Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hosea, Day 6: Hosea 2:8-20 - Why is the Lord So Harsh to His People Sometimes?

Why is the Lord So Harsh to His People Sometimes?
Hosea, Day 6

Now I will uncover her lewdness
    in the sight of her lovers,
    and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.
And I will put an end to all her mirth,
    her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths,
    and all her appointed feasts.
And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees,
    of which she said,
‘These are my wages,
    which my lovers have given me.’
I will make them a forest,
    and the beasts of the field shall devour them.
And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals
    when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers
    and forgot me, declares the Lord.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
- Hosea 2:10-16, ESV

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye says, "I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?" Have you even wondered why the Lord can be so harsh to His own people at times? While Tevye's theology leaves much to be desired, it does seem like God appoints extra measures of hardship for His own people. If you read the prophets, God has some very harsh things to say to His people, too. Verses 8-13 of Hosea 2 contain some very harsh pronouncements against Israel. Why? 

Have you ever seen an intervention? What do you do when someone you love is bent on self-destruction? Sometimes addicts have to hit rock bottom before they'll see their desperate need for help clearly enough to do whatever it takes to get freedom. Sadly, too many addicts have enablers in their lives who prop them up and allow them to keep feeding their addiction, instead of getting the real help they desperately need.

God loves His people too much to leave us alone in our sin. He loves us too much to abandon us to our idolatry. Israel was addicted to the Baals, a series of false Canaanite gods that made empty promises and demanded heavy sacrifices. Their idolatry was spiritual adultery, and God was determined to have His bride for Himself, not to share her with others.

We are in the same condition as Israel when we turn to the world instead of the Lord. As we saw on Day 2, James makes our condition very clear:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:4-5, ESV)

Thankfully, the passage doesn't end there. R.C. Sproul said the most important word in the Bible is "but." Verse 6 begins, "But he gives more grace." In Hosea 2, the "but" turning point comes in the words "Therefore, behold" at the beginning of verse 14.

Why does God use the word "therefore" and not the word "but" here in Hosea 2? Because the Lord is telling Israel why He is being harsh to them. He wants them to know the reason for His discipline. He takes away what is precious to them so He can fill their emptiness with Himself. He wants to break them of their love for the Baals so He can replace that love with His own love.

If you are choosing to love the world more than your Lord, He will love you enough to break you of your idols. The breaking will be painful, but He does it in love, to win your heart back to Himself.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hosea, Day 5: Hosea 2:1-13 - Who Should Proclaim God's Mercy and Call God's People to Repentance?

Who Should Proclaim God's Mercy and Call God's People to Repentance?
Hosea, Day 5

Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

“Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
    and her adultery from between her breasts." 
- Hosea 2:1-2, ESV

The most motivated and effective missionary in the history of Christianity was the Apostle Paul. Paul planted churches and spread the Gospel over the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire, enduring hardship and bearing fruit for God's glory unlike anyone else before or since. What motivated Paul to strive and persevere and preach, despite all the many obstacles he faced? He never forgot who he was without Christ and what God's mercy had saved him from.

In 1 Timothy, written later in his ministry life, Paul writes:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17, ESV)

Paul saw himself as the foremost of all sinners. He knew what he had been without Christ: a wicked man who blasphemed God and persecuted His people. He also knew that it was the grace of God alone which had saved him.

In Hosea 2, we find another shocking passage of Scripture. The language is strong, the imagery vivid and appalling. But if we look carefully at what God is doing here, we will see the richness of His grace at work, even in the face of shocking sin.

Hosea first speaks to his own children and tells them to talk to Gomer's illegitimate children. It seems from verse 1 that Hosea and Gomer must have had more than just the three children named in chapter 1. It seems that Hosea is talking to those children that were truly his and telling them to proclaim to their illegitimate brothers and sisters - children Gomer had conceived in her adultery and prostitution - that they are loved and cherished as Hosea's own children. Thus, verse 1 is a continuation of the good news reversal that closed chapter 1. But note who is called to deliver the good news of mercy: Hosea's children.

Who is called to take the good news of God's mercy to the world? The children of God, who have already received that mercy. Those who, like the Apostle Paul, know the riches of God's grace, are best in a position to proclaim that grace to others.

But the call to proclaim is not always a nice, easy one. Together, all of Hosea's children, his natural and his adopted children, are told to plead with their mother to put away her whoring. These are all Gomer's children, some she bore to Hosea and some she conceived immorally, but they all plead with her to repent and return to her husband in faithfulness. She is not living like a wife, and she is endangering all of her children, for if she continues her immoral ways, she could be put out by Hosea and her children could all be put in danger.

Remember that Gomer represents Israel. Thus, she represents the people of God, the church, in their faithlessness to God. And who is called to call the church to repentance? Her children. In other words, Christians not only have the responsibility to call the world to come and see the mercy of God, but they also have a responsibility to call the church to repentance and faithfulness to the Lord.

Sadly, Gomer is not going to listen to the pleading of her children. Often, the church hardens its heart against its Lord and faithful husband. But what Hosea will do in chapter 3 will display the pursuing grace of God powerfully.

As children of God who have received His mercy and been forgiven of our sin, we are called to do two things: To proclaim His mercy to others who need to hear the good news of the grace of God and to call the church of Jesus Christ to repent of worldliness and idolatry and return to faithfulness to the Lord. These are great privileges we have as children of God, ambassadors for Christ, and citizens of His heavenly kingdom. Let's embrace them and pray that God would use us to bring unbelievers to mercy and His church to greater faithfulness.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hosea, Day 4: Hose 1:8-11 - Why Such Dramatic and Unexpected Good News?

Why Such Dramatic and Unexpected Good News?
Hosea, Day 4

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
- Hosea 1:8-11, ESV

A sudden and dramatic turn of events for the good can catch you by surprise and turn a tragedy into victory in a flash. Great movies make the most of these sudden plot twists: The hero seems defeated, only to emerge from the smoke of the collapsed building, victorious over evil at last. We all love such moments, and if they’re done well, they can cause us to shout for joy.

It’s hard to find a more sudden, dramatic and unexpected turn of events than what happens between verses 9 and 10 in Hosea 1. We have just heard the very strange and depressing names of Hosea’s second and third children – No Mercy and Not My People – when suddenly, the word “yet” changes everything.

The late R.C. Sproul famously said the most important word in the Bible was “but,” because it’s the word God uses to change the bad news of our sin and misery into the good news of His love and redemption. That’s what the word “yet” is doing at the beginning of verse 10.

God had made precious promises to Abraham that the number of his offspring would be as countless than the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. But here was God in Hosea 1 indicating His utter rejection of His people in a very dramatic and troubling way. He was not going to have mercy on His people. In fact, God went to far as to stunningly reverse the great covenant promise. Instead of “You shall be my people, and I will be your God,” He had said, “for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

But just when the scene seems to be as black as it could be, the light begins to shine with that wonderful word “yet.” God’s judgment against His people for their sin would not cause Him to forget His covenant promises. While He would judge His people for their sin, He would not utterly forsake them. In judgment, the LORD would indeed remember mercy.

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our sin. We may find ourselves in a dark time, under the heavy hand of God’s discipline. We may lose sight of our hope in these dark times, but God never loses sight of His promises. We may fail, but God never fails. That’s our hope, no matter how dark the night and no matter how deep our sin. The LORD is merciful, and He will indeed have mercy!

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Hosea, Day 3: Hosea 1:3-9 - Why Such Strange Names for These Children?

Why Such Strange Names for These Children?
Hosea, Day 3

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” – Hosea 1:3-9, ESV

Naming your children is one of the most important things new parents do. It’s exciting, and sometimes a bit overwhelming. When we named our first-born son, it was easy: Andrew is my middle name and is also the name of the first evangelist named in the Gospel of John, my favorite Gospel. Andrew brings his brother, Simon Peter, to the Lord. This expressed our hope for our son, that he would be an early and enthusiastic disciple of the Lord Jesus. Our second son is named Jeremiah, and we struggled more over his name, going back and forth between Jeremiah and Luke before settling on Jeremiah, a name that fits him well.

Hosea didn’t get to choose what to name his children. God told him what to name them, and God gave Hosea’s kids some very strange names. Yet what’s even more poignant is the fact that two of Hosea’s three children likely weren’t even his, as their names and the account of their births seem to make clear.

The account of the birth of Jezreel is pretty straightforward. Hosea took Gomer as his wife. She conceived and bore him a son. God told Hosea to name him Jezreel, as a word of warning and judgment against northern Israel. Jezreel is perhaps not the name Hosea would have chosen, but it all seems clear and sensible enough, for a prophet. Then things get strange.

Gomer next conceives and bears a daughter, but the text leaves out a key word - “him.” She did not bear him a daughter, as was said regarding Jezreel, “she conceived and bore him a son.” The idea that this girl is not Hosea’s biological daughter is also captured by her name, No Mercy. This name means no compassion, no sympathy, no tender affection or love. What dad names his daughter that? One who was commanded to do so by God, yes, but also one who knows the girl is not really his daughter.

This trend continues and is intensified with the third child born in chapter one, a son named Not My People. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. These two, No Mercy and Not My People, are the “children of whoredom” God told Hosea he would have by “a wife of whoredom.” An unfaithful wife has illegitimate children. Ouch!

If you feel badly for these children, just wait. The story gets better. Hosea is a redemption story after all. But for now, we’re meant to see something clear: Our unfaithfulness to God has real and lasting consequences. Our sin brings disastrous consequences into our lives. Also, we’re to not only identify ourselves with Gomer but also with No Mercy and Not My People. We have no natural, legitimate claim to be called children of God. Our sins separate us from God, cutting us off from His mercy and from being His people. This stunning, sobering truth should cause us to repent and seek the Lord for redemption.     

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hosea, Day 2: Hosea 1:1-3 - Are We Really That Bad?

Are We Really That Bad?
Hosea, Day 2

The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:1-3, ESV

Sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at our actions from a more objective perspective, so we can see what we’re really doing. God did this for King David when He sent Nathan the prophet to confront him over his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah the Hittite. When Nathan came to confront David in 2 Samuel 12, he first presented David’s sin to him in the form of a story about another man who had wronged his neighbor. Only when David’s righteous sense of justice was aroused by the story of a man who stole a precious only lamb from his neighbor did Nathan turn and make his confrontation more direct and bold: “You are the man!” he told David. And David saw his sin and repented.

I don’t know what excuses David was making for his sin, but I do know how easy it is to minimize and excuse gross sin. Sadly, that is one area of life where I have too much personal experience. The rationalizing usually involves the words, “it was only” and “I had to” and maybe “if they had only.” So, for David: “It was only an impulsive act of passion. If only she wasn’t bathing on her rooftop. I tried to give Uriah a chance. If only he had been more like normal men and gone in to sleep with his wife. Once he refused, I had to save face. I had to cover up our act of passion. He left me with no choice.” Nathan’s words cut through the rationalizing denials like a sharp sword: “You are the man!”

The Book of Hosea does that for us. We are shocked and horrified by the story of Hosea marrying a woman who was habitually unfaithful to him and who even bore children with other men. We’re outraged, and our sense of righteous justice is aroused. This isn’t right! But then God says: “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” In other words: We are the adulterous woman!

Do we believe it? Or do we recoil from such an association and say, “No, Lord, we can’t be that bad.” Really? What does James say? “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, ESV) Have we set our affections on the things of the world? Of course, we have! Do we have worldly idols in our hearts, deep and desperate longings for wealth, status, reputation, comfort, illicit pleasures? Of course, we do! Then we need to look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s word and realize that we are, indeed, the adulterous people.

We will not come to repentance until we realize the depth and horror of our sin. Until we see our sin for the ugly unfaithfulness it is, our hearts will not be broken. May the Lord be pleased to break us, that He may be pleased to heal us in Christ.