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The first post-high school job I had was working behind the counter at a dry cleaning and shoe repair shop. I quickly discovered that shoe repair is not a job for those plagued with OCD. Often, when repairing heels or adding rubber soles to leather shoes, the edges would not match perfectly. If the surface wasn’t entirely flat, small cracks between the rubber and the leather would show. To give a more polished finish, the cobblers would rub a small amount of wax into the crack and then cover it with polish. The finish was beautiful. Over time, however, as pressure was applied, the wax would work its way out of the cracks and the imperfections would show.

It always struck me that using the wax was a subtle way to feign perfection. In fact, the Greek word for “sincere” came from the practice of using wax to cover imperfections in pottery. A vase without wax was “sincere,” while those that included wax to cover the imperfections were “insincere.” Wax was malleable enough to give the appearance of sincerity, though its insincerity was easily detected by holding the product up to the light, or supplying sufficient heat.

Hosea 8 highlights God’s concern about Israel’s insincere worship—about the nation’s pretended piety. While listing the litany of sins of which the nation was guilty, Hosea wrote, “Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning” (v. 11). If that sounds confusing, allow me a moment to explain.

When God gave the Promised Land to Israel, he commanded that all the altars in the land be destroyed. There was to be one place for sacrifice: the tabernacle (later, the temple). Its altar was the place where sacrifices for sin were to be offered. Over the decades and centuries, however, Israel failed to destroy pagan altars, and even constructed altars of their own. They did this with a guise of piety. These altars were “for sin” (CSB). That is, they were places to confess and repent of sin. Really, all they were doing was creating more opportunity for people to recognise and repent of their sin. Surely that was commendable? God saw right through it. Their pretended piety ignored his clear command against creating additional altars and led the people down the road to idolatry. He was not impressed with their insincere worship.

As we read Hosea 8, we discover at least three things that Israel’s pretended piety revealed.

First, Israel’s pretended piety revealed the seriousness of sin. We considered this a little in yesterday’s devotion, but the point is emphasised again. Israel tried to hide their sin beneath a veneer of piety but God quickly revealed it. Throughout the prophecy, he called the people out for their sin, going so far as to list a litany of sins of which they were guilty. He would not allow their pretended piety to mask the seriousness of their sin.

If we pretend piety for long enough, we may become so accustomed to it that we forget just how serious sin is. Sin earns us death. Sin cost Jesus his life. Sin is no trivial matter, regardless of how trivial our pretended piety makes it out to be.

Second, Israel’s pretended piety revealed God’s attitude toward hypocrisy. The altars that the people constructed were ostensibly places for people to recognise and repent of their sin, but this was pure hypocrisy because the creation of the altars was a sin in and of itself. It was hypocritical to use religious practices as a means to break God’s law.

We often fall into the trap of doing the same. Our commitment to the Lord ramps up with the severity of our trial. When things are going smoothly, our devotion wanes a little. When trial strikes, our Bible reading, prayer life, and church attendance become more urgent. This may not be wrong—perhaps awareness of need genuinely drives us to deeper devotion—but we must always be on guard against using piety as a pretence of devotion.

Third, Israel’s pretended piety revealed God’s love for his people. As dreadful as the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles were, they were evidence that God was committed to his people’s purity. The messianic line needed to be protected and God would do what was necessary to do that.

Chastening is never pleasant in the moment but is always evidence that God loves his people.

As you meditate on Hosea 8 this morning, examine your devotion to the Lord. Are you pretending piety but only masking your sin, or are you seeking to worship God in spirit and in truth?