Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 24, A Sick Society
Dec 22, 2016
The last verse of Hosea 6 prophesies about God’s intent to reverse Israel’s captivity and restore her to her former state of prosperity. There is no break in the Hebrew text, so the next verse continues this thought. Hosea 7:1, 2 says,
1 When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered, and the evil deeds of Samaria, for they deal falsely; the thief enters in, bandits raid outside, 2 and they do not consider in their hearts, that I remember all their wickedness. Now their deeds are all around them; they are before My face.
This should be understood to mean that whenever God had sought to “heal Israel,” that is, to restore her, iniquity was exposed. The metaphor of healing pictures an abscess full of pus, which is exposed when the Doctor examines Israel’s condition. Healing cannot take place until the pus and poison of iniquity is drained. The implication is that divine judgment is like lancing the boil. It is painful, but it is the only way to drain the inner iniquity.
The prophet tells us that “they do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness.” The people were highly religious, but they had put away the law of God in order to make their own laws or follow their own traditions of men. For some reason they thought that God would overlook their violation of the law, even though Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 promises judgment for their violation of the law.
But God could not overlook their wicked deeds, because “their deeds are all around them” and “they are before My face.” Their wicked deeds were too numerous to forget, and these deeds were constantly in God’s face. To “remember” has a legal connotation. It means that it was part of the testimony in the divine court and could not be stricken from the record. Hence, their wicked deeds were remembered, and something had to be done about it in order to maintain the integrity of the Judge and His court.
The Iniquity of Israel
Israel’s iniquity at the surface of the skin is pictured as “the evil deeds of Samaria.” They defraud and rob each other, and this problem is even part of government practice. Hosea 7:3 says,
3 With their wickedness they make the king glad, and the princes with their lies [kakhash, “leanness, failure of flesh, lies”].
The king is glad because he profits from sin, and the princes (government officials) are happy “with their lies.” Hosea uses the word kakhash, because not only does it refer to lies, but also to a sickly condition. The word is used in this way in Job 16:8, which says,
8 And You have shriveled me up, it has become a witness; and my leanness [kakhash] rises up against me, it testifies to my face.
In other words, my visible sickly condition testifies about my condition, because the symptoms are apparent to all who have eyes to see. So also was the condition of Israel. Her iniquity was apparent because of recognizable symptoms of theft and fraud in society and in government. The king and princes were happy about this condition, because they profited.
Iniquity is Profitable to the Wicked
How did they profit? Perhaps they encouraged sin so that the good people would demand the government to take more power—that is, to create a police state. But with greater law enforcement also comes greater expense, so taxes are raised to support it. More and more police or soldiers are needed, all of whom become government employees who are dependent upon the government for their livelihood. Those employees tend to support raising taxes, because their own paychecks depend upon those taxes.
The root problem (iniquity) is never resolved, because the king and his princes profit from it, both monetarily and in terms of power. So the nation continued in its sickness, and its leanness—as opposed to prosperity—bore witness to their diseased condition.
The Baker Metaphor
Hosea 7:4 says,
4 They are all adulterers like an oven heated by the baker, who ceases to stir up the fire from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.
Heat was a common Hebrew metaphor for passion. This passion could be positive or negative. In this case the prophet was speaking negatively in terms of “adulterers,” whose illicit passions caused them to be like his own wife, Gomer. The adulterers are thus compared to the “oven heated by the baker.”
Perhaps the prophet meant to suggest that the government of Israel (i.e., the king and his princes) represented the baker who encouraged idolatry (adultery) in order to profit by the sin of the people. At this point there is no suggestion that God is the baker, although we may foresee this at a later time, when God destroys the leaven of sin in Israel. Yet for the moment, the focus is upon the passionate heat of the oven, whereby Israel commits adultery against their Husband.
A baker kneaded the dough and then set it aside to let it rise through the leavening process. During the interim, he heated the oven to prepare to put the dough into the fire, which would kill the leavening action. So also Israel, as dough, was to increase its leaven during the interim before being placed in the fire of tribulation that was soon to “consume their rulers” (Hosea 7:7).
Judgment upon the Rulers
Hosea 7:5-7 says,
5 On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with scoffers, 6 For their hearts are like an oven as they approach their plotting; their anger smolders all night, in the morning it burns like a flaming fire. 7 All of them are hot like an oven, and they consume their rulers; all their kings have fallen. None of them calls on Me.
The prophet uses the heat of the oven in a dual manner. First it is the heat of their passion in committing adultery, but secondly, their sin leads them into an inevitable fire of tribulation that destroys the monarchy itself. So “their hearts are like an oven,” and as lawbreakers, “their anger smolders all night,” but “in the morning” that oven destroys the nation itself along with its rulers.
The prophet treats this destruction as a natural consequence. The people are like the bread dough, which is increasingly leavened while the oven of impending judgment is heated in preparation of receiving the dough. In other words, the people seem unaware that the leaven of their unbridled passion is leading them to certain destruction by the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV).
The Cake Not Turned
The prophet continues his “baker” theme in Hosea 7:8, saying,
8 Ephraim mixes himself with the nations; Ephraim has become a cake not turned.
A cake not turned is burned on one side and uncooked on the other. It is not worth eating. But what does this have to do with mixing with the nations? One of the prophet’s main themes is Ephraim’s idolatry, wherein the people worshiped foreign gods which they adopted from other nations. This was how Ephraim had mixed with the nations. Instead of being separated as a wife should separate herself from all other men, Israel had become like the other idolatrous nations. So the nation had become uneatable from God’s point of view.
Hosea 7:9, 10 continues,
9 Strangers [zuwr, “foreigners, outsiders”] devour his strength, yet he does not know it; gray hairs also are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it. 10 Though the pride of Israel testifies against him, yet they have neither returned to the Lord their God, nor have they sought Him for all this.
By adopting foreign gods, Israel was being weakened by foreigners. Israel was getting old with “gray hairs,” without realizing it. Their vigor of youth, as a nation, was being sapped, but few seemed to recognize what was happening to them. God had sent prophets to testify against Israel, but the people did not repent.
The God of Israel was “the Pride of Israel,” as we saw in Hosea 5:5. Again, Hosea uses the word pride with a double meaning in mind. Israel should have been proud of their God in the sense of revering Him. Instead, they had let their own carnal pride rule their hearts, preventing them from changing their minds (repenting) and turning back to Him. So the testimony against Israel really came from two sources: (1) God Himself, who was “the Pride of Israel,” and (2) their own pride.
The double witness of pride testifying against Israel in the divine court ensured that the case would go against them. They would be found guilty as charged, and upon their refusal to submit to the divine judgment, the enforcers of the law (the Assyrians) would remove them from the land and put them into the captivity of an iron yoke (Deuteronomy 28:48).
Through all of this, we can see in the background of Hosea’s message a word of hope through the mercy of God. Even the fire of the oven of tribulation had a positive, long-term purpose, which was to destroy the leaven (iniquity). When the revelation of the New Covenant was given through Jesus Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire were revealed. This divine fire was designed to purify the hearts of the people and to make the leavened Pentecostal offering acceptable to God. Hence, in all of the warnings about divine judgment, we should never lose sight of the long-term solution which God Himself has vowed to implement by the power of His own will.
This is part 26 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones