Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (28)

We see repeatedly in scripture that God does not over-value our personal histories of religious service the way we may. Believers must fight the natural tendency to “take our foot off the gas pedal” as we age, relying on the spiritual successes of the past to stand as an adequate representation of what God has done in our lives rather than pressing on to finish the course with distinction.

Need I point out that the apostle Paul did not do that, nor did any of those who are commended by God? There are plenty of Old Testament cautionary tales to remind us that how we finish is what matters, not how impressively we start or the promise we may show.

Back in Hosea, we find that landmarks which had once memorialized the spiritual successes of Israel and their devotion to the covenant had now become utterly distasteful to God. No amount of history could balance out the evils now being perpetrated there.

Hosea 9:15 — Every Evil

“Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”

The Significance of Gilgal

Gilgal was where Joshua built a memorial to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, which Israel passed over on dry ground just as at the Red Sea. Gilgal was the place where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away in a generational act of circumcision presided over by Joshua, a picture of Christ. (Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew word for “roll”.) Gilgal was where Israel first ate the fruit of the Promised Land, and where the manna stopped falling because it was no longer necessary; God had provided for his people in every possible way. Later, Gilgal was where the kingdom was renewed and Saul made king before the Lord, but it was also the place where he lost the kingdom through disobedience.

Nevertheless, despite Gilgal’s storied history, Bible scholars have no real certainty about where it was located. Ancient Hebrew experts are not even sure it was the name of a town at all; some think perhaps a gilgal was a persistent feature of Canaan’s geography. Gilgal has been quite forgotten, and for good reason: by the time we arrive at the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel, the word was associated with nothing positive. In Amos, Hosea’s prophetic contemporary, Gilgal is the place where sacrifices were made that “multiplied transgression”. Here it is where “every evil” is performed, and the reproach of Egypt, which God had once rolled away from Israel, would shortly return.

Out of the House and Unloved

As we have seen before with the use of the word “house” in Hosea, it refers not to one of Israel’s fake temples, but rather to the land as a whole. Israel was to be driven out of the home God had given them, and right out of his household. Hosea is giving Ephraim a disinheritance declaration, not just an eviction notice.

The word “hate” in verse 15 is not so much a reference to God’s emotional state as an indication of the Lord’s fixed determination to give Israel the punishment it deserved. Gilgal was where God began to turn his hand against Israel in response to their rebellion. With the word “love”, God is also not talking about his emotions, though those were surely engaged. When he continues, “I will love them no more”, it means all blessing will be withheld until Israel repents and returns to their God.

So then, in these passages love and hate are actions, not just feelings. Much the same thought is contained in the line “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It is both corporate and active.

Hosea 9:16-17 — Fruitless and Rootless

“Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.”

Israel’s past is compared in verse 13 to a young palm planted in a meadow. In the present, however, “Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.” The nation is both rootless and fruitless. In 10:1 we will see Israel again compared to a “luxuriant vine” that will “perish like a twig on the face of the waters”. (“Waters” symbolize the nations.) So we have this constant back-and-forth between what Israel was and should have remained, and what they had become, a sad caricature of what God had intended for his people.

Beloved Children

The reference to “beloved children” is interesting, since we know that during certain periods in Israel’s history its people sacrificed their “beloved” children to the false deities of the Canaanites. Evidently they loved themselves just slightly more than their children!

But just because there were no true Canaanite gods does not mean there was no genuine power behind the offerings made to them. 2 Kings 3 tells the story of King Jehoram’s conflict with Moab. Jehoram was an evil man, but in this case God was with his armies. Things were going very badly for the king of Moab. The writer of Kings finishes the story like so: “Then he [the king of Moab] took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.”

What a way to go. Quite likely the king of Moab cared for his eldest son as deeply as any other pagan monarch. This was his legacy. He had intended to make him king. But when pushed to choose between defeat and death for his people on the one hand, and his son’s life on the other, there was no real choice. The king knew there was spiritual power available to be accessed with a certain sort of very precious sacrifice, and he accessed it. The fallen angelic principalities and powers associated with Moab granted him what he asked for, and Israel’s army was repelled even though they had up to that point received the help of God.

So then, the sacrifices of the ancients were not made idly, and the children they sacrificed were not necessarily despised or unwanted. These horrible sacrifices were offered because idol worshipers sometimes got the things they were after, and if you wanted a big favor from the powers-behind-the-idols, you had to give them something very valuable indeed.

Rejected Among the Nations

The “beloved children” of the Israelite elite in view in this passage were probably not being offered to Moloch en masse, but they were fated to die all the same. As pointed out last week, the Assyrians were renowned for their ferocity against innocents in the nations who resisted conquest. The three-year siege of Samaria probably didn’t end differently than any other Assyrian conquest as far as the Israelite children were concerned. But all this was made inevitable by the repeated and deliberate choices of their parents.

It’s a solemn reminder that we do not live or die only to ourselves. Like it or not, the ripple effects of our choices run straight out through our families.

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