For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute. Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and eat it, but the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds. – Hosea 8:7-14 ESV
Futility. That is the message in these verses. Sowing to the wind. Headless grain. No flour. Useless vessels. Stubborn wild donkeys. Impotent allies. Cash-strapped kings. An ungrateful, unfaithful nation.
Years of idolatry and rejection of God’s grace, goodness and mercy were going to catch up to the nation of Israel. Their stubborn unwillingness to keep their covenant with God was going to result in their own destruction. While their kings were busy building palaces and erecting idols to their false gods, God was plotting their destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. Thinking they could somehow prevent the inevitable from happening, they made alliances with other nations, like Egypt. And the irony of that should not escape us. They were turning to their former slave masters as their source of deliverance. Little did they know that they would end up back in slavery just like they had experienced in Egypt, but this time in Assyria. Their sad, sordid history was about to come full circle.
They had had their chance. When they entered the land of Canaan after 40-plus years of wandering in the wilderness, God had commanded them:
When you drive out the nations that live there, you must destroy all the places where they worship their gods—high on the mountains, up on the hills, and under every green tree. Break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. Burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Completely erase the names of their gods! – Deuteronomy 12:2-3 NLT
But rather than follow God’s orders, they did things their way. They failed to rid the land of idols. They intermarried with the pagan nations, accepting their false gods as their own. They compromised their standards and treated God’s commands with contempt. Somehow they thought they knew better than God. They rationalized their behavior and justified their attempts to model their lives after the nations that occupied the land. And now they were going to have to pay for their insolence and insubordination. God’s laws had become superfluous and somehow optional. They felt no obligation to obey God. They saw no compelling reason to believe that God would keep His promise to bring curses on them if they failed to obey His commands. But they would soon discover just how wrong they were.
Sure, they were still offering sacrifices to Yahweh, but not on His terms. In fact, their offerings to God were little more than reasons to enjoy a good meal. They would sacrifice a bull or a lamb, not with a mind to receive forgiveness for their sins, but to satisfy their own sinful appetites. Feasting had taken precedence over forgiveness. Self-gratification was more important to them than God’s grace and mercy. Israel had forgotten its Maker (Hosea 8:14). They had turned their back on God. They had long ago forgotten His miraculous deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. His provision for and protection of them during their wilderness years was a distant memory. The memories of their God-ordained conquest of the land of Canaan had faded a long time ago. The glory days of King David and the nation’s preeminence as a major power were things of the past. They had long ago become God-less and self-sufficient. They were God-followers in name only. In fact, their sinfulness had become so bad that they were actually worse than the pagan nations around them. God would later say of the southern nation of Judah, “You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you” (Ezekiel 5:7 NLT). God was appalled at the obstinate attitude of both Israel and Judah. Their unfaithfulness to Him was unprecedented. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols!” (Jeremiah 2:11 NLT). Even the pagan nations would never have considered turning their backs on their gods. They were more faithful to their false gods than Israel and Judah had been to the one true God.
The Israelites were guilty of forgetting God. It had begun with them taking Him for granted. He was their God and they were His people. They felt a certain sense of security and smug superiority. They somehow believed God was obligated to care for them and to continue to forgive them, no matter what they did. The sacrifical system had become little more than a get-out-of-jail free card, requiring God to forgive them whether they were repentant or not. They thought nothing of offending God by their actions. Worshiping false gods just seemed to make common sense. Putting their trust in foreign governments for protection was just good governmental policy. Intermarrying with the pagan nations around them was profitable and preferable to God’s unrealistic policy of isolation. They had become wiser than God. And in time, God’s goodness, holiness, love, power and mercy faded from their memories. They forgot God. And it’s a lot easier to do than we might think. Because God is invisible, He can easily become indiscernible. Since we can’t see Him, we can easily forget about Him. We forget about His love. His holiness becomes a faded memory. His promises of future blessings become overshadowed by present pleasures and the pressing problems of the day. When we forget our Maker, we lose sight of our purpose in life. We end up seeking fulfillment from the things of this world. We begin to live by sight instead of by faith. The desire for worldliness replaces the pursuit of holiness. But we can rest assured that while we may occasionally forget God, He never forgets us.