Do you have a supermarket loyalty card? Whether it's a Tesco Clubcard, a Nectar card, or if you're posh, a Waitrose card (although it's worth having just for the free coffee!). Do you shop at other supermarkets as well as the one's that you have a loyalty card for? If you do, you're being un-loyal! What sort of commitment is that?!

OK let's face it, our commitment to our supermarket really doesn't matter too much, does it? They don't even expect it. But how do you feel about friends who are that flakey? Friends who show no loyalty. Or even worse, how would you feel if you had a husband or wife who was as uncommitted as you are with your supermarket?

In today's passage, that's the picture we get of the nation of Israel in relation to God. But we're also told that it's a picture of the whole of humanity. I'm afraid this passage isn't going to flatter us! It exposes our flakiness and it shows how foolish it is! But like every chapter of Hosea, it also shows us how passionate God is about his people.

Before we dive in, let me pray for us…

Father God, whatever sort of week we've had – whether it's been tough, or whether it's been easy – please quiet our hearts and minds now, and give us a desire to listen to you as we open up your word. Encourage us and challenge us in the areas where we need change, by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you've been around for any of the other sermons in this Hosea series, you'll know that Hosea was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, about 750 years before Jesus. The kingdom was fairly successful at the time but they were spiritually bankrupt on the inside. God's people, the nation of Israel, had been unfaithful to God. So much so, that he likens them to an adulterous wife who runs off with other lovers. It's shocking reading. They're unfaithful to God. They chase after idols. They don't recognize all the blessings that God gives them.

And yet, at the beginning of chapter 6, which we looked at last time, finally, Israel return to God. Verse 1 says: "Come, let us return to the LORD." Verse 3: "Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD". Finally, the promiscuous wife returns. What a great day! They're returning to God! They've seen the error of their ways. So what happens?

Sadly it's not the great news we expect. You see, God sees right through them. He knows that their love is superficial. That's my first point –

1. A Superficial Love

a) The Israelites' Love was Just Superficial

Take a look with me at verse 4. We read that their "love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away".

I love climbing mountains. And often, as the sun comes up in the morning, there's a thin layer of cloud cloaking the mountains, because of the cold of the snow and glaciers overnight. But as soon as the sun is up, the air warms up and the cloud starts to burn off. And often within an hour of sunrise it's gone.

And the morning cloud paints a picture of Israel. Their love is about as permanent as one of those clouds. Or as long-lasting as the dew in the morning when you're camping. It's just superficial. God longed for them to return. He had invited them back. And yet their response was short-lived.

And verse 4 shows us God's reaction. In Hosea 6.4, he says:

"What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?"

Ephraim and Judah were terms used for the two ancient kingdoms of Israel. And verse 4 gives us a sense of God's heart. He says, what am I going to do with you?!

Up until now, the picture in Hosea has been of God as a husband and the people as an adulterous wife. But the picture here is more like that of a father and a wayward son. It's a picture which is fleshed out later on in Hosea in chapter 11. Let me read you a bit from there.

"When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them."
(Hosea 11.1-3)

Then later, verse 8 says:

"How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?"

Again and again in Hosea we see that God is passionate about his people. He loves them as a father. He longs for them to return and to be able to embrace them. And yet, they won't return with any sincerity. Their love is superficial. It's like the morning mist. And God says, what am I going to do with you? His questions reveal his pain.

b) This is a Picture of All Humanity

It's easy for us to look at the Israelites with frustration. What are they doing?? And yet, it's clear here that this isn't just the Israelites. You see, the people of Israel are a picture of all humanity. Have a look at Hosea 6.7:

"But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
there they dealt faithlessly with me."

Israel are behaving like Adam, the father of the human race. They're just being human. Not human in the way that God made us to be (in a relationship with him) but like Adam, in that they just ignore their loving Father and they keep heading into sin. The Bible makes it even clearer elsewhere that that's what we're all like. And it breaks God's heart.

Very excitingly, this week, my little man Ezra took his first step. And like any parent, we just love teaching Ezra new things – whether it's walking or unloading the dishwasher! We love seeing him grow up - which is why I find it hard to stop mentioning him - sorry if it's too much!

But imagine if he grew up, and he just started doing really stupid and unwise things. Maybe he got into drugs. Maybe he was making unwise choices in terms of relationships or jobs. And he didn't want to listen to us or even come home. It would break our heart. And we'd say to each other 'what can we do with him?' We want the best for him and yet he won't come home to us.

And that gives us a sense of the pain that God feels with the Israelites here. And it's the pain that he so often feels with us. Because if we're honest, our love for God can so easily be flakey. Superficial. Uncommitted.

How often does our love for God on a Sunday disappear by Monday morning when other things suddenly seem more important? How often do we pray when we really want something from God or we're in a difficult situation, but ignore him when life is going smoothly? You see, if we're doing religious things – coming along to church, praying, reading our Bibles, giving away our money – if we're doing those things without genuine love for God, then they're either a) an attempt to manipulate or bribe God, or b) we're doing them to impress other people, or just see our friends, or just out of habit.

But God wants out hearts - just like any parent with their children. And God wants to show how foolish they're being – just like any parent would. You see, the second clear point that the passage makes is this:

2. Don't Kid Yourself! God Sees Your Sin and it's Foolish.

As we move into chapter 7, we see that God exposes Israel's sin – he shows that nothing is hidden from him and he knows exactly what they're up to. We see a series of examples where God shows them that their sin is… foolish. It's half-baked, deluded, senseless and they're off course. He says, don't kid yourself! Sin is foolish.

The illustrations come thick and fast in this section! So let's have a look at a few of them…

a) It's Half-baked

Firstly, we see that their unfaithfulness is like a half-baked cake. Take a look at Hosea 7.8:

"Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples;
Ephraim is a cake not turned."

I don't know whether you've ever baked a cake or a loaf of bread in a gas oven without a fan. If you don't turn it, when you take it out you can easily find that one side is burnt, and other side is hardly cooked. Which, when you like cake as much as I do, is very distressing. It's no good for anything! And so God's saying to Israel, you're neither a holy nation (as you should be), or a pagan nation. You're half baked.

Israel were to be set apart from the nations around them, so that their distinctiveness would point to God's character and his glory. They were to be holy like God is holy. And yet Israel weren't fulfilling their main purpose as a nation.

And the same message goes for us today as a church of God's people. We're called to be distinctive and it's no use if we're half-baked. Author and Sheffield pastor Tim Chester writes about this and he says:

"It's our distinctiveness which will attract people to the gospel, even if it also repels some. The hope of the world is the gospel of Jesus! We adapt so that the gospel can be seen and heard. But we refuse to compromise, so that it is the gospel that is heard and not some poor echo of the culture."

I wonder, in what ways are we tempted to be half-baked? In what areas are you not really distinctive at all but just fitting in?

So, their unfaithfulness means they're half-baked. And we see another illustration of Israel's unfaithfulness in Hosea 7.11-13.

b) It's Senseless

"Ephraim is like a dove,
silly and without sense,
calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.
As they go, I will spread over them my net;
I will bring them down like birds of the heavens;
I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.
Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!
Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!
I would redeem them,
but they speak lies against me."

Doves are sometimes referred to in a positive sense – bringing peace. But here the illustration is of a silly bird, without sense. They're bird-brained. They're like a dove flitting around, not able to decide where to settle. Moving from the lamppost to some overhead cables, to the chimney stack - unable to commit to anything.

You see, Israel would try anything to make things work. Like making alliances with the nations around – sometimes with Egypt, sometimes with Assyria. But they ignored the big, glaring problem – their spiritual adultery! And whichever way they go, unless they come back to God, they're going to end up in the net of God's judgement.

And again, the same can apply to us today. I did warn you that this passage wasn't going to be flattering! We so easily flit around from one thing to the next don't we? Seeking fulfilment, meaning or security. We might look for it by moving from one job to another, or one partner to another, or a new purchase or different travelling experiences – we're like a senseless dove. We so easily don't look for fulfilment in the right place. Augustine famously said "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you" – in the true God.

And here again we see God's heart as a father. In verse 13 he says, "I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me." God longs to redeem them but they continue on like a senseless dove.

c) It's Off Course

We haven't got time to look at all the illustrations here, but let's finally look at Hosea 7.15-16.

"Although I trained and strengthened their arms,
yet they devise evil against me.
They return, but not upward;
they are like a treacherous bow;
their princes shall fall by the sword
because of the insolence of their tongue.
This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt."

I don't know if you've ever been paintballing. It can be a pretty painful experience. But the good thing if someone is pointing a gun at you is that paintball guns are not remotely accurate. The bullets often veer off course.

And the point here is that Israel keeps veering off course. They use their skill against God. They return, but not upwards to God. They're like a faulty bow that goes off target and ends up injuring their own. They make a show of returning and repenting of their unfaithfulness, but they don't actually redirect their lives towards God. They keep heading off in a different direction.

That can so easily happen in our lives. Maybe you know someone who used to be so enthusiastic in their faith, but then they got distracted by work or a new relationship or a new hobby and they stopped coming to church regularly – and after a while they were going nowhere with God.

We so easily stray off course like the Israelites. And that's why we encourage people to come to church every week if they possibly can … to be pointed again in the right direction. We're able to remind one another of the great hope, security and joy that we have in the gospel. And we also want to encourage everyone to join a midweek group – where we study the Bible together, and are able to support one another and be accountable to one another in a smaller group. Because it's not that we need encouragement as a Christian every week; we need it more regularly than that! As the writer of the book of Hebrews says:

"But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today', that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3.13-14)

Every day we need to be reminded of the message: Don't kid yourself! God sees your sin and it's foolish. Sin is deceitful – we so easily go off course. So remember that and hold firmly to Christ.

And let's encourage one another daily by reminding ourselves of God's great love for us even though we're sinful people. It's only then that our love for God will remain constant. It's only then that we'll be able to live out our calling as his people – to share the gospel, be hospitable and have people into our home, give generously, love the unloved, and do mission together.

3. Steadfast Love

But we need to love God himself first. Take a look with me at Hosea 6.6:

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

God desires our steadfast love. As we've said already, God doesn't just want religious ritual. He wants committed love and he wants a people who genuinely want to get to know him.

In fact, he wants us to love him as he loves us. That word 'love' in verse 4 and in verse 6 is the Hebrew word for 'covenant love'. Steadfast love. God's loyalty. God has bound himself in a covenant to love us – it's like a marriage. It's what we've seen right throughout the book of Hosea. God is described as being like a husband and we are his bride. And God sticks to that covenant love. He is a faithful God.

It's one of main things that those who wrote the Psalms rejoiced about. You certainly can't miss it Psalm 136.

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;"

In fact, that's not even all of it on the screen. The psalmist repeats it 26 times – God's steadfast love endures for ever!

But back then they didn't even know the full extent of God's love. And today, we can do. We've seen it at the cross. A love so constant, so steadfast, that even in the face of mocking, pain and death, it was unwavering for us. 1 John 4.10 says:

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

God is passionate about his people. He longs for us to return and recognize his amazing love for us. It breaks his heart when we don't. At the start of Hosea 7, God says "I would heal Israel". In Hosea 7.13 he says, "I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me".

So to finish, let me ask. Are we going to stop kidding ourselves and recognize that our unfaithfulness is foolish? And are we going to keep on reminding one another, every day, of God's amazing, steadfast love which endures forever? Only if we pray... only if we pray along the lines of this fantastic prayer Paul prays for the Thessalonians. 2 Thessalonians 3.5 says:

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."

Let's just take a minute to pray that through for ourselves – for our own hearts. And why not pray it for one other person you know as well.

Father God, please direct our hearts to your steadfast love, demonstrated on the cross. And please would our love for you overflow into encouraging one another regularly as a church family; please would it overflow in our families, in our work, in our leisure, in a life's great joys and challenges. For your glory, Amen.

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