COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 13:7 Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them: 8 I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them. 9 O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help.” (Hosea 13:7-9)
In His continuation of the critique of Israel, the Lord confirms to us what it is like to fall into the hands of the living God. This is a concept that is not confined to Old Covenant times. Those in Christ Jesus are told, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people .It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:29-31). The modern church is very deficient in its understanding of this aspect of the Divine nature. That, of course, is why books like Hosea have been written for our learning – to acquaint us more completely with the God who was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. We must be able to perceive and receive the fact that God has not changed. Nor, indeed, is He capable of change. His nature is precisely the same as it was in the time of Hosea. Unfaithfulness to Him and dependence upon the world still have the same effect upon Him. The complicating factor, as indicated in the text quoted above, is that now, with much more of Himself revealed, and a provision for remission and empowerment provided, those who reject Divine overtures will be treated even more severely – with “much sorer punishment.” While this may not be pleasant to ponder, as Paul would say, for us “it is safe” (Phil 3:1).
AS A LION AND A LEOPARD
“ 13:7 Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them.”
Because it is difficult for men to conceive of the manner in which God reacts to those who choose sin after He has revealed Himself to them, the Lord extends Himself to impress upon our spirits the severity of the consequences of sin. Technically, we should not require such explanations, particularly since the effects of Jesus bearing our sins in His body on the tree have been written in the record God has given of His Son. Yet, flesh has a dulling effect upon the human spirit that requires some remembrances of Divine dealings with backsliders. There are passages of Scripture that focus on these dealings – passages that are addressed to the church (Rom 11:20-22; 1 Cor 10:1-11; Heb 3:7-13; 4:1-11; Jude 1:5). When, therefore, we consider the failings of Israel and God’s reaction to them, we are reasoning after the manner of the Spirit. The record of God’s dealings with Israel has been written for this very reason – to confirm how God deals with those who spurn Him.
In both of the likenesses that follow (lion and leopard), Israel is depicted as a flock of sheep who are utterly helpless on their own. Their iniquity has made them subject to the wrath of God – the very One who had delivered them from their oppressors. This consideration should cause the greatest sobriety among the people of God.
AS A LION. Hosea has elsewhere spoken of God being unto Israel as a lion. “For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah” (5:14). And again, “He shall roar like a lion: when He shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west” (11:10). There is a principle to be seen here that provides a broad and more thorough view of the Lord. He is, by His very nature, “gentle” and “kind” (Psa 18:35; 2 Sam 2:6). However, those who disdain that gentleness and kindness will experience another side of the Divine character. As it is written, “With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show Thyself upright; with the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward” (Psa 18:25-26). In being “as a Lion” to Israel, God was being “froward,” or unsavory and tortuous.
These words are designed to awaken the lethargic from their sinful stupor. These are not vain words. They are not mere rhetoric or hot air. Unless repentance is realized, God will “recompense” all disobedience, hard heartedness, and disregard of His counsel. The words ring through the centuries, “I will recompense” (Jer 16:18; 25:14; Ezek 7:4,9; 9:10; 11:21; Heb 10:30). Israel had a history that testified to the truth of this Divine capacity. 3,000 died at Sinai (Ex 32:28). 14,700 died in the insurrection of Korah (Num 16:19). 24,000 died in the plague resulting from their sin with the daughters of Moab (Num 25:9). 603,550 fighting men died in the wilderness because they did not believe the promised land could be possessed (Num 1:45-46; Josh 5:6; Heb 3:17). 70,000 died after David numbered Israel (2 Sam 24:15). This is not to mention Adam and Eve, Cain, the world of Noah’s day, the builders of Babel’s tower, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptians, Sennacherib, Sihon, Og, and a host of others. There simply was no reason for Israel to be ignorant of the response of God to wickedness – particularly among those to whom He revealed Himself. It is even more inexcusable in “the day of salvation.”
Just as men cannot reason with a lion, so men will not be able to cause God to turn from destroying them if they do not repent.
AS A LEOPARD. “As a leopard by the way will I observe them.” Other versions read “I will lie in wait by the wayside,” NASB “lurk by the path,” NIV “I shall lurk beside the road.” NJB Here the Lord says He will become like a stalking leopard, waiting for the moment to pounce on its prey when it is weak and least expects it. The idea is that of a speedy and decisive overthrow. Through Jeremiah God spoke of His judgment in a similar fashion: “a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces” (Jer 5:6). This is the same God who “bare” them “on eagle’s wings,” bringing them out of Egypt to Himself (Ex 19:4). What moved the Lord, who was as a mighty rescuing eagle, to conduct Himself toward the same people as a stalking and vicious leopard? It was the sin of the people. It was their insistence on trusting in and worshiping other gods. It was in their inveterate propensity of making alliances with the very nations from whom God had separated them. Such reprehensible conduct moved God from being their Savior to their Destroyer, from being their Protector to being their Enemy.
The eyes of the Lord, which were once upon Israel for good (Deut 30:9), now view them with a mind to destroying them, like a lion destroys a lamb, or a leopard stalks the sheep. This is a most arresting and sobering consideration.
THE BEAR, THE LION, AND THE WILD BEAST
“ 8 I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.”
The language here is anything but casual. The manner in which the Lord speaks to Israel accentuates the dreadful nature of iniquity – for that is the whole reason for Him speaking in such a way. Moses once said these staggering words about the Lord: “Know therefore that the Lord thy God . . . repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: He will not be slack to him that Hateth him, He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7:10). Again, warning Israel of the consequences of sin, Moses said of the Lord: “And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it” (Deut 28:63). Now, in Hosea’s day, this is going to come to pass, and Hosea has been sent to announce it. The language that follows is destructive language. It speaks of a God who has been offended and will do something about it. Jesus said we are to “fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). James said there was One “who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12).
As unsavory as such words may seem, as long as we are in the body, we must be made aware of them. The understanding of these things assists us in overcoming the flesh. They are not intended to drive us away from God, but to cause us to run to Him, for those who come to Him through Christ will not experience such treatment. All others will!
MEET THEM AS A BEAR. To those of Hosea’s day, the bear spoke of the Syrian bears which are even more fierce than the brown bears with which we are familiar. They would attack flocks, as confirmed in David’s experience while keeping his father’s sheep (1 Sam 17:34). The ferocity of a she-bear “bereaved [robbed] of her whelps [cubs]” became a proverb, depicting something to be greatly feared (2 Sam 17:8; Prov 17:12). Of old, Jerome () wrote, “They who have written on the nature of wild beasts, say that none is more savage than the she-bear, when she has lost her whelps or lacks food.” Here we see a marvelous blending of tender love and ferocious anger. The she-bear tenderly cares for her cubs at the risk of her own life, yet turns her wrath against those who would harm them. In this text, that wrath is turned against Israel herself, who at one time was more like the cubs than the one who stole the cubs. What a change sin works in the nature of people!
REND THE CAUL OF THEIR HEART AND DEVOUR AS THE LION. Other versions read, “tear upon the rib cage,” NKJV “tear open their chests,” NASB “rip them open,” NIV and “tear open the covering of their heart.” NRSV This language jars the soul and shakes the mind – and that is what it is designed to do. Men are not to be guilty of underestimating the awesome results of sinning against the living God! Sin is never to be viewed with sympathy and toleration, as though it was some innocent, a mistake or an error. This is not the case at all – particularly when it is found among those to whom God has revealed Himself, and whom He has blessed.
The language here is remarkably vivid – even gruesome. The “caul” is the protective covering, or enclosure, of the heart. Medically, this is called the pericardium – the membrane enclosing the heart. The situation being described is this: the Israelites had shut off their hearts from God. Their hearts were enclosed in the membrane of insensitivity, and housed in an envelop of stone. Even as a lion rips open its victim, tearing out its heart, so God would strip away the insensitiveness of the people, making them not only acutely aware of His presence, but of the devouring effects of His indignation. They would cry out, “He hath torn . . . He hath smitten” (Hos 6:1). They would cry out with the Psalmist, “For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled” (Psa 90:7. They would perceive what Daniel saw: “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand Thy truth” (Dan 9:13). Moses had warned the people that God would “devour” them if they broke the covenant He made with them (Deut 31:17).
TEAR THEM AS A WILD BEAST. Other versions read “as a wild beast would mangle them,” NRSV and “tear them apart.” NIB The idea here is that God will give them up to their own enemies, who will show them “no mercy” (Jer 6:23; Hab 1:6-10). Moses wrote of God sending “wild beasts” among the people, who would mercilessly devour them and their children (Lev 26:22; Deut 32:24; Ezek 5:17). Whatever can be done to avoid such awful judgments must be done! There is no effort too great to expend, and no action that is too extensive to avoid falling into the hands of the living God! God be praised for the Lord Jesus, who has delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10), which is worse than that of our text!
ISRAEL’S SOLITARY HELP
“ 9 O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help.” Here is a plaintive cry from the Lord – a cry in which you sense His great heart, and desire to bless His people. Their iniquities have “separated” them from God, and their “sins” have “Hid face” from them (Isa 59:2). He wanted to bless them, but His nature would not allow Him to do so because they were “bent to backsliding” (Hos11:7) and were “slidden back by a perpetual backsliding,” refusing to “return” to the Lord (Jer 8:5). What a tragic condition!
THOU HAST DESTROYED THYSELF! It is one thing to be seemingly defeated by your enemies – as when Abel was killed by Cain (Gen 4:8), or Stephen when he was stoned by his fellow countrymen (Acts 7:58-59, or John exiled on the Isle of Patmos (Rev 1:9). It is one thing for David to temporarily flee from Saul (1 Sam 19:10,18; 20:1), or even from his own son Absalom (2 Sam 15:14). Many of God’s people have endured such things, as Elijah when he fled from Jezebel (2 Kgs 19:1-3), or Zechariah who was stoned in the court of the Lord (2 Chron 24:20-21; Luke 11:51).
However, this was not the case with Israel. She had destroyed herself. Her destruction was the fruit of her own doing – something that she brought upon herself. Elsewhere Hosea said, “thou hast fallen by thy iniquity” (14:1). After listing their horrendous sins (2 Kgs 17:7-17), it is written, “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only” (2 Kgs 17:18). That judgment was brought upon Israel by themselves!
Some people and nations have been overthrown because people prayed to God for deliverance – like Hezekiah praying for deliverance from the Assyrian army (2 Kgs 19:35). But Israel’s overthrow did not come by means of a prayer, but from themselves. They sowed the seeds of their own destruction.
Solomon spoke of the foolish man who “destroyeth his own soul” (Prov 6:32). He represents wisdom as saying, “But he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate Me love death” (Prov 8:36). Isaiah said of wayward Israel, “they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (Isa 3:9). Again, Isaiah says of the wicked, “the reward of his hands shall be given unto him” (Isa 3:11). Jeremiah said of the overthrow of God’s people, “Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, when He led thee by the way?” (Jer 2:17). And again, “Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee” (Jer 4:18).
Few, if any, circumstances are as tragic as this – to be overthrown by your own doings. The New Covenant equivalent of this is, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). It appears to me that there is an inordinately low level of understanding among professed believers on this matter. Too many Christians are sloppy in their lives, catering to their flesh, and providing fodder for the “old man.” Unless that situation is corrected, their fall is inevitable, and will not be able to be avoided.
IN ME IS THINE HELP. Of all of the people in the world, you would think Israel would be the last to require such a word. They had been raised up from Abraham and Sarah – parents who, according to the flesh, could not have a single child. They were cared for in Egypt, in the land of Goshen (Ex 8:22; 9:26). They were delivered from Egypt in a single night, without the objection of a single barking dog (Ex 11:7). Under impossible circumstances they had been sustained in the wilderness (Deut 2:7), overcame Jericho (Josh 6:1-24), and inhabited a land that housed seven nations, each one being stronger then themselves (Deut 7:1). Under king David, the nations were subdued (2 Sam 8:11). Under Zerubbabel the Temple was restored (Zech 4:9; Ezra 6:14-15). Under Ezra the priestly order was restored (Ezra 10:5). Under Nehemiah the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (Neh 6:15).
There was no good reason why Israel should have required such a reminder. Of all of the people on the face of the earth, they knew of the help of God more than any others. Yet, all of that Divine help had been forgotten. They had courted the favor and help of the Egyptians and the Assyrians. While they were experiencing the blessings of the Lord, and being filled with plenty, the Lord lamented, “therefore have they forgotten Me” (Hos 13:6).
This is what sin does to a person or to a nation. It compels the people to forget what God has done for them. It is not possible to go down the path of sin and transgression without forgetting the Lord, His blessings, and His favor. I continue to be impressed with how people imagine that thanksgiving and appreciation can suddenly be awakened in the midst of rebellion against God and a refusal to walk in the light. The ONLY way to avoid forgetting God is our Helper is to live by faith and walk in the Spirit. It this is not done, there is no way to avoid forgetfulness, which necessarily incurs the judgment of God.