Hosea 1Take your Bibles and open with me this week to Hosea chapter 12. Once you find Hosea 12, we are actually going to go back one verse and start with Hosea 11:12 today. The chapter break is unfortunate here, and of course the chapter and verse numbers were first added in the mid-1550s, but here, this chapter creak between Hosea 11:12 and 12:1 actually interrupts a thought. So these two verses need to be looked at together and they will give us our first point this week in this message titled “God’s Anger Provoked.”

The first point from these two verses demonstrate for us the Violence and Vanity of Israel. Hosea says, “11:12 Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah still walks with God, even with the Holy One who is faithful. 12:1 Ephraim feeds on the wind, and pursues the east wind; he daily increases lies and desolation. Also they make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried to Egypt.”

God begins here to describe why He is angry with Israel, identified again as Ephraim, the name of the largest tribe. He is telling the nation how they have provoked Him to judge them for their sin. Time is about to be cut off – time for mercy, time for repentance, time for restoration – time has run out. So He begins, “Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit;” and here we see God’s response to the actions of Israel as they come before Him and claim to repent and claim to want restoration, but they are lying. They are not telling the truth. They claim to worship Him and yet bow down before golden calves and other idols. So this claim to faithfulness is demonstrably false – they are not worshipping God as He requires or has instructed them. And let’s be clear, if we are worshipping God according to what we want instead of what He wants, then we are not worshipping God at all, we are in reality worshipping ourselves and bowing to our own wants and wishes.

Another way to see and understand this is to realize that the people had put golden calves and Asheroth Poles, and altars to Baal and Molech all together in the same vicinity so that they had a buffet line for worship and sacrifice. But God says clearly in His Word in Exodus 20, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” And remember that Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24)

The people we are told encircle God with deceitful demands and we understand that they are not simply lying to Him about worship and dedication and consecration. The words here also lend themselves to a connotation of manipulation. This also means then that the people are not merely claiming to worship God while they worship idols instead, but even more than that, they lie to God to try and deceive Him and manipulate Him into thinking that they are sincere. The people have the gall, the nerve, to believe that they can lie to God and He will not know the truth.

This is the manipulation – the people think if they give God a sacrifice then He will give them relief from judgment. This reveals a self-serving motive. They do not want to worship and exalt God and declare His glory and goodness. No, they want to get something from Him and think they can manipulate Him through acts of worship to get what they want.

By comparison we read about Judah, “but Judah still walks with God, even with the Holy One who is faithful.” Now Judah was also being warned by the prophets but they had experienced several times of revival and restoration. They were still straying but had not gone as far yet as Israel had gone. And Israel was going to be held up as an example to Judah – an example that eventually they would ignore and as a result also be taken into captivity and given over to a time of judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. However, we know that their judgment was not as harsh as what happened to Israel. And we see why, because at times Judah repents and returns and has revival. But Israel never stops in their descent into wickedness.

Judah had several godly kings who did what was pleasing before the Lord. Israel had no righteous kings. Every king who reigned in the northern kingdom is said specifically to have done evil in God’s sight except one. Jehu was that one but even then he was not a righteous king. He removed the worship of Baal from the land, but only did so in an attempt to rid the land of the influence of Ahab, whose wife Jezebel was the daughter of a high priest of Baal. Otherwise the Bible says of him that he “took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel.” (2 Kings 10:31).

Interesting facts about the split of the nation. Of course we know about God’s warnings to David and Solomon, and we know that Solomon chased after having many, many wives and concubines, and as He disobeyed God, he fell into the sins God had warned about, being lured away by his many wives into idolatry. But do you know what was at the heart of the split between north and south in Israel? It was taxes. In order to continue to expand the kingdom, Solomon raised taxes on the tribes in the north. He believed that the rich should pay more, but the 10 tribes to the north disagreed. And when Solomon’s son Rehoboam came to the throne he wanted to prove how serious a king he was, like his father, so he raised taxes again. And civil war broke out and the kingdom split.

Even then, the prophets warned both Israel to the north and Judah to the south that idolatry and disobedience was going to lead to judgment, but the people rarely listened.

At this time then Israel is on the brink of destruction while Judah is making some attempts to walk with God. And just as the prophets often told Judah to look at the judgment of Israel as a warning, here Hosea tells Israel to look at Judah as an example.

We will see further on in our text that the prophet will warn Judah also, as they were about to fall back into unfaithfulness and idolatry. Both nations walked the same path, rejecting and rebelling against God, refusing to heed the prophets, and embracing idolatry and unfaithfulness. And both ended up in captivity. Israel to Assyria in 722 BC and Judah to Babylon in 586 BC.

Hosea 12:1 then tells us about the last few things that Israel was doing before they were going to fall into judgment. “Ephraim feeds on the wind, and pursues the east wind; he daily increases lies and desolation. Also they make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried to Egypt.” Ephraim, he says, feeds on the wind. This is a reference to pursuing vanity. They are chasing something that cannot be caught. They are chasing futility – things that don’t matter and that can’t save them!

Israel then we see is feeding on, trying to nourish themselves with violence and vanity. They are being deceitful, manipulative, violent, and vain. And all this in the name of trying to get from God what they want. They are motivated to serve God (although not according to His Word) in order that they might serve themselves. It says that the nation increases desolation – that is they do what they do to their own hurt and yet wonder why they hurt!

In the middle of this Israel recognized that they were caught between two world powers – between Assyria and Egypt. They expected Assyria to come out on top, so they tried to make treaties with them and secure a relationship with them to keep themselves safe. They thought they could appease Assyria. But also at the same time they believed there was a chance that Egypt could save them from Assyria and so they played both sides. They made a covenant with Assyria, a treaty. And they sent goods, oil, valuables to Egypt.

Do you see the problem here? Assyria believes that Israel is sending support to Egypt and Egypt thinks Israel is giving support to Assyria. Egypt and Assyria are about to fight over control for the entire region, and either way, whoever wins, Israel is going to be a casualty.

Notice by the way, they were doing politically the same thing that they were doing religiously. They were playing the gods against each other trying to serve as many gods as possible, including the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thinking that this would keep them safe, covered, and provided for, as whichever god turned out to be the true god would view them favorably. They failed to understand one crucial phrase given in the Ten Commandments. “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:5). God was not going to share His glory with an idol.

Hosea wants to remind the people about the struggle that the nation has endured. He wants to call them back to the start of it all. He wants them to reminisce. Perhaps if they remember from whence they have come then they will see where they need to be going.