Israel's Elopement - Part 2
Hosea chapter 4 begins the sordid story of Israel's 'elopement' with Baal. Israel had adopted some of her neighbours' idolatry. God's people had found it too difficult to cope with a God they could not see. In spite of all the miracles that he had done in the desert and since they arrived at the banks of the Jordan, Israel adopted other gods. Now established in the land as an agricultural people they sought the Canaanite agricultural god Baal and attributed to him all the wonderful gifts in the natural Creation, the blessings of grain, and flax and wool and vineyards.
We might ask why did Israel so treat God? We might just as well ask why are all humanity so stupid as to disobey God ‑ but we all do. The way in which the nations govern themselves, organise their commercial and industrial enterprises ‑ their love of power, violence, their endless quest for wealth and pleasure ‑ even their explanations about Creation ‑ all demonstrate the changeless acceptance of the Devil's temptation to disobey God. How much better are we, 'the Israel of God (Gal.6.16)?
Hosea's record of Israel's apostasy is a tragic catalogue of woes. Idolatry is not just entering a heathen temple and acknowledging a false god. It affects the whole way of life ‑ wrong attitudes to other people, wrong attitudes to animals and destruction of this wonderful planet. Environmental damage is not a new phenomenon ‑ it is the ongoing sin of the human way of life that fails to fulfil God's command to be stewards of His workmanship.
"Their deeds to do not permit them to return to their God". God wants the fellowship of His people and of all mankind, but there can be no union of darkness with light. It is sin that separates us from God. As their national life began to deteriorate so their enemies subjugated Israel. But God's people didn't ask Him what they had done wrong but sank lower in their immoral way of life.
At the end of chapter 5 we have God saying "I will return again unto my place until …." that interesting little word 'until' which we also find in the New Testament in Matt.23.39 which records Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, "For I tell you, you will not see my face again until…." After the 'until' comes the time of which James spoke at the council of Jerusalem when he quoted Amos 9.11 "After this I will return and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which is fallen; I will rebuild its ruins and I will set it up that the rest of men may seek the Lord."
To return to the problems of Israel in Hosea's time, their 'love is like the morning cloud' ‑ it quickly vanishes, it has no stability. Yet in chapter 6 verse 3 we have the key to all Earth's problems ‑ pressing on 'to know the Lord.' This is the knowledge that really counts and it is the way by which we shall receive an abundant entrance to God's kingdom. It is a knowledge based on an intimate relationship with God that can only come through true fellowship with Him. This is no passing acquaintance, not even a distant adoration of someone great. Nor is it an academic knowledge about God and His purposes, but a personal knowledge of One with whom we spend every day, in the rough and the smooth experiences of life. As we go through the Scriptures and look closely at the lives of the great men of God, it is worth noting the number of times that this 'getting to know God' occurs.
Hosea 6.6 must contain a very important principle because the Gospels have a record of Jesus having quoted it in two different incidents, which means he probably quoted it on a number of occasions. Perhaps there is good reason why it was uppermost in the Lord's mind. It has the greater impact upon our thinking if we interpret sacrifice in terms of formal outward religion whereas God desires real, inward piety. Jesus quoted from Hosea 6.6 when in Matthew's house at a meal with some tax collectors. The Pharisees criticised him for eating with such people. Jesus says that God desires mercy ‑ or in Old Testament language ‑ God desires 'covenant love' (Heb. chesed) rather than sacrifice or formal ritual. On another occasion when He was walking through a grain field with His disciples, they picked some grain, rubbed it in their hands and ate it. Again the Pharisees criticised their breaking of the Law by gleaning and winnowing grain on the Sabbath. Jesus defended his disciples against the criticism by reminding them of Hosea's words that God wanted mercy not sacrifice or love rather than outward religion. Jeremiah makes a similar point in 7.21 when he makes it clear that God is more interested in obedience than ritual. Micah reinforces the same lesson (Mic.6.8) when he affirms that what God really wants is justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with Him.
There is a small point at Hos.6.7 worth noting. The translation should read "At Adam" and not "like Adam". A small point but it may be that the wrong translation has led many to infer that God made a covenant with Adam but that is not confirmed anywhere else in Scripture.
In chapter 7 we have a series of word pictures that describe Israel's weak spiritual condition. The first is in v.8 which describes God's people as a "half baked cake". George Adam Smith dryly commented "how better describe a half-fed people, half cultured society, half-lived religion, half hearted policy than a half baked scone." Ephraim, one of Israel's largest tribes, often stands for the whole group of tribes that had broken away from Judah. They had mixed with pagan peoples and their love was lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, as in the church at Laodicea (Rev.3 15).
In Hosea 7.9 there is mention of grey hairs that they don't know about. They are like a man who thinks he is still in his prime and hasn't noticed his gradual decline. So with Israel, the spiritual deterioration was not all at once but had gone on slowly throughout their history in Canaan. Even in those supposedly wonderful days of David and Solomon, the friendship with the Phoenician peoples on the coast was bound to have serious effects on Israel's society. Those who travel abroad sometimes bring to the homeland wrong ideas from abroad, and commerce was their major objective. Israel was rich in the things of this world but unaware of how poverty stricken she was spiritually. We reap as we sow and as Paul writes, if we sow to the flesh we reap corruption.
Israel are described as a frantic dove in 7.11; like a silly bird that flits aimlessly from one perch to another. Israel kept faith with none in its diplomatic duplicity but was constantly leaning first one way and then the other between rising conquerors in the east and their old ally Egypt.
Israel are like a treacherous bow (7.16) unreliable and unable to save life at a critical point. In chapters 8 and 9 Israel's false prophets are fools and Israel as a nation have forgotten their Maker.
Finally in chapter 10 there is a reference to Israel as a luxuriant vine. But the more they materially prospered the more their false religion grew also. When their forefathers had been in the wilderness, twelve men, one from each tribe were sent to reconnoitre Canaan to discover the land. They reported back that they had seen a bunch of grapes so big that it took two men to carry it. The Vine was the national emblem, emblazoned on the Temple gate. Its significance is seen in the Old Testament in Psalm 80.8; Isa.5.1; Jer.2.21; and Ezekiel 15. Most important of all is the New Testament reference, in Jesus' parable in John 15.1‑6 when He showed that He was the true vine and his people are the branches in that vine. Unlike natural Israel, the spiritual people of God must bring forth spiritual fruit.