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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (4) (Hosea 2:15)

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Study Number 4

(Hosea 2:15)

So far in our studies in Hosea we have seen that Israel, by forsaking the Lord, brought upon herself nothing but trouble. Her sin was spiritual adultery, going after strange gods and giving her affection to them rather than to her lawful husband. This greatly offended and grieved the Lord. Yet, though He could justly have given her over to her sinful and foolish ways by divorcing her, He did everything to win her back. He began by "hedging up" her ways. That is, He dealt with her in a way of discipline or chastisement.

Did Israel repent? No she did not; not yet, at any rate. Jehovah's bride was so desperately set on mischief that nothing could stop her, it seemed. The Lord then decided to change His method or mode of operation. He told Hosea He was going to use another approach. When harsh measures failed to bring Israel on its knees the Lord decided to use the strategy of gentle persuasion. I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart, He told His servant.

We have seen what this new approach involved. In wondrous love the Lord began to allure or entice His people to Himself. Like a lover competing for the affections of his beloved, the Lord sought to outbid His rivals, proving that He had much more to offer than these other lovers. All this took place in the wilderness, the place of solitude where the Lord and His bride could be alone and where he could speak to her heart, comforting and assuring her of His pardoning love and mercy.

We now go on to the next verse (vs.15), which shows even more clearly how wonderful the love of God is towards sinners. And I will give her vineyards from thence and the valley of Achor for a door of hope. This is what God says He will do for His sinful wife who has so shamelessly forsaken Him. He will first restore the blessings which Israel has lost and forfeited through sin. In verses 9 and 12 the Lord had said, I will take away my corn in the time thereof and my wine in the season thereof... I will destroy her vines and her fig trees. Now He says, I will give her back these things. I will give her vineyards from thence.

What may we learn from this? This, that when a sinner comes back to God, whether for the first time or as a backslider, the Lord restores the very things that we lost through our sins. When we fell in Adam we lost everything--our righteousness and our happiness--but in the second Adam we regain all that and more, because the first Adam could still lose what he had, and he did lose it for himself and for us. But the second Adam earned blessings for us which become ours permanently and irrevocably.

The Lord gives us more in Christ than what He gave us in Adam. This is illustrated in our text. The Lord promises to give His people an abundance of good things. The word vineyard symbolizes this: I will give her vineyard from thence.

The Lord had taken away everything: Israel's corn and wine, her wool and her flax--all the necessities of life. Now, after He has allured or enticed His unfaithful wife and spoken to her heart, He promises to give back not just her corn and other staples, but also her vineyards. As Calvin says, when God is reconciled to a people, he will not only give them subsistence but abundance, even for delight, as well as for necessity.

This is the God with Whom we have to do: a merciful and gracious God, abounding in lovingkindness! Do you know Him as such? Has He ever spoken to your heart as He does here to Israel? Has He persuaded you that in spite of your unfaithfulness He remains faithful and still wants to have a relationship of love with you? Then you know what it means to melt away in wonder and amazement as He restores one blessing after another.

I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope. The valley of Achor--why is that mentioned here? Because that valley had a tremendous symbolic meaning for Israel. Three times in the Old Testament we read about the valley of Achor. The first time is in Joshua 7 in connection with the story of Achan and his sin. When Israel had conquered Jericho, Achan had taken spoil of that city against the express command of God. By doing this, Achan troubled the whole nation (the name Achan means trouble) so that Israel lost the next battle at Ai. When it was discovered that Achan was the cause, his sin was judged to be worthy of death. Both he and his family were stoned in the valley of Achor which took its name from this incident.

Achan means trouble, and Achor means troubling. The man who had brought trouble upon his people was himself troubled as a result of his sin.

The second time this valley is mentioned is in Isaiah 65, where the prophet speaks of a day when it will become a resting-place for herds (vs.10). The third time is here, in Hosea, where we are told that the valley of Achor will become a door of hope.

If we take these three references together, we get this picture: the valley of Achor, the place of swift judgment, becomes a place of rest and pasture for flocks and also a door of hope for troubled people. It became that already for Israel in Joshua's time. As soon as Achan was executed and the evil he had committed was removed, the Lord blessed His people again and gave them victory over their enemies. The valley of Achor became a door of hope through which they entered to take possession of the land God had promised them.

When they were defeated at Ai the people gave up hope. Even Joshua, their leader, had complained: O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! But then the Lord had told him to get up and find out the cause of the trouble. As soon as the matter of Achan was dealt with properly, the Lord returned with blessings. Hope revived. The valley of Achor did not become the dark pit in which all the people had to die. Only Achan and his family perished. For the rest, the valley of trouble became a door of hope, leading to victory and enjoyment of promised possessions.

Here, in the prophecy of Hosea, this valley is mentioned again and for a good reason. Just as in Joshua's time, the people had sinned. Not just one individual, but the whole nation had committed the sin of covetousness--stealing from the Lord. They had given to the idols what belonged to the Lord. It was really the same sin that Achan had committed, only on a grander scale. Therefore they deserved the same punishment. A pit had to be dug large enough to contain the whole nation. That pit was going to be the land of exile: Babylon. That would become the valley of Achor or trouble for them.

But now see the miracle! The Achor of exile will not become the grave for Israel. They will be spared again. Chastised, yes, troubled, indeed, but they will not perish! Also this time the valley of Achor will be a door of hope. The exile will serve as a purifying fire. They will enter that valley on one side, but they will leave it on the other--chastised, renewed, purified, and reformed.

Not all of them, however. The majority will meet death in the valley, just like Achan. For the unrepentant, Achor will offer no hope, no door into freedom, but a gate into death. For those who will repent, however, God has mercy in store. Israel will come back and serve the Lord. They will put away all idols and worship the only true God.

Seen in this light, our text teaches us a very important principle. Hope comes through trouble and troubling. We make the trouble, for we commit the sin. God sends us trouble on account of our sins, yet this very act of troubling or chastising brings us to our senses and then to God with repentance and the hope of forgiveness.

This is still God's way with sinners. He first troubles us and then He gives comfort. Many people can't see this. They don't like preaching that troubles or disturbs them. They want soothing messages, uplifting or positive preaching, as they call it. How sad this is! If we are sinners--whether unconverted or backsliders--we need to be troubled, now or later! God will deal with our sins. He must. That's how God's law operates. This is how the universe operates. When we break the laws of nature, it is really not those laws that break, but we break ourselves upon them and that always means trouble. The whole universe is built so that no man can escape from that sequence. Jump out of the window and pain will trouble you; that is inevitable and inescapable. You have not broken the law, you have broken your leg or worse.

It is the same with the moral law. When you break it, you are really breaking yourself. The damage is done to you, not to the law. You end up in trouble. That is God's way to bring you to your senses! Trouble over sin leads to confession of sin and hope of forgiveness. The valley of Achor becomes the door of hope for repentant sinners. What a blessing it becomes to be so troubled that we feel the pain of having offended God, and we wake up to our danger and to our need of divine pardon and restoration. The very discipline used by the Lord opens the door to forgiveness.

It is not enough to see this door of hope, however. We must also pass through it. Repentance is more than feeling sorry for sin; it also produces hope in God's mercy--a persuasion that the Lord will receive us. This is faith, which is but the flip side of repentance. It may sometimes be difficult to believe God is willing to forgive, but when the Lord speaks to a sinner's heart He will assure him especially of His willingness to pardon.

Is it any wonder that Israel begins to sing? Our text says, she shall sing as in the days of her youth and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. When she will taste the forgiving love of Jehovah, she will sing as she had done in the time of her first love. Just as in marriage husband and wife rejoice together after they have made up their differences and have forgiven each other so that things are as good or even better than before, so Israel will rejoice greatly in the Lord, while He also will rejoice over her.

How wonderful all this is! Whereas we deserve only trouble because of our sins, the Lord opens a door of hope! How can God do this? How can Achor, the place of judgment, become a door of hope?

The answer is Christ. He took our troubles on Him. Remember His words when approaching Gethsemane? Now is my heart troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this cause came I to this hour.

Why was Jesus troubled? Because of our sins. His Father troubled Him so we might be comforted and we might have hope. That is why Jesus said to His disciples and to us: let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.

Christ is the Door of Hope for all troubled souls who, knowing they deserve to perish forever in the wilderness of sin, return to Him against whom they have sinned and plead His mercy. How wide is that door? Wide enough to admit the biggest sinner, but yet so narrow that it will admit only those who leave everything behind--all their own baggage, their own righteousness. The only way we can enter the door of hope is to be stripped of everything.

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Saviour, or I die.

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