Saturday, April 02, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (21)

Hosea uses five different similes and metaphors to describe the state of mind prevailing in Israel in the years just prior to the Assyrian invasion. The first deals with Israel in the religious sphere (adulterers) and the second to Israel in the political sphere (a heated oven).

The latter half of chapter 7 contains three further comparisons, none of which are particularly flattering.

Hosea 7:8-10 — The Cake Not Turned

“Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this.”

The word “mixes” usually refers to intermarriage, the prohibition against which had been intended to keep Israel from the influence of its corrupt neighbors. The psalmist writes, “They mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.” A nation in decline like Israel may have thought its ideas original, but its people were simply mimicking bad habits picked up from the peoples around them. Ironically, these nations too had no defense against Assyria.

A cake not turned is undercooked on one side and eventually burnt on the other. Neither side is useful for the intended purpose. Usually this happens because the baker is distracted and has forgotten his job. The same lack of self-awareness is evident in the repetition of “he knows it not”. Mixing with the nations had only been to the advantage of the nations, not to the advantage of Israel. Foreigners were the only beneficiaries of the relationship, while Israel was stripped bare and didn’t realize it.

“Gray hairs” signify age, decrepitude unnoticed by the nation. The U.S. is in a similar position today. There are factions in its government that believe it remains the preeminent world power and encourage it to project its military might abroad. Attempting to do so in the present geopolitical situation can only lead to disaster.

The same ignorance of its sad condition was evident in the Israel to which the Lord Jesus came in the first century. “We have never been enslaved to anyone,” they boasted, conveniently forgetting it had happened on numerous occasions throughout Israel’s history. Jesus told them, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Like their forefathers seven centuries earlier, they were clueless about how close they were to the end of their existence as a nation.

“The pride of Israel” is a phrase first introduced in chapter 5, which I suspect is a reference to God and a reminder that the prophets have repeatedly warned Israel what will happen if they continued down their chosen path. And yet the lament is that Israel had not heeded the warning. “They do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this.” Repentance was the very last thing on their minds.

Hosea 7:11-13 —The Dove

Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.”

Silly and Without Sense

The figure of speech now changes from an unturned cake to a dove in a panic.

This sort of unhinged flapping about happens every time a smaller country gets embroiled in a situation it can’t handle. This week the Ukrainian president was all over the news trying to drum up allies to support his people in the war effort against Russia, seemingly oblivious to the fact that even when you are able to persuade one of the bigger world powers to get involved in your business, they are rarely there to help you. The great world empires have their own programs in play, and the smaller countries interest them only insofar as they can be used to check off agenda items, which is one of the reasons Zelensky is in his current position. Taiwan is probably taking note, and it should.

At this late stage of its existence Israel found itself in the same position, alternately running to Egypt to the south or Assyria to the north in hope of getting help against the Syrians. But all they were really doing was broadcasting their own vulnerability to invasion and making their situation worse. There was no overarching strategy to their political maneuvering. It was all desperation and panic. In similar circumstances, Judah called out to God and was delivered. But Israel continued to seek help from those who could not or would not provide it. So the prophet compares the behavior of the nation’s leaders to that of a panicked bird, and tells them he will trap them in the same way birds are trapped.

The Report

The phrase “the report made to their congregation” is probably a reference to a lengthy recitation in Deuteronomy 27-28 of the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience just prior to entering Canaan. Unlike the nations of the world, who are constantly encountering the unexpected, nothing happening to Israel at this time was unpredicted. The entire congregation of God’s people had it all laid out for them. Moses said, “The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.” In case the content of this report had been forgotten over the centuries, God graciously sent prophet after prophet to warn the people they were bringing these same judgments on themselves.

The “lies” the nation is accused of speaking against God probably involved being in denial about the situation they were in. It reminds me of the time Jeremiah was asked to seek the Lord on behalf of the remnant of Judah (chapters 42-44). When he did so, the leaders of the remnant refused to hear what he had to say, preferring the course of action on which they had already decided. The only reason they consulted the prophet in the first place was that they had hoped he would agree with their plans and thereby strengthen their leadership position with the people. They called Jeremiah a liar, but they were the liars.

Similarly, the leaders of Israel simply refused to acknowledge the reality of the position they were in.

Hosea 7:14-16 —The Treacherous Bow

“They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.”

We’ve all seen the standard movie trope where death is imminent, then the gun mysteriously jams and hero (or villain, depending) is temporarily off the hook. The final image in Hosea 7 is of a weapon that doesn’t work as intended: the bow that betrays the archer. Whether the flaw is in wood or string, the problem is not with the soldier aiming the bow, but is in the nature of the bow itself. The arrow goes amiss and the battle is lost.

There seems to be a suggestion here that the political rhetoric of Israel’s princes contributed to their eventual downfall. Perhaps it was their endless provocations and bravado that tweaked the pride of the Assyrian monarch and resulted in him sending in his troops. Like a treacherous bow, the fatal flaw may have been intrinsic.

Egypt was one of the nations to which Israel looked for help. In the end, all they would get from Egypt was mockery.

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