Death of a Nation
Although nations do not intentionally commit suicide, Israel was headed that way. Gross idolatry insulted the covenant relationship God had established with the Israelites, and their ingratitude toward Him for His grace and goodness had given them a spirit of pride and self-sufficient smugness. Thus Israel forgot the God who had lavished her with power and prosperity.
Hosea’s warning of judgment fell on deaf ears. His preaching produced no change in the nation’s commitment or conduct toward God. In chapter 13, Hosea reiterated and reinforced the message of the inevitable judgment that would result in ancient Israel’s demise.
After the split within the 12 tribes of Israel, Ephraim rose to superiority over the 10 tribes that became the northern kingdom. Hosea said, “When Ephraim spoke, [there was] trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died” (v. 1). The tribe of Ephraim had become great and was the leading tribe in the northern kingdom. The other nine tribes in the North paid deference to its authority and power. When one man in Ephraim spoke, fear and trembling seized the men of other tribes. But Ephraim instituted calf and Baal worship, sowing the seeds of death and sealing the nation’s doom. It was only a matter of time before Israel’s spiritual decay resulted in the nation’s demise.
God’s warning had no effect on Israel. The Israelites continued to “sin more and more” and made “melted and cast images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen” (v. 2). Idols filled their houses and groves. Instead of worshiping God, they worshiped molten images and prayed to deaf and dumb statues. They even paid homage and respect to the idols by kissing (v. 2) them—a sign of their total devotion to the pagan deity of Baal.
The prophet used four similes to describe the nation’s impending judgment:
Therefore, they shall be like the morning cloud [mist], and like the early dew that passeth away, like the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and like the smoke out of the chimney (v. 3).
Israel would vanish as quickly as morning mist and “early dew,” which evaporate quickly when the sun rises. Israel would be swept from its land suddenly and violently, “like the chaff” on the threshing floor is scattered by a whirlwind or “like smoke out of the chimney” is vaporized into nothingness. Hosea’s stern warning should have provoked Israel to repent, but the nation remained untouched by the prophet’s graphic illustrations.
The Lord reminded Israel of His unique relationship with the nation:
Yet I am the LORD, thy God, from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me; for there is no saviour beside me (v. 4).
First, He told the Israelites that He and He alone had shown them grace and goodness from the time of their inception as a nation. He was the One who had delivered them from their oppressive slavery in the land of Egypt. And He reminded them of the first commandment He gave them: “Thou shalt know no god but me” (v. 4; cf. Ex. 20:3). Israel had a special, exclusive, covenant relationship with the true and living God. No other deity had delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. Jehovah was their only savior. Nor would any political alliance or powerful monarch be able to deliver them from their future troubles. Their worship of any other “god” was meaningless and useless.
Second, He was their God in the wilderness: “I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought” (v. 5). It was God who preserved them in the harsh wilderness by providing for their physical needs and protecting them from all who sought to destroy them.
Third, God prospered Israel in the land of Canaan: “According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me” (v. 6). When Israel was “filled,” she became satisfied, self-sufficient, and self-exalted, forgetting that God was her benefactor. Not only did Israel forget the Lord, but she ceased to worship and serve Him (cf. Dt. 8). The metaphor in 13:6 speaks of a domestic animal that, in a luxuriant pasture, became headstrong and unmanageable. As did many before and after them, the people of Israel enjoyed the gifts but ignored the Giver.
Throughout Israel’s history, God was like a tender, loving shepherd, protecting and providing for His people. However, that situation would change. Because they failed to accept His gentler means of correction, God’s next method involved turning on them like a vicious animal and devouring them.
In verses 7–8, the Lord likens Himself to five wild beasts in His dealings with Israel. Like a fierce and hungry lion, God would rend the northern kingdom. With the swiftness of a leopard, He would lurk in hiding, watching for the appropriate time to spring on the defenseless nation and devour it. Like “a bear that is bereaved of her whelps [cubs],” He promised to “tear the fat of their heart” (v. 8). When robbed of her cubs, a she-bear strikes at the perpetrator’s breast with vengeance; and her claws tear open the person’s chest, exposing his heart. Like a lion who slowly and methodically eats its prey in the safety of its den, God would consume Israel; and like “the wild beast [God] shall tear them” (v. 8). That is, as a pack of wild animals descends on its prey, God in His fury would descend on and devour Israel. Such a vivid picture is a fearful reminder of God’s wrath, which will fall on all who reject His mercy and grace for a life of sin.
Israel orchestrated its own destruction: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help” (v. 9). A more literal translation of this verse is, “It hath destroyed thee, O Israel, that thou hast been against me, against thy help.” Israel’s sin led to its demise. The nation trusted in idols and alliances with other countries, alienating itself from the Lord. The Israelites’ prideful self-reliance severed them from God—the only One who truly could protect and deliver them from destruction.
Early in its history, Israel had exchanged God’s gift of an infallible theocracy for a fallible monarchy (cf. 1 Sam. 8). With intonations of sarcastic scorn, God asked Israel two rhetorical questions concerning the rulers they had chosen to save them:
I will be thy king; where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? And [where are] thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes? (v. 10).
The implied answer is that these elected leaders were nowhere to be found. Moreover, they were totally incapable of delivering Israel from the coming invasion of Assyria. But the Lord, who alone is Israel’s King forever, will be the nation’s only hope for deliverance. God honored Israel’s request for a king after the 10 tribes split from Judah: “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath” (v. 11). Although God gave Israel a succession of kings, beginning with Jeroboam I (1 Ki. 12:17) and ending with Hoshea, He removed them all because of their extreme wickedness.
God informed Israel that she would not escape judgment: “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hidden” (v. 12). The document describing Israel’s sin and sentence would be recorded, bound up, and stored in heaven (as a precious treasure is secured in a safe) until the day of God’s judgment.
Time was running out. If Israel was to experience deliverance, she had to turn to the Lord immediately. Otherwise, the nation would become as a “travailing woman” and an “unwise son” (v. 13). Her suffering would be as inescapable and agonizing as the pain of childbirth. The baby, referring to Israel, is described figuratively as an “unwise son” who does not know enough to be born at the proper time. Such a delay results in the baby’s death.
I will ransom them from the power of sheol; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol, I will be thy destruction; repentance shall be hidden from mine eyes (v. 14).
Some believe this verse teaches that Israel is irreversibly doomed. They support their position from the context of chapter 13 (vv. 7–13, 15–16) and interpret the first two clauses as interrogatives: “Shall I . . . ransom them from the power of sheol? Shall I redeem them from death?”—expecting a negative answer.
Others interpret verse 14 as a promise of hope for Israel’s deliverance. The latter interpretation is supported by a long history of Bible translations going back to the ancient Septuagint. Also, there is no indication from the text that the first two phrases are interrogatives.
As for the objection that the promise of redemption is out of context with the pronouncement of doom in this chapter, we should keep in mind that God often interjects a word of hope in judgment passages. The phrase repentance shall be hidden from mine eyes means that God will not change His mind or His promise to redeem Israel. Paul used this verse in 1 Corinthians 15:55–57 to declare the believer’s triumph over death through Christ’s death and resurrection. The ransom price for Israel’s sin has been paid through Christ. One day Israel will receive Jesus as her Messiah and experience redemption and resurrection as a nation.
The closing verses of this chapter present Hosea’s final judgment speech. The prophet described judgment as “an east wind [a sirocco]” (v. 15) from the Lord. The wind is a picture of the Assyrian invasion that completely and unexpectantly will destroy Israel’s kingdom like an east wind that dries up “spring” and “fountain” (v. 15). Assyria will spoil the “treasure of all pleasant vessels” (v. 15) of Israel by carrying off the country’s gold, silver, jewels, and precious treasures.
The prophet concluded chapter 13 with a specific word of judgment against Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom:
Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword; their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up (v. 16).
Samaria was responsible for promoting Israel’s rebellion against the Lord. She will suffer dearly for her sin. Her city will be destroyed; her people slaughtered inhumanly; her babies smashed on the rocks without mercy; and her pregnant women ripped open to deprive Israel of a future generation.
Nations today should take notice of Israel’s sad experience and the high price she paid for forsaking God. When a nation smugly struts its self-sufficiency and forgets that it is God who provides its prosperity, peace, and power, that nation treads a path of spiritual and physical suicide. Pray that the nation you live in will heed this warning from God’s Word.