Thought for the Week - 4th FebruaryPastor Gareth Watkins
Hosea 10: 1-5
How prosperous Israel is – a luxuriant vine loaded with fruit.
But the richer the people get, the more pagan altars they build.
The more bountiful their harvests, the more beautiful their sacred pillars.
The hearts of the people are fickle; they are guilty and must be punished.
The Lord will break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars.
Then they will say, “We have no king because we didn’t fear the Lord.
But even if we had a king, what could he do for us anyway?”
They spout empty words and make covenants they don’t intend to keep.
So injustice springs up among them like poisonous weeds in a farmer’s field.
The people of Samaria tremble in fear for their calf idol at Beth-aven,
and they mourn for it. Though its priests rejoice over it,
its glory will be stripped away.
Hosea 10: 11–15
Israel is like a trained heifer treading out the grain – an easy job she loves.
But I will put a heavy yoke on her tender neck.
I will force Judah to pull the plow and Israel to break up the hard ground.
I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’
“But you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins.
You have eaten the fruit of lies – trusting in your military might,
believing that great armies could make your nation safe.
Now the terrors of war will rise among your people.
All your fortifications will fall, just as when Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel.
Even mothers and children were dashed to death there.
You will share that fate, Bethel, because of your great wickedness.
When the day of judgment dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.
A few weeks ago I wrote of Jeremiah and the broken cisterns. Without God moving, the stream of living water that Jeremiah spoke of, will not spring up. The fountain of living water that Jesus spoke of will not be there. Unless God breaks through all these things, we’re going to see things getting worse and worse. We need to start praying for revival in our own churches, in ourselves, and in society. We need God to move in our generation.
God’s message has been the same throughout the generations. The time of Jeremiah was around 650BC. Yet, a hundred years earlier, God was saying the same thing. Why? Because the message is the same! In the same way that the Welsh revival was a hundred years ago, people today still need that message. They need that message that without God and without that river of life, the decision making processes in society are wrong, the government are wrong. Social problems increase, crimes increase, difficulties increase.
In the verses above, Hosea speaks on these things. Don’t these words strike us as pertinent to today? People declaring that they don’t need God, they don’t need to go to church, that they’re okay by themselves, and that they have no fear.
Hosea described the condition of the people and the hardness of their hearts. But he goes on to say that even in the middle of those things, God still desires to bless them. God still desires to bring a shower of righteousness upon them; He desires to bring a harvest and a light into their souls that is not there.
People think they can do what they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone. But it’s not alright. Sin is still sin, and it is still seen. Sin is still sin, and it is felt. The consequences of sin don’t just come out in church, it comes out in other ways. It comes out in homes, in work, in children and grandchildren. We read in Exodus 34:7 that the sins of the fathers come to the third and the fourth generations.
People on the whole don’t care. Does it mean that God is not there? No. Does it mean that God’s judgement will not happen? No. God is still God. What it means is that people are getting more and more lost, and families are getting more and more lost. That living water that Jeremiah spoke of is not coming up and through. The blessing that God wants to bring, is not coming. That consequence comes out in families, in health, in finances etc.
God is saying in these verses that, in spite of all those things, He wants to bless. He will judge you, yes. He says He will put “a heavy yoke on her tender neck” and “force Judah to pull the plow and Israel to break up the hard ground”. We read how things get harder for those who don’t walk rightly with God. God will make things harder. But in the middle of all that, God wants to plant good seeds of righteousness. In the middle of all that, God is saying there can be a difference. There can be a change.
He tells them “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord”. It takes a certain move of God. A hard heart is resistant to the move of God. Sometimes it has to be done in a mechanical, purposeful way, because in a natural sense we wouldn’t want to do it. Instead, we want to live the life we want to live and go down the road we want to go down. If we go down our own road, away from God – and in some ways taking up other gods – then that stream of life that God has for us will quietly slow down and stop, until there is nothing left. The consequences are that we will have a heart as described by Hosea.
The next words in this passage are “that he may come and shower righteousness upon you”. Righteousness is now considered an ‘old fashioned’ word. It means right living under God. Right living under God brings its own consequences. Search Google and you’ll be very surprised at the responses you get – Christians are healthier, earn more etc. The benefits of walking in righteousness, living rightly under God, far outweigh those of going your own way and not living rightly under God. And yet people don’t want to know.
Charles Finney talked about this scenario, about God breaking in and through with what he called, impending judgement. People in his time were very much used to agricultural references and metaphors, so he used them in his writings. The hard ground, the fallow ground needs breaking up from time to time, as well as reseeding. That process brings a better fertility to the ground, which gives a better crop. When it comes to our hearts, our hearts are being prepared for a place of better or more fruit.
Finney wrote that some hearts become dry, some hearts become hard, some hearts become matted down. We need to ask ourselves, have our hearts produced any fruit under God? Are we living a right life under God? Are our hearts hard, dry, and unable to produce fruit under God?
Hosea tells us what we need to do. He tells us: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord”. These are two things – ploughing our hearts, and seeking the Lord.
Finney also tells us there are things we can do to put our hard hearts right. He suggests we start with self-examination – looking at ourselves and our actions, and seeing our sins one by one. He says: “General confessions of sin will never do. Your sins were committed one by one; and as far as you can come at them, they ought to be reviewed and repented of one by one.”
Finney gives examples of the sins that can harden our hearts; both sins of omission and commission. For example, the sin of ingratitude, where God has been good to us but we haven’t acknowledged or thanked him. Ingratitude robs us. We end up not caring about what God has done for us. Another example is self-indulgence, a sin of commission. By searching our hearts and identifying such things as ingratitude, we can plough up our hearts. Some things aren’t sinful in of themselves, but they can become sinful.
He also speaks of sins of commission – sins we go out and do. He gives the example of self-indulgence, asking whether we would deny ourselves a luxury if it saved a soul from hell. There are sins we do that are worldly-minded. Our possessions today seem to have more and more of a hold over us. Are our possessions ours to do what we want with, or do they belong to God? We are only owners of these things for a season of time.
We need to break up these hard attitudes, these hard thoughts, these things that hold us in chains. We need to seek the Lord, that He might shower us with blessing.
I encourage us look at our hearts, bring a revival into our own homes, and ask God that He would work righteousness upon us. Hosea pointed the way in 750BC. Jeremiah followed the way in 650BC. In 2018, would you allow God to come into the matted, dry ground of your heart, so that you would become more fruitful?