God sent Hosea to prophesy to the nation of Israel. Though they were God’s chosen people, the nation was in a sad state of spiritual and moral decline. For years they had enjoyed God’s blessings—material bounty, military strength, peaceful relations with neighboring nations—yet they still turned away from Him. They stopped viewing God as the source of their blessings and chose instead to credit themselves. They replaced Him with idols, worldly pursuits, and earthly wealth.
It was to these confused fellow countrymen that Hosea delivered repeated rebukes and appeals. If they did not return to the Lord, he warned, judgment would surely come. Here is the essence of Hosea’s message:
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men (Hosea 10:12–13, NKJV).
The condition of the Western church is remarkably similar to that of the nation of Israel. In many ways we too have forsaken God and attempted to replace Him with other gods (idols). If Hosea were preaching now, he would scarcely need to alter his words! He might tell God’s people today:
- Return to your former lifestyle of righteousness, to a time when you were close to God and obeyed His Word.
- Accept God’s mercy, and forgive those who have wronged you.
- Allow God to “plow up” the hardened ground of your hearts, especially in those areas where you have long neglected His will.
- Grieve over your sins.
- Ponder the consequences of sin that you are experiencing.
- Accept responsibility by admitting you have brought these consequences on yourself.
- Make seeking God your highest pursuit.
Why does God want to revive our hearts and restore us to a closer relationship with Him? One major reason is that He loves us!
We need to beware of misunderstanding the heart and ways of God when we study His dealings with His people, especially in the Old Testament. Due to the numerous accounts of God’s judgment recorded there, we might get the impression that God was eager to punish, or that He is harsh, demanding, and impatient.
But really the opposite is true. Times of judgment usually came after years of pleading with His people to come back to Him.
Look again at the book of Hosea. God said:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them (Hosea 11:1–4 ESV).
Then, after taking His people through a time of discipline and correction, God urged them once again:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them (Hosea 14:1–4).
The passages from Hosea 11 and 14 provide “before,” “during,” and “after” snapshots of how and why God revives and renews His people. The constant in all three stages is His love. God loved them when they were newborns (child in Hosea 11:1 literally means “infant”); He loved them after they returned to Him from a season of rebellion; and He loved them throughout the whole process of correcting them.
It was His love for them, in fact, that caused them to want to return to Him. It wasn’t that they suddenly “felt” love for Him again, nor that they somehow remembered how wonderful it was to live with an awareness of God’s love. It was that God caused them to desire that love relationship again. He enabled His people to see not only how wrong they had been and why His discipline was necessary, but also that He would welcome their return because He had never ceased loving them.
Perhaps your own heart is hungering for intimacy with God—an intimacy that you haven’t enjoyed for a long time or perhaps have never known. That very desire is God-initiated. He wants you back! Why? Because He loves you and knows that you cannot experience all He has for you in your present condition.
With the above message in mind, has there ever been a time in your life as a Christian when you walked more closely with God than you are walking right now? If yes, what are some consequences you have experienced as a result of this loss of intimacy with God?
PRAYER: Father, You are good and merciful to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land if we will but seek You through humility, repentance, and prayer. Our nation is in desperate need of Your reviving power! Soften the hearts of this people to cry out to You in desperation. Restore to this land both the fear and love of You. Lead us once again to follow in Your ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.