Tag Archives: Israel

First Love

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.’  So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”  Hosea 1:2, 3

God tells the prophet Hosea to make a prostitute his wife.  He is showing Hosea in a very personal way the heartache He is suffering because of Israel’s chronic betrayal.  God has been warning Israel for years that they are testing His patience, that there will be a day of reckoning when He will strike them down.  Yet, they continue to worship Baal and Asherah in addition to the true God.  They build shrines to these gods and incorporate ‘sacred’ prostitution into their religious practice.

Israel makes a mockery of the first of the commandments God gives to them at Sinai:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Exodus 20:2, 3

They prostitute themselves to other spiritual loves.  Eventually Israel comes to consider the Baals more beneficial to them than God Almighty.  God makes it clear from the very beginning that worshiping any other god will have repercussions.  He is a jealous God and does not tolerate their hearts wandering to any other god.

“…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  Exodus 20:5b, 6

Israel’s mistake is to stop pursuing God as their first love.  In doing so, they lose their knowledge of Him, lose the connection they have to Him.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”   Hosea 4:6

Israel doesn’t seem to know how destitute their plight is:

“The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.”  Hosea 4:7

Hosea gains firsthand a glimpse into the heart of our grieving God.  Gomer’s betrayal leads Hosea into deep heartache that mirrors the heartache of the Creator.  Israel, His chosen love who would bring into the world the Messiah, His Son, no longer pursues Him, chooses to pursue false gods who have never been and never will be their savior and true love.  How do they not understand what they are doing?  They break the heart of God.

“‘I will punish her for the days of the Baals When she used to offer sacrifices to them And adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, And follow her lovers, so that she forgot me,’ declares the Lord.”  Hosea 2:13

Do I betray my God, my only Savior and Redeemer?  How?  With what gods do I prostitute myself?  The god of pleasure or the god of success?  The god of recreation or the god of power?  The god of money?  The god of influence?  What in my life matters more to me than Him?  Do I matter more to me than He does?

When I ask myself these questions I feel myself recoiling.  “Of course I don’t prostitute myself to other spiritual loves!”   Now I ask the questions a bit differently.  Who would I rather spend time with, the God who made me or the gods who make me feel good?  Who do I trust, the God who redeems me or the gods who give me what I want today?  To whom do I surrender allegiance, the God who is perfect in His love and faithfulness toward me or the gods who exalt me among my peers?

In my shame, I start to understand how I break the heart of my loving God.  Most of my time is taken up by activities that enrich me in some way.  My life is tied more to this world than to my home with God.  When I have the opportunity to meditate, I spend more energy thinking about, worrying about, the affairs of this world than I do on the One who provides what endures for eternity.  Too many times, His Spirit is prompting me to pray before I choose to do it on my own.  When will I understand choosing anything or anyone before choosing Him is like slapping my mate in his face with ridicule and contempt?  When will I realize that trusting anyone or anything except the God who loves me with a passion that lasts through eternity is like stomping on the heart of my beloved after he reveals the depth of his love for me?

I don’t want to lose my first love.  I know what it feels like to lose a love.  My heart cannot afford to lose any more.  I don’t want to be like the Ephesians, stuck in my ‘rightness’ but far away from the heart of God (Revelation 2:1-5).  God makes it clear that He does not tolerate sharing the throne of my heart with anyone or anything else.  Do I take His jealously seriously?

Jesus teaches the first commandment is to love God with all that we are, heart, mind and soul (Matthew 22:37, 38).  No equivocation here.  Heart.  Mind.  Soul.  All.  I must pursue Him, and Him only, with all that is within me.

Just like Hosea buys back Gomer after she had become another man’s property, God buys back Israel and all of mankind through His Son.  God’s love of man is relentless and unending.  He is faithful beyond reason.  He is unspeakably generous.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquitites, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”  Psalm 103:1-5

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Seeking Favor

I like history.  Historical fiction is my favorite genre to read.  I thoroughly enjoy movies with  historical contexts.  History museums, especially living history museums, fascinate me.  It thrills me to live in a community that was settled before the American Revolution and to see buildings and graveyards enduring from that era.  In the Bible, I see how the history of God’s relationship with His people brings depth and breadth to the story of God’s love for mankind.

I was an above average student in my history classes in high school.  I was a math major in college, but for an elective I took a second history class.  I was determined to get an ‘A’ from one of my favorite professors.  I did not succeed.  Memorizing the dates and treaties was not what mattered to me; it was the story I was most interested in–how the pieces fit together from one era to another; how people in all of their weakness and brokenness occasionally rose above mediocrity to propel human civilization to the next level of achievement.

As a student of God’s word, it intrigues me how the history of man’s relationship with God is so often repeated from one generation to the next.   We keep making the same mistakes, keep following the same false gods even though they change shape and name, keep expecting God to meet us on our terms rather than our meeting Him on His terms, keep trying to rewrite the covenant God Himself authored.  We think we walk with Him, only to find out He is on a different path going in a different direction.

To me, the most compelling biographies from the Bible are of the people who wanted God’s favor.  Abel, whose animal sacrifice was pleasing to God, wanted God’s favor and forgiveness and was murdered for it by his own brother.  Abram listened to a God he had never seen and followed Him to a strange land, away from the family he had always known.  Abram believed this same God when He told Abram at age ninety-nine he would be the father of many nations, even though he and Sarai, who was ninety years old, were childless.  Noah, Joseph, Moses, David, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, John, Peter, Stephen, and Paul and a few others were all imperfect human flesh who pursued God’s favor to the very end of their days on earth.  They persevered in faith in the face of great discouragement and persecution, seeking to please the God they served, to secure His favor.

“I sought Your favor with all my heart…”  Psalm 119:58a

 What makes one of us determined to seek God’s favor in the face of great obstacles and distractions and another of us struggle mightily with the desire to care if God notices us?  I know I have come much too close to not caring.  My life’s circumstances, my losses, my heartaches, my loneliness, my weariness too easily pull me in the direction of indifference to God.   I think back to Israel and their history of waffling between the true God and the false, man-conjured pagan gods.  Did they not care what God thought of them or were they so dissatisfied with the quality of their relationship with Him that they went looking for something more to their liking?  God called Israel a harlot (Hosea 9:1), betrayers of His covenant with them.  They stopped seeking His favor.

I do not want to stop seeking God’s favor, or succumb to the ache my circumstances bring, or drown in my own pity.  When I fail to remember what He provides for me, when I refuse to consider from what He has protected me, I am most vulnerable to losing my desire for His favor.  Whether my circumstances are good or bad, if I fail to keep the memory of His past favor toward me in my daily consciousness,  I lose my appreciation of who He is and what He does.

“When my heart was embittered And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You; You have taken hold of my right hand.  With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.”  Psalm 73:21-28

Who He is:  the Creator of the universe; the author of my salvation; the eternal standard for justice and mercy; the embodiment of perfect love and perfect grace; without equal in any of His abilities; Redeemer of man; Friend, Counselor, Comforter and so much more.

What He does:  He cares about me; He desires my love and devotion; He asks me to choose Him; He uses me, with my permission, to accomplish His will; He provides for my needs and my comforts; He helps me in my weakness; He disciplines me for my good, not His pleasure; He wants to be with me for eternity.

What other God can claim these attributes?  Not the pagan gods Israel prostituted itself to, not the Greek or Roman gods born of the fertile imaginations of spoiled human flesh, not the gods we make of wealth and power and influence and physical ability and attractiveness and self.  No other god ever known to man is as loving, benevolent, generous, caring, compassionate and doggedly persistent in His pursuit of us as the God who made us, the one true God.

“Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:4, 5

“His favor is for a lifetime…”  Praise God!

All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan

NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.