April 3, 2012 David Balzer

Hosea 12-14: Heartfelt Return to the Father

People talk about baby-boomers, and post-baby boomers  as THE “ME” GENERATION”. Totally wrapped-up with satisfying PERSONAL needs.

Physical fitness, material wealth, creature comforts, personal growth, self-improvement. Promotion, extensions, upgrading, mortgage, investments. ME, ME, ME.

It’s a pre-occupation with the needs of THE INDIVIDUAL. And where the importance of the GROUP is lessened. That might be FAMILY, or CLUB, or SOCIETY, or even CHURCH.

“None of that matters because I’M more important”.

The ME generation. It’s summed up in that ad from the nineties. I think it was for a financial institution. “The most important person in the world – YOU!”. (Was it National Mutual?)

It’s true that THE LAST THIRTY YEARS have seen an explosion in this sort of thinking.

1. The Mistakes:

And yet, it’s a phenomenon that’s been around FOREVER. Certainly since the time of Israel. We might like to wrap it up in sociological language, but the “me” generation isn’t a passing fad. It’s not something that will ever go away. Because SELFISHNESS has been around since ADAM.

And these final chapters from Hosea describe “the ME generation” of Israel’s time. And much of it could be describing Western culture of TODAY!

And the “ME” thinking of the people showed itself in four mistakes. Four errors of judgment which had set them on a collision course with God.

a) That Self-seeking means success

Firstly, they made the mistake of thinking that SELF-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR MEANS SUCCESS.

You know the sort of thinking. The person who’ll do ANYTHING for a dollar. Chase up every lead. Work three jobs. Cut every corner. Sacrifice their marriage, their children. Climb over whoever they have to  to get to the top of the ladder. To get the best house in the street. To get the biggest investment portfolio.

It didn’t matter HOW YOU GOT THERE. Just that you GOT there. The ENDS justified the MEANS.

And it’s this sort of person who’s held up as the SUCCESS STORY of our generation. The person to COPY. Read the book, buy the video, about how they made their first million. How they managed to own ten homes by the time they were thirty.

And yet, when it came to Israel, this self-seeking attitude had come at the EXPENSE OF TRUTH AND PEACE. The “MEANS” didn’t matter, because the “END” was all-important. Their method was all about LIES and VIOLENCE.

It’s there in the last verse of Ch 11. “Lies and deceit”.

And again in v1 of Ch12. “Ephraim multiplies LIES AND VIOLENCE. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt”

And, to God, it’s exactly the same way that their ancestor JACOB behaved. Like Father like son. Look at it there in v2. God’s got a history lesson for his people.

(Hosea 12:2-4 NIV)  The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish JACOB according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds. {3} In the womb HE GRASPED HIS BROTHER’S HEEL; as a man he struggled with God.

Remember Jacob was the FATHER of the nation of Israel. In fact, his name was CHANGED to Israel.

 

And the name “Jacob” means “he grasps the heel”. That’s how he came out of the womb – holding his twin brother’s foot.

 

And the name carried with it the idea of being A DECEIVER. Crafty, shifty, sneaking up on people, outwitting them for selfish ends. A con-artist.

 

And as you look at the life of Jacob, he certainly lived up to his name. Deceiver. He deceived his father Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for his brother Esau. He deceived his brother Esau out of his birthright. And made him angry enough to kill him.

 

And so he fled to another country. And married. And then he deceived his father in law. He offered to take all the speckled and dark sheep off his hands. Tidy up his flock, so it was nice and white.

 

But then he encouraged HIS sheep to mate with the WHITE sheep. And, surprise surprise, the lambs were spotted! And so Jacob’s flock grew bigger. At the expense of his father-in-law’s flock.

 

And perhaps not surprisingly, he eventually outwore his welcome THERE. And so he packed up all his belongings, and left without a word. He ran away, and headed back home. Back to meet his brother Esau. The brother who’d wanted to kill him.

 

But being the shrewd and crafty worker that he was, he had a plan. He split his group into two. Just in case Esau came and wiped out ONE of them, the OTHER would survive. Half the livestock, and children and wives in ONE group. And half in the other.

 

And then he sent a GIFT on ahead. A huge herd of sheep and goats and camels and cows and donkeys. A “sucking-up” gift for Esau.

 

And he carefully stage-managed it so that each group of animals would arrive at different times. To achieve maximum effect. One gift after another.

 

But still that wasn’t enough. As night was falling, he sent his wives and children on ahead. And all his possessions. And all his servants.

 

Until Jacob was the only left. Bringing up the rear. Like all good heads of the family. If Esau came after him, he’d have to fight his way through everyone else FIRST.

 

The master of deceit and trickery. All alone in the darkness.

 

Where had all his craftiness got him? All his lies and cons? He had nothing. No family, no possessions, no home, under threat of death.

 

And it was during that night Gen 32 tells us he wrestled with God. It’s a strange account. He wrestles with a MAN, and yet Jacob himself knows that he’s wrestled with GOD HIMSELF. Perhaps he was an angel.

 

And as daybreak arrives, the man begs Jacob to let him go. Enough’s enough. But Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you BLESS me.”

 

And the man gives Jacob a NEW NAME. Israel, which means “he struggles with GOD”.

 

And Hosea’s point is this. During the night Jacob CHANGED. He stopped wrestling with MEN – deceiving and tricking and conning.

 

And now, he’s struggling with GOD. Looking for the blessing of God. The NAME-change reflects a change of ATTITUDE. Look what Hosea says in v3

{3} In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; (but) as a MAN he STRUGGLED with GOD. {4} He struggled with the angel and overcame him; HE WEPT AND BEGGED FOR HIS FAVOR.

 

And it’s EXACTLY the SAME lesson that ISRAEL needs to learn. To change from self-seeking lies and violence. To God-seeking honesty and love. Look at v6.

(Hosea 12:6 NIV)  But YOU … You must RETURN TO YOUR GOD; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

 

Just like your ancestor. Return with WEEPING AND BEGGING. Don’t be a JACOB – a heel-grabber. Be an ISRAEL – a God-wrestler.

 

Which are you? Is your focus what you can get from OTHER PEOPLE? For selfish ends?

 

Or are you intent on doing business WITH GOD? Not giving up. Not letting anything stand in the way. Being a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser. Seeking HIS direction, and approval, and blessing?

 

Israel’s FIRST mistake was thinking that self-seeking behaviour would lead to success.

 

b) That Wealth means blessing (12:7-9)

And her second mistake follows from the first. Self-seeking HAD led to success, and they assumed that WEALTH MEANT BLESSING. Look at v7

(Hosea 12:7-8 NIV)  The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud. {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.”

 

When things went WELL, they assumed it was because God was BLESSING them. Because they were so morally pure.

 

But what does Hosea say is the reason for their wealth? Is it because of God’s blessing? A reward for their righteousness? NO! It’s the VERY OPPOSITE. They’re wealthy because they’re DISHONEST.

 

They put a thumb on the scales. Add a couple of noughts to the quote. A few hours to the time-sheet. A dozen extra deductions to the tax-return.

 

Riches and success like THAT  have got nothing to do with God.

 

And it’s the similar thinking from churches who preach a PROSPERITY GOSPEL. WEALTH EQUALS GOD’S BLESSING.

 

They say, “God WANTS you to be rich and successful. And if you’re NOT rich and successful, it’s because you’ve been disobedient, or aren’t praying enough, or aren’t listening to God’s guidance.”

 

But that’s ALL WRONG. Wealth DOESN’T equal God’s blessing. God MAY choose to make you wealthy, or he may NOT.

 

More than likely, an obedient Christian WON’T be wealthy. Because God’s priority is how GODLY you are, not the size of your bank balance. And he can work on your godliness much more  when your first priority isn’t the mighty dollar.

 

That was Israel’s second mistake. That wealth meant God’s blessing.

 

c) That Political stability means permanence (13:1-3)

And their third mistake was believing that political stability meant permanence. Look over to the start of Ch 13. Ephraim was a POWERFUL nation. Strong armies. Strong allegiances. Strong government.

 

And you can become very CONFIDENT when that’s the situation. COMPLACENT. A bit like America before September 11. Or Australia before the Bali bombing.

 

That we were somehow IMMUNE from all the violence going on around the world. We were the GOOD GUYS. And things ALWAYS turned out right for the GOOD GUYS.

 

And that’s what EPHRAIM was thinking. The strongest of all the northern tribes. Ch 13. v1.

(Hosea 13:1 NIV)  When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel.

 

But the problem was it was a house built on sand. Severe termite damage. Concrete cancer. It looked impressive, but the foundations were rotten.

(Hosea 13:1-2 NIV)  …But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. {2} Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, (and so on)

 

Impressive infrastructure and government and armies. But because they worshipped idols, all that strength was just an illusion.

 

Look at God’s verdict of impressive, but idolatrous, Ephraim. V3.

(Hosea 13:3 NIV)  Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window.

 

Four different pictures of things which don’t last. Things with no substance, or body, or permanence. Mist, dew, chaff, smoke.

 

That’s what would become of impressive Ephraim.

 

That was the third mistake. Thinking that political stability meant permanence.

 

d) That Satisfaction means confidence and pride (13:5-6)

And her fourth mistake was that SATISFACTION WAS AN EXCUSE FOR PRIDE. That a full stomach was reason to BOAST. Look at Ch 13 v5

(Hosea 13:5-6 NIV)  I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. {6} When I fed them, they were SATISFIED; when they were satisfied, they became PROUD; then they forgot me.

 

What’s the logic of the verse? God cared for Israel, and fed them. When he FED them, they were SATISFIED. CONTENT.

 

But with CONTENTMENT came PRIDE. And with PRIDE came forgetfulness of God. When you start to think that YOU are the provider of all that you have. Then you automatically forget God.

 

It’s sitting on your back verandah, sipping a cold beverage, in the twilight of the evening, belt loosened after a roast dinner. Master of all you survey – at least as far as the back fence – and except for the two-thirds of the yard that the bank owns.

 

And thinking PROUDLY about what a self-made man you are! Instead of thanking GOD for what he’s given you.

 

Are YOU ever tempted to do that? What’s you attitude to saying grace before dinner? Is it meaningful? Or just HABIT? Make it MEAN something. Don’t get into a routine. Do it differently. But don’t forget that all that we have comes from GOD.

 

Satisfaction is no excuse for pride. That was Israel’s fourth mistake.

 

2. The Outcome: Punishment (13:7-9, 15-16)

And even though there was a lot about Israel that was IMPRESSIVE. They were wealthy and stable and satisfied. None of it made an impact on God.

 

Because it was all just SYMPTOMS OF EVIL. Rebellion. Ignoring God. Look at the end of v6.

(Hosea 13:6-7 NIV)  then they FORGOT me. {7} So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path.

 

And a bit further on in v9

(Hosea 13:9 NIV)  “You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are AGAINST ME, against your helper.

 

And then down in v15.

(Hosea 13:15-16 NIV)  even though he THRIVES among his brothers. An east wind from the LORD will come, blowing in from the desert; his spring will fail and his well dry up. His storehouse will be plundered of all its treasures. {16} The people of Samaria MUST BEAR THEIR GUILT, because they have REBELLED against their God.”

 

For all their impressiveness. All their earthly success. It was all built on REBELLION against God. Ignoring him. Failing to recognise him. Assuming that life’s DECISIONS, and their behaviour, had nothing to do with God.

 

And so God will punish them.

 

And isn’t that EXACTLY like Australia today? On the outside, things are pretty impressive. There’s plenty of wealth, and stability and satisfaction. The gardens are neat, the gutters are clean, the windows are washed.

 

But for most people God doesn’t come into it. He’s not even on the radar.

 

And even though 21st century Australia is very different from 8th century BC Israel, God’s verdict is the same.

 

Behaviour like that deserves punishment.

 

3. The Solution: Return to God (12:6; 14:1)

Luckily for Israel, and for us. That’s not the end of the story. Because Hosea goes on to tell us what the solution is. To RETURN to GOD. He’s already said it. Back in Ch 12 v6

(Hosea 12:6 NIV)  But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

 

But now, here at the start of Ch 14. He fleshes out what that means. He even gives us the words to say.

(Hosea 14:1-3 NIV)  RETURN, O Israel, to the LORD your God. YOUR SINS have been your downfall! {2} Take WORDS with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS. {3} Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

 

Let’s look at Hosea’s plea in a bit more detail. Because it gives us THREE STEPS in returning to God.

 

Accept responsibility for the distance (14:1)

Firstly, returning to God involves accepting responsibility for the distance. That’s there in v1. “Your sins have been your downfall”.

 

There’s a bumper sticker that says something like “If God seems distant, guess who’s moved?”

 

It’s US who’ve taken our eyes off God, and not the other way around. It’s OUR attention that’s been distracted by money, and power, and satisfaction, and comfort.

 

And that’s all it takes. Taking your eyes off God. Because that’s what sin IS. Putting yourself on the throne instead of God.

 

Honest Confession (14:2-3) (cf the lies of 11:12)

The second step in returning to God is honest confession. V2. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins, and receive us graciously that we may offer the fruit of our lips.”

 

Recognise what you’ve done, and put it right. Realise that whatever mistakes you’ve made. Whoever you’ve hurt. ULTIMATELY, it’s GOD you’ve rebelled against.

 

And so it’s right to confess to him. And seek his forgiveness.

 

And don’t think you can sweeten the deal. There’s nothing that will make you more acceptable to God. No vague promises of never doing it again. No half-hearted deals of always being nice to people.

 

Sacrifices won’t do the trick. He wants your WORDS, not your sacrifices. “Receive us graciously that we might offer you the fruit of our … not harvest, or wallet.. but LIPS. God wants WORDS – true and honest confession.

 

Our confidence comes on the basis of WHO GOD IS, not on WHAT WE CAN OFFER. See there at the end of v3. “For in YOU the fatherless find compassion”.

 

Return to God and he will bless you (14:4-9)

And the third step to returning to the Lord belongs to God. Return to the Lord and he will BLESS you.

 

It’s exactly what Hosea has highlighted in Jacob’s behaviour. He turned back to God, and wrestled with him until God … BLESSED him. He wept and begged for his favour.

 

And that’s what God LOVES to do. Look at v4.

(Hosea 14:4-7 NIV)  “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. {5} I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; {6} his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. {7} Men will dwell again in his shade.

Wonderful images of beauty, and strength. Of fruitfulness, and usefulness and purpose. The beauty of a lily. The strength of a cedar. The fruitfulness and usefulness of an olive tree. The purpose of a shady tree.

 

That’s what the Christian life is like. Not one where everything always goes right. But one where there is beauty, and strength. An internal stability and steadfastness that other people NOTICE. That only comes from GOD.

 

And it’s a life that AFFECTS THOSE AROUND YOU. Christians are fruitful and useful and purposeful. We have a REASON for LIVING. God has made us for a purpose. And we can be a blessing to others. A help and a guide and a support.

 

That’s the sort of life that is REALLY wealthy and stable and satisfying. And it’s what God offers each one of us. The life of blessing.

 

(slow) And it’s the only TRUE life. The only OBVIOUS ALTERNATIVE. Listen to Hosea’s conclusion. V9.

(Hosea 14:9 NIV)  Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE RIGHT; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

 

Which are you?

 

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