There is a sense in which Christianity is not about religion but relationship. God isn’t interested in you simply doing a load of rituals to please him. He loves you and wants a heart relationship with you. The fact that you have fallen in love with him will show itself in your attitude towards other people. It will also show itself in you attitude towards what is really important in life.
In these chapters (Hosea 4-7), we are going to see God calling the people of Israel to come back to him and they are going to show us how not to return to God.
God wants to change our relationships with people (4).
So far in the book of Hosea we have had a scene from the maternity room (as Gomer gives birth to her children) and the marketplace (as Hosea buys back Gomer from slavery). Now it feels like we are in a courtroom. God is laying out charges against the people of Israel.
While these charges are against Israel, they are relevant to each of you. ‘As at Adam [like human beings], they have broken my covenant, they were unfaithful to me there’ (6:7). Their unfaithfulness reflects the unfaithfulness of the human heart. Their sins are our sins! These charges speak to our guilt!
The primary problem is that they are not faithful to God, they do not love him, and they will not acknowledge him (4:1). This broken relationship with God affects their relationship with each other. They go from bloodshed to bloodshed (4:2). Remember what happened after Adam and Eve rebelled against God, the next chapter shows Cain murdering his brother Abel.
How are things in your family? When there is conflict, it is because at least one person is not acting the way that God calls them to act. God calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven, but we huff with each other. God calls us to consider each other as more important than ourselves, but we insist of getting our way. If we are leaning on the Holy Spirit, we will produce his fruit of gentleness and self-control, but we shout at each other. At the root of so much of our conflict is a simple unwillingness to follow the example of Jesus. In as much as it depends on you live at peace with each other. Daily repentance changes our relationship with people.
Our conflicts also reveal our idols. The people of Israel were idolaters. ‘They ask a piece of wood for advice. They think that their walking stick can tell them the future’ (4:12). Surly we won’t be so stupid. But the world is an idol factory. As idol is anything that we put before obedience to God. We may not build idols of pieces of wood, but we serve our ambitions. We sacrifice for people’s approval. We will try to move heaven and earth for a peaceful life. How would you finish this sentence, ‘my life would be perfect if …?’ If the answer doesn’t focus on God then you are in danger of living for an idol, and you will rage when people get in the way of fulfilling that dream. We are simply not content with God. If your idol is to look like the perfect parent, you will rage when your children misbehave or underperform. If your idol is a peaceful night in, you will resent you children when they need to disturb you. If your idol is to believe that you are better than others, then you will always defend yourself against criticism.
God wants us to seek intimacy with him (5)
Having brought his charge against the people, in chapter four, God now issues his verdict in chapter five. God is going to withdraw his presence from them. This is an act of discipline (5:2). It is important that we realise that this is discipline for God disciplines those he loves (Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:6). He is withdrawing from them in order that they will seek him.
Some of you find it hard to feel God’s presence. It could simply be your temperament or personal history. You find it hard to believe that anyone loves you. It could also be that you are weary and emotionally numb. God calls you to rest. But some of you feel emotionally distance from God because you are not walking a life of daily repentance. It is not surprising that you don’t feel close to him when you don’t take time to be alone with him. You don’t feel close to him because you are not living in obedience to him. He is calling you home. He wants to be intimate with you.
Sadly, when Israel turns back to God, they show us how not to repent. They come with ‘their flocks and herds, they shall go seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them’ (5:6). Why is God not embracing them as they come back to him? God does not embrace them because they are not actually coming home to him. They are offering sacrifices, but their hearts are not in it. They are going through the motions of religion, but they are not falling in love with the God who loves them. We do this when we look at our sin and simply resolve to do better. ‘I am better than this,’ we say in our pride, ‘I will prove myself to you. I will show you that I am a good person.’ That is not humbly depending on God! Repentance says, ‘have mercy of me the sinner. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.’ Repentance desires intimacy with God.
On Tuesday we had Amin for tea, as well as our friend Dave. Dave was fascinated how Amin had changed from being a Muslim to being Christian. He asked Amin, ‘what is the difference between what you used to believe and what you now believe?’ The answer is that in Islam, like every other religion, you simply try to make your self right with God through your various good works and sacrifices. That is not much of a relationship. In Christianity God accepts you because Jesus has taken your guilt on the cross and you respond to his love by letting that love transform you. Repentance is not earning anything from God, it is simply a love response to his love.
God changes us through resurrection power (6-7)
There is a little bit of debate about who is speaking at the beginning of chapter six. It may be that Hosea is interrupting the court proceedings. He urges Israel: ‘Come, let us return to the LORD, for he has torn us; that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up’ (6:1). God disciplined them so that they would return to him. It may be that he is doing that to you. He may be showing you how fickle this world is, as people let you down. He may be reminding you how brief this life is, as you travel through a time of sickness. He works through our trials to get our attention. He seeks to lessen our attachment to the things of this world, in order that we might depend on him.
What do you make of the words ‘after two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up that we may be before him’ (6:2)? Many Christians have seen this as a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Christ here. I think that is reasonable. Christ is pictured as in the New Testament as being the true Israel. He is the representative of God’s people. He was struck down for our sin and guilt. He was raised to life on the third day. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise us in spiritual life. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that can transform our lives.
How should we respond to this call to repentance? ‘Let us press on to know the LORD’ (6:3). ‘Do not wait for God to zap you … Pursue God. Put yourself in a place where you are exposed to His Word. Meet with His people. Read the Bible. Plead with Him. Acknowledge Him as Lord. Submit your life to Him. Put your faith in Him. And with Hosea, I promise you: He will come to you – as sure as the dawn. And when He comes, you will burst into life’ (Ash).
Sadly, again Israel shows us how not to repent. They come back, but their love is like the morning mist (6:4). They are like the seed that was sown on the shallow soil, that lasts for a while but has no roots. You resolve to start coming to church regularly on Sunday mornings, but your heart really isn’t in having a life transforming relationship with God. You haven’t really fallen in love with Jesus. Start meditating on the cross, and let his love transform you! Israel’s return is only skin deep, it doesn’t affect how they view people. When Jesus was criticised by the self-righteous of his day, he quoted Hosea, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (6:6). If your religion is not making you less judgemental, more merciful and kinder to others then you are not really connecting with the God of love! ‘Ephraim [the largest tribe in Israel, and another name for Israel] is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless, now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria’ (7:11). Like a silly dove flitting about never settling never committing to God. When the pressure was on, they turned to their enemies for help. They turned to Assyria, the very nation who would shortly wipe them off the map. They turned to Egypt, the very nation who had enslaved them. How stupid to look to the wrong places to find peace! Yet we too look for peace in things that will enslave us. We crave intimacy, but rather than turn to God, we open the computer and drool over a naked woman. We seek satisfaction, but we do so through our latest purchase. We feel empty, so we numb that pain with a few glasses of wine before bed. All the time God has been calling us to himself!
Do you want to change? I want to change. I would suggest that if you are happy with yourself the way you are then you may not have understood what the Christian gospel offers you. On one hand we rest content in the love of God, on the other hand we restlessly pursue holiness. The beauty of the Christian message is in the fact that God gives you the power to change. You can’t change your heart, but he enables true repentance. His Holy Spirit can melt our temper, make us kinder, increase our gentleness, give us courage, purify our heart and give us peace. He offers to make us more like the beautiful person of Jesus. He shows us his love in order that we might love him and each other. He makes us peacemakers that we might be called sons and daughters of God. May God produce in us fruit in keeping with repentance!