Hosea 11-12

1. Read Hosea 11:1-4

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.

I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.

It is difficult to come to grips with all the different images of God in Scripture. Even though people can say it is like a painting or a tapestry that can only be expressed in a thousand different strokes or threads, it is a challenge – at least for me. Different characteristics have been prominent in different parts of my life. Maybe it is the same for you. Of course, it is complicated by the fact that in English we have so few words to describe God – God, Father, Lord – and in Hebrew there were at least 20 different words for God and over 100 descriptions and roles for God. They could handle complexity and even apparent contradictions better than us. There was even one word – Yahweh – which could not be written or spoken.

Look at the range of images we juggle when we talk about God.

a. The fearsome and dangerous God of Exodus. Read 19:16-21

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

b. The loving Shepherd of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

c. The philosophical Logos of John 1 – The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

d. The overwhelming God who speaks out of the storm in Job 38.

Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

e. The Creator of the Universe – what you see when you look at the Hubble and Webb photos. Ultimate designer, intelligence, engineer, physicist, scientist, architect, creative ubergenius. This is the most difficult for me and yet the one that attracts my curiosity and awe. I am drawn to it but it is so distant and unimaginable. I think this is how David must have felt in Psalm 8.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

It is not only the moon, the stars and all that is created but the utter emptiness of space that overwhelms me. Did you know there is an black void in space so big that if you traveled across it at the speed of light you would not bump into anything for over 752 million years. Why would such a God create and be mindful of men?

The more I look at Hubble photos and now the James Webb telescope the more distant I feel from God the Father, the Shepherd and as we see in Hosea, the God who stoops down to take us by the arms. That is why I like the words of Vincent Van Gogh;
I have… A terrible need… Shall I say the word? Of religion. Then I go out at night and paint the stars.
I have a need not only of religion after looking at the stars but of a return to the knowledge that God is not only Creator but Father. He is the God who stoops down.

f. The God of Hosea 11:1-4. How can the God of Mt. Sinai and Job and Genesis 1 be the same as he who bends down to feed us? Clearly, we are being introduced to God here as we meet him in Jesus ultimately. He is apart from us – His ways are not our ways – but he is Immanuel – God with us. He is the God of Colossians 1:15-20

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

This is the challenge, isn’t it? To hold these descriptions together without one becoming more dominant than the other. Maybe that is why God said there would be no images made of him. It reduces him to a single attribute and we lose sight of all the others. God becomes simplified when he is anything but that.

2. What is Israel’s condition in these chapters?

a. They are willfully in rebellion. Not out of being deceived but out of choice. They are “determined to turn from me” and they “refuse to repent.” They have not been seduced. They have made a conscious decision to go after false things.

b. They have “surrounded me with lies and deceit”. There is no truth about God being taught – only what people want to hear. The very people most responsible to teach the truth about God have obscured him by surrounding him with lies. They have led people to believe what is not true. Instead of leading people to God they have led them astray and created images of God that are false and deadening to their souls. They have created beliefs about God that have deluded people.

c. They love to defraud. That is different from simply fraud. They have come to love their deceit and to be proud of it. They are famous for their fraud and deceit. It is like what we experienced with “moral hazard” a few years ago. Bankers were originating mortgages they knew were worthless and selling them upstream to others. They had perfected their deceit and were giddy with the pleasure of it.

d. Their success and wealth had isolated them from the rules. They were not only too big to fail but they knew they were above the law. They were able to buy acquittal from their crimes because the courts were corrupt. They were without conscience. Deceit and greed were not wrong. Greed was good. It was cleverness above all that was valued.

e. Their success had made them forget God. Hosea 13:6. “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; they forgot me.” How many different places in Scripture this theme is repeated. Success is a gift – and a curse at the same time. Proverbs 8:30 “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” How difficult that is to pray! How often do we hear people talk about finding God’s favor defined as material success? How often do we see Christian speakers introduced as those who have had financial success? If there has been failure in their lives it is only something from which they have recovered on their way to the next success.

Psalm 137 expresses the fear of forgetting. It is the fear of forgetting Jerusalem but it is just as relevant as the fear of forgetting God.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand cease to function. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!

That should be our constant and daily prayer. May we not forget the Lord.

3. What does God say he will do? Destroy? No. Out of compassion, he will make them live in tents again. Hosea 12:9.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again..”

He will for their own good return them to the days of dependence on him. How would we handle that? What would it mean to have neither poverty or riches but just our daily bread? My father kept a list of what he would give up immediately if needed. It didn’t stop him from enjoying those things while he had them but he intentionally never became attached to them or allowed them to define him. He remembered when he lived in tents and wanted to be prepared to go back. It’s not a bad exercise to review what we would do. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy them while we have them but we don’t let them define us.

4. That leads us to 1 Timothy 6:9-10 and 17-19. Paul’s warning to those who desire to be rich and his admonition to those who are already rich. Two different things.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

See the difference between the two?

The desire to get rich is often rooted in discontentment and thinking that more money will create contentment. They love what they do not have, don’t they? It is not those who are already rich who are as susceptible to the love of money but those who desire to grow rich. They are eager for what they do not have.

The trap for people already rich is arrogance and putting their hope in wealth. Their identity is tied to their wealth and should their wealth disappear so does their identity. They fall off the list. They don’t get phone calls. They are not invited to dinners and events. They cease to exist. But if they are rich in good deeds they have created wealth that will never go away.

A man I admired built a company that made him a very wealthy man. The company was destroyed by the CEO who followed him and as my friend’s wealth was tied to the company he lost almost everything except enough for a very simple lifestyle. Was he bitter and vengeful? No. He told me, “I have lost everything I had and much of what defined me in the eyes of other people but have kept everything I gave away.”

5. Wealth is not bad. It is a blessing…or can be. As Os Guinness says, “it is a blessing, a curse or a test.” Read Sermon 50 of John Wesley for the best sermon I’ve ever read on Money and Wealth. In that sermon you find his formula for how to handle wealth.

It is true, were man in a state of innocence, or were all men “filled with the Holy Ghost,” so that, like the infant Church at Jerusalem, “no man counted anything he had his own,” but “distribution was made to everyone as he had need,” the use of it would be superseded; as we cannot conceive there is anything of the kind among the inhabitants of heaven. But, in the present state of mankind, it is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We may be a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!
It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree. And, perhaps, all the instructions which are necessary for this may be reduced to three plain rules, by the exact observance whereof we may approve ourselves faithful stewards of “the mammon of unrighteousness”.
First, gain all you can by legitimate means
Second, save all you can by living simply. Not saving as hoarding but saving as not being caught up in extravagance or luxury.

Third, give all you can knowing the power of money to do good but also that we will be held accountable one day for what we did with money.

6. Read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; 5:19-20; 6:1-6.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?

What do we learn about wealth and work? They are not meant to drive us but as a gift to enjoy. They are not meant to make us forget God. That is what Paul means by “life that is truly life.” This is what God intends and what we should desire.

Let me close with these words from John Wesley:

I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of “the wisdom of the just.” Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son: So “laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life!”

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