The God who is sovereign

 

Have you ever played those word association games – you know, someone picks a word, and then you take it in turns to say the first word that comes into your head.  Something like blue, moon, sun, father – that kind of thing.

 

They can be fun – it can be amusing – and sometimes instructive – to find out what word pops into people’s heads when you say something like – ‘butterfly’.

 

I wonder.  What pops into your head when I say the word – God?

 

Church?  A swear word?  Big?  Distant? Close? Angry?  Powerful?  Father?

 

What do we think of when we think of God – who do we think of?  Something?  Someone?

 

We’ve been looking at Hosea for a few weeks now, and part of the purpose of this series in Hosea is to meet God – to get to know God better. 

 

We’ve seen how God took the initiative with his people in Hosea 1 – and how that challenges us – we’ve seen how God deals with unfaithfulness, both with punishment and restoration, and we’ve seen a God who saves, despite the failings of his people.

 

We’re getting to know God better.  As God deals with his people in the past, we, his people here and now, learn more about him, so that we can love him more, so that our relationship with our father God may be deepened.

 

Tonight, we’re looking at Hosea 4 – it’s on page 902 of the bibles in the chairs – as we meet the God who is sovereign, as we meet our sovereign LORD.

 

1. The Sovereign LORD who is Just (v1-11)

 

Chapter 4 starts with the LORD addressing the Israelites – Hosea brings the word of the LORD to the people, and it is not a comfortable word, as God calls his people to account.

 

a. God calls people to account (v1-3)

 

Look at verses 1 to 3:

 

Hosea 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.   2 There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.  3 Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.

 

Verse 1 – the Lord brings a charge against his people.  The picture here is of a courtroom.  The Lord has a charge against Israel – and he will demonstrate what that charge is.

 

And the charge?  That there is no faithfulness, love or knowledge of God in the land.  God’s people are not living as God’s people.  They are no different from the nations – they are not the people God called them to be – the God who called them out of Egypt, as we saw from our Deuteronomy reading.

 

Verse 2 – the people are in a bad way.  Instead of faithfulness, cursing and lying.  Instead of love, murder, theft and adultery.  So much murder that bloodshed follows bloodshed.

 

And then verse 3 gives us the consequences, the punishment – the land mourns, the people and all the animals who live in the land suffer.

 

God calls his people to account.  He shows them their actions – and before a sovereign God who knows everything they cannot deny them – and the consequences of their actions – the punishment that will come.

 

God calls his people to account – we know that relatively soon after Hosea spoke, the northern kingdom, Israel, was no more – destroyed by Assyria.  We know that they were held to account for failing to follow God.

 

And because we have seen this in the past, we can have confidence that God will also act with justice in the future.

 

We all like to see justice done.  We don’t like to see killers walk free, or sex offenders spend a short time in jail.  But what about those people who get away with fraud, or dishonesty, or corruption – and prosper?  Those people who have deceived their way to the top?  Those people who have cheated us?  And, if we are honest – what about ourselves?  What about our small deceptions and the situations we have taken advantage of, what about our secret ways, that the sovereign Lord knows?

 

Just as God called the Israelites to account for their actions, so to will he call everyone to account one day.

 

And the punishment will fit the crime.  Look on to verses 4 to 11.

 

b. The Punishment fits the crime (v4-11)

 

In verse 4, God continues to describe what the people are like.

 

In verses 4 and 5, we get a general picture of what the people are like

 

 4 "But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. 5 You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother

 

The people are like those who bring charges against a priest shows how the people liked the proper respect for God-given authority – and then verse 5 – everybody stumbles, prophets and people alike – so Israel, the mother, will be destroyed.

 

And then from verse 6, we get a series of reasons why God is going to act in certain ways.  Look at verse 6:

 

 6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

You reject knowledge of God?  I reject you as priests – as the kingdom of priests that I called you to be.

 

You ignore God’s law?  Then I will ignore you – your children

 

Then look at verses 7 to 9:

 

 7 The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.  8 They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness.  9 And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.

 

The priests increased – they became wealthy and powerful – and they exchanged their glory – their God-given role as mediators between the people and God – for something else – for something disgraceful.

 

Verse 8 – rather than discouraging sin, the priests encourage it – they feed on it, and relish it.  And so, verse 9, they along with the people will be punished – they will be repaid for their deeds.

 

And so, verses 10 and 11:

 

 10 "They will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution but not increase, because they have deserted the LORD to give themselves 11 to prostitution, to old wine and new, which take away the understanding

 

These people who feed on sin will eat – but not have enough.  These people who engage in prostitution will not increase in number, because they are misusing sex.  They drink -and this will dull their understanding.

 

The Sovereign Lord gives people what they deserve – what they show by their actions they want.

 

The people have ignored God – so God will ignore them.  They don’t want to know God – so God won’t know them as his people.

 

God is his justice deals with people according to how they have acted – and gives them what they want. 

 

God is just – he is not unfair – he treats people fairly.  So if people continue to live without God – denying God – then they will be denied by God, and will spend eternity apart from God.

 

Again, this is a stark message.  But it is a message and a word of justice and fairness.  Israel received no more than she deserves for how she has acted, continually ignoring God.

 

We can have confidence in our God of Justice here as we see him at work.  God is not unfair or spiteful – he treats people as they deserve.

 

2. The Sovereign LORD who is righteous (v11-13, 16-20)

 

having shown the case against the Israelites, and God’s sovereign Justice, Hosea moves on to show the righteousness of God, to show the things that God values, first by showing God’s unrighteous people.

 

a. Unrighteous People (v11-13)

 

Look at verses 11 to 13:

 

11 to prostitution, to old wine and new, which take away the understanding 12 of my people. They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God. 13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth, where the shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery.

 

Three times these verses mention prostitution.  Here again we are reminded of Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute, and how Gomer represented Israel.  Gomer was unfaithful – she committed adultery, just as God’s people broke their relationship with him by their unfaithfulness.

 

Israel was unfaithful – she went after foreign gods and false gods.  And these verses show just how foolish that was.  Look at verse 12- they consult wood, and are answered by a stick.  They sacrifice on the mountaintop, on the hills, and in the forest glades – just like the pagans.  And their daughters became involved in the ritual prostitution and promiscuity which the pagan cults practiced.

 

Israel was unfaithful – she was not righteous before God.  By her behaviour, she wrecked her relationship.

How seriously do we take our unfaithfulness to God?  How seriously to we take the relationship we have with God as followers of Christ?

 

Israel wrecked her relationship with God.  She saw what other people were doing – and though to try it out.

 

Offerings to God in the temple – and a few offerings on the mountaintops.   Church on Sunday – and the white witch on Wednesday

 

Consult the idols- after all it can’t hurt – it’s only wooden – it’s only the horoscopes on the back of the magazine – just a bit of fun really.

 

A spirit of prostitution – a desire to try out every new thing, to see if it works.  A desire for new spiritual experiences, which leads astray, and away from God.

 

Sacrifices under the trees – why? Because the shade is pleasant.  Spend some time with friends, have a few drinks, and do what they do – because it is pleasant.

 

And the consequences?  The sin of the parents is passed on to the children, as the children are led astray by their parents actions.  Actions have consequences.

 

God is righteous, and he calls us to be righteous, and he defines for us what it means to be righteous. 

 

He calls us to shun unrighteousness.  Look on to verses 16 to 19:

 

b. Shun Unrighteousness (v16-19)

 

Look at verse 16.  The LORD again describes what his people are like.

 

16 The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?

 

God’s people are stubborn.  They are unwilling to change.  He will not pasture them like lambs in a meadow.  Instead, the way Israel has rejected the righteous God is so serious, that only one thing is left.  Look at verse 17:

 

17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!

 

Ephraim is another name for Israel.  Israel has become so unrighteous, so mixed up with idolatry that they have become joined to the idols – they cannot be separated.  And so the only solution is to leave them alone.

 

They wanted independence from God, and God will give them that independence – but that will not help them.  Look at verses 18 and 19:

 

 18 Even when their drinks are gone, they continue their prostitution; their rulers dearly love shameful ways.  19 A whirlwind will sweep them away, and their sacrifices will bring them shame.

 

Deprived of God’s protection they may prosper for a while – and when the drink has gone, they will continue to play for a while.  But the end will come, a whirlwind will come in the shape of Assyria, and they will be swept away.

 

Then, cut off from God and cut off from the land, then they will realise the shame their conduct has brought.

 

The consequences of unrighteousness, of not following God’s perfect way, of following idols and being unfaithful to God are clear to see. 

 

17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!

 

The call here is to shun idolatry, to shun those things which damage our relationship with God.  Because God is righteous, and we should be like him.

 

What does that mean for us today?

 

I wonder if you saw the trailer for this programme which airs tomorrow.

 

Séance
Do you believe in the spirit world?
At 10.35pm on Monday 31 May, Derren brown is bringing together 12 specially selected members of the public to attempt a televised séance. And he wants you to join in, too.

To take part you will need: empty glass, candle, pen & paper, letters of the alphabet.

 

Tempted?  Just a little bit of bank holiday fun? – or something more serious – something more sinister.

God’s word is clear on these things:

 

Deuteronomy 18:10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD,

 

Galatians 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

 

God’s word is clear.  So I recommend that you don’t do the séance tomorrow evening – don’t even watch it – shun these things.  Do not become joined to idolatry, but shun unrighteousness, for the sovereign Lord is righteous.

 

We have seen from Hosea 4 that The Sovereign Lord is Just.  He deals justly with people, and the punishment they receive, the consequences of their actions, is fair.

 

This challenges us to realise that we too are deserving of punishment for what we have done.

 

We have seen that The Sovereign Lord is Righteous.  God’s people were unrighteous,  they strayed from him like an unfaithful wife, and God tells us to shun such unrighteousness – to keep away from idolatry – to keep away from, as we saw those things that draw us away from God, that cause us to commit adultery.

 

Before a sovereign God we realise how we have behaved – and we realise that we have been unfaithful.

 

Before a sovereign Lord who knows everything, in his lawcourt, we are without excuse.

 

And yet we are not without hope.  Because our sovereign Lord is also Gracious.

 

3.  The Sovereign LORD is gracious (v14-15)

 

Look at verse 14.

 

14 "I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes-- a people without understanding will come to ruin!

 

The Lord has compassion here.  The daughters were guilty, but God will not punish them – because they have been led astray by the actions of the men.  The Lord spares them. 

 

And then verse 15.  In his mercy, God sends a warning to Judah

 

15 "Though you commit adultery, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. "Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven. And do not swear, 'As surely as the LORD lives!'

 

Israel’s example should help Judah not to do the same things, to avoid becoming guilty like Israel. 

 

In chapter 4 of Hosea, these verses are but glimpses of God’s mercy.  In this chapter we come face to face more than anything else with a righteous, holy and Just Sovereign God, who deals with us justly.

 

But God also acts with mercy.  He acts with compassion.

 

Just as he did with Israel.  Our reading from Deuteronomy 10 reminded us how the creator God chose Israel’s ancestors, how he cared for them when they were foreigners in Egypt, how he made them into a great nation.  Because they were deserving?  No – because of his grace to them.  God gives to his people what they do not deserve.

 

We see this in Israel’s distant past – we see it in Hosea’s day.  But of course we see it supremely in the Lord Jesus.

 

God sent his son into the world to save sinners.  To help those who could not help themselves, to save those who could not save themselves.

 

As Romans 3 reminds us:

 

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 

Is a picture of Hosea’s day – and a picture of ours.  But it is not the whole story:

 

 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 

Justified freely, through Jesus Christ. 

 

The sovereign Lord is gracious.  He calls people to himself in Christ Jesus.  People who have been unfaithful.  People who deserve to be punished in the courtroom of the sovereign Lord.  People like you and me. 

 

Christ stood in our place before God, and took the punishment we deserve – the true and faithful Israelite, who did not deserve to be punished.  And when we see how righteous, and holy, and just God is, the more we can appreciate and understand and be overwhelmed by his grace. 

 

And so as we come before the Sovereign Lord conscious of our failings, as we surely are, we also come conscious of his grace to us, and we are truly thankful, and commit ourselves to live lives of thankfulness as his people.

 

James Hughes

30th May 2004