Monday, August 29, 2016

"Break up your unplowed ground .. it is time to seek the LORD!"

Day #243

Scripture Reading:  Hosea 8 - 14 ...

God's call to repent sometimes comes gently, but at other times comes in the midst of discipline or judgment.  Through the prophet Hosea, God was calling Israel to return to Him, but the consequences of their sin were great.  Assyria was God's instrument of judgment and few would be spared.  Israel would be scattered throughout the nations and though God would eventually show compassion on a remnant of their descendants, most of them would perish far away from their land, their homes ... and their God.  Such is the fate of those who reject the Lord, their God, and who do not repent.

Like many in the visible church today, most of the Israelites took their relationship with God for granted.  After all, had not God chosen them as His people?  Had He not delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Yes, BUT they were called to be HIS people, to display His glory, to exalt His name, to make Him known to the nations ... not to become LIKE them!!  "Israel cries out to me, 'O our God, we acknowledge You!' But Israel has rejected what is good ..." (8:2-3).  Hypocrisy is a sin that God does not overlook.  Claiming to be the people of God, then worshiping idols, brings judgment.  "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind" (8:7).

Still, God says, "Although they have sold themselves among the nations, I will now gather them together" (8:10).  The patience, mercy and grace of God is far beyond our understanding.  Yet we need to understand that it is for His own glory that God does not totally abandon Israel ... or the Church ... HIS Church.  God sends Hosea to offer hope to the few who still cared, but judgment to the rest.  "The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand.  Let Israel know this" (9:7).  "God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins" (9:9).  God says, "I will no longer love them ... they will be wanderers among the nations" (9:15,17).  History reveals the accuracy of Hosea's prophecy.  As God declared it, so it happened.

Still today God's judgment rests on those who reject Him, whether they claim to believe in Him or not.  Mere words do not bring forgiveness or life.  There lies a time in the future when "They will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'" (10:8).  John writes in Revelation 6 of a future time when "the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Revelation 6:15-17).

It is with the knowledge of God's coming judgment that God's call to repentance comes.  Those who attempt to come to God without repentance, without a heartfelt sorrow for sin and confession, have been led astray and deceived.  These come to God for favors, for "blessings" to meet their own selfish desires, believing God's highest goal is to make them happy.  This is not the path to salvation.  The road that is narrow leads through repentance and leads to faith in a Savior whose name is Jesus!  Hosea's description of repentance is found in Chapter 10, verse 12:  "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes."  Only those whose hard hearts are tilled and softened by the Holy Spirit will seek the Lord and sow righteousness.  God tells Israel that they will be judged "because you have depended on your own strength" (10:13).

God continues to proclaim His love for those who are His and for the remnant of Israel.  In words that were later quoted as referring to Jesus in Matthew 2:15, God says, "When Israel was a child, I loved Him, and out of Egypt I called my Son" (11:1).  God makes it clear to us who live after Jesus was on the earth that those who are truly God's children are only made God's children through their union with Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14).  It is only because of the compassion and mercy of our Father in heaven that we are spared His judgment ... only by His grace.  As He speaks of judgment God says, "My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused …” (11:8).

But the "unplowed ground" must be broken up.  "You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always" (12:6).  "You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me" (13:4).  To those who will come to Him, God says, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.  Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction?" (13:14).  The Apostle Paul would pick up these words of Hosea as he speaks of the resurrection of those who believe in Jesus Christ in I Corinthians 15:  "'Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:55-57).

So God points out the way to repent:  "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.  Your sins have been your downfall!  Take words with you and return to the LORD.  Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips'" (Hosea 14:1-2).  And God's response is priceless:  "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them" (14:4).  Oh, how great is God's grace, for repentance itself is the gift of God that He works in the hearts of those whom He has chosen.  If that describes you, continue to seek the Lord, your God, asking Him to break up whatever remains of the hard ground of sin and to sow seeds of righteousness, that you may be set free to praise and worship Him and that He may be glorified in your life!!

"My gracious and loving Father in heaven, You alone are God and You alone are my Savior.  In Your love and compassion you sent Your own Son to take my place, to bear my sin, to endure Your wrath and to be a ransom for ME!  I praise You at this moment for Your holiness and Your justice, and thank You for Your amazing grace.  Continue Your work in me as I repent of my sin and seek to follow the paths of righteousness for Your Name's sake.  I love You, LORD!  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen"

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