Today’s Scripture Focus: Hosea 5:15-6:6
If you’ve studied much of Israel’s story in the Old Testament, you know they continually struggled with Ba’al worship. “Ba’al” means “Lord”. He was the primary deity of the Canaanite tribes. It was believed that Ba’al died every year during the summer droughts and went to the underworld, where he found his wife Ashtaroth. As they engaged in sexual relations, the autumn rains would fall. Worship of Ba’al involved “helping” him by engaging the services of temple prostitutes during fall festivals. Worshippers could also ask questions of “the wooden thing” (an Ashtaroth idol) by casting lots, and receive immediate answers.
Ba’al worship had become just as common as the worship of God by the final decades of the Northern Kingdom’s existence. During this time, they were at war. Israel had made an alliance with a neighboring nation to attack Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Judah turned to Assyria, the great empire in the north for assistance. Assyria attacked Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. The only thing that prevented their complete destruction was the assassination of their king. Israel’s territory was reduced to the that of the single tribe of Ephraim. They were forced to make a treaty with Assyria, and began paying tribute to them.
We cannot understand today’s scripture focus without these two pieces of background information. Israel had “prostituted” themselves to Ba’al, but still wanted to worship God when they were under attack. At the end of Hosea 5, God speaks judgement through the prophet. Ephraim would be attacked as if by a lion, and God would be the lion! God would then return to his “lair” or “place”, meaning God’s presence would no longer be with them. As chapter 6 opens, the people are gathering and worshipping God, knowing surely they will be delivered once again, just like every other time they offered the appropriate sacrifices.
God gives them an answer as a parent using tough love. “Oh, Ephraim. What am I going to do with you? You still don’t understand. I’m not upset because you didn’t offer enough burnt offerings or didn’t offer them correctly. The problem is you don’t really love me. You want a relationship with me when you are in trouble, but as soon as everything is ok, your love evaporates like the morning fog. Your love must be faithful at all times. I want you to know me like I know you.” There is much argument in our generation about the right way to worship God. The truth is, God isn’t really interested in our what we sing or how long we pray. God wants our steadfast love.
- Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
- Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
- Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.
Can you remember the first time you had a “crush” on someone? How long did that “love” last, and how does it compare to lifelong love?
Hosea 6:1-3 is the prayer of a nation in trouble. Do you believe it was sincere? Is being sincere in our prayer enough?
“Religion as a means to an end, or even as an end unto itself, has little value. Our worship only has meaning when motivated by steadfast love.” Could your worship best be described as “going through the motions”, or an expression of your love for God?