We’re nearly finished our series through Hosea. (And this is the last of the gloom-and-doom negative chapters; tomorrow’s is much brighter!) And this chapter, in big picture terms, is more of the same. So we won’t spend a long time on each verse. I’ll just provide a few notes to give us an idea of the gist of each section. We’ve returned again to the theme of idolatry – and God’s anger at it.
Hosea 13:1-3 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, “They offer human sacrifices! They kiss calf-idols!” Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window.
Israel’s past is rehearsed: they were once God’s favoured people, but Ba’al worship (the Canaanite fertility god) has brought about their death.
Israel’s present is described: their idolatry becomes all the more pervasive, making carefully crafted idols. (Often in the shape of a calf, a symbol of Ba’al.) There’s even a suggestion that they’ve hit rock-bottom in imitation of the Canaanites they were supposed to drive out: not only do they worship their gods, they also practice child sacrifice. (Bear this in mind when you get appalled by verse 16, later.)
Israel’s future is assured: they’ll disappear into irrelevance.Hosea 13:4-8 But I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Saviour except me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. So I will be like a lion to them, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open; like a lion I will devour them—a wild animal will tear them apart.
This has echoes of chapter 11, where God is described as an aggrieved parent, who taught his son to walk, but he doesn’t remember. Here, they’ve forgotten God’s leading through the wilderness – and the miraculous food he provided – instead turning to the Canaanite fertility god as their source of sustenance. (God is reminding Israel that he’s not just good for the odd military battle and river-crossing; he can produce food, too, even in the desert for goodness sake!) So God’s not happy, using all of the wild animal imagery common in Israel to describe the danger they are now facing.Hosea 13:9-11 “You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper. Where is your king, that he may save you? Where are your rulers in all your towns, of whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes’? So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away.
This goes back to when Israel rejected God as their king, and asked God (via Samuel) for a human king like all the other nations around:1 Samuel 8:7-8 And the Lord told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
In Hosea’s day, we see the end result of choosing human kings over God. Rejection of God has led to a succession of bad kings that led the people astray.Hosea 13:12-13 The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on record. Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him, but he is a child without wisdom; when the time arrives, he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb.
Like my firstborn. Ten days overdue and had to induce. But here, it’s metaphorical. The consequences of Israel’s sin have been causing them “birth pains” for many years, but they still won’t come out, receive a slap on the backside, and then be brought to life by God.
The next verse is difficult to make sense of; I agree with those who think the first two sentences are rhetorical questions expecting the answer “No!”, so I have punctuated them that way here. The NIV has them as statements:Hosea 13:14 “Will I deliver this people from the power of the grave? Will I redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? I will have no compassion
If they refuse to come out and be born, God isn’t going to induce.Hosea 13:15 Even though he thrives among his brothers, an east wind from the Lord will come, blowing in from the desert; his spring will fail and his well dry up. His storehouse will be plundered of all its treasures.
The “east wind” will not only bring drought and famine, but it also represents Assyria, who in a short while would come and destroy Israel.Hosea 13:16 The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
OK, so now we get to the bit that makes us decidedly uncomfortable. And let’s face it, I’m not going to solve the whole “holy war” / justice-of-God thing in a few paragraphs at the end of a blog post. And it is something that’s supposed to make us feel uncomfortable; and realise the horror of sin – that it results in something like this. But let me offer a few points to think about as you seek to reconcile this image with the God who sacrificed his own son for us.
- This isn’t a special punishment God is meting out on Israel which is any different from what ancient armies, like the Assyrians, did to the people they conquered. Genocide was all too frequent in the ancient world. And because Israel has rejected God as their source of security – putting their trust in despots like the Assyrian rulers – God’s letting that play out. You trusted in Assyria? Let’s see what they do to you.
- Israel was supposed to completely wipe out the Canaanites back when they conquered the land – including women and children. Why? So that Canaanite religion would not survive. This includes the worshipping of fertility gods, and the sacred prostitution that went with it, which institutionalised the subjection and abuse of women, often young girls. Not to mention the thing that God detested the most about the Canaanites – child sacrifice – which verse 2 hints was happening in Israel. And all this came about because Israel didn’t fully wipe out the Canaanites as God commanded. So now their sin is coming back to bite them, in that they will be wiped out for adopting the detestable practices of the Canaanites.
- Sin is a serious problem. More so than we usually think. And if God is to have a people who live differently from the nations around – as a means of saving those nations – he has to wipe out the sinful influences totally, for his plan to work. The wonder isn’t that he allowed this to happen in 722BC; rather, that he gave them so many chances before that time.
- This is what should happen to all of us, for rebelling against our Creator. Yet God himself bore the effects of his own wrath in sacrificing his innocent son in our place. So in a very real sense, God himself has suffered this fate, too. Only he didn’t deserve it.
Tomorrow, in chapter 14, we look more at the way in which God gives himself for us.