The God of Promises

 

How many promises have you made today?

 

And how many of them do you think you’ll be able to keep?

 

We all make promises, and we all intend to keep them.  Perhaps sometimes we promise too readily, when we’re not going to be able to keep our promises.

 

But, hopefully, at least over the big things in life, marriage vows for example, we have done our best to keep our promises.

 

Look at this from the other direction.  When people promise you something – do you believe them? 

 

I guess that will depend on how reliable they have proved themselves to be in the past – and how difficult the task is that they’re promising to do.

 

Either way, I think we live hoping that people will keep their promises – someone who doesn’t keep their promises can soon become very unpopular.

 

We value promises.  In marriage, we trust that the promises made by our spouses will be honoured.  When we call up the telephone engineer and he promises to call back, we trust that he will.

 

We value promises, but we also want them to be backed up by reliability.  When the telephone engineer doesn’t ring back, we get frustrated.

 

We value promises from trustworthy people.  And if we have a trustworthy promise, we act on it – business can still be done by handshake if two people trust each other.

 

Today in Hosea 12 we’re looking at the God of promises – we’re looking at some of the promises God has made, and how his actions in the past show that his promises can be relied upon.  And as we look at these promises, we see a God who can be relied on – and therefore we listen to what he has to say to us, and learn from what God says.

 

Learning from God’s promises

 

Our passage actually starts with verse 12 of chapter 11 – it’s on page 908 of the bibles in the chairs.

 

1. Jacob found God – so seek the Lord (11:12-12:6)

 

Our passage starts with condemnation of Ephraim and Judah in verse 12 of chapter 11, and verse 1 of chapter 12:

 

Hosea 11:12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, the house of Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One.

 

Hosea 12:1 Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.

 

Now usually Hosea has directed his complaint against Ephraim or Israel – but here Judah is included.  Judah, the southern kingdom, isn’t as bad as the northern kingdom, Israel – but Judah is not perfect either.

 

Ephraim is still the main culprit.  Look at verse 1.  Ephraim follows after the wind – a worthless pursuit – and lies and is violent.  Rather than seeking God, Israel seeks alliances with the surrounding nations.

 

Ephraim, as we have seen elsewhere in Hosea, is actually a pretty hopeless case.  But Judah still ahs some potential – if they will listen and repent.  So God brings a complaint against Judah to cause them to repent.  Look at verse 2:

 

 2 The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds.

 

Judah is called Jacob here – because Hosea goes on in verses 3 to 6 to draw an application for Judah from Jacob’s life.  Look at verses 3 to 5:

 

3 In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. 4 He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there-- 5 the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!

 

Three different incidents in Jacob’s life are recalled by Hosea – to show how Jacob was someone who sought to overcome, to get to God.

First, even as he came out of the womb, Jacob was trying to be first.  Then, when Jacob met the angel of the Lord in Genesis 32, he wrestled with the angel, and extracted a blessing, and third, as we read from genesis 28 tonight, Jacob found God at Bethel.

 

Now, as we can see from Genesis 28, it’s not so much Jacob finding God, as God finding Jacob.  God chose Jacob – and that is why he received his father’s, and God’s blessing.

 

But the point that Hosea wants to make here is that Jacob sought out God – he wanted a close relationship with God.  Look how Hosea applies this history in verse 6:

 

6 But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

 

Jacob sought God – he looked for God, and waited for God.  And God made himself available to Jacob.

 

The God who made himself available to Jacob, the God who made promises to Jacob, promises which he fulfilled, is the same God who calls Judah to return to the Lord – to seek the Lord.  Seek the Lord, and you shall find him.

 

Judah were to seek the Lord, not to follow the wind like Ephraim.

 

The first message Hosea brings to us tonight is that we should seek the Lord like Jacob. 

 

And we should not forget that we are in a better position than Jacob.  We do not need to go to Bethel or to rely on dreams – we have the word of the Lord revealed to us in the scriptures, and we know from that word that Christ has sought us out – while we were still sinners, he died for us on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin, so that we might have a close relationship with God.

 

Jesus has promised us a close relationship with God:

 

Matthew 11:27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

 

In Christ we have a close relationship with God.  And so we should learn from Jacob – and seek the Lord.  Jacob is commended for not giving up seeking – and that’s what we should do.

 

When the Lord feels far off, we should not give up – we should seek him, and continue to trust his promises.  Have you been struggling to meet God daily?  Do you quiet times lack a sense of God’s presence – do you feel a long way from God?  By all means, try a different method – a different set of notes – but do not stop seeking God, and reading his word.  For God has promised to be found by those who seek him – so don’t give up seeking him.

 

(pause)

 

2. The Lord is the redeemer – rely on Him (12:7-10)

 

The scene shifts abruptly in verse 7 of chapter 12:

 

7 The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud.

 

And then in verse 8, we see who this defrauding merchant is:

 

 8 Ephraim boasts, "I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin."

 

Ephraim is confident – confident in what he has done for himself, confident that he won’t be found guilty of sin.  Perhaps he feels protected by his wealth – or perhaps his wealth has blinded him to reality.  Either way, the reality is, as verse 7 says, that Ephraim has been dishonest.

 

Ephraim, Israel, as a nation has sought to rely on themselves – and this includes their dishonesty.  Dishonesty is a product of self-reliance – of feeling that we have to do everything for ourselves, and that as long as we can get away with it, anything goes – as long as it furthers our ambitions.

 

But Israel, Israel of all people should not have sought to rely on his own strength, and ignore God.  Look at verses 9 and 10:

 

9 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again, as in the days of your appointed feasts. 10 I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions and told parables through them."

 

They should not have been relying on themselves, they should have been relying on God – on the one who brought them out of Egypt – on the one who rescued them. 

 

Verse 9 talks about an appointed feast – this was the feast of Booths, where the people were to live in booths or tents for 7 days to remember their time in the wilderness, the time when God cared for them and looked after them.

 

Israel had forgotten – even if they had observed the festival, they had forgotten what it was about – so God was going to return them too a wilderness time – strip away their possessions to allow them and enable them to focus on God.  God’s judgement of Israel would encourage repentance and seeking after God.

 

And Israel had ignored the prophets – time and again, as we saw last week in Hosea 11, God send his messengers to warn Israel, to exhort them to return to the Lord, but Israel wouldn’t listen.

 

This context of verses 9 and 10 makes Israel’s statement in verse 8 even more stark, and even more arrogant.  Israel was not man made – Israel was God made.  And Israel was guilty – but Israel could not or would not see it.

 

Hosea issues a call to rely on God – the God who redeemed his people from Israel, who cared for them in the wilderness, who led them by his prophets.  He calls to Israel nearly 3000 years ago – but the call to us is the same.

 

Rely on God.  Don’t be self-satisfied – don’t think everything is fine when it is not.  Instead turn to the Lord – turn to the redeemer.  Turn to Christ, who died on the cross for us.

 

Rely on God in the ultimate sense – trust in God for your salvation, not in the works of your hands.  Money does not buy passage to heaven, only trust in Christ as saviour and Lord.

 

And then rely on God in everyday life.  Do not turn to dishonest practices – whether that is slightly inflated expenses, or leaving work early when no one is looking, or helping oneself to the stationery, or spending work time sorting out our own things, or surfing the net, or lying to parents, children and friends – for their best interests.

 

Dishonesty shows a lack of trust in God – an unwillingness to rely on God.  It says that we just don’t trust God that if we are truthful, he will be faithful.

 

Now of course, we can all point to exceptions to total disclosure – but we know in our hearts that these are exceptions, and that we need to take dishonesty in our lives seriously – and to stop doing it – and trust in Christ.

 

So the next time you face a few financial difficulties – don’t be tempted to dip into someone else’s pocket.  Face the reality – make changes if need be – and trust the Lord.

 

And the next time someone calls and asks you what has happened to such and such a document – if you’ve forgotten to do it – be honest.  Say so.  We need to amend our behaviour, and trust God.

 

The Lord is our redeemer – we need to rely on Him.

 

3. Jacob was forced to flee – obey the Lord (12:11-14)

 

In our final example of learning from God’s promises, God turns his attention to some of Israel’s sins.  Look at verse 11:

 

11 Is Gilead wicked? Its people are worthless! Do they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal? Their altars will be like piles of stones on a plowed field.

 

Hosea chooses two towns – Gilead and Gilgal, as examples of sinfulness.  Gilead represents wickedness, and the Hebrew word here has the idea of social crimes – injustice, oppression and failure to care for the poor and needy, for example.  Gilgal represents the nations’ idolatry – where bulls are offered in pagan sacrifices.  Both Gilead and Gilgal will be judged – Gilead will become worthless, and Gilgal’s altars will be destroyed, becoming like heaps of stones in a field.

 

This is what will happen to Israel.  They will be repaid for their sins.  Look at verse 12, which takes an example from Jacob’s life to reinforce this:

 

 12 Jacob fled to the country of Aram; Israel served to get a wife, and to pay for her he tended sheep.

 

Jacob stole his brothers birthright – and so he had to flee to Aram, and there he had to serve for a total of 14 years for his wife Rachel.  Yes Jacob sought the Lord- but Jacob was by no means perfect – and when he went astray, he had to take the consequences for his actions.

 

This incident from Israel’s history is a reminder of the need to obey the Lord – not to be deceitful like Jacob here, not to be unjust or idolatrous, for punishment will come, as verses 13 and 14 drive home:

 

13 The LORD used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt, by a prophet he cared for him.  14 But Ephraim has bitterly provoked him to anger; his Lord will leave upon him the guilt of his bloodshed and will repay him for his contempt.

 

Verse 13 shows God’s great care for his people – and this is contrasted with verse 14, which shows how Ephraim has ignored God, how he has been guilty of contempt for God, how he has been guilty of the blood of others.

 

The Lord cared for Israel – but Israel was contemptuous of God

 

Jacob is used here as a negative example – as is Ephraim – to show that obeying the Lord is essential.  Obedience is founded on relationship – on seeking the Lord, and knowing that the Lord has found us.  Obedience is based on relying on the Lord – on trusting in him, and trusting that the way that Jesus leads us as his followers is best.

 

But obedience is also based on recognising that when we disobey the Lord and do things our own way, we face the consequences, and those consequences are not pleasant or comfortable.

 

If we continue to cheat on our expenses claims we will be found out – and that will be costly.

 

If we continue to get close to someone who is not our wife or husband, and trust them rather than our spouse, then even if nothing physical should ever happen, it will damage our relationship with our spouse, maybe terminally.

 

If we cheat on homework by copying someone else’s work, then when the exam comes we will be found out.  Perhaps not the first time, or the second, or even the third – but our deceit will come home to roost someday.

 

If our word cannot be trusted, then eventually, people will not trust our word.

 

God is a God of justice.  He will allow us to reap what we sow.  Jacob spent 14 years as a fugitive.  King David lost a child and nearly his crown following his adultery with Bathsheba.  King Solomon in his arrogance caused his kingdom to be split in two under his sons.  All three walked closely with God – but all three also failed spectacularly at times.  God taught them through their disobedience to be obedient to him.

 

Now we can wait for a hard lesson.  Or we can apply what we already know, we can seek the Lord who died for us on the cross, and trust and rely on him and his word, and live obedient lives as his followers.  We can learn from Hosea – we can learn from God’s promises and his faithfulness in the past, and seek, trust and obey him day by day.

 

I would commend the later course of action.

 

James Hughes

8th August 2004