In our study of Hosea chapter five, we look at the origin and consequences of Israel's rebellion against God. We will see how the actions of one man can lead many astray. To understand this chapter, we must remember some of the history of God's people. Until the death of King Solomon, the tribes were united but, because of Solomon's sin, God took control of all the tribes except Judah and the Levites from Solomon's son. These tribes formed the northern kingdom and were known as Israel. Their first king was Jeroboam who was from the tribe of Ephraim.
'Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, O royal house! This judgment is against you: You have been a snare at Mizpah, a net spread out on Tabor.'
The prophet shares the words of God with the people and, as we see here, there is plenty of blame to go around. God condemns the leadership of Israel because they have caused the people to stumble. Mizpah was in the southwest of their territory and Tabor was in the northeast part and so we see that the actions of the leaders had led to widespread rebellion against God.
'The rebels are deep in slaughter. I will discipline all of them.'
This verse speaks to the fact that the people continued in their rebellion against God even when He rebuked them. They stayed in their sin and continued the downward spiral. The same thing is true for us as Christians today in that, if we continue to wallow in sin and do not heed the correction of the Holy Spirit, we too can continue a downward spiral. What can start as a seemingly minor thing can in fact lead to greater and greater distance between ourselves and God. He said that He would discipline the Israelites and we can be sure that He will do the same for us.
'I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt.'
After the split of God's people, Jeroboam was afraid that, if the people went to Jerusalem to worship God, they would turn back and join the southern kingdom. Because he did not want to lose power, Jeroboam had idols built and caused the people to worship them all over the northern kingdom. That is what God is talking about here when He says that Ephraim has turned to prostitution. The actions of this one man caused a whole nation to rebel against God and so now they face this judgment. We may ask ourselves what this has to do with us today and say that we do not worship idols but do we listen and follow the instructions of God? God had instructed the people that they were to come to Jerusalem at certain times to worship Him and they did not. God has told us to worship Him by going and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world and teaching them to obey His commands (see Matthew 28). If we are, that is great but, if we are not, we can expect His correction in our lives.
'Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.'
The people had gotten so far away from listening to God that they even refused to acknowledge Him. Without acknowledging Him, there is no ability to be saved. Many have used these verses to support their idea that we can lose our salvation but that is not what it is talking about. This is talking about the fact that we can wallow in sin for so long and not listen to the call of the Spirit that we stop even hearing the Spirit. At that point, it is not possible to answer the call to be saved because you cannot even hear it anymore.
'Israel's arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them.'
The Israelites, led by the tribe of Ephraim, decided that they did not need to follow God but could do things in their own way. They even got Judah to go along with them into rebellion. When we put our ideas and thoughts above God's, that is the ultimate in arrogance.
'When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them.'
God is a jealous God and so He does not share His position with anyone or anything. This verse speaks to the fact that the people wanted it easy in going to worship wherever they wanted but, then, wanted to turn to God when they needed His provision. As we see here, that is not how God worked back then and it is not how He works today. We cannot put our faith in a closet and only pull out worship and prayer when we need to ask for something. First and foremost, God wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. Then, we can share our needs and concerns with Him as they happen.
They are unfaithful to the Lord; they give birth to illegitimate children. Now their New Moon festivals will devour them and their fields.
They did not worship God in the way that He told them and so they were considered unfaithful. Because they taught those ways to their children, the children did the same and so were not really children of God (they were illegitimate). Their religious activity was not going to save them from the judgment of God and the same is true for us today. It does not matter how many times you enter a "church" building as that is not what brings salvation.
'Sound the trumpet in Gibeah, the horn in Ramah. Raise the battle cry in Beth Aven; lead on, O Benjamin.'
Beth Aven which means "house of wickedness" was another name for the city of Bethel which means "house of God". God is sending a warning to the people that they have gone from being a house of God to a house of wickedness.
'Ephraim will be laid waste on the day of reckoning. Among the tribes of Israel I proclaim what is certain.'
The "day of reckoning" also known as the "day of the Lord" is the time of judgment. Here, we see that, because of their turning away from God, they will be judged and God has made up His mind. God is the same today and we, too, will be judged if we trust in anyone or anything except Jesus Christ.
'Judah's leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water.'
Not only had Israel (the northern kingdom) turned their back on God but Judah had done the same. Today, we have gps to tell us the exact location of anything but, in the days of Hosea, property boundaries were marked by a rock or rocks. Someone who moved the boundary stones would be considered a liar and a thief. That is what God is saying that the leaders of Judah had become. When the leaders of a nation become corrupt, the people usually follow. God will punish the corrupt even Judah (His religious leaders).
'Ephraim is oppressed, trampled in judgment, intent on pursuing idols. I am like a moth to Ephraim, like rot to the people of Judah.'
Because they turned away from God, the people are judged. To them, obeying God had become a bother and so they went after idols. We may think that it is crazy to turn away from God and chase idols but we have to ask ourselves if we are not doing the same thing. Today, many of the idols are in the form of material things such as a fancy home, car, or retirement account and many put all of their efforts into those things.
'When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his sores, then Ephraim turned to Assyria, and sent to the great king for help. But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores.'
Instead of turning back to God, His people turned to the mightiest earthly king that there was for help. But, only God can truly heal the sickness that is in the heart of man. In our world today, people look to the government for help with everything from food to shelter instead of looking to God. The "church" has, for the most part, stopped being the church and so when our fellow man needs a hand they turn to the government instead of His people.
'For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.'
God's people made a choice to turn to others for help instead of repenting and turning back to Him. Because of that, they were defeated and taken into exile. No one could stop it because it was the hand of God at work. The same thing is true for us today in that, God is still in control and His plans for us will be fulfilled.
'Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.'
This verse shows us the answer to the age old question of "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" God tells us that he is bringing this judgment on His people to make them miserable in the hope that they will return to Him. If you are a Christian, then God's correction demonstrates His love for you and is meant to draw you closer to Him.