In this chapter, the changing pictures described by the prophet follow each other more and more boisterously. This is due to his indignation about all the evil that his eye perceives. Only Ephraim, the ten tribes, are discussed. Verses 3-7 deal with internal affairs, verses 8-16 with external politics.
Every attempt by God to heal Israel is answered by them with even greater unfaithfulness. Ephraim (= Israel) has not kept itself isolated from the nations. As a result, his power has disappeared, but he does not see that for himself. And when they cry out to God for help, it is not with their heart. They only need God to come out of misery and then go their own way again. Woe to us if we think we can deal with God in this way.
1 Healing Manifests Evil
1 When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered,
And the evil deeds of Samaria,
For they deal falsely;
The thief enters in,
Bandits raid outside,
All God’s gracious attempts to heal Israel remain without result. Rather, there is an even greater manifestation of iniquity. These attempts consist of sending His prophets. God wants to reach their conscience, so that the people will see their guilt and confess their sin. But instead of listening to these prophets, their hatred of Him becomes manifest. They reject Him in His prophets. The most obvious example is when the Lord Jesus comes in the midst of His people. His presence brings this iniquity to light in the clearest way possible.
God is always looking for healing, He always offers salvation. But everything is refused, by Israel and also by the sinner today. God wants to heal, but the ailment must be acknowledged. Instead of acknowledging the ailment and letting God do His work, the people aggravate their ailment by rejecting Him. They do not want to see their disease.
If a doctor constantly has to prescribe other medications because the earlier ones do not work, the ailment must be persistent and deep. There is then a very serious disease. The LORD has always given good medicines, but the patient Israel has not taken them. The sins do not remain hidden, but they break out clearly visible to everyone.
The iniquity is described in three forms, in which it takes more and more brutal forms:
1. First there is that “they deal falsely”. This is done sneakily, while the impostor presents himself decently to the outside world.
2. The next, more brutal form is that of the thief. The thief also does something sneaky, but his behavior, he “enters in”, can hardly be called decent.
3. The third and most brutal form of evil becomes visible in the “bandits”. Bandits are not ashamed of anything. These bandits “raid outside”, they commit their iniquity in full daylight.
This is how it goes from bad to worse. If a disease is not stopped, there is only deterioration.
This progression of the disease, which is therefore deterioration of health, also characterizes Christianity. Certain sins, which used to be an exception, are now becoming more and more common. This is because some sins are no longer experienced as sins. And, it is argued, if you no longer experience something as sin, it is not sin. The feeling that everyone has, is becoming norm, and the Bible, the only correct norm, is being eroded more and more and finally pushed aside. This means an absolute numbness of natural feelings.
It has been said that we are beyond shame. This means that the feeling of shame, which has come into man through the fall in sin, is disappearing more and more. More and more people are becoming ashamed of fewer and fewer things. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, it has even been noted that it is no longer possible to sin in this country. For there is nothing more that is called sin. Everything is allowed and considered normal. The clear example of same-sex marriage shows that. For something so horrible, a legal basis has been laid in the Netherlands, as the first country in the world.
2 Nothing Escapes God
2 And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.
Now their deeds are all around them;
They are before My face.
Their shameless attitude and behavior stem from the denial of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. One does not live by faith in the living God. It typifies the wicked that he thinks there is no God. It typifies the apostate that he thinks God does not see it. When God looks at them, He sees only sins; they are completely surrounded, yes, encircled by them. They are in the grip of their sins as in a vicious circle from which they cannot escape.
Their sins are always before God. That goes for the sins of all people. Nothing and no one can escape His eye. God forgets nothing of what a man has done. Everyone, the Bible says, will be called to give account before Him. Without fail, God will confront every man with his words and deeds and judge him according to his works and words (Rev 20:12; Mt 12:37). Now is the time for a man to repent to God and accept the Lord Jesus in faith as the atonement for his sins. Of all those who do so, God says: “And I will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12b).
3 - 4 Deeds That Bring Joy and Death
3 With their wickedness they make the king glad,
And the princes with their lies.
4 They are all adulterers,
Like an oven heated by the baker
Who ceases to stir up [the fire]
From the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.
Verses 3-7 deal with kings, rulers, how one sees them and deals with them, and ends with their assassination. It seems that these verses describe how the king and his royals are treacherously overthrown. In order to sketch what is happening here, metaphors are used. The people who want to kill the king are compared to a heated oven. They are full of evil and vengefulness and their entire inside glows with zeal to kill the king. The dough represents the king who must be put to death in the oven of their lust for murder. Outwardly they are kind to the king, but in their hearts they hate him.
Here the treacherous nature of sin manifests itself clearly. It begins underground, unnoticed. The fire is stirred up, the dough is kneaded, and the baker sleeps. Then the appropriate moment arrives and the flames flare up high. Unscrupulous people take their chance, kill the king and another sits on the throne. What the baker and the assassin have in common in this imagery is that – after having made the necessary preparations – they both wait until the moment of action has arrived. In all this, there is no thought of God present. There is no one calling to the LORD.
“Make the king glad” (verse 3) means that they make him happy by giving him wine in order to be able to kill him all the more easily. They use lies to get the rulers at the feast they organize. To celebrate a feast, the rulers always can appreciate that. Whether there is a valid reason for it, does not matter. Even less does it matter if it is a feast where also the LORD can be. If only something can be celebrated. After all, life is one big celebration. But the rulers do not realize how hatred burns in the hearts of those they are invited by.
The metaphor of verse 4 is not so easy to understand. What is clear, however, is that the adulterous behavior of the people is compared to an oven that continues to burn, without new food being given to it. It indicates the attitude, the mind of their hearts, which is aimed at giving in to every lust that arises. We can take their adulterous behavior literally. One can also think of a behavior that is equal to that of the nations around them. They think only of their own advantage.
If the rulers do not provide this, they must be eliminated. The preparation for that can possibly be seen in the kneading of the dough. People’s thinking must be made ripe. The baker, which is he who has prepared his plan, tries to convince the people. He deludes them about how much benefit it will bring if the king is put aside. This is in line with the hatred the people have for their king. When their thoughts have been influenced in this way, “until it is leavened”, the time is ripe to strike.
Perhaps some people even think they are doing God a favor by killing their king. The mixing of idolatry with a service to God is, however, aptly expressed in the mixing of the leaven – in the Bible always a picture of something sinful – with the dough made from the fruit of the land given by God. The Lord Jesus shows with the picture of the leaven that false doctrine will permeate the whole Christianity (Mt 13:33).
5 Drunkenness and Kingship
5 On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine;
He stretched out his hand with scoffers,
Talking about “our king” seems to be an indication that Hosea is a subject of the ten tribes realm. “The day” can be a birthday or some other kind of day of remembrance. The fact that they want to get their rulers drunk says a lot about the moral state of the people of God. Whoever makes someone deliberately drunk, certainly a ruler, calls God’s judgment upon himself (Hab 2:15). It also says a lot about the moral condition of the king who allows himself to be drunk. The king himself is responsible (Pro 31:3-4).
How can someone who cannot govern himself rule a country? Drunkenness makes people sick and affects their health. In addition, it leads to shameless and unscrupulous behavior, a behavior that one would not normally come to. It brings someone into the company of unscrupulous people. The intoxication of the drink makes him agree with those people. He lowers himself to their level.
Children of God are also kings. They are warned above all to stay sober and not to be intoxicated by the wine. And not only in a literal sense. Also, in a spiritual sense they should not let themselves be intoxicated by the thinking of the world. It is important that they keep a clear view of God’s plan with their lives. Those who constantly allow the influence of TV programs or the filth of the internet to influence themselves will eventually lower themselves to the level of thinking and acting as it is shown there.
6 Conscience and Lust
6 For their hearts are like an oven
[As] they approach their plotting;
Their anger smolders all night,
In the morning it burns like a flaming fire.
The phrase “their anger smolders” can also be translated as “their baker sleeps” (cf. verse 4). In this verse we can then see the following picture: the ‘oven’ is the plotting, the ‘heart’ is the dough or the bread, the ‘baker’ is the passion of idolatry and of evil lusts. In the ‘baker’ we can also see the conscience of man. Their conscience sleeps; they follow their own will and imagination. Their hearts are on fire because of their passions. An unclean heart is like a heated oven, and its unclean lusts and desires are like the fuel that makes the fire hot.
Paul uses the same imaginative language when he describes the lewd lusts to which people surrender who do not care about God and His Word (Rom 1:27). The natural feelings are killed when one no longer takes into account what God has said and one simply follows one’s own lusts.
Conscience has been given to man by God after and as a result of the fall in sin. It is a ‘warning mechanism’. This means that the conscience only gives a signal when we think of and do something that is not right. We can ease our conscience by constantly coming up with arguments to make the wrong thing we did not seem so bad after all. If we repeat this often enough, the conscience will eventually no longer respond if something is done that is contrary to God’s Word. The conscience becomes numb, it is as if it is asleep. But lust does not sleep. It burns constantly like an oven.
7 Hot Like an Oven
7 All of them are hot like an oven,
And they consume their rulers;
All their kings have fallen.
None of them calls on Me.
In verse 6, only the heart is an oven. Here in verse 7 it seems that the whole person has become an oven, an oven that consumes their rulers and kings. All their thoughts and actions are aimed at killing their leaders. All the actions of a person come from his heart (Pro 4:23). If feelings of hatred or lust are cherished in the heart, they will at some point be transformed into actions.
How hurtful all this is to God can be heard in the last words of this verse. God complains that there is no one calling on Him. Nothing would be better for the people than to turn to Him Who not only can give a solution, but seeks the best for His people.
8 No Mixing with the Nations
8 Ephraim mixes himself with the nations;
Ephraim has become a cake not turned.
In their personal need, the people try to get rid of their rulers. The people feel the yoke of their king too much. He does not give them the space they want. There is not only internal dissatisfaction, but also danger externally. In the north is Assyria. When danger from that side really threatens, they seek help from southern Egypt. If Egypt becomes a threat, they try to make an alliance with Assyria. In this way Ephraim, that is Israel, seeks help with the nations. They are actively engaged in intermingling. They have forgotten what God has had said of them as a people through Balaam: “Behold, a people [who] dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations” (Num 23:9).
How God judges this mixture becomes clear from a second imagery from the baker’s world. Through his action, Ephraim resembles a cake that a baker has forgotten to turn. As a result, the bread is burned on one side and the other side is not yet cooked. This picture represents people who are extreme on two sides: they are zealous in evil, the black baked side, and they neglect the service of the LORD, the side that is not cooked. The underside, directed toward the world, is overheated; the top, directed toward God, is still dough, so disgusting.
Assyria and his idols are served with all diligence, while they forget the LORD. This makes Israel an abomination. It cannot be eaten or sold. You cannot do anything with it. The only thing it is good for is to be thrown away. This is what happened through the scattering.
The Christian is also warned not to mingle with the world: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2Cor 6:14a). In the verses that follow, the absurdity and foolishness of such mingling is made clear (2Cor 6:14b-16).
9 He Does Not Know It
9 Strangers devour his strength,
Yet he does not know [it];
Gray hairs also are sprinkled on him,
Yet he does not know [it].
The third metaphor is that he “got grey hair”. This indicates that the strength and energy of the past are no longer there. Greyness is often a sign of old age and wisdom, but not here. Here it means diminishing strength, which culminates in the end of their existence as a people. When the first gray hairs become visible in someone, it is immediately noticed. There are mirrors for this. If it is not noticed, it is unnatural. This is the case with Israel. Having gray hair is not a disgrace, but not seeing it is. Twice it says in this verse that he does not know it. How tragic!
In the book of Malachi, we also come across this lack of awareness of one’s own shortcomings. We hear the people asking the question several times that they have done this or that. They are unaware that they have strayed in the things about which they are addressed.
From a spiritual point of view, the first gray hairs become visible in us when, for example, our need to come together with God’s people begins to diminish; or when our interest in God’s house diminishes; or when our commitment and need to bring people the gospel diminishes; or when we no longer take it so strictly in our work and the like. It can also happen to us that we do not notice it. And the cause? Strangers have taken away our strength. Strange thoughts have gained access to our thinking by opening the door to worldly thinking.
The only fruit Israel reaps from its search for help from the worldly powers is dependence. The people end up in a dependent position and are sucked out. We can think of the heavy tax Menahem has to pay for the help he asks from the king of Assyria (2Kgs 15:19-20). Any favor that a believer asks of the world must be paid dearly. The world never gives anything for nothing. Dealing with the world consumes the power of a believer without him knowing it.
Ephraim is a decrepit greybeard, stumbling to the grave. It should be a separated people, as a testimony of God. Nothing comes of this testimony because the people went on the way of the pagans and adopted pagan customs.
Samson is an imaginative illustration of what is said here about Ephraim. When Samson has revealed the secret of his power, which lies in his being a Nazirite – that is, his separation for the LORD – his power is gone. Just as tragically as with Ephraim, we read of Samson that he does not know that the LORD is no longer with him: “But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him” (Jdg 16:19-20).
Any fraternizing with the world, under whatever cover, causes the Christian to lose his fellowship with the Lord and therefore all spiritual energy, often without being aware of it.
10 Pride Makes Blind
10 Though the pride of Israel testifies against him,
Yet they have not returned to the LORD their God,
Nor have they sought Him, for all this.
It testifies of pride when people boast about their own qualities, while they are blind to the flaws that make these highly praised qualities fade away. This is how it is with Israel. Blind as they are for the blurring of national fame, they see no reason to repent to the LORD their God. Why should they repent at all? Surely there is nothing wrong with them, is there? What is wrong with them is that they are blind to their own pride.
What the Lord Jesus says to the Pharisees applies to them. They also believe that they see and do everything well, while they are blind to their sins because of their pride (Jn 9:40-41). Those who think they see, but in reality are blind to their own sins, remain in their sins. Such a person thinks he does not need repentance; there is no search for God. After all, do they think they already belong to Him?
It is an attitude that we also encounter in Christianity. It is presented to us in particular in the message to the church in Laodicea. This church boasts that everything is perfectly in order with them. There is nothing wrong with them. Listen to their language: “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Rev 3:17a). Do we recognize any of this in our own hearts or in the local church of which we are a part? Then that must be judged.
In reality, the Lord Jesus is outside the door in Laodicea. His reaction is therefore not soft: “And you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” In His love to win them back, He gives them good advice (Rev 3:17b-18). Here too, as in Hosea, through pride, there is a lack of awareness of the misery in which the church finds itself. The way out that is still offered, is to open the door of our hearts and let the Lord Jesus enter to have fellowship with Him. That is the repentance He is waiting for (Rev 3:19-20).
Dear fellow Christians, give Him again all the authority in your life. As long as the Lord Jesus is knocking, there is still hope. For Israel that hope lies in that touching “their God”, as He still calls Himself here.
11 A Silly Dove
11 So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense;
They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.
With ever new metaphors the prophet tries to make clear to the people what position they are in. He uses a fourth metaphor, that of a dove. This animal often represents something positive. We have to be ‘innocent’ or ‘simple’ as doves, says the Lord Jesus (Mt 10:16). “Innocent” or “silly” is opposed to cunning and unreliability. A dove is rather naive and is easily deceived and captured. A dove knows its home, it almost always goes back there.
But Israel has no sense. They are silly and without sense. Who goes to Egypt or to Assyria to seek protection, peoples who also easily reveal themselves as enemies (Hos 5:13)? There is a hesitant policy that makes the folly of forgetting God even greater. The inner state of half-heartedness has an effect on entering into these foreign relations. This behavior is as reprehensible as the cake that cannot be eaten (verse 8). Without sense is literally ‘without heart’. They do not even realize that the danger comes from the side where they seek support.
12 The Net Is Spread Out
12 When they go, I will spread My net over them;
I will bring them down like the birds of the sky.
I will chastise them in accordance with the proclamation to their assembly.
By “My net,” God means Assyria. Just as a bird moves thoughtlessly into the net, so too Israel, with its policy of unbelief, plunges blindly into destruction. That destruction is caused by the righteous judgment of God on them. The swarm of birds in the sky, the fifth metaphor, seems to indicate a common attempt by the leaders to get help from both Egypt and Assyria. They will be brought down. This punishment of God will come fully upon them when He surrenders Israel into the power of the king of Assyria.
The meaning of the last line is that they will be chastised according to the judgments in the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 27-28), which are to be read to the whole people (Deu 31:12).
13 Straying, Rebellion, Lying
13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me!
Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me!
I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me.
God Himself calls out the “woe” over them because they have strayed from Him. He who leaves God has to fear grief after grief. He who falls away from God violates his own soul and proves to be completely blind to all God’s goodness. Both the “strayed” and the “rebelled” indicates that the connection with God has been there, but that they no longer appreciate it. That shows a hardened heart, a conscious turning its back on God.
In order to justify this attitude, they can think of nothing else than to speak lies against God. When the Lord Jesus is on earth, the religious leaders do the same. They even dare to attribute His works of mercy to the prince of demons (Mt 9:32-34). In this way, Israel answers all God’s goodness with nothing but ingratitude. It is possible that they accuse God of not helping them against their enemies in the past, although He did.
It can happen in the life of someone who confesses to have become a Christian, that life as a Christian is so difficult for him, that he turns his back on God. In order to justify his return to the world, such a person often attributes incongruous things to God. Disappointed as he is in God, he is going to badmouth God.
For the sake of convenience, he forgets that God did prove Himself as the redeeming God in his life. For example, God has saved him from a difficult situation in financial matters or in things within the family or with regard to health. But if the heart has not come into a living relationship with God through true repentance and faith, things will happen that will bring to light the reality of his relationship with God. Then it will turn out that such a person did not have a real relationship with God.
14 Believing Because of Earthly Happiness
14 And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me.
“God, who knows the heart” (Acts 15:8) knows exactly why a man cries to Him. His people cry to Him because of the lack of earthly prosperity. They are sad that they no longer have them in such abundance. Alas, they ignore the fact that the scarcity is the result of the discipline of God because they are unfaithful. But they do not manage to acknowledge that. They cry to the LORD, but not with their heart. They cry only because they have lost their prosperity and blessing. They treat Him as a pagan idol, who by their self-flagellation will break down and give them what they ask for (cf. 1Kgs 18:26-28).
Today is no different. Christians also sometimes believe that they can use God to act favorably for them through all kinds of self-designed actions. In doing so, they hurt themselves or they refrain from certain things. Their goal is earthly prosperity and a healthy life. They ignore the fact that faith in the Lord Jesus guarantees nothing with regard to natural happiness and physical health. On the contrary. God says in His Word: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Tim 3:12). This is different from the gibberish talking of the success preachers, who promise their hearing richness and health when they accept Jesus.
15 God’s Help and the Response of His people
15 Although I trained [and] strengthened their arms,
Yet they devise evil against Me.
God has not left His people in doubt about His plans with them and how He wants them to live. His servants have always taught them about that. His power is also at their disposal, so that they can fulfill His will. For His part, He has done everything to keep His people on the right track. But the people do not care about God’s will and His message. Not only do they not listen to Him, but they also even turn against Him.
In spite of who He has been for them and what He has done for them, the people treat Him wickedly. The evil they conceive against Him can be seen in their worship of the idols in Bethel and Dan. They decide for themselves how and where they will serve God.
Every form of self-willed religion is a devising of evil against God. He sees that as rebellious acting. No one who pursues a self-willed religion can be excused, because God has clearly revealed His will in His Word.
16 A Deceitful Bow and the Derision in the World
16 They turn, [but] not upward,
They are like a deceitful bow;
Their princes will fall by the sword
Because of the insolence of their tongue.
This [will be] their derision in the land of Egypt.
In the first words of this verse we see the restless search for support from the surrounding nations, while their gaze is not directed upward, i.e. to the Most High, to seek help from Him. But those who expect help from people resemble “a deceitful bow”, the sixth metaphor used for the people. A deceitful bow hits no target, or any other target than that on which it is aimed. The bow is no good. It does not allow you to shoot accurately, and it does not keep the distant enemy away from you (cf. Gen 49:23-24). If Israel, like Joseph, had put its trust in God, they would have been exactly as God wanted: a bow against evil and idolatry. Instead, they turn against God.
In spite of their big mouths, their kings will fall by the sword. We can think of men like Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah and Pekah, who have all fallen victim to murder. If we do not use our weapons to keep the enemy at a distance, they will be used to cause mischief in the midst of the people of God. This will deprive the people of God of their power and at the same time make them a derision in the world. This is how it has been with Israel. In the days of prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II, Israel has boasted against Egypt in its power. Now, Israel is derided by Egypt because of the fall of their kings.
People who first expressed themselves to be Christians and later started looking for the world again, eventually become a derision for that world. Those who seek the friendship of the world not only lose God, but also the world, of whom one becomes a slave again.