Hosea 7:8-16 Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. 9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. 10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this. 11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. 12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. 13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. 14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
Hosea’s message continues to focus on the consequences of God’s jealous love for Israel. Last week that message was wrapped in a condemnation of her internal political woes (the way Israel treated her own leaders and the way the leaders acted toward their own people). This week Hosea’s message is wrapped in a similar condemnation, this time of her external political woes (the way Israel’s leaders engaged the surrounding nations).
To that end, our passage for this morning begins with an interesting accusation. Hosea 7:8 reads, “Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned.”
The omni-wise Mr. Miyagi and the Apostle John help us to understand what Hosea meant.
In the words of Mr. Miyagi, “Walk on road? Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get the squish just like grape. …karate, same thing. Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ just like grape. Understand?” ”
The Apostle John’s words the same principle this way, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).
The point Mr. Miyagi and the Apostle John were making is this: It’s always better to be one thing or another than it is to be stuck somewhere in the middle.
Miyagi taught that if you don’t know karate, people who do know karate won’t feel threatened by you and are therefore likely to leave you alone (safe). On the other hand, if you do know karate well, they’ll likely be intimidated enough not to test you (safe). But if you kind of know karate, you’re likely to have the kind of unfounded confidence that gets people beat up (dangerous).
Similarly, John taught that there is nothing harder than being a wishy-washy “Christian”. You’re filled with the appetites of an unbeliever but with the conscience of a believer. When you do what you want in your flesh, you can’t enjoy it. But if you do what you think God wants, you can’t enjoy that either. You can’t not be miserable.
All of this is precisely what Hosea was trying to help the Israelites to see in v.8. They had mixed themselves–their practices, marriages, religion, money, politics, etc.—with the foreign nations. They were, therefore, not really pagan and not really faithful. The result was that they lost on every front. The pagans only used and mocked them and God looked upon them with adulterous contempt. Israel was like a “cake not turned”. That is, Israel was good for nothing; like a pancake that was burned on one side and raw on the other.
In our passage for this morning, Hosea helps us to see what this (mixed-up and half-baked approach to life) resulted from and in. Understanding both will help us to be amazed by God’s offer of grace and therein avoid Israel’s fate. Let’s pray that God would help us to these ends.
MUCH OF YOUR SIN IS HIDDEN FROM YOU
Israel’s sin, the mixed-up and half-baked way she engaged God and the nations during the time of Hosea’s prophecy, resulted from a great number of things. That is, it resulted from a great deal of folly. In our passage for this morning we see another of her sin’s causes.
9 Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. 10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face…
In this passage we see that some of Israel’s folly and sin resulted from ignorance and hidden sin. This particular expression of it is rather interesting. Israel is described by Hosea as the person in the movies that is unknowingly the object of everyone’s ridicule. It’s the older man or woman who hasn’t yet realized that they are no longer young. It’s the older man or woman who hasn’t figured out how silly they look for talking or dressing or acting as if they were still in their teens. It’s the nursing-home-dwelling season ticket holder who still thinks he should be quarterbacking the Vikings.
Israel was way past her prime (in fact, Hosea describes her as near death), but was too blind to see it. She was acting like she still possessed the power, resources, and influence as she had under King David, and was therein the laughing stock of her truly powerful pagan neighbors. Her weakness and gray hair should have made this clear, but Israel refused to see. Therefore, while the pride of Israel testified to her face, she did not see it.
We find another image meant to communicate the same thing in v.11, “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense…”. The Israelites would use food to lure doves and then catch them with a net (for food). Doves, unlike other birds and animals, would foolishly continue to go after food even when their hunters presented themselves. Likewise, Israel was filled with ignorance, silliness, and senselessness. And, again, it was these things that led her to sinfully mix with the pagan nations and only partially walk with God.
On a practical level, Grace, this remains true for you and me. We saw this to some degree last week. What was alluded to then is made explicit here. The sin you and I know of, however much it is, is only the tip of the iceberg. For most of us, most of our sin remains hidden below the surface. Like Israel, therefore, we think we know and understand way more that we really do. We too often miss clues of our folly and sin, and act like doves, silly and without sense. Because of this let me make a few pastoral suggestions:
- This is another reminder of our need for the gospel. If we are saved by being sinless we have no hope. But even if we are saved by confessing all our sins we have no hope. Our only hope is that the One who knew us perfectly and died for every one of our sins—known and unknown—will be merciful to us as we throw ourselves upon him. The gospel is the good news that he will be merciful to all who come.
- This is another reminder of our need to be constantly in God’s Word and reliant on His Holy Spirit. It is God’s Word and Spirit that reveal our hidden sin and transform us increasingly into righteousness. We cannot know what sin is apart from God revealing it to us (which he does ultimately through His Word). And we cannot truly hate it apart from God’s help (which he brings ultimately through His Spirit).
- Let the knowledge of the fact that you have a good number of hidden sins drive you to humility in conflict. You are never fully right and the other person fully wrong. The Apostle Paul acknowledges this reality in 1 Corinthians 4:4, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” In other words, Paul had a clean conscious in relation to those in the Corinthian church, but he knew that his conscience, though helpful, is not infallible. Be eager to listen and learn whenever someone accuses you of sin.
- Finally, let your knowledge of the fact that you have a good number of hidden sins drive you to ask others what they see; and learn to trust the fact that there’s at least a measure of truth in what they’re saying even if you’re sure they’re not entirely right. Focus on finding what’s true and not what isn’t. I know firsthand how difficult this can be, but let us learn from the Israelites that the alternative is 1,000x worse.
Indeed, in part, Israel’s sin resulted from not seeing her sin. The next question, then, is what did Israel’s hidden sin result in?
HIDDEN SIN LEADS TO FOLLY AND MORE SIN
Again, her folly and sin resulted in a great number of things. In our passage we see two in particular. First, it resulted in more folly and sin. That is, Israel’s blindness caused her to stumble around into even more trouble. Look at vs.10-11.
10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him, for all this. 11 Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.
- 1. Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her to refuse to return to, or even seek, the LORD in her time of greatest need (v.10). It’s like the person drowning in the ocean never thinking to grab on to the life preserve floating a few feet away. Even more so, it is like the teenager who refused to listen to his parent’s warnings about driving too fast in the winter, and then crashing the car. Willful ignorance always leads to more folly and sin.I encountered the idea of complementarianism (the biblical teaching that God created men and women equal in value and worth, but distinct—complementary—in role) in the late 90s. In my desire to understand and test this idea I read a great deal on the subject. One day I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the issue. His response (from 20 years ago) still rings in my ears. He said that he was purposefully choosing not to think much about it because he served (as youth pastor) in a church that had a woman pastor and he didn’t want to form convictions that might make things difficult.
Again, in many ways that’s just what Israel had done over and over and the result was greater and greater folly and sin; to the point that she did not even think to truly look
- 2. Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her (instead of seeking and returning to God) to seek out and turn to Egypt and Assyria, the surrounding pagan nations (v.11)—the very thing that led her to the brink of destruction in the first place.Again, this is like asking the same friend to bail you out that encouraged you to do the thing that landed you in jail. It’s like looking for help for your burns in the inflamed building that burned you in the first place. It’s like taking the same medicine that caused you to feel sick to treat your sickness.
How often do we do these things, Grace? How often do we fail to look to God in our time of distress, and instead look to the very things that caused our distress? When sin is always the problem, it can never be the answer. You cannot find help from the effects of failing to hope in God by hoping in something other than God.
There’s more. Look with me at vs.13-16.
13 …they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. 14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. 15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. 16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue.
- 3. Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her to (v.13, 14) rebel against God. Not only did she not seek God and the help only he could bring, not only did she seek help from the helpless pagans instead, but she out and out rebelled against God in his offer of mercy and grace. Her sin wasn’t merely passive, it was also active.One primary expression of this rebellion, Hosea said, was speaking lies against God. We don’t know precisely what Hosea had in mind, but we do know that here very interaction with the pagans lied about God. She was sent and blessed by God to be a light to the nations, that they too might turn to God and become his people. Israel was blessed to bless. She was sent to live in holiness and unity and love and justice and generosity (as God treated her) as a way of wooing the nations. Instead, Israel ate and drank the very darkness they were meant to drive out and in that rebellion, lied about God.
- 4. While Israel ought to have cried out to God (and God alone) for help and in whole-hearted repentance, Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her to fling generic prayers into the heavens to whoever was listening (even God) for the desires of her flesh (v.14). That’s the essence of v.14. Israel’s desire was not the glory of God, but grain and wine. And she was willing to receive them from whoever might bring them. Her prayers were the prayers of a yet-to-be-truly-broken addict, not really prayers at all but a desperate attempt to get another fix by whatever means possible.
- 5. Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her to take her strength (and other gifts) and use them against the very God who had given them to her (v.15).15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me.
This is the Ezekiel 16 type of treachery. In that passage God’s people are described as using the gold and jewelry given to them by God to fashion objects with which to commit adultery against God. It’s the wayward child stealing the things his parents gave him to buy drugs. It’s Danielson using his karate against Mr. Miyagi.
Because Israel failed to properly recognize God as the giver of all good things, she felt free to use her good things for evil against God.
Aren’t we all like this though? Did you ever realize that every sin you ever committed was committed with the gifts God has given you. Everything you have belongs to God. Therefore, every physical sin was committed with the body God gave you. Every mental sin was committed with the mind God gave you. Every emotional sin was committed with the heart God gave you. Every act of coveting was coveting God’s good gift to someone else. Every false, slanderous, and unkind work is committed with the tongue God gave you.
- 6. Finally, in v.16 we see that Israel’s ignorance (of God’s wisdom and her sin) caused her get lost in her self-interested attempts to “return” to God.16 They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow…
This isn’t the story of the broken, humble, repentant return of the prodigal son. This is the scheming, diabolical return of the thief to the place of his last successful heist. Israel’s appetite for sin hadn’t been tempered. It’s just that her source had dried up. In a fake display of contrition Israel set off for God only to head in the wrong direction. Her moral compass was so far off that she was like a map with north mislabeled or a bow with misaligned sight pins.
The questions to ask ourselves here are: What sin has my hidden sin produced in me? What am I tempted toward because of rebellion that I cannot see? What hurt have I caused others in my ignorance? How am I dishonoring God without even knowing it? Am I living in the kind of humility that knowledge of the presence of hidden sin ought to produce? What do I need to rethink in light of this passage, in light of Israel’s dire consequences for her folly? And how should all of these things effect my view of the goodness of the gospel?
Again, the first think Hosea tells us (in this passage) that Israel’s hidden sin resulted in was more folly and sin.
HIDDEN SIN LEADS TO JUDGMENT, SUFFERING, AND DEATH
The second thing that Israel’s sin resulted in was the same thing that all unrepentant sin results in (hidden or not): judgment, suffering, and death. Israel’s hidden sin resulted in more sin and, worse yet, God’s displeasure and condemnation.
We see the judgment that would come upon Israel for her hidden sin in vs.12-13.
12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. 13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.
God’s judgment will come in the form of discipline, woe, and destruction according to these verses. God was willing to redeem the Israelites if they would acknowledge their sinfulness and return to him, but they chose to continue in sin instead. Like the silly doves they were, God promised to catch them with his net, discipline them for the evil their own lives testified for, and destroy them for their rebellion.
We see the suffering that would come upon Israel for her hidden sin in v.16.
16 This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
Israel’s hidden-sin produced suffering of all kinds. Ultimately, in this world, it took the form of broken fellowship with God. All suffering is (in one sense) a failure to experience God’s presence as he designed us to do. But the one explicitly named suffering that would come their way was the derision of the nations. That is, they would be forced to suffer the contemptuous ridicule and mockery of their soon-to-be destroyers.
The very people they had left God for, the very lover they had committed adultery with, looked down on Israel throughout the entire affair. Israel’s suffering had already been and would soon get much, much worse, but it began even know in the knowledge that she was the laughing stock of the nations, groveling at her mockers.
And lastly, we see the death that awaited Israel for her hidden, unrepentant sin. Death for sin is the message of the bible from the very beginning (Genesis 2:17) to the very end (Revelation 21:8), and everywhere in between.
Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Romans 5:12 …sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…
Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
That’s the essence of v.16 … “their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue.”
Again, Grace, having one foot (partially) in the kingdom of God and one foot firmly planted in the kingdom of the world, Israel had become like an unturned pancake—burned on one side and raw on the other; good for nothing. This ungodly mixture resulted from her ignorance and hidden sin (as well as her known sin). And this ignorance and hidden sin resulted in more and more sin, judgment, suffering, and eventually death.
Let us, therefore, acknowledge the certain presence of hidden sin and the inevitable temptation and sin it produces. Let us, therefore, walk in humility and care; always on the lookout for previously unseen sin in us and eager to confess and repent when we find it. Let us be people who rely on God’s Word and Spirit. Let’s be people of great love and grace when we find sin in others. And above all, let’s be people whose hope is not in ourselves but in Jesus, who alone had no sin, and who alone became sin that he might save those who believe. Let this lead us to worship and lives committed to declaring this good news to all the nations—as the light God meant his people to be.