In this article our attention is drawn to the prophet Hosea’s word to an apostate Israel. The message in Hosea seven verse sixteen is one which Israel had to hear in the day of the prophet, but also is a Word of God to us today. It is one to which we do well to give ear. The prophet uses in his verse a very demonstrative figure: “They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.”
This figure of a “deceitful bow” is the climactic figure of a series of three figures the prophet uses to characterize the apostasy in Israel, in the church of his day. And the figure of this text is the most severe judgment of the three. The first figure was of the unturned cake, and spoke of a spiritual mixture within the people. From the heart they were spiritually inconsistent, confessing to be God’s people they desired the heathen ways and goals. The second figure of the “silly dove” revealed to Israel that their spiritual admixture also led to an outward turning to evil ways in the seeking of strength from outside of God and His word. This was pointed out to be utter foolishness. Now in this third figure, we find the accusation of deceit and hypocrisy leveled against Israel. This is especially true from the point of view of the turning of Israel.
The church and her members ought to find that repentance and conversion are essential to her life and her manifestation in the midst of this world. Our calling is to be turning daily to the Most High. But it is exactly at this point, the prophet says, Israel turns, but not to the Most High, and is become as a “deceitful bow.” It behooves us, therefore, to hear this word of warning and sharp condemnation. And to do so not by saying, “shame on Israel,” but rather, to see in how far this applies to the church today, and in how far it applies to us. May we by grace receive these words of rebuke that we may return unto the Most High God!
The figure of the bow which the prophet uses is one that was familiar to all of those who heard these words, for the bow was a common and often used weapon by the armies of his day. For the archer in the armies of that day it was very important to have a dependable and accurate bow to use as his weapon. This bow must shoot true, and it must be able to send an arrow that would penetrate the enemy. But the deceitful bow is one that did not satisfy these requirements of the archer, yet it looked as though it would be a trustworthy instrument for his purposes. This could have been because the bow lacked the power, or because of imbalance or uneven limbs that would cause the bow to send its arrow on a course that was errant no matter how skillful the archer.
Now the prophet makes comparison of Israel to the deceitful bow. Mind you, the comparison is not made between Israel and the archer, but between Israel and the bow. If the first would be the case, then the responsibility of Israel for her deceit would be taken away. The result would be that God would receive the blame for Israel’s missing of the mark. How often we would like to do this, by saying, “God gives us defective means,” and blame the preacher, the elders, the husband or wife, the parents for our walk in sin. But, not so, says the prophet, Israel is like the deceitful bow.
Spiritually, Israel had the appearance of being a good bow, but they were deceitful. Israel lacked the spiritual ability to reach the target. And this exactly because they sought the wrong mark. For, mind you, there is a difference between Israel and the deceitful bow. The bow is not responsible, for it is an inanimate thing. But Israel, the church, is responsible. Her members are moral-rational creatures. And all moral-rational creatures (men and angels) have the calling with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength to aim at the mark of the glory of the Most High. The calling is in love to serve Him alone! And although the fall has come to pass, it does not change this calling before God. He must receive all glory! In Christ does God reveal Himself as the Most High, and at no other mark may the church aim. All that does not serve this end is sin. For to God alone belongs all praise and glory. Therefore, we are called continually to turn to Him Who is the Most High.
Now, the prophet says, Israel turned, but not to the Most High. Thus our attention is drawn to the need for conversion in the church. In this connection, when we consider conversion our thoughts often turn to the unchurched, or the outright pagan peoples of the earth. And we may say, “indeed they need conversion!” But it is easy to be filled with blindness of mind in foolish pride, and forget to look inward to ourselves. We might assume we have attained unto faith and salvation, and then assume falsely that the need for conversion, for turning, does not apply to us.
Yet the prophet’s words make it plain that the church must be characterized by turning: Israel turned, but not rightly. Of course Israel, as well as much of the church in our day, walked in great apostasy, departing from the true service of Jehovah. She had substituted her own idea of proper worship, even serving heathen idols and gods. And our text surely speaks of turning from such abomination. But, further, this is possible only if Israel be a turning people from the heart, in repentance serving God according to His precious Word.
God is Most High! He is the infinitely exalted Lord. He is the absolutely Sovereign God. He is dependent upon no one. On the other hand, all His creation is dependent upon Him. This means that God is not simply the greatest, that others are comparable to Him, but rather that He is the Great One, to Whom none can be compared, Who cannot be judged. He alone is Lord, outside of whom there are no authorities, except He make them to sit in authority. He is the law, and all law and authority is His to give and exercise. God is the only criterion for right.
This means that we are low compared to the living God. His is perfect righteousness, faithfulness, love, mercy, knowledge and glory. If any of these virtues be in us, it is only because He works them in us by His Spirit and Word. Thus all of our glory and all of our service is to be rendered only unto Him. This is the constant theme of the Scriptures. Take time to look up Psalm 2:1-4, Isaiah 40:25, Isaiah 42:8-10, I Timothy 6:15, as examples of this testimony of God’s Word. Our calling indeed is to turn to the Most High, to render unto Him all glory and honor.
The prophet says that Israel did not. They turned, but to devices of their own making. It sounds like our day, when we find the Scriptures overruled in favor of allowing homosexuals and divorced and remarried people membership in the church, to allow women in the offices of Christ in the church, etc. But, again I say, we must be careful not to be puffed up in pride, thinking this warning is only for others. We must be a turning people, for we yet struggle with a sinful flesh. That turning must be from sin unto righteousness, from the ways of natural corruption unto a life of sanctification and holiness, from following the lie to the seeking of the truth, from death unto life, fleeing Satan to seek and serve the Most High God.
This means that by our place in the body of Christ, in the strength of God’s grace and in true faith we must put off the old man and put on the new man in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is also true of the church as institute. Trusting in the promises of God, standing faithfully upon His Word, the church does not rely on the philosophy or reason of man, but will turn ever anew to the old ways of the word of Christ. The concern then of the church will not be on size, nor outward unity, but she shall be concerned with faithfulness to the will of God. Certainly this must be true of the preaching, of doctrine, and of the exercise of Christian discipline within the church.
But to whom do we turn? This question we must answer as the institute of the church, and as individual members of the body of Christ. Is it to be said of us as it was said of Israel, “She is like a deceitful bow—she turned, but not unto the Most High?” Do we sincerely and truly turn? Do we turn to God as He has revealed Himself to His people in the infallibly inspired Scripture, or do we turn to another, to a god of our own imagination, or to a Word which we believe to be conditioned by time or culture? If we faithfully turn to the God of the Scriptures, we truly turn; but if not, then we do not! And it makes no difference to what else we turn, whether as Israel to idols of wood and gold, to Baal or Molech; or whether we turn to the target of man, to the god of materialism, or to a Christ or a god that is foreign to the Scriptures. O, indeed we would be turning, but not to the Most High, and we would then become as a deceitful bow.
Next we should ask the question, Why do we turn? Do we turn because we desire to escape the consequences of sin? Do we turn because we merely want a nice place after death? Do we turn, go to church, because our girlfriend or boyfriend goes there, or because there may be some social benefit from such turning? Then we turn, but not to the Most High.
Or on the other hand, is our turning motivated by a hatred of sin, by the deep spiritual knowledge that all that is of sin is displeasing to our covenant Father—and this too because you realize that your place in life is absolutely to serve and glorify God? This latter is indeed a turning—a turning to the Most High.
Further, he who truly turns does not presume with proud imagination that his turning is the work of man. We have no strength to turn in whole or in part of ourselves. If we were to think this, then our turning would be false, empty. But he who turns to the Most High acknowledges that his turning is from the Lord. We may not turn with the arm of flesh.
But over Israel God’s judgment was that they are like a deceitful bow. Today too, how little does the church aim with single-mindedness to the high mark of the Most High. The gospel today is polluted, even poisoned by the vain imaginations of man. Anything seems to go in the church and is justified by some reasoning of man. And how complacent so many members of even the most orthodox churches are become, as their churches depart from the pure doctrines of God’s Word and from the true exercise of Christian discipline.
But God is not mocked! He shall have them in derision who turn not unto the Most High. May we have grace to be watchful and to be sober. Holding fast the Word of God, humbled by its testimony, may we truly turn to the Most High. Thus, too, we shall by the grace of God taste the richest blessing of God’s fellowship.