I guess Hosea has to be the Old Testament book that just hurts the God-loving reader most. It just reaches down into my soul and grips my conscience when I think about God hurting like a pure husband whose wife seeks sensual pleasures with other men. Glenn and I have counseled many times with these men (and women) who find themselves in a spot in life where their own deaths would be far preferable to the hurt they are forced to endure. But this figurative marital unfaithfulness was committed, not against a sinful mortal, but against the loving and completely righteous God. God wanted Israel to know His hurt, His anger and the passion in His pleas as he begged her, as a nation, to turn back to the One who loved her as no other ever would.
A very significant descriptive verb is found at the beginning of the book in verse three of chapter one. “Departing” is that word. When the Holy Spirit tells us that Israel had departed, we understand that Hosea was prophesying, not to alien sinners…not to those, like Ninevah in Jonah’s day–comprised of Gentiles. But Hosea was called to go and marry the harlot, so that he could understand and articulate the pain and the pleas of God with regard to His own favored people; a people who had turned their collective back on His goodness and mercy in favor of the lifeless idols built by men.
As I read Hosea today, it’s really hard to believe. It’s a stretch for me to think about people who knew that He had delivered them initially from slavery in Egypt following ten devastating plagues against the enemy, parted the Red Sea and later the Jordan, provided manna and quail in the wilderness and later allowed them to dwell in a land flowing with milk and honey in houses they did not build as they ate fruits from vineyards they did not plant. God was the “Husband” who had faithfully provided for them in wondrous and loving ways.
I know this application from Israel’s ingratitude is probably overused, but it just really is unsettling to me to think about the parallels in the body today. Are we so different when we forsake him today? After all, we claim to believe the Bible. We believe the Messiah left heaven and came to a dirty, sin-stained world in our behalf. We believe he purposed to die and, in fact, did suffer the most cruel form of torture and execution for our transgressions. We believe the tomb was empty and that angels said, “He is not here, for he is risen” (Lk. 24:6). We claim membership in the one eternal organization existing on earth today. We say that we believe He will come in the clouds and that we will rise to meet him in the air and that there’s a place around his throne reserved for his faithful. We say that we understand the Bible that each of us now owns to be miraculously and verbally inspired; a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. We, at least, in theory, believe it to be authoritative for our practices and decisions. When we hold the Word, know the fellowship, remember the cross, and rejoice about that empty tomb… how is it that we have any less for which to be thankful than did Israel? How is it that we have any more license than did they to become mingled with and influenced by the culture around us–the culture that fails to respect the holiness of our God?
But we do. We so often let the culture dictate our passions. We get very excited about sports. I mean we get passionate about them while we can hardly keep our eyes open during Bible classes and worship. We stay up late with friends on Saturday nights, knowing full well that it will be at the expense of our full focus in worship to God on Sunday morning. Crowds of students on Christian college campuses have plenty of energy to party through the weekend, but do well to make it to worship on Sunday morning, rarely making the effort to attend Bible classes or be a part of visitation teams or evangelistic efforts. Some have amazingly loud voices for musical celebration shows like Makin’ Music at FHU or Spring Sing at Harding, but offer God half-hearted praise that’s barely even audible when they assemble for worship. We can discuss “Duck Dynasty” with our friends. We can talk about “Dancing with the Stars” or “Downton Abbey” or a litany of other shows. We can talk about movies that are often laced with sensual material or profanity and we can talk about books that are about romance or that perhaps even border on the theme of bestiality. But we are not as comfortable discussing the scriptures. We can pay fifty or a hundred dollars for a purse without batting an eye, but have no pang of conscience when we drop a twenty in the collection plate on Sunday morning. We worry about whether or not we will look okay in a swimsuit, but not about whether or not wearing one might present a stumbling block in the spiritual path of a brother or even a stranger. In fact, the beach and the pool are such prominent places in our summer excursions that we prefer not to think about the possibility of sinning in the process of enjoying them. So we just don’t. And we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not we can find a place to worship on those travels, either. If there’s a convenient congregation and it’s fairly easy to find out what time they meet, we may go on Sunday morning. But, if it requires effort and a drive and getting up early, we’re okay with just going on Sunday night when we get back home, if we do get back home in time. And, if our consciences begin to hurt us when we’re traveling to that family reunion or sports event on Sunday morning, we can always stop the car for a few minutes and read a scripture and say a prayer on the way. We sometimes even give ourselves a pat on the back and convince ourselves that we’re “being a good influence on our teammates” if we have a prayer on the field or the track or the lake, even if we are forsaking the assembling of the saints in deference to a ball game, a race for the cure or a bass tournament.
Of course, the list could go on. Idolatry comes in varied forms. In fact, it’s anything that takes the allegiance that belongs to God. We all tend to look at the idols of others with disdain while our own idols seem innocent enough to us. So I’m writing to remind myself of the ever-present danger of something I love or enjoy or want–a lot–taking the number one spot in my heart and drawing me away from the cross and the gospel. I AM talking to Cindy Colley. It’s the challenge of our lifetimes to just mortify whatever it is in our lives that threatens to take the number one spot (Col. 3:5). It may be so simple as a video game or so complex as a career. It may be facebook. It may be a series of novels. It may pop up on my computer or it may come in a bottle. It may cost a couple of hours or a million dollars. But, if it costs my salvation, the price is far too high.
Hosea equated “departing from the Lord” with whoredom–spiritual adultery. It could be that I am part-way out the door without seeing that the devil is tempting me to leave. Have I been unfaithful to the Supreme Husband? Have I failed to keep my promises to the One to whom I am married? Can I be trusted to be there for the One who died for me? Is He patiently waiting for me at home, while I am running around with another “lover”? Does it hurt Him when He looks at my life and see that He has been one-upped by things that are so very cheap and temporal? It does…
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:4-6).
Sometimes, as I speak with women about priorities, someone will say, “But Cindy, don’t you think that God requires less actual activity in our service today and more of our hearts? Don’t you think that the New Covenant is less about being in worship, less about following rules of conduct and more about loving Him?”
The answer is yes. The New Covenant is not about ordinances and animal sacrifices (Col. 2:14). It is about Christians BEING living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 2). It is about my heart, soul, strength and mind loving Him (Mk. 12:36). It is about knowing that no death or life or angel or principality or power or height or depth, or any other creature can separate me from His love (Romans 8:38,39). It is about suffering with the Christ, so that I can be a partaker in His glory (II Timothy 1:8). It is about never being ashamed of the good news of the gospel, even when it crosses the culture in which I live (Romans 1:16). It is about ME being the one on the figurative altar for Him. If Christianity, according to the New Covenant is anything, it is personally sacrificial. Is it time to sacrifice a period of my day for Bible study? Is it time to put extensive facebook use on the altar? Is it time to throw a book in the trash can mid-read when I find it injects the world’s mentality into my thought processes? Should my TV time be on the altar? Is it my dress code that I need to give Him? Is it time to have a talk with my kids’ ball coaches about our first priority? Have I failed to be the kind of example of sacrifice I should be in my community? Have I lost precious opportunities to influence lost friends because I have been ashamed of the gospel? Do I need to confess this to the local body and seek accountability for my actions? It’s a deeply personal question…because our very selves, the sacrifice required today, must be sacrificed on some deeply personal altars.