Summary: Hosea apparently interrupts a feast (possibly Passover) in order to say that loyalty and faithfulness are vital to authentic living/worship.
Army and Arena
Text: Hosea 9:1-9
In The 24-Hour Christian, Pastor Earl Palmer warns that people, in general, flock to any proof of power. “Political tyrants always use the army and the arena, the power of the sword and the circus.” (p. 47) This is as true in the church as it is in the political domain. Religious tyrants use the compulsion of uniformity and the confusion of popularity to demand allegiance. Many believers experience the disastrous results of being more concerned about being in line with their denomination or church than in obedience to God while others doubt the legitimacy of their experience with God because they cannot point to large numbers of people with the same experience. Neither is valid in itself.
In today’s text, the northern kingdom (Ephraim = Israel) has bowed to the economic and social sword of Baal worship, as well as the easy success and inveterate sensuality of Baal’s fertility cult. Instead of looking to God for guidance and submitting to God’s will, the Israelites had bought into the false religion of the unbelievers. As a result, the very people who should have known better were caught in the same trap as those who never knew God. They had lost both their joy and their future. Let’s see how the text puts it (again, imposing my translation on you, but encouraging you to read from your favorite translation, as well):
1) Do not rejoice (making a lot of noise), Israel.
Don’t dance seductively (same root as twirling, but usually translated “exult”) like the peoples
Because you have committed adultery against your God;
You have loved for a harlot’s fee upon every threshing floor.
2) A threshing floor and a (wine) press will not feed them
And new wine shall fail them.
3) They shall not dwell in the land of Yahweh.
Ephraim shall return to Egypt
And in Assyria, they shall eat trafe.
4) They shall not pour out wine to Yahweh
And their sacrifices shall not come near to Him.
Like bread for mourners for them, all they eat shall contaminate them
Because their bread is for their sustenance (literally, their “being”).
They do not come to the house of Yahweh.
5) What will you do for the festival day and for the feast of Yahweh?
6) Because, behold, they go from destruction.
Egypt gathers them, Memphis buries them.
The most cherished of their silver (usually associated with idols in Hosea) are dispossessed
by nettles and thorns are in their tents.
7) The days of the visitation (with punishment) have come.
The days of punishment have come. Israel knows it.
The prophet is stupefied.
The man of the spirit is driven crazy
because your iniquity is so great
and your hostility is so prevalent (also highly multiplied).
8) The prophet is a watchman over Ephraim with God.
A trap is set along all his paths,
hostility in the house of his God.
9) They make deep their apostasy
as in the days of Gibeah.
He remembers their iniquity.
He visits judgment upon their sins.
So, I look at this text and what do I see? I see lots of words about worship: rejoicing, dancing (exulting), eating unholy food (trafe), pouring out wine (libation offering), offering sacrifices, abstaining from bread in morning, not going to the House of God, and celebrating feast days. But as I read it, I see a problem. I see accusations of spiritual adultery, a revocation of the privilege of living in the land of promise, predictions of eating non-kosher food (because they will be in captivity), they aren’t following proper mourning ritual, they aren’t worshipping regularly, and they aren’t prepared for holy days.
In fact, it looks to me like Hosea preached this sermon right in the middle of one of Israel’s traditional feasts. It looks to me like he’s saying that there isn’t any sense in worshipping because they’ve already violated God’s commandments in so many other areas. It looks like he’s saying that God has left them to the false gods that they chose instead of God Almighty.
As I prepared to share from this passage, I saw something interesting by a professor of Old Testament in Australia, Frances Anderson. He does a lot of syllable counting in his study and he broke down the first seven verses of this chapter as follows:
Hosea 9:1-3 = 69 syllables
Hosea 9:4-5 = 56 syllables
Hosea 9: 6-7a = 55 syllables
Hosea 9:7b-9 = 69 syllables
This was so regular that it caught my attention. I wondered if each one of these sections had a purpose. As I read the text again, it jumped out at me. The first three verses are God’s judgment against Israel. Verses 4-5 explain why Israel is being judged. Verse 6 and the first part of verse 7 show the results of Israel’s invalid worship. Then, the last part of verse 7 and verses 8-9 emphasize God’s verdict in even stronger language. Whenever I see a Bible passage begin with an idea and close with a stronger statement of the same idea, I’ve noticed that the key message tends to be in the middle. We like to call it a “theological sandwich” because the meat is in the middle. So, let’s look at the sandwich.