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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (10) (Hosea 8)

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Study Number 10

(Hosea 8)

In chapter 8 of the prophecy of Hosea the prophet spells out Israel's sins and warns against the impending judgment. Israel's sin can be summed up in one word: forgetfulness. Verse 14 states: Israel has forgotten his Maker. This is the charge laid against the northern kingdom by the Lord through His servant Hosea. Does this mean that Israel has forgotten that God exists? Has she forgotten perhaps, who the true God is? No, Israel knew very well that God was there and they thought they were worshipping Him.

What does Hosea mean, then, when he says Israel has forgotten her Maker? He means that Israel has neglected Him. Israel knew God intellectually, but she had neglected Him by pushing Him aside. She had allowed other things to crowd Him out of her mind. She had become preoccupied with things of the world and the flesh.

The problem was not an intellectual forgetting of God, but a moral forgetting, in which the true worship of Jehovah and conscientious obedience to His commandments are neglected. It is interesting that the Hebrew word for forget can also be translated "mislay" here. Israel had mislaid or misplaced God, as people sometimes do, when they misplace an object, say an envelope containing an important document. We have all done that, I'm sure. You put it in a drawer somewhere and promptly forget about it. You know where it is if you need it, but for all intents and purposes you have forgotten it, you don't think of it very often. That's what Israel had done by Hosea's time. They had filed God away somewhere and went on with other things.

I'm afraid that this sin is still being committed in many churches today. Not that God is denied. On the contrary, He is acknowledged, often with great ceremony and impressive service. The problem is that many worshippers seem to forget that God requires more than outward profession. We may think we honour God by adhering to the orthodox faith and the doctrines of the Bible, but if we do not live our faith and experience the power of those doctrines, we are just as guilty as Israel. Then we have also forgotten God, our Maker.

Wherever this sin is committed there are certain fruits and results that come to expression in the life-style of nations and individuals. Hosea mentions six consequences that resulted from Israel's forgetting of God. They are: 1) covenant breaking; 2) choosing leaders without God's approval; 3) idol worship; 4) alliances with heathen nations; 5) erecting false altars; and 6) building large palaces. Let us briefly review each of these sins.

The chapter opens with a trumpet blast. Set the trumpet to your mouth, the Lord tells His servant. The king of Assyria shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord because they have transgressed My covenant and trespassed against My law, God says. God had made a covenant with Israel at Sinai and given them His law to live by. Israel had accepted that covenant and agreed to its terms. Later, they had broken God's covenant and transgressed His law. Yet Israel does not admit this. When the Lord accuses them of this sin, they protest: my God, we know Thee! They dared to say this because they were children of Abraham and therefore assumed they were also children of God. They did not realize, however, that mere natural relationships have no value in God's sight. They knew God only outwardly. They could not say, we love Thee and obey Thee from the heart. This was their tragic mistake and one that is still being made by many religious people.

The second sin of which Hosea accuses Israel is that they have chosen kings and other leaders for themselves without asking for divine approval. They have set up kings but not by me, the Lord says, they have made princes and I knew it not (vs.4). In founding the ten-tribe nation, Jeroboam and his successors had appointed themselves, with the tacit approval of the people. No one asked what God's will was in these matters. They simply appointed kings and princes at will. This meant that they ruled without divine authority. In God's eyes they were rebels against the royal house of David (I Ki.11:27ff.).

This sin is also committed in our time. Politics is often a very sinful business. Who still asks the Lord for guidance as to who to vote for? People tend to choose those candidates who promise the most. No wonder they get the leaders they deserve.

The third sin with which Israel is charged here is the sin of idolatry. Verse 4 says of their silver and gold have they made them idols. Jeroboam had set up golden calves and dedicated altars to them. He had done this to keep his subjects from going to Jerusalem to worship there. In God's eyes this was idolatry, of course, but Israel did not think they were guilty of this sin. Like their ancestors at Sinai, they really thought they were worshipping God through these calves.

Fourth on the list of divine charges is the sin of making alliances with heathen nations (vv.8-10). Hosea quotes the Lord saying, They have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself, etc. Most English translations interpret this statement as a comparison, so they translate: Israel has gone up to Assyria like a wild donkey wandering alone. But the word like is not in the original. What the Hebrew says literally is this: for they have gone up to Assyria. A wild ass wanders alone. Ephraim has hired lovers.

What the prophet means is this: whereas the wild donkey prefers to live alone and associates himself only with his own kind, Israel, the people of God which He has separated for Himself, seeks alliances with heathen nations. The Lord calls this spiritual adultery. They have hired lovers, He complains.

Israel's sin is great, but are we not guilty of similar sins? Do we not also seek the friendship of the world, many times?

Then, in the fifth place, there was the sin of building false altars. God recognizes only one altar whereby sinners have access to Him and that is the altar He himself has appointed. In the Old Testament this was the altar in Jerusalem. Ultimately, of course, the reference is to Jesus Christ Who is both altar and sacrifice. Ephraim was making many altars even though God had clearly forbidden this in his law.

Hosea mentions one more sin that Israel was committing, namely that of building temples. The Hebrew word means literally spacious buildings and may refer to palaces as well as temples, probably the former. When a nation forgets God, it becomes interested in building great things. Think of Hitler's Germany, the huge buildings he constructed in honour of the German people and, of course, himself as the Fuhrer.

This has been true throughout history. When, not only nations, but individuals, choose to live without God, they need a substitute. Hence the passion for big things, giant skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, big boats, roomy cars, spacious homes. Beginning with the tower of Babel, fallen man has been struggling upward towards the heavens, wanting to be like God, the finite seeking to reach the infinite. It cannot be done.

What all these efforts of man have in common is that they must compensate for the loss of his original relationship with God. This passion for bigness seems to be infecting even our churches today. I'm thinking of the mega-churches that are springing up everywhere. Building a large church is not wrong as such, of course, but there is always the danger that pride sets in and man glorifies himself rather than God. We often see that the bigger the church building the less God's presence is felt and His saving power experienced. Often, the spacious building serves to cover up spiritual poverty and emptiness.

Hosea charges Judah with a similar sin. Judah, he says, has multiplied fenced cities. What was their motive in doing this? If constructing spacious palaces demonstrates man's quest for greatness, the building of fortified cities signifies his quest for security. Man without God is afraid, so he builds ever bigger weapon systems to protect himself. Surely, we know all about that striving in our recent past in the "Cold War."

To trust in such things is wrong. God is our refuge and our strength. Is He your refuge and your strength? Or are you still leaning on the arm of flesh? Those who trust in fortified cities, Hosea says, do so in vain, for God Himself will destroy them. I will send a fire upon the palaces of Israel and the fortified cities of Judah, the Lord warns, which shall devour all those magnificent structures of which they boasted and in which they trusted.

The enemy will put everything to the torch and destroy both cities and temples. Fire is a symbol of divine wrath. Isaiah said, The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isa.33:14) The answer is, the sinners in Zion. Those guilty of the sins mentioned in this chapter--they shall perish in the coming destruction.

Some will escape that destruction and that fearful judgment of the Lord. Who are they? All who repent in time and who turn to the Lord with confession of sins. Isaiah says of these people in the next verse that they walk righteously and speak uprightly.

Who can dwell with fire? The upright and the pure who do not forget God, who live in a right relationship with the Lord and with their neighbour--people who love God and who approach Him via the true altar Jesus Christ. They do the exact opposite of what Hosea says about apostate Israel. They do not break His covenant, but keep it. Indeed, it is by God's grace, but they walk in His ways and love His commandments which are not grievous to them. They do not follow leaders of their own choosing but submit to office-bearers appointed by God, and especially their great Office-Bearer, Jesus Christ. They worship the true God rather than idols, live the separated life, trust in God alone, and seek to worship Him as He has commanded, approaching God through the only Mediator, Jesus Christ. They do not look for greatness and are content with such things as they have.

Do you recognize yourself in this description? Are you among those who remember God, or do you belong to those who forget Him? It is true, God's children also have to confess that they often forget Him, but when they confess this sin and seek cleansing for it in Jesus' blood, the Lord tells them that although they forget Him days without number, He never forgets them, no not for a moment.

He remembers mercy;
Faithful to His own,
And our God's salvation
All the earth has known.

This will be the burden of Hosea's message in the last part of his prophecy.

Here in this section, however, the emphasis is on the danger of forgetting God. We have seen what such forgetting produces. It yields a bitter harvest of sin. Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind. Let us heed this warning! As the apostle Paul says, He who sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

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