Friday, February 22, 2019

Hosea, Day 24: Hosea 14 - How Can We Return to the Lord?

How Can We Return to the Lord? 
Hosea, Day 24

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good, [or: "receive us graciously']
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them.
- Hosea 14, ESV

In 1517, the Protestant Reformation began with these words:
  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
That's the first thesis in the famous 95 Theses that Martin Luther nailed to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. 

Luther was right. Jesus calls every believer to a life of repentance. To repent is to return to the Lord. Because we are always sinning and always straying into idolatry in our hearts and minds, we must always be returning to the Lord. But how can we do so faithfully and fruitfully, and not just as a fake reaction in a time of crisis? We all know of people who have called out for help to God in the midst of a crisis and have not really been sincerely returning to Him. How can we do better and return to the Lord rightly?  

Thankfully, Hosea 14 gives us clear instructions on how to return to the Lord, along with loving and compelling reasons to do so. God tells us how to pray:

1. Pray for forgiveness: "Take away all iniquity"
2. Plead for God's goodness: "Receive us graciously" (I'm following the KJV, NASB, and NIV here)
3. Resolve and pledge to obey the Lord: "We will pay with bulls the vows of our lips
4. Turn away from trusting in the world: "Assyria shall not save us"
5. Reject idolatry: "We will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands"
6. Trust in the goodness of God: "In you the orphan finds mercy"

This is a wonderful pattern of prayer, whenever we come under conviction for sin or realize we have been trusting in worldly things or idols of our hearts and minds. God promises to answer this kind of prayer: "I will heal their apostasy. I will love them freely." 

In all that we have seen of the Lord's goodness, persistent love, gracious kindness and all that we have seen of our own sin and stubborn idolatry through our studies in Hosea, this is a fitting way to conclude. So, let us return to the Lord and rest in His goodness and His redeeming power. 

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hosea, Day 23: Hosea 13 - Why is God Our Only Savior?

Why is God Our Only Savior? 

But I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
    and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness,
    in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full,
    they were filled, and their heart was lifted up;
    therefore they forgot me.
So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

He destroys you, O Israel,
    for you are against me, against your helper.
Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
    Where are all your rulers—
those of whom you said,
    “Give me a king and princes”?
I gave you a king in my anger,
    and I took him away in my wrath.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
    his sin is kept in store.
The pangs of childbirth come for him,
    but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
    at the opening of the womb.

I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
    I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
    O Sheol, where is your sting?
- Hosea 13:4-14, ESV

What is a savior?

Yesterday, the San Diego Padres agreed to pay Manny Machado $300 million to play baseball. Why? Because the team is hoping the superstar player will be the savior of a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2006. Meanwhile, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is being hailed as the savior of the brand-new Alliance of American Football, having invested $250 million in the new league.

In the ancient world, gods were seen as saviors because they were thought to provide the things people needed to live: Baal, the storm god, sent the rain. Ashera, the fertility goddess, provided abundant crops and children. Other gods were seen as saviors because they could stop plagues or locust swarms.

Yet God says to Israel, "I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me,     and besides me there is no savior."  Here's what we need to see: What was true for ancient Israel is just as true for us today.

Believers today are constantly tempted to assign a limited role to God in our lives and our salvation and to look to other so-called gods and saviors for the things we really want and think we need. We'll trust God for the forgiveness of our sins and for our future in heaven, but we will look to the world for money, food, pleasure, entertainment, etc.

The problem for ancient Israel and the problem for us is the same, and it's a two-fold problem:

1. We're confused about what our real needs are. So, we think we need all sorts of things that we don't really need. Modern advertising and our instant-gratification society have only made our natural impatient selfishness even worse.

2. We forget who supplies all of our real needs and who gives us everything good in life and in eternity. So, we think we get some things for ourselves, the world gives us some other things, and then God gives us some eternal, spiritual things - like forgiveness and heaven. But that's not what God says. He gives us everything good, in life and in eternity. We have nothing good but what He has provided.

Ultimately, our biggest needs are for our guilt to be removed and for death to be defeated. The biggest problem all human beings face is death, and death is a big problem because of sin. If we keep this reality front and center in our thinking, it helps bring perspective to our daily concerns and it helps us remember that only God can solve our biggest problems and thus meet our greatest needs. And He has done so gloriously in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our forgiveness and who is the overthrowing conqueror of death.

The next time you worry or are anxious, remember how much God was willing to sacrifice to solve your greatest problems and meet your greatest needs. Then, reject the false promises of a fallen world and trust every care you have to Him alone!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Hosea, Day 22: Hosea 12 - What Are the Dangers of Prosperity?

What Are the Dangers of Prosperity?

The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
the LORD the God of hosts,
    the LORD is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances,
    he loves to oppress.
Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich;
    I have found wealth for myself;
in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
I am the LORD your God
    from the land of Egypt;
I will again make you dwell in tents,
    as in the days of the appointed feast. - Hosea 12:2-9, ESV

In 1990, during my junior year in high school, Calloway had a mega-hit song with "I Wanna Be Rich." It's kind of embarrassing now, but I remember being 16 years old and singing along - 

You see I want money, 
lots and lots of money.
I want the pie in the sky,
I want lots and lots of money,
so don't be asking my why.
I wanna be rich

Some people might say, "What's wrong with that?" Well, plenty, of course! 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, "those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils."

So, wanting to be rich and loving money cause a whole host of problems for people, but does that mean it's wrong to have wealth? No. Some of the God's people in the Bible were very wealthy - the Patriarchs, Joseph, David, Solomon, Daniel, and others. Yet prosperity often caused snares for God's people, too. Solomon married foreign wives, who led him into idolatry. Esau and Jacob fought over their father's wealth. 

Here in Hosea 12, we can see three clear problems related to Israel's prosperity:

1. Indifference: Israel's wealth made them indifferent to the words of the prophets. As God was pleading with Israel to repent, Israel's response was callous: "Ah, but I am rich! I have found wealth for myself." They simply didn't care about the prophets' words. 

2. Idolatry: Israel's prosperity also led them to practice and tolerate idolatry. Their wealth had led them to make a covenant with Assyria and to establish trade with Egypt (see v. 1). These kinds of alliances and trade relationships usually involved worship of the gods of the other lands, and this may have been how the gods of Assyria and Egypt made their way into Israel. 

3. Injustice: In addition to indifference and idolatry, Israel's prosperity also led them to cheat the poor. God calls Israel "a merchant, in whose hands are false balances" and who "loves to oppress." The quickest way for the wealthy to get wealthier is to cheat the poor out of what little wealth they have. 

Most of us are prosperous and wealthy, by the standards of the broader world and of history. We may not feel wealthy, but we really are. So, we should ask ourselves: Am I falling into any of these patterns? Am I growing indifferent to the conviction of God's Word and Spirit? Am I tending toward idol-worship in my pursuit of wealth? Am I unconcerned for the dignity and humanity of the poor? As we examine our hearts before the Lord, may He grant us repentance, so that we may use His blessings for His kingdom and glory and not our own!  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hosea, Day 21: Hosea 11:8-12 - Why Doesn't the Lord Give Up on His People?

Why Doesn't the Lord Give Up on His People?

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.
Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.
- Hosea 11:8-12, ESV

After several chapters of stinging indictment and stunning judgment, God pulls back suddenly in Hosea 11 and asks:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?

My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;

If you've been reading along and taking the previous chapters seriously, you might want to ask, "Why??" We've seen clearly how much Israel deserves condemnation. We've seen how utterly unfaithful, ungrateful, immoral, and unrepentant Israel had been and continued to be. Why not simply wipe them off the map and start again with someone else?

The living demonstration God gives in the opening chapters of His relationship with Israel only serves to drive the point home: Gomer is a serial adulteress, bearing children with other men, running away from Hosea, and ending up for sale at a local slave market. Honestly, if you were Hosea's friend and he came to you for advice, what would you tell him to do? Wouldn't you say, "Hosea, buddy come on, man. Let her go. She was never faithful to you and she'll never be faithful to you. She put herself in this mess. She deserves it."? I'm pretty sure I would say something like that if I had a friend in Hosea's position.

But, as God says, in verse 9 - "I am God and not a man" - God is not like us. When God sets His heart on someone and chooses them to be His own in love, His love does not change. His love remains steadfast and strong, stronger than death. And so God will not utterly destroy His people. 

But how can He not? How can He spare such a wicked, idolatrous, immoral people and remain a just and holy God. He will not abandon His love for His people, but neither will He abandon His holiness. So, how can He save a wicked people? Well, verse 10 tells us it will happen "when He roars."  

Because I love The Chronicles of Narnia, verse 10 is one of my favorite verses in Hosea. I can just picture the risen and triumphant Aslan roaring and summoning His troops for battle against the White Witch. I'm sure C.S. Lewis must have been inspired by Hosea 11:10 when he wrote this wonderful scene for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

But when did God roar? When did His children come repentant and returning to Him? Like every other good promise in the Old Testament, I think Hosea 11:10 is pointing to Christ. Jesus said, "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32, ESV) Jesus was talking about His death on the cross. 

When Jesus came, He demonstrated the love of God by pursuing His own. His engagement with the Samaritans, many of whom became believers in Jesus, was His fulfillment of today's passage. Ultimately, His loving pursuit of His people led Him to the cross, where God's justice and holiness could be satisfied, the sins of God's people washed away, and God's love set free to draw all of His chosen ones to Himself. 

On the cross, God roared, sin died, justice was satisfied, and love was set free. So, why doesn't the Lord give up on His people? Because He loves us, and unlike man, His love never changes. And how can God be right and just in never giving up on us? Because of the full redemption price paid for us on the cross. Praise the Lord for such perfect justice and unfailing love! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hosea, Day 20: Hosea 11 - What is the Connection Between Israel and Jesus?

What is the Connection Between Israel and Jesus? 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.
- Hosea 11:1-4, ESV

Hosea 11:1 is one of the most controversial verses in the Bible. In Matthew 2:13-15, we read of Joseph's flight to Egypt with Mary and the baby Jesus:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (ESV)

Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1 and saying that Jesus' escape to Egypt was the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy. Critics of the Bible say Matthew is misquoting Hosea, and even believers struggle to understand how Hosea 11:1 could be viewed by Matthew as a prophecy of the Messiah. 

To understand why Matthew is not misusing Hosea 11:1, we have to understand the connection between Israel and Jesus in the Bible. You probably know Jesus was Jewish, a descendant of Abraham from the Tribe of Judah. You probably also know that He was the long-awaited Messiah, the promised Holy One of Israel. But the connection between Israel and Jesus in the Bible is actually much deeper and richer.    

In the deepest and truest sense, Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel, and Israel was the foreshadowing of Jesus. Israel was called to the son of God and the light of the world, but as a nation, they failed miserably. They were a disobedient son, and their light was actually darkness. God had graciously established and led them, but they had walked away again and again. 

And so Jesus came to do all that Israel had failed to do. Jesus came to be the true Israel of God, the Son of God and Light of the World. And at every point where Israel failed, Jesus brilliantly succeeded, even in coming up out of Egypt. Israel came up out of Egypt, guided and protected by God, and they wandered away in unfaithfulness. Jesus came up out of Egypt, guided and protected by God, and He honored God and follow Him faithfully all of His life. Thus, He fulfilled Hosea 11:1 in a way that Israel never did. 

Yet we should not think simply that Israel failed and Jesus succeeded. We should see that God foresaw and foreordained all of this from the very beginning. In other words, God always knew Israel would fail his mission and that Jesus would come to fulfill it. So this makes all of Israel's history a dark foreshadowing of the brilliant dawning of the Light of the World. 

In the Tabletalk devotional on Hosea 11:1, Ligonier takes the unpacking of this verse one step further:

"The good news of the gospel tells us that we can be the true Israel of God as well. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son. We are not sons of God by nature; rather, we are sons of God by adoption, His beloved children in Christ. As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people, the true Israel of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles who are united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the glorious destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20)." 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Hosea, Day 19: Hosea 10 - How Should We Respond When God Takes Away Our Idols?

How Should We Respond When God Takes Away Our Idols?

Israel is a luxuriant vine
    that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
    the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
    he improved his pillars.
Their heart is false;
    now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars
    and destroy their pillars.

For now they will say:
    “We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord;
    and a king—what could he do for us?”
They utter mere words;
    with empty oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
    in the furrows of the field.
The inhabitants of Samaria tremble
    for the calf of Beth-aven.
Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—
    those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—
    for it has departed from them.
The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria
    as tribute to the great king.
Ephraim shall be put to shame,
    and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.

Samaria's king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters.
The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
    shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
    on their altars,
and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
    and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

Ephraim was a trained calf
    that loved to thresh,
    and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
    Judah must plow;
    Jacob must harrow for himself.
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

- Hosea 10:1-8, 11-12, ESV

D.L. Moody famously said, "The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible." And while I'm not sure I agree 100% with that statement, it does express an important truth, which I might put this way: If you belong to God and you give your heart to idols, you will find that your idols will draw your heart away from the Lord, or else the Lord, in love, will take away your idols.

So, if the Lord loves you, He will take away your idols, if you don't repent and surrender them first. Now, having the Lord take away your idols is a painful process. Hosea 10 describes it in graphic detail. A deeply rooted, dearly cherished idol is not one we give up easily. And when God takes it away, it disrupts and upends our entire lives.

Think about it: If your career is your idol, so that you find your self-worth and identity in your job and salary, you can either repent and submit your career to the Lord, or He may lovingly take it away from you. That would not be easy. Yet God has had to do that for His people again and again, and it is something He does in love. Nothing can take His place in our hearts and lives without disastrous consequences.    

How should we respond if we see God taking away our idols? Israel responded by wailing for their idols and rejecting the Lord as their ruler.  That was not a good response. It certainly did not help their situation any. 

Instead, God told Israel what they should do, and it's the same word we need to hear:  

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

The New Testament uses slightly different language to communicate the same truth to the church:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. - Galatians 6:7-9, ESV

So, when God takes away our idols, we need to realize that we've been sowing to our flesh and we have been reaping corruption. We need to start sowing to the Spirit instead. That is, we need to start sowing righteousness. What does that mean? Hosea unpacks it: Break up the fallow ground and seek the Lord.

I'l put it another way: If God strips our idols from us, we can either cling to our idols or we can begin to cling to the Lord. We can either bemoan the loss of our idol, or we can thank the Lord for loving us enough to take away something we were unable to give up. We can turn to Him in thankful praise, knowing that the loss of our idol was His act of love for us.

The Lord loves you too much to leave you alone in the grip of your self-destructive idol. And that's wonderful good news, even when it hurts.