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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (9) (Hosea 7)

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Study Number 9

(Hosea 7)

In Hosea, chapter 7, the prophet continues to analyze the sad condition of Israel. The ten-tribe nation has committed many sins for which the Lord is going to punish them unless they repent. One of their worst sins, mentioned in these chapters, is the sin of ignorance. Again and again the prophet charges Israel with the sin of not knowing God, or as it actually says in the original, the sin of not acknowledging Him. Israel does not recognize who God is, or what He is for His people, namely their Redeemer and Benefactor. Israel does not know, or does not want to know that all her blessings flow from Jehovah their Covenant God.

The worst thing about all this is that they do not realize how serious this sin of not acknowledging Jehovah is. They are ignorant of their plight. They do not know how bad things are with them. They are in the worst situation imaginable, spiritually and morally, but they are not aware of it.

Hosea focuses on this fact in a striking way. Speaking of Ephraim, the prophet says twice: he knoweth it not. First, he says, strangers have devoured his strength and he knoweth it not; and then he repeats the same statement in more figurative language, saying, Yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not.

What Hosea says here is very strange because the illustration he uses is not true to life and experience. Let me prove this to you. How many of you men did not know it when your hair began to turn grey? I doubt if any of you would claim such ignorance. It may have happened gradually or in a relatively short time, but you noticed the change taking place, I'm sure.

The figure of speech employed by Hosea seems to contradict everyday experience, but this makes it all the more striking. We detect our grey hairs immediately; we may laugh about it or try to hide them. Maybe some of us have tried to pull them out or applied a dab or two of Grecian formula. The onset of grey hairs is definitely not something we fail to notice. Yet, of Ephraim it is said, he knoweth it not!

What the prophet means, of course, is that what never happens in every day life and experience can and does happen in the moral and spiritual realm. The illustration used here is warranted after all. A nation, a church, yes, an individual may show signs of decline which others can detect but which the parties concerned do not notice.

Remember the story of Samson and Delilah, how the Philistines through this harlot who betrayed him took this man of God captive. Whenever she cried, Samson, the Philistines are upon you, he shook off the ropes and other things she had tied him with and he escaped. Except the last time. When she arranged to have his seven hair locks, the symbol of his strength, shaved off and then repeated the warning, Samson woke up and thought he could scare off his enemies as before. To his great dismay he was powerless this time. The explanation for his weakness was this: he knew not that the Spirit of God had departed from him.

Here was a man, a servant of God, who had known the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon him, enabling him to do great things for God, yet he had sinned and did not know or realize that the Spirit had left him. Grey hairs were upon him but he did not know it.

Hosea says with reference to Israel, strangers have devoured his strength. The background to this statement is that Israel's leaders, the politicians, had made treaties with Assyria and Egypt in an effort to protect themselves from their enemies. This seemed like a smart strategy. Yet it was not. Instead of getting stronger this way, they ended up weaker, because now they had to make substantial payments to these foreign powers which undermined the nation's very existence. Sapped of his strength, Ephraim was beginning to look like an old grey-haired man, stumbling toward the grave.

Israel's end as a nation was coming closer and closer. The tragedy was that Ephraim did not realize it. Israel did not know what was happening. Like Samson, Israel did not know that the Spirit of God had departed from it, leaving her completely powerless.

What happened to Israel has happened to many other nations and entire civilizations, and individuals as well. To limit ourselves to the latter, how many individuals like you and me are suffering from this Samson-syndrome? There may be some grey hairs growing on our heads, spiritually speaking, without our being aware of it! I'm afraid that ignorance in this respect is widespread. Why is this? The basic reason, I believe, is that we are not very well acquainted with the condition of our own souls. We may be full of spiritual diseases; a deadly cancer may be ravaging our soul while we totally unaware of it.

Many people, of course, don't want to know how matters stand with their souls. If they see a spiritual doctor at all, they want him to give them a quick fix. They like band-aid theology which merely covers up the wound.

You say that's foolish. Sure it is, but there are a lot of foolish people around. Are you one of them? Are you satisfied to have a name that you live while you may well be dead?

Others do not see their grey hairs because they refuse to look in the mirror. That way they can pretend everything's fine. If we don't look into the mirror of God's law, we won't see our sins and we can fool ourselves thinking we're OK.

There are also those who do use a mirror, but not the right one. It does not give you a clear picture. You can set up your own standards of what a Christian ought to be like, but if it is different from the Bible's standard, you will deceive yourself. You can compare yourself with other people and say, I am as good as so and so, and even better. But other people and their conduct are not meant to serve as our standards. The law of God alone has been appointed for that purpose.

Some do see their grey hairs, but they decide to cover them up. They dye their hair. You remember what I said about Grecian formula? Well, there is a kind of spiritual dye called hypocrisy. People who use this approach have only one concern: to look good on the outside--never mind how they look on the inside. They are masters of deceit. They are good at praying in public, but at home they are never on their knees. They talk very piously, but their piety is all show and no substance.

God keep us from trying to cover up the grey hairs of our sins and help us to be honest before Him and our fellow men as well as ourselves.

What are some of the grey hairs, which indicate loss of spiritual strength and vitality? I could mention quite a few, but we will limit ourselves to the examples mentioned in our text. Two things are mentioned here: conformity to the world and half-heartedness in religion. These two are closely related. Ephraim has mixed himself among the people. That means Israel had been getting too chummy with the nations around her. Before we get too critical we should keep in mind that contact with the other nations was not wrong as such. In fact, God had placed Israel among the heathen nations to show forth His praise and to be a witness to His grace and power.

That was not the only calling they had, however. Israel was also supposed to keep its distance from the other nations. She was to be a holy nation devoted to God, living in strict obedience to His laws. Israel should never give up its unique position as the people of God.

Yet that was exactly what happened. Ephraim mixed himself among his pagan neighbours, not to preach the Gospel to them, but to imitate them. They adopted their pagan customs and they even embraced their idols, taking part in immoral forms of worship! Not that they forsook their own religion. They continued to bring their sacrifices to the altar of Jehovah. The Mosaic institutions were observed, at least to the degree this was possible in the northern kingdom which was separated from Jerusalem and its temple.

Israel's sin was basically one of compromise. She served the Lord and the world, but as always happens with compromise, the balance started to swing more and more in favour of the world. That is what Hosea means when he describes Ephraim as a cake not turned. The picture is of a cake baked on one side only, while the other side remains in its doughy state. It isn't baked, really, but burnt to a crisp on one side, while the other side is left as is, because the cake is not turned over. It is easy to figure out on what side Ephraim was burnt. Not on the side of its calling to be a witness to the nations. Israel was never in danger of overdoing things when it came to serving the Lord.

Neither are we. Our calling to seek the things that are above does not catch fire so easily. We tend to be much more zealous in pursuing the things of the world. That side gets burned long before the other side. That side hardly gets a chance to get warm. Is it any wonder that our spiritual life, such as it is, languishes and shows marks of decay, similar to Ephraim's grey hairs?

What are the symptoms of worldliness and half-heartedness in religion? One of the first indications is lack of prayer. We may try to pray, but our mouths remain shut and we cannot utter a word before God. Spiritual duties, which once were easy for us, become arduous and bothersome. Temptations, which once had lost their force, now become a real problem again.

Strangers devour our strength. Lust, once resisted but now indulged in, saps us of all spiritual desire and effort, so much so that the good things that still remain in us are ready to die.

O those grey hairs--how indicative they are of declining strength! First there are only a few of them, here and there, Hosea says. Soon they spread and eventually they cover the entire head.

Like Ephraim, we may not be aware of these symptoms or refuse to admit they are there, but others may notice them, and if they don't, the Lord certainly does! He sees us in secret. He knows how we come up to His house, whether we come prayerfully and with desire, or merely out of duty and custom. He knows what we do in private, whether we take time to be alone with Him in our closets, or whether we avoid it. He knows that even if we try to draw near to Him, we do not enjoy doing so--that there is no delight in God, no peace of mind, no lively hope.

We have analyzed the causes and the symptoms of spiritual decline. What is the cure? What is the remedy? Repentance! I know that sounds trite. It is what you expect. Repentance--but that is the one thing the Bible recommends, yes, commands--more than anything else--both for the unconverted and believers. The remedy is first and foremost to acknowledge our sins and to seek cleansing in the blood of Jesus. Tell the Lord about your worldliness and your half-heartedness, your lukewarmness, your love of sin and your lack of desire to serve Him. Ask if He will give you a new heart and a new nature. Plead earnestly for the Spirit to renew you inwardly, so that you may overcome Satan, the world and your own flesh, and so run to win the prize.

Child of God, do you not have something you need to repent of too? Do you not have many grey hairs which point to weakness and decline in your spiritual life? Show those hairs to the Lord and ask Him to dye them. He alone can cover them with the dye of Christ's blood, so that not our hair only, but everything about us becomes new and fresh and revived. By His grace our spiritual health can be restored, our strength renewed, and our joy and hope rekindled. As Isaiah says,

He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint (Isa.40:29-31).

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