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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (6) (Hosea 4)

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Study Number 6

(Hosea 4)

So far we have learned from our studies in Hosea that in spite of Israel's sins the Lord remained faithful to His covenant and repeatedly called His people to repentance. To illustrate just how God felt about Israel, He had commanded Hosea to marry a bad woman, Gomer, who soon after their marriage left him for other men. This must have been very painful for the prophet, but in this way the Lord wanted to teach His people how He felt about their unfaithfulness to Him.

The amazing thing about all this was that the Lord did not divorce His bride, but He did everything to win her back to Himself. As we saw in chapter 3, by buying back Gomer who had been sold into slavery, Hosea is a picture of what God has done in Christ to purchase for Himself a sinful people to make her His bride.

In chapter 4, however, the Lord reminds Israel of her sins, so that she will realize that she does not deserve God's love. Israel needs to be convinced that she deserves only condemnation and that His justice demands that she be punished for her sins. Although God forgives Israel, she will be severely disciplined. That discipline will take the form of exile. Israel will be taken into captivity by the very nations whose gods she had worshipped.

In this chapter Hosea comes to Israel with a formal indictment in which he lists the sins of the people as evidence for the justice of God's judgments. In legal terms we can say that the prophet presents the case for the prosecution.

The chapter begins as a formal court proceeding might begin today--Hear, hear! The court is in session! Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. The word controversy here means charge. The Lord has a charge to bring against His people Israel. The charge is:

1. there is no truth or faithfulness among them;
2. there is no mercy or love and;
3. there is no knowledge of God.

What is found in Israel is the very opposite: there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, adultery, all kinds of lawbreaking and violence. In short, Israel does the very opposite of what God has commanded in His law. They have become a nation of rebels, breaking with all the rules and precepts the Lord has imposed on them for His own glory and their own benefit.

Our text sums up the sad situation of Israel this way: Israel slides back as a backsliding heifer. Hosea compares Israel to a young cow or heifer. In eastern countries farmers used to employ their cattle for all sorts of domestic work. Heifers of about one-year old would be broken in for that purpose. Sometimes these animals were so wild that it was almost impossible to train them. They would jump and kick and stubbornly refuse to accept the yoke.

Israel is like such a wild unmanageable heifer, the prophet says. The people hated all restrictions and refused to walk in God's ways. For a long time already, Israel had been trying to get rid of Jehovah's bands with which He wanted to bind His people to Himself and His service. These were not hard and cruel bands, but bands of love (11:4). Israel, however, did not look at it that way. Israel did not like to serve the Lord, because they felt God's commandments restricted them in their movements.

Almost from the start, Israel had been trying to throw off what they saw as a heavy yoke. By Hosea's time this rebellious spirit had reached a climax. It was a time of national prosperity. The economy was booming, but affluence often makes people complacent and independent as well as indifferent to religious and moral values. This is what happened also to Israel. A false longing for freedom, nourished by a desire for carnal pleasures began to manifest itself. The people resented the yoke of God's law and tried to shake it off. Once the ties with God and His commandments were severed, sin broke out like a lion breaking out of its cage. Where the Word of God no longer binds the consciences of men, sin has free course and cannot be stopped any more.

We see the same thing happening today, don't we? Israel's sin characterizes our twentieth century too. Like stubborn heifers, modern man seeks to shake off all divine laws as well as man-made restrictions, if these are thought to interfere with so-called rights and freedom of choice. One by one the "blue" laws passed by our forefathers to help preserve a Christian society, are being repealed and replaced by more up-to-date and permissive legislation. Man wants complete freedom to do his own thing. Of course, this all started with Adam's disobedience in the Garden. Then the seed of rebellion was sown. It is only today that we are reaping the full harvest of lawlessness. Psalm 2 sums up this spirit of anarchy very well when it talks about the kings of the earth taking counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, that is, Christ, saying: Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.

What a calling Christians have today to be a light and salt, also in this respect! We must stress the authority of God's Word and law as never before. But also--and that especially--we have to joyfully confess that our happiness lies in serving the Lord. We need to show the world that serving God and obeying His commandments does not make us slaves, but free men. As Jesus says: You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (Jn.8:32).

The only people who are really free are those who are slaves of Jesus Christ. All others are slaves of the devil and their freedom is an illusion. How free are drug addicts and alcoholics? What freedom is it that chains a person to sinful habits and passions, that drives him from one form of entertainment to another and that causes him to cry, more, more! Until he gets so sick of everything that he terminates his life? This is what Hosea wants Israel to see too, namely that freedom from God's commandments is no freedom, but the worst kind of bondage.

We have examined the first part of the text which says that Israel has behaved itself stubbornly like a stubborn heifer. Now let us read the rest of the verse. It says: Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place. What does this mean? In these words we hear God's reaction to Israel's sin. Israel is rebellious. She does not want to be bound by God's laws. Israel wants freedom; Lebensraum, Hitler called it--room to live and to move around. Well, God says, do you want more room to manoeuvre? You'll have it, plenty of it. I will feed you as a lamb in a large place.

At first glance this sounds like a promise, almost like a concession. Does Israel want more room? I'll give him all the room he wants, the Lord seems to say. This is in fact what God says, but it is spoken in sarcasm. The Lord announces a judgment here. Israel's request is granted. The Lord will give him a large place to run around in, but that large place will mean Israel's destruction. Why? Because a lamb does not belong in a large place. It doesn't feel at home in the open field. It belongs with the flock, close to the other sheep, under the watchful eye of the shepherd. As soon as a lamb strays from the flock and ends up in the open field, it is exposed to many dangers. It may get lost in the bush or fall into a ravine, or some wild animal may devour it. Therefore, that large place will not be a blessing but a curse for the lamb. It is much better off in the sheepfold. There is safety and there is life. What water is for a fish, the fold is for a lamb. There the lamb is in its element. The sheepfold means safety; it represents life, but the open field means death for the lamb.

So it is spiritually speaking with man. To obey God's law means life. Man is so foolish that he tries to get rid of God's law. This can only mean death. That was Israel's sin, and that is also our sin. Straight is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, Jesus said.

For many people it is much too straight and much too narrow, apparently. Is that what you think too? You look at that beautiful and broad way on which the many are walking and in your heart you would like to join them. You still go to church, but you don't really enjoy it. You've been brought up strict, but you resent it. The world looks so much more attractive to you. You know what Jesus said about that broad way that leads to death, but you don't really believe it.

Israel didn't believe it either. Like a stubborn heifer she shook off the Lord's yoke. Now she was free, finally! This freedom was only an illusion, however! They perished in it as a lamb perishes in the wilderness. The Lord gave them what they wanted. He brought them in a large place, far beyond Israel's borders, in the land of exile. They were taken to Assyria where there was lots of room. That large place turned out to be a large prison. They exchanged their freedom from Jehovah's yoke for slavery under other masters, cruel tyrants, and merciless despots!

It is still so today. We see that in our society. If one thing is clear, it is that rejection of Biblical norms and laws always results in submission to far harsher masters. Many in our western society confidently proclaim their freedom from Christian moral standards and principles. It is to be feared, however, that this boldly proclaimed freedom will in the end pave the way for a new dictatorship, either from the left or from the right. As I see it, modern man has a choice among three forms of dictatorship: 1) the human tyranny of a Hitler or Stalin; 2) the mindless tyranny of drugs; and 3) the demonic tyranny of religious cults.

Perhaps the greatest danger today is the latter. There is a tremendous interest in our generation in witchcraft, astrology and other "spiritual" phenomena. Millions are being attracted by the New Age movement which promises liberation, but in reality controls the minds of all who become its victims.

The question that faces all of us is not, are we going to serve a power higher than ourselves, but the question is this: whom are we going to serve? In the final analysis, the choice narrows down to just two: God or Satan, Christ or Antichrist. Therefore, choose ye this day whom ye will serve!

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