When Love must be Confrontational
The Proverbs frequently connect love with correction.
- Proverbs 3:12 "For whom the Lord loveth, He correcteth …"
- Proverbs 9:8 "…rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee."
- Proverbs 13:24 "He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
- Proverbs 27:5 "Open rebuke is better than secret love."
These verses remind us that true love cares enough to confront. It seeks to make us face our shortcomings and deal with our sins. It expresses disapproval of inappropriate actions or attitudes. It takes steps of correction to force us to deal with problem areas in our lives. For example, when there is an alcoholic member in a family, it is common for other family members to cover up the problem. They will not discuss it openly. They tiptoe around it, referring to it euphemistically as "your father’s problem." When the alcoholic is hung over and unable to go to work, someone in the family will call the person’s office and report them sick. These actions are often motivated by a false concept of love. True love doesn’t cover up; it confronts. It lovingly refuses to hide the problem. It holds the person accountable for their actions. It’s not afraid to issue ultimatums – and carry them out - that force the person to deal with their sins and faults.
God does the same thing with His people. Although it’s true that God loves us as we are, He’s not content to leave us that way. He desires to free us from our sins and bring us to maturity. Out of love and a desire for us to experience His best, He will confront sin in whatever form He finds it. Generally, He begins with conviction – the inner voice of condemnation. If we resist, he initiates steps of correction – the sometimes-traumatic experience of judgment. The one thing His love will not allow Him to do is to ignore the destructive forces of sin at work in our lives.
I. God’s Controversy with the People of Israel – Verses 1-5
A. The Causes (1-2)
- An absence of integrity
- "No truth" - the nation had abandoned the moral absolutes of God’s Word.
- "No mercy" – society had adopted a "dog eat dog" attitude of self-preservation. Injustice and inequities were ignored as the nation echoed the words of Cain, "Am I my brother’s keeper.
- "No knowledge of God" – complete spiritual bankruptcy
- They weren’t atheists. Nor were they uninformed about the existence of God.
- They had no personal relationship with the Lord. A personal, spiritual relationship to God had become unimportant, replaced by idols and false religious worship.
- An outbreak of immorality - they break out
- They became a vile people. Swearing, lying, murders, theft and adultery were common sins.
- They became a violent people. "Blood toucheth blood" implies one violent death after another.
When a godly society turns away from Biblical truth, they soon become a selfish people. God is first ignored, then forgotten. This leads to a decrease in public morality and an increase in violent crime. It is the kind of society that results in abortion, drive-by shootings, rampant child abuse, road rage, children killing children, parents killing their own sons and daughters, and all the other horrible acts of violence that have become so much a part of our own society.
B. The Consequences (3-5)
- Creation suffers – verse 3
- The fall of man involved all of creation. See Genesis 3:17-19
- Thus when sin runs rampant, even the land "mourns" and "groans" under the weight of sin. See Romans 8:22
- Because of sin, the earth is ravished by war, scorched by draught, devoured by famine, and destroyed by the selfish, ruthless works of man.
- The Conscience is seared – verse 4
- The priests were the representatives between God and man. To strive with the priest was the same as arguing with God.
- The person who would strive with the priest was beyond reproof. His conscience was seared and he was beyond hope. Compare to Deuteronomy 17:12
- Casualties suffered indiscriminately – verse 5
- No one would be spared. Both the common man and the (false) prophets who led them astray would fall in God’s coming judgement of sin.
- No time would be safe. Day and night, they would be overtaken in their sins.
- Idolatry and its related sins had become so widespread that God would destroy the whole nation ("thy motherland").
Sin is like a cancer that invades every part of our lives, leaving a path of sorrow and destruction. That is why true love must confront sin. Suppose you went to the doctor with a chronic pain. Would you want the doctor to tell you what’s wrong with you and treat the problem, or merely give you something for the pain? Would you want to be comforted, or cured?
II. God Controversy with the Priests of Israel – Verses 6-14
A. How they misused the priesthood (6-10)
- They withheld the truth the people needed. Verse 6
- Spiritual leaders have an obligation to uphold the truth – to love it, live it, and lead by it.
- Whether priests and preachers reject the truth or neglect the truth, the result is the same – they become blind leaders of the blind, and both are destroyed – the one by their ignorance, and the other by the judgment of God.
- They used their office for personal gain. Verse 7,8
- The word increased can refer to either material prosperity or numerical increase.
- Because of the reference to the glory of the priesthood, I believe God was referring to the priests profiting from their trade.
At the time Hosea prophesied, the priesthood was a lucrative business. The priests headed up a system that included all forms of immorality, promiscuity, and drunkenness. The temples of idolatry operated on the principle of "more bang for your buck." The more a person was willing to pay, the more their carnal appetites were indulged.
Hosea implies that the more the priests prospered, the more they sanctioned the sins of the "worshippers," and the more their popularity (or glory) increased. Thus, verse 8 discloses the motivation of the priests – "They [ate] up the sin of my people and they [the priests] set their heart on their [the people’s] iniquity." Rather than confront the sin, the priests encouraged it and delighted in it because it was making them rich.
- Their lives became an excuse for the people to sin. "Like people, like priest."
- Leaders ARE role models. People are going to pattern their lives by what they see in the lives of their leaders. (Compare to 1 Timothy 4:12)
- Spiritual leaders either lift people up to a higher level, or drag them down to a lower level; but they never leave them as they are.
B. How they misled God’s people (11-14)
- The prevalence of immorality
- The references to "whoredom" and "adultery" should be taken literally.
- Drunkenness and immorality often accompanied pagan worship.
- With the sanction of the priesthood, daughters would commit fornication and wives would be guilty of adultery as part of their idol "worship." Verses 13-14
- Using wine and whoredoms, the priesthood transferred the affection of the people from God to idols. Verse 11
- The practice of idolatry
- Hosea mentions three elements of pagan idolatry:
- Praying to idols. "My people ask counsel at their stocks."
- Attempting to foresee future events or interpret omens with supernatural aid. "Their staff declareth unto them." (This would be similar to the use of tarot cards, reading palms or tea leaves, etc.)
- Sacrifice and burning of incense.
- Hosea tells us that those who practice idolatry "err" and "doth not understand." Idolatry is false worship that results in spiritual blindness and moral decadence.
III. God’s Counsel to the People of Judah – Verses 15-19
The closing verses of this chapter are directed to Israel’s sister nation to the South. Judah is instructed in how she should respond to Israel’s sin. These verses echo the warning found in 1 Corinthians 15:33: "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." Bad friendships destroy godly character.
These verses illustrate that there are times when we should practice Biblical Separation. Separation is commanded of God to protect us from the harmful influences of the world. It is designed to keep us from stumbling ("Let not Judah offend"). Notice the areas in which Judah is to practice her separation.
A. Places to be avoided – "Come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven"
God named two places that were to be off limits to the people of Judah – Gilgal and Beth-aven. It is obvious that what was going on at these places was exciting; otherwise, they would hold no attraction for the people of Judah. But it was also deceptive. Notice that joined to the command to avoid these hot spots of idolatry is another command: "nor swear, The LORD liveth." This is what made these places so dangerous. Although the people were engaged in sinful practices, they testified of the Lord. They claimed that they were doing it "for God," implying that He approved of what they were doing!
- Adding the name of God or Christ to something doesn’t make it Christian or acceptable.
- Just because people declare an allegiance to the Lord doesn’t mean that God approves what they are doing.
God compares the Israelites to a "backsliding heifer." It pictures a stubborn cow that resists being led. If you pull on its lead rope, it stiffens its legs and throws its weight backwards. What God is telling us is that the idolatrous practices of Beth-aven and Gilgal grew up out of Israel’s resistance to the Lord’s leadership. If Judah visited these places, she would be corrupted by Israel’s rebellion.
B. People to be shunned – "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone."
The reason for this command is a practical one. God’s judgment would soon fall on the Northern Kingdom. Judah could do nothing to prevent it. Ephraim was "joined" to idols. She was hopelessly given over to idolatry. She could corrupt others, but she could not be changed. Judah was to keep her distance lest she be influenced by Israel’s idolatry and feel the fires of God’s judgment.
God has called Christians to a ministry of salt and light. As salt, we create a thirst for righteousness. As light, we attract people out of darkness. We are to exert an influence on others, not be influenced by them. That is why there are places a Christian should not go, practices he ought not to participate in, and people with whom he cannot associate. He must maintain a godly distinctiveness that witnesses of God’s presence in his life.
God is always calling His people to greater degree of dependency, a deeper level of maturity. Yes, He loves us as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us as we are. He would spare us the pain and penalty that sin and self bring into our lives. That is why He confronts us when we go astray and reveals our sin. That is why He calls us to have separated lives. He will be satisfied with nothing less than His best for us.
True love confronts.