Guilt and Grace
Hosea: A Relentless Love (Part III)
GUILT AND GRACE
In our series through the book of Hosea, I hope we realize the beauty and the magnificence in the truths residing in this book. If you haven't read it through, please take time to read it. What we have here is such an excellent picture of God's faithful, relentless, and amazing love for undeserving people. When I first read this book when I was younger, I thought that God tells us to be like Hosea and love the "Gomers" in our lives. We should love those who are unlovable and those who do not want God in their lives. We are to be the heroes of those who are lost. As I grew in my faith, I realized that I was the Gomer and God Himself is Hosea. All along, he was loving, pursuing, and caring the unlovable me. Because of that realization, this book became one of my favorites.
You see the narrative of Hosea and Gomer is a portrayal of God's love for Israel. This dramatic act is an illustration of how God is like a husband who longs for his wife. Although she was promiscuous, unfaithful, and unloving, still He loved her with unfailing love. God wants to show that a betrayed love is what He feels for His people when they see other lovers through false gods and idols. Through this book, we also see that because what we have with God is not just a religion, our sins are not just about breaking God's laws. Our sins break the heart of God. What God wants with His people is a genuine, intimate, and loving relationship, and for His people to love God alone, and no one else. Isn't it crazy to think that God's heart breaks for us, longs for us, and wants to have a relationship with us?
Today, we are going to be more specific as to why God's heart broke for the people of Israel, and yet how His love continues to endure for them. I. The Controversy at Israel (4:1-3) "Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away."
Using the story of Hosea and Gomer as a backdrop for the rest of the book, the prophet now proceeds to write about the corrupt state of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In the verses we read, we see that God is speaking through Hosea saying that He has controversy or in other words, a judicial case, against Israel. According to God, there is no faithfulness, no love, and no knowledge of God in the land. And because of this, it resulted in moral corruption among God's people. Hosea here lists what the people were doing. As a society, they were spiraling not just in their disobedience towards God, but in their evil treatment of each other.
In the next verses, huge blame is pointed against the priests of the land. Why? Because in their failure, the people have rejected the knowledge of God. And this is a big theme in this chapter. You see, knowing God is not just about having more information about God. Yesterday, us three pastors were tested on our doctrines and knowledge about the Bible. I could say we have known a lot of information about God. However, there is a big difference between knowing about God and personally knowing God. In the Hebrew language, to know comes from the word "yada". This word does not just mean to have more information about someone. Instead, it is a more intimate word. Many times, this is even used in the close sexual relations of a husband and wife. In other words, what the Israelites were lacking is an intimate experiential relationship with God. And the priests did not do their job in letting people know Him. Instead of leading the people towards God, they strayed into worshipping idols of wood and strange gods.
This lack of knowledge of the true God then led them towards spiritual whoredom, meaning they gave themselves to other gods and looked for satisfaction in these powerless entities (v.10). What they were doing is likened to their daughters, giving themselves to prostitution and men engaging in sexual temple worship. (v.14). And then God asks, in Israel's great stubbornness, how could He feed them, how could He be a shepherd to them? As these people have joined themselves to their idols, the Lord will eventually leave them alone, but they will be ashamed for doing so (v.16-19).
How does all this apply to us? We need to see we're like the Israelites here in this story, like Gomer in the narrative of Hosea. We need to ask ourselves, do we know God? Or do we know about God? Can we say that we have a genuine, intimate, experiential loving relationship with the God of the Universe who is also our Heavenly Father? Because if we do not, it will be easy for us to fall into the trap the Israelites fell into. What God wants from us is not just sacrifices, service, or offerings. He ultimately wants us. God longs for a genuine, loving, and intimate relationship with you and me. Let's look at the intimate picture that Rev.3:20 has for us. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with
me." Jesus wants to dine and fellowship with us, isn't that such an intimate picture of His desire to be with us?
Another principle we can get from this chapter is in the way the priests failed to let people come into the knowledge of God. Some might say, "Oh, that's the pastor's job to be priests so this part doesn’t concern me." But you see, God's plan for the whole nation of Israel is to be a nation of priests that will bring the knowledge of God to the nations (Exodus 19:6). This calling is the same for us Christians too. 1 Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
The principle here is that we need to be priests for our world. Are we letting people see the true and living God through our words and lives, or could they see more of our idols? Do people see that our hearts are occupied more by stuff rather than by the Creator? Do they think that we pursue the same idols this world is seeking, or can people see that we have God truly in our hearts? As priests, we are the ones mediating people to God. Have we been leading people to Him? Or have we just been following others in pursuit of our culture's idols? II. The Charge Against His People (5:11-12) "Hear this, O priests! Pay attention, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For the judgment is for you; for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them."
In this chapter, God is speaking through Hosea about the incoming judgment that will incur on both the northern and southern nations of Israel and Judah. In the verses we read, he talks of the different kinds of citizens affected by this judgment, from the priests to the regular people, to those in the king's house. The places listed here are the areas in Judah wherein Israel's influence has permeated. The main point here is that Israel's idolatry and spiritual adultery has come to its peak that God has withdrawn from them because they have dealt unfaithfully with the Lord. They would even try and sacrifice to the Lord, but He knew their hearts, and would not be pleased by their sacrifice. In verse 7, it says that in their adultery they have borne alien children. This may mean that Israelites were producing a generation that does not know the Lord, that false gods like Baal were all that they were worshipping. But this might be a darker reality that they were having children from the temple prostitutes and leaving these illegitimate children to suffer. These things show their depravity is coming up to the point of no return. In verse 8 onwards, Hosea prophesies that Israel will be a desolation along with Judah. Whatever prosperity they were experiencing back in those days, it will all turn to devastation. Instead of giving their hearts back to God, they will turn to another nation, Assyria for help.
Remember, this was all a prophecy. When the people were first hearing Hosea, they might be so confused as to what he was saying. Today we now know what Hosea meant. The kings of Israel and Judah did ask for help from Assyria, but they were betrayed. Assyria ransacked Israel and almost ruined Judah too. God used Assyria to punish and discipline His people from their wicked ways. In verse 15, God provides hope that if only His people would not be prideful and acknowledge their guilt, and one day, He would return for them.
So, what does this mean for us? We need to address the idols of our hearts, or we will fall by them just like the Israelites. What do we worship? What do we put our trust on? We all have something in our lives that we point to and say, "This gives me significance. This gives me my true worth. I am nothing without this." John Calvin, a famous theologian, said, "man's nature is a perpetual factory of idols... the mind begets an idol, and the hand gives it birth." Is it a relationship? Money? Fame? Power? Family? Success? Approval? Where do we place our worth, our ultimate happiness? Many times, just like the Israelites, we have our head held up high and are proud of these things, not knowing we are putting ourselves in the hands of idols that can never give us true satisfaction in life.
In Romans 1:21-23 says, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, "and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
This verse states that we would instead worship the creation of God rather than the Creator. Romans 1 continues to say that God then gives us up to our desires. And this is God's judgment. When God finally gives us what we want other than Himself, rather than satisfaction, we find destruction. Tim Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods, says, "If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts." This is the deceit of idolatry. We think something else other than God can give us the lasting joy our hearts are longing for, but just like Gomer's other lovers and the false gods of Israel, it can come and leave us enslaved and in ruins. So, what has a hold on our hearts? If God isn't the One that has captivated our hearts, then we need to be ready to be disappointed, hurt, and even ashamed by our own idols.
III. The Call to Return (6:1-3) "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers"
In this last section of our passage, we see a shift in the pronoun. Before, God Himself was talking as we see the "I" statements. However, in this next set of verses, we see a shift to "us." This is a vision of Hosea about Israel as a whole nation repenting and returning to their Lord. He is saying that the Lord, just like a lion, had torn and struck them, but just like a shepherd, the Lord will come to heal and bind them up. The Lord will revive and raise Israel for His people to live again. Hosea then continues to say for the people to know the Lord, because He is faithful, as the dawn will come and the rain will fall, God will surely come to those who return to Him.
As we are all guilty of worshipping stuff rather than God, He is calling us to come back to Him who alone can satisfy. Just like the prodigal son, he saw the error of his ways and came back to the Father; Just like Gomer, who realized her life with her true husband was much more fulfilling; just like Israel will one day go back to their Lord, so is the same call for us. Nothing else that we worship in this world can give us joy, hope, and life. Only God can. He is so much better than any other idol we can make ourselves. You see, no other idol can love us as God can. He showed it ultimately by giving us His Son Jesus Christ. Because of our sins, we were supposed to be torn, stricken, and even put to death.
However, Isaiah 53:5 tells us, "but he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed." No other idol, no other god will do that for us. He was the one who died and rose again so that we could truly live. This is why our God is so much better than idols, or other things we worship in our lives. The stuff we are pursuing will always demand more from us until we are left high and dry. They will never satisfy us nor forgive us. Again, from Tim Keller, he says, "Counterfeit gods, if you fail them will never forgive you and if you get them will never satisfy you... Jesus is the only God who will." So what are we pursuing? What are we worshipping? Let me tell you today that Jesus is so much better.
Just like Hosea, who took back Gomer, God is more than willing to take us back. Knowing Him is real life. The only way we can do that is through His Son Jesus Christ. If you do not have this intimate personal relationship with God, if you do not know Him yet, He is just waiting for us. Knowing Jesus is knowing God. Believe in Him and you will be accepted as His child and you will have a relationship that is literally out of this world. If you have been running away from Him and have sought other lovers, come back. He will accept you with open arms. This is repentance. We may be guilty of leaving Him for other lovers, other gods, other stuff, but His grace is calling us back to Him. We need to turn our backs from our false idols and rest in the arms of our Greatest Lover. He is more than worth all of our lives because He has given His life for us.
Rev. Jerusalem Ona