Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Love So Hard It Hurts- Hosea 12

I have been reading all of Hosea and focusing in on chapter 12. This is the next to the last post from all the chapter 12's in the Old Testament. I have made a goal this year of blogging on all the chapter 12's in the Bible in 2012- and is always true of God's Word- it has been amazing....supernatural.

You most likely know the basic premise of this 'minor prophet'. He prophesies to the Northern Kingdom- rebuking the sin of a broken covenant promise, promising God's punishment, and reminding of God's love and promise to restore as well.

What strikes me in this Book is that I feel God's pain and hurt in these chapters. Sometimes I read OT passages out of Jeremiah or Isaiah and I feel/fear God's anger and judgement. His holy fury and wrath that pours out against all sin.

This Book makes me feel God's tears and His heartbreaks over the deep love He has for His people. It is a love that surges throughout the history of His dealings with His children. When God reflects back to previous story lines like Jacob or Moses, I perceive the passion of a Parent.

And when He comments on Israel's adultery, it is done with a broken heart. Why do you desert your only true love and the ONLY one who will protect you and sacrifice for you?

And when He promises to punish them, to break them because of their pride and harlotry- I feel His pain. He has to... He doesn't want to.

And when He promises to restore them in the future, I feel His great yearning for it to happen.

The opening of chapter 12 is so poetic:
Hosea 12:1 Ephraim (meaning Israel, the Northern Kingdom) feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; 
You have to read all of the chapters leading up to this one to experience the starkness of this line.

It was first played out by Hosea, following the Lord's instructions,  marrying the prostitute and experiencing what God feels like to be betrothed to a whore as a symbol of what God's people had continually done in forsaking the Lord and turning to idolatry.

Israel, thinking the were strong and prosperous, had manipulated and manufactured treaties with Assyria and Egypt. A move to pick peace and prosperity over being the 'set apart' nation who had the covenant keeping God as their source of protection and provision.

God says (I believe in a frustrated and broken way) that my people are not only feeding on wind... but an EAST wind- coming out of the desert- offering NOTHING.

John Calvin said it all much better:
For when one gulps the wind, he seems indeed to fill his mouth, and his throat, and his chest, and his whole stomach; but there is nothing but air, no nourishment. So he says that Israel entertained indeed much confidence in their crafty ways, but it was to feed only on the wind. They dreamt that they were happy, when they secured confederacies, when they had both the Assyrians and the Egyptians as their associates. They are only blasts, says the Prophet; nay, he says, they are noxious blasts; for by the East he understands the east wind, which blows from the rising of the sun; and this, as they say, is in Judea a dry and often a stormy wind. Other winds either bring rain or some other advantage: but this wind brings nothing but drought and storms. 
...For unbelieving men, as we see, fabricate for themselves many excuses; and though they be impostures, they yet think themselves safe against all the threatening of God, provided they set up, I know not what, something which they think will be sufficiently available. 
God wished the people to be under his protection; and when God promised to be the defender of their safety, they ought to have been satisfied with his protection alone: but when they retook themselves to Egypt and to Assyria, it was a clear evidence of unbelief; for it was the same as to deny the power of God to be sufficient for them.  Whenever then we attempt to provide for ourselves by unlawful means, it is the same thing as if we denied God; for he calls and invites us to come under his protection: but when we run in our thoughts here and there, and seek some vain helps, we grievously dishonour God: it is, as it were, to fly into Egypt or into Assyria. 
Now, I want to do something rather different for the rest of this passage.

The poetry left in chapter 12 is rich in allusions and history. It is easy to read it as a warning to the NATION. Indeed, it would be quite easy to even compare this to a declining American culture and lifestyle.

But the more I read chapter 12, the more I get a picture also of an individual gospel narrative. The cycle of rescue, reward, rising pride, resounding fall, repentance, and restoration is true of nations, churches, families....but it is also a cycle of personal experience as well.

Look at the next few verses and notice WHO is being used as a story line.

12:2cThe Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
he will repay him according to his deeds.
dIn the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
eHe met God1 at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
fthe Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, gby the help of your God, return,
hhold fast to love and justice,and wait continually for your God. 
Wow... It always comes back to Jacob as far as God dealing with me.

In just a few verses of poetry God gives us reminder snapshots of this amazing story of how God chose and changed this 'manipulator and deceiver' into a man who was renamed 'persevere with God'.

But it was NOT without pain.

AND this is a point I need to continually drive home.

I keep a prayer journal.... and for the last 5 years it has been over the top full of godly men ( and are at the same time  sinful men) who are experiencing trials and pain. Lost jobs, health issues, strained marriages, depression, wayward children, addictions, persecution.

No way around it- live long enough and life knocks you to the ground.

And Christians sometimes seem to be suffering more than their fair share.


God loves them.


God loves them SO passionately and jealously that He hurts them BECAUSE He loves them.
Yes, sometimes it is whoopin' they brought on themselves- but God pours out the wrath on them to break them. And He loves them so much that, even then, He rescues them and cares for their restoration.

I need to stop here. What I have just written is not easy for new believers and it doesn't sit well in an era of easy believism.

But Jacob walked with a limp His whole life after He wrestled with the ANGEL of the LORD.
Without pain (and we find out here for the 1st time TEARS) Jacob could NOT be changed.

He had to be conned out of Rachel only to get Leah because God needed Jacob to feel the pain of what deceit can do.

He had to fear his brother Esau to understand the problem of manipulation and betrayal.

To move forward in faith sometimes requires us crawling on the ground, doubled over, in pain and regret, and have grace rain down on us like we never knew it could.

We are Ephraim.. I blogged on this earlier from Judges.
Ephraim's Evil and Our Wicked Ways- Judges 12

Step one in coming to God is to allow Him to lead us through hurt in this sin sick world and experience the consequences of our own idolatry/sin.

I like these Bible study notes from Dr. Thomas L. Constable on the web:

"The major truths of the book of Hosea are: (1) God suffers when His people are unfaithful to Him; (2) God cannot  condone sin; and (3) God will never cease to love His own and, consequently, He seeks to win back those who have forsaken Him."

The Lord proceeded to teach His people the  need to repent by reminding them of the experience of their forefather Jacob. 
 One important instance of Jacob contending with God was when he wrestled with the angel at Peniel and prevailed over him by weeping and pleading with him to bless him (Gen. 32:22-32). This event was a turning point in Jacob's life because he finally realized that he could not succeed simply by manipulation and trickery. He recognized His need for God's help and turned to Him in desperation. It was the occasion of Jacob's repentance. God had prepared Jacob for this event by allowing him to experience several years of conflict with his uncle Laban (cf. Gen. 31:42). Another significant event in Jacob's life was when he returned to Bethel, where God had appeared to him in a dream years earlier (Gen. 28:10-22). This return to Bethel, and the act of worship Jacob performed there, were in obedience to God's word to him to go there and fulfill his former vow (Gen. 35:1-14). This too was an act of submissive obedience and resulted in God changing Jacob's name to Israel (prince with God) again, blessing him, and renewing the Abrahamic Covenant with him. It is ironic that the place where Jacob got right with God was Bethel since Bethel was the place where the Israelites had gotten wrong with Him by worshipping idols. Jacob's return  to God at Bethel provided a good example for the Israelites to get right with Him there too. 
Here, hidden the poetry of Hosea 12, is the gospel story of my life so far.

I grew up feeding on the east wind. My pride was so puffed up in areas of athletic, academic, and social success. One of the worst things that ever happened to me was to see my picture and name in the newspaper in a Saturday morning newspaper after a big win on a Friday night.

I learned early how to coerce and manipulate circumstances. Everything was built for my success. Selfishness and pride ruled in my heart.

Then it all came crashing down in my senior year of high school. God was not going to allow me to use Him and His creation as an expedient for my vain glory.

The MOST gracious thing He did was give me eyes early to see clearly that my demise was of my own doing. And also to KNOW that He was my only true hope and foundation. And He also granted me enough faith to believe that the cross was enough. I could find my way back to Him through the cleansing fountain of His beautiful sacrifice.

But the story STILL gets replayed over and over. Mostly now in smaller ways.

Blessing, pride, apathy, drifting, fall, repentance, and restoration.

But there is something else that has been consistent- OH HOW HE LOVES ME.

I was reminded this anew in a praise song our students sing in chapel.
(click on the top line to watch video of song)

He is jealous for me 
Love's like a hurricane, I am a tree 
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy 
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory 
and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me
Oh, how He loves us so 
Oh, how He loves us 
How He loves us so. 

So we are His portion and He is our prize, 
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes 
If grace is an ocean we're all sinking 
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest 
I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way 

That he loves us, 
Woah, how He loves us 
Woah, how He loves us 
Woah, how He loves 

[Whispered]: Well, I thought about You the day Stephen died and You met me between my breaking 
I know that I still love You, God, despite the agony 
...they want to tell me You're cruel 
But if Stephen could sing, he'd say it's not true, cause...[voice breaks]... 

Cause He loves us, 
Woah, how He loves us 
Woah, how He loves us 
Woah, how He loves 

Over a lot of time and pain, joy and sorrow- Jacob was shown and delivered from his manipulation and selfishness. He saw salvation and he worshipped God. His faith impacted the world for generations. Jesus lounged at Jacob's well 2000 years after Jacob dug it and gave out the living water of good news to the woman who was an outcast and suffering from sin. That well is still there today.

When man sinned- God allowed the curse of sin. Pain, sweat, thorns, blood, and death.

When Jesus went to the cross, he experienced ALL of that same curse and yet He was innocent.

The well of living water is the gospel of mercy that is perpetually filled by GOD'S PASSIONATE LOVE.

Years ago... we read ads that said- "GOT MILK?"

What we really need to ask is "GOT LIVING WATER?"

And proof of that flow is the realization of an overwhelming love that the Father has for you. Let Him pull you into His nail scarred arms today......

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