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The Scriptorium

A Religion of Convenience

Religious, but on whose terms?

Hosea: Introduction and Overview

1 Kings 12.26-31
And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.” Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.

The nation of Israel had, from its beginnings under Jeroboam, embraced a religion of convenience. Jeroboam (whose memory Hosea invokes in mentioning Jeroboam II, Hos. 1.1), understood that, in order to command the allegiance of the ten breakaway tribes, he’d have to cater to their ingrained religious sentiments. He calculated that the people of Israel were not very deep religiously, that is, that they were not all that committed to the covenant relationship God had established with His people, and which He had enlarged through David. After all, they followed him rather easily in rebellion against the Davidic heir.

Still, the people had a religious bent, and how better to employ the device of religion toward political ends than to make it easier and more “democratic” for the people to fulfill their religious obligations. Jeroboam made calves, like the one Aaron made while Moses lingered in the presence of the Lord. He created two centers of worship, so that it would not be “too much” for the people to travel and make their offerings. And he opened up the priesthood to all comers.

On this religious footprint, then, the nation engaged in all manner of compromises with the surrounding pagan religions, so that, by Hosea’s day, while the people in Israel still maintained a form of worship of the one true God, their main religion was paganism, specifically, Baal worship. And how convenient was that? Baal was the pagan god of fertility and so one of the ways of coaxing him to “do his thing” was for people to engage in sexual intercourse as part of the worship of Baal. Temple prostitutes were employed – female and male – to facilitate “worship.” And to add to the people’s convenience, places for “worship” were set up all over the nation – under trees, on high hills, even on rooftops (Hos. 4.11-19).

Naturally, the “demands” of this religion were merely formal; no binding ethic accompanied the worship of Baal, so the people were free to do as they thought best, whatever was convenient for them. Thus every one of God’s commandments was set aside as the people indulged in all manner of transgression against their neighbors.

Spiritual adultery – “harlotry” – was Israel’s great offense. They had been guilty of it from the beginning, and with each successive political administration, the situation only got worse. Hosea could see that God had had enough, and that His judgment was about to fall on His adulterous people.

Read Hosea 9, 10
Israel’s rulers, prophets, and priests have not only failed her, they have betrayed her, and now the judgment of God will fall. Still, how can you see God’s great longing for His people, even as He prepares to judge them (cf. Hos. 10.12)?

Glory to Glory
How might you be able to tell when you were being tempted toward a “religion of convenience”? How does Hosea 10.12 counsel you to break free of such a snare?

Closing Prayer
Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O LORD,
And that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name.
Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast!
Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.
Have respect to the covenant;
For the dark places of the earth are full of the haunts of cruelty.
Oh, do not let the oppressed return ashamed!
Let the poor and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, plead Your own cause;
Remember how the foolish man reproaches You daily.
Do not forget the voice of Your enemies;
The tumult of those who rise up against You increases continually.

Psalm 74.18-23

T. M. Moore

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For all available studies in Hosea, click here.

A primary theme of the book of Hosea is Israel’s failure to keep covenant with the Lord. God’s covenant is a central theme and provides the organizing motif for all of Scripture. Learn more about God’s covenant by ordering a copy of T. M.’s book,
I Will Be Your God, from our online store (click here).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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