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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (14) (Hosea 14)

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Study Number 14

(Hosea 14)

Today we come to our last study in the prophecy of Hosea and we will do so by focusing on chapter 14:8 where the Lord says through His servant: Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

These words show that a great change has come over Ephraim, for we read in chapter 4:17 that Ephraim was joined to idols. In fact, he was so attached to them that neither warnings from man nor judgments from God could prevail to separate him from these false gods. That is why God, after repeated warnings said: Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone. It's no use trying to persuade him to give up his sins any longer. He is incorrigible.

Yet we find the same Ephraim saying in the last chapter of Hosea: What have I to do any more with idols? How do we explain this sudden change in attitude? The Lord had convinced him of the error of his ways! He had done so, not just by the thunders of His law, but by revealing Himself in His love and mercy. It was only when Ephraim or Israel was overcome by the Lord's goodness that he was willing to part with his idols.

I believe this is still the only way a sinner can be persuaded to give up his sins. Sure, he may be frightened into quitting certain sinful practices, but fear of punishment alone cannot make anyone hate sin. The sin will be given up, but reluctantly. If there were no law forbidding it and sanctions threatened against it, the sinner would not think of changing his conduct in the least.

But when the Lord reveals Himself in mercy and love, the sinner will respond as Ephraim does here. For then he sees that he has not only sinned against a holy God, but also against a good and kind God. This will break the heart of the most hardened sinner and result in true repentance.

What have I to do any more with idols? he cries. This is true repentance,--when we renounce all sins in general and our besetting sin in particular. The besetting sin of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel had been idolatry. Therefore, when Ephraim is brought to repentance by the Lord, he is represented as focusing on that sin especially.

In a way, all sin is idolatry, for what is idolatry? It means loving and serving the creature more than the Creator. We do not all worship the same idol. Some of us may give our heart to riches and the pursuit of material things. Others seek the applause of man--prestige and honour are very important to them. Still others are devoted to carnal pleasures and worship at the altar of the god or goddess of sex.

What all idols have in common is that they occupy a higher place in our affections than we allow to God, and that is sin. Ephraim had given his heart to the baals, the gods of the Canaanites and other nations.

What is your idol? What is your besetting sin? Whatever it may be, if you are a true penitent you will be anxious to put those idols to death. You will hate those sins that have held you captive for so long, defiling your conscience and robbing you of peace of mind. You will also be concerned lest these deadly enemies will come back to destroy your soul. They will try it and often succeed to a degree, because although sin no longer reigns in the heart of a Christian, it will seek to take back the throne at every opportunity. According to Romans 6, Christians have died to sin, but that does not mean sin is dead to them. There is still that old nature with its depraved tendencies. O, how God's child sometimes grieves when in spite of all efforts he cannot get rid of the enemy within. It is his constant prayer that the Lord may cleanse and purify his soul with His sanctifying power. Create in me a clean heart,O Lord, he cries, and renew a right spirit within me.

Is this also how you look at sin? Does Ephraim speak for you when he says, away with all idols? Are you determined to fight against all your sins, but especially that one sin that so easily besets you? I believe that every Christian needs to pray like William Cowper:

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne
And worship only Thee.

If that is your prayer right now, the comfort of Hosea 14:8 is yours too. And what a comfort it is! For after Ephraim says, What have I to do any more with idols, the Lord also says something. This is what He says: I have heard him [Ephraim], and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

Here we have the Lord taking notice of the disposition of a true penitent. We may be sure that if there is even the weakest desire for good in our hearts, the Lord is aware of it. By nature there is no good in any of us; Scripture makes that very clear. Therefore, if there is some good thing found in us, such as a willingness to confess sin and prayer for forgiveness, it is the Lord Himself who put such good thoughts and desires in us. Through His Holy Spirit He plants the seed of regeneration in us and that seed manifests itself in the fruits of repentance and faith.

The first evidence of the new life is that we begin to see ourselves as lost sinners and that we pray to the Lord for mercy, and of course, the Lord is aware of this. I have heard Ephraim, he says, and I have observed him. This is intended for the comfort of sinners who, like Ephraim, are troubled by their sins and long to be delivered from them. Such people are often afraid that the Lord is not paying attention to them. They weep in secret and go through much soul-sorrow alone. They desire to break with sin and live for the Lord, but they are afraid of themselves, knowing their sinful hearts. The desire is there, and even the determination, but how to turn that desire and resolve into action they do not know. That is why they pour out their hearts before the Lord.

To encourage such mourners in Zion, the Lord says, I have heard you and observed you. I have had my eye upon you even though you did not know it. I have listened carefully to your every word. There wasn't a sigh or it entered my ears, not a groan or it pierced my heart, not a tear or I put it in my bottle. You may think no one is aware of your struggles, hopes and aspirations, but be assured that I know all about them. I tell you what I will do for you. I will take you under my protection and see to it that you will continue to walk in my ways. This is the meaning of the next words: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

The Lord promises, first of all, protection. The fir tree provides a very thick shade which cannot be penetrated either by sun or rain so that it affords a safe retreat both from the heat of the sun and from the violence of an impending storm. This is an illustration of who the Lord is for an awakened sinner who realizes he deserves God's wrath and fears His judgment. Let him come to Me, the Lord says and I will be a green fir tree to him. I will shelter him from the curse of my law. How great is God's love for all who long to be saved from sin and who desire to be delivered from their idols so they may serve the Lord their God!

But the Lord does not only promise protection to the repentant sinner; He also offers him the grace of fruitfulness. Of me is thy fruit found, He says to Ephraim. This is also very important. A penitent sinner may have a sincere desire to part with all his idols, but how is he going to do this? He knows he lacks the necessary strength. Formerly, he relied on himself and his own resources, but now his eyes have been opened for his total inability. With Paul he laments, the good that I would I do not but the evil which I would not, that I do.

To remove his fears, the Lord offers to help him do what is good and right. In effect the Lord is saying, don't be afraid. I will undertake the work myself. My grace shall be sufficient for you. I will supply you with strength according to your needs. Of Me shall your fruit be found. I will make you fruitful. My Spirit will cause you to produce all kinds of fruits that will glorify Me.

We see here that the Lord does everything for His people. He assures them not only that He will deliver them from all their sins, but also that He will cause them to walk in His ways. As He said through Ezekiel: From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you: a new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will cause you to keep my statutes and judgments to do them.

Such divine assurances should encourage all who know the plague of their hearts and who therefore have no confidence in the flesh. Here is the remedy for all your problems. Do you need protection from the wrath of God against sin? Christ is your refuge! Did He not say to Jerusalem that He desired to gather them as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings? The sad thing was, however, that they did not want to be gathered by Him. You would not, Jesus said and He wept over their stubborn unbelief. This implies, does it not, that all who seek His protection will receive it. Jesus will be for them like a green fir tree and they shall sit under His shadow with great delight

Christ is also compared in Scripture to a vine from which believers continually receive their energy and nourishment. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can you, the Saviour said, except you abide in Me. Without Me you can do nothing. If you abide in Me, you shall bring forth much fruit. Indeed, from Me is your fruit found.

This is the Saviour we need, a Saviour who is our justification and our sanctification, yes, our complete redemption. Let us go forward in His strength, seeking to die unto sin and the world, for He deserves our total consecration. Christ gave Himself for us, Paul says, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto Himself a peculiar or special people, zealous of good works.

If you hope to dwell under the shadow of the green fir tree in heaven, make sure that the fruits of righteousness be found on the tree of your life here on earth. God is willing to produce them in you. Look to Him, and to Him alone, and He will be as the dew unto you; He will heal your backslidings and love you freely.

Hosea ends his prophecy with these words: Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them, but the transgressors shall fall therein.

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