Hosea recounted what went wrong in Israelite society: bad leadership, idolatry, lies, institutionalized violence, and policies which enabled foreign encroachment. Hos. 1:1 tells us Hosea ministered during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), but he continued to prophesy during decades of decline, before the nation’s fell to Assyria (722 BC). After Jeroboam’s reign, four of the six remaining kings were assassinated by conspirators (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30); ¹ yet Hosea remained vague about the realpolitik. Like God’s prophets before and after him, his words were non-partisan, critiquing all who failed to live in the LORD.
Hosea’s context is vastly different from contemporary North America; nevertheless, there may be hints about where our leaders have also missed God’s heart. I write this in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as our 45th president. What sort of president he will be, remains to be seen, but the missteps of Ancient Israel warn us of possible pitfalls. Part of Hosea’s agenda was to call the unfaithful leaders of Israel back to the covenant love of God. Hosea warns God’s people—Israel and us—to turn or burn, and reap the whirlwind:
Turn . . .
Hosea begins this section, imploring his people to return to God :
Come, let us return to the LORD;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and 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 before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”(Hosea 6:1-3, NRSV).
. . .or Burn . . .
Israel was full of iniquity—lying and stealing (Hosea 7:1-2). God’s anger burned against the nation and its leaders. Hosea gave three images of Israel’s spiritual and political state. The first image describes Israel as burning like a hot, baker’s oven:
They delight the king with their wickedness,
the princes with their lies.
They are all adulterers,
burning like an oven
whose fire the baker need not stir
from the kneading of the dough till it rises.
On the day of the festival of our king
the princes become inflamed with wine,
and he joins hands with the mockers.
Their hearts are like an oven;
they approach him with intrigue.
Their passion smolders all night;
in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven;
they devour their rulers.
All their kings fall,
and none of them calls on me.-Hosea 7:3–7(NIV).
Ephraim3 mixes himself with the peoples;
Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Foreigners devour his strength,
but he does not know it;
gray hairs are sprinkled upon him,
but he does not know it. Ho 7:8–9 (NRSV).
. . .and Reap the Whirlwind.
Chapter 8 describes the enemy coming against this ‘silly dove’ like an eagle (8:1). Israel was in trouble, but they rejected ‘the good,'(vs. 2) and their appointed leaders were illegitimate usurpers (3). Instead of worshiping Yahweh, they constructed a calf—a caricature of the One True God (4-6). Wickedness, bad leadership and idolatry. Their attempts to stave off destruction reaped for them a whirlwind:
For they sow to the wind,
and they reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no heads;
it yields no grain.
Should it yield strangers have swallowed them up. (Hosea 4:7).
Israel followed the fertility rites of the surrounding cultures and lost their crops. They trusted foreigners but strangers gobbled up their material resources. Bad leaders let it all happen.
The rest of chapter 8 describes a loss of status for Israel. They were God’s chosen people, but they were swallowed up and became just one among the nations (8:8). They forgot their maker ( Judah did too) and the consuming fire of Divine wrath was coming (8:16).
Israel had failed to seek God, their bad leaders had led them astray and failed to protect them from foreign encroachment. But remember this section began with a plea to return to the Lord and the promise of a future restoration.
When we consider our own context, I wonder what, if any, corollaries we see between ancient Israel and twenty-first century America. Do we trust our own strength and our ability to create transnational coalitions? Are our leaders elitist and neglectful of the people’s well-being? Are we as a nation characterized by lies and violence? Do we, as a nation, worship at the wrong altar?
Too often, the answer to each the above questions has been yes. At the changing of the guard, with the pendulum in full swing it remains to be seen how we shall answer these questions in the age of Trump. But lets hope with Hosea for a restoration of relationship between God and his people.