The prophet continues his indictment. In this chapter the royal family is also involved. The leaders put the people on the wrong track, but that does not make the people less guilty. It is said of all that they do not know the LORD (verse 4).
When the LORD tries to bring them to repentance through discipline, they seek help from the surrounding nations (verse 13). That is how deep the people have sunk, and that is how deep we too can sink. Are we too not inclined to seek our help with others rather than with the Lord?
1 Call and Deceit
1 Hear this, O priests!
Give heed, O house of Israel!
Listen, O house of the king!
For the judgment applies to you,
For you have been a snare at Mizpah
And a net spread out on Tabor.
The prophet continues with that with which he started in the previous chapter. He started there by addressing the priests and the people. He now adds the house of the king. He summons them: “Hear this …”, “give heed …”, “listen …”. You can hear him begging: ‘Please listen carefully to me!’ He especially addresses those who have to set an example in the good, such as the priests and the king. In practice they have become a snare for the people.
Those who by their position are in a direct relationship with God are the most to blame. Priests, the religious leaders, and rulers, the political leaders, are addressed. But also the common people cannot escape the serious preaching of Hosea. All layers of the people are permeated by the evil of idolatry and all kinds of other forms of evil that result from it. All are told the verdict directly.
Hosea reminds the leaders of the task entrusted to them to uphold the law and to administer justice fairly. The practice is that anyone who comes to them with a lawsuit is caught in a trap. The leaders distort the law and starve the people. “Mizpah” is reminiscent of the days of Samuel. It is one of those places where Samuel judges Israel (1Sam 7:16), where the people come to him with their trials. On the mountain “Tabor” Israel’s army is gathered in the time that Deborah judges Israel (Jdg 4:4-6,14).
Both places therefore have a special, national and religious significance. Where the people are allowed to count on justice, the leaders violate the law, only to increase their power and wealth. The people are lured there. But instead of getting the justice they come for, people are led to all kinds of idolatrous and shameful practices.
Working with familiar names and familiar notions is a tactic the enemy likes to use to get hold of unsuspecting souls. It is not enough in itself to go to the place where our ancestors served and met the Lord. We must also be convinced that the Lord is still being served in that trusted place.
We have no business going there when those places have become places where sinful flesh is served and people’s interests are pursued. Each one of us may ask: ‘Am I in the place where I want to serve the Lord perhaps “a snare” or “a net spread out” for some other person, because my behavior or words do not correspond with my confession?’
2 The Revolters
2 The revolters have gone deep in depravity,
But I will chastise all of them.
The revolters are the king, the priests and the people who have become apostates from God and have turned to the idols. They descend to the places where the idols are to slaughter their sacrifices. The places of idolatry are often high places, but God calls it to go deep to those places. The way of God is always a way down.
In the face of this apostate behavior, God places Himself as ‘a chastiser’ (Darby Translation). God does not say that He will chastise them, but that He Himself is a chastiser. He does not chastise, but points to Himself. Everything that becomes visible of God, in which He reveals Himself, is a chastisement to the apostate people. From all His attributes, such as His mercy, love and righteousness, speaks chastisement. The contradiction between the first and the second line of this verse is great.
3 Known by God
3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me;
For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,
Israel has defiled itself.
What God says here about Ephraim is reminiscent of what David says, that the LORD knows him through and through (Psa 139:1-4). But there is a big difference between Ephraim and David. In Psalm 139 David testifies of God’s omniscience. He is aware that God knows him thoroughly. It makes him small and at the same time full of confidence. With Ephraim or Israel it is different. They are not aware that God knows them and sees all their deeds (cf. Hos 7:2). God knows them, but they do not know Him (verse 4).
God says that He knows the harlotry of Ephraim and the defilement of Israel. He mentions their deeds. That God knows His people through and through, He proves by presenting them their sins. Nothing is hidden from Him. There is no doubt about their sins. They are defiled and therefore God cannot tolerate them in His presence.
It is grace that God points out their sins to His people. He wants them to see their sins as He sees them, so that they can confess them and He can forgive them. To this end, a whole people or a single human being will only come if there is an upright prayer, as David prays:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).
4 Again the Spirit of Harlotry
4 Their deeds will not allow them
To return to their God.
For a spirit of harlotry is within them,
And they do not know the LORD.
Unfortunately, a mind like David’s is completely alien to the people. They act in a way from which it can absolutely not be deduced that they want to repent. They are simply entangled in sins, they are completely stuck in them. They do not see the way out and they do not want to see it. They are completely in the power of a spirit of harlotry that is “within them”.
This goes beyond the earlier mention of that spirit (Hos 4:12), which is active and makes them wander. Here we read that this spirit is within them. This goes a step further. When that spirit has been given a place within them, it closes the door to knowing the LORD.
A moving and terrifying example we see in Judas, the disciple who betrayed the Lord Jesus. First we read of him: “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon, to betray Him” (Jn 13:2). This is similar to the spirit of harlotry that makes one wander. But then we read: “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him” (Jn 13:27a). Satan came into him and took control of his life. Fortunately, a child of God may know: “Greater is He who is in you [i.e. the Spirit of God] than he who is in the world [i.e. the devil]” (1Jn 4:4).
5 The Fall of Israel and Judah
5 Moreover, the pride of Israel testifies against him,
And Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity;
Judah also has stumbled with them.
The pride of Israel is not something that is only present in the heart. Their whole attitude radiates pride. The people walk as it were with their nose in the air and look down on others with contempt. There is a total lack of humility and dismay about the sins that are committed openly. It even seems that they boast about what they do. After all, they are God’s chosen people?
But if one forgets what being chosen means, the result is pride. Everything that God has given to His people is seen by them as something to which they are entitled. Gone is dependence on and gratitude to God.
There is therefore no strength left to stand up to the enemy. Stumbling is the result. He who is wringing his hand from the hand of God will not get far. A big mouth will possibly impress others just for a while, but then it is finished. A people without God is lost. This is how it has been with Israel and this is how it will be with Christianity.
Christianity also boasts of its privileges as if it has deserved them (Rom 11:19-20). This can also be applied personally. Am I proud of something God has given me, for example the position I occupy? Then the fall is near. Earlier the LORD warned Judah not to imitate Israel (Hos 4:15), but in vain. Judah stumbles with Israel.
6 The LORD Withdraws From Them
6 They will go with their flocks and herds
To seek the LORD, but they will not find [Him];
He has withdrawn from them.
Hosea’s preaching seems to have an effect. Israel goes in search of the LORD. They even have sacrificial animals with them. But alas, they want to sacrifice without repentance for their sins and therefore they seek the LORD in vain. It is a knocking and calling: “Lord, lord, open up for us”, but He will say: “I do not know you” (Mt 25:11-12).
It is important how we seek Him. They come “with their flocks and herds”. With this they want to satisfy God, buy off the judgment and buy His favor. But then God does not respond. They come as people who think they have a right to something and not in humility. The outer forms are there, but God is not there. He withdraws from them.
The fact that the people seek the LORD but do not find Him seems contrary to the promise of Lord Jesus that “everyone … who seeks finds” (Mt 7:8). But the comparison does not hold. In Matthew 7 the Lord speaks of sincere, honest people seeking. If such people seek, they will always find. That promise does not apply to insincere people, who want to use God to fulfill their own plans.
In the same way, we cannot explain what God has said in the Bible according to our own ideas and use texts in the way that suits us best. God’s Word is only meant for people who really take Him at His Word. They can count on God to keep His Word.
What applies to Israel also applies to nominal Christians. If, in the time of judgment, they boast of the prerogatives granted to them, they too will experience God withdrawing from them, or disconnecting Himself from them, as it can be translated. Instead of bowing under the discipline of God, which He sometimes has to bring because of unfaithfulness, local churches can come to boast of their (imagined) great insights and progress.
In the church in Laodicea we also find this spirit of pride (Rev 3:14-22). While the Lord Jesus is addressing them, He is standing outside the door: He has to knock to be let in (Rev 3:20). God withdraws from unfaithful Christians. He does not withdraw from unbelievers. Through them He wants to let Himself be found. For this He reveals Himself to them in the gospel.
7 Consequences of Dealing Treacherously
7 They have dealt treacherously against the LORD,
For they have borne illegitimate children.
Now the new moon will devour them with their land.
Dealing treacherously against the LORD has been expressed by their idolatry. Instead of worshiping Him, they have followed strange gods and honored them. The result is seen in their children. If the parents do not seek God, but bow down to the gods of the nations around them, the children will do the same.
It is always easier to serve an idol than the living God. You choose an idol yourself and if you do not like him, you just choose another one. If necessary you make one yourself. But if you are dealing with the living God, there is no choice of your own. Then the question is important: Do you want to obey Him?
The people have turned their backs on God. In their alienation from God they have not told their children about the God of Israel either. So the children do not know the living God. They have become a generation of “illegitimate children”, a generation estranged from God.
The application is obvious. What we as parents are looking for and want to own, will be taken over by our children. That is why we always have to ask ourselves: What do we teach our children, where do we bring them, what do we give them, what do they see of us?
In the last part of this verse a punishment is announced. When children no longer ask for God because parents no longer acknowledge God, all hope is gone. If parents give their children the wrong example, the hope of improvement in the next generation will be futile. The “new moon” speaks of a new beginning, of hope. With new moon nothing can be seen of the moon, but at the same time that position of the moon means that the light will come again and that is a reason for expressions of joy (Psa 81:3).
However, in the days of Hosea there is no new hope, no new beginning. On the contrary, whatever announces renewal will only bring destruction. This destruction will not only affect man who has turned his back on God. Everything under the control of the unfaithful man will also be surrendered to judgment. Man will perish together with his possessions, “with their land”, will be consumed.
8 Blow the Horn
8 Blow the horn in Gibeah,
The trumpet in Ramah.
Sound an alarm at Beth-aven:
“Behind you, Benjamin!”
The announced judgment, at the end of the previous verse, is followed by warrior murmur in this verse. The trumpet does not call for a feast, but blows an alarm. The enemy is approaching! Destruction threatens!
The two mentioned cities symbolize the situation of the people. “Gibeah” speaks of deep decay. What has happened there in the past (Jdg 19:22-30) will bring shame to anyone who thinks about it. That is why the horn must be blown right there. Conscience must be awakened, there must be a call to reflection. The result must be a confession of abandoning God and committing idolatry and the recognition that His judgment is just.
In “Ramah” the trumpet must be blown. It is the place where Samuel lived and where he judged Israel (1Sam 7:17). It is also the place where the people came to him to demand a king like the people around them (1Sam 8:5). Also “Beth-aven”, which was first called Bethel (= house of God), and “Benjamin”, which belongs to the two tribes, are warned. The danger of war threatens from all sides. In the spirit Hosea sees the enemy approaching. He is advancing, both from the front and from behind. City after city falls. The enemy gradually takes possession of all the cities.
It is a picture of how it can go in the life of someone who belongs to God’s people. First he starts to think worldly, then you notice it in his way of speaking and finally it is expressed in his actions. He has deviated from God. Therefore, also in our time it is necessary that the Word of God, like a powerful trumpet, makes its sound to warn His people of the schemes of the enemy (2Tim 4:2).
9 God Makes His Plans Known
9 Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke;
Among the tribes of Israel I declare what is sure.
What Hosea sees for his spiritual eye as imminent danger, will surely happen someday. It is determined. The judgment of sinners is certain. It is therefore important to flee from the coming wrath, for the day of judgment is coming. It is a special grace of God that He makes known what is sure, that He declares what He is planning, also when it comes to the judgment.
God often warns, because He does not want the sinner to perish, but to repent and live. But He must let his judgment come upon the stubborn pursuit of a sinful path and the persistence of a life in sin. He never leaves it at threats, but carries them out if there is no repentance.
10 Moving Boundaries
10 The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary;
On them I will pour out My wrath like water.
Judah wants to exploit the calamity that has struck the northern empire to enlarge his territory. But whoever tries to expand his territory in such a vile way is calling God’s judgment upon himself. Several times there are explicit warnings against this form of land grabbing. There is even a curse on who does such a thing (Deu 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Pro 22:28).
God has given each tribe its own inheritance. Someone else was not allowed to appropriate a piece of it. He who truly values what he has received from God, will be careful that others take something away from him. In Naboth we have an example of someone who is aware of the value of his inheritance. If King Ahab wants to buy it from him or exchange it for another piece of land, Naboth refuses (1Kgs 21:1-3). He has to pay his refusal with death (1Kgs 21:4-13). Ahab shows no respect for the boundaries God has drawn.
This lack of respect for the boundaries set by God is also indicative of the twenty-first century in which we live. Not that sincere Christians would consciously seek to erase those boundaries. Nevertheless, the attentive Christian will perceive that the original boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred and that new boundaries are emerging. The area enclosed by the boundaries is being widened. Think, for example, of marriage and cohabitation.
For the perceptive, faithful reader of the Bible it is not a point. Only marriage is the God-imposed form in which man and wife experience sexuality. Today, more and more Christians are arguing in favor of unmarried cohabitation as marriage. Thus, the boundary of marriage has been widened and cohabitation has also been brought within that boundary. And what about married or unmarried cohabitation of two men or two women? The boundaries are being widened and moved further and further.
Take a look at the difference between man and woman, for example when it comes to church meetings. In the past, the silence of the woman in the church was not a point (1Cor 14:34). Now all that is not so clear anymore. There are lots of discussions about how you should see this exactly. Or actually it is more about how you should at least not see it. Instead of a clear explanation of this verse, numerous explanations are sought and found to make clear how unclear this verse actually is. So, in conclusion, you cannot say what it does mean. And if you want to say what it means, you have to say: ‘I think it means this.’
The relativization of the Word of God has struck and beats its thousands. There is a recurring pattern of moving the boundaries. First things are questioned. The point keeps returning to the agenda. That process leads to a change of mind. When the spirits are ripe for it, those matters are put into practice.
It is not the ignorant or the lowest classes of the population who are responsible for moving boundaries. It is the princes of Judah, the leaders of a tribe that is extraordinarily privileged by God. In Judah lies Jerusalem with its temple and worship. But the greater the privileges, the greater the deviation if the heart does not remain in fellowship with God. The leaders have preceded the people on the path of unfaithfulness, a path on which what God has said is trampled underfoot. Everyone is out for their own sake.
Certainly, this attitude will be wrapped up in pious words, so that at first sight it really seems to be about the honor of God. But reality will sooner or later become public and its end is death. About these things God’s wrath will irrevocably come as the waters of the deluge. Those who break through God’s boundaries will be called to account by Him.
11 God Exercises Justice
11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
Because he was determined to follow [man’s] command.
With the oppression that has befallen Ephraim, we can think of raids by Tiglath-Pileser (2Kgs 15:29). If God exercises justice, he who does not fulfill that justice will be crushed. God oppresses Ephraim because they have chosen to follow Jeroboam in his idolatry in Bethel and Dan (1Kgs 12:28-33). They followed “[man’s] commandment” i.e. the command of Jeroboam and did not go to Jerusalem anymore.
12 Moth and Rottenness
12 Therefore I am like a moth to Ephraim
And like rottenness to the house of Judah.
The LORD compares Himself here with a moth and a process of rotting. Both refer to a destructive, corrupting power. A moth eats up the clothes, so that at some point you get naked. The process of rotting happens from the inside and gnaws at the bones. Moth and rottenness represent pernicious influences, which slowly but surely work their way through. A moth gradually makes its way as it eats and a process of rotting gnaws at the inside of the people’s existence.
The most poignant thing is that the corrupting power is the LORD Himself at work! Externally and internally the people are judged by God. Foreign enmity and internal unrest ultimately come from Him as punishment for the sinful people.
How many churches have lost all their strength because of mutual envy and have experienced that “envy is rottenness of the bones” (Pro 14:30b, Darby Translation)? Sometimes they have even been ruined. A community suffers tremendously when one leader becomes envious of the influence of another. This is also the case when leaders are played off against each other. Paul warns the church in Corinth about this (1Cor 3:3-4).
Unfortunately, as Christians, we have not listened to this word. Division, also as a result of envy, damages the testimony of God in this world. There is no strength left to make Him great together.
In marriage, too, envy ultimately has a devastating effect. It consumes the strength to build up marriage. Instead of building, it is demolished. If envy is not overcome in the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit, this marriage will eventually be ruined.
13 Wrong Effect of the Discipline
13 When Ephraim saw his sickness,
And Judah his wound,
Then Ephraim went to Assyria
And sent to King Jareb.
But he is unable to heal you,
Or to cure you of your wound.
The purpose of the discipline of moth and rottenness is, that the people will become aware of their weakness and will seek the source of strength with the LORD. But what have they done? They went to Assyria.
Certainly, through the discipline that has come upon him, Ephraim has realized that he is sick. But instead of turning to his God for healing, he has turned to humans (2Kgs 15:19). He does not realize that his sickness cannot be cured by humans because the sickness comes from the LORD. Ephraim does not wonder why he is sick and seeks the solution of his problem outside of the LORD.
Many do exactly the same today. If a deviated believer seeks support from the world, he will have the same experience as Ephraim. The world does help, but this is at the expense of his spiritual blessings.
“King Jareb” means ’King Combative’ and is a prophetic term for the king of Assyria. They seek their support where they can only expect death (cf. 2Chr 28:16). This is how it always goes with a people who are estranged from God. Carnal hearts see their sickness or wounds, but do not see the cause. Seeking support from humans instead of from God always leads to disappointment.
14 God Like a Lion
14 For I [will be] like a lion to Ephraim
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away,
I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver.
Here the LORD presents Himself as a lion. The lion presents a quick, sudden, and terrible judgment. Here too the goal is to bring the people to repentance. If moth and rottenness do not reach the intended goal, God comes with more powerful means, represented in the lion.
This is also how it goes in human life. Sometimes God whispers something into our ears through His Word. He tries to reach our conscience with it. But if we continue on the path we have taken without listening to His soft voice, God has to speak with raised voices, sometimes He even has to roar. God then uses suffering as a megaphone, as has been said. It can then suddenly become very raging and stormy in our lives. God then speaks clearly. Let us listen when He speaks, softly or loudly.
With Israel, He sees no other way than to drag them away from the land that they have so much defiled. No one can prevent that. But He does not let His people go away without going away as well. He also goes and retreats to wait and see what the effect of His meddling will be.
15 God Withdraws Until …
15 I will go away [and] return to My place
Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.
God has withdrawn from Israel. His glory has departed from Israel and gone back to His dwelling place, heaven (Eze 10:4,18-19; 11:22-23). He will only return to Israel when they realize their guilt towards Him. That He has not definitively withdrawn Himself from the people is beautifully expressed in the word “until”. This word gives hope. It indicates a turning point. That turning point depends on the acknowledgment of guilt (Lk 15:20).
When the Lord Jesus describes the rebelliousness of Jerusalem and, as a result, has to leave it, He uses the same conditional “until” as Hosea (Mt 23:37-39). Until they feel guilty of idolatry and also feel guilty of their rejection of their Messiah, God cannot have compassion on His people. This was also discussed in Hosea 1. There we also saw that there is a future for the people because they will be accepted as God’s people again (Rom 11:25-32).
If God’s face and protection are withdrawn, it means for Israel the scattering from the land. If they walk with God, nothing can harm them. But sin separates them from God. If God withdraws, we have lost everything. The right distinction between good and evil is gone. Above all, love is gone. When God leaves, He takes everything that is valuable and precious, all good.
God only leaves man when man has first left Him and He has tried everything to bring man back into the right relationship with Him. He does this by being for them like a chastiser (verse 2), like a moth and a rottenness (verse 12) and finally like a lion (verse 14).
“The affliction” will take place during the great tribulation. That time is called “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:7). The Lord Jesus speaks of the same period in His great prophetic discourse in Matthew 24-25 and says: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Mt 24:21).
At the end of that period, which will last three and a half years, the people, i.e. the faithful remnant, will feel guilty. They will come to confession and longing for God Who will save them from their need. God will do this by sending the Lord Jesus to earth for the second time. He will not come to suffer and die for sin, but to judge evil and to reign (Zec 12:10; 14:3-5; Heb 9:28).
When God returns to His place in Israel, it is to bless His people. He waits in grace for their conversion. When that moment finally comes, He will rise from His place and help His people in their need. He will do this by judging His enemies: “For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isa 26:21).