Saturday, April 09, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (22)

“There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” So wrote the apostle Paul, and both this line and its surrounding verses have been quoted to us repeatedly over the last two years. It is often pointed out that Paul is believed to have written these things to believers when the Roman emperor was a guy named Nero, portrayed in secular history as a notorious persecutor of Christians.

As bad as his behavior may have been, Nero was as legitimate a ruler as any other, having succeeded to the throne after the death of his grand-uncle Claudius in AD54 (thought by some to have been poisoned by his wife), who had in his turn come to power by apparent chance after the assassination of Caligula. Such were the Roman political intrigues of the first century.

The word “instituted” in Romans 13:1 (“ordained” in the KJV) sounds like a very official term, but is often used in the more ordinary, day-to-day sense of “put in order” or “arranged”. So Paul is not necessarily implying that Caligula, Claudius or Nero were “the Lord’s anointed” in the same sense as Saul or David, and he is certainly not suggesting they were chosen by God for their remarkable personal qualities.

Perhaps what we can say is that while men may maneuver, plot, connive and occasionally blunder their way into political power, nobody can find his way there unless God has at very least allowed it to happen. Still, there are times when the lines are not so clear ...

Hosea 8:1-3 — The Warning Cry

“Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. To me they cry, ‘My God, we — Israel — know you.’ Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him.”

The Trumpet

As they did in other nations, trumpets served multiple purposes throughout Israel’s history. In the wilderness, trumpets were associated with the movements of the ark of the covenant; in Canaan, with sounding a battle cry and sounding the cessation of conflict; in the Psalms, with praise; in time of insurrection, with the announcement of a new king.

This is none of those. Context makes it clear this is the trumpet of alarm, a warning to the people to flee to the nearest fortified city for safety because an enemy is in the land. This is the second reference in Hosea to sounding the warning trumpet (the first was back in chapter 5).

A Vulture Over the Household

The Hebrew word translated “vulture” in my ESV is nešer. In many other versions it is “eagle”. The identification of the particular bird of prey in view is less important than the fact that Israel was being called back yet again to the language of Deuteronomy 28, where Moses had warned the nation of the consequences of disobedience: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.” This eagle-like nation would besiege all Israel’s fortified towns until the walls finally came down throughout the land, after which God’s disobedient people would be scattered “from one end of the earth to another”. That the eagle signified Assyria is so obvious at this point as to not need stating.

The phrase “house of the Lord” may seem odd here, because the true “house of the Lord” was in Jerusalem in Judah. No temple in the northern kingdom could legitimately claim that name. Here it is probably better to translate bayiṯ as “household” rather than “house”, which is also perfectly legitimate, and makes more sense when we read on and discover it is the nation itself Hosea has in view and not any particular religious building (“they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law”).

The image is of a foreign nation looming over God’s people and about to strike, and it is given to Israel in language that should have been clearly understood.

We Know You

As is often the case in times of distress, Israel cries out for help. Suddenly, in time of need, it is “my God”, and “we know you”. Hosea has referenced this sort of fake repentance a number of times, and we find the same spirit on display throughout scripture. Jesus himself observed that people under judgment would make the same claims on a non-existent relationship with him, and he would respond to them with “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” The foolish virgins in the Lord’s parable receive the same reaction from the bridegroom: “I do not know you.” Many people claim to know God, but the real issue is whether God knows us.

Knowledge of God and obedience to his word are always tied together in scripture. In 2 Thessalonians, those who do not obey “do not know God”. Those who truly know God listen and respond to his prophets. John writes, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.”

The claim to know God is worthless apart from obedience. Having spurned the good, Israel was now condemned to being pursued by its enemies.

Hosea 8:4-6 — Made and Appointed

“They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.”

A Little Backstory

Judah’s kings were all of the Davidic line, from which Messiah would come. There was no question who had the right to rule in Judah: in any generation, David’s heir held title to Judah’s throne. At 424 years and with 21 different kings all from the same family, Infogalactic ranks the Davidic dynasty as the twelfth-longest in human history, an eventuality that anyone who has studied ancient history can only view as miraculous. The eleven so-called dynasties of greater duration exhibit nowhere near the genetic consistency of the Davidic; they are full of usurpers, adoptees, renamed subordinates and distant relatives.

Israel was nothing like Judah, though it could have been. The longest dynasty in the history of the northern kingdom was a mere five generations, and the majority of its kings had no legitimate claim to the throne.

Jeroboam I did. God said to Solomon, “I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” Then he sent Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam to tell him the same thing, and to promise him that if he kept God’s commandments the Lord would build him a “sure house” just as he had done for David. Jeroboam promptly forfeited the kingdom, but his reign and that of his son Nadab may still be said to be God’s work. Two years into Nadab’s reign, a man named Baasha conspired against him and killed him and his entire household, ending the first true Israelite dynasty in only its second generation.

A Grand Tradition of Conspiracy

In Israel, as in all great nations of antiquity, murder, coups and palace intrigues were common events. Israel’s first usurper was only its third king. Baasha’s son Elah was fourth, and he was murdered by Zimri, one of his own chariot commanders. Five kings, two usurpers. So then the nation rejected Zimri and rallied behind Omri, the commander of Elah’s army. Omri consolidated the kingdom and passed it on to his son Ahab, who passed it to his son Ahaziah, who then died without an heir. His brother Joram assumed the throne. So then, of Israel’s first nine kings, exactly two could claim God had anything whatsoever to do with their ascent to Israel’s throne.

Now we come to the third legitimate ruler of Israel, a man named Jehu. He was anointed by a prophet of God, and served God in a very limited way, but was promised that his sons would sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation. That gives us five more legitimate kings, and takes us up to the time of Hosea’s prophetic ministry in Israel.

In all, only seven of Israel’s 19 kings were actually sanctioned by God. This is the sort of thing God is talking about when he says of Israel, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not.” No kidding. Politically, Israel was a disaster.

Religious Disaster

The disaster was moral and religious as well as political, and it was that way from the northern kingdom’s very beginning. “With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction”, Hosea says. He is primarily referring to the first Jeroboam’s golden calves, an abomination no king in Israel’s entire history had the courage to repudiate and one of the main reasons Israel would shortly forfeit its nationhood. 2 Kings says, “They abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves ... Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight.”

Here the Lord replies, “I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.” Israel was a political disaster engineered by the schemes and desires of men. Its religious sphere was an equally godless catastrophe.

A Succession of Bloody-Handed Thugs

I said in our introduction this week that there are times when the lines are not so clear. We must affirm that no authority may exist and no rule may continue unless God allows it to do so. At the same time, men come to power in all kinds of ways, some more righteous than others. Ancient secular and biblical history paint for us a near-unbroken succession of bloody-handed thugs, and Hosea implies that sometimes the transfer of power is accomplished in such a way that it is simply not in accordance with the will of God.

Short version: “ordained” does not imply “approved”. Even wicked Jezebel didn’t think much of Zimri, the murderer of his master.

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