The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his readers to be on guard against, and to warn one another about, “the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). Sin is deceitful. Our focus in these devotions is not on Hebrews, however, but on Hosea. Hosea 12 focuses very heavily on the sinfulness of deceit.
In the Hebrew Bible, 11:12 is included as the first verse of chapter 12, and it probably fits the context better that way. That verse sets the stage for the focus of chapter 12. Hosea writes, “Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the holy one” (11:12). The theme of deceit, which is clearly stated in this verse, dominates chapter 12. God clearly reveals that he is displeased with deceit.
While many still consider truth to be a virtue, most seem to affirm this only in practice. We are surrounded by lies and deceit. We take it for granted that politicians, lawyers, and used car salesmen will include a fair amount of deceit in their presentations. We are cynical of the claims of advertisers, who are rarely entirely honest about their products. Conspiracy theorists take cynicism to an entirely new level though, at heart, we all share a degree of cynicism because of the pervasiveness of societal deceit.
But deceit is not only a sin problem “out there”: It is as much a problem in the church as it is in the world. And while we may have come to assume that people will lie, God here reveals that he is displeased with deceit—particularly among his people.
Deceit may be displayed in the dishonesty of our lips. We may simply lie outright. But that is not the only manifestation of deceit in our lives. Deceit can be displayed in our actions as much as in our words.
We may profess trust in the sovereign God and yet resort to all manner of underhanded tricks to solve our own problems. Israel displayed its deceit by forming an alliance with Assyria while professing to trust Yahweh (12:1). We do the same when we profess to trust God but resort to political fenagling to solve our problems.
Christian employees often profess to love and obey God in their busines practices but quickly turn to shady dealings to bring in that bit of extra income. We are like the merchants in whose hands are false balances (12:7). Our fidelity to God and his word is quickly jettisoned when we realise that a little shading of the truth can produce a greater profit.
We display deceit even in our church life when we profess loyalty to God and his word and yet reject the authority of the apostles and prophets laid out in the Bible. Like the Israelites who rejected the words of the prophets God sent to them (12:10), we too often profess loyalty to Christ but reject his word to us at the same time.
The call to renounce the sin of deceit and embrace the beauty of truth is consistent in Scripture. If we wish to be relieved of our bloodguilt and not repaid for our disgraceful deeds (12:14), we must recognise and embrace the beauty of truth. Here, briefly, are four motivations for us to embrace truth rather than the deceit of which Israel was guilty.
First, we should embrace truth and reject deceit because truth endures. “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19). “A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure” (Proverbs 21:28).
Second, we should embrace truth and reject deceit because truth is the path to wisdom. “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps…. The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge” (14:15, 18).
Third, we should embrace truth and reject deceit because truth honours people. “A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful” (14:25). It is honourable to value human life, and truth does just that.
Fourth, we should embrace truth and reject deceit because truth honours the Lord. “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (17:4). Listening to wicked, mischievous, lying tongues is evil. Truth is an act of obedience to God; lying is an act of disobedience. Obeying God honours him; truthful lips, therefore, honour the Lord.
As you meditate on Hosea 12 this morning, ask God to help you identify the areas in which you are practising deceit. Them pray for the strength to put of lying and instead speak the truth in love.