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).
These verses describe Israel’s future restoration (with a strong Christological resonance of resurrection) and God’s abiding faithfulness. God wanted Israel to return to him with their whole heart. His presence remained with them and His appearing was certain. He cared for his creation, watering it with springtime rains. Though Israel was an object of God’s wrath, if they turned to Him, He would heal them and bind up the wounds that His punishment had inflicted. Because of the faithfulness of God, Hosea spoke expectation and hope.
But this picture stands in radical contrast with the ephemeral faithfulness of Israel which evaporated like morning dew (6:4). Instead of being God’s priests mediating His presence to the nations (4:6), Israel betrayed their covenant relationship with Him(6:7). The cities of Gilead and Shechem were characterized by violence and lies (6:9) because adulterous Israel forgot their God (6:10). Their apostasy had put them on the road to ruin(6:11)2
The goal of Hosea’s prophecy was not simply to predict and pronounce judgement. The point was to dissuade Israel from the wide way of destruction and call their hearts back to God. Hosea didn’t mince words about their political and spiritual condition; He wanted them to return to the Lord.
. . .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).
The burning passions of the royal court, led to decadence and adultery. The ruling elites chased pleasure and failed to execute their duties (e.g. the baker lets the oven fires rage, neglecting his duties). The hot-oven-raging-flame may also describe the outbreak of usurping violence as Israelite kings deposed of one another in rapid succession (7:16).
Secondly, Hosea describes Israel as half-baked:
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).
Have you ever failed to flip a pancake in time and burnt one side of it? This is the image: a half-baked and burnt cake, because the person responsible for it (the baker) didn’t flip it over in time. This is leadership derelict in its duty. Instead of watching over the nation and taking responsibility for citizen’s wellbeing, the king and his leaders allowed its people to suffer harm. Such unvigilant leadership allowed foreigners to devoured Israel’s strength by overrunning it and consuming its resources. The unburnt side of the cake was covered in gray hairs—not like a crown of glory or anything but a fuzzy grey mold 4 The baker, negligent in its duty was unaware that his wares spoiled; however despite the damage done by her neglectful leaders, Israel did not return to their God (Hosea. 7:10).
With third image, Hosea switches the metaphor from the culinary to the avian. He describes Israel as a silly dove chasing Egypt and Assyria for help(7:11). Israel’s adultery was not just a religious promiscuity, they were guilty of political adultery as well. They sought the aid of foreign nations instead of calling on God (who they rejected and slandered). Kings and people in power who tried to curry Egyptian and Assyrian favor. In doing this, Israel’s leaders sow the seeds of their own destruction: derision in the land of Egypt (7:16), and exile at the hands of Assyria lay in their future.
. . .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.
1. Richard Allan Fuhr and Gary Yates, The Message of the Twelve, Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016, 77.
2. Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, vol. 19A, The New American Commentary, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997, 165. Judah too, is named in this prophetic indictment.
3. Ephraim in the passage is a metonym for Israel
4. Garrett, 170.