Hosea 13:1-8 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.
4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.
As you may know, our family just moved into an old farmhouse. The county records show that it was built in 1900, but we found out from the previous owners that no one really knows when it was built. It just sort of shows up in the records as existing in 1905, so they guessed that it was built in 1900.
When we first saw the house we both loved it. As we looked closer, as you can imagine, we found evidence of its age. In particular, if you were to put a marble on any of the floors it would immediately and quickly begin to roll in some direction. Likewise, if you were to place a level on anything the bubble would disappear. In a couple of places in the basement it’s easy to see why things are out of whack upstairs. 120 year old beams have cracked in a couple of places and are causing the whole house to sag.
Because the entire house is (literally) built on those beams, we’ve begun to repair them so that the house can last another 120 years. If the house’s structure were to continue to fail, the entire house would eventually come crashing down.
That is exactly what we find throughout Hosea, and in our passage for this morning in particular. Once again, in chapter 13, Hosea described the cracks in Israel’s foundation and the disastrous implications of failing to shore them up.
Hosea 13, the second to last chapter in the book, is made up of a series of five concise and familiar proclamations of God’s judgment on Israel. Interestingly—as my illustration was intended to point out—in this section Hosea unites all of them around the theme of misplaced trust in broken foundations (and its deadly consequences). Power, blessing, rulers, wisdom, and fruitfulness were the things Israel had built their lives upon. And Hosea’s promise to them was that they were soon to experience the tragic inadequacy of those things. Those things were not meant to bear the weight of their trust; God alone could do that.
Lord willing, we’ll look at the first two of these crumbling foundations this morning and the final three next week. And Lord willing, insodoing we’ll be able to consider areas in our own lives (the ones mentioned by Hosea and others) where we have misplaced trust as well (where our foundation is cracked/ing); all in order that we might turn from them to a more solid foundation before things come crashing down (as they did for Israel). Let’s pray that it would be so.
TRUSTING IN POWER (1-3)
The first charge against Israel in this section is found in vs.1-3. Let’s look at that again.
Hosea 13:1-3 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. 2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3 Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.
At one time, not that long ago for Hosea’s hearers, Israel (and the city of Ephraim in particular) was (rightly) exalted and feared. That is, she possessed a kind of power that made other cities and nations listen to her. They might not like what she had to say, but her power compelled them to pay attention. Truly, when she “spoke, there was trembling…”. Truly, Ephraim was “exalted in Israel” and among her neighbors.
Over time, though, Israel forgot that her exalted status and power had come from God and continued exclusively through God. She forgot that her power was intended by God to display His glory, not hers. Consequently, Israel stopped trusting in the God of Power and started seeking and trusting in the power itself and the glory it carried with it…as if it were something that could exist outside of God; that could be manipulated and bent to her will.
And as a result of that, the Israelites (beginning with Ephraim; like a cancer that starts in the liver but eventually spreads throughout the body) began to sin more and more, turning to other gods (Baal) more and more, incurring more and more guilt before God, and eventually succumbing to judgment that was more and more severe.
Foolishly believing that God’s power now existed in themselves and in other gods, the Israelites came to believe that it was theirs to wield as they saw fit. They also came to believe that they deserved symbols and reminders of the greatness of their power. Thus, they began to use their skill (not to honor the God who made them skilled, but) to craft images and idols for themselves and their fake gods; to celebrate and exalt their power and that of their fake gods.
The more they lusted after and trusted in power itself, the more depraved they became…even to the point of offering human sacrifices in an attempt to attain and retain it. They did so even to the point that pagan nations saw and mocked their depravity. Baal (whose symbol was a bull) required human sacrifices in exchange for access to his power and the Israelites gladly complied. Their hypocrisy was so evident, “It [was] said of them, ‘Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!'”
The Israelites had placed their trust in something (the power God had bestowed upon them) that could not bear them up. Their God-given military strength was not sufficient to sustain them; only the God who gave the strength was.
Hosea references Israel’s God-given powerful past (v.1), her decadent present (2), and then her ruined future (v.3). Because of the fact that they were trusting in an inadequate foundation, they would be like the morning mist. It’s there for a while, but quickly diminishes as the day dawns. Because of the fact that they had come to rely on God’s gift rather than God, they would be like the dew that burns off as the sun comes out. Because of the fact that they had placed their hope in something that couldn’t bear it, they would be like chaff that swirls above the threshing floor, but is quickly carried away by the wind. Because of the fact that they had built their lives on their military power, they would be like smoke in a window that is there for a moment and then gone with a puff. Thus, as Hosea makes clear (in v.3), this pillar of power was about to snap and everything built upon it was about to come crashing down.
What was meant by God as a reward would soon become a curse. What was meant to be perpetual would soon disappear. What was meant to bring life would soon bring death.
This is a divine invitation to look carefully at our own lives, for God has given us power too. None of us in this room have the kind of military might that Israel did, but every one of us have certain things that God has given us for our protection. And every one of us have been lulled (at times) into trusting in those things instead of the God who gave them.
In our home’s basement I’m currently building massive beams to properly carry the weight of the house. What’s more, I’ve installed several posts that allow me to slowly jack the house up where it had sagged due to the faulty foundation. I’m working to build a sufficient foundation and repair the damage caused by the failure of the previous foundation.
In this same way Grace, please take a minute and consider what power you are trusting in your own life. The power of your job or savings or family or law enforcement or…? God can (and does) certainly use all of those things to provide protection and strength, but if we ever try to build our safety and sense of well-being on them we will eventually crash. They were not meant to (nor can they) bear the weight of our trust.
Where you find that you’ve been trusting in some form of God’s power rather than God himself, work quickly to take the weight of your life off of that thing. There is one sure foundation and that is God himself. If we build (all or any part of our lives) on anything else, it will eventually collapse.
TRUSTING IN BLESSING (4-8)
Israel’s second cracked beam—the second inadequate object of her trust mentioned by Hosea in this chapter—was the blessings that God had been lavished upon her. We’ve seen this before in Hosea (more than once), but look with me at vs.4-8 for another, clarifying description of Israel’s misplaced trust in her God-given flourishing.
Hosea 13:4-8 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. 7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.
To help Israel understand how ridiculous it was for her to trust in her blessing (rather than her God, the Blesser), Hosea began this section by reminding them of exactly who God is. He is God, the only god, there are no others. He is the one who saved the Israelites from centuries of Egyptian captivity. There are no other saviors. He was the one who found them in the wilderness and cared for them when they were unable to care for themselves, when they would have certainly succumbed to drought. There are no other rescuers or sustainers.
As kind and remarkable as God’s saving, rescuing, and sustaining is, God did not merely allow Israel to survive in these harsh and otherwise deadly conditions; he caused her to thrive. He gave her the good food and allowed her to eat freely. God blessed Israel with full stomaches and uplifted hearts. In other words, God gave Israel everything she needed for life and joy and prosperity in Him. She was given abundant food to eat (physical and spiritual) and invited her to eat until she “became full.”
What should have caused the people of God to become overwhelmed with gratitude and constant in obedience, instead led them to forget God and look only to his blessings. Israel ate and ate at the table of God such that she no longer remembered what it was like to be hungry; such that she no longer remembered where the food came from. Therefore, worse still, (as with the power God had given) Israel convinced herself that the blessings could exist and continue apart from God.
Once again, the consequences for trusting in something (God’s blessings) that could not possibly bear the weight of their trust, kindled the jealous love of God to the point that destruction was all that awaited Israel.
7 So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.
It’s difficult to imagine more graphic language concerning the way God felt toward Israel’s forgetfulness and idolatry and what he intended to do in response to it. Like a lurking predator, like a mother bear, God promised to “devour” and “rip…open” Israel. His anger burned and His justice would be executed.
Israel had gradually shifted the object of her trust; she had gradually begun to build on a different foundation. Hosea’s warned Israel of this fact and of the fact that she would, therefore, soon watch as everything came crashing violently down.
The great tragedy in all of this is the fact that those who choose the blessings of God get neither God nor his blessings. But the great glory in all of this is that those who choose God get both God and his blessing. It’s so sad to be able to look on and see in these passages the obvious reality that Israel had left the only thing that could provide her blessing for things that could only provide her death.
Again, then, in this passage we find another divine invitation to carefully consider the foundation we’re building on. Hosea here demands that his hearers—including you and me today—ask, “Do I treasure God or merely the things I think he can give me? Do I see God as the blessing or merely the means to the blessing? Is the greatest news that through Jesus, I can have everlasting fellowship with God, or that through Jesus I can have all of the desires of my flesh fulfilled?
Perhaps no one has framed this question better than John Piper in God Is the Gospel.
“If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there” (John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, 15)?
Where you find evidence that you love the things of God more than God himself, confess them as sin, turn from them, and ask God for help to build again on that which will never crumble. Where you find evidence of greater love for your home or vacations or toys or health or hobbies, remember the words of Hosea, remember the inadequacy of these things to bear the weight of your trust, and remember the fact that God is not only the blesser, but also the greatest blessing and the only sure foundation.
As I mentioned in the introduction, chapter 13 consists of five specific sets of condemnations/consequences. Each centers around something that the Israelites were wrongly placing their trust in. We saw the first two this morning: 1) Power, and 2) Blessing. Next week we’ll see the last three: 3) Rulers, 4) Wisdom, 5) Fruitfulness. Each of these five things were originally gifts of God. They were each expressions of God’s favor on Israel for her covenant faithfulness. Each of these things were meant by God to bring life and joy. Instead, as we’ve seen over and over, Israel put them in places that belong exclusively to God, wrongly and dangerously built upon them, and was thus forced to watch as all that she’d built upon them came crashing down. Israel had placed her trust in things that could not bear it and was already suffering the tragic result.
While I don’t mean to suggest that these five (power, blessing, rulers, wisdom, and fruitfulness) are an exhaustive list of the things we can wrongly build upon, I do mean to suggest that since the beginning of time they are among the most common. If you and I would consider each of them seriously I’m confident that we’d all find several aspects of our lives that we’ve set on top of them to our eventual regret.
Once again then Grace, consider carefully what you are building your life upon. What is it that if it were taken away from you would mean a collapse? What is it in your life that you most fear losing? What is it that brings you greatest joy?
My guess is that at least some of it falls under one of Hosea’s chapter 13 categories. Let’s thank God, therefore, for this (nearly) 3000 year old warning. Then let us head it. And then let us begin to take the weight off of all that is not meant to bear it and place it on the one thing that can: God himself. That’s the good news of Christianity; God sent his Son to forgive our sins, repair all that they have destroyed, and give us a sure foundation to build our everlasting lives upon. Look to Jesus today, therefore, and find all that you were created for, and all that you are looking for in the things of this earth: Power, blessing, rulers, wisdom, and fruitfulness.