Reflections on the Old Testament: Hosea
“Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked by human precept,” Hosea 5:11, NKJV.
How much sorrow might have been avoided if Ephraim had simply trusted in his God! But, alas, he trusted in man—nor was he deceived, nor bribed into it, but he willingly walked by human precept. How vile, how low, to reject the counsel of the almighty God and joyfully embrace the empty philosophies of the world! To exchange glory and wisdom for shame and folly! And yet, is there anyone among us who is not guilty of the same? Alas, for Ephraim is no more wicked than we. Therefore, the LORD says: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me,” (Hosea 5:15). When we eat the fruits of our folly, will we then repent? When we are “oppressed and broken in judgment”? Even “in our affliction,” it is by God’s grace alone that we “acknowledge our offense.” And then, what horror! What revulsion and hatred of our manifold sins, when once our eyes are opened! And how ashamed we are in the presence of the Almighty, whom we have so cruelly wronged! Yet how desperately we yearn for His Spirit! Note the following verses:
“Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight,” Hosea 6:1-2, NKJV. (Notice: “After three days He will raise us up”—is not the old man crucified, and raised with Christ to walk in newness of life?) To this, the LORD replies: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and your judgments are like light that goes forth. For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:4-6.
What are our prayers, what is our faithfulness? A morning cloud, the early dew—lingering in the pleasant dawn, and then dissipating in the heat of the day. Does the LORD not perceive this? Does He not see the depth of our hearts, and know that we cannot stand? Therefore His Word must hew and slay us, stroke by stroke, until our judgments are like light that goes forth, and mercy and the knowledge of God replace empty sacrifices and burnt offerings. Does not the psalmist say: “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17, NKJV)? Our spirit is broken by the Word of God. That swift and terrible two-edged sword. Nevertheless, “let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.”
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men,” Hosea 10:12-13, NKJV.
“I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror,” Hosea 11:9, NKJV.
Here the LORD establishes an important distinction between Himself and man—viz., His divine capacity for mercy. We observe, particularly in the books of the prophets, the fierce judgment the LORD pronounces upon Israel. And yet, in the midst of this, there is a consistent undertone of divine sorrow, compassion, and unquenchable love. Note Hosea 11:5-8 as one of many examples:
“He shall not return to the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent. And the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them, because of their own counsels. My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; my sympathy is stirred.”
Furthermore, the conclusion of nearly every prophetic book is a promise of restoration and salvation of a remnant. If a mankind were given the power to destroy Ephraim , would he not do so, not once or even twice, but a thousand times over, simply because he was able? Indeed, man, when given power, is merciless. Seeking not to defend and uphold righteousness, but to squander whatever power he possesses on his own lusts. But the wrath of the Almighty God is ever righteous—provoked by the wickedness of our depraved race—and He will execute justice. Nevertheless, though He has power to obliterate our pathetic existence, He will relent. Not because we turn to Him of ourselves or because we possess even the faintest shred of righteousness (without God, this is impossible), but because He is merciful and compassionate, because He is “God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” O man, frail and wicked, be ever so humble! Be ever so grateful that this God is Almighty! How very wretched and desolate would be our lot if God did not govern the hearts of men!
“When Ephraim spoke, trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended through Baal worship, he died,” Hosea 13:1, NKJV.
What awful judgment awaits those who reject God! What utter condemnation is pronounced upon the unrepentant sinner! We are no better than Ephraim. Do we not daily show greater preference to the things of the world than to the things of God? Do we not offend through Baal worship, just as Ephraim? And are we not utterly deserving of death—i.e., eternal separation from God? Most certainly! Such is the “awful judgment” pronounced upon our race from the fateful moment of Adam’s sin! Nevertheless, in verse four of this same chapter, we see, once again, the great mercy and love of the Almighty, as He declares:
“Yet I am the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me.”
And further, in verse fourteen:
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes.”
What a joyous message this is for sinners! Behold, the vengeance the Lord wreaks upon death and the grave! Behold, the redemption and salvation of the natural man—made possible only by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God! O foolish man, you will never know the full extent of His pain, the acuity of His suffering. Let His commandment, then, be sufficient:
“You shall know no other God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me.”