God, making himself vulnerable
Hosea 14: O Israel, come back! Return to your God!
In his amazing love God calls out to his wayward people. To return to him is to their benefit. Otherwise, it’ll take tough love to turn them around and even as these words are spoken a “tornado” of judgment is coming their way. That’s a message I’m used to seeing in the prophets. There’s another message here and even though it’s seen in other places, it’s especially clear in the book of Hosea. If these sinning people return to God it will be to their benefit, but it will also be to his. As Hosea’s love reached out to his unfaithful wife so does God’s love reach out to a sinning humanity. It seems impossible, but I, as insignificant as I am, have the ability to both hurt and please the Maker of the universe. The reason for that is that he loves me with a love I cannot fully understand. God has allowed himself to be vulnerable in opening his heart to me and to all humanity. Today, the person who’s rejected God; who’s lived as an enemy of his; who, in my opinion, is practically beyond redemption, remains within the reach of God’s love. The Lord won’t force you to return but he reaches out to you in love even through the words of this little-read devotional.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
It isn’t over till it’s over
Hosea 12: What are you waiting for? Return to your God!
Hosea is unique in the Old Testament in his understanding of God. The opening “living parable” of his enduring love of his unfaithful wife flavors the entire book. Now, it isn’t all romantic love. There’s some strong medicine here, what could be called “tough love.” Still, it’s love. The Almighty is so in love with these people that he can’t let them go. The God who could wipe them out in a second instead calls to them and reasons with them and, yes, uses some tough love in dealing with them. In this passage the Lord illustrates his intentions by appealing to history. He reminds them that Jacob started out as a “heel” who even tried to manipulate his Creator. The Lord says that, in the end, he won and Jacob was changed into a new person. Now, this same God turns his attention to the current sorry state of things. He tells this rebellious nation that he loves them too much to cast them away. He says that in his love, he won’t give up and he won’t give in. They might as well surrender to it now because, ultimately, he’ll win. Today, I’m reminded that God doesn’t give up on people and I shouldn’t give up on them either. The person who seems the most lost; who has burned his bridges and declared his abandonment of the Lord is still on God’s radar screen. Really, it isn’t over till God says it’s over!
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t give up on people and I shouldn’t give up on them either.
Hosea 11: I am God and not a human…I’m here — in your very midst.
As I begin reading this chapter I brace myself for more of the same: that God’s people have had every opportunity to serve him but have utterly failed and are now being kicked out. I think that’s what I’m going to see, but I’m wrong. Instead, I see a picture of God’s love for the sinner; a love so powerful that even when Israel appears to have sinned away the day of grace that God can’t give up on them. The Lord’s in anguish over their rejection and says, “How can I give up on you? How can I turn you loose?” It’s a dramatic vision of God’s love. In fact, it’s here I find myself face-to-face with love beyond human capacity. Even as I read these words of love and mercy I find myself wondering how God can go so far in his forgiveness and how he can love in such an overwhelming way. It’s then that I find the answer. God loves with intensity beyond what I can comprehend because of who he is. He’s God and not man. Here’s love in the superlative; super-human love. I thank God that today I am a recipient of that love.
Take Away: God is love.
Hosea 10: Sow righteousness, reap love.
The prophet says things aren’t going to work out for Israel. Generations earlier, when the Lord delivered them from Egyptian slavery, he had plans for them. They were going to be a force for righteousness on earth. The Lord likens them to a strong farm animal that’s hitched up to the plow and can powerfully prepare the ground for planting. This isn’t a put down. In this culture any farmer who has such an animal is proud of it and cares for it. The Lord says he saw such potential in that nation of slaves. These people could change the earth for good as they spread righteousness everywhere. Again, though, it isn’t going to work out. Instead of planting righteousness and love, they spread wickedness, evil, and lies. Not only do they fail to live up to their promise, they also have the audacity to work against God’s purpose rather than for it. I’m reminded today that the Lord is well aware of my potential. He knows what’s likely beyond me and he knows what I can do if I put my mind to it. Of course, I never want to be guilty of taking God’s gifts and using them to work against him but I don’t even want to disappoint him. I may not have the capability to change the world but surely I can help sow a little righteousness in the lives of those around me.
Take Away: The Lord knows what we can do in the work of his kingdom – and he expects us to do it by his grace.
Shopping for religion
Hosea 7: They turn…here, then there, like a weather vane.
“Welcome to WorshipMart, your one stop shop for religion. Please keep an eye out for our blue light specials, you may find a very nice accessory to your faith for a low price.” You head over to the New Age aisle. Maybe a new crystal will help you pray better. The Politically Correct section has some interesting items, some of that “what works for you may not work for me” might come in handy when dealing with some of the more narrow people you know. The Hedonism section makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable but you can’t resist some of the “it can’t be all that bad if it feels right.” And then you head over to the staples section. After all, when all else fails you might just want some help from God Almighty. At the checkout counter the salesperson asks if you found everything you wanted. You answer “yes” but you think, “I’ll probably be back in here before long, somehow this stuff doesn’t seem to last like it should.” As you check out, you can’t find the last item. That’s happened before. Everything else is there though; you’ll just have to make it without God. Anyway, your religion is no one’s business but your own. Right?
Take Away: He’ll either be Lord of all or he won’t be Lord at all.
Unreservedly in love with God
Hosea 6: I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.
The prophet has fallen head over heals in love with his deeply flawed wife. She’s left him but he isn’t over her and wants her to come back. However, he knows that just getting her back won’t be enough. For her to return yet remain unchanged will only start this whole destructive sequence over again. Something in her has to change if there’s any hope for their future together. That, Hosea says, is how it is between God and his people. The Lord loves them and wants them to turn from their idol worshiping ways and return to him. However, what he wants from them isn’t just a polished approach to doing worship. Instead, he wants them to love him with the abandon and passion that he has for them. He says to them, “I’m after love that lasts, not more religion.” As old as this concept is, and as reasonable as it is, people to this very day fail to grasp this. God doesn’t want me to go to church; to “practice religion,” or to attend Bible studies. He wants me to passionately love him. He wants me to throw myself into that relationship without reservation. When that happens, no one has to tell me I ought to worship and pray and study my Bible. The only reason for me to go to church and study my Bible is that in doing these things I better experience the Object of my strongest attraction: God, Himself. That’s the kind of relationship God wants to have with me and with you.
Take Away: The Lord wants us to passionately love him.
Farther than you want to go
Hosea 4: That whirlwind has them in its clutches.
Hosea’s personal parable soon gives way to his prophecies concerning sinful Israel. The background of his own experience is especially evident in his constant references to the debauchery of Israel and descriptions of God’s disgust with their practices even as he loves them and calls them back. The experience of Hosea with his unfaithful wife is a reflection of all that. In this passage Hosea complains about their idol worshipping, sexually explicit religion. They think promiscuity and drunkenness is their ticket to happiness and satisfaction. Instead, as some wise people have said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go.” They’re willingly giving themselves to something that won’t satisfy and will ultimately destroy them. What starts out as willful sin (“I can quit anytime I want”) becomes obsession and possession. What they thought they could control now controls them. People start down some foolish path thinking they’re in control. Before long, they’re where they never expected to be and bound by what they never thought could control them.
Take Away: Sin will take you farther than you want to go.
Identifying with the right person
Hosea 3: From now on you’re living with me.
I guess it’s just human nature but when I read the parables of Jesus my first inclination is to identify with “good guy” in the story. I see myself as the “tax collector” who prays for mercy, the servant who invests his talent, and the woman who finds the lost coin. It’s only when I’m willing to see myself from the less than stellar point of view that the parable can truly instruct me and help me become the person God would have me be. Since Hosea’s story is a living parable, who am I in this story? I know that the primary focus is on God and the ancient Israelites, but if I read this story devotionally who am I? It has to be Gomer. She’s a pitiful figure in the story. Her origins are unknown to us, but she’s both a victim and a trespasser. Even when she’s given a second chance at life she blows it, making a bigger mess than she had in the first place. She’s stubborn and deeply flawed and, seemingly not worth redemption. Hosea, though, loves her so much that he can’t do what common sense dictates. He waded into the filth and got her the first time, and, when she betrays him and returns to it, he wades in again. As I read this I’m not to say, “Yes, I’m like Hosea, and I’ll be gracious and kind and forgiving” (although, I’m supposed to be all of these things). Instead, I’m to say, “I’ve been like Gomer. In spite of God’s goodness to me I’ve been hard-headed and hard-hearted. God has not only rescued me, but he’s waded out into sin to bring me back when I’ve failed.” If I refuse to identify with Gomer in this story it will never have the impact on my life it’s intended to have.
Take Away: The parables work best when I rightly identify myself in them.
Sacrificing, stubborn love
Hosea 3: Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people.
Gomer has messed up big time. She’s left the man and children who love her. Her story will end with her in bondage physically, emotionally, and legally if not for Hosea. Under the Lord’s direction, he moves to rescue her from the stupid mess that binds her. Hosea acts under God’s command but he also acts out of love. In spite of Gomer’s rejection of him he can’t move past his love for her. She’s brought disgrace to Hosea, possibly making him a laughingstock in the community. She’s broken his heart and turned away from his love without even a word of apology. Still, Hosea can’t let go. This is no simple picture of romantic love. Here I see love that demands sacrifice. I see a stubborn love that persists even when the object of that love is unworthy. God says he loves his people like this. On one hand, he can’t ignore their sin and rebellion. On the other, he can’t just walk away. Because God is who he is, he loves. This is the hope of every human being. I’m fallen, unlovely, and condemned. My only hope is God’s love: his sacrificing, stubborn love. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Take Away: Because the Lord is who he is, he loves.