Category Archives: Hosea

Hosea 12-14: Heartfelt Return to the Father

People talk about baby-boomers, and post-baby boomers  as THE “ME” GENERATION”. Totally wrapped-up with satisfying PERSONAL needs.

Physical fitness, material wealth, creature comforts, personal growth, self-improvement. Promotion, extensions, upgrading, mortgage, investments. ME, ME, ME.

It’s a pre-occupation with the needs of THE INDIVIDUAL. And where the importance of the GROUP is lessened. That might be FAMILY, or CLUB, or SOCIETY, or even CHURCH.

“None of that matters because I’M more important”.

The ME generation. It’s summed up in that ad from the nineties. I think it was for a financial institution. “The most important person in the world – YOU!”. (Was it National Mutual?)

It’s true that THE LAST THIRTY YEARS have seen an explosion in this sort of thinking.

1. The Mistakes:

And yet, it’s a phenomenon that’s been around FOREVER. Certainly since the time of Israel. We might like to wrap it up in sociological language, but the “me” generation isn’t a passing fad. It’s not something that will ever go away. Because SELFISHNESS has been around since ADAM.

And these final chapters from Hosea describe “the ME generation” of Israel’s time. And much of it could be describing Western culture of TODAY!

And the “ME” thinking of the people showed itself in four mistakes. Four errors of judgment which had set them on a collision course with God.

a) That Self-seeking means success

Firstly, they made the mistake of thinking that SELF-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR MEANS SUCCESS.

You know the sort of thinking. The person who’ll do ANYTHING for a dollar. Chase up every lead. Work three jobs. Cut every corner. Sacrifice their marriage, their children. Climb over whoever they have to  to get to the top of the ladder. To get the best house in the street. To get the biggest investment portfolio.

It didn’t matter HOW YOU GOT THERE. Just that you GOT there. The ENDS justified the MEANS.

And it’s this sort of person who’s held up as the SUCCESS STORY of our generation. The person to COPY. Read the book, buy the video, about how they made their first million. How they managed to own ten homes by the time they were thirty.

And yet, when it came to Israel, this self-seeking attitude had come at the EXPENSE OF TRUTH AND PEACE. The “MEANS” didn’t matter, because the “END” was all-important. Their method was all about LIES and VIOLENCE.

It’s there in the last verse of Ch 11. “Lies and deceit”.

And again in v1 of Ch12. “Ephraim multiplies LIES AND VIOLENCE. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt”

And, to God, it’s exactly the same way that their ancestor JACOB behaved. Like Father like son. Look at it there in v2. God’s got a history lesson for his people.

(Hosea 12:2-4 NIV)  The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish JACOB according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds. {3} In the womb HE GRASPED HIS BROTHER’S HEEL; as a man he struggled with God.

Remember Jacob was the FATHER of the nation of Israel. In fact, his name was CHANGED to Israel.

 

And the name “Jacob” means “he grasps the heel”. That’s how he came out of the womb – holding his twin brother’s foot.

 

And the name carried with it the idea of being A DECEIVER. Crafty, shifty, sneaking up on people, outwitting them for selfish ends. A con-artist.

 

And as you look at the life of Jacob, he certainly lived up to his name. Deceiver. He deceived his father Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for his brother Esau. He deceived his brother Esau out of his birthright. And made him angry enough to kill him.

 

And so he fled to another country. And married. And then he deceived his father in law. He offered to take all the speckled and dark sheep off his hands. Tidy up his flock, so it was nice and white.

 

But then he encouraged HIS sheep to mate with the WHITE sheep. And, surprise surprise, the lambs were spotted! And so Jacob’s flock grew bigger. At the expense of his father-in-law’s flock.

 

And perhaps not surprisingly, he eventually outwore his welcome THERE. And so he packed up all his belongings, and left without a word. He ran away, and headed back home. Back to meet his brother Esau. The brother who’d wanted to kill him.

 

But being the shrewd and crafty worker that he was, he had a plan. He split his group into two. Just in case Esau came and wiped out ONE of them, the OTHER would survive. Half the livestock, and children and wives in ONE group. And half in the other.

 

And then he sent a GIFT on ahead. A huge herd of sheep and goats and camels and cows and donkeys. A “sucking-up” gift for Esau.

 

And he carefully stage-managed it so that each group of animals would arrive at different times. To achieve maximum effect. One gift after another.

 

But still that wasn’t enough. As night was falling, he sent his wives and children on ahead. And all his possessions. And all his servants.

 

Until Jacob was the only left. Bringing up the rear. Like all good heads of the family. If Esau came after him, he’d have to fight his way through everyone else FIRST.

 

The master of deceit and trickery. All alone in the darkness.

 

Where had all his craftiness got him? All his lies and cons? He had nothing. No family, no possessions, no home, under threat of death.

 

And it was during that night Gen 32 tells us he wrestled with God. It’s a strange account. He wrestles with a MAN, and yet Jacob himself knows that he’s wrestled with GOD HIMSELF. Perhaps he was an angel.

 

And as daybreak arrives, the man begs Jacob to let him go. Enough’s enough. But Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you BLESS me.”

 

And the man gives Jacob a NEW NAME. Israel, which means “he struggles with GOD”.

 

And Hosea’s point is this. During the night Jacob CHANGED. He stopped wrestling with MEN – deceiving and tricking and conning.

 

And now, he’s struggling with GOD. Looking for the blessing of God. The NAME-change reflects a change of ATTITUDE. Look what Hosea says in v3

{3} In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; (but) as a MAN he STRUGGLED with GOD. {4} He struggled with the angel and overcame him; HE WEPT AND BEGGED FOR HIS FAVOR.

 

And it’s EXACTLY the SAME lesson that ISRAEL needs to learn. To change from self-seeking lies and violence. To God-seeking honesty and love. Look at v6.

(Hosea 12:6 NIV)  But YOU … You must RETURN TO YOUR GOD; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

 

Just like your ancestor. Return with WEEPING AND BEGGING. Don’t be a JACOB – a heel-grabber. Be an ISRAEL – a God-wrestler.

 

Which are you? Is your focus what you can get from OTHER PEOPLE? For selfish ends?

 

Or are you intent on doing business WITH GOD? Not giving up. Not letting anything stand in the way. Being a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser. Seeking HIS direction, and approval, and blessing?

 

Israel’s FIRST mistake was thinking that self-seeking behaviour would lead to success.

 

b) That Wealth means blessing (12:7-9)

And her second mistake follows from the first. Self-seeking HAD led to success, and they assumed that WEALTH MEANT BLESSING. Look at v7

(Hosea 12:7-8 NIV)  The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud. {8} Ephraim boasts, “I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin.”

 

When things went WELL, they assumed it was because God was BLESSING them. Because they were so morally pure.

 

But what does Hosea say is the reason for their wealth? Is it because of God’s blessing? A reward for their righteousness? NO! It’s the VERY OPPOSITE. They’re wealthy because they’re DISHONEST.

 

They put a thumb on the scales. Add a couple of noughts to the quote. A few hours to the time-sheet. A dozen extra deductions to the tax-return.

 

Riches and success like THAT  have got nothing to do with God.

 

And it’s the similar thinking from churches who preach a PROSPERITY GOSPEL. WEALTH EQUALS GOD’S BLESSING.

 

They say, “God WANTS you to be rich and successful. And if you’re NOT rich and successful, it’s because you’ve been disobedient, or aren’t praying enough, or aren’t listening to God’s guidance.”

 

But that’s ALL WRONG. Wealth DOESN’T equal God’s blessing. God MAY choose to make you wealthy, or he may NOT.

 

More than likely, an obedient Christian WON’T be wealthy. Because God’s priority is how GODLY you are, not the size of your bank balance. And he can work on your godliness much more  when your first priority isn’t the mighty dollar.

 

That was Israel’s second mistake. That wealth meant God’s blessing.

 

c) That Political stability means permanence (13:1-3)

And their third mistake was believing that political stability meant permanence. Look over to the start of Ch 13. Ephraim was a POWERFUL nation. Strong armies. Strong allegiances. Strong government.

 

And you can become very CONFIDENT when that’s the situation. COMPLACENT. A bit like America before September 11. Or Australia before the Bali bombing.

 

That we were somehow IMMUNE from all the violence going on around the world. We were the GOOD GUYS. And things ALWAYS turned out right for the GOOD GUYS.

 

And that’s what EPHRAIM was thinking. The strongest of all the northern tribes. Ch 13. v1.

(Hosea 13:1 NIV)  When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel.

 

But the problem was it was a house built on sand. Severe termite damage. Concrete cancer. It looked impressive, but the foundations were rotten.

(Hosea 13:1-2 NIV)  …But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. {2} Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, (and so on)

 

Impressive infrastructure and government and armies. But because they worshipped idols, all that strength was just an illusion.

 

Look at God’s verdict of impressive, but idolatrous, Ephraim. V3.

(Hosea 13:3 NIV)  Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window.

 

Four different pictures of things which don’t last. Things with no substance, or body, or permanence. Mist, dew, chaff, smoke.

 

That’s what would become of impressive Ephraim.

 

That was the third mistake. Thinking that political stability meant permanence.

 

d) That Satisfaction means confidence and pride (13:5-6)

And her fourth mistake was that SATISFACTION WAS AN EXCUSE FOR PRIDE. That a full stomach was reason to BOAST. Look at Ch 13 v5

(Hosea 13:5-6 NIV)  I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. {6} When I fed them, they were SATISFIED; when they were satisfied, they became PROUD; then they forgot me.

 

What’s the logic of the verse? God cared for Israel, and fed them. When he FED them, they were SATISFIED. CONTENT.

 

But with CONTENTMENT came PRIDE. And with PRIDE came forgetfulness of God. When you start to think that YOU are the provider of all that you have. Then you automatically forget God.

 

It’s sitting on your back verandah, sipping a cold beverage, in the twilight of the evening, belt loosened after a roast dinner. Master of all you survey – at least as far as the back fence – and except for the two-thirds of the yard that the bank owns.

 

And thinking PROUDLY about what a self-made man you are! Instead of thanking GOD for what he’s given you.

 

Are YOU ever tempted to do that? What’s you attitude to saying grace before dinner? Is it meaningful? Or just HABIT? Make it MEAN something. Don’t get into a routine. Do it differently. But don’t forget that all that we have comes from GOD.

 

Satisfaction is no excuse for pride. That was Israel’s fourth mistake.

 

2. The Outcome: Punishment (13:7-9, 15-16)

And even though there was a lot about Israel that was IMPRESSIVE. They were wealthy and stable and satisfied. None of it made an impact on God.

 

Because it was all just SYMPTOMS OF EVIL. Rebellion. Ignoring God. Look at the end of v6.

(Hosea 13:6-7 NIV)  then they FORGOT me. {7} So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path.

 

And a bit further on in v9

(Hosea 13:9 NIV)  “You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are AGAINST ME, against your helper.

 

And then down in v15.

(Hosea 13:15-16 NIV)  even though he THRIVES among his brothers. An east wind from the LORD will come, blowing in from the desert; his spring will fail and his well dry up. His storehouse will be plundered of all its treasures. {16} The people of Samaria MUST BEAR THEIR GUILT, because they have REBELLED against their God.”

 

For all their impressiveness. All their earthly success. It was all built on REBELLION against God. Ignoring him. Failing to recognise him. Assuming that life’s DECISIONS, and their behaviour, had nothing to do with God.

 

And so God will punish them.

 

And isn’t that EXACTLY like Australia today? On the outside, things are pretty impressive. There’s plenty of wealth, and stability and satisfaction. The gardens are neat, the gutters are clean, the windows are washed.

 

But for most people God doesn’t come into it. He’s not even on the radar.

 

And even though 21st century Australia is very different from 8th century BC Israel, God’s verdict is the same.

 

Behaviour like that deserves punishment.

 

3. The Solution: Return to God (12:6; 14:1)

Luckily for Israel, and for us. That’s not the end of the story. Because Hosea goes on to tell us what the solution is. To RETURN to GOD. He’s already said it. Back in Ch 12 v6

(Hosea 12:6 NIV)  But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

 

But now, here at the start of Ch 14. He fleshes out what that means. He even gives us the words to say.

(Hosea 14:1-3 NIV)  RETURN, O Israel, to the LORD your God. YOUR SINS have been your downfall! {2} Take WORDS with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS. {3} Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

 

Let’s look at Hosea’s plea in a bit more detail. Because it gives us THREE STEPS in returning to God.

 

Accept responsibility for the distance (14:1)

Firstly, returning to God involves accepting responsibility for the distance. That’s there in v1. “Your sins have been your downfall”.

 

There’s a bumper sticker that says something like “If God seems distant, guess who’s moved?”

 

It’s US who’ve taken our eyes off God, and not the other way around. It’s OUR attention that’s been distracted by money, and power, and satisfaction, and comfort.

 

And that’s all it takes. Taking your eyes off God. Because that’s what sin IS. Putting yourself on the throne instead of God.

 

Honest Confession (14:2-3) (cf the lies of 11:12)

The second step in returning to God is honest confession. V2. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins, and receive us graciously that we may offer the fruit of our lips.”

 

Recognise what you’ve done, and put it right. Realise that whatever mistakes you’ve made. Whoever you’ve hurt. ULTIMATELY, it’s GOD you’ve rebelled against.

 

And so it’s right to confess to him. And seek his forgiveness.

 

And don’t think you can sweeten the deal. There’s nothing that will make you more acceptable to God. No vague promises of never doing it again. No half-hearted deals of always being nice to people.

 

Sacrifices won’t do the trick. He wants your WORDS, not your sacrifices. “Receive us graciously that we might offer you the fruit of our … not harvest, or wallet.. but LIPS. God wants WORDS – true and honest confession.

 

Our confidence comes on the basis of WHO GOD IS, not on WHAT WE CAN OFFER. See there at the end of v3. “For in YOU the fatherless find compassion”.

 

Return to God and he will bless you (14:4-9)

And the third step to returning to the Lord belongs to God. Return to the Lord and he will BLESS you.

 

It’s exactly what Hosea has highlighted in Jacob’s behaviour. He turned back to God, and wrestled with him until God … BLESSED him. He wept and begged for his favour.

 

And that’s what God LOVES to do. Look at v4.

(Hosea 14:4-7 NIV)  “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. {5} I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; {6} his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. {7} Men will dwell again in his shade.

Wonderful images of beauty, and strength. Of fruitfulness, and usefulness and purpose. The beauty of a lily. The strength of a cedar. The fruitfulness and usefulness of an olive tree. The purpose of a shady tree.

 

That’s what the Christian life is like. Not one where everything always goes right. But one where there is beauty, and strength. An internal stability and steadfastness that other people NOTICE. That only comes from GOD.

 

And it’s a life that AFFECTS THOSE AROUND YOU. Christians are fruitful and useful and purposeful. We have a REASON for LIVING. God has made us for a purpose. And we can be a blessing to others. A help and a guide and a support.

 

That’s the sort of life that is REALLY wealthy and stable and satisfying. And it’s what God offers each one of us. The life of blessing.

 

(slow) And it’s the only TRUE life. The only OBVIOUS ALTERNATIVE. Listen to Hosea’s conclusion. V9.

(Hosea 14:9 NIV)  Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE RIGHT; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

 

Which are you?

 

Hosea 4-7: The Problem of Ignorance

A Canadian called David Organ tells this eyewitness story. It shows THE PROBLEMS THAT COME FROM A LACK OF KNOWLEDGE.

“This happened to me in 1990, in Wainwright, Alberta. I was a soldier in the Canadian army, and we were hosting elements of the British army for military manoeuvres.

We took some of our new British friends to town, to party at the Wainwright Hotel bar. Around 1:00 AM, we decided to save cab money and walk back to the base. This was a trek of about three miles, with a detour around a large, fenced pasture.

That field holds some of the last Plains bison in Canada, a herd of about 40 animals. Bison are not the friendliest animals on the planet. Safety signs are posted every ten feet along the fence, and warnings read, “Unless you can cross this pasture in nine seconds, do not attempt it. The bison can do it in ten.”

We reached the pasture and started to walk around it, but one of our drunken Brit companions decided that the warnings were fake. “Real, live buffalo don’t exist!”

Despite our protests, he opted for a shortcut. He hopped over the five-foot fence and disappeared into the dark field.

We watched and waited.

Seconds later, a high-pitched and very un-British profanity was heard from the pasture, and our friend came tearing back towards the fence at top speed. A fully mature and quite unhappy Plains bison thundered behind him.

The only reason the young gunner survived was sheer, adrenaline-fuelled fear. He vaulted the five-foot fence without breaking stride. His rear foot caught the top rail, sending him spinning into the grass on the safe side, half a second before two thousand pounds of extremely unfriendly hamburger meat smashed into the fence at full steam.

The fence is constructed of extremely solid steel pipes, yet the two-foot dent made by the bison remains to this day. The animal staggered, snorted, shook his head, and rumbled off with a splitting headache.

Our friend escaped with a broken ankle, moderate concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and a great deal of bleeding from his uncontrolled landing. Had he not cleared the fence, he would have been pile-driven to smithereens by the huge bull.

We were still laughing too hard to be too sympathetic as we gave him first-aid and summoned help.”

1. The Problem: Ignoring God (4:1b,6,10c; 5:4)

The problem that comes from a lack of knowledge. The Englishman didn’t believe in buffalo, refused to accept the signs, and suffered the consequences.

And in Hosea’s time, Israel was the same. They refused to acknowledge God. And refused to accept the signs. Look at v1 of Ch 4.

(Hosea 4:1 NIV)  Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, NO ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD in the land.

Failing to acknowledge God, and the demands he makes. It’s a theme Hosea comes back to again and again. Down in v10.

(Hosea 4:10-11 NIV)  “…they have DESERTED THE LORD to give themselves {11} to prostitution,

And again in Ch 5 v4

(Hosea 5:4 NIV)  … A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; THEY DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE LORD.

a. begins with ignoring God’s revelation (4:5-6)

And it begins by ignoring God’s revelation. Just like the buffalo guy who ignored the signs, Israel was ignoring GOD’S signs. His law. His prophets. And it was DESTROYING them. Look at Ch 4 v5.

(Hosea 4:5-6 NIV)  You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother– {6} my people are destroyed from LACK OF KNOWLEDGE. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

b. means replacing him with other gods (4:10b-13)

And when you block your ears to what GOD is saying it ALWAYS means you start listening to someone else.

Ignoring God means REPLACING him with other gods.

Look at Ch 4 v 10 again.

(Hosea 4:10-12 NIV)  “…they have deserted the LORD to GIVE THEMSELVES {11} TO prostitution, to old wine and new, which take away the understanding {12} of my people. They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God.

Turning away from God  ALWAYS means turning TOWARD something else.

Everyone serves someone, or something. No-one is TRULY independent.

It may not be RELIGIOUS. Look who ELSE Israel turned towards. Over in Ch 5. V13. Things are going badly. And who do they turn to? Not to God whose causing all the problems. But to OTHER NATIONS. Human Mr Fix-its.

(Hosea 5:13 NIV)  “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his sores, then Ephraim turned to ASSYRIA, and sent to the great king for help. But HE IS NOT ABLE TO CURE YOU, not able to heal your sores.

 

How foolish to turn away from God for help to fix the very things he’s brought. Things he’s engineered so that you might turn to him!

 

And yet isn’t that what WE do all the time? God brings trials along. Things designed to make us depend on him more. And to make us more like Jesus. And we try to “FIX” them ourselves.

 

We’re not sure about a new career change, or financial advice. So we consult a careers advisor, or a financial advisor. Instead of praying.

 

We moan about how the bills all come together. And we re-draw on the Home Loan.

 

Or we get frustrated at all the needy people who suddenly want our time. And we switch on the answering machine.

 

Or we wallow in self-pity at some sickness or ailment that comes our way. And switch-off to needs far greater, or sickness far worse, than ours.

 

Turning to human saviours, rather than turning it all over to God. Allowing HIM to change us. To take on his perspective. His direction. His attitudes. His generosity. And grace. And peace. And patience.

 

Turning away from God always means turning TOWARDS something else.

 

It may not even be anything EXTERNAL to YOU. For many people turning away from God means putting THEMSELVES on the throne. Refusing to recognise God’s claim on them. Because they think THEY’RE the rulers of their world. The ones who determine their autonomy.

 

They KNOW that God expects a certain standard of behaviour. But they can’t see how that will make them happy. Sexual behaviour outside marriage. Or questionable business ethics. Or putting the needs of others first. Or being too busy to meet with God’s people.

 

“SURELY I’ll be happier if I just ignore God’s way THIS TIME. I know better than God.”

 

So they ignore his rules. And do things THEIR way.

 

c. leads to more sin (4:2)

And that leads us to the next point. Ignoring God leads to MORE sin.

 

Look at how it worked for Israel. Back to the start of Ch 4.

(Hosea 4:1-2 NIV)  …”There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. {2} There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

 

God’s law is summarised in the Ten Commandments. And yet when God is ignored, his LAW goes out the window too. And it’s REPLACED with all that sin. Cursing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery.

 

By my reckoning, that covers all the commandments except Keeping the Sabbath, and Honouring your parents.

 

And this from the nation who were supposed to be a light to the world!

 

Turning away from God means turning away from his rules. Guidelines given for our GOOD. And yet we treat them as if their POISON. Shrivelling up our lives. Wet blankets smothering our fun.

 

And yet it’s really the OPPOSITE. Ignoring God’s laws leads to a SECOND-BEST kind of existence. Look at how it affects the land itself. V3.

(Hosea 4:3 NIV)  Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.

 

There are consequences for the land. You see, God’s design was for the people to live in the land OBEYING HIM. And while they obeyed, the land would flow with milk and honey.

 

But right from the start occupying the land was dependant on OBEDIENCE. DISOBEY turn away from God. And God would take them out of the land.

 

And it’s STILL true. Life is only second-best when we ignore his rules. Believe it!

 

THERE IS NO BLESSING IN DISOBEDIENCE.

 

NEVER, EVER!

 

the priests lead the way (4:4-9)

And while the LAND mourned, we might expect that the priests would ALSO mourn. But the REALLY sad thing was that the priests actually REJOICED at the sin of the people.

 

Their priorities were SO upside-down that they LOOKED FORWARD to people sinning because it meant more sacrifices. And more sacrifices meant more roast lamb for them. That’s what verses 7 and 8 are about.

 

How TRAGIC when spiritual leaders are more concerned for their own comfort than for the spiritual state of the people under their care.

 

Listen to what Peter says. In the New Testament. This is the attitude leaders SHOULD have. 1 Peter 5 v2

(1 Pet 5:2-4 NIV)  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are WILLING, as God wants you to be; NOT GREEDY FOR MONEY, but EAGER TO SERVE; {3} NOT LORDING IT OVER those entrusted to you, but being EXAMPLES to the flock. {4} And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

 

There is PRIVILEGE and REWARD in serving and leading God’s people.

 

But there is also big RESPONSIBILITY. And he will hold us ACCOUNTABLE for how we look after those in our care. Listen to the warning James gives to teachers of God’s word.

(James 3:1 NIV)  Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

 

Teachers can lead people in the RIGHT direction. But they can also lead people WRONGLY. Do terrible damage. To people’s faith, to whole churches.

 

The priests who lead Israel astray, and relished their wickedness, were betraying a great trust. And God judged them harshly.

 

sexual sin (4:13-14)

Another aspect of the sin of Israel was that there was plenty of SEXUAL Sin.

 

God’s guidelines about sex and marriage reflect God HIMSELF. Faithfulness, loyalty, commitment, and love. Are all aspects of God’s character. And they’re also the words which describe a marriage relationship which follows God’s guidelines.

 

And yet none of this was found in pagan idol worship. It was a case of ANYTHING GOES. Since the idols were to do with FERTILITY, the theory was that the sexual act itself would help the process of producing a good harvest, and fertile soil, and good rainfall.

 

So there were temple prostitutes. Who thought they were doing their RELIGIOUS duty. Doing their bit for a good harvest.

 

Such foolishness. Consulting a wooden idol. A stick of wood. Thinking that prostitution would give you more grain.

 

But all it was doing was leading them to ruin. Look at the end of v14. “A people without understanding will come to RUIN”

 

greater hardening (stubbornness) (4:16-18)

And the longer someone continues in sin, the more they have to HARDEN their conscience. Cut themselves off from any feelings of guilt, or wrong-doing, or error.

 

Look at the end result. Down in v16.

(Hosea 4:16 NIV)  The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?

 

It’s a stubbornness which is a barrier to turning back to God.

 

It’s why it’s a terrible trap to say, “ I won’t repent YET. I’ll just wait until I’m older. THEN I’ll become a Christian”. The longer someone puts off that decision, the more set in their ways they become. The harder their consciences become. The more stubborn they are. And the barrier to God just becomes BIGGER.

 

And that’s what Israel was like. A stubborn heifer. Refusing to let God lead them like a shepherd. They know things aren’t going right. But they refuse to let God guide them.

 

And when someone is as STUBBORN as that. DRAMATIC means are called for. And the prophets are absolute EXPERTS as the COLOURFUL LANGUAGE. Words to shake people. Excite them. Blow the out of their complacency and stubbornness.

 

Now, by colourful, I mean PICTURES. METAPHORS. I don’t mean swearing.

 

The funny thing was I was on the train last night. Coming back from the Youth Group camp. And I was reading a book about the language of prophecy. The way prophets use word pictures to amuse and challenge, and provoke.

 

And a group of women got on at Dapto. They’d spent the day at the races. And they were drunk and loud. And their language was certainly COLOURFUL. But not the way the prophets language was colourful.

 

Look at some of the phrases Hosea uses. He has to. Because israle is as stubborn as a heifer. Flip over to Ch 7. And v4.

(Hosea 7:4 NIV)  They are all adulterers, burning like an oven whose fire the baker need not stir from the kneading of the dough till it rises.

 

The lust of their adultery is red hot like a baker’s oven. But not just ANY oven. Look at the description. It’s so hot, the baker doesn’t even need to stoke it from the time he kneads the dough until it’s finished rising HOURS later.

 

Burning lust. It continues 24 hours a day. It fills your dreams. Every woman is a sexual conquest. Body parts. With no personality. It takes over your thoughts. But it never satisfies. It’s never quenched. Like a red hot baker’s oven.

 

Or again. Down in v8.

(Hosea 7:8 NIV)  “Ephraim mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat cake not turned over.

 

What’s the picture? A half-cooked pancake. What’s that like. It’s useless. Inedible. Cooked on one side. Soft and gooey on the other.

 

And that’s what Israel’s like. They’ve mixed with the nations. But they’re caught in the middle. They’ve not done enough to be a positive influence. A shining light. But they’ve taken on enough of their sin to be useless. Idolatrous and wicked.

 

Is that what YOU’RE like? A half-cooked pancake?

 

Supposed to be out there among your friends and neighbours. Making a difference. Saying a word here and there. Standing up for Jesus.

 

But more often than not. You say nothing. DO nothing. And THEY affect YOU  more than YOU affect THEM. You take on their VALUES, their language, their topics of conversation,

 

Jesus’ prayer in Jn 17 was not that we be taken OUT of the world. But that we be PROTECTED FROM the world. Does that describe YOU? Influencing the world, but not being affected by it?

 

Or a you a half-cooked pancake?

 

It happened to Israel. And they didn’t even notice it. Look at the next picture. In the very next verse. V9.

(Hosea 7:9 NIV)  Foreigners sap his strength, but he does not realize it. His hair is sprinkled with gray, but he does not notice.

 

You know the sort of guy. Mid-life crisis. Grey and balding. But worn long, In a pony-tail. New earring in his ear. Trendy jeans stretched tight over his large beer-gut. Driving a red convertible.

 

He thinks he’s cool, and powerful. But everyone just laughs.

 

That’s what Israel’s like. A man going grey who doesn’t realise it. A laughing stock. Israel’s been weakened by political allegiances, and idolatry, and wickedness. But he thinks it makes him cool, and fun, and modern. But it’s only weakness.

 

We could go on. V11. Israel’s like a dove. Easily deceived.

 

Or v16. A crooked bow. Point it in one direction. And it ends up somewhere else. Way off target.

 

2. The Solution: Acknowledging God (6:1-3)

And it all stems from ignoring God. All problems which flow from failing to acknowledge God.

 

And you can see it even in society TODAY. Many of the same problems. All because people refuse to acknowledge God. To recognise his claim on their lives.

 

And yet the solution is not that hard. It’s the opposite of ignoring God. It’s about acknowledging him. Recognising his right to rule. Recognising, that as Creator, he has the right to tell us how life works.

 

It’s the very thing the people suggest. God’s begun to punish them. And they can see what they need to do. Look at the start of Ch 6. The people are talking to each other.

(Hosea 6:1-3 NIV)  “Come, let us RETURN TO THE LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. {2} After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. {3} Let us ACKNOWLEDGE THE LORD; let us press on to ACKNOWLEDGE HIM. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

 

They’re wonderful words, aren’t they. Of confidence that God will restore them. If they turn to him.

 

a. token, short-lived, external actions aren’t enough (5:6; 6:1-6; 7:13c)

But the problem is. That’s all they are. Words.

 

On the surface they SOUND nice enough. But what does GOD think of them? V4.

(Hosea 6:4 NIV)  “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

 

They SAY one thing. Then five minutes later. They’ve changed their mind. There’s no SUBSTANCE to their repentance. It’s all words.

 

And when you go back and look at what the words SAY. Or more importantly what they DON’T say. You see why God isn’t all that impressed. Because there’s plenty about how God will HEAL them. And have them back.

 

But not too much in the way of REPENTANCE. Not too much admission of guilt.

 

c. requires repentant, God-oriented hearts (5:15; 6:6)

You see, God’s not interested in kind words. Or even in the right sacrifices. Because sacrifices offered when you’re not SORRY. Are worthless. Worse than that, they just make God ANGRIER. Look at 6:6

(Hosea 6:6 NIV)  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

 

You see, God’s much more interested in HEARTS that are right. Than words or religious actions. He wants SEVEN days a week. Not one hour on a Sunday.

 

How are WE doing as a church? How do we show MERCY to each other? Seven days a week. What things are we doing OUT of the spotlight? The hard yards. The unappreciated things.

 

It’s THESE things that show where our heart REALLY is.

 

Sunday performance doesn’t make up for six days of ignoring God, and ripping people off. And living for yourself. It’s useless.

 

That’s the trap many Catholics fall into with Confession or Reconciliation. Confession does nothing if you’ve got every intention of going right back out there and sinning all over again.

 

God wants BROKEN people. Who recognise their WORTHLESSNESS before God. Their complete inability to meet ANY of God’s demands.

 

Look at Ch 5 v15. God will continue to punish Israel, like a lion with a carcass, until they CHANGE. And look at what the change looks like.

(Hosea 5:14-15 NIV)  For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. {15} Then I will go back to my place until THEY ADMIT THEIR GUILT. And THEY WILL SEEK MY FACE; IN THEIR MISERY THEY WILL EARNESTLY SEEK ME.”

 

Is that YOU? Guilt. Misery. Complete dependence on God. Seeking his forgiveness.

 

As we’ve described Israel’s sins this morning, have you felt CONVICTED? Have you been thinking “Gee, that sounds just like the way I think, or speak, or act”

 

`Or are you HARD? Stubborn like a heifer. Is it all like water off a duck’s back? Perhaps you’ve thought of OTHER people who fit the bill instead?

 

God wants humble, repentant hearts. That’s his message this morning.

(Hosea 6:6 NIV)  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

 

 

Hosea 1-3: The Heartbreak of Unfaithfulness:

God was hurt. And disappointed. Betrayed. Heart-broken.

Once again his own people had turned their back on him. He’d given Israel everything, and they’d just shrugged their shoulders. And wandered off to find something more exciting.

He wanted to tell them how he felt. So he searched for the right words. A picture that would show the depth of his commitment. And the intensity of the HURT and betrayal he felt.

Was it like the rejection you felt from A STRANGER? The anger and fist-waving of the driver behind you, or your opponent on the sports field? No, that didn’t come close. The relationship was too impersonal. Too distant. Too easy to shrug off that kind of rejection.

Or what about a close friend? You confide in them. Tell them your closest secrets. And then they go and tell the world. Brag about it. Mock you in front of your enemies.

Was THAT what the betrayal felt like?  No, that wasn’t it, either. Because people can always find new friends.

And so God thought some more. What about a father and daughter? A father who sinks his life into his daughter. Provides for her. Protects her from moral and physical danger. Drives her to dancing. Picks her up from parties.

But then the daughter gets tired of his rules. Other people are more exciting. Make her feel special. And so she gives Dad the flick. Cuts off all contact. And Dad’s heart is broken.

Was THAT what it felt like? Getting closer. But still not quite right. Children always do foolish things. You almost expect them to push the boundaries.

Well then, what about husband and wife? The closest of all human relationships. Two people who’ve publicly committed themselves to each other. Unconditionally. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. Sickness or health. Who’ve become one flesh. United. Connected. Inter-dependent.

But then the wife’s eye starts to wander. And her appetites grow. Appetites her husband can’t satisfy. Possessions beyond his budget. Attention beyond what one person can’t provide. Expectations beyond what anyone can fulfil.

And so she goes looking for other men. And joins with them. They make her feel attractive, and special. And they pay her generously. And finally she can get all the trinkets she’s ever wanted. And she thinks she’s happy.

But she betrayed his trust. Ripped his heart out, and stomped on it. He feels worthless. Gutted. After giving her everything. This is how she’s treated him.

Yes, that’s it, thinks God. That’s how I feel when Israel treats me like that. When she takes her eyes off me. Forgets me. Takes me for granted. And worships other gods. Because they suit her better. Or promise her riches and prosperity or fertility or fun.

That’s exactly how I feel. A jilted husband. God’s heart is broken.

The heartbreak of unfaithfulness. There’s perhaps no bigger betrayal than wife betraying husband, or vice-versa.

And it’s all around us. And the Presbyterian Church isn’t immune from it either.

I know three Presbyterian ministers in NSW whose lives have been torn apart by marital unfaithfulness. Let me tell you about two of them. Alan was a minister in Sydney. He was married to Kathy, and they had two kids. On the surface things looked fine.

Then they moved to a church in a small country town. Shortly after they arrived, Kathy began spending time with a single farmer living out of town. Their relationship deepened. Within a few months of arriving there, she’d moved in with him, and taken the kids with her.

And Alan’s life and ministry in that church were destroyed. And he never saw it coming.

For weeks he sat in a darkened room, curtains drawn, not answering the phone. A zombie. Struggling to come to terms with what had happened. The heartbreak of unfaithfulness.

And then there was Peter. A minister in a NSW Presbyterian church. He had what looked to be a pretty successful ministry. He was married with children. He preached the gospel. The church was growing, people were maturing. He was energetic, and motivated. People were encouraged.

But he was leading a double life. For at least three years before he was found out, he met with prostitutes, and was increasingly involved in pornography. All sorts of betrayal.

He preached holiness, and the importance of trust in marriage. While he betrayed his wife and his church behind their backs.

And when it all came out into the open as it nearly always does. It destroyed a marriage, and critically wounded a church.

But God’s determined that it won’t end that way with him. He devises a plan. He’s just not going to let his bride wander off like that. He cares too much.

His plan involves moving BEYOND unfaithfulness. To separation. And then finally to reconciliation.

It’s a series of steps many couples work through every day. Many couples never get PAST the separation.

But with God RECONCILIATION is the goal of the whole process.

And the key to the process is Hosea. God’s going to use Hosea to chase after his bride. To convince her. Plead with her.

But he does more than just give Hosea the WORDS to say. He’s going to make Hosea himself  a LIVING PICTURE. Hosea and his family will REPRESENT God and Israel. God’s MULTI-MEDIA MESSAGE slamming Israel’s adultery.

As we read through Hosea as we follow his family story God WANTS us to think about all those broken marriages we know of. All the heartbreak, and pain, and deception, and betrayal, and perhaps even to weep.

Because as we recognise the heartbreak of unfaithfulness in MARRIAGE, we might just understand a little BETTER  the heartbreak of unfaithfulness in OUR relationship with GOD.

1. Unfaithfulness (1:1-5)

So let’s look at Hosea’s story. It’s not just his WORDS that send the message, but his LIFE as well. Look at v2.

(Hosea 1:2-3 NIV)  When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” {3} So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

It’s a pretty unusual request!

Hosea’s not married before this. Perhaps even looking around for a wife. Ticking off the usual criteria. Attractive, good personality. Someone you can talk to. Good sense of humour. Non-smoker. Social drinker.

But God says, “Forget all of that. I want you to marry an adulterous wife. A prostitute. A whore.

Ask the men at the street corner. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction. She’ll have no husband, probably children from previous relationships. She’ll be someone whose affections are easily bought, and easily lost. Fickle.

She’s the one. I want you to marry HER. Because that’s exactly what I’ve done in committing myself to Israel.”

You see, God didn’t make a covenant with Israel THINKING he was getting an upright and godly people. He KNEW, right from the start, how they’d turn out. He KNEW what was in their hearts.

And it’s the same with US. HE knows exactly how weak-willed we are. How half-hearted, and fickle, and self-centred. And yet he still chooses us. Still sent Jesus to die to reconcile us to himself.

And Hosea knows what he’s getting when he marries Gomer.

And so his marriage begins. And before too long, a son is born. Hosea’s own flesh and blood. And God says that his name is to be Jezreel. The name of a well-known town and valley. Perhaps INFAMOUS was a better description. It was the location of a gruesome bloodbath under King Jehu. You can read about it in 2 Kings 9-10.

A depressing name really. A bit like calling your son Hiroshima, or Auschwitz.

And God’s point is “This episode sums up who Israel is. It’s the way Israel ALWAYS acts. It’s just one chapter in a long story of blood-thirsty wickedness, greed, trickery and hypocrisy.

Actions that are the FRUIT of divided loyalty. Of UNFAITHFULNESS.

And so his message is that judgment’s coming. V5. “I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. I will break Israel’s bow in the valley of Jezreel.” SEPARATION is coming.

2. Separation (1:6-9)

And if you thought the arrival of the FIRST child was a cheery episode. It’s only downhill after him.

Because Hosea’s story continues. His wife has another child. This time it’s probably NOT his. V6 simply says “she gave birth to a daughter”. With Jezreel, it says, “she bore HIM a son”

But by now, she’s started sleeping around again.

And God’s call is that Hosea calls the girl “Not loved” or “not pitied”. How appropriate if the child’s not Hosea’s! Every time he looks at the baby, he’d be reminded of his wife’s adultery.

The second stage has begun. Separation. How hard it would be for Hosea to commit himself to this child!

And it works just the same for God. V6. “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (not loved), for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel.”

Whenever God looks at the children of Israel, HE’S reminded of the unfaithfulness of THE NATION.

And his warning is that he’ll withdraw his love and pity. Not loved.

And before too long, along comes a third child. This time another boy. And once again, probably not Hosea’s. And God says to call him, Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people”.

Once again, another fitting name. Because when Hosea looked into the eyes of his youngest son, he’d see someone else’s eyes. Someone else’s genes. He belonged to someone else’s family. “Not my people.”

And it was the same with God and Israel. Even though he’d promised himself to Israel. To be their God, and they his people. Their adultery had broken the marriage. “My people” had become “NOT my people”.

Is that what YOU think of your sin? That it’s committing adultery against God? Breaking his heart?

Or do you just ASSUME? Take his forgiveness for granted? “He doesn’t mind if I sin. After all, all I have to do is confess it.” But just because forgiveness is free, it doesn’t mean that your sin doesn’t concern God.

3. Reconciliation (1:10-2:1)

But even in the midst of God’s anger, separation is only the MEANS to an end. It’s RECONCILIATION he’s after.

And look at the wonderful way he describes the promise of reconciliation. V10. Right back in the beginning, when God and Israel were just GOING OUT, Dating, he’d promised something to Abraham – the Father of the nation. He promised to make Abraham’s family as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore.

And he’s declaring that the promise still stands. That assurance, whispered in a lover’s ear in the warm glow of a first date. Still rings true. The romance and the passion have never died.

And even though Hosea’s children represent the UNFAITHFULNESS, and the SEPARATION. God’s going to move BEYOND those steps. And their names will take on a NEW meaning. A fresh significance.

Look at the end of v11. Jezreel, which means “God scatters or God sows,” will represent God SOWING Israel back in the land, and they will come up out of it, like a healthy, fruitful crop.

And v1 of Ch 2. Instead of the brother being called “NOT my people”, call him “my people. And instead of the sister being called “Not loved”, call her “Loved one”.

That’s the reconciliation God’s looking for.

4. Unfaithfulness (2:2-8)

And the series repeats in Ch 2. Ch 1 has given us the pencilled outline. Now Ch 2 fills it in. Adds the colour, and the shade, and the contrast.

Verses 2-8 go into a bit more detail. This time outlining Israel’s adultery. Her unfaithfulness. An adulterous look on her face. Unfaithfulness between her breasts.

Or down in v5.

5 Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink

God’s describing Israel’s IDOLATRY. You see, the local gods of Canaan were fertility gods. And they’d been Israel’s downfall almost from the first day they arrived in the Promised Land.

Make sacrifices to them, and the promise was a rich harvest. Plenty of rainfall. Food, water, wool, linen, oil and wine.

But what was so foolish about the Israelites was that went looking for the right THINGS in the wrong PLACE. They thought that the fertility of the land depended on the local gods. Rather than coming from the hand of the only God. The God of heaven and earth. Look down to v8.

8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold- which they used for Baal.

Israel’s adultery was swallowing Satan’s lie. The lie that God is STINGY, and that life is better somewhere else.

It’s the lie that ALL adulterers swallow. That life is better somewhere else. With some-ONE else.

5. Separation (2:10-13)

And God’s reaction to the unfaithfulness. Is to demand SEPARATION. Shock tactics to show the total depravity of the sin. V10. “I will expose her lewdness”

And down to v12. It’s easy to think that false gods are giving you fertility. As long as things are going WELL. But what if the land no longer GAVE its fruit? How much credit would the false gods get THEN?

And so God warns that the OPPOSITE of fertility is coming. Ruined vines. Weeds, thorns, and wild animals will invade.

Probably, the thought is of EXILE. SEPARATION. The adulterous people removed from the land, and from God.

With no-one in the land to look after the fields it all goes to ruin. Then the people can see the false promises of the false gods for what they are.

But once again. That’s not the end. The separation is meant to draw the people back to God. To reconciliation. And that’s what God promises next.

6. Reconciliation (2:14-3:5)

Look at v14.

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.

God is going to forget the past. Put it all behind them. He wants to go back to square one. Pretend that he and his bride have just met. On their first date. And he’s going to woo her all over again.

And the result will be that the relationship will be as good as ever. The closeness and intimacy and trust will be restored. Look at v16.

16 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’

And it’s not just the relationship between God and his PEOPLE that’s been restored. There’ll be peace in ALL relationships. With the animals (V18). With other nations (v18). And down in v22 – even with the land itself. It will bring forth grain and new wine and oil. All the things they thought the fertility gods would deliver God delivers.

It’s a picture of paradise. Eden restored. The new heavens and the new earth. And it’s all waiting for US. LITERALLY. Just like this!

But the greatest of all reconciliations is that between God and his BRIDE. Look at v19.

19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

New marriage vows. Eternal vows. With a new dowry. But rather than money. God promises to provide righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness. This is how he declares to act towards his bride. What wonderful marriage vows! What better qualities could you bring to a marriage!?

And notice what he says about Hosea’s children again. At the end of v22, God says that the land will respond to “Jezreel” – God sows. He will plant ISRAEL in the land. For HIMSELF.

And will show his LOVE to “Not loved”. And will say to those called “NOT my people”, you are my people. And they will say you are my God!

And while the complete picture is something we’ll only see at the end. In paradise. The words have come true in OUR time. We are their fulfilment.

Because Paul quotes these verses in Romans Ch 9. The whole chapter is about how the Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation. And in v25 Paul identifies THE GENTILES as those called “NOT my people”. And God has now called them “My people”. The offer of reconciliation goes to GENTILES. That’s you and me!

Just like Israel, we’ve broken God’s heart. We’ve flirted with other gods. Flitted our eyelids at human approval. We’ve lifted our skirt at materialism and comfort and security. We’ve held a long, seductive gaze with pride and power and purpose. We’ve gone looking for thrills, and excitement, and satisfaction, in places we shouldn’t.

And just like Israel. There’s been separation from God.

But it needn’t stay that way. Just like Israel, he offers us reconciliation.

Because of Jesus’ work on the cross. God counts HIS righteousness as ours. And OUR sin as his. And then he calls us “MY people”. What a privilege!

But, just like Israel, with privilege comes RESPONSIBILITY. This verse is quoted one other time in the New Testament. Peter quotes it in 1 Peter 2:9-10. God’s people have a responsibility to live as lights to his goodness. Ambassadors between his kingdom and those outside. Mediums contacts agents who offer God’s reconciliation to those we meet.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Do you understand the depth of the reconciliation you have with God? How does your life show that understanding?