(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Hosea 11 & 12
mark this: Hosea 11:8
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused…”
I never thought that Mr. Spock would help me to understand the Bible. You see, Spock, for all you non-Trekkies out there, is part of the Vulcan race. And whether you watched the original Star Trek with William Shatner, or the more recent movie adaption, you would know that Vulcans value, above all else, logic. It’s their highest ideal and ruling principle, and therefore they despise any show of feelings or emotions as weakness. So a Vulcan would be an excellent computer programmer, or Wikipedia editor, or DMV employee. However, you would not want to have one over coffee for a heart to heart talk or to babysit the kids. An empathetic Vulcan is an oxymoron.
So while it’s okay for fictional alien races to be tempered that way, the trouble comes in when we start thinking of God in the same sense. Herman Melville put it this way: “The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike him is because they rather distrust his heart, and fancy him all brain, like a watch.” Who wants to worship a watch? A super-computer? How can one have a personal relationship with a non-personal machine?
Detachment from all feelings and desires may be at the heart of Buddhism, but it is not at the heart of Christianity. We know that God certainly has supreme intelligence, the question is “Does God have a heart?” For much of history, including church history, people have argued that God is incapable of feeling pain, suffering, or emotions. The Westminster Confession of Faith asserts that God is free from all passions. While we know that God does not change (1), this statement fails to address the totality of what Scripture shows.
Until we know God’s heart and motives- we can feel very scared if not hostile toward Him. Hosea provides the antidote to that. Today’s passage is one of the best passages in Scripture to understanding the heart of God- his passion, desire, and what motivates Him. In just the first nine verses of Chapter 11, God lays His cards right on the table: He is near us. He is cares for us passionately. Take a look at the language used here.
God portrays Himself not as a distant ruler, but as an unappreciated parent. He has called Israel, taught her to walk, taken her by His arms, and bent down to feed her. What does He get for all His efforts? Rejection and idolatry from ungrateful children. Ouch.
And yet, despite the fact that Israel deserves to be destroyed [just like Admah and Zeboiim- neighboring towns to Sodom and Gomorrah (2)] , God relents because of His great love and compassion. God has been jilted much worse than Hosea ever was, and yet He continues to love and pursue His adulterous bride.
This is the central message in the book of Hosea. Undoubtedly, people of his time would look at Hosea and Gomer and say “How can a holy prophet of God be joined to such an adulterous woman?”But the main point of this book is to answer the more important question: “How can a Holy God be joined together to such an adulterous people?”
God actually has a heart and genuine feelings. God is certainly not wishy-washy or moody. But He is also not a Vulcan either. That is why Israel’s choices back then, and our choices today matter. When we sin, we are not merely violating some obscure code or law, we are personally rejecting a very personal God. God takes it personally.
Remember, emotions are not a bad thing- God created them in us, and Scripture shows again and again that God has emotions and desires.
God grieved Saul’s failure as King of Israel (3).
Jesus grieved his Jerusalem not recognizing their Messiah (4).
We can grieve the Holy Spirit (5).
So let this message in Hosea rid us of any false notions of a distant, machine-like god. Let’s leave the Vulcans to Star Trek, and let our hearts instead be captured again by our passionate Father.
(1) Malachi 3:6, James 1:17
(2) Deuteronomy 29:23
(3) 1 Samuel 15:35
(4) Luke 19:41
(5) Ephesians 4:30