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Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 38, False and True Images of God

Jan 12, 2017

Hosea 13:1 says,

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling [rethath, “terror”]. He exalted himself in Israel, but through Baal he did wrong [asham, “was guilty”] and died.

In the earlier years, when the tribe of Ephraim spoke, all of the other tribes and even the other nations paid attention and respected what Ephraim had to say. To say “there was trembling” is a Hebrew manner of expression, much like “the fear of the Lord.” The word rethath comes from a root word that means “to tremble.”

The same expression is used in James 2:19,

19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe and shudder.

“Shudder” is from the Greek word fresso, which is the equivalent to the Hebrew rethath. The shudder, or “tremble” (KJV) should be understood as a Hebrew expression that uses Greek words. The demons believe and pay attention. They respect the idea that “God is one.” So also in Hosea 13:1, when Ephraim spoke, people took him seriously, and “he exalted himself in Israel.”

Guilt for Quenching the Spirit

When the tribe of Ephraim began to worship Baal, “he did wrong and died.” The Hebrew word for “did wrong” is asham, which means to become guilty and therefore be held accountable to suffer punishment.

The word asham can be divided into two parts: esh, “fire” and the letter mem, “water.” The word esh is alef (ox, bull, strength) and shin (teeth, to consume or devour). In other words, esh, or “fire” literally means “strong consumer,” which is why God describes Himself as “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Our English word ash comes this Hebrew word esh.

Mem is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it also means “water.” Hence, asham tries to mix fire and water, and such people ought to be ashamed.

As an alternative course of action, we might look at the Hebrew word ashar, (happy; bless”), which is literally “fire” on the resh, “head.” Paul probably had this Hebrew word in mind when he penned Romans 12:19, 20,

19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

Many today think that heaping burning coals upon one’s head is a bad thing, as if doing this would set one’s head on fire. But the metaphor was of a neighbor whose fire went out and who needed some coals to restart the fire. Neighbors could often dislike each other, but if one needed to restart a fire, a woman might go to the neighbor and ask for some hot coals. The neighbor could be stingy and give her only a few small coals, making it difficult to start a fire. But to bless the neighbor, one could heap coals of fire into an earthen jar, which the neighbor then would carry on her head back to her home.

This was Paul’s metaphor about blessing, derived from the Hebrew word ashar. It was also a good metaphor for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as seen on the day of Pentecost, when the fire of God came upon the heads of the disciples. That was how God “blessed” them that day.

The opposite, of course, is seen in the word asham, where water is cast upon the fire. Of this, Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To quench the Spirit was to cast water upon the fire. Those who do so ought to be ashamed.

Hosea 13:1 uses this word asham to tell us of Ephraim’s guilt. In worshiping Baal, Ephraim quenched the Spirit of God and “died” spiritually.

Idolatry

Hosea 13:2 says,

2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves molten images, idols skillfully made from their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!”

Men love great artwork, and creating idols was a way to express one’s artistic ability. But even great works of art cannot capture an accurate portrayal of God’s nature. Such art can only create a god in one’s image in the imagination of one’s own heart of iniquity. This was precisely why God appeared to them only in the form of fire. Fire consumes flesh, and while its nature is always the same, its flame changes continually.

Yet idolaters were expected to “kiss the calves,” a reference to the golden calves at Beth-aven. To kiss was to show love and respect to those idols, as if they truly represented the God of heaven. Dr. Bullinger, in his notes, connects it to our English word adore, derived from Latin.

kiss the calves. Kissing was fundamental in all heathen idolatry. It is the root of the Latin ad-orare = to [bring something to] the mouth.”

Hosea 13:3 continues,

3 Therefore, they will be like the morning cloud, and like dew which soon disappears, like chaff which is blown away from the threshing floor, and like smoke from a chimney.

The prophet emphasizes the temporary existence of the nation that succumbs to idolatry. Morning clouds and dew (or “night mist”) disappear with the warmth of the morning sun. Chaff on the threshing floor blows away in the wind. Smoke from an upper window opening dissipates as it leaves the house. So also will Ephraim, or Israel, be blown away, ceasing to be visible to men in the earth. Such is the price of idolatry.

Forgetting God

Hosea 13:4 says,

4 Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me.

The prophet was referring to the Preamble to the Ten Commandments, where Deuteronomy 5:6,

6 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

This was followed immediately by the First Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:7,

7 You shall have no other gods before Me.

The prophet, however, adds a new thought, saying, “for there is no savior besides Me.” A savior is a deliverer. In this case, it refers to God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. We have, of course, a Savior, Jesus Christ, who has delivered us from slavery to sin. Sin is the great taskmaster, who commands the flesh to sin through “the law of sin” (Romans 7:23, 25; 8: 2), but as believers, we are no longer under any obligation to obey sin’s commands, telling us to live according to the flesh (Romans 8:12). Instead, we are now to obey the laws and commands of our new Master, our Savior, our Deliverer, who has purchased us as His own bond-slaves (Romans 1:1).

Hosea 13:5, 6 says,

5 I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought [taluva, “thirst”]. 6 As they had pasture, they became satisfied; and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me.

The prophet reminds Ephraim that He had cared for them, and though they were His slaves, He did not mistreat them, but provided for all their needs. Even when they went through “the land of drought,” where they ran out of water (Exodus 17:1), God brought water to them from the rock (Exodus 17:6).

Nonetheless, when they entered the land flowing with milk and honey, and when the people prospered and no longer suffered shortages, their children forgot God, because their hearts had never been tested and disciplined through hardships. Parents want their children to avoid the hardships that they themselves experienced, not realizing that hardship builds character. Hence, a generation that is better off than the previous one is nearly always more decadent and permissive. In Israel’s case, later generations worshiped idols, because they had no memories of deliverance that their fathers had in the wilderness.

God warned Israel of this very thing in Deuteronomy 8:10, 11,

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes, which I am commanding you today.

This was not merely a warning; it was a prophecy of things to come. In Hosea’s day, most of the people had long forgotten the true God. They had discarded Yahweh and replaced him with the golden calf, thinking that this idol was the true God that had delivered them from Egypt. This problem had begun in the days of Moses, when Aaron himself built the first golden calf, and when the people said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).

It is important to note, however, that the majority of the people did not consciously reject the Creator God. The problem was that they thought their golden calf was an accurate representation of the Creator God. An image is based upon men’s understanding of God, or man’s concept of God—that which man imagines God to be. Essentially, idolatry is a state of mind where we worship our carnal understanding of God, rather than the true God as He really is. That is heart idolatry, which expresses itself in artistic images or objects.

In the end, the purpose of God is to create man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). Because we will be like Him in every way, such images are not a form of divine idolatry, but a true representation of who He is. Jesus Christ came to earth to show us the way, for He was (and still is) “the express image of His Person” (Hebrews 1:3 KJV), or “the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3 NASB).

We ourselves “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) through Christ by means of the New Covenant.


This is part 40 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Hosea


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