The First Product of Unfaithfulness: Impotence
Hosea 1:1-5, 11; 1 Kings 9-10
Pastor Jim Luthy
Dan and I drove through downtown Vancouver B.C. a couple of weeks ago after a worship session on a Friday night. A two-block strip of night clubs were beginning to come to life as the rest of the city was dimming its lights. Across the street from the night clubs were several women dressed provocatively, all spaced evenly apart and waiting by the edge of the curb. Dan and I agreed that this would not be a good place to stop and ask for directions.
As the picture of these young women of different size, shape, and race flashed through my mind (which tells you about the visual nature of a man), I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of journey these women experienced to come to the point that they would sell their bodies to anyone who would pull up to the curb and pay the price. I figured they probably had a drug problem, a rough background, maybe even a child to feed. I also wondered if any were undercover cops, which would have been the one Dan and I asked for directions! But I never wondered if any of them were a Pastor’s wife. Hmmm.
Could you imagine if your pastor’s wife were a prostitute? I suppose that if my wife were a prostitute, I wouldn’t have much credibility. Leading a church is a tough enough proposition as it is!
But this is the problem Hosea faced as an up-and-coming prophet in the nation of Israel. "When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ So he married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim."
As hard pressed as you might be to listen to me if I were the husband of an unfaithful woman, I urge you to listen to Hosea. Here is a man who God asked to do something that seems unreasonable. He asked him to marry Gomer, who would serve as an example of the unfaithfulness of Israel. For us, the book of Hosea can either serve as a warning or as a mirror. Unfortunately for the church today, I believe it is more of the latter than the former. This is not just a warning, but a prophetic glimpse of the current state of today’s church. God reveals through this prophet a message for a church that is far too unfaithfully his. What was said about Israel then, could easily be said about us today.
We’ll spend a couple of weeks in chapter 1, observing what our unfaithfulness produces. For example, we’ll first see how our unfaithfulness leaves us impotent—without strength. For example, do you ever wonder why it is so hard to break a sinful habit? Do you wonder why you lack the strength to make changes in your life? Have you wondered why you see so much addiction and why the people on your Blessing List keep heading down paths that are unhealthy and destructive? We’ll see how Gomer’s first child gives us an answer to why our strength is gone.
Let’s begin, however, with a little background. Those of you who stay up late watching the History Channel might enjoy this. Then again, anyone who enjoys the History Channel might just about enjoy anything.
Israel was a nation comprised of twelve tribes, initially named after the twelve sons of Jacob. After David and his son Solomon ruled all of Israel, the ten northern tribes rebelled when Solomon’s son Rehoboam was made king. Those ten tribes became their own kingdom – Israel, or Ephraim. That left the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin as one kingdom, which retained the name of Judah.
With civil tensions at rest, the northern kingdom of Israel was enjoying a time of peace and economic prosperity, but extreme wealth was accompanied by extreme poverty. Israel also had a deteriorating social, moral, and religious climate. Does that sound like any other nation you know?
At the center of this deterioration was a king named Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. 1 Kings 16:30 says Ahab "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him." Jezebel introduced Baal worship into Israel as well as the licentious orgies of the goddess Ashtoreth.
For example, Ahab demonstrated his materialism by constructing a huge ivory palace in a city called Jezreel. Outside the palace walls was a vineyard owned by a man named Naboth. Ahab really wanted this vineyard and Ahab was the "what Ahab wants Ahab gets" type. (Remember the little girl on Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: "I want it now!") Naboth refused to sell, so Ahab had him falsely accused and tried for blasphemy. After Naboth was stoned to death, Ahab took possesion of the vineyard. God was not pleased, and he condemned Ahab through Elijah. Ahab’s son Joram succeeded his father on the throne.
When Joram was king, a military leader named Jehu was hanging out at the local officer’s club when a wannabe prophet walked in and insisted on speaking with him in private. Once alone, the young seminarian dumped oil on Jehu’s head and said, "You’re gonna be king. Go and wipe out Ahab’s house." With that, the youngster ran out the door, just as Elisha instructed him.
So Jehu rode like a madman down to Jezreel. When the tower saw Jehu coming, Joram sent out a messenger to ask if he comes in peace. Jehu’s reply was basically, "What do you know about peace?" Which translated means, "fall in buddy or you’re gonna get it too." The soldier fell in behind Jehu and a second messenger was sent who followed the same routine.
Finally Joram rides out there himself along with a visitor—Ahaziah, the king of Judah. When Joram realized Jehu was not coming for a game of Pachisi, he turned his chariot and rode like the dickens to get away, but Jehu pulled out his bow and shot Joram in the back. Ahaziah saw all this and freaked out. He took off running, but Jehu tracked him down and killed him too.
Then Jehu rode into Jezreel and talked a couple of eunuchs to toss Jezebel, the queen mum, out onto the street. She goes splat and the dogs eat her, just as Elijah predicted. Jehu later had 70 sons of Ahab killed, then he killed everyone in Jezreel who remained from the house of Ahab, as well as Ahab’s chief men, his close friends and his priests.
Jehu almost got it right in following God’s orders, but he went too far. I thought of Jehu last week when I heard the story about my friend Mike cutting down trees and bushes for his wife in the front of their house. He was cutting everything down, just as instructed, but then got carried away. Before long, he had cut down her favorite rhododendron and azalea. Oops!
When Jehu became king, he destroyed Baal worship in Israel–which was good—but then continued to practice the worship of the golden calves—not good. So you could say that Jehu was much like most of us: he obeyed God here and there, did some good things, and practiced a little idolatry. No big deal, right?
In 2 Kings 10:30, the Lord said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation." So it appeared as though Jehu was going to get away with idolatry and with the murder of Ahaziah and others outside of Ahab’s family.
But if you think God let’s some things go and affirms us as long as we do some things well, think again. God is slow to anger. We also know that God is love, and according to 1 Corinthians 13, love "is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs." But to deny that God is also just and that our sin deserves his wrath is to deny his holiness and his perfection. He will not let the guilty go unpunished. That’s where Hosea steps in.
Jehu’s reign had come and gone when the Lord began to use Hosea as his mouthpiece. In fact, Jehu’s great grandson, Jeroboam, was now king of Israel.
God wanted to equip Hosea for his tough assignment, so he tells Hosea to take an unfaithful wife. "So he married Gomer…and she conceived and bore him a son. Then the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel."
Gomer symbolizes the unfaithfulness of Israel. Each of her children would become a symbol of what that unfaithfulness produced. The first product of Israel’s unfaithfulness would be impotence. Every time Hosea called the boys name, he would be reminded that he had a message to proclaim to Israel that God would soon break them of their strength. As the main weapon of war, the bow symbolized strength, and God vowed to break that bow in the same valley where Ahab murdered for a vineyard and Jehu murdered for power. In 733 B.C., the Valley of Jezreel became the scene of a major battle that led to the fall of Israel to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. This ended Jereboam’s reign in Israel, the the fourth generation of Jehu’s reign, all as God had said.
This is all pretty interesting, but what relevance does it have for us? Well, as much as Gomer represented an unfaithful nation in the 8th century B.C., she also represents an unfaithful church in the 21st century A.D. We would do well to realize that the product of a generation of unfaithfulness, even if it is interwoven with good deeds, is impotence.
We sit around and stew and send e-mails to each other decrying the erosion of our nation, pointing our fingers at this political party or that activist group, when we ought to realize that it is unfaithfulness in the church that is sapping us of our strength. When unfaithfulness persists, God will step in and break the bow, taking away the strength of even his own people.
Why are our children growing up in church and leaving the church behind at the first taste of independence, vowing never to return? Why isn’t our divorce rate different than the rest of the world? Why are so many of us being treated for depression? Why aren’t people lined up at the doors of churches all across the nation to hear the good news that Jesus changes lives? It’s because we’ve been unfaithful, and we’ve brought punishment on ourselves. We are weak. David exclaimed, "See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!"
Do you feel like you’ve fallen and you can’t get up? If you’re not there today, I know you’ve been there before. Let me tell you, there are people all over our community who feel that way all the time! The sons and daughters of unfaithfulness are paying the toll of previous generations. Furthermore, a fair judgment rests upon those who are not covered by the blood of Jesus. Powerlessness over sin is destroying families, clouding out hope, and robbing people of their future right in our own back yard! Men and women wander along unaware or unconcerned that judgment awaits them. For our sake and theirs, we need to first turn back from OUR unfaithfulness and be careful to do everything written in this Book of the Law. It is our job first, because judgment begins in the house of God AND the powerlessness and immorality we see around us is the firstfruit of our unfaithfulness.
God wants us to open our eyes and see the effect of an unfaithful people on its nation, but God never opens the eyes of our heart without revealing his salvation. Even in pronouncing judgment through Hosea, God wanted salvation to be known. In v. 11, the Lord declares, "the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel."
Israel did not exist as a nation from the time it fell to Assyria nearly 3,000 years ago. Judah had fallen around 200 years later. In 1948, the descendants of Israel and Judah "came out of the land" with one leader. Not two kingdoms, but one. No Roman governor. Not as a province or a colony, but as a nation. God turned the tragedy of Jezreel into triumph, reuniting a divided kingdom.
And what has happened with the Jews will be ultimately realized when Jesus returns to take up people from every tongue, tribe, and nation to be their one ruler. He will take us up out of the land where weakness to sin prevails and he will make us one under him.
In that day we will also say great is the day of Jezreel. To us, the day of Jezreel is the day when God’s judgment fell on Jesus at the cross. When we should have been punished for our unfaithfulness, God sent his own Son to bear the punishment for our sake. Jesus became weak, so we could become strong. The tragedy of the cross will be turned to triumph when we are finally rescued from this land, brought together under one ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When you consider the deterioration of our culture, realize it is the product of an unfaithful church. Examine your heart and look for areas of unfaithfulness that have left you powerless and have given birth to infirmity in our children and our culture. Then turn from your unfaithfulness and make every effort to rescue others from slavery to sin. Make known the mystery of the cross, that great tragedy turned triumph for all who will be faithful to him.