From diagnosis to prescription, from indictment to punishment, the argument moves to consequences more clearly today. The first image is of an eagle, imperial Assyria hovering over the defenceless Israel, ready to swoop like a predator. God will let the bird be the bird.
People can call out to God for help, but they did not pursue the goods of God, so they are left with their investments in idols of fertility and productivity, which will fail them. The next step in repentance is not to call for help, but reject the ‘golden calf’ false images of the ideal and divine, confusing prosperity with divinity, and progress with providence.
‘Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind’ is repeated in c.10, in Job 4, Prov 22, and Galatians 6, for instance. If you think you’ve heard it before, you have, but usually in the mouths of politicians who claim that small mistakes lead to big disasters, without any theological framework. After all, grace and mercy promises the reverse: that God offers more good than we deserve, and less evil than we provoke. It’s empty, invisible, this wind or whirlwind, except its effect.
Ephraim, like a donkey, has gone to Assyria as well as Egypt seeking gain – or to any neighbour, seeking affection for cheap payoffs, using the metaphor of promiscuity and infidelity again. God will let their price plummet, and let them ‘return to Egypt’, rediscovering serfdom, though the geography may be Assyria.
People budgeted their spending for the alien shrines, and indulged their appetites in parts of the animal the priests would have denied them in Torah. They invested in fortified towns for security, and God will show them the ineffectiveness of that strategy as the walls are leveled.
In what goods do we invest our collective budgets? Homeland security? Encouraging consumption? Do other, imperial, nations have different strategies?
Hosea Chapter 8
1 Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture* is over the house of the LORD, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law.
2 Israel cries to me, ‘My God, we—Israel—know you!’
3 Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him.
4 They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.
5 Your calf is rejected, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence?
6 For it is from Israel, an artisan made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.*
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal; if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it.
8 Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations as a useless vessel.
9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass wandering alone; Ephraim has bargained for lovers.
10 Though they bargain with the nations, I will now gather them up. They shall soon writhe under the burden of kings and princes.
11 When Ephraim multiplied altars to expiate sin, they became to him altars for sinning.
12 Though I write for him the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing.
13 Though they offer choice sacrifices,* though they eat flesh, the LORD does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt.
14 Israel has forgotten his Maker, and built palaces; and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour his strongholds.