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Cakes, Doves and Bows

Hosea 7:8 - Ephraim has become a cake not turned.

Hosea 7:11 - Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense.

Hosea 7:16 - Ephraim is like a deceitful bow.

If you had read the title only, would you have been able to guess which chapter of the Bible contains "cakes, doves and bows"? The title refers to illustrations used by Hosea in chapter 7 of his prophecy. All three objects were used by God to illustrate the sad moral and spiritual condition of Old Testament Israel, and each one of these illustrations has an application for the believer today.

A Downward Spiral

The prophet Hosea prophesied in the 8th century BC. His ministry was primarily focused in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II. Jeroboam II was not a good king. He continued to lead the northern kingdom on the downward path that was begun more than 100 years before (about 931BC), when the united kingdom of Israel had split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom, is well-known as the king who "made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 14:16).

Even before the reign of King Jeroboam I, Solomon, the last king of the united monarchy, had opened the doors for idolatry and immorality to enter all of Israel. 1 Kings 11:1-8 is a most informative passage: "King Solomon loved many foreign women besides the daughter of Pharaoh: women of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon and the Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, 'You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after other gods.' Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods."

The sexual immorality of the pagan fertility rites and the ghastly practice of child sacrifice were included in the pagan religions introduced and tolerated by Solomon. After the kingdom divided, Jeroboam I did more than tolerate the idolatry and immorality--he actually increased and promoted it by setting up two golden calf shrines at Dan and Bethel, staffed with his own order of priests. (See 1 Kings 12:25 33.) The evil kings that followed Jeroboam I, such as wicked King Ahab, did nothing to stop the downward course. In 1 Kings 17:33 we read that "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him." About 60 years after Ahab, Jeroboam II came to the throne. The sinful ways of the northern kingdom continued. The effects of the powerful ministries of Elijah and Elisha had been short lived, and Israel persisted in her moral and spiritual decline.

Thus, about 25 years after Jeroboam II's reign, God finally brought down the ax of judgment on the northern kingdom with an Assyrian invasion and takeover. We find the reasons in 2 Kings 17: "The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years (v5). All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced (vs7-8). They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left (vs16-18)."

So we see from these Scriptures that Jeroboam II had inherited a kingdom that was clearly ripe for judgment. Although he was a powerful king and could have done something to stem the increasing tide of sin in the nation, he did nothing. Before the final ax of judgment fell on the northern kingdom, however, God brought three prophets on the scene to denounce the sins of the north- Jonah, Amos and Hosea. Although Jonah is known primarily for his commission to preach at Nineveh of Assyria, he was a prophet of God to Israel as well. All three prophets preached and prophesied during the days of King Jeroboam II. God, in an amazing display of patience and grace, gave Israel a final chance to repent and return to Him--but there was no response. The Assyrian armies of God's judgment were on the horizon!

Hosea's message of judgment upon the northern kingdom of Israel was unique. Not only did his prophetic sermons denounce the northern kingdom, but his private life was a spiritual object lesson. God told Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who would forsake him and become a prostitute. Why would God do such a thing? It was an object lesson to the nation, clearly portraying their spiritual adultery. Forsaking the Lord, they had formed an adulterous relationship with foreign gods. Their idolatry and immorality would not go unjudged.

In Hosea 4-14 we have excerpts from Hosea's sermons to Israel, which were given over the course of his long, 40-year ministry to the northern kingdom. Throughout his prophecy Hosea referred to the northern kingdom as "Ephraim," because Ephraim was the largest and most influential tribe in northern Israel. In chapter 7 the prophet used three vivid word pictures to illustrate how foolish, short-sighted and wrong Israel had been in turning her back on the Lord.

An Unturned Cake

In verse 8, the northern kingdom of Israel is likened to a "cake not turned." The "cake" Hosea had in mind was not a birthday cake or a wedding cake. No, he was thinking of "flatbread" that is cooked on a griddle--like a pancake, or like pita, which is common in the Middle East today. We all know what a pancake is like if it's not turned over and is cooked on just one side! It's weak and gooey. It has no structural stability and it can't support itself. Do you see the illustration? Spiritually speaking, Israel was weak. Although the kingdom was quite strong politically and militarily at this time, the people were morally and spiritually weak. Their moral fiber and spiritual backbone were riddled with the fatal disease of idolatry. Many of them were involved in the immoral prostitution of the pagan fertility rites and many of them were offering pagan sacrifices to the foreign gods on the mountain high places. (See Hosea 4:11-14.) They were structurally weak, like an unturned cake.

What was true of Israel is true of many of God's people today. In financial security and secular accomplishments they may appear to be strong, but morally and spiritually many believers are weak and unstable. Many are half baked--like a "cake not turned." We allneed to ask ourselves, "If the Lord were to use the illustration of a pancake to picture my life, or the life of my church or fellowship as a pile of panckes, how would it stack up? Is my church fellowship strong, well-balanced, attractive and nourishing, or weak, distorted, unstable and distasteful? Is my life a weak gooey mess? Am I spiritually stable, or am I riddled with the fatal diseases of our pagan culture? Am I habitually practicing righteousness or practicing sin?" (See 1 John 3:4 10.) God is looking for people who have moral backbone and spiritual stability. He's looking for people who don't wobble when confronted with spiritual compromise. He wants believers who can stand up under pressure, who won't cave in when they're faced with moral temptation. God is looking for representatives who have integrity, who are trustworthy, who are morally upright and who tell the truth without compromising. May our lives be characterized by moral and spiritual strength so that it cannot be said of us that we are like a "cake not turned."

A Silly Dove

In verse 11, Israel is pictured as a "silly, senseless dove." The people had no moral compass and were easily deceived. Rather than flying on a straight course, following the Lord, Israel was like a confused bird, flitting back and forth between Egypt and Assyria for security. How foolish could they be?! They would find no help or security in those pagan powers. In the end, the Lord allowed His people to be entrapped by their own stupidity--like a silly bird flying straight into a net (v12). Assyria would eventually conquer them- and Egypt would mock them (v16). Indeed, when Samaria (the capital city) was besieged and fell to Shalmaneser V and Sargon II of Assyria in 722BC, the northern kingdom disappeared forever from the pages of history.

We say, "How foolish the nation of Israel was! Couldn't they have seen the handwriting on the wall?" Maybe we should ask ourselves if we can we see the handwriting on the wall! Are we like senseless, foolish doves, flitting back and forth between the world and the Lord? Do we really live as though we believe that this world is passing away, as 1 John 2:17 teaches? Are we looking to earthly resources, rather than to the Lord, for our security? Are we deceived by our culture into trying every worldly thrill or idea that comes along, trying to find fulfillment and excitement in life? How deceived can we be? Have we lost our moral compass? Let's wake up before we become hopelessly entrapped by our own foolish choices! Let's fly straight and strong, following the Lord. Our lives should be characterized by His values and goals, not by "fluttering" between worthless diversions. What's really going to count at the judgment seat of Christ? Senseless, silly doves don't enter heaven with the blessing of "Well done, good and faithful servant."

A Deceitful Bow

In verse 16, a third word picture is used to illustrate Israel's downward spiral. God said that they were like a "deceitful or faulty bow." A faulty bow is one which is crooked and untrue and undependable. Have you ever tried to hit a target with a crooked bow? You'll miss the mark every time. That's exactly the point. Israel was undependable. Although God had promised to bless them if they would follow Him and walk in line with His Law, they were constantly missing the moral and spiritual target that God had set up for them. Like unreliable, faulty bows in the area of promises and agreements, "Israel spoke mere words, and with worthless oaths they made covenants" (10:4). Like deceitful bows, Israel practiced dual allegiance by trying to worship both God and Baal at the same time. In fact, Israel missed the target so badly that they thought the prophets of God were demented fools (9:7)! Because of their arrogance and insolence and their refusal to "turn to the Most High," they would be cut down by the Assyrian armies and "their leaders would fall by the sword."

Are we "faulty bows," like ancient Israel? They claimed to be God's people, but they were way off target in the way they lived their lives. Instead of proclaiming the one true God among the nations, they were a disgrace and reproach to the Name of the Lord. As believers, we make the claim to be God's people, but are we true, dependable "bows"? Are our lifestyles hitting the target God has set up for us, or are we missing the mark because we're undependable, like faulty bows? One way to define the word "sin" is "missing the mark." Are we on target, or are we missing the mark in the way we live our lives? Do we keep ourselves from the idols of this world (1 John 5:21)? What is our reaction to the immorality that we see in TV programs? How do we view the preachers of God's Word who denounce the sins of our own nation? Are we convicted by their message, or do we despise them for "being out of touch" or repeating the "same old line"?

Are we missing the mark because we've become desensitized to sin? The more we miss God's target because of our faulty lifestyles, the more hollow our testimony becomes. Unbelievers see God's target--they know God's standards. If we claim to be God's people they will hold us to those standards! Are we being good witnesses to the world by consistently hitting God's target of righteousness? If we're faulty bows, our walk and talk actually insult the Lord instead of bringing honor and testimony to Him!

God gave Israel every "benefit of the doubt" and many opportunities to return to Him. He was incredibly patient and long suffering with His people, always ready to forgive them and restore them. Under Jeroboam II the Lord had even allowed the northern kingdom to regain some territory that they had previously lost to the Syrians (compare 2 Kings 10:32 and 14:25). But although God had "trained them and strengthened them" (v15), Israel deliberately turned away from Him. Isn't it true that our generous God has given us every "benefit of the doubt"? He's been patient, and has given us so many "second chances" to do the right thing. Let's be sure He's not dishonored by our lives! Let's not be weak like unturned cakes, or make foolish choices like senseless doves, or miss His mark like faulty bows.
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