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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (8) (Hosea 6)

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Study Number 8

(Hosea 6)

Last time we saw that God threatened to withdraw Himself from His people Israel on account of their long continued sins. I will go and return to my place, He warned. While this announcement spelled disaster for Israel, the Lord did not close the door of grace completely. He told them that His withdrawal would not be permanent. He would come back to them if they would repent. I will go and return to my place, He said, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.

Did Israel repent? Yes, but not right away. Hosea saw with prophetic eye that when Ephraim would be in exile he would come to his senses and repent. Come and let us return unto the Lord, they would say to each other, for He has torn and He will heal us; He has smitten, and He will bind us up.

There are commentators who say that Israel's repentance was not sincere. For evidence they point to verse 4, where the Lord complains, O Ephraim what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud and as the early dew it goes away.

Is this interpretation correct? Partly, I believe. There were some in Israel who truly repented. They sincerely sought the Lord's face and longed for a return of His favour and communion. But there were many others who did not repent with all their heart. They went through the motions and came no farther than an outward reformation. They brought the prescribed sacrifices and observed the proper rituals and ceremonies, but their hearts were not in it.

Therefore, despite the show of repentance with which chapter 6 begins, God complains O Ephraim, what shall I do with you? What can I do with you, Judah? Your goodness is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. The Lord is pictured as a man who is perplexed. He has tried different things to solve a problem, but nothing seems to work. He is at his wit's end and doesn't know what to do any more.

How can God be perplexed, you say? I can understand a man saying, what shall I do to be saved? But here is God asking, what shall I do to save him? This is not the cry of a human soul seeking after God. Rather, it is the cry of God seeking after a human soul. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee!

Why this poignant appeal of God to sinners? Our text gives the answer. It is an answer that surprises us. The reason God gives for His perplexity is not that they are so sinful per se, but rather that they appear to be so good.

Appearances can be deceiving. Your goodness is as a morning cloud, God says, and as the dew. These are good things, surely. A morning cloud, appearing just above the horizon at sunrise, is a thing of beauty. So is the dew, which covers every blade of grass, making it glisten in early morning light. The problem is these things do not last. In a few hours it all vanishes away.

It was like that with Israel's goodness. Like the morning cloud and the dew it appeared and disappeared. It seemed so beautiful, so promising, but it was gone in no time. Your goodness is as a morning cloud and as the dew, which goes away early.

Israel's repentance and its resultant changes in conduct and attitude did not last long. For a while they would give up their sinful practices and devote themselves to the Lord and His service, but after a while the impression would wear off again and things were as bad as before.

Here we have a description of false repentance on the part of awakened sinners who realize their danger and turn from their sins for a time, but it does not last. Take the wife of Lot, for instance. She was very impressed, I'm sure, by the two angels sent by God to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom. The solemn expression on their faces, their urgent pleas to flee from the wrath to come, the anxiety of Lot and his warning to his sons-in-law, all these things affected her greatly, no doubt. So she too fled from the doomed city, nervous and in a state of panic. After she had been running for a while and morning began to dawn, her anxious fears began to subside. She looked back with covetous eyes at what she had left behind, and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Her goodness was like a morning cloud and as the early dew it went away. Most people who sit under faithful Gospel preaching will have at least one time of awakening. I'm sure you have all been touched by the Gospel at one time or another. You have all prayed to the Lord and confessed your sins, convinced that you needed to change your ways. But what has happened since? Does your conscience not accuse you that nothing has come of your resolutions? Must it not be said in your case also that your goodness was as the morning cloud and the early dew that goes away? Remember, then, that the way to hell is paved with good intentions and the place of outer darkness is filled with those who once wept and prayed for their souls.

Why is it that these impressions fade away so quickly in most cases? Because these impressions are only skin-deep. Sometimes people commit a terrible sin and they feel guilty. Their conscience accuses them. God's law condemns them. They realize they are in trouble--big trouble. So they pray for forgiveness and try to change their ways. If only they could give up their bad habits, God might be merciful to them, they think.

For all their remorse and good intentions they are not undone, however. They have not come to the end of themselves. They do not see that they cannot get right with God by anything they do.

Another problem is that such people do not see the beauty of Christ. A flash of terror may bring a sinner to his knees, but it will not bring him to Christ. Only love can do that. Only love will draw a sinner to the Saviour. True repentance comes only by looking upon a Christ dying for sin and offering a free pardon to sinners. Repentance, therefore, presupposes faith--or as the Westminster Confession puts it, an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, a laying hold of the promise that all who trust in the perfect sacrifice for sin, will be saved.

False repentance is false because it lacks the true understanding of what sin is. Many people realize the danger of sin but they do not see the filthiness of sin. That's why they do not hate sin, but only its consequences. If they give up their sins at all, it is only because they dread the punishment that follows. If there were no punishment, they would never part with sin, for they love it and will do everything to keep it. A true convert will hate sin because God hates it and made His Son bear the punishment for it.

Because this kind of repentance was so rare in Israel and is still rare today, God seems at a loss as to what to do. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? What more can I do that I have not done already? In New Testament terms that means, I have given my Son to die on the cross, what else can I do? There remains no more sacrifice for sin after the supreme sacrifice has been made.

This is also true of the Gospel. What more can preachers say than what they have already said about Christ and His finished work, about the sincere, well-meant offer of salvation? Some of you have heard Gospel messages all your life. You have been warned solemnly as well as invited tenderly by a variety of preachers. God's servants have taken you to Sinai, where they made you listen to the thunders of the law. They also led you to Gethsemane and Calvary to show you what the Son of God went through to purchase salvation for sinners. So what more needs to be done? You have been told about the new birth, its necessity but also its possibility. You have been told that the Holy Spirit is willing to work faith in you and repentance, if only you ask Him humbly and sincerely. Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it, is still the invitation addressed to Ephraim and the church today.

Hosea presents us with a picture of God that is most unusual. It shows God faced with a dilemma. He is torn apart, as it were. He is pulled in opposite directions by competing claims of His divine attributes. His justice says, cast Ephraim out of Thy sight. He has repented, but his repentance, his goodness, is not sincere. It is all talk and no action. He deserves to be punished. But mercy says, spare him, O God. Give him a new heart instead of the fickle heart he has, and create a right spirit within him to replace his wayward spirit. Ephraim is as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, but Lord, Thou hast broken others into Thy service, break him also! Justice urges one thing and mercy pleads another, with the result that Jehovah experiences a conflict. What shall I do unto thee?

Perhaps the Lord is saying this also about you. Also in your case He has two options that He might follow. He could listen to justice and say, I will give up on that man, that woman, boy or girl. They have heard my Word long enough. I have offered my salvation to them with as much earnestness and love as is divinely possible. So far, no real repentance has been forthcoming. Only a going through the motions, only a show of piety.

Therefore, I will let him go his own sinful way. Then he will end up in hell! He can never say, I never heard the gospel. He cannot even say, I was never touched by it. There were impressions, there were resolutions, there were vows and promises to change. Whatever goodness it led to was like a morning cloud and like the dew that goes away.

The Lord may also heed mercy's pleading. Give him more time. Let the tree of his life stand another year. Let more manure be spread around him and with water and sunshine, perhaps there will be good fruits found on him yet.

I believe the Lord prefers the latter option. Are we not all the living proof of that? We are still in the land of the living, in the day of grace and the acceptable year of the Lord. We may still go up to God's house every Lord's day. May we see this as a privilege and an undeserved blessing! We can say with Asaph every day again,

O, it is good that I
May still to God draw nigh,
As oft before.

We may use the means of grace. Let us use them diligently and prayerfully, asking the Lord to bless them.

I have no pleasure in your death the Lord has said. That is why He has patience with sinners and with saints as well. Yes, also you, child of God, have so much that cannot stand the test of divine judgment. There is so much fluff in your religion too, so much insincerity and half-heartedness, so much worldliness and idolatry. Confess it all to the Lord and beg Him to be merciful for Christ His Son's sake.

Christ went to the cross for such wretched sinners as we are. He also found Himself faced with a dilemma at one point, whether to stop or whether to proceed with His saving mission. Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, He asked in desperation. But then He quickly added, not my will but thine be done. Also on the cross there came that fearful moment when the agonizing question was forced from His tormented soul, My God why hast thou forsaken me!

This was so we might never be forsaken or given up, as justice demanded. Mercy would not hear of. Mercy prevailed, but only because justice was satisfied when Christ fully met the law's demands and completely bore the punishment for the transgressions of His people. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

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