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The Stubborn Love of God

Original Date: 
Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hosea 6 and 7 Divine Romance: The Stubborn Love of God

Junie B. Jones on A ‘pology
I live in a house with a 6 year old girl. That means in the last year or so I’ve become acquainted with the adventures of a little girl named Junie B. Jones. Junie B. is the creation of Barbara Park and she’s a little girl that serves as the narrator in her own series of children’s books.

I think they’re a hoot because they do a good job of sounding like how I think 6 year old girls talk and think. So, for example, in the book Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peaky Spying Junie B. describes a trip she took with her mom to the grocery store:

My favorite aisle is where the cookies are. That's 'cause sometimes there is a lady at a table there. And she gives me and Mother cookie samples. And we don't even have to pay for them.
Their name is freebies, I think.
Only too bad for me. 'Cause this time the lady wasn't there.
"Darn it," I said very disappointed. "No freebie lady."
Mother smiled. "That's okay. When we get home, we're going to bake our own cookies for Grandparents' Day, remember? Won't that be fun?" she asked.
I made my shoulders go up and down.
That's 'cause I was still mad at her for not taking me to my teacher's house, of course.
"What kind of cookie mix do you want?" asked Mother.
I did a frown at her. "I don't even want to bake cookies anymore" I said. "'Cause you still won't take me to where Mrs. lives."
Mother rumpled my hair. "Staying mad isn't going to change things, Junie B.," she said. "Now do you want to pick out the cookie mix? Or shall I?"
Then Mother picked out some cookie mix. And she gave it to me. And I throwed it in the cart very hard.
"Thank you," said Mother.
"You're not welcome," I said.
After that, Mother took me outside of the store. And me and her had a little talk.
A little talk is when Mother is mad at me. And she says who do I think I am, missy? And zactly how long do I think she's going to put up with me?
Then I have to say a 'pology to her.
A 'pology is the words I'm sorry.
Except for you don't actually have to mean it. 'Cause nobody can even tell the difference.

I think that’s a pretty good look inside a kid’s head. Most of us have had the experience of telling a little child to say they were sorry, then telling them to say it like they mean it.

It’s not just a problem for little children though. We might be more sophisticated. Doesn’t mean we’re necessarily any better at truly feeling sorry for our sins.

“I will go back to my husband”
We are in our third week of a series I’m calling Diving Romance. We’re studying the book of Hosea from the Old Testament.

And the book of Hosea is an interesting book because God chooses an unusual image to illustrate His message. Hosea married a woman named Gomer, who was unfaithful to him. She had children who were probably not Hosea’s. Eventually, she left him entirely and went to work as a prostitute.

We’ve left the story of Hosea and Gomer behind for a few weeks, but we will get back to it. The whole story--the scandal and the jealousy and the heartbreak and the unfaithfulness—is meant to illustrate the relationship between God and the people of Israel.

God considers Himself married to His people. He loves them, and wants an exclusive relationship with them. But they are faithless. They have wandering eyes. They keep seeking their satisfaction in false gods and cheap thrills.

And one of the big problems they have, we’re going to see today, is that when they say they are sorry to God, they don’t really mean it.

There’s a verse in our text from last week that I read, but I didn’t really comment much on it. I’d like to call your attention to it today. It’s Hosea 2:7:

7She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’

Last week we saw that God is like an appropriately jealous husband who is doing everything He can to keep His wife from chasing other lovers. And this verse even makes it sound like He succeeds. His wife says: “I’ll go back to my husband.” It seems like God is getting what He wants.

Only, there’s nothing sincere about it. You don’t get the sense that she feels love for her husband. You don’t even get the sense that she’s sorry or embarrassed about her behavior. Instead, it sounds like she’s shrugging her shoulders and saying: “I guess I’ll go back, I don’t have any better options at the moment.” There’s no reconciliation. No repentance. No commitment.

And God has a problem with that. Half-hearted apologies are as offensive to Him as outright rebellion. God doesn’t want us to take Him for granted.

When God confronts us in our sin, He’s looking for genuine repentance. He’s not interested in us mumbling the words “I’m sorry” with no remorse and no intention to change. He’s not looking for His wife to come back and stay with Him until the next interesting suitor comes along. God wants us to be truly sorry for our sins and committed to Him for good.

That’s what our text today is all about. We’re going to skip ahead a few chapters to Hosea 6 and 7. And here we are going to see an example of Israel’s fake repentance. We’re going to see how they presumed upon God. And we’re going to see that God doesn’t like it.

So, our outline today: three problems with fake repentance, and what God calls us to instead.

Presuming Upon God
So, first problem with fake repentance: Fake repentance has no real sorrow. Fake repentance presumes upon God’s forgiveness.

Let’s look at our text, starting at Hosea 6:1:

"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. 2After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3Let 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."

This is some of the most beautiful language in the whole book of Hosea. In fact, there’s a song that we have occasionally sung based on these verses. It’s called “You’ll Come” and includes the lyrics: “As surely as the sun will rise/You'll come to us/As certain as the dawn appears.” It’s a song I like quite a bit.

What is happening is that Hosea is quoting the people of Israel in one of their moments of repentance. They say a lot of good things. They say: “Come, let us return to the Lord… Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him.” It sounds good, it sounds like they are getting it.

Only I’m not sure that they are.

And I say that because of verse 4. God says:

4"What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your
love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

Ephraim is another name for Israel. Ephraim was one of Joseph’s two sons and became one of the larger tribes that broke off with the northern kingdom. We’ll see the words “Ephraim” and “Samaria” used for Israel quite a bit.

The point here is that God answers Israel’s repentance with frustration. He compares their love to the morning mist. He says they’re like the dew, visible for a moment but then gone. In other words, God thinks Israel is being fickle. They’re saying that they’re sorry, but God isn’t buying it.

Seen that way, we can go back to verses 1-3 and realize that these words may not be quite as sincere as we thought. Read through them again, and we’ll see that Israel is presuming upon God. “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us.” God says He’s mad, but He’s not really. He’ll get over it. “He has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” God will forgive, that’s His job! “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us.” Sure, He might be a little put out, but He’ll get over it.

Israel doesn’t really expect any elongated discipline for their sin. Israel expects to be quickly forgiven and cleared of all charges. And so, she presumes upon God’s grace. She comes back to God, but she shows no real sorrow for sin.

And I think a lot of people have that kind of view of God. “He’ll forgive me. That’s His job!”

My friend Matt says there are two ditches here. On the one hand, there is the ditch of not believing that God will ever forgive. That He is purely angry and judgmental. But the other ditch is equally as dangerous, and it’s what is happening here: taking God’s grace for granted.

“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.” God is like the seasons. Winter, spring, summer, or fall. All we have to do is call and He’ll be there. He’s like our forgiveness butler.

But what’s missing in this little speech? There’s no sorrow. No confession of sin. No humility. No Brokenness. No real repentance.

Israel expects to just breeze back in with little to no consequence for their actions. Imagine Gomer, carrying on an affair with her boyfriend. Maybe she’s even moved out of the house. But then the boyfriend dumps her and she just comes back to Hosea expecting him to welcome her back with open arms.

Israel wants revival without real repentance.

And we often do the same thing, don’t we? We expect God to bless us and never consider our own personal sin. Most of our prayer times lack serious confession.
We don’t examine ourselves very often and when we do we quickly move over our sin.

Now, I’m not calling here for morbid introspection. Some of us are prone to that and need a different message–one of “look to Christ 10 times for every look at your sinful heart.” As the Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in me.” Some of us need to hear that.

But most of us need to hear a call to real repentance. Most of us need to hear a call to self-examination, regular confession, and a real turning from our sin. Remember, repentance is not just something that happens at our new birth. Repentance is a way of life for the Christian. It understands that the grace of Christ came at Christ’s great expense, and it does not treat that grace cheaply. Repentance expresses real sorrow over sin.

And God is looking for that.

Throughout this series on Hosea I’ve been focusing on God’s love. That’s the theme of the book. I want you to understand how relentlessly stubborn God’s love for you is. That’s why He uses the image of a cheated upon husband, willing to welcome His wife back.

But understand something: just because He continues to love us in our unfaithfulness does not mean He is willing to be played for a fool. He’s not going to be sucked in by empty apologies or tepid repentance. Verse 5:

5Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of
my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.

Judgment is coming. The words of the prophets cut like swords. The words of God’s mouth will certainly be fulfilled. Verse 6:

6For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

This is what God wants. God wants covenant loyalty. That word “mercy” in verse 6 is the Hebrew word “Hesed”. Other translations have it as “loyalty” or “steadfast love.”

That’s what God wants. He wants our hearts. He wants a relationship rather than empty words or rituals. This doesn’t mean that God never wants sacrifices or burnt offerings. He does. He required them in the Old Testament Law, and He fulfilled them in the New Covenant sacrifice of our Savior.

But Israel thought that they could do the sacrifices without the mercy/love. They thought that they could do the burnt offerings without the knowledge/acknowledgment of God Himself. They thought they could get away with the outside stuff and skip the inside.

But God wanted their hearts!

No Intention to Change
Let’s move on. Not only does fake repentance give no evidence of real sorrow, it also shows no real change. Fake repentance says “sorry” but makes no effort to correct the behavior.

Let’s skip ahead to the end of chapter 6 and the beginning of chapter 7:

"Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people, whenever I would heal Israel, the sins of Ephraim are exposed and the crimes of Samaria revealed. 1They
practice deceit, thieves break into houses, bandits rob in the streets;

God says that He is prepared to forgive Israel--ready to restore and heal them—but then He looks up and all He sees is more sin. People telling lies, thieves breaking into houses, bandits robbing on the streets. If you look at the verses we just skipped over you’ll see He mentions murder and wickedness and violence.

So what is happening is that the people are going through the motions of repentance, they may even be keeping the religious routine and offering their sin sacrifices, but there is no intention of change.

It’s like the thief is standing at the altar, offering his sacrifice, even as he’s plotting his next heist. It’s like praying a prayer of confession about gluttony even as you’re daydreaming about a stop at McDonald’s. Or, to go back to the storyline, it’s like Gomer moving back in with Hosea even as she keeps her profile up on Match.com.

Paul Tripp defines repentance as “a radical change of heart that leads to a radical change of life.” It’s not repentance if you say you are sorry but have no intention of change. It’s not repentance if you say you are sorry but know full well that you are going to be doing the exact same thing again.

Now, I understand that a lot of us struggle with besetting sins. That is: bad habits, addictions, negative personality traits and so on that we desperately wish to be rid of and which we confess over and over again only to find them recurring in us all too frequently.

That’s not what I’m talking about here. When we sincerely confess these sins and ask for God’s help in overcoming them and take steps to try to eliminate them from our lives, I believe God is very merciful and gracious and willing to forgive the same sin multiple times.

What I am talking about—and I’m sure we’ve all done it—is when we come to God and ask forgiveness for a sin we have every intention of continuing with. Whether it is greed or lust or dishonesty or anger or unforgiveness, I’m sure we have all cherished sins in a way that has led us to give only lip service to our repentance.

God, obviously, is not O.K. with that. Verse 2:

2but they do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds. Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.

God sees. The wool has not been pulled over His eyes. The sins He forgives—the sins we are truly repentant of—He casts as far away as the east is from the west. He is eager to forgive and forget. But when we fake repentance--when we confess with no intention or desire to change--He remembers. Those sins stay before Him.

We need to stop taking God’s forgiveness for granted. We need to stop using God’s forgiveness tomorrow as an excuse for sinning today. We need to stop saying one thing but then doing another.

God desires real repentance and relationship with His people. Fake repentance just gets you in more trouble!

Easily Deceived and Senseless
Which leads to our third point: Fake repentance makes us look real foolish. Fake repentance eventually gives way to expose who we really are. Let’s skip ahead a few more verses to verses 8-10:

8Ephraim mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat cake not turned over. 9Foreigners sap his strength, but he does not realize it. His hair is sprinkled with gray, but he does not notice. 10Israel's arrogance testifies against him, but despite all this he does not return to the LORD his God or search for him.

Israel/Ephraim is picture as “a flat cake not turned over.” In other words, it’s burnt on one side and raw on the other. Worthless.

The problem is that Israel is putting her trust in other nations. Making alliances and deals with the very nations that are going to end up trampling her. God pictures the nation as an old man with gray hair, but he doesn’t realize it. Death is at the door and yet he is so full of himself he doesn’t know it.

His repentance is fake. And He is more and more foolish and more and more good for nothing.

Who would like a cake that was burnt on one side and raw on the other? I wonder if Gomer ever baked one like that for good old Hosea? False repentance makes you good for nothing, and you don’t even realize it.

You say you are living for God, but you aren’t effective for the kingdom, and in time, you don’t even know that you’re not the real deal.

And it makes you dupe, too. D-U-P-E. A sucker. You fall for anything. Verse 11:

11Ephraim is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless–now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria. 12When they go, I will throw my net over them; I will pull them down like birds of the air. When I hear them flocking together, I will catch them.”

This word picture is that of a dove. Or we might say, “a stool pigeon.” Ephraim couldn’t make up their minds, and they fell for everything. First Egypt, then Assyria. Like a dumb bird. And God says that He’s a fowler going to hunt them down. Verse 13:

13Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak lies against me.

There is no real repentance here. They’ve lied so long they can’t tell what is true! And they don’t look to God. Verse 14:

14They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds. They gather together for grain and new wine but turn away from me.

Notice that they do cry. The wail upon their beds. But tears do not always mean real repentance. I’ve sat with several people who have cried and cried over their sin but did not really turn from it.

Paul calls that “worldly sorrow.” Not godly sorrow. (2 Cor. 7:10) It’s what Esau had when he lost the birthright and the blessing. Sorry he got caught. Sorry he didn’t get the blessing. But not really sorry for his sin against God. Verses 15 and 16:

15I trained them and strengthened them, but they plot evil against me. 16They do not turn to the Most High; they are like a faulty bow. Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent words. For this they will be ridiculed in the land of Egypt.”

Did you know that during the 30 years of Hosea’s ministry four out of six kings were assassinated by the king that followed and only one of them died in his bed? “Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent words.”

The nation is pictured here as a faulty bow. In other words, it doesn’t do what it was made to do.

God laments that He trained them and strengthened them, taught them like His own child, but they rebelled. They didn’t do what they were made to do. They are like a bow that can’t be trusted to send an arrow where it belongs.

And they are going to suffer for it. Even down in the land of their enemy, Egypt, they are going to be laughed at. They are made to look real foolish for their sin. Their fake repentance is revealing that they aren’t what they were meant to be.

That’s what fake repentance does to us too. It turns us into something that we were never meant to be.

Are you just pretending? Are you just going through the motions? If so you are a flat cake. A senseless bird. A faulty bird. Your foolishness will be revealed.

Friend of Sinners
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The people are coming to God with fake repentance and He isn’t happy about it. They’re acting the part of the harlotrous wife, thinking they can presume upon His grace.

God won’t be played for a fool. He’s not o.k. with our empty apologies.

But that doesn’t mean He is unwilling forgive. He hasn’t abandoned His love for His people. His love is stubborn, and He’s still holding out hope for real heart change.

Did you notice some of the phrases, as we worked through the passage, that indicate God’s willingness to forgive?

Chapter 7, verse 1: “Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people, whenever I would heal Israel.”

Verse 13: “I long to redeem them...”

All of chapter 7 is a back and forth between the people and God. I would do this, but they did that.

Verse 7: “None of them calls on me.”
Verse10: “He does not return to the LORD his God or search for Him.”
Verse 14: “They do not cry out to me from their hearts.”
Verse 16: “They do not turn to the Most High God.”

That’s what He wants! He wants people to turn to Him. He wants us to return. Really return, in covenant love. He wants us to cry out to Him from our hearts. He wants real repentance.

And He’s calling us to it today.

Hosea 6:6 is probably one of the most famous verses in Hosea because it gets quoted by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

It’s in the story of Jesus calling Matthew to be a disciple. Matthew, you might recall, was a tax collector. So that made him a rather unsavory character in the eyes of his countrymen. And he was so excited when Jesus singled him out that he decided to throw a party and invite all of his friends to meet Jesus.

As it turns out, though, the only people willing to be friends with Matthew were other tax collectors and “sinners.” So, now, here’s Jesus at a party packed with grifters and confidence men and prostitutes and the like. And, of course, the Pharisees and the other religious officials couldn’t help but to notice the scandalous nature of Jesus’ associates. So they pull some disciples aside and say: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Doesn’t He know how bad that looks?

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who a need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees were sinners, too, but they couldn’t see it. Their repentance was fake. They were good at going through the motions, so good that they had fooled even themselves, but their hearts were far from God.

But Jesus is after sinners. He loves them! He loves sinners!

He came to seek and the save that which was lost! He came for those who recognize their sickness, not those who act healthy when they’re not.

He loves sinners! He isn’t surprised at your sin or shocked by it! He wants to redeem you from it. He wants to forgive and restore and bring revival.

But you have to believe that you’re a sinner. You have to agree that that’s a bad thing. You have to come with real sorrow for your sin and a real desire to change.

A real repentance, not just words. And if you do, He will restore you.

If you are not yet a Christian, He will save you. And if you are a Christian, He will revive you.

It’s not cheap and easy. Fake repentance doesn’t realize how costly God’s grace is. It cost Him the death of His own Son to be this generous!

It’s not cheap and easy. But it is free to you and to me.

Jesus is calling us all to real repentance.

Will you answer the call?