Friday, 26 July 2013

The message of Hosea (1)

The message of Hosea: the nature and consequence of sin




This week and next, we are looking at the message of Hosea. For those who don’t know where Hosea is in the bible, it is two books before Obadiah!



It is a two part sermon.



Today is heavy – we are looking at the message of judgement  And so I do urge you to come back next week!

We know very little about Hosea’s background. He was the son of Beeri, and – basing this on the list of kings mentioned in verse 1, he prophesied for about 40 years.

If you remember Matthew’s talk about Amos, you will recall him saying that at this time the Jewish peoples were divided into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern – Judah.

Whereas Amos came from the South and prophesied God's judgement on the North, Hosea comes from the North, and he also prophesies God's judgement against the North. Although he also has a message for the South. 

And you will remember again that the North, at this time, completely overshadowed the South. The South was nobody. The North was everything: it had the wealth, the power and the empire. 

But if we know little about Hosea’s background, we do learn a bit about his personal life from chapter 1. He marries Gomer, and has at least three children. We know the names of his children - Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. We know that Gomer is unfaithful to him and leaves him for someone else. The someone else abuses her, and we next find her abandoned in the slave market, about to be sold as a slave.

The reason that we know this is because Hosea is not only called to preach a message from God to the people. His personal life is to be an illustration of his message.

And his immediate message is pretty devastating.
God is going to abandon his people in Israel because of their sin, and devastation is about to come. 

And in this first chapter, we are given an insight into the sin of the people of Israel. 

Their sin is described in three ways
1. Unfaithfulness
2. Violence
3. Idolatry

1. Sin is unfaithfulness

This is the big message of Hosea. God loves the people of Israel, but the people of Israel have been unfaithful to him. 
Hosea 9:1, 'You have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing-floor'.

As you probably are aware, last summer did some reading and thinking about love: what precisely is love? And I came up with a working definition of love - strongly based on the book of the Song of Solomon and also this book.

Love begins with a right vision. It is to 'see' someone or something as created by God and it is to delight in them - both in who they are, but also in what they can become. And love is to desire them - to desire a union with them IN AN APPROPRIATE WAY to who they are. 

So husband and wife delight in one another, and they desire one another - physically, emotionally and spiritually. Two friends can delight in each other, and the right desire is for union with each other - not that deep physical union of husband and wife - but an emotional and spiritual union. The New Testament speaks quite a bit about the shape of this sort of soul-union, soul-friendship. Or a parent loves their child. They delight in their child, but they know that before they can completely love their child fully, their child has to become a fully grown adult. So part of their love for their child is to grow the child and to release that child, in order that one day - maybe not till eternity - they will be able to have full soul-union with the person who was once their son and daughter, but who is now - like them - a full and equal child of God. 

The language that God uses in Hosea for his love for the people of Israel is the language of the most profound illustration of love - marriage love. 

God loves the people as a loving husband loves his wife. And he had lavished blessing on her: grain, new wine, wool and linen, celebrations, vines and fig trees, rings and jewellery (2:9-13)

But despite his love and his blessing, the people of Israel have been unfaithful to him. 

Hosea is commanded by God to ‘Go; marry an unfaithful woman and have children by her – for the people of Israel are like an adulterous wife’ (1:2). He marries Gomer, and she then deserts him. 

'Hosea', says God, 'I don't want you to only preach this message. I want you to feel this message. I want - when you preach - for you to know my pain and hurt and jealousy when the people who I love turn from delighting in me, from trusting me, from living with me, to delighting in the other gods, and in the things that I gave them in my love.'

I don't know whether you realise this, but when we do not delight in God, when we walk away from God, when we do not trust him, when we forget him because we think we have more important things to do, when we ignore his promises, and turn our backs on him - it is as if we are walking out on our partner: because we have either become bored with them or because we think that we have found someone who we think will make us feel better. 

I am aware that my talking about this may bring up some very painful memories. Some of you will have walked out on relationships - maybe for justifiable reasons, maybe not. Others will have had people who walked out on them. I'm not asking you to revisit the arguments. What has happened happened and God is the God of the new start. We'll see that next week. But we are being asked to remember a little of what we felt: the confusion, the anger, the sense of betrayal, but most of all the pain - either the pain you felt, or the pain that you know you caused someone else.  

That pain, says God, is like my pain when you turn away from me. 

He is actually here speaking to people who already are believers; who are within the covenant; to whom he has shown his love and to whom he has given his promises and his blessings. He is speaking to people who have made a commitment, prayed the prayer, been born again, tasted of the Spirit, but who have now - for whatever reason - turned their back on him. Maybe it was just too much hard work; maybe we were being mocked, maybe other seemingly more attractive things came in and we drifted away; maybe what was once a relationship of love and intimacy is in danger of drifting into a relationship of formality. 

The greatest command in the bible is not the command to worship God, or to obey and serve God. The greatest command is the command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. 

So sin, says Hosea, is unfaithfulness to God. 

2. Sin is disobedience

We are on more familiar territory here. Sin is when we don't do what God commands us to do. James writes, 'anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins' (James 4:17).

Hosea is called to name his first child, 'Jezreel - because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel' (v4)

Jezreel was a royal city in Israel that had become synonymous with violence - and particularly the violence of rulers. It was the place where Ahab and Jezebel had murdered Naboth. It was the place where Jehu had carried out his rebellion against them, and slaughtered not only them but also their family and friends. 

So Jezreel had become a symbol for everything that the people of Israel did which broke the commands of God. 

Hosea 4:1-2 state the charge of God: 'There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed'. Or in 12:1, 'Ephraim .. multiplies lies and violence'.
And Hosea 4:6 indicts them: 'you have ignored the law of your God'

When people reject the idea that God loves them, they ignore his commands. They think that his commands are there to stop them from having a good time. They twist his laws to their own advantage. They either turn them into heavy burdens which they place on others, or they ignore them and live for themselves. If the king wants a vineyard and someone stands in his way, then that someone is to be eliminated.

Again, please remember that Hosea is speaking to people who God had chosen and called. He is speaking to people who were part of the community of believers. And these verses fundamentally do not speak to the people 'out there'. They are speaking to you and me. 

We are guilty of disobedience, because we know what God would have us do - love him with our whole heart and love our neighbour as ourself - and yet we do not live that way, or do not even seek to live that way. 

Hebrews 6:4-6 gives a stark warning, 'It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace'. 


3. Sin is idolatry

The name of Hosea's second child is Lo-Ruhamah, which means 'Not Loved'. And God says 'I will save Judah (but not Israel) - not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God' (1:7)
The implication is that Israel had been looking to their military might as their saviour. They had turned it into their god. 'You have', says God, 'depended on your own strength and on your many warriors' (10:13).

And elsewhere in this short book, we are told that the people have become proud and complacent (10:1-2). And as a result they have rejected the living God and put their trust in literal idols - in idols of silver and gold (8:4), particularly the calf idol of Beth-Aven (10:5). And we are told that they 'offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols' (13:2). But they also put their trust in non-physical idols: in rulers (8:4), in foreign alliances (8:9), even in religious rituals (8:11-14). 

And when we put our ultimate trust in things that are not God, that is idolatry. It is about worshipping something or someone who is not God. 

Woe to the church when we put out trust in individuals: popes, archbishops, church leaders and speakers; woe to us when we put our trust in structures or courses or strategies or particular ways of preaching the bible; woe to us when we put our trust in buildings, in celebrity believers or numbers. I've been around the block enough times to be rightly sceptical when people say, 'This is the thing that will save the church'. There is no-thing that will save the church. The only one who can save the church is God, and he will save the church as people in the church hunger and see after him. 

What is the most important thing for you? The key words here are 'the most'. What is the compulsion which drives you? Is it the desire to make more money, to have a quiet life, to have a family or partner, to gain respect, to do what you enjoy and to satisfy your physical desires, to do something that will bring you glory? Those things are your idols, and they need to be brought under the rule of Jesus Christ. 

Do not allow yourself to settle, do not even begin to think about becoming comfortable - until you are driven first and foremost by love for God, and love for neighbour, and by your desire to see the Kingdom of God established in your life and in the place where God has put you. 

So sin in Hosea is:
Unfaithfulness
Disobedience
Idolatry

The consequence of sin is devastating. 

It is devastating for the land. 
Hosea is one of the most environmentally aware prophets. He sees the connection between the sin of the people and the destruction of the land. 
In very relevant words, Hosea 4:3 states: 'Because of all 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'. Or in Hosea 8:7, 'They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour'. 

It is devastating because of what is going to happen to Israel.
God is going to be to them like a ravaging lion. He will tear them in pieces (5:14; 13:7). Politically Israel is going to be overwhelmed and utterly destroyed by the Assyrians: 'The roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated - as Shalmon devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. Thus will it happen to you, O Bethel, because your wickedness is great'.

And within Hosea's lifetime the people will be taken away from the land: 'They will not remain in the Lord's land; Ephraim will return to Egypt and eat unclean food in Assyria'. (9:3)

It was devastating: 
But we need to realise that the devastation coming on Israel was not God having a hissy fit because people are walking out on him. It is not the scorned lover screwing his ex for as much as he can get out of her as an act of revenge. Although if that was God's motive, who of us could blame him? 

But that is not God's motive. God's anger against his people is - in fact - an expression of his love for them. He has bound himself to them; he is jealous - not only for himself, but also for them. Because he loves them, he cannot bear to see them go with someone else who actually intends to harm them and destroy them. 

And in the end, because they persist in rejecting him, do you notice the names of the last two children: Lo-Ruhamah (not loved) and Lo-Ammi (not my people)? God is saying to the people of Israel, even though I love you, even though I have bound myself to you - because you have chosen to reject my love, I will let you go.  'You are not my people and I am not your God' (Hosea 1:9)

I said at the beginning that this is the first of two sermons on Hosea. This really does need to be continued. There is much more to be said, and God-willing, it will be said next week. But I want to leave us today with this thought.

Sin is not a game. It has consequences: natural and eternal. These words, 'You are not my people and I am not your God' are the final dreadful consequence of continued sin. They should shake us to the very core of our being. We are separated from the God who loves us. We file for divorce from God, and eventually God agrees. They are the acknowledgement of our created freedom but they are also the final terrifying declaration of our eternal destruction. 


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