140330 Hosea 5:15-6:3

Last Updated on Monday, 31 March 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Hosea 5:15-6:3
Theme: Come, Let Us Return To The Lord

If I conducted an informal poll this morning and asked all of you to choose your favorite book of the Bible, I suspect that you would give me many different answers. I would expect the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to rank near the top of the list. I wouldn't be surprised if Romans and Galatians were popular choices. If you are a serious student of Bible history, you might pick one of the historical books of the Old Testament.

But I would be very surprised, no, I would be shocked if anyone chose Hosea. Hosea is the first and longest of the minor prophets, but the prophet and the book that bears his name are relatively unknown. And so to help us become better acquainted with Hosea, to help us appreciate the man and his message, I have devised a little quiz comprised of three true or false questions. The first question is this:

True or false. Hosea was married. The answer is: true. Hosea was married to a woman named Gomer, and the first three chapters of the book describe their rocky relationship. Gomer was unfaithful to her husband, but Hosea didn't divorce her because the Lord told him take her back and love her. Gomer's unfaithfulness and Hosea's forgiveness were symbolic of God's relationship with unfaithful Israel.

Question two: True or false. Hosea and Gomer had children. Again, the answer is: true. They had two boys (Jezreel and Lo-Ammi) and a girl (Lo-Ruhamah). These weren't very common names, but God chose them to symbolize his displeasure with his people. Jezreel means "God scatters." Lo-Ruhamah means "Not loved." Lo-Ammi means "Not my people." And whenever Hosea called his kids by name, he couldn't help but remember how God felt about his people.

Question three: True or false. Hosea was a prophet of doom and gloom. The answer is: true...and false. When Hosea came on the scene, the northern kingdom of Israel had totally abandoned God and the southern kingdom of Judah wasn't far behind. The Lord sent Hosea to confront the people, to warn them that God's judgment was near. But at the same time the Lord never stopped loving his people, and he longed to be reconciled to them.

This tender side of God comes out in our text for today, where Hosea reaches out to God's people. And in words inspired and preserved by the Holy Spirit the prophet reaches out to us with the same invitation...

COME, LET US RETURN TO THE LORD

I. He will never excuse those who rebel
II. He will always forgive those who repent

The text begins with the Lord speaking, and this is what he has to say: "Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me" (5:15). God wanted his people to come clean, to come to grips with their sin, to come back to him. In other words, he wanted them to repent. That doesn't sound so bad. That doesn't sound all that harsh, until you read these words in their context.

Listen to what God says again, except this time I will start a couple verses earlier (at verse 13): "When Ephraim (that's the northern kingdom) saw his sickness, and Judah (that's the southern kingdom) his sores, then Ephraim turned to Assyria, and sent to the great king for help. But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores. For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt" (5:13-15a).

Why was the Lord so angry with his people? Because they had forsaken him for foreign gods. Because they looked to foreign, godless nations for help instead of the one true God. They thought they were so smart. They thought they had everything figured out, but their plan was about to backfire.

At different times both Israel and Judah made political alliances with Assyria, but Hosea prophesied that their ally was about to become their enemy. And looking back at Bible history we can see how Hosea's prediction came true. Only a few years later the Assyrian armies destroyed the northern kingdom and devastated Judah.

At the time of Hosea the Assyrian empire dominated this part of the world, but the Assyrians weren't really in control. They were God's pawns. They were the paw of the great lion of Judah, who roared: "I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them" (5:14).

A ferocious lion tearing people limb from limb is not a pretty word picture, and it's not supposed to be. It shows us how much God hates sin. It forces us to think about the consequences of sin. Sin is dangerous. Sin is deadly. Sin is nothing less than rebellion against God, and he will never excuse those who rebel. The Lord punished his people for their wickedness. The Lord held his people accountable for their actions. And because he did many of them died.

You and I are going to die too. Everyone is. The atheist, the agnostic, the Muslim, the Hindu, they all know that they are going to die, but only the Christian understands why. Only the Christian understands that the wages of sin is death. Sin separates us from God. Sin makes us enemies of God. He becomes the lion, and we become his prey.

God's holiness demands that sin be punished. He can't ignore it. He can't excuse it, but he can forgive it. And thanks be to God that he has. In spite of our sin, the Lord invites us to come to him, to return to him. And when we do we have his word that he will always forgive those who repent.

One of the challenges of reading Old Testament prophecy is that the writer can switch from speaker to speaker without any warning. There are no dialog boxes. There are no quotation marks. Most of the time we have to rely on the context to figure it out, but even then it can be difficult to determine who is talking.

This text is a perfect example. Chapter six introduces a different speaker, but Bible scholars are divided on who that speaker is. Some believe that it is the people of Israel responding to God, and their confession is insincere. The NIV accepts this view by inserting the caption "Israel Unrepentant" at the heading of the chapter.

Listen to what follows: "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth" (6:1-3).

If these words did come from the lips of the people, and if their confession was less than sincere, then their thinking would have gone something like this: "Things don't look good now, but we have been in the situation before, and it has always turned out okay. All we need to do is say a few words, all we need to do is offer a few sacrifices, all we need to do is tell God how sorry we are and then he'll make everything better again."

The problem was that this time the situation didn't get better. In fact, it got worse, much worse. The people had become too comfortable with their sins. The people mistakenly thought that it was enough for them to go through the motions to appease God, and they paid dearly for their mistake.

Before we shake our heads at them, before we congratulate ourselves for not being like them, we need to make sure that we aren't like them. Let me ask you kids, have any of you ever tried to look really sorry or act really sorry when you weren't really sorry? Have any of you here today ever told your boss or your spouse what they wanted to hear only because you knew that it was what they wanted to hear? Have you ever thought to yourself during a sermon: "What the pastor just said bothers my conscience, but if I just wait it out I know that he will eventually move on to the gospel. Pastor always follows the law with the gospel."

This sermon will end with the gospel, but we can't appreciate the good news of God's forgiveness if we don't understand how desperately we need it. That was what Hosea wanted for his people. He wanted them to recognize their sin. He wanted them to repent of their sin. And that is why some believe that this gracious invitation, "Come, let us return to the Lord," came from him.

Hosea lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born. He didn't observe Lent. He never celebrated Easter. When he wrote, "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us" (6:2), he was talking about God's mercy. He was referring to the way God helps people in their time of need.

But when our New Testament ears hear any reference to "the third day," we can't help but think of the resurrection. Even if this passage isn't prophetic, we can see its ultimate fulfillment in the empty tomb. By his death and resurrection Jesus met mankind's greatest need. By his death and resurrection Jesus revived our hopes of life after death. By his death and resurrection Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God.

Hosea's words give Christians the comforting reminder that we will spend eternity in heaven, and his final words give us the additional assurance that God will be with us as long as we live on this earth: "As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth" (6:3).

In the upper Midwest we expect to get precipitation throughout the year. Sometimes it rains. I don't have to tell you that sometimes it snows. But no matter what form it takes it is pretty steady. In Israel it was much different. There were rainy seasons and dry seasons, and the timing of the rain was extremely important. Without the winter rains the plants couldn't sprout and grow. Without the spring rains the crops would never reach their full potential.

So what? So why do we need to know these Israeli weather facts? Because when Hosea compared God to the seasonal rains he wasn't just promising the people that God would make their crops grow. He was saying something more. He was promising the people that the Lord would give them exactly what they needed exactly when they needed it.

The Lord gives us exactly what we need exactly when we need it. What a blessing! When we sin, he says: "You are guilty." When we confess our sins, he says: "You are forgiven." When we feel like we are too tired to go on, he says: "Lean on me." When we don't know what to do, when we don't know where to go, he says: "Come to me."

At the end of this sermon Hosea may still not be your favorite book of the Bible, but I do hope that you have a new appreciation for it. When you find yourself caught up in sin, whenever you feel burdened by the guilt of your sin, remember Hosea. And remember Hosea's inviting, comforting words: "Come, let us return to the Lord." Amen.

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