Note: There is a section of teaching not included in the audio this week. For more information about the handout Whitney references, be sure to read through the post. There is a link to the handout found there.
Has anyone here struggled thus far in the book of Hosea? Perhaps you’ve been reading and studying hard and (somewhat) tracking along, and just when you feel like you might have gotten the hang of it, you open your Bible for this week’s passage and the first words you read are, “For the judgment is for you, for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor” (5:1). And…now we’re lost again.
Reading prophetic books can be really difficult. Add to that difficulty the fact that Hosea is laced with Hebrew poetry and it’s easy to lose your bearings at any given moment. Even if you do get better at knowing how to ascertain the meaning of the passage, it’s still hard to know what applies only to Israel, what applies to unbelievers everywhere, what applies to believers today, what applies to believers who are falling into the snare of idolatry…and more. The prophets simply don’t offer us the kind of low-hanging fruit that some of the other biblical books do, such as the NT letter of Ephesians or Titus or Colossians. So this morning I want to give you another tool for your Bible interpretation toolbox as I exposit this text. It’s a tool to help you stop and find your bearings in the book at any given moment. I have found this concept invaluable in my study of the prophets.
(Note that this idea comes directly from Tim Mackie’s teaching and notes on how to read prophetic material. I had the opportunity to work with Tim as his TA for two classes at Western, both dealing with prophetic material. So please note that this is not my original material. Go to www.timmackie.com and click on the “Western Seminary” tab for handouts on class materials.)
Biblical prophecy is always dealing with three main themes:
- Israel/the Nations have rebelled against the LORD and the prophet is accusing them of their sin.
- The prophet is calling the people to repentance—to turn from wicked ways and return to faithful obedience to Yahweh.
- The coming day of the Lord (that is, the day of Yahweh) will address injustice and rebellion. This will be both bad (for the unrepentant, unrighteous, and wicked) and good (for the repentant, humble, and oppressed).
Within these three themes the prophet is always dealing with one of three things:
- Call to Repentance.
- The Day of the Lord.
Think of these three categories as big buckets in which to fit biblical prophecy. It’s helpful to have this handout tucked into your Bible in the prophetic sections. In fact, as you read Hosea, keep this sheet next to you. Any time you get lost in the weird symbolism or odd imagery or difficult poetry, stop and ask yourself: Is this an accusation against Israel or the nations? Or, is this a call to repentance? Or, is this talking about the coming day of the Lord, either in judgment or restoration? It’s crazy, but you will be able to fit every verse in the prophets into one of those three overarching themes and then from there can find your bearings and better grasp what the text means and how to interpret and apply it.
The section is broken down into 5:1-7; 5:8-14; and 5:15-6:3. Read each chunk and then decide, “Is this an accusation?” “Is this a call to repentance?” and “Is this about the coming day of the Lord?” (Hint: All three are included in our passage today but not in the order I presented them.)
Accusation Against All of Israel (5:1-7)
Coming Day of the Lord (Judgment) (5:8-14)
Call to Repentance (5:15-6:3)
Accusation Against All of Israel (5:1-7)
Verses 1-2. Hosea continues his oracles against God’s people. He picks up where he left off in chapter 4, indicting the priests yet again. But he doesn’t stop with the priest. In this passage, he accuses the priests, the people of Israel, and the house of the king (most likely the whole string of wicked kings that reigned in Northern Israel). Notice how he begins each line, “Hear this,” “Pay attention,” and “Give ear.” These are different words in the Hebrew but all mean essentially the same thing—LISTEN UP, PAY ATTENTION. This is a literary tool of repetition to make the point. He is accusing and announcing judgment on ALL levels of Israelite society, God is accusing the entire nation! But what is it specifically that they’re doing that is so evil? The “for” in the second part of verse 1 and verse 2 tells us, they have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor. Both of these places were high points in Israel’s history.
Yet, now they were not high points, but high places where Baal worship was happening. It was a disgrace to Israel. These places were now a snare made up of a netting into which a bird could easily fly and become trapped. Just as birds become entangled in the meshing of a net and are killed and eaten, so the structure of Israelite society had become so sinful in their idolatry and wickedness and bloodshed that they would become trapped in their own sin and killed. Many scholars think the “slaughter” in verse two is referring to the pagan practice of child sacrifice. If that’s the case, then the Israelites were not only worshipping the false God of Baal, but also offering their children as sacrifices to this false god. So God is accusing them of bloodshed and wicked and rampant idolatry.
Verses 3-7. This section continues to accuse Israel of their wicked ways. They thought they could worship Baal and Yahweh as if the all-knowing God didn’t see their deeds done in secret. But God knows all things and he knows his people and their deeds intimately. “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me.” He had a specific knowledge of their whoredom, he saw their defilement.
I want to highlight a timeless principle here. God sees and knows all, for better or worse. He sees the suffering saint, he sees your hard labors that seemingly go unnoticed, he sees every diaper you change, every meal you cook, every dirty pair of socks you pick up. He sees your faithful service to the church. He sees how you endure lovingly in a difficult relationship. You can rest assured that he sees those deeds and he will honor your faithfulness.
However, the other side of the coin, the one dealt with in this passage, is that God also sees your faithlessness. He sees those things that you think you get away with. Those quiet jabs towards your spouse when he’s out of ear range, he sees your covetousness and jealousy when you scroll through Facebook, he sees your idolatrous heart and your spending account. He sees the secret binge and the secret texting. He sees when you work hard because a notable leader is around and when you slack off because no one of importance is around to see your deeds. He sees everything and he knows. All of life is lived before the face of God. This is a guiding principle in my own life.
Another point to highlight is verse 4. Notice how their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. I really enjoyed looking at other translations for this verse. The NLT, “You are a prostitute through and through.” The NIV, “A spirit of prostitution is in their heart.” The point is that the idolatry has so crept into Israel that is has taken root in their hearts, the very seat of all emotions, actions, and deeds. And now their own hearts have enslaved them. This is fascinating look into the trap of idolatry.
The worship of false gods was a trap, promising Israel freedom but enslaving them instead. This is the nature of idolatry. It woos you in with its false promises of power or love or acceptance or satisfaction, but when you finally wake up to realize that it’s not living up to its promises you can’t get out of it because the habits and patterns have become ingrained in you. It wasn’t God that wouldn’t allow them to return, it was their own sinful deeds that kept them from him.
Now the application for believers today who have put their faith in Christ is different. We have the indwelling Spirit of God who helps free us from the snare of idolatry. There is always hope for the regenerated believer because we have the empowerment of the Spirit. But I still think there is a warning here, both for the unbeliever who hasn’t put their faith in Jesus and the believer who trusts in Jesus—idolatry is dangerous. It’s a trap. It’s like a lion that will devour you.
For the unbeliever, turn from your worship of false gods before it’s too late! Don’t get to the place of hardening unrepentance. Turn to Jesus and look to his work. Be saved from your sin! Be set free!
For the believer, RUN from idolatry. RUN. Though there is always hope, but sin is a snare. Whatever you’re entertaining this week, whatever delicious secret you’re meditating on, whatever it is that is starting to get its fang in you, run from it. Turn to Christ, even in this moment, and cry out to him. Pray and ask God’s Spirit to help you walk away from it.
Verses 5-7 continue to accuse Israel, but now includes the southern kingdom of Judah, of their pride, their guilt, and Canaanite worship practices (the alien children, the new moon festivals), all of which will devour them.
Coming Day of the Lord (Judgment) (5:8-14)
In these verses God is declaring his coming judgment. Ephraim is going to become a desolation in the day of punishment (v. 9), God will make sure of that. He will be oppressed and God goes as far as to say “crushed” in judgment (v. 11). He will be like a moth and dry rot to Ephraim and Judah (v. 12), meaning he will make them waste away to nothing. He says he will be like a lion who will tear away and carry off Ephraim and Judah with no one to rescue them (v. 14). Wow, this is such strong language. God is ANGRY!!! Why? Because they were acting unjustly against the law by moving the boundaries markers of land (expressly forbidden in the law) (v. 10), they were “determined to go after filth” (v. 11), they tried to make alliances with foreign powers rather than trust their own God (v. 13). These things were forbidden in the law and ensured the coming curses. God is ANGRY!
But, lest you think God is an irrational, capricious, malicious God you need to understand that anger can stem from two different roots—love or hate. To think that anger is only a manifestation of hate is simplistic. Think about when you are angry over your child’s sin or waywardness. It’s not because you hate them, but because you love them so much. You might be beside yourself as to what to do, their rebellion might even make you flaming red hot mad, but your anger at their foolishness is because you long for them to experience a good life, not because you hate them or wish them ill.
It’s important to understand that God’s anger is that of love, not of hate. This isn’t an abusive father who screams at his kids when they accidentally spill milk. It’s a loving father who sits in his study and weeps because his son hasn’t come home yet again and he knows that he’s out doing things that will bring his life to ruin. God’s anger is motivated by love for his children…oh how he loved Israel! We see this clearly in Jesus’ life when he wept over Jerusalem and longed for them to know him. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus cries and says,
“37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”(ESV)
It’s the weeping that comes before the discipline that as a parent you must do. It’s a broken heart over a wayward son or a cheating spouse. This is the heart of God in Hosea. Sin angers him!! Not because he is capricious God given to his own moody whims, but because he loves us so and he knows what unrepentant sin will bring. This is the heart of God. Don’t miss it. He loves us so much that when we rebel, he is angered by it. And it’s this loving anger that leads to the last section—the call to repentance.
Call to Repentance (5:15-6:3)
In verse 15 he says he will return to his place until they acknowledge their guilt and return to him. Remember that this is poetry, so Hosea is using language and metaphors to convey ideas. Don’t think of God leaving his place in spatial dimensions. That’s not the point. This verse alludes back to verse 14 where God is like a lion who returns to his den. God is going to pull away from them in an attempt to get them to come back to him. Sometimes God displays passion to grip his people and sometimes he plays out his coolness to woo them back. Here, God is pictured as a lover who is pulling back relationally and using his coolness as a means by which to reawaken the heart of his lover. By hiding from Israel, he intent is that Israel will long for him yet again and repent of their ways. The desired outcome of this “cooling” approach is in the next verses 6:1-3.
The prophet then includes himself in the call to repentance and says, “Come let us return to the LORD.” Oh, how beautiful are these words!! God’s judgment is always for the sake of repentance. He will tear Israel; he will strike Israel down through the impending exile. But he is doing all of this so that he might heal a faithful remnant, that he might bind Israel’s wound and bring about a people who will truly love and serve him with their whole hearts in covenant faithfulness!! I’ve heard it said that a true man is both tough and tender. Here we see this mixture perfectly combined in God. He is tough when he has to be, willing to tear and wound, but it is all for the sake of restoration, that he might tenderly heal and bind up the wounds of his people.
Finally, in verse 2 we see a profound picture pointing towards Jesus. The text says that after three days of judgment God will raise Israel up. Clearly this is metaphorical in the sense that the exile lasted much longer than 3 days. It lasted years upon years! So in its context it is a literary device that means that Israel will go into exile and experience judgment. But it also points to Jesus, who came as the perfect Son of God and the representation of the true Israel.
Jesus so fully identified with God’s people that he was then able to take on their sin and die for that sin upon a cross. After completing this work, God raised Jesus on the third day as a vindication and approval of his sinless life and perfect work. Now, all who trust in Jesus are raised spiritually now in this life and will be raised physically in the life to come. We can live before the righteous Lord in full confidence that our sins have been dealt with on the cross. Not only that, through Jesus we can actually follow the admonition in verse 3 to press on and know the Lord.
This morning, as a group, let’s press on to know the Lord. Let’s devote ourselves fully to him. Let’s ask God’s Spirit to help us repent of our idolatry and turn fully to him. The One whose going out is as sure as the dawn and his presence is as certain as the showers.