Thursday, September 27, 2007

Loving Prostitutes--The Message of the Prophet Hosea

Loving Prostitutes
The message of the Prophet Hosea
We are harlots, God is faithful

Last week we had a very powerful service. I believe that if we can grasp the message of last week—of sinning boldly but believing more boldly still—then we will live the gospel and the freedom that is found therein. Tonight is going to be similar. It is the story of Hosea. Hosea is again going to tell us the story of our fall and His great love and redemption. Have you ever wondered what does God feel? I believe Hosea asked this question—God what do you feel? And the Lord’s response to Hosea is this, “Hosea, do you really want to know what I feel like? Go marry a whore! Marry a wife that is going to be unfaithful to you, love her, draw her back to yourself! That is what I feel like, Hosea, like I married a harlot.”

And that is precisely the story that we see in Hosea. Hosea is unique because God calls the prophet to live his life as a picture of the relationship between God and his people. God has created each and every one of us to find our greatest joy and pleasure in Him, and whenever we seek comfort, joy, security, relationship with anything other than God we are committing adultery…we are playing the harlot.

The people of Israel (and us too) desired the gifts of God but lacked a desire for God Himself. I would love to use the analogy that “it is as if they wanted their cake and to eat it to”, but that would not be a fitting analogy. Probably the most fitting analogy is one that will not work, because we have become far too like the people of Israel. You might not even catch the grievous sin that is in what I am going to use as an analogy. But the most fitting analogy for what the people of Israel are doing is that they are cherishing the gifts of their husband more so than the husband himself. It would be as if I bought my wife a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, a giant stuffed teddy-bear, and a beautiful pair of earrings and she took the roses put them on display, ate all of the chocolate, gave her new teddy-bear a big hug and showered her affection upon it, put on her earrings looked at herself in the mirror, and then went to sleep without even acknowledging or enjoying her husband. Perhaps even more fitting would be to say that she took her earrings and used them to arouse another man. Or to use something that you might understand imagine that your parents gave you a very expensive gift to show their love for you. They shower you with blessings, a roof over your head, clothes for your body, food for your stomach and they provide whatever is necessary for you to “succeed” in life. Yet you use all of these gifts that your parents give you to disrespect them, to ignore them, to dishonor them and to live your own life. As horrible as this is, it is exactly what the people of Israel are doing to God. They are relishing in His gifts and His provisions and all the same rejecting Him. They are treasuring the gifts rather than the giver. They are playing the harlot.

We are going to read a few selected passages so that you can catch the story behind the story in the book of Hosea. Read 1:2-9. But it doesn’t end there. Hosea buys back his harlot wife. Read 3:1-3. And these are a picture of the blessings that God is going to again lavish on Israel. Read 1:10-11 and 3:4-5. Our main points tonight are not going to be smooth, but hopefully effective. I think we can see clearly from the book of Hosea 2 deep principles. 1) We are harlots 2) God is faithful. We are going to look in detail at these two points and then we are going to try to apply this and discover that because these things are true what does that mean for what God does and what we are to do.

As we are going through this first point remember last week. Do not run from being called a harlot. Embrace it. Own up to it. Acknowledge it. Until you see that in the story of Hosea you aren’t Hosea—you are Gomer—you will not feel the ecstasy of knowing the great love of God, nor the freedom of knowing that. So, whenever we go through 15 minutes of calling ourselves harlots—don’t make excuses, don’t run from it, accept it.

I. We are harlots

The historical situation for the book of Hosea gives us a great picture of the idolatry and harlotry of the nation of Israel. We are going to look at that and then try to apply it to ourselves. We will try to discover how we too are harlots.

Before we go too far into the message of Hosea we need to understand the context that Hosea was living in. I am going to need a few volunteers in a moment to help me explain the history behind Hosea. But before we have those volunteers come up I want to attempt to give you a brief history of Israel; to sum it up very quickly God had made a covenant with His people, listen to Deuteronomy 6:1-15. God told them not to go after idols. However, they did exactly that. The history of Israel is one with periods of faithfulness but more than anything Israel has been unfaithful to her God. Often times as Israel would conquer other lands they would bring along their foreign gods and begin to worship them. A prime example of this is Solomon: a King who God blessed with more wisdom than anyone else of his time, however, in all of his wisdom he had many wives and concubines. Many from foreign lands (which God strictly had forbidden), and Solomon actually began making his wives’ gods his own. The history of Israel has been one of an unfaithfulness to the Lord their God. What God calls us to even today as Christians is a single-minded and wholehearted devotion to the Lord our God! But if we are to be honest with ourselves often times we are passionate about everything but God. Now, over half a millennium later the people of Israel find themselves sandwiched between two warring nations, the mighty Assyrians and the Egyptians. They once were mighty but now they have become little. They have even split off into two kingdoms Israel and Judah. Israel has 10 tribes (countries) and Judah as 2. For years Israel and Judah even warred against each other and the surrounding lands continued to increase while the Israelites and Judah began to decrease.

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However, around the year 800 B.C. a king named Jereboam II takes the throne. He takes advantage of the changing political climate of the Assyrians and the Egyptians, for the first time in over half a century Israel and Judah are both left alone. Jereboam and the ruler of Judah, Uzziah again extend their borders and the people live in a time of much prosperity. However, as often times, much prosperity leads to a rejection of the Lord. Jereboam fell head long into sin and idolatry, as did Uzziah (although not as detestable as Uzziah). They were rich and growing richer, and certainly YHWH the God of Israel could be counted on to lead them to even greater prosperity.

On the scene comes a young prophet named Hosea. The first part of Hosea’s ministry is during a time of much prosperity. Yet Hosea announces judgment. Certainly his message would not have fell on listening ears. Nobody likes to here of judgment during a time of prosperity. But Hosea remained faithful.

Around the year 750 B.C. Jereboam died and his son Zechariah (not to be confused with any of the other Zechariah’s of the OT) took his place. Now Zechariah was not king very long because after 6 months of being king he is assassinated by Shallum. So, Shallum is now Israel’s fearless leader, but his reign is even less. He too is assassinated by Menahem. Now Menahem was a wicked king, just like the others. He even went so far as to “rip open all of the pregnant women”. Menahem also paid tribute to the Assyrians to protect them, he did reign for 10 years. Once he died Pekahiah came to rule. He ruled wickedly for two years before his military captain Pekah murdered him. Pekah then reigned for twenty years and his reign was one of exceeding treachery. He was unfaithful to the Lord and it was during his reign that many of the Israelites were taken captive by the Assyrians. This did not sit well and a man named Hoshea (not our prophet) took his throne. He was king for 9 years. Now Hoshea thought he was quite intelligent. He pretended to be the friend of the Assyrians as well as the Egyptians. However, once his treachery was found out the Assyrians put him in prison and during this time in 722/721 B.C. the land of Israel was completely wiped out and fully under Assyrian control.

Did you notice what the Israelites kept doing? I see two primary ways that Israel was playing the harlot. 1) In prosperity they rejoiced with other lovers 2) In trouble they sought after other lovers.

1) In prosperity they rejoiced with other lovers

This is what we see in 2:5 and 2:8. You can almost feel the pain of the Lord’s love for his harlot wife in 11:1-4 and 13:4-6. I gave you all of these gifts yet you used them to whore around. Again it is the picture of the husband buying all of these gifts for his wife and her using them to arouse another man, the picture of the father sacrificing to give his son a new bicycle only to be rejected by that son. “I loved him, I called him, I taught him to walk, I healed them, I scraped their wounds, I led them, I stooped to feed them, I carried their burdens, and I fed them.” And all of this what did they do in response? They forgot me, they went after other idols, and they started thanking foreign gods and they lived their life as if I didn’t even exist.

But lest we think we are innocent, I ask how often is it that we use all of our blessings to hide from God and pursue other lovers. God has given us the gift of food, but how easily can it be turned into gluttony. God has given us the gift of sex, but how quickly can we turn it into fornication. God has given us the gift of an imagination but how quickly can we use it for lust. God has given us minds able to think quickly but how often do we use it to tell lies? God has given us tongues to worship and praise Him but how often do we speak falsehood? God has given us hearts that are able to love, feel, melt, be in awe, worship, etc. but how often do we use these faculties to give ourselves to others? God has given us the capacity to enjoy Him, the capacity to find pleasure but how often do we pursue pleasure in things other than God?

God has given humanity a mind to know Him, but how often do we use our mind to try to deny His truth? God has given us science so as to understand our world and stand in awe that the God who made the universe is sovereign even over the ant hill—yet we use our knowledge of science to suppress the truth of His beauty. I could go on and on. We use the gifts of God to forsake Him, and then all the while we thank our great minds, hearts, and accomplishments for our success and all the while it is the gift of God.

2) In trouble they sought after other lovers

There is no greater joy that a husband can have than for his wife to come to him and ask for rescue, at least if he is any kind of man at all. For her to say, “I need help”, you’re my big strong man come to my rescue. So often this is what happened with Israel, we see that in their history. But what did they do? They went to Egypt. They went to Assyria. We see this in 5:13, 6:11, 6:15-16, and 8:9-10. What a slap in the face.

Again, lest we think we are innocent, how often do we turn to other lovers to help us in our time of need? How often do we turn to a self-help book? How often do we turn to Oprah? How often do we turn to a friend to heal our deep wounds instead of the Lord? How often do we turn to a relationship to fill that void? How often do we turn to everyone and everything but the Lord to heal us and cure us? So what then will become of us? What will God do with us harlots?

II. God is faithful

There are two things that are very astonishing in the book of Hosea. One is how in the world a wife (us) could be so unfaithful to such an awesome husband (Jesus). How in the world can we betray God like we do? How wicked we must be to forsake the great treasure for cow dung? But I think more astonishing might be that God is still faithful to us. He buys back the whore! He dies for her! That to me is utterly insane. Why does God not just give us over to ourselves and forsake us. He would have every right to just take his unfaithful wife and throw us into hell for our harlotry but for some reason He does not. But what does he do? He buys her flowers.

2:14-15 is a great picture of this. But first look at 2:7 and the hope that God has there. This is in the midst of the Lord chastising them for going after other lovers and He is telling them what He is going to do. He is going to hedge up her way; he is going to allow her to passionately pursue these other lovers only to come up empty. He is going to make her like the man in the desert. Why? So that maybe she will be like the prodigal and come to herself and realize it was better with her first husband and return to God.

But I want you to also look at verse 14. Do you wonder if God loves you? After God has stripped Israel of all that is desirable (she has nothing left to give), she is naked, she has no happiness, she is laid waste, she is punished look what he does. She had forgotten God, but look what He does. You wouldn’t expect this in verse 14. You would think it would say then God left her alone in the woods to die. But no, listen. “Therefore”, as if this was his plan all along. Because she is now left with nothing to be desired—therefore—I will allure her.

God is going to pursue her. It would be like the husband putting on his best suit, putting on cologne, shaving, getting a hair cut, going to the store buying flowers and candy and try to impress the girl. God is going to speak tenderly to her. He is going to get his ex-wife alone, with nothing left to be desired and He is going to say—I still want you. Your still mine. I know what you’ve done. I know that you have nothing to offer, but I still want you. Are you serious?

You see the gospel is not a help-wanted ad, it is a help-offered ad. Notice in the life and ministry of Jesus the people who tend to come to him. Blind people, prostitutes, the sick, the weak, the outcasts, sometimes it’s the beautiful people, but no matter who it is they always come the same way with nothing to offer. And that is the gospel. The gospel is that we are alone in the wilderness, pursuing other lovers, we have forsaken the Lord. We should have been only his but we have blown it. And here we are without food, without clothing, without joy, left with nothing to offer and God says—I want you! Your mine! That is why Jesus said he has not come to call the “righteous” but to call “sinners”. Oh, if you could see this. If we could stop trying to hide our sin! If we could stop pretending like we aren’t broken, if we could stop trying to make God think we have something to offer.

What do you think the harlot did that day in the wilderness? Do you think she tried to hide? Did she run away? Did she try to put on some make up? Or did she just sit there awestruck that after all she had done He still loved her. Oh what amazing love our God has.

I wonder if we really believe the gospel. Do we really believe this great and awesome love of God in the story of Hosea? Do we really believe that we are Gomer? Do we really believe that after all that we have done, are doing, and are going to do, that God still chases after us with flowers? Has God really given us the grace to see and to live the gospel?

What is the application of this? Because it is true that we are harlots and God is faithful what does that mean for us? Because of these two truths what does God do and what should we do?

I have 2 general statements to make and then 6 more specific points to make and one last general statement

1) It’s okay to weep. If you don’t feel this, something is wrong with you. If the thought of God wooing you as a harlot does nothing for you…I’d really ask whether you believe the gospel. Either you don’t think you’re a harlot or you don’t believe that God is faithful. Either way, you can’t really get the gospel until you get both of those.

2) Use this as our picture of love! Warm-gushy feelings will not cause you to buy flowers for a prostitute. It take a deep special love. It might be accompanied by feeling—and in fact it probably is. But God didn’t come chasing us because there is something valuable in us, or because we have pretty eyes, a nice body, or a cute butt. He did it because of His love. If we are to define love then we need to look at this. When we think of loving other people we need to ask do we do this. Perhaps taking a long look at 1 Corinthians 13 would be a good place to start. Because that is the perfect love of God. I would also like to encourage you to not tell a person of the opposite sex, “I love you” until you back it up with a ring or are at least have this type of deep love.

3) When God rips, run to Him (repent)

Hosea 6:1-3 urges us to do this very thing. When God is in the process of tearing idols from our lives—and he will have to—rather than get ticked off at Him for taking away our precious idols let us run to Him. Repent for having them in the first place, repent that they are so precious to you, and run to Him. When the Lord chastises and gives the spanking do not go to your room and sulk but instead run to Him. Thank Him for disciplining you and run to Him.

4) When God tenderly woos, return to Him

Earlier I asked a few questions: What do you think the harlot did that day in the wilderness? Do you think she tried to hide? Did she run away? Did she try to put on some make up? Or did she just sit there awestruck that after all she had done He still loved her? Don’t hide. When he woos don’t try to go put on some make up. Don’t try to clean yourself up. When God says I love you, He means I love you right now for who you are. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. Don’t try to get clean first—when he woos run to Him right then and right there. He accepts you on the basis of the gospel and what Jesus Christ has done, and that is a finished act so do not try to go add to it—just return to Him now.

5) When God loves freely, love in return

Granted we cannot love God how we ought. Scripture proclaims that we love Him because He first loved us. But that very verse is telling us to love God. Give your life to diligently loving God. When you fall flat on your face and realize you cannot love chalk it up to your still residing sinful nature—face it, embrace it, hate it and run to Jesus. When you really get the gospel it does something to you. Grace has power. This call to love in return, even though impossible with man, is possible when God changes your heart and puts in you a new heart. Therefore, when He freely lavishes His love on you—love Him like crazy. Make that your life passion.

6) When God calls you a whore believe Him.

This does not need much further explanation. We have learned that we are harlots. We are not faithful to God. Don’t try to dust that up. Don’t try to make it sound pretty. Say it. I’m a harlot. Don’t try to make your sin look okay, don’t try to redefine it, don’t call it something pretty. It’s ugly, it’s detestable, it’s an abomination, it’s the thing that Jesus died on the Cross for. But it’s true. Accept it. When God calls you a whore believe Him.

7) When God says He is faithful believe Him.

But the other side of this is also true. When God says I love the whore believe Him. Look at the love that Jesus had in the New Testament for prostitutes. Look at how he had the audacity to touch those filthy sinners. I am that harlot. I am that prostitute. So I believe Him, when He says I love my whore wife. Believe the Gospel. I love her, period.

8) When God says He will heal us believe Him

The story of Hosea is about judgment. It is about how God is going to rip the idolatry from his harlot wife. His ultimate goal is not that He will be in love with a harlot. His ultimate goal is that He will be in love with an ex-harlot. One who has tasted the pleasure of sin and tasted the pleasure of God and comes out of it and says, “You O Lord are sweeter!” The Lord is going to heal us and change our hearts in such a way that some day we will no longer be harlots. Let us rejoice in this hope and believe Him; which leads to our last application point.

9) Our hope is Jesus

All of this is secure because our foundation is secure. Our foundation is Jesus Christ and what He has done. Because of this God can love his harlot wife. Because of this I can have confidence of His love, because it does not rest on my faithfulness but on His. My acceptance with God does not rest on my performance it rests on what Jesus Christ has done. If Jesus has shed His blood and that blood is covering my sin, and if Jesus Christ lived a perfect righteous life and that righteous life is imputed (given) to my account then I am free of sin and clothed in righteousness. My hope rests on Jesus and what He did. And because He is unchanging His promise to us is unchanging.

The final question then that we must ask tonight is this. Christian are you bold enough to live the gospel? Unbeliever, will you cry out to Jesus, will you call upon the name of the Lord? Will you acknowledge that you are indeed a harlot that is unfaithful to your creator, and will you believe that in spite of all this that God is faithful and that the only thing that will cover your nakedness is the righteousness of Christ?

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