COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 8:12 I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing. 13 They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will He remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt. 14 For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.” (Hosea 8:12-14)
God has declared His nature in order that men may profit from that declaration, and eventually come to know Him. He has said He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex 34:7), and “will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nah 1:3). This is His nature, and He “cannot deny Himself,” or act in contradiction of that nature (2 Tim 2:13). This is not the only aspect of His holy character. He also is noted for “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:7), and is “slow to anger” (Nah 1:3). Yet, when men are obstinate, willingly continuing in their sin and forgetting God, He must deal with them, for His nature will not allow their iniquity to be overlooked. This is what we are seeing in the book of Hosea – God is dealing with a people who have chosen to sin even though God has been gracious and longsuffering toward them. Their obstinance has compelled Him to speak at length about their condition, when He would rather have healed them (Hos 7:1). We can profit from the text before us, because God remains the same in this respect. “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Heb 6:7-8).
WHEN THE WORD BECOMES STRANGE
“ 8:12 I have written to him the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing.”
See the remarkable detail of the Lord’s assessment of His people! Sin has a permeating quality about it, penetrating into every aspect of life. Now the Lord will diagnose Israel’s receptivity to His Law, which was specifically addressed to them, and generally to “all the world” (Rom 3:19). Those who are addressed by the Lord are strictly responsible for their reaction to His Word. Men may be tolerant of indifference, and even the disregard of that Word, but God will not ignore such responses. Although He is longsuffering and slow to anger, when men choose to ignore what He has said, those gracious qualities eventually yield to judgment and indignation.
I HAVE WRITTEN. Technically, it was Moses who wrote “the things” of God’s Law. As it is written, “And Moses wrote this law” (Deut 31:9; Ex 24:4). Yet, like the holy prophets, he wrote as he was “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). Elsewhere this revelation is spoken of in this manner: “He showeth His Word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel” (Psa 147:19). God’s Law could not have been written if He did not give it – therefore He says, “I have written.” It was not given as a general message, to be submitted to the scrutiny of men – therefore He says, “I have written to him” (Ephraim, or Israel). Some versions read, “I wrote FOR them,” NIV/NRSV emphasizing that the writing was made readily available to them – put, as it were, within their reach. It was not a secret writing, or something that was not made known to them.
THE GREAT THINGS OF MY LAW. The emphasis here is upon the quantity of what was written. Other versions read, “ten thousand precepts,” NASB “the many things of My law,” NIV “the multitude of My instructions,” NRSV “My laws by ten thousands,” RSV “the manifold things of My law,” DARBY “a multitude of commands,” SEPTUAGINT “the many teachings,” TNK and “numerous things of My law.” YLT
The idea here is that Israel was wholly unjustified in going about to establish their own righteousness (Ezek 33:13; Rom 10:3), as though the Law had not been adequately clear and concise. The “things” of reference are not the Ten Commandments themselves, but the extensive elaboration of those commandments – the “how to” of the Old Covenant. These many laws and precepts are generally referred to as the “ceremonial law” – the manner in which the Ten Commandments were to be carried out. The Holy Spirit refers to this as “meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances” (Heb 9:10). Israel did not wander because they had not received enough information, or because the Lord had in any way been vague and ambiguous in what He required. He had written volumes to them, providing every detail of life toward God and toward man.
COUNTED AS A STRANGE THING. Other versions read, “regarded them as something alien,” NIV “accounted as foreign,” DOUAY and “they act as if those laws don’t apply to them.” NLT This is the Divine explanation for Israel’s tendency to ignore and forget God’s Law. It was because they saw no relevance in it, even though it had been written to them. Although it was abundant in both content and clarity, yet to them it was like a message to another people in a foreign language. They did not perceive it as something they required, or into which they ought to make inquiry.
It should be evident to you that we are faced with the same situation as Hosea – a people to whom much has been given, yet who see in those abundant provisions nothing of relevance. Within the professed church there is such an abysmal ignorance of the Word of God that it is staggering to ponder. Inside the nominal church, the Bible is treated as a “strange thing.” Men prefer other sources of information, other textbooks for their Bible classes, and other messages to stir the people. Knowledgeable people know this is the case. Hosea tells us why: it is people to whom the Bible is a “strange thing.” They do not feel it pertains to them, and thus they have laid it aside in preference of the words of men. This is a most serious condition, for it indicates there is no new heart into which God’s laws have been written. It suggests that people have not really been born again, and thus have no appetite for the things of God. I hardly see how a condition can be more serious.
There is another principle to be seen here. When the Law is not within the heart, it must be given to the people in great detail. One might think this to be sufficient for man to correct his deviate behavior, but this is not so. We have in Israel a demonstration of the futility of law as a means to righteousness. Although chosen, favored, directed, protected, and tutored in great detail, Israel wandered away from God, seeking her own way.
WHEN RELIGION IS NOT HONORED IN HEAVEN
“ 13 They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of Mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will He remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.”
These words confirm that Israel counted “the great things” of God’s law as a “strange thing.” The fact that they pursued their own way, in spite of the warnings of the Prophets and various chastenings they had endured, corroborate they had seen no relevance in the abundant “things” of God’s Law that were addressed specifically to them.
FLESH FOR SACRIFICE. Other versions read, “As for My sacrificial gifts, They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,” NASB and “They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat.” NIV The idea is that Israel went through the ceremony of offering sacrifices to God, putting the whole burnt offerings upon the altar. Yet, instead of really offering them to God, they ate it, treating the meat as being cooked for themselves rather than being sacrificed to God.
Their religion had become nothing more than a means of gratifying their own appetites. They were doing what James charged those to whom he wrote, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). The sacrifices were God’s offerings, but the people who offered them were eating them. A New Covenant example of this kind of sin is the transgression of Ananias and Sapphira, who “kept back”
part of what they pretended to offer to God. It cost them their lives (Acts 5).
When a person’s religion becomes the means of satisfying personal fleshly preferences, it is rejected by God. The gravity of this situation is that we are living in a time when this is actually taking place. A religion is being offered that requires no change of nature, and no preference for the things of God. People are actually pretending to offer to God what is fundamentally satisfying to their “old man.” The magnitude of this sin is that infinitely more has been offered in Jesus Christ than was ever offered under the Law.
THE LORD DID NOT ACCEPT THEM. Israel was maintaining the outward show of religion, fulfilling some of the external requirements of the Law. However, their heart was not toward the Lord, and therefore He did not accept “THEM.” That is, He rejected the people themselves. Consequently, nothing that they offered was acceptable to Him. This rejection is stated several times in Scripture. Twice the affirmation came through Jeremiah the prophet. “Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; He will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins” (Jer 14:10). And again, “When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jer 14:12). Amos declared the same rejection: “Though ye offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:22).
The thought of being rejected by God, together with all of one’s offerings, is seen in the response Jesus will give to “many” who, in the last day, will affirm how much they had done for Him: “I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23).
HE WILL REMEMBER THEIR INIQUITY. These same words are restated in the ninth chapter: “He will remember their iniquity” (9:9). When God remembers iniquity, it never results in blessing. These words do not suggest there is ever a time when iniquity is unknown by Him. Rather, they declare the conclusion of His longsuffering, and the end of Divine forbearance. This is the same God who “remembered that they were but flesh” (Psa 78:30), and “remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant” (Psa 105:42). When, however, God remembers iniquity, His good promises recede into the background, and judgment is sure to follow.
HE WILL VISIT THEIR SIN. Other versions read, “punish their sins,” NKJV and “punish them for their sins.” NASB This is the reaping of the whirlwind (8:7). The Psalmist spoke of this kind of visitation: “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes” (Psa 89:32). Thus Moses’ words were brought to pass: “But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23). God has declared this to be His nature (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9).
THEY SHALL RETURN TO EGYPT. God had warned the people not to choose a king who would cause they to return to Egypt (Deut 17:16). Here, the idea is that they would flee to Egypt for refuge, but only die their, to see their homeland no more (Hos 9:3,6). This also fulfilled the word of Moses, “And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you” (Deu 28:68)
THEY FORGOT THEIR MAKER
“ 14 For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.”
FORGOTTEN HIS MAKER. Remember, this statement is made of Israel while they were engaged in a phenomenal amount of religious activity – some to idols, and some supposedly to the God of Abraham. More than once it is said of Israel, they “forgat the Lord their God” (Judges 3:7; 1 Sam 12:9; Psa 106:21). Moses said of this people, “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Deu 32:18). Isaiah said of them, “thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation” (Isa 17:10). Jeremiah also said of them, “they have forgotten the Lord their God” (Jer 3:21). Through Ezekiel God said to them, “thou hast forgotten Me, and cast ME behind thy back” (Ezek 23:35).
This was in spite of their unparalleled deliverance from Egypt, and their remarkable entrance into Canaan and triumph over seven nations greater and mightier than themselves (Deut 7:1). They forgot the Lord even though He had faithfully sent the prophets to them “rising up early and speaking” (Jer 7:13). How poignantly the Lord spoke to Israel through Jeremiah: “And they have turned unto Me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction” (Jer 32:33).
The people of Israel are undeniable evidence that the flesh cannot learn from God. They were delivered, yet could not learn. They were given a holy and good law from God, yet could not learn. They were miraculously fed, yet could not learn. They were protected from aggressive enemies, yet could not learn. They were given a land, and an angel who drove out their enemies, yet could not learn. They were sent holy prophets, yet could not learn. After a staggering amount of Divine attention was given to them over a period of 1,500 years, the testimony of heaven was, “All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom 10:21).
There should be no question about the necessity of being born again. No person who bears Jesus’ name should be arguing about whether or not we can be saved by Law, or if the grace of God is sufficient. If Israel was not excused for rejecting the Law and the Prophets, what will be said of those who have turned their back on the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified, an unholy thing (Heb 10:29). There is no acceptable excuse for any “Christian” to be unspiritual, or “carnal.”
BUILDETH TEMPLES. Here is a statement of the greatest irony. Israel forgot their God while they were building temples – temples that were wholly related to religion. At the dedication of the Temple, which was sanctified by the Divine Presence (1 Kgs 8:10,11), Solomon pled that God would honor any Israelites who looked toward that temple and sought Divine favor – even if they were in a captive land (1 Kgs 8:29-43). But Israel now builds temples for itself, ignoring the house of God. They gloried in their own temples. They proudly displayed religious pomp and splendor in the temples of their own making. But they forgot their God – the God who had revealed Himself to them, cared for them, and faithfully assessed and warned them through the holy prophets.
MULTIPLIED FENCED CITIES. Fenced cities were “fortified cities.” NKJV/NASB It is not that building fenced, or fortified, cities was wrong. When doing that “which was right in the eyes of the Lord his God,” Asa “built fenced cities in Judah” (2 Chron 14:6). Jehosaphat did the same (2 Chron 17:2). The transgression was in trusting in fenced, or walled, cities, rather than in the Lord. As it is written, “except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Psa 127:1).
Although a city has what appears to be impregnable walls, if those in that city are not aligned with the Living God, their walls will have no value in the day of Divine retribution. The city of Jericho will rise in the day of judgment to attest to that fact.
FIRE AND DEVOURING. Of the fenced cities, together with their majestic buildings and temples, the Lord says, “but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.” Not only, therefore, was the religion of Israel in vain, everything that they did while in that condition was vain as well. What appeared to be desolation wrought by a political foe, was actually a judgment from the Lord. He removed the works in which they delighted and trusted.
The ultimate fulfillment of this text will come in the day of the Lord. “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thess 5:3).