God Will Save (Lessons from Hosea, part three)

The name Hosea means “salvation,” fitting since the Biblical book that bears his name has strong salvational themes running through it. Two weeks ago, we started studying this book by talking about how Hosea modeled God’s redemption of Israel by taking back his own unfaithful wife. Then last week, we looked at how warnings against rejecting God give us hope as well as caution, because the flip side of choosing to walk away from God is the ability to choose a relationship with Him. This week, we’ll wrap-up discussion of Hosea with more focus on this hope of salvation through relationship with our Savior.

Return To God

Last week, we said Israel’s main problem was that they rejected God and had no knowledge of Him. They also had another problem, one they share with the church of Laodicea.

So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:16-17)

This is exactly what the people God was upset with said in Hosea:

And Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.’ (Hos 12.8)

They claimed they were wealthy and self-sufficient, but the truth of the matter was that while  “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit,” the fruit wasn’t any good — “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies” (Hos. 10:1, 13, ESV). The solution for this problem, both in Hosea and Revelation, is essentially the same.

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

“So you, by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually. (Hos. 12:6)

The message is clear — stop acting as if you don’t need God. Trust Him, come back to Him, and ask for His help. It requires the humility to recognize you are lacking something, and admit you need God to supply it. It means choosing to produce good, rather than evil, fruit. At it’s most basic, it is seeking a relationship with your Creator and letting Him save you.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. (Hos. 10:12)

“I Will Love Them”

In Hosea 11, God compares Israel’s early history to a beloved child who He taught “to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them” (Hos. 11:1, 3). They ignored Him and ran away from Him, which got them into all sorts of trouble.

My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror. (Hos. 11:7-9)

Israel was warned what would happen to them if they chose to walk away from God, and they were punished for their wrong decisions. Yet God still loved them so much that He continued showing mercy and calling for them to come back to a relationship with Him.

Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. When they had pasture, they were filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot Me. … O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me. I will be your King; where is any other, that he may save you in all your cities? (Hos. 13:4-6, 9-10)

God’s insistence on cultivating a friendship with people who have destroyed themselves is remarkable. Why would He want them — and why would He want us? — after all we have done? yet His promises to save us, to know us, and to redeem us stand firm.

I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him (Hos. 14:4)

These are promises we can count on. When God says, “I will ….”, He means it. He is committed to healing and loving his people. With such promises to rely on, we have no justifiable reason not to walk towards God. He wants very much to save us from sin and death, if only we’ll let Him.

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity … Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. (Hos. 14:1, 9)

 

Choose God (Lessons from Hosea, part two)

Last week, we began a study of Hosea, and covered the first three chapters. We looked at how Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute pictured God’s covenant with unfaithful Israel in the Old Testament, and how that serves as a warning to us. We need to learn from Israel’s example and not follow their pattern of repeatedly rejecting God, but rather hold fast to Him as He fulfills His promises to reestablish a marriage covenant with His people.

As we continue in Hosea, we see God addressing the reasons for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Everything that separated Israel from God was Israel’s fault.  God never let down His side of the bargain — Israel got into trouble because they walked away from Him. This holds true for the New Testament as well.

If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:12-13)

God is always faithful to His promises, including His promise that sin will be punished. Like with Israel, it is still up to us to choose between life and death, blessings and cursing (Deut. 30:9).

Lack of Knowledge

Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.” (Hos 4:1)

God gives three reasons for His “controversy” with Israel. They lacked truth, did not show mercy, and had no knowledge of Him. This resulted in “swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery” (Hos. 4:2). The farther they strayed from God, the more corrupt and destructive they became.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6)

This verse specifically refers to knowledge about God and His ways. The New Testament tells us that “the wisdom of this age” — knowledge that the world esteems — is coming to nothing (1 Cor. 2:6), but that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden for us to find in the Father and Christ (Co. 2:2-3).

Chapters 4 and 5 cover punishments for Israel, and deal with prophecies of an Assyrian invasion and Judah’s alliances with Egypt and Syria. In chapter 6, the people say, “Come, and let us return to the Lord,” but they are not sincere (Hos. 6:1, 4).  Their sham repentance is not what God was looking for.

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But like men they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt treacherously with Me. (Hos. 6:6-7)

God is all about relationship. He wants to know the people we’ll become when we learn to know Him. All the religious services and laws given to Israel weren’t the “point” of the Old Covenant. They were supposed to be an outward sign of an inward condition — a heart full of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God.

Because of Unbelief

Israel’s lack of relationship with God was a result of choices they make to walk away from Him.

When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria. For they have committed fraud; a thief comes in; a band of robbers takes spoil outside. They do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness; now their own deeds have surrounded them; they are before My face. (Hos. 7:1-2)

Wickedness, lies, adulteries (Hos. 7:3-4) — their sins kept piling up until God could say of the people that “none among them calls upon Me” (Hos 7:7). The entire nation rejected the One who they had entered into a covenant with.

Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against Me! Though I redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me. They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds.
They assemble together for grain and new wine, they rebel against Me; though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me; they return, but not to the Most High; they are like a treacherous bow. Their princes shall fall by the sword for the cursings of their tongue.  (Hos. 7:13-16)

quotescover-JPG-96Israel did this continually in the Old Testament. Psalm 78 records that even though “their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant” that God was “full of compassion” and held back His anger many times (Ps. 78:37-38). He was grieved by their sins, because they would not let Him be their God. Though He acted as their Redeemer, Deliverer, and Rock, “again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:35, 41-42). By not believing in Him, they rejected His good works in their lives.

This rejection of God continued into the New Testament as well. Matthew 13:58 records that Jesus “did not do many mighty works” in His hometown “because of their unbelief.” Mark’s account of this incident phrases it, “He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:4-6). Where there was belief, simply touching the edge of Christ’s garments brought healing (Mark 5:27-29, 34). Where there was no faith, He was actually limited in how many miracles He could perform.

Make A Choice

Israel was given a choice whether or not to follow God and welcome His involvement in their lives. Many of them made the wrong choice, as Paul describes in Romans 11 when comparing God’s people to an olive tree where some of the natural branches were removed. In this analogy, Gentile New Testament Christians are wild olive branches grafted into the Rootstock. Once there, we also have a choice to make.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.  And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom. 11:19-23)

Like so many serious warnings in the Bible, this contains hope as well as caution. The Bible provides us with records of Israel rejecting God, being punished, and returning to Him again and again. God leaves as many doors open as possible for people to come back to Him, and He’s eager to “graft them in again” if they repent. These doors are open to us as well. But God still wants us to learn from Israel’s mistakes and choose not to leave Him at all, because even though He is a God of enormous mercy there is a point where we can go too far away to get back to Him.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Like He did in Deuteronomy 30 with Israel, today God sets before His people a choice between life or death, blessings or cursing, and good or evil. He wants us — pleads with us — to choose life, blessings, and good, but the choice is still ours to make.

Mercy For My People (Lessons from Hosea, part one)

Of all the minor prophets, Hosea is probably the one I spend the most time reading. But I usually just focus on the first three chapters, where God is talking about His marriage covenant with Israel. I thought it might be interesting to look at the book as a whole and see what God has to teach us in the entire prophecy. I still only had time to get to the first three chapters today, but we can save the rest for a later post.

An Unfaithful Wife

Hosea’s book begins with God telling him to marry a prostitute. This rather unusual marriage was meant as an illustration of God’s relationship with Israel.

When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (Hos. 1:2-3)

The covenant established between God and Israel was like a marriage, to which Israel was unfaithful. To further illustrate God’s message to the people through Hosea, He gave Gomer’s children meaningful, specific names. The first child, which Hosea fathered, was named Jezreel. This name means “God will sow,” and is also a place name in the land of Israel.

Then the Lord said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”

Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hos. 1:4-9)

It’s chilling to hear God say He will not have mercy and will no longer call someone His people. This isn’t something we picture God ever saying in the New Testament church that we’re a part of, but Paul tells us that the things which happened to physical Israel were our “examples, and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). We often think we’d never do anything like Israel did, turning away to worship other gods, but evidently the New Testament writers — and God Himself — thought there was a danger or they wouldn’t have given us warnings like John’s admonition “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly — and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Cor. 11:1-4)

Paul is worried about the Christians he’s writing to doing exactly the same thing Israel did. They went after something that was not in line with the truth which God had given them. This started at Mount Sinai, when they made a golden calf to replace God just a few weeks after promising, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3). They made a covenant with God Himself, and when Moses took a bit longer to come back than they expected, they “corrupted themselves” by turning away from God’s commands and trying to replace Him with something else (Ex. 32:7-8).

Justice and Love

God’s covenant with His people is consistently compared to a marriage agreement. Because of Israel’s conduct, however, when Hosea was told to model the relationship between God and Israel in his own marriage he had to marry a harlot. That’s how unfaithful Israel was to God.

Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. …

She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’ For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal.” ( Hos. 2:2-3, 7-8)

You can read the full conversation in verses 2 through 13, but this gives the general idea. We might think these words sound excessively harsh coming from God. Isn’t He a God of love and mercy with loads of forgiveness to pour out on us when we do something bad? yes, but He is also justice (Ps. 89:14). And His justice involves consequences for sin. Is there any one of us who wouldn’t be upset, angry even, if our spouse used the gifts we gave them to entice other lovers? and how many of us would then die to pay the price for that unfaithful spouse’s transgression, and freely forgive them the way God already has died for and forgiven us?

Ammi and Ruhamah

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ for I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hos. 2:14-20)

Hosea acts out this redemption in chapter 3 by buying back his unfaithful wife. He says, “I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.” My study Bible notes that the price paid in verse 2 adds up to 30 shekels — the same amount Judas was paid to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). 30 pieces of silver to redeem an unfaithful wife, 30 pieces of silver to betray the One whose sacrifice made the ultimate redemption pictured by this transaction possible.

It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,” says the Lord; “I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos 2:21-23)

Remember the names God gave Gomar’s and Hosea’s children? This promise hearkens back to them, and reverses the decrees of “No-Mercy” and “Not-My-People” that were contained in the names Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. This is was also addressed earlier in Hosea, in some verses we skipped over in chapter 1.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!

Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’” (Hos. 1:10-2:1)

The King James translates this last verse, “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.” Essentially, dropping the “Lo-” prefix changes “not my people” into “my people” and “not having obtained mercy” into “having obtained mercy.” God’s plan is to bring Israel back to Himself, and reverse the judgement that separated her from Him. This process began with Christ’s sacrifice, and will be completed after His return.