“Ephraim is struck down; their roots are withered; they cannot bear fruit. Even if they bear children, I will kill the precious offspring of their wombs.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
On occasion, our kids misbehave. This is usually met first with a warning. If they keep at it, there will be a consequence of some kind. The longer they go down this path, the greater the consequence will be. Now, different situations call for different approaches from us. Sometimes, when they seem particularly stuck on a troublesome path, we will lay out for them what will be the results of staying on that path. Depending on the behavior, these results could be pretty uncomfortable. We don’t necessarily mean to scare them…well, actually we do. We want them more unnerved by the prospect of what the consequences facing them will be than they are motivated to continue pursuing the behavior that will lead to them. Ever been there as a parent? That’s where we find God here with the people of Israel.
This is a hard text. Actually, that’s an understatement. This is an incredibly difficult text. This is one of those places in the Scriptures where at the first read you want to put the whole thing down and not come back to it for a while, if at all. This is the kind of thing someone wavering on the edge of belief could read that could push them back firmly into the unbelief category. This is a hard text.
But it’s here and we have to be able to deal with it. We cannot avoid it. This verse was included in Paul’s broad declaration that all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. This is part of the category, “all Scripture.” So, what do we do with it?
Let’s start with setting reality firmly before us. Yes, God is telling Israel, through Hosea, that if they keep on their path of sin, the consequence will be the loss of their next generation. If you look carefully at the language He uses, He is not necessarily talking about killing babies, but He is talking about the death of the generation one down from His target audience, whatever age it happens to be. That really doesn’t make it any easier to hear this. He is saying to parents, “You’ve lost yourselves to sin; the next thing you lose will be your children.”
That’s a terrifying thought. Any parent’s worst nightmare is losing their children. I regularly go and visit in the homes of some of our shut-in members–mostly widows–who cannot get out on their own. One woman I go see had five children, but lost two sons; one in Vietnam, and one to a tragic car accident. She tells me about it every time I go see her like it’s the first time she’s told me and she gets weepy about it every time. It’s been something like 50 years or more and the pain is still fresh for her. How could God even hint at inflicting something like that on a national scale? How could we possibly trust the character of a God who would consider something like this?
Here’s the truth: I can’t say anything that will make this idea any easier to stomach. I can’t say anything that will make it any less uncomfortable to read or think about. But I can offer some thoughts that might help us understand a bit better what is happening. Understanding won’t take the punch out, but it may take the edge off. I think there are two things we need to get our mind around in order to even have a chance of making any sense out of what is going on here.
First, this is another instance when we can see God responding to sin by allowing its natural consequences to play out without interference. It may not sound like that at first read, but hear me out. Sin causes destruction. That’s what it does. Destruction is in its nature. When sin is unleashed at a systemic level in a culture, the destruction is going to be broad and deep. The next generation is going to pay the price for it.
Look at our own culture for evidence. This current generation is abusing opioids in depressingly high numbers. What kind of damage is that going to cause in the next generation? Or, even more directly than that, consider our nation’s insistence in keeping abortion on demand legal at all costs. Our abortion laws are permissive at a level on par with nations like China and North Korea. That’s pretty sketchy company to keep. Since Roe v Wade officially legalized the vile practice, more than 55 million people have been killed in the womb. That’s an entire generation. The consequences of that are judgment enough on their own, are they not?
Israel’s sin was self-destructive as all sin is. When sin becomes national and systemic, what was merely individually self-destructive becomes nationally self-destructive. To deliver the punishment for such folly, God doesn’t have to do anything but step back and allow the natural consequences to run their course.
The second way to give some understanding here is by way of context. There was a time in Israel’s history when an entire generation was killed by God: Egypt. When the people were enslaved in Egypt and God was showing His power in the only way the Egyptians were going to understand, the final display of power was the death of all the firstborn children of Egypt. In a sense, then, what God was saying here is that the people had gotten as bad as Egypt was then. In other words, part of what God is doing here is giving the people a wake up call. This doesn’t mean His words and warning are merely rhetorical, but this end was not some foregone conclusion. It was a warning of what lay at the end of their path in hopes that being faced with reality would motivate them to switch back to the path that leads to life.
Historically speaking, we know God’s words here proved true. But, it wasn’t because He swooped in with some destructive plague like He did in Egypt. Rather, Israel was eventually conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians. And yes, the Scriptures make clear that God sent the Assyrians to conquer them as a punishment, but without that perspective forming the background to our understanding, the narrative of history makes clear that this was how Israel would end. Assyria was a great and terrifying empire with an expansionist mindset. Israel actively courted their help in dealing with their neighbors. It was only a matter of time before Assyria finished dealing with the neighbors and set their sights on Israel. And when Assyria set their sights on you, your next generation was a goner. God was willing and able to shield them from this, but Israel would never turn and receive His help. They heard the warnings–like this one–but never heeded them.
Here’s the connection point for us: Sin has consequences. If we walk that path, we are eventually going to pay for it. Hard. We don’t have any kind of a promise of the destruction of our children hanging over ours heads like Israel did, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that sin is destructive and that the destruction wrought by our sin never stays confined to us. It affects those around us. If we are parents, our sin affects our children. Not a few generations have been destroyed financially or relationally or spiritually because of the sins of their parents.
The solution here is plain as could be: Turn from sin. Repent. Receive the grace offered by Christ, won on the cross by His blood. There is no other way to go. At least, there is no other way that will lead to life. Choose the path of righteousness and the life that is truly life.