Hosea 13:9-16 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers- those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.
12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.
15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
Last Sunday we began to look at chapter 13. In that sermon I mentioned the fact that the chapter consists of five sayings of Hosea. Each of the sayings condemns Israel for placing her trust in something given to her by God rather than in God himself. That is, Hosea chided Israel on God’s behalf for believing that God was the means to an end rather than the end. Specifically, we saw that the Israelites had shifted their trust from God to the power (1-3) and blessings (4-8) he’d given them. What’s more, we saw that because these things were never meant to bear the weight of Israel’s trust, they were beginning to collapse all around her.
This morning we’ll look at the final three of Hosea’s chapter 13 prophecies. Insodoing, we’ll see that the Israelites wrongly and fatally built their lives upon their power and blessing (last week), and (this week) their rulers (9-11), wisdom (12-14), and fruitfulness (14-16). These five things have been among the most common and deadly foundations that mankind has built his life upon from the beginning of time. Israel’s misplaced trust in them was the norm, not the exception. Again, then, if God grants us eyes to see, we will certainly find that portions of our life have been built upon them as well. Let’s pray that God would reveal the parts of our lives that have been built on anything but him. And as he does, let’s be quick to shift the weight of our trust back on the one thing that can bear it: God himself.
The main question that I hope rings in all of our ears is this: what am I building my life upon?
TRUSTING IN RULERS (9-11)
Throughout the OT, one of the things that Israel most consistently prided herself in was her leaders and rulers. The patriarchs and kings who led them in times of victory and prosperity were praised and celebrated over centuries. As many of you know, at the time of Hosea, Israel was well past the pinnacle of her existence which took place under kings David and Solomon. The Israelites longed, therefore, for the coming of the messiah because they believed he would lead them to unprecedented military, economic, and political heights. In other words, Israel had placed her hope in significant ways in her past, present, and future leaders.
God does at times use rulers to protect and prosper (he certainly did for Israel and he certainly has for you and me), but it is God who is ultimately doing the protecting and prospering. Our rulers are simply one tool God uses to accomplish his purposes. But God has many, many tools. He is not bound by any of them and none of them can function without him.
Forgetting all of this, however, Israel had treasonously placed a good chunk of her hope on her leaders and rulers, her kings and princes (rather than the God who wielded them for Israel’s help). Thus, Hosea cried:
Hosea 13:9-11 He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. 10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers- those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? 11 I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.
Hosea’s message was clear: 1) Israel, you are experiencing the severe judgment of God for failing to keep the terms of the covenant you made with him (in your time of need, you turned your back on the only true source of help) (v.9), 2) The rulers, kings, and princes you have placed your hope in instead of God are useless to hold back the tide of God’s anger because they too are the objects of his anger (v.10), and 3) In reality, your kings, the ones you love to brag about and put your trust in, have always been a sign of my judgment (see 1 Samuel 8 for this story) (v.11).
Again, then, we see another example of Israel building on something that couldn’t bear the weight of her trust (her rulers) and so everything had begun crashing down. In fact, the tense of the Hebrew verb at the beginning of v.9 is perfect; meaning that is a statement of what has already begun, what is already certain. “He destroys you” can be translated “He destroyed you”. The helper became the hunter. The King gave kings as a generational rebuke. Thus, when the Israelites turned to the kings rather than the King, both were taken from them.
Most polls indicate that American’s trust in our government is at an all-time low. In at least some ways, then, it is probably difficult for you and me to imagine falling into the trap of placing our hope in our rulers. Mat and Miranda shared something with me after their time in Africa, however, that might change your perspective.
They described for me how they were never truly accepted as locals, and could never truly think of themselves as locals, because they could never truly know the perpetual vulnerability their neighbors experienced. They put it something like this: “If an African in our village was injured in some life-threatening way, they would most likely die. But if we were injured in the exact same way, we’d be helicoptered quickly to a western hospital and most likely live. It’s impossible to share the village mindset when our realities are so different.”
What Mat and Miranda didn’t explicitly name is the fact that this was primarily due to the power and wealth and reach of the U.S. government. In the same way, most of us don’t know the amount of evil intent the world has toward us because our government/military heads 99% of it off before it gets to us. Most of us don’t know how high the financial safety net is in the U.S. because we’ve never known anything else. Most of us don’t know what it means to be vulnerable to homelessness or starvation. In all of these ways and more, we too (perhaps without knowing it) have placed our hope in our rulers/government.
And again, then, we have another divine invitation to consider what our lives are built upon. If the answer is God (such that our hope is in him alone to rule and guide and protect), we cannot be shaken. If the answer is government or anything else, we cannot stand. Let’s check ourselves for hints of hope in power, blessing, or rulers rather than the God who gives those things.
TRUSTING IN WISDOM (12-14)
The fourth insufficient source of Israel’s hope was her own wisdom. I suppose in one sense every false foundation is the product of our own wisdom. God has made it clear how he means to relate to us. If we come to him on his terms we will experience his pleasure and blessing. If we come to him on any other terms (which by definition are terms of our own wisdom’s making) we will experience Israel’s fate.
Let’s consider Israel’s wisdom (which is really her folly) and then her reward (which is really her death).
Hosea 13:12-13 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.
Again, Hosea’s argument is straightforward: 1) Israel’s sin had become her nature; it’s what she did because it is who she was, 2) The consequences for her habitual sin were being stored up by God to be released at the time of his (imminent) choosing, and 3) These things were the result of Israel’s utter stupidity.
Israel didn’t just occasionally, unwittingly fall into sin. She was entirely enslaved to it. Verse after verse, chapter after chapter, page after page in Hosea describes the nature of Israel’s nature: treacherously unfaithful. She had given herself to countless forms of idolatry, sexual immorality, worldliness, prohibited religious practices, and as we see in chapter 13, false hopes.
Because of these things, these sins against God, God had bound and stored up his wrath to be released upon Israel if she continued in them. Genuine repentance was (and is) the only thing that can stay the wrath of God.
But how did she come to be like this? What led Israel to this place of destruction? In another absolutely cutting rebuke, Hosea answered this question. It was because her folly, her stupidity had reached historically impressive levels. Israel had become so enamored with her own wisdom that she was willing to follow it instead of the God who made heaven and earth. But her wisdom was no wisdom at all. In fact, Hosea mocked, instead of being wise, she was like a person who couldn’t remember what to do when her alarm went off. She was like a person who couldn’t remember what direction to go on a one-way street. She was like a child who did not know what to do when it came time for her birth.
Believing herself to be wise, she had become a fool…and a fool who was entirely ignorant of her folly. Thus, instead of turning to God for what she lacked, believing she already had it, she built her life that which was powerless to uphold her. This folly led her into the grasp of death. Death held her captive, and death was coming. Therefore, Hosea presented God as hypothetically asking himself (v.14): Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?
What shall I do, God rhetorically wondered? Should I save Israel from the grip of death, the death she chose in her folly? Shall I rescue her or let the death she deserves have its way? His answer comes in the form of two more questions: O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?
In these questions God was in effect summoning Death and Sheol (synonyms) to have their way. He determined that Israel must face the consequences of her folly and so he asked death when she was coming and when her pain would arrive. That is, on account of Israel’s misplaced trust and gross treason God says opened the gate he’d been holding closed and allowed death into Israel. “Compassion is hidden from my eyes.”
Grace, none of us will benefit from subtlety here. In two critical areas, clarity and directness are what we need. First, either we are people of the Word of God (reading, thinking, praying, studying, applying in faith) or we are people of folly. Nothing in us or in this world can give us the wisdom we need to safely build our lives upon. If you do not depend entirely upon the Word of God for all things pertaining to life, you are a fool and are inevitably binding and storing up sin. We cannot look outside of the Author of Life for clarity on who He is or what He wills, who we are or why we exist, the nature of sin, when life begins, our purpose, marriage, or anything else. To do so is to invite folly and divine judgment. Israel made this clear for us. Let us see, therefore, what is in front of our eyes and let us respond by throwing ourselves into the Word of God which alone is sufficient to instruct us concerning God and the world he made.
The second thing that we need to be crystal clear on concerns the manner in which Jesus changes things.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are the words of the Apostle Paul when he quotes Hosea 13:14 many years later. What was a pronouncement of death for Israel (in Hosea 13) has become an offer of life for you and me. What was an expression of divine judgment has become an expression of divine rescue. What was an invitation for justice to be executed is now a promise of life.
When Hosea asked, “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?“ the answer was, right here, knocking at your door step. But when Paul asks the same questions, the answer is: at the cross! Death is dead and so is its sting! Jesus changes everything for those who would put their trust in him alone.
TRUSTING IN FRUITFULNESS (15-16)
And that leads us to the final inadequate foundation of Israel’s building. Israel trusted in her power, blessings, rulers, wisdom and, finally, her fruitfulness.
It was promised to Abraham that his descendants would be like the sand on seas shores and like the stars in all the galaxies. In other words, it was promised to Abraham that his line would be spectacularly fruitful. In that way Israel would be able to rule other nations as a light to the world and in order to display God’s glory.
God delivered on his promise of fruitfulness, but Israel reneged on her promise to honor God for it. Instead, she used her fruitfulness to gather glory for herself rather than God. No longer, God promised, would Israel be able to find significance in her offspring or help in her numbers.
Hosea 13:15-16 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
The time of her flourishing would end, and the time of increasing judgment would begin. Do you see the progression? Her fruitfulness would end, but Israel wouldn’t simply remain as an ordinary nation. Soon her fountain, spring, and treasury would all be emptied. But that wasn’t the end of the work of the “wind of the LORD”. Next the weight of her misplaced trust and rebellion would do further damage. The “east wind” (Assyria) would come with sword to kill the fighting men. But that’s not all either. Worse still, her children would be “dashed in pieces”. And worst of all, before they were even born, babies would be destroyed in their mothers’ womb. (If the most severe expression of God’s judgment on a nation was allowing enemy nations to destroy babies inside their mothers, what does that say about a nation that does it to itself?)
Israel had come to trust in her fruitfulness and so all that was built upon it would come crashing down. What had been her great hope would become her greatest sorrow.
How about you? Does your most significant happiness and sense of purpose come from your kids (or the hope of having kids)? Has your family become an idol—taking a place in your life that ought to be reserved for God alone? Are there any ways in which you have placed your hope in your fruitfulness? Are you more focused on keeping your kids safe and comfortable and educated and well-mannered, or on calling them to follow Jesus wherever he leads and whatever it costs? If so, once again, know that while kids and family are good gifts from God, they can never provide for you what only God can. They cannot bet the foundation of your life or it, like the Israelites, will eventually collapse.
The bad news, once again, is that all of us have built upon inadequate foundations. All of us have placed our trust in things that cannot long bear it. And consequently, all of us have experienced the effects of shaky and crumbling support. But the good news, once again, is that in Jesus Christ we are offered a rock solid foundation; one that cannot be moved or shaken, one that cannot deteriorate or be destroyed, and one that cannot ever fail or give way.
What’s more, in Jesus Christ we are offered not only a sure foundation, we are also offered a master restorer. He has promised to provide stability and renewal. He is that which will never let us down and that which will fix the damage of everyone and everything that has. And the most significant expression of all of this is the fact that on the cross Jesus made a way for mankind to have everlasting life in perfect and eternal satisfaction in God. Jesus has reconciled us to the Father. By faith in Jesus we have a perfect example of what it means to be human; of what a life built on hope in God really looks like, and we have a perfect sacrifice for our sins; one by which our sins are forgiven, washed away, and repaired.
The great message of Hosea 13, although Hosea only knew a portion of it, is that God has provided in himself and his Son, the sure foundation and the guarantee of renewal; that is, God alone can bear our trust now and for eternity. Trust in him alone, therefore, Grace Church, avoid Israel’s fate, and find all that you were made for.