I’ve been meaning to post all week about the fabulousness that was girly bible study on monday night – we were few in number but had some great chat, even if we did go off on quite a few tangents!
So, a little catch-up . . . Hosea was a prophet whose marraige to a prostitute was an allegory for God’s relationship with Israel. Just as Hosea’s wife sold herself to men, Israel was selling herself to the surounding nations and their gods. Just as Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him, Israel was being unfaithful to God – disobeying Him and worshipping idols. By chapter 8, God’s had enough – no more putting up with it – he’s going to abandon them, punish them, pass judgement on them.
It’s a really challenging chapter, portraying a side of God we tend to forget about, or maybe just ignore. The reality is our God is an angry God. A frighteningly angry, powerful, loving God. A God who loves us so much it makes Him jealous when we put anything before Him.
“Sound the alarm! The enemy descends like an eagle on the people of the Lord, for they have broken my covenant and revolted against my law.” (Ch8 vs1) The eagle, a clear symbol of power and authority even today. The use of it here as a representation of the devil struck me – it’s a stark contrast to my favourite verse, Is 40:31 “Those who trust in the Lord will soar on wings like eagles“. But this is a predatory eagle, ready to attack and take out its prey in one fell swoop. And this time God’s not going to stop it because the people haven’t just forgotten about the law or accidentally slipped up, they have purposefully, and in full knowledge of the consequences, “revolted” – they’ve intentionall rebelled against God’s commands.
Now that they’re having to deal with the consequences they try to cry out to God, they try to offer sacrifices to him, to make ammends, but He’s having none of it. His fury burns against them (vs5).
The Israelites had gone to all kinds of lengths to protect themselves and make life better for themselves. They had appointed Kings and Princes, made idols (vs4), turned to other nations to be their allies (vs10), built great palaces and fortified their cities (vs14) but none of it was for God, they abandoned Him and tried to go it alone. We’re guilty of this too – me more than most. Letting go isn’t one of my strengths, I’m naturally a control freak and will do anything and everything to prepare for every situation and outcome. I’ll look to a million and one things before I look to God. Or, at least, I used to. I’m definitely better at giving God the control now, that’s a major lesson I’ve learnt this year. I still find it incredibly difficult and regularly mess up but God’s teaching me all the time.
I really love verse six, where it simply says, of the calf Israel has built and is worshipping, “It is not God!” As if it’s so obvious and so frustrating to stand and watch. It’s like, “How could you be so stupid, to think this piece of lifeless metal could ever compare to the one,true, living God?!” And because it isn’t, “it must be smashed to bits” – completel, totally and utterly destroyed, without a trace or remnant left. It’s like Louis preached two weeks ago from Judges 1 – the Israelites accomodated the nations they invaded instead of destroying them as God had commanded and as a consequence they were tempted and they betrayed God. There can’t be any room in our lives for sin – we have to work to erradicate it completely. Didn’t Jesus say “So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29). I don’t think Christ actually wants us to walk around eyeless but he wants us to get rid of whatever it is in our lives that leads us to sin. And there’s no room for compromise. Why would we want to anyway?! What could possibly compare to God?!
There’s strict warning for us in verse eleven: “Israel has built many altars to take away sin, but these very altars became places for sinning!” We have to be aware of how easy it is for sin to creep into our lives at church. I think that’s it’s so easy to let our guard down there and assume that when we’re in a Christian place acting like a Christian will be easier, but the reality is it’s easy to get sucked in to church gossip and bickering. How often do we justify our gossiping by calling it “prayer points” (Ruth came up with that one – it’s so true!). We should be as vigilant at Church as anywhere because the Devil would love the opportunity to destroy the Church from the inside.
We are reminded by verse thirteen that we’ll be held accountable for our actions but that we can’t save ourselves: “The people of Israel love their rituals of sacrifice, but to me their sacrifices are all meaningless. I will hold my people accountable for their sins, and I will punish them. They will return to Egypt.” We can build “church” all we want – with cool websites and massive buildings and podcasts and programmes coming out of our ears – we can make it seem really impressive and holier than most, we can ensure all sorts of rules are followed and traditions upheld, but even with the very best of intentions that’s not what’s going to save us. Only Christ can. I think we are in constant danger of loving Church more than Christ – I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than once. It’s a difficult one to spot and often it’s too late when we do.
We spoke a lot about the difference between the New Testament God and the Old Testament God, the messages of love and judgement, but actually I think God is consistant throughout. Yes, in this passage it’s His anger that stands out but that anger comes from His immense love. He loves the Israelites (and us) so much that to see them destroy themselves like this pains Him and drives Him to anger. He is disciplining His children so that they might learn for “God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10). God is love. Always.
Praise God – “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword”.