When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:2-9, ESV)

The book of Hosea focuses heavily on the sin of idolatry. Even more importantly, it reveals how detestable that sin is by showing us how intensely God loathes it. If there is any place in the Bible that provides a clear, compelling description of what God thinks of idolatry, it can certainly be found throughout Hosea. And how much we need this kind of revelation! We truly learn of the wretchedness of our sin when we learn how hostile God is towards it. Apart from this special revelation, we would probably be inclined to downplay our sin and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Experience shows this to be true, for more often than not people will call sin by such milder terms as “mistakes.” Some even go so far as to attribute man’s iniquity to his innate desire to find God, describing our rebellion to God as our personal search for meaning and happiness in life. When one turns to the pages of scripture, however, all such darkness scatters before the light of truth. That is what we see in Hosea: the revelation of the true nature of idolatry.

To convey the horrific nature of this sin, God tells Hosea to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (v. 2). This unholy union with a prostitute was a living picture of the heinous nature of Israel’s infidelity to God. Just as Hosea was joined to an unfaithful spouse, so also God was joined to an unfaithful people who were bent on forsaking him for other gods.

It would be bad enough if that were all, but there is more. Hosea’s bond to Gomer resulted in the birth of three children: Jezreel, who represented punishment for bloodshed; No Mercy, who represented the end of divine compassion and forgiveness for Israel; and Not My People, who stood for the end of Israel’s status as God’s people—or, at the very least, the nation’s separation from God due to unfaithfulness to the covenant. Idolatry truly gives birth to judgment, so to speak, and these are judgments of great severity. Indeed, they remind one of Paul’s warning to the Romans: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22, ESV) Make no mistake about it: God does not merely dislike idolatry; he is severely hostile towards it, and for good reason. It is a deliberate, conscious rejection of him coupled with the substitution of something else in his place. Paul clearly describes this affront to the majesty of God in Romans 1:19-23:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (ESV)

Note the various aspects of this idolatry:

  • It is done in full knowledge of the true and living God, thus making it a blatant rejection of him
  • It is inexcusable
  • It is a dishonoring of him
  • It involves ingratitude
  • It is an exchange of “the glory of the immortal God” for those things that are mortal and created, such as man and other creatures.

Some might say, “We don’t have that problem in our society because nobody bows down before statues in this day and age.” There is some truth to this, since this practice was very prevalent in Paul’s time: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16) To be sure, the act of prostrating oneself before statues is not nearly as prevalent in our modern culture as it was in biblical times, but to conclude from this that there is no idolatry in our society is to downplay the existence of the sin. Surely the act of bowing before a statue is not the only expression of idolatry the depraved human heart can produce! Just as lust and murder can be committed in the heart and indeed have their root there, so also idolatry can be hidden within the closet of the heart. Hence, while this sin can be more easily overlooked in our 21st-century Western society, it is no less potent and real. Therefore, we should never allow the absence of handcrafted statues to lull us into a false sense of innocence. In fact, this very absence only means that we are in greater danger, for their existence is not so obvious to us as it was in ancient times. A visible enemy is much easier to deal with than an invisible one. The visible battering ram approaching the castle can be targeted much better than the sapper tunneling under the castle walls.

Are we exchanging the glory of the immortal God for something that is not God, no matter how innocent and honorable it might appear? Is there a hobby that has become the driving passion of your life? Do you love your family more than God? Have you made your job your god, in your heart bowing to it and lavishing your deepest, utmost devotion upon it? Have you fallen prey to greed or covetousness, “which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5)? Are we guilty of the “deadly disconnect”? We all need to examine ourselves regularly to ensure that we are on the guard against this sin.

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About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.