When God Is Your Enemy

When God Is Your Enemy

As we open our texts to Hosea 13 this morning, I thought it might be helpful to review a bit of the historical context for today’s message.  If you look at a timeline of history for the entire Old Testament, you notice that God created the world and Adam and Eve somewhere around 4000 BC.  Approximately 2000 years later we meet Abraham and learn of God’s plan for His chosen people.  1000 years later we see David being anointed as King over Israel, as a forerunner to the perfect Jesus Christ who isn’t born until the year 3 or 4 B.C.

Historically, our present study of the Minor prophets focuses on this time between King David and the birth of Jesus Christ.

In 931 BC the kingdom is divided into 10 northern tribes called Israel, and 2 southern tribes called Judah.  Judah is led by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, but the 10 northern tribes are led by Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim.  Once the Davidic Kingdom is divided, idolatry begins to run its full course through God’s beloved people.  It is just a matter of time before God’s judgment comes. In 722 BC God uses the Assyrians execute His judgment on the northern tribes of Israel and take them away into captivity.  In 586 BC God exercises judgment upon the southern tribes of Judah and causes them to be carried away into Babylonian captivity.

So the ministry of all the minor prophets occurs in this time period after the Kingdom divides, and before the 400 years of prophetic silence prior to Jesus’ birth.

So why is this significant for our study of Hosea?  Because Hosea is writing to the children of Israel (northern tribes) in the years immediately before the Assyrian invasion and captivity.  Hosea is warning the people that Assyria is coming!  Judgment is coming!  They must heed the warning and turn and repent, lest they be consumed by God’s relentless anger.

Now please remember, in this study the husband Hosea (representing God) is married to an unfaithful woman named Gomer (representing Israel).

Gomer is continually unfaithful and adulterous in her multitude of lovers.  But God–through the prophet Hosea—repeatedly demonstrates His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and faithful love.  So it’s no surprise that even the name of this book means “Salvation.”

Our God is a God of faithful love to an unfaithful people.  So if you’ve dragged yourself here this morning despairing of your failures and your broken promises to God – there’s hope!   God has died in your place so that you can live in Him!  Today is a day for faith and repentance – you can be freed from your idols and find all that your soul is seeking in the finished work of Jesus Christ!

But listen to the strong warning from God to His people at the end of chapter 12:

12:14 But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked the Lord, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins. (New Living Translation)

Hosea 13 pulls back the curtains on the relentless judgment of God upon all who sin.  God’s character is everlastingly the same – long-suffering, merciful, abounding in grace and goodness to all – but He will never declare the guilty innocent.  He is a Holy God – a God who is righteous and executes perfect justice against all sin.

This is a lesson we must learn. People like to white-wash God and make Him wimpy.  But God actually has enemies!  And God will destroy everyone who rejects His love.  Our God hates sin.  Our God has created hell as an everlasting place of torment for His enemies.  Our God deserves worship, and is jealously angry when He is rejected for other-so-called-gods.  We must take such a holy and awesome God seriously.  Because, If God is not your Savior, He is your destroyer.

Look with me at Hosea 13:1,

When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died.

 Remember Ephraim was the lead tribe of Israel in the north.  It was the tribe of the Kings.  It was highly regarded for its power and influence within the kingdom.  But instead of using this influence and power as a force for God’s order and witness to the world, Ephraim led the country into idolatry.  Yes, the people who had been supernaturally rescued from slavery in Egypt were now worshipping idols.  Statues of wood, stone, and precious metals.  Substitute gods like Baal – the male fertility god of the Canaanites.

But verse 1 sounds the warning!  Baal worship – though it promises prosperity and life – only results in guilt and death!

If you are taking notes this morning, this is our first truth we must acknowledge today.  Your idols cannot deliver you (1-3)  Your idols will not be able to save you from the coming hatred of God against your sin!

This morning we must examine the idols that we are tempted to worship.  For most of us, it’s probably not a male fertility god named Baal.  No, in reality, “An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.” “Idols cause us to ignore the true God in search of what we think we need.” So for example, if you’re willing to cheat or ‘cut corners’ in your business, or taxes, then your love for money has become an idol for you.  If you’re willing to excuse biblical priorities and give all of your life’s energy to your work or your hobby, then you are bowing down before the idol of Success or Pleasure.  Idols truly come in all shapes and sizes, and are often heavily disguised.

The single person who compromises what she knows is God’s best just so she can finally get married… has made marriage an idol, believing that marriage will finally make her happy.  The parent who idolizes his child places his own identity in the performance or the reciprocal love of his child.  But children – like all other idols – cannot provide all that you need from the One and True God.

Pastor Bigney explains, “Sin is what we do when we are chasing after something other than God, namely, one of your idols.”  So what is your idol of choice? Where do you run for refuge, help, or comfort instead of to God?  What do you want so badly, that you’re willing to sin to get it?  What do you want so much that you’re willing to sin if you think you’re going to lose it?

These questions are worth thinking deeply about for each of us.  If God alone is not your Savior, then God will be your destroyer.  And your idols cannot deliver you.  What false God are you most tempted to live for?  Write it down on your notes page when you think of it.  You can just write the first letter of the word, for privacy sake.  But write it down.  Take the time right now to identify your Baal.  What do you worship?  What are you constantly making sacrifices for? Louie Giglio encourages us to, “Follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty.  At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whomever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you.  On that throne is what you worship.”[1]

Have you identified any idols in your life?  Have you written it down?  Good.  Now, please understand from verse 1 of Hosea 13,

Your idols escort you to death (1)

The wages of sin is death.  Living for self brings death.  Self-centered living results in death.  Idolatry is a bad-investment.

Idols promise life and prosperity, but will never satisfy you in the end. Israel was proud and exalted – or so they thought of themselves.  They were culturally sophisticated.  They were respected as movers and shakers.  But they were walking corpses.  Spiritually dead.

Brothers and sisters – the moment you look to anything or anyone outside of God to give you what you need from God – you die.  Spiritual death is not seen on the outside right away – but the inward rot begins the moment we forget God and begin to worship what is not God.  This inward death spreads like a cancer through our character until all of our life is infected with perversion and ruin.

And do you understand the tragedy of idolatry?  Your idols come to nothing (2-3) in the end.  The only lasting effect of idol worship is multiplied dissatisfaction.

Look at verse 2 – Now they sin more and more.  Not content with the worship of the Canaanite’s Baal, they add new superstitions and new rules of self-made worship to their portfolio of “Things that can satisfy me and make me happy.”

And notice the complete stupidity of idolatry that is referenced at the end of verse 2 –

They make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen.  This is their own man-made system of worship, and yet they believe it somehow has supernatural power in their lives!!  It’s ironic… they are the very ones who created the idols, and yet now they live as if that created idol has power over them.

Foolish isn’t it?  Until we realize that we often do the same thing in the name of religion.  Have you ever made up some rules for your own self-improvement, and then slavishly committed yourself to living under the authority of your own rules so that you could finally be “good enough”?  Self-imposed regulations aimed to better ourselves is idol worship to the “God of Self-improvement,” or the “God of Let’s Try Harder.”  Such proud idolatry aims to keep all of our own little religious rules, betraying that the source of our confidence is actually in our obedience and rule-keeping, rather than in Christ’s finished work on our behalf!

Colossians 2 condemns such false worship for the believer in Christ:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

The end of verse 2 in Hosea 13 graphically demonstrates how foolish idol worship is.  The ESV translation makes it sound like they were performing human sacrifice to Baal… and indeed there were times in Israel’s history when such horrific evils were done by them.  But here it is probably best to translate the Hebrew text as, To these they are saying, “Sacrifice! Humans kiss calves. Or the men who sacrifice kiss calves.

The point is this – idol worship makes your life more and more debased, evil, and absurd.  Grown men kneeling down to kiss a calf statue – and thinking somehow they were spiritually better than others for doing so!  What foolishness our pride is willing to embrace in our own attempt at self-atonement or self-improvement.

Are you living on substitutes this morning?  Is your peace found in keeping rules to some self-made god?  I remember early in my Christian walk I actually believed that I was more spiritual than other Christians because of how I dressed or how I abstained from certain public events.  But that is just plain idolatry.  Our sinful hearts are quick to manufacture such superficial and external objects of worship, aren’t they?  We are often self-justified in our idolatry.  But idol worship comes to nothing in the end.  Look at verse 3:

Therefore they [idols and all their proclaimed goodness] shall be like the morning mist, or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor, or like smoke from a window [or chimney].

For those of you who wear glasses, let’s have a demonstration.  Take your glasses off and fog them over with your breath. Do you see it?  That’s how long the goodness of idolatry lasts, before it is gone!

Sin and all its pleasures are short-lived! Idols and all their benefits vanish at the first sunbeam of holy judgment!  Sure and swift is the destruction that falls upon one who trusts in a false God.  Your idols cannot deliver you!  If God is not your Savior, He will destroy you, and great will be your fall, because…

Your sin ignites the unstoppable anger of God (4-8)

God’s rage against sin never relents.  Once excited, God’s anger must express itself in full vent against our sin.  The doctrine of the anger of God is not often talked about, but it’s something we must appreciate.  I find it interesting that in God’s love letter to us, God speaks of His anger, fury, and wrath even more than His love and grace.  God’s anger is real.   God’s anger destroys.  God’s anger is not petty or light.  God’s anger is only satisfied in righteous judgment.

God’s anger is rooted in His holiness.  God’s wrath is revealed from heaven as one of the many perfections of God (Rom 1:18).  Because the God of the Bible is the only true God, He only is worthy of worship and adoration.  All other worship is an offense against His worth and His word.  A holy God must hate sin, and punish all evil with justice.  It’s no wonder that our good and holy God is so angry when sinners pervert His gifts and worship the gifts more than the Giver!

We must never forget.

God is a consuming fire (4-6)

He is not to be minimized or forgotten.  God is jealous.

Look with me at verses 4-5:

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;

Underline the word know in verse 4, and knew in verse 5.  God is using intimate language here – like Adam knew Eve, and she conceived, and bore a son (Gen 4:1).  God is using marriage language.  In other words, God is reminding Israel of the fact that He redeemed them from slavery, and Himself became their husband!  He’s using words here very similar to the start of the 10 Commandments – reminding Israel that He is in covenant love relationship with them, and they should worship no other gods but Him!  It was God’s faithful provision that carried them through the hard times of the wilderness.  Israel is God’s own possession by right of His redemption.

But notice the tragic response of God’s bride in verse 6.

but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.

Can you sense the burning anger welling up in our holy God?  Who gave the people manna?  Who sent the clouds of quail?  Who gave the Israelites water from a rock?  Who brought them safe and sound into the promised land flowing with milk and honey?  It was none but God alone who did such wonders!  But what was the people’s response to such abundance?  Proud hearts.  Forgetful hearts.  Idolatrous hearts.

Dear believer, every time we sin, we forget the goodness and grace of God to us.  Yelling at the kids in anger.  Twisting the truth so as to not look bad in front of others at church.  Seeking escape from the pain through the substance, or the alcohol, or the TV.  Putting our confidence and hope on internal laws of self-righteousness that tell us we are better than others, and finally good enough.

Every sin betrays a gospel-amnesia, believing that we need something besides God Himself to truly satisfy us.

Instead of thanking God for His abundant goodness the Israelites became earthly-minded.  Their hearts became exalted – thinking that they somehow deserved such wealth, and were better than others who didn’t have what they did.  Their pride was rooted in ingratitude, and led to a self-reliance that forgot about God altogether.

Brothers and sisters, I believe we need to ponder carefully verse 6.  We are a rich people.  We, like the Israelites, are twice full in our prosperity.

In many ways we are spiritually fat. Are we puffed up with pride?  Though we may forget God, He does not forget us.  God’s rage is swelling against all false worship!  You can run, but you cannot hide.  Our God is a consuming fire, and all false worship will be punished!  God will not prosper us just so that we can offer sacrifices and thanksgiving to idols!  His goodness demands a response to such evil.

This is why the prophet Jonah exclaims from the belly of the great fish,

Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.(NET)

Worldly prosperity lulls our hearts to sleep. But all that glitters is not gold.  It is possible to gain the whole world, and lose your very soul.  If your riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.  For when you do, you will become headstrong and unsubmissive to God.  You will satisfy yourself with this world’s comforts and wealth, and think you need nothing more.

The prophet Hosea is warning us this morning.  Wake up to the reality of holy fury! (7-8)

How angry is God at sin?

In verses 7-8 God describes himself as four different angry beasts who are unstoppable in their furious anger.  God says He Himself is the lion, the leopard, the bear, and the wild beast.  Israel is going to have to face an angry God – and the fury and rage of such a God will be unthinkable in its reality.

The verses here are jolting.  God is the destroyer of the wicked.  Yes He will use the gentile nation of Assyria to execute His judgment, but it is God Himself who is on the attack through this warring nation.  The One who was the Shepherd for the sheep, has become the sheep’s greatest enemy!

This is the fate for those who fall asleep in their self-reliant forgetfulness of God!

Dear friends, if God is not your Savior, He is your destroyer.   Your sin ignites the unstoppable anger of God.  And your idols – no matter what sweet promises they whisper into your ears today – cannot deliver you from such holy fury!

In fact, the reality of God’s Gospel is that

Nothing but God can save you from God (9-16)

Putting your eternal hope in the hands of an idol is like building your house out of sand right next to the ocean.  Don’t seek security in what cannot save.

All other ‘helpers’ will fail (9-11)

Why does God destroy Israel? Verse 9 answers this question.

He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper.

The “he” at the start of verse 9 personifies God’s anger and judgment.   If you refuse to cry out to God for help, you will be destroyed by Him!

Isn’t it crazy how our pride can convince us that it’s bad to ask for help?  I am strong enough and smart enough to figure this out on my own.  I refuse to acknowledge my weakness or inadequacy by accepting help.

I remember the day a cable broke on our push mower.  Now I immediately knew that if I called my dad, he would be able to help me.  But I had access to Google.  I didn’t need to ask dad for help, right?

Well I did my internet research.  Found a parts manual…very carefully made sure I was ordering the right part, and quite smugly I must admit ordered the part online and announced to my wife that I was well on my way to fixing something mechanical for the first time in my life!

I should have known.  When it finally came I discovered I had ordered the wrong part!  I humbled myself (with some strong encouragement from my wife) and called my dad.  And you know it… dad fixed the mower in 20 minutes, without even needing any extra parts!!

It was my pride that kept me from going to my dad for help.  And friends, it is our pride and self-complacency that convinces us not to run to God our helper, whenever we need anything in life!  Our prosperity lulls us to a self-deceived slumber that causes us to believe we are much stronger and safer than we really are.

Instead of running to God for help, Israel ran to earthly kings.  The prophet Hosea mocks the people with this truth in verses 10-11, knowing full well that during his own ministry to Israel the northern kingdom had 6 different unfit kings!  Israel was experiencing a leadership crisis…king following king in rapid succession, often due to assassinations, and yet the nation would not turn to God for protection and direction.

What ruling idol is on the throne of your heart?  Is your own life experiencing a leadership crisis as well?  “Where now is your king, who promised to save you” Hear the taunting of the prophet and awaken to the reality that all other helpers will fail.  Nothing but God can save you from God.

This is true because God knows all our sins.  And Every sin must be judged and paid for (12-16)

Verse 12 makes it clear.  The record of Israel’s sins has been well-documented and safely preserved for the day of judgment.  It’s bound up in the records so to speak.  Don’t think that God is somehow lenient towards you and that He will not judge every one of your sins.  Just because you can get away with forgetting God and minimizing Him in your life now doesn’t mean that pay-day isn’t still coming.  Every sin excites the anger of God, and every sin must be judged and paid for.

It’s not that God doesn’t want to save Israel.  But it’s that Israel refuses to repent and turn from their idols to serve the true and living God!  God could have saved Israel.  But they trusted in their idols.  They trusted in their wealth.  They trusted in their kings.

Verse 13 helps us see how unnatural and wrong such stubbornness is.  It’s like the child who breeches himself in the birth canal of his mother, and refuses to be born.  Rejecting God’s salvation is so unnatural.  Such proud rejection of God and His help is suicidal.

Verse 14 begins with two questions that assume a negative answer:

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol [grave]? [NO.] Shall I redeem them from Death? [NO.]

Every sin must be judged and paid for, and rejecting God’s help only results in us facing the wrath and anger of God for all of eternity.

And so the prophet uses the next two questions to summon death and unleash its terrors upon the unrepentant and idolatrous people:

O Death, where are your plagues? 

Plagues are the means of the coming death…in this case the Assyrian army.

O Sheol[grave], where is your sting? 

The sting refers to the fears and terrors of such a gruesome death.

Now it’s worth noting here that the apostle Paul quotes the last two questions of Hosea 13:14 in 1 Corinthians 15:55.  In that context, Paul applies these verses in a very positive light declaring the glories of the believer’s victory in death due to Christ’s resurrection .  In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses Hosea’s well-known words to taunt death with its inability to torture those who are in Christ.  However in the context of Hosea itself, the negative understanding and warning of Hosea’s words seem most justified.  Hosea is calling for the swift arrival of just destruction and judgment.

As long as the idols are worshipped by the people, God’s favor and mercy will not be extended.  Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Every sin must be judged and paid for.

Verse 15 and 16 bring a terrifying conclusion to God’s prophetic judgment against Israel’s sin.  In verse 15, the best translations read “Although Israel may flourish or thrive among the reeds.”  This is another allusion to Israel’s comfortable posture in her wealth …and yet the east wind of Assyria is coming.

The sandstorm of God’s wrath was coming to completely exterminate the people in their pride.  All life will cease under God’s judgment.  Instead of saving them from their enemies, God will now open the way for the Assyrians to take their land, enslave the people into harsh bondage, and lose everything that they had previously thought so valuable.

Samaria was the capital city of Ephraim – the city of the kings in Northern Isreal.  And she shall bear her guilt.  Why such harsh judgment?

Verse 16 is clear:  because she has rebelled against her God.

The end of rebellion is horrific and sickening.  And so the prophet warns Israel. And he warns us.  Though they think their worship of Baal will bring peace, prosperity, and children… such false worship only angers God and brings an angry death to all mothers and children.  These unspeakable horrors are sprinkled throughout the minor prophets to awaken the nation to their foolish ruin.

But they have become so drunk on their idols, they no longer can see the salvation that is available to them.  They run headlong into judgment just like a buck deer throws all caution to the wind in the middle of his rut!

The last chapter of the book of Hosea concludes with a final offer of healing and restoration, but such salvation will only come when Israel repents.  The prophet’s warning to the nation is nearly complete.

The adulterous wife with her adulterous children will be judged.  And nothing but God Himself can save them from God.

Dear friends, this is why Jesus is our only hope!

Jesus Christ is God.  He is the very son of God who was sent to this earth to be born of a virgin around 3 or 4 B.C.  He lived a perfect life as a perfect human being.  He kept the 1st and 2nd great commandments and fulfilled the law of God’s love perfectly. It was all part of God’s plan.  God loved the world. But the world was lost and dead in sin and idolatry.  And all the proud lies and perversion in the hearts of every person ever born must be judged.  God’s unstoppable anger must be given full vent.  The consuming fire of the Holy God of Israel will burn hot in His jealous love.

And so God sent Himself in the person of Jesus Christ to substitute into our place.  Do you remember Jesus’ trembling agony in the garden of the olive press?  Matt 26:39,

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The cup that Jesus was fearful of was the cup of God’s wrath. Psalm 75:8

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

When Jesus voluntarily submitted Himself to death on that first Easter weekend, He was voluntarily standing between God’s anger and our sin…and fully absorbing all of God’s hatred and wrath so that in Christ we could be welcomed, accepted, and loved!  Jesus drank the cup of God’s anger completely, so that all that is left for those of us who believe in Christ is love, joy, and peace!!

Dear friend … please don’t miss the wonder of such a great salvation!  Nothing but God can save you from God…but that’s in fact what Jesus is offering you today!  You can stop the self-improvement and self-regulation projects.  You can stop asking man-made idols and opinions to give you an acceptable identity.  You can stop seeking peace, acceptance, love, and joy in all the wrong places.  Jesus has come.  He’s purchased your redemption.  He’s invited you into covenant-faithful love.  The work has been finished.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus lives now as your mediator so that you can truly intimately know God Himself, and be welcomed into His eternal embrace.

Do you believe that this is true?  Do you know the full sufficiency of Jesus Christ?  There is no salvation in any other.  And if God is not your Savior, you must know that He will be your destroyer.

Identify your idols and turn from their deceptive lies.  Read through the book of Galatians this week and glory in the power of the cross!  There is salvation in Jesus’ Name.  Humble yourself and cry out to Him for help.  He will save you.  Come to him, and receive joyful refuge from the wrath that is to come.

Let us Pray.

[1] Louie Giglio & Stuart Hall, WIRED: For a Life of Worship Leader’s Guide.