ISRAEL’S PUNISHMENT Hosea 7–10
“My God will reject them because they have not obeyed Him; they will be wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17).Punishment must fit the crime. Here the various crimes that led to Israel’s exile are described, along with predictions of that fast-approaching judgment.
When Moses gave Israel her Law at the time of the Exodus, he included a catalog of the blessings that would be granted if God’s people obeyed—and a catalog of punishments to be imposed if Israel rebelled and sinned. Each catalog is found in Deuteronomy 28, with the “curses” for disobedience listed in verses 15–68. These curses, or punishments, are of increasing severity. The intent is that the people would turn back to God after light discipline. But if they persisted in sinning, increasingly heavy penalties would be imposed, each with the intent of bringing about repentance and renewal. By Hosea’s time Israel had experienced all the lesser consequences of their sin. All that remained for God to do was impose the penalty stated in verses 63–66. Reading those verses helps us understand the horror of the judgment about to befall Hosea’s Israel—and helps us realize that God had done everything possible to avoid its necessity. This judgment, exile from the land, was about to fall on a nation that had been warned for generations, by the written Word, by prophet messengers, and by persistent discipline. How dangerous it is not to heed God’s warnings. We should welcome warnings, for they are intended to spare us much pain.
Israel’s disastrous domestic (7:1–7), foreign (vv. 8–16), and religious (8:1–14) practices demanded punishment. Israel would be taken captive (9:1–9), her glory fled away (vv. 10–17). Wicked Israel would be punished for her sin (10:1–15).
Understanding the Text
“The crimes of Samaria revealed” Hosea 7:1–7.
National character is reflected in national leadership. In Samaria, the capital of Israel, the kings delighted in the wickedness of others—and became their victims. The image of the hot oven stands for the inflamed passions of those who conspired against Israel’s rulers, approaching them with intrigue while intent on “devouring” them. The crimes are “revealed,” for all in Israel would be aware of the fall of kings (v. 7). But what specifically was Hosea talking about here? During Hosea’s own lifetime four of Israel’s rulers were assassinated and replaced by their killers! Zechariah by Shallum (2 Kings 15:10), Shallum by Menahem (v. 14), Pekahiah by Pekah (v. 25), and Pekah by Hoshea (v. 30). This ruinous domestic situation undermined any rule of law, and demonstrated the corrupt state of the nation. I’m disturbed by the multitude of recent revelations of crime by our leaders in Washington. A Republican congressman was sentenced for perjury—for lying about seeking a loan from an individual who told him it was drug laundering money. A homosexual Democratic congressman admitted hiring a male prostitute, and later employing him on his staff. Respected high officials have been accused of using influence to obtain millions of HUD dollars for clients who then defrauded the government and, more reprehensible, the poor. So God’s warnings in these chapters have a timely ring. “Whenever I would heal Israel,” He said, “the sins of Ephraim are exposed and the crimes of Samaria are revealed.” Our nation needs spiritual healing today. As each layer of bandages covering our wounds is unwound, more and more sins and crimes are revealed. We must face the fact that if national disaster is to be avoided, we Christians must repent—and pray. “A flat cake not turned over” Hosea 7:8–16. My wife tells me I’m strange, but I like gooey pancakes. You know: pancakes that aren’t quite cooked through, with raw dough inside. Apparently God doesn’t share my taste. The image in this verse, used to describe Israel, is that of a flat cake of bread cooked on one side by being plastered against the outside of a hot clay oven—but never turned over so it can cook on the other side. One side is done, the other is raw dough and, by implication, worthless. What had made Israel worthless in God’s sight? Hosea looked at the nation’s mode of responding to danger. Like a frightened and senseless bird, scurrying first one way and then the other, Israel looked to first Egypt, then Assyria, for help (v. 11). But Israel never looked up, where the Most High resides (v. 16). Instead the people rejected His ways and spoke against Him (v. 13). When we face danger, let’s remember that we too have wings, and can fly. In looking up, and coming to God in prayer, we will find all the help we require. “But Israel has rejected what is good” Hosea 8:1–14. It’s fine to say, “O our God, we acknowledge You.” But again Hosea confronted Israel with her hypocrisy. First, a person who truly acknowledges God will not reject what is good. Morality and a genuine faith go hand in hand, and can never be separated. Second, the chapter again and again points out the fact that Israel’s religion was humanistic. That is, Israel’s religious practices were not based on God’s revelation of His will and His ways, but on the Israelites’ own ideas of how to please God. They acknowledged God—but set up calf-idols at the worship centers dedicated to Him (vv. 4–6), in clear violation of His revealed will. Their multiplied “altars for sin offerings” have “become altars for sinning” (v. 11). Humanistic religion always bears this same mark. Revelation is ignored, and God’s express commands are pushed aside, to be replaced by the notions of men. People today too may cry, “O our God, we acknowledge You!” But unless that “worship” is in accord with biblical revelation, it is worse than meaningless. “Ephraim will return to Egypt” Hosea 9:1–4. Here, as frequently in other passages, “Egypt” represents exile and slavery. But this time the Israelites would “eat unclean food in Assyria” (v. 3). They would go north, not south. Yet the experience would be the same. If you or I were to be cut off from God, it would make no difference whether we settled in the north, the south, the east, or the west. Any place in which we were isolated from the Lord would be exile, and even the most comfortable of circumstances would be slavery. “The prophet is considered a fool” Hosea 9:5–9. Rejection of God’s message, and ridicule of His messengers, is an indication of hostility toward God Himself (v. 7b). The Israelites in Hosea’s day did not like the message that “the days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand” (v. 7). There are parts of Scripture that you or I may not like, either. But this passage reminds us that the less we like a particular truth, the more we need to heed it! It’s essential to guard against the repressed hostility that corrupted Israel’s relationship with the Lord. “Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird” Hosea 9:10–17. It’s so easy to assume that conditions are permanent. We get depressed when things go badly, and feel that things will never get better. And we tend to become complacent when things go well, assuming that the bad times are over for good. Things were going well in the days of Jeroboam II when Hosea preached his message of judgment. People not only didn’t like what Hosea said, they scoffed at him. How could prosperous and powerful Israel suffer such a fall? Yet within 30 years of Jeroboam II’s death, while Hosea yet lived, everything that Israel counted on flew out the window! Her glory did “fly away like a bird,” and God’s word of judgment came absolutely true: “I will bereave them. . . . Woe to them. . . . I will drive them out of My house.” What has been, and what is, is no basis for confidence concerning what will be. We must expect our world to change—even to come falling down on our heads. We must place our confidence in God alone.
Sow Righteousness(Hosea 10)
I like bumper stickers. There are some I wouldn’t want on my car. But I don’t mind the one my wife attached to my van: “Fishing isn’t a matter of life or death. It’s more important than that.” I don’t even mind the one that says, “If you can read this, you’re too close!” And I like many of the Christian bumper stickers I’ve seen—except when the person who has them plastered on his back bumper speeds up to cut me off as I put on my turn signal to change lanes on busy Highway 19. It might have been good if in Hosea’s time they had chariot stickers, or cart stickers, or donkey stickers. Hosea 10 suggests a few possibilities. How about “Idol is as idol does—nothing” (vv. 5–9). Or, “Don’t look back. Your sin’s catching up with you” (vv. 9–10). Or “Don’t like the harvest? Then watch what you plant” (v. 15). Or maybe “We’re strong enough to fail” (v. 13). I don’t suppose such stickers would have done much good. Some wag would have found a way to turn them around, like the stickers countering Campus Crusade’s “I found it” campaign with bumper signs that proclaimed, “I lost it. Give it back!” But there’s one bumper sticker in Hosea 10 we all ought to place prominently, where we can see it daily. That one? “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love” (v. 12).
It’s not just a saying, it’s a fact. We do reap what we sow.