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Hosea's Charge: "Israel Did Not Know..."


By Dennis Pollock

The Book of Hosea is one of those short, Old Testament, prophetic books which you would never know was in the Bible unless you perhaps recognized the name from a list of the Bible books. It would seem that few Christians have ever read it (since Christians in general don’t read the Bible much anymore, and if they do read it, they usually stay in the New Testament). But these Old Testament prophetic books have many gems of wisdom and insight, and in our ignorance of them we are the poorer for it.

In this study we will look at God’s complaint against the people of Judah, who comprised the southern section of Israel, and became a separate people when Israel split into two different nations following the death of Solomon. Hosea, speaking on God’s behalf, declares about Judah:

She will chase her lovers,
But not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
For then it was better for me than now’ (Hosea 2:7).

The problem was idolatry and the people of Judah’s tendency to revert back to idolatry, both in good times and hard times. Though they had been redeemed by God, and betrothed to God, somehow they had a perverse tendency to forsake the invisible, mysterious God of Israel and turn back to the stone idols and images which had always been the common gods of their times and the peoples who surrounded them. God announced that even though He will punish them for their idolatry, rather than returning to Him, the people of Judah will remember the former times. They will remember those times of idolatry when things were better and more prosperous, and falsely conclude that those former blessings were a reward for their idol-worship, and that idolatry would bring renewed blessings. If occasional and partial idolatry left  them impoverished, then surely a return to continual and hard-core idolatry should be the answer. God responds forcefully to dispel this foolish notion:

For she did not know
That I gave her grain, new wine, and oil,
And multiplied her silver and gold–
Which they prepared for Baal (Hosea 2:8).

It was God Who Blessed…

What the people of Judah did not realize was that, even in their worst idolatry, it was YHWH, the God of Israel, who blessed them, fed them, clothed them, and provided for their survival. Their blessings had nothing to do with the idols they foolishly bowed down to; they had everything to do with the God they had forsaken, who still loved them and watched over them, even in their rebellion.

We humans have a tendency to make associations. Sometimes those associations are valid and helpful, but other times they are without any factual basis and become foolish superstitions. Suppose that I have a bright red shirt, and over a year’s time I find that several outstanding blessings and happy experiences have come to me on days when I was wearing my red shirt. I begin to look upon my red shirt as my “lucky shirt,” and start wearing it more often, feeling sure that this will only bring more good luck and wonderful blessings my way. But of course, those blessings and positive experiences had nothing to do with my red shirt. I could have been wearing a brown shirt, a blue shirt, or a purple shirt and those “lucky” days would still have occurred. In this case our tendency to make associations is not helpful and causes us to attribute cause and effect where none actually exists.

On the other hand, there are times when the associations we make are legitimate and useful. Suppose I have worked several jobs over the last ten years and I recognize that those jobs where I worked hard, showed up for work early, was respectful toward my boss and friendly to my co-workers were jobs where I received regular raises and was treated well by those who worked with me and above me.

But perhaps I had a couple of my jobs I did not like and felt I was being paid less than I deserved. On these jobs I slacked off, was disrespectful of my superiors, treated my co-workers rudely, and did the absolute minimum work necessary for me to keep my job. And in these positions, I had negative experiences, my bosses treated me harshly, my co-workers were unfriendly, and I never received any raises whatsoever.

As I think about my positive and negative experiences with my jobs, I begin to associate hard work and a good attitude with success, job-fulfillment, and good working relationships. In this case the association I form is valid. There really are very strong links between hard work plus good attitudes and career success, and lazy work ethics plus negative attitudes and career failure. The association here is entirely legitimate and useful for me to contemplate as I go forward in my career.

Despising the Kindness of God

In the case of Judah, their association was entirely off-base. Through His prophet Hosea, God told His straying people that there was something they did not know. He declares that they did not know that even in the times of their greatest rebellion and apostasy, it was He who was providing them with their wine, oil, and grain. He was blessing them in their wickedness and rebellion, but rather than being grateful for God’s incredible mercy, kindness, and forbearance, they were foolishly assuming that the source of their blessings were the idol-gods to whom they bowed. They had things exactly backwards!

God’s merciful kindness and gentle love should have been an occasion for gratitude, but instead it became yet one more reason for His people to stray further and further from Him. It is not so very different from us today. Throughout America and in much of the world millions and billions of people are living comfortably, with food on their tables, clothes in their closets, and soft beds on which to sleep. They are blessed with friends and families, with jobs and careers, with successes in their lives, large and small, and somehow they never think that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has anything to do with all of this. Rather than giving thanks to God for His goodness, they assume that their own hard work, or intelligence, or wisdom, or beauty, or talent has enabled them to have all that they have. They may even think little of those who have less than they do, supposing that if those people would work as hard as they do, or be as nice, or look as pretty, or think as keenly as they do, they, too, could have as much. They may even write books or give seminars on “how to have it all,” or “how to succeed in life,” or “how to dream big dreams and achieve them,” and not so subtly suggest that if people will only emulate them, they can have as much, do as much, and be as much as they are.

But what they fail to see is that everything they have, every object in their house, every stich of clothes they wear, every friend they have, the fancy cars they drive, the millions in their bank accounts, their spouses, their children, their careers, their fame, every single good thing they possess is a gift from a kind and gracious God who loves people so much that He often blesses them even in their unbelief, even while they may mock Him, use His name in vain, and loudly declare their unbelief in Him.

Sun and Rain for All

Jesus tells us that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). This is not how many of us suppose God should operate. We assume it might be better for Him to bless believers abundantly and to send nothing but curses, bad luck, and hard times to all who deny or reject Him. But God has never operated this way. The apostle Paul declared that even before Christ came to earth, God “did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). God’s kindness to all of humankind is a “witness” to the goodness and reality of God. The rain He sends on the earth, and the fruitful seasons which provide food for Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, are witnesses of the kind and good Creator who generously does good for all His creation.

And God’s goodness is not merely a general goodness in providing for all people, everywhere. It is also a very specific goodness in that He blesses each individual with joys and successes, with jobs and friends and clothes. He does not wait for you to come to Christ and start praying and reading the Bible before He blesses you; He blesses you even in your unbelief, He blesses you while you lie and cheat, while you fornicate and mock His name. Despite your pride and wickedness, still He blesses you with all sorts of blessings, as a witness to who He is and the goodness of His character.

However it is a terrible and a most foolish thing to confuse God’s blessings with His approval. Though He may bless you because that is His nature, if you are not justified through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, He cannot approve you. We must not assume that because we are blessed, we must be living in divine favor and approval. God’s goodness and kindness move Him to bless people even while they are living a lifestyle of greed, immorality, and rebellion. But His holiness demands that He will eventually judge them for their wicked lifestyle, and on that day His blessings will come to a screeching halt. Jesus spoke of a place He called everlasting destruction, outer darkness, and a lake of fire. Here is the eternal destiny for those who refuse God’s ultimate blessing, which is the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification.

Blessing Does not Mean Approval

God may continue to bless you and even give you a long, prosperous life in this world, and yet in that realm on the other side of death, you may discover that His blessings on your life were never an indication of His approval. Rather they were a witness of His mercy and kindness, with the purpose of moving you to repent. The Bible tells us, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” But for those who refuse to be led to repentance and faith in Jesus by God’s blessings and gifts, they will discover that the same God who could bless them throughout their earthly lives may send them to a place where there are no blessings whatsoever in the next life.

Jesus hinted as much in his parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” A rich man who had been blessed with all the comforts of life found himself in torment after his death. Looking across a great gulf, he saw a lame beggar, Lazarus, who used to lie at his gate, hoping for just a few coins to enable him to eat for another day. But now Lazarus  was in a happy, blessed state, while the rich man was in total misery. When he appealed to “Father Abraham” for some relief, he was told:

Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented (Luke 16:25)

“In your lifetime you received your good things…” That simple statement will be the sad story for millions who assumed all along that their wealth, their success, their fame, their talent, their celebrity status, and their possessions all meant that they were divine favorites and had nothing to worry about in this life or the next. But like Judah of old, they failed to recognize that God was the giver of all that is good, and they failed to be grateful and humbly live their lives in dependence upon and with faith in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The mark of a true child of God is gratitude to God. Whatever state we find ourselves in, let us give thanks to God who gives freely to all men and women, because that is just Who He is. But let us never assume that His blessings are an indicator of carte blanche approval of our conduct, and by all means let us put our trust in Jesus, who became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.



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