I came home the other night from teaching a class and couldn’t wait to tell Lili about a man I’d met in my class. He was quite a remarkable man. He had gotten a Ph.D. and an M.D. along the way, and now he was sitting in my Church History 1 class. The guy has just lived a remarkable life, experienced some amazing things, and lived through some great difficulties as well.
But the part of the conversation that I wanted to tell Lili about took place as we were about to get into our cars for the evening. He was telling me about some individuals in his life, how some were following the Lord, and how others were really gripped by sin, and he was about to tell me of someone who’d really given himself to abusing alcohol so that it now how a tight hold on him. But he didn’t say, “Yeah, he’s really given himself to alcohol.” Instead he said, “Yeah, he’s really given himself to the ol’ C-2-H-2-O-2,” or something like that. And I said to Lili as I relayed the story, “You know a guy really loves chemistry when he talks like that. I mean, who takes the time to try to think through what elements and how much of each element goes into making something like alcohol?”
Now, as unique as that conversation was in my life, the idea of peeling back the outer of layers of something to think through what elements go into making up something is not unprecedented. When we have a problem with our cars, we try to figure out what elements make it up. When we’re having a number of symptoms of sickness, we want a doctor to figure out what is at the core of this illness. And the reason why we do that is because it’s helpful in dealing with the issue. If you try to address an illness merely by addressing the symptoms or address an automobile problem in the same manner, you’re actually not dealing with it at the level that it needs to be dealt with. And when we come to Hosea 6:4-10:15 I think we’ll find that Hosea is doing something like this in regard to sin.
That is to say, in the first part of his message that we looked at last week, he began by noting very much the same things we’ll see in these chapters. He spoke of Israel’s sin, of the reality of judgment, and of certain hope if they’d repent. And if you read these chapters this week, you noticed much of the same. It really seems like you could preface these chapters, “Second verse, same as the first” or “Same song, different tune.” But there is something else that goes on here. It seems that Hosea repeats all of these topics but then points us to heart of them. That is, he talks about what obedience looks like at its core, what really undergirds our sinful actions, some fundamental elements that go into God’s judgment, and God’s heart toward us that cries out for our repentance.
Therefore, this morning, I we’ll very much trumpet the same themes we looked at last week, but I want us to consider some basic elements that undergirds each of these, with Hosea guiding us in these chapters.
And one of the first things we see is that . . .
Obedience to God requires the affection of our hearts
As Hosea continues to proclaim God’s message that he sees Israel’s sin and that judgment is coming, he begins to point to something that is lacking in their obedience – namely, love for God in their hearts. He declares, for example, in 6:4-6, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Beginning this second section, the Lord targets the lack of love that Israel has for the Lord. Their love is like a cloud or early morning dew that quickly goes away. They are willing it seems to offer their burnt offerings, but they lack steadfast love for their Lord.
And this theme doesn’t stop here. It permeates these chapters. In 7:14 the Lord declares, “They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.” Of course, the Lord is contrasting that Israel is willing to mutilate their bodies if necessary in order to appease Canaanite deities while they refuse to cry out to him. But specifically the Lord mentions that they do not cry to him “from the heart.” It seems that this could suggest that they are willing to cry to him with their mouths, but there is something lacking in their hearts.
But if that verse only hints at a contrast between what they’re saying and the reality of their hearts, 8:2 is more explicit. Now, keep in mind that the Lord has already declared multiple times in the first 6 chapters that Israel does not know him. Yet here he says, “To me they cry, ‘My God, we—Israel—know you.” The Lord is pointing out the difference between what their lips cry and what is the reality of their hearts. Accordingly, the Lord mentions in 8:13 that though they make sacrifices before the Lord, he will not accept them.
Finally, in 10:2 he declares that their “heart is false” and in 10:4 that “they utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants.”
So, this serves as a reminder to us that the Lord requires more than external obedience. He requires that we love him. Again, this is the greatest commandment – that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love is more than mere external actions.
Sometimes we characterize love merely in terms of committed service. And there’s something good that drives that. We hear, for example, a man say he is simply no longer in love with his wife, and we (rightly) want to point out that love is deeper than the emotions he might or might not feel on a certain day.
However, in response that error, we have perhaps erred on the other side, by removing any element of affection from what it means to love. But keep in mind that Paul says you can actually give your body to be burned and still lack love. That is, love is necessarily a disposition of our hearts. It has an affective element that is necessary. And the Lord demands in obedience to him that we love him, including having an affective element from our hearts toward him.
So, it may be today that we need to pause for a bit and evaluate ourselves. Maybe we’ve felt quite content because there are a number of external acts of worship we’ve devoted ourselves to, yet we lack love. Our obedience does not stem from a heart that is not arrested by God. And if that’s the case, the Lord’s message is that he desires steadfast love more than those external actions. Therefore, perhaps our greatest response to listening to Hosea’s rebuke to Israel is to stop ourselves, bow before the Lord, repent of lacking love for him, and plead with him to soften and move our hearts in affection for him. After all, obedience to God demands no less.
We also are reminded in Hosea that . . .
Sin stems from misplaced trust
Now, we’ve already listed at times Israel’s sins that Hosea is calling out in this book, but it is perhaps good to note some of them again. The Lord says, for example, in 6:7-10, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.”
And we could go on by pointing to example of Israel’s specific sins. However, there does seem to be an element noted here that is fundamental to Israel’s sin, and that is misplaced trust. We’ve already seen their misplaced trust in the form of worshiping the Canaanite fertility gods. They would actually engage in temple prostitution, believing that their greatest hope for crop production was found in the Canaanite deity instead of the true God who’d delivered them from Egypt. Similarly, we’re reminded in 8:14, as we’ve already seen, that instead of crying out to God, they’re trying to cut their own bodies in hopes of appeasing the Canaanite gods and gaining from their hands. They also are crafting idols for themselves as the Lord notes in 8:6.
This is simply misplaced trust. They’re trusting in a false god who can do nothing as they turn away from the good God who actually is providing for them and can give them all they need.
But this element of misplaced trust is not simply shown in them trusting in the Canaanite deities, but also in trusting in Assyria or Egypt to keep them from being destroyed. So, for example, we read in 7:11, “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.” Again, we read in 8:9-10, “For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.” Finally, in 10:13-14, the Lord adds, “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed . . .”
The foundation of Israel’s sin is misplaced trust. It’s not that their desire for blessing has faded. They are a people greedy for security, good crops, blessing, and joy. They’ve simply forsaken the One who gives that, believing and trusting that it can be gained in a better way elsewhere. The greatest irony of this is that part of their misplaced trust is in Assyria who will actually be the people used by the Lord to conquer them.
But before we look upon the Israelites too harshly for their misplaced trust, it is good for us to acknowledge that this is the foundation of our sin as well. Whatever it is, when we sin it’s rooted in a lack of trust that God’s way is best and a misplaced trust that my sin can provide what I need. So, even take anxiety for example. The ultimate reason we worry about things is because we believe at some level that our worry might actually do something. The reason I think that’s a fair assessment to make is that Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that by worrying we cannot add one cubit to our stature. Why make that point unless at some level we think there is actually something gained by worrying? When we pursue our greed and covetousness, it is because we think there’s greater benefit to be found going down that road than in restraining our lusts and obeying the Lord. When we slander another or gossip about another, it’s because we actually believe that somehow it will benefit us by seeing another suffer through our words.
But all of these things are lies. Sin’s approach to us is very much like that of the serpent in the garden. Remember, he says, in essence, “God has said do this and it will be good, but I say that if you disobey him, you’ll actually get more. He’s holding out on you.” And that’s the basic lie we believe when we sin – that God is actually holding out on us and that more can be gained through sin. It is a transfer of trust from God to sin. And trust placed in sin is misplaced trust.
Therefore, one way we equip ourselves to fight against sin is by consistently reminding ourselves who God is, of his steadfast love for us, of the promises he has made, and by remembering what he’s already proven to us through his Son. In fact, as we grow in our knowledge of him and love for him, we will grow in our trust of him. And this is a great weapon as we fight sin.
But, the Lord has also reminded us in this text not only of the heart of obedience and the foundation of sin, but he also reminds us that . . .
Judgment comes as God’s personal response to sin
There is a consistent message that judgment is coming throughout these chapters. We read:
“As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! (7:12-13a).
“Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds” (8:13b-14).
“The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it” (9:7a).
“They have corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins” (9:9).
“My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations” (9:17).
“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’” (10:7-8). “When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity” (10:10).
“Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off” (10:15).
Now, it’s hard to miss in these verses that God is active in this judgment. The picture here is not simply, “Well, let’s let nature take its course and see if they suffer.” No, God is personally bringing judgment.
It has sometimes been suggested by some that though there is such a thing as judgment that we speak of and even hell, that somehow God is not personally involved but is simply letting us reap the natural consequences of sin. But God seems to be determined to make sure the people understand that he is active in this. He also wants them to know that their judgment stems from God’s holy and righteous character. In 8:5, he declares, “I have spurned your calf, o Samaria. My anger burns against them.” Then, listen to his words in 9:15 – “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”
If we base our hope in the fact that maybe God might let sin slide in the end or dismiss his judgment on that final day, somehow deciding he will not judge, then we are not basing that thought on Scripture. Judgment is God’s personal and holy response toward sin. It will be in righteous anger that God will throw individuals into the lake of fire if they do not trust in Jesus Christ. This is why the author of Hebrews declares, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
Do not think for one second that judgment is uncertain. Those who continue in a sinful life of trust in sin instead of the Son will face God’s personal, fierce, and merciless judgment on that final day.
But that brings us to the last element of these chapters – one that we’ve seen from the beginning of this book:
God longs to forgive if we’ll repent
As God is in the midst of pronouncing their judgment, he declares in 7:13b, “I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.” That is, God is saying, “I want to redeem them, but they need to turn from their sins to me.” Again, in 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Here Hosea is using breaking up a hardened ground as a metaphor for their hearts, urging them to soften their hardened hearts, turn from their sin, and seek the Lord so that he might pour out blessing on them.
But I want you to consider something more. Why is Hosea saying this? Why is he pleading with the people to repent and know God’s blessing? It’s because God has commanded him to say it. Remember from chapter 3 why it is that Hosea went back to get Gomer, his unfaithful wife, and love her. It was because God told him to go love her. And the reason God told him to go love her is because Hosea was to picture his heart for his people.
This means that today God wants you to know that he is eager and longing for you to repent. He does not desire that your life will end in judgment. He does not desire for you to fall into his hands and face his judgment. But if you do not turn from your sin, you’re running toward that end. Please, today, repent and turn to the One who longs to forgive you. He wants to shower forgiveness and righteousness upon you. In fact, he’s commanded us as believers to come to the table so that we might not forget the basis of our forgiveness. Let us therefore turn to the Lord, turn from our sin, ask him to move our hearts more and more in affection for him, and delight in the blessing of forgiveness and grace that is ours in Christ. And let us do this as we come to the table this morning. Amen.