Hosea 12:7-14

Yesterday, Hosea used the story of the patriarch Jacob to describe the people of Israel in his own day. Jacob sought to deceive and manipulate, rather than wait on God. He suffered the consequences (estrangement from his brother and exile away from the land). But still he encountered God, struggled with him, and was restored.

Israel are in the same position, trying to get ahead their own way (deceitful exploitation of others, and unwise alliances with foreign tyrants) rather than waiting on God. They will experience the consequences; in particular, exile. Yet in the midst of this struggle, Hosea urged them to seek God (like Jacob did).

Today, the indictment of Israel’s deception continues.

Hosea 12:7 The merchant uses dishonest scales and loves to defraud.

This is the opposite of God’s character:

Lev 19:36 Use honest scales and honest weights…[for] I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.

Indeed, defrauding others (particularly the powerless in society, who were less likely to spot a false weight, and even less able to do something about it) is an abomination to God:

Proverbs 11:1 The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favour with him.

After a while, wealth can blind those who have it to the dishonesty of how they achieved it, and it can be used to stop people asking questions about it:

Hosea 12:8 Ephraim boasts, “I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin.”

(That’s the danger with our wealthy society, too. By this time in history, our lifestyle seems perfectly normal to us; we don’t think of how other societies have been – and continue to be – exploited in order to sustain it. We’ve convinced ourselves we somehow deserve what we have, and insulate ourselves from seeing how it has come about. What’s more, the power that comes with wealth can be used to silence or simply ignore those who protest.)

Hosea 12:9 “I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again, as in the days of your appointed festivals.

Jacob, for his sins, lived in exile for many years, until he was reconciled with God and with his brother. Israel, too, spent time out of the land, until God brought them out of Egypt. It was about to happen again in Hosea’s generation. Again, they’d be like the wilderness generation: without homes, living in tents. There was even a festival they were to celebrate each year (see Lev 23:42-43) where they lived in makeshift shelters, to remind them of what God had done for them in giving them a land of their own. God is now warning them that this backyard camping festival would soon become a permanent reality.

Hosea 12:10 I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions and told parables through them.”

You can’t say I didn’t warn you, says God.

Hosea 12:11 Is Gilead wicked? Its people are worthless! Do they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal? Their altars will be like piles of stones on a ploughed field.

There are some fun wordplays going on here in the Hebrew, but the basic message is clear enough in English: their religious locations will be destroyed. No longer will their piles of stones stand as testimony to their covenant with God; they will instead be witnesses of their destruction by a “ploughing” army.

Hosea 12:12 Jacob fled to the country of Aram; Israel served to get a wife, and to pay for her he tended sheep.

This, again, uses the story of Jacob to prefigure the coming exile of Israel, and their subjection to foreigners.

Hosea 12:13 The Lord used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt, by a prophet he cared for him.

Jacob’s descendents were brought back from one of their “exiles” by a prophet; will this happen again for Israel?

Hosea 12:14 But Ephraim has aroused his bitter anger; his Lord will leave on him the guilt of his bloodshed and will repay him for his contempt.

Thus far, the Israelites of Hosea’s day had not shown any signs of change or repentance – unlike Jacob. So there’s no reason to hope for the same kind of restoration God showed to Jacob and his descendents.

To think about

Much of this passage has been a reiteration of God’s anger with Israel, this time using the story of their ancestor, Jacob, to bring it home. So there’s not a lot new for us to comment on.

However, you’ll have seen the significant theme of wealth that comes through exploitation – not just here (v7), but throughout Scripture. Whenever Israel neglected God, they also neglected to care for those who were powerless – and the wealthy ended up exploiting them for their own personal gain.

It’s easy to ignore this critique, thinking it doesn’t apply to us. After all, I’ve never knowingly ripped someone off directly. But our society has been set up in such a way that we can be the indirect beneficiaries of exploitation without ever knowing the people we’re helping to exploit. Or even being fully aware of it. But the fact is, my standard of living comes from many people around the world having a substandard existence. My clothing, my coffee, my manufactured goods – much of it produced by workers in unsafe, unsanitary, and inhuman conditions. (And on a less dramatic scale, the fact that I can buy Australian produce so cheaply in my supermarket is a direct result of Australian farmers being squeezed more and more each year.)

The problem is, it’s become the default. It’s the way the world was before I was born, and will continue to be so after I’m gone. I can’t avoid it by doing nothing. I have to actively “opt out” to avoid being party to it. (And sometimes, that’s not possible.) The fact that it’s an “opt out” system makes it easier for Christians to duck the repeated challenge of Scripture – particularly of Israel’s prophets. The fact that the problem is global means our actions, on their own, have negligible effect, making it easy to give up and do nothing.

It would be naive to think we can change this by a quick bit of activism. But it would be sinful to simply do nothing. And – as recent campaigns for a fair go for coffee and chocolate producers have shown – small but measurable improvements can be made in the lives of impoverished workers if enough people make a stand. And “enough people” is smaller than you think, in a world in which companies are sensitive to even minor changes in market share. In fact, if every person who considered themselves a follower of Jesus did this – it would be way more than enough.

How can you, in some small way, start to “opt out” – and join the growing number of voices calling for a fair go for those who have no voice. Get informed through the Baptist World Aid website.

Proverbs 11:1 The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favour with him.

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