Your Cheating Heart
Psalm 103:1-5 (Opening) 1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Introduction We live in challenging times. It seems like every aspect of what God teaches in the Bible is being attacked in some way or other in our culture today. It’s almost ironic that New England is considered to be one of the most secular areas of the country. Back in the early 1600’s, people were risking their lives to move to New England so they could worship God the way they believed to be right. The Puritans were persecuted in England because they didn’t believe the Church of England was truly following God’s will. It was a step in the right direction but was too similar to the Catholic Church. Things had been OK under King James. He tolerated the reformers, and even allowed many to be ministers in the Church of England. But when Charles I became king in 1600, that all changed. Charles married a Catholic princess from France, and she encouraged him to lean more toward the Catholic side instead of tolerating the reformers like his father James had. The Church of England began actively persecuting the reformers, mockingly called Puritans. Between 1620 and 1640, Puritans left England in droves, packing up their families and risking everything to come to New England. Around 21,000 Puritans left England for New England during those 20 years. The Massachusetts Bay Company, which ran the colony, encouraged religious reformers. Every community had a church, which was independent but supportive of other communities’ churches. Each congregation had elders and deacons, with one of the elders designated the teaching elder, who did most of the preaching. The churches of the Puritans became the Congregational church denomination, which is totally unrecognizable from the what it was three hundred years ago, when they banished man-made creeds for only the Bible to aid in their decision making. We’ve come a long way from that. Today, many “churches” make up their own rules, follow their own misguided misinterpretations of what the Bible says about sin and moral behavior. Some endorse sinful behavior that would have resulted in expulsion or even the death penalty back in the 1600s. Some people say these “churches” today are more enlightened now. I’m not saying things were perfect back in the 1600s when the Puritans were running the show in New England, but we’ve strayed quite a long way from the path over the past 400 years. And I don’t think Jesus would recognize a lot of these “churches” today. When Did Hosea Preach But I guess the question is, are things any worse today than they were back in Jesus’ day, or even back in the days of the publishing prophets in Israel and Judah? The publishing prophets, the prophets whose words are recorded in books of the Old Testament, all prophesied during and after the time of Jeroboam II of Israel or Uzziah of Judah. That’s around 760 B.C. and forward. The behavior of both kingdoms by this time had begun to spiral downward. They were polluting their worship to Yahweh, or worshiping other gods, or both. This is the time that Isaiah, Micah, Joel, Amos, Jonah, and Hosea all were preaching. The first three prophesied primarily to Judah, and the last three in Israel, although Jonah’s written prophecies were mostly about the people of Assyria in Ninevah. Today we start looking at the book of Hosea. Hosea 1:1 1 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, during the last years that Israel existed as a nation. Whoever wrote this first verse makes an interesting point. He points out the kings who reigned in Judah during Hosea’s ministry, but only points out one king of Israel, and he wasn’t technically the last king, the one who was on the throne when Assyria attacked and destroyed the nation of Israel, the northern 10 tribes. The last king in Israel listed here in this verse is Jeroboam the second, who was on the throne for a long time, 41 years. He was an evil king in Israel, even though there was economic and political prosperity. But he followed the religious tendencies of Jeroboam the first who was the first king over the northern 10 tribes, and also kept the worship of the Ba’als going in Israel, that was brought back by Jezebel, the Phoenician wife of Ahab, an earlier king of Israel. The first king of Judah mentioned in this verse is Uzziah, who became king in Judah after Jeroboam had already reigned in Israel for 27 years, and he reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years. The timeline of these kings of Judah bring us to around 722 B.C. which is about the time of the Assyrian conquest of Israel. Why did God Send Hosea? The people of Israel always had a problem staying faithful to Yahweh. When everything was going well, and they were defeating their enemies, they were faithful. But after a while they would become lax in their focus on Yahweh and would start to worship other gods. And then things would turn bad for them. It all started when Moses was up on Mount Sinai with God. The people convinced Aaron that Moses wasn’t coming back, and to make them a golden calf to worship, so he did. It didn’t get any better when they finally made it into the Promised Land. Judges 2:11-15 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Ba’als. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Ba’als and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. This happened right after Joshua died. Without strong leadership, the people of Israel did whatever they wanted to do and didn’t focus on following the will of God. And God used their neighbors and enemies to punish them for turning away from Him. Israel’s relationship with God was always a rocky one. They would follow Him, then they’d turn away and do whatever they wanted, until they were punished, and then they would turn back to God, most of the time. Things seemed to go well until late in Solomon’s reign. We usually think of Solomon as a good king, because he was so wise, and he built the Temple. But Solomon had a dark side. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Most of the women in his life were the result of political treaties between Israel and other clans and nations. He was influenced by these foreign women, who brought their culture and their gods with them to Jerusalem. 1 Kings 11:4-8 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. These gods were the gods of Canaan, and like Egyptian gods, were responsible for different aspects of life. Ashtoreth was a fertility goddess. Milcom and Molech were different names for the same god of the Ammonites who required human sacrifice, specifically children or babies, thrown into a fire to appease him. Chemosh also required human sacrifice to appease him. The Moabites and the Ammonites were related, and their gods were similar in behavior. Chemosh could have been yet another name for Molech. Notice that all three, Milcom, Molech, and Chemosh, were described as an abomination, something that Yahweh detested. They were His moral opposite, and worshiping them, submitting oneself to them, was, according to Leviticus, grounds for the death penalty, and tolerating it was grounds for being removed from the assembly of Israel. Leviticus 20:4-5 (NIV) 4 If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, 5 I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek. Remember the terminology God uses here to describe the worship of Molech. We’ll see it again. Fast forward about 60 years or so, to the reign of Ahab, king of Israel. Well, the northern 10 tribes of Israel. Remember, after Solomon the northern 10 tribes were ripped away from him and given to another to rule. 1 Kings 16:29-31 29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethba’al king of the Sidonians, and went and served Ba’al and worshiped him. I love the way the writer expresses Ahab’s sin allowing and supporting Jezebel in worshiping Ba’al. Jeroboam caused all of Israel to sin. Ahab looked at what Jeroboam did and said, “That’s nothing. Watch this!” Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, encouraged the worship of Ba’al in Israel. Ahab even built a temple for Ba’al in Samaria, the capitol city of Israel. Worship of Ba’al was the main thing that Elijah the prophet fought against during his time, and Jezebel fought against him. Something that isn’t clear from reading the Bible but does come out from Canaanite texts, is that Ba’al isn’t the name of a god. Ba’al is a title. It’s the Canaanite word for lord, master, owner, or husband. It’s a term of respect used toward a male in a significant superior position. The Ba’al of the Sidonians that Jezebel worshiped was probably Hadad, the god of fertility and storms. Storms, because rain makes the fields produce their crops. They probably referred to him as Ba’al Hadad initially, but eventually stopped using his name for the same reason Jews don’t use the name of Yahweh; the name is too holy to speak and could be used in an inappropriate way. In fact, most of the male gods that were worshiped in Canaan would be referred to as Ba’al, lord. That’s probably one reason why in Judges chapter 2, they are referred to as “the Ba’als” or Ba’alim in Hebrew. Hosea’s Living Parable Now that we understand some of the religious climate of Hosea’s day, let’s look at his ministry. Hosea 1:2-3 (NIV) 2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. How’s that for a match made in heaven? God told Hosea to marry (to put it nicely) a cheater. Some translations call her a prostitute. We don’t know how Hosea found Gomer, but God told him to marry her. God was using Hosea’s life as a living parable. Hosea was going to experience what God was experiencing with respect to His covenant relationship with the children of Israel. God told Hosea that “like an adulterous wife this land, that is the people of Israel, is guilty of unfaithfulness to Yahweh.” Remember I told you we were going to hear that idea again? Just like people sacrificing to Molech, which was also something that may have been going on in Israel at the time, because it was going on in Judah, God says Israel is cheating on Him, worshiping other gods. God was comparing His covenant relationship with Israel to a marriage relationship. When God gave Israel the Law, He told them that He was the only one they were to worship. Exodus 20:3-6 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Worshiping other gods and any form of idolatry was forbidden. Pretty straight forward if you ask me. God said He was jealous. He was demanding complete loyalty to Him. Hosea’s marriage was God’s way of saying, “Is it okay for your spouse to be unfaithful to you? You expect loyalty from your spouse, but you can’t be loyal to Me.” This isn’t human jealousy, but a human description of God’s desire for His children to be in a true and honest relationship with Him, and only with Him. Paul in his letter to the congregation in Ephesus explains that our marriages are supposed to represent God’s relationship with His church. Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is a physical representation of that relationship, but in his example, it’s a broken, dysfunctional relationship. What about today? Reading Hosea makes me wonder if we’re living in the same situation today. Like I referred to earlier, people and “churches” are espousing points of view that are contrary to what I read in the Bible. People are saying that sinful lifestyles are acceptable, and that even murder, in certain situations, is the right thing to do. Paul must have known that history tends to repeat itself, because he warned Timothy about situations similar to what Hosea was facing in his day, and what we’re seeing today. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. Paul warned Timothy about people who would teach things contrary to what God had already said. We have a lot of blessings in this world that some people will tell you we shouldn’t consider. In Genesis chapter 1, after every day of creating, God says what He created was good, and on the last day, He looked at everything and said it was all good. We shouldn’t abstain from anything God has blessed us with, unless it’s for a reason. Sometimes we need to readjust our thinking, so we need to fast from something that’s taking up too much of our lives. But if it’s something that God gives us for our good, once we get back on track, we should be able to enjoy those gifts again. Sometimes something can overpower us so much we just need to stay away from it completely. Some people have problems with drugs or alcohol. Some people don’t. That has to be a personal decision, and with God’s help those things can be reduced from being an idol to simply being an annoyance. In Paul’s second letter, he explained to Timothy why he needed to be prepared with God’s word, to be able to share from it well, and use it wisely. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. I think, like the previous advice to Timothy, we’re facing this again today. People are teaching that sinful behavior is acceptable, and preachers who are teaching that sin is sin are being removed from their positions because the congregations they are preaching to don’t accept God’s word as truth, because society, the world, is telling them that it’s hate. Conclusion I think my point today is that no matter what society says, no matter what the government says, no matter what the world says, sin is still sin, and God still hates sin. You can’t cover up your sin with pretty words or a nice suit and expect God to say it’s acceptable. We don’t make the rules; God does. God has defined what is sinful and what is acceptable, and if we don’t like that, the problem isn’t with God, the problem is with us. But that doesn’t mean that God won’t take us as His children if we turn away from our sinful lives. That’s exactly what He wants us to do. You can’t say you’re a Christian and keep willfully disobeying God, sinning to your hearts content, and expect that God actually believes you are following Christ. Obedience to God is what is needed, not obedience to man, and not obedience to what you believe in your heart to be right. God wants us to be faithful to Him, just like you want your spouse to be faithful to you. Obedience is the key to faithfulness to God, do what you know He wants you to do. And the first step in that obedience is believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died as a sacrifice for your sins. If you believe that, you can be immersed in water to become one with His death, removing your sins, and starting a new life. But it doesn’t stop there. You have to keep focusing on learning God’s will for you. That means studying His word, and applying it to your life, every day. Growing to be more like Jesus every day. And we’re here to help you with all of that. Romans 5:6-11 (Closing) 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.