Yesterday, we saw that Hosea was called to the difficult task of taking “a wife of whoredom” and having “children of whoredom” as an illustration of Israel’s infidelity in its relationship with God. Chapter 2 now addresses this infidelity. The chapter is divided neatly into two sections: first, a series of accusations against Yahweh’s people for their unfaithfulness (vv. 2–15); and, second, a series of promises of relational restoration between Yahweh and his people (vv. 16–23).
There is reference in this chapter to great prosperity: ample production of grain, wine, oil, and wool. Sadly, many of the people interpreted this prosperity as the blessing of Baal rather than Yahweh. While they remained Jewish in name, they had so diluted the Jewish faith with paganism that their religion was unrecognisable. The problem that Israel faced was syncretism, which Yahweh interpreted as infidelity.
South African Christianity, of course, is no stranger to syncretism. The mixture of Christianity with ancestor worship and various forms of witchcraft is rife. We must in no uncertain terms identify such syncretism precisely for what it is: religious infidelity. Hosea vividly describes Israel’s syncretism as “her whoring from her face” and “her adultery … between her breasts” (v. 2) and states plainly that she had “played the whore” (v. 5). He did not consider it a slightly different shade of fidelity to him but was sickened and angered by her adultery. Contemporary mixtures of Christianity and paganism are no less offensive to God.
For most of us, however, there is probably little threat of diluting Christianity with ancestor worship or witchcraft—though perhaps too many lend credence to such occultic practices as astrology, etc. Even if we remain free from what we perceive to be the superstitious practices of others, let us not think that Hosea’s warning bears no relevance to us.
One major manifestation of Israel’s syncretism was the way she ascribed Yahweh’s provision to other things. “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness” (vv. 8–9). Rather than recognising God’s gracious provision, Israel declared, “These are my wages, which my lovers have given me” (v. 12).
Too often, we fall into the same trap. We fail to give God thanks for his gracious provision for us and instead delude ourselves into believing that we have provided entirely for our own needs. We rely on employment stability, the stock market performance, and personal savings more than—or equal to—trusting God’s promises to provide for us.
We look elsewhere—outside of God and the Scriptures he has given—to have our emotional and spiritual needs met. Rather than allowing Scripture to define our weaknesses and sins and to show us how to live lives honouring to God, we may excuse ourselves by simply claiming that we are a certain number on the enneagram and we therefore can’t help our behaviour.
In short, we trust in other things as much as, if not more than, trusting in God. It all amounts to a prostitution of loyalties. God is not pleased. As he acted in discipline on Israel, we should not be surprised if he acts in discipline on us. We should not be surprised when he strips us of the gifts we have ascribed to others as a means to teach us reliance on him.
It is important to recognise God’s design in discipline. Gary Smith notes that “discipline is instructive and has the redemptive purpose of changing the way people think and act. God’s discipline also involves the invitation to try God’s way.” We see the hope of this in the latter part of the chapter. As bleak as things looked, there was hope. A time of restoration would follow because God’s discipline would produce the repentance that it was designed to produce. “The Valley of Achor” (“Achor” means “trouble”) would become “a door of hope” (v. 15) because Yahweh remained committed to his messianic promises.
As you meditate on Hosea 2 this morning, ask God to help you identify the seeds of syncretism in your faith, repent of your spiritual adultery, and embrace the wonderful promise of restored relationship with him.