When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a poor man who was about to marry into a rich family. The father of the bride-to-be asked the poor man, “So, how do you plan to provide for my daughter?” The poor man earnestly replied, “The Lord will provide.” The father of the bride thought that the poor man was at least religious and would treat his daughter well. During the wedding practice, the father of the bride then asked the poor man, “And how will you provide for your children with my daughter?” The poor man simply replied, “The Lord will provide.” The father of the bride once again thought well of the poor man because of his devotion to his faith and maybe he would find a way. Well, the poor man was married to the daughter and after the ceremony the poor man kissed the daughter. The father-in-law walked up to the new couple, shook his son-in-law’s hand, and proclaimed, “Congratulations and welcome to the family, son!” To which the son-in-law meekly responded, “Thank you, Lord.”
I’m sure many poor men have tried to pull such trickery over their potential father-in-law to win them over. Maybe not so boldly obvious but certainly just as devious. Men can be devious in achieving what they want whether it’s a wife or a better lot in life. To be fair, women are just as cunning too. Humans in general are clever little problem solvers! I think back on my own wooing days when I was courting my wife. Her father is a proud father of 5 girls, four of which were already married with children at the time I was dating my wife. Along came me, a poor seminarian working the grounds crew on the campus of a seminary. Not really a prize catch! I can hear myself offering the same reassurance as that poor man, “The Lord will provide!”, at least in my mind if not ever spoken aloud. I think every poor seminarian clings to such a promise for themselves, let alone in providing for others. Well, luckily my father-in-law is a devout man of God and respected my commitment to serving God regardless of the lack of riches such service provides. What I lacked in riches, I more than made up for in spiritual depth and sometimes that’s enough to win over the father. 14 years into our marriage and going strong…I guess it worked out for my father-in-law.
Now then, what could this possibly have to do with our reading and the prophet, Hosea? Hosea was yet another prophet of God, albeit a minor one, who was tasked with the unfortunate responsibility of speaking to God’s people words of woe and criticism. God’s people, affectionately known as Israel, had yet again pulled away in their faithfulness to God. Much the same way that God’s people had pulled away from him under the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel as we heard about last week. They had pulled away and worshipped false gods, particularly the false God, Baal, and naturally God was angered and displeased by it. The prophet, Ezekiel, confronted Ahab and Jezebel and their 450 prophets and proved just how powerless and ineffective a god Baal was. Baal couldn’t even light a pile of wood on fire when called upon! Our God set fire to a soaking wet pile of wood! You’d think God’s people would cling to our God after witnessing such a mighty display of power from our God. But alas, they are quickly distracted and easily persuaded by false gods. They even went back to worshipping Baal as we heard in our reading for today! Again, our God was hopping mad…”my people are bent on turning away from me.” God even threatened to send them back to Egypt and the lives of slavery that they had fled from. But for whatever reason, God has a change of heart. ”My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger…I will not come in wrath.” Perhaps his change of heart came because of the prophet’s pleading on their behalf. A prophet’s job is ultimately two-fold: to speak on behalf of God and to speak on behalf of the people. They’re the liaison between God and his people. Hosea must have done a good job of persuading God not to punish his wayward people. It wasn’t the first time God was persuaded to change his angry, wrathful heart. Maybe God was simply persuaded by Hosea’s faithfulness and devotion. Again, not the first time God was persuaded by the devotion of a single person. Our God is easily persuaded by the devotion of single people. Much the same way fathers are persuaded by the devotion and faithfulness of potential sons. Ah-ha! Devotion is the key to this passage! God desires it and is moved by it! Our group devotion and certainly our individual devotion to him.
All the Old Testament prophets served to encourage renewed faithfulness and devotion. We are no different than the Israel of scripture. We, too, pull away from God and are distracted by false gods. We need to listen to the prophets and return to God. God withheld his anger and wrath in today’s reading but that is not always the case. Our God is a jealous God and has no problems punishing the unfaithful. We ought to listen to the prophets and turn back to God. Heaven knows our lives greatly improve when we listen to him and heed his commands. Why? Because He is a God of life and love and freedom as we heard last week. Our God is all about life and the abundance of life! His words encourage life and growth! Our God is a loving, life-giving God! We ought to listen to the prophets and devote our lives to serving God. The apostle, Paul, wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17) Friends, everything we say or do ought to reflect God and the love of God! That’s what devotion and faithfulness to God entails! Do as God does: lovingly!
Friends, we are Christians which means we believe in all that Jesus did and continues to do. Jesus sacrificed himself for us so that we might live. We ought to do likewise, sacrifice ourselves for the life of others. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1) Devotion and faithfulness to God involves sacrificing our sinfulness and selfishness and living for others. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (2:20) True devotion is selflessness. It’s allowing the Christ within us to shine through and guide all our relationships with each other and the world around us.
Hosea encourages us to get back to our devotion to God. I pray we heed his encouragement. God will be ignored for only so long before He acts in anger and wrath. Let us heed the words of Hosea and get back to God. And perhaps more importantly give God our praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.