During the reign of Hoshea, the continual provocation of the Lord’s jealousy by the tribes of Israel culminated in their exile to Assyria. Prophets foretold it, warned the kings and the people in graphic language, and suffered deep sorrow in anticipation of it.
I. The Immediate provocation for Exile.
A. The heavenly reason for exile was Israel’s evil. Verse 2 says, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, only not as the kings of Israel who were before him.” Hoshea did not lead the nation to righteousness but did evil. He was not as radical in this as other kings, so the exile was not an immediate response to his evil-doing, but the righteous judgment from Yahweh for extended and uninterrupted unfaithfulness to God’s law and God’s prophets. The final reason for this national calamity was national evil that provoked divine justice.
B. The earthly reason for the dissolution of the nation was secret revocation of an agreement. Early during the reign of Hoshea, Shalmaneser laid Israel under tribute (3). For some years Hoshea paid it, but then in the sixth year of his reign stopped paying it and sought help from Egypt (4). Assyria besieged Samaria for three years and in Hoshea’s ninth year captured the city, sealing his dominance over the entire territory of Israel and resettled most of the inhabitants of Israel in different towns of Assyria (6). They entered the land under Hoshea, son of Nun (Joshua 4:1-9), and left the land under Hoshea, son of Elah.
C. The wrath of the king of Assyria is but a parable of the infinitely more potent and justified anger of the covenant God of Israel. The most egregious disloyalty and dereliction of tribute was not to the king of Assyria but to the Lord of heaven and earth. Any sin against God will show itself also in potential violation of all earthly trust and duty.
II. The Chronicler’s inspired explanation for the Exile (7-19).
A. The writer gives an unvarnished statement of the cause—“Now this came about because …” (7a). All of his reasons have to do with offenses toward heaven. No disobedience or equivocation finally will fail to show up in the things for which to God we must give account.
- The general truth in all that they did is that they ”sinned against the Lord their God.” Theirs were measured in particular ways in light of specific privileges. It is a general truth, however, even for those who have not sinned “after the similitude of” Israel’s transgression. That the law of God has been violated in hand and in heart. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteousness, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless” (Romans 3:10-12).
- Their deliverance from Egypt by the power of Yahweh, putting to flight all the gods of the Egyptians and demolishing the haughty power and pretensions of the Pharaoh, his magicians, his officials, and his army. The Israelites were supposed to teach those things from generation to generation so that they would not forget (Exodus 13:8,9; 14-16; Deuteronomy 6:20-25). “When your son asks you in time to come, …, then you shall say to your son, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt …”
- Rather than utterly destroy the pagans that occupied the land, and thoroughly cleanse the land of all idolatry, they adopted the customs, the gods, and the altars of those nations. They violated both of the first two commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the lands of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20: 2, 3).
- They followed the “customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced.” The refrain is repeated with regularity, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin” (2 Kings 15:9, 18, 28). They made their own altars, their own priests, and this irregularity of worship led to blatant disobedience and destructive idolatry. They would not serve the God who delivered them from their enemies, so he delivered them back to their enemies. They wanted freedom from the holy regulations of God, so God gave them over to the oppression of pagans. They had been rescued from Egypt and exchanged it for Assyria.
B. They pursued false worship with abandon (9-12).
- The writer means that what was blatant in the end was done stealthily at first—“secret things that were not right.” A heart of disloyalty will produce a person of gross rebellion.
- The high places of Jeroboam that were meant to replace Jerusalem eventually replaced God himself. So superstitious and feverish for gods of their own making were the people, that sites for worship were now multiplied in places large and small, prominent and remote.
- Secret idolatry gave way to burning of incense on special sites designed for worship of the goddess of fertility, Ashera. This violated not only the first table of the law, but the second table. The writer summarized a litany of sins in recording, “They did evil things provoking the Lord” (11).
- A summary of their complete apostasy is given in the words, “They served idols, concerning which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this thing” (12). Further from the law of God, the Israelites could not go. Their perverse piety led them to break every commandment under the guise of religious fervor. When worship embodies the extremity of rebellion, complete fragmentation of life and eternal destruction are the only steps left to take.
C. They took unspeaking and non-acting gods for the God who speaks and acts (13-15a).
- The God that they forsook was the God who speaks and instructs in the way of life and truth. He sent prophets to warn them and to remind them of what he already had spoken (13). God’s message did not change from commandments to prophets. One generation of prophets reminded them of what an earlier generation of prophets had said. Both generations pointed to that which was written in the commandments.
- In demonstration of the hardness and captivity of the fallen human heart the writer repeats with depressing sameness, “However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe the Lord their God” (14). The course of their disobedience was deliberately chosen in opposition to clear instruction and dire warning. They heard and they knew, but with fierce resistance they “stiffened their neck.” They adamantly refused to be instructed. David had warned, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Psalm 32:9). They would be led by bit and bridle to a land away from that God had given them.
- Their God had appeared and spoken to successive generations of their fathers and had formed them and chosen them according to a covenant (15a). Did any of the gods they chose to serve ever speak, or give wholesome commandments, or covenant his mercies to them? No: in the futility, irrationality, and perversity of human hearts, they invented their devotion according to the lust of their flesh and the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Neither the grace of covenant nor the threat of warning could deter them in their course of disobedience.
D. We hear a reprise of the song about the sinful heart with a coda (15b-17). After stating the ways in which God had pursued them through laws, prophets, and covenant, the writer returned to reiterate their perverse action with a crescendo he has saved till now.
- He emphasizes that they followed “vanity” and they themselves became “vain.” Their gods were nothing, less than nothing, not merely neutral as non-entities, but the greatest destructive emptiness imaginable. The people worshiped not only what did not exist but did it in accord with the most insistent privative force in creation. Their devotion to utter nothingness made them become nothing.
- Nations they knew were to have been expelled now controlled their minds. They lost the God who is there, worshipped no gods, and they embraced perishing things as symbols of their nothingness, things would become non-existent without being upheld in existence by the Lord of creation. Molten images, calves, the hosts of heaven, Ashera, and Baal constituted their religious life—they worshiped and served the creature in their rejection of the Creator, Covenant maker, and Commander and became bound in religious devotion to the most perverse instincts of fallen human nature.
- The depths of their vanity and deceit is seen in this. “Then they made their sons and daughters pass through the fire” (17a). They developed religious ritual that aligned them with satanic forces—“divination and enchantments”—they “sold themselves” to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Their disobedience was neither accidental nor done from ignorance, but in the face of the greatest advantages given to any nation on the earth, they purposely pursued that which had been revealed to them as evil and provoked the Lord.
- Verse 18 gives the conclusion. This verse serves as the transcendent cause of that which is described in terms of immanence in verse 6. “The king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away. … So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his sight.”
III. A Prophetic investigation of unfaithfulness, judgment, and faithfulness (Micah 1; Hosea 9, 10).
A. Hosea prophesied during the eighth century BC until within a couple of decades before Israel’s exile to Assyria. Under the command of God, he was to wed a woman noted for her unfaithfulness (1:2) and to present a picture of determined faithfulness in that context. The woman of 3:1 is Gomer who returned to her harlotry and again was rescued by Hosea. She was an unfaithful wife, who nevertheless was pursued by Hosea in order to make her faithful. Hosea was uniquely qualified to speak of the ugliness of unfaithfulness and the consequent grace of God’s faithfulness.
- Israel’s unfaithfulness is described in many places through several figures. Here is an example. “They set up kings, but not by me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them. From their silver and gold they made idols for themselves—that they might be cut off. Your calf is rejected, O Samaria! My anger is aroused against them—How long until they attain to innocence? For from Israel is even this: a workman made it, and it is not God; but the calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces” (8:4-6).
- Through Hosea, God issued calls to repentance. “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, but he will heal us; he has stricken, but he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live in his sight. … O, Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him, take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyrian shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ For in you the fatherless finds mercy” (6:1-3; 14:1-3).
- Through Hosea, God warned of judgment. “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come … He will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. …Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the Gentiles like a vessel in which is no pleasure. For they have gone up to Assyria, like a wild donkey alone by itself. The Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent. And the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them, because of their own counsels (9:7, 9; 11:5, 6
- Through Hosea, God promised that there would yet be a fulfillment of covenant faithfulness on the part of the Lord. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! … I will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon” (13:14; 14:4, 5).
B. Micah prophesied closer to the time of the exile than Hosea and might even have been at work when the event happened.
- Israel’s unfaithfulness is described in many places through several figures. Here is an example. “Hear now, O heads of Jacob, and you rulers of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know justice? You who hate good and love evil; who strip the skin from my people, and flesh from their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin from them, break their bones, and chop them in pieces like meat for the pot, like flesh in the cauldron. … I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no soothsayers. Your carved images I will also cut off, and your sacred pillars from your midst; you shall no more worship the work of your hands; I will pluck your wooden images from your midst” (3:1-3; 5:12-14).
- Through Micah, God issued calls to repentance. “Arise plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, O you mountains, the Lord’s complaint, and you strong foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a complaint against his people, and he will contend with Israel … He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:1, 2, 8)
- Through Micah, God warned of judgment. “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field, … I will pour down her stones into the valley … all her carved images shall be beaten to pieces … All her idols I will lay desolate. … Therefore I will also make you sick by striking you, by making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied; hunger shall be in your midst. You may carry some away, but shall not save them; and what you do rescue I will give over to the sword. You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread the olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; and make sweet wine, but not drink wine. For the statutes of Omri are kept; all the works of Ahab’s house are done; and you walk in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing. Therefore you shall bear the reproach of my people” (1:6, 7; 6:13-16).
- Through Micah, God promised that there would yet be a fulfillment of covenant faithfulness on the part of the Lord. “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture; they shall make a loud noise because of so many people. The one who breaks open will come up before them; they will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it; Their king will pass before them, with the Lord at their head. … Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He does not retain his anger forever; because he delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which you have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (2:12, 13; 7:18-20).