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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (13) (Hosea 13)

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Study Number 13

(Hosea 13)

All through the prophecy of Hosea and, indeed, throughout the writings of the other prophets as well, the sin most frequently mentioned is that of idolatry. This was the sin that most easily beset the Jewish nation until the time of the captivity.

The ten northern tribes, collectively referred to as Ephraim, were the guiltiest of idolatry. Beginning with Jeroboam who made Israel to sin, and especially during the reign of Ahab, idolatry became a national characteristic.

God had done everything possible to keep them from falling into the sin of worshipping idols. He had rescued them from Egypt--a land teeming with idols--and revealed Himself to them as the Lord their God. At Sinai He had taken them to be His special people, making a covenant with them and giving them His law which stipulated that they were not to serve any other gods nor make for themselves any carved images. The Lord had cared for His people like a kind Father, providing all their needs and protecting them against all their enemies.

Whenever Israel honoured the Lord and obeyed His Word, all went well with them. This is the meaning of Hosea 13:1, where we read, When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel. A better translation is "when Israel spoke with trembling." In other words, as long as they worshipped God with a holy fear, God exalted them and gave them a position of honour and influence among the tribes. For years Ephraim was the leading tribe, the most populous and prosperous. As soon as he turned from God to idols, things started to go wrong. When he offended in Baal, that is, when he offended God by worshipping Baal, he died spiritually. Baal here is used as a synonym for idolatry.

By starting the worship of idols, Israel inflicted a deathblow upon himself from which he would never recover. From then on things went from bad to worse. As we read in verse 2, And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver and idols according to their own understanding. The way of idolatry, as of all other sins, is ever downhill.

God is a jealous God and will not give His glory to another. In verse 3 Hosea announces what God is going to do. Therefore they shall be as the mourning cloud and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney. They may feel secure and confident in their idol worship, but God will soon shake them out of their false peace. He will send the scourge of war and captivity upon them to show them that there is no solid comfort and safety apart from the true God and the worship He requires.

Yet God still loves that sinful people. To show that He seeks only their good, He says in verse 13, O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. We see that God first puts the blame for Israel's ruin squarely on themselves. When sinners perish, it is their own fault. They are all self-destroyers.

Isn't that true of us too? Do we not commit sins every day, which would plunge us into eternal ruin, if God would punish us for them? All we can do, left to ourselves, is sin and thus destroy ourselves. Therefore, if anyone is saved, it is only God's work. In me is thine help, the Lord says. In other words, Israel, your case is desperate, but not hopeless. If even now you turn to Me for help, if you repent and forsake your idols, I will help you.

Matthew Henry's comment on this passage is worth quoting:

This is a plank thrown out after shipwreck and greatly magnifies not only the power of God, that He can help when things are at their worst, but also it demonstrates the riches of His grace. God here says He is willing to help those who have destroyed themselves and therefore might justly be left to perish.

How had Israel destroyed itself? According to verse 16, they had rebelled against God by entering a covenant or alliance with the enemy. Not only by their idolatry, but also by their looking to Assyria and Egypt for help, they had made themselves guilty in God's sight. In this way they were treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath and so they destroyed themselves.

What made matters worse was that they were in no hurry to repent even though their sins had brought them in great distress as a result of the judgments which were already beginning to fall upon them. How then could God still be their help? By admitting that Assyria and Egypt were useless as allies and that only the Lord could save them. I will be thy king, God says in verse 10. Where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?

The Lord reminds Israel of the sin their fathers had committed when they had asked for a king during the time of Samuel. They had been tired of living under a theocracy whereby God was their King. They desired a king like other nations had, a king they could see.

The Lord says, I gave you a king in my anger, but took him away in my wrath. Saul turned out to be a failure, so God removed him and gave Israel David instead. He was not good enough for them either, so they broke away from David's house and set up another dynasty beginning with Jeroboam. Have these kings been able to help you, the Lord wants to know? If so, why do you now go to the Assyrians for help?

The time will come, the Lord predicts, when these very nations you now look to for help, will come to destroy you. Who then will help you? You will be in such dire straits that only I can deliver you. Yes, what no earthly king can do, namely restore you from death, I will do. That is the meaning of verse 14, where God says about Israel, languishing in exile, I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.

Captive Israel is likened to a corpse or a nation of corpses in the grave. Ephraim would "die" in the sense of being reduced to nothing, but God would raise His people again from the grave. He had mercy in store for that sinful nation. That was only possible because He would find a ransom for them. Who does not see here a reference to the Messiah of Israel Who would bring the ransom of His blood for all His people? All the elect of God lay dead in the grave of sin, but they have all been raised by Christ and are now with Christ.

Here is the Gospel for sinners: all who repent of their sins, the sin of idolatry as well as all other sins, and who believe in Jesus Christ, God's Ransom, will be justified. They will be covered with His righteousness and acquitted from all their guilt. They will be raised, first from the spiritual grave, but at the Last Day also from the literal grave. Death will be destroyed by Christ Who says here through Hosea: O death I will be thy plagues. This means that Christ became the plague and destruction of death, when He by His own death destroyed him who had the power of death, namely Satan, and when by His resurrection He triumphed over the grave.

The apostle Paul uses these words from Hosea 13 in I Corinthians 15, when changing them slightly, he says: O death, where is thy sting? He means, where is now your power to bring fear to sinners as they face death?

For all who are in Christ Jesus that sting, that fear, has been removed. Therefore, O grave where is thy victory? Where is your power to destroy and reduce to dust all who are laid in your bosom? Believers in Christ will arise from the pit of corruption and receive incorruptible bodies like the Body of their risen and exalted Lord.

Have you come to Christ yet for this help? If not, you are destroying yourself by your unbelief. That is the worst sin. Jesus says in John 16 that when the Spirit will convict of sin it is the sin of not believing on Christ that He will bring to their attention. You may think of a lot of other sins that will bring a person to perdition, but don't forget the real culprit: unbelief.

Some of the modern Bible versions translate Hosea 13:9 this way: "I will destroy you, O Israel, because you are against me, against your Helper" (NIV). The RSV has: "It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against me, against your Help." These are variant readings based on slightly different manuscripts, but they bring out a very important truth: ultimately it is our stubborn refusal to come to Christ that will bring us to destruction and that will plunge us into hell.

The most dangerous thing is that so few will admit to such unbelief. Especially orthodox but unsaved Christians are reluctant to see themselves as unbelievers. You don't say, I don't believe in Christ, or, I don't believe He can help or save me. You prefer to say: I don't know if God has chosen me to salvation, or, maybe the Gospel is not meant for me, or some other subterfuge.

The Lord makes it very clear here. He says: in me is your help. If He said, in Me is help for sinners, that would be precious already--more than we deserve, but the Lord wants you to know that there is help available for YOU.

How can it be for me, says one, I have sinned too much and too long! I have destroyed myself. Yes, you have, the Lord says, you sure have, but in Christ I am able to save such self-destroyed and self-destroying sinners.

Throw yourself upon Him with all your sins and ask Him to save you! Believe that He is sincere in offering His help to you. Would God lie? Would He say something like that to tease you? He means every word, whether it is a warning or a promise. You may be sure He speaks the truth and nothing but the truth, and the truth you need to concern yourself with is His promise that if you come as a lost sinner, pleading His mercy, He will help you, without delay. Your sins will be forgiven and eternal life will be yours to enjoy.

This is too good to be true, you may say. If the Gospel would not speak in such grandiose terms, maybe I could believe it. But the Gospel is Good News--it cannot be less than what it is. Everything God says is good, infinitely good, because He is good.

If someone would come to your house and say: a distant relative died and left you $10 million, you would be surprised, in shock, maybe in disbelief, but you would eventually get over your shock and find out whether it was true. What God has in store for you is far better than any treasure here on earth. Find out, put in your claim--your faith claim--and you will have wealth beyond compare!

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