I once found myself with a group of young people on a mountain as darkness descended. I had miscalculated both how long the hike would take us and the time the sun would set. We still had two hours to go, but now it was pitch black and the path had become invisible. We hadn’t brought flashlights. It was a dangerous situation for us as there were crevices and chasms everywhere. What to do?

We stood and held hands so as not to lose contact with each other, and I prayed aloud to the Lord for help. I had barely said the ‘Amen’ when, a few hundred metres away, two or three small lights appeared. We shouted ‘Help! at the top of our voices and were soon joined by the group of potholers who had just come to the surface after a day’s caving. Our relief was indescribable as we cried, ‘Thank you, Lord!’ To use Hosea’s phrase, when all seemed lost, ‘a door of hope’ had opened.

Hosea was a prophet to Israel in the last 30 years before the nation was exiled to Assyria. The reign of King Jeroboam II had seen prolonged prosperity—and also extreme waywardness in the people, who had forsaken the Lord and were about to know his judgment for their sin. At a personal level, Hosea was happily married to a woman named Gomer, who had born him three children. But his life fell apart when she, too, became wayward, walking out on him and the children, and eventually taking to the streets as a prostitute.

After some time the Lord asked Hosea to seek her out and ask her to come back to him. The prophet tracked her down to the slave-market where, at considerable cost, he bought her and took her back home—to use the technical term, he redeemed her. This, the Lord explained, was to be a lived-out parable illustrating God’s love for wayward Israel, who had prostituted herself by forsaking him and chasing after other gods.[1] He longed for her to return to him and was willing to go to any lengths to get her back.

God hasn’t changed. He still loves his people, even when they go astray—only today his people are called Christians. Let’s consider our parallel with Hosea’s story by noting, first, our own weakness; second, God’s faithfulness in opening ‘a door of hope’ for us; and, third, our response to his love and grace. It would help here for you to pause and read Hosea 2:13-20.

We start with our own weakness. Israel, who had been ‘redeemed’ from slavery in Egypt at the exodus, soon proved to be a wayward people. Chief among her weaknesses was spiritual prostitution: her tendency to be unfaithful to the Lord by chasing after pagan gods. Deeply grieved, the Lord said: ‘She burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewellery, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot.’[2]

The Baals were the local Canaanite gods, worshipped on high places and under trees. Often they were collectively called by the singular ‘Baal’, meaning ‘master’, ‘lord’ or ‘husband—all of which God himself had been to his people Israel. Baal was alleged to bring prosperity, which in those days was measured in good crops and many flocks and herds, but today we would say he was the god of money. He was also the god of fertility. Abundant flocks and herds, of course, came about through the sexual activity of the animals, so Baal came to be associated with sex. His worship involved ritual sex acts with cult prostitutes. Baal was, furthermore, the god of power, which in Israelite culture came from wealth (prosperity) and a large family (fertility).

So Baal was the god of money, sex and power. You may be familiar with Richard Foster’s book of that title, in which he writes, ‘Throughout history these issues seem inseparably intertwined. Money manifests itself as power. Sex is used to acquire both money and power. And power is often called “the best aphrodisiac”. We could discuss at length the interlacing connections.’[3]

These same three are the gods of society around us today, and you, like Israel, may be tempted to forsake the Lord and chase after them. Don’t do it! God alone is to be the object of your devotion, and you can trust him regarding your involvement with money, sex and power. Take your money-management seriously but, at the same time, look to him as your ultimate source of supply. Enjoy your God-given sexuality within marriage without making sex a god in itself. As for power, see any of it that comes your way as a sacred trust from the Lord, to be exercised in the interests of those around you. Don’t yield to the pressure to bully people in your workplace.

Israel’s other weakness was compromise. God lamented the fact that ‘Ephraim mixes with the nations.’[4] He had separated the Israelites from the nations of the earth to be ‘holy’ to him,[5] but instead they had ‘mixed’ with them again. They compromised with their ungodly ways and attitudes, making political and military alliances with the pagans around them and serving their idols. They ‘let the world squeeze them into its mould,’[6] and that’s how they were in Hosea’s day.

For the most part this compromise had not been a deliberate choice on the part of the Israelites. It had been more of a creeping assimilation to the world’s ways, with many of them probably unaware of what had been happening. God said of Ephraim, ‘Foreigners sap his strength, but he does not realize it. His hair is sprinkled with gray, but he does not notice.’[7] It’s like meeting someone you haven’t seen for years and it strikes you how much older they look. That person won’t have noticed it so much because they have looked at their face in the mirror every day over the years and the change has been gradual.

As a result of this process of decay, Israel had ended up spiritually ‘half-baked’—as The Message puts it. The TNIV says, more conservatively, ‘Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over’.[8] Flat-bread in those days was baked on hot ashes or red-hot stones. If you didn’t watch it and turn it at the right time it would end up burnt on one side and uncooked on the other, making it unpalatable—a bit like my barbecued sausages! The Israelites were, in other words, neither one thing nor the other, neither truly godly nor totally worldly. They had become ‘Laodicean’, neither hot nor cold, just sick-makingly lukewarm.[9]

You don’t want to be like that yourself, do you? It can creep up on you, so take care. Be honest about your weaknesses. There’s constant pressure to compromise with the world and its ways. Look out for it and resist it.

The good news is that, both for Israel and for us, the Lord remains faithful in spite of our waywardness. ‘Faithful’ means, among other things, ‘reliable’; we know exactly where we stand with God, because he has set out the terms of his covenant with us clearly—blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience—and he will stick to them. This means he will punish you if you go astray. ‘I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals,’ he said of Israel,[10] but his punishment was then, and is today, an expression of his love. His punishment will teach you not to disobey him again. Indeed, ‘the fear of the Lord’ will often keep you on track when your love for him fails to do it.

Are you just about to argue that all this is very Old Testament and that God doesn’t operate that way anymore? Then you’re mistaken. He operates the same way under the new covenant, with Paul warning us, for example, that we Christians may be ‘judged by the Lord’ even at the Lord’s Supper.[11]

But his faithfulness means that he will not give up on you. He loves you, even when you fail him, and will reach out to draw you back to himself. That’s what he did to Israel: ‘I am now going to allure her,’ he told Hosea; ‘I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.’[12] He was going to sweet-talk his wayward wife. But why take her ‘into the wilderness’? Because that’s where, generations before, having just been delivered from slavery in Egypt, Israel’s ‘first love’ for the Lord had been so intense, and this was God’s way of saying he wanted to see her love for him restored to that level.

Hosea’s love for Gomer made him willing to pay a price to redeem her at the slave-market. The Lord, however, paid a far greater price to redeem you: ‘It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’[13] In the light of that, how can you resist his love?

God promised to show his love for Israel in particular by opening ‘a door of hope’ for her: ‘I will give her back her vineyards,’ he promised, ‘and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.’[14] A bit of explanation is needed here. ‘Achor’ means ‘trouble’. This is a reference to the incident in Joshua 7 when, at the start of Israel’s conquest of Canaan at Jericho, a man called Achan disobeyed God and so brought defeat on Israel’s forces at Ai. He was stoned to death in a spot which, appropriately, was thereafter called ‘the Valley of Trouble’.[15]

But the Valley of Trouble became ‘a door of hope’ in that, once the sin had been identified and punished, God could clear the way for Israel to enjoy further victories. And that is what he intended to do again for her in Hosea’s day. What’s more, he has done the same for you. As a sinner you were in bigger ‘trouble’ than Achan. But the sin was punished at Calvary, where Jesus became the victim on your behalf, and so a ‘door of hope’ opened for you, through which you passed when you became a Christian. The good news is that this door remains open for you when, as a believer, you slip back into compromising ways. So if necessary put those ways behind you, let the Lord’s love allure you, and step through that door today.[16]

His love and faithfulness are truly amazing. What will your response be? God knew that, for Israel at least, there could be only one response: ‘She will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the days she came up out of Egypt.’[17] Her first love for the Lord would be re-ignited. Can he expect the same from you?

The least you can do is dedicate yourself afresh to the Lord. Paul says, ‘I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?’ [18]

So do it. Refuse to chase after society’s gods of money, sex and power. Make up your mind to be done with the compromise of ‘mixing with the nations’. Put an end to being ‘half-baked’ in your Christian walk and witness. With Calvary’s ‘valley of trouble’ behind you, step through God’s ‘door of hope’—as often as necessary—and live for God without hesitation, without compromise and without reserve.

Hosea’s message is that a ‘door of hope’ remains constantly open for you as God’s child. Be quick to step through it.

Copyright © David Matthew 2010

HOSEA

A Door Of Hope

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

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Hosea

The gist of this article

Hosea warned God’s ‘wife’, Israel, that because he loved her would punish her for being unfaithful to him. But at the same time he longed for her to love him in return as she had at the beginning. God wants the same for you.

 

1. See Hosea 3:1-2

2. Hosea 2:13

mentations 1:1; 5:16

3. Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex and Power, Hodder & Stoughton, 1985, p2

4. Hosea 7:8. ‘Ephraim’ is a synonym for ‘Israel’, named after its largest tribe.

5. Leviticus 20:26

6. See Romans 12:2 Phillips translation.

7. Hosea 7:9

8. Hosea 7:8

10. Hosea 2:13

9. See Revelation 3:16

11. See 1 Corinthians 11:28-32.

12. Hosea 2:14

13. 1 Peter 1:18-19

14. Hosea 2:15

15. See Joshua 7:25-26

16. See 1 John 1:9

17. Hosea 2:15

18. Romans 12:1 New Living Translation