Return to God

I.       Introduction

We’re concluding our study of Hosea today, the minor prophet that warned Israel of her unfaithfulness to her Creator.

Last time I taught, it was the challenge Hosea had been given, to marry a harlot to demonstrate to Israel her unfaithfulness.  Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea, but Hosea was faithful in return.  And Hosea named his children as God had directed; each name was a reminder of the broken relationship between Israel and God.

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Now in our final chapters, we see Israel as the broken family but a parent who still wants the best for his children.  The unfaithful children of God are reminded of the faithfulness of their Heavenly Father, Yahweh.  God is infinite in His mercy; God always forgives.

In Hosea 11, God reminds the Israelites of their childhood in Egypt under the Pharaohs and how God loved them to lead them out bondage in Egypt. God walked with them through the wilderness and healed them out of love. God reminded them time and time again how faithful He was and the love that was expressed throughout the generations.

What does God want?  Hosea 12:6,

But you must return to your God.
Maintain love and justice,
and always put your hope in God.

That’s all God asks in return. Love your God and love your neighbors.  Return to God in love, justice, and hope.  And why should Israel do this?  Because God is love, faithfulness, and salvation.  Hosea 13:4,

I have been Yahweh your God
ever since the land of Egypt;
you know no God but Me,
and no Savior exists besides Me.

It’s a consistent message from God in the book of Hosea.  God is hope, love, faithfulness, and exclusivity.  All God desires is that His people be faithful to their Creator.  God does not want a promiscuous relationship filled with betrayal and compromise.  God wants His people to remember that since the land of Egypt that there was to be no other gods before Him, and salvation is found only through God and God alone.

II.    We Stumble Because of Our Sin

Hosea 14 begins with an admonition to all faithful believers, Hosea 14:1,

Israel, return to Yahweh your God,
for you have stumbled in your sin.

God alone is the God of Israel.  While God never left Israel, Israel left God.  Hosea calls for Israel to repent, turn from those sins, turn back to God.

Israel had fallen away from fidelity.  Israel had stumbled off the path of fellowship with God.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was unique in its relationship with God.  Israel was to live as a pure society by faithfully following God’s commandments.  In return, Israel would experience intimacy with God, unique fellowship and blessings from God.  There were times throughout Israel’s history when they were living within the will of God.  But every time they experienced God’s favor, Israel would stray.

Reminds me of a dog I had once.  He was 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 Dalmatians 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 on a regular choke collar which was completely ineffective, then I switched to a pinch collar that seriously got his attention when I pulled.  With the pinch collar in place, Samson did 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.

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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, sometimes 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.”

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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.”

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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.

This is the essence of sin.  Throughout Scripture, different words capture our sinfulness.  Here are three of them –

Sin – comes from the Hebrew verb “to sin” or “hata”, which means to miss the mark of God’s standard.

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This word is used over two hundred times throughout the Old Testament.  In Judges 20:16, the tribe of Benjamin was training people to be expert with the slingshot.

There were 700 choice men who were left-handed among all these people; all could sling a stone at a hair and not miss (hata).

Hata is a very general word for sin.  But sin at its most basic level is anything we say, think, or do that misses the standard of God’s holiness.

Rebellion – the Hebrew noun pesha is an intentional rebellion.  It is a transgression.  We are obstinate, stubborn, and we rebel against the will of our heavenly Father.   It is willful disobedience against what God has declared we should do or not do.

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Iniquity – comes from the Hebrew noun awōn, which means twisted, crooked, and perverted.  Our iniquities cause us to do twisted things and to pervert lies to try to make them true or pervert the truth, making it appear false.  The Bible uses the word iniquity over two hundred times.  Iniquity makes us selfish men and women who will lie, cheat, steal, murder, and commit adultery to fulfill our lusts and desires.

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Israel stumbled from fellowship with God because of their sin, because of their rebellious iniquity.  They were blinded by their desires and committed horrible acts against God.  Hosea tells the people of Israel that they have not just turned their backs on God, but they are actively doing evil and lying to themselves about it.

When we fall out of our relationship with the LORD, it is not just because of mistakes that we have made.  It is not because of bad choices, and it is not because of circumstances in our life.  Our stumbling away from fellowship with God is always a direct result of our sinful words, thoughts, and actions. Sin always drives a wedge between the LORD and us.

For the nation of Israel, their iniquity manifested itself in two primary ways. Hosea 14:2-3,

Take words of repentance with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to Him: “Forgive all our sin
and accept what is good,
so that we may repay You
with praise from our lips.
Assyria will not save us,
we will not ride on horses,
and we will no longer proclaim, ‘Our gods!’
to the work of our hands.
For the fatherless receives compassion in You.”

First, they depended on political alliances with other nations for their well-being.  Israel was to depend on God and God alone for their well-being in everyday life, not just in the world.  Do we depend on God first, or do we depend on material wealth and our social sphere?

Second, they worshipped idols.  Israel was supposed to worship the LORD God alone.  When they fashioned idols with their hands, they were not just making figurines but fashioning gods in their own image.   Do we worship God alone, or do we place other priorities before the Lord?

Paul described them like this in Romans 9:4-5,

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises.  The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.

How could Israel fall so far?   How can we as a nation fall so far?

Israel does not stand alone in guilt before Almighty God.  If anything, it is worse when we, as believers, stumble away from God because of our sins.

The nation of Israel had the prophets, but the Church had the apostles.
Israel had the Temple with the presence of God, but Christians have the Spirit of God living inside of us.
Israel had the miracles of the Exodus that got them through the Red Sea, but the Church has experienced the greatest miracle of the Resurrected Christ.
Israel had Moses lifting a bronze serpent, saying look and be saved, while the Church has Jesus, who was lifted up so that all who would look to His love on the cross would be saved from the presence, power, and penalty of sin.

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Sin causes all of us to stumble away from intimacy with God.  Disobedience, no matter who you are or what era of history, drives a wedge between humanity and the Holy One.

III. Reconciliation is Always Possible

The good news is that God never turns His back on us, and never forsakes us.  He is always there, waiting for us to return to Him.  Look how many times Hosea exhorts the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord –

Verse 1a, verse 2a verse 7a,

Israel, return to Yahweh your God,
Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord.
The people will return and live beneath his shade.

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It’s never too late.  Despite Israel’s sins, God consistently calls them to return to Him.  He constantly calls us to return to Him.  We can return to Him no matter what we have done or where we have been.  There are no limits to the love of God.  He took back Gomer, despite her unfaithfulness to Hosea as an illustration of how He will take back Israel and you and me.  He will take me back despite the fact I blamed that broken lamp on my sister when I was 7.  He will take me back despite my high school and college promiscuity.  He will take back the most violent criminal on death row.

What did you do?  We all have regrets for the things we’ve done.  Think about the worse thing you did to someone as a child.  As a teenager.  Maybe something this week.  God still, consistently, always, without fail, calls you and me to return to Him.

We are all familiar with the parable of the prodigal son.  The younger son asked for his inheritance from his father and spent it recklessly in a far country.  What took his father a lifetime to accumulate, he spent in a weekend of sin, rebellion, and iniquity.  And then the money was gone.

The young man found himself lost, without hope, broke.  With no place else to turn, the young man turned back toward home.  He was going to ask his father to hire him as a slave.  Certainly a slave would be better off than starvation and cold.  But what would his father say?  Would his father turn him away?  Punish him?  Demand he pay it all back?

Luke 15:20b, 24,

But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.
because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

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No punishment.  No purgatory.  Just an embrace.  His father did not take him back as a slave; he embraced him as a son.

God wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is God.  There is nothing in your past that will ever stop the love of God.  He knew you before you were born, and desires that you return to Him.  You can always return Him.

It said in Hosea 14:7,

The people will return and live beneath his shade.
They will grow grain
and blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.

God offers His protection when we return to Him.  His presence provides comfort and strength and rest.  His shadow offers hope in the harshest of days and gives us power when we think we cannot continue.  His shadow provides protection from the world, a holy resting place.
The Psalms often portray God’s shadow as a place of rest –

  • Psalm 36:7, How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
  • Psalm 57:1, Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings, I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
  • Psalm 63:7, For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
  • Psalm 91:1, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

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We will never find true rest in this world.  No amount of money or friends or the size of our house or the price of our car will comfort us when a loved one dies.  When we face our own mortality, nothing in this world will give us peace.  God knows that.  God wants His children to find true protection, peace, and rest, and the only place where we will find it is in the protecting shadow of our Lord.

IV.    Forgiveness is Always Available

And when we return to Him, His forgiveness is immediate, complete, and powerful.  Hosea 14:4-7,

I will heal their apostasy;
I will freely love them,
for My anger will have turned from him.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like the lily
and take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
His new branches will spread,
and his splendor will be like the olive tree,
his fragrance, like the forest of Lebanon.
The people will return and live beneath his shade.
They will grow grain
and blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.

Apostasy means to turn away from the truth.   Verse 7 says if we turn away from apostasy, God turns away His anger.  He forgives us.  So how do we turn from untruth?  We turn toward truth, and there is only one truth.

Jesus says in John 14:6,

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

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When we return to the Lord, we experience His forgiveness and He sets aside His anger.  Hosea is speaking to all of us today, reminding us that we can experience His of forgiveness just by accepting His truth.

No tricks.  No prerequisites.  No holy grail quest.  Just accept God’s truth in His son, Jesus Christ.   The Gospel, the Good News, is that we are loved perfectly in Jesus, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.  Romans 5:8,

But God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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God hates sin.  Psalm 5:5-6,

the boastful shall not stand before your eyes: you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies: the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

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But remember that Hosea’s message was not to Assyria or any of her naighbors, and this message today is not for lying politicians, prosecutors of the church, people who deceive and mutilate our children.  This message is for us, because our sin nature means all of us are boastful, liars, bloodthirsty, and deceitful.  Everyone on this planet meets those requirements.

But the beauty and mystery of the Gospel are that God’s anger did not disappear.  His anger did not simply vanish.  Instead, God’s anger and wrath toward sin turned toward Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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God’s anger turned away from us.  And God placed all the anger toward our sin and our rebellion against Him on His Son, Jesus.  His anger is turned, His forgiveness is available, and His healing is present in our lives because of the Gospel.  Freed from our sin, we are free to live abundantly in Christ Jesus.

It comes down to a choice.  Turn away from apostacy and toward truth, or invite the anger of the Lord.  Hosea ends with this in verse 9,

Let whoever is wise understand these things, and whoever is insightful recognize them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

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V.       Conclusion

In the book of Hosea, Hosea chose Gomer, and Gomer betrayed him.  God chose Israel, and Israel betrayed Him.  And God chose us, and since the Garden of Eden, we betrayed Him.

But Hosea purchased and redeemed Gomer at a high cost.  Israel was purchased and redeemed for a high cost.  And you and I were purchased and redeemed at a high cost.

It’s never too late to save ourselves from wrath.  We return to the Lord, turn away from apostacy, and God’s redemption and love waits for us.

That is the good news of the gospel.

All glory to God through Christ alone.  Amen.

2 thoughts on “Return to God”

  1. Boy do we need Repentance more than ever.  I’m reminded of Jeremiah when the people were so wicked God told him to quit praying for them. He would not answer prayers for them. I think we are being put in a position to Choose This Day Whom We Will Serve. I sure know where I’ll be. I know you do too, even if the ride gets rough. Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

    Liked by 1 person

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