Israel Played at Religion with Toy Gods

11 1-9 “When Israel was only a child, I loved him.
    I called out, ‘My son!’—called him out of Egypt.
But when others called him,
    he ran off and left me.
He worshiped the popular sex gods,
    he played at religion with toy gods.
Still, I stuck with him. I led Ephraim.
    I rescued him from human bondage,
But he never acknowledged my help,
    never admitted that I was the one pulling his wagon,
That I lifted him, like a baby, to my cheek,
    that I bent down to feed him.
Now he wants to go back to Egypt or go over to Assyria—
    anything but return to me!
That’s why his cities are unsafe—the murder rate skyrockets
    and every plan to improve things falls to pieces.
My people are hell-bent on leaving me.
    They pray to god Baal for help.
    He doesn’t lift a finger to help them.
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?
    How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,
    devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
    My insides churn in protest.
And so I’m not going to act on my anger.
    I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.
And why? Because I am God and not a human.
    I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.

10-12 “The people will end up following God.
    I will roar like a lion—
Oh, how I’ll roar!
    My frightened children will come running from the west.
Like frightened birds they’ll come from Egypt,
    from Assyria like scared doves.
I’ll move them back into their homes.”
    God’s Word!

Soul-Destroying Lies

Ephraim tells lies right and left.
    Not a word of Israel can be trusted.
Judah, meanwhile, is no better,
    addicted to cheap gods.

* * *

12 1-5 Ephraim, obsessed with god-fantasies,
    chases ghosts and phantoms.
He tells lies nonstop,
    soul-destroying lies.
Both Ephraim and Judah made deals with Assyria
    and tried to get an inside track with Egypt.
God is bringing charges against Israel.
    Jacob’s children are hauled into court to be punished.
In the womb, that heel, Jacob, got the best of his brother.
    When he grew up, he tried to get the best of God.
But God would not be bested.
    God bested him.
Brought to his knees,
    Jacob wept and prayed.
God found him at Bethel.
    That’s where he spoke with him.
God is God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
    God-Revealed, God-Known.

* * *

What are you waiting for? Return to your God!
    Commit yourself in love, in justice!
Wait for your God,
    and don’t give up on him—ever!

7-8 The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud.
    They love to rip people off!
Ephraim boasted, “Look, I’m rich!
    I’ve made it big!
And look how well I’ve covered my tracks:
    not a hint of fraud, not a sign of sin!”

9-11 “But not so fast! I’m God, your God!
    Your God from the days in Egypt!
I’m going to put you back to living in tents,
    as in the old days when you worshiped in the wilderness.
I speak through the prophets
    to give clear pictures of the way things are.
    Using prophets, I tell revealing stories.
I show Gilead rampant with religious scandal
    and Gilgal teeming with empty-headed religion.
I expose their worship centers as
    stinking piles of garbage in their gardens.”

12-14 Are you going to repeat the life of your ancestor Jacob?
    He ran off guilty to Aram,
Then sold his soul to get ahead,
    and made it big through treachery and deceit.
Your real identity is formed through God-sent prophets,
    who led you out of Egypt and served as faithful pastors.
As it is, Ephraim has continually
    and inexcusably insulted God.
Now he has to pay for his life-destroying ways.
    His Master will do to him what he has done.

Religion Customized to Taste

13 1-3 God once let loose against Ephraim
    a terrifying sentence against Israel:
Caught and convicted
    in the lewd sex-worship of Baal—they died!
And now they’re back in the sin business again,
    manufacturing god-images they can use,
Religion customized to taste. Professionals see to it:
    Anything you want in a god you can get.
Can you believe it? They sacrifice live babies to these dead gods—
    kill living babies and kiss golden calves!
And now there’s nothing left to these people:
    hollow men, desiccated women,
Like scraps of paper blown down the street,
    like smoke in a gusty wind.

4-6 “I’m still your God,
    the God who saved you out of Egypt.
I’m the only real God you’ve ever known.
    I’m the one and only God who delivers.
I took care of you during the wilderness hard times,
    those years when you had nothing.
I took care of you, took care of all your needs,
    gave you everything you needed.
You were spoiled. You thought you didn’t need me.
    You forgot me.

7-12 “I’ll charge them like a lion,
    like a leopard stalking in the brush.
I’ll jump them like a sow grizzly robbed of her cubs.
    I’ll rip out their guts.
Coyotes will make a meal of them.
    Crows will clean their bones.
I’m going to destroy you, Israel.
    Who is going to stop me?
Where is your trusty king you thought would save you?
    Where are all the local leaders you wanted so badly?
All these rulers you insisted on having,
    demanding, ‘Give me a king! Give me leaders!’?
Well, long ago I gave you a king, but I wasn’t happy about it.
    Now, fed up, I’ve gotten rid of him.
I have a detailed record of your infidelities—
    Ephraim’s sin documented and stored in a safe-deposit box.

13-15 “When birth pangs signaled it was time to be born,
    Ephraim was too stupid to come out of the womb.
When the passage into life opened up,
    he didn’t show.
Shall I intervene and pull them into life?
    Shall I snatch them from a certain death?
Who is afraid of you, Death?
    Who cares about your threats, Tomb?
In the end I’m abolishing regret,
    banishing sorrow,
Even though Ephraim ran wild,
    the black sheep of the family.

15-16 God’s tornado is on its way,
    roaring out of the desert.
It will devastate the country,
    leaving a trail of ruin and wreckage.
The cities will be gutted,
    dear possessions gone for good.
Now Samaria has to face the charges
    because she has rebelled against her God:
Her people will be killed, babies smashed on the rocks,
    pregnant women ripped open.”

Come Back! Return to Your God!

14 1-3 O Israel, come back! Return to your God!
    You’re down but you’re not out.
Prepare your confession
    and come back to God.
Pray to him, “Take away our sin,
    accept our confession.
Receive as restitution
    our repentant prayers.
Assyria won’t save us;
    horses won’t get us where we want to go.
We’ll never again say ‘our god’
    to something we’ve made or made up.
You’re our last hope. Is it not true
    that in you the orphan finds mercy?”

* * *

4-8 “I will heal their waywardness.
    I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.
I will make a fresh start with Israel.
    He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.
He’ll put down deep oak tree roots,
    he’ll become a forest of oaks!
He’ll become splendid—like a giant sequoia,
    his fragrance like a grove of cedars!
Those who live near him will be blessed by him,
    be blessed and prosper like golden grain.
Everyone will be talking about them,
    spreading their fame as the vintage children of God.
Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods.
    From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him.
I am like a luxuriant fruit tree.
    Everything you need is to be found in me.”

* * *

If you want to live well,
    make sure you understand all of this.
If you know what’s good for you,
    you’ll learn this inside and out.
God’s paths get you where you want to go.
    Right-living people walk them easily;
    wrong-living people are always tripping and stumbling.

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