Originally posted Jan 6, 2014. Video from June 20, 2018.
Most of us are all too familiar with the kinds of broken families we discussed in our last post. And as painful as this is in any situation, it seems even more shocking when we see such sin and pain among God’s people. I was still a teenager when I first experienced it: my father left our family of five, ultimately cheating on my mom and divorcing her. So how on earth does Satan convince saints to sin? Simple: he lies. As Christ told those who refused to believe in him: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44 NKJV; see our first post for Works Cited). Or as the brother of our Lord wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jam 1:14). Satan, then, takes a God-given desire, distorts it through lies, and draws away souls from their Maker. Hosea points to four of these lies in the life of Gomer and Israel.
Lie #1: I’m only hurting myself. This is the first mistake many make when giving into temptation. Society teaches us sin is simply a matter of preference that doesn’t concern other people. Hosea, however, teaches us otherwise: “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from between her breasts” (Hos 2:2). God thus invites Gomer’s children to become plaintiffs in their mother’s trial. He goes on to list their interest in the case in verses 4-5: “I will not have mercy on her children, For they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot; She who conceived them has behaved shamefully.” Her sin affects them, and so they too have more than a little cause for concern.
Life is not all about you. When you think it is, you’ve already begun to fall. So while sin is certainly a choice, it is a choice that controls you—no, that defines you and your relationship with others. Once you give in to sin, you have given up your ability to decide for yourself (Rom 6:16). You have also given up your ability to decide how your brethren will respond. So don’t be upset when they “bring charges” against you in love, because they know that your sin affects them, even if you’ve forgotten that (Jam 5:19-20; Gal 6:1-2).
Lie #2: The grass is always greener (I think you can fill in the rest). Okay, so it’s a cliche; but proverbs become cliches only because our lives so often attest to their sad truths. Gomer suffered from this delusion as well, saying, “I will go after my lovers, Who give me my bread and my water, My wool and my linen, My oil and my drink” (Hos 2:5). Israel thought that the good in her life was the result of her unfaithfulness, and so she redoubled her prostitution. God’s response was to give her what she wanted: he would “strip her naked And expose her, as in the day she was born, And make her like a wilderness, And set her like a dry land, And slay her with thirst” (2:3; see vv. 7-10). In essence, God says, “You want to get naked with your lovers? I’ll do the stripping! I’ll lay open your shame to those you’ve opened yourself to. But don’t think they’ll want you back after that! After all, no one trusts a cheater” (see ESVSB; NET).
Israel would have recognized in these words the public shame and punishment for adultery in the Ancient Near East (see Jer 13:22; Eze 16:35-43). The allure of sin makes us forget that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (Jam 1:17). But the so-called “benefits” of sin—pleasure, friendship, freedom—are mere illusions, glimpses of God’s goodness that call us back to him in repentance (Acts 14:15-17; 17:30-31; Rom 2:4).
Lie #3: God just wants me to be happy. Any attempt at happiness in this life (much less the next!) is incomplete without God. God did not tell Israel that if harlotry brought them happiness to go for it. Instead, he says, “I will hedge up your way with thorns, And wall her in, So that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, But not overtake them; Yes, she will seek them, but not find them” (Hos 2:6-7). He wants Israel to be happy in him. Note that the wife’s lovers did not seek her out. Instead, it is she who took the initiative to pursue them (see Jer 2:23-24). But we don’t find happiness by seeking our own way; we find it by walking with God.
Israel understood this on some level, but failed to see its full significance: “I will go and return to my first husband, For then it was better for me than now” (Hos 2:7). Though Gomer eventually determines to go back to Hosea, even then she fails to see that her unhappiness was a result of her unfaithfulness, and that her husband was the only person who ever really cared for her (see Jer 2:2). There’s no remorse in her return; she’s just tired of being poor. Her idea of happiness is about having good things, rather than being good. She was sorry and she regretted her actions, but her sorrow was for the world, not for the One who made it (see 2Co 7:9-11).
Lie #4: But I’m not that bad! There are, of course, several versions of this lie. Sometimes it means comparing ourselves to others: I’m not as bad as so-and-so (2Co 10:12)—and sometimes it means comparing sin to sin: Well at least I didn’t do that (Jam 2:10-11)—but in each case we “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). In Hosea’s day, Israel believed that as long as they worshipped Yahweh, they could also worship Baal and live however they wanted morally. God, however, reminded them that you can’t compartmentalize covenant commitment: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths—All her appointed feasts. . . . I will punish her For the days of the Baals to which she burned incense” (Hos 2:11-12).
God has never wanted merely part of our lives. As Moses exhorted Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deu 6:4-5, emphasis added). Knowing the Great I AM requires our complete rational, spiritual and physical devotion. Everything else falls short of what he deserves. As the churches of Christ, then, we can’t merely stake our claim to faithfulness on singing without instruments or weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (though both are biblical: Col 3:16; Eph 5:18-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7), but must also root our worship in lives right with God. As Amos said in a similar context, “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24). Because on the Last Day we won’t be able to say, “Lord, at least we did better than they did.”
Buried within each of these lies is a lie not only about us, but about God. We cannot sin without grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:32), we cannot sin without without refusing our gratitude (1Th 5:16-18), we cannot sin without admitting our ignorance of the Holy One (1Pe 1:15), and because we sin, we cannot possibly save ourselves (Isa 59:1-2). Israel had been given every blessing a bride could hope for, but “‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, And went after her lovers; But Me she forgot,’ says the LORD” (Hos 2:13). As the ESVSB points out, “Israel’s failure to ‘know’ the Lord and his provision, and the Lord’s plan to remedy this, is a key idea in the book (8, 20; 4:1, 6; 5:3, 4; 6:3; 7:9; 8:2; 11:3; 13:4, 5).” Both then and now, knowing God is the goal of his people, but it is not a cold, intellectual or even religious commitment. Instead it springs from the heart and is seen in devotion: the love of a bride for her groom.