information. It was clearly the inspiration of the Spirit that provided her with the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy and the unique identity of the baby in her womb.

Elizabeth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, was uttering prophetic words concerning her younger cousin. She was being provided with divine insight into Mary’s situation that could only have come from the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. And she pronounced a blessing on Mary for her willingness to believe the words of Gabriel.

“…blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:45 NLT

This was a word from God, spoken through Elizabeth. The Almighty was using Elizabeth as His vessel to communicate His pleasure with Mary’s faith. Despite the sudden and shocking nature of the news she had received, Mary had believed. Her very presence at Elizabeth’s home was proof. She had gone there to share the news with her relative, but before she even had a chance to say a word, God used Elizabeth and the baby in her womb to confirm the message and commend Mary’s faith. The baby leaped, Elizabeth blessed, and Mary was encouraged.

At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responded in joy. John, as yet unborn, had been commissioned by God to be the one to herald the coming of the Messiah. Even in his prenatal state, John took his God-given assignment seriously, rejoicing in the arrival of the King. His divinely inspired celebration in the womb served as further proof to Mary that everything Gabriel had said was true.

And Mary’s response to it all took the form of a divinely inspired song – a psalm of thanksgiving and praise.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to the Lord

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:1-9 ESV

Despite all the chapters dealing with Israel’s apostasy and God’s pending judgment, the book of Hosea ends on a highly positive note. In the closing chapter, Hosea makes one more impassioned plea for the rebellious people of Israel to return to the Lord. He lovingly implores them to leave their sins behind and make their way back to God. Hosea reminds them that they can only find healing and forgiveness with Yahweh. Their idols are useless and incapable of providing them with the help they need. But they will need to confess their sins and offer heart-felt sacrifices to the one true God. If they do, they will receive atonement and a restored relationship with the one who lovingly set them apart as His own chosen possession.

In an effort to encourage a positive response to his call to repentance, Hosea even provides them with the words to say.

“Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us,
    so that we may offer you our praises.
Assyria cannot save us,
    nor can our warhorses.
Never again will we say to the idols we have made,
    ‘You are our gods.’
No, in you alone
    do the orphans find mercy.” – Hosea 14:2-3 NLT

He practically wrote their confession for them, so all they had to do was speak the words.  But it would all mean nothing if their hearts were not in it. God was not interested in lip service. Pious-sounding words that were not back up by sincerity of heart were worthless to Him, and He had condemned such hypocritical behavior before.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God also gave a somewhat discouraging assessment to His prophet, Ezekiel, warning him that the people would listen to his words but with no intention of doing what he said.

“Son of man, your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors. They say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying!’ So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!” – Ezekiel 33:30-32 NLT

King David had understood that what God wanted from His sinful people was not ritualistic sacrifices offered in some kind of perfunctory fashion. He desired that His people offer Him their broken and repentant hearts, not empty sacrifices that were in keeping with the letter of the law but lacking in sincerity and truth.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Hosea wants the people of Israel to know that only meaningful repentance will result in restoration. He even quotes God’s promise to restore His repentant people.

“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
    my love will know no bounds,
    for my anger will be gone forever. – Hosea 14:4 NLT

Amazingly, God offers His people the undeserved gift of His forgiveness, mercy, and grace. He is still willing to show them compassion. He is still prepared to shower them with His blessings – despite all the centuries marked by rebellion, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to His holy law. All the way back when Solomon was still king over the unified kingdom of Israel, God had made him a promise. It was at the dedication of the newly constructed temple that Solomon had constructed in God’s honor. After Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God made a pledge that He would honor the new temple with His name and listen to the prayers that His people prayed toward this sacred site.

“…if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 BSB

That promise was still valid, because God always keeps His word.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God is a covenant-keeping God. He does not renege or go back on His promises. And in the book of psalms, we read on His covenant commitment to David.

“I will establish your descendants as kings forever;
    they will sit on your throne from now until eternity.” – Psalm 89:4 NLT

God loved David greatly and called him a man after His own heart. And He promised to give David a long-lasting, never-ending dynasty. But at the time when Hosea was writing the book that bears his name, the prospects of this promise being fulfilled looked bleak. The kingdom that David had turned over to his son Solomon had been divided in two. And the day was quickly coming when there would no longer be a king over Israel or Judah. Both nations would be defeated by foreign powers and watch as their kings were dethroned and their kingdoms destroyed. To this day, there has been no king to rule over the people of Israel. Yet God had promised David:

“I will make him my firstborn son,
    the mightiest king on earth.
I will love him and be kind to him forever;
    my covenant with him will never end.
I will preserve an heir for him;
    his throne will be as endless as the days of heaven.” – Psalm 89:27-29 NLT

But there was a caveat that came with the promise. God had also warned what would happen in the people of Israel failed to be obedient. There would be consequences.

“But if his descendants forsake my instructions
    and fail to obey my regulations,
if they do not obey my decrees
    and fail to keep my commands,
then I will punish their sin with the rod,
    and their disobedience with beating.
But I will never stop loving him
    nor fail to keep my promise to him.
No, I will not break my covenant;
    I will not take back a single word I said.” – Psalm 89:30-34 NLT

They would suffer for their sins but God would not alter one letter of His covenant commitment to David. He would never stop loving him. He would never fail to keep the promises He made to him. And the descendants of David would stand to benefit greatly from God’s faithful commitment to keep His word.

“I will be to Israel
    like a refreshing dew from heaven.
Israel will blossom like the lily;
    it will send roots deep into the soil
    like the cedars in Lebanon.” – Hosea 14:5 NLT

Using highly poetic language, God describes a remarkable change in Israel’s future circumstances.

“My people will again live under my shade.
    They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.” – Hosea 14:7 NLT

Just as they are assured the inevitability of their coming destruction, they are also promised their future restoration and revitalization by the gracious hand of God.

But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to “stay away from idols!” (Hosea 14:8 NLT). He longs to be their sole source of comfort and the only one to whom they turn for help, hope, and healing.

I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.
I am like a tree that is always green;
    all your fruit comes from me.” – Hosea 14:8 NLT

Their false gods will fail them. But not Yahweh. Lifeless idols cannot hear or answer their prayers. But God can and will – if they will only call out to Him in humility and brokenness. And Hosea wraps up his book with one final plea for the people to act wisely and respond to the Lord with discernment. They must choose.

The paths of the Lord are true and right,
    and righteous people live by walking in them.
    But in those paths sinners stumble and fall. – Hosea 14:9 NLT

This was essentially the same message that the prophet, Jeremiah, pronounced. He too recorded God’s call for His people to make the right choice and to walk the right path. But sadly, they refused to listen.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
    But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’
I posted watchmen over you who said,
    ‘Listen for the sound of the alarm.’
But you replied,
    ‘No! We won’t pay attention!’” – Jeremiah 6:16-17 NLT

Choose the right path. Heed the warnings of God. Display a heart of contrition. Repent and return to the Lord. And He will graciously offer you forgiveness, atonement, and the joy of a restored relationship with Himself.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No More Than They Deserved

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.

He destroys you, O Israel,
    for you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
    Where are all your rulers—
those of whom you said,
    “Give me a king and princes”?
11 I gave you a king in my anger,
    and I took him away in my wrath. – Hosea 13:4-11 ESV

Israel’s idolatry was a particularly harsh slap in the face to God because He had proven Himself to be a faithful, powerful, gracious, and generous God. In His long association with them, He had done nothing to earn their distrust and disfavor. In fact, they would not have existed as a nation had not God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and sent him to the land of Canaan. Then if God had not caused a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram’s grandson, Jacob, would not have taken his family to Egypt to seek food and shelter. And God had miraculously prepared the way for their arrival. Years earlier, Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jealous of their father’s affections for their younger brother, they had chosen to get rid of him. Joseph ended up a household slave in the land of Egypt. But God protected and prospered Joseph, eventually ordaining his rise to the second-highest position in the land, serving directly under the Pharaoh. So, when Jacob and his small family of 70 arrived in Egypt, Joseph was there to provide them with land, food, and protection. His brothers, fearful that Joseph would use his power to seek revenge on them, were surprised to hear him say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

And God would prosper Jacob’s family during their stay in Egypt. They would grow in number, from the original band of 70 to more than 1 million. And while the Egyptians eventually enslaved and abused the Israelites, in an attempt to control their growing population, God provided them with rescue. He sent Moses to deliver them from their captivity and lead them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to Abraham as his inheritance.

This entire scenario was proof of God’s love and care for His chosen people. They could look back on their nation’s history and see ample evidence that God had been with them and for them. He had fed them during the 40-plus years they had wandered in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Canaan. He had fed them with manna and quail. He had provided them with water from a rock. During that entire time, their sandals and clothes never wore out. And when they finally entered the land God had promised to them, they found it to be just as God had advertised: A land flowing with milk and honey.

Even as they had stood on the border of the land, preparing to enter it for the first time, Moses declared just how abundant and rich they would find it to be.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT

But Moses had also warned the people not to allow God’s blessings to lull them into a sense of complacency and spiritual compromise.

“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:12-18 NLT

But Hosea reveals that the people of Israel had failed to heed the words of Moses. They entered the land and then promptly began to forget the One who had given it to them. God summarized their ungrateful response to His gracious generosity.

“But when you had eaten and were satisfied,
    you became proud and forgot me.” – Hosea 13:6 NLT

And they were about to discover the truth behind Moses’ words of warning.

“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:19-20 NLT

Now, centuries later, God affirms the words of Moses by assuring His rebellious people that the gift-giver was about to become the life-taker. God, the gracious deliverer from captivity was going to become the apex predator who would discipline and destroy His own people. He would turn on them and, rather than providing for all their needs, He would deprive them of life and liberty.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

They seemed to miss the significance and seriousness of this drastic alteration in their relationship with God. It is almost as if they failed to believe that God’s words, as recorded by Hosea, would actually come to fruition. They refused to accept the finality of it all. Surely God would be forgiving and faithful just like always. After all, they were His chosen people and He had promised to care for and protect them. But they had conveniently forgotten all of God’s warnings about judgment and curses should they prove disobedient and unfaithful. They had lived under His grace for so long that they had come to take it for granted. They believed it would always be available to them, regardless of how they lived their lives. But they were about to discover just how wrong they were.

“You are about to be destroyed, O Israel—
    yes, by me, your only helper.” – Hosea 13:9 NLT

God was no longer willing to stand back and watch as His people mocked and maligned His character by their actions. He could not and would not allow them to continually drag His name through the mud through their incessant immorality and idolatry. And they were about to find that there was nothing they could do to stop the wrath of God Almighty. Their wealth and power would not save them. The kings they had demanded to rule over them would prove helpless against the forces of divine judgment coming against them. Their status as God’s chosen people would not innoculate them from the death sentence that loomed over them. Their days were numbered because they had failed to number their days. And Moses, their deliverer from captivity in Egypt, had written a psalm that prophetically previewed their eventual judgment but also called on God to show them mercy and forgiveness.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil. – Psalm 90:9-15 ESV

But it was too late. Israel had failed to number their days, so now their days were numbered. God would prove no more means of rescue. He would no longer show patient endurance as His people forsook His name and abused the many blessings He had bestowed on them. The time for judgment had finally arrived.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to Return

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

1 Ephraim feeds on the wind
    and pursues the east wind all day long;
they multiply falsehood and violence;
    they make a covenant with Assyria,
    and oil is carried to Egypt.

2 The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
    the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”
– Hosea 11:12-12:6 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 12 of chapter 11 is actually the first verse of chapter 12. This arrangement of the verses makes far greater sense and provides a better understanding of the point Hosea is trying to make. But Hosea seems to unnecessarily complicate matters by his use of the names Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob. It is easy to become confused when trying to decipher exactly who he is referencing by these various name designations. But because Ephraim was the largest of the 10 tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel, it would appear that he is using that name as a substitute for the more common designation of Israel. The reason seems to be that, at one time, the name Israel had been used to refer to the undivided kingdom as it stood during the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. When the kingdom was divided at the end of Solomon’s life, Israel became the name of the northern kingdom while Judah was used to refer to the southern kingdom. This was because the tribe of Judah was the larger of the two tribes which comprised the southern kingdom – with the tribe of Benjamin being the other.

In these verses, Hosea has God referring to the two kingdoms by the names of Ephraim and Judah. Then he adds the name of Jacob, who was the father of all the tribes. This seems to be his way of referring to the formerly combined kingdoms or the original 12 tribes. It’s important to remember that, at one time, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28. From Israel would come 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. So, it appears that these verses are addressing three different groups:

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

With this formula in mind, these verses begin to make sense. First, God indicts the northern kingdom (Ephraim) for its falsehood and violence. The Hebrew word he uses is mirmâ, which means “deceit” and refers to fraudulent or deceptive behavior. It is the very same word used to describe Jacob’s stealing of his brother’s blessing. Isaac informed his disgruntled son, Esau, how Jacob had tricked him into awarding him the blessing of the firstborn son.

“Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” – Genesis 27:35 ESV

The 10 northern tribes had inherited their father’s deceitful ways. Yet, Judah (the two southern tribes) are described as still walking with God. This would appear to be a relative statement. In other words, when compared with the deceitfulness and unfaithfulness of the northern tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had been saints. We know they were far from perfect because God will condemn them as well, but they had a much better track record of faithfulness than their northern neighbors. At least Judah had enjoyed the leadership and guidance of a handful of godly kings along the way. Their periods of apostasy had been broken up by brief moments of relative godliness thanks to men like Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

But when describing the behavior of the northern tribes, God states that they “feed on the wind” (Hosea 11:12 NLT). This seems to be a reference to something Hosea wrote earlier in his book.

“They have planted the wind
    and will harvest the whirlwind. – Hosea 8:7 ESV

This imagery is intended to picture a life of futility and fruitlessness. The reference to them pursuing the east wind further enhances the total vanity and worthlessness of their behavior. In that region of the world, the east wind was a scorching, life-sapping natural phenomena that destroyed crops and made daily existence almost impossible. Their pursuit of treaties with foreign nations would produce nothing of value. They were pursuing destruction and didn’t even realize it.

In fact, they were making alliances with Assyria, the very nation God would use to punish them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In a sense, they were dancing with the devil. They were getting in bed with the enemy, and they would pay dearly.

They were even using the fruit of the land that God had graciously given them to pay off their many suitors. His many tangible blessings, such as olive oil, were being used to broker agreements with nations like Egypt. That had never been God’s intention. God had graciously delivered His people out of their captivity in Egypt but now they were sending their olive oil back to their former captors. They were guilty of fraternizing with their former enemy and using the bounty of God as a means to buy their protection.

But even the southern kingdom was guilty of selling out their relationship with God. They too, were covenant breakers. The NET Bible translates verse 2: “The Lord also has a covenant lawsuit against Judah.” They had violated their agreement with Him, following in the footsteps of their father and patriarch, Jacob. By referring to Jacob (Israel), God is including all 12 tribes in His divine statement of condemnation. Every single one of the tribes was guilty of violating their covenant commitments with God.

Hosea uses the well-known backstory of Jacob to describe the treachery and deceit of His people.

Even in the womb,
    Jacob struggled with his brother;
when he became a man,
    he even fought with God. – Hosea 12:3 NLT

When Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were still in their mother’s womb, God had spoken to Rebekah, and given her a vision of what was to come of her two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:23-26 NLT

Eventually, these two brothers would end up at odds with one another. Jacob would deceive Esau, stealing his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. These actions would sour their relationship, forcing Jacob to leave home in order to escape his brother’s wrath. In time, God would order Jacob to return home, but this would be prefaced by a literal wrestling match between God and His prodigal son.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:24-28 NLT

It was at that fateful wrestling match that Jacob received his new name from God. And Hosea points out that it was on that occasion that “he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him” (Hosea 12:4 NLT). At that moment, Jacob realized that he could no longer live his life based on treachery and deceit. He needed the blessing of God. And he was willing to do battle with God until he received it. He even received an injury to his hip in the process (Genesis 32:31). Jacob was so moved by this unprecedented experience that he gave the region a name by which to memorialize what had happened to him.

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” – Genesis 32:30 NLT

Hosea also mentions another encounter Jacob had with God years earlier. This was when Jacob was attempting to escape the wrath of his angry brother. On his way, he was given a vision and mission from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Once again, moved by his surprising visitation from God, Jacob renamed the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob would return to this very spot years later, after his wrestling match with the angel of God. And when he arrived, he would give instructions to his family.

So Jacob told everyone in his household, “Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.” – Genesis 35:2-3 NLT

Hosea uses the recollection of this historic event to call the descendants of Jacob back to “the Lord, the God of hosts” (Hosea 12:5 ESV). In a sense, he was echoing the words of Jacob, encouraging his household to get rid of their pagan idols, purity themselves, and put on clean clothing. They were to repent and return to God in humility.

So now, come back to your God.
    Act with love and justice,
    and always depend on him. – Hosea 12:6 NLT

It was not too late. The God who wrestled with Jacob was wrestling with them. But He also wanted to bless them. But before God could do so, they were going to have to make some significant changes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When All Looks Lost

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
    consume the bars of their gates,
    and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all. – Hosea 11:1-7 ESV

When considering the nation of Israel, one of the most astounding realities is that  they existed at all.  As a people group, they were the byproduct of God’s divine imagination. And while you could easily say that about any nation on the face of the earth, it was particularly true of Israel. Why? Because, until God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeas, the nation of Israel had been non-existent. The book of Genesis records that fateful call of Abram.

Go from your country[and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

God ordered Abram to leave his homeland and travel to a place he had never been before – a land called Canaan. And God promised to make of Abram a great nation. What made this promise so unique was that Abram was already advanced in years and his wife, Sarah, was barren. So, God was going to have to work a miracle to make this promise happen. And He did. Years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who would later father Jacob, whom God would later rename, Israel.

The book of Genesis also records the time when Jacob (Israel) and 70 of his family members moved to Egypt to escape a drought in Canaan. There in Egypt, Jacob was reunited with one of his sons whom he had long thought dead. That son was Joseph. In a fit of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery years earlier. But God had blessed Joseph and, eventually, he became the second-most-powerful man in Egypt, serving as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He would provide his family members with land and employment in Egypt. But after his death, a new Pharaoh would come to power who did not know Joseph or his family. And the Scriptures indicate that while the descendants of Israel were living in the land of Egypt, they grew exponentially.

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:6-7 ESV

It was while they were living in the land of Egypt that God blessed the descendants of Israel, and they grew to be a significantly large people group. In fact, we are told in the book of Exodus that there were 600,000 adult males who left Egypt under the direction of Moses, and that number didn’t include women and children.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. – Exodus 12:37-38 ESV

It is estimated, that when you factor in the women and children, the number of Israelites who left Egypt would have been in the millions. And in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reveals why God had set apart the nation of Israel as His own.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The bottom line is that God created for Himself a specific people group to whom He would give His law, the sacrificial system, and the promise of His covenant blessings. They were a specially created nation that would were intended to exhibit to the rest of the world what it was like for mankind to live in communion and fellowship with God. But they failed to live up to His law and they violated His covenant agreement. Not once, but repeatedly.

And Hosea records God’s summary of His remarkable creation and redemption of the nation of Israel.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.” – Hosea 11:1 ESV

But Hosea adds God’s sad assessment of their response to this gracious act of kindness.

“The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.” – Hosea 11:2 ESV

God’s call had consisted of far more than a command to leave Egypt and travel to the land of Canaan. He had been consistently calling them into an intimate and ongoing relationship with Himself. He had given them His law and the sacrificial system. He had ratified a covenant agreement with them. They were to be His children and He was to be their God – a relationship that was to be based on faithfulness and obedience, and marked by permanence.

Yet, despite all of God’s gracious dealings with them, the people of Israel had turned their back on Him. He had faithfully guided and taught them. He had taken them from a place of pain and spiritual sickness and provided them with healing and hope. But they failed to recognize His involvement and express gratitude for all He had done for them. They were like ungrateful children who refuse to appreciate the selfless sacrifices of their earthly father. The Israelites took all God’s blessings for granted and, worse yet, they sometimes attributed those blessings to their false gods.

God had rescued them out of the land of Egypt where they had been living in slavery and subjugation. But rather then send them back to Egypt, He would send another nation to defeat and destroy them. And tens of thousands of them would end up living as slaves again, but this time, in Assyria.

“They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.” – Hosea 11:5 ESV

Judgment was coming. Divine payback was inevitable and inescapable. Their king would prove powerless against Sennacherib and his Assyrian forces. Their false gods would be exposed for what they really were: Nothing more than the figment of man’s fertile imagination. They were lifeless, impotent, and no match for God Almighty.

And Yahweh summarizes the intractable and intransigent nature of His chosen people.

“My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.” – Hosea 11:7 ESV

Yet, despite the hopeless sound of God’s words, He would not completely abandon His people because He was not yet done with them. He would eventuallysend His own Son to earth to be born into the nation of Israel. Jesus would be a son of Abraham and a descendant of King David.  He would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram’s offspring.

The apostle Paul explains how Jesus was that fulfillment.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had chosen to make that nation of Israel because He had already chosen to send His Son into the world to redeem sinful mankind. The nation of Israel would be the channel through which His blessing to the nations would come, and Jesus Christ would be the manifestation of that blessing.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Track Record of Sin

From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel;
    there they have continued.
    Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them,
    and nations shall be gathered against them
    when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

11 Ephraim was a trained calf
    that loved to thresh,
    and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
    Judah must plow;
    Jacob must harrow for himself.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

13 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,
14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
    and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle;
    mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
15 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 10:9-15 ESV

For the second time, Hosea reaches back into Israel’s sordid past and brings up the infamous event that took place in the city of Gibeah. During the period of the judges, this Israelite town had been the scene of a Sodom-like incident involving a Levite and his concubine. The two of them had stopped there for the night and had been given shelter by an elderly Ephraimite who was living temporarily in the city. But the men of the city surrounded the home and demanded that the host send out the Levite so that they might “know him” (Judges 19:22). This was a euphemistic way of saying they wanted to sexually abuse him. In an effort to protect his own life, the Levite gave the men his concubine, whom they sexually abused all night and left for dead. The next morning, the Levite opened to find his concubine lying on the threshold of the home, her arms outstretched as if she had been seeking entrance. She was dead.

The rest of the story is just as unsettling.

When he got home, he [the Levite] took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29 NLT

When these grotesque packages began to arrive among the various tribes, they achieved the Levite’s desired effect.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?” – Judges 19:30 NLT

Eleven of the 12 tribes of Israel called a special assembly to discover what had taken place in Gibeah. The tribe that was missing was that of Benjamin because the men of Gibeah were Benjamites. When the Levite had shared the gruesome details of the incident in Gibeah, the tribes made a universal and united decision to pay back the men of Gibeah for their wickedness.

“None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. One-tenth of the men from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town. – Judges 20:8-11 NLT

The 11 tribes assembled to attack the much smaller force from Benjamin, but were soundly defeated in the first battle. They sought the Lord’s will and were instructed to attack again. But when they engaged the Benjamites in battle the following day, they suffered similar losses. Once again, they sought God’s direction and were instructed to attack a third time. So, the following day, they launched another battle against the men of Benjamin and this time, they won.

So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors… – Judges 20:35 NLT

So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to. – Judges 20:46-48 NLT

This embarrassing incident from Israel’s past would have been well-known among the people. And Hosea used it as a kind of litmus test for Israel’s current spiritual status. He announced that, from God’s perspective, little had changed in Israel since the purging of Gibeah for its immoral behavior.

The Lord says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah,
    there has been only sin and more sin!
You have made no progress whatsoever.
    Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?” – Hosea 10:9 NLT

The nation had made no progress. There had been little to no moral improvement among the other 11 tribes. And just as they had gathered together to judge the tribe of Benjamin, so God would gather the nations to judge Israel.

“Now whenever it fits my plan,
    I will attack you, too.
I will call out the armies of the nations
    to punish you for your multiplied sins.” – Hosea 10:10 NLT

God had given Israel ample time to change its ways. But they remained as immoral as the men of Gibeah. Now it was time for the entire nation to be purged of its wickedness. God describes Israel as “a trained heifer treading out the grain—an easy job she loves” (Hosea 10:11 NLT). Like a cow tied to a threshing wheel, Israel had been given a relatively easy assignment from God, and they had been allowed to eat as they threshed. But their easy life was about to come to an end. Rather than threshing the grain that God had graciously provided, they would suffer the yoke of slavery as they plowed the sun-hardened soil. God was warning them that their days of fruitfulness and prosperity were coming to an end. Both Israel and Judah would find themselves yoked to foreign powers who would subjugate and abuse them, like oxen in a plow. 

The day was coming when there would be no more opportunity for the people of Israel to repent. God had repeatedly and graciously called them to return to Him.

“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

But they had consistently refused to heed His calls. Their hardened hearts remained unplowed and incapable of producing the fruit of righteousness. Instead, they had sowed further sin and cultivated a lifestyle of wickedness and unrighteousness.

“But you have cultivated wickedness
    and harvested a thriving crop of sins.” – Hosea 10:13 NLT

Rather than trusting in God, they had decided to put their hope in their military might. They had become self-sufficient and deluded into believing that they didn’t need God. But He would prove them deadly wrong.

“Now the terrors of war
    will rise among your people.
All your fortifications will fall…” – Hosea 10:14 NLT

The period of peace and tranquility they had enjoyed was about to come to an end. God could not and would not tolerate their wickedness any longer. And one of the cities that He singles out is Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his golden idols. God would target this particular city for destruction because it represented the nation’s corporate apostasy. It was symbolic of the spirit of idolatry that pervaded the land. The city of Bethel would be destroyed, along with the king of Israel. The religious and political symbols of Israel’s independence from God would be removed, leaving the nation spiritually void and leaderless. They had chosen to forsake God, now they would learn what it was like when He removed His providential hand from their lives.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Foolishness of Forsaking God

1 Rejoice not, O Israel!
    Exult not like the peoples;
for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.
    You have loved a prostitute’s wages
    on all threshing floors.
Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them,
    and the new wine shall fail them.
They shall not remain in the land of the Lord,
    but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
    and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.

They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord,
    and their sacrifices shall not please him.
It shall be like mourners’ bread to them;
    all who eat of it shall be defiled;
for their bread shall be for their hunger only;
    it shall not come to the house of the Lord.

What will you do on the day of the appointed festival,
    and on the day of the feast of the Lord?
For behold, they are going away from destruction;
    but Egypt shall gather them;
    Memphis shall bury them.
Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver;
    thorns shall be in their tents. Hosea 9:1-6 ESV

In these verses, the prophet Hosea delivers his own stinging criticism of the people of Israel. He warns them not to rejoice prematurely, falsely assuming that they will somehow escape God’s judgment. It is important to recall that, under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they were experiencing an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. Things were looking up. If they judged their status on circumstances alone, they would wrongly assume that they were in a very good spot, politically, financially, and spiritually. To all appearances, it would seem that their decision to worship the false gods of the pagan nations that surrounded them was actually paying off.

But Hosea warns them against making that faulty assumption. The truth was that God was upset with them and was preparing to rain down judgment on their parade. And Hosea makes sure they understand why God was about to turn their prosperity into poverty and disrupt their peace with a time of confusion and chaos.

…you have been unfaithful to your God,
    hiring yourselves out like prostitutes,
    worshiping other gods on every threshing floor. – Hosea 9:1 NLT

The people of Israel had grown accustomed to bountiful harvests, and they had attributed their fruitfulness to their false gods. Each year, they would offer sacrifices  on the threshing floors as they celebrated the obvious blessings provided by their false gods. Rather than acknowledge the goodness and grace of Yahweh, they robbed Him of glory by attributing His blessings to lifeless idols. So, Hosea warns them that the tap to God’s bounty was about to be turned off.

So now your harvests will be too small to feed you.
    There will be no grapes for making new wine. – Hosea 9:2 NLT

They had forgotten the words of the psalm that had been intended to remind God’s people that He was the source of all blessings, including their annual harvests.

Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 NLT

In the book that bears his name, James would echo this sentiment by describing God’s gracious provision for all our needs in poetic terms.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow. – James 1:17 BSB

The people of Israel had removed God from the picture. As they enjoyed all the benefits of a bountiful harvest, they neglected to give thanks to the one who had provided it all. And, in doing so, they showed disdain and disrespect for God – a mistake that would cost them dearly.

Centuries earlier, God had warned His chosen people what would happen if they forgot Him. As they stood on the border to the land of Canaan, preparing to enter in and take possession of it, Moses addressed them.

“It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God…” – Deuteronomy 8:8-14 NLT

And Moses would go on to tell them what would happen if they became proud and forgot the Lord.

“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens. You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity. Swarms of insects will destroy your trees and crops. – Deuteronomy 28:38-42 NLT

Now, Hosea was letting them know that they were about to experience much more than famine, drought, and a drastic drop in their agricultural production. God was going to remove them from the land altogether.

You may no longer stay here in the Lord’s land.
    Instead, you will return to Egypt,
and in Assyria you will eat food
    that is ceremonially unclean. – Hosea 9:3 NLT

This news would have shocked and surprised them because they believed the land to be theirs by right. It had been given to them by God as part of the inheritance He had promised to Abraham. Surely God would not evict His chosen people from their own land. But they were deadly wrong. God had given them ample warning about what would happen if they defiled the land He had so graciously provided. In giving them the land of promise, God had chosen to evict its current inhabitants because of their “detestable sins.” And before they ever set foot in Canaan, God had warned His people about emulating the ways of the pagan nations living in the land.

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways. Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. You must obey all my decrees and regulations. You must not commit any of these detestable sins.” – Leviticus 18:24-26 NLT

And He went on to tell the Israelites what would happen if they chose to disobey His command.

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now.” – Leviticus 18:27-28 NLT

But, once again, the Israelites failed to listen to God’s warning and, as a result, they were about to be vomited out of the land. In a sense, their sinful behavior had sickened the land, causing it to spew them out. It could no longer tolerate their existence. God’s displeasure with them would take the form of their violent discharge from the very land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. In a sense, the Israelites would be going backwards, returning to the same abysmal condition they had suffered in Egypt generations earlier. But this time, their “Egypt” would be Assyria. And rather than enjoying the bounty of God’s harvest in the land of milk and honey, they would find themselves having to eat food that was forbidden by God, rendering them as further unclean and unacceptable to Him.

They will have no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins because their sacrifices to God will be deemed unclean and unacceptable. They will be relegated to eating this defiled food for mere survival. It will edible but totally ineffectual for relieving the biggest need they faced: Their guilt and condemnation. So, when the annual feast days came around, the people would have nothing to offer to God. Their rejection from the land would prove costly and, ultimately, deadly. They would be destined to die in their sinful state, unforgiven and unable to be restored to a right relationship with their God.

Hosea describes their future as filled filled with unrelenting destruction and eventual death. Their once-beautiful homes will end up overrun by weeds. The treasures they had accumulated through greed and graft, would disappear. Their fate was sealed because they had chosen to forsake the God who had graciously set them apart as His own. Now they would discover what life without God was really like, and it would not be pleasant.

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

Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

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

What Shall I Do With You?

1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. Hosea 6:1-10 ESV

In the opening verses of chapter six, Hosea envisions a highly unlikely scene: The humble and sincere repentance of the rebellious Israelites. It’s unclear what Hosea hoped to accomplish with this description of a contrite and penitent response on the part of the people. Was he attempting to illustrate how his stubborn audience ought to be responding to his messages, or were his words intended to mock their hard-hearted rejection of His message of warning?

From a historical perspective, there is no record of the Israelites ever uttering words of this nature. At no point did they cry out to God, acknowledging their guilt, confessing their sins, and asking for His forgiveness and healing. All the way back before God divided the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, He had allowed King Solomon to build a temple in His honor. This remarkable building in Jerusalem was meant to be the house of God, where the people would come to offer sacrifices and seek His forgiveness for the sins they had committed. And God made a series of promises to the people of Israel confirming His willingness to grace the temple with His name and honor their humble, heartfelt prayers with forgiveness and healing.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

Yet, by the time Hosea penned the words of his book, more than 150 years had passed since Solomon had dedicated the temple, and the people of Israel remained stubbornly unrepentant and unwilling to humble themselves before God. And exacerbating their problem was the fact that they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem. They had long ago forsaken Yahweh, choosing instead to worship at the shrines and temples dedicated to their false gods.

The scene of a repentant Israel calling out to God is meant to dramatize and accentuate the inexplicable hardness of their hearts. Hosea is portraying what their response ought to be when God brings His judgment against them. They will suffer greatly when God rains down His righteous indignation on them. But they will experience no healing because they will refuse to call out to Him in humble contrition.

Hosea even indicates that when the judgment of God comes, they will view it as short in duration and easily overcome.

In just a short time he will restore us,
    so that we may live in his presence. – Hosea 6:2 NLT

They won’t take His punishment seriously. They’ll end up underestimating the depth of their own depravity and mistakenly assume that any suffering they endure will be quickly remedied by God. Hosea seems to portray their repentance as a bit overconfident, and a bit too self-assured that God will quickly restore them.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring – Hosea 6:3 NLT

But none of this has ever happened. The people of Israel did not return to the Lord. They never did humble themselves before Him and confess their many sins against Him. Even their eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians did nothing to break their stubborn refusal to heed His call to repent. The prophet Amos delivered a sobering word from God concerning Israel’s inexplicable refusal to learn anything from the judgment they endured.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 NLT

And, in response, God asks the probing question, “What shall I do with you?” (Hosea 6:4 ESV). He has warned. He has threatened. He has disciples. Yet, they have not yet returned to Him. At no point has Israel or Judah lived out what Hosea described in the first three verses of this chapter.  In the face of all of God’s blessings and despite all of His warnings and past judgments, the people of Israel and Judah remain determined to live in disobedience to His commands. And their failure to faithfully observe His laws was nothing less than an expression of their lack of love for Him.

“…your love vanishes like the morning mist
    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.” – Hosea 6:4 NLT

He had repeatedly sent His prophets with words of warning, “to cut you to pieces—to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light” (Hosea 6:5 NLT), but the people had refused to listen. And God lets them know that what He wanted from them was love, not sacrifices. What He desired most was intimacy, not religious duplicity. He was sick of watching His people go through the motions, offering their meaningless, heartless sacrifices. He was no longer willing to put up with their sanctimonious and hypocritical displays of religious zeal. Mere obedience to His commands was never what God wanted. He desired faithfulness that emanated from the heart. That was something King David knew and understood.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

And the prophet Isaiah would communicate God’s displeasure with His peoples’ meaningless displays of ritualistic religious fervor. It has never been about the bulls and goats, the blood and smoke, or the pomp and circumstance. It had always been about the heart.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.

“When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:11-13, 16-17 NLT

But God’s people, following in the footsteps of Adam, had been guilty of breaking their covenant agreement with Him. When God had placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He had surrounded them with beauty and provided them with everything they needed for life, including intimate fellowship with Him. The only condition God placed on the first couple was that they obey one command.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

God had given them every tree of the garden from which to eat. There was only one tree that was off-limits, and that happens to be the one tree they decided they had to have. They disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, they displayed their lack of trust in God. They decided that they knew better than God. He had denied them that one tree and now, they had determined it was the tree they needed most. By eating the fruit of that tree Adam and Eve displayed their doubt of God’s love for them. He was denying them something they deserved and desired. He was withholding what they wanted.

And the Israelites were guilty of the very same thing. They had rejected God’s love and determined to live according to their own rules and standards. So, God described the unflattering outcome of their self-determination and blatant disregard for His love as expressed in His law.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.
Yes, I have seen something horrible in Ephraim and Israel:
    My people are defiled by prostituting themselves with other gods! – Hosea 6:8-10 NLT

It was not a pretty picture. Sin had spread like cancer throughout the nation. No city was remained untouched. Every level of society had been infected, including the priesthood. God describes the people of Israel as practicing every kind of sin. Nothing was left to the imagination. Their idolatry had turned to gross immorality, and the entire land was now diseased and in need of God’s cleansing.

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

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