No longer will you call me 'my Baal'

I was asked to preach last Sunday (9.18.05) at my congragation. Even though I had about a month to prepare, I didn’t finish until Sunday 2:00 am. It was difficult for me to convey what Hosea 2.16-17 and 19-20 stirred in me. This is the sermon I gave, but you might see some additional thoughts on these passages in the posts to come.

What do we think we can hide from our God? Is there some corner of your heart that is veiled from His sight? Is there some thought you keep in the depths of your mind that is somehow kept from His knowledge? The book of Hebrews says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (4.12-13)

This is an echo and a reiteration of Proverbs 15.11:

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!

The realm of the dead and the abyss are not hidden from God; so, is there some deep part of your life you think to hide from His eye?

We are all laid open and bare before our God, and this fact is the reason John exhorts us to walk in the light.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1.5-10)

Don’t misread this: John is not telling us that we have to get everything perfect before we can walk with God. No, he is telling us that we might as well be honest about the fact that we have sinned. Only then can we receive forgiveness; you have to honestly admit you’ve done wrong before you can receive forgiveness.

Real honesty is a hard thing. It is easy to be general with our statements (i.e.- we are all sinners; I’m just like everyone else), but that is only surface honesty. Dig down deep: What are your indulgences? What wrongful or shameful acts do you justify as not that bad? What double standards do you hold others to? What idols do you keep polished and well fed? When we answer these questions honestly, we find our selves in the same boat as Israel. Sure, we may not engage in out right worship to false god’s and goddesses, but still… however subtle the ways, we play the whore with our unfaithfulness to God.

The book of Hosea is a record of God dealing with an unfaithful people whom He still loves. Never forget this: however unfaithful our actions might be, God always loves us the same. Saint or sinner, God sent His only son to die for you… for me… for anyone who would believe and receive eternal life. His love for us is ever unchanging. It is who He is; it is His nature, His essence. God is Love (1 John 4.16). But let us not be fooled; God’s love is not the mush, fuzzy, feel good imposer thing that we humans think it is. God’s justice is part of His love, just as mercy, compassion, and patience are. Look at Exodus 33.18-23 and 34.5-7 with me. I want us to understand who our God is; who it is that loves us with agape love, unconditional love; who it is that we are unfaithful to.

Ex. 33.18-23 (RSV)

Moses said, ‘show me your glory, I pray.’ and He(Yahweh) said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name ‘Yahweh’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ He said, ‘you (Moses) cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And Yahweh continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

Ex 34.5-7 (RSV)

Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed the name ‘Yahweh’. Yahweh passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh! Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the forth generation.’

First of all, our God has a name. His name is not a way to get His attention or to address Him as I would use anyone else’s name (i.e. ‘Hey Adrien’ or ‘Jenipher, could you…’) . His name is not a way for me to label Him, like the names we give to objects and animals (i.e. chair, table, cat, dog). His name is *everything* He is, His character, His nature. It is the fullness of all that He is, the reason He does what He does and speaks what He speaks. Moses first heard God proclaim His name when He spoke through a burning bush. Ex 3.13-15:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

The name of God is: ‘I AM WHO I AM’. There is no condition, there is no explanation, there is no other way to describe the self-extant one. Now, we don’t say ‘I AM’ when we say the name of God; we say Yahweh. This is connected to a Hebrew verb that means ‘to be’. Literally, Yahweh translates out ‘HE BE’. (There’s some Biblical ebonics for you) For grammatical purposes, we translate it ‘HE IS’ or ‘YOU ARE’. Whenever you read in the Bible ‘LORD’ in all capital letters, it is ‘Yahweh’

Yahweh is our way of saying ‘You are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty…’ Yahweh is our way of saying ‘He is merciful, full of grace, patient with us, overflowing in kindness and faithfulness, and forgiving. Yet, to those who will not accept the atonement gift He offers, He hold them to their guilt.’ Yahweh is another way of saying ‘God is love’.

There is enough in these verses for an entire sermon series. But I want us to look now at Hosea, and keep in mind who Yahweh is as we see how He deals with unfaithful people. The book is made up of several words or oracles given to Hosea from Yahweh. The first word (chapters 1-3) is God indictment of Israel for playing the whore with other god’s (the Baals). The core of Yahweh’s charge and judgment against His people is found starting in 2.5:

For their mother (Israel) has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand. And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts. And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’ I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them. And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD.

Israel chased after ‘other lovers’; they decided that these Baal’s could provide for them better than Yahweh. In fact, Israel forgot that it was Yahweh alone who truly gave them grain, wine, oil… the essentials of life; It was Yahweh Himself who gave them silver and gold as well… the luxuries of life. They choose to spend these essentials and these luxuries on false god’s.

So, what do we spend the things of our lives on? Are we chasing after a lover other than Yahweh? Are we using the necessities of life we are given to honer someone other than God? Perhaps even to honor ourselves?

Israel offered worship to false god’s called Baal’s. The word Baal simply means ‘master’, and there were ‘masters’ for everything. In one Bible dictionary I found 10 listings of different Baal’s mentioned in scripture, and there were hundreds more. These were Canaanite deities, and the worship practice varied from one to another. Some required a simple offering of goods; some demanded sexual orgies to ensure the harvest; some even called for the sacrifice of children in a fire.

Compare these false god’s with Yahweh: they are not merciful and compassionate, there is no love. These idols demanded and demanded and took and took, and could never give the things they promised. But still Israel chased after them. Instead of being Yahweh’s people, Israel wanted to be like the nations around them. They wanted to be successful and rich; they wanted to be well liked; they wanted to have security and protection from a human army and a human king. They were just like we are. We forget that the Lord takes care of us. We try and attain success according to man’s standard. We think we need more and more and more… It is much more subtle, but things and people all around us (even our selves) want to be our master, our Baal.

So Yahweh proved that He alone is truly God, and He frustrated Israel’s plans and efforts. The whole reason the nation went into exile was because it was the only course of action that God had left to take to save them from their own unfaithfulness without utterly destroying them.

We rarely think of hard times as discipline. As soon as something goes wrong in out lives, or as soon as something gets uncomfortable for us or threatens our security we start calling it an attack from the enemy, and start pleading for God to fix it and make it all better. In some cases, we act like spoiled children who just didn’t get their way, so we throw a temper tantrum of sorts and expect God to fix it according to our ideas.

Now, I am not by any means advocating that the enemy never attacks. We know He does, and we need to understand what is a spiritual attack that we might be apart of God’s work to heal and counter that attack. And I am not suggesting that when ever something in our life goes wrong we should try and figure out what we are doing wrong… God is not into giving us a cold or a flat tire because we didn’t pray enough. That is not who Yahweh is. But, He does direct and orchestrate our lives in such a way that all things (good or bad) can and are used by Him to direct and lead us to deeper intimacy with Him. He is sovereign and omnipotent; He can do things like that. He has it under control, and we can trust that Yahweh is all about love… and love seeks the best for the beloved. Our best is only found in intimacy with Him.

This is why God disciplined Israel. Hosea 2.14-16:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

Yahweh was not competing for the position of Israel’s master; Yahweh wanted to be her only lover, her husband to whom she would be faithful. He wanted Israel to remember the covenant He had made with her at Sinai, to remember that the covenant was based upon His name… the one he declared to Moses. God’s desire was and still is to live among His people in such an intimate way that the only picture we have to try and describe it is marriage.

He says ‘No more will you remember the names of other lovers you chased after. No more will you ignore me and distract your self with these false masters. No, you will understand that this trouble you find your self in is actually bringing you Hope, because you will walk through it and find yourself closer to me.’

God wants to be our husband, not our master. He wants to have an intimate relationship with us. Look down at vs 19-20:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

This isn’t a picture of religious rules and fear of punishment. This isn’t a picture of us trying our best and hoping that it is good enough to find the favor of God. This is Yahweh making us His own forever, giving us righteousness and justice, showing us steadfast love and mercy. This is Yahweh producing faithfulness in us so that finally we might cling only to Him. This is our God keeping His word to Ezekiel (36.26-27):

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

And you shall know Yahweh!

In keeping with the picture of us as the bride, I would say that this knowledge is not academic head knowledge, neither is it some deep belief that can never be shaken. To know God in this context is to experience Him in the deepest, most intimate way possible. In Genesis 4.1 is says that Adam knew Eve. This is the kind of knowing we are talking about. Intimately knowing Yahweh.

So, how do you know Yahweh now? Do you know Him by some of the titles He holds: savior, healer, redeemer, provider, King of kings, Father, God, Lord… These are all words we have to express some small aspect of who Yahweh is and what He does in our lives. These are all good… but none of them are all of who ‘He is’ is. Sometimes, we use these titles as if we are trying to get His attention… like some spiritual intercom. We don’t get God’s attention; we acknowledge His continual presence and converse with the one who is omnipresent and with us always.

This, and so much more, is intimacy. But, we need help getting there. We have already admitted that we play the whore just as Israel did. We might be more subtle about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are unfaithful. We do not know Yahweh as we should! How could we ever hide this gaping wound of infidelity? We need healing; we need His discipline. Hebrews 12.5-13 says:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

I need this! We as a congregation need this! The body of Christ needs this! We are called the bride of Christ; let us have the desire and perseverance to be intimate with Yahweh just as He desires and perseveres to be intimate with us.

Hosea 2.19-20:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

Oh God, let us know You!

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