“Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has also multiplied fortified cities. I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Jesus once observed that where our treasure is, our heart will be also. His point was that what we consider the most valuable will be where we invest our dearest devotion. His exhortation in saying that was for us to make sure that God is our chief treasure so that we are most devoted to Him. But what if we are most devoted to something else? What then? God gives us a hint here through the prophet Hosea.
As we draw near the end of chapter 8 here, Hosea’s indictment has grown less focused on specific sins the people were committing and more focused on the big picture. The language is less graphic, less emotionally charged, and almost more resigned. Part of what made Israel so hard to get through to as a people is that they didn’t see themselves as doing anything wrong. In fact, they thought they were on track with Him.
A few days ago, I told you a bit about Israel’s founding history as a distinct nation. Jeroboam I led a rebellion against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, which sparked the founding of the northern kingdom. The trouble he was facing was that his people were going back to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. This was a recipe for national collapse because people who worship together tend to stick together. Jeroboam’s solution was to remake the golden calf idols that Moses’ brother, Aaron, had made for the people when Moses took too long to come back down the mountain in Exodus 32.
Jeroboam proclaimed that these were really the gods who had led the people out of Egypt and, by definition, that their brothers in the south were worshiping the wrong one. The people took this and ran with it. Now, several generations later, they were worshiping “Yahweh,” but what they meant by that and reality were two different things.
That’s all in the background when God talks about their calf idol earlier in the chapter. Here’s where all of this matters for this verse: When we trust in gods that are not really gods at all, we don’t get the help from them we were expecting. We don’t get the resources from them on which we were counting. And when we don’t get the help we need from the places we expected, we turn to other things.
For Israel, their gods were really just a reflection of themselves. As a result, they trusted in themselves. And when a people trusts in themselves, how does that usually play out? Through a glorification of their leaders. At least, it did then. So they built palaces to honor their leaders. In doing so, they were honoring themselves. They were putting their heart where their real treasure was found.
Even Judah wasn’t guiltless in this. Judah stayed mostly true to Yahweh during their history, but it was a trueness that didn’t go very deep. As a result, when the pressure on life ratcheted up, they looked to things other than Him for help. Specifically, they looked to their military might. They only had themselves to depend on when things got really bad. So they multiplied fortified cities.
Here’s the question this raises in my mind: How does God respond when we place our trust in things other than Him? Well, let’s think about that. We know that God loves us, right? He wants the best for us. He also created us, meaning He has a better sense of what’s best for us than we do. No problems so far, yes? If God knows what’s best for us, and He knows specifically that He is best for us, then what would it make sense for Him to do when we have turned to things other than Him?
Well, if those things aren’t good for us and He can’t ultimately convince us they aren’t good for us such that we turn from them and back to Him on our own, the most loving thing He could do is to destroy those things. That makes sense, right? If your child is eating poison, but won’t believe you that it is in fact poison, then whenever your child picks up the poison, you knock it out of her hand. You destroy the poison. She may not like it, but to do otherwise is to consign her to death and that’s not loving.
For Israel and Judah, this destruction played itself out literally as they were conquered by other nations and their palaces and fortified cities were destroyed. No stone was left standing on another.
For us, this hard love could play itself out in a number of different ways. It could be that we experience a financial disaster when we had been sinking all our hope in our wealth. It could be that we prided ourselves in our health and so we experience a sudden, unexplained, and debilitating illness that drives us to our knees. It could be that a relationship gets broken and we have to live with the heartache of that leading us to pursue doing relationships on God’s terms, not ours.
There are lots of ways this could look, but the bottom line is that if we are leaning on things other than God, He is eventually going to come and kick those things out from under us so that we’ll learn to lean on Him once again. Better to learn this lesson the easy way rather than the hard way, but it is a lesson borne out of love. Our God would rather see us hurting in the short term than dying in the long term. That isn’t always an easy idea to stomach, but it is a mark of just how much our God loves us all the same.