Introduction: how does God respond to our spiritual adultery?
Years ago I met up with a bloke called Steve to talk about Christianity. One of the things he objected to was the idea that God would punish people for what they have done wrong.
He put it like this – “when I was a kid I did things wrong, and my dad told me off. But now, if I meet up with dad, we go out for a beer and he says, do you remember the time you did this and that wrong – we’d look back and laugh.”
“Surely”, he said, “That’s how it will be with God when we meet him? Sure we’ve get things wrong now – but one day we’ll sit down and look back and laugh at how silly we were.”
Well he’s right that we’ve done things wrong – Hosea says we have committed spiritual adultery. By selling our trust to other gods.
Our question now is - how will God respond to that? How should he respond to spiritual adultery?
I’ve got three answers that Hosea gives us – going to spend all our time on the first two, mention the last one at the end. First of all Hosea tells us,
1) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches, 2v5-13
By riches I mean all of the good things in life that Israel enjoyed - her food and wine, her families and children, her land and security. Those riches – are going to be taken away – and reversed into famine and barrenness and poverty and oppression.
This comes throughout the book – listen to some verses, to get a sense of it.
- Food & family – 8v7; 9v2
8:7 “the stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up.”
9:2 “Threshing floors and winepresses will not feed the people; the new wine will fail them.”
9:11,12 “Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird – no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of everyone.”
- Protection & security, 10v5,6; 8v13,14; 9v3
And it’s not just food and family – the riches of protection and security as a nation, will be reversed into defeat and exile.
So for instance 10:5,6 READ.
Sometimes Hosea describes this metaphorically as going to Egypt – because for Israel Egypt was the supreme place of captivity.
So for instance 8:13,14 READ. Or 9:3 READ.
You get the picture. God is angry and he is going to punish Israel. The riches of prosperity and protection are going to be reversed into poverty and captivity.
Now the idea of punishment isn’t popular today. I’m going to say some more a bit later about how we might think about this. For now I want us to see this isn’t an arbitrary punishment – there is a logic to it. Personally I’ve found it helpful to see this logic, it helps me understand what’s going on – what God is doing.
- The logic of judgement – revealing the true God, 2v8-13
2v8-9 READ. Israel doesn’t acknowledge all these good things come from God, therefore he will take it away.
More than that, 2v12-13 READ.
We sad earlier on that Israel worshipped Baal thinking he paid her – that’s what was so appealing – he gave her the vines and fig trees – prosperity. So she thought.
Actually they came from God. But Israel wouldn’t acknowledge that – so what was happening was - as God sent rain and made the grain ripen and the crops grow – Israel kept thanking Baal – kept saying, isn’t it good we worship Baal – look how he blesses us.
Do you see what a terrible position this puts God in –– the more he provides for them, the more they thank Baal. It’s like he’s feeding their habit – he blesses them and they think worshipping Baal is working.
So God says, they won’t acknowledge I give these things to her – so v9 - therefore – I will take it away. They say this prosperity comes from her lover - so I’m going to show them who it comes from – by taking it away and reversing these riches into poverty and captivity.
Earlier I mentioned the film Indecent Proposal, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson – as a poor married couple – Demi sells herself to Robert Redford, a billionaire, for one million dollars.
Let me rewrite that plot line – so that it actually gives a more accurate picture of Israel. Imagine if actually Demi was married to Robert Redford and his millions. He buys her a mansion and gives her everything she wants.
But then Woody, who hasn’t got a penny, turns up, and says – come to bed with me and I’ll lavish my riches on you.
And Demi falls for it - she goes off and sleeps with him. Then she comes back to the mansion, and sips some champagne, enjoys the caviar, gets into her luxurious bed – and she thinks to herself – my – that bloke Woody is certainly looking after me.
After a while Redford catches on and confronts her – you’re sleeping around. But Demi pleads – I have to because he provides for me, he looks after me. No he doesn’t – I do – this is all from me. But Demi is in denial - says no, Woody gives me my allowance, my food, my home.
What will Robert Redford do? The more he gives to her, the more she thinks Woody has come up trumps.
Well in the end he’ll say, alright, I’ll take away what I give you. No allowance, no mansion, no champagne. If you want what Woody gives you – you can have it – you’ll discover too late he hasn’t got anything – it was all from me.
Sounds ridiculous – I don’t suppose it would make a very good film. But that is the situation with Israel – she keeps going to Baal and Assyria – thanking them for everything that God has given her.
So in the end God says, alright – I’ll take away what I give you – if want what Baal and Assyria give you – you can have it - but you will discover too late – they haven’t got anything give. And you will end up in poverty and captivity. And you will realise – it all came from me.
That’s the logic, the reasoning that lies behind judgement.
2) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship, 1v4-9
However, there is a more going on than just reversal of riches. Even worse – is that spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship.
Let’s turn back to chapter 1 – where Hosea has three children – and each time God tells him to give the child a particular name – which symbolises what is going to happen to his people.
Lets start with the second child, v6 READ. Lo Ruhamah means not loved. Out of all the nations God had set his love on Israel – but now – they are not loved.
Third name is even worse. V8,9a READ – and Lo-Ammi means ‘not mine’.
Can you imagine the church notices that week – congratulations to Hosea and Gomer on the arrival of their third child – he weighed in at 7lb3oz, and Hosea – what do you want to call him. “Not mine”. Great - he’ll make a lovely brother for ‘Not loved’.
You can imagine people saying, “Why have you called your baby such a terrible name?” Hosea would reply “I’ve called it not mine, because that is what God calls you”. v9 – READ. Or literally – you are not my people and I am not I am to you.
If you know the OT – those words send a chill down your spine. When God was brought Israel out of Egypt, Moses asked his name. God said, I am who I am – which in Hebrew sounds like Yahweh.
That was his personal name that he shared with Israel. It’s as though he said, I am God Almighty, but you can call me, I am, Yahweh, because I am your God and you are my people.
But now God reverses that statement - you are not my people, and I am, not I am to you.
Some years ago I knew a couple where the wife called her husband - bear. We all called him David. But she called him bear. That was her name for him. Imagine she is unfaithful – he is terribly hurt – says it’s over – we’re splitting up – she says – oh bear – no – don’t call me that. I’m not your bear.
That is what God is saying – to Israel he was ‘I am’. Now he says - I’m not I am to you anymore. The relationship is over.
What that means in practice is not simply that they’re not talking to each other – but they are now against each other – they are now enemies.
Let’s see some examples.
5:11,12 READ. Literally I am like pus, or decay.
5:14 READ. Literally he says, “It is I like a lion”, “I, yes I, will tear them to pieces”. God used to be their provider and protector – but now he has become their predator, who will tear them apart.
The point is – the relationship has been reversed – they have moved from God’s people, to God’s enemies, from having God as their provider and protector – to God being the one who will destroy them.
This is no abstract idea – this happened – in 722BC Assyria defeated, destroyed and deported Israel – God came as a lion - and it was awful.
Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches and a reversal of relationship.
- If we persist in spiritual adultery and we face a reversal of riches and relationship, Revelation 18:1-22
Now what does this mean today? To put it simply – what we see here with Israel is a picture of God’s future judgement. It’s a warning – if anyone persists in spiritual adultery – if they reject God and make something else their god – then one day they will face a reversal of riches and relationship with God.
There are some ways in which this happens in this life – so someone who isn’t a Christian – doesn’t have a relationship with God now. But as I say – this is really a picture of future judgement on those who reject God and Jesus – and ultimately this happens at the end of life.
So let’s turn to Revelation - where we hear the same sort of language.
Rev 18:1-3 READ.
Babylon stands for rejecting God and treating other things as god. And the world has committed adultery with her – gone to her to get rich.
But God will judge her – and those who belong to her - listen to how it is described
Babylon is destroyed and - 18v11.
In this life people who aren’t Christians can have many good things – that varies of course but to some degree they can enjoy the riches of food, family, relationships, education, homes, peace.
But Revelation says one day there will be a judgement – and it means the reversal of riches – health and life reversed into death and mourning. Food into famine. Gold and precious stones, music and craft reversed into ruin and destruction.
More than that – they will have no relationship with God. Elsewhere in the Bible we read, “God will punish those who do not know God. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord”. Being shut out from God, will be hell.
That is what adultery leads to – the reversal of all we made for – the riches of life – relationship with God.
Embarrassed by the idea of judgement?
Now as I said earlier this talk of punishment is far from popular today. We’re easily embarrassed about it – want to avoid it and not think about it. I certainly find that.
So I thought I’d make a few comments on that – in the box.
a) Judgement is integral to the whole Bible
By that I mean – if you take the idea that God punishes or judges out of the Bible the whole thing falls apart and makes no sense. What is the problem in the Bible if not our sin and God’s reaction to it? Why did Jesus die – if not to take our punishment in our place? What does forgiveness mean – if not – not being punished?
To put it another way – the things I find it easier to believe and rejoice in – Jesus’ death, forgiveness, God’s love – they only make sense if God judges. And Jesus dies to rescue me from that, and forgiveness is freedom from that.
So it helps me to see that - if we take judgement out of Christianity – we haven’t got anything left.
b) Judgement vindicates God as God
Remember the logic we looked at earlier - God gives gifts and Israel thank Baal. And so what is he to do? More he gives, the more they thank Baal. Same today – people think their health, family, food and money and holidays – comes from themselves or their job, their abilities whatever. They are actually come from God – but they say, well done me, or thank their job or spouse or whatever.
And so God will judge – take away those riches – and when he does people will see who God really is. He will be vindicated – seen to be who he is – the provider of all. So judgement is about bringing reality and truth to someone.
As someone is judged they will recognise - there is a God who made me, who I owe everything to, who I should worship and love. I see that now.
c) Judgement is just and so is good and right.
God being angry and punishing isn’t like us being angry. When we get angry we get things out of perspective, we’re defensive, want to prove ourselves right, then can be vindictive, overreact.
But God being angry and judging is an expression of his justice – of doing things rightly.
And justice is something we want – we want things to get what they deserve. We want things to be right and just. Well that is God’s judgement. There is something terrible about it – but it is good and right.
I think Hosea shows us this through the imagery of adultery. If we think of adultery – and brings feelings of hurt and pain and anger. That is right. We’re right to be angry at the adulterer – they should pay for how they abused someone’s love.
Well if we rightly feel angry – how much more is God – the one who made us, gave us everything – right to be angry. Not out of control anger. Not vindictive anger. But just anger – that is right for how he has been treated.
I started by mentioning my friend Steve - his idea that, like with his Dad, one day we’d laugh with God about what we’ve done wrong. Well that just doesn’t take what we’ve done seriously. Doesn’t take God seriously.
Can you imagine a betrayed husband or wife sitting down and laughing with their errant partner and saying – do you remember how you use to sleep around – what a laugh.
Well that is just sick isn’t it? We don’t laugh at adultery. And God won’t laugh at spiritual adultery – he is right to be angry – right to punish.
3) The reversal leads to a reversal, 1v10-2v1
Let me read one more verse to finish. Having named Hosea’s three children, God then says this, 1v10-2v1 READ.
God is saying there will be a reversal of the reversal. Those who were not God’s people, will become God’s people. Those who were not loved – will be loved.
This judgement is real – but there is hope. There is a way back to knowing God again – being loved by him again.
In a way I hope we’re thinking – how is that possible? We’ve had a story of marriage – then terrible adultery – right separation and it’s over. How do you recover from that?
That is what we’ll look at tomorrow. Going to discover the most amazing love in the world. Which means we can become God’s people again. A reversal of the reversal.
I know this has been a bit dark and negative this morning. I hope it’s been helpful – we need to think about these things. But it has been dark – let me assure you the sun will shine tomorrow – we look at the lover and the true marriage. Good news is coming – wonderful news. But to hear it – and to see how good it is – to really get it - we need to hear this first.
Questions and discussion together
- Am I embarrassed about God’s judgement?
- How does Hosea help me with that?
- What is good about God’s judgement?
Hymn – Rock of Ages – asked for us to sing this because it reflects what we deserve on our own – only hope is Jesus.