Hosea 2:1-23 The God who deals with unfaithfulness

 

Do you ever step back for a moment and look at your life, as it were, from the outside?

 

Do you ever spend time taking stock – looking at who you are – at what you value, at what you do with your time – and most importantly, at the relationships you have in your life. 

 

Next week we’ll be starting our marriage course – and some of us will be taking the opportunity to step back, to spend time with our wives or husbands, and to look at how we are loving and caring for each other.

 

I’m looking forward to it – I’m sure it will be challenging, but it will also be fun – after all, I do love spending time with my wife.

 

We have other key relationships.  With our friends – with our family – parents, brothers and sisters, children – and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

And, of course, we have one relationship which is the most important of all – our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ – and our relationship with our heavenly Father.

 

Last week I was able to go away for a few days up to Leicestershire, along with a lot of similar people, on a conference for younger ministers.  It was a great opportunity to learn more from God’s word – and to take stock – to ask ‘How am I getting on in my relationship with Jesus’

 

Am I being faithful?

 

Tonight as we look at Hosea, relationships and faithfulness are our theme. 

 

Last week we were challenged by the Prophet Hosea and his marriage to Gomer, his unfaithful wife – and saw how that gave us a picture of Israel, and her relationship with God.

 

Hosea’s marriage, and the names of his children, taught us about God’s concerns – and about God’s grace to an unfaithful people.

 

Tonight we move on to look at Hosea 2 – its on page 900 of the bibles in the chairs – as we learn about Israel’s unfaithfulness, and God’s solution.

 

We learn about what Israel was doing wrong – and that should help us to look to our own lives, and our own relationship with God – and we come face to face with the God who deals with unfaithfulness.

 

So first – let’s see what Israel was doing wrong.

 

1. Israel – picture of an unfaithful people (v2, 5, 8)

 

Throughout this chapter, Hosea talks to the children of a mother, as we see at the start of verse 2

 

The picture carries over from chapter 1 – where Hosea married Gomer, as a picture of God’s dealings with Israel.

 

Here, the children are the children of Israel – and the mother is Israel, the people as a whole. 

 

And the picture we get of the mother, of Israel, is not very flattering.  Look at verse 2

 

2 "Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.

 

God speaks to Israel, and says – rebuke each other – for as a nation, you are not following me – you are not treating me as your husband.  Your actions mean you are not my wife.

 

What actions? – adultery.  Unfaithfulness.  Hosea talks of an adulterous look –  the look of someone who is always on the look out for something more interesting – something else to get involved in – another person to become involved with.

 

And her unfaithfulness lies between her breast – what she does with her body demonstrates where her heart lies – what she cares about – and it is not God.

 

Hosea continues-  verse 5:

 

5 Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.'

 

We’re still on the same theme – Israel’s unfaithfulness – and here we start to see some of Israel’s thinking.

 

Israel persued her lovers – who are these lovers?  They are other gods – she has left her husband, The Lord God, and gone after other gods.

 

Why?  Well because Israel came to believe that it was those gods that supplied her needs – food, and clothing and luxuries.

 

When Israel entered the promised land – as we saw from Joshua 24 – she was warned to put away foreign gods, and to worship God alone.

 

But Israel failed to do so – and started to be corrupted.  The Canaanites, the original inhabitants of Israel worshipped fertility gods – Baals and Asherah – gods of the harvest, gods of the fields, gods of sex, gods of spring  - all manner of different gods.

 

And Israel joined them – they didn’t stop worshipping the Lord God – but they added the worship of other gods – after all, if it worked for the Canaanites, why not – and after all, they were still God’s people.

 

But the people were wrong – look at verse 8:

 

8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold-- which they used for Baal.

 

It was not the Baals who supplied Israel’s needs – it was the Lord God.  As we saw in Joshua 24 – it was God who brought them out of Egypt and into the promised land.

 

But Israel forgot – and began to rely on other gods.

 

An interesting history lesson to help us understand Hosea?  Well yes – but also more than that – much more than that.

 

Hosea uses the marriage metaphor to give us a picture of unfaithfulness.

 

Last week we saw how understanding our sins against the background of our relationship with Christ should help us to take them seriously – not to forget that we are forgiven sinners, but to encourage us to live lives worthy of Christ.

 

And here again we are challenged – challenged to recognise those times when we have forgotten who made us, forgotten who saved us – and begun to live as if other things in our lives supplied our needs.

 

Not many of us are farmers – so we don’t have weather gods and harvest gods – but we have gods in other areas of our lives.  We have money gods – jobs that mean we can have all the luxuries we desire, expenses claim forms that supply our every need, homes to insulate us from the future. 

 

We have gods to help us pass the time so that we don’t ever have to face difficult questions and thoughts, and gods who assure us that we are, as we thought and suspected, and after all, always right – that we should pursue our own needs above all else.

 

Like Israel, we can so easily forget God, and come to rely on other things – on money, on status, and to value other things – to value our own self-driven agendas and concerns.

 

Rather than giving thanks to God for what he has given us, and being faithful to him, we turn from God and worship the very things he has given us.

 

But God has a remedy for this

 

2. God disciplines his unfaithful people (v1-13)

 

There is a pattern to the first half of this chapter of Hosea.

 

Verse 2 starts with a warning – and then verses 3 and 4 the consequences for ignoring that warning

 

Then verse 5 – a charge followed by the consequences in v6 and 7.

 

Then verse 8 – and the consequences in verse 9 to 13.

 

God deals with Israel’s unfaithfulness – he disciplines her.

 

Let’s look at these three sets of discipline in turn.

 

3 Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. 4 I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery.

 

The land will be stripped bare.  There will be no one in it – all of the people of Israel will be put out of the land – they will not be loved by God.

 

Hosea again looks forward, and warns Israel that if they carry on as they are doing, they will face exile – as they did in 722BC when the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom.

 

God is saying to Israel – look, if you continue to be unfaithful and look elsewhere for protection – then I will remove my protection from you, and you will be destroyed – because without me, you can’t stand up to  the Assyria empire.

 

Then verses 6 and 7.

 

6 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.  7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'

 

As we saw in verse 5, Israel has been looking elsewhere for provision.  She has chased after other lovers – and God will stop her.

 

She’ll be blocked and walled up – she be taken captive by Assyria, and won’t be able to find Baals and Asherah to worship  - they won’t be there to help.

 

And then, Hosea tells, us, then, she might just begin to reflect – and say – it was better when I was with God, than now.

 

This is no heartfelt repentance – no great turning back to God – just a recognition that things were better before being taken captive – that perhaps she was better of with God rather than the false gods, her lovers.

 

And then in verses 9 to 12 God talks about how he will deal with all that Israel does:

 

9 "Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her nakedness. 10 So now I will expose her lewdness before the eyes of her lovers; no one will take her out of my hands.  11 I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days-- all her appointed feasts.  12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.

 

The grain and wine which Israel though were from the false gods – will be taken away, to show Israel who it was from

 

And Israel will be naked – revealed as an adulteress – shamed.

 

All the celebrations will cease – all the festivals which God gave Israel but which she has perverted – they will be no more.

 

And again, the vines and fig trees, the prosperity which Israel thought was from her lovers will be taken away, to be eaten and enjoyed by wild animals.

 

And finally in this section, in verse 13 we get a summary of the whole section:

 

13 I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot," declares the LORD.

 

God will punish Israel for going after her lovers, and forgetting the LORD – forgetting the God who rescued her from Egypt and put her in the promised land.

 

Israel, the unfaithful wife, will go into exile.  She will be punished for being unfaithful.

 

And Israel will begin to learn that she was better off following God – that the Baals and Asherah’s can’t save, and that it is God who supplies her needs.  God’s punishment will discipline Israel to realise the truth

 

What are we to learn from this?

 

First, we see that actions have consequences, and that we are accountable for what we do.  Israel followed other gods – and so the Lord finally allowed them to rely on those other gods – and of course this meant ruin for Israel.

 

We can see this in an eternal sense.  Those who choose to reject God and live without him ultimately get their desire – an eternity cut off from God – they get what they desire, they are held accountable for their choices – they are judged by God.

 

And second, we see that God disciplines his people through punishment, so that they will see the truth and return to him.

 

We can see this in our lives as followers of Christ. 

 

Now we need to be very careful here.  We need to be wary of assuming that every problem in our lives is because we have done wrong – that every difficult situation results from our sin.  And we need to recognise that we can often only see God at work in this way a good deal of time after the event.  But God may use situations in our lives that are difficult to bring us back to himself.

 

3. God brings his unfaithful people back to himself (v14-23)

 

We need to take the warning that Hosea gives us here.

But Hosea not only gives us a warning, he also gives us comfort, because God rescues his people.

 

We can draw comfort in three ways:

 

A. The Comfort of God’s Grace (v14)

 

Because the Lord rescues his people – even when they have not repented.  Look at verse 14:

 

14 "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. 

 

Israel hasn’t changed that much – she may have realised that she was better off with her first husband, the Lord God, but she doesn’t appear to have changed much – she still needs alluring – persuading – wooing again.

 

God will restore her.  God takes the initiative.

 

God doesn’t wait for his people to be ready – he takes the initiative.

 

God took the initiative with Israel, and God takes the initiative with us.  He is gracious – he reaches out in love to those who are not looking for his love. 

 

We can take comfort in God’s grace – God deals graciously with his people.  God deals gently with us.

 

B. The Comfort of Israel’s restoration (v15-23):

 

Israel will be restored to the land verse 15 –

 

15 There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

 

The valley of Achor – the valley of hopelessness – will become a place of hope.  Israel will sing – recognising God as she did when she had recently been saved from Egypt.

 

She will no longer worship foreign gods, instead she will worship God alone, and the relationship she has with God will be even closer than before, verses 16 and 17

 

16 "In that day," declares the LORD, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master.' 17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.

 

Israel will no longer look to the Baals  - she will look to God. Then verse 18:

 

18 In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.

 

There will be total peace in the land – all the creatures God made will no longer threaten God’s people, and there will be no more war – all may lie down in safety.

 

And the marriage between God and his people will be everlasting:

 

19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.  20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

 

Betrothal in ancient Israel was as certain as marriage – once you were betrothed, you needed a divorce to get out of it.  God’s people will be his everlasting bride – and they will take on God’s character – they will be righteous and just, rather than adulterous and unfaithful.

 

And, finally, in verses 21 to 24, we see again the promise that God will restore Israel:

21 "In that day I will respond," declares the LORD-- "I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; 22 and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. 23 I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one. 'I will say to those called 'Not my people, ''You are my people'; and they will say, 'You are my God.'"

 

Israel will be restored.  God will discipline Israel  – but he will also restore her.  God does not wish to remain angry with his people.

 

But again, as we saw last week, these promises to Israel are only partly fulfilled when Judah returned from exile in Babylon.

 

We can also look further afield – to

 

C. The Comfort of Eternal restoration (v16-23)

 

Look again at verse 19.  Hosea talks of an eternal betrothal – a permanent marriage.  And them look again at verse 18 – no more war – no more threats from wild animals.  These verses point beyond the immediate restoration of Israel to another restoration – when the whole earth and heavens will be renewed when Christ returns.

 

Hosea here is seeing beyond his immediate situation – looking forward to the day when eternal peace will reign – when God’s people will be always faithful.

 

As we look at our lives now we know that we are not always faithful to God.  Yet we know that there will be a time when we will live forever with our Lord Jesus Christ, when there will be no more pain or sorrow, when we will relate to God as he intended.

 

Revelation 21:1-4:

 

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

 

See how Revelation picks up on the bride imagery – picturing the New Jerusalem prepared as a bride for God.

 

We can look forward to the time when we will be faithful to our Lord.

 

So how are we doing – how is our relationship with God?

 

Have we been challenged by Israel’s unfaithfulness – her wondering away to other gods?

 

Have we recognised that there are times when God pulls us up short – to pull us back to himself – and have we responded?

 

And are we taking hold of God’s promises to us – his grace to us, and his dealings in the past with Israel, which assure us that he will deal with us as he promises – that because of what his son Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, we will be his people – God will be with us in a new heavens and a new earth.

 

Tonight, let us hear the challenge of Israel’s sin and resolve to live different lives, as we lean on our gracious God who restored his people.

 

James Hughes

9th May 2004