Well, glad you joined me again. Today’s reading continues to rebuke the wayward and hurtful nation of Israel for their flagrant sin. By the way, as you may remember me saying in a previous post, it was true that Israel was deeply into idolatry. Because of the number of Asherah images found in Israel, archaeologists in Biblical Archaeology Review have suggested that the worship of Yahweh was really a minority religion. Elijah would have agreed. And Hosea, who lived in the days of Isaiah, Hezekiah, and others, is tasked with calling Israel, if possible, back from the brink of disaster, Assyrian captivity.
House of idols
You’ve read in today’s reading about Beth-Aven (10:5), but perhaps you couldn’t find it on a map. It is probably a substitute name to Bethel (the name meaning “House of God”), so named by Jacob after his dream of the ladder going up to heaven. Dan and Bethel had been the first places in the kingdom of Jeroboam to receive images of calves to worship as the true God. As time moved on, it became the location of a lot of idol worship; and Hosea is — in rebuke — renaming it Beth-Aven (House of evil, iniquity, emptiness, or idols — the word can have all of these meanings).
How does such a place go from “House of God” to “House of idols”? The answer is: a small step at a time. By seemingly meaningless accommodations to public popularity (think the sin of Jeroboam), to new accommodations to multiculturalism or diversity (think Ahab and Jezebel), to further changes to accommodate politics, and voila “House of idols”. If any of this sounds contemporary, your hearing is just fine; it sounds familiar to me, too.
As a part of Hosea’s (God’s) plea with Israel to return to the one true God, a farming metaphor is used that (most of us being city folk) don’t get — “Break up your fallow ground” (10:12). Fallow ground is a field that has not been plowed, sowed, or cultivated. It grows weeds and thorns, and it is fruitless. That’s what Israel had become to God, fruitless, fallow ground. But calling Israel fallow ground and urging them to break it up, plow it, is an invitation to do and be something different.
Fruitlessness is not good in the Bible. Such plants or ground is always condemned as being useless. Have you been fallow?
This is gonna hurt me more than it’ll hurt you
Almost all of us heard our parents say something like this, just before they punished us. And we all thought, “Yeah, sure.” And then we become parents and realize to our surprise that they were actually telling the truth.
In Hosea 11:8, 9 God wrestles with the sharp pain of Israel’s sin to His great heart. Like a wounded lover, His initial response is to simply cut her loose in divorce and destruction. But then God’s tender heart responds:
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled. I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath.”
He can’t utterly destroy her. It’s not that He isn’t capable of it — Admah and Zeboiim were examples of how He did destroy some places utterly. But He sees the possible redemption in the Remnant and He restrains His hand. And just so our merciful God still deals with His children — even the stubborn — giving them chance after chance.
Now one day God’s patience will end and He’ll have to cut loose those who want to be cut loose. But until then, marvel at the love and patience of our God. As Peter reminds us, 2 Peter 3:15 “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,”
What was God looking for?
God’s call wasn’t a complicated one: 1) return to (and KNOW) Me, 2) observe kindness (loyalty, covenant love), 3) observe justice, and 4) wait for the LORD. These are pretty broad commands that include a lot of specific applications, but they serve as pretty good principles even in the New Testament, even in the modern day.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.