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Have You Noticed Your Gray Hair? (Hosea 7:8-10)

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November 27, 2022

A man had always been proud of his black, thick head of hair. But it began thinning out until finally only one lone strand was left. One morning he awoke, looked at his pillow, and was horrified to see lying there that last single, precious hair. Leaping out of bed, he ran downstairs crying, “Martha, Martha, I’m bald!”

Of course it doesn’t happen that way, does it? No man fails to notice his own baldness until the final hair falls out. I speak from experience. In the early 1980’s, I looked in the mirror and noticed a few hairs that were quite a bit lower on my forehead than all the rest. My first thought was that I was growing new hair down there. But then the sickening reality hit me: Those hairs were not pioneers into fresh territory. They were the few struggling survivors. The rest had retreated to higher ground!

The same thing is true about turning gray. Nobody turns gray without noticing it. Do you remember when you discovered your first gray hairs? Maybe you plucked them out. But you soon realized that if you continued to do that, baldness would be your next problem. So perhaps you chose the Clairol solution, or else you told yourself that it made you look more mature. But nobody turns gray without knowing it.

Or do they? The prophet Hosea wrote about just such a thing happening to the nation Israel (Hosea 7:9b): “Gray hairs also are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it.” The prophet was not speaking about physical grayness, but rather, spiritual grayness. The nation was in spiritual decline. The signs of weakness and old age were obvious, and yet the nation was oblivious to the situation.

It’s easy to deceive myself about how old I am. I’ll remember a hike that I did years before and think, “Yeah, I can do that again.” Then I try it and my aching body screams at me, “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not young anymore!” I often joke with Marla as we hike on a trail we’ve done a few years earlier that they made a trail a lot steeper than the last time we hiked it!

But whether with increasing gray hair (which should be obvious) or with my brain deceiving my aging body about how old I really am, Hosea’s point is that people who profess to know God can in reality be in spiritual decline, and yet they don’t know it. He is asking us, “Is it possible that you are turning gray spiritually and yet have not noticed?” The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:5), “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” And so it is helpful at times to take a careful look into the mirror of God’s Word and ask, “Have you noticed your gray hair?”

Hosea prophesied shortly before the northern kingdom fell to Assyria in 722 B.C. The last half of the eighth century B.C. “was the most turbulent and trying time in the history of Israel prior to the captivity” (ESV Study Bible [Crossway], 1619). Of the six kings who reigned in the northern kingdom (which Hosea calls “Ephraim”) during the 30 years before Assyria conquered it, four assassinated their predecessors. The nation professed to be God’s people. They went through all the outward motions of religion. But they were morally and spiritually bankrupt. They worshiped gods of their own making. They defiled themselves with adultery and violence. And yet they claimed to know God. So the prophet asks Israel, “Have you noticed your gray hair?” He makes the point that ...

Mixture with the world and half-baked commitment lead to unconscious spiritual decline.

“Mixture” and “half-baked” are baking terms. Ephraim had become mixed or kneaded together like dough with the nations. Or, they had become like a half-baked pancake. Because of that the nation did not recognize the signs of spiritual decline.

1. Mixture with the world leads to unconscious spiritual decline.

When God called Israel to be His covenant people He declared over and over to them, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7; also, Exod. 34:12-16). To be holy means to be set apart unto God, to be conformed to His character, to be separate from known sin, to be distinct from the behavior and thinking of those who do not know God. But instead of being distinct, Israel had drifted into the pagan lifestyle of the nations around them. They worshiped their gods. They adopted their immoral ways. They disregarded the law of God (see Hos. 4:1-3, 11-14).

But before we cluck our tongues and say, “for shame, for shame,” we need to acknowledge that holiness is as much of a problem for us as it was for them. Perhaps even more so. The New Testament repeatedly warns about this danger:

2 Corinthians 6:14-15: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”

James 4:4: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives [lit., abides] forever.”

These verses draw a pretty distinct line in the sand! Either you love God, or you love the world, but not both. Worldliness is, at its core, a matter of the heart. If your heart is captured by the world, you will love the things of the world. If your heart is captured by the love of God, you will be drawn to Him and to the things of God. The only way that our hearts can be transformed so that we love God is by the supernatural new birth. To be worldly is to operate on the same principles as those who do not know God. It is to think and act out of selfishness, lust, greed, pride, and personal ambition. It is to have selfish desires for the things that you do not have and sinful pride in the things that you do have. Rather than living to please God, who examines the heart, the worldly person tries to impress people, who look on things outwardly.

David Wells (God in the Wasteland [Eerdmans], 86) describes worldliness as “that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange.” Years before the internet and cell phones were invented, Dave Branon wrote (RBC Discovery Digest [May-June 1985], 20-21):

Suppose you wanted to change the thinking of an entire nation. Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to make the people think that red is green. How would you do it?

One idea would be to have about 60 percent of the citizens meet together once a week in some little-used buildings and take about an hour ... to convince them of your idea. But that probably wouldn’t work ....

A better plan would be to have them spend 8 to 10 hours a day sitting in front of a television set. Make the folks watch a lot of programs in which famous people demonstrate that red is green. In addition, make sure the citizens are plugged into a radio the rest of the time so you could have some ... people sing some loud songs about the lovely green shade of red. Also, set up thousands of theaters where people could relax and be entertained by laughing at the absurd idea that red is red. As a supplement, get your message into books, magazines, and newspapers.

That’s exactly what has happened with almost the entire world and homosexuality! Through TV, videos, the internet, and other media, the world has bombarded everyone with the message that this sin is normal and those who think that it is sin are the weirdos. The United States Congress is about to legislate that homosexual “marriage” is the law of the land. And many supposedly “Christian” churches are joining in by installing unrepentant homosexuals as clergy and as members! That is to be mixed with the world!

As Isaiah (5:20) proclaims, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Both Isaiah and Hosea want us to examine our lifestyle, values, goals, and relational patterns to determine whether they come from God’s Word or from the world. If we allow ourselves to be kneaded together with the world, we will gradually grow spiritually gray without even knowing it.

As you think about our text, ask yourself, “Am I growing in holiness before the Lord?” And if not, then examine your priorities and your schedule. Cut back on those things which are squeezing you into the world’s mold and replace them with things that will help you to grow in godliness.

There is a second factor involved in unconscious spiritual decline:

2. Half-baked commitment leads to unconscious spiritual decline.

Hosea 7:8b: “Ephraim has become a cake not turned.” The cake referred to was like a pancake. It was cooked on hot stones. If not turned over, it became burned on one side while remaining doughy on the other. Can you imagine ordering pancakes in a restaurant, and they are served burned on one side and not cooked on the other? They would be totally worthless!

Hosea says, “That’s what Israel is like.” They were half-baked in their commitment to the Lord. They had the garb of religion, but underneath they had a heart of perversion. They had profession without practice, belief without behavior, and creed without conduct. In other words, their religion didn’t affect their daily lives. As the Lord says (7:14), they wanted God to give them grain and new wine, but they didn’t want God Himself. They cried to Him, but not from their hearts. They were like a cake half-baked. They professed to know God, but by their deeds they denied Him (Titus 1:16).

There is no worse place to be. In the Book of Revelation, the church of Laodicea was like that. It wasn’t that they were against God; they just weren’t wholeheartedly for God. But God says (Rev. 3:15,16), “I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” A lukewarm Christian is like a half-baked pancake: totally useless to God. How can you be a testimony for Jesus Christ if you’ve got one foot in both worlds? The world sees the hypocrisy, even if the lukewarm believer does not.

Remember the story of Jonah? God said, “Go to Ninevah and cry out against it.” Jonah said, “No way,” and took off on ship for Tarshish. So the Lord sent a great storm. In desperation the sailors finally cast lots to figure out who was at fault for the storm. The lot fell on Jonah. So these pagan sailors ask Jonah, “Who are you? What do you do for a living? Where do you come from?” (See Jonah 1:8.)

So Jonah tells them, “I’m a Hebrew. I’m a prophet of the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. I’m trying to flee from His presence.” Their response is classic (Jonah 1:10): “How could you do this?” Jonah didn’t see how silly his behavior was, but these pagan sailors saw it clearly! He didn’t realize the hypocrisy of his half-baked commitment, but the pagan sailors could see it clearly. Half-baked commitment leads to unconscious spiritual decline.

Hold up God’s mirror to yourself. How’s your commitment to Jesus Christ as you look back on the past year? Look at your schedule: how do you spend your time? Look at your spending: how do you spend your money? Don’t become a cake not turned!

3. Unconscious spiritual decline is marked by several telltale signs.

I’ll mention five:

A. Unconscious spiritual decline involves a gradual loss of strength.

Hosea 7:9a: “Strangers devour his strength, yet he does not know it.” Hosea is referring to the surrounding nations which exacted tribute from Israel. It was a sad state of affairs compared with the nation’s days of strength under David and Solomon. But it had happened gradually over the years, so that nobody noticed. It just seemed normal now. The nation was like me when I think that I’m just as strong as in my younger days, even though I’m not.

Are you strong in the Lord, and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10)? Do you experience consistent spiritual victory over sin, beginning on the thought level? Do you consistently rely on the promises of God’s Word for strength? Is your communion with God fresh and vital? Or could you be like Samson, who had dabbled with the world for so long that when Delilah cut his hair and called out, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson,” he did not know that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

B. Unconscious spiritual decline involves a watered-down view of sin and holiness.

These people were involved in horrible sins (4:11-14), and yet they claimed to be following the Lord. The evil spirit of the age even affected the priests. Hosea charged (4:8) that the priests delighted in the sins of the people because it brought them revenues in sin offerings!

Whenever people are in spiritual decline but don’t know it, they water down God’s holiness and rationalize their own sin. They compare themselves with others and they re-fashion God into a god after their own liking.

But when you draw near to God as He is revealed in His Word, you become more aware of the depths of your own sinfulness. Like Isaiah when he saw the Lord seated on His throne, with the angels crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,” you cry out (Isa. 6:5), “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

If spiritual decline involves a watered-down view of sin and holiness, revival always involves a serious resolve to deal with personal sin. One important reason you need to be committed to frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper is that it forces you to examine your own heart before you partake.

C. Unconscious spiritual decline involves deafness to God’s rebuke.

Hosea 7:10: “Though the pride of Israel testifies against him, yet they have neither returned to the Lord their God, nor have they sought Him, for all this.” The NIV and many commentators interpret “the pride of Israel” to be Israel’s arrogance. This is a possible meaning. Although Israel’s pride should have been a witness against them, they didn’t return to the Lord or seek Him.

But the Hebrew word can have the meaning of exaltation or majesty. C.F. Keil (Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes [Eerdmans, 1975], X:88, 108), the learned German scholar, interprets this phrase to be a reference to the Lord, who is Israel’s glory (the same phrase occurs in Hos. 5:5). If he is right, then Hosea is using irony to make his point. He is saying, “Israel boasts in being God’s people, and yet they refuse to listen to the God in whom they boast.” But either way, Israel was deaf to God’s rebuke.

One way to determine whether you are headed up or down spiritually is to gauge how you respond to correction from God’s Word or from His people. If you shrug it off or apply it to someone else, but not to yourself, you’re in decline.

D. Unconscious spiritual decline involves ignorance of spiritual need.

“Yet he does not know it” (twice in verse 9). It is obvious to everyone else that the person is in spiritual decline. But if you ask him, everything is great. The lukewarm Laodicean church said (Rev. 3:17), “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But God’s evaluation of them was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” They needed to see their sad spiritual condition.

G. Campbell Morgan wrote (in connection with Hosea 7:9, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God [Baker], p. 79): “Gray hair is not a tragedy; but failure to see it is.” Are you increasingly aware of your neediness before God? If not, maybe you are turning gray spiritually, but don’t even know it.

E. Unconscious spiritual decline is revealed when you turn to the world rather than to God for help in a time of trouble.

Israel was being overrun by the pagan Assyrians, but instead of turning to the Lord, they turned to their enemy for help! Hosea 5:13: “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb [or, “the great king”]. But he is unable to heal you, or to cure you of your wound.” This may refer to when Israel and Judah paid tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19-20; 16:5-9). Sometimes these methods work in the short run. But they are godless solutions. God brings trials into our lives so that we will seek Him more diligently and go deeper into the unfathomable riches of Christ (Ps. 50:15; Eph. 3:8).


What is the solution to spiritual decline? First, evaluate yourself honestly. (See “Spiritual Diagnostic Questions” on my church blog.) How mixed up with the world are you? Is your commitment half-baked or done on both sides? If you become aware of spiritual decline, then return to the Lord. Seek Him (Hos. 6:1-3; 7:10). Psalm 130:7 declares, “For with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption.”

Hosea is not your typical hard-nosed prophet of doom. He is a prophet who portrayed in his life God’s love for His wayward people. God gave Hosea a strange command (1:2): to marry a prostitute. Imagine how that would hit the news in our day: “Well-known Pastor Marries Prostitute!” When Hosea’s wife strayed from him and eventually ended up on the slave-block, God told Hosea, “Go, buy her back.” So Hosea went and paid the price to buy back his own adulterous wife. But then he did not treat her as his slave, but he loved her tenderly as his wife (Hos. 3:1-3).

That’s a beautiful picture of God’s love for His wayward people. G. Campbell Morgan wrote (Voices of Twelve Hebrew Prophets [Baker], p. 51), “Sin in the last analysis, in its most terrible form, is infidelity to love. It hurts God.” God has paid the ultimate price—the death of His Son—to redeem you from the slave market of sin. He did it in love to make you His bride. So remind yourself often of God’s great love in sending His Son to rescue you from your sin.

Have you noticed any gray hairs this morning? God will take care of them for you if you will return to His loving arms.

Application Questions

  1. What is worldliness? Is it primarily external, internal, or both?
  2. Worldliness is so subtle and pervasive. How can we gauge it in our own lives?
  3. How would you describe a committed Christian? What would this person’s life be like? Can a “layman” be just as committed as a “full-time Christian worker”?
  4. Can a true Christian backslide? Will he ever lose his salvation? What will happen to him? Can he ever go so far as not to be able to repent? Support your answers with Scripture.
  5. How can we avoid spiritual decline? What practical steps would you give to a person who really wanted to make his or her life count for God?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Spiritual Life

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