Saturday, July 02, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (34)

The wrath of God is an established fact of scripture, the Holy Spirit making reference to it in excess of 300 times. But we should not think of God’s wrath as merely emotional, as if it comes and goes depending on his mood. Rather, the wrath of God “abides” or “remains” on sinners who refuse to take God’s provided way of escape. God’s anger never abates, never lifts and never loses its intensity unless it is met with the appropriate response.

After all, he is not a man that he should change his mind.

Holiness, Wrath and Health

A.W. Tozer puts it like this:

“The holiness of God, the wrath of God and the health of the creation are inseparably united. Not only is it right for God to display anger against sin, but I find it impossible to understand how He could do otherwise.

God’s wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys. He hates iniquity as a mother hates the diphtheria or polio that would destroy the life of her child.”

God’s way of escape for the nation of Israel in the 8th century BC would have required a genuine national repentance and rejection of the sin of Jeroboam I. But in the cross of Christ, God made a much greater way of escape not just for repentant Israelites but for the entire world. Those on whom God’s wrath abides today have every opportunity to obey the Son and to take that way of escape.

Hosea 11:8-9 — Two Kinds of Destruction

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

Admah and Zeboiim

Admah and Zeboiim were cities of the plain near Sodom and Gomorrah originally settled by the sons of Canaan, who had been cursed by his grandfather Noah. In the battle of the nine kings in Genesis 14, the four cities were on the same side. That they were located relatively close to one another in Canaanite territory is less important than that they shared the same fate. The Genesis account does not mention these two cities by name in the passage concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (though it can be legitimately inferred), but Deuteronomy makes this explicit.

Sulphur and fire from heaven don’t discriminate, and they didn’t need to. The fact that Admah and Zeboiim were allies of the Sodomites tells us everything we need to know about their moral condition. After all, Abraham would not take “a thread or a sandal strap” which might associate him in people’s minds with the king of Sodom. Far less would he ally himself with such wicked men.

Eve of Destruction

After the solitary reference in Deuteronomy, these two cities are not mentioned again until Hosea recalls them here, where they have become shorthand for absolute, comprehensive destruction from God.

So then, what is at issue in these verses which describe the Lord’s compassion is not that he is reconsidering judging Israel and is prepared to let their sins be overlooked. But God’s natural tenderness toward his own and his established relationship with his people makes it immensely difficult for him to consider visiting on Ephraim the level of destruction visited on the cities of the plain, though the nation richly deserved it considering they had both law and prophets (“From him to whom they have entrusted much, they will demand the more”), while Admah and Zeboiim had enjoyed no such privileges.

No Turning Back

The ESV’s choice of the word “again” in the phrase “I will not again destroy Ephraim” is unfortunate in that it may be taken to suggest the nation had already experienced the same sort of destruction on a previous occasion. But the word translated “again” really means to “turn back”. What the Lord is saying, I believe, is that when God passes through their midst in judgment, he will not turn around and retrace his steps to make a complete end of his people. Again, he is not saying he is rescinding his promised judgment, but that his judgment through the nation of Assyria will not take the form of annihilation.

So then, Israel would not escape judgment, but neither would the nation be entirely wiped out. In Admah and Zeboiim’s case, God’s punishment was final, with no possible reprieve. In Israel’s case, God’s punishment was disciplinary, with the intention of full restoration upon repentance.

Coming in Wrath

Verse 9 concludes, “I will not come in wrath.” As hinted at in our introduction, that doesn’t mean God’s anger had arbitrarily abated or that he had experienced a mood swing; rather, in his great mercy he had chosen not to express the fullness of his righteous wrath toward the idolatry of Israel at the time of the Assyrian conquest.

A good thing too; a wrathful God would have meant the end of Israel. For all that the Assyrians would do terrible things to Ephraim, they would only give the Israelites a fraction of what they really deserved.

Hosea 11:10-12 — The Lion Roars

“They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.”

Westward Ho

Many of the children of the northern kingdom were dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire beginning about 722 BC. But Israel’s journey did not end there. Hosea has already told us that some of those dispersed would end up in Egypt, and he repeats that here. And when the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians, it is likely the Israelites among them were dispersed again. Subsequent empires (Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome) would send them still further afield.

So when we now read that “his children shall come trembling from the west”, we need not limit our thinking to the regions of Europe and Asia that may have constituted “the west” for Hosea: what are now Greece, Rome, Turkey, Spain and Portugal. It is more than possible that North and South America are home to many distant descendants of the Assyrian dispersion of Israel. God is just as easily able to call home those who are thousands of miles away on other continents as he is to call home the Israelites in Egypt and Assyria. And when God roars, nobody resists.

Obviously I take the position this has yet to be fulfilled. Some descendants of Israel certainly joined with Judah over the years. Nevertheless, the full recall of Israel from the nations awaits the return of the Lord.

Judah Walks With God

The statement that “Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One” may seem out of place here, given that there are also several passages in Hosea that criticize the Judeans, and passages in Ezekiel that strongly suggest God viewed their national state a century later as even worse than Israel’s, not least because they had been given more warnings and more opportunities for repentance, and because they had Israel’s example, which they should have rejected.

But chapter 1 tells us Hosea prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah (52 years), Jotham (16 years), Ahaz (16 years) and Hezekiah (29 years). Of those four, only Ahaz was consistently wicked, and Judah enjoyed some moments of great revival under the other three. It is almost surely the case that Hosea spoke these words during one of those periods in history before Judah increased their sins and incurred the judgment that resulted in the Babylonian captivity. If the prophecies in the book are in anything like chronological order, chances are these words were spoken during the reign of Hezekiah, who was the godliest king of the lot. Solomon’s proverbs were supplemented and edited during his reign.

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