Hosea 13 No Saviour

Questions: How can we be exalted? What will kill us? Can we trust our own understanding? Is God our judge, our king, or our savior? When do we forget God? Will He destroy us? Have we destroyed ourselves?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Hosea.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father, and manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Hosea 13:1-16

When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.

Though there’s many ways to read that verse, most see it as a contrast between a constructive humility and a destructive idolatry. Alas, it is a lesson he soon forgot:

And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, [and] idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I never understood idolatry until I faced up to my own addictive behavior. Especially during Lent, I am reminded of how I feel compelled to repeat certain mistakes over and over, even though in the back of my head I know better.

Perhaps the most devastating part of that critique is that they made idols “

according to their own understanding.”

That, at least for me, is the root of the problem: I want the universe to be run according to my understanding. It rankles me that what I perceive (and will) to be good may not actually be good. But rather than change myself — or allow myself to be changed — I try to redefine ultimate reality (i.e., god).

Which is truly building a house on shifting sand:

Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff [that] is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.

For the only thing that endures is that which is truly real:

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.

One of the many things I owe my fellow Diabloggeur Alan is helping me realize that God not (just) a voice in the sky, but the ultimate non-contingent reality upon which all true knowledge must be based. Of course, the Good News is that He isn’t simple some remote deistic deity, but that He interacts with us on the basis of love:

I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.

Alas, that very blessing proved Israel’s undoing:

According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.

This reminds me of my (unpublished) Lenten meditation yesterday. I was basically whining to God about the discipline He was asking me to endure, and He more-or-less responded: “You already have more blessings than you have the character to handle. Would you rather I improved your character or took away your blessings?” Ouch! Under those circumstances, I prefer the former, thank you very much. Israel, alas, had to suffer the latter:

Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe [them]: I will meet them as a bear [that is] bereaved [of her whelps], and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.

Ugh. Pretty graphic imagery. God is well and truly ticked off. Yet, surprisingly, He places the blame for their destruction elsewhere:

O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me [is] thine help.

If a man gets killed going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, would we say he was killed by the Falls or by himself? Probably both, depending on the context. And in this context, God clearly wants the people of Israel/Ephraim to acknowledge Him as their saviour:

I will be thy king: where [is any other] that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?

At first blush, it seems a bit odd to have a “rending bear” or “devouring lion” as their king. Then again, those are pictures not just of God’s ferocious power (a useful attribute in a king!), but also His passionate desire for their holiness. There is no shame in submitting to love — though we oft seem far too willing to submit to anything but, whether idols or kings:

I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took [him] away in my wrath.

This isn’t to say God can’t work through kings, but rather than Israel’s desire for a king was intrinsically idolatrous — wanting someone in place of Him — and therefore both displeasing and disastrous:

The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he [is] an unwise son; for he should not stay long in [the place of] the breaking forth of children.

I think this verse compares Israel to a child that refuses to leave the womb, which seems both dangerous and, well, lazy. Or maybe it is just saying he refuses to grow up — which I suppose comes out to the same thing. Regardless, the main point does not appear to be Israel’s perfidy, but rather God’s deliverance:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.

To be sure, the Message and some other translations phrase this as a question, perhaps even a taunt. Still, I prefer to think God is taunting death and destruction — His true enemies — on behalf of Israel.

That isn’t to say Israel gets let off the hook:

Though he be fruitful among [his] brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.

In fact, they suffer most bloodily:

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.

Ick. Painful imagery, even if somehow an allusion to verse 13. But I take this as a warning, not a threat. God desperately wants Israel — us — to return to Him. Will we listen in time?


God, I want — need — to confess that I have setup kings and idols according to my own understanding. Ultimately, I have served myself and my own ego, rather than you — to my own destruction. Father, save me from myself. Transform me through the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, that I may walk with you, and know you as my one true deliverance. I ask this in Jesus name, and by His grace, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is inspired by the famous homophonic quip.