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O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, Part 1

January 5, 2007

From a sermon on Hosea 2:14-23

In the book of Hosea, God declares that Israel is guilty of the sin of whoredom.  Israel has treated God the way an adulterous wife treats a husband.  She has pursued other lovers by committing idolatry.   Now the consequence of adultery in the OT law was not divorce, but death.  And yet God will neither divorce Israel, nor completely destroy her.  Instead he will discipline her and restrain her from her self-destructive paths.  He will hedge up her way with thorns and build a wall against her so that though she pursue her lovers, she will not overtake them and she will hopefully come to her senses and go back to her husband as at first.  And so from last week’s text I called you to be thankful for the restraining grace of God that keeps you from carrying out all your sinful desires, and brings frustration into your life when you are turning from God. 



But there is something else about restraining grace that I only hinted at last week, because if I had made much of it, it would have been an anticlimax to the sermon.  And that is that restraining grace ultimately doesn’t work.  You can be thankful for restraining grace, but not content with restraining grace, for mere restraint by itself will not bring repentance. 


In fact, look back up at last week’s text in 2:7 “She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’”  That sounds hopeful, but in reality there are several reasons why this is an inadequate expression of repentance.


First, Israel’s decision to return to the Lord was motivated not out of love for Him, but out of simple greed.  Pursuing idols wasn’t profitable anymore so she thought she’d give the Lord another shot.


Second, if this repentance were genuine you would expect the verses that follow to contain promises of blessing but instead verses 8-13 continue the litany of disciplinary consequences (like exile) in store for unrepentant Israel. 


So really it would be better to translate verse 7 “Then she may say, “I will go and return to my husband as at first”.    It is the purpose of restraining grace to bring about this result, but in fact it fails to do so.  We can think of these verses as a soliloquy in the mind of God, as though he is weighing his options about what to do with Israel.  Of course, God is not really confused about what he is doing, but this is a rhetorical device.  In order to help us understand the purposes of God, we get to see his thought process, even though in reality thought is not a process for God, for he knows and understands completely all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.   But this rhetorical device of showing us the deliberations in the mind of God is used a few times in Hosea. 


For example, in chapter 6, right after another inadequate expression of repentance from Israel God responds, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.”   Or in chapter 11 God says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim”



So in chapter 2 it is as though God is saying to himself, “What shall I do with my adulterous wife Israel who is resolved to pursue her lovers?  Let’s see, I could build a wall against her…then she might say “I will return to my husband as at first!”  But in reality she does not, or if she does say it, she doesn’t do it.  Or if she does do it, she doesn’t do it sincerely out of love.


No, restraining grace is not the final solution.  We can be thankful that God restrains our sinning, our idolatries, but this in itself will not bring us true repentance.  The real answer is found in this morning’s text beginning in verse 14 of Hosea 2…


I. God allures us and speaks to our hearts (read 14-18)


Verse 14 begins with a therefore.  And whenever you see a therefore, find out what’s it’s there for.  It’s there to show us the reason behind why God will now allure Israel and show tenderness and love to her again.  And the reason is given up in verse 13.  Because she went after her lovers and forgot Me…therefore I will now allure her.  


Don’t you love the logic of divine grace?  Legalistic people don’t get it.  If a legalist stares too long at this verse he either loses his legalism or his head explodes.  It doesn’t say “because she went after her lovers and forgot Me, therefore I will now squash her like a bug.”  That’s what the legal mind would expect.   It doesn’t even say “because she has now repented, therefore I will allure her again and renew my loving relationship with her.”   No, contrary to expectation, repentance does not precede restoration.   The New Covenant turns that completely on its head and declares that restoration precedes repentance.  God restores his relationship with us with a new gracious initiative of unconditional love, and then as we in time come to understand how much and at what cost we have been loved, then our hearts melt in repentance and genuine heartfelt love to our Redeemer. 


The grace of this passage is so much more striking because of the coarse language that has been used up to now in the book.  We are guilty of whoredom.  It is a whore that God will now allure, woo, entice back to himself.  It is to a whore that he will now speak tenderly.  The Hebrew is literally, speak to her heart.  God wants to graciously speak to our hearts.  John Piper put it this way in his sermon on this text, “When you think of your failures; how little you have read his word, how burdensome prayer has felt, how many other things of this world have given you more kicks than God, God wants you to remember that his desire to have you back is not based on a naive estimation of your character. The point of Hosea is that God exalts his mercy by not giving up on his wife of harlotry. The good news of Hosea is that God knows we have sold ourselves for a song, yet he is wooing us into the chambers of his love.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. egana permalink
    January 5, 2007 2:43 pm

    I think this is where true self esteem comes from. Not in who we are or in our accomplishments, but in the time and effort and love that God has lavished on us and continues to pour over us as he woos us back into his chambers over and over and over again. We are worthless on our own, but highly valuable because of HIS valuing of us.

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