In our study of Hosea chapter eight we will compare proper worship of God with the altars of sin that plagued Israel at the time of the prophet. Throughout the Bible, an altar is a place for man to meet and worship God but, as we shall see, God's people had been corrupted and their worship was not accepted.
'Put the trumpet to your lips! An eagle is over the house of the Lord because the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law.'
As we see in Numbers 10, the trumpet was used to signal the Israelites to gather together. Throughout the Bible, an eagle is the symbol of speed and, through these words, we see that the judgement was almost upon them. The people had broken the contract between them and God that had been given through Moses in the desert. This covenant required the people to be loyal to God alone and to follow His decrees. Their idolatry had directly violated the terms of the deal.
'Israel cries out to me, "O our God, we acknowledge you!" But Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him.'
Not only did they reject following the ways of God but they did so even as they were calling on His name. God's covenant was meant to give them guidance into all of the good things of life but, because they rejected His instructions, they were going in the wrong direction. In much the same manner, many today have accepted Jesus Christ but are not walking in His ways.
'They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction.'
This is speaking of the fact that, after the division of the kingdom, the kings of Israel were not from the line of David. This led to Ahab and his marriage to Jezebel who came from Baal worship. She and Ahab led the people of the northern kingdom (Israel) into idolatry and that is what this verse is talking about. The same type of thing can happen today in the life of a Christian if they choose to marry someone who does not know Jesus Christ.
'Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? They are from Israel! This calf - a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria.'
This calf-idol is Baal worship and that is how Jezebel and Ahab led Israel astray. We may be quick to say that we do not have golden calves, but we have to ask ourselves is their something else that we have elevated to God's position in our hearts.
'They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up. Israel is swallowed up; now she is among the nations like a worthless thing. For they have gone up to Assyria like a wild donkey wandering alone. Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.'
This passage speaks of famine and the enemy that is assigned to carry out God's judgment (Assyria). Israel went to them and tried to buy them off but it did not work. Israel is described as worthless because she has become like the nations that surround her and the same principle applies to us, as Christians, in the world today. We are called to be different and not a part of the world and its ways. Many have taken this to mean withdrawing from the world and that is how many cults have been formed but that is not what it is saying. We are called to be a bright and shining example to the world. In order to do this, we must be different but we must also be visible and not tucked away like some crazy cult.
'Although they have sold themselves among the nations, I will now gather them together. They will begin to waste away under the oppression of the mighty king.'
The people looked for assistance from other nations instead of from God and so God is going to show them that He is the provider.
'Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning. I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien.'
The people were worshipping God in man's traditions instead of the way prescribed by God. The same type of thing can happen in our places of worship today. Many gather and do things that directly contradict the Word of God. The practices may be disguised as worship but, in fact, they are sin and God will not accept that kind of worship.
'They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat, but the Lord is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins: They will return to Egypt.'
The people were going through their rituals and using words but did not realize that words and rituals could not save them. In fact, rituals become a trap and ultimately lead to slavery. This is a reminder for us that we are saved by the grace of God and not through anything that we have done or will do. We may be quick to judge Israel's actions here but, even in the church today, rituals and traditions can become a trap that causes men to fall from grace.
'Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns. But I will send fire upon their cities that will consume their fortresses.'
The charge against God's people is simply that they placed their trust in man's efforts instead of God's provision. Men struggle with their desire to do something to earn favor and salvation from God instead of following Him by faith. It was true during the prophet's time and it is just as true today.