Saturday, March 05, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (17)

There is a point when national decline accelerates to such an extent that even those most in denial about it cannot ignore it anymore. I suspect we have arrived at it in Canada in the last few weeks.

Everybody knows something is disastrously wrong. Due process, the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are all being ignored. Thousands have taken to the streets to express their unhappiness with the choices made for them by their government. Nobody knows what will happen next. In this recent video, Jordan Peterson and writer Rex Murphy call it “The Catastrophe of Canada”. Canadians who are not still getting their news from the CBC would agree that “catastrophe” is no exaggeration.

Back in Hosea, the same sudden awareness of impending disaster had come for Israel: “Ephraim saw his sickness.”

Hosea 5:13-15 — Doctors and Wild Beasts

“When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king. But he is not able to cure you or heal your wound. For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

“I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.”

Earlier in this chapter God has been illustrating the process by which his judgment has been stealthily and steadily gnawing away at the sovereignty and independence of the nations of Israel and Judah — Israel in the immediate future and Judah in the longer term. The erosion of power, influence and autonomy is described as being like the end product of the work of moths and dry rot; eating away at both nations, weakening them for their final fall.

Now things were going to get much worse.

Political Solutions to Spiritual Problems

Sick people generally consult doctors. For Israel, consulting God would have been the prudent choice, but the nation was long past that. Israel was looking for a political solution, not a spiritual revival.

The Hebrew word translated “sickness” in this passage means a lingering, debilitating ailment caused by disease or injury, often ending in death — sort of the human equivalent of dry rot. It’s not a word you use to describe a case of the sniffles. Israel could no longer deny what was happening to it. Everybody could see what was going on there, including Judah. The literal rendering of the second clause is “and Judah his bandages”. Judah would shortly need bandages of its own, but here I suspect Hosea is telling us that Israel’s fragile, desperate state was so obvious even the neighbors could see it from next door, which is what led the king of Israel to realize something drastic needed to be done. Any attack on his nation would finish him off.

The historical situation to which Hosea is referring probably occurred during the ten year reign of Menahem. Ephraim “went to Assyria, and sent to the great king”. Menahem was a usurper, like Shallum, the king of Israel before him, whom he had killed after only a month on the throne. As a result, Menahem was constantly scrambling to consolidate his own rule, probably fearing he would eventually receive the same kind of treatment he had given others. He was deeply disliked and had to establish his kingdom by sacking entire Israelite cities and committing atrocities against his people. Accordingly, when the Assyrians moved in on him from the north, Menahem was too occupied just trying to survive to attempt to mount a defense against an invading army. Instead, he taxed the wealthy men of Israel in order to raise a thousand talents of silver, with which he bribed the king of Assyria to leave him alone. This was the beginning of the end for Israel, as detailed in 2 Kings 15, and God had told Hosea exactly what was coming.

There was just no fixing this problem politically. Paying off the Assyrians merely delayed the inevitable.

Like a Lion to Ephraim

Imagine if you went to the doctor’s office and found a lion waiting for you. That would be a wake-up call. Moths and dry rot slowly sap the structural integrity of garments and houses. A lion simply rips you to shreds and takes what he wants. There’s nothing slow and deceptive about a lion. God was ramping up to the end of the nation, and nothing could stop him.

Now, nations rise against nations all the time. I do not think God is personally involved every time this happens in our world, though some theological traditions would disagree. Then there are the nations whose reigns of terror stand out because the prophets claim God specifically raised them up to accomplish his purposes. Assyria is one of these nations. The writer of Chronicles makes this editorial comment: “The God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria.” Isaiah, who lived during these same events, writes, “Behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks.”

When this happens, there is no real distinction to be made between what the Assyrian lion would do and what God himself was doing. The historians would say that Assyria carried Israel off; God says, “I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.”

I Will Return Again

“I will return again to my place,” says the Lord. When we think of the Lord’s return it is usually accompanied by thoughts of joy. This is a different kind of return, with nothing joyous about it. God would ruin Israel, destroy its national identity, carry off its people, and then … return to his place. This is anthropomorphic language, of course. God was using Assyria to do his work. He didn’t have to go anywhere. But, like Hosea with his wife Gomer in chapter 3, he would keep his relational distance from Israel until Israel began to seek him.

If we believe the prophets, he is still waiting for that moment.

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