Hosea 9:1-9 Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. 2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. 3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. 4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD? 6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. 7 The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins.
What’s the worst party you’ve ever been to? My own wedding shower was pretty rough, but probably the worst was one that a friend of mine had back in high school. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and certainly wasn’t looking to sing Kumbaya, but even I was pretty disturbed by the type of behavior going on. On top of all that, because my friend had just started attending a different school from me, I didn’t know anyone there. It was not my idea of a great party.
Whatever your version of a bad party is, I can assure you that Israel had an even worse idea. Hosea tells us that she decided to have one with the wrath of God firing down on her, in the middle of a war, and in spite of the fact that messengers had been specifically sent to tell her the party was a bad idea. This morning, then, we’ll consider each of these three ingredients to a really bad party. We’ll also consider, however, the remarkable fact that Jesus flips all of this on its head. Let’s pray that our eyes would be opened to the reality that we live in and that we’d interpret it all through the lens of the gospel.
THREE INGREDIENTS TO A BAD PARTY
The Israelites, evidently, were in a festive mood. From Hosea’s words it seems that there was rejoicing and exulting, harvest and wine. It may have been the fall festival of Sukkoth/Weeks (Leviticus 23) that Israel was celebrating. And it may be that there was a break in Assyrian aggression and that caused the Israelites to decide to throw a party.
Whatever it was that made them think a party was in order, in the midst of it God chided the party-goers, commanding, “Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples…”.
What follows (in 9:1b-9) are the reasons for God’s halting the party. The three main reasons give us three ingredients for a really, really bad party.
Ingredient #1: God is Displeased with You
Hear this Grace!: We were made for awe. We were made to be amazed. We were made for wonder. We were made to be filled with joy. That’s why everyone goes after those things. However, sin has done two things in this regard. First, it has lied to us about where these things are to be found. That is, sin has lied to us about the source of genuine awe, amazement, wonder, and joy. Second, it has shriveled our capacity to truly experience it. We’re way too content (as C.S. Lewis so famously pointed out) with tiny slivers of those things when so much more is offered—and needed!
While sin has lied to and atrophied us, God has always made it clear that those things (awe, amazement, wonder, and joy) are always and only truly found in Him. We were made for God and, therefore, as Augustine famously wrote (in his Confessions), “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
What’s more, God not only made us to delight in Him, praise him, and find rest in him, He has even told us how to do so. God has told His people how we can express our awe and amazement and wonder and joy in Him, to Him. In fact, God commands us to delight in him and then express it in certain ways. That is, God has authorized certain forms of worship.
Well, somewhere along the way, sin brought in another level of corruption. Sinful people began to believe that the forms of worship prescribed by God were the source (rather than the fruit) of their awe, amazement, wonder, and joy—that the feasts and festivals and sacrifices, rather than God, were the cause of their blessings. And so they believed they could forsake God entirely, but keep the blessings by keeping the rituals.
This is like carrying around an electrical outlet for power or a pillow for rest or a faucet for water.
More to the point, it is like going to church or being baptized or giving money or taking communion. Those things are only conduits for God’s blessing and authorized expressions of our gratitude for it. They are not the source of blessing or the cause of joy. They cannot replace genuine hope and delight in God, they are merely God-given means of bringing and expressing those things.
All of that, once again, is what Israel had done in the time of Hosea. All of that is what Hosea was warning against in this section. In an agrarian society like Israel, the fall harvest was a blessing largely unimaginable to people like you and I; people who just go to the grocery store whenever we need food. They worked hard all spring and summer in order to be able to gather enough food to last throughout the winter, spring, and summer. And it all came at once! It truly was a wonderful time.
Well, when God’s people were faithful, they were overwhelmed with gratitude at the fact that God would be so good to them; that he would bless them so richly. In order to give His people an appropriate way to express their thankful worship for the harvest, God ordained the Feast of Sukkoth (or Weeks). It was a seven week celebration in which the Israelites would bring in the harvest, offer a portion of it to God as an offering, and rejoice while partaking in and storing up the rest.
Again, this was probably the source of rejoicing and exulting (partying) in Hosea 9. The problem, however, was that the Israelites were enjoying the harvest without thought of the Harvest-Giver. They were celebrating the blessings apart from the Blesser. They had begun trusting in autumn (the season) as the bringer of the produce rather than God.
And so Hosea cried out, “Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples…”.
Israel was enjoying a party planned by God to celebrate God’s faithfulness to Israel…apart from God; and so His anger was stirred.
Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. 2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them.
A threshing floor was a place where the heads of the newly harvested grain—the part useful for making bread—were separated from the rest of the plant. Rather than serve as a place of gratitude and worship as God intended, Israel used the threshing floor as a place of spiritual adultery.
Likewise, rather than serve as a means of making their hearts glad as God intended (Psalm 104:14-15), wine from the harvest had become for the Israelites a means of debauchery and sin.
Therefore, God’s anger was kindled…
4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?
By God’s curse, grain and wine would no longer feed them or satisfy the Israelites, and neither would they be able to offer those things as sacrifices acceptable to God. Rather than instruments of satisfaction and celebration (party), these things had become instruments of frustration and mourning (funeral).
All of this, of course, is a great way to throw an absolutely terrible party. If you want to have the worst kind of party, then, begin by taking a party designed by God to celebrate God, leave God out of the party, and therein invoke God’s displeasure and judgment toward you and your party.
That leads to a second ingredient.
Ingredient #2: There is a War Going on All Around You
If you want to plan the worst kind of party, make sure God is displeased with it and you, and then plan the party in the middle of a war you’re in.
Try to picture a smoky, bloody battlefield with gun fire, fear, and dead bodies all around. Now try to picture a fancy table set up in the middle of all of that with nice napkins, the best dishes, lacy cloth, good food, music, and people making merry. How ridiculous would that be? How foolish would those people have to be? What a staggering combination of ignorance, arrogance, and danger!
Perhaps the Israelites were so foolish because they knew the end was coming and they wanted one final hurrah—like the financially troubled person who goes on an expensive vacation to forget about the stress for a while. Or, as I said earlier, perhaps the Israelites were lulled into this because there was a lull in the Assyrian aggression and they thought they might be in the clear.
Either way, they were astoundingly ignorant, arrogant, and endangered. At God’s command Assyria was gathering her armies to invade with yet another blow; this time it would be a decisive blow.
3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.
As we saw last week, God was about to unleash the worst earthly punishment possible on Israel. He was about to undo her Exodus. He was about to send Israel back (metaphorically) to Egypt; the place of her slavery, oppression, pain, mistreatment, and humiliation. For those who survived the war, their next Sukkoth would be in Assyrian captivity, no longer eating the fruit of their freedom and harvest, but the unclean food of their captors.
War had come and war was coming in even greater fury.
6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents.
Soon Israel’s foolish party would end and the reality of her situation would sink in. When it did, Hosea declared, she would run “away from destruction”. But destruction would follower her and “gather” her up. She would not be able to escape it. And to add insult to injury, we read in the second half of v.6, as she ran, Israel would cast off her valuables (“precious things of silver”) into the bushes (“nettles”) and lie down at night among thorns. As hard as she might try, she could not outrun the judgment of God.
And so it is for you and I. For instance, this is why we take time before communion to examine our hearts. Israel evidently fully (though foolishly) believed it was right for her to take part in this festival celebration, but this was only because her heart went unexamined. Let us not make the same mistake. Let us not be a people who walk in unrepentant sin. Let us not be a people who live with the fiery wrath of God hovering around us for our disobedience. And if we do, let us not go on eating and drinking the celebration Supper reserved for the faithful sons and daughters of God. Instead, let us examine ourselves for true evidences of grace, and eat and drink only where we find genuine faith, lest we eat and drink—as the Israelites did and Paul warned us about—destruction upon ourselves.
Israel’s party was in the middle of a war sandwich—war before and after, with a party in between—and that was a really bad context for a party; a second ingredient to throwing the worst kind of party.
Ingredient #3: Someone Has Specifically Been Sent to Tell You Your Party Is a Bad Idea
It’s a bad idea to throw a party when God’s wrath has been kindled toward you, when you are in the middle of a war, and finally, when people are sent to you specifically to tell you that your party is a bad idea.
In v.7 we read: The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it.
How would they know these things? They would know because God had sent messengers—prophets—to inform them, to warn them, and to call them to repent. Strangely, God is both the attacker and the one who warns of his attack. God does not attack in surprise.
In the middle of their party, then, Israel received the word of the LORD concerning the treacherous nature and disastrous consequences of her party. Because God did not want Israel to continue to defile Him, and because he desired her repentance and restoration, he sent word of his displeasure. But what did Israel do? How did she respond at this interruption of her celebration?
The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins.
Israel didn’t listen to Hosea, but labeled him “a fool” and “mad” and went on partying.
But Hosea pressed on, informing the Israelites that they only believed these things about him because of their great sin and hatred and corruption. They refused to listen to God’s messenger because they were foolish and had gone mad. If that were not the case, they would know that Hosea—a prophet of God—was for their good. He was a watchmen sent by God as a gift of God to his wayward people.
Again, though, rather than receive Hosea and his message of coming destruction, they laid traps for him, seeking his destruction. Therefore, Hosea promised once again, that God would remember Israel’s sins and punish them accordingly.
And this leads us back to ourselves. We must consider the words of Hosea carefully. We might scoff at how foolish it was for the Israelites to throw a party in the midst of God’s displeasure, war, and warning. But we must not allow our pride to blind us to the fact that this is exactly what we do every time we ignore the Word of God; choosing to live according to our wisdom instead of God’s. It’s what we do every time we participate in a divinely prescribed form of worship without genuine love for God. It’s what we do every time we live as if this world is our home. It’s what we do every time we act as if God is indifferent to our sin or that there are certain lesser or more acceptable sins. It’s what we do every time we treat our good works as if they can earn God’s favor apart from Jesus. It’s what we do every time we ignore our friend’s concerns about choices we’re making.
How do you throw the worst kind of party? Well, you start with angering God by forsaking him in every way imaginable. Then you make sure to plan your party in the middle of a war zone; a war in which you’re a participant. And finally, you ignore all messengers sent by God to warn you about the danger surrounding you. If that doesn’t do it, it’ll be a really good start. That’s what the Israelites did and the result was utter ruin, as an act of divine judgment, at the hand of the Assyrians.
But here’s the thing…here’s the good news for all who are hoping in Jesus…Jesus flips all of this on its head.
Instead of being cause for alarm, the anger of God (fully assuaged by grace through faith) is cause for celebration. What I mean is, we don’t forget about God’s anger as Christians, we rejoice at its appeasement. We know that we still deserve it, but find greatest delight in that Jesus took it upon himself on our behalf. We know that justice demands it, but also that justice was fulfilled in Jesus. And we know that in the power of Jesus we are now able to walk in righteousness and bring pleasure (not anger) to God! And so we party.
Likewise, we still live in a time of war. It’s raging all around us. And it’s more deadly than ever. But for those who are hoping in Jesus, our victory is completely secured. Our suffering is for our good. Our death is gain. And so we rightly celebrate…even in war. What the Israelites were chided for (because of their faithlessness), we are commanded to (in faith): party!
And Jesus, the greatest prophet of all, came himself to declare the greatest news of all time—the kingdom of God is at hand and God has invited all to become citizens through Jesus. We have a new, greater Messenger, and a new, greater message. Our messenger is Jesus and his message is that we may be reconciled to God through him. And so we party.
How’s that for a switch? The old ingredients for a disastrous, deadly party have become center-pieces for the greatest party of all time. Jesus absorbed all of God’s anger, made a greater war and certain victory over it, and came himself to tell the world of this good news and then give his life to accomplish it.
Isn’t that exactly how God has always worked? He uses foolish things to shame the wise. He uses the weak to defeat the strong. He turns treasonists into his very own children. He turns mourning into dancing. He turns disasters into delight. And he turns his displeasure into pleasure, a war-zone into the safest place around, and messengers of doom into messengers of good news and great joy.
All of this means that wherever your past has taken you, whatever sins you’ve committed, and however great your sins, there is hope in Jesus. He can turn everything around. He can restore you. He can heal you. He can forgive you. And he can bring you to God. Look to him today and be saved.