It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans. The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning. For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.
A new beginning means a new you. But what if the old you is still here? How do we begin again? And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind? And what about those who have done wrong to us? Why should they be allowed to start again?
We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom. The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives. Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites. The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery. Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord. God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness. Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.
Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment. Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment. Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners? And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am? And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin? Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul? Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?
II. Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4
Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action. Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.
God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt. Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.” God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land. But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes. God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.
But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod. Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.
But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again. And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly. God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.
This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel. When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again. We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord. And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy. Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.
I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband. She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life. But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with. One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy. There was a small problem, she said; he was married . But she knew God would want her to be happy. She said God had told her so.
I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin. For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again. Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin. God may love us, but He hates the sin. If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him. As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.
In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell. We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted. Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath. God is in all of it. We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.
III. Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7
The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment. In Hosea 11:5-7,
Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent. His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord. And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.
I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel. It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do. We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok. They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends. Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord. Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.
But God doesn’t see it the same way. He loves His people and He wants them to be pure. So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict. Does He do the same with us?
Sometimes I think He does. We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way. Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians. Why is the enemy winning?
I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good. Church attendance is decreasing across the USA. Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship? No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.
And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart. The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way. It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.
I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian. I named him Israel. No wait, I named him Samson. I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian. Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs. He was big and he was stubborn. I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned. I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions. On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel. The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.
After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands. Sit. Stay. Come. Down. Heel. And we’d walk around the block. Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later. He was well trained.
Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash. We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me. “Heel!” Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again. “Heel!” He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner. I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me. “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off. There was no way to catch him, he was so fast. Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again. We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.
It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed. It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted. It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion. Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.
We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God. We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit. It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences. We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.
Mark Twain once put it this way: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin. In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And we’re all repeat offenders, too. In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark. He didn’t really mean it that way, did He? We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.
IV. Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9
Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin. As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf. Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful. Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.
And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve. God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves. And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.
He is the Holy One in our midst. He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead. The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us. We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us. His compassion trumps His righteous anger.
V. Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11
Why would the Lord act with such compassion? He has a purpose for this compassion.
They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.
So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel. Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord. And the Lord would be quick to respond.
When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord. Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention. My sin is detestable to Him. He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin. I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me. He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.
In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.
Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose. God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good. And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient. At what point would a father not want his children to return?
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery. In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her. Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.
Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children. Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.
And today? Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience. We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience. But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force. We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.
To God be the glory. Amen.