Half-baked, "a cake not turned" (Hosea 7:8), is how Hosea described the religionists of his day. His grueling marital experience had not only brought him an appreciation of God's love but had given him a clear insight into the confused thinking of his people. He saw how exceedingly sinful they were in God's sight. The whole nation was given over to crime. Morality had broken down. So debased had they become that murder followed murder in a continuing stream of blood. The prophet saw the reason. Israel had broken her marriage relation with Jehovah. They had departed from the Lord, and in doing so they had rejected knowledge. Now there was "no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land" (chapter 4:1). They were being "destroyed for lack of knowledge" (verse 6).
A Welter of Blood
During the long, prosperous reign of Jeroboam II, who ruled for forty-one years, the people had become more and more engrossed in material pursuits, and had failed to honor God as the Giver of their blessings. Instead, they had attributed their prosperity to their own work, as they followed what they may have called science, the superstitious rites of worship of their false gods.
Hosea must have begun his ministry in the closing years of Jeroboam's reign, for he says that in "a little while" God would judge his dynasty and bring the kingdom to an end (chapter 1:4). Jeroboam's son, Zechariah, reigned only six months when he was assassinated. Then began the darkest period in the history of the kingdom of Israel. A flood of crime and anarchy was unleashed. How true was the word of the Lord through the prophet, "They have set up kings, but not by me" (chapter 8:4)! Shallum, who slew Zechariah, was himself slain by his successor, Menahem. Menahem's son, Pekahiah, was slain by Pekah, and Pekah was slain by Hoshea, the last king. The Assyrians completed the work of destruction, carrying off the nation into captivity in 722 B.c. Thus the kingdom of Israel went down in a welter of blood. Since Hosea does not mention the Assyrian raids, we must conclude that his ministry closed before 732 B.c., when the first tribes were taken captive.
The exceeding difficulty of the prophet's task of arousing the people to refonu was augmented by their persistent attachment to idolatry. Hosea compared them to a stubborn animal that, instead of submitting to be led, braces its feet and pulls back. "Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer" (Hosea 4:16). In despair he calls out, "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone" (verse 17). He sees that in some way their habits of thought must be changed. "Their deeds," he says, "do not permit them to return to their God" (chapter 5:4, R.S.V.). The outlook for the future was dark indeed. The spiritual leaders who might have been depended upon as helpers were themselves blind. "Like people, like priest" (chapter 4:9) is the terse way the prophet describes the tragic situation.
Can we say that our condition is better today? Devotion to science with its evolutionary teaching has so obscured knowledge of God as our Creator and Sustainer that our habits of thought are sordid and materialistic. Giving God lip service only, our hearts are upon our treasures. Lacking knowledge of God and His holiness, we treat the moral law, the Ten Commandments, as a dead letter. Our children are confused by their elders' actions. They see the law flouted with impunity. Expediency rather than rectitude seems to be the rule. What is right? Where is the distinction between right and wrong? Is all that matters, that the wrong be not detected? Vandalism, such a problem today, would be solved if only we could get our children to remember that God sees them. For, after all, one of the greatest deterrents to sin is the knowledge of the all-seeing Eye. Hosea knew the reason for the moral breakdown. They forgot that God sees. "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face" (Hosea 7:2).
Preachers From Farms
And how can our children be taught the better way? The time was, here in the United States, that our ministers were largely recruited from the farms. Being brought up under the influence of God's great outdoors, many farm boys later brought to their city pulpits a freshness of thought that was inspiring. They had seen God working in nature, and were aware of His presence. They could teach with conviction the knowledge of God. But now, with our shift of population to the cities or their suburbs, and with the materialistic thinking of the cities brought to the remote recesses of the country through radio and television, where can our ministers be recruited? Never was the leveling process more widespread and more potent. It is indeed "like people, like priest." As was ancient Israel's, our condition is critical. Can it be said of us, as it was of them, "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (chapter 8:7)?
Parents to Blame for Immorality
Israel was compared to "a cake not turned," burned, cindery, distasteful, on one side; cold, heavy, like dough not touched with heat, on the other. Commenting on this passage in Hosea, the eminent scholar, George Adam Smith, wrote: "Of late years religion has spread and spread wonderfully, but of how many Christians is it still true that they are half-baked—living a life one side of which is reeking with the smoke of sacrifice, while the other is never warmed by one religious thought." —The Book of the Twelve Prophets, I, 274. Such hyprocrisy is bound to produce baneful results in our children's characters. What a fruitage we are reaping today in the moral breakdown of our youth! Society is appalled by the tidal wave of immorality that is sweeping over the campuses of our great colleges and universities. What's gone wrong with our young people? Dr. Mary C. Calderone, a New York City specialist in public health, gave a forthright answer to the question recently. Speaking to a national convention of the PTA in Chicago, she said: "If American teen-agers are sexually promiscuous, their parents are to blame." We have failed in our sex education, she insisted. "We have done a half-baked job. . . . We have in the last fifteen years lifted all forms of discipline and control and substituted nothing for them." "I challenge you," she concluded, "to admit that, as a society, our anxiety is not so much about sexual behavior itself as about its results in terms of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and, of course, venereal disease."
God's Solution to These Problems
How did God deal with the problem in Hosea's time? What was His response to a condition that called loudly for instant judgment? Did He unconcernedly let Israel go down to ruin, reaping its just desserts in war and captivity? No, not for a moment. God's heart of love rebelled at such a solution. Everything possible that love could do must be done. Although He recognized that His people were "bent to backsliding" from Him, He cried out of a broken heart: "How shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? [Cities of the plain destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.] mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city" (Hosea 11:8, 9). What divine love! We are reminded of how our Lord wept over Jerusalem on His triumphal entry, as He poured out His soul in these heartbreaking sobs: "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42). Such love demands action. He must save at least a remnant.
The prophet sees a "door of hope" in affliction (Hosea 2:15). The crops that the Lord had given so abundantly and which were ascribed to the bounty of Baal, would be cut off; the vines and fig trees be unfruitful. "In their affliction," He said, "they will seek me early" (chapter 5:15). With this chastisement were mingled loving appeals to return to God, promising blessing if heeded. A new covenant of grace was freely offered. Those who would open their hearts to Him might still be His people. He would not betroth them to Him forever. These beautiful verses sparkle as bright gems. "Yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord" (chapter 2:19, 20). He promises to have mercy on the outcasts. "I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people" (chapter 2:23). This prophecy was fulfilled, partially at least, in those descendants of northern Israel who returned with the remnants of Judah after the Captivity. The apostle Paul sees a large fulfillment in the Gentiles who believe in the Saviour and accept the provisions of the new covenant of grace. (See Rom. 9:24-26). No wonder the apostle exclaims: "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (chapter 11:33).
Appeal after appeal was made to Israel. They were reminded how God had saved their forefather Jacob when he overcame by faith and won his new name, Israel, meaning Prince of God, and how later the Lord led His people triumphantly out of Egyptian bondage. In all their history He was their only Saviour. "There is no saviour beside me" (Hosea 13:4). The prophet was most explicit in his instructions, even giving them the very words to use in their penitential prayers. "Turn to the Lord," he urged: "say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" (chapter 14:2, thus re-emphasizing the fact that our expression of supplication and praise is the sacrifice God respects. Our part is to open the heart to God's Holy Spirit. He then will rain righteousness upon us.
This beautiful verse is worthy of memorization: "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (chapter 10:12).
We have the assurance that God's plan of salvation will accomplish its mission. A remnant, the true Israel of God, who by faith enter into His new covenant of grace, will be saved. Hosea gives God's pledge: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely" (chapter 14:4).
With this assurance in our hearts that God's loving grace will accomplish its work of salvation, and with Love's pleading cry, "How shall I give thee up?" resounding in our ears, how can any of us remain cold and unresponsive? God loves us as individuals. He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He has left nothing undone. He so loved that He poured out all heaven in the gift of His Son. Such love must triumph.
"Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein" (Hosea 14:9).