Brian Cropp: As Pastor Todd mentioned, we have been in a series of messages over the summer called Minor Prophet Major Mission looking at eight of the twelve of those little, tiny books at the back of your Old Testament that it’s very easy to skip over. And, we’re discovering as we look at each one of these books that there is still a lot in there for how God wants us to relate to him and relate to those around us even today. Today, we are looking at the book of Hosea, and there’s a listening guide in your program. You can follow along there.
One of the biggest lessons that we can see in the book of Hosea is that it is a common and an easy thing for us to forget and lose sight of this love and kindness that God makes available to us. And, I resemble that remark. From almost the moment I left the hospital as a baby, I have been in church. My parents had me in church the whole time, and then I graduated high school, and I went to a college where they encouraged their students to profess faith in Jesus Christ. I graduated there; I went to seminary. I graduated seminary, and I have been in some kind of vocational Christian job ever since. I work here; church land is really familiar to me.
Relating to people in a way that honors the Lord is just… it’s as ordinary to me as water is to fish. It’s really all I know is that kind of relating to one another and those kinds of environments. And, it’s very easy for me, because of how ordinary that is, to forget how huge the gift of salvation is; to lose sight of the majesty of what God accomplished for me through Jesus Christ. I start thinking, “Well, other people are living their lives, and they seem to be doing okay. Maybe I would want to try some of what they’re doing.” And, I lose sight of what God’s done for me, and that’s exactly the same kind of place that the Israelites were, the nation of Israel, when Hosea was doing his prophet...“propheting” work there in the nation of Israel.
The faithfulness of Abraham was a thousand years ago; all of the miraculous events around Moses are largely symbolic and not that meaningful. Just the ways of being Jewish in Israel was just this is all we know, and all of these other nations around us, kind of how they’re living their lives, I don’t know. It’s not that I’m going to stop sacrificing at the temple and worshipping God there, but I’m going to try out some other faiths and maybe some other ways of doing things. And God, through Hosea, is saying, “Stop doing that. When you go away from my ways, that’s called sin, and that’s called rebellion. And, I want you to remember what I did for you. I want you to remember who I am and what our relationship is because my ways are better than what you’re trying to do right now. I want you to come back to me.” He uses Hosea’s life to do that.
He takes a guy...if you read the book of Hosea, it’s easy to...possibly this week, you’re going to read it as part of your quiet time now that we have done this message today, and that’s great. Do it; it’s a great read, but you might go, “What is God doing to this poor guy?” Prophets were often asked by God to do some rather outrageous, extravagant things in order to catch the attention of the audience so that they would be open to the message that God had. If you read Hosea, you might scratch your head a little bit and wonder, “What is God doing? Is he just picking on Hosea? Is that what God’s doing?”
God takes Hosea’s entire life, his whole life, and turns it into a living, breathing, walking around sermon illustration. The whole thing...what he’s trying to communicate through this life that Hosea lives is that nobody, nobody is too far away from God that he can’t get them. His arms are not short and that nobody is so dirtied by sin that they are unwashable by God’s love and grace. We see that God is someone who is pursuing those he loves, and he’s never going to abandon that pursuit.
And, we see that God pursues us in two ways. The first way he pursues us is through persistent, steadfast, relentless love. The first time that we see that God spoke to Hosea, he says this: “Find a whore and marry her…” (Laughter) “...Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: The whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God. Hosea did it. He picked Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. She got pregnant and gave him a son.” Now, you and I might in our moments of awesomeness pray to the Lord all the kinds of ways we want to be used by him, be useful to the kingdom and have him make our lives count for something.
And then, we read these passages, and the shine kind of comes off wanting to be used by God. This is an ugly assignment. Even in today’s context, this is an ugly assignment. When I’m thinking of the girl I want to marry, there might be some physical attributes about the girl I want to marry...a certain hair color...maybe a certain height. I don’t know what might be in a guy’s mind for the physical attributes that they might specifically want out of their wife. There may be some non-physical attributes; she thinks I’m hilarious. She has a very kind heart; we have a shared set of values.
There could be a whole list of things that a guy’s looking for in that woman he wants to spend the rest of his days with, grow old with, have a family with. Prostitute is not on the list; it’s just not there, and it’s not because prostitutes are outside of the need of a good, Godly husband. It’s not that prostitutes are outside of the realm of needing God’s love. It just doesn’t make the list. Hosea is a better man than me; he obeyed God, and he went and found a working girl. She was already employed in prostitution, and he goes and marries her. Again, he’s taking his whole life and turning it into a message for the people.
They have kids. They have three of them; the names of the kids are kind of interesting. The first kid’s name is Jezreel, which means nothing to you. It means everything to the folks that it was for. Jezreel was a city, and about 70 years before the time of Hosea, so some people might still have been alive and remember the event that happened in Jezreel. Some folks may have just heard about it through stories or through history lessons, that kind of thing. But, there was a wicked king, and God calls a guy named, Jehu, to remove that king, which he does. God’s justice was to kill this wicked king’s family, and then, Jehu became king. But, Jehu got a little trigger happy, and he killed a lot more people, so there’s this massacre that happens at Jezreel.
And, it’s a shocking event for the audience of Hosea. By naming the kid, Jezreel, it calls back to this, “That’s kind of uncomfortable and a little awkward.” I couldn’t think of a good modern day example of this. I thought, well, let’s come up with some kind of fantasy where President Johnson wipes out Boston or something. That didn’t quite make sense, but this...the example I can come up with that makes sense to a Texas audience but is on the positive side would be if I named one of my kids, Alamo. You’d go, “Oh.” There’s a whole event around that name that calls back to the battle in San Antonio between the Mexican Army and… I don’t know my Texas history...whoever those guys were. John Wayne and all those guys in the Alamo...it would call back that if I name one of my kids, Alamo, there’s a whole context that comes along with that word. That would be kind of like with Jezreel, and it’s saying that God is saying the evil and violent practices that Jehu led you in; those are an abomination to me. That’s an embarrassment; that’s sin. I don’t want you to do that anymore.
Hosea names his second kid, “no mercy.” These are great names for kids if you’re looking for names. God was saying that as long as you are pursuing your rebellious ways, I’m going to show you no mercy, that I’m going to let the leash out on you. You’re going to have the opportunity to taste the sour and bitter fruit of your sin, and I’m doing that so that you will come back to me. That’s why I’m doing that. He names his last kid...this is great…”not my people.” Thank you, dad, great name. God was saying that if you continue to rebel, if you don’t want to be a part of my family, I’m not going to force you to be a part of my family. Turns out that it’s less about genetics, and it’s much more about our hearts.
I could imagine that one of the ancient Israelites could look at Hosea and raise their hand and…”Hold on just a second...these last two kids in particular… this is...what? No.” I remember, because I’m not dumb, that there was a moment way back there about a thousand years ago when God made a promise to Abraham, not to me, to Abraham. He said that all of his kids were his chosen people and that he was going to fight the battles. It doesn’t matter what I do because the promise was with Abraham, and God says, “Yes, but I’m much more concerned about your heart and your attitude. I’m less concerned about your sacrifices, and I want you to come back to me. I want you to remember who we are.”
And, can you imagine this whole life that Hosea has to live and sort of, Gomer, the wife, gets to play the role of the adulterous nation of Israel. Unfortunately, she also represents our adulterous spiritual hearts, as well. Hosea, in his family context, was sort of taking on the role of God leading this tribe of people. Can you imagine how awkward his life was? Showing up at school functions or church functions or standing in line at the grocery store...wherever you meet people. “Oh, Hosea. Glad to meet you. This is your wife; that’s very nice. How did you all meet?” How do you tell that story? “Oh, these are your kids. What strapping young boys these are. What are their names?” Just the whole thing is awkward.
The whole of Hosea’s life, God has called him into this awkward way of life so that he can catch the attention of the ones who are actually listening and the ones who are really paying attention to God and saying, “Hey, I want you to do something different than you’re doing. I want you to return to me.” We find out, throughout the whole of Hosea, that God’s kindness is hopefully going to lead them toward repentance. This is something to keep in mind for those of us who would say today that we are followers of Jesus Christ. We’ve already tasted this, that God has called us out of our rebellion in sin and given us a new way of life. If this morning you would say, “I am not a follower of Jesus Christ,” welcome, you’re in a good spot. This is also available for you today that you could leave the rebellion that you’re in and have a brand new way of life with God.
Hosea weaves through...God, through Hosea, weaves through all this book. While there’s a lot of harsh talk in the book of Hosea, he weaves in these moments of love songs, love poetry...these tender moments throughout the entire book, like in chapter two where God says, “Therefore, I will allure her…” meaning the nation of Israel… “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” I have a picnic lunch made; I’m going to spread out a blanket in the park. There’s a lake right over there with a boat in it; we’re going to go rowing, like in those old movies. We’re going to go rowing; I’ve got a ukulele. We’re going to sing some love songs; I know she’s cheated on me, but I love her, and I want to woo her back.
Throughout all of Hosea, we see this rhythm throughout it that there’s a heart of God that wants to woo the rebellious and adulterous nation of Israel back to him. And, the same is true of us when we wander off, as well, that he wants to woo us back. If you’ve ever been...the Christ-followers will nod their heads that I’ve had this happen...where you wander into sin and you realize this is a bad idea; I shouldn’t do this. I want to return to God’s ways. That is God wooing you back; the Holy Spirit has been tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Come back. Let me give you a brand new perspective. Let me help reorder for you what you find important and return to me.”
God continues and says in the next verse, “...there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.” The word, Achor, means “trouble,” and there was a real, physical valley called the Valley of Trouble or the Valley of Achor. This is way back there in history right about the time that Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho. Right after that there was a moment where one of the children of God got into some rebellion, and that caused a bunch of other folks to die. And, it was an event, a stake in the ground in history to say, “Remember that time? That’s what happens when we rebel against God and the consequences of that rebellion.” And God is saying, “I can even take these events from your shameful past, and I can make them a doorway of hope. I can make them a doorway of encouragement for other people.”
And for you and me, we all have stuff back there in our shameful past that we don’t like to think about. If someone found out about it, we might contemplate moving. There’s ugly stuff back there that when we remember them, it’s like, “Ugh, I can’t even believe that I was a part of that or said that thing or did that. Ugh, I hate that.” And, God is saying that I, through Jesus, can step into even those moments, those shameful moments, and I can use those as an opportunity to encourage others, to give them hope of what is possible for them and wherever they are, as well.
God wants us to agree with him that what we are into is sin. The Bible says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess is just a fancy word that means “to say with or agree with.” God knows what you’ve been into; God knows what I’ve been into, and it says that if we confess it or agree with him, he will come in and cleanse or he will restore us through what Jesus accomplished on the cross. So, we who follow Christ, we have this tremendous opportunity that God gets to use these events in our lives as a way to encourage other people.
Our weaknesses, then, get to be used by God as these huge megaphones of his grace and his kindness. We get to say to other people, “You’ll never believe what I was into when God called me. You’ll never believe what I was doing when God restored me and cleansed me.” And someone else, the observant person around your life, as your life, your whole life, gets to be used as a living, breathing sermon illustration for the people around you...they get to say, “Oh, well if God did that for you, maybe he’ll do the same thing for me.” It gives some encouragement and hope for other people, and we can hold onto this promise that in Christ “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We can thank God for what brought us to him. We can thank him that he rescued us out of slavery to sin; we can thank him for giving us a new set of attitudes and look at life.
And, there are going to be moments when our enemy, the devil, comes back to us and says, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, well, you remember that awful thing that you did or that thing that you said, or those people you used to hang out with? Yeah, I don’t see how you can claim Christ as your Savior. You’re worthless. The whole thing...you’re just a shame and a sham, and you should just duck your head and not even be a part of the things of God.” And we get to hold on in those moments...we get to hold on to the promise that there is no condemnation; we can look at the devil in the face and say, “My God does not condemn me. You cannot condemn me. He does not condemn me, and you’re right. I’ve done nothing good; that’s not why I’m a part of God’s family. I’m a part of God’s family because of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross, and He said that I am welcome to be a part of His family. So, in Jesus’ name, Satan, back off and go away!” We get to do that because of what Jesus did. He gets to take our shameful past and use it as a doorway of hope.
Then, God says this to the nation of Israel, as well, “And I will betroth you to me forever…” We’re not dating anymore; we’re married. “ ...I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer, Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people;’ and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
The best news I have for you today is that we are living in the time in history that this passage is talking about. The entire Old Testament is looking forward to the days of this Savior, this Messiah, Jesus Christ, coming on the scene to restore us, humankind, to God...that this thing that we broke with him back at the Garden of Eden, that through Christ it can be restored, and we’re living in that time. And, we get to, through Jesus, have a spiritual do-over with God. So, God is constantly pursuing us; he’s constantly tapping us on the shoulder to return to him through persistent, steadfast, relentless love.
He’s also pursuing us through kind discipline. God wants to get our attention, and he wanted to get the attention of the ancient nation of Israel, and he says how he’s going to do it. He says, “Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but not find them. She shall then say, ‘I’m going to return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’”
I realize that wooing sounds a lot better than discipline, but there is a difference that we know about between being nice and being kind. Nice is I just want to do whatever it takes to remove any friction in the relationship; I don’t care what it takes. Kind is I’m looking out for your best interests, and I want you to have success; and I want to help you win at life. That might sound like splitting hairs, but for all the parents in the room, isn’t that what we do with our kids? That’s what I do with my kids. I have a ten year old, a five year old, a three year old, a two year old, and I’m wiser than all of them. You’re wiser than your kids; you win! It’s great, because you have perspective. You’ve lived a part of your life, and you see your kids do some stuff or say some stuff or treat each other a certain way, like that’s not going to lead to success.
I want them to succeed in life. I want them...the way we would say it in the Cropp household, we want you...to have a happy life and not a sad life. So, we want you to have a different perspective, change the way you’re seeing how this situation can play out, and I want you to have a different perspective. Sometimes that’s all it takes, and that’s great. Many times it takes coaching, or it might take some discipline, some extra chores. Maybe it will take some punishment, but it’s not because I hate my kids. I love my kids; I want what’s best for them. I want them to have a successful, fruitful, Godly life, and sometimes, it takes some thorny paths in order for them to change their perspective.
I remember when I was disciplined by my parents; I thought they hated me. Turns out they loved me, and they wanted what’s best, and we didn’t invent parenting. We do it very imperfectly. God, our holy, Heavenly Father, invented parenting, and if he gave us that way of handling our kids, I think that’s how he’s handling us, as well. Sometimes he lets us experience these thorny paths as we wander out in the ways that make sense to us, but they are away from his ways. Relationships blow up, and opportunities fall apart, and all of these things happen to us.
It reminds me of this kid’s book that I ran into when I was first married to my wife, Glenda. It’s this. It’s Tootle.This is the stupidest title for a book, but it’s a great book. This is a great book. If you’ve never read this book, read the book; buy the book. Buy it in bulk. Keep copies of it in your car, and as you’re driving down the road, roll down the window and throw them at people. This is a great book. It’s the story of this little train engine named Tootle...again, I’m sorry for the title. He’s built to be really, really fast, this train, and he’s at engine training school, and he wants to be the fastest train possible. And, they want him to be the fastest train possible, so they’ve built up this curriculum to help him do that.
And one of the rules on his life is that he needs to stay on the rails no matter what, which we appreciate out of trains when they stay on the rails no matter what. So, he’s practicing; he’s going really fast. He’s getting faster everyday, and one day, he gets distracted by something in a meadow, and he gets off track. He gets off the rails and starts frolicking around in the meadow much like that picture. He’s frolicking; he’s having a great time. He sees no problem with what he’s doing at all, except if he doesn’t pass the test of staying on the rails no matter what, he’s not going to graduate from school. And, he’s not going to become the fast engine that he wants to be and that he was designed for.
So his friends, realizing that he’s distracted that he’s off-track, they work up this scheme where they make that meadow that he loves the most awkward, weird, ugly place for him to be in. I can’t do what I want to do in this place. They set up all kinds of hedges for him, so that he’s attracted back to where he really wants to be. The kind place for him to be are these rails, to get back on the rails. That’s kind; it was uncomfortable for him, and I’m sure there was some relational tension. The book doesn’t really delve into that level of the relational tension between Tootle and his friends. I’m sure it was there, and it might have not felt nice, but it was kind what they did to get him back where he was supposed to be.
And again, while that doesn’t sound nice, God is weaving through these loving passages, like this one in chapter 11. It says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him and…” called him, sorry... “...and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” You can just hear the heartache of a parent in this.
The bands of the love and the chords of kindness made me think of that kid at the mall who you know as soon as the parents stop looking they’re gone. They’re just...pshh...gone, and so the parents, out of kindness though it looks awkward and weird to the outside observer, they put the little harness around the kid with the leash. Right? You’re like, I don’t know about that. That doesn’t look right. Somehow that’s...but I’m going to default that the parents know the kid. And while it doesn’t look like the nicest thing that they’ve done for that kid, they know that that’s going to keep the kid safe. So, I want them on the leash, and that’s kind of what God is talking about. “I know my kids. I love the nation of Israel and what’s good by them and yet they have persisted in running towards rebellion. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done; that’s the direction that they’ve gone.”
And that may be your story as a parent, too...that I’ve loved my kids, I’ve done what’s right by them, I brought them to church all the time. I did everything right that I knew how to do and yet they were just bent towards rebellion, and they are still in rebellion today. My heart breaks for them; my heart aches for them. When they come back, I just want to hug them and love them and tell them that Jesus loves them, too, and I’m praying for them everyday. My heart breaks for them, and that’s the same cry that God has for his children. I want them to return to me. Ahhh! What a party there would be if they would ever turn back around. That’s his heart for them, and that’s what his kind discipline is for...to snap us out of our bad perspective and bring us back to him in repentance.
That’s a great reminder to us to walk with God, as well. If your story is like mine and the church land is where you’ve been your whole life, we’re fickle, too, and we wander off and try other things. It’s not like we’re going to walk away from God, but I don’t know, maybe this thing might be...other people say it’s fun...I’m going to try it. God’s saying, “Stop doing that. Stay in my ways. It’s better in my ways.”
The nation of Israel was into idol worship. I’m going to guess, given this room, it’s been a very long time, if ever, that you have sacrificed to a statue or prayed to a statue. But, really at the heart of idolatry is putting something as more important than God...saying that something else is more powerful than him, and we do that all the time...and with really good stuff. We could put our family up there; we could put paying the bills up there. We could even put serving at church up there, and in doing that, we forget God. We treat him lightly, and there’s all kinds of other ways that we could do that, but whatever we’re putting up there...decision-making...any number of things we could put up there. When we do that, that’s a form of idol worship, and we need to return to God. It adds up to...if we persist in that...that trouble’s coming...that he’s going to let out the leash on us. And, we’re going to experience those thorny paths and that sour and bitter fruit of rebellion.
God’s kindness is intended for our repentance. We need to make u-turns constantly. When I wake up in the morning, I want to get into the Bible as fast as possible. I want to read the Scripture; I want to talk to God in prayer, because I know that my whole day is a distraction zone. I work at a church; you’d think that that wouldn’t be true, but it is. There’s meetings and emails and questions and problems. I come home and the kids and all of the things...it’s a distraction zone. If I can start my day by reading a little bit of Bible and talking to God about how that applies to my day and some other concerns I have, that sort of helps set a framework around my day. But even then, I have to make constant corrections and u-turns throughout the day because it’s a distraction zone.
It’s the wooing of God; it’s the kindness of God that’s bringing us back. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. Then in chapter three of Hosea, we read this, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.’” Apparently being married to a Godly guy wasn’t enough for Gomer; she really got something out of prostituting and had gotten herself enslaved to some other guy. Hosea is asked by God to go and do something that he really didn’t need to do; she’s his wife, but he’s going to buy her back and have her...have that marriage restored.
Now remember, Hosea’s whole life is being used as a giant, walking-around sermon illustration, and God is saying, “There is no cost too high for me to win you back. I know you’re enslaved to sin, but I’m going to go get you back.” And, that is exactly what Jesus Christ did for you and me; He didn’t need to go buy us back, but out of His love and His kindness, Jesus Christ goes to the cross. He dies on the cross to pay for our sin and rebellion so that we could have a restored relationship with Him. I’m certain that the people around Hosea’s life looked at him as he’s going to go buy his prostituting, adulteress wife. You’re going to do what? She broke off the marriage commitment. She’s the one who did the cheating. Why are you going to go buy her back? You’re an idiot.
God is willing to look like a fool so that he can have that restored relationship with you and me. This is God’s plan from Adam and Eve in the garden and the sin all the way until now. This is the whole reason Jesus came. We find in Luke chapter 19 that “...the Son of Man…” ...meaning Jesus… “...came to seek and to save the lost.” God wants to restore our hearts to him. For Christ-followers then, our aim, because we are a part of his kingdom, we have signed on for that mission. We get to join in with that; we want to find people who are enslaved to sin and help lead them out of sin because God’s ways are better. So we invite them to stuff...we invite them to all kinds of stuff. We invite them to church; we invite them to other church functions. We want to get them around other Christ-followers, so that they can get a taste and feel for the better ways...God’s ways.
The most loving thing that you and I can do for somebody if we are walking with Christ is to invite them to discover and experience God’s ways right along with us. Because in God’s ways, it’s better; outside of God’s ways, it’s prickly. I want to bring the band out in just a minute or now...now’s good, too...sorry. And as they lead us in singing, they’re just going to lead us in a time of response. There may be some way that God has been speaking to you...some shoulder-tapping of correction where you’ve gotten your heart or your body into some form of sin. And, you need to confess that; you need to make a u-turn and agree with God that’s sin, and I want to get back in alignment and get back on the rails and get back in your ways.
Maybe you need to confess that I’m not walking with God; I’m not a Christ-follower. I need to make this giant u-turn and start walking God’s ways because I’m tired of tasting the sour and bitter fruit of my rebellion. I need to turn back around to God. Maybe there’s something else you need to confess. They’re going to lead us; you can sing along. Don’t sing along; pray to God. Use your own words; this time is for you to respond to him. So, I’m going to pray, and then they’re going to lead us. So, join with me, would you?
God, it is our confession that we are a fickle bunch, and we are prone to wander away from you whether or not we have become your follower. We confess that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood on the cross that we have any hope of a clear relationship with you. We confess that only through a relationship with you does life make any sense at all. We thank you for doing what we could never do on our own and make a way back to you where we could be called love and called your people where we could declare with our full heart and our full voice that you are our God. We thank you, Lord. We praise you. Please hear our prayers as we sing. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.