Return for Real

Posted: May 4, 2017 in Hosea, Uncategorized

Hosea 6-7, “Return for Real”

When kids want to ensure something is true, they sometimes ask “Is this for real? For realsies?”  They make people swear & pinky-promise, or go through all kinds of hoops because even from a young age, they understand something clearly: people are fickle!  We’ll say one thing & do another.  Sometimes it’s because we’re flaky & forgetful – other times it’s because we’re double-minded, and decided differently – still other times it’s because we weren’t sincere in the first place.  Because we didn’t really mean what we said the first time we said it, we didn’t follow through when time came to pass.

That may have been somewhat the case here in the 6th & 7th chapters of Hosea.  The people knew of their opportunity to turn to the Lord in repentance, and even though they talked about it, it wasn’t sincere.  It wasn’t “for real.”  God didn’t just want Israel to go through the motions of repentance; He wanted it to be sincere.  He wanted their repentance to be “for real.”

Contextually, we’ve passed the biographical part of Hosea, where the prophet and his family (sadly) reflected God’s relationship with Israel.  Like an adulterous spouse, Israel had consistently wandered away from God, worshipping idols & acting as if they were not His people.  In response, God declared His divorce from the nation, prophesying of her future judgment.  Yet that wasn’t all – God also prophesied His reconciliation with Israel, saying how He would woo the nation back to Himself, and they would once again be betrothed to God as His spouse & holy people.

Chapter 4 transitioned from biographical prophecy to prophetic oracles, as Hosea declared the word of the Lord directly to the people.  As if in a courtroom, God laid out His charges against Israel, serving up their indictment.  As a Judge, He pronounced their verdict & the future punishment.  The nation had forgotten God, but He would pursue them in such a way that He could not be avoided.  Eventually, they would seek His face, and they would do so in earnest truth.

So what next?  The book of Hosea is arranged in a cycle of judgement-to-mercy.  God declares His judgment, and then a promise of mercy is given.  The last cycle of judgment ended at the end of Chapter 5, thus Chapter 6 opens up with mercy…at least for a while.  God’s judgment comes again, and for good reason: although the nation will eventually seek the Lord in sincere truth, that’s not how they always seek Him.  Some of their repentance is half-hearted, and God knows the truth.  God doesn’t want half-hearted, insincere repentance; He wants the real thing.  And He knows the difference!  He knows the extent of our sin – and He also knows our dire need for grace and mercy.

Hosea 6

  • Invitation to repent (6:1-3)

1 Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.

  • Note that this is the nation speaking (3rd person plural, “us”).  Whether it was to be in the present or some future time, they called out to one another to “return to the LORD” – to repent.  This is what repentance is: a turning, a change.  It is a recognition that we have gone the wrong direction doing the wrong things, and we make a conscious decision to turn around and act differently.  Israel had (or will have) realized that they had departed from the Lord, and needed to return to the Lord.  This hasn’t changed for today.  Repentance takes place when (1) people recognize the need, (2) make the decision, and (3) act upon it.  We can feel remorse about something (feel badly) without ever engaging in repentance.  We can be sorry something happened & just ignore it.  OR, we can confess to God that we truly did sin, express our heartfelt remorse to Him in prayer, and purpose to walk differently.  That is true repentance.  That was what Israel recognized for themselves, and that is what we still need to day.
  • What is the promise to those who truly return to God in repentance?  Restoration!  Israel knew that God (YHWH, their Covenant-keeping God) would “heal” them & “bind” their wounds.  Even though God was the one who had wounded them through His acts of judgment & discipline, God would be the one to comfort them & grant them the healing they needed.  Never did Israel need to wonder if God would turn away from them or tell them to “pound sand” if they repented.  They knew beyond doubt (prophetically speaking) that God is good to His word.  He said He would heal & restore, and He would.
    • He does!  Jesus is faithful to forgive us, when we humble ourselves in repentance.  That’s a promise straight from the word of God. (1 Jn 1:9)  Trust Him! 
  • In the case of Israel, they believed that God’s restoration would come to them quickly…

2 After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight.

  • Two, three days at the most, and it would be done.  It would be absolutely complete.  They would first be revived from the dead & then raised back up to life in the sight of all.  This is literally true, from a broader perspective of history.  The nation of Israel was dead in the eyes of the world.  After the destruction brought on by Rome, there was no more Israel.  There was always a remnant of God’s people in the land, but never a fully-formed nation…not until 1948.  Then something that was dead came back to life.  When God restores, He restores fully! 
    • In regards to sin which leaves us dead, He still restores us fully, bringing us from being dead in our transgressions, back to life.  We had nothing before we had life in Christ, and now we have everything.  That is restoration & revival!
  • It’s worth noting that although there’s no question that the immediate context & interpretation belongs to God’s relationship with Israel, there is more than a slight parallel to the resurrection of Christ.  When was Jesus raised?  On the third day.  We cannot take this as a direct prophecy of the resurrection, but we can certainly see how it fits a general pattern.  All through the Scripture, God points to the work of His Son…and it’s seen here, as well.
  • Again, what happens in this restoration?  We live in the sight of the Lord – we know Him in spirit and truth…

3 Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth.

  • Israel (prophetically) understood that they needed to know God.  In the past, they had forgotten Him (Hos 4:1,6), but now they want to know Him.  They want to know Him fully, in truth.  They want to know everything about Him, fully engaging in that spousal relationship, as a wife is known by her husband.  Obviously we don’t want to push the analogy too far, but the general idea is true.  Israel (finally) understood that they needed to know God in every way – and that was exactly what God wanted from them.
  • How were they to know the Lord?  They had to “pursue” Him.  No one gets to know God merely by osmosis; He needs to be pursued!  Sometimes Christians get the idea that once we come to faith in Christ, all of a sudden the knowledge of God comes descending upon us from the heavens & that we somehow “magically” have a close, intimate relationship with Jesus & a deep knowledge of the Scriptures.  That may happen for some, but it’s not the norm.  We are to pursue our God – we are to seek after our Savior.  Just as the only way to get to know any human companion is to spend time with him/her, so we need to spend time getting to know our God.  There is no substitute for the Scripture & prayer.  Bible studies are good (this one, too!  Hopefully! J), but they aren’t a replacement for personal devotions.  Christian radio is wonderful, but it’s not a substitute for real time spent with our real God.  Pursue Jesus!  Get to know your Lord & King!
  • And the good news is that God can be known!  His blessing is certain & sure, just as much as the coming of the dawn & the latter rains.  Israel knew that if they sought the Lord in true repentance, that God would surely respond to them & come to them (figuratively speaking).  He would not hide Himself from them – if they sought Him in faith, they would know Him in truth.
    • It’s no different with us.  When we seek God, we find Him.  When we pursue our Jesus, He is known by us.  He will not hide Himself from you…so seek Him!

This would happen sincerely in the future – for the time being, any purported return to the Lord was half-hearted & insincere.  Remember that God is giving these oracles to Hosea during the latter years of the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria.  This was a period of terrible decline & sin, during which kings were routinely assassinated & the people were “Israelites” in name-only.  All of the kings of Israel were at this point known for doing “evil in the sight of the Lord,” continuing in the sinful idolatry of their forefathers.  If there was indeed anyone truly seeking God in the north, they were far & few in-between.  As a whole, any attempts towards holiness were surface-level & insincere.  God knew it, and He wanted the people to know that He knew it.

  • Lack of repentance (6:4-11)

4 “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away.

  • Faithfulness” = חֶ֫סֶד , often translated “lovingkindess/mercy,” or even “loyal love.”  When it came to the חֶ֫סֶד of Israel (Ephraim) & Judah, their “loyal love” wasn’t very “loyal” at all!  Like clouds & dew, it was transient & temporary.

5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And your judgments are like light that goes forth.

  • God’s word cut them – it killed them.  This is a good thing!  Jerusalem was cut to the heart on the day of Pentecost when they heard the gospel…and that was the right response.  The time to worry about our reaction to the Scripture isn’t when we perceive that it cuts us; it’s when we don’t have any reaction to it at all!  If God’s word convicts, it’s a good thing.  It means your heart is still soft enough to be convicted.
  • Depending what translation you’re reading, the 3rd line might read “and My judgment goes forth as the light.”  There’s a bit of disagreement between the ancient versions on how this could be translated, and the difference comes down the placement of a single letter (whether it is attached to the end of one word, or the beginning of another).  Contextually, it seems better to think of these judgments originating in God, shining forth like light – or even shooting forth like lightning.  The overall point is plain: God’s word, His judgments, His will – it is perfect.  His word is a lamp unto our feet & a light unto our paths (Ps 119:105).  His word is all sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).  His word is one of the primary tools God uses in the lives of His people to make us into the men & women He desires us to be.  Sometimes it may cut in correction – but praise God for its active work in our lives!

6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

  • Once again, the word is חֶ֫סֶד , and this is God’s delight & desire!  This is what He wanted from His people: not sacrifice, but mercy.  Not offerings, but the knowledge of Himself.  Eventually, when the nation repented, they would pursue the knowledge of God (6:3) – this is what God wanted from them right now at the present.  He wanted them to know Him in truth, and to know His love, faithfulness, and merciful kindness towards them (as they in turn demonstrated it towards others).
  • Question: Is God telling His Israelite people that He wants them to disregard the Levitical sacrifices?  Not at all!  Part of the problem with the northern kingdom was that they totally ignored the Mosaic covenant & all of the proper worship practices that accompanied it.  But the core of the issue was that they didn’t know God.  They didn’t worship Him.  They missed the broader picture of what it was like to be in a relationship with the Almighty.  God didn’t command the sacrifices in order to have a bunch of dead, bloody animals – He commanded it for what it was supposed to represent in the hearts of His people (and to point to the only true sufficient sacrifice of Jesus).  What God wants isn’t ritualism; it’s a repentant heart!  Psalm 51:16–17, "(16) For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise." 
    • Is this what you offer God in your worship?

7 “But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers And defiled with blood. 9 As bands of robbers lie in wait for a man, So the company of priests murder on the way to Shechem; Surely they commit lewdness.

  • Like “men” or like “Adam”?  Different Bible translations render this various ways.  Technically both are correct, in that the Hebrew word (אָדָם ) could be translated either way.  And, both translations actually fit, in that Adam as the first man is seen as a prototype & representative of all men.  Just as he sinned, so do all men sin.
  • One way the nation “dealt treacherously” with God was through their sin & violence.  Gilead & Shechem are specifically mentioned, most likely as representatives of the entire northern kingdom.  “Gilead” is perhaps Ramoth Gilead, and if so, there’s a bit of irony here in that both Ramoth Gilead & Shechem were originally appointed as cities of refuge – places where people accused of violent crimes to go find safety until a just trial was made.  Thus instead of them being safe havens; they are cities of blood, murder, and violence.  Gilead was “defiled with blood” – literally describing blood tracked through the city like footprints.  Even the “priests” were described as murderous in Shechem – either a literal reference to violent sin, or an illustration of their iniquity.
  • How does God sum it up?  Vs. 10…

10 I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: There is the harlotry of Ephraim; Israel is defiled.

  • It was a horror for God to see.  Sin, idolatry, wickedness – it is all awful in the sight of the Lord.  It is shocking & defiling.  And it must be dealt with…which is exactly what God does through Jesus!

11 Also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed for you, When I return the captives of My people.

  • Hosea was primarily a prophet to the north, but Judah isn’t totally left out.  The judgment of God would first fall upon Israel, but southern Judah had their own appointment with the wrath of God.  They needed to pay attention & sincerely repent while they had the chance.

Hosea 7

  • God knew their sin (7:1-10)

1 “When I would have healed Israel, Then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered, And the wickedness of Samaria. …

  • God had healed Israel in the past, having forgiven her many times for many sins – and He wanted to do it again.  The problem was is that more sin & iniquity kept on being found.  More & more sin was uncovered, like mold that is found deeper & deeper in bread.
  • Sin is never hidden forever.  At some point, it is going to be revealed.  If nowhere else, at the very least at the throne of God.  God sees our sin…every bit of it.
    • Thankfully, the blood of Jesus covers our sin…every bit of it!

…For they have committed fraud; A thief comes in; A band of robbers takes spoil outside. 2 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.

  • These things may have been committed in the dark, but it was still right in front of the face of God.  He knew it all.  They didn’t remember God in their hearts – they didn’t even consider that He would see & know these things, but He did.

3 They make a king glad with their wickedness, And princes with their lies.

  • The people didn’t merely commit sin; they delighted in it!  The kings of Israel were especially guilty of this.  They didn’t just dip their toes into the waters; they swam around, taking in all that it had to offer.
    • Do we sometimes delight in sin?  Be honest!  People don’t engage in sin because it makes them feel awful.  In the moment, it doesn’t.  It’s in the moments following that the reality sinks in, and our consciences are cut to the quick.  Those are the moments we need to remember when facing temptation.  Temptation presents itself as a thrill, but it’s false advertisement.  The reality is grief & pain.
    • Praise God this is what Jesus offers to deliver us from!  As believers, we never need face temptation alone.  We have the Spirit indwelling us, and we have Jesus interceding for us, and God the Father desiring the best for us.  When temptation rears its head, don’t let the thought of it make you glad; let the thought of your God make you glad!
  • Over the next few verses, God is going to describe the kings & princes of Israel using some kitchen analogies.  The prophecy alternates between descriptions of the leadership & that of an oven & baker…it’s so intertwined, it should all be taken together.

4 “They are all adulterers. Like an oven heated by a baker— He ceases stirring the fire after kneading the dough, Until it is leavened. 5 In the day of our king Princes have made him sick, inflamed with wine; He stretched out his hand with scoffers. 6 They prepare their heart like an oven, While they lie in wait; Their baker sleeps all night; In the morning it burns like a flaming fire.

  • Baking is rather easy today in comparison with the ancient world.  We have thermostats, constant sources of heat, precise measurements, etc.  It wasn’t all that long ago that things were vastly different.  Ancient cultures especially had to learn to maintain consistent heat, in order that goods could be baked throughout the day.  That’s the basic picture here.  Among the Israelites, sin was constant – it permeated everything they did & everyone did it.  The leadership class engaged in lies, drunkenness, conspiracies, and assassination attempts.  Again, Hosea wrote during the final days of the Israelite kingdom, during which four kings were assassinated in quick succession (2 Kings 15: Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahniah).  There was a culture of violence in the north, and it burned like a fiery oven.  This idea gets driven home in vs. 7…

7 They are all hot, like an oven, And have devoured their judges; All their kings have fallen. None among them calls upon Me.

  • How many people in Israel called upon the Lord?  None.  None of the princes, none of the kings, and apparently none of the priests or other people.  All were lost, given over to their sin.  No one sought God.
  • That hasn’t changed.  That is simply the human condition.  Quoting Psalm 14, Paul wrote to the Romans: Romans 3:11–12, "(11) There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. (12) They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one."  This is/was us in our sin!
    • But it is not us today!  What changed?  We received the sacrifice of Jesus!  Paul went on to write: Romans 3:23–24, "(23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,"  Praise God!

8 “Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake unturned. 9 Aliens have devoured his strength, But he does not know it; Yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, Yet he does not know it.

  • How does sin come?  Sometimes slowly, but surely.  The northern tribes weren’t always given over to sin & idolatry.  When they were united with the southern tribes during the kingdoms of David & Solomon, they were apparently faithful.  But when they broke off with Jeroboam, the idolatry began, and it got worse & worse & worse.  Soon they found themselves totally “mixed…among the peoples,” no different than any other nation in the world.  God had called His people to be holy & separate, but they weren’t.  Israel/Ephraim had absorbed so much Gentile influence that they no longer looked like the people of God – and they didn’t even know it.  Despite all of the prophets sent to the north – despite the abundance of the word of God that was available to them, their ears had been shut & they had no clue how far they had fallen.  Like a man or woman who looks in the mirror one day & finds a head full of grey hair, they would be shocked!
  • Much the same could be said of our own culture.  We are not the same people we used to be.  Not even the evangelical church is the same it used to be.  To be sure, there are some things that have changed for the better (institutionalized racism, treatment of women, etc.), but there are many that have changed for the worse.  As a culture, we have turned away from the truths of God & the standards established in His word.  We have called evil to be good, and good to be evil.  As a church, there is less prayer, less fellowship, less worship, less Scripture.  Certainly there are pockets where things are different, but by & large there is not the same level of devotion in today’s church as there has been in generations past.  Did it happen all of a sudden?  No. Things creep up, and we don’t realize it.
  • But we should!  God tells us these things, just as He told Israel…

10 And the pride of Israel testifies to his face, But they do not return to the LORD their God, Nor seek Him for all this.

  • God testified straight to the face of His nation, but they did nothing.  Even when directly confronted by many prophets, there was no repentance – no contrition – no change.
  • Have you ever had a time when you were go gung-ho on the way you had chosen to go, that you were bound & determined to do it, even when you knew God said differently?  Those are times that we don’t stumble into sin, but that we dive into it…and those are times we need to beware!  When the Spirit convicts our heart, we need to listen!  How important it is for us to pay attention, ensuring that our hearts remain soft and open to the direction of God.  As it’s been often said, the more we say “no” to God, the easier it becomes.  Thankfully, the reverse is true as well!  The more we say “yes” – the more we respond immediately to the conviction of the Lord – the more we will be aware of Him when He speaks & leads us through His word.
    • BTW – the more we do this as individual Christians, the more the church will be changed as a whole.  We often pray for revival (which is certainly the call of God to Israel in these chapters), but how does revival come?  Through individuals.  Obviously it won’t happen at all without a sovereign move of God, but until individual Christians seek the Lord Jesus with all our hearts, determined to remain humbly submitted to Him, filled the Holy Spirit, we can’t expect much else.  Why would God grant revival to the Evangelical Church if Evangelical Christians are not seeking revival in their own lives?  We need to return to the Lord – we need to seek Him in Spirit and truth!
  • God knew their stubbornness (7:11-16)

11 “Ephraim also is like a silly dove, without sense— They call to Egypt, They go to Assyria. 12 Wherever they go, I will spread My net on them; I will bring them down like birds of the air; I will chastise them According to what their congregation has heard.

  • They went to other nations, but not to the Lord.  They were willing to go to Egypt for help – to Assyria for help – but not to the Lord God.  How silly (stupid) is that?  Assyria was the nation gearing up to conquer Israel, yet they were more willing to make deals with them than to humble themselves before the Almighty God who loved them.
    • Sin makes us stupid.  Always!  When we start listening to temptation, we start making deals…and we’re always going to lose.  So why don’t we ever learn?  Recognize that kind of foolishness for what it is, and stay humbly dependent upon the Lord!
  • They might run from God, but God would not run from them.  He would pursue them, disciplining them to bring them back.  If it took hunting them down like a bunch of birds, so be it.  In God’s eyes, they were too precious to allow to perish without His pursuit.
    • Keep in mind, that’s what God’s discipline is: a sign of His love.  When He chastens us, it’s because He sees us as His children, and good parents punish their children when their children do wrong.  The Lord chastens those whom He loves (Heb 12:6), which ought to be a sign of comfort.  If you’re being disciplined by God, it means He loves you!  He loves you too much to allow you to continue on the path that you’re on.  (Which means you need to turn in repentance!)

13 “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.

  • Don’t flee God!  Don’t run away from Him!  Running from God only brings woe – it only makes things worse.  Running away from God only causes us to run closer to sin – and that’s the very thing God would save us from!
  • Why not run away?  Because God didn’t want to discipline them; He wanted to redeem them!  He wanted to reach out to them in grace & mercy, but they were not willing.  NKJV translates this as a simple past tense, but the Hebrew implies something that was in the desire of God – this was His will to accomplish. (Cohortative)  To be sure, God had redeemed the nation in the past – particularly when He brought them out of Egypt.  The whole Passover event was an act of redemption, as God purchased His people out of slavery. (Paralleled in the sacrifice of Jesus for us.)  But God wanted to redeem His people again.  His desire was for them to worship Him in freedom, and they had sold themselves into slavery.  Sadly, they refused God’s outreach & continued in lies and transgressions against Him.
    • Only one act of redemption was needed for us (the cross!), but God’s desire for us is still for us to live in freedom!  He doesn’t want us enslaving ourselves to sins of the past.  And we don’t have to!  We have the power of the Holy Spirit…
  • Sadly, the Israelites did not turn to God in true repentance.  Though they knew of Him, they blinded themselves to Him & refused to call upon Him…

14 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; 15 Though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, Yet they devise evil against Me; 16 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. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.

  • When they worshipped God, they worshipped Him wrongly & insincerely.  Though God tried to help them, they worked evil against Him.  When they turned in repentance, they turned to idols & not to the Most High God.  Thus God declares they would face judgment.  The nations of the world would witness the wrath that God would bring down upon His own people.

That’s what God would do, but that’s not what He wanted to do.  He wanted to redeem them.  He wanted to heal them.  He wanted them to seek Him, to know His mercy, His word, and His character.  He wanted them to know Him; they were not willing.  They might be willing to turn for a time – to repent on a surface-level…but they were not willing to turn to God for real.  They were not willing to truly & sincerely repent.

Are we? Repentance doesn’t stop the moment you’re born-again.  That’s actually when it begins! 

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