God’s people have turned away from their knowledge of him, opening the door to sin. The only remedy is Him.
God’s people have turned away from their knowledge of him.
Our chapter begins this week with a courtroom scene. We can picture the Lord as prosecutor, judge and jury as this case comes to court. His case against Israel is strong, and they are left without a defense attorney, with no one to testify on their behalf. For who can stand against the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the righteous Judge?
God begins by stating his case against Israel, as a whole. His case is founded on three transgressions – there is no faithfulness or steadfast love or knowledge of God in the land. Israel has forgotten who they are. They no longer resemble God’s chosen people. God gave Israel clear, concrete instructions for what were to be the defining characteristics of their community. But they have forgotten to remember his Word.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, they shall be as frontlets between your eyes, you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you – for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God – lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from the face of the earth.” Deut 6:4-15
Israel stands no chance. They are found guilty. The Lord warned them not to forget. He told them what to do to remember. But they have failed to do so. Thus, he brings his case against them.
Then he turns his case against the priests specifically. His indictment is harsh, for good reason. The role of priest was supposed to lead the people to God, and to righteousness.
“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.” Lev 10:10-11
They were to be a mediator between the people and God, to teach and remind the people of God, his statues and his faithfulness. And to reassure the people that through regular sacrifices, the Lord was reminded of them often.
Priests were supposed to reflect the holiness of God and lead Israel to know his holiness and righteousness. They should have been encouraging Israel in the fear of the Lord. Rather, they were encouraging Israel in betraying God, and abandoning his precepts.
They were leading the people AWAY from knowledge.
Israel had forgotten so much. These were the people who walked through the Red Sea. Who received the 10 Commandments from God himself. Who had fed on manna, which fell from heaven. Who had seen nations fall at their hands because of the strength of God on their side. They had seen God at work in mighty ways. But they have forgotten.
I’ve had a line from a popular Christian song running through my head this week. “When did I forget you’ve always been the King of the World?”
Sisters, like Israel we so easily forget all that God has done for us! This is why the Bible commands us to read the Word, study the Word, meditate on the Word. This is why we are told to be at church regularly, sitting under the preaching of the Word. This is why we need to share our lives with one another, telling each other of God’s faithfulness, holiness and truthfulness. This is why our local church exhorts us to take these things SERIOUSLY. It’s not so we can be legalistic. It’s not to make you into “better Christians” who make the church look good. It’s because WE FORGET! It’s in drawing near to God at every turn that we remember. And we must remember because forgetting comes at great cost.
God’s people have turned away from their knowledge of God, opening the door to sin.
The great cost of turning away from knowledge of God is that it opens the door to sin in our life. Now, before we look at this further, let’s give a good definition to sin. Sometimes we think of sin as this old-school list of “bad” stuff. When I was young, this list included things like dancing, drinking and going to R-rated movies. For a really simplistic but more accurate definition of sin, let’s define it as “anything that God would not do (or say or think or believe).” Or for a more scholarly definition “Sin is failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature.” (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, page 490.)
The people of Israel have turned away from knowledge and it has resulted in swearing, lying, murder, stealing and committing adultery. What do all of the transgressions on this list have in common? They are relational. As Israel has left God behind, they have hurt one another. And not only one another. We read on and find that their sin has also hurt all of creation. Even the land mourns. All who dwell in it suffer. Animals, birds and fish are paying the price for Israel’s sin. If the language used here in verse 3 sounds familiar, that’s intentional! Back at the very beginning of this story of humanity, people were given the responsibility of having dominion over the “fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) This idea of having dominion over God’s creation meant that human beings were to “use the earth wisely and govern it with the same sense of responsibility and care that God has toward the whole of his creation.” (ESV Study Bible, page 52)
This is what sin does – it turns everything upside down. It shouts out all of these false promises, but the only thing sin actually gives is brokenness and suffering. Let’s not think that Israel was so different from us. I don’t know for sure, but I feel quite confident saying that Israel did not go from one day keeping the Lord’s commands to the next day committing these extreme acts of murder and committing adultery. Sin doesn’t work like that. Rather, sin is a process, a trap that one falls deeper and deeper into. As sin is known more and God’s Word is known less, the lines of right and wrong blur more and more. What was once unthinkable is now not so shocking.
The thought of murder? Unthinkable. Until hatred, rage and violence is cultivated long enough.
Adultery? Never. Until one’s spouse becomes boring or the marriage becomes contentious and the mind starts to wander and wonder. And suddenly someone new is on the scene and what starts out as innocent becomes not innocent.
Or worshipping idols? On paper it seems ridiculous. Clearly God thinks so. He righteously mocks the whole concept in verse 12 “My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking stick gives them oracles.” I mean, obviously a piece of wood can’t give you wisdom, guidance and peace! Why is Israel so easily deceived? Who would worship a manmade object rather than the Lord? I would never. Right? But wait! Where do many of us run to when we want answers, knowledge, social connections, or simply a distraction? Our smart phones. Perhaps idolatry is more relevant than we thought.
I am not saying that you need to get rid of your smart phone. But we do need to take sin seriously. We do need to take idolatry seriously. Things sneak up on us. And we are often completely unaware of the spiral we are in until it is too late.
For me, being a parent has made the reality of sin spiraling so much more evident. I will admit that more than once I’ve found myself “in a funk”, feeling put out by the unending needs of my kids. The monologue in my head goes something like this “I could get so much more done without these guys around. Do they ever stop needing stuff? How am I ever going to get dinner made? Be quiet! Stop telling me useless information. Quit fighting with one another. Seriously, I did not think this would be my life. I don’t know how much more of this I can stand.” These thoughts in my head are spiraling, sin has taken root. And then (seriously this just happened this week), my two boys are in the other room screaming at each other, crying and one is throwing the other’s Legos all over the living room. And with my mind and heart rooted in sin, guess what my reaction was? Absolutely gentle and peaceable, right? No, not at all. Now, this particular day this week, sin had not spiraled long or taken deep root, by God’s grace. Though my initial reaction was not so pretty, it took about 60 seconds for me to stop and see what was going to happen if I didn’t calm down. I had been meditating on the Word that day. I had spent time drawing near to the Lord. I can tell you that there have been times that this has not been my story, and things have gotten pretty ugly. So I know from experience that when we turn away from knowledge, it opens the door to sin. But I can also tell you from experience that our last point is also true.
The only remedy is Him.
So this has been a lot of heavy, depressing things to think about this week. But the glorious, amazing thing is that we are not stuck here. We have hope. Despite the fact that our hearts and minds are constantly tempted to forget God and pursue sin, God has given us great hope.
Remember the priests? When they were supposed to lead Israel to the truth, they were instead leading the people astray. These priests point us to God’s wonderful plan. He implemented the role of priest, knowing that these priests would fail, but also knowing that this failure would point Israel (and us) to the need for a Great High Priest. That is Jesus.
You see, God’s deep desire is that we will know him, and that we will remember him and walk with him. And he has given his son Jesus to enable this to be possible. Apart from Jesus we are lost in sin, with no hope. In his great kindness, God tasked his son with the role of coming to earth to live as a man but without sin. As a man, he experienced a sinner’s death though he was wholly innocent. In his death, he took the sin of all humanity on himself. He experienced the punishment for it. But three days later, he got up from the dead. He rose again, defeating sin and death, and setting us free. To be included in this freedom, we simply put our trust in him and choose him. We choose to live for him. To know him. To follow him. If this is new to you and you would like to know more, talk with the ladies from your table, or talk with me. We would love to share with you more.
This is the first way that Jesus acts as our high priest. He offered a perfect sacrifice for sin. Unlike Old Testament priests, his sacrifice was sufficient once for all. His sacrifice ended for all time the need for any other sacrifice.
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting for that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:11-14
As high priest, Jesus also represents us before God. He continually leads us into God’s presence. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus tore down the curtain that separated humanity from God. Through Jesus, we can approach the Throne of God boldly, confidently and unwavering.
If we are in Christ, we are not stuck in sin. We have hope. We have a promise. We have everything we need to live in knowledge of him.
If we were reading chapter 4 of Hosea all by itself, we might get the wrong idea of God. We need to understand this chapter in light of the whole story. God is not this bad guy judge just waiting until you screw up so that he can catch you in the act and punish you. No, God is loving, merciful and forgiving. This is why at the end of chapter 4 he pleads with Judah not to follow in Israel’s steps. He warns them, and he warns us – stay close to Him, and do not join those who have forgotten him. His deep desire is that you will see his goodness and come to him. He has given us everything we need to be able to follow him and have life. His heart is that we will align ourselves with him so that it will go well for us. He is FOR US. God is for you, and for me.
Ladies, let us learn from Israel and heed God’s words of life to us. Do not turn away from knowledge. Cling to it. Seize every opportunity to grow in knowing and experiencing the presence of the Lord in your life. For this prevents the door to sin from swinging wide open. And the weight of sin is a deadly burden that we do not have to carry. We have the Savior, the Great Hight Priest, to lead us into worship, and to walk side by side with us every step of the way.