It is a fearful thing to be in the hands of Almighty God.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Hosea 10:5-15
This week's passage focuses on the consequences for repeatedly "sowing wickedness" in your life -- eventually God will ensure that your own schemes will be your downfall. God's people had congratulated themselves for their ruthlessness and craftiness, and God declared that justice was coming. And it broke God's heart to do it.
You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice; (10:13)
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Signs Your Friend Is Not a Good Friend
One of the key themes of this section of Hosea is the sad fact that Israel has simply "picked the wrong friends". That's something that many of us can relate to -- we've either picked or been bad friends. There are a few ways you could use this topic to start a discussion; here are some ideas.
One, talk about how you can identify a bad friend. There are all sorts of websites on this topic, and they highlight some common themes. Ask group members to create a list, or give them a list and ask them to "act" examples.
Here are some signs repeated frequently online:
They're not there for you when you need them, but they always expect you to be there for them.
They intervene in your other friendships/try to steal your crush.
They lie to you or are not trustworthy with your secrets.
They are overly competitive with you
They make the relationship all about them.
They encourage/enable destructive habits/addictions.
They treat you badly when around other people.
They don't prioritize you/choose lots of other things/people before you.
WebMD even categorized the bad friend:
The selfish friend
The overly critical friend
The friend who oversteps boundaries
The victim friend
Because I like to keep things constructive, follow this exercise with a helpful question: "What do you do when you realize you have a bad friend, or that you are a bad friend?"
But here's the challenge with this topic: we think of these things on a person-to-person level. But in truth this can also describe relationships between nations. Throughout this lesson, we're going to be reminded of Israel's relationship with Assyria, and I'd like us to see how predictable it all turned out based on what we know of friends.
If you don't like that idea... If you have teenagers, work with teenagers, or ever were a teenager, you will have some kind of strong emotional reaction to the phrase "teen angst". So, talk about that -- what is teen angst, and why did you hate it (or love it, if you're weird)? It's what happens when a person goes through massive physical and hormonal changes while experiencing the increased stress of new responsibilities, high expectations, and growing independence. Oh, and everyone around that person is going through the same thing. You couldn't pay me to be a teenager again.
Well, teen angst sells. Have you heard of Twilight? Shadow and Bone? Paramore? Olivia Rodrigo? Malls? People love to see someone else experiencing the same emotions.
Last week, I said that Hosea wanted us to relate to God as a parent of a wayward child. This week, as we cover more about what Israel has been doing, I don't think it's too far afield to say that God's children are behaving like angsty teens (except worse, they're adults who never grew out of that phase). [Note: always be careful how far you push any illustration. Clinical depression is a growing epidemic among young people; that's not just an angsty phase.]
In what ways does Israel's behavior betray serious immaturity? And how do we need to look out for those same kinds of things in our own lives? Nothing about this week's lesson is flattering to anybody, so we may as well jump in cannonball-style.
Reasons Why You Might Lose a Friend
The primary purpose of my weekly post is to share something different from what's available in the normal study materials. This week, I really like the introductory idea in the leader guide, but I encourage a modification. They suggest having group members list reasons why they might end a friendship. They want you to highlight the answers that focus on being ignored as a friend because they are suggesting that Israel has ignored God. Which is true. But Israel didn't just ignore God. Take the list given and challenge your group to see how Israel may have treated God in each of those ways. But the ultimate point is always that Israel was the "bad friend" (to use my earlier topic).
You Picked the Wrong Team/Side
There's a totally different way you could go with this (if you don't feel like talking about relationships) -- what are ways we can "pick the wrong side" in life? Here are some examples that might help you understand what I mean:
Sports. Free agents get to "pick" the team they play for. Sometimes it works out well. And sometimes, it's pretty clear that they made the wrong decision for the wrong reason. One of my favorite examples is Alex Rodriguez signing with the Texas Rangers for a then-record $252M. The Rangers were not a good team and continued to not be a good team until they had to dump Rodriguez's salary on the Yankees a few years later.
Jobs. We've talked about this example a few different ways -- sometimes the job with the biggest salary or the biggest promotion isn't really the job you want. Yes, this could be as simple as having to spend more time away from your family, but I'm also talking about who you work for. Sometimes a company is overpaying because they can't keep anyone long term because they're a complete toxic mess. Not worth it.
Causes. I want to tread lightly here because it could get painfully political, but sometimes people get sucked into supporting a cause not knowing the full breadth of what that cause supports. That organization that promotes women's health also operates abortion clinics. That organization that works with troubled teens also enables gender surgeries for minors. We've all likely given time or money to group that did things we would not endorse.
Candidates. Same thing -- tread lightly. We have all had experiences with candidates who said one thing to get elected and then did something very different once they were elected. Sometimes those things are outside of a person's control, and sometimes reality hits hard (e.g., Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Nixon all campaigned on keeping troops out of war; Obama campaigned on ending partisanship). And sometimes, voters are simply used.
Friends. You knew it would all come back to this, right? Sometimes, when we have the choice between two friends, we pick the wrong one, and we don't realize it until it's too late. (Here's another chance to tie in teen angst! Let me date myself with movie references to Clueless/Mean Girls/Heathers.) Has this ever happened to you? How did it become clear that you picked the wrong friend?
If you want to grossly oversimplify the scenario, Israel had a choice between two friends/candidates/causes/teams: Assyria and God. One was the extremely obviously terrible choice. Which one did they choose?
This Week's Big Idea: The Most "Unpopular" Teachings in Christianity
This happened in Amos, and it's happening again in Hosea. The Israelites simply don't want to hear it. They would rather go find somebody who tells them what they want to hear and "be their friend". So, what was it the Israelites didn't want to hear?
I think it comes down to the same thing that people don't want to hear from Christians today. What are the most unpopular teachings in Christianity? Here are some general topics I saw thrown around on message boards; I'll let you fill in the why:
I think it all comes back to the same root sin that enables Satan to tempt Adam and Eve into the first sin: our desire to be our own god. People have never liked the idea that there is Someone "above" them who has determined right and wrong and established the rules for entering heaven and hell. Following God's rules for life demands self-denial, humility, and a lot of faith. Those are not often the rules people would write for themselves. In the context of Hosea, we can say that Israel chose self-reliance (kinda), self-indulgence, and raw selfishness. That led them to Assyria, whom they thought would enable them to continue to live that way. Boy, were they wrong.
Bonus Big Idea: Karma vs. Justice
This is a similar topic to the one above -- people today seem obsessed with the concept of "karma". Google "instant karma" and you'll be inundated with examples:
Better yet, don't. I'm completely disturbed by the hateful and hurtful things people do for no reason. It's easy to get caught up in the idea that the mean person would immediately get "cosmic revenge" for their bad behavior.
If you're of a certain generation, the only name I need to share to explain instant karma is Wile E. Coyote. The creative (sadistic?) geniuses at Looney Tunes (not Toons) never ran out of ways the coyote could face instant punishment for his schemes to catch the roadrunner.
People who are into "instant karma" don't like Christianity. Why? Two opposing reasons. On the one hand, Christianity is rooted in the doctrine of divine grace. And on the other hand, it's rooted in the doctrine of divine justice. And justice is not karma. As far as I can tell, at its root, karma is simply a fancy word for "natural consequences". Cause-and-effect. People in the west try to put "divine meaning" behind it, but there isn't any.
God's justice is something different. God measures our hearts and motives and --as we talked about last week -- establishes the perfect discipline (and eventually punishment) for our intents. God cannot be fooled, and God cannot be avoided. God cares as much about the means and the ends. One of the passages we skipped in chapter 8 is the powerful
Indeed, they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. (8:7)
That's not karma (even though it is used by people to support that) -- one of God's punishments there is drought and famine, but their errors are not in their agricultural practices. No, God is judging Israel for sin and discipling them in such a way as to get their attention and drive them to repentance.
That's not what people today want to hear. They want the lazy (and superficial) karma of "speed past me in traffic and aha! there's a police officer" or "that bully just picked on the black belt in jujitsu". Justice is a lot more complex and thoughtful, and divine justice requires an eternal perspective.
We can think of justice as the order God has established in the universe so that people can fully enjoy the blessings of life with Him -- penalties for breaking an obligation to society and benefits for righteous living. Biblical, divine justice is given in the context of community -- God intended people to live in community and gave us rules to govern our behavior, to protect the vulnerable, and to encourage peace and prosperity.
The problem is that every one of us does wrong things with alarming regularity. We all deserve to suffer the penalties of our wrong actions. But doing so would cut us all off from God for eternity. In love, the Triune Godhead designed a plan before the earth was created that God the Son would accept those penalties on Himself so that anyone who believed in Him could be saved from those penalties. If justice is giving somebody what they deserve, mercy is not giving somebody what they deserve. Jesus accepted our penalty though He alone did not deserve it (because He perfectly lived in community according to God's standard).
That is completely antithetical to the worldly concept of karma. And thank God for that.
Where We Are in Hosea
We are in the third major section of Hosea:
Prostitution is in the Family of God (1-3)
Prostitution comes because people don't know God (4:1-6:6)
Prostitution is incompatible with loyalty to God (6:7-11:11)
Social sins (6:7-7:7)
Turning to other nations (7:8-8:14)
Destruction will result (9:1-10:15)
Restoration is still possible (11:1-11)
Prostitution is deceitful to God (11:12-14:9)
We started looking at this section last week. Israel is God's wayward child whom God loves very much but cannot ignore his awful behavior. This section spells out that unjust behavior:
The priests violate the covenant (6:9)
The people are thieves and deceivers (7:1)
The rulers violate the covenant (7:5)
They've let other nations take advantage of them (7:9)
They've turned to other nations for stability (7:11)
They've turned to other gods for protection (7:14)
They've mocked God's rules for worship (8:13)
They've stopped listening to the prophets (9:8)
And what will happen as a result? The nations that they have made themselves vulnerable to will conquer them, and their idols will not save them. God will make that process "easier" by sending famine and disease to Israel, making them weaker and more vulnerable.
In a nutshell, Israel looked at all of God's blessings and assumed they were responsible for it themselves. Over time, they decided the idols they had made were responsible for their blessings. And then their kings. Every step took them further from God.
And then the real point: as everything crumbles around them, they will realize their huge mistake, and it will be too late. As horrified readers removed by thousands of years, our takeaway is to make sure that we never, ever let ourselves drift into that failure.
Part 1: False Religion (Hosea 10:5-8)
5 The residents of Samaria will have anxiety over the calf of Beth-aven. Indeed, its idolatrous priests rejoiced over it; the people will mourn over it, over its glory. It will certainly go into exile. 6 The calf itself will be taken to Assyria as an offering to the great king. Ephraim will experience shame; Israel will be ashamed of its counsel. 7 Samaria’s king will disappear like foam on the surface of the water. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, will be destroyed; thorns and thistles will grow over their altars. They will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!”
A little bit of the context explained above will make this section rather easy.
The people had credited their idols for their blessings.
The people had credited their self-appointed kings for their blessings.
When the idols and kings are carted off in defeat, the people will panic.
Makes sense, doesn't it?
A few quick points of reference:
Samaria is the capital of the northern kingdom, Israel.
Beth-aven is a mocking term for Bethel, one of the two major centers of idol worship in Israel. "Beth-aven" means "house of wickedness".
Assyria conquered Israel and took absolutely everything of any value -- especially the idols made of gold.
Ephraim is the major tribe in Israel and often "blamed" for Israel's downfall.
The last king of Israel was Hoshea (2 Ki 17:4).
The "high places of Aven" simply means all of the temples with idols.
The images Hosea uses are still striking today.
They were once joyful of their idols; soon they will mourn them. They were once proud of their alliances; soon they will be ashamed of them. Their great king will disappear like foam on the sea -- a worthless and transitory thing. Their great temples will be claimed by weeds and scavengers. Not very flattering!
But what did they expect? Their entire self-created world was a house of cards, waiting to collapse.
Verse 8 makes me think of Revelation 6:
12 Then I saw him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”
When people are confronted with the Living God, they will realize their great mistake of thinking they could stand against Him, and they will desperately snatch at any straw they can find -- "maybe if we're covered with millions of tons of rick, God won't be able to find our bodies, and we can die hidden from Him".
Think that would work?
This section is all about the foolishness of people thinking they can establish their own lives and societies not under the province of God Almighty.
If we only think about today, we can fall into that trap. If we think about the future -- particularly what happens after death -- we can realize our dependence on God and His mercy.
One way to illustrate this would be to have someone actually build a house of cards while you're talking through this section. And when you get done with it, have someone shake the table. (Make sure your house-builder has a sense of humor.) As you watch the house get built, everyone knows what's going to happen at the end. We should have that same feeling when we watch the people around us build their lives on anything other than the Word of God. (Go on, sing the song -- you know you want to!)
Part 2: Misplaced Trust (Hosea 10:9-10)
9 Israel, you have sinned since the days of Gibeah; they have taken their stand there. Will not war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? 10 I will discipline them at my discretion; nations will be gathered against them to put them in bondage for their double iniquity.
This section is simply the logical consequence of the previous. If you turn way from God long enough, He will discipline you severely.
"Gibeah" sends us to the sordid tale from Judges 19-21, one of the lowest of the low points in Israel's history. A man was traveling from Bethlehem to the land of Ephraim and stopped in Gibeah in the land of Benjamin. There, the men of the city wanted to rape him. To prevent that terrible thing, the proposed solution was to let the men instead rape (and kill) his concubine (incidentally, the concubine had been unfaithful to the man). The man then cut her dead body into 12 pieces and sent them throughout Israel. The Israelites decided to go to war against Benjamin. They wiped out the Benjamin army (suffering great casualties in the process) and put the entire city of Gibeah to the sword. In fact, they burned all of the town in Benjamin. Later, they felt bad about wiping out a tribe, but they'd killed all of the Benjamite women. So, their solution was to massacre a town except for the virgin women and let the remaining Benjamite men kidnap as many other virgin women as they needed.
Well, war came upon Gibeah for their heinous sin, and more sin followed that war.
Is there any question what was about to happen in Israel?
Just as the tribes of Israel united against Benjamin, Israel's neighbors would unite against her. "Double iniquity" is rather kind. The leader guide takes this literally and applies it to their idolatry and their trust in Assyria. But God has just listed numerous significant sins on the part of the people. Here are two alternative interpretations:
"Double iniquity" refers to "great sin" and is general.
"Double iniquity" is literally "two sins" and refers to the sin of the war against Benjamin in Judges 19-21 and every sin they've committed since.
I think the real key to the passage is the phrase "at My discretion" (literally "at My desire" and often translated "when I please"). All of these things will happen when God wants them to happen -- no sooner, no later. The rise and fall of empires (which is happening all around Israel at this time) happens on God's timetable to accomplish God's purposes.
People had complained that Israel was "getting away with" their sins. No, no they weren't.
Part 3: What Could Have Been (Hosea 10:11-12)
11 Ephraim is a well-trained calf that loves to thresh, but I will place a yoke on her fine neck. I will harness Ephraim; Judah will plow; Jacob will do the final plowing. 12 Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the Lord until he comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain.
I think Lifeway chose the wrong section title. This is not what could have been but what will be. Ephraim has been quite the "busy cow", but now they will be a slave cow to another master. They had God as their Master who treated them well and gave them a great life, but that day is over.
Judah will survive and continue to care for the Promised Land, but soon enough their plowing will also be over, and they too will go into exile.
Then we see that God is using "plowing/threshing" as a metaphor for living. This makes me think of the Parable of the Four Soils in Matthew 13:
Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. 8 Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown.
Jesus later explains that the people are the soil, and the people can control what kind of soil they will be and more importantly what they allow to take root in their "soil". The people of Israel have been "productive", but they have been producing wickedness, not righteousness.
To follow the illustration, over time their "soil" had grown hard, like how Pharaoh had hardened his heart. If they wanted to "sow righteousness" in their hearts, they needed to prepare the soil by breaking it up with a plow.
If you have connections with farming, you might be able to explain this illustration quickly and effectively. These past few years, with stretches of too little rain and too much rain and too much heat, have been incredibly hard on farmers. Those aren't good conditions for food crops, but there are weeds that are very good at growing in those conditions.
The people of Israel had their chance to enjoy very fertile, productive seasons, but they sowed wickedness, and now when they need righteousness the most, their hearts are not conditioned to cultivate it.
There's a question whether verse 12 is just to Judah as a people (as in "sow righteousness while you can") or to everybody who will listen as individuals (as in "fast and repent before your nation is destroyed and you lose everything"). Or -- a third option that I like -- this line is directed at future generations who do not have to repeat the mistakes of this generation.
It's a great illustration that lends itself to great questions:
What are you sowing in your life right now? (Talk about how you might "sow".)
What is the condition of the soil of your heart? (Talk about how you might control the quality and nature of your "soil".)
The final section talks about consequences of what has been sown. This section gives you a chance to focus on how/what to sow.
Part 4: Sowing Unrighteousness (Hosea 10:13-15)
13 You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in your large number of soldiers, 14 the roar of battle will rise against your people, and all your fortifications will be demolished in a day of war, like Shalman’s destruction of Beth-arbel. Mothers will be dashed to pieces along with their children. 15 So it will be done to you, Bethel, because of your extreme evil. At dawn the king of Israel will be totally destroyed.
This calls back the passage I mentioned earlier --
Indeed, they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. (8:7)
There's a little bit of karma-cause-and-effect in this to the extent that if you keep doing wicked things, eventually you'll get caught up in your own wickedness. But the focus is on divine justice -- God has known their wicked motives and intentions, and He will punish them for it. Yes, He will specifically go after their own blind spots (their trumped-up military will be crushed, the upper class who has crushed the lower class will also be crushed), but that's not "karma", that's justice. And it's horrifying. Consider Hebrews 10:
26 For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? ...
31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We don't know the story of Shalman and Beth-arbel (I like the suggestion that this refers to a recent incident involving the Assyrian king Shalmaneser), but we can conclude that Shalman destroyed the city of Beth-arbel and killed everyone in it.
The phrase" at dawn" includes the demonstrative idea of "on that day", so not necessary "tomorrow morning". "One day, this terrible thing will happen to you."
And there you go. Your sin will find you out.
We have one more lesson in Hosea, and it focuses on the end of the book and God's promise of forgiveness and restoration if the people will repent. An appropriate, hopeful ending.
But you don't have to wait until next week to offer hope! Make sure your group understands that as long as they're breathing, they can be right with God. They can make the changes to "sow righteousness" in their lives.
To bring back the illustration of "friends", challenge your group to be both a good friend to God, and a good friend to the people around them. And finally, as long as they have chosen to be "on God's team", they don't have to worry about all of the eternal punishment awaiting God's enemies.