Chapter 13 begins with a reference to some great days of the past when other nations feared the northern kingdom of Israel and trembled when they spoke. This is probably a reference to the prosperous period of the reign of Jeroboam II. But things have now changed, and they have become weak, like the morning mist or like chaff in the wind or like smoke from a fire, ready to disappear. The reason for their weakness was their practice of idolatry (vv. 1-3).
In verse 4, the Lord speaks again of what he did for them at the onset of their national life when he delivered the people from Egypt and cared for them as they travelled through the desert. Then they had a special relationship with him. He then brought them into the Promised Land, but once there they became independent and proud and forgot about their God (vv. 4-6).
Therefore the Lord would no longer look after Israel. Instead he would turn against them and here he uses the imagery of fierce beasts (a lion, a leopard, a mother bear) to illustrate the absence of mercy in his dealings with them. Israel would be completely destroyed as a nation (vv. 7-8).
Their kings, whom they had imagined would help them, would not be able to do so. They had chosen to be like the nations when they selected Saul as king, not realising that he had been sent by God as an expression of his wrath. Although some subsequent kings had been powerful, recent ones were weak. Israel would disappear (God uses two powerful illustrations to describe what will happen: Israel would become like a child who refused to be born and it would suffer death). There would be no compassion for them and Assyria would destroy their capital city, Samaria (vv. 9-16).
Yet this announcement of judgement contains words of hope. When the Lord describes Israel as succumbing to the power of the grave, he asks a question: 'Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?' The answer to this question remained obscure until Paul mentions it in 1 Corinthians 15 in his great chapter on the resurrection. The full answer to this question from the heart of God includes far more than national restoration of Israel. Through Jesus, all consequences of death will be removed for those who trust in the Lord. When the resurrection takes place, then it will be asked with wonder, 'O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?'