Hosea’s message to Israel was simple: The nation’s persistence in sin guaranteed punishment from God. No amount of denial, trust in kings and idols, or self-reliance could alter that. Israel serves as a warning that knowing about God is no substitute for knowing God.
Reliving the Good Old Days
The older you get, the more likely it is you will be having conversations with others about those good old days.
I actually love to hear some of those stories, by the way. I loved to hear my dad talk about growing up on a farm in Minnesota, milking cows at 5:00 in the morning before walking two miles to a one-room schoolhouse with a potato in his pocket. When he got to the schoolhouse, he and several other boys would put their potatoes on top of that black, pot-bellied stove in the middle of the schoolroom, where they would cook through the morning. And that would be their lunch. That story always made me feel guilty for complaining that I had a turkey sandwich instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.
No matter how old we are, we tend to look back to those “good old days,” when everything seemed to be so much simpler and cleaner. But the truth is, times may have changed, but human nature hasn’t. The human race was just as sinful and in need of redemption back in the good old days—or even 1,000 years ago—as it is today.
As the prophet Hosea begins to describe Israel, it sounds very much like he is describing people today. In fact, the sins that dominated that ancient kingdom are not much different from the ones that plague our world today.
We are in chapter 4 now, and beginning here and continuing for the next several chapters, we are given a list of Israel’s sins.
The opening verses here provide a pretty good summary. as Hosea writes:
The Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
These good old days sound a lot like the present day.
Hosea writes in verse 3, “Therefore the land mourns.” In other words, drought, God’s promised judgment for disobedience, has come upon the land. These people cannot point fingers of blame at each other, however, because they are all to blame. This includes the priests who have failed to teach the people the Word of God; and as the end of verse 1 says, there is “no knowledge of God in the land.”
Idolatry, characterized throughout the book of Hosea as spiritual adultery, justifies God’s judgment. We are told in verse 10 that the people “have forsaken the Lord,” and for what? Verse 12 says, “My people inquire of a piece of wood.” They are asking advice from an idol—a piece of wood—instead of God’s Word. At the end of chapter 4 is a brief warning to Judah not to follow Israel into idolatry.
Then in chapter 5, Hosea writes, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God” (verse 4). Their wicked hearts produce wicked deeds, and their love for those wicked deeds keeps them from repenting. This gets to the heart of rebelling against God, doesn’t it? It is saying, “I’m going to love the world; I’m going to love my sin; and I’m going to avoid submitting to God because I don’t want to give up my sinful lifestyle.”
Now in the midst of this condemnation, Hosea gives Israel a ray of hope. We see this often in the prophets, and it is a reminder that even though this current generation is going to experience judgment, God has not abandoned His covenant people forever.
The words of repentance in the first three verses of chapter 6 will be spoken by that future generation at the time of Christ’s return. We read in verse 1 that they will say, “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.”
But the present generation of Israel will remain defiant, and Hosea goes on to list more of their sins here in chapter 7. They ignore God, thinking He does not see what they are doing. The Lord says in verse 2, “Their deeds . . . are before my face.” God sees exactly what they are doing.
Verse 11 pictures them like doves who are lured into traps when they go to Egypt and Assyria for assistance. And when their crops fail, verse 14 says they wail upon their beds at night, but they will not cry out to God. Let me tell you, they are not only failing to repent; they are refusing to repent, even though this judgment from God is an invitation for them to repent.
In chapters 8 through 10, Israel’s punishment is clearly spelled out.
The vulture hovering over Israel in verse 1 of chapter 8 is Assyria. Like a circling vulture, the Assyrians are waiting to consume Israel. As the Assyrians swoop down, Hosea says the people will cry out to God, but at the same time they will keep on crying out to their idols of wood and stone.
Verse 7 delivers the verdict: Hosea writes, “They sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” They have sown rebellion; now they are going to reap a whirlwind of judgment.
Beloved, it is as true in these good old days as it is today: past blessings from God do not give us some kind of protection from the discipline of God if we choose to rebel against the Lord. If we are walking in disobedience, even today, we have only two choices—confess our sin and be restored to fellowship with the Lord or continue sowing more seeds of sin and expect nothing less than a whirlwind of consequences in the future.
The consequences for Israel will involve exile from their land. In chapter 9 the prophet announces, “They shall not remain in the land of the Lord . . . they shall eat unclean food in Assyria” (verse 3). Verse 17 sums it up: “My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.”
Finally, chapter 10 uses several different images to emphasize the sin of Israel and the punishment coming upon them. One of those images portrays Israel as a healthy and fruitful vine the Lord planted in the land. But as the nation grew and prospered, they did not thank God at all but turned to idols.
Even to the end, they are crying over the loss of their idol shaped like a calf (verse 5). That calf-idol is going to be carried away to Assyria, and Israel is all upset about it. There they are, facing exile and the judgment of God, and all they can cry about is a lifeless idol made in the image of a young cow!
Well, that idol cannot help them, and neither can any king or army. Verse 13 reveals the sad truth:
You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies . . . you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors.
The people of Israel had placed their faith in themselves, in their king, in their armies, and in their idols.
They knew about the true God. But they didn’t know Him. Let me tell you, I talk to people today who know all about God, but they have no desire to follow Him. Make sure today that you have not fallen into that trap—assuming because you know about Him that you actually belong to Him.
Oh yes, we are going to keep learning more about Him—that’s what we are doing on this Wisdom Journey. But just make sure that you have personally admitted your sin to Him and that you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone as your Savior and Lord.