In our last lesson, we met a prophet named Amos. Amos has his own book at the end of the Old Testament, and because it’s on the thin side, he’s considered one of the minor prophets. But as we learned in our last lesson, Yahweh used Amos to speak harsh judgments against many different nations. Small books can pack a big punch.
Now Amos didn’t deliver all of his messages at once. He said them over time, and he tells us that he preached during the time when Jeroboam II ruled in the north and Uzziah ruled in the south. Both of these kings reign for a very long time—Jeroboam II will be with us 42 years and Uzziah will reign for 52 years. There’s plenty of time for multiple prophets to preach during this period, and they do.
Yahweh has spoken through countless prophets throughout both Israel and Judah by now, yet we only hear about a few of them. Most prophets never had their words recorded and preserved, and very few ended up with books named after them in the Christian Bible. So we don’t want to get the mistaken idea that God only spoke through the few prophets who happened to get mentioned in our modern Bibles. There were countless others, and all of their messages would have sounded alike because the same God was speaking through them.
Now God has many ways of communicating His feelings to us. Sometimes He speaks plainly, sometimes He tells parables, and other times He calls on His prophets to act out His messages in strange ways. In this lesson, we’ll learn about a prophet who had to do some strange actions. But first, let’s see how King Uzziah is doing in the south.
UZZIAH, King of Judah
For the first part of his reign, Uzziah excels. He subdues all of his enemies, expands his territory, and amasses a mighty army. His people also invent new war machines—apparatuses which can fling large rocks and shoot arrows great distances from on top of city walls. Uzziah’s fame spreads even as far south as Egypt.
But when Uzziah became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly. He was unfaithful to Yahweh his God, for he entered the Temple of Yahweh to burn incense on the altar of incense. (2 Chron. 26:16)
Now as we learned in Lessons 5 and 6, the altar of incense was located inside the Holy Place—an inner room of the Temple which only priests could enter. Inside the Holy Place was a large floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curtain and behind that curtain was the Most Holy Place (aka the Holy of Holies) where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. No one could just go waltzing into these rooms whenever they felt like it. God taught His people to view the Holy of Holies as the place where His own Divine Presence physically dwelt. This meant that standing in the Holy Place put you just one curtain away from God’s awesome Presence. God was adamantly against regular people bringing their bad attitudes into His sacred rooms and treating His Presence like some trivial thing.
Only authorized Levite priests who were following Yahweh’s strict instructions could enter these rooms. Yet pompous Uzziah thinks he can live above God’s Laws so he just goes waltzing in to offer up his own incense sacrifice instead of respecting God’s rules.
Now it’s the responsibility of the priests to spring into action whenever they see that God’s House isn’t being treated properly. Far too often the priests just look the other way or else they even help with the corruption. All throughout the Bible, we find the Levites falling down in their jobs and even signing up to serve as the priests of idol gods. But here in 2 Chronicles 26, we get a pleasant surprise. The high priest at this time is a man named Azariah and he’s no lay down. When he sees the king walking into God’s holy space, Azariah marches into the Temple with an army of eighty other priests and tells the king off.
Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of Yahweh, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to Yahweh. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” (2 Chron. 26:17-18)
One of the greatest tests for sincerity among Christians is to see how well they respond to conviction. When we really care about God, we don’t try to deny our guilt when He points our sins out to us. We admit we were wrong, we feel grieved for dishonoring God, and we repent. So when we see a prophet like Jonah refusing to acknowledge his bad attitude, or when we see King Uzziah’s face turn purple with rage over the fact that someone dared to call him out on his defiance, then it doesn’t matter how many people say these men are devoted to God—they’re not. We don’t really love God unless we care about His feelings, and if we care about His feelings, then we will be sorry when we upset Him. We won’t be perfect, we will act selfishly and have fits of rebellion, but when the Holy Spirit gets in our faces, we will care. In this moment, Uzziah doesn’t care about God. He only cares about Uzziah.
Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. But as he was standing there raging at the priests before the incense altar in the Lord’s Temple, leprosy suddenly broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the high priest and all the other priests saw the leprosy, they rushed him out. And the king himself was eager to get out because Yahweh had struck him. (2 Chron. 26:19-20)
If we’re not cheering for Yahweh as we read this account, then we need to adjust our priorities. There’s no sympathy whatsoever for Uzziah in this moment. He has intentionally violated God’s space, soiled His altar with unwelcome garbage, refused to repent, and so now he deserves what he gets. Just leprosy? Uzziah is getting off easy. God comes first.
King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and banned from the Temple of Yahweh. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. (2 Chron. 26:21)
HOSEA, God’s Prophet
While Uzziah is still gaining strength in the south and Jeroboam II is expanding his kingdom in the north, a certain man in Israel is starting to attract a lot of attention to himself. He talks like he is zealous for Yahweh to be honored—but then he goes and breaks Yahweh’s Laws by marrying a prostitute named Gomer. According to Yahweh’s Laws, both women and men who engage in illicit sex are supposed to be killed on sight. And yet this fellow named Hosea goes out and marries a known prostitute. Well, Hosea can make the woman marry him, but everyone can see that she’s just not into him. So it’s pretty stupid for him to hurry up and have three kids with her because it’s just a matter of time until—yep, she left him. Now she’s gone back to romping in bed with other lovers. Could have told you that was coming, pal. But hold on a minute—why is Hosea going around saying his wife’s treatment of him is just like Israel’s treatment of Yahweh? That sounds rather insulting. The names that Hosea is giving to his kids don’t sound so hot, either. The first boy is named Jezreel. Jezreel is the city where Jehu butchered so many people back in Lesson 18. It sounded like Yahweh was all for it at the time—after all, He had prophesied that Ahab’s line would be stomped out. But now He seems to have changed His mind.
Hosea went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim for his wife, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then Yahweh said to Hosea, “Name the boy Jezreel; for in a little while, I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” (Hos. 1:4)
So what’s up with this? Back in Lesson 18, Yahweh was telling Jehu he’d done a good job in slaughtering everyone in Jezreel. But now after Jehu’s dead, Yahweh’s saying He’s upset about it. Well, let’s think about this. What does God care about? Heart attitude. When He gets mad, what is He reacting to? Rotten heart attitudes. So while Jehu’s actions served God’s purposes, apparently he acted for the wrong reasons. We see this theme come up a lot in the Bible. God might be mad at an evil king and want him to die, but if you come along and kill the king just because you’re greedy for power, are you really honoring God with your behavior? No, you’re just using God as an excuse to kill him. This is what Jehu did. He pretended to be zealous for God, when he said to King Joram:
“How can there be peace as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?” (2 Ki. 9:21)
Then he went around quoting Yahweh’s prophecies whenever he did something that fulfilled one of them—like killing Queen Jezebel and slaughtering King Ahab’s descendants. At the time, this all sounded quite righteous and Yahweh was glorified by having the people reminded of the prophetic words He had spoken. But if Jehu was as dedicated as he pretend to be, why did we find him worshiping the golden calf gods the moment the dust settled? Oh sure, he slaughtered all the prophets of Baal—but then he worshiped a bunch of cows instead. Idols are idols to God. Baal, Asherah, golden cows—they’re all utterly revolting.
Events like this teach us important lessons about how poor human judgment is. How often do we put our trust in leaders who put on some holy act only to discover years down the line that all they’ve ever cared about is their own glory? Only God can see into a man’s heart, which is why He is the only One who can judge accurately. Today many people who behave righteously on the outside are really rebelling against God in their hearts. And many others who look like they aren’t trying very hard love God deeply in their souls. We are simply too blind to make accurate judgments, and that’s why we need to be careful not to put our trust in people. Our Gods are the only Teachers we can trust never to lead us astray, and we must be continuously looking to Them whenever we are exposed to any teaching about God (and that includes everything you read on this site). Always be asking the Holy Spirit, “Help me to accept only Your truth and reject the rest.” Jehu looked great at the time we were reading through his story. But now, years after his death, we hear Yahweh’s angry words and realize that we were missing some important information.
By now the people in Israel are convinced that Hosea is a legitimate prophet of God. He sounds a lot like Amos, who is traveling about the country preaching at the same time. And every time Hosea’s wife Gomer has another child, Hosea comes up with a very strange name to give the kid. Hm. This is really getting disturbing. God can’t really be serious about rejecting Israel, can He?
“Name her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “Not Loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, Yahweh their God, will save them.” (Hos. 1:6-7)
So wait a second—God is going to cut Israel off but not Judah? That’s not a very nice thing to say. The people are really starting not to like this new prophet with a hussy for a wife.
“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer My wife, and I am no longer her Husband. Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face and the clothing that exposes her breasts. Otherwise, I will strip her as naked as she was on the day she was born. I will leave her to die of thirst, as in a dry and barren wilderness. And I will not love her children, for they were conceived in prostitution.” (Hos. 2:2-4)
Gomer is an obvious tramp, but the Israelites take offense at Yahweh comparing them to such a cheap woman. To be publicly stripped or to have your tunic pulled up over your head so that everyone could see your private parts was a way of shaming prostitutes in these times. Here God threatens to figuratively strip the nation of Israel, for she has prostituted herself with idol gods. Throughout the Bible, God constantly likens spiritual worship to physical sex. The nations of Israel and Judah are supposed to be His faithful wives, only having “sex” with Him. But instead, they are jumping into bed with every god they come across. Nothing sparks a husband’s jealous rage faster than learning that his wife is cheating on him. Yahweh is furious.
“I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but forgot about Me.” (Hos. 2:13)
In the book of Hosea, we find a thematic pattern of wrath-destruction-mercy-restoration which is repeated over and over again throughout the prophetic books. Yahweh warns His people that their unceasing rebellion is going to bring terrifying anguish down on their heads. He spends most of His time focusing on just how bad their suffering will be and urging them to repent. But then He will suddenly switch gears and briefly talk about some distant day in the future when He will gather His people back together and restore their fortunes.
“On that day I will make a covenant with all the wild animals and the birds of the sky and the animals that scurry along the ground so they will not harm you. I will remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety. I will make you My wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you Mine, and you will finally know Me as Yahweh.” (Hos. 2:18-20)
The restoration language in the prophetic books is commonly misunderstood. In the Church today, it is widely taught that one glorious day the political nation of Israel will suddenly regain God’s favor, He’ll turn her into a world power, and all the other nations will be bowing down in the dust before her. It’s taught that Israel has always been and will always be God’s favorite nation on this planet. In fact, she’s so much His favorite, that He expects the whole world to suck up to her. If we do, then God will reward us with material blessings. But if we ever side against His precious nation, well then we’ll face His wrath. Meanwhile, it doesn’t matter what the Jews do. They can beat people up, torture POWs, drop bombs on their neighbors and it’s all covered under the label of “holy war.” Well, no. Yahweh never teaches that Israel gets to define morality for herself, nor does He give her license to treat other people as inferior. The Covenant that Yahweh established with His people in Period 2 was not just with the Jews but with everyone who wanted to sincerely follow Him. Yahweh’s definition of My people does not exclude any ethnicity.
“And if any foreigners visit you or live among you and want to present a special gift as a pleasing aroma to Yahweh, they must follow these same procedures. Native-born Israelites and foreigners are equal before the Lord and are subject to the same decrees. This is a permanent law for you, to be observed from generation to generation. The same instructions and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigners living among you.” (Num. 15:14-16)
Very soon now the prophet Isaiah is going to start preaching in this period. He will also emphasize how welcome all ethnicities are to Yahweh.
“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to Yahweh, who serve Him and love His Name, who worship Him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to My Covenant. I will bring them to My holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in My house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isa. 56:6-7)
By the time we get to Jesus in Period 7, nasty old Herod will have redesigned Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem to contain a series of courtyards which exclude people based on ethnicity and gender. Jewish women won’t be allowed to come as close to God’s holy dwelling place as Jewish men. Gentiles (non-Jews) will be kept even further away. This is absolute garbage and does not at all reflect Yahweh’s view of humans. So if there’s any part of your brain that thinks that Yahweh has always loved the Jews more, or that He only invites Jews to come extra close to Him, you need to unlearn some serious lies. Anyone who sincerely seeks Yahweh in their souls has always been invited to come close to Him. God wants us all, He loves us all, and He has always revealed Himself to the entire world—He just uses different methods with different nations.
In the Bible we only hear about the methods God used with one nation: Israel. Be careful not to leap to the assumption that God didn’t also reach out to the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Assyrians, the Asians, the Greeks, the Romans, and everyone else under the sun. Of course He did. The Holy Spirit has been active since the beginning of time, illuminating every soul with life-saving truths. All of the books in our modern day Bible were written by Jews and naturally they focused on their own ethnic group. When we don’t recognize the cultural bias of the book, we end up going astray.
THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
It’s only when we understand how Yahweh defines the term My people that we can properly interpret His promises to eventually restore the nation of Israel. It is commonly taught that one fine day Yahweh is going to rain down abundant blessings on the Jews just because they’re Jews. Yet this is not what He says in the Old Testament. A thorough reading of the prophetic books reveals that the only people Yahweh is planning to shower abundant blessings on are the souls who are sincerely seeking Him in their hearts. Ethnicity is irrelevant, for people of many different nations are pursuing God in the Old Testament. These are the people He is talking to when He promises to one day restore Israel to a state of rich bliss and joy. As the apostle Paul will explain to us in Period 8, all who sincerely seek God in their hearts are the true Israelites as far as Yahweh is concerned. But when will this grand restoration take place? It won’t be on this earth.
When God talks about gathering together His people from all the corners of the earth and bringing them to a new Jerusalem that is filled with health, wealth, and happiness, He isn’t talking about a physical city on a physical planet. He’s talking about Heaven. Life is never going to be perfect on this round rock we’re all living on. God created this world to be like a giant sifter—testing the souls of men to see who would follow Him and who would turn away. Eventually all who have chosen Him will end up in a perfect place where His holy Presence abides. That place is Heaven.
What will Heaven be like? It will be so different than this physical realm we’re used to that our brains can’t even fathom it. So rather than freak us out with a bunch of unfamiliar images and nonsensical descriptions, Yahweh describes Heaven in terms that the ancient peoples could relate to. This is why John in Revelation sees Heaven as a fortified city—because all large cities of his day had huge castle-like walls built all around them. Those walls existed for one reason: war. They were a defense against violence. Is violence going to be part of our experience in God’s eternal paradise? No. Are there going to be nasty armies of barbaric warriors who try to attack us once we’re inside those pearly gates? No. So why then does God present Heaven as a massive fortress with high walls and gates that can be locked to keep out the enemies? Because this is what the people of the time were used to. This was the kind of imagery that was associated with power and strength and security. Unwalled cities were considered very negative things in Bible times—this is why Nehemiah was so upset when he found out Jerusalem’s walls were lying in ruins and no one was repairing them (Period 6). Having no walls made people feel vulnerable and afraid. But there won’t be any fear in Heaven—there will security and peace. To communicate this to ancient peoples, God uses imagery that is associated with those concepts in their minds.
To get a feel for how poetic, exaggeratory, and non-literal many of God’s prophecies are, let’s check out a passage in which Yahweh describes a reign of peace that will be ushered in when a future Messiah comes:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:6-9)
Is this what actually happened when Jesus arrived on earth? Did leopards start nuzzling goats? Did little children herd wild lions? Did cows graze alongside bears? Did children stick their hands into the nests of snakes and get a snaky lick instead of a poisonous bite? No. None of these things happened, yet this prophecy was still fulfilled. How? Because once again, Yahweh is using earthly metaphors to describe spiritual concepts.
When Christ showed up on earth, He introduced Yahweh’s radical New Covenant–a Covenant which promises eternal acceptance by all three of our Creators as a reward for sufficient soul submission. The New Covenant expands the bounds of grace by offering permanent salvation when we are still alive on the planet. Such a gift was not available before the revelation of Christ. Under the Old Covenant, if a soul started off pursuing God, but then turned away in willful defiance without repenting, Yahweh would cut him off and eternally damn him.
No one could “get saved” under the Old Covenant because salvation wasn’t granted until death. We don’t find Yahweh promising to never cast people out in the Old Testament–instead, we find He promises just the opposite. He says over and over that unrepentant rebellion will result in eternal damnation, regardless of how faithful a soul was previously. But under the New Covenant, this changes. Christ says that once we are accepted by our Gods, we are immediately granted eternal life, and that life will never be taken away from us. Though He says we will all have different experiences of Heaven depending on how well we served our Gods on earth, the fear of being cast out because of post-salvation rebellion is completely thrown out.
Under this New Covenant, we enter into an eternal covenant of peace with our Gods. This is a truly mind-blowing concept to Old Covenant Jews–so mind-blowing that you’ll find many of the New Testament writers rejecting it. James, John, and the author Hebrews all teach that a lack of ongoing faithfulness will result in our being cut off from Yahweh. They talk this way because they are not grasping how the New Covenant works and their pride rejects the idea of “slackers” being allowed into Heaven. Many Christians take this same rotten attitude today–insisting that God can’t be so generous with His grace. Well, yes, He can. No one will tell Yahweh how gracious He can or can’t be. If He wants to make salvation a permanent deal, He gets to. If we have a problem with God being merciful to people we dislike, we need to ask Him to help us improve our submission to Him.
In Isaiah 11, Yahweh is saying the impossible will become possible—there will be eternal peace between sinful humans and a holy God. What better way to convey this concept to a bunch of hardhearted agriculturalists than to talk about it in terms of wild animals suddenly treating their prey like their best friends?
Remember that in these times, the Jews are abusing God’s Temple, disrespecting His Laws, and showing no concern for His holy things. The Ark of the Covenant is no longer being treated like the sacred object it is. Punks like King Uzziah are marching into the restricted areas of the Temple as if it is just another public building. Back in Period 2, Yahweh designed special rooms with special furnishings in order to teach His people about spiritual principles. But those principles have all been lost and the people’s hearts have become hard. The words “holy” and “sacred” have lost all meaning. Their idea of “worship” is to get drunk, have perverse sex, cut themselves, and torture their children to death in front of grotesque metal statues. How can Yahweh possibly communicate to such animals about how thrilling it will be for souls to be reconciled to Him through the New Covenant? He can’t speak in spiritual terms, for those terms have all become utterly meaningless. So instead He uses metaphors from their everyday lives. He takes major problems that seem to have no solution–such as wild animals feasting on domesticated ones, and curious children being bitten by poisonous snakes–and says that the day is coming when these problems will simply not be. Wow. That gets people’s attention. They understand that some huge changes are on the horizon. They understand that amazing miracles are going to happen in the future—and that those miracles will have something to do with a Messiah and Yahweh creating a New Covenant. Hm.
“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge Yahweh.” (Hos. 2:18-20)
Earth and heaven were the metaphorical witnesses to the first Covenant that Yahweh made with His people back in Period 2. Now He says that nature will once again witness the New Covenant that’s coming—one which will usher in this age of supernatural peace. Notice the forever language. This is another shocking difference. The Old Covenant was filled with if-then comments. There was no promise of eternal peace. But in this New Covenant, things will be different. There won’t be the constant threat of Yahweh cutting His people off. Somehow, once they enter into this new contract with Him, they will be in forever. This, of course, is a reference to the New Covenant that will be established by Christ, yet here Hosea is speaking about 750 years before Christ is even born on earth. How can Yahweh possibly look around at all the yuck going on in Israel and Judah and still find within Himself a desire to find some new way to help us all become permanently reconciled to Him? How can He look at all of this defiance and still feel any love for the human race?
Yahweh said to Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as Yahweh loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hos. 3:1)
Though Gomer has run out on Hosea and is currently having an affair with another man, God sends His prophet to bring her home again as a picture of how Yahweh will give those who have turned away from Him a second chance to be reconciled with Him. This is the Character of the God we serve—grace beyond reason, love beyond comprehension. And yet just when we’re feeling stunned by all the glorious promises Yahweh is making, He reminds us that His love and grace have boundaries. Yes, glorious days are coming. Yes, He is preparing a way for people to be eternally reconciled to Him and experience glorious joy and peace. But not everyone will experience it. Not everyone will get to enter into that New Jerusalem in which life is perfect and there is no more violence or fear. Those who despise Yahweh will end up despised by Yahweh and tortured for eternity in Hell. God will avenge Himself on all those who insist on being His enemies, both Jews and Gentiles alike. Bloodlines won’t protect anyone from the terrifying wrath of God.
“Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as My priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. The more priests there were, the more they sinned against Me, so I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sins of My people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” (Hos. 4:6-9)
Just as the southern kingdom is named after its most prominent tribe (Judah), the northern kingdom is often referred to by one of its most important tribes: Ephraim. Ephraim is another name for Israel, and God often rotates between these two terms when He prophesies.
“I know what you are like, O Ephraim. You cannot hide yourself from Me, O Israel. You have left Me just as a prostitute leaves her husband; you are utterly defiled. Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord. The arrogance of Israel testifies against her; Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt. Judah, too, will fall with them. When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to Yahweh, they will not find Him, because He has withdrawn from them.” (Hos. 5:3-6)
Today we like to focus on all the positive passages in the Bible while pretending the negative ones aren’t really there. But there are far more threats than promises in the Bible, because spiritual rebels are the main audience being addressed by our Gods in both the Old and New Testaments.
“I am like a moth to Ephraim, like rot to the people of Judah.” (Hos. 5:12)
Why on earth does God refer to Himself as a moth and rot? These are images that inspire fear. Today it would be like Him saying “I’ll be like a cancer to you—devouring your organs.” Moths are associated with decay. Rot ruins things. God is going to be like an unstoppable force that rots away all of Israel’s strength. Of course when the hard times come, she’ll try to run to foreign nations and make alliances with them for protection. But those other nations won’t be able to help her—Yahweh will make sure of that.
“When Israel and Judah saw how sick they were, Israel turned to Assyria—to the great king there—but he could neither help nor cure them. I will be like a lion to Israel, like a strong young lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces! I will carry them off, and no one will be left to rescue them. Then I will return to My place until they admit their guilt and turn to Me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for Me.” (Hos. 5:13-15)
And as for those dumb calf gods that Israel is constantly worshiping, Yahweh has a few choice comments to make:
“Now Israel pleads with Me, ‘Help us, for You are our God!’ But it is too late. The people of Israel have rejected what is good, and now their enemies will chase after them. The people have appointed kings without My consent, and princes without My approval. By making idols for themselves from their silver and gold, they have brought about their own destruction. O Samaria, I reject this calf— this idol you have made. My fury burns against you. How long will you be incapable of innocence? This calf you worship, O Israel, was crafted by your own hands! It is not God! Therefore, it will be smashed to bits.” (Hos. 8:2-6)
“Israel has built many altars to take away sin, but these very altars became places for sinning! Even though I gave them all My laws, they act as if those laws don’t apply to them. The people love to offer sacrifices to Me, feasting on the meat, but I do not accept their sacrifices. I will hold My people accountable for their sins, and I will punish them. They will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten its Maker and built great palaces, and Judah has fortified its cities. Therefore, I will send down fire on their cities and will burn up their fortresses.” (Hos. 8:11-14)
Through the mouth of Hosea, Yahweh says over and over again that the people living in the northern kingdom of Israel will be dragged off to foreign nations, where they will be oppressed and miserable.
The time of Israel’s punishment has come; the day of payment is here. Soon Israel will know this all too well. Because of your great sin and hostility, you say, “The prophets are crazy and the inspired men are fools!” The prophet is a watchman over Israel for my God, yet traps are laid for him wherever he goes. He faces hostility even in the house of God. The things my people do are as depraved as what they did in Gibeah long ago. God will not forget. He will surely punish them for their sins. (Hos. 9:7-9)
Rebellious people hate the feeling of the Holy Spirit driving knives of conviction into their souls, so they react aggressively. Though Yahweh is raising up men like Amos and Hosea to warn these people of their sins before it is too late, the prophets are getting attacked and persecuted.
In the prophetic books, we will often find God referring back to shocking acts of rebellion that Israel committed in the past. In the previous excerpt, the prophet Hosea refers to Gibeah, which is a reference to the shocking events of Judges 19-20 in which Israelite men gang raped a woman to death just because she was new to the city. They actually wanted to gang rape a Levite man instead, but the woman was all they were able to get their hands on (see Judges 17-21: Anarchy in Israel). It was a particularly dark event in Israel’s history—sick, twisted and utterly revolting. Yet God is saying that to Him, Israel is just as bad here in Hosea’s time as she was back then.
“All their wickedness began at Gilgal; there I began to hate them. I will drive them from My land because of their evil actions. I will love them no more because all their leaders are rebels.” (Hos. 9:15)
Gilgal is a main center of worship in Israel—and we know the kinds of things they are worshiping: golden cows, various Baal gods, and the goddess Asherah. Notice how Yahweh keeps emphasizing the sin of idolatry over and over again. He will talk about other crimes as well—murder, corrupt judges, robbery, the abuse of the poor. But idolatry will continuously surface as the number one offense. Why is this? Because idolatry is an act of the soul. Murder is an action which can stem from right or wrong motivations. Simply describing a man’s external actions doesn’t tell us what’s going on in his soul. But idolatry is not something we do with our bodies, it is something we do with our souls. Idolatry is when the soul turns away from God and gives its admiration to someone or something else instead. The idol can be living or dead—animate or inanimate.
Today the Bride of Christ is worshiping more idols than she can count and constantly creating more. Why do we call certain people saints? Why do we pray to Mary? Why do we give our allegiance to certain pastors, teachers, and theologians? Because we love making new idols for ourselves, just like Jeroboam made his golden cow gods. Why are we so addicted to our public worship concerts? Is God really the One we’re worshiping at these affairs? No, He is not. Honest soul searching will reveal that far too often we are only using God as an excuse to worship human performers. At the same time, those performers are using God as an excuse to be worshiped by us. People of the past and the present—these are the main idols in the Christian Church today. Some are dead, some are alive. Some have titles like pope, bishop, doctor, martyr, saint, reverend, apostle, or prophet. Some have no title at all, yet we hang on their every word and exalt them on pedestals within our minds.
Anything that we admire to an equal or greater degree that we do God is an idol. Loving other people is certainly a good thing. But when we care more about pleasing them than we do about pleasing God, that’s idolatry. God hates idolatry. He is fiercely jealous and demands to be the only One we worship. He demands to be our first priority–the Master we serve above all others. If we are serious about pleasing God, then we have to be willing to ask Him if there is anything or anyone in our lives who is making Him jealous. Our friends, our pets, our family members, our jobs, our stuff, our money, our status at church that wins us the admiration of others, pastors and worship leaders–idols come in many forms. We don’t want God to feel like He has to compete for our love, time, or devotion. As humans, we were designed with a need to worship and this makes it so easy for us to fall into idolatry. Once we do, it often feels impossible to get back out of it, and yet God is quite willing to help us fix our spiritual priorities if we are serious about wanting to please Him. But we need to act now, because the day comes when God is fed up with our rebellion and refuses to draw us closer to Himself. Ask the Holy Spirit today to clear out any idols in your life and to make Himself, Yahweh and Jesus your First Loves in life (see Understanding Idolatry: The Problem & the Cure)
“But since My people refuse to return to Me, they will become captives again, as they were in Egypt, and they will be forced to serve Assyria. War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates. They will destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. For My people are determined to desert Me. They call Me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor Me.” (Hos. 11:5-7)
Back when the united kingdom first fractured into two nations and Jeroboam incited God’s wrath for making his stupid golden calves, Yahweh said that one day He would utterly destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. Here in Hosea, He repeats this threat over and over again—and this time He adds more detail. It will be the Assyrians—those fierce warriors from the north—who will crush Israel, burn her cities, take away her golden cows, and drag her people off into exile.
“I have been Yahweh your God ever since I brought you out of Egypt. You must acknowledge no god but Me, for there is no other savior. I took care of you in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. But when you had eaten and were satisfied, you became proud and forgot Me. So now I will attack you like a lion, like a leopard that lurks along the road. Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away, I will tear out your heart. I will devour you like a hungry lioness and mangle you like a wild animal.
You are about to be destroyed, O Israel— yes, by Me, your only Helper. Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of Me? In My anger I gave you kings, and in My fury I took them away. (Hos. 13:4-11)
It’s only when we read the whole Bible in order that we can appreciate these bitter references back to the days of Israel’s journey through the wilderness (Period 2). Yahweh often looks back on those days and comments on how quick His people were to turn away from Him. It’s been hundreds of years since those days and Yahweh has been incredibly patient. But the day comes when even God has had enough.
“But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked Yahweh, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins.” (Hos. 12:14)
Moths, rot, wild beasts ripping people apart—it’s metaphors like these that make people accuse Yahweh of being a hot-tempered Bully who just can’t wait to punish people. But we’ve been going through the Book in order, and we have seen Israel spit on God time after time after time. Is Yahweh really being so unreasonable? He certainly is—He’s being unreasonably gracious to have waited so long to get this angry and He’s unreasonable to still be waiting. Israel’s destruction won’t come during the reign of Jeroboam II, nor in the reign of the next king or even the next. God is going to wait for several more decades, but our prophet will probably still be alive to see God make good on all of His threats. Israel has been burning up her grace for centuries and God is at His end with her.
“Why should I ransom them from the power of Sheol (the underworld)? Why should I redeem them from death? O Death, bring on your thorns! O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight!” (Hos. 13:14)
“Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. The people will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.” (Hos. 13:16)
Return, O Israel, to Yahweh your God, for your sins have brought you down. Confess and return to Yahweh. Say to Him, “Forgive our sins and receive us graciously, that we may present to You the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods.’ No, for it is in You alone that the orphans find mercy.” (Hos. 14:1-3)
Even this late in the game, Yahweh is still offering forgiveness to anyone who will sincerely repent. Is this the action of a harsh and unloving God? Not hardly. God’s grace is mind blowing. Here He models for the people how to pray: humbly ask for forgiveness, and stop depending on military alliances and the strength of their own army. And of course—stop with the idols! Then God will be merciful. Notice He doesn’t demand perfection, He doesn’t demand a thousand animal sacrifices. He doesn’t tell them to grovel like worms or cower like unworthy scum. He just tells them to make a sincere change of heart. This is all He has ever required from them—sincere heart commitment, reverence, and dependency. This is all He requires of us today.
Is it hard to please God? No, it is incredibly simple. God has never put His pleasure out of reach. He’s never set a bar impossibly high and then cursed us for failing to reach it. God is gracious, kind, compassionate, gentle, warm and welcoming. But if we scorn Him, if we just can’t be bothered to do the very simple things that He requires, then He will turn His violent side against us and we will find Him to be terror, wrath, pain, and darkness. Yet notice how even in the midst of the storm of His anger, Yahweh is still extending grace to these people. This won’t always be the case. Very soon we’ll be meeting a new prophet who will be called to speak for a God who is no longer willing to extend grace, no longer willing to forgive, and no longer willing to take back a people who have done nothing but scorn Him. This new prophet’s name will be Isaiah. But before we get to him, there are a few more kings that we need to meet, and we’ll learn about them in our next lesson.
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.