A Change is Gonna Come
Hosea • Sermon • Submitted
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10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. 1 Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”
Sam Cooke is called by some the most important soul singer in history. He’s credited with being the creator of soul music. By 1963 he was already a star. And in May of that year he was on tour in NC. After performing in Durham, he had opportunity to sit and talk with some people who had participated in sit-in demonstrations in that area. Not long after that he suffered the type of tragedy that can make a parent lose their mind. His 18-month-old son drowned.
The struggle of the Civil Rights Era in this land and his personal experience of tragedy prompted him to write the song A Change is Gonna Come. That song, in many ways, has come to symbolize that era. He opens the song with these words,
I was born by the river, in a little tent. And just like the river, I’ve been runnin ever since. It’s been a long long time comin, but I know a change gon come.
This message of hope in the midst of hardship spoke powerfully to that era. In Spike Lee’s movie X, about the life of Malcolm X, in the scene when Denzel Washington, as Malcolm X, is taking that fateful drive from his hotel to the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem where he would be shot to death, the music playing in the background is A Change is Gonna Come. In the movie Talk to Me, about the life of Petey Green, a DC radio talk-show host in the 1960’s, there’s a scene in the movie that shows the riot that took place in DC after the murder of MLK, Jr. In that scene, fires are burning, sirens are blaring, there’s chaos all around, Petey is standing in the middle of it, distressed as he looks around him at what’s happening. The song playing in the background is, A Change is Gonna Come.
The irony of the song and using it in this way is that in the midst of the situation, there’s no reason to believe that a change is coming! In Cooke’s personal life, his baby boy is dead, he’s talking to people who are being attacked for sitting a lunch counters. In the movie X the song is playing as man is driving to his death. In Talk to Me the city is burning, chaos is all around, yet the message the producer wants you to hear is A Change is Gonna Come.
Can I tell you something? If I was making a movie about the Protestant Reformation in 1517, the song I’d have playing in the background as Martin Luther pins his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, is A Change is Gonna Come.
And what everybody knew―whether it was the Reformers of the 16th and 17th Centuries, or those who were pursuing Civil Rights in the 50’s and 60’s―is that the coming of change was beyond them. Change coming required something or someone beyond themselves. The situation was bleak, and they didn’t have the power in and of themselves to bring change.
That message mirrors these three verses in Hosea. Most of Hosea chapter 1 reads like a horror movie. Hosea the prophet is commanded by God to marry a prostitute who had children from her life of prostitution. Because the land had committed great prostitution away from the Lord. Then he and his wife, Gomer, have three children. The births and names of their children sent the message of impending doom to the nation of Israel. The tension built and the message became increasingly troubling with the birth of each child. With the birth of their first son, Jezreel, there would come a loss of peace and protection in the nation. With the birth of their daughter, Lo Ruhamah, the message for the people was that their Lord, who is merciful and compassionate, would no longer have compassion on Israel. Then the final break would come with the birth of their third child, Lo Ammi. They would no longer be the Lord’s people, and he would no longer be theirs.
This economically prosperous nation would begin to suffer decline. It would come to an end when Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, besieged Samaria in Israel for three years, captured it, then carried the Israelites away to exile in Assyria. says this happened because The people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They…did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served idols…They despised [the Lord’s] statutes and his covenant…[T]hey burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger… And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
Exactly what Hosea prophesied to happen, happened. Yet, in the middle of the horror as the nation runs headlong to its demise, God sends a message of hope through Hosea saying, A Change Is Gonna Come. Just like Sam Cooke’s song, the message seems out of place and would’ve been very hard to believe as Samaria is being overrun by the Assyrians. But this change that God promises is rock solid because it’s not going to happen by Israel’s efforts. God is going to make it happen all by himself. And Hosea describes how the Lord is going to do it in these three ways―through Redemption, Reunion, and Reversal.
7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. 9 And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” 14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only. 19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
Hosea’s son Lo Ammi has been born and the Lord says to Israel in v. 9, “You’re not mine, and I’m not yours. We’re done.” Then in the space of one verse there is a radical shift from doom to hope. The Lord promises to redeem. He promises redemption. To redeem is reacquire something that once belonged to you but doesn’t anymore. You want it back, and you’re willing to pay for it. The Lord says,
Yet, the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the seashore that cannot be measured or counted. And it will be, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people.’ It will be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’
Notice this with me. Hosea says, “in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people.’” Well, who said it to them? Who called them that? The Lord did. They had done everything in their power to break their covenant with the Lord. They had done everything they could to force his hand into making the declaration, “You are not my people.” They acted as if God was a joke. We know what the Lord commanded, but we don’t have to pay any attention to that. We’re going to do what we want and live how we want. They had an arrogance that said, “we have the Lord’s promise, so we’re good to go. It’s party time!” In commenting on this verse, John Calvin says of Israel,
Arrogating to themselves the title of Church, they concluded that it would be impossible for them to perish, for God would not be untrue in his promises. “Why! God has promised that his Church shall be forever: we are his Church; then we are safe, for God cannot deny himself.” In what they took as granted they were deceived; for though they usurped the title of Church, they were yet alienated from God.
The Lord’s patience runs out and he says, “I’m going to give you just what you want. You want to live like you have no relationship with me, I’m going to declare that you don’t have a relationship with me.”
Then comes this message of redemption. Hosea says, “Yes, the Lord is going to be true to his promise, but it’s not going to be because the people get themselves together.” They weren’t asking for redemption. Hosea doesn’t say here, “the people will recognize their sin and their rebellion. Then they will cry out to the Lord, and he’ll hear their cry.” He doesn’t say that there’s going to be repentance and then redemption. Repentance, turning away from sin, is a necessary part of redemption, but it’s not as though Hosea forgot to include it. His focus here is on what God will do. If anyone is going to be called a child of the living God, God has got to make them a child. This promised change that’s going to come, this promised redemption is only valid because God is the only one who can make it happen.
Make no mistake about it, the redemption that Hosea is talking about is the redemption in Jesus Christ. Wait a second. I don’t see Jesus’ name anywhere in this verse. How do you draw that conclusion? McComiskey:
This affirmation that God will increase the numbers of his people beyond counting not only assures God’s loyalty to his promise and to his people, but it envisions the inclusion of countless Gentiles in the promise as well.
This promise wasn’t just for 750 or 722 BC. This promise is for us here now today. For redemption to take place, that is, for people to have the title, “children of the living God,” God was going to have to make it happen. In his mercy, he brings it about by bringing us to the place of faith in his Son Jesus Christ. I love how the Bible completely ties together. In , when the apostle Paul is speaking of his anguish concerning the unbelief of the Israelites, his kinsmen according to the flesh, he’s dealing with the question of whether or not their unbelief indicates that the promise of God has failed.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
Then he says,
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” ()
Then he says,
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” ( ESV)
What God says through Hosea makes a straight line to Jesus Christ. It is s picture of God’s saving grace. What does this promised redemption look like? It looks the family reunion of all family reunions.
We’ve had family reunions on both sides of my family. On my mother’s side we’d have reunions more frequently because it wasn’t much of an expense for everyone to make it down to NC. Most of the family was either still living in NC or living in NY. So, it wasn’t that difficult to get everybody together regularly. But on my father’s side, it was another matter. Dad was from Trinidad, and his generation began the dispersion process. Some folks moved to Barbados. Some moved to NY. Some moved to Montreal and Toronto. Some moved to England. Some moved to France. We’re all over the place. So it’s a lot harder to get everybody’s schedule coordinated, money saved, time off, so that we can all gather in Trinidad. But when we do, it’s extremely special.
As special as it is, it pales in comparison to the family reunion the Lord promises in v. 11. Hosea gives us a picture of what this reunion looks like. He says
The children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one head.
Generations before this prophecy the kingdom had split. Ten of the twelve tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel. Two tribes to the south became Judah. This promised reunion would’ve seemed unbelievable at the time. Why is that? When we plan a family reunion on my father’s side you’ve got to do it a couple of years ahead of time because of all the coordination challenges. But we do it because we want to do it. We actually want to see each other. We want to get back together. Facebook and Zoom and Skype are cool, but it’s not enough. We want to be in one another’s presence.
Judah and Israel weren’t trying to reunite. God says this change is gonna to come, but just like they weren’t asking for redemption, they weren’t asking for reunion either! For Hosea, the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel was a disgrace. By the time Hosea’s ministry began it had been 200 years since the kingdom was divided. And there was no clamor among the kings of Israel and Judah to say, “this isn’t right. We’re supposed to be the Lord’s people. We need to get back together and demonstrate our unity in the Lord for other nations to see.” The history was one of strife and not unity. Nobody was saying, “let’s plan a reunion.”
The Lord says, where there is nothing but strife and animosity, I’m going to replace it with unity. But not just any unity. The people will be so united in spirit that they will appoint for themselves one head to rule over them. This one head is none other than the promised king, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus is at the center of this hope. The harsh judgment of chapter 1 is followed by this promise that God will bring all of his people under one ruler, Jesus Christ. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the Lord says that these united people will appoint a leader for themselves? What we would expect him to say is, “I will give them one leader.” I love what John Calvin says about this verse. I think he hits the nail on the head.
It seems, indeed, strange, that what is peculiar to God should be transferred to men—that is, to appoint a king. But the Prophet has, by this expression, characterized the obedience of faith; for it is not enough that Christ should be given as a king, and set over men, unless they also embrace him as their king, and with reverence receive him. We now learn, that when we believe the gospel we choose Christ for our king, as it were, by a voluntary consent.
Your earthly happiness is unhappiness before God. You’re now secure, but your safety depends on another thing, even on this―that you be one body under one head. For you must be miserable except that God rules over you.
This promise goes far beyond ethnic Israel. It is connected to this number of redeemed people who are like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured or numbered. It is the picture of a reunion that only God can create.
The way that God rules over us, family, is under the lordship of Jesus Christ. But a verse like this challenges us, because even today, after 2000 years of Christ’s power reigning in the Church we don’t always see this picture of unity that comes as an outworking of our union with Jesus. Israel and Judah divided, and not desiring reunion. The Lord says he’s going to make reunion happen in such a way that when the people’s hearts are turned towards him they will, by necessity be turned towards each other.
John Frame (Evangelical Reunion, 69),
God intends to remove the effects of sin from his church and therefore also to remove the disunity which…is always the result of sin.
So, if we really look forward to the reunification of God’s people, we should be seeking it here and now.
The truth is that the divides that exist in the world still exist in the church. Whatever they are – race, ethnicity, socio-economic divides, political polarization… Do you understand that through Jesus Christ we are reunited together in love across every line of division?
Being united to one another in love, we participate in each other’s gifts and graces. I love what George Hendry says about this chapter of the confession in his book from a generation ago titled The Westminster Confession for Today. He explains that this love is not based on mutual attraction. Rather, it is a love that overcomes divisions and reconciles contraries, bringing into communion those who have nothing in common except the fact that Christ gave himself for them…
Here’s the deal. This is one of the ways we can know that the Lord is at work. We won’t see the complete fulfillment of this perfect unity until all sin is done away with. We won’t see it until the glory of heaven. But we know that our Savior is at work because we want it! We long for it. Unlike Israel and Judah, when we have Christ we’re not content with strife and disunity.
We hear Paul in tell us that Jesus is our peace. That he has made Jew and Gentile one, breaking down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. When Paul urges us in to bear with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we want to do it. Because we know that there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. T
he Savior’s rule over us is what changes our hearts to desire to see the promised reunion take place in real time and space among us―reunion across divisions of race and class and gender and generations. We know the family reunion began in the cross of Jesus Christ. The change came and is still coming.
Included in this change is redemption, reunion, and lastly, reversal. Our text is the first of six messages of hope in Hosea (1:10-2:1; 2:14-23; 3:1-5; 6:1-3; 11:8-11; 14:1-8). And each hope message speaks to a reversing of the condition. In this first one the Lord reverses the names of each of Hosea’s children. He says,
Then they will spring up from the earth, for great will be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, “My people,” and to your sisters, “Compassion.”
Jezreel’s birth signified the end of the nation’s peace and protection. The Valley of Jezreel, where battles were fought, is the place where the Lord said in 1:5 that he will break Israel’s bow. Now he says that the day of Jezreel will be great. Then the “sign-children” are addressed in 2:1 and told to talk to another group of children, their brothers and sisters, and say, literally, “My people,” and, “Compassion.”
This is the picture of a spiritual exodus. The Lord says that the people will go up from the land for great will be the day of Jezreel. What is he talking about? Some would say that this means that historically just as Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians in the Valley of Jezreel, a reversal would take place and the Valley of Jezreel would again become a site of glory and triumph. But if we take it that way, the question becomes, if Jezreel is going to become the site of victory again, why would they go up from it? And where would they be going?
I agree with those who say that Jezreel here is figurative. Jezreel’s name means “God sows.” When the boy was born in v. 4, the significance of his name was not its literal meaning. Its significance was that the place, Jezreel, had become synonymous with bloodshed. It would be the place where God would execute his judgment. But here, at the end of the chapter, the significance of the reversal is based on the meaning of his name, “God sows.” So, the message of v. 11 is, “they will spring up from the earth for great will be the day of Jezreel.” In other words, the number of God’s children will be uncountable for multitude. They are people who were dead, but will come to life, sprouting from the earth because God has sown them. The message to Israel is not that they’ll get their act together. The message is that God promises resurrection life.
To come up out of the earth, as one commentary writer put it, implies resurrection, in which the redeemed break out of the subterranean tomb. Why will this happen? Because of the promise in 2:1, those who are not my people will become my people. Those who had not received mercy will receive mercy. The change Hosea is talking about is redemption and resurrection life in Jesus Christ! How do we know? Because that’s exactly what the apostle Peter says Hosea’s talking about in .
Peter is addressing his letter to Christians. At the very beginning of his letter he calls Christians “elect exiles.” Hosea prophesied about the literal, physical exile of Israel from the land. Now Peter comes along and sees a parallel in the church being dispersed throughout the world. Not in the sense of judgment, but in the sense that those who follow Jesus Christ are looking forward to a better and lasting homeland. So, Peter says, listen, you’ve come to Jesus, you are like living stones being built up as a spiritual house. Then he says in 2:9, what Moses said to Israel in applies to you Christians,
[Y]ou are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Then he says, not only that, but the hope at the end of is about you, “Once you were not a people, but now you are a people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
God fulfills his promises. The first message of hope in Hosea was that a change is gonna come; a change that would defy logic because everything around said the opposite. The change did come in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God redeems us, he reunites us, and he reverses our heart condition such that we can serve him with joy. He puts people together to be a church that reflects this reversal for the world to see; to be a church that lives into the implications of our confession; that even though we might have preferences, political, social, and otherwise, we’re brothers and sisters who are united in love and share in one another’s gifts and graces, not because we have a mutual attraction, but because we have one head, one King reigning and ruling over us.