Hosea 10: The God who Judges

 

I wonder if you can cast your mind back to this moment? – can you remember where you were?  When Beckham missed that penalty? Or when Campbell’s goal was disallowed

 

Or perhaps Cricket is your game – and you know all about snickometers, or Tennis, and you keep a keen eye on cyclops

 

Or on a more serious note – Perhaps you’ve got your opinions on the Wall in Palestine

 

And on a variation on a theme – what connects these 5 things? – Fairness  - Justice

 

It’s a cry we’ve all heard – one we’ve probably given ourselves – that’s not fair.

 

And there are plenty of glib and ready answers – who said anything about fair? Is one of my personal favourites.

 

We want things to be fair.  We want things to be just.  In the Soham murder trial – in the Belgian paedophile case – we want to see justice done.

 

Tonight we’re thinking about fairness and justice, as we look at The God who Judges from Hosea 10 – it’s on page 906 of the bibles in the chairs if you’ve missed your place.

 

We’re thinking about God judging Israel – we’re familiar with this theme from Hosea already – and we get some clear statements about it tonight in Hosea – for example look at verses 10 and 11 of this chapter:

 

Hosea 10: 10 When I please, I will punish them; nations will be gathered against them to put them in bonds for their double sin.  11 Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.

 

Ephraim will be punished by the nations – and that means exile to Assyria.  Judah and Jacob – other names for Israel and for the southern kingdom  - won’t escape – they too will be yoked – forced like an ox to do a job they don’t want to do – forced into exile.

 

There are plenty of other examples in this passage.  God will judge Israel.  And from our passage tonight we are given clear examples of why God will judge Israel.

 

We’re concerned for justice – we’re concerned for fairness – and so tonight we can see how Just God’s Justice is.

 

But at the same time, if we just stand on the outside looking at justice – debating line calls or off sides or appeals for catches – then we can miss the game.  We could, like John Macenroe of old become distracted from what’s important.

 

Because as well as seeing why God judged Israel – we also need to see what we can learn from this passage as God’s people now.

 

Look at verse 9:

 

Hosea 10:9 "Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel, and there you have remained. Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?

 

The days of Gibeah refers back to an incident way back in the book of Judges.

 

Now this is definitely ancient history for us – and was pretty ancient history for the people in Hosea’s day – it was an incident that had happened perhaps 400 years earlier.

 

You can read about in Judges 19 – it’s not a pretty tale.  It’s about sexual immorality and the abuse of human beings for sexual purposes, and it results in civil war within Israel.

 

Why bring it up now?  Because Hosea expected Israel to learn from it.  He reminds them that the sin of Gibeah was punished – and therefore why should they expect anything different.

 

They should have learned from history – from God’s word.  And we as God’s people now should do the same – learn from God’s dealings with his people in the past as we seek to understand the present.

 

So we need to look at Why does God Judge Israel – and what should we learn from this?

 

We’ll look at this under three headings as we go through the passage:  

 

  1. Worship God alone
  2. Rely on God
  3. Listen to God’s Word

 

 

Now these themes are closely related, and Hosea comes back to them again and again – so we’ll pick them up at various stages in the passage.

 

1. Worship God alone (v1-2, 5, 8, 14-15)

 

Look at the description of Israel in verses 1 and 2:

 

NIV Hosea 10:1 Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.  2 Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.

 

Israel prospered.  And what did Israel do with it’s wealth – the wealth that the Lord had given him?  Israel spend it on altars and sacred stones – on pagan practices – on false gods and idols.

 

The very prosperity which came from God was used to worship false gods.

 

Then look on to verse 5:

 

5 The people who live in Samaria fear for the calf-idol of Beth Aven. Its people will mourn over it, and so will its idolatrous priests, those who had rejoiced over its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile.

 

Rather than fearing God, the people were worried about the idol that they had made in Beth Aven – (that’s Hosea’s name for Bethel – and means House of Wickedness)

 

The calf-idol will be taken away – after all, it’s only a bit of precious metal – treasure for the Assyrians.

 

And then verse 8:

 

8 The high places of wickedness will be destroyed-- it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, "Cover us!" and to the hills, "Fall on us!"

 

Judgement comes – and that means the destruction of the high places, the places where Israel met to worship idols and foreign gods.  They will be totally destroyed – covered in thorns and thistles – once Israel went into exile in Assyria, no one would be there to look after them!

 

And then finally verses 14 and 15:

 

Hosea 10:14 the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated-- as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. 15 Thus will it happen to you, O Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.

 

Hosea describes a time when Israel was attacked in the past, and says it is going to happen again.  Why?  Because of the wickedness of Bethel.

 

Bethel was the place of worship that Israel set up, so that people did not have to go to Jerusalem to worship, because Jerusalem was in Judah, the other kingdom (map)

 

But God had told his people to gather at Jerusalem to worship at the temple, his house, there.  And only there.

 

Bethel was a symbol of how the Israelites didn’t worship God as he desires – but made up there own rules – mixing in a bit of pagan practice, worshipping the Baal’s as well.  That’s why Hosea calls it Beth Aven – House of Wickedness.

 

Israel worshipped foreign gods – they did not worship the one true God alone.

 

They thought they knew what they were doing - they thought they knew where they were going.

 

The other week I was playing Cricket for the diocese – we won – and I was involved in a partnership of 40 runs, of which I scored precisely 0.  I hung around for a bit, and blocked a few balls.

 

All was going well – until I decided it was time to play a few shots.  So, next ball, I advanced confidently down the pitch, watching the ball carefully as it came towards my bat.  With a gently – yet elegant – backswing I moved forward to confidently dispatch the ball to the offside boundary.

 

With only one slight problem.  I had missed the ball, and the ball had not missed my stumps.

 

Everything about the shot was looking good – or so I thought – except for one minor detail – I missed the ball, and hitting the ball is an essential part of a good cricket shot.

 

Everything for Israel looked good.  They were prosperous – they had plenty of altars, plenty of high places, plenty of sacred stones, plenty of priests.  They knew of lots of gods, and kept them all happy.

 

But Israel had missed the ball.  They had forgotten that they were to worship the one true God, the one who had made them what they were.

 

Israel was judged for failing to worship God alone, for letting how things looked blind them to the truth.

 

Worship God alone.

 

Unlike Israel with her high places and sacred stones – we must not let things that look religious or spiritual choke our relationship with God.

 

When we pray to God – we are talking with our Lord and Saviour.  Through Jesus Christ, we have direct access to God.

 

We don’t need to be in a certain place, or holding certain things – or holding our hands in a certain way, or praying certain words, or holding the bible in a certain way – we have direct access to God in prayer.

 

We don’t pray through saints, and we don’t need to be in the company of special holy people – we have access to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Yes, we might find certain things help us to focus – sometimes – but we must avoid the things becoming the focus, and choking our relationship.  Our focus should always be on our Lord and Saviour, and upon worshipping him alone, with the whole of our lives.

 

2. Rely on God (v1, 6-7, 13-14)

 

Look again at verse 1

 

NIV Hosea 10:1 Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.

 

Israel prospered in the time of Hosea – merchants made lots of money, farmers had good years – labour was cheap – that kind of thing.

 

Nothing wrong in that.  Israel was a spreading vine.  A vine which had fruit – which Israel used for himself.  After all wasn’t it his money?  The work of his hands?  Wasn’t his prosperity the result of his hard work – nothing to do with anyone else – nothing to do with God.

 

And given that Israel’s wealth was his own – he spent it on what he wanted – altars and sacred stones.

 

Israel  - the model of self-reliance.

 

Later on in the passage, Hosea turns to the rulers of the nation – look at verses 6 and 7:

 

Hosea 10:6 It will be carried to Assyria as tribute for the great king. Ephraim will be disgraced; Israel will be ashamed of its wooden idols.

 7 Samaria and its king will float away like a twig on the surface of the waters.

 

The ‘it’ of verse 6 is the calf-idol of Beth Aven, carried away as treasure.

 

Israel will be ashamed of its wooden idols – or more likely, its counsel – if you notice the little b in your bibles in verse 6  -you’ll see a footnote which says ‘or ‘its counsel’.  The footnote is the better translation here. 

 

Israel will be ashamed of its counsel – ashamed of the foreign policy which meant conducting an alliance with Assyria – Assyria who would later take Israel into captivity.

 

Samaria – another name for Israel will float away – so will its king – like a twig, lost in the stream.  The king will pay the price for a foolish foreign policy.

 

A foreign policy which was not only foolish – but also against God’s will.  Look on to verses 13 and 14:

 

Hosea 10:13 But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, 14 the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated-- as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.

 

God told Israel to trust in him for protection, not in Egypt or Assyria.  But of course, Israel knew better.

 

Israel trusted in the strength of her warriors, in the strength of her wise and clever foreign policy, instead of trusting in God, and as we see in verse 14, this means destruction for Israel.

 

Israel relied on her own strength, not on God.  Israel though that she was in charge – that she was the master, and failed to recognize what God had done.

 

Imagine the scene.

 

You are at a wedding.  It’s been a good one – the food at the reception was nice, and the service wasn’t too long.  Your settling in for a nice evenings entertainment, beginning of course with the speeches.

 

And the groom stands up to make his speech.

 

‘Tonight, I’d like to thank myself for all the hard work I’ve put in to making this such a wonderful day for my wife.  And I’m sure she would like to thank me too.

 

‘Bridesmaids – you know just how privileged you are in being allowed to be our bridesmaids, and father and mother – what a son I am – I know I don’t come to see you often - but I know your grateful when I do show my handsome face – and isn’t my wife lucky to have me.

A toast – to the groom’

 

A silly scene.  I’m sure that would never happen at a wedding.  But Israel showed precisely that kind of self-satisfied arrogance and disregard towards God  They had failed to recognise who had made them into a fruitful vine.

 

A silly scene.  We’d never do anything like that would we?

 

We need to rely on God.  We need to recognize that all good things come from him.

 

This is easy to say – and we know it – but do we not have a tendency to think of things as ours – since we’ve put all the hard work in to getting them – forgetting that it is God who has made us, and enabled us to prosper in the first place.

 

It can be so easy to think of our money as well – ours – and perhaps to give to God as a favour – rather than from thankfulness.  We need to remember all that God has done for us – and not to just thing of that in terms of a ticket into heaven to file in the bottom draw, a get out of jail free card to stick under the edge of the monopoly board,  but as something which affects the whole of our lives.

 

We are saved by grace – and so we live different lives.

 

3. Listen to God’s Word (v2-4)

 

Israel had become a nation of liars.  Look at verse 2:

 

Hosea 10:2 Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.

 

At their core, God’s people were deceitful, and this could be seen in how they lived as a nation, verses 3 and 4:

 

3 Then they will say, "We have no king because we did not revere the LORD. But even if we had a king, what could he do for us?" 4 They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreements; therefore lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field.

 

They find themselves without a king – and then begin to recognize their problem – they have been deceitful, and have not feared God. 

 

Instead, they have lived as habitual liars.  Making oaths and promises, and not keeping them.  And so instead of Justice being like a crop in a healthy field, lawsuits fill the field, like poisonous weeds.

 

They disregarded God’s word.  There national life was full of deceit, of broken promises, of dishonesty.

 

Governments loose elections because they brake promises.  Companies loose orders, go out of business, because they have a dodgy reputation.

 

And yet you and I know it isn’t always like that.  Or at least it doesn’t seem to be like that. Cheats seem to prosper. 

 

And a contract isn’t a contract until it’s written down, checked by the lawyers, and signed.  Why shouldn’t the contract contain clauses that work to our best advantage – it’s the responsibility of their lawyers to spot them.

 

Sometimes deceit can seem just a part of life.  I don’t tell you the truth – and you don’t tell me.  It keeps us talking to each other.  It oils the wheels of life and business – it’s just part of life.

 

But deceit doesn’t oil the wheels - it loosens them.  They might run easier for a while, but they’ll eventually fall off.

 

Friends, I believe that in our society we take deceit to be just a part of life – particularly in business, but also in our relationships.  But we need to work at honesty, at being honest with one another, and honest in our business dealings. 

 

(Pause)

 

Israel stood condemned, and God’s words here are a challenge for us.

 

Israel was judged – she did not come back to God – but what about us?  Have we heeded the warning – or do we feel that we are really just like Israel?

 

Look on to verse 12:

 

Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

 

In the midst of this passage of rebuke and condemnation, God shows to Israel a better way.

 

Sow righteousness and reap unfailing love – we have seen the practical righteousness which Hosea was talking about – Worshipping God alone, relying on God and His word.

 

It is time to seek the LORD – until he comes.

 

Hosea looked forward to the coming of the LORD – to the coming of the LORD Jesus, as we look back to it.  The day when Jesus showered righteousness on us.

 

We’ve talked tonight about approaching God through Jesus Christ, about having a close relationship with God. 

 

But if we are like Israel – how is this possible?  It is possible through Jesus Christ.

 

We are like Israel.  Naturally, we turn away from God, and look out for ourselves. 

 

But if we seek the Lord, if God calls us to himself, we find Jesus, the one who died in our place on the cross and took the penalty we deserve, the fair penalty for all the things we, like Israel do against God.

 

We meet Jesus when we seek the LORD, and we come to him saying sorry for what we have done wrong, and trusting him, not only to forgive us, but also to enable us by his Holy Spirit to live different lives as we rely on him.

 

So that, when, as 2 Peter tells us, the Lord returns and the final judgement comes, we will be ready to face our Lord and Saviour, and to join him in the new heavens and a new earth

 

Let us pray

 

James Hughes

25th July 2004