Let’s start this morning with a story from my childhood. I was probably 12 years old, making my brother 9 or 10. I was an avid reader. He was an avid golfer. One afternoon, I was sitting in our living room in the comfy chair near the big windows, passing the time absorbed in whatever story. I don’t remember what it was, but I know it must have been good because I remember having to use the restroom, but not wanting to break away from my story to do so. Finally, I just had to. While I was taking care of business, there was a huge, terrible crash. Terrifying! I left the bathroom to see what was going on. The living room was awash in shards of glass. While I was in reading, my brother was out hitting golf balls. And he hit one right through the window. By God’s grace, I was out of the room at that exact moment or I’m sure this story would be much different.
So my dad is a good dispenser of justice. I knew that my brother should be in major trouble for this little incident. After all, I could easily have been seriously injured. I can’t imagine the anxiety my brother must have felt for the rest of that afternoon, as he waited for dad to come home and find out what happened.
Well, sure enough, Dad was less than pleased. Punishment was being determined. Justice would be served. Until my dad thought of one question to ask: “Where did you hit the ball from? How far away?” I don’t remember the exact answer but it was sufficiently far enough to impress my dad. My brother had to pay the fix the window, and he had to promise to only hit balls the other direction. But in the end, he got kudos from my dad on his incredible shot. I was shocked and dismayed.
Sometimes it only takes one good argument to change a verdict. That’s what Israel was banking on at the beginning of Hosea 8!
Remember back a few weeks, when we studied the beginning of God’s indictment against Israel? We pictured a courtroom setting, with God being the prosecutor, jury and judge and Israel as the defenseless defendant, without even a witness to testify on their behalf. Since that point, we’ve observed God lay out his case against them. His case is strong and the verdict is decided from the beginning. Israel is guilty.
Well, this week we get to hear Israel’s defense. We must read into the text a bit to catch it, but it’s there, in verse 2. All of their hope lies in this one argument – “But God, we’re your people. We know you. I mean, that’s who we are, right? We’re Israel! You have to overlook our offenses.” They think they have the religion thing covered. They were born to Israelite families living in Israelite land. Their identity was secure. They were God’s chosen people. Descendants of Abraham, descendants of Moses.
Does this argument stand in court? Certainly not. We read on to verse 3 and see God’s response. “You could have known me. You should have known me. But instead you have rejected what is good. You have forgotten what is good. You have forgotten and rejected me. And you will reap the consequences.” In other words, he is telling them: “Your actions speak louder than your words. Your actions speak louder than your nationality or your lineage. Your actions prove who you really love.”
Our main idea this morning: Israel claims to know God, but proves otherwise through their self-reliance. This is why they face judgment.
Their self-reliance can be summarized in two points:
1.They create their own (perceived) security.
2.They create their own (false) worship.
They create their own (perceived) security.
Verse 4b “They set up kings without my consent;
they choose princes without my approval.”
They sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no head;
it will produce no flour.
Were it to yield grain,
foreigners would swallow it up.
8 Israel is swallowed up;
now she is among the nations
like something no one wants.
9 For they have gone up to Assyria
like a wild donkey wandering alone.
Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.
10 Although they have sold themselves among the nations,
I will now gather them together.
They will begin to waste away
under the oppression of the mighty king.”
So, Israel is working hard to ensure her security. To no avail, but that’s not God’s point here. His point is two-fold. They have forgotten where good rulers come from, and they have forgotten who keeps them safe from their enemies.
Now, verse 4 may seem quite understandable in our democratic society. But remember that Israel’s kingship was often determined through treachery and anarchy, cutthroat politics and bloody power struggles. 2 Kings 15 gives us an overview of the kings of Israel in Hosea’s day. It’s safe to say that kings weren’t elected by popular vote. So how is this indictment against Israel just?
If we think back to Israel’s first two kings, we get a picture of what God means. Saul was the first king. God gave Saul to Israel amid their pleas that they have a king so that they could be like other nations. It was not the timing God desired. It was not the king that God wanted for his people. But he gave them what they wanted. He gave them a man who looked and sounded like their perception of a great king. It all seemed perfect until it wasn’t. Saul, like Israel, forgot God and thought he would be better off going his own way. And his kingdom fell down around him.
The second king was David. David was God’s king. He was a man after God’s own heart. He led the people well, and brought God’s blessing upon them.
The quality of the king resembled the quality of the people. If Israel had been following God and remembering his statutes, their kingship would have looked much different. They would have desired leaders who followed Him. They would have trusted in God to choose the leaders. They would have put their hope in him rather than in earthly kings. But because they wanted to do things on their own, God allowed them to do so. Thinking we know better than God never pays off, does it?
Look again at verses 7-10. Not only has the nation tried to attain their security through kings, but also through foreign policy. 2 Kings 15:19-20, 29; 17:1-6.
Israel is like a wind. They blow back and forth, aligning themselves with whatever power seems safer at the moment. There is just so much sad irony here!
Israel was the people that God led through the wilderness. Israel was the nation that God exalted over all of the other nations. When he led them into battle, when they listened to him and obeyed, they defeated the nations left and right. God made Israel to be a great nation, a people feared by the foreigners around them. But who lives in fear now? Israel. This is NOT because God has let them down. It is because they have let him down. They have forgotten who they are. They are looking for safety and security in all of the wrong places.
We have seen over and over so far in our study of Hosea that sin blinds. Sin deceives. It both whispers and shouts that we have to make our own way, figure it out for ourselves. Sin had blinded Israel from seeing that safety and security could only be found in God himself. Not in creating alliances with whatever foreign government seemed to hold the most power or wealth at the time. Oh Israel, it should have been you! The others should have been coming to you begging for shelter. But you have forgotten your God.
I am not necessarily a big political person, but I can’t deny that a big part of our passage this week speaks to just that. I think it leads us to ask “Where do I put my hope and trust? Is it in the leadership of my country? Is it in foreign policy? Do I trust God’s sovereignty in political matters?”
These questions have been put to us a lot over the past six months, in light of this year’s dramatic election and political climate. So we won’t dwell on it too much this morning. But we need to be mindful that our hearts are quick to put hope and trust in wrong places. Do we believe that political leaders or policies are our source of safety and security? Are we tempted to think that our future hope lies in having the right person in the White House? Do we despair if our democratic society promotes candidates and leaders that stand for everything we are against? These are complex issues. And yes, we should participate in the democracy that we have the privilege to reside in. We should promote leaders who stand for what matters to God. But our trust and hope should always be in God. He is our only source of safety and security. No leader or foreign policy can ever take away his sovereignty.
They create their own (false) worship.
8:4b-6 The good old golden calf. It has been evidence of Israel’s downfall for most of their history. Let’s think back to the first time we see this golden calf in Exodus 32:1-6. We looked at this passage in our homework.
Israel was worried and anxious. Their trusty leader, Moses, had been up on Mt Sinai for forty days and nights. It seems that they figured he wasn’t coming back down. So they went to Aaron and demanded help. Without going into too much detail in the story, let’s observe the root of the problem: They fail to understand God. They seem to think that Moses is the god who led them out of Egypt, and that without him they are in big trouble. Therefore, they believe they need to replace him. Now, you kind of have to feel for Aaron. Apparently, though he played a significant role in bringing them out of Egypt and leading them through the wilderness, he is not considered god material. Instead, they want him to make them a god. So he makes them a golden calf. This whole passage is heartbreaking! Aaron says when his work is finished –
Exodus 32:4-5 “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”.
And the people’s response? Exodus 32:6 “The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” They think they have found the reassurance they needed. They didn’t need Moses. Now they had a god that wouldn’t go anywhere, that they could control. A predictable god. A safe god. But a powerless god. If we were to read on, we would find that the consequences for their idolatry were steep and painful. It did not go as they had hoped. God showed that he will allow his people to face the punishment for their actions in an effort to draw them to himself.
Now here, so many years later, we see the same old story of idolatry. Israel “spurned the good”, God has “spurned the calf.” They thought they could choose for themselves what to worship. Thought they could choose for themselves what mattered. But God says here that he will have the last say. They can attempt to make their own way and gain their own things. But what will happen when God has had enough? If they will not recognize on their own that their manmade idols are worthless and useless, God will show them. He will spurn these idols, and they will see clearly the powerlessness in them.
Now look down with me at verse 11. It seems the NIV translation might be the best understanding of verse 11 – “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings,
these have become altars for sinning.” Altars were supposed to be a place for offerings to God as a solution for the sins of the people. Instead, these altars are being used to promote idolatry. What is mean to be a place of worship has become a place of sin.
God’s frustration is great. No matter what he does to lead his people to holiness, they turn away. He says that there are no amount of laws that he can give them that will convince them of his goodness. In fact, they see his laws as strange things – alien and foreign, while accepting alien and foreign worship as something desirable. More law is not the answer when every piece of instruction is rejected. All normal remedies for setting people straight have failed.
They had spiritually retraced their steps to Egypt long before they did so physically. They enslaved themselves to sin, and as a result will be enslaved by Assyria.
All of Israel’s transgressions – their self-reliance and lack of reliance on God – can be summed up in the question that the Lord asks of them in verse 5. “How long will you be incapable of innocence?” For this is exactly Israel’s problem. They are a nation of sinners. Like all of humanity, they have a sin problem. Our lesson had us look at Adam, and the first sin. It led us to look at how sin has affected all people from that point forward. Humanity is marred by sin. Each one of us is incapable of innocence.
God gave chance after chance and law after law – not to try to fix the sin problem. He knew that it wouldn’t fix the sin problem. But to show people the sin problem. To show us that it is absolute truth: we are incapable of innocence. We are, like Israel, empty and reaping a whirlwind.
But God doesn’t stop with making us aware of the sin problem. His motive in making us aware is not just so that we can appreciate how much we deserve the punishment that is coming our way. No, it is to woo us to him. To bring us to desperation. To show us our great need of Him. To teach us just what a remarkable sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us when he shed his blood on the Cross to pay for our sins.
Through Jesus, we have the most beautiful gift given to us – innocence. If we put our trust in Jesus, when God looks upon his, he sees Jesus’ innocence covering us. No longer are we incapable of innocence. In fact, the Bible tells us that we have all that we need to live innocent lives. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
We do still struggle with sin, as our bodies are still cursed with a sin nature. But in Christ, we look forward to our future hope of a day when we will be set free from the curse. On that long-awaited day when we find ourselves in our Lord’s presence, not only will we find ourselves innocent…
We will find ourselves incapable of guilt.
What a wonderful day that will be!