Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lesson 8: Israel’s Continued Idolatry
March 25, 2012

Let’s open our Bibles to Hosea chapter nine.

Remember: The poster child for Israel’s idolatry is Hosea’s wife Gomer. In the analogy, Gomer is to Hosea as Israel is to God. Gomer’s infidelity to Hosea is like Israel’s worship of other gods, and just as Hosea continues to love and provide for Gomer, God continues to love and provide for His Chosen People. But, just as there came a point when Hosea’s love for Gomer required him to let her suffer the consequences of her infidelity, so (as an expression of His love) God eventually had to allow idolatrous Israel suffer the consequences of her worshiping other gods.

Since we all worship someone or something, the question we need to ask ourselves isn’t: “Is there a God I should worship?” but rather “Do I worship something less than the God I should?” We all worship a god; the question is: Are we bowing to the God who is actually “the Most High”? When the LORD commanded: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image … and thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them, He wasn’t merely prohibiting overt idolatry―He was warning us that no god of this world is worthy of our devotion.

When the Assyrian army attacked Israel, the Lord GOD Almighty (who’d expressed His love for Israel 700 years earlier by miraculously delivering them from Egypt) once again expressed His love for Israel, but this time by stepping aside and allowing her new gods defend her. The LORD let the people of Israel learn for themselves the lesson that no god of this world is trustworthy.

So let’s continue where we left off:
Hosea 9:1-2 Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! [Remember: at the beginning of Hosea’s ministry, everything seemed to be going well economically and militarily.] Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor. [You’ve prostituted yourself to other gods for the sake of economic gain.]
v2 Threshing floor and wine press will not feed them [the people of Israel], and the new wine will fail them.

Despite the fact that during the reign of King Jeroboam II everything seemed to be going Israel’s way economically and militarily, Hosea here warns Israel that its material prosperity belied its spiritual poverty. Israel was wrongly crediting pagan fertility gods with providing the prosperity, so in the opening verse of chapter nine Hosea likens Israel’s prosperity to the wages of a prostitute. But like a prostitute’s earnings, Israel’s ill-gotten gain costs them everything that’s truly valuable; and (in the end) her adulterous earnings will be lost.

Hosea 9:3-5 They [the people of Israel] will not remain in the LORD’s land, but Ephraim will return to Egypt [to the place of bondage], and in Assyria they will eat unclean food [as captives in Assyrian, the Jews will be forced to observe Assyria’s social norms].
v4 They [the people of Israel] will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the LORD, their sacrifices will not please Him. [The holiday traditions the Jews loved were going to be stripped away.] Their bread [the ceremonial show bread in the Holy Place of the Temple] will be like mourners’ bread.
Jewish religious tradition prohibits those who are in mourning from doing any work for seven days after a loved one dies. So since the baking of bread is (by definition) “work”, if no one brought bread to mourners, they either had no bread, or the only bread they had was stale and moldy.
All who eat of it [this moldy show bread in the tabernacle] will be defiled, for their bread will be for themselves alone; it [this nasty show bread] will not enter the house of the LORD [the LORD rejects Israel’s unclean grain offering].
v5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival and on the day of the feast of the LORD?

The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates God’s giving Israel the autumn harvest (kind of like a Thanksgiving Day celebration that lasts an entire week). But if Israel has nothing but moldy bread to eat during their harvest celebration, then what will the coming winter be like?

Hosea 9:6-7 For behold, they will go [flee] because of destruction. Egypt will gather them up, Memphis will bury them. [Even if they were to flee to Egypt to escape the Assyrians, Egypt would cut them down like stalks of wheat.] Weeds will take over their treasures of silver. Thorns will be in their tents. [The people of Israel will flee from the land and the land will become desolate.]
v7 The days of punishment have come, the days of retribution have come. Let Israel know this!
Note the verb tense. This wasn’t just a warning of what might happen if the people of Israel didn’t repent of their idolatry; this was a prophecy of what was going to happen since they had already chosen not to repent. So in verse seven Hosea speaks of Israel’s destruction as already occurring, even though it wasn’t going to occur until decades after Hosea delivered this message.
The prophet is a fool [is regarded as a fool], the inspired man is demented [is thought of as demented], because of the grossness of your iniquity, and because your hostility is so great.

Q: How did Israel receive Hosea’s warning that the nation is about to be destroyed by the Assyrians?
A: They mocked him as a demented fool. So great was Israel’s hostility toward Hosea’s message that, rather than leading Israel to repent, it merely convinced them that Hosea was a crazy old man.

There’s a point of no return: a point when a society goes beyond simply tolerating those who promote degeneracy to actually adopting degeneracy as the social norm―a point when society prefers Satan’s lie to God’s Truth. When Hosea wrote this, Israel had already past that point of no return, but Judah wasn’t there yet. (It remains to be seen whether America has committed itself the path Israel chose, or whether we will repent as Judah did.)

Hosea 9:8 Ephraim [Israel] was a watchman with my God, a prophet; yet [instead of performing its duty] the snare of a bird-catcher is in all his ways, and there is only hostility in the house of his [Israel’s] God.
Israel (like the church today) was called to be a watchman, to warn Satan’s world of destruction to come. But instead of warning the world of its impending doom, God’s Chosen People had devoted themselves to hunting down and killing those who dared to speak God’s Truth.
v9 They have gone deep in depravity as in the days of Gibeah. He [the LORD] will remember their iniquity; He will punish their sins.

Q: In verse nine, what does “depravity as in days of Gibeah” refer to?
A: It’s referring to an incident recorded in Judges Chapters 19 and 20. Let’s turn to Judges 19.
Judges 19:16-30 Then behold, an old man was coming out of the field from his work at evening. Now the man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was staying in Gibeah, but the men of the place [Gibeah] were Benjamites.
v17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city; and the old man said, “Where are you going, and where do you come from?”
v18 He said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, for I am from there, and I went to Bethlehem in Judah. But I am now going to my house, and no man will take me into his house.
v19 “Yet there is both straw and fodder for our donkeys, and also bread and wine for me, your maidservant, and the young man who is with your servants; there is no lack of anything.”
v20 The old man said, “Peace to you. Only let me take care of all your needs; however, do not spend the night in the open square.”
v21 So he took him into his house and gave the donkeys fodder, and they washed their feet and ate and drank.
v22 While they were celebrating, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house (the old man) saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.”
v23 Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly.
v24 “Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Please let me bring them out that you may ravish them and do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man.”
v25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man [the traveler who was passing through Gibeah] seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn.
v26 As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was, until full daylight.
v27 When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold.
v28 He said to her, “Get up and let us go,” but there was no answer [because she was dead]. Then he [the traveler who was passing through Gibeah] placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home [in Ephraim].
v29 When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel.
v30 All who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!”

In chapter 20, the story goes on to tell how the rest of the tribes of Israel were so enraged about this incident that they gathered an army to wipe out the men of Gibeah. But the tribe of Benjamin, rather than joining with the rest of Israel to destroy the Gibeanites, came to the defense of Gibeah. In the ensuing battle the army of 400,000 Israelites killed all but 600 of the 26,000 men of Benjamin.

So when Hosea says in Hosea 9:9 “They have gone deep in depravity as in days of Gibeah” he isn’t merely saying that the Jews have committed gross immorality, he’s saying: “Like the Benjamites in Judges 19 and 20, the people of Israel are totally committed to defending gross immorality.”

Q: As we’re turning back to Hosea Chapter nine, let me ask: “Does this story about Gibeah (in Judges 19) remind you of another city that was judged for its depravity?”
A: It’s a repeat of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. When the two angels (who’d just warned Abraham that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah) came to Lot’s house in Sodom, the men of the city gathered outside the house and demanded that Lot send out these very handsome men for them to sexually abuse. And just as the host did in the Gibeah story, Lot offered the men of the city two women instead, but (in a departure from the story of Gibeah) the men of Sodom rejected the offer of Lot’s daughters because they weren’t interested in women as sexual partners.

Now, back to Hosea Chapter nine, verse 10:
Hosea 9:10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness. I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season. But they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved.

Q: So what’s the story of Baal-Peor?
A: Let’s turn to Numbers Chapter 25:
Numbers 25:1-9 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab.
v2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
v3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.
v4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them [the one who’d joined themselves to Baal-peor, not the tribal elders] in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.”
v5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.”
v6 Then behold, one of the sons of Israel [(v14) Zimri the son of Salu] came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman [(v15) Cozbi the daughter of Zur], in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel [This couple strolled into the Israelite camp in front of the assembled leaders Israel], while they [the Israelite assembly] were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
The leaders of Israel were crying because the LORD had ordered them to execute all the worshipers of Baal-Peor.
v7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand,
v8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through (the man of Israel and the woman) through the body.
So, while everyone else was moaning about the LORD’s command to kill all the worshipers of Baal-Peor, Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson) was so incensed by this act of open defiance that he immediately went out and executed the order himself―impaling both with one thrust of his javelin.
So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked.
v9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000. [Notice: The “plague” that killed 24,000 Israelites was Israelite men joining themselves to the god Baal-Peor.]

Q: So who is this Midianite god, “Baal of Peor”?
A: This is the Midianite god “Shamash”, the sun god, the god of fire. But here in Numbers 25, Shamash is called “Baal of Peor”, which means “lord of the opening (that is, the rectum)”. Shamash is called “lord of the rectum” because his followers considered the smearing of feces an act of worship and sodomy a sacrament.

So now, in light of what we now know about Gibeah and Peor, let’s re-read Hosea 9:9-10.
Hosea 9:9-10 They have gone deep in depravity as in the days of Gibeah [when the LORD killed over 25,000 of the men of Benjamin because they came to the defense of those who’d sexually tortured a woman to death]. He [the LORD] will remember their iniquity; He will punish their sins.
v10 I [the LORD] found Israel like grapes in the wilderness. I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season. But they came to Baal-peor [where the LORD slaughtered 24,000 Israelites for joining themselves to Baal-peor, lord of the rectum] and devoted themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved.

Q: So what do both Baal-peor (in Numbers 25) and Gibeah (in Judges 19) have in common?
A: In both cases, the LORD executed over tens of thousands of Israelites for defiantly defending those who were involved in depraved sexual behavior (worshiping the god of sexual perversion”:
• At Gibeah (in Judges 19), the tribe of Benjamin rallied to defend men who wanted to sexually assault other men but were placated because they also enjoyed sexually torturing a woman to death.
• In the Baal-Peor incident (of Numbers 25), Phinehas saved the day by being the only one who was willing to obey the LORD’s command to execute those who worshiped the god of sexual perversion.

Hosea cites these two incidents to describe the “deep depravity” of his day. And in both those cases the LORD expressed his love for Israel by slaughtering everyone who defended sexual perversion as an alternative lifestyle.

In Gibeah only a handful of the 700 men of the city were involved in the original sexual assault. But the LORD didn’t execute only those who committed that heinous criminal act; He executed all but a tiny remnant of Tribe of Benjamin.

Q: Why?
A: Because they all rallied in support of the sexual perverts among them.

Sexual perversion is a sin that God takes very seriously. If we (as Christians) fail to speak out against it, God will punish us. But when we (as a society) actively defend sexual perversion, God will destroy us.

Hosea then goes on to proclaim the LORD’s judgment against those who worship these pagan fertility gods: infertility.
Hosea 9:11-16 As for Ephraim, their glory [what they treasure] will fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy and no conception! [Israel was worshiping fertility gods, so there will be no fertility.]
v12 Though [but even if] they bring up their children, yet I will bereave them until not a man is left [even the babies who do manage to survive will end up be slaughtered in battle]. Yes, woe to them indeed when I depart from them!
v13 Ephraim (as I have seen) is planted in a pleasant meadow like Tyre [the Valley of Jezreel is the breadbasket of Israel], but Ephraim will bring out his children for slaughter [but those who offered their children as sacrifices to fertility gods would soon have their children slaughtered by the Assyrian army].
v14 Give them, O LORD―what will You give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
v15 All their evil is at Gilgal.
Gilgal is mentioned several times throughout the Old Testament, but it appears that Hosea here is simply speaking against the evil at Gilgal because it was a center of pagan worship at the time Hosea was writing.
Indeed, I came to hate them there [in Gilgal]! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.
v16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they will bear no fruit. Even though they bear children, I will slay the precious ones of their womb.

Q: Does Hosea actually say here that God will kill the babies of Israel? How can a loving God kill innocent babies?
A: He doesn’t―we do!

Please understand: God allows people to suffer consequences, but when He administers such punishment, He isn’t getting even with them for the way they’ve treated Him. He’s just letting them have what they demand. The people of Israel wanted sex without responsibility, so God turns them over to their perverted lusts and they end up with an entire generation of dead babies.

It was Israel’s idolatrous rejection of God that brought about this slaughter of its children. The death of Israel’s innocent children was their choice, not God’s.

And perhaps we should ask ourselves: If Israel’s slaughter of its own babies in Hosea’s day was considered divine punishment for its sexual perversion, how should America view the slaughter of the 40-million babies that we’ve killed since the Supreme Court declared infanticide a civil right?

Hosea 9:17 My God will cast them away because they have not listened to Him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.

When the Assyrian army destroyed Israel in 722 B.C., the same LORD who’d expressed His love for His Chosen People by miraculously delivering them from Egypt, again expressed His love for His Chosen People by stepping aside and letting their new gods deliver them from Assyria. The application of this message to 21st-century America is painfully obvious, but (rather than condemning America’s idolatry) let’s consider the personal theological implications of this.

Each of us worships a god, which is to say, each of us devotes himself to someone or something. If my worship is directed to anything other than the One True God, then in the end I will be disappointed by my god.

Q: But if I’m worshiping anything other than the true God, then what’s the ultimate object of my worship?
A: If my god is Mammon, then I worship money because it serves my purpose. If my god is Aphrodite, then I worship sex because it gives me pleasure. If my God is Zeus, then I worship power because it gives me control. All the gods of this world are mere servants of the greatest god of them all: Me!

And if the only god that I truly want is Me, then―in the end―the only god that I’ll have is … Me.

So if I devote myself to serving the great god Me:
• Instead of the true God’s eternal Life, I’ll have only my own immediate agenda;
• Instead of the true God’s glorious Light, I’ll have only my own burning anger;
• Instead of the true God’s self-sacrificial Love, I’ll have only my own self-serving ego.
Eventually, I will achieve my goal of eternally separating myself from the God of Life, the God of Light, and the God of Love.

Q: And what do we Christians call the place of eternal separation from God?
A: We call that place of total self-centeredness “Hell”.

So you see: hell isn’t merely the fate we all deserve. Unless we repent of our self-worship, hell is the goal we’ll achieve.


joyce said...

Bob (my husband)gave such a fantastic Sunday School lesson today, that I asked if I could post it here. He showed me how. Enjoy!

joyce said...

I was struck that just like John the Baptist, there are going to be times we need to speak up, even if we land in jail. As Bob put it just a few minutes ago...if the world hates you, you are doing the right thing.

joyce said...

Let me know if you'd like to see lessons 1-10 and I will post them here!