Glory, Futility, History, and Costliness

Hosea 12:10-14 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. 11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field. 12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. 14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

A number of years ago, when I was a youth pastor in Linwood, Carlos Avery caught on fire. Some of you remember it well. We had friends who lost their homes, friends who were involved in fighting the fire, and friends who served the workers and the displaced. Our church became a base camp of sorts for the firemen who came in from all over the state, country, and even Canada. We provided cots and food and such for them when they needed rest or nourishment. I couldn’t even offer a guess at the number of different things that were asked of us at that time. We made copies and flyers, did Walmart runs, talked to firemen, led prayer, and on and on. Individually, there wasn’t an obvious connection between all of these things, but they were all somehow connected to putting out the massive, thousands of acres+ fire.

This section of Hosea is similar to that. Israel was in a mess (of her own making). She had almost entirely forsaken God and Hosea was sent to communicate God’s resulting perspective and plans. Like our church’s role in the fire, Hosea was charged to play a number of different roles and communicate many different messages, the connections between which were not always obvious. And yet, ultimately, they were all a part of one single message: Israel, your unfaithfulness to God has aroused God’s jealous love to the point that he is about to wipe you out.

While that’s the case throughout this letter, in our passage for this morning it’s especially pronounced. That is, our passage is unusual in a number of ways. It’s unusual in that the five verses likely consist of four largely disconnected sayings. As the title suggests, therefore, in order to stay true to the structure of Hosea’s prophecies, we’ll cover four topics this morning that aren’t obviously connected. It’s also unusual in that the sayings are standalone truths; almost like proverbs. And it’s unusual in that in spite of all of this, the implications and applications for you and I are really accessible, like low-hanging fruit.

Specifically, on the windy, hilly road of Hosea 12:10-14 we’ll see three glories of God’s Word (v.10). In v.11 we’ll see God making a mockery of those who engage in false and (therefore) futile worship. In 12-13 I mean to help you see history as one big enacted prophecy through the patriarch, Jacob. And finally, in Hosea’s conclusion (v.14) we’ll see the high cost of obedience and disobedience to God.

Let’s join together in praying that these sayings of Hosea would be clear to us, that the glory of God in them would be clear to us, and that God’s intended response to them would be clear to us as well. Remember (now in prayer), Grace, our aim in gaining understanding is always transformation. We cannot receive the Word of God rightly and not be changed by it. Again, let’s pray that for the sake of Jesus it would be so.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Hosea 12:10 does not have an obvious connection to either v.9 or v.11. That is, in some ways it appears to be a standalone saying of Hosea. Nevertheless, in it we find a clear, but profound set of truths, highlighting three aspects of the glory of the Word of God. Look at v.10 with me.

Hosea 12:10 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.

First, God Speaks
The first thing to see and rejoice in, the first aspect of the glory of God that we must not miss, is the fact that God speaks to his people. It’s so easy for you and me to take that for granted. It’s so easy for you and me to believe that we deserve it or even that it makes sense that God would speak to us. But let me ask you this…do you expect the president of the United States to speak to you? Do you even expect him to come within 100 miles of you? Of course you don’t. It’s even notable when you’re able to gain an audience with a small town mayor because the more important and powerful someone is, the less we expect them to communicate with us at all.

God, of course, is the most powerful and important being in the universe; indeed, he is king over all. Not only that, but we have committed treason against him and deserve nothing but his scorn and wrath. And yet, he speaks to us. He his words are words of truth and grace and mercy. From the beginning He has spoken clearly about the consequences of sin and the path of reconciliation. Even in our sin, God has spoken the clear (covenantal) terms of our path into his welcoming presence.

Grace, would you take a moment and marvel at the fact that God loves you in such a way that he has (always) communicated his will and affection and rescue plan to his people? God has spoken to us, and that in itself is worthy of worship. Let’s join him, therefore, in speaking truth and love and life and encouragement and praise. Let’s not be silent about the glories of the words of God.

Second, God Has Spoken in Various Ways
The second aspect of the glory of the Word of God is that God has spoken in various ways; and all of them are equally and entirely true, good, and binding. In this one verse we see that he spoke through prophets by direct address, by visions, and by parables. We know that God also spoke, most significantly, through his Son, Jesus Christ and then through the writings of the apostles.

What’s more, what we have today in a completed bible is a gift that Hosea’s audience could only have dreamed of. That is, we have an entirely sufficient revelation from God. We have in the 66 books of the bible all that God requires of us. We need not look elsewhere and we need not wonder if what we have is from God.

Once again, Grace, if you do not marvel at this glory, you do not understand it. At many times and in many ways God has spoken to his people and insodoing, collectively, he has given us that which is fully sufficient to equip God’s people for every good work. Rejoice in God’s creativity and then join him in it. Use your gifts, Grace, your varied, God-given, necessary gifts, to herald the Word of God to the world. You may not have the gift of doing so through a sermon, but you might have the gift of doing so through prose or poetry or music or art. This passage (along with the whole of Scripture) teach us that for the glory of God, there is one Truth, but many ways of communicating it.

Third, God’s Word Is Always Efficacious
This verse, in light of its surrounding context, helps us to see (thirdly) that God’s Word is not merely accurately informative (true), it is also invariably effective (compelling). I love this one. It’s the aspect of the glory of God’s Word that most excites me. God’s Word is always true and it always, instantly brings about its intended effect. For God alone, speaking is effecting. God’s Word is never passive; it is always entirely dynamic. God does not need to perform two acts to accomplish his will. For him, declaring and bringing about are the same act. In this way, when God announces judgment upon Israel he is simultaneously bringing it about (though in the future). The speaking is the doing.

Grace, this is why we can fully trust the promises of God. For God, a promise is a fact. Again, then, let’s praise him for this. Let’s praise him for his holiness which makes all his words/actions good; his omniscience which makes all his words/actions true; his wisdom which makes all his words/actions best; his love which makes all his words/actions beautiful and beneficial; and his power, his unimaginable, omnipotent power, that makes all his words actions. And let’s join him in being people of honesty and integrity. Whenever possible, let’s speak only that which is good, beautiful, and true, and let’s make our yeses yes and our nos no. When we do we glorify God and join him in it. This is what Hosea was calling God’s people to do—then and now.

That’s the first verse of our passage, the first standalone saying of Hosea, and the first description of the glory of God for us to stand in awe of! Let’s turn to v.11 for the second…

The message of v.11 is a familiar one for those who have been with us throughout our time in Hosea. For that reason, I’ll briefly mention Hosea’s point and then highlight a unique aspect of the manner in which Hosea delivered it.

Hosea 12:11 If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.

The simple point of this verse, again a very familiar one, is that Israel was filled with unrepentant iniquity, false sacrifices, and futility; and would therefore be destroyed.

What’s not so obvious in the ESV, however, is the cutting language use by Hosea in this verse. An alternate translation (Hubbard, 221) helps make Hosea’s point and the unique way in which he makes it more clear.

Hosea 12:11 They were certainly in Gilead with a worthless idol, surely in Gilgal with an empty image. To bulls they sacrificed. Indeed their alters were like cairns beside the field’s furrows.

This second translation better highlights the fact that Hosea’s point was “to mock, not to predict” (Hubbard, 221). Hosea wasn’t wondering if there was iniquity in Gilead or irreverent sacrifices or futility in Gilgal (as the ESV’s rendering seems to suggest—”If there is…”). He assumed all of that. Similarly, he wasn’t so much informing the Israelites of their imminent demise (“coming to nothing”) as he was taunting them with it.

The Israelites were in places known for wickedness (Gilead and Gilgal), and they were there with worthless idols, empty images, and futile sacrifices (they were using the means God had commanded—sacrificing bulls—in order to gain the favor of pagan gods). All of that, Hosea mocked, was as useful as the piles of rocks “farmers make when clearing … fields for plowing” (Mays, 169). That is to say, the Israelite’s current practices were not only useless to save them or gain them blessing; worse yet, they made the very salvation and blessing they sought impossible to obtain, so God inspired Hosea to communicate that in an unmistakable way.

This reminds us that both content and form are a part of God’s inspiration. As I mentioned above, Hosea could have easily simply said, “There is much sin in Israel and therefore she shall surly be destroyed” (in other places that’s almost exactly what he did say). But he didn’t say it in such a straight-forward way. God determined that in order to most fully communicate the nature of Israel’s treachery he would send Hosea to mock them. Again, the point is this: Israel’s sin was so serious, and the consequences so steep, that those things could only be communicated through sarcasm, mockery, ridicule, jeering. The message and the style are both from God.

And so we must learn from this, Grace. We must learn that God is never indifferent to our sin. He is never OK with our folly and futility. His love is such that when his people stray, God will do what it takes to make his people see the danger of their ways. We too must share in God’s mission to reach the lost and wandering, and we must be willing to help them (even by unusual means if necessary) to see that they are lost.

And that leads us to Hosea’s third prophecy, and the third way in which he highlights the glory of God in this passage. In vs.12-13 Hosea presents his audience with something truly grand and, in my experience, not often understood concerning the nature of history.

Prophecy in general is the passing along a message/revelation from God. Enacted prophecy is the acting out a message/revelation from God. The first three chapters of Hosea are an example of this type of (enacted) prophecy. The main message of Hosea is that God’s jealous love for Israel has been kindled on account of her covenantal unfaithfulness. To make that message clear and to help the Israelites understand how repulsive it truly was (much like the mockery we saw in the previous verse), God commanded Hosea to act it out by marrying a prostitute; a woman named Gomer. God called Hosea to remain faithful to Gomer just as God remains faithful to his unfaithful people.

Enacted prophecy is not unique to Hosea. We see examples of it throughout the bible. In fact, one of the most important lessons you and I can learn as Christians, one of the most important keys to unlocking the fuller meaning of the bible and our place in this world, is that all of history is in one way or another enacted prophecy.

Let me try to explain what I mean. God is the author of the story that we are in. And in God’s story every character, prop, scene, and plotline are meant to help tell that one grand story.

For instance, when it comes to created, physical things (props), the bible tells us that the universe is so big and awe inspiring because its bigness and awesomeness were made by God to declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Likewise, God’s Word tells us that our stomachs were created by God to help us understand our charge to hunger for godliness (Matt. 5:6).

When it comes to institutions, the bible tells us that marriage exists (God created it specifically) to give a visible picture of the invisible gospel (Ephesians 5). And government exists (by God’s particular design) to help us understand God’s sovereign rule (Romans 12).

When it comes to weather patterns and direction, the bible tells us that God made snow and compasses to help us understand forgiveness (Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 103:12). We don’t need weather or direction. God made them to help tell his story.

When it comes to the rotation of the earth, the bible tells us that God made a certain rhythm in creation to help us understand rest (Genesis 1-2) and the certainty of God’s promises (2 Peter 3:8).

And when it comes to the people and events of history, the bible tells us that Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days to teach us of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 12:40). And Melchizedek was written into the story to help us better understand Jesus as priest, king. Countless other examples could be given, including, as we see in vs.12-13, Jacob. Jacob’s courtship, among many other things, was meant to help God’s people understand that God lovingly pursued them in remarkable ways, and used a prophet to do it.

Hosea 12:12-13 Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. 13 By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded.

As Jacob had gone to a foreign land (Aram) and guarded sheep to gain a wife (Rachel), so God went to a foreign land (Egypt) to gather and guard his sheep (Israel). Likewise, as Jacob endured deceit and mistreatment (at the hands of Laban), so too did Moses (at the hands of Pharaoh) on God’s behalf. The Israelites were meant to see the kindness and commitment of God in this as they saw those things in Jacob’s pursuit of Rachel.

It’s not just that Jacob’s story reminded Hosea of the situation the Israelites were in; it’s that Hosea understood that God had written that part of Jacob’s life into his story (in part) to help the Israelites see their folly at that exact time—the folly of ignoring God’s pursuit of them through Hosea. What an amazing aspect of the glory of God. What wisdom, what knowledge, what foresight, what power, what kindness, what glory!

This news should have stopped the Israelites in their tracks. Their history and their ancestors, which they were so proud of, had been written by God into history in order to shame them! But instead of receiving the rebuke and responding in repentance, Israel continued in her sin even to her destruction.

Rightly understood, everything in creation points to the glory of God. We’re not told what every piece of God’s story means, but we are told that God is entirely intentional and that every aspect of his story is purposefully included for his glory. And so we must praise him, Grace. We must praise the Author of all things. We must be humbled by the fact that we too are in this story. And we must be amazed that our lives play a role in declaring the glory of God. Our aim, by grace through faith in Jesus, must be to tell it in all its fullness.

When we do, when we live by faith in light of the glory and promises of God, we will receive countless rewards in heaven. On earth, however, as our final verse and mini sermon make clear, the cost will be high.

Oh that Israel would have received the prophecy (enacted and otherwise) from Hosea in repentance and belief! But that was not the case. Instead they received it with anger and resentment.

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.

For his obedience to God, for his faithfulness to the commission God had given him, Ephraim (Israel) bitterly provoked Hosea along with God. The one who married and paid to ransom a prostitute (at God’s command) on behalf of Israel was ignored and mocked and provoked by Israel. We see clearly in the first half of v.14 that there was a high cost for Hosea’s obedience.

And so it is for you and me. In this world and in this culture, if we accurately understand and communicate the Word of God, we too will often find this act of love and mercy and grace repaid with indifference (at best) and bitter provocation (at worst). This means at least two things: 1) your best life will not be now, and 2) if it is, you probably aren’t following Jesus very closely. Jesus left no room for anything else (John 15:20). To follow Jesus is to suffer as Hosea did. The cost of obedience is high.

And yet if you look at the last half of the verse you will see that the cost of disobedience is higher. If we do not honor God as God, if we do not renounce our sins and turn from them by faith and with God’s help, the “Lord will leave his bloodguilt on [us] and will repay [us] for [our] disgraceful deeds.” Grace, hear the words of the LORD and repent. Turn from your sins and look to Jesus and you will be rescued from the bloodguilt we’ve all incurred by our disgraceful deeds. If you do not, as he did with the Israelites, God will leave it on you and will repay you in full. The cost of obedience is high. The cost of disobedience is higher.

And yet hear this, the reward of obedience is infinitely higher still. For Hosea and all who give themselves to faithful obedience to God (as well see in chapter 14), he will “heal their apostasy.” He will “love them freely.” He will turn his anger from them. He will “be like dew” to them and make them “blossom like the lily” with shoots spreading out and beauty and fragrance like no other. To all the faithful, God will grant that we may “return and dwell beneath [his] shadow.” As we’ve seen many times, there is no amount of obedience-caused mistreatment in this life that can compare with the reward that awaits us in heaven.

The various glories of the Word of God, the futility of false worship, all of history as enacted prophecy, and the high cost of obedience and disobedience were Hosea’s main messages in this passage. Whether they stand alone or are a part of a single discourse, the point remains the same: God is glorious beyond measure and he offers himself to all who will receive him on his (gracious) terms. Israel had failed to do so and so stood under the wrath of God. And still God’s mercy continued to spring out of his jealous love, causing him to send a messenger (Hosea) to declare the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. And still God’s people refused, despising even the messenger, and thus awaited the imminent judgment of God.

Grace, let us hear these words of God and praise him for all that he is. Let us look to bring him glory in all that we do. Let us turn to the Word of God that we might know how to worship God rightly. Let us turn to the Word of God to know our place in the story of God. And let us turn to the Word of God that we might see the great reward for the faithful; the reward that completely overshadows every cost of faithfulness. And let’s turn to the Word of God even as we now turn to the meal he has given us to eat in remembrance of his rescue of us.