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Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 27, Futile Religion

Dec 27, 2016

Hosea 8:10 says,

10 Even though they hire [tanah, “give gifts” (hire for protection or as mercenaries)] allies among the nations, now I will gather [kavats, “collect, gather”] them up; and they will begin to diminish [mehat, “become little”] because of the burden of the king of princes.

The prophet was chiding Israel for sending diplomats to ally with Assyria when they appeared to be threatened by the rising power of Egypt. This had occurred in the time of Omri, king of Israel, and it was for this reason that the Assyrians called Israel the House of Omri (Beth-Ghomri, or Bit Humri). As we have already shown, Ghomri was originally spelled Omri. Israel’s foreign alliance with Assyria resulted in divine judgment at the hand of the very nation from whom Israel had sought for help.

This diplomatic effort, complete with gifts (tanah), is mentioned in Merrill Unger’s book, Archeology and the Old Testament, page 243, which says,

“… The initial contact between Israel and Assyria evidently occurred during Omri’s day, for from that time on Israel appears in cuneiform records as Bit-Humri (‘House of Omri’).”

Hosea 8:10 connects with the previous verse, where the prophet compares Israel to a wild donkey seeking a mate. In Hosea’s day, Israel had not yet been taken captive to Assyria, but like a donkey in heat, Israel had sought to mate with Assyria. This was how “they have gone up to Assyria” (Hosea 8:9), and so they would soon go again to Assyria, this time as captives.

Hence, the prophet gave a “trumpet” call to Israel, warning the people that because they had given gifts to the king of Assyria, God was going to collect (kavats) His due as well. Israel “will begin to diminish” (mehat, “become little”) in power. In other words, Israel was to be made little. This too was one of the penalties in the Law of Tribulation. Deuteronomy 28:43 says,

43 The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you shall go down lower and lower.

Israel should have given gifts to Yahweh and should have sought His protection, rather than relying on the Assyrians. But the kings of Israel had no faith in the true God, but walked according to the flesh. Their adoption of foreign gods prepared their hearts to adopt foreign military assistance as well.

Israel’s Dead Religion

Hosea 8:11 says,

11 Since Ephraim has multiplied altars for sin [khawtaw, “sin offerings”], they have become altars of sinning for him.

The Israelites were a religious people who had built many altars for making sin offerings. Their altars were intended to expiate sin, but instead, they were occasions for more sin. Their altars did not relieve the liability for sin, but rather increased it.

Hosea 8:12 continues,

12 Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law, they are regarded as a strange [zuwr, “foreign”] thing.

In other words, God says it would make no difference how many laws He might give them, because the Israelites would regard them all as “foreign.” This is an example of divine exaggeration, of course, but the point is well made. The carnal mind that is “set on the flesh is hostile toward God” and “does not subject itself to the law of God” (Romans 8:7). Carnal minds today still have the same hostility toward the law as was seen in ancient Israel.

 Hosea 8:13 continues,

13 As for My sacrificial gifts, they sacrifice the flesh and eat it, but the Lord has taken no delight in them. Now He will remember their iniquity and punish them for their sins; they will return to Egypt.

The sacrifices (other than the burnt offerings) were eaten to signify “consuming sin.” But God did not recognize their religious rituals, because their hearts were unclean. Their adoption of idols, even when they thought they were worshiping Yahweh, made their sacrifices ineffective. Hence, their sacrifices did not cover their sins. So God remembers their iniquity, which is legal language indicating that the law still held their sins against them. As a result, “they will return to Egypt,” not literally to Egypt itself, but in the legal sense, as used in Deuteronomy 17:16.

Hosea 8:14 concludes,

14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces [heykal, “large spacious building; temple, palace”]; and Judah has multiplied fortified cities, but I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings.

The “palaces” built by Israel were probably temples or large places of worship, rather than royal palaces in the modern sense. This verse is the climax to the prophet’s section on the futility of religious practice when performed by lawless, idolatrous people. In spite of their religiosity, God says He will “send a fire” on the cities of both Israel and Judah. This conjures up pictures of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, although it is plain that in this case God intended to use the Assyrians and Babylonians to bring judgment upon Israel and Judah.


This is part 29 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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Dr. Stephen Jones


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