Far More Than You Can Imagine

Hosea 14:9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Welcome to the end of Hosea. We made it. Next week I’ll begin preaching through the book of Ruth, but this week we have one more verse to consider. The verse is actually an invitation (perhaps a command) to recall the entirety of Hosea’s prophecies and to obey them (and a warning for not doing so). For that reason, we’ll look at the message of 14:9 and then the message of Hosea. Let’s pray that God would give all of us an even greater understanding and an even greater desire to walk in it.

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times something other than wisdom guided me in my childhood. Among my more impressive displays of non-wisdom was a time that involved a rope swing and accidental cliff diving. The swing was at my neighbor’s house. It consisted of a rope, a block of wood for a seat, a whole drilled in the wood for the rope to go through, a knot tied on the end of the rope to hold the seat, and the whole thing tied to a tree branch 15-20′ up.

Because the seat wasn’t fastened to the rope (but only rested on the knot), I’d taken to seeing how high up on the rope I could get the seat to go. I tried quite a few different methods. I tried simply heaving the seat up as high as I could. I tried flipping the rope like I was cracking a whip. I started to make real progress when I tried standing still and spinning the rope.

At one point though, overtaken by a remarkable dose of non-wisdom, I decided to spin with the rope for maximum speed and force. The physics made sense. The block of wood soared all the way to the top of the rope. But after a few seconds I realized I was so dizzy that I was in trouble. And because the fullness of my non-wisdom had kicked in, I decided the best way to handle things was to let go of the rope and run before the wood could come all the way around and clobber me. And so I ran…right off the bank of our creek and headfirst into the rocks that served as a retaining wall. I came too in a bloody, wet stupor and was then quickly transported to the ER for stitches.

Here’s the point of my humiliating story: we need wisdom. When we have it and live by it, things go well (not necessarily easily or comfortably, but well). When we lack it and therefore live without it, things go poorly. We need to live our entire lives based on wisdom; true wisdom. Therefore, as Proverbs says over and over, finding wisdom ought to be among our highest priorities and receiving wisdom among our most desired gifts.

By God’s grace, what we have in Hosea is pure, undefiled, God-given wisdom. And the heart of Hosea’s wisdom is that there is far more to this life than we can imagine. To help you see what I mean, let’s begin by looking at the four parts of the message of Hosea 14:9.

First, the wise and discerning will understand the message of Hosea
In other words, wisdom is there to be found in Hosea for all who desire it. And the wise will go to Hosea for further understanding. ” Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them…”. The message of Hosea is a critical component of genuine wisdom. If we lack an understanding of Hosea’s message, we lack a measure of wisdom. If you want to be wise, you need to know Hosea.

Second, the message of Hosea describes the ways of the LORD.
It is absolutely necessary that you and I understand this. Hosea’s message is not Hosea’s message. It is God’s message through Hosea. Likewise, Hosea’s stories and examples aren’t ultimately about Hosea, they are God’s means of giving his wisdom to his people. Consequently, Hosea’s message is one of true wisdom because it is God’s message about God’s ways. “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for [implied-they are] the ways of the LORD.”

Hosea may have been a bright guy, but his brightest thought on his brightest day isn’t what we need. There has never been a shortage of people claiming to be wise. Our culture is filled with people who believe themselves to have improved upon God’s revelation. Nevertheless, regardless of how many alternative claims we encounter, or how fervently someone claims to have surpassed God, what we need are the ways of the LORD. There is no wisdom outside of God. We give ourselves to the wisdom of Hosea because God gave it to us.

Third, the ways of the LORD are always right.
We need the wisdom of Hosea because it contains the ways of the LORD and we need the ways of the LORD because they alone are always perfect in every way. “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right.” Every other path will eventually be shown to be false and destructive, but God’s ways will always prove themselves true and productive.

Finally, the message of Hosea guides the upright and trips the unrighteous.
For these reasons, we will never fail when we build our lives upon the wisdom found in Hosea, and we will always fail when we don’t. “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” It’s not enough to simply know and understand the wisdom of Hosea; we must apply it to our lives. Hosea’s readers didn’t and they stumbled in the resulting transgressions.

If all of this is true—if it’s true that Hosea is the word of God and that it is wise, right, and to be followed—then as we close our time in the book, we must be crystal clear on the simple message and wisdom of Hosea. Let’s turn there now, one last time.

Having spent the better part of a year in Hosea, now more than ever I believe the message of Hosea is that there is far more to this life than we can imagine. I want to share with you five areas in which Hosea shows this to be true.

First, we are far more sinful than we can imagine.
No one likes to be told how wicked they are, but Hosea tells us this over and over and over and over. Once we realize that we are not Hosea in this book (that we are Gomer and Israel), it becomes unmistakable. Our sin goes deeper and farther than we can imagine.

We see this almost immediately as the book opens. After briefly (one verse) establishing the historical context into which Hosea prophesied, Israel is a whore, a prostitute. To make sure the Israelites could not misunderstand God, God commanded his prophet, Hosea, to marry an actual prostitute, Gomer. The first three chapters present the highly unusual marriage of Hosea and Gomer, all of which was intended to describe for and portray to Israel the depth of her sin.

Among the specific charges against Gomer were that she prostituted herself, sought out men to be unfaithful with, attributed Hosea’s blessings to her lovers, and she also used her adulterous relationships and Hosea’s blessings to worship false gods. Again, these are all ways of God condemning Israel for this type of behavior with other nations and their gods.

After the biographical section of Hosea (1-3), God spoke directly to Israel concerning her wickedness declaring, “There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (4:1-2).

The result of Israel’s sin extended even to the land and animals; all languished on account of Israel’s rebellion (4:3). Israel fed on sin, turned her blessings into instruments for sin (4:7, 7:15), consulted pieces of wood for wisdom, offered sacrifices to fake gods, and fell into every kind of sexual immorality (men, women, leaders, and priests) (4:7-10). Sin had become her joy and entertainment (7:3). And it only went downhill from there.

Hosea 7:4 They are all adulterers

Hosea 7:7 All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me.

Hosea 8:1 they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law.

Hosea 8:14 Israel has forgotten his Maker

Hosea 9:1 O Israel…you have played the whore, forsaking your God.

Hosea 9:9 They have deeply corrupted themselves

Hosea 10:13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.

Hosea 11:2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Hosea 13:2 And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols…

Hosea 13:6 when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.

The vast majority of Hosea is spent describing Israel’s treachery, which is to say the vast majority of Hosea is spent describing the sinfulness of the descendants of Adam. “… like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with [God]” (Hosea 6:7). And in that way, every description of Israel’s treachery describes you and me as well. We too are descendants of Adam. Our hearts too have become entirely corrupt. And thus, we are far more sinful that we could ever imagine.

In general, in the U.S.’s religious culture God is spoken of in terms of his great love. His love is great (as we will see), but it can only ever be truly understood, appreciated, and received, on the other side of understanding, appreciating, and receiving the depth of our sin. Hosea does a remarkable job of helping with that.

Second, God is far more holy, just, and jealous than we can imagine.
For the most part this is assumed and implied throughout Hosea. The entire reason for the prophetic ministry of Hosea was that God would not tolerate sin and rebellion in any measure—much less in the gross and unrelenting manner of the Israelites. And yet, God’s holiness, justice, and jealousy are on display in passages like these:

Hosea 5:3 I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me…

Hosea 7:2 they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face.

Hosea 9:15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them.

Hosea 13:4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.

God’s holy omniscience kept Israel’s sin ever in front of his face. His holy justice would not allow him to tolerate her sin (or any sin). Thus, because of Israel’s ever-present sin and God’s ever present justice, his holy jealousy kept his anger and hatred ever kindled toward them.

This may sound harsh (because it is), it may sound very different than the god that is often talked about in society and church today (because it is), and it may seem unsafe (because it is), but this is the God of Hosea, the God of the bible, and the God of heaven and earth; the only God. He is far more holy, just, and jealous than we can imagine. And when you combine those things with the fact that we are far more sinful than we can imagine, there’s big trouble. And that leads to the next aspect of the message of Hosea; the next aspect of wisdom.

Third, our sin is far more deadly than we can imagine.
Because God is more holy, just, and jealous than you can imagine, your sins are more deadly than you can imagine. This too is uncomfortable (at least it should be if we truly understand it), but it too is clear in Hosea and absolutely necessary for us to come to terms with if we are ever to find wisdom and the help we need.

Just as Israel’s sinfulness was put on full display in the marriage of Hosea and Gomer, so too was its consequences. At God’s command Hosea and Gomer had children and named them Jezreel (an area famous for wickedness, punishment, and death), No Mercy (for God would have no mercy on Israel in her sin), and Not My People (for God declared the covenant broken, “you are not my people, and I am not your God”).

What’s more, Hosea warned Gomer of the consequences of her unfaithfulness (as an expression of God’s judgment on his unfaithful people). He would punish even her children (the sins of God’s people have ripple effects through the generations), block the path of return to her lovers (God will eventually take away the source of his people’s false hope), and he will turn her lovers against her (not only will God reveal the inadequacy of every other nation and god, but he would also turn them against Israel).

Right from the get-go, God’s people are made to see the devastating consequences for their sin.

And then, once again, beginning in chapter 4 God began speaking directly to Israel. He promised to change whatever glory Israel had into shame, to allow her to eat but not be satisfied, and to have sex but not be able to have children (4:7-10). He promised, like a lion and a bear, to tear Israel up and carry her away from rescue (5:14, 13:8), to set fire and sword upon her cities (8:14, 11:6), and worst of all, to depart from them (9:12) and to love them no longer (9:15).

The amount of space Hosea devoted to describing the deadly effects of Israel’s sin is second only to the space dedicated to describing the sin itself. Consider this sampling:

Hosea 5:2, 4, 6 …the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them… 4 Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God… 6 With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the LORD, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them.

Hosea 5:11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to go after filth.

Hosea 6:5 … I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.

Hosea 7:12 As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens

Hosea 8:5 My anger burns against them.

Hosea 8:10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.

Hosea 9:16 Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death.

Hosea 9:17 God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers…

Hosea 10:10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

Hosea 12:14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

Hosea 13:15-16 the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Again, there’s nothing remotely comforting about any of this. If you’re just joining us and if this is all we had to offer you, you’d never come back and we’d all be doomed. We are more sinful than we can imagine, God is more holy, just, and jealous than we could ever imagine. And therefore, the consequences of our sin are far more deadly than we can imagine. But thanks be to God, this is not all we have to offer.

Forth, God is far more loving, merciful and patient than we can imagine.
Throughout Hosea’s prophetic ministry Israel remained entirely unrepentant. For that reason God’s holiness, justice, and wrath are far more on display than his love, mercy, and patience. Nevertheless, those aspects of God’s nature and disposition are scattered throughout as well, even as he offers to forgive and restore his people in spite of their generational faithlessness.

Hosea 1:10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Hosea 2:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.

Hosea 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

Hosea 11:1, 3-4 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:8-9 How can I give you up, O 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. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

Again, in spite of centuries of rejection, prostitution, and treason, God’s affection for Israel was never entirely extinguished. Hosea’s message included the fact that God is far more loving, merciful, and patient than we can imagine.

Grace, guest, if you heard anything in the first three aspects of Hosea’s message, then you heard that we do not deserve this. God’s willingness to receive those who will come to him in faithful repentance is nothing but a gift—the bible calls it grace. That gift, that grace, is offered to you today if you will receive it as God has commanded. It is yours if you will walk in the wisdom of Hosea: acknowledging your sinful rebellion against God, the punishment you deserve, and God as your only hope. If you don’t know what that means talk to someone today; don’t wait; for if you don’t you will stumble and fall, but if you do the final aspect of Hosea’s message belongs to you as well.

Fifth, for all who will return to God, his blessings are far more than we can imagine.
Just as it is impossible to overstate the devastating nature of the first three points, it’s impossible to overstate the glorious nature of these last two. God’s blessing for those who come to him in faith is immeasurable. Again, because Israel remained unrepentant, we only get a few glimpses of God’s reward, but the ones we get are far greater than we could possible imagine.

Hosea 2:15-23 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. 16 “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ … And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD … And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'”

This is God’s promise to return to his people to rescue and bless them as they return to him.

Hosea 3:1-2 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.

This one needs a bit of explaining. Hosea married the prostitute, Gomer. While they were married, Gomer sold herself as a prostitute. To add insult to injury, God commanded Hosea to purchase his wife back from prostitution. The fact is, the blessing of God is such that although we have sold ourselves to sin, he will redeem us. We were his, we left him for other things and therein brought death upon ourselves, but God has promised to rescue his people, to buy us back!

Hosea 14:4-7 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

This we saw in detail last week. What a beautiful picture it is of the fact that God’s blessings are far more than we can imagine.

That’s the wisdom of Hosea. To walk in it then means acknowledging that we are who God says we are. It means It means acknowledging God’s unique right to rule and the perfect goodness of his rule. It means living as God has called us to live, taking sin seriously, and looking to God alone for help when we fall short. And it means turning away from the things of this earth as our highest treasure and to God who truly is the highest treasure.

That’s the wisdom of Hosea, but I want to close by reminding you of one more thing. Because Hosea isn’t the only revelation of God’s wisdom we know that Jesus is the means by which God will welcome us back. He died on the cross to pay for the sins of all who would receive him. May it be so for every one of us today. May we all receive and walk in the wisdom of Hosea which found its fullness in Jesus. And may we all return to God and receive all that we’ve seen in this book and limitless more. Amen.