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.
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.
The second time around
Hosea 3: God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again.”
It isn’t hard to read between the lines here. Hosea married a prostitute, they had children, but she left him to return to her previous life. That sounds pretty cut and dried but I don’t think it was that way at all. What started off as Hosea’s obedience to a surprising command of God became a series of intense emotional experiences for the prophet. Without choosing to, Hosea fell in love and for a time it seemed things were going to work out. His wife, however, had a hard time settling down into a family routine. The day came when she turned her back on her husband and children to return to her previous life. Hosea’s heart was broken. Sadly, I know too many people who can identify with the story of broken promises and marriages. No one walks away unscarred by such a tragedy. Hosea, trying to cope, throws himself into his work. That helps him cover the pain. One day at a time, he begins to get over it. If the Lord’s first communication was surprising, his second must have left Hosea in shock. God tells him to love her again. That must have seemed like an impossible command. In the time since their divorce Hosea has carefully crafted a shell about himself, insulating him from the pain she’s caused even as he hears what she’s returned to. Now, God says Hosea is to emerge from that shell and open himself up to her again; not because she’s reformed, she hasn’t, but to reflect what God has done in his relationship with humanity. Hosea’s wife will get another chance, not because she deserves it, but because Hosea loves her too much to give up on her.
Take Away: The Lord loves us and reaches out to us even though we don’t deserve it.
A love that never gives up
Hosea 2: Then I’ll marry you for good – forever!
The book of Hosea is a book of extremes. There’s nothing mundane or middle of the road here as everything is at one end or the other end of the spectrum. Here we see powerful love and painful betrayal. We see the beauty of tender, marital sex and we also see the brutal, cheapening side of sex in the market place. In one place we see the anger of God as he declares the coming destruction as a result of their sin but we also see God’s mercy as he promises restoration. There’s nothing in Hosea that lends itself to a relaxing late night read before sleep. This book is an emotional rollercoaster. God’s people have betrayed him and, because of that betrayal he’s rejected them, kicking them out. Israel has committed spiritual adultery against God and God has issued a decree of divorce against them. Then as we’re emotionally ready to close the book on this relationship the tone of the Lord changes. He’s kicked them out and declared his anger with them and judgment on them. Just as I get my mind around that the landscape suddenly changes. The Lord declares his intentions to clean them up, to romance them again and ultimately to reinstate his marriage to them. The sweep of all this is stunning and I realize I’m reading about a love that never gives up. God is truly the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Daniel 4: He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman.
In his mercy the Lord deals with Nebuchadnezzar in a direct and attention getting way. Here’s a man driven by arrogance and drunk with power. The Lord strips all that away from him and sends him out into the wilderness for seven years. That sounds like a long time, but its short compared to the 40 years it takes the Israelites to learn a similar lesson. We don’t know what’s happening inside of Nebuchadnezzar during those long years of insanity, but somehow God is dealing with him and the end result is filled with redemption. In fact, one of the strongest examples of this is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar is allowed to write his own testimony, found here. His words are filled with humble praise and thanksgiving to God. This is a case of strong discipline yielding desirable results. Nebuchadnezzar is made into a new man by the grace of God. Know what? That’s just the kind of stuff God does. The focus here shouldn’t be on seven years of mental illness. The central issue here is that God takes messed up lives and makes them new. The “grass diet” was just the method. The made-new life is the result. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t complaining about the diet, but he certainly thanks the Lord for what he did for him.
Take Away: The Lord takes messed up lives and makes them new.
Them bones, them bones, them dry bones
Ezekiel 37: Dry bones, listen to the message of God.
Ezekiel speaks to people who think they’ve gone too far and have said “no” to God and just plain messed up once too often. They think they’re like dinosaur bones some archeologist might dig up in the desert someday: interesting, but dry and lifeless. The truth is that they’re right. They’ve been written off because of their rejection of God. To picture themselves as “dry bones” is not an overreaction. Rather, it’s a valid realization. Their only hope is the only hope they’ve ever had: they must turn back to God. In his vision Ezekiel is asked, “Can these bones live?” His answer is right on: “Lord, you know.” The restoration of Israel is up to the Lord. They’re on the verge of being written off of the pages of history. The only possibility of their not becoming dry fossils is to respond to the mercy of God and depend on him to breathe life back into them. All of that is true of my life too. It’s only when I accept two facts that I have hope. Fact one: my sins have made me spiritually into a pile of dry bones. Fact two: my only hope is in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The only route out of this mess is for me to accept the title, “dry bones” and then listen to God’s message. That alone can change my dry bones situation.
Take Away: Our only hope is in the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.