Hosea was full of complaints against the people of God; for, in his day, they had very sadly wandered from the Lord. They had even forgotten him. In Hosea’s prophecy, we have the plaintive voice of a loving God chiding his backsliding children.
Hos_13:1. When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.
A modest, humble, trembling heart is often by far the sounder heart, but when we begin to sin, and to sin boastfully, and to wrap ourselves about with the robe of self-complacency, then is death very near to us: “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.”
Hos_13:2. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the word of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.
When Jeroboam became king of the new kingdom of Israel, — in order to prevent his subjects from going to Jerusalem to worship God in Solomon’s temple, — he started two shrines at Dan and Bethel, and there he set up what Holy Scripture calls in derision “calves.” I suppose that his idea was to make images of a bull, the emblem of power, intending them to be the symbol of the Divine Being, and that the people intended still to worship God, but to worship him under the image of a bull. It is the same in Roman Catholicism to this day, — the worship of God, the worship of Christ, by means of crucifixes, and emblems and symbols of various kinds. But when men once begin that kind of idolatry, there is no knowing where they will stop; for the worship of God, through the medium of symbol, soon grows into the worship of other gods saints and saintesses, “blessed virgins” and I know not what besides, are pretty sure to be set up when once people begin to make use of outward and visible emblems of the Deity. So it was with these ancient Israelites. From worshipping the bull, which was meant to be a type of the omnipotent God, they went on to the worshipping of “molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding.” Brethren, let us take warning from these idolaters, and always keep to the simplicity of worship ordained by God in his Word. However comely and beautiful, or grand and imposing, and, consequently, fascinating, any form of idolatry may be to some minds, let us utterly despise it if it is not according to the mind of God, and the teaching of his spirit, as revealed in his Word.
Hos_13:3. Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney.
Those who will have gods of their own making shall have but a brief enjoyment of them. He who truly worships the everlasting God shall have an everlasting blessing; but he who worships gods that he has himself made, — mere objects of this mortal day, shall have but a short day of it. He shall be as the early dew, which glistens brightly, but is soon gone; or as the morning cloud, which is banished by the rising of the sun.
Hos_13:4-5. Yet I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no Saviour beside me. I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
The Israelites drew near to God when they wanted bread and water in the wilderness. God says, “I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought;” and the Lord might say to his people nowadays, “I did know you when you were very sick, when you were very poor, when you were in great trouble. You sought me then; how is it that you are trying to do without me now?”
Hos_13:6-8. According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me. Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them: 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.
When men forget God, they may expect that they will meet with some terrible judgments; and God’s own people especially will find this to be the case with them if they forget the Lord. Our God is a very jealous God; and when his children will set their hearts on other objects instead of upon himself, he will take care to embitter those objects of their affection to them. He will make their idols to be loathed by them. If God did not love us very much, he would think little of our faults, but just because he loves us so much, he cannot bear that any part of our heart’s affection should go away from himself. So, if he sees that we deal unfaithfully with him, he will make us realize that sin is an exceedingly evil and bitter thing. His anger against us will be like that of a bear that is robbed of her whelps, or of a lion or leopard leaping upon his prey.
Hos_13:9. Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.
“You have gone away from me, but I will bring you back again. You have destroyed yourself by your sin, but I will restore you to my favor by my grace. You may look within yourself for causes of repentance, but you must not look to yourself for the means of restoration; you must look to me, your Saviour and your God.” So this verse teaches us “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.”