Hosea 12:7-9 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” 9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast.
THE ANATOMY OF SIN
In verses 7-8 we find yet another set of charges against Israel. In them Hosea declared that Israel was unjust, oppressive, and worse still, utterly blind to those facts. He continued by naming God’s perspective on and response to their sins.
These were not new charges or new consequences. We’ve seen them all before. In passages like 10:13 we read of Israel’s persistent injustice. In 5:11 we read of her oppression. In 5:4 we’re told of her ignorance. And in too many places to count we’re told of God’s jealous love and Israel’s imminent destruction. The entire letter charges Israel with abounding in injustices, oppression, and ignorance and warns of God’s coming wrath.
What we have here though is a bit different in that the charges are directly and immediately linked with their cause, God’s perspective, and God’s response—providing a kind of clarity that we haven’t quite seen before. And with this clearer link, in this simple paragraph we find remarkable insight into what is really happening every time we give into sin. That is, we find a good chunk of the anatomy of sin and God’s heavenly perspective on it. The result, then, is that in this passage we’re given a real gift from God. It’s an invaluable blessing in that it reveals to us what sin looks like under the hood, and therein provides for us a significant means of help.
To understand why it’s a gift and help, consider this simple illustration…If your car were to start pouring out smoke from the front, it would clearly indicate a problem. To state even more of the obvious, should that happen you’d certainly want it diagnosed and fixed as quickly and well as possible. The longer you drove around with the smoke billowing out, the greater the risk of more serious (even permanent) damage. And a shoddy repair job would inevitably mean having to deal with the problem again and again. Now imagine taking the car to your mechanic and having him, without even opening the hood, begin installing a giant vacuum on the outside. Your car was smoking, and so your mechanic came up with a solution—get rid of the smoke through suction. No attempt at all was made to find the real source of the problem, only to minimize the symptoms.
Often that’s exactly how we treat the sin in our lives. We only notice and care about the symptoms (rather than their cause), so the problem only gets worse. What’s more, even if we want to address the source of the problem, we’re not sure where to begin. We don’t know how to get under the hood or what to do if we did. In that way, being told the real nature of our sin and the extent of its damage might not be pleasant (just like finding out you have a blown transmission), but it is necessary if we are to have any hope of really dealing with them.
I had originally planned on preaching through the rest of chapter 12 this week, but the simplicity and practical importance of this passage seemed too significant to cover in half a sermon. In other words, what we have here—a description of the anatomy of sin—deserves our careful and undivided attention.
With that, then, let’s look at each of the four parts of Israel’s sin, beginning with the specific nature of her sin, as a help for understanding, diagnosing, and destroying our sin.
Sin always begins when we take our eyes off of God long enough to forget his goodness and beauty. If you’ve been at Grace Church for any length of time you’ve doubtless heard us say countless times (including many times throughout Advent as we considered the supremacy of Christ) that God is greater than you could ever imagine; that He is infinitely glorious. There is nothing in existence—nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth—that can compare to God’s majesty and glory. To see God is to see everything else in the world as plain and ordinary (at best) in comparison. As the hymn goes, “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of [God’s] glory and grace.”
Why, then, do we sin? If God is that great, why do we desire other things more than God? Again, it is only because we’ve taken our eyes off of God and forgotten his beauty that other things hold higher appeal to us.
Why do we ever look forward to eating Peeps at Easter or gas station food on a road trip or fast food of any kind at any time? Why are they ever appealing to us? Almost always it’s either because we don’t know any better (non-Christians) or because we’ve not been to Fogo de Chao or Giordano’s Pizza or Smokey’s for a while (Christians). When we’ve never taken in truly good food, or it’s been a long time since we have, we can be duped into thinking horrible food isn’t horrible and amazing food isn’t amazing.
Well, the Israelites had taken their eyes off of God for some time and so other things began to look good to them. They’d forgotten what God offered them in the Covenant (principally, himself, his protection and blessing) and so began to desire the things the nations around them prized. Look at v.7.
[Israel/Ephraim is] 7 A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress.
What isn’t clear in our translations is that the word “merchant” is actually the word “Canaanite”. The Canaanites came to prominence by being successful, traveling businessmen. As a result, they came to be called “merchants/Canaanites”.
Far from a compliment, however, this was a harsh, mocking rebuke from God. God had delivered the Canaanite’s land (the Promised Land) to the Israelites in order that He might show his power and the superiority of his rule through the Israelites—that Israel might be a light and an example to the nations. Instead, Israel taken her eyes off of God and adopted the priorities and practices of the pagans.
Specifically, Hosea said that like the Canaanites, the Israelites had given themselves over to injustices (using “false balances”) and oppression (they love “to oppress”). Goods were often sold based on their weight. Crooked merchants would use rigged scales (“false balances”) to make it seem like their goods weighed more than they did, or the goods they were purchasing weighed less. The aim, of course, because they had come to love material wealth above all, was to make more money through any means possible—even dishonest and oppressive means.
This is our first look under the hood of sin. It begins when we take our eyes off of God and put them on something (anything) else. When this happens we forget the all—and uniquely—satisfying glory of God and begin to look for our joy, help, satisfaction, purpose in other things (like money or relationships or sports or career or family or toys). That is the beginning and essence of sin, and that leads us to the next verse and the next aspect of Israel’s sin.
The mere use of the name “merchant” or “Canaanite” should have been warning enough to draw the Israelites to repentance. But that didn’t do it. That plus the accusation of using false balances most certainly should have shamed them. But that didn’t do it either. Those things plus the condemning charge of loving oppression absolutely should have brought them to their knees. But once again, none of those things even made a dent.
In fact, rather than leading them to repentance, it led the Israelites to offer ridiculous justification. Faced with Hosea’s charges of being unjust, oppressive pagans… 8 Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
The text does not suggest that the Israelites were offering disingenuous excuses. Rather, it indicates that the Israelites fully believed that their wealth truly justified the false balances and oppression that they used to get it. Since the proof of God’s favor is material wealth, they reasoned, how could we be accused of sin? We’re rich, and riches come from God, how could we be wrong?!
It seems that the Israelites were so blinded by their lust for financial prosperity that their sin didn’t look to them like sin any more (“in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin”). Since they had become blinded by their greed, they believed their success was the result of their own efforts (“I have found wealth for myself”). And since they had become blinded by taking their eyes off of the glory of God, wealth at any cost had become more desirable to them than covenant faithfulness to God.
Again, the first aspect of the anatomy of sin is that it results from taking our eyes off of God long enough to forget that he alone is worthy of all our affection and allegiance. The second aspect of the anatomy of sin that it not only distracts us (keeps our eyes turned away from God), it also blinds us (keeps us from being able to see the sinfulness of our sin). And that leads us to the third aspect of Israel’s sin and sin’s anatomy.
While sin causes us to look away from God and become blinded to our sin, it in no way deceives or changes God. While we remain duped and vulnerable, God remains omniscient and omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful). The beginning of v.9 makes that clear.
9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt;
In essence, here’s what Hosea was saying to the Israelites: You are shady merchants who love injustice and oppression; you are blind to the fact that your shady injustices and oppression place you at enmity with God and further away from the very things you seek; but God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. Your weakness, wandering eyes, and blindness might be contagious to other people, but God is entirely immune to them. He forever remains inoculated from ignorance, weakness, and sin. He is the same God who led you out of Egyptian captivity by great and terrible signs and wonders. He is the same God who knows all and is bound by nothing outside of himself. You cannot trick, confuse, manipulate, or hide from this God as you can the false gods of the Canaanites. He knows all and is perfectly, eternally, and immutably good, just, and holy. He knows your sin and will not tolerate it.
The point for you and I to see is that our sin is always before God. While we might occasionally (or often) be blind to our sin, God never is. Likewise, while we might believe we have justification for our sin, God sees right through our confusion and lies.
The third aspect of the anatomy of sin is that God always sees it perfectly. And that leads us to the final aspect of sin’s anatomy highlighted by Hosea in this passage. Sin is fundamentally about taking our eyes and affection off of God and placing them onto something else, sin always has a blinding effect that we are still responsible for, sin is never hidden from God, and (lastly) sin always results in divine judgment.
Israel had, by the power and commission of God, driven the Canaanites out of their homes. The Israelites had left their tents, taken over the Canaanite’s houses, and forced the Canaanites to live in their tents. Because of Israel’s sin and rebellion, however, God had determined that the Israelites would once again dwell in tents.
9 I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast.
Annually the Israelites (by God’s design) would celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. One aspect of this feast was that the Israelites would leave their homes and live for a time in the wilderness as a reminder of their existence before God gave them the Promised Land. What was a camping trip designed to help them celebrate God’s blessings, would soon be a permanent sign of their condemnation, for God would “again make [them] dwell in tents” by sending the Assyrian army to drive them from their homes.
The point is simple: God will not long tolerate unrepentant sin. This remains true for both the Christian and the non-Christian. You cannot harbor sin (even unknown sin) without experiencing the judgment of God. And this judgment falls into one of two main categories.
Conscience. God has lovingly created every one of us with a conscience. That’s part of what it means to be created in his image. Our conscience is an internal mechanism that is designed to make us feel uncomfortable when we are in sin. Because of sin, though, it is not entirely reliable. Some people have consciences that go off about good things and some people have consciences that don’t go off when they should. Nevertheless, God’s judgment often comes first (and most gently) in the form of pricking our conscience. Again, when that happens we are filled with an internal restlessness intended to produce repentance.
Consequences. The second primary manifestation of God’s judgment is consequences. When we sin by stealing or committing adultery, for instance, God may ensure that we are caught. If we sin by being lazy, God’s judgment may come in the form of getting fired or sick. In the case of the Israelites, God sent an invading army as the consequence of their sin.
The ultimate consequence of course is hell. If we remain in our sin, and refuse (as the Israelites did) to turn from it to God in faith we will eventually face the highest form of God’s judgment. While this is more terrible than we can imagine, knowledge of it as sin’s ultimate prize is another gift of God meant to draw us to his mercy.
And so, once again, Hosea’s message to us and the anatomy of sin is such that whenever you feel uncomfortable in sin (internally in your conscience or externally in the consequences), know that you are experiencing God’s mercy. While no one likes to feel uncomfortable (or it wouldn’t be uncomfortable), there are certain types of uncomfortableness that can save your life. When you accidentally place your hand in a fire, the pain is designed to help you get your hand out ASAP, lest it permanently harm you. Likewise, when you feel internal pain, it’s often a symptom of something that needs medical attention—perhaps something serious. And when you experience any uncomfortableness on account of your sin, it’s designed by God to help you see and avoid the deadly consequences of continuing in it.
Sin is the act and result of turning away from God for satisfaction, sin results from and produces blindness to sin and glory, sin is never hidden from God, and unrepentant sin always results in God’s judgment. That’s the anatomy of sin.
All of that is certainly interesting and informative. But it is also the means to an end. Knowing how sin works and what it does, isn’t the goal; it’s simply a necessary part of achieving the goal. The ultimate goal is to honor God by taking our understanding of sin’s anatomy and using it to destroy the sin in our lives.
I want to close, then, by suggesting four steps to killing sin in light of its anatomy.
Because sin is the act and result of turning away from God for satisfaction…
Let us fight with all we have not to turn away from God for satisfaction. Just as exercise and a healthy diet are the best cure for heart disease (in the sense that they greatly reduce our chance of getting heart disease in the first place), the best cure for sin is preventative as well.
Grace, if you mean to avoid Israel’s fate (God’s judgment for her unrepentant sin), give yourself to God. Fill your mind with the Word of God. Fill your conversations with the marvelous works of God. Fill your days going about fulfilling the commission of God to make disciples of all nations (building into those who are already disciples and reaching out to those who are not). Fill your relationships with people who will build you up in your faith by praying for you, encouraging you, and helping you spot the seeds of sin well before they can bear fruit. Fill your soul with godly truth and music and beauty.
And as you fill yourself with these things in faith, by the grace of God your eyes will remain fixed on Jesus and will not wander to the things of earth (Hebrews 12:1-3). This is often hard work and certainly not the easiest path in life, but it is the only safe and satisfying path there is. Let’s walk it together.
Because sin results from and produces blindness to sin and glory…
Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that we are the exception, that we have perfect sight, that we see all our sin. And then let us take in God’s Word consistently, systematically, and comprehensively (for it alone is a reliable mirror); let us pray dependently in the knowledge that the Spirit of God must illumine our sin for us; and let us seek out other Christians who know God’s Word well, know us well, and possess the love and courage to help us to see what we cannot.
We’re meant to step back and marvel at the folly of Israel’s blindness; at the audacity of their unawareness of their grievous sin. And then we’re meant to be humbled by the fact that we struggle with the exact same blindness and greed at times. We too have a great deal of sin in us that we are unaware of and a great deal more that we seek to justify with ridiculous excuses.
If you want to successfully destroy the sin that remains in you, do not isolate yourself from the people of God, do not make it difficult for people to confront you in your sin (by being quick to argue, excuse, or dismiss), assume there is something true in every criticism brought to you, and thank God for his grace!
Because sin is never hidden from God…
Let us do all things in the light. Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that because we can hide things from people, we can hid them from God. Let’s confess our sins quickly regardless of what it might do to our reputations. Let’s avoid the kind of isolation that make provision for our flesh and provides the illusion of secrecy. Let’s keep reminders in front of us (especially passages from God’s Word) of God’s omnipresence and omniscience. Get in a DG and remain faithful to it and honest in it (even if others aren’t yet).
Because unrepentant sin always results in God’s judgment…
Let us be constantly conscious of our conscience. In his book, Hole in our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung notes that at tender conscience is to be preserved at nearly all costs. A sure sign of God’s judgment is a hardened heart. In Romans 1 we’re told that because of persistent, unrepentant rebellion God gives people over to their sins—that is, God removes any internal sense of the sinfulness of sin. Where you find yourself uncomfortable be slow to act and quick to see what God’s Word has to say about whatever caused your discomfort. Let’s be eager to give up some liberty for the sake of conscience preservation.
Likewise, let us be utterly unwilling to cover the consequences of our sin with more sin. Don’t let yourself attempt to cover the sin of sexual immorality with the sin of lying, for instance. Where you encounter consequences for sin, thank God for his warning sign, confess it as sin, repent, apologize and walk in the freedom only the cross can bring through those things.
Finally, because unrepentant sin always results in God’s judgment, let’s regularly contemplate the horrors of hell. It does us no good to stick our heads in the sand regarding the great reality. Those who are truly hoping in Christ need not fear hell, but we must fear the accusation that unrepentant sin makes against us (that we might not be truly hoping in Jesus). Our increasing, joyful obedience is the only sure proof that our faith is genuine. Contemplating the reality of hell will not allow us to forget that.
As we head into 2019, then, let’s give ourselves to a renewed attack on the sin that seeks to turn our eyes from God and onto the things of earth. Let’s learn, as God intends, from Israel’s sin and God’s response, how to increasingly fight in faith to live in a manner pleasing to God. The cross makes this certain for all who truly hope in the one who hung on it in our place.
The nature of sin ought to frighten and humble us. It ought to make us careful and vigilant. And it ought to make us eager for help and constant in prayer. And yet, the nature of the cross ought to gives us courage and confidence. It ought to make us joyful and eager. And it ought to make us grateful for the help God is always present to give and the prayers he’s always eager to answer. Sin is big, but God is bigger. We must fight, but we must do so in the full knowledge that in Christ we win!