Today, we come to the climax of Hosea’s prophecies of doom, Hosea chapter 13 (though not the climax of the book). It is a dark chapter, full of accusations against Israel and promises of God’s judgment. We see two of our three prophetic buckets at work. The text alternates between “accusation” and promise of the coming “day of the Lord”, a day filled with judgment. But we don’t see our third prophetic bucket. We don’t see a call to repentance. We don’t see it, because it’s not there. Israel has persisted and persisted in her idolatry against Yahweh and now God is going to visit Israel with vengeance and in fury. Douglas Stuart says that “The wrath of God against the people of God who have broken his covenant is here portrayed with intensity unmatched elsewhere in Hosea” (Word Biblical Commentary, 209). Unmatched in Hosea? You mean it’s going to get worse than what we’ve already seen?! Yes. The imagery and poetic language employed by the prophet is going to climax in scenes we’re uncomfortable with: God tearing his own people apart like a ferocious animal, an east wind stripping Israel of everything precious to them, young ones dashed to pieces, pregnant women being ripped open.
I want to point out a right and a wrong response to a text like this: It’s right to be horrified by such images. Sin and its accompanying judgment is horrifying. Christians are not stoics who are unmoved by the tragic nature of sin. It should shock us. It’s wrong to lay blame at God’s feet for what’s about to happen to Israel. There’s a temptation to read this text and think, “How could a good, loving God do something like this?” In fact, it’s passages like these that unbelievers constantly reference when they say they couldn’t follow a God who acts capriciously and just kills off his own people. Just this week, Neal and I were listening to an apologetics podcast by Razi Zacharias on a college campus and the students brought this question up. How can someone follow the terrifying God of the OT who orders and brings about such destruction?
But this is to read the text out of its immediate literary context and its full historical context. Before we grow indignant with God and accuse him of acting capriciously or “flying off the handle” like an abusive husband or father, we need to frame this chapter in its proper historical and literary context. After YEARS AND YEARS of persisting in their rebellion against God, God is finally going to bring consequences upon Israel for their choices. These consequences or covenant curses are clearly outlined in the covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. The covenant that Israel willingly entered into in Exodus. In Exodus 19:8 the people of Israel responded to the covenant outlined by Moses and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” They entered into a binding covenant with Yahweh knowing the consequences if they broke that covenant.
And they broke the covenant. Over…and over…and over again! And God held off his judgment year in and year out. Read the books of 1 and 2 Kings and you will see how the northern and southern kingdoms persisted in blatant rebellion against God. And he raised up one prophet after another to call them to repentance and draw them back into covenantal relationship with God. He gave them one chance after another to repent and be faithful. Now, time is up. The people are going to experience the consequences of their choices.
This is something we understand in almost every other area of life. If we step away from the graphic images and emotional response it conjures up for a few minutes, then as grown adults we can acknowledge that all of life has consequences. For every choice we make there is a corresponding consequence. This can be good or bad depending on the choice. Example—good diet with portion control leads to health and weight loss. Bad diet with excessive calories often leads to poor health and weight gain. These are facts of life. We may hate it, we may resist it, we may try and wish it away, but, at the very least, we know and accept it to be true.
It just happened to me. Getting on scale. As much as I wanted to act appalled and shocked. I knew it all added up. Overeating lots of poor food (even if it’s gluten-free) for over a month adds up…literally! This is just a consequence of my actions. And I know it.
This is just the way life works. We make real choices that have real consequences. And Israel has made their choice—they prefer Baal over Yahweh. And now, in chapter 13, we’re going to see the consequences of that horrific choice. Time is up. The people are going to experience the consequences of their choices.
Turn to Hosea 13. As you turn I’ll give you the big idea for today’s passage:
Because Israel persisted in idolatry, God will bring judgment.
And that will form our two points for today:
- Because Israel persisted in idolatry (13:1-8)…
- …God will bring judgment (13:9-16).
Because Israel persisted in idolatry…
First, consider Ephraim’s fall in verses 1-3. Hosea tells us that Ephraim, that is the northern kingdom of Israel, was powerful and commanding. This hearkens back to the northern kingdom immediately following the death of Solomon when the kingdom split. The northern kingdom made up of ten of the twelve tribes and was ruled by King Jeroboam I. It grew quickly in power and prestige. The northern kingdom emerged as the stronger kingdom, with Jeroboam quickly establishing himself and his rule in Samaria, the capital city. The northern kingdom, Israel or Ephraim, was exalted in all of Israel.
BUT—there is a major shift in the narrative. Ephraim “incurred guilt through Baal and died.” Hosea continues to explain that they sin more and more by making idols for themselves. It was said that they “kiss calves.” This means they paid honor and homage to idols. The historical scene of Ephraim’s fall from grace can be traced back to Jeroboam I’s actions after he seized the throne (about two centuries earlier).
Some historical background is helpful here. In the north, Jeroboam had a new big kingdom, but he also had a problem. The presence of the Lord remained in the south so his people continually went to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. He feared his people would wind up back under Rehoboam’s rule so he created his own worship system in the north, erecting two golden calves for the people to worship. This didn’t go well for Aaron in Exodus 32 and it doesn’t go well for Jeroboam here. He repeated the exact sin of Aaron and the Israelites in Exodus 32. He even repeats Aaron’s words, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28). Are you stinking kidding me? This was one of Israel’s most foolish moments. Yet, the first thing the king does in the north is repeat Aaron’s folly.
But it wasn’t just Jeroboam I. Every single king in the northern kingdom sinned wickedly against the Lord. There was Ahab and his wife Jezebel, Jeroboam II, Jehu who kept Jeroboam’s golden calves. Do you know there was not ONE godly king in the whole history of the northern tribes? NOT ONE. And as the king goes, so go the people. The people of Israel were more than happy to follow one wicked king after another, offering sacrifices to Baal, offering child sacrifices to demonic gods, hiring craftsman to make elaborate idols.
Hosea says they are dead! They had died, spiritually speaking, long ago. Much like Adam and Eve who committed sin and “died” though they lived on, the northern kingdom is also dead spiritually. There is no good among the people. No godliness, no repentance, no remorse. Though they live on, they are dead. But they won’t live on forever. Hosea promises that they will become like the morning mist, the dew that goes away early, the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor, or like smoke that dissipates. The point is that the northern tribe is going to cease to exist. God is going to wipe them out.
There is a lot of historical work to be done in this text, but it still has implications for us today. Note verse 2, “And now they sin more and more…” This gives us a window into the nature of idolatry. There is a progressive downward spiral nature to sin. It’s easy to think I’m just going to finish this particular sin and THEN I’m going to give myself more fully to God. I’ve heard some people say (specifically addicts) that they will persist in their sin until they hit the bottom and then they will reach back out to God. Yet, sin has no bottom! Sin is an endless cycle carries that you further and further away from Jesus. You give in more and more until one day you awake consumed by your idolatry. Sin promises relief from temptation (and it often it delivers on that momentarily), but you wind up craving it even more…needing it. It’s a dark oppressive cycle.
We need to be quick to repent of our sin to God and others. Expose it in the light and walk in the light alongside others. This is a huge piece of being part of the local church. It’s a place where we can confess sins to one another and build each other up. We can also help keep each other from falling into the cycle of sin and getting trapped in it. I have found that one of the neatest (though very hard) things about being a vibrant part of the body of Christ is that someone else can reach out and grab me out of the oppressive sin cycle when I’m unable to see my blind spots and get out. Praise God how he works through his people!!
Second, consider God’s fury in verses 4-8. David Hubbard says that God’s accusation in verses 1-3 is now “strengthened by the self-introduction of Yahweh and the stinging reminder of his grace” in the Exodus event (Hosea: An Introduction & Commentary, 213). God reminds them of who he is and what he has done for them. He is the one true God, there is NO God but him. There is no savior or help apart from him. He was the one who saw their groaning in Egypt. He heard their cries. He delivered them.
This text implicitly asks the questions, “Where was Baal when they were oppressed in Egypt? Where was Baal when they were hungry in the wilderness? Did Baal deliver them from Pharaoh? Did Baal feed them with manna from the heavens?” Of course not, everything Israel was and everything Israel had was a direct result of their relationship to Yahweh. He had called them out of Egypt. He had graciously provided for all of their needs. He had made them prosper both spiritually and materially.
And how did they respond? Hosea gives us a clear pattern of their response. They ate and became full – when they were full they became filled – when they were filled their hearts were lifted up in pride – they forgot God.
Look at verse 6, “Therefore, they forgot me.” Because of all the good things GOD had given them, they forgot God, the GIVER of everything they had!! In their idolatry, their hearts became proud. Hosea 13:7-8 shows us just how serious this idolatry is. God despises the heart that is lifted up against him. He opposes the proud. Vivid images of God as ferocious animals fill verses 7-8. He is a lion that devours. He is a leopard that lurks. He is a mother bear robbed of her cubs. The point is that God is going to come and devour the northern kingdom.
There is a powerful implication here. When we prosper, whether spiritually, materially, or relationally the human temptation is to forget God. When we are doing well, we can be very tempted to forget all about God. I see this often in our walks with Jesus. Big parallel here as the Exodus event is the prototype of salvation in the New Testament. Like the Israelites, we were totally enslaved. We were in bondage to Satan, sin, and death and there was no way we could rescue ourselves. We were hopeless. We were dead! Dead people can’t help themselves. But then God intervened and through Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death, and vindicating resurrection he saved us. God saved us through Jesus! He gave us everything—a new heart, a new community of believers, and a new life.
And yet, the temptation for many of us is to forget God somewhere along the way. We start to look to our own good works to be the source of our ongoing justification before God. We look to our quiet times to make us feel good about ourselves. Or we look to our parenting or hard work or grades or involvement in the church and we feel hints of pride over “how great we are.” We turn our parenting into idolatry or our spouse into our god or our bodies or our homes or our intelligence into our gods. We live as if we expect those things to save us on the final day! All the while we forget that anything good we have, children, health, a home, a vibrant walk with Jesus, EVERYTHING is a gift from a loving God.
It’s been said often that we take “good things” (i.e., gifts from God) and make them “god things” (i.e., idolatry). Now, today, under the new covenant believers in Christ do not face the same threat of judgment that the Israelites did during Hosea’s day. But the timeless truth found in this text is that idolatry is serious. Sin is serious. It’s much more serious than we make it out to be!
Examples: A little flirting with a married co-worker, a little look at that website, a little gossip, a little binge watching or shopping to make ourselves feel better, a little idolatry of our spouse or children (doesn’t God want me to have a good marriage after all??)…all of it can seem so harmless, especially compared to the worship of golden calves. Yet, idolatry of any sort is an outright rejection of the Lord who saved you. It’s to commit adultery on God through idolatry. And idolatry makes God furious. He is a jealous husband, who will not allow you to persist in giving yourself over to someone else.
We HAVE to have higher view of the seriousness of sin. It’s how Adrienne began the book of Hosea and it’s how we’ll end the book—sin is serious and it has serious consequences.
That’s our second point.
…God will bring judgment (13:9-16).
Verse 9-13 reiterates my point from the beginning, Israel will suffer punishment for her consequences. He will destroy Israel precisely because Israel is against God. God wanted to save Israel. He longed to restore her. That’s why he sent one prophet after another to call them to repentance. But, they wouldn’t have it. They rejected the help that God gave them (specifically in their rejection of God’s Word through the prophets). The irony here of course is that they are rejecting their only true source of hope. Hosea asks rhetorical questions about their kings to make a point—Their kings won’t be able to save them. Like their first king Saul, who proved to be a total failure, their kings will prove worthless in saving them when judgment comes.
If only they would let go of their sin and turn to him. But they cherish it too much! Look at verse 12: Ephraim’s sin is bound up within him. It’s become a part of Israel. They refuse to let it go. They harbor it in their hearts and continue to nurse their affections for false gods. Like an unwise son who refuses to be born, this refusal of God’s help will prove fatal. How foolish! They will lose the help of the One who made possible every good in their lives. And they can’t see this. They refuse to see this and choose to persist in their sin.
I think that’s what’s happening in the immediate context of verse 14. God is the only one who has power over the grave, he is the only one who can help deliver them from Sheol (here used in terms of the designation of the wicked after death. Sheol can also means the place of the dead, good and wicked) and death. But they refuse his help. So judgment and damnation is coming. They have rejected the only power strong enough to save them.
Douglas Stuart says, “By detaching themselves from their only real source of life, the Israelites guaranteed their own death as a nation” (209).
So God gives his final verdict in this chapter…
Though everything looks fine to Israel, it looks like they’re flourishing, the east wind will come and destroy them. Look back at the previous context in Hosea 12:1. Ephraim has been pursuing the east wind all the day long. What is this east wind? It tells you right afterwards. It’s Assyria. They’ve been pursuing a covenant with Assyria much to God’s dismay. But here the easy wind is called “the wind of the Lord”, and it will come and strip them of everything they consider of value.
So is the east wind that will destroy Israel Assyria or the Lord? Yes. God is going to use the wicked nation of Assyria to carry out his judgments. So it’s Assyria that will come from the east and put them under siege for years cutting off their water and food supply, causing them to starve. They will strip their treasury and goods and take every precious thing from the northern kingdom. They will eventually be conquered and fall by the sword. But at the level of causation it’s the Lord’s punishment being carried out through this wicked nation.
In verses 15-16 Hosea is uses graphic and horrifying imagery to explain that all of life will be cut off. Children and pregnant women, the source of ongoing life, will be exttinct. Food sources will be emptied. Money and possessions will be taken. Anything that even faintly resembles life will be snuffed out. The northern kingdom will in fact be cut off from God.
Why? Why (and how?!) could God allow this?? Why would God do this?? Though God was the agent of judgment don’t forget the truth that is on every page of the book of Hosea—Israel did this; Israel rejected God.
Verse 16 says, “Samaria shall bear her guilt.” That sums up the whole chapter. Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom here representing Israel, will bear her guilt. She’s going to be destroyed because she chose this path. She will quite literally become what she worshiped. She worshiped nothing (Baal) and she will come to nothing.
This text is intense. I don’t think we should try to present it any other way. Sin is serious and it has serious consequences. We know that the northern kingdom was eventually carried off into exile and wiped out because of their covenant violation. They went down to the place of the dead with no one to redeem them as a nation.
But is that the same story for us today? As we’ve said many times throughout this study, we shouldn’t make a direct 1:1 correlation between Israelites under the old covenant and believers under the new. So there are timeless truths we can glean from this passage, but we don’t directly apply it in the same manner that your average Israelite would have when reading it post-exile.
You see, when we put our NT glasses on we discover that Paul directly cites from verse 14 in 1 Corinthians 15:55 in one of the greatest NT explanations of the resurrection.
Douglas Stuart says, “Israel got what it deserved as the wage of its sin: death (Rom. 6:23). But v. 14 of this very passage is excerpted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 to remind the believer that God’s free gift has reversed the usual pattern…Although the old covenant guaranteed death to the rebel, the new covenant in Christ provides victory over death. Christ has met once for all the full force of the covenant curses and by his own satisfaction of the law through payment of its penalty has rendered the power of the plagues of the old covenant ineffective against the Christian. The reward of resurrection of the believers to live eternally with God will replace in the new covenant the punishment of death and destruction which applied to Israel in the old covenant” (209-210).
What this means is that for those who put faith in Jesus and his work on the cross, you do not have to live in fear of judgment and eternal damnation as Hosea’s original hearers did. Death and hell have been defeated through Jesus’ atoning work. When he rose from the dead, he was the first-fruits of what is to come. All who trust in him, and are united to him in his death and resurrection, will experience spiritual resurrection at conversion and bodily resurrection at his return. Even as you struggle with idolatry, as serious as it is, you do not have to fear that you will meet the same punishment as Israel. There are consequences for sin, but Jesus always stands ready to forgive you of sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. So the application today both for the one who doesn’t know Jesus and those who do, LOOK TO JESUS. Turn to him. Perhaps for the first time in faith and repentance. Or, for the 1000th time to confess your sin and find refreshing forgiveness of your sin. There is hope, even in a text like this, because of Jesus!