Introduction to Hosea

Introduction to Hosea

When God speaks, it is in response to real people alive in real places at real times. So we always want to examine the context of a prophecy or epistle or teaching or parable. Why was Paul writing to the church at Corinth— what was going on there? What motivated Jesus to tell the parable of the wedding feast? As we begin to study what God said through Hosea, we want to develop a sense of context: where was God speaking and what was happening in that society?

The writer is Hosea whose name means deliverer or savior, from the Hebrew verb yasha which means to save or deliver (the same name as Joshua and Jesus). Aside from his ministry, we have no specific biographical information other than the name of his father, Beeri. It is interesting that the Lord providentially guided Beeri to name his son in a way that represents the ministry to which God ordained him — Hosea proclaimed a God who passionately desired to save and deliver His covenant people.

1. Date of Hosea’s ministry:

Hosea dates himself in 1:1.  He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jereboam II, king of Israel. Since Jereboam II died in 753 BC and Uzziah began to reign by himself in 767, Hosea’s ministry began somewhere between these two dates, possibly around 755 BC  He continued to minister at least until the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign (from 715 BC to 686 BC). So Hosea’s ministry lasted forty to fifty years or possibly more. A general timeline would place his ministry from 755 to 710 BC. Hosea then would be a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Micah.

Hosea prophesied primarily in the northern kingdom of Israel, beginning near the end of the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). After the death of Jeroboam II, four of the following six kings of Israel were assassinated, resulting in social and political anarchy and culminating with Assyria’s conquest of the nation in 722 BC. At that point, the northern kingdom, Israel, ceased to exist. At the same time the southern kingdom, Judah (comprised of the tribes Judah and Benjamin), also suffered from poor leadership, interrupted briefly by the reign of the godly reformer, Hezekiah. But his reforms only served to slow the decline and destruction of the nation. Eventually, Judah also was destroyed (though over a hundred years later). 

2. Conditions during Hosea’s ministry:

To understand conditions during Hosea’s ministry, we need to begin after the death of King Solomon (during the 930s BC). The ten northern tribes rebelled against the rule of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, primarily in response to what was considered to be unjust taxation. They chose a man named Jeroboam as their king and called their nation the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was not descended from David and therefore was an illegitimate king. This is probably why Hosea dates himself primarily by kings of Judah. Though he ministered in Israel, the northern kings were rebels, whereas the kings of Judah were legitimate descendants of David.

Far more serious than the political rebellion was the apostate religious system which the northern tribes instituted. The leaders of the nation did not want people going to Jerusalem so they built their own places of worship and consecrated their own priests. Worship was a mixture of Yahweh worship and Canaanite fertility worship, gradually degenerating into terrible darkness, especially during the reign of King Ahab (approximately 875-850 BC). 

Ahab had married a Phoenician woman, Jezebel, who brought her foreign gods with her (primarily fertility gods such as Baal). Under her influence, violent persecution was launched against the true prophets and worshippers of Yahweh. (Jezebel and her false prophets were famously opposed by Elijah).

Approximately one hundred years later, Hosea came on the scene. During that time the Northern kingdom (Israel) enjoyed prosperity and peace along with a disastrous decline in faithfulness to God and a multiplying of idol worship (2 Chron 26:10,  Hosea 8:14). Spiritual corruption led to moral corruption. Luxury and prosperity led to great sin and weak faith. Wealth created self sufficiency and pride as the people forgot about God. (Ironic that it took hardship to remind the people of their dependence on God. Blessing did not often produce righteousness.)

Along with the increase in wealth for some was a multiplying of poverty among many and oppressive, unjust business practices (Hos 12:7). Justice was being bought and sold, people were being bought and sold, the poor were being trampled (see Amos 8:4-8). Social morality, business ethics, declined. There is a connection here between the spiritual life of the nation and its social life. As the nation declined in faithfulness to God and as idols increased, there was an increase in moral, political and economic corruption.

As we have said, following the death of Jereboam II, Israel fell into a period of national instability as one king displaced another. Beginning in 745 BC, Assyria began to reassert its power, climaxing in 722 with the fall of Israel into Assyrian hands. Many of the survivors were taken away to exile in foreign lands and non-Israelites were brought in to settle the land. (This mix of Jews and foreigners resulted later in the people group known as Samaritans).

3. Marriage to Gomer:

By divine command (1:2), Hosea married Gomer, a wife of harlotry. This marriage is central to the ministry and message of Hosea. There are different views among Bible scholars regarding the marriage:

a. Some say the marriage never happened — it is a spiritual allegory representing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. But it’s difficult to accept this view, considering the straightforward narrative.  The story is never presented in any form except as history.

b. Others say the marriage did happen and Gomer was a prostitute in the temple of a false god. We reject this opinion because we don’t know what relationship she may have had to false gods. 

c. Some contend that Gomer was a real person but not an actual prostitute — her infidelity was spiritual in nature; she was a worshipper of false gods.  Again, we reject this opinion because we do not know what her spiritual orientation was. 

d. The marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot. The proponents of this theory point out how this would parallel God’s relationship with Israel. God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3) and made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of Israel. In the same way, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful. However, this seems to contradict the straightforward words of 1:2, Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry…  

e. The most reasonable interpretation of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is that it is literally true — Hosea married a prostitute as God commanded him and through this, God depicts His covenant relationship with unfaithful Israel. Some object that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel. But in fact we do know that God commanded Hosea to marry her.

4. The character of Hosea:

Hosea does not tell us much about himself, but nothing proves devotion to God more than obedience. We know that Hosea was a devout man because he obeyed God. We know that he was committed to speaking God’s truth because he spoke even at great cost to himself. In other words, Hosea was a lover of God. He loved God enough to speak the Word that God planted in his heart. He also must have been a man of great courage to preach destruction and judgment in a time of prosperity. He must have been a man of faith because he was faithful to fulfill his ministry.

Four Themes of Hosea’s Ministry:

Hosea had no question that the covenant God of Israel was speaking through him. The book begins, The word of the Lord which came to Hosea (1:1) and When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said (1:2). The Apostle Peter reminds us, Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20,21). Hosea understood that he was speaking God’s message to the covenant people. 

There are four basic themes in this message.

1. The Bridegroom God Who Makes Covenant With People:

Through Hosea Israel was given this marvelous, revolutionary revelation that the God who had revealed Himself as Almighty Creator, all-wise Lawgiver and fearsome Judge is also the Bridegroom God who has entered history to redeem a faithful Bride, who had made covenant with Israel, had betrothed Israel to Himself as His holy Bride, whose love and patience are on display through all of Israel’s covenant breaking, who said, I will betroth you to Me forever (Hos. 2:19). (Isaiah also, a contemporary of Hosea, was receiving this revelation, For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 54:5).  

We see through Hosea the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved. Hosea’s continuing love for Gomer is an illustration of God’s love for Israel (for instance, 3:1-3). Through Hosea, we realize that the Song of Solomon was not only a poem celebrating romantic love but on a deeper level, a celebration of the wondrous love of the Bridegroom God for His covenant people.

2. The Bride’s Violation of Covenant:

God had made a covenant with Israel which Israel continually violated (1:2  2:2,5  4:11-13). The worship of false gods is considered by God to be spiritual adultery and is compared with the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife. That broken marriage is used as an illustration of the broken covenant between God and Israel (1:2  3:1-3).

The Lord had repeatedly warned Israel to avoid any polluting contact with the demonically inspired religions practiced by the people around them but over time those religions had infected the entire nation. Chief among them was the worship of fertility gods — Baal, a male god, and Asherah, his female counterpart. Another prominent and particularly gruesome false god was Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. The Canaanites vainly hoped that in the worship of these gods they would enhance the fertility of their crops and livestock and families.

Imagine the Lord’s offense. It is God who prospered Israel but the more they prospered, the more they gave glory to the false gods of the nations who did not know the Lord! This is like a spouse buying a beautiful gift for his or her covenant partner and the partner taking the gift and giving thanks to a false, adulterous lover.

3. The Bridegroom God Contending for His Bride:

The Bridegroom God confronts His unfaithful Bride with calls to repent and solemn warnings of judgment if she will not (5:1-15,   8:1-14   10:5-8). The enemy of Israel is shown to be, not the Assyrians, but the unfaithfulness of God’s covenant people. The Lord exposes sin and warns of consequences because He is contending for the blessing and fulfillment of His covenant partner. He warns of impending judgment so that Israel will turn and not experience judgment.

4. Future Restoration of the Bride:

The Bridegroom God promises future restoration when Israel would turn and again enjoy the blessings of God (1:10,11   2:14-23  3:4,5  6:1-3). We understand the Lord’s confrontation with Israel when we understand His heart. It is the Bridegroom God contending with His Bride for her salvation, her destiny. We see this again in the book of Revelation, as the Lord Jesus confronts churches which have allowed their love for the Lord to be corrupted by indifference or immorality or false teaching. His desire is to call forth in history a Bride made ready for eternal communion with Himself.


The book of Hosea is the portrayal of the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, but also releasing judgment if they will not return. There are times when God gives unrepentant sinners up to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

So we read in 5:6, They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them. The Lord withdrew His presence, anointing, blessing, glory, because Israel had withdrawn from Him. They loved God’s blessing, His abundance, His provision, but they despised the Lord Himself so He pulled back His hand and His blessing. The hope is that adversity will produce the necessary pressure to turn the nation back to Him.

Yet even in judgment, the Lord continued to yearn over His covenant people, How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? (11:8). This is the Bridegroom God who loves His covenant people with faithful, loyal love. Hear the grieving, yearning heart of Israel’s lover: I would redeem them but they speak lies against Me (7:13).

God called to Israel through the prophets, spoke to them through the sacred writings, chastised them with calamities yet they continually turned from him and bowed down to gods that are not gods. As a result, even as the nation prospered, it was collapsing in political, social and spiritual turmoil and was threatened by a dangerous, savage foreign enemy, Assyria.

We might picture Israel at that time as a beautiful mansion fitted with all the luxuries money can buy. But behind the walls, termites have eaten away the wood and the foundation beneath their feet is crumbling. Or to stay within the narrative, Israel was a bride outwardly beautiful but inwardly suffering from a disease which, if not treated, will ultimately prove fatal.

During Hosea’s ministry, false kings, false priests and false prophets led the nation into a deepening spiral of darkness and corruption. The leadership was spiritually complacent, hostile to the true and living God, undiscerning of the rottenness at the heart of the nation and the imminent danger just beyond their borders. They mixed the worship of God with the worship of idols. They attempted to establish political stability without consulting God and when they belatedly recognized the Assyrian threat, they tried to establish peace through military alliances with other pagan, idol worshipping nations rather than trusting in the Lord.

None of those policies prevented the continuing disintegration of the nation. And yet the Bridegroom God continually offered them the only solution that would save them: Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord … (Hosea 14:1-3).

The solution to national decline was not political, military or economic. Rather, it was to return to the Lord, return to the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them, who called them and pursued them with faithful, covenant love. Return and repent of sin, including the sin of trusting in foreign alliances and false gods. If they would do this, the Lord clearly stated His response: He will heal and restore (Hosea 14:4-6).

We will see throughout the book that God’s emphasis is on the spiritual and moral decay of the nation. Therefore, as we have said, He does not emphasize political or military problems, though there were many. The kings of Israel were being assassinated in rapid order, creating chaos. The nation of Assyria was rising to power and threatening Israel with destruction. But God does not say, “You need a new king or a larger army.” He calls them to repentance and cleansing.

Let’s use the analogy of a human heart. If the heart is diseased, it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how many security guards you hire or how many weapons they carry. If the problem is a diseased heart then the only solution must be to repair and revive the heart.

So with a nation. If the problem is moral / spiritual corruption leading to social disintegration, then the only solution is to turn from that which corrupts and call out to God for cleansing. Israel failed to do this and in the midst of her economic prosperity, political instability and oppression of the poor, as the nation continued to worship false gods, the nation was destroyed.

The Bridegroom God called to His covenant people with such amazing patience and mercy. But ultimately, their stubborn refusal to repent resulted in their total destruction. So it will be for any nation that defies the Lord. But it does not have to end that way.

A good example is in the southern kingdom of Judah. In the days of King Hezekiah, a contemporary of the prophet Hosea, the Assyrian army was marching through the land, killing and pillaging. As the enemy encamped around Jerusalem, Hezekiah called out to the Lord and in one night, the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,00 Assyrian soldiers, delivering the nation (Isaiah 37:14-36).

Here is the choice for every generation. We may try to solve spiritual problems through political, economic or military means. We may continue to worship gods that are false. Or we may repent of our sin and call on the name of the Lord. He is mighty to save and that salvation, though spiritual in nature, will resonate through every expression of a nation’s life.

So we see that Hosea is not merely a prophet of ancient Israel — he has a message for each of us. We may know the Lord as Mighty Creator, Fearsome Judge, Awesome Law Giver. We may know Him as the wonderful Savior of lost sinners. But Hosea brings us a new and deeper revelation of God’s saving purpose. The uncreated, Self-existent Creator of the universe, who needs nothing outside of Himself, is the Bridegroom Messiah who has entered history seeking a covenant partner — seeking not only to save us from our sin but to bring us into intimate, everlasting communion with Himself.

This gives a new interpretation to every book of the Bible, all the way to the final chapter of the final book. We see now the purpose of God in history — to pursue, awaken, redeem and betroth to Himself a Bride for His Son. And we see the end point of history — a  Bride made ready. 

This is our story too.

Study Questions

1. What are some of the major themes in the ministry of Hosea?

2. In what way is Hosea’s marriage to Gomer representative of God’s relationship with Israel?

Hosea Chapter 1

Hosea Chapter 1

1:1 “The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.”

As we mentioned in the introduction, although Hosea ministered in the northern kingdom, Israel, he identified the time of his minstry primarily through kings of Judah — Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah — because they were legitimate kings, descended from David. Jeroboam the son of Joash, and all other kings of Israel, were illegitimate.

The reason Hosea identifies himself in this way is to demonstrate that God spoke to a man at a particular time and place in history. This is not that man’s word. It is God’s Word to that man. This lends authority and urgency to the ministry of Hosea — he speaks because God has spoken. What does this tell us about God?  That God is not hiding and is not silent. He reveals Himself to people, communicates His Word, His truth, His plans and purposes to His servants and through them to whoever will listen and obey. 

To each of the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus said, “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:7,11,17, 29 3:6,13,22). If we are redeemed followers of Jesus, our spiritual ears have been opened and we are accountable to hear Him.

The word God speaks requires a response, demands action. We may listen and respond or listen and refuse. Or we may refuse to listen. However, to refuse is a response. To fail to act or obey is an action, the act of disobedience.

Notice the confidence of Hosea. He knows that the living God has spoken to him and he is confident to declare this word to the nation. The truth that Hosea declares existed before him — it is the word of the eternal God and therefore, it is eternally true. It is true for every generation, every society and culture, without exception. It is not disproven or invalidated by the latest philosophies, cultural customs or false gods. It is a transcendent word spoken by a transcendent God who exists before and beyond every society, every culture, every generation, yet meets us in our time, our cultural setting.

1:2 “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.’”

The subtext here is that God and Israel had entered into a covenant relationship of the most intimate kind. God considered Israel to be His betrothed, His bride and considered Himself to be Israel’s Husband. He is the Bridegroom God who entered history to redeem fallen, weak, sinful people and call them into covenant with Himself. He delights in His covenant people, desires to lavish His love upon us and takes pleasure in our love for Him.

What God desired from Israel was a relationship of intimate, faithful, covenant love. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was, in God’s sight, adultery. They not only had rejected God, they had taken other gods as their lovers, had given credit and thanks to those false gods for the blessings that the true and living God had showered upon them. Israel’s worship of those gods was an act of adultery at the deepest level of being. Israel had prostituted itself to these false gods.

While it is true that false gods are not real, every idol is infused with demonic presence and power. There is a demonically inspired philosophical / theological system of thought undergirding the worship of an idol, a spiritual reality attached to the idol and involvement with that idol creates an enslaving entanglement with powers of darkness. The Apostle Paul expresses this in his warning to the church at Corinth,

What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (I Cor. 10:19-21).

As we have said, the idol itself is not alive but the demonic power infusing it is very real. Pauls says, I do not want you to become sharers in demons. The word sharers is koinonos which is related to the word koinonia which means communion. Paul was warning the church that any participation in any form of idolatry was an act of communion with the demonic power behind and within the idol.

In worshipping false gods, Israel was not only walking away from the true and living God. The nation was also giving itself into intimate communion with demonic powers that would only lead the nation into destruction, unless the people repented and returned to the Lord.

God’s response is to pursue Israel, call to Israel. He warns them, rehearses their covenant history with Him, reminds them of His faithful, covenant love for them. This is the Bridegroom God pursuing His unfaithful bride, contending for her purity; indeed, for her survival.

Doesn’t this subtext also include each of us? God desires intimate, faithful, loving relationship with each of us. In Christ, God has called us out of darkness into covenant relationship with Himself. But even after we entered into covenant with God through faith in Christ, we have at times been unfaithful lovers of God. There are temptations, in every generation, to pursue other gods. In Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the ever-present influence of these corrupting temptations. And we see the Lord calling to His Bride, contending for His Bride.

The ministry and message of Hosea is relevant for every generation, for each of us.

As we shared in the Introduction, some Bible scholars suggest that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel, that is, marry a prostitute. Some say that this is merely symbolic language, that Gomer’s infidelity was spiritual in nature, that she was a worshipper of false gods. Others argue that the marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot. This would parallel God’s relationship with Israel — God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3) and had made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of His bride. In the same way, some contend, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful.  

However, those interpretations violate the literal narrative. God commanded the prophet to do something which violated the Law of Israel because Israel had violated the Law. More than this, Israel had violated sacred covenant with God, had grieved the heart of the God who considered Himself to be the Groom and Israel to be His bride. But the incredible narrative of Hosea is that the Bridegroom God did not reject unfaithful Israel and this marriage between Hosea and Gomer, and Hosea’s faithfulness to his bride, is a revelation of God’s continued love for and pursuit of His covenant bride.  

As God reveals His love for Israel, He reveals also the truth of Israel’s unfaithfulness. God’s love does not compromise God’s truth. He desires to confront Israel with unfailing love and unflinching truth. So it is with each of us. God pursues us with unfailing love and unflinching truth about ourselves. We see in Hosea’s ministry the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved and revealing the truth of her condition.

Notice the Lord’s words to Hosea in verse two — Israel is guilty of forsaking the Lord, similar to the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus — You have left your first love (Rev. 2:4). This is sin of the highest order, since the first and greatest commandment is, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

1:3-5 “So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.’”

Hosea obeyed God, married Gomer and they had a son. He was given the name Jezreel, which means, God sows / plants. The child’s birth was the occasion for a prophetic word concerning God’s future judgment of Israel. God will sow judgment upon the nation because of their sin. Sowing also implies scattering — one sows seed by scattering it and in this we see the future destruction and scattering of Israel out of their land. The Lord will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.

However, even though the Lord is declaring judgment over the nation, there  is still time for repentance for some —  yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu. Yet a little while — there is still time. God gives this prophetic warning so that some will return to Him. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord said, ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezkl. 18:32). God warns people and nations of judgment so that a remnant will turn and live.

I will break the bow of Israel refers to the breaking of national military power, the defeat and overthrow of the nation which no longer trusted in the God of the covenant but in false gods, weapons and military alliances with pagan nations. It points ahead to destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But it did not have to end that way. When God breaks the power or wealth or pride of any man or woman or nation, this is an act of mercy. It may be that in their humbled condition, some will see more clearly the self-destructive choices they have made and turn to the Lord who is mighty to save.

1:6 “Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them.’”

Again Gomer gave birth to a child.  She was named Lo-ruhamah, whose name means, She has not obtained compassion.  In this, God declared the reality of Israel’s choice. Israel had broken covenant with God and rejected the compassion and mercy of God. That mercy will now be beyond their grasp, beyond their experience, if they continue to refuse to repent. It is not because God had ceased to be merciful and compassionate — God does not change, He is always the same God. But Israel has refused mercy and compassion. The experience of God’s mercy is within the boundary of covenant relationship with Him but Israel had rejected that covenant and therefore had rejected the blessings that lie within that covenant. They could not obtain that which they rejected.

They had offended and grieved God by choosing to enter adulterous relationships with false gods.  God now reminds Israel of the reality of their choices. Unless they turn back to God, they cannot experience compassion because they have rejected compassion. They have broken covenant and law, have offended the justice of God and have now entered into judgment. God cannot manifest Himself as their Deliverer, Provider or Redeemer because they have rejected Him as Deliverer, Provider and Redeemer. The Bridegroom God now manifests as the holy Bridegroom Judge. Again, God has not ceased to love them but love does not cancel justice. God is perfectly loving and perfectly just and they will experience His love or His justice depending on their response to Him.

However, there is still time to respond. There are two kinds of judgment. There is final destruction but there is also judgment as an expression of grace. The Bridegroom God applies chastisement which produces pressure for the purpose of driving the sinner back to the security and provision of the covenant God.

Once we were all Lo-ruhamah (not obtained compassion), as Peter reminds us, For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10). We have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God. We experience the blessings of His mercy as we live within the boundary of His light.

Although verse 6 sounds like final, irrevocable judgment over the northen kingdom, we must ask, “Why then is God coming to them, warning them, calling to them?” Because He is the Bridegroom God. Those who refuse to turn, who persist in their idolatry, will not experience compassion and will not be forgiven. But some will turn — there is still a little while for some to repent and they will find abundant pardon. This is the heart of the Bridegroom God who is slow to judge and quick to forgive. He will always preserve a faithful Bride remnant.

1:7 “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.”

There is still the possibility of compassion and deliverance for the southern kingdom of Judah.  However, Judah will not be delivered by their weapons, but by the Lord their God. This is the reality for those who are in covenant relationship with God. God showers mercy on His beloved and acts in history, in our lives, to deliver us from evil and bless us with goodness. 

It is historical fact that the Lord preserved the southern kingdom from the marauding armies of Syria and Assyria — the kingdom of Judah endured for another 132 years after the fall of Israel. Recall the miraculous intervention of the angel of the Lord when 185,000 Assyrians were slain in one night, outside the walls of Jerusalem (2 Ki. 19:35). In these words, not by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen, we see also a reminder of the end time deliverance of Israel by the Lord Jesus Himself.

Again, it is not that God is sometimes our Judge and sometimes the God of grace. He is always perfectly just and perfectly loving. But our response to God determines how we experience Him.  We are free to accept God’s love and love Him in return. We have been invited to enter into covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God and enjoy the blessings of His covenant.  

But if we choose to reject relationship with God, despise His love and violate His laws, there will be consequences. We are not free of the consequences of our decisions. We are free to love God or reject God, free to do righteous deeds and free to sin. But the wages of sin is death. We are free to choose our actions but not free to choose the consequences of our actions. Every choice has a consequence.

Consequences change as our choices change. But God is unchanging. God is perfect in love, holiness and justice. Every attribute of God is always perfectly expressed but we experience that attribute based on our response to Him. If we flaunt God’s law and violate His just decrees, then we will experience the consequences of broken law and violated justice. If we embrace God’s love in faithful, covenant relationship, we experience the blessings of covenant.  

When we experience the judgment of God, that does not mean that God ceases to love us. And when we experience the mercy of God, that does not mean that He ceases to be just. God is always all that God ever was or will be — perfectly loving and perfectly holy. Sin turns away the mercy that God desires to outpour and brings us into confrontation with the justice which God must express. But He is still perfect in mercy and justice, both in the same moment. And even that confrontation is an expression of mercy — He confronts us with truth, with reality, applies pressure so that we will see the truth, understand our reality, and turn back to Him so that we may experience His grace.

The great mystery and wonder of God’s love is that while we were yet His enemies, sinning against Him and violating His covenant, God pursued us in love, awakened us to His love. This is depicted in Hosea’s pursuit of Gomer. It is the glory of God’s love that in Christ, He took upon Himself the fulness of His own judgment which we earned when we despised His love, broke His laws and rejected His covenant. God took the fullness of His own judgment upon Himself on the cross, along with our sin, so that we might experience the fullness of His mercy and His righteousness. 

1:8,9 “When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.’”

Lo-ammi means not My people. The Israelites had broken covenant with God, despised covenant relationship with God, had rejected God, had been unfaithful, taking other lovers as they worshipped false gods. In so doing, they had declared themselves to be not God’s people. God now portrays their choice in front of them. This is both an act of judgment and love. It is right and just that God says they are no longer His people because this is the choice they have made and the truth which they have lived out. But it is also an act of love to tell them the truth and to portray the truth with such clarity. Our God is utterly realistic. He delights in unveiling reality to us — reality about Himself, our lives and the world around us. This enables us to make choices with clarity. As we have said, this unveiling of truth is an act of grace.

When God gives us up to our choices, He is seeking to make our choices and their consequences more clear to us. There’s nothing like reality to sober us, to focus us and bring us to personal accountability. The story of the prodigal son is a perfect example of this (Luke 15:11-24). There’s nothing like pig husks in a far country to awaken one’s sense of sin and a longing for restored covenant relationship with the waiting father. But we can’t experience true pig-husk reality as long as God’s protective hand is over us. So, while we sin, break faith and despise covenant, God will warn us, call to us with gentle, brokenhearted love. But if we will not respond, then at last He withdraws His hand and blessing, let’s us taste the choices we have made — gives us up to our choices and the consequences which those choices produce. It is the hope of the wounded, rejected Bridegroom God that we will come to our senses and return.

This is not a cold, calloused, judgmental God. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His bride. He is contending with Israel because they are His people, though they are living as though they are not.

1:10,11 “Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’  And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one leader, and they will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”

But even as God declares the broken covenant, God also declares the future certainty of a restored covenant when Israel and Judah will again be united as the people of God. The Scriptures offer abundant testimony to this truth, that God is faithful to forgive the faithless, abounding in mercy to those who once rejected mercy. David the psalmist celebrated the wonderful truth of God’s grace: 

Bless the Lord, O my soul ... who pardons all your iniquities ... who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion … The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins … as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:1,3,4,8,10,12).  

Years later, in the midst of Jerusalem’s destruction and desolation, Jeremiah confessed, The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22,23).  

Even when we were dead in trespasses and sins ... God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with Him (Eph 2:1,4-6).  

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19).

But how great the cost of this reconciliation. To achieve it, God bore the punishment of His own justice. What greater proof or demonstration of love could God make than this? But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us ... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom 5:8,10). 

In this gift we find proof of all other gifts from God. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31,32).

God promises to unfaithful Israel that someday the covenant relationship will be restored and notice where this restoration will take place. Where it is said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’  In the place where covenant was broken, in that same place, covenant will someday be restored. The place of transgression will become the place of forgiveness. The place where faith was denied will become the place of faith pledged anew.  The land that was fouled by sin will become, again, sacred covenant ground.

The place of tragic failure becomes, by the grace of God, the place of triumph. The road which the prodigal traveled in selfish rebellion, became the highway to reconciliation with his father. Defeat, failure, tragedy — these are not the final words over any life when we draw near to God with repentance and invite Him to pour out the redeeming, saving, restoring grace, which is His heart’s desire.

Is there a more beautiful picture of this in nature than the oyster’s wound becoming a pearl? The Apostle Paul said, Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9).  Why?  Because there, in his weakness, God’s grace was magnified. Paul’s lack became a glorious lens to magnify God’s abundance. It is the heart of God to do this, an expression of His grace. All is grace.

Hosea speaks of a future day when there will be a regathering of Israel and of Judah. There have been times of renewal, revival and regathering in Israel’s long history. After Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the southern kingdom, Israel was again regathered to their land. After the Romans destroyed the nation in 70 AD, there was no Israel for centuries. But in 1948 the nation was again established in their land.

However, in this passage, God grants Hosea vision into the far future, to the very end of history, when the children of Israel and Judah will be regathered in their land with one leader. This is a reference to Jesus Messiah who will someday reign over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem.

Truly, in that day, great will be the day of Jezreel (God sows / plants), for Israel will be sowed, planted in their land under their Messiah.

In that day the Bridegroom God will do what has always been in His heart to do. Why did God pursue us when we rejected Him and ran from Him? Why did God redeem us and call us into covenant with Himself? Why did He take our judgment upon Himself, wash us, clothe us in a new robe and raise us up in reconciled resurrection life with Himself?  

So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus  (Eph 2:7).

Pastor Mike Bickle, in a teaching about the Bridegroom Judge, said, “The Lord wanted Hosea’s pain-filled marriage to be a prophetic picture of how the Lord feels about His relationship to His people when they are unfaithful to Him. God will not throw them away — He will stay with them and bear the pain of their rejection of Him. He will also discipline with the goal of awakening them to their destiny as His bride.”

So we see in chapter one, God contending for His bride, confronting the covenant people with their sin, warning of judgment while promising blessing. Many will be lost through unbelief, yet some will be saved by grace through faith. God will have a covenant bride.

Study Questions

1. How is Hosea’s marriage to Gomer a picture of God’s relationship with Israel?

2. Why did the Lord so passionately pursue Israel?

Hosea Chapter 2:1-13

Hosea Chapter 2:1-13

2:1 “Say to your brothers, ‘Ammi,’ and to your sisters, ‘Ruhamah’”

This verse connects to the theme of restoration which concluded chapter one. The Lord is looking ahead to the day when Israel will be restored as His covenant Bride.

Whereas in 1:6 Lo-ammi means “not my people”, Hosea is now commanded to say, “Ammi” — “my people.” In 1:9, Lo-ruhama means “not obtained compassion.” But now call the nation “Ruhama,” which means, “has obtained compassion.”

Though Israel is coming under judgment because they have refused to turn from their sin, the Lord’s desire for His covenant people is restoration. He is saying, “You are still my people … you may still obtain compassion.” This is a dual theme that we see through the ministry of Hosea— warning of judgment, promise of restoration.

This is also an example of the Lord calling into being those things which are not (see Rom. 4:17). Israel is an unfaithful Bride but the Bridegroom God is calling them to be who they truly are and speaking that reality as if it is presently true.

2:2 “Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; and let her put away her harlotry from her face and her adultery from between her breasts.”

It is as if the Lord is saying, “Let the children of the restoration, the faithful remnant, those who have not bowed before the idols and corrupted themselves, let them stand and contend with their unfaithful mother.” God is calling on the faithful of Israel to confront the reality of unfaithfulness in their nation, confront the corrupting sin and contend for the covenant.

In every generation God contends for His Bride through a faithful remnant whom He calls to pray, to speak truth and to confront that which violates truth. It is a confrontation motivated by love — reveal sin, warn of consequences, call for repentance and promise grace.

“She is not my wife and I am not her husband” is not the Lord disavowing covenant relationship with His Bride. It is the Lord declaring the truth of Israel’s declaration. It is Israel that has disavowed covenant relationship. It is Israel that has acted unfaithfully. The Lord is confronting this because He desires to restore what has been lost.

Israel had made covenant with the Bridegroom God who desired to lavish His goodness and blessing upon the nation. In return, He desired and required that they would love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Love for God would be expressed through faithful worship and obedience to His moral laws which express His moral purity. This was intended to be far more than mere religion. It was to be an intimate, loving relationship between the God of the covenant and the people of the covenant.

But Israel was violating its covenant with the Lord. “Put away your adultery from between your breasts” refers to jewelry dedicated to an idol, a false god. The jewelry represented not merely worship of false gods but a relationship with them. And it was worn next to the heart.  Women in Israel, obviously with the approval of their husbands, were giving their affection to demon gods and wearing the emblems of this idolatrous affection next to their heart.

The Lord confronts Israel but how typical of God — He does not bring devastating judgment in response to sin. Long before judgment will be released, He reveals sin, warns of the consequences and offers grace. We see this same pattern in the messages to the seven churches in Revelation. The church at Thyatira was being corrupted by a false prophetess and the leadership had refused to deal with it but Jesus confronted the church, exposed their sin, offered remedy, promised grace and even gave the false prophetess time to repent, all of which was an expression of mercy (Rev. 2:20,21).

2:3 “Or I will strip her naked and expose her as on the day when she was born. I will also make her like a wilderness, make her like desert land and slay her with thirst.”

What God will strip away is the facade of religiousness that covers their sin. Jesus had harsh words for people who were corrupt on the inside but respectably religious on the outside. A loving God will expose the sin that would destroy us. A gracious Bridegroom God will contend for the high calling and purity and destiny of His Bride.

All sin separates us from God, has a destructive impact on the purpose He has designed for us, resists His blessing toward us and brings us into contact with darkness. But the worship of false gods is especially dangerous and destructive. So the Lord exposes this sin so He can reclaim His covenant people and save them from the self-destroying impact of their sin.  

Turning the fruitful land to desert is an act of justice equal to the crime. The people have worshipped fertility gods so the Lord withdraws His blessing on the fertility of the land. The nation had given credit for fertility and fruit to gods that are not gods, demons. They not only withheld thanks to the true God who had truly blessed them with fruitful harvests, but worse, they gave thanks to demons.  

God’s action is an act of justice but we may also say that it is an act of mercy to expose and judge this sin. If the people continue to reap blessing while living self-destructive, demonically centered  lives, they will have no reason or motive to change and will eventually lose everything. It is merciful for God to expose the sin which will ultimately destroy people whom He loves.  It is an act of mercy to remove some or even most of their fruitfulness before they lose it all. If you love someone, you try to expose whatever will harm them and try to deliver them from destruction.  

Removing blessing on the land will create pressure on the people. Chastisement creates pressure which creates change. Because God loves Israel, because this is His Bride, He contends with her, exposes the reality of her sin and applies pressure toward the goal of producing change.

2:4 “Also, I will have no compassion on her children, because they are children of harlotry.”

Gomer’s children represent the fruit of unholy relationships. Children in this context could refer to the prosperity that Israel has gained while being unfaithful to the true God who has blessed the nation. So He warns the nation that He is preparing to withdraw His compassion, that is, He will withdraw their prosperity.

Children also refer to the people of Israel who were counting on the Lord’s protection while breaking covenant with Him. In the coming crisis, when Assyria invades, the Lord will have no compassion. The covenant has been broken, the people had removed themselves from the Lord’s covering and the people should not presume on His protection.

God cannot bless, but will judge, the fruit of our lives that is produced through unholy relationships with false gods and false lovers which violate our covenant with God.  God does not bless unfaithfulness, corruption, idolatry and spiritual adultery.  God judges this.

As we mature in our relationship with God, we grow in our love and our reverence for Him.  We grow in our perception of Him. We celebrate His mercy but are awed by His holy love for justice.  We grow in our understanding of what it means to live in a universe designed by a loving, just and holy God.  We grow in the realization that there are physical laws undergirding this universe but also moral laws weaved into its structure.  We may be comfortable with this reality or uncomfortable, agree or disagree.  Nevertheless, the moral reality undergirding this world is just as real as the physical reality.  Gravity is real.  So is the justice of God. Electro-magnetism is real. So is the moral goodness of God. Moral laws are just as real as physical laws and we violate either at our own peril.

A mature man or woman, as with a mature society, has a balanced perception of this God whose mercy and justice are in perfect harmony, whose universe reflects this harmony. But Israel was regressing in its understanding of the Lord.

2:5 “For their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’” 

Another translation could read, “Let me go after my lovers who give me my bread.” Israel’s strong desire was to break free of any restraint — “Let me go.” She wants to be free to pursue the false gods whom she credited for her provision when it was God who provided.  Again, she is not only refusing to give thanks to the Lord for her prosperity but she is crediting demonically empowered false gods. This would be like a husband or wife being blessed over and over again by his or her spouse and not only refusing to thank their covenant partner but giving thanks to a false lover.

Satan lies and deceives us into believing that he or the world is our provider.  And so people pursue false lovers — false philosophies, false religions, bow down before the gods of gold and steel, compromise with every social, cultural and political trend no matter how corrupt.  But in the end, false gods and false lovers are always and only false and their blessing is only an illusion, a mirage, resulting not in prosperity but destruction.  

There is only one God in this universe who loves us perfectly, knows us perfectly and desires to resource our lives. In His wisdom He designed a purpose for each of us.  By His awesome power and gentle outworking of grace, He draws us to Himself, calls us into intimate, covenant love with Himself and works out His purpose for our good and for the blessing of others through us. God was Israel’s provider and God is our provider.  The others are pretenders, false lovers.

2:6 “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.” 

This is an act of mercy.  When covenant people stray, God puts up a wall around us to prevent us from greater sin, to keep us from destruction.  We have to climb over the wall, push through the thorny hedge in order to stray further into sin. 

The Lord is a skilled craftsman with thorns. When Adam and Eve sinned and fell from grace, the Lord cast them out of the garden but lined their path with thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18). This was an act of mercy — a way hedged with thorns reminded them that this was not the garden God created. The thorns were a call to repentance.

The Lord dealt with Solomon in a parallel manner — hedging him in with his sin until he was weary of all pleasure.  All that he gained of wealth and knowledge and pleasure became to him nothing more than chasing after wind. The thorny hedge of pleasure drove Solomon to remember the purity of God.

A man of wealth and fame was asked, “Now that you have reached the top of the mountain, what would you say to yourself if you were just starting out.” He replied, “I would say that there is nothing at the top.”  God hedges some people in with the thorns of their empty success.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” (Matt. 7:13).  This broad way is easy to find, delightful to travel, for a season, but all who enter it journey to destruction.  

Jesus also said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt 7:14).  Yet this narrow way is paved with the light and benediction of Christ our Shepherd and Great High Priest.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:6).  When we are in right relationship with Him, when we are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, God will bring us through the narrow way that leads to life.

The narrow way includes God’s abundant provision for our lives. Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25,26,33).

Jesus does not mean that we should not make wise plans for the future. But at the center of our planning should be the Lord our Provider. The word provision is derived from two Latin words — pro videre, which means, to see ahead or to see before. God is able to provide for us because He sees us, sees our needs and sees the future. Really, it is not so much that God sees the future; rather, in His eternity He exists in our tomorrow and our yesterday while meeting us today.  He is able to provide because He sees. We do not need to bow down before the gods of our culture, do not need to compromise our souls in order to put bread on the table. God is our provider.

Israel had forgotten this essential truth, that the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them would always be their Provider. Worse, they were giving credit for their provision to demons gods who intended Israel’s destruction. So the Lord promised to hedge her in behind a thorny wall of protection. But they continually chose not to abide within that place of security.

2:7 “She will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them; and she will seek them, but will not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’”

God allows each human being the exercise of free, sovereign will and nations also act sovereignly.  Yet there are times when our chosen way is so contrary to the purpose and heart of God, our pursuit of vain idols is so pregnant with self destruction, that God interrupts our freedom and frustrates our plans.  God interrupts us by shining light onto our choices, giving us the clarity we had avoided.  Other times, He casts darkness into our path (Job 19:8), hedges us in, allows us to grope helplessly, revealing our vulnerability and the futility of our dim, self made lights.  God’s desire in this is that we would say, “I will go back to my first husband”, returning to Him and to the covenant love which He desires to lavish upon us.  

Our way of return is clearly marked, for the Way is a Person, Jesus Christ.  Time and history are divided by the year of His birth, AD, the Year of our Lord.  “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” He says (John 14:6).  The way of His living presence is lit by the brightness of His truth. It is made rich by the generosity of His grace.  

It is a narrow way, a sacrificial way, a way that runs contrary to the broad avenues of this world.  It is a way of paradox, passing through “the fellowship of His sufferings” into “the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  It is a counter-intuitive journey, leading us through conformity to His death into the glory of His resurrection (Phil 3:10,11).  It is the way of the cross that leads to life.

Consider the grace of God, the immeasurable depths of His kindness and mercy.  He established covenant with Israel and called the nation His Bride.  Though rejected by His Bride, though she bestowed her love on false gods, yet there is still grace with God, grace that calls to the beloved, grace that woos the beloved, grace that dies for the beloved, grace that makes a way for the beloved to say, “I will go back to my first husband.”  

The thought behind those words is found throughout Scripture.  The prodigal son, weary of life in the far country, said, “I will get up and go to my father…” (Lk 15:18).  When he returned, he found his father waiting to embrace him.  So with the human heart, prone to wander, and so with the heart of God, waiting to embrace all who return.


The recorded history of human civilization is the outworking of Jeremiah’s words, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jere 10:23).  But salvation history, and the testimony of redeemed saints in heaven, echo with these words, “I will return.”  The final word of history is not humanity’s lost state but rather, God’s redeeming grace.

Notice in this the patience of God and the largeness of His heart. Though Israel had rejected Him, the God who had betrothed the nation to Himself as a Bridegroom to a bride, and though the nation had rejected Him after centuries of blessings, and though the nation had attributed those blessings to demon gods and was worshipping those gods, nevertheless, God pursues them, calls to them, judges them for the purpose of bringing them back into faithful covenant relationship with Himself.

“It was better for me then” — the Bridegroom Judge applies the pressure of judgment to bring His unfaithful Bride back to the remembrance of His goodness.

2:8 “For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”  

The gifts which the sinner wastes were given by God but Israel had forgotten God as the Source of blessing, instead giving credit, thanks and praise to demon gods. In fact, Israel was using the grain, the wine and oil as thank offerings to Baal, the false god.  Consider God’s heart break: rejected by His Bride, Israel; seeing the gifts which He gave to His Bride being used to express devotion to a false god. Israel not only had forgotten God, the Source of blessing, but gave credit for that blessing to the idol, the demon, the false god.

The phrase, “Which they used for Baal” surely means that they were offering to Baal the gold and silver which God had provided. But the phrase may also be translated, “Which they crafted for Baal.” This may mean that they were using the silver and gold which God had given them to fashion images of Baal.

How common in a God-rejecting world that men and women use the gifts God has given them for the purpose of self-glory, making their ambition their god and bowing before their idols of power, wealth, pleasure, fame, refusing to give praise to God for the blessings of life, instead giving praise to gods which are false, while using the blessings of the true God to praise their idols.

Imagine a wife cooking a bountiful, nourishing dinner for her husband and then he, in the strength which that meal gave him, goes out and commits adultery. How her heart would break! Or imagine a husband giving a beautiful dress to his wife, who then goes out using that dress to attract an adulterous lover. But this is what Israel had done to God. Indeed, this is what every sinner does to the God who gives us breath to praise Him and bread that we may serve Him.

2:9 “Therefore, I will take back My grain at harvest time and My new wine in its season. I will also take away My wool and My flax given to cover her nakedness.”  

God removes the fruit, the blessing when we waste His gifts on spiritual adultery.  He takes His gifts back, not because He does not love us but to hinder our self-destructive choices and to enable us to experience the consequences of our choices.  When we bind ourselves to false gods, when we enter into spiritually adulterous relationships with idols (whatever they may be: success, wealth, power, pleasure, false religious systems), we will eventually be destroyed by the idol.  If God allowed us to profit from spiritual unfaithfulness, to continue to enjoy His blessings while we destroy our life, He would not be loving us truly.  A loving God will withdraw some or much of His blessing and allow us to experience the truth, the reality, the consequence of our rejection of Him. 

It is surely true that the misuse of blessing will lead to its loss. Further, the removal of blessing will produce pressure on Israel. The application of pressure can bring about change. So the removal of blessing is really an expression of grace.

2:10 “And then I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one will rescue her out of My hand.”

The word lewdness is “nabluwth” from the root “nabal” — wickedness / foolishness. Sin is not just wickedness — it is folly, for sin separates people from the God who purposed our lives and contends for our destiny. The Lord promises to uncover Israel’s folly, to shine light into their darkness. The Bridegroom God confronts His Bride, exposes her sin because He loves Israel.

God does this in our lives also. He not only responds to our sin by progressively removing His blessing. He also responds by shining light into the truth of our condition. Unless God illumined our darkness with unflinching light, unless God uncovered the reality of our deceptions, we would have no hope. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Being blinded by the god of this world, we cannot turn from our sin until we see it, recognize it for what it is. So this shining of light into our darkness is an act of grace.

In those times of unveiling we often cry, “I am disillusioned.”  Oh what a great act of mercy from the hand of God, that He would dispossess us of our illusions!  How kind of God, to remove the credibility of that which was only an illusion.

“And no one will rescue her out of My hand.”  Another act of grace.

The powers of darkness would shield the sinner from correction so that they might prolong the season of sin and increase the destruction of the sinner. But God will not allow this. Sinners would surely deliver themselves from the judgment and the consequence of sin and prolong the brief season of pleasure. But God will not allow this. God will allow no one to prevent His confrontation with Israel because He is the Bridegroom God who jealously desires to deliver His Bride.

“No one will rescue her out of My hand.” This is an act of grace.

2:11 “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her sabbaths and all her festal assemblies.”

Israel had rejected the Jerusalem temple because that temple was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. In place of the temple, they had built their own profane places of worship. They had rejected God’s ordained priesthood and had established their own false priests. They had rejected the true and living God and had married themselves to idols which are not God. But they may still have observed some of the traditional festivals of the Jewish year, merging them with the worship of calves and bulls. 

However, traditional religious ceremony combined with the worship of culturally acceptable idols is unacceptable to the Lord and He will judge this. We see this in many churches today — traditional Christianity married to the latest trends, philosophies and culturally / politically acceptable customs. The wedding of tradition and idol is offensive to God because it destroys people whom God loves. 

People today demand of God, “Affirm me in my brokenness.” God replies, “No, but I will transform you into my wholeness.” People cry, “Affirmation.” God replies, “No, transformation.” The church that offers affirmation while denying transformation will be judged by God.

It is possible, though, that these feasts and festal assemblies may have been nothing more than Baal / Asherah ceremonies. It may have been outright idolatry with no remnant of traditional Yahweh worship. Surely the Lord would judge that.

2:12 “I will destroy her vines and fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages which my lovers have given me.’ And I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field will devour them.” 

Again and again the Lord warns that He will remove and destroy the blessing which He gave but which Israel continually ascribes to the false gods. God has designed the universe so that the joy of sin, the profit from injustice and the ecstasy of rebellion are short-lived.  Our idols may bring pleasure for a season but the season soon passes.  There is an end to the joy, the feast, the abundance 

which the Lord desires to lavish upon us, when we turn from Him. 

The world celebrates its rebellion against God but there is an end to the celebration and God takes responsibility for the ending: “I will put an end to all her gaiety … I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.”  The seducing music of the idol will cease by the hand of God and how merciful that hand.  If we continued to find joy, satisfaction, fulfillment in life lived apart from God, we would have no motivation to return and our future would only be destruction.

“I will destroy her vines and fig trees.”

Earlier the Lord had said that He would take back the grain and the new wine “in its season” (2:9). That is, He would judge the fruit of their labor in the season of harvest. Now He says that He will destroy the vines and the trees from which Israel harvested — He will destroy the source of their harvest. Trees and vines represent the future — the Lord will judge future harvests. The same judgments which the Lord had laid on Egypt (see Psalm 105:33), which led to Israel’s liberation from slavery, are now placed on Israel, for they have become as a pagan nation. The Lord is increasing the pressure for the purpose of creating change.

“Which my lovers have given me.” 

The reason for escalated judgment is Israel’s continued lack of discernment, continuing to believe that these gods-that-are-not-gods are blessing her, when in reality they are robbing her of her very life.  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But Israel was praising the thief who was robbing her, while robbing God their Provider of the praise He was due.

Sin deceives, blinds us to the truth that we are being devastated. Again we recall the words of the Apostle Paul, in reference to those who were perishing in their rejection of God, “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).  The false gods of this world, veiled in gold and silver and steel, wrapped in pulsating lights of icy fame, in titanium-diamond sheaths of naked power and exploding neon lights of pleasure, are gods who blind their prey before they destroy it.

“And I will make them a forest …”

The land of milk and honey, the inheritance of the covenant people, the Land of Promise, will now become a wilderness. This happened when the Assyrians conquered the nation, slaughtered the inhabitants and took many of the survivors into captivity — the land was desolated. It happened when the Babylonians overthrew the southern kingdom. It happened centuries later when the Romans destroyed north and south. The cultivated vineyards and fields were overgrown with weeds and thickets of trees. Desert overran the watered gardens.

“And the beasts of the field will devour them.”

Surely it was so. The beasts of Assyria, Babylon and Rome devoured the bounty that God had lavished upon the unfaithful nation. There is a divine purpose in this — in the wilderness, we sometimes hear and see more clearly.

2:13 “‘I will punish her for the days of the Baals when she used to offer sacrifices to them and adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, and follow her lovers, so that she forgot Me,’ declares the Lord.”

It is not simply that Israel went after false gods. It was that she forgot the Lord. The reason the Lord had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt was to bring the nation to Himself, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He is the Bridegroom God who calls people to enter into covenant communion with Him. Israel’s sin was not merely that they worshipped gods that are not gods and gave credit to those gods for her blessings. More than that — she forgot the God who truly had blessed her. Not merely did she turn from that God to serve idols, did not merely reject that God. Israel forgot the Lord, lived as though the Lord of their blessing did not exist.

Study Questions

1. In verse five Israel says, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” Explain why this was so deeply hurtful to God. (see verse 5)

2. In verse ten the Lord says that He will uncover Israel’s sin and “no one will rescue her.” How is this an act of grace? (see verse 10).

Hosea Chapter 2:14-23

Hosea Chapter 2:14-23

2:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her.”

The word allure could be translated persuade or entice. With what will the Lord entice Israel? With His kindness. God uses kindness to draw us to Himself or as Paul reminds us, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). David the Psalmist exhorts us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).  

But if we will not respond to His kindness, will we respond to His severity? Paul speaks of “the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). It is a God of severe mercy who breaks hard hearts so that He may also bring healing. This is the Lord who says, “I will entice her … into the wilderness.” 

God creates gardens but when we separate ourselves from God, we create wilderness where once there was beauty and bounty. Adam and Eve were born into a garden of blessing but when they separated themselves from God, the ground was cursed with thorns and thistles. We would hope that thorns and thistles drove them to repentance.

God’s judgment on our sin is for the purpose of enabling us to experience the wilderness we have created and chosen by our rejection of Him.  As we have said, it is not that the Lord is creating a wilderness for Israel. It is the false kings, false priests and false prophets who created a wilderness of idolatry and corruption. It is the Lord’s desire to awaken Israel to the wilderness reality of her choices.

Wilderness also represents the future of Israel in exile in a foreign land, after the Assyrians have conquered the nation. But the Lord will meet Israel in that foreign land, just as He met her in the wilderness of her spiritual and moral disintegration. He will meet Israel, not to destroy His Bride but to confront her with the truth of her choices and the truth of His kindness. This is an act of grace.

“Speak kindly” literally means, “speak upon her heart” or “speak to her heart.” This is a conversation of intimacy — the Bridegroom God whispering to His Bride to turn her heart. It is the word of the Lord who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Humanity’s failure invites the Lord’s mercy. The sweetness of grace is offered to heal the wounds created by the deadly, counterfeit sweetness of sin.

The purpose of this wilderness season is so that God can “speak kindly, tenderly” to Israel.  Wilderness is a place of silence, the noisome music of our idols has ceased, has evaporated like morning dew in a desert.  Wilderness is a place of barrenness, the vine and the fig tree are withered; the illusion of our prosperity and success no longer distracts us.  The false gods have been exposed, over thrown; there is nothing to deceive us.  The light is quite blinding in the wilderness, the silence is deafening.  Blinded by light and deafened by silence, we see and hear with clarity.  In that place and time, God speaks tenderly to the Bride who rejected Him.  The purpose of wilderness is to reestablish truthful conversation, then communion between the Bridegroom God and His unfaithful covenant partner.

Let us recall the purpose of wilderness: 

1. Wilderness is a place of confrontation with the word of the living God. That word penetrates down to the deepest recesses of our being, “Piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr. 4:12). The word of the Lord reveals our sin and reveals the grace that restores.

2. Wilderness is a place of discipline, making sin distasteful, odious, causing the rebel to hate what he once loved. The prodigal son learned to despise his unrestrained lifestyle when his riches and sensuality emptied out into the company of pigs.

3. Wilderness is a place of communion with the living God. So it was when Israel left Egypt, the wilderness of Elam became a place of provision. The wilderness of Marah became a place of healing. The wilderness at Mt. Sinai became a place of revelation.

4. Wilderness is a place of preparation. In the wilderness of Sinai, a new generation of Israelites were made ready to possess the land of promise.

5. Wilderness is a place of breaking and healing, where the hard heart is broken with the grace of truth and the broken heart is made whole with the same grace and truth. 

So with Israel as Hosea declared the word of the Lord. The nation had entered into a wilderness and would experience even more terrible wilderness. But the Lord will meet His covenant Bride there and prepare a faithful remnant to someday repossess the land and the blessings and the covenant.

2:15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”  

The Bridegroom God is looking ahead to a future day when wilderness has had its intended impact and Israel has returned to faithful, covenant love with the God of her betrothal. When relationship is restored, so is provision and blessing.  

“I will give her vineyards from there.” From where? From the wilderness. The wilderness of Israel’s defeat will become a highway into blessing.

But notice where this place of restoration will be: in the Valley of Achor.  Recall that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and conquered Jericho, they were to keep none of the plunder of the city.  The wealth of the city was cursed.  But a man named Achan violated the ban.  In his own words, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21).  This act of disobedience brought judgment upon the nation and cost Achan his life.

The sentence of execution was carried out in the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:24).  Achor was a place of punishment and death, a place where judgment was placed on the guilty man and lifted from the nation.  Now hundreds of years later, through Hosea, God calls Achor “a door of hope.” It symbolizes the times and places where God will again speak tenderly to Israel.  

This wilderness with its history of disobedience, death and shame will become a doorway of hope for the very people who disobeyed God, broke covenant with God and covered themselves in death and shame.  Achor will become a wilderness entrance into restored covenant relationship with God.

The valley of Achor represents the time when vineyards will be restored and therefore it will be a place where music is restored, “She will sing there as in the days of her youth…” Achor is not only the place where Israel hears from God. It is also the place where she answers, where she again sings songs of faithful covenant love to the faithful, loving God of the covenant. 

As we have said, wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation, preparing us for covenant service and there was work for Israel to do.  God wanted a covenant people through whom He could shine His light and speak His truth into a lost world. God expects us to move from the solitude of the wilderness to the crossroads of the world.  Solitude fits us for the multitude.  The bush burned for Moses in the solitude of the desert; then he went to Egypt, confronted Pharaoh, led a nation out of slavery.  The still, small voice of God spoke to Elijah in the silence of the cave; then he returned to complete his prophetic ministry. 

Jesus returned from the lonely temptations of the wilderness full of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Then He taught, healed, cast out demons, preached the Sermon on the Mount.  John the Baptist grew strong in the desert and there the message and ministry of repentance was birthed in his heart. It was on the barren island of Patmos that John the disciple saw and heard the revelation of heavenly things.  John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress in the solitude of a prison cell.  The list is unending. Wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation.  

Achor is also a picture of the wilderness times and places where God leads us to the cross of Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus bore the judgment of a faithless world which has rejected Creator God.  By Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, the possibility of restored covenant relationship with God is available to all who will repent and turn again to God.  At the cross we hear God speak tenderly, “Forgiven, all is forgiven. Come away my beloved and know my love for you.” 

At the cross we reply, “My Lord, my Beloved” and we wonder at this mighty Creator God who became the suffering Redeemer God so that we could know Him as the Bridegroom God.  At the cross we surrender to unmeasured love and pour out our love in response.

This prophecy of restoration was partially fulfilled when Israel returned from exile in the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra; again partially fulfilled in 1948 when the nation was reestablished. But the greater fulfillment of these words is still future. Someday the Bridegroom King will return and reign over the house of Israel. Indeed, He will reign over the entire earth. The people of the covenant will come and worship Him and the land will be restored to the fruitfulness and fertility of Eden.

2:16,17 “‘And it shall be, in that day,’ says the Lord, ‘That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ for I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, so that they will be mentioned by their names no more.’”

“In that day” refers to the time of restoration after the wilderness season.  In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness and adultery, the Bridegroom God still sees the nation as His Bride and looks forward to the day when Israel will again refer to Him as Ishi, “My Husband.”  

Baali means my master or my Baal. The name of Baal, the pagan idol which the Israelites had loved in place of God, would be removed from their mouth.  This signifies a changed heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34).  This is what God wants from all of us: for our heart to be set on Him and our mouths expressing the affection of our heart.  This is what it means to be in a covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God.

Baali may also be interpreted as a reference to God, in which the Lord is saying that you will no longer call me “my Master”, in the sense of taskmaster or ruler.  But you will call me “My Husband”. This refers to Israel finally receiving the revelation that the Lord is not merely their Master Law Giver, Ruler and Judge but also, the Bridegroom God who desires the exchange of covenant love with His Bride.

This has yet to be entirely fulfilled either in Israel or in the church. Israel is not yet ready to receive Jesus as the Bridegroom Messiah but they will be someday. Neither is the church yet “a bride made ready”. But we will be someday.

Someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment and He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This is the only way the Lord knows how to love — with all of His being and this is how He wants us to love Him. How can we love God with all our being? Only as we experience His love for us, His delight in us. Then we pour His love back upon Him.

2:18 “In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety.”

This verse looks beyond Hosea’s day, to the day when the Bridegroom Messiah will rule over the earth from Jerusalem.  God promises that reconciliation between Himself and Israel will result in the blessing and restoration of all creation.  In that day, a covenant of peace will be reestablished between humanity and nature.  The peace between God and his covenant Bride will be reflected in peace across the earth.  The curse that fell on the earth when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, a curse expressed in thorns and enmity among the creatures of the earth and the people of the earth, that curse will be lifted.  As the glory of God settles over the earth, the bow and the sword will be abolished; war itself will be abolished.  The lion and lamb will lay down together, (see Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 8:18-22).  All creation groans for that day (Rom 8:22); churches pray for that day.  Hosea glimpsed that day from afar.

What a day that will be.  Today, we achieve moments of pseudo-peace by matching sword against sword.  The threat of violence is restrained by the promise of retaliatory violence, madness restrained by madness, achieving a state of being that is both unnerving and unpeaceful.  But what a wonderful and strange vision is this — peace in the absence of weapons; peace, because each sword is broken, because the passion that would wield the sword is now fulfilled in the outpoured love of this passionate God.  Only God can bring about that day and He will in the day when He returns and reconciles with His Bride.

Yet even now we can know a measure of true peace as we are each reconciled to God, as we each become individual members of God’s covenant Bride. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). Knowing this peace, we then become instruments of Christ’s reconciling peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9).  Jesus, the Son of God showed us the way of the peacemaker.  He disarmed His enemies with the gift of His own life.  He was the Lamb whose shed blood broke the power of the violent conqueror, the hateful demagogue, the unjust judges.  As we approach the end of time, there will be a generation of God-lovers who will overcome the dragons of this world by proclaiming the testimony of this Lamb and by the gift of their own lives (Rev. 12:11).

2:19,20 “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.”

The Bridegroom God declares His everlasting, undying love for His Bride. Though she has been unfaithful, the Lord has not rejected her. He pursues her and will betroth her to Himself forever.

“I will betroth you.” To whom does the word “you” refer? Unfaithful, weak sinners. God is not ashamed to call us His Bride. Three times the word betroth is used. The Lord desires far more than merely to forgive our sin and declare us to be righteous. He wants more than to merely partner with us in ministry. He wants to establish an eternal relationship of intimate, loving communion with us.

Betrothal, in Hosea’s day, was the official beginning of marriage, of covenant, and here the prophet gives voice to God’s purpose to reestablish everlasting covenant with Israel. This is also the desire of the Bridegroom God for all of His covenant people — to betroth us to Himself forever.  

Our covenant relationship with God will be consistent with His heart, His being. God will betroth us in righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and faithfulness.  Covenant will be on God's terms, according to His ethical and moral standards.  These are, in fact, His bridal gifts to His beloved.

He will betroth us in a way that displays His righteousness and justice. God is both Just and Justifier of the unjust (Romans 3:26). Righteousness is more than just a declaration — it is a state of being in which the domination of sin has been broken, we are free to enjoy relationship with a holy God, empowered to work with a creative God, energized with a dynamic that transforms us from who we were to who we will be.

God will betroth us in a way that displays His lovingkindness and compassion  — lavishing mercy and grace upon us. “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jere. 29:11).

God will betroth us in a way that displays His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, faithfulness to all He is and says and does.

But these gifts are also imparted into His betrothed. The Lord not only declares us to be just, He also imparts into us His righteousness  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Being made righteous, we are able to walk justly and to do justice and have fellowship with a just God.

He pours His lovingkindness and compassion into us and enables us to respond with love, “We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). As He lavishes His love upon us, we pour it back out onto the Lord and onto the world around us. As we encounter His faithfulness, we are able to respond faithfully.

“Then you will know the Lord.”

Covenant will be based on the true knowledge of God:  To enter into relationship with the Lord is to know Him.  “Know” is a word of intimacy.  God wants us to know Him intimately as He knows us.  Intimate knowledge of God results in transformation into God’s likeness.  We become like the One whom we worship and adore.  Paul says that we are “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One” who created us (Col. 3:10).  John says that in the day of the Lord’s return to earth, we will be like Him, “Because we will see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).

We hear in this the exultant, rapturous joy of the Lord, “Then you will know Me and love Me as I have known and loved you.” Past unfaithfulness is forgotten and forgiven, there is only this future of unbroken union. The Lord is looking ahead not merely to the restoration of the nation Israel; not merely to the raising up of a church that will enjoy His presence throughout the centuries. He is looking to the end of time, to a Bride made ready and the marriage feast of the Lamb. 

Is it possible that a nation which had rejected the Lord and crucified its Messiah would someday confess sin, receive and worship that Messiah? Yes. There will a great harvest of Jewish believers and in that day, “All Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

Is it possible that men and women, Jew and Gentile, having lived lives of sin and rebellion, can be redeemed and transformed into a Bride made ready for eternal communion with God?  Yes. To the church at Corinth, first generation Christians who had come out of pagan immorality or religious unbelief, the Apostle said, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2).

2:21 “‘It will come about in that day that I will respond,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth.’”

Again Hosea reminds us that the betrothal of the Bridegroom God and His Bride will call forth a new harmony of creation. Renewal of covenant between God and redeemed humanity results in the renewal of the whole earth.  

In the beginning, humanity was God’s gardener over creation.  Our broken relationship with Creator God had the effect of breaking our relationship with creation. When humanity fell from grace, a curse came upon all of nature.  Creation groans for release from its corruption and will be released in this coming day when the curse is canceled.  Hosea says that in that day, God will command His blessings and there will be a restoring of blessing on the earth.  

Nature itself will respond to the marriage of the Bridegroom God and His Bride. The heavens will pour out a Bridal shower of rain and the earth will release a wedding gift of flowering buds and abundant harvest.

2:22 “And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.”

Jezreel means “God sows.” Whereas in 1:4 Jezreel referred to the sowing of judgment upon Israel, now it refers to the sowing of mercy and grace. Heaven and earth will respond to the sowing of God with abundant grain, wine and oil. When the people of God are brought into harmony with the Lord, then earth and heaven are brought into harmony together and with God’s purpose.

This is a promise for the end of time when all the world is reconciled to God but it is also a blessing in history.  When we live in covenant with God, there is nothing to separate us from His desire to release blessing in our lives and through us.

The prophet Joel saw that future day, “And in that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water” (Joel 3:18).

Amos also saw that day, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved’” (Amos 9:13). The greatness of God’s blessing will be so great in this future day that the reaper of the harvest will not be finished before the plowman and sower of the next harvest will overtake him. 

2:23 “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”

Notice it is God who takes the initiative in all redemptive activity: “I will sow ... I will have compassion ...  I will say…” The Bridegroom God pursues us, calls us, awakens us, turns us and draws us to Himself.  God offers a covenant relationship of intimate love in which we know Him as He knows us. In this communion we share in the life of God.

But there is a human response required: “And they will say, ‘You are my God.’”  

At some point, we must respond to the God who has set His desire on us. Covenant between the Bridegroom God and the Bride must be ratified by two parties, not one.  This covenant must be rooted in two hearts, not one.  God sows into our hearts the incredible good news of His love for us, His forgiving grace toward us, His Self-sacrifice on our behalf.  But each soul must answer, “You are my God.”  Otherwise, we will not experience the blessings of the covenant.

“I will sow her for Myself in the land”

Throughout the ages, God has sown the seed of His love, His light and His truth into this world and into human hearts. The result of God’s sowing is a great harvest of souls who have said “Yes” to the God of the covenant. Now it is we who are sown into the earth. 

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus said, “The field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38). We are a kingdom of priests and prophets, called out of darkness into the marvelous light of grace, proclaiming the presence in history of the Bridegroom God. The Lord has sown us into the world so that there will be a continuing harvest of souls to the end of the age. 

Sowing seed involves the dying of the seed. How else will a harvest be born except the seed dies? So it is that in service to the Bridegroom God, we die to our self will day by day. And for some followers of Christ, dying refers to the pouring out of life itself.

It grieves us that the Bride is persecuted in some countries, that the Bride suffers. I pray that the Lord will grant grace to His Bride and turn the hearts of the persecutors and break the power of those who would harm His Bride. But I cannot pray that the Lord remove His Bride from persecution — she is His witness there, He is sowing her into the soil of those people groups. One of the characteristics of the end time church, the Bride made ready, is that she conquers “because of the blood of the Lamb,”  and because of the word of her testimony and because she does not love her life, “even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11).

The church is Christ’s gift to the world. Through the church, the presence of the Bridegroom God is made known to the world. But we are more than priests and prophets, more than partners in ministry with the Lord. Far more grand — we are His holy Bride, manifesting His life, His grace, His covenant love.

Far more important to the Lord than our works, our gifts, our ministry, is the relationship out of which our works, gifts and ministry arise. When Jesus sent seventy of His disciples out to minister, they came back rejoicing, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus replied, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). 

Partnership with Jesus in ministry is wonderful but far more glorious is the relationship out of which this partnership is born. We are His betrothed, the Bride of the Bridegroom God.

There is also a reference to Israel in this verse. God sowed His covenant people into the nations but in the last days He will gather Israel to Himself and plant them in their own land, the Land of Promise.

Study Questions

1. In verse 14, the Lord says that He will draw Israel into the wilderness. What is the purpose of wilderness?

2. Hosea was given a glimpse of the world to come when Jesus returns. What kind of world will that be? (see verses 18-22).

Hosea Chapter 3

Hosea Chapter 3

3:1 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.’”

God foreknew Gomer’s unfaithfulness yet commanded Hosea to take her as his wife. Now, she has rejected Hosea, chosen false lovers and false gods which had robbed her of her freedom and her dignity.  This is a picture of Israel and all humanity rejecting our true Lover, the living God, our Creator / Redeemer, in favor of false gods and false lovers which in the end rob us of our freedom, blessing, dignity and life. Yet the Lord commands Hosea to pursue his fallen wife again and love her as a living illustration of God’s relentless pursuit of and undying love for faithless Israel and all of fallen humanity.

“A woman who is loved by her husband” refers to a continued reality of love, an unbroken state of being. Though she has not valued or respected Hosea’s love, she has not diminished his love. In the same way, humanity will never diminish God’s love — He loves with all of His being, perfectly and infinitely. However, through unfaithfulness we can diminish our experience of God’s love and even miss every blessing which God, in His love, ordained for us. 

Hosea is not simply to pursue Gomer but love her “even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel.” His love for Gomer is intended to be a living portrait of God’s covenant commitment to Israel —  continuous, faithful, unbroken, relentless.

“Though they turn to other gods” — though they have turned away from the true and living God who brought them out of Egyptian slavery and into the land of promise, who has blessed them with abundance, who betrothed them to Himself as a bride to a Bridegroom; though they turn to gods who are not gods, thanking these false gods for blessings which they did not provide, praying to them and worshipping them though they cannot respond; though Israel turns to idols into which powers of darkness have incarnated lies and destructive purposes, in spite of all this, the Lord has continued to pursue and love the covenant people. “Love Gomer like that,” the Lord says to Hosea.

The last phrase of the verse, “And love raisin cakes,” may be translated, “And love flagons of wine.” Wine speaks of the drunken excess in the worship of fertility gods. Raisin cakes were a delicacy and probably offered to the idols and then eaten as part of the celebration. In doing this, the people were thanking their idols for the blessings of wheat and grapes, even though the false gods had nothing to do with their prosperity and were, in fact, robbing them of life and health. Jesus reminds us that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Yet people continue to worship the thief who steals their blessing and destroys their life.

Imagine God’s grief and anger in this. This was a time of great prosperity for some of the people and it is the Lord who blessed them with abundance. (This is not to say that all wealth is the gift of God; some wealth is gained through exploitation and injustice but insofar as wealth was acquired without the oppression of others, it was God’s gift). Yet the nation was not only refusing to give God thanks for His blessing. They were using His blessings to give thanks to gods that are not gods. 

In doing this, they were giving themselves into communion with the demonic powers that incarnated themselves in the idols. When we discuss chapter nine, we will see the lethal seriousness of compromise with the powers of darkness.  One of the spiritual laws of the universe is that we are transformed into the image of whatever we worship and so in 9:10 we read, “But they came to Baal-peor and devoted (consecrated) themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved.”  Remove the word “detestable” and we see the principle: “They became as that which they loved.” Love, in this context, refers to worship. We become in the likeness of that which we love and worship.

Israel was not only sinning against God in refusing to give Him thanks. They were not only sinning in giving thanks to false gods. But to their destruction, they were giving themselves into transforming communion with powers of darkness which only intended national destruction.

3:2 “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.”

Evidently, Gomer had fallen into slavery, possibly as a temple prostitute. Hosea purchased her for the price of 15 days wages and the cheapest of grains, barley.  The money and the barley may have equaled thirty pieces of silver, which was the price of a common slave.

She who is beloved by Hosea has been devalued by her lovers.  This again is a picture of Israel and all humanity, beloved of God but devalued by false gods and false lovers.  Our idols rob us of life, health, talent, sanity; they devalue us, yet God still seeks us.  We have been robbed, devalued by our false gods, yet the true and living God still loves us enough to give His life for us.  Humanity’s value in terms of worldly price is not much yet in God’s sight we are infinitely precious. 


The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The Bridegroom God gave up everything to redeem those who have lost everything. Peter reminds us that we were redeemed, not “with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19).

The Bridegroom God left the glory of heaven to be born in human form so that He could pursue, awaken and purchase lost sinners from the slave markets of the world. Why did He do this at so great a cost to Himself? So that He might betroth us to Himself as His Bride.

This pursuit of Gomer, this fresh invitation to a restored marriage, this purchasing of the bride who had become a slave, is a clear, vivid portrayal of God’s love for Israel and for all people — continuous, faithful, unbroken, relentless.

3:3 “Then I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you.’”

Hosea pledges faithfulness to Gomer and requires the same of her, though there is no expectation that she will ever act differently. This is a picture of the faithful, covenant love which God promises to Israel and to all who enter into covenant with Him. Even if we violate the covenant, God will be faithful and true. This is so much a part of God’s character that it is one of Jesus’ names, Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11).

Hosea may be saying that there will be no intimacy between himself and Gomer. This may refer to a necessary season of cleansing before intimacy is restored or, less probably, it refers to a permanent state in their marriage. It surely refers to Hosea’s pledge of faithfulness to Gomer and his desire that she respond as a faithful bride.

However we interpret this, it does not mean that Hosea has ceased to love or care for Gomer — he has proven his love by purchasing her from slavery, a slavery that surely would have destroyed her in time. But she has broken the bonds of covenant, has had intimate relations with others. If intimacy is to be regained, she must turn her heart and open her heart to her covenant partner. She must surrender to a process of consecration. There can be no true intimacy where there is coldness, indifference, unfaithfulness. Hosea will not force his love on Gomer, though he demonstrates his love in redeeming her from slavery.

If this verse refers to a permanent loss of intimacy in their marriage, then it would be an accurate portrayal of her rejection of Hosea, not only withholding her love from him but living as if he were dead, as if she was a widow. This is a visible portrayal of the Lord’s relationship with Israel. It is not that the Lord is withholding His love from Israel but Israel is living as if God is dead, the bond of marriage has been broken by the nation, intimacy with the Lord has been set aside in favor of intimacy with demonically infused idols. 

Sin separates the sinner from God and the Lord will not violate Israel with His love. But He will call to the nation and confront them with the reality and the consequences of their choices. Confronting a covenant partner with the truth of self-destructive behavior is a high expression of love.

“So I will also be toward you.” Hosea asks nothing of Gomer that he is not willing to give to her. He requires that she shall be faithful to him but he also pledges his faithfulness to her. So it is with us. Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The Lord requires this of us because this is how He loves us — with all His being.

3:4 “For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.”

In a very real sense, Israel had already lost king and prince, sacrifice and sacred pillar. This happened many years earlier when they had rejected the true king, Rehoboam, son of Solomon and descendant of David. They had rejected the Jerusalem temple, priesthood and sacrificial system. In place of these divinely ordained offices, rituals and consecrated altars, they had substituted false kings, false priests, false gods and unholy altars. 

So God is portraying to Israel what the nation has already done. Motivated by love, the Lord presents His Bride with the reality of her choices.

But there is also a future tense to these words — it is a prophecy of things to come. Gomer living in isolation is a portrait of Israel’s later exile from the land, after the Assyrian invasion. The Lord is showing the nation the future consequence of their choices if they will not repent.

The Lord warns Israel that there would come a time when the nation will lose even their false temples, false sacrificial system, false priests and kings. They will lose the places and rituals of worship which they have devalued through the worship of idols. They will lose the priesthood which was so completely unfaithful to the Lord. They will lose all political stability, for their security was built on pretenders and usurpers, false leaders. They built on sand and not rock and what they built will be swept away.

The Lord saw clearly the coming Assyrian invasion and Israel’s destruction. He saw the conquest of the southern kingdom, Judah, and still later, after the people returned and rebuilt, the Lord saw complete annihilation by the Roman army, forty years after their rejection of their Messiah, Jesus. The Lord saw nineteen centuries when Israel would not exist. And though the nation has been reestablished politically, there is no temple, no priesthood, no sacrificial system. And though they have had a succession of Prime Ministers, they have no king, no absolute ruler. Indeed, “the sons of Israel will remain for many days” without those expressions of national / religious identity.

Because God is a God of love and truth, He confronts nations, churches, men and women with the consequences of their choices. We are reminded of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:37,38).

The Lord sees the future clearly, infinitely more clearly than we do because He exists in the future while meeting us in time. His desire is to give us as much clarity as we are willing and able to receive. His desire is to bring us to an awareness of our heart and our times and to motivate repentance. The future can unfold into destruction or restoration. The difference is determined by our willingness to respond to revealed truth while we are able, while there is still time and the future is not yet set in stone (though the Lord knows and sees that future as it will truly unfold).

But notice the final phrase, “without ephod or household idols.” During the time of exile, there would be a cleansing from the pollution of idols, a stripping away of that which was false and fatal. So it was that when the Jewish people returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity, they were finally free from the worship of false gods.

3:5 “Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.”

Hosea now prophesies a time of future restoration. After all the loss and destruction that would be brought about by national sin, the nation would someday return and would regain a renewed covenant relationship with God. This was future but the Lord saw it clearly and proclaimed it through Hosea. There was a return to the land during the days of the Persian king, Cyrus. But the nation was destroyed again by the Romans in 70 AD so there must be another return. We have seen this in our day — Israel has been regathered from world wide dispersion.

But there is still a future fulfillment to this prophecy.  Hosea says that Israel “will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king.” Since David had already lived and died, this must be a reference to “great David’s greater Son,” the Lord Jesus. We recall how Jesus prayed over Jerusalem and prophesied, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:39). 

Through the prophet Zecharia the Lord said, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zecharia 12:10).

There is a season coming when Israel will seek the Lord. Hosea says that this will be, “In the last days.” Since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all of time is the end time but in the last days of the end time the Lord will pour out “the Spirit of grace and of supplication” and the eyes of Israel shall be opened to realize that Jesus is their Messiah. The Apostle Paul says that in that day, “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). 

Notice this phrase, “They will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness.” “Trembling” refers to reverence, a holy awe for the Lord. But notice it is “the goodness of God” that draws Israel. The pressure of the end times and the goodness of God will draw Israel to the Lord. The Apostle Paul asks, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Israel will reverence not only God’s greatness but also His goodness, not only His majesty but His mercy, not only His power but His pardon. They will seek not only to flee the wrath to come but flee to His salvation. In that day the prophecy of Ezekiel will be established, “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He will feed them; He will feed them Himself and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).

This has yet to be fulfilled but its fulfillment is certain for God has spoken. So it will be at the end of history. Israel will be devastated by the Antichrist but the Lord will use the pressure of that persecution and the goodness of His grace to draw the nation to Himself and Israel will turn to the Lord with sincere repentance and faith.

What is true for Israel as a nation is also true for every man and woman and child. If we seek the Lord, we will be found by Him, as the Lord Himself said, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord’” (Jere. 29:13).  

The picture of Hosea pursuing his unfaithful wife, the prostitute slave, is a picture of God pursing Israel and all humanity. Why does God come seeking weak, fallen, unfaithful sinners? The reason is hidden in His heart of love. What must I do to motivate this love? Nothing. The motive lies within Himself.

When Judah was reclaimed by God after the Babylonian destruction, they had lost their nation and their temple.  They had lost all the glory of the Davidic kingdom.  But God reclaimed them because He loved them, not their glory.

God does not seek us for what we can bring Him other than our lives, our hearts.  He seeks us for ourselves.  What could Gomer bring to Hosea?  She had been completely devalued by her false lovers. She was only a slave. God sent Hosea after her to demonstrate why He seeks us — for our own sake, because He loves us and values our love response to Him.  

When God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was because He loved them, wanted them to experience His love for them and wanted them to respond with love. When the Lord came seeking them in the garden after they fell, when He covered them and promised a Deliverer, it was because He loved them.

When the Lord called Abraham into covenant and through that covenant formed a nation, it was not for anything that Abraham, Isaac or Jacob could bring Him, not for anything the nation could give Him other than their hearts. The Lord’s motivation was love. 

Though we also have been devalued and robbed by the world, we are valued by the Bridegroom God who has entered history to pursue us, seeking us that He might awaken us to seek Him so that He may redeem us and reclaim us for Himself.  As the Lord reclaims us, we lay aside the false glory of the false gods which we once sought and worshipped and now we sing with all the saints, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

Dying to self we are reborn in Christ. As He lavishes His love and grace upon us we respond with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and in this exchange of love we become that which the Lord has purposed from eternity, a Bride made ready for the Bridegroom God.

Study Questions

1. Hosea’s pursuit of Gomer is a picture of what? (see v 1)

2. What did the Lord want from Israel? What does He want from us?

Hosea Chapter 4:1-7

Hosea Chapter 4:1-7

4:1 “Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.”

God says that He has a case or controversy with the nation of Israel. The word has to do with a legal proceeding, from a root meaning to debate, to contend. This is the Bridegroom Judge, calling Israel to accountability and confronting the nation with the sin that grieved His heart and would eventually destroy the nation, if not corrected. What was the cause of God’s judicial proceeding against His covenant people? He tells us in verse one. 

1. First of all, there is no faithfulness (emeth, which may also be translated “truth, stability, trustworthiness”). False teaching and the worship of false gods had obscured the truth and destroyed the capacity of the people to act faithfully toward God and one another. Spiritual corruption had led to corruption in personal morals and business ethics. This in turn had robbed the nation of political stability.

A biblical definition of truth has to do with not only knowing and saying what is true but doing it, living it consistently, faithfully. Emeth has to do with steadfastness. It speaks of an attitude that is dependable. God is saying that Israel has not been faithful in living the truth which they profess.

2. Second, there is no kindness (which may be translated loyalty). Interesting that the Hebrew word for kindness or mercy is also the word for loyalty. This word is chesed. It is found in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness (chesed) will follow me all the days of my life.” It is found in Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness (chesed) is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” Chesed has to do with faithful covenant commitment, faithful covenant love. It is the way God loved Israel.

God indicts Israel for their lack of covenant love for Him while the Lord continues to love Israel faithfully. In fact, the entire book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God’s covenant love for an unfaithful nation. The Lord commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him while commanding Hosea to continually pursue her with faithful, covenant love. The prophet’s pursuit of his unfaithful wife is a picture of God’s chesed, covenant love. 

In Hosea 2:19,20, the Lord said, “I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness (chesed) and in compassion. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.” God’s chesed toward Israel is such that God will not cease loving Israel. In return, God expects this of Israel — loyal, devoted, covenant love.

3. A third reason for the Lord’s judicial proceeding with Israel is that there is no knowledge of God.  The word for knowledge, da-ath, is from the root yada which is used in Genesis 4:1, “Now the man had relations with (knew) his wife Eve and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Yada has to do with knowing someone intimately. 

In saying that Israel lacked da-ath, the knowledge of God, the Lord is saying that the nation had lost the intimacy of communion and fellowship with the God in Whom we live and move and have our being; the God who sought us when we were lost; the God Who redeemed us for Himself and called us into covenant. The people were mixing idol worship along with some of the rituals of Jewish religion but they were not living in true, intimate loving communion with God.

It is not that they were ignorant of God’s law — they had the Law of Moses and centuries of revelation through Psalmists and prophets, kings and judges. It is not that they lacked knowledge about the Lord. It was a disregard for God Himself, a lack of devotion to and communion with the God who created us to know Him and enjoy Him forever.

This was a consistent theme of all the prophets and especially Hosea, “Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except me, for there is no Savior besides me. I cared for you in the wilderness .... And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:4-6b; see also Isa. 17:10, Ezkl. 23:35, Jere. 3:21).

The Lord expressed His love for Israel in delivering the nation from slavery in Egypt, caring for them protecting and blessing them. But when they were satisfied, they became proud and turned from Him, became indifferent, lost intimacy with the Bridegroom God. “They forgot me,” the Lord says.

How important is spiritual intimacy to the Lord? In Revelation chapter two, the Lord calls the Ephesian church to account for the cooling of their love to Him. He commends the church for their perseverance and their abhorrence of evil — this is a church doing effective ministry and maintaining purity. But Jesus says that He will remove their lampstand — remove His blessing and favor — unless they return to loving Him with true, deep devotion.

In Hosea’s day, false priests and false prophets had deceived the nation with the false teaching and false worship of false gods. True knowledge of the true God had been replaced by that which is not true. Intimate communion with God had been replaced by distance, unfaithfulness. This resulted in a deepening spiral into darkness which corrupted every aspect of the nation, as we will see in verse two.

When people and nations sin against God, it is not just that we break God’s laws.  We break God’s heart.  Since the law of God reflects the character of God, in rejecting His law we are rejecting the heart, the character of God, saying, “I don’t like your character, your ways.” 

God says that the people are faithless, they lack kindness and they have no knowledge of Him. Throughout the prophecies of Hosea we read that the people had been busy chasing other gods, false gods, gods that are not gods. Substituting other gods for the true and living God is spiritual adultery. Since the Lord’s purpose is to establish intimate, covenant relationship with us, when we reject God and choose another god, we have broken covenant with God, rejected God and violated the intimacy which God has desired to establish with us.

What happens when God’s covenant people are unfaithful, when we lose the relationship of intimate, loyal love? What happens when people begin to worship gods that are not gods, when people have intimate communion with gods that are infused with the powers of darkness? We read the result in verse two.

4:2 “There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.”

When covenant people lose covenant intimacy with the covenant God, the result is a sinful society in which all of the commandments are being broken — swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery become the law of the land. They employ violence, “so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.” The verb tense through this sentence indicates a continuous action. When people reject relationship with the Lord and refuse to abide by His laws, the result is a society disintegrating into unrestrained corruption and chaos.

Hosea mentions five specific characteristics of the disintegrating society.

1. Swearing and deception refer to false oaths, lying, bearing false witness, a lack of integrity and trustworthiness. This is a society that devalues the truth, bends the truth. Truth has become relativized: “You have your truth, I have mine.” There is no transcendent truth. Truth is determined by society, custom, expedience, political correctness. This is the autonomous life, living as if there is no Truth-Giver who transcends our society, our customs, our time. Denying sacred truth, inventing their own truth, people are free to live as they please.

2. Murder reveals a society which devalues, not only truth, but life itself. Denying the reality of a holy God who creates human beings in His image, people are free to violate the lives of others, since they are created in the image of nothing, only the outcome of random, evolutionary chance. Murder, then, becomes nothing more than a means to an end. In the past hundred years, we have seen this played out in one atheistic regime after another — Hitler’s genocide toward other races resulted in the death of millions of his fellow Germans; Stalin killed millions of his fellow Russians and Ukrainians; Chairman Mao killed millions of his fellow Chinese; Pot Pol killed one out of every four  of his fellow Cambodians. And there is the continual slaughtering of unborn children, reflective of societies which no longer value life.

It is also possible to kill by withholding mercy. There are people who die because those who could have done good and preserved life, instead were distracted by their pursuit of wealth and pleasure.

3. Stealing is not only a violation of someone else’s possessions. It is a violation of God’s generous, gracious blessing. It is a way of saying, “God cannot provide so I will steal what I need.” Stealing is also expressed in withholding what another has earned. In the Epistle of James the unjust employer is warned, “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts)” (James 5:4).

4. Adultery is not only the breaking of covenant with one’s spouse. It is a breaking of covenant with the God who blessed that marriage. It reveals a heart that is unfaithful to people and to God. And as we have seen, the greatest adultery in the land was the worship of false gods, which the Bridegroom God considered to be the ultimate act of unfaithfulness.

5. The previous four characteristics of the unraveling society are summarized by this one phrase, “They employ violence.” Swearing and deception are acts of violence against the truth. Murder is an act of violence against the very existence of others. Stealing is an act of violence against the possessions and security of others. Adultery is an act of violence against the bonds of covenant.

Violence was an instrument employed for the purpose of gaining a favorable result, a useful tool employed for political or financial advancement. The word employ is parats which can be translated break out or burst out. The picture is of a river in flood, bursting violently over the levee and sweeping away everything before it. Violence and unrestrained bloodshed reveal a society in a state of collapse, where respect for the rule of law and for the sanctity of human life is eroding rapidly.

And notice, “Bloodshed follows bloodshed.”  This could be translated: “Blood touches blood,” as if there is no interval between acts of bloodshed, as if lethal violence is a continued action across the land. Violence and intimidation establish a pattern, a cycle of violence and intimidation.  It is not surprising that during Hosea’s ministry, four out of six kings of Israel were assassinated. Political instability follows when truth and life are devalued.

In verse eleven we will read, “Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding.” Harlotry refers to sexual and spiritual unfaithfulness. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness. Immorality and drunkenness rob the people of the wisdom necessary for the living of each day.

When a society is characterized by lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence, unrestrained bloodshed, spiritual unfaithfulness and immorality, drunkenness and lack of wisdom, the destructive impact reaches beyond that society, as we see in verse three.

4:3 “Therefore the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky and also the fish of the sea disappear.” 

Two different responses to the sin of Israel: the land mourns and the people languish. The word mourn, abal, means to lament, bewail, mourn. The word languish, amal, can refer to mourning but in this context, languish is the better translation. It means the people become weak or feeble.

The people of the Lord are not mourning their sin but they are being destroyed by it and all creation groans under the burden of Israel’s rebellion against God. When God’s covenant people break covenant with God, the nation falls into all manner of sin and even the land and the creatures suffer.

Isaiah, writing at this same time, said, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty” (Isa. 24:5,6). The most destructive pollution in the world is the sin of humanity against God which leads to sin against one another and against creation itself.

This could also be a reference to the later desolation when the Assyrians invaded and destroyed vineyard and field, city and town; plundering flocks and herds. Or this could refer to the desolation of drought and famine which God sent upon the land as a judgment. The phrase, “The fish of the sea disappear,” may also be translated, “the fish of the sea are taken away.” The Lord sends harvest for bread and wine but can also withhold harvest. He sends abundance of fish and of flock but can also withhold abundance. The apostles pulled in a great harvest of fish at the Lord’s command but the Lord can also withhold the abundance He would have given.

However, there is more to nature’s mourning than merely the desolation wrought by conquering armies or by the judgment of God. We surely see the beginnings of this mourning when Adam and Eve fell and God cursed creation. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). 

We recall that God gave man dominion “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Adam was commanded “to cultivate … and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15). The word cultivate, abad, has to do with serving. The word keep, shamar, has to do with protecting, to exercise stewardship over something. When man the caretaker fell, creation suffered the loss of its gardner. When man the caretaker sins flagrantly against our Creator, the land groans under the burden of our pollution.

However, when the Bridegroom God returns for a Bride made ready, not only will Israel be restored but all of nature will be blessed and the song of rejoicing will cover the earth. The rivers will “clap their hands” and the mountains will “sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). 

Isaiah saw a glimpse of that day and prophesied, “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 55:12,13).

Nature mourned humanity’s fall, mourned Israel’s pollution of the land but will rejoice when the curse is broken and the earth is restored as a garden.

4:4 “Yet let no one find fault and let none offer reproof; for your people are like those who contend with the priest.”

The opening phrase, “Yet let no one find fault (or strive or contend), and let none offer reproof,” may be an ironic reference to the fact that most of the people were not contending for the cleansing of the nation. They continually claimed innocence and refused correction; or worse, they were continually indifferent to the reality of their sin.

The phrase, “For your people are like those who contend with the priest,” refers to people refusing correction from a Godly source. Whether a Godly priest or a Godly prophet such as Hosea, the people refuse to hear the word of truth.

So this could be the Lord saying, “They have ignored my voice speaking through the law of Moses and through righteous prophets so stop contending with them, leave them alone. Let them experience the consequence of their sin.” But that is not the word of a God who is abandoning His covenant people. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. His desire is that the pressure of adversity will create repentance.

4:5 “So you will stumble (or fall) by day, and the prophet also will stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.”

Stumbling in the light refers to the fact that no one lacked revelation from God concerning their sin or the remedy for sin. God had spoken clearly. The light of truth was shining brightly through the Law of Moses and through the words of holy prophets such as Hosea. The Psalmist reminds us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).  But if we refuse the lamp of God’s truth, how shall we stand? 

Day may also refer to the day of their prosperity — when all seemed safe and good — then shall judgment come upon them. Because the nation would not listen, they will stumble. So great is their darkness, having refused light, that they will stumble even in the light of day. 

The false prophets who continued to speak lying words of comfort to the people will stumble along with the people, though we may suppose that their fall will be greater for they claimed greater light. In fact, their lying words were formed in darkness and in that darkness they will fall and the darkness will not hide them from the judgmental wrath of God.

“I will destroy your mother” is a reference to the apostate, idol worshipping nation and to those who formed and fed the nation with apostasy, with lies. Having departed from the covering and blessing of the Lord, the nation cannot possibly avoid destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. Surely they could repent, turn back to the Lord and be saved but they refuse. Refusing to come back to their only defense, they will surely be destroyed.

The Bridegroom God will not cease calling to His Bride, will not cease to love her. But He also knows that the nation’s rejection of Him is final and so He announces their destruction as an unavoidable, historical fact, though its accomplishment is yet future.

4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

“Lack of knowledge” does not refer to scientific or mathematical facts. It refers to the Godly wisdom necessary to live the blessed life, the revelation God gives to us as He opens His heart and mind to us. How could Israel lack this knowledge, having the writings of Moses and the Psalms of David and the Proverbs of Solomon and the warnings of the prophets? They lack knowledge because they “have rejected knowledge” and “have forgotten the law of (their)” God (4:6). 

This is willful ignorance. They are ignorant by choice. The word reject, maac (pronounced mawas) means to despise, to loathe. They rejected, loathed, despised true knowledge and in their rejection, loathed and despised the God who alone gives wisdom and knowledge.

They forgot the law of God when they forgot God. They have forgotten, loathed and despised who God is —  not simply the Almighty Creator of the universe but the Bridegroom God who called Israel into covenant with Himself. How is it that people come to loath, despise and reject the God who has blessed them so greatly? This happens when people are absorbed with and delighted in the gods of this world. Then it is a short journey from despising the Lord, to despising true knowledge to forgetting wisdom entirely.

Having forgotten God, they forgot who they are — the Beloved of the Creator of the universe, the apple of His eye, God’s covenant people, the Bride of the Bridegroom God. Forgetting who they are, they sell themselves cheaply to gods that are not gods; gods who devalue and trash them because the people have forgotten that they are valued and treasured by the true and living God. So many people are chasing false treasure, rejecting the true treasure which is God’s covenant love for them, not realizing that in God’s eyes, they are the treasure.

Israel’s ignorance was deep rooted. They professed to be the people of God yet worshipped idols. Many experienced blessings of abundance, yet continued to oppress the poor while giving thanks to their idols for their blessings. Truly, people are destroyed when they turn from the true knowledge of the true and living God.  

Because the priests led the nation to reject, loathe and despise knowledge, God rejected, loathed and despised them as priests. This is especially an indictment of the Israelite priests whose responsibility it was to instruct the people and keep alive in their hearts the light of the knowledge of God and the passion of holy love. But remember, this was not the Levitical priesthood that functioned in the Jerusalem temple. This was a false priesthood serving the false gods of the northern kingdom. They were not only failing to instruct people in the knowledge of the true God, they were instructing in the knowledge of darkness. Truly, they were rejected, loathed and despised by God.

In a broader sense, this is an indictment of the entire nation. After Israel left slavery in Egypt, the Lord had said, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6).

All Israel was called to be a holy priesthood, God’s witness to the world. But if they will not remain in covenant relationship with the Lord, if they refuse instruction, then they cannot be God’s priest to the nations. How can they be a light to the multitudes who walk in darkness, when they themselves have rejected light? So God announces that He rejects the people as priests, disqualifies them from covenant blessings and responsibilities.

This is what is meant by the phrase, “I also will forget your children.” The children are the men and women who were conceived and birthed by this pagan, God-rejecting religious system. Separated from God by choice, God chooses to reject them. It is not that the Lord ceases to love them, but He cannot use them for divine purpose when they are separated from Him.

The same may be said for the next generation. Children of parents and priests who forgot the Lord will have no knowledge of the Lord. They will despise the knowledge of the Lord as did their parents and priests. They also will be set aside by God — not set aside in terms of love — the Lord will continue to call to them with unbounded compassion. But they will not live out His design for their lives while they reject the Lord who designed them.

This returns us to the opening words of this verse, “My people are destroyed.” Not only was the knowledge of God destroyed. Before this generation passed, the entire nation would be destroyed.

4:7 “The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.”

The more they increased in blessing, the more they sinned against the God who blessed them.  The more goodness God poured out upon them, the more thanks they gave to their idols. A loving God will cut off blessing if blessing leads idolatrous people to self destruction.

“I will change their glory into shame” is a prophecy of repentance. Someday a remnant of Israelites will realize the depth of their unfaithfulness, will be ashamed of the idols in which they once gloried and will return to the Lord in true humility. This is always the goal when God chastises people or nations, that they will see the truth, turn from their sin and seek the Lord.

“I will change their glory into shame” is also a dire prediction of national disaster. The people gloried in their idols when they should have been ashamed of their unfaithfulness. So God will destroy the idols, their places of false worship, their false priesthood and allow the nation to experience the disastrous consequences of idolatry. In place of glory will be shame.

This also speaks of the glory of God which had once rested over the covenant people but has now been withdrawn. In its place will be the shame of a conquered nation. This speaks also of the gifts and opportunities which God gave to Israel (and gives also to each of us), gifts and opportunities which may be employed to the glory of the Lord or misused, to the shame of the sinner.

A person or nation may glory in power or wealth, but such vanity leads to reckless temptations and over-reach and eventual destruction. Pride surely comes before the fall.

Study Questions

1. What are some of the characteristics of a nation that has forgotten God? (see v. 2)

2. What is the cost when people listen to false teachers, false priests and forget the knowledge of God? (see v. 6)

Hosea Chapter 4:8-19

Hosea Chapter 4:8-19

4:8 “They feed on the sin of My people and direct their desire toward their iniquity.”

This word for sin is sometimes translated sin-offering and this would fit the context. This is a reference to the priests who feed on the sin-offerings of the people — the lambs and bulls, the grain offerings, etc. In the Jerusalem temple, this was the right of the priests. But the priests of Israel have abused their right. 

They call the people to bring their offerings to the idols and feed off the worship of those false gods. They are nourished by the offerings of the people but in turn, refuse to nourish the people on the word of God. Instead, they feed the people darkness, lies, entanglements with gods that are not gods. These are false priests, not of the line of Aaron, so if they hope to continue as priests then they must continue calling people to worship calves and bulls and all manner of false gods. They know this is a lie but they gain their food through this lie and so they perpetuate the lie.

Further, “They direct their desire toward their iniquity.” Their heart is focused on doing evil. This is the priesthood that has despised the knowledge of God and led the nation in forgetting the true and living God. Their iniquity is their focus because it is the source of their livelihood. They also direct the desire of the people toward iniquity for in perpetuating the sins of the people, they perpetuate their priesthood, their livelihood.

There is another sense to these words, “They feed on the sin of my people.” The sins of the nation energize the priests, empower them, nourish them, inspire them. Far from restraining the sin of the nation, the priests are made more bold in their false teaching, false worship and false living. Their fear is not of the Lord but of anything that would draw the people to God and away from the idols. Therefore they encouraged the people in sin.

4:9 “And it will be, like people, like priest; so I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”

The priests will be punished along with the nation. They may have been deceived that as priests, they were holy unto the Lord and would escape judgment. But in fact they were false priests and profane in the sight of God. Indeed, we would suppose that their punishment will be greater because their deception was greater. The people emulated their priests, therefore the priests, being the cause of the sins of others, will receive greater condemnation.  

False priests will not be pardoned because of their robes any more than false kings will be pardoned because of their crowns. All stand accountable before God.

4:10 “They will eat, but not have enough; they will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.”

This speaks of those who attempt to satisfy their greed through oppression and deception. They never have enough. Their appetites are insatiable. Having gained much, they desire to gain more but that which is gained by sin cannot be enjoyed in peace. Instead, their sin will eat up the wealth that was gained through their sin.

This speaks of the nation as a whole. Giving thanks to their idols for bountiful harvests provided by God, Israel will lose the blessing of the Lord and gain the judgment of the Lord. In place of abundance there will be scarcity. They offered their food to idols; now their harvest shall be diminished. Truly, the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

This refers also to the priests, who ate the sin offerings while teaching the people to sin. They will not escape judgment.

 “They will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.” The unfaithfulness of Israel to God is nothing other than spiritual adultery. Rather than giving heed to the Lord, they have set their eyes on false gods, false lovers.

The word “heed” can be translated attend, observe, watch. The Psalmist said, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psalm 123:2). Jesus counseled His disciples, “Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).

The blessed life is centered on watching the Lord, setting our spiritual eyes upon Him, observing Him in His word, looking to Him in prayer and in worship. But Israel had ceased to give heed to the Lord or even valuing Him. They were giving heed to their false gods. Their spiritual eyes, their hearts, were set on their idols. They will not increase, will not prosper.

4:11 “Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding (or enslave the heart).”

Harlotry refers to spiritual unfaithfulness but Hosea also is referring to sexual sin. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness which characterized Baal festivities. This is not just symbolic language.  Baal worship included ritual prostitution, fertility rites and drunkenness.  The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Israelite people.

Immorality and drunkenness enslave the heart, rob people of the wisdom and discernment necessary for the living of each day. The pleasures of the world compete with God for the affections of the people. Earlier in this chapter (in verse 2) we read that spiritual unfaithfulness had caused Israelite society to devolve into a toxic stew of lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence and unrestrained bloodshed. Now Hosea adds immorality and drunkenness resulting in the lack of wisdom. The impact of these sins can only result in destruction if the people will not repent.

4:12 “My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; for a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God.”

The Lord still refers to Israel as, “My people.” Israel was in covenant relationship with the living God, the Bride of the Bridegroom God, yet the people were asking their wooden idols for wisdom and direction and believed that “their diviner's wand informs them”. They believed the lying words of lying prophets and the false report of false priests based on revelation from a piece of wood.

How deceived! The true and living God pours out wisdom to all who seek Him but not all will seek Him. He gave Israel His Law and sent prophets, but they would not listen. Truly, as the Apostle Paul reveals, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

In another time, the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, so the house of Israel is shamed; they, their kings, their princes and their priests and their prophets, who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face” (Jere. 2:26,27).

The Psalmist speaks of the idols of silver and gold, “The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear” (Ps. 115:4-6). How foolish that men and women would pray to a lifeless object. But more than foolish, how dangerous. The psalmist continues, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:8). We grow in the image of whatever we worship. 

Hosea reveals the process. They were led astray by a demonic spirit of harlotry and the result is that, “They have played the harlot.” They became like the spirit that led them astray. Having departed from God, being separated from God, they are joined to their idol and conformed to its likeness.

The last phrase reveals the heartbreak of God, “departing from their God.” This may be translated, “departing from under their God.” We recall Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). 

We recall the words of the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty … He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Psalm 91:1,4)

This was the desire of the Bridegroom God for His Bride. But Israel had departed from under the secure blessing of God. Exposed to the kingdoms of darkness, their future would only be destruction. We marvel at the heartbreak of God.

4:13 “They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and burn incense on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth, because their shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

Copying the pattern of idolatrous Canaanite tribes, Israel’s worship of false gods was practiced on mountains and hills, possibly because these “high places” were considered to be closer to the heaven in which they believed the false gods existed. They also made sacrifices under certain trees — these were considered sacred places. 

This is why, when Israel was preparing to enter the land, God commanded them through Moses, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deut. 12:2). Sadly, Israel later practiced this form of idolatry as fervently as if the Lord had commanded it.

It’s not surprising that Satan inspired idol worship on high places. It was on a mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. On a mountain God gave Moses the commandments. On a hill, the Lamb of God would someday be offered for the sins of the world. Satan often imitates the holy pattern set by God, as a means of confusing and deceiving the saints and profaning the holy.

“Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

There is a two fold sense to their harlotry. As we have said, because Israel was in a covenant relationship with the Lord, He considered the worship of false gods to be spiritual prostitution, adultery. However, Baal worship also involved sexual rituals, the perversion of true worship and the perversion of God’s gift of romantic love between a husband and a wife in the covenant of marriage. Ritual prostitution and fertility rites were a means of inviting the false gods to bless and prosper the land and the families. The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Hebrew people. Baal worship also involved the abomination of child sacrifice (see 2 Kings 17:16,17 and prophetic responses, Isaiah 57:5  Jere. 32:35).

As a result of the spiritual and moral unfaithfulness of parents, false priests and false prophets, the daughters also became corrupt. We may be sure that this also applied to their sons. When one generation sets a pattern, we should not be surprised when the next generation embraces it. Or rather, we should not be surprised when the sins of one generation overtake and entangle the next.

We are reminded that child sacrifice involves not only the killing of the preborn, as with abortion, or the killing of post-born, as with the worship of Moloch. But also, when a generation of children are raised without the restraint of Godly moral and spiritual instruction, they will be sacrificed on the altar of negligence. Their destruction will be as certain, and more cruel, than the destruction of those who did not survive their birth.

4:14 “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot or your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots and offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes; so the people without understanding are ruined.”

It is not that the daughters and brides will escape judgment — they will not. But it is not so much that the Lord judges them; rather, their judgment is the destructive consequences of their sin. The heaviest punishment, though, will be on the husbands and fathers, for their children and their brides were only following the pattern set by their elders.

“So the people without understanding are ruined.” Why are the people without understanding? Because their false priests and false prophets did not teach them the truth, instead teaching them lies wrapped in darkness. Because the elders did not learn truth from their teachers, neither did their sons and daughters and brides and all were ruined together.

We might say that this is an expression of judgment on the elders — they will witness their brides and children fallen into sin and ruined. And what could be a more terrible judgment on the parents than to see the destruction of their children. Or possibly the elders are so far fallen, they would not grieve or be dismayed to see the fall of those whom they love.

However, there is another possible interpretation of these words, “I will not punish”. When people are deeply entangled in sin, the Lord patiently warns and calls for an extended time. He also expresses judgment, chastisement in graduated expressions, from lesser to greater, the purpose being to apply pressure which may create change. But when men and women have not listened to warning, have not responded to pressure and have not turned from their sin, God may remove His hand and release people to the full expression of their sin. This is revealed more fully in verse 17.

4:15 “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, do not let Judah become guilty; also do not go to Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven and take the oath: ‘As the Lord lives!’”

The Lord is saying, “Israel had been unfaithful, an adulteress, but let not Judah become guilty of this. Stay away from the places where apostasy is practiced, lest you be also be corrupted.” 

Gilgal had once been a holy place. This was where the nation, under Joshua, rededicated itself to the Lord and reinstituted the Passover (Joshua, 5:9,10). The prophet Samuel had offered sacrifices there (I Samuel 10:8). But now Gilgal has been polluted by idols as we read in 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal.” And in 12:11, “In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,” a reference to the worship of Baal. The Lord warns Judah to stay away from Gilgal and also warns Judah to stay away from Beth-aven — the name means house of evil or house of deceit or vanity. 

Beth-aven was located near Bethel, which means House of God. Bethel is where the Lord spoke to Jacob and made sacred promises to him (Gen. 28:10-19). It had been a holy place for centuries but now it is situated close by a center for the worship of idols. Not only that, but Bethel itself had been polluted by idols under King Jereboam. So in a sense, Bethel had become Beth-aven. The house of God had become the house of evil, deceit, vanity.

Although Judah had also been corrupted, there was still a remnant of faithful believers and there will come a season of reform under King Hezekiah. So the Bridegroom God contends for the purity of the remnant of His Bride and He warns them, “Stay away from places tainted by darkness.” Good advice to all of us. 

So it is that the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and will walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Judah is also warned not to take the oath, “As the Lord lives!” This may be a reference to those who mix the worship of idols with the worship of God — a little darkness, a little light, a bit of Baal, a bit of Yahweh. We see this in churches today which employ rituals that use the name of Jesus while preaching heretical doctrines which profane the light, embrace the darkness and violate the word of the Lord whose name they use.

4:16 “Since Israel is stubborn like a stubborn heifer, can the Lord now pasture them like a lamb in a large field?”

Israel had stubbornly resisted correction, refused repentance, persisted in spiritual unfaithfulness. The Lord desired to shepherd the nation but how could He? They are not a lamb; they are a stubborn heifer. How dangerous when the Lord Himself, who is almighty, can no longer lead a nation or a man or woman. He will not exercise omnipotence to force obedience, as if they were His slave. Israel was His Bride, yet the nation continued to spurn His love.

4:17 “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”

Therefore, the Lord expresses a most severe form of judgment: judicial abandonment.

“Ephraim is joined to idols.” Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes, is used here to represent the entire northern kingdom. The word idols, atsab, is from a root word that has to do with pain or grief. We become joined to whatever we worship and it is surely true that entanglement with powers of darkness joins the worshipper to pain and grief.

But with these words, “Let him alone,” God announces abandonment of the nation to its sinful choices and the painful, grievous consequences of those choices. While the book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, there are times when God gives unrepentant sinners over to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

But remember that these words are spoken only after many years in which the Bridegroom God patiently called and warned. It is not as though the Lord desires the destruction of Israel. If He did not long for the salvation of the nation, He would not be calling to them even at this last hour. As the Bridegroom Judge, His hope is that in removing His shield of grace and favor, the resulting pressure of adversity will create changed hearts in a righteous remnant who will humbly and gratefully rejoice to be called His Bride.

Nevertheless, these words should be sobering. In Romans chapter one, Paul traces the descent of humanity into darkness: from suppressing the knowledge of God, to the creation of false gods, to disintegration into every form of moral corruption. Three times the apostle uses this phrase, “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24,26,28). What a terrifying prospect, to be given over by God to our folly and deception, for we cannot turn from our sin except the Lord shows us the truth. We cannot experience forgiveness and restoration except the Lord sovereignly acts upon us by His grace.

However, judicial abandonment is not the portrait of an uncaring God. It is the last attempt of a loving and holy God to bring people to the truth.

Judicial abandonment is also an example of our inability to grasp the fulness of God’s attributes which exist in harmony and are expressed perfectly, without contradiction. How is it that God is perfectly, infinitely and eternally just and simultaneously perfectly, infinitely and eternally merciful? How is it that God exercises justice without violating His mercy and expresses His love, lavishes His grace, expresses His goodness continually while establishing His justice? To my limited intellect, the answer to these questions is unknowable. But we may know this with certainty, “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1), and “all His ways are just” (Deut. 32:4).

Is there any more poignant portrayal of this than Jesus washing the feet of Judas only hours before Satan entered the fallen disciple and he betrayed His Lord? It was the desire of Jesus to lavish grace and truth upon Judas. It was the desire of Judas to trample upon grace and truth. He fell to everlasting damnation, but not because there was anything lacking in Christ’s provision for him.

Yes, we despair over men and women and nations, entangled in the chords of darkness. But never despair over the passion of the Bridegroom God to pursue and call, if possibly He may reclaim, redeem and betroth them to Himself. 

As we marvel at the boundless love of the Bridegroom God, we also tremble at the justice of the Bridegroom Judge. There is a moment when He says to the prophetic voice, “Cease your speaking. They have heard Me and refuse to hear. They have seen Me and refuse to see. Let them go. May it be that as they experience the grief of their choices, some will be driven back to Me.”

4:18 “Their liquor gone, they play the harlot continually; their rulers dearly love shame.”

The King James offers an interesting alternative translation, “Their drink is rebellion, they commit harlotry continually. Her rulers dearly love dishonor.” The people have become drunk on a spirit of rebellion which has led to unceasing spiritual and moral corruption. But their is no conviction of sin. Indeed, the rulers of the nation love their shame — they love that which brings them shame, confirmed in the pleasure of their sin, loving even the shame itself.

4:19 “The wind wraps them in its wings, and they will be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”

We can scarcely imagine the grief of the Lord who had carried Israel “on eagles wings” out of Egypt and unto Himself (Ex. 19:4). But they have sowed the wind, now they shall reap the whirlwind. Even now the storm has enwrapped them in its wings, has gathered them into itself, bound the nation to itself as a bird of prey grasps its victim. Within a few years, the mighty and cruel kingdom of Assyria will fall upon Israel in a cyclone of violence and carry the nation away.

But there is coming a day when, “They shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.” So it was that during those centuries of exile, Israel repented of her idols. When a remnant returned to the land, they left their idols behind. 

Centuries later, they rejected their Messiah and the nation was again destroyed. But there is coming a day when the Lord “will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).

The Bridegroom God sees that day, is already living in that day, waiting for a Bride made ready. All of history is nothing other than the Lord moving the universe toward that day.

Study Questions

1. The phrase “departing from their God” may be translated, “departing from under their God.” How does God feel when covenant people depart from under His covering? (see v 12)

2. What does the Lord mean when He says, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone”? (v. 17)

Hosea Chapter 5

Hosea Chapter 5

5:1 “Hear this, O priests! Give heed, O house of Israel! Listen, O house of the king! For the judgment applies to you, for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread out on Tabor.”

The Bridegroom Judge addresses the religious leaders of the nation, the entire house of Israel and the king’s family  — all of Israel is included in this indictment. Mizpah and Tabor refer to places of idol worship located to the east and west of the Jordan.

The Lord announces that His judgment has been released against the nation’s religious and political leadership because they have led the nation into sin. The priests were commissioned to teach the law and guide people to the altar of the Lord. The king was responsible to enforce the law. The assignment of teachers and leaders was to warn Israel of the dangers of apostasy, teach the truth and turn the nation away from the seducing power of the idols. But rather than guiding Israel into faithfulness and blessing, the leadership had been a snare and a net, entangling the people in darkness and destruction. 

Israel’s priests and leaders were not guardian shepherds, they were predators. They had not led the nation away from the false altars of false gods, they had built the altars and led the people to them. These were not Levitical priests — they were priests of Baal. This was not a king descended from David  — he was descended from a line of rebel kings. False priests and false kings will not lead a nation into the knowledge of the truth.

The people of the land are also summoned to accountability, for even though their priests and leaders were corrupt, they had access to the truth but chose to reject it. As Paul reminds us in Romans chapter one, the knowledge of God is available to all. It is not that God is unknowable, rather the truth of God has been suppressed. People invent idolatrous forms of worship, not because there is no light but because they prefer darkness. Therefore, everyone is without excuse.

5:2 “The revolters have gone deep in depravity (slaughter), but I will chastise all of them.”

When people revolt against the truth and journey deep in depravity, they journey into slaughter, into personal and national self-destruction. Secular liberation movements and the philosophical systems that undergird them do not lead people into liberty. The only liberation movement that brings anyone to freedom is found in a living relationship with the living God.

The Lord promises chastisement. But chastisement is not final judgment — it is an expression of grace. The Lord will allow pressure to come upon the nation for the purpose of producing change. Israel has chosen destruction but the Bridegroom God is still calling to the nation, contending for His Bride. Even when people and nations choose self-destruction, God will still seek ways to bring about redemption.

5:3 “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself.”

Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes, is named as a representative for the whole nation. 

Though people try to hide their hearts and their idols from the Lord, nothing is hidden from Him. The word know, yada, is used of intimate knowledge and it is this knowledge which God possesses of the nation with whom He has entered into covenant. The Bridegroom God knows, sees, the spiritual adultery of His Bride and the defilement that this unfaithfulness has brought about.

What folly, that any person or nation would imagine that they could hide their sin from the Lord. King David, who knew something of sin and of grace, confessed, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me … You understand my thought from afar … Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. Where can I go from Your Spirit?”  (Ps. 139:1,2,4,7)

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebr. 4:13).

The Lord’s omniscience is a source of terror to those who despise His love and rebel against His truth. But for those who have experienced the goodness of God, this is a source of great security — He knows us, sees us, understands who we are and what we are going through and therefore is able to provide perfect resources with perfect timing. We are reminded that the word provide is derived from two Latin words, pro videre — to see ahead. God’s provision is perfect because He sees the future with perfect clarity (in fact, He is already there). 

To His unfaithful, adulterous Bride, the Lord says, “I know you and I see the pollution that has stained your life.” But why is He saying this? Because He is contending for His Bride.

5:4 “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord.”

Idolatry is not merely an outward act. It begins within. A demonic spirit of spiritual adultery has taken root in the heart of the nation and as with all demonic spirits, it violently resists any attempt to dislodge it. It takes the power of God to break the power of darkness but they will not allow the power of God to break into their souls.

Their deeds resist their return. They have become so established in a lifestyle of unfaithfulness that they have no capacity to return to the Lord.  The focus, energy, investment of their life is such that there is no motivation for them to change.  Life is about choices and some choices establish such roots in our soul that it takes the power of God to change and if people refuse to turn to the Lord, they have no hope of freedom.

The people are having intimate relations with a spirit of harlotry and it is now lodged within them and God says that they do not know Him. They know their false gods but they do not know the Lord. Yet the Lord still refers to Himself as “their God.” They are still in covenant with Him, but they do not know Him.

What God wants is that we would know Him and be known by Him — an intimate, loving, transparent relationship.  But they have rejected God and gone after other lovers. This is adultery.  These are religious people who have rejected God so they may not even know that they do not know God. There have always been bishops, pastors, priests and church members who do not know that they do not know the Lord. They are self deceived by their religion.  They may be skilled at seeing evil outside of themselves but not within; able to see evil in the world but blind to the evil in their own lives and they do not know that they are blind.

How blind are these Israelites? They give thanks to demonically inspired gods for the blessings which the true and living God lavishes upon them. They bow down and worship powers of darkness which only intend their destruction while refusing to worship the God who desires only to bless them. This is what false religion creates in the heart.  They have broken covenant with God, committed spiritual adultery and yet are so blind to their separation from God, they do not even know that they do not know the Lord “their God.” 

5:5 “The pride of Israel testifies against him and Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity. Judah also has stumbled with them.”  

The arrogance of Israel, the national pride, is so fully evident that there needs to be no other testimony against the nation. Pride has such a terribly blinding impact. It causes individuals to justify any lifestyle choices, no matter how self-destructive; enables nations to justify all policy decisions, no matter how harmful. It resists all attempts to shine light into the shadows, to speak truth against the lies. When people and nations are blinded by pride and unrepentant in their choice to walk in darkness, how will they not stumble?

“Judah also has stumbled with them.” At this same time, the southern kingdom was being corrupted by the unrelenting powers of darkness. Though Judah would not fall for another 120 years after the fall of Israel, they too would experience national defeat and humiliation.

5:6 “They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them.”

These words may refer to the people of Judah, who were addressed in the previous verse. But this equally applies to the people of Israel. Unfaithful idol worshipping Jews sought the Lord with their flocks and herds, that is, through the ritual of the sacrificial system, through a pretense of religious ritual, but not from the heart.  They worship the God of the covenant while breaking covenant and committing spiritual adultery. They seek the living God while serving false gods, unfaithful to the true and living God, covered with guilt and blind to their sin. 

They seek God with their flocks, which refers to the sacrificial system.  But they are not repentant.  They are using ritual in a pretense of relationship, trying to control or manipulate God through religious means to obtain something which they want.  They want to obtain blessing from God through ritualistic cleansing without a living relationship with the God who alone can cleanse.  God cleanses in the context of honest accountability for sin and repentance leading to faithful, loving, intimate relationship. But if there is no true repentance, there can be no cleansing. We are not cleansed by ritual. Rather, ritual is a symbolic representation of the cleansing that God works in the heart of the man or woman who sincerely repents of sin.

Trying to manipulate God through religious ritual while hearts are far from Him was condemned by all the prophets. Through Isaiah the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus quoted those words in response to the religious hypocrisy of His day (see Mark 7:6).

Through Amos the Lord said, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

It is not that the Lord hates the festivals, the songs and rituals that He gave the nation. But He hates the exercise of religious ritual when it is only an outward show, when it is separated from the reality of love for Him and when that love is divorced from the reality of a pure heart.

Through the prophet Joel the Lord said, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil’” (Joel 2:12,13). Return to Me with true repentance and you will encounter a God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

But they refused to repent and so Hosea says, “They will not find Him, He has withdrawn from them“ in the sense that mere ritual does not connect with the heart of God. Spiritual adultery creates distance. The nation had withdrawn from the Lord — their sin had created a barrier between themselves and a holy God and God cannot have fellowship with unrepented sin. But who initiated that separation?  The unfaithful people. We cannot commit spiritual adultery and draw near to God. We cannot be unfaithful and intimate with God. 

5:7 “They have dealt treacherously against the Lord, for they have borne illegitimate children. Now the new moon will devour them with their land.”

The word illegitimate may be translated foreign, profane. The children of the land have been nurtured in the ways of idolatry, discipled in spiritual adultery, trained in the worship of foreign gods, conformed to doctrines of demons, entangled in darkness. The generation of children are as profane, as unclean as their parents. This is surely treachery against the Lord, for the parents were responsible to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Instead the children are aliens to the covenant of God.

What is the future for a nation whose children are abandoned to the ways of darkness? The land will be devoured and not in some distant future. Unless there is repentance, destruction will break forth as soon as the new moon rises.

The Lord’s judgment breaks upon the land slowly, with long seasons of grace and warning. But when warning is ignored and the God of grace is rejected, destruction breaks forth suddenly.

5:8,9 “Blow the horn (shofar) in Gibeah, the trumpet in Ramah. Sound an alarm at Beth-aven: ‘Behind you, Benjamin!’ Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke; among the tribes of Israel I declare what is sure.”

The word for horn is shofar, an instrument used in worship (see Psalm 98:6), but also blown on Yom Kippur signifying a call to repentance. Trumpets were used in worship and to sound a warning (though this is a rare word, used only here in the Old Testament).

Gibeah and Ramah were cities of Judah located on the border with Israel. Beth-aven was an Israelite city noted for idolatry. Ephraim is used as a representative of all the northern tribes. 

The word of the Lord is: blow the shofar, call for repentance in Gibeah. Sound the trumpet of praise and warning in Ramah. In Beth-aven, a city dedicated to idols, sound the warning. Benjamin, one of the two tribes of Judah is warned, “Look behind you — be alert, the enemy like a lion seeks whom he may devour.” Israel will soon be destroyed and the Lord is calling to the prophetic watchmen of Israel and Judah: blow the trumpet, sound the alarm. This is especially a call to the watchmen of Judah. If Israel is under judgment and you are committing the same sins, then wake up to the danger that is at hand.

The prophet says, “I declare what is sure (it shall surely be).” 

Hosea, who speaks the word of the Lord to his generation, testifies that his word is sure, it shall surely come to pass. But if destruction will surely be, then why does God raise up prophetic voices to speak truth to a nation? Why does He warn of disaster before the time, if the time of disaster is established? Why does He sound a trumpet? So that some will turn from their wicked ways and be saved. This is the Bridegroom God contending for a remnant of His Bride. 

And as that remnant prays and cries out and sounds the alarm, it may be that an entire city or nation will turn and God will draw back His hand of judgment. Destruction is sure, unless people surely turn from their wicked ways and call on the Lord. He is a God of judgment but “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Ps. 145:8)

5:10 “The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary. On them I will pour out My wrath like water.”

Boundaries were marked by stones or stakes in the ground. Cloaked in the darkness of night, a dishonest man could easily expand the boundary of his land by moving the markers. But this amounted to theft — stealing valuable land from his neighbor. 

Although Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom, he also spoke the word of God to Judah. The Lord says that the leaders of Judah are moving the boundaries which God had set for the nation— not physical or geographical boundaries but spiritual and moral. They have obscured the boundaries of light and dark, of right and wrong. They were leading the nation out of the well defined security of Yahweh worship and trespassing into the worship of idols. 

In doing so, they were robbing the nation of the goodness which God pours out on those who are faithful to Him. Instead of blessing they are under judgment; instead of peace and security, they face the lethal threat of foreign armies. Instead of being wrapped in the light of God’s presence, they are entangled in the tentacles of darkness.

“On them I will pour out My wrath like water.” On whom will the Lord pour out wrath? The princes, the leaders. God gives authority to men and women on earth for the purpose of establishing peace and order:

“For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).

“By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Prov. 8:15).

But the Lord also holds leaders accountable. When leadership is misused, God will bring judgment:

“Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth” (Psalm 2:10).

“‘And I will destroy their king and slaughter all their princes,’ says the Lord” (Amos 2:3).

“He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless” (Isaiah 40:23).

Not merely those who exercise political authority, but also those who exercise economic power will also be held accountable by the Lord:

“Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate” (Amos 5:11,12)

“Our rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow's plea come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).

Not only those who exercise political authority and economic power but especially those who exercise spiritual authority, the priests and teachers of the law, are held accountable by God, as we have seen throughout Hosea’s ministry.

The sense of Hosea’s words in 5:10 is of a sudden outpouring, a flood of judgment coming upon the nation of Judah. And surely it was so. The same Assyrian army that destroyed Israel also surrounded Jerusalem. Were it not for a righteous king who sought the Lord and a righteous prophet who stood beside him, Judah also would have been conquered (see 2 Chron. 32:9-2 and Isaiah 36:1-37:36).

5:11 “Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to follow man’s command.”

Hosea now turns his attention back to Israel, represented by Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes. He prophesies crushing judgment because the nation “was determined to follow” (willingly walked after) the commands of unrighteous leaders, especially in the worship of idols. It is God’s purpose that we submit to leaders unless they violate God’s truth. Then we must choose to obey God rather than man.

It would have been costly for anyone to refuse obedience to the king, it always is. But we must be willing to bear that cost. Daniel was cast into the lion’s den because of his faithful love for the Lord. His three friends were cast into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow before the golden image. The Apostle Peter counseled the church to submit to governments and governors (I Peter 2:13,14). But when he and the apostles were ordered to stop preaching, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They were flogged for their faith. 

There is a cost to godliness. But what is the cost of ungodliness? The Jewish authorities stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, demanding the death of Jesus Messiah and they testified, “We have no king but Caesar,” (John 19:15). Less than forty years later, when the nation rebelled against Caesar, he destroyed their nation.

5:12 “Therefore I am like a moth to Ephraim and like rottenness (decay) to the house of Judah.”

Unconsciousness of sin is the truest symptom of the soul’s fatal disease. Therefore, the Lord seeks to awaken men, women and nations to the truth of our choices and the destruction that will come upon us by those choices. One of the ways the Lord awakens us is through chastisement. 

Often, when God chastises, it is slowly and by degree, providing even more time for repentance before final judgment. God’s hope is that the gradual escalation of pressure will awaken the soul and produce change. Here are two examples — a moth works its destruction slowly as does decay. Both provide a clear example of the slowly increasing judgment of God.

We may also say that the corruption of moth and decay portray to Israel and Judah the choices they had made. The worship of false gods draws people into the entangling, corrupting grasp of demonic powers and this will always bring destruction. The Lord is showing them the consequence of their choices. Even as a moth eats away at a garment and rottenness work its decay from within, the two kingdoms are being consumed by their dangerous, idolatrous choices.

Notice also that moth and rottenness work silently. Israel and Judah are spiritually asleep, completely undiscerning of the impact of their choices; deaf and blind to the reality that their nations are being eaten away from within. It is the Lord’s purpose that chastisement will awaken the people to the danger they are inviting into their souls and their nations. Again, this is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride.

5:13 “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb. But he is unable to heal you, or to cure you of your wound.”

Israel and Judah are beginning to awaken to their sickness, their wound, they have obtained a measure of insight into their brokenness but instead of returning to the Lord, they run to the world, they seek a military alliance with Assyria (“King Jareb” or “warrior” is a reference to Assyria). How foolish! Assyria is not their Savior, rather, their enemy, an evil, godless nation committed to the destruction of God’s covenant Bride. What is more absurd than this — Israel, and later Judah — seeking relief from the very nation that brings disaster! 

Israel will not find healing for her wounds until she sees the source of her wounds — her sin of idolatry. But rather than turn to the God who has awakened her to her corruption and her sin, she turns to a nation which, far from healing Israel, will inflict the fatal wound. Assyria is a picture of the god-rejecting world, an instrument of the destructive purpose of Satan who only wants to corrupt and destroy God’s covenant people on earth.

How foolish when the people of God turn to the world for relief and resource. Neither wealth nor power nor fame nor pleasure nor false religion nor secular philosophies will heal our wound. But our God is rich in mercy, abounding in lovingkindness for all who call upon Him. “Come and drink from the river of my delights,” He entreats. Yet His covenant people turn to remedies that do not heal.

How grievous and heartbreaking this must be to the Lord. Not only has He been rejected by His Bride, not only has she run into the arms of false gods who corrupt her, but as she is awakened to her corruption, the Lord is further rejected as His covenant partner seeks relief from those who only intend her destruction. 

Yet until the day of final destruction, Hosea will proclaim the remedy, “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us” (6:1).

5:14 “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away, I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver.”

The covenant people will not respond to the mild chastisement of moth and rottenness. They refuse to see the truth of their corruption, refuse to turn to the Lord for relief, running instead toward their destruction. Therefore the Lord escalates the judgment — I will be your Judge. 

The Lord is saying that He will let them embrace the death they have chosen.  Their problem will not be Assyria but the God who moves the nations to perform His purpose. Assyria will be the Lord’s instrument for judging Israel and Judah.

How terrible when the Lord gives people up to their choices. In Romans chapter one, as Paul traces humanity’s rejection of God, invention of false God’s and descent into spiritual and moral corruption, three times he says, “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24,26,28).

More than a century after these events took place in Israel, Babylon was God’s instrument for judging Judah. Concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the entire nation, we read these words: 

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary …” (2 Chron. 36:15-17).

Notice the kindness and patience of God, He “sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.” 

Notice the spiritual hardness of a nation, “They continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”

Tremble at the outcome, “Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans.” Who destroyed faithless Jerusalem? God did and He used the Babylonians.

Where then is the Bridegroom God? He is the Bridegroom Judge, yet even in that terrible destruction, He preserved a remnant Bride. And in time, He brought the covenant Bride back to the covenant land, rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the city and began again.

5:15 “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek me.” 

Rejected by His covenant Bride, the Lord will withdraw His blessing, His grace and His favor until Israel returns in humble repentance. God’s purpose is that in judgment, Israel will be brought to a place of honest accountability for their sin and will have a heart to seek the Lord. So it was, centuries later, when Israel and Judah returned from exile, they had long since left their idols. Chastisement brought a remnant to a place of purity.

This is reminiscent of the story of Jacob. He was alone in the night, preparing to meet his brother Esau, who 20 years earlier, had wanted to kill him. A mysterious Stranger met Jacob in the night and wrestled with him.  Jacob asked the name of this Wrestler, trying to gain a measure of control. But the Wrestler, the Lord, would not reveal His name, instead demanding that Jacob confess his name. He confessed, “I am Jacob” which means heel grabber, thief.  Only then, as Jacob confessed his name, his true nature, only then did God bless him.  Jacob held on and wrestled because he finally had come to the realization that his problem was not his angry brother but God. God broke him and then God blessed him.

This God who breaks that He may bless, who judges that He may save, who became a Lion to Israel, the Lion of Judah, is also Defender of His covenant Bride. Later, the Lion became a Lamb.  In the most incredible event in the history of the world, this same God who judges sinners took His judgment on Himself, to redeem a Bride into intimate, covenant relationship with Himself.

The Lion who became a Lamb, this Lord says, “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face.” 

This will happen someday. Through the prophet Zecharia, the Lord said, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zecharia 12:10).

In the last days of Jesus’ ministry on earth, as He grieved over the nation that had rejected its long-awaited Bridegroom Messiah, He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt. 23:37-39).

“Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.”  He was referring to the nation which would be destroyed within 40 years by the Romans. He was also referring to the temple, which was no longer the Lord’s house but “their house.” They had desecrated it in many ways but most of all, by despising the Lord whose house it was. The glory of God had departed and that house was destroyed.

He will not return until they acknowledge Him and seek His face. But that day will come! In the last days of human history the Lord will pour out “the Spirit of grace and of supplication.” The Messiah will be proclaimed in powerful preaching and testimony. In the midst of world wide cataclysm, as the judgment of God is poured out among the nations, Israel will look on Him “whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him.”

Many Gentiles will come to the Lord in those last days but there will also be a mass movement of Jews turning to Jesus Messiah. The number of the Bride will be completed, Jew and Gentile, and a Bride made ready will greet the return of the Bridegroom God.

Study Questions

1. In verse 6 the Lord says “He has withdrawn from them.” What does the Lord mean by that?

2. In verse 8 the Lord calls for the blowing of the shofar and the trumpet. In verse 9 He says, “Ephraim will become a desolation” and this word “is sure.” If judgment is certain, why blow the trumpet? Why warn anyone?

Hosea Chapter 6

Hosea Chapter 6

6:1,2 “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him.”

The previous chapter concluded with the Lord’s promise to withdraw from the covenant Bride who had withdrawn from Him, until such a time as Israel was willing to return in humble repentance. Hosea now prophesies that reconciliation and so it was. God judged His unfaithful Bride, tore them from the land He had given them but not for the purpose of destroying them, rather, for the purpose of cleansing, healing and restoring a faithful remnant.  In the day when they returned from captivity, they were delivered from idolatry — whole, holy, set free from false lovers and false gods.  

Israel’s false gods and lovers had robbed and devalued the covenant people.  But in that day when they returned to the Lord, they discovered that the same God who judges is also quick to heal and restore. The phrase, “after two days… on the third day” is a reference to the suddenness, the immediacy of God’s response to sincere repentance. 

The same God who tears down also revives and raises up.  Chastisement can create a humble heart and when men, women and nations are sincere and humble in repentance, God will quickly restore. The purpose of restoration is “that we may live before Him,” the reestablishing of intimate, covenant relationship between the Bridegroom God and His holy Bride.

There is also an end-time context to these words. At the end of history, as Israel is attacked on all sides, they will turn to the Lord, call on Him whom they once rejected, and the Lord Himself will rescue and deliver His Bride.

6:3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Hosea exhorts the nation, “Press on to know the Lord.” When we do, we discover His faithfulness is as certain as the dawn and the spring rains. This is the heart, the character of God.  If we will return, if we truly and sincerely press in and seek the Lord with all our heart, He is faithful to receive us and heal, restore and refresh. This is what the Lord promised to the southern kingdom through the prophet Jeremiah, when in later years Judah was unfaithful to the Lord,

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jere. 29:13,14).

This is the Bridegroom God who pursues His unfaithful Bride, bears the scorn of her rejection, calls to her, chastises her and bears the wounds of His own judgment that He might redeem her. And when she turns in true repentance, He is faithful to receive her again.

For some, though, these words, “He will come to us like the rain,” betray presumption. There were many in Israel who assumed God’s blessing but did not want the Lord Himself.  They used religious songs and prayers as a business transaction to get something from God but did not want an intimate relationship of love and trust with the Lord. 

That is no different from Baal worship or any other form of idolatry. The worshippers of idols do the right rituals, bring the proper sacrifices so that the gods are obligated to give them good harvest, fertility or whatever it is they desire. The exercise of religion as a means to manipulate the gods, to gain their favor, is always idolatry, no matter whose name we attach to the ritual.

We should never relate to the true and living God in this way. How silly and immature to use religious ritual to try to manipulate a God who is already disposed to love and give and bless. We need only to press in to know the Lord and when we do, we will discover a Bridegroom God who delights in lavishing His grace on all who seek Him.

So it is that Hosea exhorts the nation, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” Know, yada, is the word used of Adam who knew Eve in the intimacy of married love and she conceived. This is what the Bridegroom God wants with us — a relationship of intimate, faithful, covenant love which results in fruitfulness. We are His Beloved, His betrothed.  Let us press on, not to manipulate God with ritual, not so we can receive whatever it is we want from God.  Let us press on to know the Lord. It is in this relationship of intimate knowing that our lives are transformed in the outpouring of grace that flows from the heart of the Lord.

6:4 “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early.”

Hosea reveals the insincere, unfaithful heart of Israel and Judah. Contrasted with the faithfulness of God, which is like the rising of the sun or the refreshing spring rain, Israel and Judah are like dew 

which evaporates early in the day. The same shallow worshippers who seek to manipulate the Lord through religious ritual then become angry and rebellious when God doesn’t come through with their blessings. They walk away from covenant, violate their vows, seek other gods who they vainly suppose will give them what they want.

Israel and Judah are fickle lovers, unstable, insincere. The Lord is looking for faithful lovers. That’s what God is and that is what God wants in return. God only knows one way to love — faithfully, with all of His being. This is what it means to be in covenant — faithful, wholehearted commitment. The Lord sees the insincerity of Israel’s love and Judah’s love, sees that their commitment is as transient and temporary as the morning dew.

Do you hear the pain in the heart of God? “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?” It is the Lord who made covenant with Abraham, formed a nation, delivered them from slavery, brought them into the land of milk and honey, blessed them, prospered and protected them, lavished His goodness upon them. Yet they will not love Him in return.

Consider this profound, almost unfathomable mystery. The uncreated, Self-existent God, who needs nothing outside of Himself, entered history to pursue, awaken and redeem weak, sinful people so that He might betroth us to Himself. And we hear Him grieving over His adulterous lover, bearing in His heart the wounds of rejection. “What shall I do with you, my unfaithful Bride?”

6:5 “Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.”

God sent prophets whose words were intended to pierce, cut, expose and slay unfaithfulness. The word of the Lord nourishes us, strengthens us, encourages us, transforms us but also cuts down to the deepest recesses of our soul like a laser scalpel. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr. 4:12).

When the truth of the Lord shines into the human heart, it will prove lethal either to the sin or the sinner. After Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, we read, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). The truth of God penetrates our self-deception, exposes the lies we may have believed, severs the entanglement of culture conformity, brings clarity, conviction and ultimately, brings change if we will receive it. After Peter preached that day, three thousand souls were added to the church.

The word of the Lord is living, active, dynamic, powerful; by His word and nothing more God created the universe, as the Psalmist reminds us, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host” (Psalms 33:6).

But the Lord also sends forth judgment by His word. Referring to the wicked, Job said, “By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end” (Job 4:9). The Lord ordains the lifting up and the pulling down of kings and kingdoms by His mighty word.

By His word of truth, the Lord desired to expose and cut in pieces that which was false in Israel. His light exposed the darkness of demonically empowered idols and would set free those who were ensnared in the lies of their idols if they will have freedom. But if not, the same word that would have destroyed the kingdoms of darkness and liberated the captives will instead destroy the kingdoms entangled in darkness and those who refused to come out will perish. 

So it would be for Israel and Judah. But judgment will not be the final word, for the Bridegroom God is a covenant keeping God. He will preserve a remnant of His Bride.

6:6 “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

The Lord reminds Israel again that what He delights in is chesed — steadfast, loyal, covenant love, relationship based on commitment, intimacy and trust. It is the way God loves us, a reality of which King David was so assured that he could write, “Surely goodness and mercy (chesed, loyal, faithful, covenant love) shall follow me …” (Ps. 23:6). What God desired of Israel is that the people would know Him as He knows them. The word knowledge refers not to knowing facts about someone but knowing and cherishing someone in the intimate depths of their being.  

What God despises is religious ritual divorced from loving faithfulness and intimate communion.  Religion is no substitute for relationship. It is the Lord who gave Israel their sacrificial system and the rituals and psalms that accompanied it and ritual is not inherently wrong. But it becomes wrong when it is a substitute for real, sincere, covenant love.  

Without covenant relationship, prayer and worship and Bible reading can actually be dangerous because they harden us in our presumed but false righteousness, our presumed relationship with God and our presumption that God owes us if we only repeat the right phrases. Yes, God loves us but we will not manipulate or coerce His blessing.  Access to blessing is through faithful covenant love.  

Through the prophet Amos the Lord said, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). 

Who gave the nation their festivals, their sacrificial rituals, offerings and songs? God did. But the people were acting unjustly toward the poor and the widow, violating righteousness with every form of sin, abandoning any pretense of love for the Lord while embracing false gods and God will not accept the exercise of religious ritual from people who are using religion to mask willful, unrepented sin.

The Pharisees were offended when Jesus ate with sinners (Matt 9:10-13). Jesus responded, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice.’” They were angry when the disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath to satisfy their hunger.  Jesus responded as He always did, that a love relationship with God should result in a love relationship with people and love for God and people should be the focus of our ritual. Jesus confronted people who said the right prayers and sang the right songs as a cover for unrepented sin. He did not call them righteous. He called them whitewashed tombs — lovely on the outside, filled with death on the inside.

Ritual is not a substitute for covenant love.  Ritual is only an instrument to celebrate our covenant relationship but if the relationship is cold, the ritual is meaningless.  Anniversary rituals are not a substitute for the reality of marriage nor a way to obtain favor from a spouse.  Rituals are a way to celebrate and reinforce covenant relationship. 

Israel was the covenant partner of the Bridegroom God, the Lord’s beloved, His betrothed, His Bride. Around this same time, Isaiah declared, “It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4,5).

What a revelation, that the living God is not only the mighty Creator, Law-Giver and Judge but also the Bridegroom God who delights in His covenant people  “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride.” In the Song of Solomon He says, “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride … How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:9). This is a God who is captivated by His Bride, enraptured by her and passionately desiring that she would love Him in return. How marvelous, that this God not only delights in us but delights in our love for Him.

6:7 “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against Me.”

Although there is no record of a formal covenant between God and Adam, there was surely intimate communion between the man and his Creator. Adam sinned, not because of any pressure or necessity but because he willed to sin. That sin was an act of treachery against the God who had only loved and blessed him. The Lord did nothing to instigate or merit that rebellion. 

So it was with Israel and Judah. In response to perfect love and abundant blessing poured upon them by their covenant Partner, they had turned away from the Bridegroom God, seeking blessing from gods that are not gods. They are treacherous lovers, pretending to love and worship the Lord, while bowing before their idols. Just as Adam and Eve refused the testimony of the Lord, instead believing the lies of Satan, so Israel and Judah refused the truth of God and believed the lying gods of darkness.

The word Adam could also be translated men or man, in which case the Lord is saying, “I established Israel and Judah as my covenant Bride, but they act like mere, fallen men.”

6:8,9 “Gilead is a city of wrongdoers, tracked with bloody footprints (defiled / polluted with blood). And as raiders wait for a man, so a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem; surely they have committed crime.”

Under Moses and Joshua, Shechem had been established as a city of refuge for a man guilty of accidentally shedding the blood of another. If Gilead is understood to be Ramoth-Gilead, then that too was a city of refuge. Both were largely inhabited by priests and Levites.

But now, in these days of rampant idolatry and shedding of innocent blood through child sacrifice, Gilead is a polluted city. And in Shechem, far from being a place where holy priests minister grace to the fugitive, it is now the priests themselves who shed blood. This may well refer to the blood of child sacrifice. Or it may refer to the idolatrous rituals and rites of idolatry by which the priests led and seduced the people into the deadly embrace of the powers of darkness which undergirded the idols. Or it may simply be that as Israel settled into social anarchy, the priests were actually murdering and robbing pilgrims on their way to the shrines of their idols.

False priests, as with false prophets, are by nature murderers and thieves. They rob people of the truth and lead them into darkness that ultimately consumes people and priest and prophet.

6:10 “I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: There is the harlotry of Ephraim; Israel is defiled.”

The horrible thing which the Lord has witnessed is the spiritual adultery of a nation, by which the nation is defiled and which defilement will bring destruction on the nation if they do not repent.

6:11 “Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you, when I restore the fortunes of My people.”

Although Hosea’s primary ministry was to Israel, the Lord also speaks a word of warning to Judah, “There is a harvest appointed to you.”  Judah will reap according to what the nation has sown. It is a moral principle of the universe and the Lord will enforce it equally, not only among the so-called pagan nations but also among His own covenant people when they act like the pagan nations.

Judah will be held accountable for their unfaithfulness to the Lord, even as Israel to the north. It is historical fact that 120 years after the fall of  the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom also fell.  But this was not without God calling patiently and passionately through the greatest prophetic voices in the history of the world.

We must note the patience of the Lord with nations and with people. A harvest is not ready until the fruit is ripe. Ripening occurs through the passing of seasons. So God calls to nations and to men and women throughout the seasons of life. There will be ample light to see through the dark haze of temptation and depravity. There be ample time to turn. 

When judgment finally falls, it is not that God has exhausted grace or mercy or kindness — these are inexhaustible qualities in the heart of God. It is not that God has no more light to shine into the shadows nor truth to reveal against the lies nor mercy and grace to pour out into human hearts. It is simply that hearts become irredeemably hardened and time is filled up. There is a time when time is no more. This is so for nations and for every soul that draws breath. God grant us grace to make the most of our time.

However, notice the closing phrase, “When I restore the fortunes of My people.” This prophecy concludes on a note of hope — God appointed not only a harvest of judgment for Judah but also a harvest of restoration.  Even though the nations of Israel and Judah were destroyed, the Lord promises to preserve and restore a remnant Bride. And so it was that the people later came back to the land and though the nation was destroyed again, in 70 AD, they were restored again in 1948. But there is an even greater fulness to this prophecy. There is a great harvest of souls coming among the Jewish people — it is appointed, it is set. In that day the Lord will restore Jerusalem as the capital city of King Jesus.

Study Questions

1. In verse 3 the Lord tells us what He wants from us. What is it?

2. What does the Lord mean in verse 6 when He says, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”?

Hosea Chapter 7

Hosea Chapter 7

7:1 “When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered, and the evil deeds of Samaria, for they deal falsely; the thief enters in, bandits raid outside.”

The reason the Lord confronts Israel is so He can heal and restore the nation but He is blocked by continuous sin. The leaders and the people exploit, steal, oppress. As we have said, the Bridegroom God is contending for the salvation of His Bride but His good purpose is resisted by Israel’s refusal to turn from their sin. 

The Lord stands before Israel in the person of Hosea and calls to the nation, warns the nation. He releases chastisement for the purpose of creating pressure which can create changed hearts. But even as the Lord labors to redeem, fresh sin is uncovered. This reveals a stubbornness, a willful refusal to turn from sin and turn to the Lord. Corruption prevails against the remedy; the disease resists the medicine. If a man or woman or nation is embracing a poisonous viper, how can they be delivered from death if they refuse to let go?

“They deal falsely” in the sense that they still use the name of Yahweh, on occasion. But they are more devoted to their idols than to the Lord. Israel is betrothed in covenant to the true and living God but their commitment to the God of the covenant is hypocritical, deceitful, false.

They also deal falsely with one another — stealing, pillaging, plundering one another for personal gain. We may also say that of all the thieves in Israel at that time, the false priests and lying prophets were chief among them. In refusing to teach the truth, but instead teaching lies, they robbed people not only of the knowledge of the truth but of the blessing that comes to those who walk with the Lord with a pure heart. In teaching the people that they were secure in their idols, while in fact the people were under judgment, they robbed many of the opportunity to be saved.

False priests and lying prophets continue their thieving ways even in our day, teaching a false way of salvation, that people may be saved without repentance, without submitting to the Lordship of Jesus. They deceive people into the false security that they are saved when in fact they are lost.

7:2 “And they do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness. Now their deeds are all around them; they are before My face.”

There is no serious reflection on the reality of their sin or its consequence. They do not take time to consider that the Lord sees clearly “all their wickedness.” They are surrounded by their sin and by the presence of the omniscient God before whom “all things are open and laid bare” (Hebr 4:13). All that they do is before the face of God but they deny this universal truth. 

We are reminded of the lying words of Satan to Eve, “You surely will not die” (Gen. 3:4). He suggests that either there is no God, or God does not mean what He says or does not see what you do. In any case, live autonomously as if God does not exist. But Satan is a liar — God does exist. He does see and He does know.

This is true for everyone. Our lives are lived before the face of God. Every moment and thought of our being is recorded in the mind and presence of the all-knowing God. This should be a cause of great comfort, that we are secure in the presence of the Lord our Redeemer, Provider, Healer and Defender. For some, this may also be a cause of great terror, that the God of all justice sees and knows us. But for many in ancient Israel and in our day, God is neither a source of comfort nor terror for God was irrelevant, nonexistent. What was present in the minds of many was the idol. It is the pursuit and satisfaction of the false god that commands the attention, devotion and energy of the great multitude.

There is a very sobering truth in the words, “Their deeds are all around them.” They are surrounded by their evil, walled in by their iniquity. There will be no escape other than repentance. If they will acknowledge their sin and turn to the Lord, He will break down the enclosing wall of iniquity with forgiving grace. But if not, they will remain prisoners to their sin and like condemned criminals, can only await their execution.

Within a few years, the Assyrian army would surround the capital city of Samaria and lay siege. In that day there would be no escape, only death, destruction and captivity.

7:3 “With their wickedness they make the king glad, and the princes with their lies.”

In a righteous nation, evil causes leaders to sound the alarm. In an evil society in an evil day, wickedness is not a cause for alarm, not a motive to repentance. It makes the leaders glad. When they see the sins committed by the general population, they feel absolved of their own guilt. No doubt the king’s approval of evil had a further corrupting influence on the people. Wicked kings and evil citizens become an encouragement and a curse to one another. 

We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

The king was under the deception that the people and the kingdom existed for himself, for his glory and pleasure and prosperity.  That is untrue.  The world, its kings and its people exist for God.  Wherever God has given us influence or authority, it is for God’s sake, that God may be glorified.

The kings of Israel were ordained by God and commanded to be distinct from the kings of the world. This distinctiveness was based on faithfulness to three important truths:

1. They were accountable to God, not a law unto themselves, not the final arbiters of truth.

2. They were not divine, as many kings of pagan nations claimed to be. The king and the people were created in the image of God but less than God. Therefore the king could not relate to the people as a god-man but only as a man.

3. The king was appointed to be an enforcer of righteousness, not a transgressor. He was to be a generous giver, not a plunderer.

When the second person of the Trinity became a man, Jesus demonstrated the reality of Man and King living in true accountability to God. He lived as the true image of God, man as the true Adam, as man was created to be. As the true King, He was perfectly righteous, keeping the law perfectly, living not to oppress but to release the gifts of God into our lives.

7:4 “They are all adulterers, like an oven heated by the baker who ceases to stir up the fire from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.”

The citizens and the rulers are so completely surrendered to their sin, they need no further inspiration to do evil. All motive to sin now comes from within, it is internalized. They burn so hot in the fire of their evil desires that nothing more needs to be added to the fire. If they were bread and Satan were the baker, he does not even need to stir the fire. It is self-sustaining. 

Evil has a momentum of its own. If it is not resisted, it will only grow. When the Lord brings prophetic warning to a man, woman or nation, we must take that word to heart and act on it quickly. Failure to do so will lead to catastrophe.

7:5 “On the day of our king, the princes became sick (inflamed) with the heat of wine; He stretched out his hand (joins his hand) with scoffers.”

Hosea is referring to some recent public occasion at which the leaders of the land became intoxicated. Leaders are called to govern not only in the enactment and enforcement of law but also in living the law, showing what it looks like to be governed by law. When, instead, leaders live lives of drunken excess, they cause many of their citizens to go astray.

At this time, the king joined himself to scoffers, those given to ridicule. We are living in a day when it is fashionable, politically and culturally correct to ridicule Biblical values, to profane the name of God, to trample traditional values. It is considered virtuous to tolerate evil, while someone who confesses Biblical truth is called a bigot. Truth has been turned upside down. Light is dark and dark is light. When the leaders of a nation join in the deconstructing of truth, a society is not far from collapse.

Compare King Jesus to the foolish kings of Hosea’s day. Whereas the evil king stretched out his hand with evil, bringing ruin to his nation, Jesus stretched out His hands on the cross, bringing salvation to ruined sinners. The evil rulers reach out to grasp, to steal and to plunder. Jesus reaches out to give, to bless and to save. He is the Bridegroom King who entered history to redeem a covenant Bride through the gift of His own life.

What would our world be like if leaders exercised authority in sacrificial, redemptive ways?

7:6 “For their hearts are like an oven as they approach their plotting; their anger smolders all night, in the morning it burns like a flaming fire.”

Israel was a rebellious nation, refusing the entreaties and warnings of the Lord through Hosea; experiencing chastisement but refusing to recognize the merciful hand of the Lord in their distress. Their passion to sin smolders in the night like a low burning fire, ready to leap into flame at the morning light. We are reminded of the Psalmist’s portrait of an evil man, “He plans wickedness upon his bed; he sets himself on a path that is not good; he does not despise evil” (Psalm 36:4).

Micah warned the sinners of his day, “Woe to those who scheme iniquity, who work out evil on their beds! When morning comes, they do it, for it is in the power of their hands” (Micah 2:1).

David meditated on the truth and beauty of the Lord during the night watch. Not so, the rulers and citizens of Hosea’s time. They meditated on evil in the night and in the morning their passion to sin burst into a fire-storm of evil.

There is an even more tragic sense to this verse. People who have slept through life, undiscerning of  their sin and its consequence, sometimes awaken at the end of life and see their world on fire. We must ask, though, who made their heart “like an oven”? The Lord did not create anyone this way. Though we cannot minimize the hard, abusive, traumatic events that many people experience as children and youth, and we cannot discount the conforming power and impact of evil which an evil society exercises on its citizens, still there is always time and opportunity to surrender our brokenness into the healing hands of God. His grace is sufficient to restore even the most bruised heart. 

Who made our heart like an oven, who set our soul aflame? Both we and our world. The flames of evil which others have set in us have been compounded by our own choices to sin and thereby stoke the fire. But God is able to quench every fire with the abundance of His grace. If we awaken late in life to a soul aflame with evil, it is because for so many years we refused the kindness of God.

Even then, though, even in the last days of life, there is time to turn and be saved from the fire. God will provide a witness and time and opportunity to turn. Why, in those last days of Israel’s history, was God confronting the nation through Hosea? Because His mercies are new every morning, even in the last mornings of a nation’s life and there was still time to turn. 

7:7 “All of them are hot like an oven, and they consume their rulers; all their kings have fallen. None of them calls on Me.”

The people of Israel were overheated with the fire of their sin. The result was social and political anarchy (as we have said, four of the six kings who reigned during Hosea’s ministry were assassinated). The poor were oppressed, the wealthy were insatiable in their greed and one king after another fell, only to be replaced by the next who would fall. The nation was consuming itself, a self-consuming oven, devouring not only those cast into it but also those who tended it.

Not only were the people and leaders continuing to sin, but worst of all, “None of them calls on Me,” says the Lord. Neither the people nor the leaders — none seek the Lord. Surely there is a faithful remnant but these faithful must have been few. The vast majority refuse to call on the Lord even though the Bridegroom God was willing to forgive and restore His fallen, unfaithful Bride. But the nation was too busy pursuing their idols to call on the living God. In a sense they were practical atheists. Pursuing nonexistent gods while paying lip service to the true God, they were living as if God does not exist, even as God’s prophet called out continual warnings of judgement and promises of grace, even in the distress of gradually increasing chastisement.

But why should we be surprised? The northern kingdom was conceived in rebellion against God and king, born and nurtured in rebellion against God and king. If it was later consumed by the fire of its own sin, why would we expect anything other? Men, women and nations need to be discerning of what they sow. Seed produces after its own kind. A nation, a corporation, a career, a life that rises up from the sowing of evil seed cannot hope to reap anything other than evil. Though God is mighty and merciful to cancel a sinful inheritance when we turn from our sin and humbly call on Him, if we do not call then we will reap as we have sown.

7:8 “Ephraim mixes himself with the nations.”

When Joseph brought his father Jacob and his brothers into Egypt during the famine, the family settled in Goshen, in the northeast corner of Egypt. Thus they were provided with food and protection but also separated from mainstream Egyptian culture with its multiplied false gods. This is a beautiful revelation of the providential care of God — providing blessing for His covenant people while shielding them from the world. Later, when Israel entered the land of promise, they had been given many commands which reinforced the distinctiveness of Israel from the nations round about. This separation was necessary as a protection against the corruption of false religious systems and evil societies around them.

But Israel became so mixed with the destructive idolatry of the nations round about, that there was no practical difference between the covenant people and the pagan people groups. As the Psalmist declares, “They mingled among the pagans and adopted their evil customs” (Psalm 106:35).

The image here in 7:8 depicts Israel as dough that is kneaded, mixed in, with the dough of the world through idolatry and intermarriage. The resulting spiritual and moral corruption led Israel to the same place of condemnation and judgment as all the other nations. This is a danger always for the people of God. So it is that the Apostle Paul exhorts the church, 

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and will walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

Hosea’s words may also be a prophetic reference to the future exile of Israel from their land. As they have mixed themselves spiritually, morally and by intermarriage with the world around them, so they will soon be mixed physically and geographically with the nations around them, as they are taken captive into exile.

7:8 “Ephraim has become a cake not turned.”

“A cake not turned” is burned on one side and unbaked on the other — unfit for consumption. So with Israel — burned by the consuming fire of her sin and unfit for use as God’s messenger in a fallen world. So with salt that has lost its savor — it is useless and fit only for the rubbish heap. So with a church that has compromised with the values and customs of the surrounding society. 

This also speaks of the inconsistency of Israel — making professions of faith in Jehovah while worshipping at the altars of Baal. Neither true worshippers of the Lord nor the idol, a spiritually mongrel people.

Again we must ask, why, if Israel is so far gone, so completely sold in sin, why is the Lord confronting the nation with prophetic truth? Because there is still time to turn, to be delivered, and He is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride, for her destiny, for her high calling.

7:9 “Strangers devour his strength, yet he does not know it; gray hairs also are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it.”

Like Samson before them, they are unaware that their spiritual and moral compromise has decimated their strength. Samson’s strength was not in his physical prowess but in his consecration to God and anointing by God. When he violated his consecration he lost his anointing but was completely unaware of this. So it was with the slow decay and corruption of Israel, by such gradual degree as to be imperceptible to their seared conscience.

What a terrifying picture — a nation being devoured yet unaware of its own destruction. Such is the way of the calloused heart, hardened by degree so as to be unaware even of its hardening. Paul speaks of the ungodly who have become “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:18,19). The hard heart gives itself over to corruption, neither realizing its hardness nor its corruption.

Who were the strangers that devoured Israel’s strength? On a spiritual level, Baal, Asherah, Chemosh, false gods infused with demonic deception and power. On a political / economic level, Assyria demanded tribute, then conquered the nation. On another level, these were false priests and false prophets who were strangers to the covenant with Yahweh. This was always Satan’s purpose for the covenant people — seduce and destroy.

What a pathetic, almost absurd image closes this verse — an aging nation unaware of its decline. We may say that the grey hair is a prophetic bell tolling a warning of future catastrophe but the nation cannot hear the tolling. Such is the seducing, deafening power of pride. 

Surely the Spirit says to the prophetic Bride in every generation, “Ring the bell loudly and ring it insistently. Awaken my people.”

Jesus said that in the last days there will be wars, earthquakes, calamity, yet people will still be going about the normal business of the day — unaware, undiscerning. But there will be a prophetic remnant and they will shout from the rooftops, “Come out from among her my people.”

7:10 “Though the pride of Israel testifies against him, yet they have not returned to the Lord their God, nor have they sought Him, for all this.”

Hosea repeats the charge made in 5:5. The pride, the arrogance of the nation testifies against Israel.

With absolute clarity God has shown them their sin, has warned them clearly of the destruction they will suffer if they do not turn to Him. He has called patiently through long seasons of grace, offering forgiveness and restored blessing if they will return. He has chastised the nation, gradually increasing pressure for the purpose of creating change. Yet they will not turn.

Proud of their power, their wealth and their religious traditions, confident in the deception that they will remain secure because they are children of Abraham, they hold the word of the Lord in contempt. Pride has a terribly corrupting influence on the human heart — we cannot deliver ourselves from its power, only the Lord can, which is why He reproves Israel for not turning to Him. Only the living God can save any person or nation from destruction. With David the Psalmist we should all pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Notice Hosea still refers to the Lord as “their God.” The Lord is still willing to be called their God. He is still the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. Yet in spite of chastisements, warnings and the promises of grace, they are held fast by their pride. 

“For all this” refers to the judgment they have experienced and the judgment yet to come, of which they have been warned. “For all this” refers to the grace and blessing they have known and the goodness of God which is promised to all who turn. Yer for all this, they will not turn.

7:11 “So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense; they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.”

There is nothing evil about a dove, or threatening. They have no sharp talons, are not predators, nor are they powerful, nor large nor particularly swift. Doves are not aggressive or bold — they’re timid. Neither is a dove known for its cunning nor for bright colors or design. The word silly, pathah, has to do with the concept of simplicity. Such is a dove — simple in every way. 

Simplicity is neither good nor evil, neither strong nor weak. It depends on how the simple are trained, educated, equipped. The Psalmist reminds us, “The Lord preserves the simple” (Ps. 116:6). Those whom the Lord preserves are simple in faith, childlike in trust, who, acknowledging their weakness, humble themselves and run to the Lord.

However, there is another expression of simpleness, of which we read in Proverbs, “How long, O naive ones (simple ones), will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22). These are the simple who despise the wisdom of the Lord. Believing themselves to be wise, ridiculing the so-called unsophisticated wisdom of God, they are in reality naive, simple-minded and vulnerable. 

This is the simplicity of Israel. In spite of their boasts of wealth, power and lineage from Abraham, God sees the nation as a simple, silly, defenseless dove. Trained by false priests, educated by false teachers, informed by false prophets and led by false kings, Israel’s simplicity is lethal.

As a dove cannot defend itself except by flight to some secure place, neither can Israel be saved except by fleeing to the presence of the Lord. But neither their leaders nor their prophets nor their priests nor the people have the wisdom or humility to do that. Instead, they made military alliances with the Egyptians, a pagan nation declining in strength. They also sought alliance with Assyria, paying tribute — protection money — to the very nation that would soon destroy Israel.

Like a dove fleeing the eagle, only to be snared by the hunter, Israel runs to Egypt, only to be trapped by Assyria. The Egyptians cannot save Israel. The Assyrians will not. How silly, how senseless to run to either of them. How grievous to the heart of God who desires to secure His Bride in the safety of His wings.

How silly and how dangerous, when a nation has no more memory than a common bird. It was the Lord who had made covenant with Abraham, had delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, dividing the Red Sea and destroying Pharaoh’s army. He brought them through a barren wilderness by giving them water from a rock and manna from heaven. He brought them into a land of milk and honey and drove out nations before them. But now they run from this God who has only blessed them and would bless them now, but they will not have it so.

Yes, “The Lord preserves the simple” (Ps. 116:6). But the people of Hosea’s day were not simple in faith, were not humbling themselves before the Lord in childlike trust, were not running to the Lord. Deceived and seduced by false prophets and unfaithful kings, they ran headlong to their destruction.

7:12 “When they go, I will spread My net over them; I will bring them down like the birds of the sky. I will chastise them in accordance with the proclamation to their assembly.”

“When they go” may be rendered, “Wherever they go, I will spread My net over them.” Israel is a silly, simple dove flitting about with no sense of direction. Whichever way they turn, it is the Lord who will bring chastisement on the nation. Whether they run to Egypt for defense against Assyria or to Assyria for defense against Egypt, the Lord will not bless plans and strategies which ignore and eliminate His presence and power and purpose for His people. He will not bless but He will judge.

Remember that there are two forms of judgment. There is chastisement, an expression of grace which brings a gradually increasing pressure for the purpose of creating change. There is also the judgment of final destruction. Although this may not be a prophecy of final judgment, it is certainly severe chastisement. The Lord is defeating Israel’s attempt to run from Him.This is the Bridegroom Judge contending for the destiny of His Bride. He will entrap Israel in their own godless schemes. He will not allow them to succeed in seeking protection from the godless, from those who cannot truly defend His Bride and from those who would harm His Bride.

This chastisement, this net, is actually a place of safety, security. This is the God of whom the Psalmist testifies, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Ps. 91:1-4).

How pitiful though, that the God who delivers from the snare of the trapper must now become the trapper. He who delivers from the deadly pestilence must now chastise and afflict, for so great is Israel’s rebellion and ignorance. But the net of chastisement which the Lord spreads is not for Israel’s destruction — it is so that the covenant nation would be saved from destruction. The Bridegroom God seeks to gather His Bride into the safety of salvation.

The Lord’s chastisement of Israel will be in accordance with the moral law that has been proclaimed to the nation from the days of Moses. He will hold them accountable for that body of truth which they had heard for generations and had vowed to keep as people in covenant with God. In the Law of Moses there were blessings promised to those who kept the Law and judgment to those who knowingly violated the Law. When the Lord reveals truth to His covenant people, and when we profess that truth, He expects us to live the truth. 

In addition to the Law of Moses, Israel had the testimony of the prophets, the Psalms of David, the wisdom of Solomon. As Paul reminds us, it is not that God is hiding truth from anyone. Rather, it is that people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Even though false teachers, false prophets and false priests had mislead the nation, and even though the nation had violated and neglected the truth, Israel still had access to the truth. Generations past had committed to live in accordance with that truth and the Lord will hold this present generation accountable to the truth.

7:13 “Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me.”

The Lord expresses again His desire to redeem His covenant people — the faithful Bridegroom God declaring His good purpose for His faithless Bride: “I would redeem them.” But the covenant nation continually rebels against His grace, His kindness, His good purpose for the nation. Having rejected the Lord’s goodness, having strayed far from Him, they will experience destruction.

The word “strayed” can be translated with the even stronger expression — “fled”. They had fled from the Lord in a previous generation when they abandoned the Jerusalem temple and the Levitical priesthood and the royal house of David, establishing their own idolatrous places of worship, their own counterfeit priesthood, their own rebel kings. But now, faced with spiritual and moral corruption within their borders and military threats from beyond, instead of fleeing to the Lord, their rock and their refuge, the God who had made covenant with them to defend and provide, they flee from Him into the arms of false gods and pagan kingdoms, all of which are infused with demonic strategies and power which intend Israel’s destruction. 

“They speak lies against Me,” laments the Lord, who had sent true prophets, mighty in word and deed, to call to the nation. Instead of humbling themselves before the word of the Lord, the nation speaks lies. False priests taught lies, false prophets spoke lying prophecies, false kings devised worthless strategies. The people, entangled in lies, believed and repeated lies. What is most grievous is that these lies were against God Himself.

True men of God, such as Hosea, shined light into the darkness of their generation. But the people made a conscious choice to reject light and embrace darkness. Woe to any generation that does this.

“Woe to them” is surely a warning of judgment to come. But it is also the grieving lament of the rejected God. It is not merely that Israel has strayed, but “They have strayed from Me.” We are reminded of the heart of Jesus in the last days of His ministry on earth, as He grieved over the nation that had rejected their Messiah, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Matt. 23:37).

Israel left its first love. How serious an offense is this to the Lord? Jesus stood in the midst of the church at Ephesus, complimented the church on their perseverance and their purity. Yet He warned the church that He would remove His blessing if they did not repent of a particular sin. What was this sin? “You have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).

When a man asked Jesus which was the foremost commandment, Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This is the Lord’s priority, that having experienced His love, we would love Him in return with all our being.

The Creator of the universe entered human history to pursue, awaken and redeem a Bride for Himself. Israel, the covenant Bride of the Bridegroom God, had forsaken the Lord and embraced false lovers which only intended destruction to the covenant nation. The Lord called, warned, chastised, promised grace and blessing to those who would return but they would not. Now time is emptying out and woe to them that heed not the warning.

7:14 “And they do not cry to Me from their heart when they wail on their beds; for the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves, they turn away from Me.”

It may be that the people were beginning to feel the pressure of the Lord’s chastisement and the reality of their ungodly choices. Recall that the Lord had promised to remove their harvests (2:12). They are now feeling the pressure of chastisement, intended by the Lord not to destroy the nation but to save them from destruction by drawing them to Himself. So, “They wail on their beds” but were not crying out to God sincerely, not from the heart. The Lord sees the truth of the human heart and He sees that this is not true repentance. They are not sorry for their sin but for the consequences of their sin — they are crying out for the sake of grain and new wine — harvest has been poor because of the judgment of the Lord and they are crying out over their loss, not because of the sin that caused their loss.

Or it may be that they were not crying out to the Lord at all.  “For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves”, not to fast and pray or seek the face of God but to call on Baal and Ashera and the other fertility gods whom they believe to be responsible for grain and wine. Under the pressure of judgment, they only turn again to the idols, which explains the last phrase of the verse, “They turn away from Me.” In turning to their idols, they turn away from the Lord. Even their prayers are a further act of rebellion, when they pray to their idols.

But even if they were calling on the Lord some of the time — covering all their bases by calling on all the gods, true God, false gods, it was not because they were sincerely repenting of their sin. It was not a cry from the heart. It was because they missed the blessings of grain and wine which their sin turned away. How often it is that people seek the Lord, not for His sake or for the sake of a pure heart, but to grasp some blessing from His hand.

We are reminded of how Judas felt remorse for his betrayal of Jesus but was not repentant, as he demonstrated when he took his own life (Matt. 27:5). Esau was sorry for the blessings he lost but not for his ungodliness. He wept but “found no place for repentance” (Hebr. 12:17). 

Paul reminds us that “the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). True repentance leads us to the grace of God, forgiveness and restoration of relationship with the Lord. But merely being sorry for the trouble we are in, uncomfortable with the consequence of our sin, this is not true repentance. True repentance is a change of heart and mind that leads to action, a different way of living. It is a reorientation of our thinking that once excluded God but now is centered on Him.

7:15 “Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me.”

David said, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war” (Psalm 144:1). The Lord imparted to David and to the covenant nation wisdom, strength and skill so that Israel could defend itself spiritually, morally and militarily from the strategies and assignments of darkness. The Lord not only taught them strength, He was their strength, as the Psalmist said, “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (Ps. 118:14).

God’s purpose was that Israel would be the Warrior Bride, overcoming powers of darkness and shining forth a witness of light and truth. Every victory and every blessing in Israel’s history had been a gift from the Bridegroom God but instead of giving thanks to God, the Bride gave thanks and praise to false lovers, turned from the living God and surrendered herself to the gods of the nations. Instead of being an instrument in the hands of the Lord for the conquering of evil, she was conquered by evil, corrupted by evil and devised works of evil against the Lord.

Picture a husband nurturing his wife, or a wife nurturing her husband tenderly, faithfully for many years. And then the spouse turns away and devises evil against a lover who only gave and blessed. How would the abandoned one feel?

Imagine a mighty warrior training an inexperienced recruit in the skill and courage necessary to become victorious in war, only to see the young soldier turn on him, betray him. How would the rejected warrior feel?

7:16 “They turn, but not upward, they are like a deceitful bow; their princes will fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This will be their derision in the land of Egypt.”

After years of blessing and favor, chastisement and warning, Israel still will not turn to the Lord. The nation turns to the left and the right but not upward, not unto the Lord. Every blessing and all chastisement was an expression of love but love was answered with continued unfaithfulness.

Israel is like a deceitful bow, unusable, always missing the mark. In fact, this is the sense of one of the New Testament words for sin. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). The word sins is hamartia — an archery word.  It refers to an arrow that misses the target.  Sin is “missing the mark.”  God has a purpose for every person and every nation.  When we are separated from God by our sin, we are also separated from His purpose, we miss the mark of God’s high calling for our life and for our nation. So it was with Israel.

Hosea again prophecies that the leaders of the nation will fall and the cause of their fall is the arrogant words they have spoken. The word insolence, zaam, may also be rendered rage or fury or foaming. Such were the words of the false priests, false prophets and false kings, who taught the people to turn from the God who had always only blessed them, and to turn to nations and idols which, empowered by demons of darkness, only intended destruction. 

The religious and political leadership of the nation raged against the Lord and His prophets but they were slain by the sword. Some were slain by Israelite swords — four of six kings were assassinated. Other princes — leaders — were slain by the conquering Assyrians.

Even to this day, the leaders of nations rage against the Most High God. The Lord laughs at them. In Psalms chapter two we read, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury” (Psalm 2:2-5).

So it is with the wise men of every age who consider the truth of God to be foolishness, whose words sound so clever and intelligent, who are praised by their generation, who are so culturally and politically correct. Their so-called wisdom and their impotent rage is nothing more than a foaming at the mouth calling forth the mockery of God.

But how terrible the destruction when a nation listens to lying leaders and follows their foaming. The leaders of Jesus’ day raged against the Messiah and inspired the people to shout, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25).They raged against the Most High God but within one generation, the nation was entirely destroyed by Rome.

While the leaders of Hosea’s generation raged against the Lord and His prophet, catastrophe drew near. Those who fled before the storm, who sought shelter in Egypt, were ridiculed as a weak people whose weaker gods could not deliver them.

Study Questions

1. What does Hosea mean in v. 8 that “Ephraim (Israel) mixes himself with the nations” and what is the cost?

2. In verse 13 the Lord reveals His heart for Israel. What is it?

Hosea Chapter 8

Hosea Chapter 8

8:1 “Put the trumpet to your lips! Like an eagle the enemy comes against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law.”

Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord said, “And I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’” (Jere. 6:17). Prophets are watchmen who stand on the walls and warn the nation of impending danger. It is dangerous when people refuse to hear divinely inspired warnings.

Through Hosea, God is again summoning the watchmen to sound a warning, “The enemy comes.” The word trumpet used here is shophar, an instrument used in worship (see Psalm 98:6), but also blown on Yom Kippur signifying a call to repentance.

The word eagle may also be translated vulture and the reference is to Assyria, hovering over Israel like a swift bird of prey or like an unclean scavenger that feeds on the dead. The eagle / vulture is coming against the house of Israel because of their sin. They have “transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law.” The wages of sin is death.  It is not Assyria that brings death.  It is Israel’s sin and rebellion against the Lord. The remedy is to call for repentance.

More weapons will not save the nation. Political alliance with Egypt will not deliver the nation. But if Israel will turn from their sin and return to the Lord, they will be delivered.

Notice the phrase, “The house of the Lord.” Though Israel is rebellious, apostate and faithless, the Bridegroom God still refers to the nation as His house. Though they have broken covenant with Him, He is still in covenant with them. Israel’s faithlessness does not nullify the faithful covenant love of the Bridegroom God.

“The house of the Lord” may also be a reference to the Jerusalem temple, in which case Judah is included in this warning. In fact, Assyria did march against Judah and surrounded Jerusalem during the days of Hezekiah. But Judah was delivered because of the righteous intercession of the king.

8:2,3 “They cry out to Me, ‘My God, we of Israel know You!’ Israel has rejected the good; the enemy will pursue him.”

In the face of rising threat and pressure from Assyria, the nation cries out to God, proclaiming their knowledge of the Lord. How deceived they are, how hypocritical! Israel had rejected the Lord and worshipped false gods, yet they say, “We know the Lord.” If this is true, then why are they acting unfaithfully, living as if there is no God, praying to false gods and appealing to pagan nations for protection? Their profession of faith is dishonest. They are presuming on the grace of the Lord, presuming on the true faith of past generations.

John the Baptist was addressing the same kind of self-righteousness in his generation when he said, “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). The people assumed that because Abraham was their ancestor, because they outwardly observed some of the rituals of the faith, that they were righteous, that the Lord would bless them and not judge them. To the contrary, John warned the people of the nearness of judgment, “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (John 3:10).

Jesus also addressed this hypocrisy when He quoted Isaiah, “This people honors Me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me” (Matt. 15:8). It is dangerous when people presume on a relationship with the Lord when in fact they are grieving the Lord with their unrepented sin, when they are outwardly religious but inwardly corrupt.

Hosea exposes the truth, saying, “Israel has rejected the good; the enemy will pursue him.” We cannot reject that which is good and true without encountering that which is evil and false.

8:4 “They have set up kings, but not by Me; they have appointed princes, but I did not know it. With their silver and gold they have made idols for themselves, that they might be cut off.”

Two hundred years previously Israel had rejected King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, and set up their own king. Many years later, after the death of Jeroboam II (in 753 BC), four of the following six kings were assassinated, resulting in social and political anarchy.

They set up their government without seeking the counsel of the all-wise God. “I did not know” does not mean that God was unaware of historical fact. It means that the leaders of the nation are attempting to govern without consulting God, without a living relationship with the living God with whom they are in covenant.  They want the blessings of covenant but are unwilling to commit to the faithfulness and intimacy of relationship required in a covenant.  

They may still maintain some traditional religious ritual but it is mixed with the worship of their idols. They use the name of God but their lives are not yielded to God.  Their sacrifices to the false gods are an attempt to control and manipulate their gods — “If I bring the right offerings, do the right ritual, I can force this god to give me what I want.” They have set up a religious system in which it is the worshipper who exercises power, not the gods whom they worship. 

It is always that way when people invent false gods and false religions. The gods of human creation are less powerful than we are so we can control them and therefore, our gods exercise no moral control over us. We can live any way we choose. That is the heart of idolatry.

But though they have taken “silver and gold they have made idols for themselves,” the nation still wants to maintain a facade of religious respectability. They want to appear to be righteous, religious, but the reality is that they are inwardly separated from God and filled with sin.  Jesus addressed such people in His day, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).

The result of this hypocrisy is national self-destruction, they will “be cut off.”

Hosea’s ministry comes after a time of peace and prosperity but now there is a sense of threat deriving from Assyria.  They do not see the true threat as internal — their sin, but rather, external — Assyria.  God says, “No, your problem is not the circumstance of Assyrian threat.  Your problem is that I am your Judge and I will judge your sin.  It is not Assyria that will break down your fortified cities.  I will.  Your enemy is not external circumstance but indwelling sin.”

Their desire is to maintain their idols and replace God with gods they can control.  They attempt to exert control rather than surrender to the Lordship of God.

Also, they are placing worth and value in things which have no value, no power, no spiritual reality while devaluing the God who has all value, power and worth.  They are placing weight on the idol which the idol cannot support. People do that today — placing weight, building their life on the foundation of their idols — wealth, power, beauty, fame, false religion. But these idols cannot support the weight of human life in a fallen world, a life in which their will be crises and storms. Wealth melts away, beauty fades, power fails, fame evaporates, false religion crumbles and the life built on these flimsy gods always collapses.

Satan’s temptation to Eve is his temptation to men and women today, “I know you are made in God’s image but you can replace God, be your own god.”  This is the basic temptation that motivates idolatry: devalue God, exalt yourself. 

Jesus told a parable of two men praying.  One said, “Thank you God that I am not like these others."  The other prayed, “God have mercy on me a sinner.”  Which man went home justified?  Not the man who exalted himself.  Rather, the one who humbled himself.

8:5 “He has rejected your calf, O Samaria, saying, ‘My anger burns against them!’ How long will they be incapable of innocence?”

The people of Samaria / Israel bowed before images of calves, brought their offerings and recited their prayers before the golden calves of the fertility cults which had become the official religion of the nation. Their hope is for abundance but their reality will be destruction. As always, the hope of the sinner is in vain; the works of darkness are always, ultimately, unfruitful. It is always this way with our idols. As we have said, wealth fails, beauty fades, power corrupts, empires melt into dust.

The Lord announces His rejection of Israel’s idolatry and promises judgment. “My anger burns against them!” refers to the idols, the demonic powers behind the idols, the craftsmen who make the idols, the false priests, prophets and kings who lead in the worship of idols and all who bow down before them. Not only will the Lord not be their Defender / Deliverer as they presume. He will in fact be the One who brings judgment against them. 

Judgment does not infer the unfaithfulness of the covenant-keeping Bridegroom God. The Lord will bring judgment but only after He clearly reveals sin, warns of judgment and promises grace and restoration to all who turn. The Bridegroom God will be faithful to His unfaithful Bride. His confrontation with her is always an expression of righteousness, truth, mercy and faithful, covenant love.

“How long will they be incapable of innocence?” is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. Israel has forfeited its innocence at the feet of her idols. 

8:6 “For from Israel is even this! A craftsman made it, so it is not God; surely the calf of Samaria will be broken to pieces.”

The Lord is angry at Israel because they have rejected the true and living God for an idol which has neither life nor breath. The golden calf cannot offer wisdom or strength to its worshippers. It is dumb, mute, lifeless. It was made by a mortal human being and will be easily broken. So will its worshippers be broken and the nation that bowed before it.

We are reminded of the words of the Palmist, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).

The idol before which men and women bow is breathless, sightless, lifeless, unable to move or speak or act. So will its worshippers be.

How could an object made by a person bless people? Surely the lesser cannot bless the greater. But God is uncreated, self-existent being. He is able to bless. Why would we not bow before Him?

8:7 “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.”

In everything we do we are sowing something. All of our life we have been sowing.  Self will, the desire for control which leads to idolatry, is sowing which leads to a harvest beyond our control, a whirlwind.  When we sow to the flesh, we reap destruction, corruption.

Asking the false gods to bless their harvest will not lead to greater harvest. It has removed the nation from God’s blessing and protection and exposed the nation to spiritual and military threats which only intend destruction. Notice the justice of this. The nation refused to thank God for their blessings, instead thanking fertility gods which have no existence. Now the harvest is stunted — “The standing grain has no heads.” Whatever harvests come in will be swallowed up by destroyers.

Soon the whirlwind will blow Israel into a far country.

8:8 “Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights.”

In one sense, these words are prophetic. Israel’s defeat by the Assyrians is so certain that it can be spoken of as an accomplished fact. The nation could avoid defeat by repenting of their sin but they will not. Their rebellion is so deeply established in the heart of the nation that there is no possibility of deliverance. They will be swallowed up by the Assyrian beast of prey and taken into exile, “among the nations.”

But there is also a present tense to these words. The nation is already swallowed up by its sin and rebellion against the covenant God. They are already encompassed in the darkness of demonic strategies, failed kings, false priests and lying prophets. They are and will be swallowed up by foolish national strategies and the consequences of their choices.

Israel is compared to a piece of pottery in which no one delights — in other words broken, useless. God created and designed the nation to be an instrument in His hands for the redemption of the nations. But the nation is now useless to the Lord.

And how sad these words, “a vessel in which no one delights.” Israel was the chosen Bride of the Bridegroom God. Around this same time the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “But you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married” (Isa. 62:4). But though the Lord’s covenant love is everlasting and unmeasured in depth and height, He finds no delight in unfaithfulness, in unrepented sin and rebellion. He will redeem a remnant Bride, but many will be lost forever.

8:9 “For they have gone up to Assyria, like a wild donkey all alone; Ephraim has hired lovers.”

Israel actually sought a military alliance with Assyria. Her leaders did not seek God for wisdom but instead prayed to gods that do not exist. Trusting in the wisdom of darkness, their political and military strategies resulted in destruction. The nation is compared to a wild donkey — untamed, unyoked, incapable of being ridden or carrying a burden, refusing to heed any instruction.

In the 740s BC Israel began paying tribute to the Assyrians and in the 730s actually sought to hire Assyria for military protection. They also sought military protection from idol-worshipping Egypt. This was like a sheep hiring the wolf to protect it from the bear. In seeking assistance from pagan nations, while not seeking the Bridegroom God for protection, Israel (Ephraim) is acting as a faithless lover. The nation had no confidence in the ability of the covenant God to defend and deliver His Bride. Again, how hurtful this must have been to the Lord.

8:10 “Even though they hire allies among the nations, now I will gather them up; and they will begin to diminish because of the burden of the king of princes.”

Israel went to the nations for help against the nations. This was like asking the darkness to provide light or a desert to provide water. Because the Lord still loves His faithless Bride, He warns them of the futility of their national policy. Even though they are not listening, the Bridegroom God continues to call.

But though the Lord warns Israel, He will also “gather them up,” possibly a reference to the Assyrian army gathering to storm the gates of Israel. Or “gather them up” could refer to Israel itself — the Lord will gather them for defeat and exile.The Bridegroom God is also the Bridegroom Judge and if they will not love the Groom, they will encounter the Judge.

“The burden of the king of princes” probably refers to the heavy yoke which the king of Assyria will place on the princes of Israel. Notice the irony — the leaders of the nation would not submit to the yoke of the Lord — in verse nine they are compared to wild donkeys which will not submit to a yoke — but now they will carry the burden / yoke of pagan kings. That burden will surely diminish them.

There is a word here for us too — we will all serve somebody. Why not serve the Lord who designed each of us with a unique purpose? Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light and when we allow the Lord to yoke us to His wisdom, grace and strength, then we can fulfill His design. Why would we refuse this?

This is also true for nations. The Lord has designed every nation for a specific purpose. The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is the Lord who “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). The Lord designed each nation not only with geographical boundaries but also with a calendar of time and purpose. If a nation will yoke itself to the living God, it will never lack for wise leadership or light in times of darkness or strength in times of threat.

8:11 “Since Ephraim has multiplied altars for sin, they have become altars of sinning for him.”

Having rejected the holy altar in the Jerusalem temple, Israel had set up many unholy altars dedicated to the worship of false gods. At these altars they poured out their prayers and their offerings to the powers of darkness. The very act of worship multiplied their sin.

Even if some of the altars were built for the worship of the true God, there was no tearing down of the altars of idolatry, no repentance or cleansing of the sin of the nation. Their Jehovah altars, if there were any, were nothing other than a hypocritical attempt to draw down the blessing of God while continuing to cry out for the blessing of their fertility gods. Praying to the Lord in a context of unrepented wickedness and corruption is only a multiplying of sin.

There are many people in the world today worshipping the wrong gods and many who worship the right God in the wrong way, trusting in their rituals or their offerings for salvation but lacking a true relationship with the Lord. We enter into that true relationship through repentance of sin and faith in the saving work of Christ. When people refuse to turn from their sin, they have refused to submit to the Lordship of Christ. If Christ is not their Savior, then neither their prayers nor their offerings nor their songs will save them. In fact, trusting in their religious works to save them, they have made an unholy altar and an unholy idol of their works and their altars and idols serve only to multiply their sin.

How terrible a judgment will fall on the unholy priests who build unholy altars and the false prophets who call people to worship at them. When they despise the truth of God’s revelation, when they corrupt the truth, they may build a thousand altars but have only multiplied their sin a thousand fold.

8:12 “Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law, they are regarded as a strange thing.”

While building unholy altars, they willfully disregarded God’s truth. That truth was expressed through the law of Moses, through the Psalms and Proverbs and through the words of the prophets. How blessed was Israel, to whom the Lord had spoken so clearly. When a prophet says, “Hear the word of the Lord,” and a nation disregards that word of truth, there will be a terrible price to pay. No one in Israel could say, “We did not know, we did not hear,” for surely they did know and hear the word of the Lord. 

In our nation today, in spite of the many false teachers who distort and twist the Scriptures, the true word of God is preached, printed and broadcast with clarity in every city. Who can say, “I did not know, I did not hear?”

The Bridegroom God called to Israel. The Bridegroom Judge warned Israel but the nation regarded God’s word as “a strange thing,” something foreign, alien. So it was then, that Israel was destroyed and later, Judah. In our day, the God of truth is speaking a clear word to the nations of the world. When we regard truth as “a strange thing,” when we call light dark and dark light, we do so at our own great peril.

8:13 “As for My sacrificial gifts, they sacrifice the flesh and eat it, but the Lord has taken no delight in them. Now He will remember their iniquity, and punish them for their sins; they will return to Egypt.”

In the previous verse, the Lord declared that the nation had rejected His law, His truth. It is only to be expected, then, that Israel would be mixing idol worship and the traditional worship of God, bringing sacrifices to the Lord and to their false gods. The Levitical sacrificial system which was practiced in the Jerusalem temple pointed ahead to the Lamb of God and the redemption of sinners. But worshipping the Lord while blatantly sinning, standing before idols and kneeling before God, is a profaning of the blood of the sacrifice, which is a profaning of the blood of the holy Lamb of God toward which the sacrifices pointed. God always rejects the mixing of false worship with true worship, prayers and ritual masking a corrupt heart.

“The Lord has taken no delight in them” may refer to the sacrifices themselves. The purpose of sacrifice was to cover sin until that day when Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, would take away sin. But in this mixing of idolatrous sacrifice and proper sacrifice modeled on the rituals of the Jerusalem temple, the Lord takes no delight. Sin is not covered, rather, the Lord will remember their iniquity.

“The Lord has taken no delight in them” may also be a reference to the people who bring the sacrifices. The Lord does not delight in people who bring offerings and recite prayers while willfully living compromised lives and refusing to turn.

This is also a revelation of the grief of the Bridegroom God. This is the God who says of His covenant Bride, “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride … How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:9). This God who is captivated by His Bride, enraptured by her and passionately desiring that she would love Him in return, now says that He takes “no delight” in her false worship.

The reference to Egypt is two fold. The final king of Israel, Hoshea, paid tribute to Assyria but then appealed to Egypt for military assistance. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, then marched against Israel and destroyed the nation. But this may also refer to a few survivors fleeing to Egypt (which Hosea prophesies in 9:3 and 9:6).

Either interpretation is sad, for it was out of Egypt that the Lord had led Israel, so many centuries before, that they would be His covenant people. But now they reject the Lord, refuse to turn from their sin, refuse to call on their covenant Partner for deliverance, instead appealing to gods that are not gods and nations that cannot save them. How grievous this must have been to the Lord, to see a fallen king appealing to, and a handful of refugees fleeing to, the land of their ancestral enslavement.

Someday the Lord will again say of His restored Bride, “It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married” (Isaiah 62:4). But that day would be far into the future. For Hosea’s generation, there would be only judgment.

8:14 “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; and Judah has multiplied fortified cities, but I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings.”

The Lord speaks a word against Israel and Judah.

The essential sin which God judges: “Israel has forgotten his Maker.” They have forgotten the Bridegroom God who entered history to pursue, awaken, redeem and betroth to Himself a holy Bride. They have forgotten the Lord who led them out of slavery, brought them through the wilderness and into the land of promise, the Lord who had provided for and defended His beloved.

They have forgotten this God because their hearts were set on idols. Two manifestations of idolatry were Israel’s palaces and Judah’s fortresses. The word palace may also be translated temple and may refer to the building of places where the false gods were worshipped. But it may also refer to the great wealth which some in Israel had gained. Wealth itself is not wrong, if it is gained without oppression or injustice. Nor is military strength. However, both have become idols when our trust is in our wealth or our weapons. Jesus told a parable about a man who prospered so greatly that he tore down his barns to build larger barns. The Lord called him a fool, not because he was rich but because he was not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-20).

In the same sense, King David was a man mighty in battle but he understood that the source of his strength was not his weapons but his God. He said, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God” (Psalm 20:7). His boast was in the Lord, of whom he said, “O Lord, in Your strength the king will be glad, and in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice!” (Psalm 21:1).

The Lord loves Israel and Judah enough to set their idols on fire because He knows their idols will destroy them. Better to burn a nation’s idols than see the nation destroyed. God will destroy their fortified cities because He knows their meager weapons will not deliver them from the might of Assyria but the Almighty can deliver them.

The Lord will destroy their might as an act of mercy, for He knows that Israel’s essential conflict is not with Assyria but with their own sinful hearts. God wants to break down their defenses, their self-reliance so that they will once again turn to Him, call upon Him, rely on Him.

Jesus, the second Adam, always depended on His heavenly Father, always was led by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants to pour out fire that consumes the chaff of our lives without destroying the harvest (Luke 3:16,17   12:49).  At Pentecost He brings a wind that is the breath and fire of God (Acts 2), not a destroying whirlwind but an empowering flame and breath.  He breathes on dry bones and they live. 

This is a fire-wind which we cannot control but God does.  When we renounce our control and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, confessing that we are not in control but our God is, what marvelous miracles take place. And when we will not, how quickly wealth and power are consumed by the wind-blown fires of this fallen world. In some of those fires, we may discern the holy breath of God setting us free from our idols.

Study Questions

1. In verse nine the Lord compares Israel to a wild donkey — a donkey that has not been yoked. What is the cost when people and nations refuse to be yoked to the living God? (see verse 10).

2. How can altars become “altars for sinning?”  (see verse 11).

Hosea Chapter 9

Hosea Chapter 9

9:1 “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots' earnings on every threshing floor.”

“Harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor” refers to ritual prostitution in the place where grain was threshed. Israel's sense of future was wrapped up in the harvest of grain, grapes, olives.  To enhance their prospects of future harvest, they performed these rituals and offered their sacrifices to the fertility gods, the pagan gods of the pagan nations around them. They were prostituting themselves to these false gods and God counted this as adultery.

Their adultery was expressed not merely in trusting other gods for their harvest but trusting in the harvest itself, as opposed to trusting in the Lord of the harvest.  They were relying on grain rather than on the God who gives us bread. People still do this, placing their trust in their jobs, finances, investments, rather than the God who provides us with jobs, finances, investments. This is idolatry and if we are in a covenant relationship with God, then the Lord considers this to be unfaithfulness, spiritual adultery.

God’s message is the opposite of the common greeting from angels, “Fear not, rejoice.”  This message is, “Rejoice not, be afraid.”  The Psalmist reminds us that in God’s presence “is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). But if this is so, then what is it when we are separated from the presence of the Lord by willful, unrepented sin? Is it not the absence of joy?

The nations around Israel held pagan fertility rituals on the threshing floors but these nations were not in covenant with God. Israel was in a covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God and the threshing floor was to be a place of celebration, giving thanks to God for His faithfulness in providing harvest.  But instead of praising God for harvest, they were copying the pagan celebrations, giving thanks and credit to demon gods for the blessings which God had provided. (We might even say that Israel’s sin was greater than that of the surrounding pagan nations which sinned in darkness. Israel sinned in a context of light, of revelation. Theirs was the greater light. Theirs will be the greater judgment.)

Israel’s sin would be like a husband paying the mortgage while his wife has affairs in that home when he is away.  She is using the home he purchased to give her affection to someone with whom she is not in covenant and praising her lover as the one who blesses her.  This would be like a wife who gives her husband a new shirt, feeds him dinner, and then in the strength of that dinner and wearing the new shirt, he goes out and cheats on her and sees his lover as the one meeting his needs.

Would we like that?  No, and neither does God.

9:2 “Threshing floor and wine press will not feed them, and the new wine will fail them.”

Israel has taken the abundant harvests that the Lord provided and used a portion to give thank offerings to fertility gods that bless no one. So now the resources of wheat and wine will fail Israel. We cannot abide in the Lord’s blessings if we will not abide in His love and His law. We cannot love the goodness of God and despise the Lord Himself.

God will not continue to bless them with harvest while they use the resources of blessing to enable their self destruction. God’s mercy and holy love require that He judge them because their unfaithfulness is destroying them. The most fearful words in Scripture are not when God announces judgment. It is when God withdraws and refuses to deal with people anymore (as in Romans 1:18-32 where three times we read, “God gave them over.”). 

When God gives a person or nation up to their sin, it may be that the consequences of their sin will drive them to the Lord but if not, then there is no hope of remedy or change — destruction is inevitable. But God had not yet given Israel up.  So He announces judgment. The Bridegroom God is also the Bridegroom Judge. In confronting Israel and destroying that which would destroy the nation, the Lord is contending for the destiny of His covenant Bride. 

9:3 “They will not remain in the Lord’s land, but Ephraim will return to Egypt, and in Assyria they will eat unclean food.”

Eventually Israel will lose the land; not just the harvest but the land itself. They are in a covenant relationship with God and the promised land is God’s gift to them. They are not owners — they are stewards of God’s land but if they continue to violate their covenant they will lose stewardship over the gifts of God.  

Because the northern kingdom had violated the covenant and ignored repeated calls to repent and return, they would soon be destroyed by Assyria. Some of the survivors will flee to Egypt, others will go into exile in Assyria. The Lord promises elsewhere that a remnant will return someday and will witness the restoration of the nation. But that day would be far into the future. Though the Lord’s desire was to restore His covenant Bride, Hosea’s generation will witness destruction, not restoration.

Notice the poetic justice of this phrase, “They will eat unclean food.” The had deeply polluted their lives and their nation through the worship of false gods, in which worship they had eaten sacrificial offerings which defiled the worshipper. In the past they may have pretended to obey some or many of the dietary rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law while eating food offered to idols. What a grievous, hypocritical violation of the Law — avoiding some unclean foods while eating sacrificial offerings laid before their idols. Jesus pronounced woe over people who outwardly kept the law while inwardly harboring all manner of corruption.  

The purpose of the law was not only to guide Israel in covenant relationship with a holy God but also to create a sense of separation, of distinctiveness between holy Israel and the pagan nations. This was so that Israel could be a holy witness of light and truth to nations bound in darkness. But all holy separation had been obliterated as the covenant people embraced the false gods and profane customs of the surrounding cultures. Now, even their charade of piety will be cast down. They will eat the unclean food of unclean people whose unclean idols they had worshipped.

A principle is revealed here which every generation of covenant people need to consider. The Lord loves His covenant people and desires our love for Him but we must love Him in the way He defines — it must be a faithful, covenant relationship. He wants to bless us with covenant gifts and responsibilities but He will not bless apostasy, heresy, unrepented rebellion and spiritual adultery. Today many people are demanding of the Lord, “Affirm me!” The Lord’s response is, “No, my purpose is to transform you into a Bride made ready.” He will not compromise His purpose and if we insist on violating His purpose and rejecting His grace, we will not experience the grace of transformation. We will experience His justice.

9:4 “They will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the Lord, their sacrifices will not please Him. Their bread will be like mourners’ bread; all who eat of it will be defiled, for their bread will be for themselves alone; it will not enter the house of the Lord.”

Israel was combining worship of the Lord with worship of false gods, not because they loved the Lord but because they wanted blessings from Him. What little ritual they tossed to the Lord was  only an attempt to manipulate Him. That was, after all, the motive behind their worship of the fertility gods — control and manipulate them so that they will pour out blessings on the nation. So they are placing the true and living God in the same category as their false gods — throw some prayers and offerings their way and maybe Jehovah and Baal and the other fertility gods will throw some blessings our way.

God does not receive as worship any attempt to use religious ritual to control or manipulate Him nor does He receive songs and prayers and offerings as a cover for unfaithfulness. God says, “No.” He refuses their worship.

What Israel does not see is that their hypocritical worship of the Lord defiles them.  Not only does their worship of idols and their immorality defile them. Their very practice of Jehovah worship defiles them. Singing praise to God, bringing offerings to the Lord, while willfully practicing sin and refusing a clear prophetic call to repent, is considered by God to be sin. Jesus calls this hypocrisy and quoted the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors Me with the lips, but their heart is kept far away from Me” (Matt. 15:8).

The phrase “mourners’ bread” probably refers to the fact that when Israelites were mourning the dead, they were considered to be unclean for seven days. They could not present an offering to the Lord because it too would be defiled, since it had been touched by the unclean person. So the Lord is saying to Israel that their grain offerings are as unclean as if the worshippers were mourning the dead — their offering is defiled; the Lord will not receive it.

9:5 “What will you do on the day of the appointed festival and on the day of the feast of the Lord?”

Continuing from the previous verse, if their offerings are defiled and the worshippers are defiled, then what will they do on the feast and festival days? Their celebrations are empty of any true spiritual significance. God does not receive their worship and is not present at their altars.

This may also be a reference to Israel’s coming exile. In foreign lands they will not have the freedom to worship the Lord on their traditional holy days. But what a just sentence that will be — they profaned the worship of the Lord, rejected Him, worshipped gods that are not gods, defiled their offerings and their altars and now they will lose the opportunity to celebrate the God they rejected. They will lose even their false priests and unholy altars. What will they do on the festival days of Baal? Their false gods could not save them from destruction and their altars will be torn down.

9:6 “For behold, they will go because of destruction; Egypt will gather them up, Memphis will bury them. Weeds will take over their treasures of silver; thorns will be in their tents.”

Hosea again prophecies the coming destruction of Israel in which many survivors will flee to Egypt for protection (Memphis being one of the major cities of Egypt). But rather than refuge, they will find only a place of burial. The beautiful shrines and altars to their false gods, made with the silver and gold which God had given to the nation, will become overgrown with weeds and their dwelling places with thorns. 

How clearly we see that when people and nations take the blessings of God and devote these blessings to darkness, the blessing will be lost. Is this not the history of human civilization? Adam and Eve rebelled against the Lord and they lost the beautiful garden, became exiles in a world of thorns and thistles. So it has been with every empire — Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome — all the way to our generation. Empires rise and exalt themselves, turn from the living God to worship idols of their own invention, but in the end the empire falls and its temples and palaces are devoted to weeds.

9:7 “The days of punishment have come, the days of retribution have come; let Israel know this! The prophet is a fool, the inspired man is demented, because of the grossness of your iniquity, and because your hostility is so great.”

Hosea announces that the season of judgment has come. The message of God’s faithful, covenant love had been proclaimed with absolute clarity through the words of the prophet and through the living picture of Gomer’s unfaithfulness and Hosea’s pursuit of her. Israel had been warned of the cost of unfaithfulness. The message of grace and the warning of judgment had been presented clearly and patiently year after year but Israel refused to turn back to the Bridegroom God. Now the season of judgment has come “because of the grossness of your iniquity, and because your hostility is so great.”

The phrase, “Let Israel know this” may also be translated, “Israel shall know this.” The first interpretation represents one final appeal to the nation. The second is a sobering prophecy, “Israel shall know this.” Surely they will know the reality of judgment. Israel has not believed the word of truth but now they will experience the truth as judgment is outpoured.

In every generation God inspires the prophet to proclaim truth in order to motivate men and women to pray and to repent of sin while there is still time. He promises abundant grace to those who turn to Him but clearly proclaims the cost to those who will not turn. In this we see the predisposition of God to forgive and restore, as He revealed through the prophet Ezekiel, “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies’” declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezkl. 18:32). But if people will not repent, how then will they live?

Hosea denounces the false prophets as fools because they did not discern the times, did not warn the nation of judgment, instead participating in iniquity and hostility toward God. Like false prophets in our day, they proclaim peace when destruction is at hand, declaring light to be dark and dark to be light, twisting truth into error and perverting error into truth.

Hosea also denounces the “inspired man.” While this may be another term for the prophets, it may speak of the king’s counselors who advised alliance with Egypt rather than repentance and reliance on the Lord. They are demented in believing that a pagan nation can defend Israel when the covenant people have removed themselves from God’s protection, despised His grace, rejected His warnings and caused the Bridegroom God to manifest as the Bridegroom Judge.

There is also a hint here of the gradual hardening of Israel’s heart. In the early days of their rebellion, they were indifferent to the Lord, then unfaithful, then as the judgment of God begins to fall, their “hostility is so great.” We see a corollary to this in the book of Revelation. At the end of time, as the grace of God is poured out in the proclaiming of the Gospel and as the judgment of God is poured out in escalating wrath, while some hearts are opening to the Lord, many hearts grow progressively harder and more hateful toward God.

9:8 “Ephraim was a watchman with my God, a prophet; yet the snare of a bird catcher is in all his ways, and there is only hostility in the house of his God.”

Israel was created by God to be a watchman, a prophet to the nations, an instrument of God’s truth and light and grace, receiving instruction and revelation from the Lord which would then be imparted to the world. But they missed their calling because they were snared in the sins of the nations around them. Sin and compromise can cause a nation or man or woman to miss God’s calling.

Rather than speaking prophetically to the nations, the prophets of Israel had become fools, deceived by the false gods of the nations. They were not only ensnared — they had become a snare. Those who listened to them were caught in the same web of deception in which the prophets were snared.

If light becomes entangled in darkness, then the light has become worse than the darkness itself, as truth mixed with lies is more dangerous than the lie. It is better to be rid of the prophet who speaks a half truth as it is better to be rid of a church that preaches a false Gospel. As Jesus said, “If the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt. 5:13).

The result of Israel’s failed prophets is that “there is only hostility in the house of his God.” God’s truth is disputed and denied, the Lord is rejected, the altars are profaned, false gods are worshipped and instead of praise to the Lord, there is rebellion and hatred. It is the same in apostate churches today where false teachers have prevailed.

9:9 “They have gone deep in depravity as in the days of Gibeah; He will remember their iniquity, He will punish their sins.”

The  reference is to an infamous and horrible act of violence and depravity committed by the men of Gibeah during the days of the judges (see Judges 19:10-30). Gibeah was located within the tribe of Benjamin and when the other eleven tribes demanded that the guilty men surrender and face justice, the men of Benjamin refused and gathered for war, one tribe against eleven. In the ensuing battle, Benjamin was almost completely wiped out. 

When the Lord says, “They have gone deep in depravity as in the days of Gibeah,” He means that in His eyes, the people of Israel have sunk to the same level of corruption. If they continue to refuse to repent, the result will be Israel’s annihilation.

“He will remember their iniquity” means there is coming a time when Israel’s stubbornness will cause the nation to lose the opportunity for pardon. Isn’t it true that God is slow to judge, quick to forgive, abounding in mercy for all who call upon Him? Yes, but if people do not call upon the Lord in true repentance, then they will not experience mercy. They will experience judgment.

9:10 “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season. But they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved.”

Grapes in the wilderness would be an unexpected delight but they would also be vulnerable to the harsh climate. The Lord uses this analogy to describe His loving care for Israel — delighting in them, nurturing and guiding the nation safely through the many wildernesses which might have destroyed them. In those days of Israel’s forefathers, the nation was like a young fig tree to the Lord. Imagine the Lord’s excitement as He anticipated many seasons of fruitful harvest from His covenant nation.

“But they came to Baal-peor.” Peor was a mountain on which the false god Baal was worshipped. Before Israel had even entered the land of promise, many were seduced by the false prophet Balaam and the king of Moab “to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1). They then “ate and bowed down to their gods … (and) joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel” (25:2,3).

Notice the subtle and lethal evolution of corruption — from mingling with the people to bowing before their gods to joining themselves to Baal. This is why the Lord warned Israel to be separate from the nations. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts the church, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

“They devoted themselves to shame and they became as detestable as that which they loved.”  The word “loved” is synonymous with worship and the principle is this: we become as that which we worship.  Had they loved and worshipped God, they would have become increasingly like God.  Loving, worshipping and serving the false gods, Israel’s values, morals and culture became more like the demons which animated their idols. We will study this more deeply in a separate lesson.

9:11 “As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird — no birth, no pregnancy and no conception!”

Nations exult in their wealth, their power, their conquests — but the glory of kings and empires is transient, temporary. It takes wings and flies away as swiftly as a bird. This is not God’s will for Israel — His desire is to bless His covenant partner but Israel will not turn from their sin, will not embrace the Bridegroom God nor listen to the Bridegroom Judge. Instead Israel embraces darkness and listens to lying priests and false prophets. So the nation will lose its glory. 

Hosea prophesies the future, not because this was Israel’s destiny but because it was their choice. The Lord confronted the nation so that the nation might be saved. He called and warned because He was contending for the greatness and the high calling of His Bride. But Israel would not receive correction so the glory of the nation and the glory of the Lord would soon depart.

In our day, when we are prophetically warned of strategies of darkness released against our nation, against our families or our churches, when the Holy Spirit reveals areas of sin, idolatry or compromise in our lives, our nation or our church, it is crucial that we listen and respond in the manner that is pleasing to the Lord. It is not that the Lord desires to destroy. Rather, His desire is to deliver us from the destruction which we have embraced. Confrontation is an act of mercy.

Through Hosea, the Lord is showing Israel the future, not because it must be that way but because it will be that way. Their stubborn refusal to repent will bring judgment but the future could have been different. And how terrible the irony of this judgment. They rejected the God of all blessing and worshipped fertility gods. Now they will forfeit fertility. 

It is always this way when people become entangled with darkness. Satan promises life but his promises are a lie. He promised Adam and Eve a higher level of God-likeness but instead, the image of God in them was marred and they lost their humanity. Through the false gods of the nations, Satan promised abundance and fertility but brought only the loss of abundance and fertility. Satan cannot create life or blessing. He only and always brings death and destruction. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

9:12 “Though they bring up their children, yet I will bereave them to the last man. Yes, woe to them when I depart from them!”

The Lord takes moral responsibility for the judgment to come. It is not His desire to bereave the nation of their children but this is what will happen, not due to any sin on God’s part but because of the sin of Israel. They embraced the demonic power hidden in their idols and these powers always destroy. Though the Lord would have delivered Israel from the darkness they had embraced, they would not turn to the Lord their Deliverer. In the coming Assyrian invasion, many will be slaughtered and many will be taken into exile. It is what Israel has chosen by their sin.

In judging the nation, it is not the Lord who is unjust. Israel is unjust and has violated God’s justice. This universe is founded on moral principles as truly as the principles of physics. The laws establishing moral goodness are as real as the laws establishing gravity and electromagnetism. When God’s justice and goodness are violated, there are consequences and the Lord takes responsibility for these consequences because it is He who established the universe on principles of justice and goodness. 

But let us remember that prior to the release of judgment, the Lord had patiently called to the nation, warned the nation, clearly revealed areas of sin and promised forgiveness and restoration to all who would repent and return to Him. When judgment is finally released, God is acting in a manner consistent with His goodness, His mercy, His truth, His justice and His moral goodness.

“Woe to them when I depart from them,” says the Lord. Woe to any man, woman, church or nation when the Lord departs from them. Though people and nations love to thank themselves for their many blessings, the reality is that every good and perfect gift is from the Lord (James 1:17). He is the Lord our Creator, our Deliverer, our Provider and Defender, our strength and our wisdom. He is the Bridegroom God who delights in His covenant people. Under His wings we find protection and sustenance. When we withdraw from the Lord with such stubborn apostasy and rebellion that there is no remedy, when we withdraw ourselves from His goodness causing the Lord to withdraw His goodness from us, woe to us.

Yet even in this woe we see mercy. Even in loss there is a future, for it is in loss that sinners may see their true poverty and in judgment they may be moved to cry out for grace. So it will be that though Israel was destroyed, a faithful remnant was preserved. The Bridegroom Judge called forth a Bride remnant for the Bridegroom God. 

9:13 “Ephraim, as I have seen, is planted in a pleasant meadow like Tyre; but Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter.”

The name Ephraim means fruitful and the name given to this son of Joseph was a prophecy of the future, not only of that tribe, but for all of Israel. Often, the name Ephraim is used synonymously with the name Israel, representing the ten northern tribes. Centuries earlier the Lord had led, not only Ephraim and not only the northern tribes, but all the twelve tribes of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness and had planted them in the land of promise. The Lord had made covenant with them. He would be their God and they would be a kingdom of priests, shining His light into the nations.

However, Israel had violated the terms of the covenant, had broken faith with the Lord. Not only had Israel rejected the God of the covenant, they had embraced demon-infused idols which promised fertility but brought only barrenness. Soon, the Assyrians would conquer the land and the slaughter would be terrible. Many of those who survived would be led away into captivity.

What terrible irony there is in this prophecy of doom. One of the false gods worshipped by the Israelites was Moloch who required child sacrifice. This was utmost abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Now the society that slaughtered its children by their own hands will see parent and child slaughtered by the hands of the Assyrians. A society that exposed its children to the fiery wrath of Moloch will now be exposed to the fiery wrath of a conquering army.

As we have said repeatedly, it is not that the Lord purposes slaughter. It is the nation that has slaughtered the innocent and in doing so, has removed itself from the covering of the Lord. Israel had entangled itself in demonic darkness and refusing to renounce their sin, God cannot and will not rescue them.

But even in destruction there was hope. Centuries before, Jacob had prophesied over his grandson Ephraim, “His descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (Gen. 48:19). A remnant would rise from exile and return someday to the land of promise. To that nation would be born the Messiah, the Messiah would give birth to the church and the gospel would go forth to the world. From that preaching, people from every tribe and tongue and nation would come forth to form a new nation, a Bride made ready for the Bridegroom God.

9:14 “Give them, O Lord —  what will You give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.”

These words sound so harsh but Hosea is merely prophesying what will happen because of the sins of the nation. Fields and vineyards that once were fruitful will be abandoned. Wombs that once were fertile will now be barren for many husbands will be dead, survivors led away as slaves.

Hosea ascribes this to the Lord because God has designed a universe in which we reap what we sow. Israel had sowed the wind. They will reap the whirl wind. They had sowed offerings and worship onto the altars of lying fertility gods. They will reap the loss of fertility. They had worshipped gods of death and darkness; they will encounter the barren wasteland of death and darkness.

9:15 “All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”

In past centuries, Gilgal had been a holy place. There, the nation under the leadership of Joshua had rededicated itself to the Lord and reinstituted the Passover (Joshua, 5:9,10). There the prophet Samuel had offered holy sacrifices (I Samuel 10:8). But Gilgal had become a place dedicated to the worship of false gods as we read in 12:11, “In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,” a reference to the worship of Baal. 

When the Lord expresses His hatred, this is not a human emotion rising from an unstable, imperfect personality. God’s hatred of evil is as perfect as His love and in perfect harmony with His love, His truth and His wisdom. The Bridegroom God had pledged covenant love to Israel but His hatred of their evil, and Israel’s refusal to turn from that evil, has irrevocably separated the nation from the Lord.

Because they have polluted the land of promise with evil, God will drive them from the land for it is His land. Israel was never the owner — they were only stewards. God will take back what they had misused.  Because they have departed from God, they have separated themselves from the experience of His love and blessing. It is not that the Bridegroom God, who is perfect in all that He is, has ceased to love Israel. But this generation will not experience His love. God’s love is effectively withdrawn from them because they have withdrawn from the God who loves them.

Their princes, their leaders, should have led the nation in repentance and righteousness but instead had led in rebellion and evil. We can be sure that the judgment of the nation’s leaders will be all the more severe because of their greater responsibility. However, neither the leaders nor the people sinned in ignorance. They willfully sinned in the full light of God’s revelation through the Law of Moses and the shining truth of the words of the prophets. They are accountable.

9:16 “Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they will bear no fruit. Even though they bear children, I will slay the precious ones of their womb.”

One of the illustrations the Lord used to express His love for Israel was by depicting the nation as the planting of the Lord, a tender vine that He brought out of Egypt and nurtured. The Psalmist gave thanks for this, “You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground before it, and it took deep root and filled the land” (Psalm 80:8,9).

Israel’s prosperity was rooted in the faithful, covenant love of the Lord. In rejecting the Lord, in separating from Him, the nation was uprooting itself from its native soil. Removed from the soil, a root will dry up and produce no fruit. This became Israel’s reality — uprooted spiritually from the Lord, the nation was then uprooted and torn from the land in which God had planted it.

Rejection of God leads to loss of God’s blessing.  When people reject the God of harvest, they forfeit the harvest.  Israel would not listen to the voice of the Bridegroom God calling them back to Himself, to His covenant and the blessings which attend His covenant.  So God withdraws the blessing which Israel had rejected and forfeited. 

My understanding of these words, “I will slay the precious ones of their womb,” is the Lord taking moral responsibility for the judgment to come. It is the Lord who designed a universe where unrepented evil results in evil consequences in a violent, evil world. But it is not the Lord who slaughters. Israel had slaughtered their own children on the altars of Moloch. The Assyrians would slaughter children and elders.

Israel had removed itself from the covering of the Lord, had entangled itself in demonic darkness and strongholds of death and refused to renounce their sin. The nation would not allow the Lord to deliver them from the evil which they had committed. As a consequence of their choices, Israel will be destroyed and the Lord takes responsibility for this consequence because it is He who established the universe on principles of justice and moral goodness.  

Remember that when God exercises any attribute, whether it is His justice or His mercy, He does so in perfect harmony with all of His other attributes. God’s justice is never expressed in a way that violates His mercy. Some expressions of justice are difficult to grasp, but we must understand that God’s ways are higher than ours. 

Remember also that before God released judgment, He had called to the nation patiently, year after year, revealing sin, warning of judgment and offering grace. God is always slow to judge and quick to forgive but justice will not be withheld forever. There is a day of grace but also a day of justice.

9:17 “ My God will cast them away because they have not listened to Him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.”

Only after Israel had cast off the Lord and chosen false gods and only after Israel had refused the call of the prophet to return, only then did the Lord cast off this generation of His covenant people. But we need to underscore two truths here:

1. The Lord never forsakes any person or nation except that He has been forsaken and there is no longer any possibility of reconciliation. Let all nations take this as a warning. Every empire that has shaken its fist at the Lord has perished. Where is the glory of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans? Where is the glory of Hitler’s empire or Stalin’s Soviet Union? They are all buried in the dust heap of history with their proud kings.

2. This is not a final rejection. The Bridegroom God has not forsaken His covenant with His Bride. He has rejected a generation that would not return to Him. But He will save a remnant.

We hear in these words the prophecy of dispersion. The northern kingdom was scattered into exile by the Assyrians, the southern kingdom by the Babylonians and all were dispersed by the Romans in the first century AD. It is only in the twentieth century that Israel has been regathered.

In this regathering we see the outworking of the prophecies of restoration. God is regathering Israel, planting the nation again in the geographical soil of their native land. But a far greater planting will take place in the last days of the end times, when a remnant of Israel will be rooted again in faithful, covenant love with the Bridegroom God.

Study Questions

1. Israel used the blessings of harvest to worship false gods. What was the Lord’s just response to this sin? (see verse 2)

2. In verses 12-16 the Lord expresses some very hard words of judgment. How are these words consistent with His mercy? (pay close attention to the notes in these verses)

Hosea 9:10 Transforming Worship

Hosea 9:10 Transforming Worship

In chapter nine we encountered a spiritual principle that is so important, we are taking a separate lesson to focus on it, The principle is that we are transformed in the image of whatever we worship. For the people of Israel in Hosea’s day, the worship of idols resulted in terrible destruction. But it did not have to be that way. They were free to worship the true and living God, in whose presence there is life. 

Remember that the purpose of redemption is to create a community of true worshippers.  The purpose of sanctification is the transformation of worshippers.  As we worship in the intimacy of communion with the holy God, hearts are purified, lives are transformed.  If we have truly worshipped then we will be truly changed, for we have been in the presence of the God who makes all things new. 

In Exodus 34:29, we read that after Moses had been in the presence of God receiving the commandments, when he came down the mountain his face shone.  Moses, radiating the glory of God, is a picture of the true worshipper as we read in Psalm 34:5, “They looked to Him and were radiant.”  As we praise the God of glory, His glory transforms us.  In fact, this is a spiritual principle true for all people: we are transformed in the image of whatever we worship, for good or evil.

The process works like this:

1. Worship involves spiritual intimacy.  We are joined to whatever we worship.

2. In the intimacy of this union, the object of our worship speaks into our lives.  Worship initiates revelation, whether it is truth or lies.

3. Revelation produces transformation.  The object of our worship implants its own spiritual substance in us, be it life or death and this brings about transformation.

This is true in a constructive and in a destructive sense.  First, let’s look at a negative, destructive example: “But they came to Baal-peor and devoted (consecrated) themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved” (Hosea 9:10).  

Peor is a mountain east of the Jordan River and refers to a Moabite deity, Baal, who was worshipped there.  The Israelite nation came to a place devoted to the worship of a false god and devoted / consecrated themselves to loving / adoring / worshipping that god.  The result?

“They became as detestable as that which they loved.”


This is a spiritual principle: we become as that which we worship.  We become as lovely and blessed or as degenerate, degraded and cursed, as the object of our worship.

Another perspective on this same event is provided in Psalm 106:

“They joined themselves also to Baal-peor and ate sacrifices offered to the dead ... They even sacrificed their sons and daughters to the demons and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood.  Thus they became unclean in their practices and played the harlot in their deeds” (Psalm 106:28,37-39).

Notice the progression:

1. Notice that as they worshipped, they joined themselves to the false god, there is spiritual intimacy and union in worship.  

2. Notice the downward spiral of depravity — they began to kill their children as an offering to the false god. They shared the values of the false god.

3. Having been joined to the idol, they shared in its substance / being, became like it. They didn’t just share its values — they shared its substance. They became unclean because they were joined to that which was unclean.  

Notice that God says they played the harlot; God calls them spiritual prostitutes because they were in a covenant relationship with Him and had become unfaithful to Him, had intimate relations with the demon-empowered idols. The idols were not alive nor did they represent living gods.  But even a dead idol can connect us to something that is real.  Idol worship is demon worship, as the Apostle Paul points out in I Corinthians 10:19-21: 

“What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” 

As we have said, the idol itself is not alive but it is undergirded by a philosophical / theological construct that is demonically inspired. The idol is not alive but it is infused with the life of the demonic powers which inspired its creation. And Paul says that he does not want us to be sharers in demons, sharers of darkness. 

The word sharers is the common New Testament word for fellowship, koinonos, and can also be translated partner, partake.  It is related to the word communion.  Idol worship joins people to the demonic powers which inspired the creation of the idol and hide in the shadow of the idol.  It is communion, a sharing in the substance or being of those demons.

Another example of this is found in II Kings 17:15. “They rejected (despised) His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which He warned them.  And they followed vanity (emptiness) and became vain."

What happened to Israel?  They went after false idols, and became false.  They went after that which is empty and became empty; not empty in the sense of nothingness but empty in the sense that they no longer carried the substantial weight of light or truth.  Further, “They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.” (17:16).

Ashera is a fertility goddess, the female counterpart of Baal.  As they worshipped the male and female deities of the Canaanites, the result was predictable: “Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire and practiced divination and enchantments and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him” (17:17).

“Made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire” refers to child sacrifice of the cruelest kind.  They literally placed their babies in the burning, red hot arms of their idols.  Note the downward spiral of their spiritual life:

1. They despised God’s statutes, His covenant, His warnings (17:15).  In other words, they rejected truth and rejected relationship with the God of truth.

2. They followed vanity / pursued that which is false.  The word vain means empty.  They worshipped gods which are empty, false (17:15). This does not mean that the false gods were empty of substance. As we have said, they were infused with and empowered by spiritual darkness. But the idols themselves had no life or truth in or of themselves.

3. They became false / vain (17:15).  They became in the image of what they worshipped .

4. Verse 16 repeats the fact that they forsook, abandoned the truth of God while making idols.  But notice also in verse 16, they served Baal.  We not only become in the image of whatever we worship, we serve it.  The word serve is abad can mean to enslave, to keep in bondage.  We become servants of Christ as we exalt His Lordship and worship Him.  In the same way, the idol worshipper becomes a servant of the demons behind the idol.

5. They sold themselves to evil (17:17), participated in the abomination of child sacrifice.  They were no longer their own persons.  They were bought, purchased by the demons they worshipped.  Ironic how enslaved sinners often boast of their liberty, their freedom to do whatever they desire, while ridiculing Christians as people bound in religious chains.  The reality is that they are slaves to demons which only intend their destruction.

We too are slaves, but we are slaves to a Savior who redeems us, liberates us, restores us, blesses us and transforms us into His glorious image.  The Apostle Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:19,20).

We have been purchased but our captivity to Christ results in our everlasting freedom and transformation into the likeness of Jesus.  Not so for those who worship idols and are enslaved by the demon who hides in the shadow of the idol.

“The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, yes, everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 135:15-18). 

What will the makers of these idols be like?  They will be like their idols, spiritually unperceptive, undiscerning, breathless, lifeless.  We become in the image of whatever we worship.  This is true in a destructive sense.

This is also true in a wonderful, blessed, creative sense: “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Where do we behold the glory of God?  

First of all, God has planted the knowledge of His glory in our hearts — it is how we came to repentance and faith:

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God ... For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness', is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4,6).

The same God who spoke light into the darkness of this universe has shined the light of the glory of Jesus into our hearts and we believed.  We continue to encounter the glory of God in all of our life with Christ.  The goal of our life as a church, whether we are singing and dancing before the Lord, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, reading or teaching His Word, serving in ministry or pouring out our hearts in prayer, is that we would have intimate communion with the Lord.  In that holy communion we are joined to Christ, we share in the life of Christ.  Paul said, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16).  

This word sharing, koinonia, (from the root koinonos) is also translated communion and is the same word used in I John 1:3, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  

The service of Holy Communion is a good representation of our life of intimacy with the Lord.  Just as in the elements of the Lord’s Supper we are having holy communion with Jesus, sharing in the reality of His life, so in all of our worship, as we sing to the Lord, as we listen to His Word preached and taught, as we meditate on His Word and pray to Him, as we serve Him and live a life of praise to His glory, we are having holy communion with Him.  In the intimacy of this fellowship, God speaks His transforming Word into our lives, transforms us in His likeness.

Just as idol worshipers are having unholy communion with the substance, the life of the demon behind the idol, and as the demonic reality of the idol transforms and shapes its worshippers, so Jesus progressively transmits His life to His worshippers and transforms us in His likeness.  This is why Paul exhorts us, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1,2).

We present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice in our daily life of worship.  As we do, the Christ whom we worship transforms us in His image.  The word transformed which we read in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Romans 12:2 is metamorphoo:  

Meta: change

morphe: form

Metamorphoo, from which we derive the English word metamorphosis, is translated into English by the word transformation or transfiguration.  It is a word which has to do with inner change, the changing of the substance of a person.  It is not about outward change in the sense of something merely looking different.  

In 2 Corinthians 11:13,14, Paul talks about false apostles disguising themselves as apostles of Christ and Satan disguising himself as an angel of light.  The King James translation says “transform” but most translations use the word disguise because it is a different word —  metaschematizo which refers to outward change / disguise.  Satan is capable of disguising his outward appearance but cannot transform his inner substance.

Metamorphosis is about inward change, the transforming of the substance of something.  A caterpillar is transformed in substance into a butterfly.  A butterfly is not an improved caterpillar, not a worm with wings.  It is a new creation.

You are not a sinner with wings, a new and improved version of your former, spiritually dead self.  You are a new creation, a new creature alive in Christ. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Constantly in the Bible God urges us to seek His face.  Why?  Because to see someone’s face you must stand close and God desires intimacy with us.  In the intimacy of our life with Christ, He is able to speak into our lives and impart His life to us.  

Again, quoting Psalm 34:5, “They looked to Him and were radiant.”  As we behold the glory of the Lord and worship His glory, we radiate His glory, for we are being transformed in His likeness. “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In summary:

1. Worship involves spiritual intimacy.  We are joined to what we worship.

2. In the intimacy of that union, the object of our worship speaks into our lives.  That is, worship initiates revelation, be it truth or lies.

3. Revelation produces transformation.  The object of our worship implants its own spiritual substance in us, be it life or death and that brings about transformation.

Transformation will happen no matter what or who we worship.  It is a spiritual law: we become in the image of whatever we worship.

God created the universe as a stage on which He displays His glory. He created us to behold His glory and give Him glory, to be worshippers.  He redeemed us to be worshippers.  As we worship Him, there is a progressive transforming of our being into the image of Christ and transformed people change their world.  

Study Questions

1. What happened to the worshippers of Baal-peor as the devoted (consecrated) themselves to the worship of their false god?

2. Is there a principle in this?

3. Is there a process in this?

4. As we worship the Lord, what does God do in us?

Hosea Chapter 10

Hosea Chapter 10

10:1 “Israel is a luxuriant vine; He produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made; the richer his land, the better he made the sacred pillars.”

The more Israel prospered, the more they sinned against the God who prospered them. The reference to altars and sacred pillars has to do with Baal worship. As we have said, Baal was a false god invented by demons to seduce the people groups of Canaan. The people believed that their prosperity and fertility would increase if they would perform religious rituals and bring sacrifices to the altars of this god, Baal. The rituals included sexual immorality and child sacrifice. 

Israel had adopted the idols of the people around them and as resources multiplied, so did their false altars and their sin. The greater their wealth, the more ornate were their idols and the greater their abominations. The more the Lord blessed, the more they misused His blessings and all the while, imagining that their blessings flowed from the hands of their false gods.

Notice the phrase, “He produces fruit for himself.” Israel was only a steward over God’s resources, not an owner. But the people spent their resources on themselves, ignoring the needs of the poor, refusing to honor the Lord with their first fruits, spending the gifts of God to satisfy their own lusts.

Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man who tore down his barns to build bigger barns, saying to himself, “You have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). God called the man a fool, not because he was wealthy but because he stored up treasures for himself and was “not rich toward God” (12:21).

God gives us resources so we can provide for ourselves and our loved ones but He gives us an abundance so we can partner with Him in doing good in this world. One characteristic of ungodliness is the refusal to honor God or bless others with one’s wealth.

10:2 “Their heart is faithless (divided); now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.”

Israel had broken faith with the God who had made covenant with the nation. The Lord would have forgiven their sin but they refused to repent and return. So the people must bear their own guilt.

Now, “The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.” The Lord had repeatedly warned Israel to avoid any polluting contact with demonically inspired religion but they had become immersed in the worship of demon gods, the entire nation was infected, corrupted. 

Imagine the Lord’s offense. It is God who prospered Israel but the more they prospered, the more they gave glory to the false gods of the people who did not know the Lord!  Contrasted with the faithlessness of Israel, the Lord is faithful to break down that which would destroy Israel.

The Bridegroom God is now the Bridegroom Judge. The God who builds up will now tear down. The God who creates will now destroy. But even in this we see mercy. The Lord confronts and tears down that which would destroy His Bride. He is contending against those choices that have entangled Israel in darkness.

God was the cause of the breaking down of the altars. His instrument was the Assyrian army and  exile in a foreign land. During that time of national humiliation, the people lost their desire for the false gods. When Israel returned to their land many years later, they left behind their idols.

10:3 “Surely now they will say, ‘We have no king, for we do not revere the Lord. As for the king, what can he do for us?’”

Prior to the Assyrian invasion, four of the final Israelite kings were assassinated. None were effective in governing. Their unwise political decisions and their spiritual apostasy created a climate of social and spiritual anarchy and paved the way for the destruction of the nation.

The people were beginning to realize the weakness of their kings, asking, “What can he do for us?” But the heart of the matter was not political — it was that the nation had ceased to reverence the Lord. Only in the Lord could a king find wisdom and strength to govern rightly.

These are not words of repentance — these words reveal despair, cynicism, disillusionment. It is the remorse of the condemned, the despair of people who have placed their faith in gods that are not gods and leaders who cannot lead. When people depart from the Lord and place their hope in false gods, they will eventually be disillusioned. (Yes, we should pray for our leaders and be involved in the political process, insofar as we are able, with discernment and wisdom. But we should never make idols of our leaders, expecting them to do for us what only God can do. Those who do this always end in despair.)

There is also a prophetic aspect to these words, “Surely now they will say, ‘We have no king.’” After the Assyrians conquered the nation, there was no Israelite king.


10:4 “They speak mere words, with worthless oaths they make covenants; and judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.”

The pronouncements of corrupt leaders are now seen as “mere words.” The oaths by which they had made covenants — political alliances with the Egyptians, tribute paid to the Assyrians, these oaths are now seen as worthless. The oaths by which they had made covenants with false gods are also seen as worthless. They realize now that the oaths by which they had made social contracts — the covenants which bind a society together, were also worthless. Israelite society was disintegrating on every level because it had been built politically, socially and spiritually on worthless words. So now “judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.”

In generations past the Bridegroom God had made covenant with Israel and the nation had solemnly pledged faithfulness. But now the covenant has been broken by the worthless words of false priests, false princes and false prophets. Having rejected the God of the covenant and having bowed down to gods that are not gods, now, after years of warning, judgment is released upon the nation.

It is not as if the Lord has acted hastily. Aside from the law of Moses which clearly revealed God’s righteous standards for the nation, Israel had been blessed with the prophetic ministry of Hosea which had begun in the mid 750s BC, at the latest. The Assyrians invaded in 722 which means that Hosea had prophesied for over thirty years. The Lord had clearly revealed the sins of the nation and the remedy. But Israel would not return to the Lord.

We hear the pleading heart of God revealed in Psalm 81:

“Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you; O Israel, if you would listen to Me! Let there be no strange god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god. I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it. But My people did not listen to My voice, and Israel did not obey Me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices. Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would quickly subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their adversaries” (Psalm 81:8-14).

How quickly and easily the Lord would have delivered Israel from every threat if they would only turn to Him. How He longed to pour out abundance of blessing on them. But they would not have it.

Compare the outcome of the northern kingdom with the southern kingdom. After Assyria conquered Israel, their army camped outside the gates of Jerusalem, demanding surrender. King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet called on the name of the Lord and an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night, delivering the nation. Nothing is too difficult for God if people will only call upon Him sincerely.

10:5 “The inhabitants of Samaria will fear for the calf of Beth-aven. Indeed, its people will mourn for it, and its idolatrous priests will cry out over it, over its glory, since it has departed from it.”

“The calf of Beth-aven” refers to the worship of fertility gods represented by the image of a calf. The name Beth-aven means house of evil or house of deceit or vanity. We quote our notes from 4:15:

“Beth-aven was located near Bethel, which means House of God. Bethel is where the Lord spoke to Jacob and made sacred promises to him (Gen. 28:10-19). It had been a holy place for centuries but now it is situated close by a center for the worship of idols. Not only that, but Bethel itself had been polluted by idols under King Jereboam. So in a sense, Bethel had become Beth-aven. The house of God had become the house of evil, deceit, vanity.”

The people and priests will mourn the fall of their idols. They will mourn when they see that the glory of their idols was only false glory; when they realize that the promise of fertility was a false promise; when they realize that the power and strength of their idols was emptiness and vanity. When calamity overtakes the nation and their profane altars are destroyed and their idols carried away, they will mourn. 

The “idolatrous priests” will cry out also for now they have lost their livelihood. When false altars are destroyed, false priests lose their jobs. The destruction of idols results in economic recession for those who earned their bread through religious deception.

How sad that the nation will not mourn its unfaithfulness to the Bridegroom God. How sad that they will not mourn the loss of blessing, privilege and high calling which was once theirs through covenant with the true and glorious God. But they will cry over the loss of gods which only entangled the people in chords of darkness and death.

How sad that even today, people do not mourn the sins that separate them from the God of all blessing. But they do mourn the death of their idols which rob them of blessing.

10:6 “The thing itself will be carried to Assyria as tribute to King Jareb; Ephraim will be seized with shame and Israel will be ashamed of its own counsel.”

“The thing itself “ refers to the idols which were made of gold and silver.  When the Assyrians conquer Israel, the idols will be seized as plunder. Israel will then be ashamed when the people realize that the gods and political alliances in which they trusted were powerless to deliver them. They will be ashamed when they realize that their priests and princes were entirely lacking in wisdom, that their counsel was false and their leadership served only to lead the nation into disgrace and destruction. 

10:7 “Samaria will be cut off with her king like a stick on the surface of the water.”

The  phrase, “Samaria will be cut off,” refers to the destruction of the nation. King and country will be brought down together. Such is the end of all kings and nations which cut themselves off from God. In the end, they will be cut off.

The word “stick” may also be translated “splinter.” A speck of wood floating on the water has no capacity to navigate its course — it is entirely at the mercy of wind and wave and current. Israel once boasted of its wealth and power but in the end, separated from God, the nation was no more significant than a splinter adrift on the vast ocean of greater kingdoms.

Interestingly, the word “stick” may also be translated “foam.” Kings and nations have such exalted visions of their importance. Believing the lie that they have no need of God and that they will endure forever, they trust entirely in their wealth, their weapons and their wisdom. They have their brief moment on the world stage, strutting like peacocks and shaking their fists at God. But in the end, they are nothing more than foam on a stormy ocean, bubbles swept away by the wind.

10:8 “Also the high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, will be destroyed; thorn and thistle will grow on their altars; then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ And to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’”

“The high places” where the altars and idols were placed will be destroyed when the nation is destroyed. The places of idol worship, which once were adorned with silver and gold, will be overgrown with thorn and thistle. No one should have been surprised. The name Beth-aven means house of evil or house of deceit or vanity. Though men and women build their idols and empires with gold, silver and steel, apart from the blessings of the Lord, it is only a kingdom of vanity and will soon or someday be overgrown with weeds.

The response of the people on the day of judgment will not be to call on the Lord to deliver them but to call for the mountains and hills to cover them. How sad, that even in judgment the hearts of men and women would be so hard as to continue to reject the God of their deliverance. We remember that judgment is not only released for a punitive purpose, to destroy evil, but also for a corrective purpose, to apply pressure to drive sinners back to the God of grace. But some people will neither be drawn to grace nor driven to grace.

How similar to the last days of history, as grace and judgment are released in unprecedented measure on the entire world. Many in that day will call on the Lord but many will continue to reject the Lord, crying out instead “to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Rev. 6:16,17). 

The purpose of judgment in that final day of history is not only to destroy evil, though surely the Lord will pour out His wrath on a world government that is persecuting His bride with unparalleled slaughter. But also, the purpose of judgment is to drive sinners to grace and during those last days there will be unprecedented harvest. Yet many will refuse to call on the Lord who would gladly deliver them, instead calling on nature itself to hide them from the God of judgment and grace. How futile, to flee into the arms of death hoping that they might be delivered from death. How foolish, when they could flee into the arms of the One who says, “I am the Resurrection and the life.”

10:9 “From the days of Gibeah you have sinned, O Israel; there they stand! Will not the battle against the sons of iniquity overtake them in Gibeah?”

Gibeah was a town located in the territory of Benjamin in which a horrendous act of violence and depravity was committed by the men of the city during the days of the judges (see Judges 19:10-30). In Hosea 9:9 the Lord compares the depth of Israel’s sin with that of Gibeah. He now traces the roots of Israel’s sin to those ancient days. Even though the northern kingdom did not exist as a separate entity in those days, the same level of corruption prevailed in the soul of the people then and now.

When the men of Gibeah sinned, the other tribes demanded that the guilty parties be given over for justice but the men of Benjamin refused. In the ensuing war, the tribe of Benjamin was almost completely destroyed for their sin. 

Now through Hosea the Lord has demanded that Israel give up their sin, their idols, their immorality and return to the Lord. But the people will not repent, will not turn back to the Lord. “There they stand!” is a description of the stubbornness of the nation. They stand fast, ready to do battle with the Lord. So Hosea prophecies that the nation will face destruction.

In years past, the Lord had chastised Israel with gradually increasing troubles. These were acts of grace and mercy, intended to create pressure which would cause Israel to turn back to the Lord. But grace has been spurned, mercy rejected, truth trampled for more than thirty years. Now the Lord declares the terrible truth that the fall and ruin of a nation is near.

10:10 “When it is My desire, I will chastise them; and the peoples will be gathered against them when they are bound for their double guilt.”

The word chastise, yacar, may be translated bind, correct, punish, reform, teach. As we have pointed out elsewhere, and especially in 7:12, chastisement is not the same thing as judgment that brings final destruction. Chastisement is an increase in pressure which may create change.

However, in the previous verses, the Lord is indicating that Israel’s destruction is drawing near. “When it is my desire” indicates that God is in full control of the events of history. It is God and God alone who determines the rise and fall of every nation — not the Assyrians, not the Babylonians or the Romans. God is sovereign. But the sovereign God has called, has warned, has pleaded with Israel for these many years and they will not turn. So the word chastise, as used in verse ten, is more to be understood as judgment rather than mere correction.

The people who “will be gathered against them” are the Assyrians. Israel will be unable to defeat them because they will be “bound for their double guilt.” The picture is of a prisoner awaiting execution. Their double guilt refers not only to their embrace of false gods but also their rejection of the true God while standing in the light of divine revelation. It is one thing to sin in darkness and ignorance. It is something else to hear the word of the Lord clearly and then willfully disregard that word.

But even if there is only one day remaining before sentence is carried out, there is still time to kneel before the Most High God and ask for grace. Jerusalem would soon by surrounded by the same Assyrian army but when King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah cried out for mercy, the Lord delivered the city in one night with one angel.

Yes, this is the Bridegroom Judge declaring His justice released against His unfaithful covenant partner. But He is still the Bridegroom God, contending for His Bride. He will preserve as a faithful remnant all who turn to Him in true repentance.

10:11 “Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh, but I will come over her fair neck with a yoke; I will harness Ephraim, Judah will plow, Jacob will harrow for himself.”

This verse seems obscure but it may be a reference to the rebellion of Israel (referred to as Ephraim). A heifer would much prefer threshing to plowing, since it was easier work and the animal was allowed to eat while it threshed. Taken in this sense, Israel had lived for its own pleasure, for the fulfilling of its own desires. Further, in times past Israel had resisted the yoke of the Mosaic Law, had cast off the yoke and gone their own way; had rejected the God who gave them the Law and had made gods unto themselves.

However, there will come a day when the Lord will again harness the nation to Himself and for His own purposes. Taken in the context of this chapter, that day of Israel’s submission will come only after the nation suffers terrible tribulation and loss. 

Historically, when the Jewish people finally returned to their land many years later, they did not bring their idolatry with them. But what fire the nation endured on its journey to purity. How much easier it is when we submit to the Lord’s yoke willingly. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). 

10:12 “Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.”

Fallow ground is cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle for a season so that the fertility of the soil can be restored. Soon Assyria would conquer Israel and many of the survivors would be taken into exile. The land and the nation itself will lie fallow — idle, uncultivated, not producing for the Lord. But the prophet sees the future day when the nation will be restored and he exhorts Israel — break up the fallow ground by seeking the Lord, sow righteous seed until that time when the Lord will “rain righteousness on you.”

Fallow ground can become hard ground. How do we break up our hard hearts?  By seeking God. Fallow ground can become overgrown with weeds. How do we pull up the weeds of sin, self-indulgence and idolatry that can choke our hearts? By seeking God. What does it mean to seek the Lord? It means we turn from our sins, humble ourselves before the Lord and call on Him for forgiveness and the outpouring of grace. 

King David committed a grievous sin but he understood that, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The prophet Joel said, “Rend your hearts and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God. He is gracious and compassionate” (Joel 2:13). When we seek the Lord with true sorrow for sin, with a broken and contrite spirit, God will not reject us.

Hosea not only exhorts Israel to break up the fallow ground by seeking the Lord with repentance. He also urges the people to,“Sow with a view to righteousness.” How do we sow righteousness? As we live our lives day by day to the praise of God — fulfilling our responsibilities with a pure heart, loving our family and friends with the grace of God, praying for others with the passion of the Lord, worshipping the Lord in Spirit and in truth, as we share our resources with those in need; as we live in a manner consistent with righteousness, we are sowing in righteousness. Repentance is not merely words. True repentance is evidenced by a changed life.

Hosea reminds the people that when they sow righteousness, they will “reap in accordance with kindness.” Truly, we reap as we sow in this life. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7,8).

As we sow in righteousness, we reap in mercy, not according to our merit but according to the grace of God. It is the Lord Himself who commands righteous blessings of mercy on the righteous. Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord said, “Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it” (Isa 45:8).

Paul reminds us, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10).

Hosea had already, in chapter six, exhorted the nation to turn and seek the Lord with the promise of restoration, “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth” (Hosea 6:3).

The final phrase of verse twelve, “Until He comes to rain righteousness on you” may be interpreted in two ways. In one sense, this speaks of the time when the Lord of Righteousness would be born on earth to bring the people into righteous relationship with Himself. But in another sense, it speaks of all times when people turn to the Lord and seek Him — He will meet us and rain His righteousness upon us and within us. We reap as we sow but when we sow to the Lord, we reap far more than we sowed for He is rich in mercy to all who call upon Him. That which we plant in grace yields greater grace.

10:13 “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors.”

Israel had “plowed wickedness” and as a result, had “reaped injustice.” They had trusted lying prophets, now they have “eaten the fruit of lies.” The nation had rejected the Lord and had trusted in its own ways — its wealth, its false gods, its political alliances, its lying priests and princes, its false prophets, its “numerous warriors.” Now they are experiencing national destruction. As Hosea had said earlier, they had sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind (8:7). But the Lord is calling Israel to something better — “Sow righteousness, reap kindness, seek the Lord.” 

Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). What does Jesus want to plow?  The human heart, the hard, proud, sinful, deceitful human heart.  When Peter tried to refuse the washing of his feet, Jesus said that he would have nothing to do with Jesus if he were not washed, changed.

Jesus is not offering us a religious fix, a blessing disconnected from a righteous relationship.  He is offering union with Himself, the Bridegroom God.  But only the Lord can prepare us for this depth of communion.  God will clear the land of thorns, plow our hearts and plant new seed, the seed of a new creation, as we seek Him, surrender to Him.

10:14,15 “Therefore a tumult will arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it will be done to you at Bethel because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off.”

“Therefore” relates to the previous verse. Because Israel had “plowed wickedness, reaped injustice, eaten the fruit of lies and trusted” in everything but the living God, they now face destruction and horrific acts of savagery at the hands of a violent, cruel enemy. Their fortresses in which they trusted — the fortresses of false religion, political alliances with pagan nations, military might divorced from the blessing of the Lord — these fortresses, all built on sand, will now be swept away.

Bethel, which had once been a holy place but was now a place of idols, where the Lord had once spoken to Jacob but where lying prophets now spoke, Bethel will now be destroyed. Why? “Because of your great wickedness.” The Bridegroom God had called, warned, pleaded and promised forgiveness and restoration to all who would turn. Now the Bridegroom Judge reveals the certain approach of final judgment. 

It is not the Lord’s desire that Israel experience such terrible judgment, such unspeakable brutality. It is His desire that Israel be delivered — this is why the Lord has called and warned and chastised. But they will not listen. Now the nation faces destruction.

Not only at Bethel will the destroyer visit. Bethel serves as a representation of the entire nation. The northern kingdom, Israel, will cease to exist. “At dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off” refers to the loss, not merely of political independence, but of nationhood itself. “At dawn” refers to the immediacy of the prophecy — disaster will take place soon. 

But a profound truth is revealed here. It is not in the pomp and glory of a kingdom nor in its brief triumph that we see the truth about kingdoms built on sand. It is in the disintegration of these flawed kingdoms that we see the truth. Now Israel will see the truth that the fertility gods, which promised fertility and abundance, in the end delivered only death. Truly,“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy” but men and women and nations often do not see this truth until their idols crumble. Praise God then for the falling of idols, for it is only then that some will see the truth.

Yet even at the dawn of Israel’s annihilation, the Bridegroom Judge continues to call to the Bride, contending for her destiny and high calling, if only a small remnant of the righteous will be preserved.

Study Questions

1. In verse 4 Hosea says that the national covenants are based on “mere words” and “worthless oaths.” What happens when the covenants which bind a society together are replaced by “mere words” and “worthless oaths”?

2. In verse 12 Hosea exhorts the people to, “Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground.” How do we do this?

Hosea Chapter 11

Hosea Chapter 11

11:1-4 “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. The more they called them, the more they went from them; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; and I bent down and fed them.”

In the days of the Exodus, the Lord had said to Moses, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’” (Ex. 4:22,23).

Long before the Lord revealed Himself as the Bridegroom God, He presented Himself as the Divine Father who brought His son Israel out of captivity, taught Israel to walk, took him in His arms, healed him, led him with cords of love, lifted the yoke of slavery from his shoulders, fed him.  

The clear image is of a Father caring for a child from infancy.  But from infancy Israel refused to acknowledge God’s care or express gratitude. Even in the wilderness, as God provided streams in the desert and manna from heaven, even as the Lord shielded with a cloud by day and a fire by night, the nation worshipped idols. Even after Israel entered the Land of Promise which God gave them, the nation continued to rebel, to worship idols, to reject the God who had fathered the nation. 

Notice the constancy of God’s faithful, covenant love. In spite of rebellion, the Lord said, “I loved him.” In spite of idolatry, “I loved him.” In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, “I loved him.” 

Notice the sovereignty of God in calling Israel — “I called My son.” This is the God who called to Abraham and made covenant with him; the God who renewed the covenant with Isaac and Jacob. Calling implies moral separation — through the Law of Moses the Lord called Israel to be a morally distinct people, separated from the pagan nations surrounding them.

Notice the phrase, “The more they called them.” The word “they” refers to the judges and prophets through whom the Lord had spoken to His unfaithful son but, “The more they called them, the more they went from them.” For centuries the Lord had spoken truth to Israel yet the nation continued to worship false gods, not only refusing to give thanks to the Lord for His marvelous blessings but praising gods that are not gods.

The Lord is heartbroken due to the unfaithfulness of Israel. No one’s heart can break unless they are invested in something or someone.  God is deeply invested in Israel as the Father who has cared for His child.  But this child acts as if he is unaware of God’s love — forgetful, ungrateful, rebellious.

We may each claim a personal word in this. “Out of Egypt” the Lord has called us all. He brought us out of slavery to this world and has led us with cords of love, has blessed us with every blessing in the heavenlies. While we were yet His enemies, He loved us. Before we had done good or evil, He loved us. Indeed, He chose to set His love upon us from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

May we never be unaware or ungrateful to our kind Heavenly Father. May we never grieve, violate or offend this kind Lord by giving thanks to gods that are not gods.  May we never blame God for consequences that we bring on ourselves while failing to praise Him for His marvelous blessings.

11:5 “They will not return to the land of Egypt; but Assyria — he will be their king because they refused to return to Me.”

In one sense, this applies to Israel’s attempt to enlist the military help of Egypt against the Assyrians. The Lord denies them this aid, for He and He alone would be their saving defense if they would have Him. In a more general sense, though, this refers to the desire of many to flee to Egypt to avoid the onrushing flood of slaughter. Although a few survivors did find refuge in Egypt, most of the survivors were taken captive to Assyria. 

What perfect justice — the nation had refused the gracious rule of God so they experienced the cruel reign of the Assyrian tyrant. We cannot reject the Lord, cannot refuse the life and liberty God offers, without entering captivity to something.  In rejecting God, individuals and nations expose themselves to the evil and violence of this fallen world.  God desires to be our saving defense, our stronghold and rock of refuge. We forfeit this when we reject the Lord.

We must say again that the Lord had called to Israel patiently for many years, not only through the prophet Hosea but through the light of revelation shining through the Law of Moses, through the psalmists and through generations of judges and prophets. The Lord had clearly revealed the sins of the nation, had chastised the nation, applying pressure for the purpose of creating change. And with perfect clarity, the Lord had proclaimed the promise of grace and restoration to all who would turn in humble repentance. The reason destruction has come upon Israel is because the nation would not listen to the Lord and turn.

11:6 “The sword will whirl against their cities, and will demolish their gate bars and consume them because of their counsels.”

They sowed the wind, they shall now reap a whirlwind of destruction. It will consume the bars of their gates — their military defenses — in which they trusted.  Why will this happen? “Because of their counsels.” They have listened to the foolish counsel of princes and political leaders who counseled paying tribute to Assyria and then rebelling against Assyria while counseling alliance with Egypt. They have listened to the deceptive counsel of false priests and lying prophets while ignoring the word of the Lord issued clearly and patiently through Hosea for over thirty years. 

Therefore “the sword shall whirl against their cities.”  They opened themselves to the rage of an evil world and an adversary who wanted to destroy God’s covenant people.  They offended and grieved the Lord their Defender / Provider and opened themselves to God’s judgment. To reject the Lord is to come out from under His covering. Judgment, at times then, becomes nothing more than God allowing people to experience their choices — life without His defense, His provision and His blessing.

11:7 “So My people are bent on turning from Me. Though they call them to the One on high, none at all exalts Him.”

Again, the word “they” refers to the prophets who continually called on Israel to return to the Lord, “the One on high.” But the people were “bent on turning” away from the Lord. The nation had become bent, twisted through its worship of false gods. 

The Lord still refers to Israel as “my people” for He had made covenant with Abraham, had formed the nation from one family, had preserved the nation through the centuries, had betrothed the nation to Himself as His covenant Bride. They are His and He has called them to the highest experience of life — to know and worship the Most High God, to be His instrument in shining light into a dark world. But they had become bent to the lowest experience of life, worshipping demonically empowered gods. Called into the heavenlies, they were bent into the depths of hell. Yet the faithful Bridegroom God still calls them “My people.”

11:8 “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled.”

As a Groom bereft of His unfaithful Bride, the Lord cries out for Israel, “How can I give you up?” His heart is turned upside down, heavy with the weight of compassion, His love is kindled as a flame, ignited by the very faithlessness of His Bride. 

Admah and Zeboiim were cities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah, without a trace remaining, and were representative of divine judgment released against unrepented sin. Indeed, those corrupt cities had less revelation, less light revealed to them than Israel. Yet the Lord had destroyed them and could justly pour out destruction now on Israel which had been the recipient of far greater blessing and grace and truth. 

But it is as if perfect justice wrestles with perfect love within the heart of God. It is surely not so for God is never divided against Himself. Perfect, infinite justice and perfect, infinite mercy exist in perfect union within the God who exists in union with Himself. Yet the Bridegroom God desires so passionately to deliver His Bride from the destruction and ruin which she has chosen. Even now at this late hour, the unmeasured grace of God cries out in the midst of perfect judgment, “How can I give you up — I would restore you if only you will turn to Me.”

Truly, the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies in their sin (Ezkl. 18:32). But what can a holy God do when people offend His righteousness, violate His moral law and pretend that no one has sinned while rejecting His offer of forgiveness and grace?  He cannot deny His justice — justice will have its day — but neither can He deny His passionate love for lost, helpless sinners.

So God entered history in human form and took our offense, and His judgment of our offense, upon Himself. On the cross we see the broken heart of the Bridegroom God bearing the offense of the Bride who broke His heart. We see the judgment of God poured out on God Himself, so that His mercy and grace may be poured out on sinners. The Most High God spared not His own Son so that He might redeem a remnant and make of us a holy Bride, made ready for His Son.

God’s response to heartbreak is to give Himself to those who wounded Him. He bears the offense that broke His heart so that He may lavish upon us the grace which we once rejected and ignored. God’s purpose in this is that we will turn and enter into a covenant of love with Him, fully, deeply, surrendered to God our Lover, surrendered to the God who pursues us and calls us His Beloved. 

11:9 “I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

“I will not execute My fierce anger” that is, God will not express the fulness of His wrath, will not judge to the uttermost. He will not make a full and final end of the nation. “I will not destroy Ephraim again” does not mean the nation will not be conquered by the Assyrians. They were conquered but there is still a future hope. The Lord will preserve a faithful remnant.

“For I am God and not man” refers to the perfection and infinite fulness of God’s attributes. It refers to His faithfulness to Himself and to the recipients of His uncompromising covenant love. It refers to the truth that God does not exercise wrath, or any aspect of His being, in immaturity or unbalanced emotion. Judgment and mercy are balanced in perfect wisdom. Therefore, though Israel deserved destruction, for they had become as evil as the nations around them and committed evil with far greater light of revelation, yet the Lord tempers perfect judgment with perfect mercy according to His perfect wisdom and in perfect fidelity to His covenant.

The phrase, “The Holy One in your midst,” reminds us that God had chosen to dwell in the midst of His covenant people. He would gladly manifest in their midst as the Lord their Defender, Deliverer, Provider — the Bridegroom God watching over and nurturing His Beloved, sanctifying her for divine purpose. But the Holy One was violated by the continual, unrepented sin of the nation. Therefore He is in their midst as the Bridegroom Judge. Whatever is unholy, the Holy One desires to redeem but if He is unable, then He must destroy it, so that what remains may be redeemed and sanctified as holy unto the Lord.

There are times when God gives people and nations up to their sin  — this is called judicial abandonment (see for example Rom. 1:18-32). In some instances, this is an expression of final judgment over a person or society which is irredeemably, unrepentantly evil. In other cases, it is for the purpose of allowing the consequences of sin to drive a person or remnant of people to repentance and faith, to draw them back to the Lord.  

In Israel’s case, the coming judgment was catastrophic but did not result in the final extinction of a faithful remnant. Though the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah a century later, a unified nation was restored for the purpose of receiving the Messiah. When the Messiah was rejected, the Romans destroyed the nation in 70 AD and it did not exist again for nearly 1900 years. But in 1948 Israel was reestablished, for the Lord still has a purpose for this people. During the centuries of dispersion and exile, the Lord preserved a remnant of faithful men and women.

We see in this that neither the sin and failure of people nor the violent rebellion of nations can prevent the outworking of God’s purpose in history. In judgment and mercy, we see God declaring His glory and establishing His plans.

11:10 “They will walk after the Lord, He will roar like a lion; indeed He will roar and His sons will come trembling from the west.”

After the severe discipline of national defeat and exile, a future remnant of Israel “will walk after the Lord.” To walk after the Lord is to be willing to listen to Him and obey Him, to put no other gods before Him, to worship God and God alone. So it was that years later when Israel returned from exile, they came without their idols, without their false gods. Again, in the 20th century, when the Jews returned to their land, they came back without the baggage of foreign gods.

“He will roar like a lion” refers to the Lord’s sovereignty over history — He speaks and it is done. He determines the boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26). “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and appoints kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to people of understanding. He sets up kings and pulls them down” (Daniel 2:21). He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).

“His sons will come trembling” speaks of reverence, a holy, humble fear of the Lord. This is a remnant that is awakened to repentance, called out of sin and rebellion to walk humbly before the Lord, desiring to obey and please Him.

“His sons will come trembling from the west” is an interesting phrase. Israel would soon be carried away to the east, first by Assyria, then by Judah would be conquered by Babylon, which kingdom was then conquered by Persia. When Israel returned from exile in Persia, it was from the east. Returning from the west made no sense until the 20th century. When the nation was reestablished in 1948, many Jews came from the west — from Europe, from South and North America. Hosea is prophesying many centuries beyond his lifetime. 

In fact, there is still a future fulfillment to these words. There is a day coming when Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), will roar through the voices of end time preachers of the Gospel and there will be a massive turning of Jews to Jesus Messiah. This is echoed by many Old Testament prophets and by the Apostle Paul, who prophesies that when the fullness of the Gentile harvest has been brought in, then there will be a massive harvest among the Jews (Romans 11:25,26).

Jewish converts, in their own turn, will then become powerful preachers of the Gospel in that last day. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar through the Jewish evangelists and many people will turn to the Lord from every tribe and tongue and nation. That earth shaking preaching will be accompanied by earth shaking judgments poured out across the earth. Some will hear the roar of the Lion of Judah as a life saving call to salvation. Others will hear it as the terrifying roar of condemnation. The saints of God will hear it as the passionate roar of the Bridegroom God calling forth a Bride made ready.

We hear in this verse the deep, passionate yearning of the heart of God. He will call, and a Bride will come forth from among the nations.

11:11 “They will come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will settle them in their houses, declares the Lord.”

In verse ten, Hosea prophesied Israel’s return from world wide dispersion in a distant century. He now speaks of the first return of the nation from exile, when Israel returned from Assyrian exile and from Egypt. It is often true in Old Testament prophecy that the prophets can see the mountain peaks of great events but often do not see the distance between the peaks. A good example is Isaiah 61:1,2:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Jesus quoted these words at the beginning of His ministry but He stopped short in the middle of verse two, for though it was “the favorable year of the Lord,” it was not “the day of vengeance.” The day of vengeance is yet to come for this is still the day of grace. Isaiah saw the day of grace and the day of vengeance but not the centuries between.

So we must understand that in verse eleven Hosea is speaking of an earlier return and restoration, as opposed to the later one prophesied in verse ten. This earlier return occurred in three waves — in 538 BC (under Zerubbabel and Joshua), in 458 (under Ezra) and in 445 (under Nehemiah).

The word “trembling” speaks of reverence. As we have said, Israel returned from times of chastisement without the burden of foreign gods, came with a heart to worship the Lord and walk in His ways. “Trembling” also speaks of humility. Israel returned without military power or wealth, trusting entirely in the strength and provision of Almighty God.

The phrases, “like birds” and “like doves” refers to the swiftness of Israel’s return in the times when the Lord calls. But the picture of a dove reminds us again of the humility of Israel in returning to the land of promise, not in the majesty and grandeur of an eagle but in the simpleness of a dove.

“I will settle them in their houses, declares the Lord.” It is the Lord Himself who will settle Israel in the land which He has chosen for them. Nations shake their fist against Israel but it is the Lord Himself who establishes His covenant people in the time and place of His choosing. Woe to that deceived prince who would dare to make war against the purposes of the Almighty. We see also in this verse the distant vision of that time when all of God’s people will be settled in the everlasting tabernacle of His glory which He is preparing for those who love Him.

We may also take verses ten and eleven as one prophecy of the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel across many centuries and all of time. He has called and He will call and He will fulfill all of His good purpose.

11:12 “Ephraim surrounds Me with lies and the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, even against the Holy One who is faithful.”

Now the vision of restoration fades like mist before the blazing fire of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The day of blessing, return and restoration is not Hosea’s day. This is still a day of unrepented sin. The Lord is encompassed, not with the sweet smelling incense of holy praise and prayer but with the stench of deceit, apostasy and idolatry. 

Even Judah has fallen into rebellion against the Lord. Some older translations would read, “Judah still walks with God, even with the Holy One who is faithful.” While it is true that there were times of reform in the southern kingdom, especially under the reign of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah, Judah eventually fell into spiritual decline and the translation which describes that decline, “Judah is also unruly against God,” is considered best.

However, the Holy One is faithful and therefore the covenant remains in place. In Psalm 89 the Lord reveals His amazing faithfulness to His vision and purpose in history. Speaking of the descendants of David, the Lord said:

“If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate (profane) My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate (profane), nor will I alter the utterance of My lips” (Psalm 89:30-34).

The Lord established a covenant with Israel and would not violate His promises. Israel’s violation of the covenant would result in severe punishment, even so far as the nation ceasing to exist as a political entity for generations. But the covenant itself would remain intact. Though the nation acted as an unfaithful prostitute, ultimately, the faithful Bridegroom God will have His Bride.

Study Questions

1. In verse 8 the Lord says, “How can I give you up … My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled.” What is God’s response to heartbreak?

2. In verses 10 and 11 Hosea prophesies the return of Israel to their land. In what sense did this occur and in what sense has it yet to occur?

Hosea Chapter 12

Hosea Chapter 12

12:1 “Ephraim feeds on wind, and pursues the east wind continually; he multiplies lies and violence. Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.”

A continual theme in Hosea’s ministry is Israel’s refusal to rely on the Lord for help. Instead, the nation had sought alliances with Assyria for protection against Damascus and with Egypt for protection against Assyria. The Lord considered this to be another manifestation of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The same nation that refused to give thanks to God for His many blessings of harvest and prosperity, instead giving thanks to the false fertility gods, this same nation refused to trust God for the blessings of protection and defense.

The Lord considered Israel’s pursuit of pagan nations for protection against pagan nations to be nothing more than the pursuit of wind. Making covenant with Assyria while breaking covenant with God was an empty and dangerous pursuit. Sending olive oil to Egypt as payment for protection, while refusing to bring thank offerings to the Lord for the blessings of olive harvest, was a vain pursuit. But we must ask, what alliances have God’s people made in our generation? A church that attempts to build popularity by compromising with cultural values is surely pursuing wind. The Psalmist was correct when he said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Notice that Israel pursues the east wind. This was a wind which came out of the desert and scorched the land and withered the crops. The nation was pursuing its own destruction but not only chasing after destruction — “Ephraim feeds on wind” — sought nourishment from that which had no substance and would result in ruin. What a travesty of wisdom — seeking protection from the scorching east wind when they could have sought deliverance under the shadow of the Almighty. 

“East wind” may also be a reference to the dominant power to the east — Assyria. Israel’s pursuit of alliance with a dangerous, powerful, idol worshipping nation was as vain as pursuing a destructive wind.

Notice the phrase, “He multiplies lies and violence.” The political and religious life of the nation was based on lies. Having dealt falsely with God in the worship of false gods, they also deal falsely with foreign kings. They made alliances and broke alliances. As they had broken covenant with God, so they broke covenants with foreign nations. This only served to increase the violence which they would soon experience.

The word violence may be translated desolation, destruction  — people and nations hide behind lies as a shield against destruction but in the end only multiply desolation. What irony — Israel was seeking protection from earthly kingdoms which would become the instrument of God’s judgment against unfaithful Israel.

We are reminded of Hosea 8:7 “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” Political leadership that does not seek the wisdom of God gains no advantage but only desolation and ruin.

Pursuing ruin and feeding on emptiness, multiplying lies and violence, Israel set its hope in human resources while separated from God by sin. This was surely a grasping after wind.

12:2 “The Lord also has a dispute with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds.”

The word dispute (rib, pron. reeb) is from a root word that has to do with wrestling, grappling. The southern kingdom, Judah, was not yet in full rebellion and apostasy against the Lord but was entering into serious compromise. Therefore the Lord was wrestling with the nation through prophets such as Isaiah, Amos and Micah. This is an expression of love. The Bridegroom God is contending with His Bride for her purity, her destiny. 

This is the same Lord who stood in the midst of the seven churches in Revelation and issued warnings: “I will remove your lampstand … unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5). “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (2:16). He was contending for a Bride made ready. This is an expression of love.

However, whereas the Lord is wrestling, contending with Judah, He is punishing Israel with serious chastisement. Jacob, used here as a synonym for the northern kingdom, Israel, has completely departed from the Lord and as we saw in the previous verse, is chasing its own destruction. 

As we have said in previous chapters, there are two expressions of divine judgment. There is final, punitive judgment intended for the destruction of evil. The Lord pours this out on people and nations only after long, patient seasons of warning and only when grace has been finally and irrevocably refused. There is also an expression of judgment which we sometimes call chastisement, intended to create pressure which drives a person or nation to repentance. Israel is experiencing a gradual increase of divine chastisement but with no positive change in the nation. In fact, sin multiplies and destruction draws ever closer. 

Punishment, in Israel’s case, will be the experience of the whirlwind which they have sown. Judgment will be “according to his ways …  according to his deeds.” There is nothing unjust about the judgment of God. Divine judgment is always based on God’s perfect knowledge of transgression.

12:3-5 “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel and there He spoke with us, even the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is His name.”

The Lord reviews the history of the man, Jacob, how he came out of the womb grasping the heel of his brother, which he did not do of his own strength or conscious choice, but by the Lord’s strength and as a demonstration of the Lord’s choice of Him. Hosea mentions this to remind Israel that they too are chosen by God and have been blessed through the centuries, not because of their strength or wisdom but because of God’s choice of them.

Hosea now reminds Israel how the man Jacob contended with God, wrestled with the Lord for blessing, wept and sought His favor, sought Him and found Him. We hear in Jacob’s striving with God the longing of the Bridegroom God, that the people of Israel would wrestle with the Lord for favor and blessing, would cry out to God with tears of repentance and longing, would seek Him and be found of Him.

However, they were not seeking the Lord, rather they were chasing after wind. They were not wrestling with the Lord for blessing, rather, they were entangled with idols of darkness, unto whom they cried out for favor. They did not prevail with God, rather, were conquered by demons.

Jacob prevailed with God by being broken by God, resulting in his being blessed by God. Israel is broken by gods that are not gods, resulting in the forfeit of all blessing. Jacob was made weak in the breaking of his hip, that he might kneel before the Lord and in kneeling, was made irresistibly strong. Israel refuses to kneel and so in weakness, is unable to resist destruction.

Jacob prevailed with God in weakness. Israel boasted of the strength of her gods and prevailed against no one.

It was the Lord who gave Jacob grace, faith and strength to wrestle with Him and in wounding Jacob, God enabled the man to receive greater gifts of grace, faith and strength. The same God would lavish His gifts upon Jacob’s posterity but they will not receive.

Hosea reminds Israel that Jacob found the Lord at Bethel, met Him and there heard the Lord speak promises. Ironic, for now Bethel is a place of idols, where God is not found but rejected, where Israel meets with false gods and, as it were, hears their lying promises.

Notice also that Hosea says that at Bethel, there the Lord “spoke with us.” The Lord not only spoke to Jacob but through him, He speaks to Jacob’s descendants. Israel cannot say that they have sinned in ignorance. The Lord had spoken to them through their ancestors, through the law of Moses and of course, through the prophets in their own day.

12:6 “Therefore, return to your God, observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually.”

Hosea exhorts the nation with God’s desire, that they would return to Him, observe kindness and justice and wait for Him continually. Turning to the Lord is an act of repentance but repentance is more than words. It is a change of heart resulting in a changed life. Repentance is reflected in actions. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

For the people of Israel, returning to the Lord would mean casting down their idols and reorienting their hearts toward the true and living God. In the first century AD, when the Apostle Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus, a multitude of people turned from the worship of idols to the Lord. They demonstrated their repentance by burning their cultic books, which amounted to “fifty-thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19).

The evidence of repentance toward people would be “kindness and justice”. Micah, who was a contemporary of Hosea, exhorted Judah with similar words, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). A hundred years later the Lord would echo these words through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord” (Jere. 9:24).

Kindness and justice express the heart of God. He acts toward us in kindness and justice and this is how He expects us to respond to others. The two are joined for we cannot exercise one and not the other — we cannot be kind and unjust, or unkind and just. 

Hosea also exhorts Israel to “wait for your God continually.” The life turned back to God is characterized by an awakened waiting on the Lord. This is a life of prayer and worship, a life of expectancy and faith. This was the Lord’s desire for His Bride, that the nation would turn to Him and wait on Him.

12:7 “A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress.”

Having exhorted the nation to return to the Lord and to demonstrate repentance through kindness and justice and a lifestyle of seeking the Lord, Hosea settles back into the reality of Israel — an unjust merchant who cheats and oppresses. The word merchant may also be translated canaanite and probably derived from the history of trading among northern Canaanites such as the Phoenicians. But how sad that Israel had taken on the same characteristics as the pagan merchants from the surrounding cultures. Even sadder that some among them, who seize their wealth through injustice and dishonesty, attribute their gain to the goodness of God. Terrifying it will be in the hour when they stand before that God whose name they dishonored through their unethical business practices.

We also recall that Canaan was the cursed grandson of Noah and the very name carried a sense of dishonor. In previous verses Israel was exhorted to remember Jacob who wrestled with God for blessing. But now it is as if the prophet is saying, “No, Israel is not the descendant of noble Jacob. He is the seed of cursed Canaan.”

It is entirely to be expected that when a nation rejects the God who is morally good, merciful and just, that the same nation would cease to be morally good, would cease to practice mercy and justice. This was a time of prosperity in Israel but some had gathered their wealth through dishonesty, unethical business practices and greedy oppression of those who were weak and vulnerable. Not only is Israel compared to a merchant who employs unjust weights and measures, but in the following verse we hear his boast.

12:8 “And Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.’”

Here is the two fold boast of the autonomous life:

1. “I have found wealth for myself” — I am the source of my blessing.

2. “They shall find in me no iniquity that is sin” — I am sinless in my acquisition of wealth.

Here is autonomous man — living as if there is no God before whom we are accountable. But he is living in a universe designed by a God who is morally good and which therefore corresponds to the moral goodness of its Creator. How terrible will be the awakening to the reality that he has lived against the grain of the universe.

Here is faithless man. Acquiring wealth through injustice and deceit is nothing more than stealing. Stealing is a statement of anti-faith — God cannot provide for me so I must steal for my provision. 

Here is humanist man, whose faith is in himself and his self-endowed ability to bless himself with wealth.

Here is self-applauding man, congratulating himself on his success, bowing before the altar of his own greatness.

Here is deceived man, falsely supposing that he will enjoy his wealth forever, when in truth both he and his wealth are as insubstantial as the dew on the morning grass, glistening in the first light of dawn but by noon day, carried away by the sun and the wind.

Here is expedient man — for whom the end justifies the means, who did what he had to do to obtain what he had to posses.

Here is wilderness man, condemned for all of his life to trudge through the deserts of his mansions and stock holdings yet never arriving at the land of promise; watching his gold turn to dust before his eyes, never enjoying true abundance.

Here is falsely religious man, going to his temple, bowing before his idol, chanting his prayers, laying his offering before his gods though in his heart he gives them no credit. But he performs the ritual because this is expected of him and good for business.  

Here is fig leaf man, at times dimly aware of some small measure of compromise and attempting to cover his sin with religion but is no more successful than Adam and Eve and their flimsy fig leaves.

Here is man the mere fool, at times suddenly awakened to the awareness of some measure of sin but falsely supposing that because God has so far withheld punishment, then his sin must be undiscovered, when in truth, all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of the all-knowing God.

Worse than the fool, here is man the insensible, man the naive, blithely unaware that he has sinned or in such a deep state of denial that he truly believes he has not sinned, so hardened to sin that he believes he is innocent. He is no more aware of God or sin than are the figs and donkeys which he buys and sells.

Here is all mankind, blind and dead to sin until awakened and redeemed by a gracious Savior. But oh how He passionately pursues and calls, for He is the Bridegroom God.

12:9 “But I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again, as in the days of the appointed festival.”

Journeying through the wilderness toward the land of promise, Israel had lived in tents (also translated tabernacles). Wilderness was a challenging place but the nation was free from slavery, living under the anointing and protection of God, feeding on His provision, receiving His revelation. In the wilderness the Lord proved His goodness and mercy in caring for the nation.

In memory of those days, Israel was commanded to celebrate the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) every year. This was a celebration of God’s goodness during those wilderness years and a reminder that Israel was not a self sufficient owner of the blessings of God but only a sojourner passing through this world and a steward of the land and the blessings of God.

The Feast of Booths followed the Day of Atonement in which Israel fasted and confessed sins to God. Then came the celebration of God’s goodness. Compare the ideal of this feast to Israel’s reality at this time — unjust, greedy, boasting of his wealth, bowing down before idols.

But the God who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt still desired to set His people free. In this word through Hosea, the Lord is saying, as it were, “I have been your God since that time of wilderness. I have never ceased to be this God who brings you out of slavery, who showers blessings upon you. Let me be that God now, setting you free from this far greater slavery to this far greater tyrant, not to Pharaoh but to demonically empowered false gods. Let me cleanse you of your slavery to idolatry and greed and unjust business practices.”

The Lord is saying, “The God who poured out miracles and judgments in Egypt, the God who destroyed Egypt and liberated you, the God who led you through the wilderness ane blessed you, and brought you into the land of promise — I am that God.  All those blessings were from Me and you have robbed Me of praise but I am that God, worthy of praise.”

“I will make you live in tents again” is both a promise of blessing and a threat of judgment. It is a promise of blessing in the same sense of Psalm 23:2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.” The Lord desires to restore the nation and bring them back to a place of dependence on Him and purity in Him wherein is true liberty. He desires to bring Israel back to the true tabernacle, under the shadow of the Almighty

But there is also a sense of threat in these words. If Israel will not return to the Lord, they will lose their homes and their nation, will be worse than wanderers — they will be prisoners and exiles in a foreign land.

12:10 “I have also spoken to the prophets, and I gave numerous visions, and through the prophets I gave parables.”

Israel never sinned in darkness. God had spoken clearly to the nation, beginning in the wilderness through Moses in the giving of the Mosaic Law and in the following centuries, through judges and Psalmists and kings and prophets. The Lord spoke through word, vision and parable.

So confident were the prophets that the living God had spoken to them, they prefaced their messages with, “Thus says the Lord” (for instance, Jere. 33:2) and “Hear the word of the Lord” (Ezkl. 37:4).

The Lord was also speaking through prophetic vision, as He had promised through Moses, centuries before, “Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6).

The Lord spoke through word and vision and to illustrate His truth, He gave parables, illustrations of truth. What a vivid picture the Lord gave Israel through Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, the faithless bride whom Hosea pursued with faithful love!

Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah, Micah and Amos who prophesied primarily in the south. Neither Israel nor Judah had any excuse. They were willfully sinning in the light of truth. We are reminded of Jesus’s warning to towns along the Sea of Galilee, that their judgment would be greater than that of Tyre and Sodom, for their light was greater. To whom much is given, much is required.

12:11 “Is there iniquity in Gilead? Surely they are worthless. In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls, yes, their altars are like the stone heaps beside the furrows of the field.”

Gilead was located east of the Jordan and had been settled centuries before by the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. The name Gilead means heap of testimony, referring to a heap of stones used as an altar or memorial (from gal — something rolled, as a stone; and ed — witness, testimony). Manasseh was one of the northern tribes of Israel which had rejected the worship of God in Jerusalem and had substituted the worship of false gods. The question is both ironic and sarcastic, “Is there iniquity in Gilead?” Surely there is and the people have made themselves worthless.

It is not that the people are worthless to God — though steeped in sin, they are His treasure, His covenant Bride. But they have made themselves worthless — the word may also be translated useless. The Lord’s purpose was that Israel would be His light shining into a dark world, a nation of priests speaking His truth into a world of lies and false gods. But through sin and compromise, the people have disqualified themselves, have made themselves useless to God. It is always this way when people worship that which is not God. They not only sin against the Lord. They also sin against their own life, they render useless the Lord’s purpose and design for them.

True fulfillment and meaning are found in living the purpose which God designed for each of us. We cannot worship false gods and enjoy the fulfilling life. In chapter nine we spoke of how people become in the image of whatever they worship. So it was that Israel, and later Judah, became like their gods. As their gods were lifeless and unable to bless, so their worshippers forfeited life and blessing.

Gilgal, as we have said before, was one of the sacred sites in Israel where fertility gods were worshipped, in particular through images of calves and bulls. The reference to heaps of stones is a play on the name Gilead but also a reference to the vast number of profane altars in Gilgal — as numerous as the heaps of stones beside a plowed field.

This was also a warning to those who worshipped at Gilgal. It is probable that the Israelites east of the Jordan had already been conquered by the Assyrians. Gilead had become nothing more than a desolate ruin, a heap of stones indeed. The Lord compares the altars of Gilgal to stone heaps, as if saying, “If you continue to practice your abominations, if you continue to entangle yourselves in darkness and live out from under My covering, you will be conquered just as the people of Gilead (of stone heap) were conquered. And just as Gilead became a heap of stones, so shall you.”

Warnings like this are a clear revelation of the heart of the Bridegroom God. How passionately He longs to save even a remnant of His covenant people. They have not listened when He showed them their sin, when He called them to repent and promised forgiveness and restoration. Will they listen now when He reveals to them that the unspeakable horrors and suffering which their brothers and sisters just across the Jordan have recently endured, is the same tragedy which they also will experience, for they are committing the same sins as were committed in Gilead?

12:12,13 “Now Jacob fled to the land of Aram, and Israel worked for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep. But by a prophet the Lord brought Israel from Egypt, and by a prophet he was kept.”

Returning to the earlier story of Jacob, the Lord now reminds Israel of their humble beginnings — Jacob labored as a sheep herder to gain a wife. But the Lord protected him, defended him, prospered him and led him back safely to the land of his father Abraham. His descendants later became slaves in Egypt but the Lord sent a prophet, Moses, to lead them to freedom. The Lord guided them and kept them through the wilderness and into the land of promise. 

It was a journey of grace for these many centuries — all was grace. Considering this, that their history was one long testimony of grace, how should they respond to the Lord who even now was acting in grace to warn the nation before all was lost? Should they not respond with repentance, returning to the Lord and casting themselves on His grace?

There is also a subtle reminder of why Jacob went to a far country in search of a bride — so that he would not marry into the pagan, idol worshipping societies of Canaan. Yet now, centuries later, his descendants have married themselves to the gods of Canaan, a marriage that will end in desolation and ruin if they will not return to the God who has betrothed them to Himself as His Bride.

12:14 “Ephraim has provoked to bitter anger; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and bring back his reproach to him.”

Having reminded Israel of the journey of grace behind them, the Lord again warns them of the journey of destruction, ruin and exile before them. Instead of bringing thank offerings and sacrifices of praise to the Lord, they have provoked Him with all manner of abomination, including the shedding of innocent blood in the murder of holy prophets and in the worship of Moloch and other false gods who demanded child sacrifice. Their bloodguilt is upon them. 

Israel brought reproach upon God by their idolatry, their oppression of the poor, their greedy acts of injustice and by their slander and persecution of true prophets and true worshippers. So Israel’s reproach will come back upon the nation.

Yet the Lord is so marvelously a God of grace that He would remove even this vast guilt of Israel, forgive their sin and restore the land but they will not have it. Then they must bear their guilt and their judgment.

So it is for all who refuse the Lord’s offer of grace through faith in Christ our holy Sacrifice for sin. There is no other sacrifice and if we refuse this One, then we must bear our guilt and the terrifying judgment that follows.

Study Questions

1. In verse two we read that the Lord “has a dispute with Judah.” The word dispute is related to the word wrestle. Why does God wrestle with people and nations?

2. In verse six Hosea calls the people to “return to your God.” What does he say that this return will look like?

3. In verse eight, the people are saying, “I have become rich … they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.” What kind of person boasts of wealth but refuses to recognize personal sin?

Hosea Chapter 13

Hosea Chapter 13

Hosea 13

13:1 “When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling. He exalted himself in Israel, but through Baal he did wrong and died.”

The tribe of Ephraim is often used to represent all ten tribes of the northern kingdom but here is referred to in a particular sense. In earlier generations, Ephraim was highly regarded; when its elders spoke there was trembling, reverence. But as the people prospered in the Lord, they became proud, withholding from God the thanks He was due. Instead of praising the God who had blessed them, they blessed gods that are not gods, Baal being a representative of those idols. The people bowed before the altars of those false gods and though Ephraim still existed physically, the tribe was separated relationally from God and spiritually dead.

Here also is a brief summary of the history of the entire northern kingdom. In the days when Israel showed reverence for God, the nation was exalted. But when they bowed before Baal, the nation declined into death. This is also a prophecy of the immediate future, for Israel would soon be conquered and would cease to exist as a political or social reality.

Isn’t this also a fitting epitaph for many people? When they served the living God they lived and were blessed. When they served gods of darkness, they lost blessing and life.

Notice the contrast in this verse between prosperity and destruction. There was a time when Ephraim was highly respected, greatly blessed and prospered. Then there came a season of destruction. What is the bridge whereby we cross from one to the other? The bridge between prosperity and destruction is merely whom we choose to worship.

Notice the closing phrase, “He did wrong and died.” The wages of sin is always death. Sin kills all it touches for it separates us from the Lord of life. The death that follows sin may be sudden or slow, terrifying or subtle, but always relentless.

13:2 “And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves molten images, idols skillfully made from their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. They say of them, ‘Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!’”

“They sin more and more” — sin draws the sinner into greater sin, entices, seduces and multiplies in the heart of the sinner. Idol is added to idol, ceremony to ceremony, sin to sin. Unless this army of iniquity is confronted and defeated through repentance, it will conquer.

God, in His kindness, blessed Israel with wealth and artistic skill for His glory and for their good. But they are using wealth and skill to multiply images of gods that cannot bless anyone for they do not exist. This is not to say that the idols are lifeless — they are infused with powers of darkness which destroy the worshipper. There is nothing innocent about false religion.

The phrase “skillfully made” may be translated, “after their own understanding.” As opposed to Noah or Moses, who accomplished the work God gave them according to the pattern God gave them, these artisans construct idols according to their own design. The artistic concept lay entirely in the mind of man the creature, not in the mind of God the Creator. When creative people employ their artistic giftings to the exclusion of the knowledge of God, then it will ultimately be in opposition to the commandments of God, in violation of the holiness, justice, mercy and truth of God. The result will be a celebration of that which is neither wise nor lawful nor holy nor just nor merciful nor true.

The artist cannot breathe life into this lifeless creation nor can he cause it to depict the true reality of the living God, whom the artist has rejected. It will only be the representation of the fallen mind of a fallen man or woman living in a fallen world. As all creation is inferior to its creator, this piece of art is inferior even to the artist who himself is inferior to God his Creator.

But there is something more terrible at work here. We eventually become like that which we worship. So if the artist now worships the idol he has created, then it will not be the idol that resembles the artist but the artist who comes to resemble his art. So we read in Psalm 115, 

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see …. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:4,5,8). Those who make them are like them — breathless, blind, unspeaking.

“They say of them,” referring to the priests and prophets and princes of the people, “Kiss the calves,” which refers to adoration, devotion to the images of calves and may be taken as representative of all the other fertility idols to which the people were devoted. This was probably combined with some form of Jehovah worship — mixing light with dark and dark with light. In fact, the calves and bulls and other idols may have been, at first, representations of Jehovah. We are reminded of the day when Aaron made a golden calf and with the people cried out, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). 

Gradually, though, any devotion to the true God faded and the people bowed only before that which was false. So it is with darkness. It is always seeking to enlarge its sphere, to deepen its entanglement in a society or a human soul. It is a whirlpool with no limit to its spiraling depth. Unless it is destroyed through repentance, it will absolutely destroy.

This mixing of light with dark can be very dangerous and seductive to people who cannot discern a false priest from a true priest, a lying prophet from a truthful prophet. Yet this is prevalent in some churches today, which mix a bit of Scripture with whatever customs and philosophies are culturally popular. They offer a bit of Jesus and a bit of whatever gods are currently ruling atop the social hierarchy. The result is a politically and culturally correct Christ who neither offends nor redeems anyone, who transforms nothing, who is not even recognizable when compared to His true portrait in the Gospels.

13:3 “Therefore they will be like the morning cloud and like dew which soon disappears, like chaff which is blown away from the threshing floor and like smoke from a chimney.”

Therefore, because of the sins which the Lord has clearly presented to the nation and of which the people refuse to repent, the covenant nation will be as vulnerable and insecure as a morning cloud or dew on the grass, as easily blown away as chaff or smoke in the wind. Notice the words “which soon disappear” — though the Lord has been patiently calling through Hosea for over thirty years, judgment draws near and it will be sudden.

There is a terrible sadness to these words. When dew evaporates, it leaves no trace. So with chaff when it has blown away. So with a cloud and with smoke — they vanish. So it will be with the northern kingdom — nothing will remain.

So it is with the wicked in every generation. They may appear to be prosperous for a season, substantial in their wealth or power, but the Psalmist reminds us that the wicked “are like chaff which the wind drives away” (Ps. 1:4).

So with the kingdoms of this world, which appear to be mighty, yet are conquered in a night. Assyria conquered Israel, but in turn was conquered by Babylon. Babylon overthrew Judah, but was overthrown by Persia which was conquered by Greece which was conquered by Rome. In time, Rome was destroyed by corruption within and barbarians from without. Behind it all, the Lord testifies that He has set the times and boundaries of empires (Acts 17:26). “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21).

13:4,5 “Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.”

In this context of Israel’s unfaithfulness and impending destruction, the Bridegroom God reviews the history of His kindness to His covenant Bride. He identifies Himself as the Savior who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and cared for them throughout their wilderness journey, a time of supernatural deliverance and provision.  They were entirely dependent on the Lord in that harsh desert. They had nothing but God yet they were delivered, blessed, provisioned. Having nothing but their Savior, they had all things needful. Since that time He has continued to be the God of all blessing and grace.

“Since the land of Egypt”, indeed, from the beginning of their history as a nation, the Lord had known them intimately and desired that they would know Him to the exclusion of all other gods. He loved them fully and desired that they would love Him with all their heart. He made covenant with them, betrothed them to Himself as His Bride and desired that they would respect that covenant and give themselves fully to Him as He gave Himself fully to them. 

“I cared for you in the wilderness.” The Lord demonstrates His knowledge of the people by caring for them, meeting their needs in ways that were particular to their circumstance. In a dry and thirsty land, He caused rivers to rise up out of the rock. In scorching heat, He covered them with a cloud by day. In the chill of the desert night, He was a pillar of fire. In a land that provided no sustenance, He rained manna upon them.

Why would they seek counterfeit gods, when, “I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt”? There is no God beside Him, as He declared through the prophet Isaiah, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), ‘I am the Lord, and there is none else’” (Isa. 45:18).

What had their counterfeit gods ever done for Israel compared to the true and living God? He lavished His grace upon them and desired only that they would lavish their praise upon Him.

It is the same with us today. We are known in our wilderness. The Lord meets us in our journey and provides in ways that are unique and particular to our circumstance, thereby proving Himself. 

He has poured into our lives grace upon grace. He entered history in human form to pursue us, awaken us, redeem us and betroth us to Himself as His covenant Bride. All He asks in return is that we would be faithful to the covenant. How do we express covenant faithfulness to the Lord? Jesus answered this when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

How can we love God with all our being? As we experience His love for us. “We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). We are commanded to set our affection on the Lord as completely as He has set His affection on us. We were created with a need to do this, a need that is not satisfied except in the Lord. Through this covenant fellowship, all other needs will be provided.

13:6  “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me.”

The King James translation is so succinct, “According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.”

The Lord blessed Israel, they prospered and became satisfied, then proud, then they turned away from the Lord. What a sad commentary, that people blessed by the Lord would forget the Lord who blessed them. 

Blessing is an expression of God’s love and mercy and knowledge of our particular needs, a revelation of His heart. It is His nature to bless. He blesses because He is good and so that we may be instrument's of His goodness in this world. Because the Lord was Israel’s Shepherd, He led them into green pasture but blessing became an occasion for ingratitude, then forgetfulness. How tragic that anyone’s heart would be turned away from the Lord by His goodness, that goodness could seduce anyone to evil, that the faithfulness of the Bridegroom God would motivate the Bride to faithlessness, then apostasy and idolatry.

In Isaiah 41:17-20 we read of a God who did not forsake His people in their wilderness season.  He made the wilderness into a pool of water, the desert into a place of refreshment, so that they would know, “That the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it” (Isa. 41:20). When Israel was in the wilderness, God gave them the bread of heaven and when they complained, God gave them quail.  When they were thirsty, He gave water from a rock, turned their desert into a pool of blessing and provision, covered them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Then the Lord warned the nation, “Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:10-12). 

But they did forget and their forgetfulness led to national calamity.

The Bridegroom God desires to be our All in All, not just our Provider but our heart’s desire, our Beloved, the object of our affection. But sometimes, in blessing and abundance, people can lose their sense of need for God, that sense that is so sharpened in the wilderness. Wilderness magnifies our smallness, our dependence, our mortality and magnifies God’s gifts to us. Success, power and abundance can create the illusion that we are in control and may produce pride, self reliance and forgetfulness of God. When that happens, a loving God will chastise His people and cause our place of abundance to become a place of wilderness, desert and discipline. 

We who are called into covenant with the Lord through faith in Jesus should be warned by Israel’s fall.  If we see anything in our lives which would seduce us away from faithfulness, we must lay it aside.  Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). Jesus does not say that to everyone because wealth in itself is not evil but in that man’s life, his wealth was preventing him from whole-hearted faithfulness to the Lord. So he needed to lay it aside.

Isn’t that a bit ruthless? Yes it is. But Jesus also said, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (Matt. 18:9). The Lord was speaking figuratively but His point is obvious — better to enter eternal life with less than to enter hell with more.

Jesus warned that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, not because wealth itself is evil but because prosperity can create the proud delusion that we do not need God, that we are the source of our own blessing. Wealth can cause us to forget that our God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3)

We were made for God but when we stuff ourselves with the things of the world, we may lose our appetite for God. If a person is so spiritually immature that blessing would corrupt, then a wise, loving God will chastise and withhold blessing.

For some people, prosperity can be more dangerous than adversity. So the Lord withholds the blessing He desires to give until such a person has matured to a place where the blessing will not corrupt, so that the gift of God will not become a means for sin against God. 

Through Hosea, the Lord warned Israel, gradually removed blessing, slowly increased pressure through chastisement. But the nation continued to move far away from the Lord. Faithless, idolatrous, apostate, they are now entering into judgment.

13:7,8 “So I will be like a lion to them; like a leopard I will lie in wait by the wayside. I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and I will tear open their chests; there I will also devour them like a lioness, as a wild beast would tear them.”

Do not misunderstand the heart of God. This is the same God who bore Israel on eagle’s wings, out of Egypt and unto Himself (Exodus 19:4). This is the same God who brought the nation into the land of promise, drove out their enemies and established His people securely, blessed and defended them for centuries, forgave and restored when they called upon Him.

This is the same God who said, “Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms … I led them with … bonds of love” (11:4). This is the same God who said, “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion. And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord” (2:20). This is the God who had made covenant with Israel, betrothed the nation to Himself as a holy Bride, called to them patiently when they strayed from Him.

This is a merciful God but also holy. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, abounding in lovingkindness to all who call upon Him but He is also just. Seasons of grace are long but justice will not be violated forever.

Israel had rejected her betrothed so the Bridegroom God becomes the Bridegroom Judge. When the Bride falls in love with God’s gifts and forgets the Giver, taking credit for gifts or worse, giving credit to demon gods, then the Lord’s love for a holy Bride requires that God judge and cleanse an unholy, apostate, unfaithful Bride.

Not only did Israel’s idolatry increase as wealth increased. There was also a multiplying of poverty and oppressive, unjust business practices, as we saw in the previous chapter (Hos. 12:7). Justice was being bought and sold, people were treated like cattle, the poor were being trampled (see Amos 8:4-8, who was prophesying in the southern kingdom at this same time). Social morality, business ethics, declined.

There is a connection here. As the nation declined in faithfulness to God and as idols increased, there was an increase in moral corruption. Because the Lord loves His covenant people, He will confront their sin for the purpose of cleansing the nation. The images of the lion and bear speak of the fierceness of the righteous God. The leopard speaks of swiftness. Judgment will come upon the nation soon, swiftly and with a terrible ferocity.

Let us say again that it was never God’s will that Israel be destroyed. This is why the Lord confronted their sin, revealed the remedy, promised forgiveness and restoration. But having rejected the Lord, having refused repentance, having moved out from under the covering of the Lord and having embraced the darkness of demon-gods, Israel made itself vulnerable to the violent powers of a fallen world. When any man, woman or nation rejects God, hell is ready to devour. We cannot reject God our Defender without inviting inevitable destruction.

But the Lord will not only allow this destruction. He is sending it. It is not the Lord who destroys — the Assyrians will do this. The Assyrians will be morally accountable to God for their cruelty and violence, but in carrying out their purpose of conquest, they will fulfill the purpose of the Lord to punish and cleanse His covenant people who had rejected every other means of discipline and cleansing.

We are reminded of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, how he said that Jesus was put to death according to “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Though the Roman and Jewish authorities were morally accountable for the murder of the Messiah, they were only fulfilling the purpose of God to provide a Savior to a fallen world.

The Lord will have a holy Bride, a remnant of faithful, true worshippers, even if He has to destroy a nation of unfaithful idol worshippers. The destruction of the nation will be like the breaking of a corrupt husk to set free the holy seed within.

Notice the image of the Lord as “a bear robbed of her cubs.” The Lord has been robbed of that which is rightfully His — children of the covenant who worship Him and look to Him for protection and provision. He has been robbed of children who would have been His but they were taught lies by false priests and false prophets, mislead and seduced by corrupt princes. The Lord has been robbed of children as holy prophets and righteous worshippers have been pursued and persecuted and driven from the land. The Lord will rise up in fierce anger and defend His own, reclaim them and regather a remnant of the faithful.

13:9 “It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against Me, against your help.”

No truer words than these are found in Scripture  — “It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against Me.” Rebellion against God does not change the love of God but it does change our experience of His love. Rather than enjoying the blessings of divine love, the rebel experiences the chastisement of divine love and divine justice.

The leaders, the priests, the prophets and all the people of Israel were aware of their national history — how the living God had called to Abraham and made covenant with him; had renewed the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; had led the people out of slavery, through the wilderness and into the land of promise; how, over the centuries, the Lord had continually defended and delivered the people, calling to them when they sinned, forgiving them when they repented, restoring and blessing. Yet the northern kingdom had knowingly, willfully turned away from this good God, had rejected Him and bowed before gods that were not only false but demonically empowered. 

Entangled in darkness, the nation had fallen into all manner of spiritual, moral and social corruption. Now having ignored thirty years of prophetic testimony, they face the annihilation of their nation, yet still refuse to turn, still rush headlong into calamity. How do we explain the hardness of a heart that rejects and resents the Divine Lover who only speaks truth which would save? How do we explain the soul that hates the prophet who only warns of ruin and promises deliverance? How can we understand the man, the woman, the nation that rejects the proven way of blessing and grace while embracing disaster? How can we explain such self-destructive choices, other than the power of the fallen soul to deceive fallen men and women? Hearts become so hard, so calloused to sin, that people do not notice the deep roots of corruption and death within them. There is no surer sign of the death which sin produces than ignorance of it.

Do you hear the grieving heart of the Bridegroom God as He watches His Bride slide into darkness? “You are against Me, against your help,” He cries, as if to say, “Even today I would help you, I would deliver you but you will not have Me.” 

We are reminded of the heart of Jesus as He wept over Jerusalem in the final days of His earthly ministry, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matt. 23:37,38). 

Those who turn from God are their own destroyer, self-destroyed. For truly, separation from the Creator is death to the creature. But the Bridegroom God will hedge the way of the rebel with thorns and the thorns that would drive us back to Him are messengers of His grace.

If to depart from God is ruin, to return is life. When a remnant return in later years, they will leave their idols behind.

13:10 “Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested, ‘Give me a king and princes’”?

In centuries past, in the time of Samuel, Israel had demanded a king, rejecting the Lord’s purpose for the nation that He alone would be their king. Though there were good kings, there were many who were incompetent, many who were evil. The result was a divided kingdom as the ten tribes to the north split away from the two tribes to the south. 

The northern kingdom, Israel, established their own monarchy so none of the kings of Israel were descended from David — all were false kings to begin with. Because many were wicked, corrupt worshippers of false gods, and because the people had followed their leadership, the nation had fallen into deep darkness. Despite the warnings of the Lord, destruction was at hand.

Now the Lord asks, “Where are your leaders, that they may save you now?” 

There is a legitimate role for leaders to play in any society. God has established governments for the purpose of maintaining order in a fallen world. But our leaders cannot save us anymore than we can save ourselves. Israel should have answered the Lord’s question, “Neither our kings nor our princes nor our judges can delivers us. We cast ourselves on your mercy O God.”

But they would not. Instead they leaned on fallen men as their nation fell into spiritual decline and political anarchy. Four of six kings who reigned during Hosea’s ministry were assassinated. Where are your kings, indeed? They were either dead or so entangled in darkness that they could not lead the living.

13:11 “I gave you a king in My anger, and took him away in My wrath.”

The Lord establishes governments but also holds them accountable to His moral law. Though we may wonder at the wickedness of some governments and how they seem to escape the righteous wrath of God, they will not escape forever, for God is Judge of the judges (Ps. 82:1-8), and the Ruler of princes (Ps. 76:12), putting down one and exalting another (Ps. 75:7).

13:12 “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; His sin is stored up.”

The phrases “bound up” and “stored up” refer to the omniscience and justice of God. When sin is forgiven, the Lord buries it, remembers it no more. But sin unrepented is recorded in the Judge’s book of judgment. That book will be opened on the day of accountability, a day which often occurs in history and surely at the end of time. Let us say again, that though we may wonder at the long and seemingly prosperous career of some tyrants, their sin is not forgotten by God. It is recorded, stored up and that tyrant who once seemed so proud and mighty, who once shook his fist at the heavens, will stand before the righteous judgment of God.

Proud, God-rejecting rulers think that because the Lord has not punished quickly, possibly there is no God or He is not just or they have escaped God’s notice. But the day of justice is set. On that day, which as we have said, often occurs in history and will surely also take place at the end of time, on that day the Lord will not only recall the iniquity of the tyrant but will also pull out from the treasury of divine wrath, the just reward for the tyrant.

We would do well to remember the warning given by the Apostle Paul, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation” (Romans 2:4-8).

13:13 “The pains of childbirth come upon him; he is not a wise son, for it is not the time that he should delay at the opening of the womb.”

Hosea employs the illustration of a baby moving through the birth canal. At first, Israel is the mother giving birth. The pain of her travail has suddenly come upon her. But Israel is also the baby and the baby delays moving through to birth. This is dangerous, life threatening for both child and mother. But this has been a consistent theme of the prophet, that Israel is bringing calamity upon himself. 

What will bring the nation through to a new birth, a new beginning? Repentance, turning away from their false gods, returning to the true and living God. This would surely also result in a transformation of social morality, a return to justice, a reordering of society according to Godliness.

Why the delay? As perilous as birth can be when there are complications, so was Israel’s position in the world at that moment. Crumbling from within and threatened from without, delay in returning to God was both foolish and deadly.

We see here a picture of the fool in any age of history, convinced of sin by the grace and truth of God, trembling with the pangs of conviction, knowing the correct choice yet refusing to repent and kneel before the altar of God. There is a day of grace in the lives of people and nations and we must not miss it. Well did the Apostle Paul warn us, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Yet even now do you hear the possibilities of grace in Hosea’s warning? “It is not the time that he should delay” implies that there is still time. But now is the time.

13:14 “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight.”

The word power is literally hand, so the phrase reads, “Shall I ransom them from the hand of Sheol?” The answer obviously is “Yes,” Almighty God will break hell’s grasp of the covenant people. The Lord then mocks the powers of hell, “Where are your thorns? Where is your sting?”

Even as Israel delays in returning to the Lord, even as national disaster looms on the horizon, even as the Lord says, “Compassion will be hidden from My sight,” which means judgment is imminent,  even so, the Lord also proclaims a coming day of ransom and redemption. Though the powers of hell have conspired to destroy the covenant Bride, someday those powers will themselves be defeated and thrown into the lake of fire and the Lord taunts them, “O Sheol, where is your sting?”

The Apostle Paul quotes these words in I Corinthians 15:54,55 as he celebrates the certainty of resurrection, the certainty of the Lord’s victory over sin and death. And so it will be. Though Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, and though Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians, they returned to the land. Though the nation was again destroyed by the Romans, they returned to the land. Though in the final days of history the Antichrist will attempt to annihilate Israel, he will not succeed. The Messiah will return, the saints will be raised from the dead, the kingdom of God will be established on earth and the Lord will rule from his throne in a restored Jerusalem.

Though Israel’s judgment was certain, in the midst of that calamity, the Lord proclaims the inevitability of His victory in history. But how will He ransom a fallen nation? How will He redeem a Bride who has rejected the Bridegroom God and married herself to gods of darkness to whom she was now enslaved? The means of redemption was hidden from their eyes. They could not guess that the rejected Groom would enter history and give His own life to ransom His Bride, that He would conquer the grasping hand of death by dying.

(We must also note that the word which is here translated compassion, nocham, older translations such as the KJ, render as repentance; newer translations render nocham as compassion. Nocham is from the root word nacham which means to be sorry. The meaning here may be that repentance is hidden, in the sense that there is no repentance among the people. But it is be more likely that the Lord is referring to Himself and His mercy — His compassion has been hidden or put away because it has been finally, irrevocably rejected by the people and so now judgment is imminent.)

13:15 “Though he flourishes among the reeds, an east wind will come, the wind of the Lord coming up from the wilderness; and his fountain will become dry and his spring will be dried up; it will plunder his treasury of every precious article.”

Most translations render the Hebrew word ach (pron. awk) as brother, not as reeds. So the reading would be, “Though he flourishes (or is fruitful) among his brothers.” The word flourishes or fruitful is a play on the word Ephraim, often used as a synonym for Israel. Ephraim means fruitful. An east wind, that is, a destructive wind from the desert, is rushing toward the fruitful one.

The east wind refers to the armies of Assyria coming from the east. They are the instrument of the Lord’s judgment, operating by divine providence. Israel would not give thanks to the Lord for the fountains and springs of blessing which had flowed for generations. The nation had, in fact, given thanks to their idols. So now, the fountains and springs will be dried up. Israel’s gold and silver, some of which had been given by God, some of which had been gained through oppression of the poor, had been used to craft images and altars to false gods. The treasury will now be plundered. 

This all took place in 721 BC when the Assyrian king concluded his conquest of the nation by overthrowing the capital city of Samaria. It was completely destroyed, accompanied by a terrible slaughter of the population. Many of the survivors were taken as prisoners into exile.

13:16 “Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.”

Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom, is used as a representative of the nation. Some translations render the opening phrase, “Samaria shall bear her guilt.” Others render, “Samaria will become desolate.” Both translations reveal the truth — sin desolates, sin brings about the desolation of the guilty. Samaria will be held guilty, will bear her own guilt, because the people refused to turn from their sin. The Lord offered a way of salvation through repentance, offering forgiveness and restoration, but the nation had steadfastly refused to return to the Lord, year after year. So they will be held guilty, will carry the guilt which they refuse to release and will therefore be destroyed.

Again we must say clearly that the Lord is not the author of this horrific savagery that would soon come upon Israel. Sin will be judged by a just God but the reason for judgment is not a flaw in the character of God but Israel’s unrepented sin. The nation has come out from under the Lord’s protection and therefore is exposed to the violence of an evil world. The coming judgment will involve terrible atrocities, and though the Lord declares the suffering that will take place because of the nation’s sin, the Lord is not ever the cause of evil, nor does He ever conceive evil. 

The Lord neither caused Israel’s sin nor inspired Assyria’s cruelty. He is the God of whom Ezekiel spoke, declaring, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezkl. 33:11).

Again, the cause of Israel’s suffering was sin. The cause of sin lies in the heart of the people. The cause of the savagery was the evil heart of the Assyrians. But God is not the author of anyone’s suffering or savagery. He will be the cause of their correction. Israel refused God’s cleansing grace. Therefore, they were devoured by His justice. Later, the Assyrians would also experience judgment.

Throughout the generations of man, from the time of Adam onward, men and women and nations are devoured by their sin. God, in His kindness, sent a Redeemer, Jesus Messiah, who was devoured by our sin in our place as our Substitute. But sin, death and hell could not hold Him. Jesus, having made a full and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, seized the keys of death and hell and now offers forgiving grace to all who will turn to Him in repentance and faith. 

Why would anyone refuse such a gracious God?

Study Questions:

1. In verse 6 we read that as Israel prospered, they forgot the Lord. What is the proper response to blessing?

2. In verse after verse the Lord calls to Israel, revealing their sin, proclaiming the remedy and promising judgment or blessing, depending on their response. Why was the Lord contending with Israel decade after decade?

3. Why does the Lord contend with each of us?

Hosea Chapter 14

Hosea Chapter 14

14:1 “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.”

“You have stumbled” says the Lord with a gentleness that stands in contrast with the thunders of Israel’s sin. How has Israel stumbled? Because of iniquity. What was their iniquity? Departing from the Lord. Therefore return, counsels the God of grace who is ever ready to receive again the repentant sinner. Sin brings ruin to whatever it touches, whether of persons or nations. Surely Israel had proven this. Yet the nation may still return — such is the gracious heart of God.

After all these years of pleading and warning, chastisement and discipline, as destruction draws near to the nation, here is the heart cry of the  Bridegroom God, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.” This has been the theme throughout the decades of Hosea’s ministry — God calling Israel back into intimate, covenant relationship with Himself, the God who calls Himself Israel’s Husband and calls Israel His beloved Bride.  

There is nothing more painful than rejection by the person with whom we entered into covenant, with whom we shared our love.  This is what God experienced with Israel, rejection on the most intimate level.  In response, the Lord has pursued His Bride and calls the nation to return.

Repentance is a change of heart and mind resulting in a change of life. To repent is to return to the Lord our God.  He is our Source and our Beginning, our Creator, the God who called us into covenant relationship with Himself.  “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).  Repentance is abandoning whatever we have given ourselves to in place of God and returning to the God who designed us for Himself, who entered history to pursue us, awaken us, redeem us and betroth us to Himself. 

To repent is to return to life as life was designed by God. Repentance is a re-engagement. We let go of our false gods so we may embrace God our Creator, our Redeemer and our Beloved. This is what the Lord is calling Israel to do — repent and return “to the Lord your God,” He who alone is worthy of our worship.

14:2 “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips.’”

The Lord calls Israel to return and to bring words, sincere words of truth. We return by confessing the truth of who we are and who God is. The word confess means “to agree with”,  “to say the same thing.” Confession is not a ritual whereby we heap guilt on ourselves — when we have sinned, we are already guilty — we do not need to pile more of it on our heads. Nor is the Lord impressed with false contrition.

Confession is agreeing with what God has said. The truth is that we have sinned. The truth is that our sin has separated us from God and from His bountiful design for our lives. The truth is that our God is a God of grace, slow to judge and quick to forgive, ready to receive all who will return to Him.

What a simple, eloquent pattern of prayer is offered to us in verse two, “Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously.”  “Take away all iniquity”— we are asking the Lord to lift the burden of sin from our lives. We confess the truth that only God can remove our sin. Only God can gift us with the grace to return to Him and only God can choose to receive us with grace rather than judgment.

Bring words. They had spent gold and silver in fashioning idols and in paying foreign governments to protect them. But the Lord is not asking for gold and silver. They had offered bulls and calves to their idols, had poured out grain and wine offerings. But the Lord is not asking for bulls or calves or grain or wine. These were His gifts to Israel. All He wants from Israel is their heart, their love, expressed through sincere words.

David understood, when he had sinned and grieved the heart of God, that what the Lord desired from him was a humble, broken heart expressed through sincere words of repentance. David said, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:16,17). The prayer of repentance also contains an element of faith, trusting that the Lord does and will forgive all who come to Him seeking His grace.

The last phrase, “That we may present the fruit of our lips,” may be translated, “That we may present the bull (or calf) of our lips.” In the Old Testament, a righteous Jew would follow the prayer of confession with a sacrificial offering. But the Lord was not asking for an actual bull or a calf. What He desired was the sacrifice of sincere words of true repentance.

Another interpretation of this phrase, “That we may present the fruit of our lips,” is that those who do return to the Lord with words of repentance, who do experience His forgiving grace, then bring Him the sacrifice of their lips, which is praise and thanks.  David said, “I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs” (Ps. 69:30,31).

It is so with us today. Grateful for the redeeming, forgiving grace of God in Christ, we bring words reflective of a sincere heart, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebr. 13:15).

In addition to our petitions for pardon, we bring words to the Lord any time we interact with Him. Communication is one aspect of the image of God in our soul. Our God uses words and invites us to use words with Him. So we talk to Him, we articulate our thoughts, our love, our need, our hopes and dreams, our fears and our longings. When reading scripture, we thank God for His promises and when there are exhortations, we make commitments and ask for strength to live that word. We draw near to the Lord with words as we feed on His words.

14:3 “Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.”

God advises Israel to return to Him and confess the truth of their iniquity and be specific, name the sin. In confession, we are not giving God any new information. We are agreeing with what He has shown us, we are taking accountability for who we are and the decisions we have made.

a. The Lord advises Israel to confess that their political / military alliances will not save them. Confess the foolishness of foreign policy developed without seeking the mind of the Lord; the recklessness of alliances with worldly powers while living outside the shadow of the Almighty.


Assyria was not their Defender, Provider, Redeemer.  Alliance with Assyria represents a rejection of the true God who alone was their Defender, Provider, Redeemer. How foolish and dangerous it was for Israel to separate from their covenant Partner and become entangled with pagan, God-rejecting, idol worshipping nations which intended their destruction. 

b. The Lord advises Israel to confess that their own strength — represented through the image of riding horses — will not save them. Early in Israel’s history, the Lord commanded the nation not to multiply horses, lest they become reliant on their own strength. Though King Solomon violated this command of the Lord, he clearly understood the principle as he confessed, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov. 21:31).

King David, though he was mighty in battle, understood that the source of his strength was the Lord, not his weapons. He therefore confessed, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God” (Ps. 20:7).

At another time, the Lord had said through Hosea, “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen” (Hos. 1:7). When we are in covenant relationship with the Lord, He promises to be our Defender. This does not mean that nations and families should not make strategic plans for the future. But our plans should be founded on an understanding of the Lord’s promises to us and undergirded by trust in the Lord’s willingness to fulfill His promises. 

Some time after this word from Hosea, Assyria was threatening the southern kingdom and in fact, had surrounded Jerusalem and threatened complete destruction. But King Hezekiah, strengthened through the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, said to the people, “‘Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chron 32:7,8). The Lord gave heed to their faith and destroyed the Assyrian army in one night.

We are reminded of the words of a very young David to Goliath, “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (I Samuel 17:46,47).

When the people returned to the land after the exile in Babylon, they were struggling to rebuild the temple and the Lord encouraged the people with these words, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts” (Zecharia 4:6). Good advice for all nations, families and churches in all generations.

c. The Lord advises Israel to confess that their false gods will not save them. They had trusted in gods of their own creation rather than in the Creator of heaven and earth. They had trusted in gods made of stone or wood, gold or silver, rather than the God who created the elements of the universe. They had trusted in gods that cannot speak or hear, gods who have no strength, while rejecting the Almighty who called to them, who heard them, who is mighty to save.

True repentance leads to action. No longer will they deny God’s creative power and mercy; no longer placing their confidence in the created things which God gave them.  Not only had they not thanked God for the blessing He had given them, they were worshipping the blessing as if it were their God and worshipping false gods as if they could bestow blessing.  “You must no longer do this,” the Lord says. “You must repent of it.” 

In a previous chapter, we quoted Psalm 115:8, referring to worshippers of idols, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”  We become like the idol we worship, just as we become like the God we worship when we worship the true God.  The Lord advises Israel to turn from these false gods which they molded, which in turn have been molding the people who made them.

d. The Lord advises Israel to confess, by way of remembrance, that He is a God of mercy. In renouncing God as their Creator, they had become like orphans, destitute of strength or resource. But in the Lord, the orphan finds mercy and in mercy, finds strength, defense and provision.

14:4 “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them.”

Now the Lord makes promises to those who are willing to repent:

1. “I will heal their apostasy.” 

Apostasy is rebellion against the truth, replacing the truth with a lie. The Lord will not only forgive their sin but deliver them from its power to deceive and He will heal the wounds which deception created. “He breaks the power of canceled sin” as Charles Wesley said in a wonderful hymn. He will heal the brokenness brought on by their idolatry and sin. He will heal the brokenness brought on by His judgment of their sinful apostasy.

2. “I will love them freely.”

In verse two, Israel was advised to pray, “Receive us graciously.” Now God’s response is, “I will love them freely.” Freely — compelled by nothing outside of Himself. God’s love is entirely motivated by His own nature, which is to bless. There is no limit to God’s love, it is perfect, infinite, eternal. There is no power in heaven or in earth that can separate us from the love of God but unrepented sin can separate us from our experience of that love. When Israel returns with sincere repentance, the Lord will freely pardon and freely lavish His grace upon them.

3. “For My anger has turned away from them.”

The Lord will turn His anger, His judgment away from the nation when they return to Him with true, sincere repentance.

How can a righteous God remove His righteous judgment?  By placing it on someone other than the guilty. This is what the sacrificial system represented in Old Testament days. People would confess their sins and present a sacrifice which would die in place of the sinner. The result of sin is separation from God and death, but the sacrificed animal would bear that sin and die that death in place of the sinner. 

The blood of the sacrifice did not remove sin or cleanse the sinner, but it covered the sinner until a future day when the true Lamb of God, Jesus Messiah, would atone for sin with the sacrifice of His life. That sacrifice, once for all time and for all sinners, would cleanse the sinner and reconcile to God every sinner who will turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19). Paul does not say that God was not counting our sins.  He says God was not counting our sins against us.  On the cross, God counted our sins against Jesus and there, on that cross, we see the severity of our offense, the severity of God’s wrath and the truth of God’s mercy.  

Remember, it is not the offender who tells us how great is the offense. It is the offended party. God tells us how great is our offense against Him and on the cross, God shows us the deadly consequence of our offense against Himself and shows us the wonder of His forgiving grace poured out on us.

God was saying to Israel that when the people returned to Him in sincere repentance, He would turn away His judgment based on a sacrifice which would not take place for centuries.

14:5 “I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.”

The Lord continues to make promises to those who repent and return.

1. “I will be like the dew to Israel.”  

In a dry land, the dew was a primary source of refreshment, of survival, to plants and trees.  God will become again the Source of Israel’s refreshment, which is how He had designed their life as a nation. He had always been their Provider, from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in leading Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, when He led them into the land of promise, as He defended and blessed them through the centuries. It was always the desire of the Bridegroom God to bless His Bride but in rejecting the Lord, the nation had rejected His blessing. In returning, they will find His blessing renewed.

2. “He will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.”

Israel will take root and blossom again in the native soil of the Lord their God. Roots speak of stability and the promise of blossom and fruit. Spiritual growth derives from deep roots, unseen but providing stability and nourishment. So it will be for Israel — the nation’s stability will be regained in covenant relationship with God.

The lily abounded in Israel during the spring, filling the fields with color and fragrance. The cedars of Lebanon were noted for their towering majesty and strength. “Israel will again be like this,” the Lord says.

14:6 “His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.”

The Lord continues His promises.

In reestablishing covenant, there will again be beauty and fragrance.  The natural beauty that God had intended and designed for Israel will again be seen.  

So for us. The beauty of God’s purpose in our lives will never be seen except in the context of covenant love.  The fragrance is the fragrance of God’s presence in and around us.  The apostle reminds us, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).

To be reconciled to the Lord is to be alive in Him, alive to His purpose and design for our life. This is a fruitful life, a life which blesses those around us. The olive tree is a symbol of this fruitful life. The Psalmist said, “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever” (Ps. 52:8). 

14:7 “Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.”

The Lord continues His promises.

1. They will live in God’s shadow.  In a land of fierce heat, dryness and extremity, the promise of shade was a promise of more than survival.  It was a promise of comfort and security.  This is the Lord’s promise to all who return to Him in sincere repentance and true faith, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence” (Psalm 91:1-3).

How do we live in God’s shadow?  By living close to Him. It is life where prayer is true conversation; reading scripture is true revelation; worship is the outpouring of true passion. It is a life where, if any sin separates us from the Lord, we confess it and trust the immediacy of restoring grace.

2. They will “again raise grain” and “will blossom like the vine”.  Israel will again be fruitful.  God designed His people to be fruitful, productive, to live lives that glorify Him and impact others in good ways.  This is Jesus’ desire for His covenant people but we must remember that the promise of fruitfulness is made in the context of a life that is returned, given back to God. 

Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).  To be alive in Christ is to be deep-rooted, immoveable, fragrant, like a majestic cedar and a fruitful vine.

What extravagant and generous promises the Bridegroom God made to the nation that had rejected Him while pursuing false lovers. If only they would return, all this would be there’s. This is a picture of life as God designed it to be. But this life can only be lived in union with God, in the context of faithful, loving, covenant relationship.

14:8 “O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit.”

God is not like a lifeless idol — He is entirely different.  He is the living God who created all life in the universe. He compares Himself to a luxuriant (prosperous, flourishing) cypress — His green never fades or withers. He is enduring, eternal. All that He is and all that He does is forever.

“It is I who answer and look after you.” He is not merely Creator, Lawgiver and Judge — He is also the Bridegroom God who desires nothing more than to watch over, protect and nurture His Bride. He has proven this over the centuries and declares it now through the prophet. As opposed to lifeless idol which cannot speak, the living God has declared truth to Israel in every generation.

“From me comes your fruit.”  He is the vine, we are the branches.  He is our Origin, the Source of our life.  To enjoy all these blessings, we must live in union with this God.  To enjoy the shade and fruit, we must live close to the tree. To be fruitful, we must abide like branches on the vine.

This is the glory of returning to the Lord, the restoration of true, loving intimacy and meaningful, purposeful, fruitful life. This is the Lord’s desire for our lives — that we would know and enjoy Him from Whom all blessings flow, the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

A possible alternative translation of the first phrase is, “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’” If this is correct, it is surely prophetic, for when the people returned many years later from exile in Assyria, Babylon and Persia, they came back without their idols.

14:9 “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 righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.”

The Lord’s final counsel to Israel through Hosea is this, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things.”  Jesus often exhorted His listeners, “He who has ears, let Him hear” (Matt. 13:9). The risen, glorified Christ exhorted the seven churches in the book of Revelation with these words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7,11,17,29  3:6,13,22).

When the Lord speaks to us through Scripture, when He quickens His word to us when someone is teaching, when He gives us a strong impression or direction as we pray, we will pay attention if we are wise. For over thirty years the Lord had spoken directly to Israel through the prophet Hosea. For over thirty years the priests, prophets, kings, princes and most of the people had ignored that word, had rejected it, choosing instead to believe the words of lying prophets and false priests.

The cost was the gradual descent of a nation into social, political and spiritual darkness. A nation called by God to be a light to the Gentiles disintegrated into chaos, economic injustice, immorality, drunkenness, violence and the debased worship of false gods. Finally, the nation itself was destroyed.

What is the cost when we refuse to listen to the wisdom of the Lord? The Lord answered this question clearly in chapter four, verse six, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” So it was in Hosea’s generation and so it is in our day.

But why would we not listen? As Hosea exhorts the wise and discerning to listen to the wisdom of God, he reminds us why we should: “For the ways of the Lord are right.”

His ways include His works and His words.

In Revelation chapter fifteen, the saints who were victorious over the beast are standing on a sea of glass and singing, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!” (Rev. 15:3).

The Psalmist reminds us, “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 18:30). The word tried is tsaraph, which has to do with the purifying of metals and may be translated refined or purified. God’s word is perfectly pure as are His works, for His word and works are based on perfect knowledge of all truth that could ever be true and His words and works are motivated by perfect love wrapped in perfect holiness.

The upright will listen to the word of the Lord and walk in His ways, “But transgressors will stumble in them.” How ironic, as Solomon reminds us in Proverbs, that, “The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the upright, but ruin to the workers of iniquity” (Prov. 10:29).

It is the same God, the same word and the same way and for some it is the way that leads to forgiveness, restoration, healing, fruitfulness, eternal life.  For others, this way leads to stumbling and destruction.  Jesus is the cornerstone of an everlasting habitation, to some, but a stone of stumbling and rock of offense, to others (I Ptr. 2:7,8).

Whether we experience the true and living God as the God of all mercy, who forgives, heals and restores our lives, or the God of judgment who with terrifying fury, destroys our vain, idol centered kingdoms, depends on our response to His call to repentance.  He is the God whose mercy is extended to all.  When we respond to His mercy, we hear His truth because He has opened our ears.  When we respond to His mercy, we see the light of His truth because He has opened our eyes.  

But we must respond. 

Every man, woman and nation in every generation has this choice. 

Will we hear, will we see or will we refuse ?

Study Questions

1. How does the Lord advise Israel (and all people) to return to Him? (see v. 2)

2. What does the Lord promise to those who return? (see v. 4-7)