Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The message of Hosea (2)

The message of Hosea: the promise of hope


Last week we were left in a dark place.

We saw that sin is infidelity to God, disobedience and idolatry. Hosea speaks of the devastating consequences of sin: for the land and for the people of Israel. Because the people persist in their sin, God will have no mercy on them and they are no longer his people.

Please do not take sin lightly:

Hebrews 6:4-8 states, ‘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 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.’

I’m going to say something very strange. I hope that you have had an uncomfortable week. I hope that something of what I said last week has lived with you. I hope that we have been shaken as we have thought back to those words from Hosea 1. Someone said to me, ‘It’s OK, I know the ending’. Well actually it is not OK. When we think it is OK we have not begun to glimpse the seriousness of sin.

Sin has consequences.
When we sin we feel guilty. And that guilt is real. Hosea speaks about a right guilt which has to born. Hosea 13:16, ‘The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God’;
And there is a punishment for sin. Hosea 2:13, ‘I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals’

Because God loves us, he gets angry when we reject him: ‘My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?’ (8:5) ‘In my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away’ (13:11). God even goes as far as to speak of his hatred for the people: ‘Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there’ (9:15).

And in Hosea 13:14, God declares, ‘I will have no compassion’.

So is there no hope?

Is there no hope for Israel? And if there is no hope for Israel, can there be any hope for us – especially when there have been times that we have fallen away?

Hosea is a messenger of God’s terrifying judgement, but he is also a messenger of the love of God.

1. He uses the language of a love which overcomes guilt, his anger and his hatred.
We speak much about God’s love. But talk is often shallow.

We say ‘God loves you’, so you can do what you want (provided it is not too bad)
We say ‘God loves you’ so you must never feel bad about yourself.
We say ‘God loves you’ so you can expect to be wealthy and healthy in this world.
We say ‘God loves you’ so when you die it will be OK

God does love you, but none of those things are true. We cannot separate the love of God from the anger and hatred of God. It is in the shadow of the anger and hatred of God that the love of God shines even more brilliantly.

The love that God has for us is a love which both includes anger and hatred but also overcomes anger and hatred.

That might sound paradoxical, but I suspect most of us know something of a love like that.

Yancey writes, in ‘Amazed by Grace’ of a friend who told him about their teenage daughter. She was taking drugs, abusing her body and destroying those who loved her. His friend said how, one night, when he was waiting up at 2 or 3 in the morning for his daughter to return home – he prayed to God that he might feel as the father of the prodigal son felt for his lost child: that he would know the same longing for his child. But he didn’t. All he felt was a rage against his daughter for what she was doing to herself and what she was doing to his wife and himself. And yet, and yet .. he was still waiting up for her.

Hosea is called to live out this love that includes anger and rage but which overcomes anger and rage. He loved Gomer. He married her, and they have children. But she rejected him and abandoned him. She went after another lover, possibly multiple other lovers.  She enters into a series of abusive relationships and ends up at rock bottom. Everything is stripped away from her. She even forfeits her life, and we find her about to be sold as a slave. 

But God commands Hosea to go to the slave market and buy Gomer. He says to him, ‘Go show your love to your wife again’ (Hosea 3:1).

So there is a message of hope. Even though Gomer was at the bottom of the pit, as good as dead, a commodity to be sold, Hosea loves her and pays the price for her. The price for a slave was 30 shekels of silver. It seems that Hosea gives half of that in money and half of that in goods in kind. She lives in his home, not initially as his wife. No doubt it was all rather strained and tense. But over time the relationship of love is restored.

Hosea’s experience is the experience of God. God’s love – and here we must remember that we are using human language to describe a reality that is far greater than anything we can know or experience – overcomes his anger and hatred.

The love that God has for Israel, his delight in who she was and what she can become, the fact that he has bound himself to her and his desire for intimate union with her, cannot be frustrated by her sin or infidelity.

After he has rejected her and punished her, yet he woos her again (2:14). And then we read, ‘I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord’ (2:19f)

This all conquering love is described in Hosea 11

It is a quite remarkable chapter. God speaks first of his love for Israel (vv1-4): it is powerful language; he speaks of the people’s refusal to repent and the consequences of their sin (vv5-7); and then come these astonishing verses (vv8ff):

‘How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man –
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.

My brothers and sisters, we are – rightly and deservedly – objects of God’s anger and hatred. We have sinned. We are guilty of infidelity, disobedience and idolatry. There is a price to be paid. We have walked away from the one who loves us, and who would lavish blessings on us. Those of us who are believers are without excuse, because – despite knowing the love of God - we continue to sin. And yet – somehow - God’s love for us overcomes our unfaithfulness and idolatry.

That ‘somehow’ leads me to my second point.

2. Hosea uses the language of death and resurrection to explain how God’s love can overcome his anger.

Hosea 6:1-2 are key verses in the book.

“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.”

It speaks of the coming judgement – the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrian army – as something that has already happened. That was one of the ways that the prophets spoke. God, says Hosea, has already torn them to pieces.

But, it also speaks of how God, on the second day will revive the people and on the third day restore them.

We are told in the New Testament that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day because that was what the Old Testament says will happen. And if we wish to find a place in the OT which speaks of a resurrection on the third day, there are two places we can go. The first is to the story of Jonah, who was in the belly of the large fish for 3 days and 3 nights (Jonah 1:17); the second are these verses.

And in Hosea 13:14, God says – and this is even more clear: ‘I will deliver them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?’

In other words, how does God reconcile his unconquerable love for his people with the fact that sin has the ultimate consequence – death? What happens when an unstoppable force (God’s love) meets an immovable object (our rejection of God)? It is very simple. God puts his people to death, and then he brings them back to life again.

Jesus, in absolute love, identified himself with us. He took onto himself the sin of the people. He took onto himself our sin. He died. He paid the penalty. But God raised him again to life on the third day.

You and I have sinned. God, in his love, hates our sin. God, in his love, is angry with us. God, in his love, will punish our sin. We deserve to die, to die eternally. But God in his love sent his own son. He died for us. And if I trust in the love of God, and in the Lord Jesus Christ – if I respond to his love (his desire to be united with me, to embrace me, by holding on to him and embracing him) then his death becomes my death, and his resurrection becomes my future resurrection.

That is why a Christian is a completely new person. We have, when Jesus was crucified on the cross, been torn apart by God. The lion has devoured us. But we have also, when Jesus rose from the dead, been given new life, with a new heart and a new Spirit.

What Hosea is saying is that the old Israel has rejected the source of love and life and will therefore die. But she will then be reborn as something that is completely new.

3. Hosea uses the language of a new creation
The lion that tore the people into pieces, becomes the lion who roars his people back into life

‘They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,’ declares the Lord.’ (Hosea 11:10)

But God is not re-creating the people of Israel as they were. He does a new thing.

If you were here last week you may remember how, in chapter 1, Hosea’s three children are given significant names: Jezreel  (God will put an end to Israel in Jezreel because of the violence that happened at Jezreel), Not loved and Not my people.

But in the very next verse God says, ‘Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, they will be called “children of the living God”. The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’ (Hosea 1:10ff cf Hosea 2:21-23)

So the new Israel will not be like the old Israel, divided from Judah. Instead they will be one people united under one king, one leader.

Hosea is speaking of the Church, the people of God. He is speaking of all those who come to Jesus (and that includes the old Northern Israelites and old Southern citizens of Judah – but also non-Jews, Gentiles like most of us), who die with Jesus and who come alive again with Jesus.  This will be a people who hear God’s call of love and who respond to God’s call of love (Hosea 2:15). They will have a new heart (Hosea 14:2-3).

And God speaks of the glory of this new people: ‘His splendour will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon .. people will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine – Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon’ (Hosea 14:6f)


So to summarise.
The message of Hosea is that:
Because of our sin there is no hope.
But because of the love of God there is abundant hope.

No hope ......................... abundant hope


But in order to get from there (no hope) to there (abundant hope), we have to die. 

Thanks be to God for his astonishing love in giving us Jesus to do it all for us.
The sentence of death on Jesus was the sentence of death for our sin. His death on the cross was my death. 
If we put our trust in the astonishing love of God, when Jesus died, we died.

By faith we can begin to live as people who have died, with Jesus. 
By faith we can begin to live as new people – with a new name and a new heart and a new spark of love for the God who first loved us.

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