Hosea 14 – Walk or Stumble?
I don’t know if you saw the photograph of the lorry that got stuck for a few days down a country lane in England. The driver had used satnav to give him directions but the sad thing was stanav did not make any allowances for the width of the lorry in relation to the width of the road. Directions are important. Sometimes on a journey we quite literally do not know which way to go. When it comes to Hosea 14 the people of Israel have two choices laid before them. One path will lead to God, to life and peace and the other will lead away from God to death and destruction. They must make a choice, as we must also.
Let me read a few verses to you from Joshua 24.14-15. Joshua is near the end of his life and he lays before the people of God a choice. Listen to the answer the people give in verse 16. The sad thing is in a very short period of time they have gone back on those words and started to worship Baal and the pagan gods of the nations around them. That is exactly where they are in the days of Hosea. So as we come to this last chapter in Hosea we see God putting the same choice before the people as Joshua did many years before. God speaks to them about making a wise or a foolish choice. In fact verse 9 is akin to Psalm 1.
Genuine repentance – verses 1-3.
Israel is invited to return to God and she is reminded, once again, of her sins. God’s forgiveness is to be accompanied by awareness of sin. In verse 1 Israel is to admit that they were wrong. None of us like admitting that we are wrong and yet without that first step the people of Israel will never repent of their sins and be restored to fellowship with Almighty God, and neither will you. They were to ‘return to God’ which meant turning away from the idols, from the idolatry and immorality that had been their way of life for so long. Israel had consistently turned away from God, now they had to turn to God. In the past the call to turn to God had fallen on deaf ears (6.1 and 4) and yet God did not give up on them. There is encouragement there for us all – God does not give up on us and we should not either. Against all deserving, the marriage holds, he is still hers – 3.1 there is a costly commitment involved.
Verse 2 they had to confess their sins. Look at what they are to bring before God – ‘words’ and not sacrifices. Their sacrifices are no longer acceptable because they had bee corrupted by the worship of Baal. They were to speak genuine words of repentance and not empty words of religiosity, as they had done in the past. Note too, they were not to come seeking to justify their past behaviour or make excuses and plead extenuating circumstances. They were to confess their sins before God. They were to ask God to ‘forgive us all our sins…’ When they ask for forgiveness God graciously receives them. Prayer is to be their sacrificial offering to God – hence the phrase ‘that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ Literally translated ‘that we may offer our lips as bullocks’ – the animal of sacrifice. Their prayers of repentance was the only offering that was now acceptable to God. In order to pray this they must first admit they were sinners before God, they had to turn to God and confess their sins before Him and plead that He graciously receive them. Is this not the prayer that the Prodigal son formed whilst sitting in the pigsty? Is this not the prayer of Isaiah when the glory of the Lord is revealed to him in Isaiah 6?
Verse 3 they had to turn back to God. Let us not underestimate this step. In turning back to God the Israelites had to admit they were wrong, that they were unable to save themselves, that their gods couldn’t save them and that God alone was able to bring salvation to them. Look at what they confess. They confess the utter powerlessness and futility of all that they had put their trust in. The Assyrians and the Egyptians, the powerful nations around them, were unable to save them from the judgment of God. In fact they were the means of God’s judgment on Israel. At one time they put their trust and faith in their war horses, their military might, but it proved impotent against other nations. They turned to the gods they had fashioned with their own hands only to realise that these were empty, dead and powerless pieces of wood and silver. They come to the realisation that in God alone is salvation and compassion found. They are the orphan child that God had promised to be the helper of (Psalm 10.14). No longer will Israel play politics or military intrigue with the nations around them. No more false beliefs and pagan worship. True repentance leads inevitably to a rejection and renunciation of all past behaviour that led them away from God. They not only have to confess such actions were wrong they have to break the bonds that bind them by turning away from such actions in the future. Can I say to you, as humbly as I can, you must do the same. You confess your sin and ask God to forgive you and part of that ‘repentance’ is removing from your life the things that once ensnared and led you into sin. It may mean getting rid of things in your life – material things. It may mean breaking off from certain relationships and social networks. It may be that you need to no longer go certain places or be in certain company – because it was those places and those people who led you away from Christ in the first place.
True Forgiveness - verses 4-8.
Verse 4 shows the wonderful grace of God in action. Once they had confessed their sin God is not slow to respond. He speaks of healing, loving and turning away His anger from them. His grace, mercy and love are not slow in responding to the repentance of people. Where once (9.15) God said He would no longer love them because of their continuance in sin and rebellion, now He will freely love them – because they have turned from the wicked ways and turned to Him in repentance and faith. How true God is to His promise that when a wicked man forsakes the ways of sin and turns to Him in repentance He will hear and heal him.
Verses 5-8 what a wonderful picture of blessing is now brought before these people. There is freshness in the dew, the flowers, the fragrance and the beauty. There is protection and comfort for the people in the image of the shade from the noonday heat of the sun. There is stability in the deep roots of the cedars and there is vigorous life in the spreading of the shoots and the corn in abundance. Here are the images of healthy growth which will be seen in their lives because they have repented of their sins and been reconciled to God. Having been reconciled to God they are revived by God. This is a fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham that God would make them a great nation. It looked like they were destined for destruction on account of their sin but now they are blessed by God.
Friends these verses show us that God is not slow to bless nor to bring good things into the lives of His people. But I want you to notice something about each of the images portrayed here – they do not happen in an instant and they are not without struggle or season. The dew comes overnight and refreshes the parched land but the heat of the sun soon evaporates what is not absorbed by the plants. Remember that. The blessings of God which are not taken into our hearts and lives but left for the scorching sun of this world will dry up. Roots take time to go down and trees do not grow tall and strong overnight. The same is true in your life and my life spiritually – roots must be put down into God’s Word by study and prayer. Branches have to be pruned and they must remain attached to the vine, Christ, or they wither and die. They must also bring forth their flowers and their fruit. The flowers produce the fragrance – and as Paul says we are the fragrance of Christ. The fruit is for the blessing, not of the plant, but of others and the same must be true in our lives.
Look at verse 8. O’ Ephraim – you can hear the cry of God in these words. Many centuries before David had cried something similar about Absalom (2 Samuel 18.33) and many centuries later Jesus would speak similar words over Jerusalem (Matthew 23.37). God’s compassion is moved for Israel as He longs for her to reject and repent of the idolatry that has led her into captivity and sin. God tells them to have done with idols. They are no longer to bow down, to kiss and adore these worthless useless pieces of wood. Why? Because God alone is their saviour and their strength. God is the provider of all that they need. He is supreme and He is sufficient for all their needs. It is God who answers in their time of need. He is the source of life and health. God will once again lead them out of this wilderness into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Once more Israel will know God intimately and blessings will flow from that.
Verse 9 – A Closing Challenge – the prophecy of Hosea is left open ended. Almost like Christ saying “He who has ears let him hear.” This prophecy of Hosea could win Israel to repentance and faith in the living God or it could leave the people unmoved and stuck in their sin. The response was for them to make. Look at verse 9 – the questions asked are not just directed at Israel – whoever? – it still speaks to us today. What a sobering note to end this prophecy. Those who are wise walk in the ways of the Lord God because those ways are right and lead to life. The foolish, those who reject the way of the Lord and go their own way, they stumble and fall. Take a moment when you go home, no turn to it now and take a moment and read Psalm 1. That is what God is speaking about through Hosea in verse 9. In the NT Paul would say these words – 1 Corinthians 1.23 – Christ is the stumbling block for men.
Friends, the choice was laid before the people of Israel – they had to choose. Let me read to you again what Joshua said – Joshua 24.14-15 – what choice are you going to make this morning?