As we start on the book of Hosea, we have to be prepared to grapple with difficult to understand and sometimes offensive passages. The way Hosea was written and structured has baffled even biblical scholars for a long time. Even now there is no common consensus on many interpretations of the text in Hosea. But because of this, all the more we need to stay true to what the Bible itself is saying instead of imputing our own interpretations on the text.
When Hosea was written, God’s people were going through an era of political and religious chaos. They have already split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Hosea was a prophet to the kingdom of Israel, which was going through a rapid succession of kings. Many a time the kings of Israel were assassinated by political opponents who took up the throne, and were subsequently assassinated by their political opponents and usurped the throne in just a matter of a few years. Religiously, the kingdom of Israel was steeped in the worship of Baal, which encouraged sexual promiscuity and is a recurring issue brought up in Hosea.
It is in this historical backdrop that God decided to use Hosea’s broken family life to illustrated the offensiveness of Israel’s apostasy, and also His grace towards Israel. The words of Hosea echo those of God through a common experience. Hosea had a prostitute for a wife, just like God was to Israel. Hosea also had children through his promiscuous wife, and this was a parallel to the people of Israel to God. Hosea expresses the frustrations of his wife’s promiscuity, which echoes what God has spoken through His prophets over and again.
Yet God displays His grace and faithfulness through Hosea’s prophecy. “But I will have mercy on the house of Judah...” (v. 7). “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered...” (v.10). Here we see the vastness of God’s grace in the midst of such a gross offense, and just how far He loves His people even to the depths of spiritual adultery. We also see his faithfulness, in that while His people were unfaithful like a promiscuous wife, He remained faithful to His promises to them made through Abraham.
How great the offense of the people of Israel in their lust for worldly satisfaction! We may think to ourselves, “I have no issues with spiritual adultery/promiscuity, how is this relevant to me?” Consider what is written in the book of James:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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.” (James 4:1-4)
“You adulterous people!” Strong words that describe people who proclaim they believe and trust in God, but ultimately depend on worldly sources for joy and sustenance. Asking God for blessings and miracles to fulfill our own selfish desires is likened to a wife asking her husband for money to spend on her suitors. But surely the Husband is well pleased if the wife uses whatever she asks for to build up the household to glorify Him.
So let us examine our hearts again – to what ends do we desire the things of this world? Is it for our own personal ends (e.g. good school results for a good job for a good retirement)? Or do we have God’s purposes in mind (e.g. training of the mind in school to understand Scripture and the world around us better, earning enough to support disciple-making as a lifelong commitment)? If we can’t examine ourselves clearly, pray that God will reveal our hearts to ourselves, and that He will provide other Christians to reveal our hearts to us. As we discover sinful “adulterous” motives in ourselves, confess them to God, who is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9), and make efforts to live in obedience to God’s commands as God works in us to will and to do according for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
The 2nd chapter of Hosea depicts a symbolic divorce trial, with God as the Judge, Prosecutor, Plaintiff and Jailer, and Israel as the defendant. Here is presented the evidence of Israel’s breaking of her covenantal relationship with God by her infidelity. God then pronounces His verdict on Israel’s crimes, which He will execute in His appointed time.
The severity of the sin of adultery against God is illustrated by the just verdict given by God. God said that if Israel did not repent from their idolatry, he will “strip her naked” (which represents the Hebrew concept of exile) and will deprive the land so much as to turn it from a “land flowing with milk and honey”, to a “wilderness” and “parched land” so barren that it’s as good as dead (v. 3). Not just the land and leaders of Israel were to be punished, but the people of Israel as well because of their idolatrous ways (v. 4).
What were the consequences of the punishment that Israel had to bear? Firstly, they will look to their idols for joy, satisfaction and security, but they will never find it (vv. 6-8). Their hearts say “My idols are my source of happiness and security, but God has not provided anything for me.” (v. 5, 8). But God will not allow them to be satisfied, to the point that they will prefer to return to God in the end (vv. 6-7).
Secondly, God will retract His blessings from the people of Israel because of their unwillingness to acknowledge God as their Provider (vv. 9-13). Basic necessities like food and clothing (v.9), occasions for celebration and rest (v. 11), luxuries they enjoyed (v. 12) will all be taken away from them as punishment for glorifying their idols instead of the One who truly provided for them (v.13). And the people of Israel will see that their idols are powerless to help as they stand there looking at a people stripped of all they possess (v. 10).
There are a couple of implications in this passage. Firstly, God does not make light of idolatry. We may see His punishments as violent and excessive, but God is just and therefore these verdicts only serve to show us how serious an offense idolatry is against God. So the questions we must ask ourselves are “What makes something an idol?” and “What idols are lurking in our hearts?” Idols are anything that we put our deepest desires and trust in for our own joy, happiness and security besides God. We see in this passage how the people of Israel trusted Baal for all the blessings they enjoyed instead of the One who was really provided for them (vv. 5, 8, 12, 13). We don’t have Baals to worship in this present day, but idolatry takes many forms.
Philip Ryken writes: “The reason we have trouble recognizing our own private idolatries is not because we don’t have false gods anymore, but because we have so many!” Do we trust in good grades in school to provide us with a “better future” according to secular standards? Do we work hard in the marketplace because we trust in the power of money to provide us with a “comfortable life”? Why do we desire having a “comfortable life” when Scripture tells us time and again that we are not to love the things of this world because we are merely pilgrims journeying towards God’s final restoration of creation (1 John 2:15, 1 Peter 2:11)? Do we love our children so much that serving them leaves us no time and energy to worship God and make disciples? Let us search our hearts earnestly and honestly, and pray for God to reveal our motives to ourselves. With our hearts laid bare before God, we repent from our idols and place our trust in Jesus Christ, the One who promises us fullness of joy and eternal life in Him (John 15:11, 16).
The second implication is bad leadership produces bad followers, and all suffer the consequences. The people of Israel suffered the consequences of God’s punishment because they were under the influence of generations of kings who encouraged idol worship. Therefore God declared “upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom” (v. 4). God views leadership as so important that He urged the people of Israel to plead with their leaders to turn away from their idols and return to Him (v. 2). Much in the same way, poor leadership in the church has dire consequences for the members of the church in terms of spiritual wellness. And this is why it is so important for us to ensure that only those who understand the significance of Jesus’ gospel of salvation and are able to live it out truthfully and faithfully are qualified to become church leaders (1 Tim 3:9).
So now that we have seen the severe punishment of idolatry in our personal and corporate worship, let us be diligent in hunting down idols in our lives and in the church, and putting them to death. May we take to heart what Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Col 3:5-8, NIV).
This passage describes God’s final verdict in the proceedings of this symbolic divorce trial. As we observed in the previous two verdicts, God has judged to exact punishment on the unfaithfulness of His people, and they were punishments of desolation and humiliation. With such severe punishment we would think the matter is settled and justice has been served. But here in God’s final verdict, we see the love and mercy God had for His covenantal people.
God described Himself courting His unfaithful wife by bringing her out into the wilderness and coaxing her with gentle words (v. 14). He also promised to restore her possessions and giving her hope despite her disobedience (v. 15). And through all these the people of Israel will respond to God, acknowledging Him as “Her Husband” and forsaking their idols (vv. 15 – 16). He also promised to provide unity and security not only among the nations, but even between Man and other creatures (v. 18). As part of the renewed betrothal, God will give His wife righteousness, justice, love, mercy and faithfulness (v. 19-20). And all the curses pronounced in the prior verdicts will be reversed (vv. 21 – 23).
What amazing grace and love that God has for His people! It would have been right and just for God to have left His people naked and starved because of their gross unfaithfulness, but God remained faithful to His promises and went to such lengths to restore His people to Himself into a covenantal relationship!
Our God is one who would go to the ultimate length of sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and be the ultimate atonement for our sins, that we may be restored to Him! We were all once adulterous idolators (James 4:4), dead in our sin and impervious to the judgement that awaits us (Eph 2:1-3). Without or knowledge, we were slaves to sin, obliviously subjecting ourselves to its whims and fancy, dragging us deeper into depravity (Rom 6:19). We despised the things of God, seeing them as stupid and futile (1 Cor 2:14).
We only deserved eternal death, but because God remains faithful to those whom He has predestined to be His people (Eph 1:4), He restores them through His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11, 10:17). As we continue to live as His restored people, God is faithful to provide us with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3), and provide for our needs as we pursue His kingdom work and righteous living (Matt 6:32-33). And at the end of the age, God promises us an everlasting intimate relationship with Him, and we will find rest and security in His eternal kingdom (Rev 21:3-4).
So let us ponder over the just punishment we should have received for our spiritually adulterous ways, and the lengths that God has gone to restore us from eternal death to an everlasting relationship with Himself. May this meditation lead us to renewed appreciation and profound thanksgiving for the complete and perfect solution to sin God has graciously provided to us through the complete atoning work of His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
In Hosea’s prophecy, God repeatedly expressed His desire to restore an intimate relationship with His people. The way in which he does this is to purge them of their idols, before reuniting them to Himself. For an extended period of time His people will be in exile, having neither king nor prince to put their trust in for security. The people of Israel will also be deprived of worship where they put their trust in other “gods” for their security, protection and satisfaction.
It is in this state of extreme deprivation that the people of Israel will seek God and unite as one under God and “David their king”, who is Jesus Christ. They will come before God in awe and trembling, and relish in His goodness towards them in “the latter days”. This ties in with what was written earlier in Hosea 2:14-15, where God promised to lead Israel into the wilderness, a place of deprivation and desolation, and there He will call Israel to physical and spiritual restoration.
Many times we hear how God will accept us just as we are, however we must be careful how we interpret this. It may be taken for granted that as long as we “believe in Jesus Christ”, we will be granted restoration with God through salvation regardless of our spiritual state. As a result we can expect to enjoy the privileges and blessings of being His child while we remain “just as we are”, and we do not have to worry about being holiness and righteousness.
God promises physical and spiritual abundance that follows restoration of a relationship with Himself (Matt 6:32-33, Eph 1:3), but it does require a change in our attitudes before restoration takes place. Over and again in Scripture, God demands repentance before restoration (Hosea 3:4-5, Acts 3:19, Col 3:2-4). Repentance requires us to change our mindsets by turning away from sin and idolatry, and desiring to act according to God’s commands in faith (Acts 26:20, Col 3:1-17). Therefore, Scripture repeatedly instructs us to put to death our idols and keep our distance from them (Colossians 3:5, 1 John 5:21). What are some areas in our lives that are idolatrous? Paul lists some areas in Colossians: sexual immorality, impurity/uncleanness, sexual lust, desire to do evil, greediness, unrighteous anger and wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk (Col 3:5, 8). God calls us to banish from our hearts all these things He considers idolatrous, and to wholeheartedly rely on Him as our source of joy, satisfaction and security.
So God will accept us just as we are, but we must be in a state of true repentance that recognizes our wretched sinfulness and continually seeks to renounce all our personal, private idols, while making God the centre of our worship and affection. God will grant restoration through salvation as long as our heart’s desire is to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16), while we honour Him as the only One who is able to grant us full and complete mercy and righteousness (1 Pet 1:18-19).
The process of putting to death our idols will never be a walk in the park. Idols are in their very nature things that we pour our affections in and draw our security from that are not God. Because they form the very basis of our sense of security and affection, it will be difficult to simply let go. As we have read in Hosea, the people of Israel was so steep in idolatry to the point where God had to strip them of all they had before they could come to a restored relationship with Him. Scripture uses very strong imagery of us putting to death or killing our sinful desires. Some of us wouldn’t even hurt a fly, but for the sake of holiness and a restored relationship with God we must take up arms and massacre the very things we put our trust in and in turn put our trust and faith in God’s goodness and security. So the question is: How desperate are we to restore our relationship with God?
God desires the restoration of an intimate relationship with us, but it requires that we turn away from all our idols before that relationship can be restored. How should we go about this? Let us earnestly pray for God to grant us a heart to repent, that we can see our own sinfulness and idols. Pray that God gives us the strong desire required to want to put to death all these idols that we hold on so dearly to, and choose to pursue a life lead by Him through His Word. And if God so decides to discipline us, let us accept and learn from it, trusting that God loves us as His children and He does this for our good, and it pleases Him that we enjoy the goodness of holiness and righteousness when discipline bears its fruit (Hebrews 12:7-11). In conclusion, it is only when we have renounced the ways of our old self, its idols and wrong desires, and put out trust in God that we can look forward to a restored relationship with God in fullness of joy.
“… Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12: 1b-2)
What does God look for in His people? Does He want people who are successful and popular because of the good work they have invested their lives into? In a sense yes, God desires for us to excel in whatever we do, but God does not judge based on our outward appearance of excellence and abundance, “for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
So then, what does God look for in His people? Although it is phrased in the negative, Hosea does imply three characteristics that God desires in the hearts of His people. Firstly, He desires for His people to be faithful. In Hebrew, the word for “faithfulness” can also be translated as “truth”, and in this context it also has the meaning of “integrity”. We are to be people of moral integrity, who are consistent in principle, zealous for truth and living by it, and can be counted on to act and speak in truth. Just as God is faithful to us, acting consistently in truth according to His promises, so too are we commanded to obey Him faithfully according to His truth (Matt 23:23, Acts 11:23, Rev 2:10). As we remain faithful in loving and acting according to God’s will, He is pleased to reward us for our faithfulness when Christ returns (Matt 24: 45-47, Rev 2:13).
Secondly, God desires that we consistently obey His commandments, not out of dutiful obligation, but out of love. We all know the parable of the rich young man (Matt 19:16-22). He was faithful, but one thing he lacked, and that was a love for God that surpassed his love for his possessions. Jesus also taught that to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” is the “great and first commandment” (Matt 22:37-38).
Duty-bound observance of the Law is both back breaking and humanly impossible, that is why Jesus called this kind of unaffectionate faithfulness “labour” and a heavy burden like a huge yoke (Matt 11:28). Jesus calls us to take on His yoke, which is easy and light (Matt 11:29-30). How then can the same Law be both heavy and light? That difference is in our attitude towards God and His commandments. John writes in 1 John 5:2-3: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” So we should not be asking ourselves “why do I have to follow all of His commandments when they’re so difficult?”, but we should be asking “why do I love Him so little that I don’t want to do what He wants me to?”
With the ability to love God comes the natural reaction of loving others around you. John writes again in 1 John 4:11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”. Why should we love one another? For one, God commands it: “… You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt 22:39). Another reason is that we love another so that others may see God: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) We who love God love His commandments, and we love to glorify the one whom we love. Therefore we love others with the love of God because it is His commandment to us, and because we desire for God to be glorified among all peoples, believers and non-believers alike.
In case we think loving God and others is a matter of willpower, it is not. The ability to love God and His commandments does not come from a vacuum, it can only come from God Himself, “for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Also, as we follow God’s commandment to love, let us be mindful that we are doing it as a response to the abundance of His grace toward us, and not to fulfil our sense of self-righteousness. Jesus taught “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:13)
The third characteristic that God desires in His people is being knowledgeable about Him. What does knowing God mean? There are both objective and subjective aspects to knowing God. Jesus masterfully covered both aspects in the statement mentioned above from Matt 9:13. Objectively, we need to know that God is One who desires showing mercy and not the observance of ritual practices themselves for the sake of sinners. Subjectively, we need to understand in our hearts the magnanimity of God’s mercy and grace toward us as sinners, so much so that we can say from the bottom of our hearts “see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God”! (1 John 3:1) So when God talks about being knowledgeable about Him, He really means that we are not only to be well-versed in knowing Scripture, but furthermore our knowledge of Scripture should help us to align our hearts with the heart of God.
So what happens when an entire nation of God’s people does not walk in line with what God desires in His people? Literally all hell breaks loose! There is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery without boundaries or limits, and everywhere blood is spilled (Hosea 4:2). Even creation suffers as a result of Israel’s apostasy (Hosea 4:3). Why did Israel fall into such anarchy and apostasy? Hosea preached that the priests, who were the spiritual leaders of Israel, did not teach the people the truth of God, and have in fact fallen into the depravity of false teachings themselves (Hosea 4:4-6). Because of this, God will punish both leaders and followers (Hosea 4:6)
Thank God we do not live in such times, but we can see increasingly around us how post-modernism is blurring the lines, how values need to be compromised to be “tolerant”, how there are to be no limits to the way we act and speak for the sake of “freedom”, and how our physical world is paying the price for excessive consumerism globally. Let us pray that God will bless us with faithful spiritual leaders who will not allow our church to deteriorate to the state that Israel was in during the time of Hosea!
So to conclude, God desires that His chosen people act in faithfulness, out of love, through true knowledge of God’s commandments and who He is. May we live to glorify God among believers and non-believers, and pray that our church leaders ensure that we do not fall into the same apostasy as Israel in the times of Hosea.
Hosea 5: 11-12
What are people who are not God’s people like? Are they necessarily only “evil” and malicious people who live only for destruction? Hosea described some characteristics of people who were not of God. One fact is that even if they were people born as part of the nation of Israel, they were not necessarily God’s people.
One characteristic is their abuse of their positions of authority to lead others astray. In verse 1, Hosea calls the priests and kings to heed the judgement pronounced upon them. He further elaborates that they “have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor.” (Hosea 5:2). Mizpah and Tabor had historical significance to Israel as places of worship. The spiritual and political leaders of Israel turned these places from places to worship God to places to worship Baal and other idols. Therefore they were described as laying a trap for the people of Israel to fall into apostasy. This parallels the ungodly and unrighteous mentioned in Romans 1, where Paul writes: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18), and “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32). Like-wise, the leaders of Israel were supposed to know God’s decrees, but they chose to ignore these truths and turned to idolatry. They even encouraged the people to do the same.
Next is the inability of those who are not of God to repent. Hosea wrote in verse 4 that “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.” The entire nation of Israel was so steeped in their pagan worship that the spirit of seeking and trusting everything other than God was etched deep into their hearts. It is because of this rootedness in idolatry that made it practically impossible for them to repent. The author of Hebrews brings up this same point when he wrote in Hebrews 3:12-13: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The people of Israel, especially their leaders, allowed unbelief and evil sin to fester in their nation for generations. This lead to the “hardening” of their hearts, resulting in the inability of the people to return to their God.
One major characteristic of people who are not of God is pride. In this context, the nation of Israel were stubborn in their pride by rejecting the warnings of Hosea and other prophets, while trusting in their idols instead of God. They thought they knew better to worship idols and even looked to bigger nations for security (vv. 5, 13), instead of turning back and relying on the God of Israel, who has promised to provide for their security as long as they loved Him with their hearts and actions. Hosea then wrote that this pride that they had in themselves would clearly explain their fall and demise as a nation (v. 5). And even as they stumbled, they thought of sacrificing to God just like they sacrificed to Baal, but God would not honour such false repentance and withdrew from them (v. 6). Paul reflects this sentiment in Romans 1 when he wrote: “For although they knew God, they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and creeping things.” (Romans 1: 21-23). The nation of Israel only “knew” about the existence and attributes of God, but that knowledge did not translate to repentance because of their pride. They thought they knew better by continuing in their idolatry, and even when they did seek the Lord, God withdrew from them because their hearts held the pride of thinking that they could come to God on their own terms instead of through true repentance (Hosea 5:6).
As a result of these deliberate decisions to ignore the warnings of the prophet Hosea to repent from their idolatry, God determined to judge the nations of Israel and Judah for their apostasy and pronounced their decay and final swift destruction under foreign nations (Hosea 5:12,14). Such is the end for the enemies of God even in this present age (2 Peter 2:1).
What lessons can we draw from this? Firstly, are we being good stewards of the positions of authority God has put us in? Whether we like it or not, almost everyone will be in a position of authority over another person. We may be parents, teachers, older brothers and sisters, seniors in the workplace and in school, supervisors, and the list goes on. Do we use our positions of authority to lead others towards God? Or will we condone or even encourage modern day idolatry (like serving money, finding security in good grades, finding satisfaction in insatiable consumerism just to name a few) among our peers and relatives?
Secondly, are we so ingrained with the idolatry of our society that we fail to see them, and thus fail to turn away from them? We often think that idolatry has to do with carved statues that depict “other gods”, but those are far from being spiritually malicious in our current post-modern, “secular” society. Nowadays we have before us the “gods” of making “enough” money in case we cannot meet our “future needs”, creating a “good and stable life” for ourselves and/or our family, social acceptance especially on social media, preoccupation with self-actualization of our heart’s desires, self-preservation through our reluctance to proclaim the gospel out of fear of being offensive, “harmony in the family” that prevents us from exposing each others’ sins and helping each other grow in holiness, self-righteousness when we see the bad in others and the “good” in ourselves, and the list goes on. God calls us as His people to turn away from such idols and serve the true and living God (Galatians 5:19-24, 1 Thess 1:9).
Thirdly, is our pride getting in the way of our repentance? Must we always be right in our own eyes? Must Scripture always conform to how we understand the world around us? Will we be willing to come to God with a contrite heart, on His terms instead of our own terms? Are our time-tested ways of doing things in keeping with repentance? If not, will we be willing to pray that God conforms our minds and wills to His, while we work towards producing fruits of righteouesness? Let us be reminded of what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.… Blessed are you when other revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:3-12). May we put aside our pride as we come before God mourning our spiritual poverty and acknowledging the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Through our heartfelt repentance and transformation of our actions, God promises comfort, restoration of a relationship with Him, difficulties and inconveniences for His name’s sake with its great reward.
In conclusion, people who are not of God are not necessarily demonic and malicious people. They are ordinary people like us who put their faith and love in things other than God. They may even be people who are part of the physical church, just like how the people of Israel were part of the nation of Israel. These people refuse to repent of their sin because they hold such great pride in themselves. They even make it a point to lead others away from God, many times subtly. Let us pray for their repentance and seek to gently correct those among us who harbour such hearts with wisdom. Let us also always check ourselves that our hearts do not become so calloused and hardened by persistent sin that we find ourselves not even wanting to repent of these sins.
When Jesus was at Matthew’s house having a meal and interacting with “tax collectors and sinners”, the Pharisees tried to attack Jesus indirectly by asking His disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overheard the comment and replied “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:9-13).
In another incident, when Jesus and His disciples went through a grain field during the Sabbath, the disciples plucked heads of grain to eat. Again the Pharisees jumped at the opportunity to question Jesus about His disciples’ “unlawful” act. After explaining the contradiction in their “laws” for keeping the Sabbath, Jesus concludes: “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12: 1-8).
As Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He criticized their lack of understanding the law according to God by quoting from Hosea 6:6. To gain a better appreciation of why Jesus would use this verse to bring across this point, let us look at the context behind the original quotation from Hosea.
Hosea 6 can be divided into 3 parts. The first part describes the ideal response of repentance from Israel (vv. 1-3). The second part describes God’s frustration with Israel’s fickleness and lack of faith (vv.4-6). The last part describes the depravity of Israel (vv. 7-9), as well as a reiteration of Israel and Judah’s apostasy (vv. 10-11).
In the third part of Hosea 6, Hosea highlighted the sins of the people of Israel. Like their forefather Adam who broke his covenant of obedience with God, the people of Israel broke the covenant between God and themselves in their faithlessness. The Gileadites were infamous for their murderous tendencies. There were even priests who banded together to ambush, rob and kill passers-by on the way to Shechem. So serious was their sinfulness that the Hebrew word translated here as “villainy” was actually a very strong word for lewdness and wickedness. The nation of Israel was in a dire spiritual, political and social state, all because of their idolatry and refusal to repent. And Judah would follow in Israel’s footsteps.
In the second part of Hosea 6, God was frustrated with the state of Israel and Judah. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?” These were the words of God who was exasperated by the faithlessness and spiritual fickleness of the people of Israel. Their love and devotion was compared to a morning cloud and dew, which appear briefly and quickly disappear. The people’s inability to love consistently is a consequence of their religious and spiritual prostitution, which only got worse. As one scholar puts it, “An immoral soul loses the capacity for intimacy, loyalty and love.” And this is what God was lamenting about His chosen people – they were a people who were so far from God that they lost the ability for compassion and loyalty. Because of their spiritual infidelity, judgement was pronounced on Israel in verse 5. This lead on to verse 6, which described what God desires in the hearts of His chosen people.
Love and the knowledge of God are the basic themes of Hosea, and they are consistently found throughout the book of Hosea. Issues of prostitution, violence, corruption and deplorable spiritual and political leadership are not unimportant, but secondary. These issues are part of a deeper issue, where God’s people do not desire mercy through showing compassion from their hearts, and they do not “know/acknowledge” God in their hearts. “Knowing” God does not only mean having intellectual knowledge of His existence and His attributes, but just like how listening is to hearing, knowing God requires a heart-felt comprehension of His existence and attributes, and it must lead to changes in the heart. God does not desire for “sacrifices” or “burnt offerings” in themselves because He has no need for them. In our case, God has no need for formal worship and “ministry work” for their own sakes. This does not mean that these must be done away with because God only accepts love and compassion. These practices and ministerial work have their place, but they are only the means to facilitate our expression of worship that flows from the heart. They are not to remain as merely an external form of worship without underlying affections. All God wants from His people is a loving and compassionate heart that stamps from a life transformed by Him.
So what is the response of someone who knows God and desires mercy? The first part of Hosea describes such a response. “Come, let us return to the Lord” is an indication of true repentance if these words come from the desires of the heart. There is a desire to get into a closer relationship with God and not for the sake of evading destruction or gaining blessings. “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” demonstrates a heart that knows God and desires to comprehend God more and more. The person who is repentant and truly knows God is one who is filled with the hope of restoration from the Lord. There is mention of healing and repair, revival from death, and refreshment from God like “spring rains that water the earth”.
Jesus saw the spiritual depravity of the spiritual leaders of Israel, the Pharisees. Although they were not shedding the blood of their fellow Israelites, but with their legalism, they were leading Israel to spiritual destruction. They were lowering the standards for God’s righteousness to appease their own sense of righteousness. Their hearts had no compassion when Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. It is on this basis that Jesus encourages them to learn mercy and attain true heart-felt, transformative knowledge of God. Jesus’ desire is for them to learn what it means to “return to the Lord” in repentance because they know the perfect demands of the Lord that they could not keep in their hearts. Furthermore, Jesus desires that through repentance, the Pharisees will desire to know more of the true desires and attributes of God, one of which is mercy and steadfast love. Through repentance and knowledge of God, they can then put aside hiding behind their “laws” to appease their sense of self-righteousness and respond in hope in the restoration and refreshment of their souls from God Himself.
As part of the restoration of the nation of Israel that comes with true repentance, God will reveal the sins of His people. The accusations made were directed particularly to the leaders of Israel, which includes political leaders (the king and his subjects) and spiritual leaders (the priesthood). In this passage, God revealed that it was the poor leadership in Israel which lead to the moral depravity of the nation. The nation of Israel was in a state of anarchy where people cheated each other, thieves broke in to steal and bandits were mugging people on the streets (v 1).
What were the sins of the leaders that lead to such chaos that pervaded the nation of Israel? Firstly, the leaders neglected their duty of developing the nation. Their duty was to oversee the needs and growth of the nation. Hosea uses the analogy of a baker who ceased to tend to the fire of his oven and to knead the dough (v 4). The idea is that the leaders left the nation to its own devices and did not have a hand in its development at all. Instead, the leaders were busy tending to their own desires by indulging in adultery and debauchery (vv 4-5), and taking pleasure in evil and treachery (v 3). It is because of this neglect that the leaders did not even notice the decline of the nation (v 9).
Secondly, due to the lack of attending to the nation’s political, religious and cultural development, the leaders of Israel have allowed evil to spread within the nation. In verse 4, because the baker was not doing his job, the dough was left to be leavened. In the Old Testament, leaven (or yeast in modern terms) is a common symbol for sin. Jesus used leaven to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Luke 12:1), and Paul used the same symbol to describe sin and its potential to spread within the church (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). In Hosea, the leaders of Israel did not pay attention to the moral condition of the nation, which then lead to the widespread infection of sin throughout society.
Thirdly, due to the leaders’ preoccupation with evil and treachery, with accompanying neglect of their duties, they attracted evil men to take positions of authority in the nation and did not keep them in check. These “evil” men were people who were attracted to the power and the intrigue of palace politics (v 6). Just as they lusted for adultery, they had a fiery lust for political power as well. It was this strong desire for power that lead to the downfall of the kings of Israel (vv 6-7). This was well documented in the history of Israel at that time where kings were assassinated by rivals in close succession over short periods of time.
Lastly, despite the deplorable state of the nation, the leaders of Israel never had any intention of turning their hearts back to God. Instead, they repeatedly looked to pagan “gods” and foreign powers for security and salvation from destruction. Verses 13-14 describes the paganism of the nation at that time. The spiritual leaders at that time spoke falsely about Yahweh, which got in the way of their redemption from their sins (v 13). They chose to rebel against God by resorting to pagan rituals like “wailing upon their beds” and “[gashing/cutting] themselves” in hope that the pagan gods will save them from their destruction (v 14). The political leaders were compared to stupid doves who looked to Egypt and Assyria for protection and security in their desperation (v 11). Even the political leaders resorted to pagan worship and practices to find security (v 16).
As we look at the sad state of the nation of Israel and its leaders, there are lessons that are applicable to church leadership today. As a church, we are all citizens of the kingdom of God, and we are all stewards of His kingdom work according to the Great Commission. God has also appointed leaders (our pastors and elders) to direct the development of His kingdom here on earth. In the church, both leaders and followers have their roles in the work of God’s kingdom.
Leaders of the church must not be diverted from the duties that God has appointed them to and carry them out diligently. Pastors and elders are called to preach, teach, “equip the saints for good works” and to “shepherd the flock” out of many other duties. These duties require that pastors and elders be deeply involved in the lives of the members of the church and have a hand in developing the church. What we can do as members of the church is to support and honour our leaders. Let us not hinder their work; let us be teachable in humility, diligent in being equipped for good works and open in our relationship with our leaders as they shepherd us.
Church leaders are to be vigilant while they carry out their duties for the church. They are to make sure false teachings and false teachers are not allowed to take root in the church, lest they defile the church (1 Corinthians 5:6, Hebrews 12:15). On the same note, they are to ensure that those who seek leadership positions in the church are attracted to it with the right intentions. Some people draw near because they lust for the power that a position of authority in the church grants, and their hearts are not with and for God as evidenced in their lifestyles. These people must not be entertained. Members of the church can help their leaders by being vigilant themselves and flagging out false teachings and false teachers if the church leaders are not aware. Through this, church members also have a part to play in preventing evil from taking root in the church and spreading within the congregation.
As the church continues to develop and grow, it is essential that church leaders identify candidates who are qualified to take up leadership roles in the church. As we see in Acts 6:1-6, church leaders cannot be diverted from their primary duties and will require more appointed leaders to take on these additional duties. Details of characteristics to look out for when appointing church leaders can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. For more in-depth exposition on each trait, you may refer to the sermon series "Qualifications of an Elder”. Current church leaders are to look out for and nurture such traits in potential leaders in the church. For church members who aspire to contribute to the church in leadership positions, make efforts to equip yourselves for leadership in the church according to God’s criteria and more importantly, be sensitive to your motivations behind your desire to take up leadership positions. Leaders are to lead out of a love for God and His church, and not because of the prestige and power such positions offer.
Leading the church is not always smooth sailing as problems and discouragements will come along. It is in these moments that church leaders need to master their hearts and turn towards God in faith. Let not the church leaders turn into “silly and senseless doves” that described the leaders of Israel, who in their desperation turned to pagan worship and foreign powers for help. We do not have “idols” now like in the ancient world, but the influence of secular culture and wisdom is indeed pervasive. “The message must cater to today’s culture to make sure it’s not offensive, so that we can attract more people to church.”, “People come to church to be blessed, so let’s make sure they feel blessed by the worship and the sermon”, “People don’t like it when the sermon is too long and wordy, so let’s spend more time praising God and less time on the sermon”. As leaders turn towards “best practices” and away from God’s intended methods, they lead the congregation in the same direction. God demands that hearts be turned to Him in repentance through the preaching of His gospel to us in its totality, both justice and wrath against our sin, and blessings and joy which come with continual repentance. To be fair, best practices have their place in facilitating church growth, but they must not be relied on for the growth and development of the church. Leaders work to tend to the health of the church, but we must remember that only God provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). We as members of the church should support out leaders by praying for their spiritual strength and sustenance. And as our leaders turn their hearts to God, let us imitate them by turning our hearts to God while we worship and serve the body of Christ. God’s objectives, methods and timelines may not always tie in with ours, but all the more we as a church need to pray for “not my will, but Yours, be done”. The church is God’s kingdom and belongs to God, let us not turn it into a kingdom fashioned for ourselves by our own hands.
Together as the church and the body of Christ, let us keep ourselves holy as a congregation by living in continual repentance from our sins while we grow in the heartfelt understanding of our God. Only by this can we grow in a restored relationship with God and experience the joy and blessings of drawing ever closer to Him.
We have all heard accounts of children of rich people who use the name of their parents to get whatever they want. Because of their parents' influence and authority, they gain a sense of invulnerability and entitlement. For those whose parents are people of good character and standing, a number of these children end up with bad character traits and get themselves into a lot of trouble.
One such child was the nation of Israel. In the time of Hosea, they lived outside of God's laws, doing whatever was pleasing in their own eyes. It pleased them to follow foreign religious practices and superstitions. It pleased them to attain political power without giving any consideration to the authority of God. It pleased the leaders to forsake their duties of tending to the nation to indulge in drinking parties. The leaders sought help from foreign powers at great cost instead of seeking help from God who promised to help them freely. All these were done out of hearts that do not know the position of authority God had over Israel.
The nation of Israel broke the covenant they had with God and refused to submit to the laws given by God. And it was in the midst of this that they cry to God "My God, we—Israel—know you.” They placed their confidence in their status of being God's covenantal people and because of that, they thought nothing could stand against them. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In the rest of Chapter 8, God showed the nation of Israel that they did not know God and did not demonstrate that Yahweh was their God, thus forsaking the covenant they had with God. Their political leaders were appointed at their own discretion without subjecting themselves to God's direction (v 4a). They went to foreign powers for help and gave away the nations resources for assistance (vv 9 – 10a). Because of that, the leaders and the people suffered from giving tribute to foreign nations (v 10b). Because they did not trust in the protection from God and were threatened by foreign powers, they built up fortresses for themselves (v 14).
On the religious front, they created and worshipped idols, a major one being the "calf of Samaria" (vv. 4b – 6). They also proliferated idol worship by building more altars (v 11). They sacrificed to Yahweh as if He were another idol to be worshipped, and thus God does not accept the sacrifice (v 13). They were so far from God that even if God were to write His laws for them in great detail, it would all seem foreign to them (v 12).
This was the state Israel was in when they confidently cried out "My God, we—Israel—know you." Such misplaced confidence is not unique to the Israelites in ancient Israel. In John 8:31-33, Jesus was teaching the Jews about them being enslaved to sin and that by abiding in his word and truth they can find freedom from sin. But the Jews answered that they were "sons of Abraham" and because of that they were slaves to no one. It seems like a pattern that the people of God would base their confidence in a restored relationship with God on their “status”.
What are implications for us? When we talk to people about our confession of faith, how often do we tell them that we are saved because we believe in Jesus? Do we base our confidence in our salvation solely on our “status” as “Jesus believers”? What does it really mean to believe in the name of Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23)? Do we follow the ways of the Israelites who said "My God, we—Israel—know you.", but yet not submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ by living according to His commandments out of love? God will not be fooled, for He is the One who can peer into the deepest parts of our hearts and reveal our intentions. So let us not be two-faced about our faith, confessing faith but desiring to live according to our own ways, but let us bear fruit in keeping with our confession of repentance (Luke 3:8).
The apostle John says this in his letter: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10). Only one whose heart desires love for God, His commandments and His people, and acts out of that love can truly be considered to be in a restored relationship with God as a child of God. If that is not our desire, then we should pray that God will create in us a renewed heart that desires what He desires. If we do find that our hearts’ desires are in line with the will of God, then God calls us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12b-13) May we never “rest on our laurels” when we believe in Christ, but let us live diligently according to God’s good pleasure.
In the previous chapters we have seen the gross unfaithfulness and immorality of the nation of Israel, and God attributes it to the people’s dedication to Baal as the beginning of their corruption. Because of this, the people of Israel turned from faithful people who brought refreshment to God, to people who were so revolting that God wanted to chase them out (vv 10 – 11, 15). With the departure of God from His people, they were then subject to the various judgements described in the first part of the chapter. They will suffer famine and military defeat which lead to exile (vv 2-3), they will not be provided with acceptable produce to offer as sacrifice to God (vv 4-5), and they will suffer infertility both in their crops and their wombs (v 16).
These judgements are severe and only serve to demonstrate the magnitude of their sinful behaviour. But why is it that Israel had to suffer such severe punishment? Hosea recorded for us in verse 1: “Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples...” What God means to say is that Israel has no occasion to be joyful, and that she should not be celebrating like the other nations around her because of their infidelity. From this we can see that God holds Israel with a different regard compared to the other nations around them. God requires that His people conform to a standard of holiness and faithfulness different to those outside of His covenant.
So how about us who are people of the new covenant? Are we also called to a different standard of holiness than those of unbelievers? As believers we are called to put off our “old selves”, which represents the unfaithfulness and the evil rejection of God of non-believers, and to put on a “new self”, which conforms to the righteousness and holiness of God (Eph 4:22-24). We as believers have been ransomed from sin by the blood of Christ and are therefore called to be holy in everything we do (1 Peter 1:14-19). God’s warning to us is that if we go on sinning deliberately after we have come to know the truth of the gospel, we come under a more severe judgement and punishment for disrespecting the Son of God, His blood which bought for us this new covenant, and the Holy Spirit who bestowed the grace of salvation to us (Hebrews 10:26-31).
What if we find ourselves in a state of sinfulness and faithlessness even as Christians? The message in Hosea is consistent with the message of the Gospel: Repent! Turn away from the desires of your sinful flesh, and turn towards drawing closer to God by growing in the knowledge of Him. May your heart always say “Let me know; let me press on to know the Lord” and expect refreshment from God as we persevere (Hosea 6:3). And as we wait upon the promise of savouring the fruit of righteousness in due course (Hebrews 12:11), let us act in accordance with the righteousness and holiness that comes with our salvation, as God works in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). And as we stumble along the way because of our sin, let us confess our sins to the One who is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9) and never give up on our long journey of faith (Hebrews 12:1).
Throughout the book of Hosea, God has clearly revealed to the people of Israel their sin and this is re-emphasized again in Chapter 10. They sinned by spending everything God has blessed them with on pagan worship, demonstrating their devotion and faith in foreign religions. The more resources and wealth they had, the more altars and pillars dedicated to foreign gods were built (v. 1). They also sinned by rejecting authority over themselves both from human kings and God Himself (v. 3). They also trusted in their own military might instead of the protection and power that comes from God (vv. 9, 13).
It is because the Israelites deliberately chose to live in such severe sin that it pleased God to discipline the nation through equally severe punishment (v. 10). God’s desire was to correct His people, and the means through which He intended to achieve that is to gather the foreign nations to exact His judgement on the people of Israel (v. 10). God decided that His people had to go into exile because it would put them in a position to repent, which would lead to their restoration (v. 12).Where they acted in iniquity, God desired for them to act righteously. Where they lacked compassion, God desired mercy. Where they sought after military might and blessings from pagan gods, God desired that they will turn towards Him and seek Him. These were the aims of God’s discipline for the nation of Israel and His people.
When we think of discipline in the form of punishment, we often imagine an angry God venting His frustration on His sinful people. Although God is rightfully angry with our sin and we are deserving of His wrath, punishment that comes as a result of sin is never for the sake of “appeasing” God’s anger. For us who put our faith in Jesus Christ, God’s wrath against sin has already been “appeased” through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our sin. God’s discipline through punishment is instead corrective in nature, with the aim of guiding and developing a person’s ability to make appropriate choices.
God disciplines only those He considers His children, which holds true for both the people of Israel and true believers in Christ (Hebrews 12:7, Proverbs 3:11). And God disciplines for the good of His people, where “good” means increasingly being conformed to His righteousness, which leads to sharing in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). And why would God want us to share in His holiness? Because God desires that His people draw nearer in direct communion with Himself, which is impossible when sin is present (Hebrews 10:22), and that we will be fellow citizens with Him in His eternal kingdom (Hebrews 12:28).
So when we are put in situations in our lives that may seem as if we are being “punished by God”, let us be mindful of God’s purpose for disciplining His children. All discipline will be unpleasant as it will require us to come out of our sinful comfort zones. But let us trust that we will see the fruit of righteousness when we humbly allow ourselves to be trained and shaped by God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:11).
When we think of God and our relationship with Him, how do we usually view God? Is He an emotionless cosmic force who is working out its plans according to cold and calculative principles? Or is He someone who is sitting on His throne way up in heaven, giving us principles and commands to live by, and then sits back while watching us try to live a Christian life?
God’s emotional response to Israel’s unfaithfulness gives us a glimpse into the “person” of God. We think of a “person” as an individual who is able to express his/her own thoughts to others through speech and actions, and responds to the words and actions of others. In the same way, we see the “person” of God through His affections and actions towards Israel in its youth.
God considered Himself Israel’s Father, and Israel was to Him a son whom He personally lead and taught (vv. 1, 3). God loved Israel and called them out of Egypt during the Exodus (v 1). God lovingly bent down and took Israel by the arms as they literally learned how to walk out of Egypt (vv 3, 4). Just like a farmer who loves his ox and tries to reduce its burden, God also sought to lighten Israel’s burden from their slavery in Egypt (v 4). Instead of slavery, God gave them the lighter duties that came with their covenantal relationship with Himself
Even as God grieved over Israel’s outright rebellion, He also remembered how He loved them through His nurturing and teaching. It was in His exasperation that God said “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.” (v 8). Israel was required to suffer eternal destruction like the sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (i.e. Admah and Zeboiim), but it was in His love and grace that God chose to reduce the severity of Israel’s discipline (v 9).
Our God is a personal God. He relates to us emotionally, instead of executing cold, calculative decisions like a “cosmic force”. A cosmic force cannot speak of “compassion” and “wrath”, it only moves at its own whim and fancy irrespective of how its words and actions influences others. He is also fully involved with our lives instead of being an impersonal deity who cannot care less about how we live. The Bible speaks of our God forming us by His own hands and being personally involved in shaping us like a potter shaping clay (Psalms 119:73, 139:13; Isaiah 64:8). As we continue to live out repentant lives, God continues to work within our hearts “to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Knowing this, we also have a deeper appreciation of His grace of salvation to us. God decided to send His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins not just to satisfy the cold hard requirements of the Law. He also passionately desired for our salvation through reconciliation with Him, even when we were considered enemies of God, steeped in our sinfulness and deserving of eternal death (Romans 5:8). And what’s more, God demonstrated the abundance of His love to us by granting us the right to be called His children through faith in Jesus (1 John 3:1).
Our God is a Person who passionately desires for the good of His children and wants to mould and shape our lives personally. So let us trust in His rich love for us through repentance in our thoughts and actions, while allowing our Heavenly Father to instruct and discipline us (Hebrews 12: 10-11, 28). There are times when repentance will leave us feeling vulnerable and fully laid bare before God. But it is in these moments that God displays the full extent of His grace, by lovingly building us up through instruction and discipline instead of beating us down and leaving us to fester in our well-deserved damnation. Experiencing such amazing grace and love should cause us to respond by avoiding causing further grief for our God – which includes denying our own sinful desires. It is when we put aside the sins of our hearts and trust in God’s perfect love that we can entrust ourselves to the correction of our Heavenly Father through our actions (Romans 8:28).
God desires to be reconciled with us. We see this throughout the Bible where God instructs us repeatedly to renounce our sin so that we can enjoy a more intimate relationship with Him. How then should we respond to such love and grace?
God demonstrated appropriate responses through the lives of His prophets and His appointed Apostles. Through their lives we have a model of repentance that we can follow.
It all starts with us recognizing that we are born sinful, and just like how “The LORD has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds.” (v 2), we all are also deserving of judgement from God (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 3:20). We also acknowledge that we think and act out of faithlessness, and the example of Jacob is used here in Hosea to illustrate that. Jacob, whose name means “supplanter”, was struggling and scheming his way to get what he wanted ever since birth (v 3). He cheated his brother Esau of his birthright and lied to his father Isaac to steal his brother’s blessing. Through this we see that Jacob was not satisfied with God’s provision for him and decided to take matters into his own hands, using whatever underhanded means he had.
Let us be honest with ourselves: have we used “whatever means necessary” to get what we wanted? That extra favour from a client by using “underhanded” means to gain an advantage? That extra point for the exam when you kept quiet about a question that was answered wrongly but marked as correct? That advantage you had when you exagerrated your colleague’s errors to gain favour from your boss? The urge to gain whatever we want by taking matters into our own hands characterizes a life without God.
When we acknowledge our sinfulness before a holy God, we struggle with our sinful nature to seek a resolution. Jacob struggled with the angel at Peniel as he was on his way to seek reconciliation with his brother Esau. It was through this struggle that he prevailed and was renamed “Israel” - meaning the one who struggled with God and prevailed, and received a blessing from God (Gen 32:28-29). When we meet with God’s Word in our hearts, we will struggle. This is reflected in the Beatitudes, where a response to God results in recognizing our spiritual poverty and mourning our depravity (Matt 5:3-4). Paul also articulated His struggle in his letter to the Roman believers (Rom 7:14-23).
As we seek resolution, we respond in humility before God as we echo the words of Paul in our hearts: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25a) Just like Jacob who wept and sought favour from Esau and God, so should we seek to reconcile both with those whom we have offended and with God, the ultimate recipient of our offense. Godly sorrow caused by understanding the full extent of our lack of God’s approval must lead to repentance to God, and not wallow in self-pity (2 Cor 7:11). It is through our heart-felt repentance to seek God’s approval that we will be comforted (2 Cor 7:13, Matt 5:4). As we seek restoration with God in repentance and faith, God is pleased to restore us to Himself in righteousness (Hosea 10:12; Matt 5:2-12).
Once we are no longer considered enemies of God (Eph 2:13-16), how should we move on to reflect that restored relationship? “Hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (v 6) As we live out the commands of God, let us be mindful to observe the principles of the law and not get too caught up in the details of its execution. This was Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees, saying that they observed tithing but have neglected the more important aspects of the law: justice, love and faith (Matt 23:23). Jesus calls us to hold fast or abide in His love through living according to His commandments for us (John 15:9-10). As we abide in God’s love through living out His commandments to us, we faithfully await the return of Jesus Christ that we might live in His glory (Romans 8:18-25).
So the path of true repentance is as such: first acknowledging the depth of our sinfulness, secondly struggling for reconciliation with God, thirdly reconciliation with God by His grace alone as we come before Him in humility, and subsequently living consistently in God’s commandments out of love for Him and to wait in hope of complete restoration with the return of Christ. Let us examine our relationship with God again and seek for a truly restored relationship with our God.
It is very easy for us to rejoice in our blessings, but we hardly ever take the time to remember the ones who got us there in the first place. It is repeatedly shown in Scripture that remembering who God is and what He has done for His people is an important practice for all who believe in Him. Hosea observed that the Israelites have totally forgotten about the hand who fed them and taught them how to walk when they were a young nation in the wilderness (Hosea 11:3). Because they did not make it a practice to remember God and His commandments, they pursued other gods and succumbed to pagan practices (Hosea 11:1-2; 13:1-2).
Israel was blessed with abundant material blessings when they first established their kingdom in the Promised Land. There was a point in time where they had so much authority that other nations trembled when Israel spoke (v 1). They were well fed, lived in luxury and had many possessions as God had promised. But when their hearts were filled, they resorted to turning to other gods for more possessions and forgot all about obeying the God of Israel who provided for them (v 6). This is exactly what Moses warned Israel about in Deuteronomy 8:11-14. They forgot about God “by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes” (Deu 8:11). Because they have forgotten and forsaken God’s provision by going after pagan gods, the nation of Israel set itself up for destruction (Deu 8:19, Hosea 13:7-8).
Why is it so important for us to remember? As we enjoy spiritual and material blessing that comes with salvation in Christ, we tend to take for granted the heavy price of Jesus’ death on the cross to redeem us from sin and be reconciled to God. When we do not remember the fullness of God’s grace when He dragged us out from the depths of eternal death, we tend to become complacent and fall back into our old sinful habit of pursuing our own idols. And as we get into a pattern of deliberate idolatry, we risk falling under God’s wrath where “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26; John 15:6).
It is important for us to take time remembering God not only because we want to avoid eternal damnation, but also because God wants us to enjoy the rewards of remembering Him through obeying His commandments. Jesus spoke extensively about remaining in and obeying His commandments when He spoke about Himself as the true vine (John 15). Jesus taught that when we abide in Him, and His commandments are at the heart of who we are and what we do, God will be faithful to answer all our requests (John 15:7). Through this, Jesus promises that we will bear fruit that glorifies God as His chosen disciples (John 15:8). Jesus also revealed that when we abide in Him and obey His words, we will experience fullness of joy (John 15:11).
Because God knows our sinful tendency of forgetting Him when He blesses us, He has graciously provided the means for us to remember Him as we enjoy His blessings. Firstly, God has given us the responsibility of keeping His commandments and putting them to heart through remembering what He has done for us. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) God instructed that the Israelites remember His grace to them throughout the exodus, thus forming the basis for their obedience to His commandments (Deut 6:20-25). In the same way, we remember God’s amazing grace to us through Jesus’ death on the cross, which forms the basis for our obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, Jesus instituted Holy Communion for us to remember His work of redeeming us from sin and reminding us of the hope we have in His return (1 Cor 11:26). As Jesus prepared for His imminent crucifixion, he took bread and after blessing it broke it saying “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks He gave it to his disciples to drink, saying “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:24-25) As we participate in Holy Communion as part of our worship, let us remember that our Lord Jesus Christ willingly gave up his body and shed his blood for us to meet the requirements for a restored covenantal relationship with God (Hebrews 9:22, 26b-28). May Jesus’ violent sacrifice of Himself for the forgiveness of sin remind us of the grace that God showered on us, even when we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8).
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing through salvation in Christ (Eph 1:3) and has promised to provide for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:32-33). So as we enjoy freedom in Christ and material blessing as His children, let us not allow ourselves to fall back into sinful idolatrous living by being complacent and forgetting His work and commandments. Instead let us regularly remember God’s grace to us by remembering Christ’s completed work for the forgiveness of our sins when we hold fast to His commandments and partake of Holy Communion.
When we read and study Scripture, what are we hoping to get out of it? Some aim to have better intellectual grasp of God’s Word, while others do it as a form of regular spiritual duty. As we reach the end of the book of Hosea, the author himself has something to say about the reason for recording God’s word for us.
Hosea writes that whoever has wisdom, let him understand all that has been written. God’s word is never easy to understand, as we have seen in Hosea with its erratic changes in tone and cryptic references, so we need wisdom to even begin to understand what is being said. Wisdom never comes from within ourselves, but instead can only come from God (Proverbs 2:6-10). If wisdom is only given by God, then do we just wait to receive wisdom? King Solomon answers this in Proverbs 2:1-5. He writes that we have to act if we are to receive wisdom from God. He uses many actions like “receive”, “treasure ”, “[be] attentive”, “[incline] your heart ”, “call out”, “raise your voice”. It is only when we actively seek to receive wisdom from God that we will begin to be wise and understand the fear of God (Proverbs 2:1-6, 9:10). And the understanding of the gravity of our sins before a Holy God can only be revealed to us by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Hosea goes on to write that it is only when we understand these things that we can begin to know God. The task of understanding Scripture is very closely linked with the task of knowing God and how to live in a way pleasing to Him. The study of Scripture must never stop at attaining intellectual knowledge, but must translate into our way of life – the path of justification and continuous sanctification through repeated repentance from sin and submission to His moral law out of love. This is why we continue studying and understanding Scripture: not to lead to greater intelligence, but greater submission to God in love.
The understanding and application of God’s word demands a response from us. So what is Scripture to you? Does it enlighten and refresh your soul? Or is it repulsive and burdensome? Your response to Scripture does not describe the state of Scripture itself, but better reflects the state of your soul. Responses to Scripture from the heart will always lead to action. We can either brush it off and continue in our ways, or we can choose to change according to God’s laws laid before us (James 1:22-25).
So may the response of our hearts be to return to God, asking Him for the forgiveness of our sin as we acknowledge and accept our unworthiness before Him (Hosea 14:2). This should then lead to forsaking all things that we have put our trust in: money, status, “righteous living for salvation”, even our own strength, and place our absolute total reliance on God and God alone (Hosea 14:3). Only when we change the posture of our hearts to rely fully on God, then God promises to turn His wrath away from us and bless us with true abundant life (Hosea 14:4-5; Rom 5:9-11).
One scholar suggests that the second line of Hosea 14:8 is better translated “I have answered and I am watching”. In effect, God is saying: “I have said all that I can say about your sin, Israel. Now I watch for your response.” God has said everything that you need to know about your own sins through Scripture, how will you respond?
David Ow is currently one of the board members at Bethany Evangelical Free Church.
David is currently a fully registered physiotherapist providing physiotherapy services at a private clinic. He specializes in assessing and treating joint and muscle conditions. David has been practicing as a physiotherapist since 2011 in various settings.
His other roles are as a husband, father and writer. David is deeply interested in shepherding his household according to Scripture. He also enjoys studying Scripture and its applications, which he expresses through writing.
He has a heart for digging deep into Scripture to mine its riches, and seeing how we all fit into God’s glorious Big Picture. His hope is that all who hear Scripture will come to faith in God, and those who have responded will continue to grow in the Lord.