************ Sermon on Hosea 5:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 12, 2003
"Attack From the Rear"
I An Approaching Enemy
A "Sound the trumpet ... the horn ... Raise the battle cry ... lead on." Do you know what Hosea is describing? He is describing the preparations for battle.
Everyone understands what Hosea is saying. When the trumpet is blown by the watchmen on the city walls, this means an enemy is approaching. The sound of the trumpet is the command to mobilize. Every able-bodied man and woman has to drop what they are doing and go to their assigned place on the city wall. They have to get ready to resist the attack of the approaching enemy.
The sound of the trumpet is also a warning to the people in the countryside. Without walls and armies they have no defense against the enemy. So they have to leave their farms and homes and find safety behind the thick walls of the city as soon as possible.
In his mind's eye Hosea saw an approaching enemy. In his mind's eye Hosea saw the danger of war. No one else saw trouble coming. Not a single watchman of a single city saw the enemy Hosea saw. But Hosea saw it clearly so he issued orders like a general. As if he were the commander in chief, he called for a general mobilization. He passed the word to all the military bases in Benjamin and Ephraim:
(Hosea 5:8) "Sound the trumpet in Gibeah, the horn in Ramah. Raise the battle cry in Beth Aven; lead on, O Benjamin."
But no one paid any attention. The Israelites went on eating and sleeping and working as if there was no danger to worry about. Here and there some people might have been curious enough to stick their heads out the door, but once they saw who was raising the alarm, they went back to what they were doing. "It is only Hosea," they said to themselves. "He is such a strange bird and always has something alarmist to say. There should be a law against people like him! Why doesn't he mind his own business!?"
B If you remember, Israel or Ephraim had sinned against God. She had been unfaithful. She was as unfaithful to God as Gomer, Hosea's prostituting wife, was unfaithful to him. As punishment Hosea declared the people will be attacked by some plague, some disgusting disease. The fields will yield no more crops so there will be famine. And some horrible invader will come and devour both the people and the fields of Israel in warfare.
Perhaps it was war that will cause the disease and famine. War, disease, and famine always march together. They are the three grim monsters that the prophet now sees approaching Israel.
II Judah Included
A Hosea's ministry was to the kingdom of the ten tribes. That is what is meant by Ephraim throughout his book. Hosea was called by God to speak to Ephraim.
But as today's text shows us, Hosea also has a word for Judah. The prophet mentions Beth Aven – another name for Bethel – which lay in the kingdom of the ten tribes. But he also mentions the cities of Gibeah and Ramah, which are in Judah. Hosea sees the enemy approaching not just Ephraim but also Judah. So the trumpet is to be blown in both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom.
(Hosea 5:8) "Sound the trumpet in Gibeah, the horn in Ramah. Raise the battle cry in Beth Aven; lead on, O Benjamin."
B This is not the first time Hosea concerns himself with Judah. In a previous chapter Hosea warns Judah not to join with Ephraim in sin:
(Hosea 4:15,17) "Though you commit adultery, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. "Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven. And do not swear, 'As surely as the LORD lives!' ... (17) Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!"If you remember, Beth Aven or Bethel is where King Jeroboam set up one of the two golden calves he had made. He wanted the people to worship there rather than at the Temple in Jerusalem.
C In verse 5 of today's passage, Hosea tells us that "Judah also stumbles with them." Judah has fallen into many of the same sins as Israel.
This should not surprise us – that Judah fell into many of the same sins as Israel. After all, Bethel, the center of Ephraim's idolatrous worship, was right by Israel's border with Judah. Therefore it was tempting for the inhabitants of Judah to take a look once in a while at what was going on there. That's why Hosea warned them, "Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven ... Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone" (Hosea 4:15,17).
Apparently the warnings had no effect. The people of Judah paid no attention to Hosea. Ephraim and Judah both joined in the worship and fun at Bethel. Arm in arm they dance around Beth Aven's golden calf.
Now they will also fall together before the enemy's sword.
Here is a reminder that culture and community always impact the people of God. What we need to do is keep watch so we transform culture rather than culture diluting our faith.
III From the Wrong Direction
A There is something strange about the words of Hosea in our text. Something that must have surprised the people of the cities mentioned by Hosea. Hosea saw the armies of the enemy approaching from the wrong direction.
At that time any enemy army that threatened Israel came from the north. There was a great military road that led from Israel to the north and then curved east towards the lands of Babylon and Assyria. It was enemies from the north that posed a threat to the people of God. Everyone agreed that Israel always had to be on guard against attack from the north. That danger was always present. The northern borders always needed brave and strong and vigilant defenders. On the other hand, no one ever thought about Israel's southern borders. After all, there was no danger to be feared from that direction.
Now along comes Hosea and warns Israel about the possibility of an attack from the rear. He orders that the trumpet be blown first in Gibeah, then in Ramah, and finally at Beth Aven.
B Pay careful attention to the order: Gibeah, Raman, Beth Aven. The movement is from south to north. Hosea did not choose this order at random. What the prophet is saying is that the enemy armies will first appear at the gates of Gibeah, and then they will march north to Ramah. After the enemy has occupied Judah and Benjamin, then he will move north into Ephraim and also take Bethel.
If enemy bombers were spotted over Wyoming, then over Nebraska, and finally over Chicago, you would conclude that the attack was coming from the west. In the same way, Hosea's warning leads us to conclude that the enemy attack is coming from the south.
C Do you know what Hosea is saying to the people of Israel and Judah? He is telling them to keep their eyes open to an attack from any direction. He is telling them to consider the possibility of an attack from an unguarded border. Everyone was watching the developments in the north, but the prophet reminds the people not to forget the south. Benjamin was watching what was going on in front of him, but Hosea warns that the danger was behind him. If defenses on one border are solid while some other border is wide open to attack, everything may be lost in the end anyway.
Some of you may remember the Maginot Line. Here is a clear case of what Hosea was talking about.In our text Hosea was telling the people to be prepared for an attack from the rear, from an enemy behind them. He was telling them to be prepared for an attack from an unexpected direction. That's the first lesson Hosea wants to give Israel.
The Maginot Line consisted of a series of bunkers and forts interconnected by rail. The entire complex was either built underground or protected by heavy concrete. Artillery was deployed along its entire length. It was constructed in the 1930s by France on its border with Germany.
During Word War II the Germans knew no attack against the Maginot Line could be successful without an enormous loss of life and equipment. So the German army simply went around the line and entered France through its border with Belgium.
All the time, money and effort spent on the Maginot Line came to nothing. France fell to the Nazis because the Nazis attacked from an unexpected direction.
But there is also another lesson. Notice again the sequence: Gibeah, Ramah, Beth Aven. In his mind's eye, Hosea sees the enemy moving forward gradually but steadily. City after city falls into the hands of the enemy; province after province and state after state is conquered. Thus it happens slowly – not all at once. Yet, before the people are able to figure out just how the enemy has done it, all of Ephraim will be "laid waste."
IV Lessons for the Church
A The same two lessons that Israel needed to learn must also be learned by the church of Jesus Christ.
First, we need to realize that the biggest danger to the church sometimes approaches from a different direction than anyone realizes. We have many watchmen today who keep watch for the enemies of wrong doctrine and heretical teaching and false prophecy. There are many within the church and within this congregation who keep watch to make sure that the pure Gospel is preached, that the sacraments are guarded, that church discipline is exercised. There are many watchmen on Zion's walls who are always on the lookout for these attacks of the enemy. It is good and necessary that there are those within the church who watch for attacks against correct doctrine, biblical teaching, and Gospel preaching. We need to encourage these watchmen to always remain vigilant because our great enemy, Satan, never stops attacking our doctrine, teaching, and prophecy; he never stops attacking our preaching, sacraments, and discipline.
It is beyond dispute that we are on the lookout for the enemy from the north.
But, like the people of Hosea's days, are we forgetting about an enemy who attacks from Gibeah and Ramah and Beth Aven? Do we keep watch for the enemy who attacks us from the rear? Do we watch for an attack of the enemy from another direction?
Who or what is this unseen enemy that attacks from the rear? Who or what is this enemy that attacks from an unexpected direction? For the church of Jesus Christ today, the enemy we often do not see and recognize is worldliness, compromise, and materialism.
The danger always exists that we arm ourselves to the teeth against all possible heresies and false doctrines, while the flesh and the world creep in unnoticed. Take a look at Samson as an example. He kept watch against the Philistines. But he did not guard himself against the woman Delilah; he did not keep watch for the sins and lusts of the flesh that were his eventual undoing.
We have to keep watch against all the attacks of the enemy and not just some of them. It is usually quite easy to shoot down false doctrine and teaching and prophecy. But who among us are willing to condemn a worldly lifestyle? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against what divorce and remarriage are doing to families and children today? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against TV programs and movies and CDs that are immoral and ungodly? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against a greed and selfishness that makes me keep all my money for myself and give little or nothing to the church? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against a lifestyle of too much alcohol and too much food and too much pleasure? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against the few members involved in Bible Study? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against the decline in worship attendance? Who among us are willing to raise the alarm against the moral and spiritual decline of the church?
Sociologist Alan Wolfe recently published a new book, "The Transformation of American Religion," subtitled "How We Actually Live our Faith." He paints a picture of a privatized religion that lacks confidence and is eager to avoid offense. In all of this we see the attack of the enemy, an attack from the rear, an attack from a direction we do not expect.
This toothless evangelicalism, Wolfe says, is the result of market forces and peculiarly American cultural habits. "Christians … have ignored doctrines, reinvented traditions, switched denominations, redefined morality, and translated their obligation to witness into a lifestyle."
Doctrinal ignorance is one feature of American religion that amazes Wolfe most. He cites familiar statistics: 58 percent of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments, and just under half know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible.
Likewise, Wolfe notes the way in which market forces have combined with the ethic of expressive individualism to secularize religion. Savvy pastors take what the unchurched want most and offer a religious path to their desires. A nationally known megachurch pastor from Houston told him, "I take what is worldly and baptize it."
Indeed, the reshaping of the suburban landscape has largely erased truly public spaces for witness and has made it necessary for churches to offer incentives for people to come to them. Some churches have made a serious attempt to reorient themselves against the prevailing cultural winds, but drifting with the current – "practicing the culture" rather than "practicing the faith" – is a constant temptation.
By making religion not only attractive but easy, Wolfe says, we are experiencing "salvation inflation." The reference is to the well-known phenomenon of grade inflation, in which teachers give so many A's that top grades become meaningless. Likewise, as evangelical Christians expect less of people "to achieve salvation, the blessings of salvation are offered with fewer strings attached."
Wolfe points to many features of contemporary American religion: the way in which the desire to get along with others has created an ethic of tolerance and niceness; the way that Bible study has been so personalized as to effectively block its implications for radical social transformation; the way the fear of offending others has reduced most witness to "lifestyle evangelism."
[From Christianity Today, "Walking the Old, Old Talk", October 2003]
We must keep watch for all attacks of the enemy and not just some attacks. That is the first lesson for the church. The enemy is behind you, Benjamin!
B But there is also a second lesson. The enemy often works quietly. He pushes ahead gradually. Just like he doesn't conquer all of Judah and Israel in a day, so he doesn't plan on overthrowing the church in one quick battle. Rather, he moves in slowly, gradually. First one town is taken, and then another: Gibeah, Ramah, Bethel. And in the territory conquered by the enemy we do not see customs and moral standards changing immediately. It is a gradual process. We give in bit by bit and little by little. We conform to the world in one area and then in another and then a third area. Do you know what eventually happens? Eventually, if the alarm is not raised and the if the enemy is not fought, we are conquered; eventually, we not at all different from the ungodly and the unbelieving in the way that we live.
Finally, I want to ask a question: how far has the enemy advanced into territory claimed by Jesus Christ? For that's what we are: we are territory claimed by Jesus. We belong to Him body and soul, in life and in death. We belong to Him not just this evening in worship but every day of every week. We belong to Him and He claims us as His own because He paid the price for us, He bought us with His blood. How far has the enemy advanced into territory claimed by Jesus?
And, how far will the enemy penetrate before we will raise the alarm? How much will he conquer before we try to fight him off?
In Israel the enemy was already past Gibeah before the trumpet was sounded. It was too late. The cry, "Sound the horn in Ramah!" was heard too late. Ramah, too had already fallen. Do we, too, blow the trumpet when it is too late? And, will it do any good?
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