Saturday, January 01, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (8)

It’s easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

In our previous post, God anticipates Israel’s response to its discovery that its false gods cannot deliver it from the invading Assyrian army. Like an adulterous wife whose new relationship goes sour, the nation compares its current situation with better days in the past, and concludes, “I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.”

Israel is finally prepared to do the right thing, but she has not actually repented of her idolatry. She is simply looking for the best deal she can swing for herself, a God who will take her back on her own terms.

God cannot possibly accept that sort of false repentance. It does not please him, and he will not be content to leave his people in their dissolute, self-centered state. In order to truly repent, they must first hit rock bottom.

These next five verses describe what rock bottom looks like.

Hosea 2:9-13 — God’s Response to False Repentance

“Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.

“And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts.

“And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’ I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them.

“And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord.”

Paganism and Prosperity

Since Israel insists on attributing its blessings to the favor of false gods, God must strip all those blessings away so there will be no confusion about where they came from. Paganism and prosperity have often existed simultaneously in the great empires of world history, but a people called by God’s name cannot be allowed to behave themselves like pagans without consequences. If God never judges unrepented sin, there are several possible conclusions which may be drawn, none of which are desirable. A God who never responds to the provocations of his people either (i) approves of sin, (ii) is indifferent to sin, (iii) is powerless to do anything about sin, or (iv) does not exist at all.

So the blessings must go: the grain, wine, wool and flax. No sustenance, no joy, no protection from the elements. Like a whore stripped naked in the street, Israel must be humiliated in front of all its neighbors in order to send the message that the true God of Israel cannot tolerate the association of his reputation with debauchery and the worship of false gods. There must be no confusion about YHWH’s character. Israel’s true nature must be exposed for all to see.

No Crop, No Celebration

With the end of material prosperity comes an end to Israel’s idolatrous celebrations. Feasts and festivities were part and parcel of the Law of Moses, and frequently associated with God’s blessings of produce and harvest. The northern kingdom still marked these occasions, though not by going up to Jerusalem as God had commanded. Instead, they had their own temples where YHWH’s name was still used, though the Baals were the real object of worship.

Abundant crops were now attributed to foreign gods, but the celebration was still in proportion to the harvest. No crop, no celebration. God would put an end to all Israel’s appointed feasts, including even the weekly Sabbath. There would be no more merriment, as there would be nothing to be festive about. Dispersed through the Assyrian Empire, there would be no temples, no feasts and none of the religious occasions that had distinguished Israel from the nations.

Laying Waste the Land

Vines, fig trees and other crops require cultivation. When God originally brought Israel into Canaan, his plan for them was to take a populated and cultivated land by degrees, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you”. God would drive out the Hivites, Hittites and Canaanites little by little; their dwellings, fields and vines left largely undamaged so that Israel could move right in and enjoy the benefits of a land flowing with milk and honey without delay.

No such thing would occur when the Israelites were taken captive by the Assyrians. Because they attributed their blessings to the gods of the land, those blessings would be laid waste. The land would return to its wild state, fields would become forests, and the beasts would multiply and become a hazard. This is exactly what happened. 2 Kings 17 tells us the Lord sent lions among the new inhabitants of Samaria because they had no fear of the Lord, and the king of Assyria had to eventually send an Israelite priest back to Samaria to educate them in God’s laws.

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when the neighbors are getting killed in their own back yards.

And I Will Punish Her

The feast days of the Baals were probably not a pagan alternative to the seven feasts of YHWH instituted in the Law of Moses, separate celebrations added to the traditional complement of feast days. Rather, they were a mingling of the worship of the true God with the worship of false gods such that the two became conflated, much as Jeroboam I associated idolatry with the worship of YHWH when he announced to the nation, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” The works of YHWH were thus attributed to multiple deities in the form of calves.

So the feasts of YHWH continued, but his works were now attributed to the Baals, including his ongoing providential care for the nation.

In order to reach rock bottom and really repent, Israel would need to come to the place where they acknowledged their guilt for having forgotten their God and having sought out the Baals instead. Until they came to that place, there could be no restoration.

The inhabitants of the northern kingdom forgot their God, and were themselves forgotten. Until God calls them to himself again, they will remain that way.

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