31 January 2013

Hosea 9:1-9

"The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come." (v. 7)


In Hosea 9, the prophet depicts the coming judgement against the backdrop of a harvest festival. Such a festival, Hosea warns, will no longer be possible when God has judged the land. Once again, the prophet offers a terrifying description of the consequences of idolatry.  

The prophet begins with a summary description of Israel's unfaithfulness. Israel has "played the whore" and "loved a prostitute's pay" (v. 1), both metaphors for covenant disloyalty to God. Such disloyalty, as the prophet has made clear, included both idolatry and the pursuit of national alliances. Israel was in danger of becoming like other nations, 'returning to Egypt' (verse 3) as if the Exodus had never taken place. God's chosen people were in danger of forgetting their identity.

The punishment to come upon Israel will be exile to Assyria (verse 3). In a cruel irony, Israel has sought protection from Assyria, but it is Assyria that will ultimately be Israel's undoing. In an unclean land, away from the Lord's house, the people can offer neither drink-offerings nor sacrifices (verse 4).

We also find a hint of how Hosea's own prophecy was received by the people - "the prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad" (v. 7). As Jesus later remarked, no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Luke 4:24) and - for Hosea too - a prophetic vocation came at great cost. As 'sentinels' for God (verse 8), the prophet announces the word of God, a word not always welcomed.

The passage ends with God's promise to remember the iniquity of Israel and punish their sins (verse 9). This seems surprising, but we must remember that the prophet also sees a more distant horizon where the punishment is reversed and forgiveness ensues (Hosea 14:4-7).

To Ponder

  • In what ways can Christians forget their identity as children of God, and so "return to Egypt" (v. 3)?
  • Are there prophets today who find it hard to find a hearing? Who might they be? What are they saying and how might we hear them better?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.