Read: Hosea 4:1-7:7
Imagine a lady named Linda who works at her desk in her office 12 hours a day and sometimes weekends. Her husband and kids barely see her. She takes calls on weekends that get her up from the dinner table or cause her to walk out of the room at birthday parties. She takes her laptop to her daughter’s soccer games and hands out business cards at her son’s plays. She gets paid very well and reminds people of it often — especially when they tell her she works too much.
Imagine a man named Jeffrey who has come to the top of that “hill” most of us dread: He’s getting older. He spends most of his free time at the gym and tanning salon. He often tells his wife she should join him and has sometimes been known to cut her down for not being physically fit or for not making an effort to be attractive for him. Just last week, he told his son he was fat and indicated to his daughter that if she doesn’t stay in shape, she’ll never get married. People in his circles keep telling him he could be a fitness model. He pointed out a wrinkle on his wife’s face at dinner last night.
Linda obviously worships some combination of money and status. Jeffrey is either vain or prideful or has come to worship the idea of staying young. But neither one of their “gods” is worth anything at all. Instead of salvation or healing or rest, their gods make them work harder and harder, never really giving them what they truly want at the root: Life.
The prophet Isaiah spends a little time talking about people like Jeffrey and Linda in different words in chapter 44:
All who make idols are nothing, and what they treasure benefits no one… He cuts down cedars for his use… He takes some of it and warms himself; also he kindles a fire and bakes bread; he even makes it into a god and worships it; he makes an idol from it and bows down to it. He burns half of it in a fire, and he roasts meat on that half. He eats the roast and is satisfied… He makes a god or his idol with the rest of it. He bows down to it and worships; he prays to it, ‘Save me, for you are my god.’ Such people do not comprehend and cannot understand…
You and I are just like Linda and Jeffrey, aren’t we? What could you write about me if you inspected my life closely? What could I write about you? Is it success that has bewitched you? Maybe you’re trying to fill some need and you can’t stop chasing after pretty girls or you keep seeking attention from men. Do you expect love from your children in response to what could be your selfless service? Do you expect your spouse to be like a genie fulfilling your every whim and wish?
In Institutes, John Calvin wrote, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols… Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.”
Instead of ‘an unreality and an empty appearance,’ as Calvin put it, you and I are to “return to the Lord” (Hosea 6:1) who is the quintessential reality and of the utmost substance. Hosea spoke to the people of Israel about idolatry of the prototypical kind: They were making literal wooden and metal idols to which they would bow down.
I think that far too often we let little goals and little fears control how we live. We desire comfort, so we hide from our troubles, and we make Netflix and ice cream into our Baal. We desire stability, so all of a sudden, we worship Dagon and bring him the offering of our workaholism and ladder-climbing. But Baal and Dagon will never be satisfied.
Hosea’s story is so captivating because we do not encounter the faithfulness he displayed in our culture. If a woman were to perpetually leave her husband for other lovers as Gomer did to Hosea, we would fully expect him to throw his hands in the air and get a divorce.
I texted the following passage to a friend the other day, and he said, “Way to spoil the ending.” I laughed, not only because he was right but also because it’s as plain as day to those who are looking for it. Hosea 6:1-2:
Come, let’s return to the Lord.
For he has torn us,
and he will heal us;
he has wounded us,
and he will bind up our wounds.
He will revive us after two days,
and on the third day he will raise us up
so we can live in his presence.
Is it not obvious that we do have access to a faithful man? A faithful God? Who could Hosea possibly be referring to except the faithful Messiah promised to Israel — the Bridegroom Himself and the One that Hosea was supposed to be emulating according to the command of God!
There is only One who satisfies, heals, and saves. Hint: It’s Jesus, the one who “on the third day will raise us up so we can live in his presence.” He’s the only un-created God not forged over flame or chiseled out of wood. He’s the only one who bled and died on a cross for our atonement instead of demanding more and more until we’re bled dry.
This very moment, can you name an idol in your life? I know I can. Several. Let me just tell you: They’re easier to smash if you know where and what they are. So let’s grab our sledgehammers and get to work!
For Further Reading:
- Tim Keller: Counterfeit Gods.
- Elyse Fitzpatrick: Idols of the Heart.