In Hosea chapter 7, God’s frustration with his people builds and he gives four similes for how Israel has been unfaithful. They are like an over-heated oven, a half-baked cake, a silly dove, and a treacherous bow. God goes into poetic detail about how his people had not only failed in their covenant with him because of their evil passions and foolishness, but had consequently become his enemy.
“When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria, for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery.”Hosea 7:1-3
Israel progressed in their wickedness, unaware of the enemy they were making. Pleasing the world made them forget to please their God. The world may have approved of their sins but in reality God had ample evidence against them for their deeds and remembered them all for their future judgement.
“They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me.”Hosea 7:4-7
The first of the four similes used in this chapter is that Israel is like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire. Their hearts burn with a quiet and suppressed passion for evil. God compares this passion to anger that smolders until it violently erupts like a blazing fire. V. 7 gives us some insight on the passions of Israel; their fallen kings and devoured rulers may refer to the six previous kings who had been assassinated. Israel’s lust for political control had been leading them to their own demise.
“Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this.“Hosea 7:8-10
Here God compares Israel to a cake not turned. They had become an impure people after mixing themselves with foreign nations. Their acceptance of foreign gods and religion made them like an unturned cake; half-baked and apathetic. They were like a bride with a wandering eye, not fully committed to her love. The gray hairs (likely imagery of mold growing on a cake) sprinkled upon them was a sign that they were no longer acceptable to God.
“Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.“Hosea 7:11-13
Israel is described as a silly dove who foolishly flits from nation to nation. They willingly submitted themselves to former enemies, without realizing the consequences or repercussions. But God is not merely an opposing nation that they would war with. To God, they were as easily subdued as prey was to a predator and he would discipline them for their rebellion and arrogance.
“They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.“Hosea 7:14-16
The Israelites were fully responsible for their treachery and had proved time and again that their passion was to serve and satisfy themselves and they would go through any means to achieve this. Their pride and lust led them to rebel against God and chase after enemies as they would a lover. And in their time of need they cry out, but not to God. To God, they had become enemies. In the last simile, God says that they are like a treacherous bow. Their aim is directed at God and God sets his bow to aim right back at them, similar fashion to a husband and wife in a divorce trial standoff. The upper hand in this battle is obvious, but the outcome is not.
God uses the story of Hosea not to show how his people deserved his mercy, but just how much they did not. Hosea rescued his unfaithful bride with undeserving reconciliation. He put his bow down to receive her into his arms. But this metaphor does not completely work with how we nor Israel are reconciled to God. Hosea receives his bride out of obedience and not because he was in any position to atone for her sin, for he considered himself among those who needed to repent. So, how do we escape the bow that is deservingly aimed toward us? Do we lower our own in humility to be considered acceptable? What we so often forget is how much we are like the Israelites. We burn with yearning passion for things other than God, we are half-baked, silly doves and it is impossible to humble ourselves before God. Because of this, God in his mercy and love instead aims the bow in his own direction. Jesus Christ took on the treacherous bow for our sake and became an enemy in our stead so that we could be reconciled. And through him we can do what God wants from us, what he cries out for the Israelites to do in Hosea: to call upon him, to seek him, to be redeemed by him, and to cry to from the heart as we return to him.