Spreading, Sticking, Shaming Sin

Hosea 4:15-19 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.” 16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.

The main point of Hosea, once again, is that God has a fiercely jealous love for his people. His love is such that he is entirely committed to that which is best for his people; namely everlasting fellowship with God! And his fierce jealousy is such that he will not allow his people to long leave his love.

Hosea was a prophet charged by God to proclaim to the nation of Israel that she had left God’s love and therein kindled his jealousy. Specifically, Israel had abandoned God for idols and drunkenness and prostitution. She had broken God’s covenant with her and taken other lovers for herself. Hosea was to declare in the most graphic terms the diabolical nature of Israel’s sins and their disastrous consequences.

The literary result is fourteen chapters describing the nature of Israel’s treachery, calling her to repent of it, explaining the destruction that was certain because she wouldn’t, and offering brief and scattered glimpses of hope for restoration on the other side of her destruction.

Because this book is heavy on describing Israel’s treachery and destruction (and light on hope) it can, at times, feel crushing. For Israel, that was largely the point. Likewise, for any non-Christians in this room, that’s largely the point—helping you to feel the weight of your sin in order that you’d turn from it to God for rescue. For the Christians in this room, however, it’s meant to serve a different purpose. Because we are in Christ, we need not fear God’s condemnation or judgment. Jesus took all of that upon himself on the cross. For you and I, then, the point is more about revealing to us the nature and depth of our sin for which Jesus died and from which we are fighting (in God’s strength) to turn.

Specifically, this text helps us to see (through familiar language and charges) that sin (by its very nature) is so serious that it spreads, sticks, and shames. Of course, by revealing to us the nature of sin God is not giving us a recipe to make it, but a strategy to avoid and defeat it. Let’s pray, then, that God would cause the unbelievers in this room to repent and believe and be saved. And let’s pray that God would cause the believers in this room to praise him for his rescuing mercy and sanctifying grace.

One time when Jeremiah was still an infant he contracted some type of virus that caused him to throw up (I can’t remember if there were any other symptoms). This happened a few days before we were to head back to Michigan for Thanksgiving. By the time we were supposed to leave he was not entirely back to normal but Gerri and I thought he was well enough to travel…so we headed out.

Somewhere along the way we met up for lunch with one of Gerri’s oldest friends and for a few minutes with one of my college roommates. Eventually we arrived at my parent’s home in Michigan. We spend a day or two with them and then made our way over to Gerri’s parent’s. At some point we heard of our friends getting violently sick. Then it was my family. Then, while we were still with them, it was Gerri’s family. I was woken up one morning to Gerri’s dad making bathroom noises that I was absolutely certain were fake (but weren’t).

Jeremiah seems to have caught one of the most contagious and violent, vomit-producing diseases known to not kill man. Everyone we came into contact with, even for a few moments, became astonishingly sick.

The first thing to see from this passage is that sin is exactly like that, but worse. Look at verses 15 and 17.

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.”

17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.

I probably need to remind you of a bit of background information for you to feel the force of these verses. As a whole, the people of God were divided up into twelve tribes. Each tribe represented the descendents of the twelve sons of Jacob. Collectively, they were known as Israel because God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Originally, they functioned as one kingdom with one king.

However, 1000 years later, because of King Solomon’s sins, his sons divided the kingdom of Israel. The ten northernmost tribes kept the name Israel, while the southern two tribes came to be called Judah. Each of the kingdoms established its own king and capital.

The most prominent northern tribe was Ephraim. For that reason, sometimes (as in v.17) Israel (the northern kingdom) is referred to as Ephraim. Finally (in the way of background), Hosea almost exclusively addressed the Northern Kingdom of Israel

All of that helps us to understand and causes us to be a little surprised to find that in verses 15 and 17, Hosea briefly addressed (not the North, but) the inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. “Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.” “Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven.” Gilgal was a city in the north. And Beth-aven is most likely a play on words for another northern city, Bethel. Bethel means “House of God.” Beth-aben means “House of wickedness” (we see this pun again in 5:8). In those cities God’s people “played the whore,” they took the LORD’s name in vain (swearing, “As the LORD lives”), and they had joined themselves to idols.

Hosea’s main message to the south was: “Stay away from the North! This place is toxic. It is deadly. It is steeped in sin, and like all sin Israel’s sin is extremely contagious. Don’t come up here if you don’t want to catch her deadly diseases; if you don’t want to share in her guilt.”

As a warning to Judah and a further condemnation on Israel, Hosea warned the inhabitants of the Southern tribes to stay as far away from the North as possible.

In the NT, the apostle Paul describes the contagious nature of sin in 2 Timothy 2:16-17, “…avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene.”

Knowing that sin is contagious, what do we do? That is, what are God’s people to do when other’s (who claim to be God’s people) have given themselves over to sin? The primary answer of this passage is that we are to avoid them. “Enter not into” the north. Do not “go up to [the north].” “Leave [the north] alone.”

Grace, there are times when we walk carefully alongside those (claiming to be Christians) who have fallen into sin, there are times when we continue to remind willful sinners of the gospel up close, and there are times when we stay and fight with them (those are different sermons—not the point of this text). But there are also times when we must distance ourselves from them and their sin (the point of this sermon and text).

There are times when we must pull away and allow for “the destruction of the flesh, so that [one’s] spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord…[for] 6 a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:5-6).

We see this charge throughout the bible.

Proverbs 4:14-15 Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. 15 Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.

Ephesians 5:3 …sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

Romans 13:14 make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Titus 3:10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…

It seems that God’s people are to avoid, rather than pursue; quarantine, rather than treat, those who have fallen into sin when the other person’s sin is (1) long-term and consistent, (2) devoid of any meaningful evidence of repentance, (3) a particular temptation of yours, and/or (4) likely to spread throughout the Church.

All of this is why one of the four main elder responsibilities is to protect the church. This is why membership and discipline are so important to the health of a local church. This is why the wounds of a friend are faithful. This is why God’s clear instructions on how we ought to engage in these things are so loving. And this is why sitting in Hosea for fourteen chapters (and probably as many months) under wave after wave describing the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s judgments upon it is so crucial for us. Without these things—without these expressions of God’s grace—we’re far too prone to think we are immune to sin. Without these things we would most certainly share Israel’s (and eventually Judah’s) fate.

Sin is contagious…the most contagious and violent, death-producing diseases known to man.

It gets worse, though. Sin is not only contagious (easy to spread and contract), it is also sticky (hard to get rid of). It is not only difficult to avoid catching sin; it is also difficult to kill it once you’ve caught it.

16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture?

If you’ve read the OT, you know that it is the story of mankind repeating the same cycle over and over and over. Here’s the entire story of the OT in one (long) sentence: God blesses man with his presence and bounty, man recognizes God as greatest blessing and bounty as an expression of God’s greatness, man forgets that God is the greatest blessing, man loves the bounty instead of God, man believes he created and deserves bounty, God warns man of his sin, man ignores God, God punishes man by taking away his presence and bounty in order to draw man back into blessing, man ignores God, man looks to other things to get back bounty, man eventually realizes that all other things are unable to provide bounty, things get really bad for man, man remembers that God is greatest blessing and his bounty is an expression of God’s greatness, man repents, God relents, God blesses man with his presence and bounty…

As it relates to our text (v.16), the point to see clearly is that God’s people spent the vast majority of their time in the sinful portion of the cycle. We are stubborn. Since Adam we have always been stubborn. Jesus came to break that cycle, but until he returns we will always have traces of it in us. Sin sticks. It’s hard to keep away (last point) and hard to get rid of once we fall into it (this point).

Like Juicy Fruit gum, we keep chewing on sin long after its true taste has been revealed. And like Juicy Fruit, how many times have we noticed the bad taste and wondered how long we’d been chewing this nastiness without realizing it? And how long after we realize its nastiness do we keep chewing it because we don’t have anything else to chew on? And how often do we move from one sin to another (burn through an entire pack of Juicy Fruit—because it really does taste good at first), instead of realizing that it always ends the same?

Sin’s power is that it rots us while making it seem like it’s healing us. Sin makes us ugly while making us feel more beautiful. Sin kills us while promising life. In short, sin has the power of inflicting stubbornness upon us and therein becoming very sticky.

I have personally watched people give in to sin knowing that it was destroying them. Alcohol and substance abuse, gambling, lust, abdication. I’ve watched people knowingly continue to give themselves over to each of those things even as they destroyed their marriages and families. Bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy. I’ve watched each of those things slowly, consciously turn people’s souls black. Gossip, selfishness, divisiveness, pride. I’ve watched as people, unwilling to turn from these things, tore churches apart. I personally have given in to each of them at times and done damage because of it…and so have you.

Practically, then, Grace, stop believing that you can get away from sin on your own. Find help quickly. This church truly is filled with people who want to help you. We don’t always know what that means and we won’t always do it perfectly, but we are willing to fight with you. Let us listen to you. Let us pray with you. Let us share God’s promises with you. Let us warn and correct you. Let us cry and yell with you. Let us remind you of the grace of God that is available to you if you’ll repent and believe. And let us watch and praise God with you as he rescues you from your sin.

Knowing how contagious and sticky it is, stay away from sin. Make no provision for your flesh. And if it does overtake you, don’t toy with it and don’t run away with it. Cry out to God, call your brothers and sisters in Christ, and make war! Together, quickly, earnestly, violently put your sin to death by the Spirit.

Sin spreads and sin sticks, and finally, sin shames.

Sin is, by its very nature, shameful. That is, it is dishonorable and reproachful. It can’t not be. Why, then, would anyone ever go to sin? The answer, as we’ve all experienced, is that it is the master of disguises. Sin wears many masks. To the broken, it puts on the mask of healing. To the lonely, it puts on the mask of companionship. To the weak, it puts on the mask of protection. To the sad, it puts on the mask of joy. To the bored, it puts on the mask of excitement. To the vulnerable it puts on the mask of strength.

That’s the essence of verses 18-19.

18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings…

The Israelites, having abandoned God and therein forfeited genuine satisfaction, turned to drink (drunkenness) to fill the void. When their booze ran out—either literally or in its ability to cover their guilt and conviction and emptiness—God’s people turned to a new substitute for their fix. This time it was whoring; giving themselves to prostitutes and spiritually prostituting themselves out to other gods…and boy did they love each for a time. They loved (“dearly love”d the text says) their shameful sins.

A spirit (or wind) of whoring had swept them up we read in 4:12. And that same spirit (wind) continues to carry them along we read in 4:19. The Israelites, having severed their tether to God (his Word and his covenant), had nothing left to keep them from being carried away to destruction….and so they were.

And yet, our experience with sin is always circular. It always starts out masked and pleasurable—we initially love what is shameful; even if we don’t initially recognize it as shameful. But then it always, eventually becomes unmasked and seen for the grotesque, shameful thing it is—perhaps, by God’s grace in this life, but certainly, devastatingly in the next. That’s what Hosea was trying to tell the Israelites (and the Judahites) in the second half of v.19.

18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.

What’s the application to this point? Don’t believe the lie. Look behind the mask. Be people of God’s Word so that you know the truth. Believe God’s promises rather than sin’s lies. Recognize that the devil himself masquerades (masks himself) as an angel of light. Jesus himself gives us a perfect picture of how to do exactly this…

Matthew 4:2-10 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, [Jesus] was hungry. 3 And the tempter [Satan] came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘ Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘ He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘ You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

Enticing, beautifully masked sin was held out to Jesus, promising greater rewards than any of us have likely dared to dream of. And yet, Jesus knew the truth. He was aware of sin’s sick schemes. He had seen behind all of its masks. He knew of its evil and treachery and disgustingness and death. He was about to take all of those things upon himself on the cross for those (like the Israelites, and like you and I) who had been duped by the disguised shamefulness of sin.

Sin spreads, sin sticks, sin shames, and ultimately, sin kills. I want to close with a quick story and then hope.

The story: At T4G last month Matt Chandler told us about an episode of “When Animals Attack.” This episode focused on the filming of a shampoo commercial. To show the quality and amazing results of the shampoo it was used on a woman and a lion and both had remarkable, shimmering hair to prove it. The woman was lying on the back of the lion with her hair and its main mingled and glimmering together. And then, of course, the lion attacked the unsuspecting model.

During a later interview the trainer expressed utter shock that his lion would turn on the woman like that.

Grace, I doubt that I need to tell you that lions are programmed by God to do one main thing: kill. Lions are perfectly designed to hunt meat, kill it, and eat it. They are the top of the wilderness food chain. They are the definition of an apex predator. They may be somewhat, temporarily domesticated, but we should never be surprised when their divinely infused natures reveal themselves.

The point of this passage is that the Israelites were treating their sin just like that, and it seemed to be working right up until it wasn’t and they were destroyed.

Let’s be honest. You and I often treat our sin like that, don’t we? At first we stay away. Then we get a little closer. Then we pet it. Then, if it doesn’t immediately destroy us, we bring it in our homes. We know in the back of our minds that it is deadly, but it hasn’t killed us yet. We keep it caged at first (only playing with it while it’s locked up), but gradually we forget to be afraid of it. We assume we have it under control. If things continue on this way, we’ll even let it out of its cage and show it off. And then, eventually, it will rip our head off and eat us.

The hope: Sin spreads, sin sticks, sin shames, and ultimately, sin kills. Our only hope, then, is to run to Jesus, the one who was killed for us, for our sin. Apart from Jesus we cannot avoid contracting sin (we’re born with it), we cannot get rid of it (it’s built into our very natures), and we cannot escape its shame. It will kill us. It has killed us. And we will either remain in sin’s death-grip such that our bodies will eventually share death with our souls, or we will trust in Jesus, who took sin’s shame upon himself, defeating sin and death, breaking its curse, providing its cure, and restoring us to life. That’s the good news that Christianity has to offer. That’s the gospel.

Look to Jesus today, therefore. Don’t wait. He will rescue you. Amen.