Today’s reading begins with Hosea announcing Israel’s punishment. Other nations are rejoicing perhaps because it is the harvest time, the final one of the year. A festival was ordained by God but the Israelites had turned it into a wild pagan festival, acting just like all the other nations. However, Israel was supposed to be different, just like we are to be different than the rest of the world. Israel loved the pay of the prostitutes and they ignorantly believed that their wine and grain offerings were payment for their worship of the Canaanite fertility god. As punishment God would reduce their harvest so much they would go hungry and it would not matter how much they planted. They would still go hungry. And, He would exile them to Assyria in 722 B.C. There in an unclean land they would eat unclean food, further separating themselves from the Lord and His covenant with them. While they were in exile they could not offer legitimate sacrifices because any sacrifice in a foreign land was unclean and defiled. Some of the exiles might try to escape and flee to Egypt but God’s judgement would reach them there as well. You can run but you cannot hide. The Israelites were sinful and they refused to believe God’s words of judgement as they were delivered by the prophets. They mockingly cried out that these prophets were crazy.
Watchmen were important people in any city. They would look for approaching armies and sound the alarm so that the city could be made secure and they could prepare for battle. The prophets acted as watchmen for the Lord because He sent them to warn the people of judgement and urge them to repent. They stood atop the city walls but the prophets never received respect. All they received were hostilities. Once again God reminded His people they are depraved and just like the people in Gibeah. This story is found in Judges 19. The men of Gibeah raped and murdered a young woman and this started a civil war. Those who witnesses the violent deed said it was the worst crime ever committed in Israel’s history until the time of Hosea. The sins of Hosea’s generation rivaled the infamous Gibeah murder. Hosea, like Ezekiel speaks of the Lord finding and adopting chaste, innocent Israel in the desert. But their participation in idol worship had made them vile. This Hebrew word can also be translated as detestable or abominable. They inevitably resembled what they worshiped. They worshiped Baal to make sure they would have many children but God would punish them by preventing birth, pregnancy, and even conception. Rather than gaining more children, the Israelites idolatry would backfire, resulting in their children’s death. As a people, Israel’s wickedness began at Gilgal. This was the place where Joshua set up camp in the promised land. This was the place where Saul was made king, and where he was rejected as king because of his disobedience. Israel’s leaders, including their very first king led them away from their true king, the Lord. Because of their sins God would love them no more. This was a also the name of Hosea’s daughter. See Hosea 1:6. God’s judgement would cut them off from the land and they would wander because they no longer had a home.
Chapter 10 brings the Lord’s judgement against Israel. She was God’s luxuriant, fruitful vine. But she falsely attributed her prosperity to the Canaanite gods rather than the Lord. Worse yet, she sent the riches and blessings God had given her to the Canaanite idols in worship. Sacred pillars could be acceptable memorials but God prohibited the Israelites from using them in worship because the Canaanites did. The Lord would destroy all the places and things used in Canaanite worship practices. What we see in verse 3 anticipates the people’s response when God’s judgement came to destroy Israel’s political stability and independence. There are two different interpretations of this verse. Some believe these words are an acknowledgment that the troubles Israel would face were because they did not fear the Lord. Others see this verse as Israel’s arrogant rejection of the Lords kingship. Israel is in trouble because they are unfaithful and they love what they are doing and will do and this brings poisonous weeds. Beth-aven means house of wickedness and Israel is more worried that the golden calf they are worshiping will be taken by the Assyrians than they are worried about their disobedience to the Lord. Eventually this would bring shame to Israel. The place of idol worship in Beth-aven where Israel sinned so spectacularly would crumble and they would beg the mountains to bury them or fall on them. That was how they hoped to survive the catastrophe of God’s judgement against them. Again the great sin committed at Gibeah was brought up. This led to sinning and even more sinning for the northern kingdom. God’s punishment for them would be that they would be overwhelmingly defeated in war just like they were in Judges. Because Israel was not faithful to the covenant the Lord would place a heavy yoke on her. This was the divine correction needed to return Israel back to the Lord. Israel preferred to be unrestrained like an unmuzzled heifer at the threshing floor that can simply bend down and eat the grain. Israel’s rebellious spirit required harsh treatment, like a farmer binding his calf to the yoke and forcing it to do hard labor. Threshing in this context refers to Israel’s service to the Lord and plowing refers to the discipline that Israel had to acquire through judgement and exile.
For the umpteenth time Hosea called Israel to repentance. He used agricultural metaphors and promised a blessing if the people did what God commanded. In grace, even as he announced God’s judgement, he offered Israel the chance to repent and receive God’s blessing. The identity of Shalman is not known and this is the only place in scripture where he is mentioned. This event is not mentioned anyplace else either but it must have been well known to Hosea’s audience.
God agonized over Israel’s unfaithfulness. Despite all He had done, Israel had become a rebel. God’s justice required severe punishment but ultimately, the final sentence for Israel would come from God’s tender compassion for His people. There is a lot of repetition here with the disobedience of Israel and God’s punishment. The Lord adopted Israel when He delivered him out of Egypt. But the penalty for rebellion against the Lord was death. Gods nurtured Israel with kindness and love but still she rebelled. And because Israel had refused to return to the Lord, they would return to Egypt and serve Assyria. Their last bondage in Egypt was a symbol for their coming exile in Assyria. Justice demanded Israel’s death but the Lord recoiled at the thought of losing Israel. Admah and Zeboiim were cities near Sodom and Gomorrah that God totally destroyed.
The Lord said No. He alone would determine Israel’s fate and three times He said “I will not”, emphasizing His decision to not completely destroy His people. Why? Because God is the Holy One of Israel who lives among His people. His Holiness distinguishes Him from every created thing. The good news is this: Israel’s sin would not have the last word. God in His holy love would roar like a lion, calling His people home from exile.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W