************ Sermon on Hosea 10 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 22, 2005

Hosea 10
"Three Sins and Three Judgments"

Hosea 10 is made up of three parts. Each part begins by pointing to a particular sin and ends by announcing a judgment. So, this evening we will look at "Three Sins and Three Judgments." Actually, as we will discover, it is really three variations of the same sin and it is really three variations of the same judgment. The three parts are verses 1-8, 9-10, and 11-15.

I The Love of Altars
A In God's first proclamation of judgment we hear a very familiar statement:
(Hosea 10:8) Then they will say to the mountains, "Cover us!" and to the hills, "Fall on us!"
Remember how Jesus said the unrepentant will voice something very similar when Jerusalem is destroyed (Lk 23:30)? The Apostle John heard the same heart-rending cries on Patmos when he had his vision of the final judgment (Revelation 6:15-17).

It is clear from Scripture that this cry, this plea, this prayer goes unanswered. Try as they may like, the wicked cannot hide or escape from the judgment of God.

What sin and what judgment leads to such a cry? We need to know so we can do whatever it takes to avoid both the sin and its judgment!

B What was the problem with Israel? We know that God had been good to her. We read that "Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself" (Hos 10:1). In fact, the Lord never got tired of giving Israel generous gifts. The wonder and the grace here is that God filled the wine vats of people who forgot all about Him and put bread in the mouths of people who slandered Him.

What did Israel do with the wondrous gifts of God? Hosea tells us in the second part of verse1:
(Hosea 10:1) Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars ...

"Isn't that wonderful?" you might say. "Doesn't this put the nations around Israel to shame?" So why is Hosea complaining about this? If you don't build altars, he is unhappy. If you do build altars, he is still unhappy. Isn't he ever satisfied? Isn't it normal to expect that the number of altars should go up as prosperity and wealth increases? Usually, sad to say, it is the other way: countless blessings and no altars. God becomes an after-thought, if He is thought of at all. We see that in our country, don't we? People sit down to a Thanksgiving Day meal, they are reminded of all their blessings, but they don't give thanks. Or, they spend lavishly on a wedding money becomes no object but they would never think of spending that freely on the Lord. But not in Israel and not with Hosea's people. They are blessed by the Lord and they spend freely on building altars.

The second thing Israel did with God's gifts was to beautify her altars and holy places:
(Hosea 10:1) As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.
Thus, in addition to erecting all sorts of altars, Israel also devoted a lot of time and energy and money to the care of her altars and holy places. Hosea is thinking of such places as the stone set up by Jacob at Bethel, or the stone set up by Joshua on the banks of the Jordan River, or the stone set up by Samuel at Ebenezer, or the altars first established by Abraham. Not only were the stones cared for, but they were also improved and restored and beautified with arching pillars and fancy engravings. Again, what could Hosea possibly have against this? The Israelites could have spent all their money building casinos and brothels; or, they could have wasted their money on liquor and drugs; or, they could have spent their money on Summer homes or vacations. Instead, the Israelites adorned the sacred stones.

C Yet, Hosea tells us that Israel's high places, her altars and stones, will be destroyed
(Hosea 10:2) The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones. (Cf Hosea 10:8)
Why? Not because the Lord has something against altars and beautiful high places. Rather, it is because "Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt" (Hosea 10:2).

The problem was that their worship was all show. Their hearts were not into it. It was one big lie.

The sin that we have here, congregation, is a misuse, a gross misuse, of the Lord's kindness and blessings.

Why did the Lord bless Israel during the days of Hosea? Why does the Lord bless us and our land today? Why does God bless anyone or any place with prosperity and goodness? The Apostle Paul gives an answer that Hosea already knew:
(Rom 2:4) Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
Did you catch that? Kindness is one of the means God uses to get us to turn to Him. Sometimes He uses punishment, and at other times He tries to win us with kindness.

Israel did not understand that. With her wealth, the Israelites kept building altars and beautifying her sacred stones, but she did not repent. She did not devote her heart fully to the Lord God Almighty.

Does the Lord want altars if His people do not offer themselves as living sacrifices of thanks? Does the Lord care how beautiful the sacred places look if His people do not love Him with all their heart? Of course not! If God's goodness does not lead to repentance, the altars and stones become a mill stone around the neck.

D God's goodness did not lead to repentance. God's kindness did not lead to a true heart. So judgment is pronounced:
(Hosea 10:6-8) It will be carried to Assyria as tribute for the great king. Ephraim will be disgraced; Israel will be ashamed of its wooden idols. (7) Samaria and its king will float away like a twig on the surface of the waters. (8) The high places of wickedness will be destroyed-- it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, "Cover us!" and to the hills, "Fall on us!"
And, the same kind of judgment will fall on us if our hearts are not true and thankful.

This is Israel's first sin God's goodness and kindness did not lead to repentance.

II Remaining in Sin
A Israel's second sin and judgment is mentioned by the prophet Hosea in verses 9-10:
(Hosea 10:9) "Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel, and there you have remained. Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?

Some of you might not remember the reference to Gibeah. We find the incident that Hosea has in mind in Judges 19. The concubine of a Levite living in the hill country of Ephraim ran away and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem. The Levite went to Bethlehem and after several days was bringing her back home. Because of a late start, they needed to stop for the night. They had a choice of staying in Jebus, an alien city belonging to the unbelieving Jebusites, or of staying in Gibeah, an Israelite city belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. They chose to stay in Gibeah. Some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house they were staying in and wanted to engage in homosexual sex with the Levite. Instead, he sent out his concubine. She was raped multiple times and died as a result.

The Lord could not let such a deed go unpunished. So the other tribes of Israel were called to punish Gibeah. The men of Benjamin were called upon to support their fellow Israelites; instead, they decided to support their wicked brothers in Gibeah. In the battle that followed the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out with only 600 men managing to survive. That was the story of Gibeah.

Hosea has this awful story in mind when he says, "Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel" (Hosea 10:9).

B So, what is the sin of Israel that is being addressed here? Listen to the accusation again:
(Hosea 10:9) "Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel, and there you have remained."
The key words are "since" and "remained."

This is a very grave accusation that is leveled against Israel. It shows the worst thing about Israel's sin its persistence throughout the years and its deep-rootedness. Israel's sin is one continuing line. It is not a case of Israel falling into sin because of her "weakness." Rather, it is a case of Israel continuing in her sin and depravity since Gibeah which is a very long time indeed.

Notice how Hosea puts it? He says "and there you have remained." Hosea is talking about persistence and consistency, about taking a firm stand. Now, usually persistence, consistency, and a firm stand are all good things to have. Blessed is the man and woman who stand firm on their principles. Such people are not blown about by every wind of doctrine. Such people are pillars in the church. Blessed are those who will not budge on first things. But cursed are those who will not budge from their sins.

That was Israel's problem. She stood firm in her sin. She remained steadfast in her depravity. She was persistent and consistent in the depths of her fallenness. She dug in her heels and could not be moved from her wickedness. She had no idea at all of repentance, of the dying of the old man, of burying the old nature.

C It is terrible, it is awful, when God's people remain in their sin, when they fail to repent, when they remain in the mud and mire and misery of their fallen nature. The people of God are supposed to fight sin and evil. They are not to get so used to it that they remain stuck in it for year after year and generation after generation.

So, for this sin too God pronounces judgment. Again, the Lord reminds His people about Gibeah: "Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?" (Hosea 10:9) remember how the entire tribe of Benjamin was almost decimated? What happened with Gibeah and Benjamin will also happen with the people of Hosea's day:
(Hosea 10:10) When I please, I will punish them; nations will be gathered against them to put them in bonds for their double sin.
And, God's judgment will also rest upon His people today who remain in their sin and misery instead of trying to fight and resist it.

This is Israel's second sin stubbornly remaining in sin!

III Planted Wickedness
A Israel's third sin is illustrated with a farming metaphor. Hosea chooses this because the Israelites were very familiar with farming:
(Hosea 10:13) But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception.

Hosea has a number of things in mind here. First, just as the farmer's time is almost completely taken up with his crops, so Israel's life was almost completely taken up with the planting of wickedness and the reaping of evil. Second, just as the farmer reaps what he sows, so Israel reaps what she has sown. Since Israel has planted wickedness she can only expect to reap evil.

B What is Israel's sin here? Hosea accuses her of taking the easy way, of following the path of least resistance. He says,
(Hosea 10:11) Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh ...
The thing to keep in mind here is that threshing is the easy work. No one would think of it as difficult or demanding. The ox on the threshing floor did not need a yoke and could eat as much of the grain as it wanted (for the Law of Moses clearly stated it was wrong to muzzle an ox on the threshing floor). Compared to the work done by the ox pulling the plow with a yoke around its neck, the work on the threshing floor was easy and light. There was hardly a place where an ox would rather be.

Israel is like the ox on the threshing floor. She enjoyed the easy life. She wanted nothing to do with the hard work of repentance and conversion, of a changed and different life. She certainly did not want to break up the unplowed ground of sin in her life (Hosea 10:12). She did not want to go through all the hard work of sowing righteousness and reaping unfailing love (Hosea 10:12).

But that is exactly what Israel needed to do. And that is exactly what we need to do. Isaac Watts wrote a song about this:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A foll'wer of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause
Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flow'ry beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed thro' bloody seas?
Israel's answer was YES. Yes, to flow'ry beds of ease. Yes, to being carried along. Yes, to a soft and easy and comfortable Christian life. Yes, to a life that required no commitments and made no demands.

But that is not what the Lord wants. It is hard work to live as one of His people:
(Hosea 10:11) Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.

C It is terrible, it is awful, when God's people want faith without commitment or dedication or conversion or repentance. So God promises judgment:
(Hosea 10:14-15) the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated-- as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. (15) Thus will it happen to you, O Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.
Shalman and Beth Arbel are lost in history. We have no real idea what Hosea is talking about. But Hosea knew. And his audience knew. And, it made a big impression on them. That particular incident lived on in their memories as a horrible bloodbath in which "mothers were dashed to the ground with their children." Something like this will happen again, warns Hosea.

This is Israel's third sin faith without commitment.

Three sins and three judgments. Actually, it is all the same sin and it all results in God's judgment and wrath.

We can only end with the words of Jesus Himself which sums up what Hosea was saying in chapter 10: "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
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