Deciding on Discipline
Today’s lesson is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. Who enjoys discipline, raise your hands. Hold on; give me a second to count all the hands of the people that love discipline. Looks like… None. Just what I expected.
There are two types of discipline. There’s the positive type of discipline. Discipline that improves a skill or behavior. Practicing the piano, staying within a budget, exercising, these are positive types of disciplines. And primarily, these are disciplines that we impose upon ourselves.
Then there’s the negative kind of discipline. Correction. Rebuking. Admonishment. Punishment.
We’re studying the minor prophet Hosea, the Prophet of Doom, today. Hosea’s had a tough life so far; God told him to marry a prostitute, and Hosea was faithful to the Lord, even if Hosea’s wife Gomer wasn’t faithful to him. Homer’s wife was very intimate with other men, but it eventually led to her downfall. As she hit bottom in her life, she was eventually sold as a slave. Despite Hosea’s love for her, Hosea’s wife had strayed, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, and then she reaped the consequences of those choices.
Hosea never gave up on his love for her. It was necessary for Hosea’s wife to hit bottom, to be sold as a slave, before she could realize the depth and discipline of Hosea’s love.
Hosea draws upon this understanding when he preaches to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that Israel would soon hit rock bottom before they could fully realize God’s love for them. And sometimes it takes us to hit rock bottom before we fully realize God’s love for us. He’s there when there is nothing else.
I have no doubt that the Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people. God promised it to them. In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God’s made a covenant with David. Through the prophet Nathan, God told David –
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
I guess they liked that part that said, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” and just overlooked the part that said, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men.” But that’s exactly the situation in Hosea’s time.
II. Check Your Relationship, Hosea 8:1-4
So let’s open to Hosea 8 and read 1-4…
Put the trumpet to your lips!
An eagle is over the house of the Lord
because the people have broken my covenant
and rebelled against my law.
Israel cries out to me,
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’
But Israel has rejected what is good;
an enemy will pursue him.
They set up kings without my consent;
they choose princes without my approval.
With their silver and gold
they make idols for themselves
to their own destruction.
This announcement by Hosea begins, “Put a horn against your lips.” This signals the beginning of war against an enemy. It has a twofold meaning here. One, there would soon be an attack against the Northern Kingdom and the main worship center at Bethel. This would come from the blistering invasion from the Assyrian army. The Assyrians were located in what is now modern day Iraq, and in 8 BC were the world’s most powerful army. Death and destruction were imminent. But that wasn’t the worse part. The Israelites, through their duplicitous lives, were at war against the Lord. . Sound the horn, Israel, you’re not only facing the Assyrians, you are also facing the Lord in battle. The Israelites, by their disobedience, had declared war.
What had the Israelites done that was so bad? The Israelites were a messy bunch. On one hand, they were bound to the Lord by covenant promises since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. On the other hand, the Israelites were also very much involved at the time in the pagan deities of the Caananites. So they’d offer gifts to the Lord, then they’d offer gifts to Baal. They installed new kings without God’s direction, worshipped calf-idols all while standing at Bethel, a place to worship God.
One can’t do both. Our God is a jealous God, who does not settle for part time adoration. Trying to do both is the same as worshipping only pagans deities and turning their backs on God.
Once, talking to a missionary, he told me of a story of a man he met in India. This man was familiar with worshipping the many gods of India, it is said that there are 330 million gods in the Hindu religion. This man, after several visits, eventually gave his life to Christ and acknowledged Jesus as Lord. Several months go by, and the missionary checks on his Indian brother and visits him at his house. One wall is completely lined with little statues of Indian gods. The missionary said, “But didn’t you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?” And the Indian man said excitedly, “I did! Look, here He is at the end of the second shelf!”
Our God is a jealous God. God and God alone. God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 6:18 that they would prosper and enjoy the holy land if they did what is good and righteous. But between the selection of kings and the unholy alliances and the worshipping of pagan gods, Israel didn’t do that. They sought their own desires, and accordingly the promise made to them in Leviticus 26:17 would be fulfilled, an enemy would pursue them.
A couple of things struck me about the rest of these verses. When times got tough, who did Israel cry out to? They cried out to the Lord. Not to Baal or pagan deities. That suggests that the Israelites knew who was Lord, but when times were good they felt it was ok to do things their own way and to dabble in other religions. Sort of like the days after 9/11. People knew the Lord was God and they came to churches by the hundreds and the thousands. And in the good times they’re off doing their own thing and dabbling in other religions.
And another thing – the Israelites knew scripture. They knew the Word of the Lord because they knew they were God’s chosen. So here’s a question: if we, as believers, have memorized lots of scripture but we do not do what it teaches, do we really know the Lord? Is knowing God a matter of mastering information we have read, or doing God’s will? O both?
III. You Reap What You Sow, Hosea 8:7-10
Our actions have consequences, and Israel is taught this by the Lord in the next few verses -
They sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no head;
it will produce no flour.
Were it to yield grain,
foreigners would swallow it up.
Israel is swallowed up;
now she is among the nations
like something no one wants.
For they have gone up to Assyria
like a wild donkey wandering alone.
Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.
Although they have sold themselves among the nations,
I will now gather them together.
They will begin to waste away
under the oppression of the mighty king.
In Charles Stanley’s, “Life Principles to Live By”, one of the principles is: You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.
Actions have consequences. Physical actions have physical consequences. If you jump off a bridge, there is a physical consequence. Mental actions have mental consequences. And emotions have emotional consequences. People forget that spiritual actions have consequences. We reap what we sow – if we sow watermelon seeds, we reap watermelons. If we sow anger, we reap anger. Sometimes I think we sow our wild oats all week long – and then when Sunday comes around, we pray for crop failure.
The Israelites had crop failure. The work they did was not aligned with God’s will, and so there was no field of standing grain to show for all their hard labor. Nonexistent crop yields point to a reality that if they do not follow God’s will, then they do not reap His blessings. When we throw foolishness into the wind, we reap a whirlwind of folly and destruction. Empty words and idol worship will yield an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction. They finally reached the end of God’s loving patience and were about to receive His discipline.
Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – paid their enemy to love them. They gave money to the Assyrians to persuade them not to attack. They were hiring lovers among nations. At the same time the Northern Kingdom was paying the Assyrians not to attack them, the Israelites
were also paying surrounding kingdoms to be their allies against the Assyrians. They were paying friends and enemies. The crushing financial burden of this must have been great.
Did you know that most large corporations pay both Democrats and Republicans large sums of money during an election? They want to be on the side of whoever wins. No parallels. Just an observation.
But I digress, let’s go back to Israel. Soon every able bodied man was conscripted into military service, every household was heavily taxed to pay tribute to the enemy, gifts for the friendly nation, and payment for the military buildup.
The punishment was upon them.
The interesting thing about punishment is that, while we hate it, we would rather receive it from someone we know and love than a stranger. Children probably never appreciate discipline when they’re young, but I can guarantee that they would much rather receive punishment from their father than from a next door neighbor. What’s the difference? The difference is clear – accepting punishment from someone we love is easier because, while we may hate the punishment, we know that the person dealing the punishment has our best interests at heart.
So the best way for the Israelites to accept and understand discipline– and it’s true for Christians as well – is to get to know God. The more we know Him and understand Him, the more we can understand His purposes.
I think the Israelites had grown lazy in their faith. Did they really know God? They knew who God is… but that is not the same thing as knowing God. We often quote the verse that even the demons know who God is and they shudder. Think of this – if the Israelites really knew God with all of His perfect love and protection and patience and kindness, then why were they seeking prosperity and security in something else? Why were they paying friends and enemies instead of relying on the Lord for protection?
Bad Israelites. But you know we Christians still do the same thing today. We treat church as a social club instead of a place to worship and grow and serve. We cut back on tithing because we need a new car. We secretly check our iPhones during the worship services to see what’s happening on Facebook instead of giving ourselves to our Creator for an hour. We pursue these worldly things, and then these worldly things seem to pursue us. We cannot seem to get away. It’s what we so, so it’s no surprise it’s also what we reap.
But that’s ok. Someday, God will discipline us to make sure we are paying attention to Him. We can either discipline ourselves, or God will do it for us. One way or another, every knee will bow.
God disciplines us on an individual level, but He also disciplines us as a nation. God used violent international conflicts and heavy taxes to discipline Israel. Right now, our culture is sowing persistent cultural sinfulness. We once were a moral nation, but we’ve moved away from that. First we were morally tolerant, then morally permissive. And now it’s demanded of us that we accept immoral behavior as the basis of American life. Do you believe God is please with us for our decision? Do you think it’s possible God will decide He needs to discipline us for our own good before we destroy ourselves? I shudder to think how and when God will one day do this.
IV. Heed a Warning When You Hear It, Hosea 9:7-9
God’s judgment didn’t just suddenly arrive with no warning. Hosea preached for years about God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin.
The days of punishment are coming,
the days of reckoning are at hand.
Let Israel know this.
Because your sins are so many
and your hostility so great,
the prophet is considered a fool,
the inspired person a maniac.
The prophet, along with my God,
is the watchman over Ephraim,
yet snares await him on all his paths,
and hostility in the house of his God.
They have sunk deep into corruption,
as in the days of Gibeah.
God will remember their wickedness
and punish them for their sins.
Did you hear how I pronounced Gibeah? How are you supposed to pronounce it? I learned a secret that if I don’t know how to pronounce one of the Old Testament names or places, I just say it with confidence. I say it with so much confidence, if Dr. Young was hear and heard me, even he’d start wondering if he’s the one pronouncing it wrong.
But we’re talking about Hosea and his message to Israel. How do people sometimes respond when they don’t want to hear an unwelcome message about God’s judgment? Sometimes they close their ears, change the subject, even get mad. When I study for lessons like this, God’s word speaks to me. The message sticks in my head messages like “do what is right, leave the consequences to God,” “your body is a temple, not a megachurch, maybe it’s time to lose weight”. And you know, I can’t tell you that I ever receive these messages with joy. They bother me because they’re true, and if I know they’re true, then I must act on the truth. I don’t want to live with my own hypocrisy.
When has God used the preaching of His Word to warn you about your behavior?
Hosea then delivered this message to Israel, that the end was near, the tone was urgent, the threats were severe. The prophet kept preaching that the days of God’s judgment on the house of Israel had arrived. The people of the Northern Kingdom knew this by now, there was no mistake. By this time, the Assyrians had probably conquered all of the Northern Kingdom with the exception of the capital city of Sumaria.
Why was God so harsh? Do you believe the people would have listened to a quiet, gentle message? I don’t think so – we have a loving God that we often ignore, and sometimes His discipline is harsh to get our attention that something must change. Who do you think this harsh discipline hurt more, God or the people?
I ask myself this, and you should ask yourself, too. Has God been speaking to me? And am I listening? Am I postponing action on God’s call in my life? If I continue to delay, what will God will do to get my attention?
V. Realize What Time It Is, Hosea 10:10-12
The last time I was here, I taught from Second Peter. I was like, whoa, there are two Peters! There’s one Peter, and then there’s a Re-Peter. In that lesson, we talked about the confidence we can have about the Second Coming of Jesus and what we should do while waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas. For the Northern Kingdom, the Day of the Lord has arrived. And God will use Israel’s time of punishment to renew His people and give them a new heart that yearns only for the Lord.
When I please, I will punish them;
nations will be gathered against them
to put them in bonds for their double sin.
Ephraim is a trained heifer
that loves to thresh;
so I will put a yoke
on her fair neck.
I will drive Ephraim,
Judah must plow,
and Jacob must break up the ground.
Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.
Is God’s discipline and expression of His justice? Or is it an expression of His love? Or is it both?
How can you begin seeking the Lord more seriously? Hint: it’s verse 12.
God said, “When I please, I will punish them.” In some translations, “discipline them.” His judgement would come, at the time of God’s choosing. The two crimes of Israel were mostly likely worshiping other gods and placing their trust in human kings and alliances instead of the only faithful source, the Lord.
Hosea says the people of Israel wanted the cushy job in the threshing floor, but God’s discipline would put a yoke around her neck like a young cow and send her to the field with a yoke around her neck. The easy days of happiness would be behind them and days of labor in front. But even now, though, the people had a chance to repent. Hosea lists three things they must do:
1 – Sow righteousness for themselves. We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can live a life of faithful love and righteousness.
2 – When one sows grain, one reaps wheat. When one sows righteousness and love, one reaps a character of godly righteousness. The righteousness they reap would have everlasting effects on the nation of Israel.
3 – They were to break up the untilled ground. In other words, in every part of their life where they had excluded God, they were to break it up and till it with God’s word. In all areas of personal life, in all areas of their life as a nation.
And to do these three things with persistence and God would rain down righteousness like rain.
I hear people say all the time, “God wants me to be happy.” That’s not God’s number one desire for us. God doesn’t want us to be unhappy, of course. What father would want His children to be unhappy! But happiness is not the goal. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If you want to be happy, be righteous first. That’s what pleases the Lord. If we seek happiness and we’re willing to give up righteousness to get it, God will correct us. And in the process of seeking happiness, we will lose it.
Today, some believers seek an easier church with an easier message. One that teaches freedom and tolerance and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with such a message, but it’s incomplete and it’s in the wrong order. A church that teaches righteousness and then freedom and happiness has their priorities in order.
I don’t know about you about you, but I’d rather decide my own discipline. In seeking His righteousness, I want to exercise discipline in my life that brings me closer to Him. The positive kind of discipline. That kind of discipline is rewarding, but if I wait and let God discipline me, it’s harder. God will give me a heavy load and hard work until I understand that God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, but when I go my own way, I’m sowing the wind and will reap a whirlwind.
Discipline, as a rule, is not something we enjoy. But sometimes discipline is exactly what we need.
As a child, you probably didn’t appreciate the discipline from your parents. As we grow older and more mature, then we see that the discipline when we were younger leads to life that reaps good things. And just like when we were young, sometimes now it’s difficult to accept God’s discipline. It’s hard. But as we grow and mature spiritually, then we will see that God is preparing us for an eternity of trusting in Him. There are tremendous benefits to come if we only start sowing now so that we may reap later.
Hosea was one of the earliest writing prophets, and he used his own experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him. God does the same for us. His love is perfect and He will never leave us.
The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians can extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride. Hosea teaches us that God calls the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually, Homer bought is wife Gomer back, just as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brings us back to Him.
To God be the glory. Amen.