'What shall I do with you? What shall I do with you?' That is the heart-rending cry of God as he looks at humanity, and as he looks at his people. In these summer mornings we're listening to the voice of God through his prophet Hosea. And today we're looking at Hosea 6.4 – 7.16. Please have that open. My title is simply 'Rebellion'. "What shall I do with you?" is God's response as he sees his people living in rebellion against him. Look at Hosea 6.4:
"What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away."
What the book of Hosea does is to lay bare the relationship between God and his people that lies behind a sad and sordid history. It's a relationship that's described using two main images. The first is marriage. God is the faithful and ever-loving husband having to cope with a wild and wayward wife, his people. The second image is of a parent and child. God is the loving, patient parent. His people are like an unloving, ungrateful son. You can see that in Hosea 11.1-3 (this is the Lord speaking):
"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 … 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."
As it happens our grandson is coming up to his first birthday and is at just this learning-to-walk stage at the moment. We get short videos WhatsApp-ed to us of him tottering along, arms aloft, little hands held firm in the big hands of his mum or dad, delighted smile on his face as he puts one wobbly foot in front of another and manages to stay upright. His mum and dad are teaching him to walk. That's the kind of tender care that God showed his people, but once they could walk, they walked right away from him without looking back.
So as we look at our section this morning, Hosea 6.4 – 7.16, keep in mind those two images of the faithful husband with a wayward wife, and of the tenderly loving parent with a riotous runaway son. I want us to dig into some of the detail here, so it's very helpful to keep that big picture in mind. Then we won't lose sight of the wood for the trees.
So this section is really a kind of anatomy of sin, an MRI scan revealing in detail the sin in the body of God's people. That's not particularly cheerful, you might think. And you'd be right. But the point of exposing what's wrong and looking closely at it is to put it right. That's what the medics do when our bodies are failing. And of course the Lord Jesus is the supreme doctor of our souls. He said:
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
So here he is by his Spirit through Hosea diagnosing the disease in order to deal with it. And such diagnosing only makes sense in the context of the doctor's care for his patient, and his purpose to heal. And that's exactly the context here in Hosea. So I have three headings, making a kind of anatomy of sin sandwich: first, what God wants for his people (that's the care); secondly, how God's people behave (that's the anatomy of sin); and thirdly, how God responds (that's his purpose to restore). So:
1. What God Wants for His People
And the answer is threefold. He wants covenant love. He wants healing. And he wants redemption for his people. You could say that for those with ears to hear, all of that is clear immediately from that divine cry in verse 4:
"What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?"
That is a cry that pours out from a heart full of the deepest care, and love, longing to bless. That is the Lord holding out his arms to a people who have turned their backs on him. But there's more here. In the next part of verse 4 the Lord mourns:
"Your love is a like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early."
Love, that is, for him, for God. The Lord longs for his people to love him consistently, which they don't. And if they did, they would experience God's faithful love towards them. The Lord longs for a profound relationship of committed, permanent, covenant love with his people – with us, with you. That's explicit at the start of verse 6:
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
Religious observance that's mere ritual and habit without love is not what God wants. He wants faithful love. Jesus himself repeatedly quoted that verse. He wants us to know him, and he wants us to know that we're loved by him. And God wants healing. Look at the start of Hosea 7.1:
"When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed…"
The Lord is under no illusion about the depth of the disease riddling the body of his people. But he's not going to give up on them. His purpose is to heal that disease. "I would heal…" he says. And in a sense to put the same thing another way, he wants redemption for his sinful people. That's there at end of Hosea 7.13:
"I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me."
His people are enslaved and he wants to set them free. They are under condemnation, and he wants to lift the burden of guilt from them. Again and again he is rebuffed, but what God wants is clear. He wants covenant, steadfast love. He wants healing for his people. And he wants redemption. And what reaction does he get? That brings me to my next heading. So:
2. How God's People Behave Towards Him
We can't look at all the detail of this anatomy of sin, but let's look at some of the cross-sections from this spiritual MRI scan that brings into the light of day with a rather shocking clarity the nitty-gritty of sin in the body of God's people. Because there is a series of vivid images here that show us what sin and rebellion against our loving God are like.
This is, of course, ancient Israel that's in view. They are Hosea's primary target. But God's purpose in speaking through his prophets then was ultimately to speak to us now. The New Testament is quite clear about that. So we can't stand on the sidelines tutting our disapproval of the sin of our spiritual ancestors. Instead, we need to look at ourselves, and see our own sin, and our tendency to sin, with greater clarity. The more clearly we see the nature of our sin, the more clearly and wonderfully we can see all that God has done for us through Jesus to deal with that sin.
So, picture number one – verse 4 again:
"Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away."
In other words, we start well, but enthusiastic love for God just fades away before we know it. We were down in Devon by the sea a couple of weeks ago. First thing in the morning we'd look out of the window. When it was cloudy, we'd hope that the morning sun would burn it off and the clouds would disappear. And repeatedly that's what happened. That's good if you want the sunshine on holiday. If it's our love for God that fades and disappears in the heat of the day, then it's a disaster. And that is what the love of sinners for God is like.
Picture number two – Hosea 6.7:
"But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me."
We are like Adam, the ancestor from whom we all descend. That conjures up that scene in the Garden of Eden, and Adam's blatant and catastrophic disobedience. We're not just physically related to him. We sin like him too. One thing this picture makes clear is that this anatomy of sin doesn't just apply to Israel, or even the church. All humanity is in view.
Picture number three – Hosea 6.8-9:
"Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy."
This is what we might call the 'geography' of sin. It looks like Gilead and Shechem were notorious in those days as two different scenes of particularly pernicious and wicked happenings. They involved, of all people, the priests -the equivalent of church staff if you like. So Hosea is listing these places to bring to mind these evil events which are like the obvious and well-known tips of whole icebergs of sin amongst God's people. For the twentieth century Auschwitz and Dachau would be such places.
What about us as individuals, and our sin? As we look back across our lives, perhaps there are specific locations that bring to our own minds occasions of sin in our lives of which we're too ashamed to speak. But God knows the geography of our own sin.
Picture number four – the second part of Hosea 7.1:
"…they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside."
Thieves inside. Bandits outside. That's an image of the comprehensiveness of sin. There's trouble on the inside and trouble on the outside. Even as burglars are ransacking the house inside, others are setting fire to it from outside. If we think of the church, we could say it is being corrupted by those within and corrupted by those outside. If we think of our own lives, we could say there is sin inside that others don't see going on; and there is what you might call external sin that's obvious to all who see us.
Picture number five – this is an image of how God knows all of our sin, even though Satan tries to delude us into thinking that it's hidden and we can keep it so. Hosea 7.2:
"But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face."
That reminded me of a news item I saw saying that there is now, apparently, such as thing as 'hoarding disorder'. On hearing about this, one woman wrote:
"In her later life, my mother was a hoarder … For years she refused to let me through the front door, so I had no idea how bad her house had become until she was taken into hospital after a fall, only to find her once beautiful home had been wrecked. Every flat surface was stacked with paper, boxes and food cartons, while the floor was covered in a thick layer of old newspapers and unopened letters … the kitchen floor was awash in black silt, and brambles snaked in through a broken door."
It's a bit like that with sin. We think we can hide it from God, but we end up living with our sins all heaped up around us. And God sees them all. "They are before my face," he says. They're in his face. He's not looking from a distance on a foggy day. They're close up, right in front of his eyes. We shouldn't pretend otherwise to ourselves.
Picture number seven – the heart of a sinner is like an oven. This comes three times in Hosea chapter 7: "like a heated oven" (v.4), "like an oven" (v.6) and "hot as an oven" (v.7). Hosea 7.6:
"For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smoulders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire."
Sin is like fire within our hearts. It's not cool and calm but a passion that's out of our control. We might think we've got it damped down, but it bursts into flame.
Picture number eight – sin is like a half-baked cake. Hosea 7.8:
"Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned."
So it would be burned on one side, uncooked on the other, and useless as a consequence. Derek Kidner comments that this…
"…brings out the loss of conviction which left people neither one thing nor the other: neither a light to the Gentiles nor an excusable product of paganism. The church in every age knows this temptation, and tends to meet it either by retreat into itself or by melting into its surroundings."
As the risen Jesus said of the church in Laodicea:
"…because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."
Picture number nine – Hosea 7.9:
"Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; grey hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not."
Succumbing to temptation saps our spiritual strength but we fail to see it. Like an aging man whose hair has gone grey but who pathetically still thinks he's a strapping young man with a full head of dark hair. At least in my case I'm under no illusions because Vivienne keeps pointing out not only how my hair has gone grey but also that it's all falling out. I really appreciate her kindness in that way!
When we give in to sin, we cease to serve and we lose our gospel cutting edge, but it's so easy to fool ourselves that it's just trivial and all is well really. It isn't. Sin weakens and ultimately destroys our spiritual life if it isn't dealt with.
And finally, picture number ten – Hosea 7.11:
"Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria."
A sinner is like a silly dove, flitting in one direction and then a moment later flapping in another; chasing after one solution to his problems and then when that proves hollow running after another – but never turning to God who alone can rescue us. So there's a whole gallery-full of images here of the catastrophe that is rebellion against our loving God. It's all kind of summed up there in Hosea 7.14:
"They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; … they rebel against me."
That's how God's people behave towards him. So:
3. How God Responds
Keep coming back for the rest of this series, because this is really for another day. The emphasis of this section is on this anatomy of sin. But the key elements of God's response are evident here.
God responds to our sin, despite everything, with yearning love. Back to where we started: 'What shall I do with you? What shall I do with you?' "I desire steadfast love …" Despite the fact that we turn our backs on him and rebel against him so comprehensively, he will not let us go. God responds, as his justice demands, with judgement. And that judgement is exercised by the action of his Word. Hosea 6.5:
"Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgement goes forth as the light."
But such is his love that he will not have it that his righteous judgement will devour and destroy us completely, as we deserve. So God responds to our sin with redemption. When God says in Hosea 7.13, "I would redeem them", that is an intention that he carries into action. Those promises of rescue and redemption are there like a golden thread running through the prophecy of Hosea. They are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.
Jesus died to take on himself the judgement that we deserve, so that our sin can be forgiven. He rose in victory over sin and Satan, so that our addiction to sin can be broken. He poured out his Spirit to give us new hearts. And he teaches those new hearts to turn to him in repentance and faith instead of running away, to cry to him instead of relying on worthless idols, and to live for him instead of living in slavery to sin.