No Worship in a Foreign Land

Originally posted October 20, 2019, at Women of Purpose.

The first nine verses of Hosea chapter 9 are hard to read. The prophet Hosea marches into a festal celebration where the people of Israel are enjoying (apparently) the Feast of Tabernacles—or rather, their version of the feast which had merged with the pagan harvest rituals and therefore took place on threshing floors rather than with booths set up at the temple. They are partying, pouring out drink offerings to the LORD, bringing sacrifices, and eating the bread baked from the firstfruits of the grain harvest, when Hosea walks in and rains on their parade with his pronouncement of judgement:

Rejoice not, O Israel!
Exult not like the peoples;
for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.
You have loved a prostitute’s wages
on all threshing floors.
Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them,
and the new wine shall fail them.
They shall not remain in the land of the Lord,
but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. — Hosea 9:1-3

They may have been calling their celebration a feast to the LORD, but, “Israel [did] not regard the harvest blessing upon its corn-floors as gifts from the goodness of its God, but as presents from the Baals, for which it had to serve them with greater zeal.”[1] It did not matter to God that they kept the name of his feast if they abandoned the original intent: to truly worship him with hearts of gratitude for the gracious gifts he continued to give. But even though their sacrifices did not please him he still sent Hosea to warn them to turn from their evil ways before the days of evil and recompense would come to sweep them away into exile. Their response, however, was not to repent, but to mock the Lord’s prophet:

The prophet is a fool;
the man of the spirit is mad,
because of your great iniquity
and great hatred.
The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God;
yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways,
and hatred in the house of his God.— Hosea 9:7-8

God’s righteous response to their deep and outrageous corruption will therefore be to “remember their iniquity [and] punish their sins” (9:9).

While the righteousness of God’s judgement rings out from the page, we must remember that it is only his mercy and steadfast lovingkindness that have stayed his hand and prevented him from raining fire and brimstone upon them as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. Though their deeds were abominably evil, in faithfulness to his covenant with Israel the LORD continued to send his prophets to Israel as watchmen.

The job of a watchman was to stand guard and watch for danger, and, if needed, to sound the alarm when danger approached so the people would be ready to meet it. The military watchmen in Hosea’s day watched out for the approach of enemy armies. For these watchmen to fail in their duties was to put the whole city in imminent peril. God’s prophets watched for his coming judgement. Hosea is sounding the alarm with increasing urgency as he sees judgement drawing near, in mercy calling Israel to repent lest they be destroyed.

Hosea was not the first, nor would he be the last prophet sent by God to warn his people to turn from their sin. For “even when God sent his own Son, the Lord Jesus, in all the beauty of his character and all the grace of his loving ministry, when the message of judgement was given, the people responded by nailing him to a cross.”[2]

And yet, the cross was the gracious means by which the richness of God’s mercy and the greatness of his love would be poured out upon all who are made alive through faith in Christ. Through the blindness of their sin, the Israelites of Jesus’ day rejected the urgency of his calls to repentance. Instead of heeding his alarm and embracing his message of mercy, they hurled insults at him, saying he had a demon (John 8:48). And when the fulness of time had come, God poured out the full fury of his wrath, not upon the crowds who called for his Son to be crucified, but upon Jesus: the Son of God and the true Israel; our Redeemer. At the cross the horror of sin and the uncompromising righteousness of God meet in his covenantal conspiracy to save sinners.

With outstretched arms and nail-scarred hands, Jesus continues to call sinners to repentance. This is the message of the Bible, and it is Hosea’s message in chapter 9. Do you hear the urgency of Hosea’s cry? “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. . . . [God] will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins” (9:7, 9). Do you hear the urgency of Jesus’ cry? “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Sister, if you are not entrusting yourself to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal salvation— flee to him even now. If you are in Christ— with whom do you need to share his merciful call to repentance?

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. — 2 Corinthians 6:2

[1] C. F. Keil, Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 10 The Minor Prophets, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers 2006, reprinted from the English version originally published 1866-91), 78.

[2] Richard D. Phillips, The Days of Punishment, sermon preached on Hosea 9:1-9, at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, 9/1/2019,

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