The prophet Hosea is the first of the Minor Prophets seen in the Hebrew Bible and lived around 200 years after Israel and Judah split apart into two separate kingdoms. We are introduced to Hosea when the Lord orders him to marry a prostitute and have children with her, to name the children Not My People, No Mercy, and Jezreel, all symbolizing different aspects of the judgement facing Israel. He knew too that his wife would be unfaithful, going after other men.
The second chapter contains prophesies of both punishment and mercy for Israel, followed by Hosea having to redeem his prostitute wife from the other men to whom she has given herself. The third chapter also contains another prophecy of Israel returning to seek the Lord and living in His goodness.
Chapters four and five contain accusations of Israel’s unfaithfulness and evil with the promise of judgement, culminating appropriately in 5:11 “Ephraim [Israel, the northern kingdom] is oppressed, crushed in judgement, because he was determined to go after filth.”
Israel had become delusional; She had become convinced that it was the Baals and the Ashtaroth that had been the source of her bounty and success. This sprang from a growing ignorance of the living God, and the fact that graven images, which demand next to nothing of their patrons, make more congenial masters than the one true God. Such gods are transactional, predictable, and promote even the most base and despicable human behaviour. There was a cross-over period when the effects of the blessings of God were still seen during this time of idol worship which cemented Israel in the belief that their newer gods were truly the ones to thank and worship.
The heart of the Lord is always for His people, and if this means dealing harshly with their sin, the end is to keep them from wicked ways and restoring relationship, which we see lived out metaphorically in the life of Hosea. “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns,” says the Lord, as He gradually works to undo this terrible delusion, indicating He will disrupt and destroy idol worship and worthless pursuit of other gods. He would then remove the blessings previously enjoyed, such as corn, oil, and wine, and no amount of idolatry would be able to restore it. The truth revealed here is that the human heart is desperately wicked, stubborn, and prideful, desperate to deny the fact that it has erred or been fooled. The Lord will teach Israel dependence on Him, dispel her illusions, and lead her to realize that He alone is the giver of good things.
The response of Israel in this case is to cry out harder to her gods, slow to realize she had been duped. However, as affliction increases and these carved images are seen for what they truly are, Israel realizes her wickedness and folly. Cured of her delusion, she returns to the Lord who joyfully and readily receives her. This was the end to which the entire discipline pointed – the Lord is ready to receive any sinner that turns to Him! The way of the transgressor is hard (Prov. 13:15), and sin bears bitter fruit, yet even that can be used by the Lord Almighty to lead His people to repentance and back into His loving arms.
Each of us that follow the Lord have felt His discipline at one point or another, whether we’ve known it at the time or not. Does this surprise you? Does it make anyone uncomfortable? After all, the discipline of the Lord is rarely talked about with those who may consider following Christ! Yet it is one of the most valuable parts of our walk with Him and a reason for our trust in His saving power. If the Lord did not chasten or discipline, if He simply left us as we were, then the most callous, stubborn parts of our hearts would not be softened, and the bearing of bitter fruit would continue.
My friends, let us not be slow to recognize our own foolishness, depravity, or error. Let us humbly confess all things to the Lord and let Him work His sanctifying power within us. Our own sinful behaviours and habits have deep roots within us, and it is painful to have them removed; yet when the Holy Hand of God Almighty is working, we can be sure that what will follow is a harvest of righteousness and joy! Luke 9:23 says “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
My own personal testimony can be summed up in just a few words – Thank God that He did not leave me where I was but loved me enough to slay my dearest sins to make me alive in Christ. In closing, consider these words in Hebrews 12:5-6: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
When can you think of a time or times when you have been disciplined by the Lord? What fruit did you see come out of that? What was it that needed to change in your heart and mind?
Thank you, Father, that you did not leave me where I was when I came to you, but carefully and lovingly brought me up in the way I should go, so that I may be more like your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me to be more attentive to your discipline and to not make these things more difficult than they need to be. Humble me under your loving hand and teach me to be joyful in all things, for you are the one who works all things for the good of those who love you! Amen.
Song: He Will Hold Me Fast - Shane and Shane
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.