Rejecting all that is good – Tuesday, 14th Week in ordinary time – Hosea 8:4-7,11-13
When we compare yesterday’s reading from chapter 2 and today’s reading in chapter eight, we notice a shift in the mood of the prophet Hosea. From restitution Hosea returns to the theme of Israel’s infidelity. The Assyrians are now at the gate (metaphorically speaking) and even now Israel is insincere; they have rejected all that is good and broken God’s covenant.
Once again, Israel (also called Ephraim in Hosea) has her sins stacked up high. Before a detailed charge is brought up against them, a summary of their sins is presented. Israel who has set up rulers and princes against the Lord, and were steeped in idolatry make a claim to ‘know’ God (8:2). The text is so reminiscent of Matthew 7;22-33 where Jesus says “Many will say to me in that day, Lord Lord, have we not prophesied in your names, cast our demons in your name and done wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew your, depart from me, you who are evil.”
So what are the specifics of the charges? We are told that the kings of the northern kingdom ascend the throne but clearly this is not the mind and will of God. This passage refers to the dynastic upheavals of Israel’s declining days. Between the death of Jeroboam II and the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, a matter of some 25 years, there were four separate dynasties on the throne and as many murdered kings. In fact, after Jeroboam II there were five kings in 13 years and three of them took power violently. These kings were certainly not God’s choice! In this there is a lesson to learn; those who follow their own wisdom in the choice of leaders inevitably get what they deserve. We have seen this play out so often in the world. What happens if someone gets into positions in government, someone who acts out like Hitler? Make no mistake, Hitler did not seize powers, he was elected by a democracy. Someone who is power hungry and full of pride seeks not the good of God but wants to become God himself and Israel had perfected this art through its kings.
The second charge is then brought against Ephraim. They make ‘beautiful’ idols out of silver and gold but that which they worship will be the cause of their destruction. Jeroboam I, the first king of the Northern Kingdom had set up golden calves in the shrines of Bethel and Dan and Gilgal and told the people, “ these are your gods”. It is for this reason that God now rejects their sacrifices. The translation of the word ‘rejected’ indicates why they were disregarded; because, we are told, the calf that they offered was ‘stinking’. This may not be literal but metaphorical. God rejects their ‘stinking’ worship and as a punishment, he will ensure that while they sow in the wind of idolatry they will reap in the whirlwind of Assyria. The judgment they receive will be worse than the sin they committed. We know that this came to pass. Samaria was under siege for three years and then taken into exile. Israel was swallowed up and become of no value among the nations. The idolatry of the people, their turning their back to God in favour of idols, lead to the disaster of the Assyrian invasion.
Hosea then brings up the third charge. In their sin and idolatry, Israel also rejected the Word of God. They rejected the words written by the very finger of God and considered the Word of God as though it was strange and unreasonable. The Word of God and the things of the spirit are great things, but are often made to seem like a strange thing. This ‘strangeness’ is nothing but a justification by man when he chooses to deliberately live in sin and idolatry. Suddenly, the word of God becomes strange for people who make these choices. The word of God becomes ‘outdated’ and ‘questionable’. God had great things in store for Israel if they followed his word but his word now seemed to Israel like a ‘strange’ thing. This was not because the word of God was strange but because they chose to be strangers to God. As a consequence, the gifts and sacrifices they brought to God, though they were considered to be precious by human standards are found unacceptable to God because it was an outward show and ceremony.
God is mindful of the guilt of Israel because of their idolatrous practices and recourse to impotent gods. He promises to remember their iniquity and punish their sins. They shall be punished by “returning to Egypt” (verse 14). To go back “to Egypt” was to go back into foreign bondage as was the case before the Exodus. Now the slavery and bondage is under the Assyrian ruler who will carry them off into exile.