In Hosea chapter 8, God lays out Israel’s hypocrisy and the irony of the consequences of their actions. They have spurned God, rejecting his love and provision, only to turn to flimsy replacements. They had turned to their own enemies and so God warns that he will spurn their idols and sacrifices.
“Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. To me they cry, “My God, we—Israel—know you.” Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him. They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.”Hosea 8:1-4
Verse 1 begins with a warning similar to the one in Hosea 5. The blowing of a trumpet was used to warn of coming invaders and enemies. In lieu of their rejection of God, the Israelites would be overtaken by their political enemies (possibly referring to Assyria) in addition to becoming enemies of God himself. Enemy invaders will come like a vulture to devour a weakened and pitiful people. They rebelled against the law of God and transgressed the covenant, hypocritically crying out that they knew him. But they had spurned the good, and would reap what they have sown.
“I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.”Hosea 8:5-6
Samaria is a reference to the capital of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. God says that he has spurned their calf, a comparison to the calf-idol made by Aaron in Exodus 32:1-4. Israel’s idolatry is not a new occurrence. His people have alway gone back to their ways of rejecting him for feeble idols. But God will spurn them in response of their spurning of him.
“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers.Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.”Hosea 8:7-10
Israel had made their bed and would eventually lie in it. The Hebrew word for wind used in this verse is the same used in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon reflects on the vanity of his self-indulgence and toil. He says that all was vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11). This Hebrew word (Ruah) often means a lack of substance, vanity, or emptiness in other contexts that refer to its meaning as wind. In some contexts it also means breath or spirit. The Israelites sowed themselves in a vain and meaningless way. Consequently, they would reap something worse than what they had originally sown. The word used for whirlwind simply meant storm or tempest. Their vain sowing inflicted a raging storm upon themselves. Their enemies (whom they trusted in rather than God) would devour them, ravaging their lands and leaving nothing behind.
“Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and eat it, but the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.”Hosea 8:11-14
Israel had tainted the very means by which God provided to them for the atonement of their sins. In his mercy he gave them altars for sacrifice, for his people would not even be able to fathom his holiness let alone attain it for themselves. But they had turned those altars into altars for sinning, unacceptable to the Lord. God judges them and will so punish them for transgressing the covenant and not even the strongholds of the city would be able to protect them from his wrath.
These verses reveal that God is all holy, just, and powerful. It also gives us a great display of his love and mercy. His language as he chastises the Israelites is consistent to the mercy that he has always shown them as his covenant people and also foreshadows the display of love and mercy he shows the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In verse 1 he says that the Israelites have transgressed the covenant, not annulled it, which tells us that even in their sin, he still intended to keep his end of the covenant. Despite their faithlessness, despite their idolatry and blatant rejection of his law and love, he will show mercy.
We are like the Israelites in that we are never acceptable to God on our own. In our failure to keep every commandment perfectly, we become tainted and unworthy, ultimately rejecting God. Those who reject God are in turn rejected by God. But Jesus became rejected for us, though he was perfectly righteous, so that we would be accepted into God’s covenant. Like Abraham, only faith will be counted as righteousness to those who believe in him who raised Jesus from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).