Connecting then to now

given on Sunday, July 20, 2014:  Scripture reference is Hosea 4:1-14 (NLT)

Okay, I admit that reading and understanding the prophets can be difficult. Yet I know that Hosea 12:6 speaks to Christians all around the world as much today as it did—or should have—in 735 BC. Yes, that is the time frame for the book of Hosea that we reading now over 2 ½ millenniums later!

That little phrase from that one verse in one chapter of the entire Bible is so power packed: . . . hold fast to love and justice. Those six words are buried, in one sense; but even the entire verse is worth memorizing and holding fast to now as much as it was then:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

The question today is how do we connect the lessons from the Bible, even the Old Testament ones, to our lives today.

Today we live in a fast-paced world where communication really has neither any geographical nor time limits. What is going on in Israel right this moment is in our own homes within only a few seconds. The typhoon in the Pacific Rim region of Asia is reported right along with the weather for our Kansas City viewing area the instant we turn to the weather apps on our smartphones or pick up the remote and tune in to the Weather Channel or local news.

Today’s world may appear very different from the ancient world recorded in the Bible, but the people are still people. The same life challenges that affect our lives affected their lives. Tempting us are the same things such as wealth, material belongings, power, titillating relationships, feel-good experiences, and the list goes on and on. There is no difference now in how God asks us to live our lives than there was in 735 BC or even before that.

One would think that studying the history of man, there would be no reason to repeat the same sins generation after generation. Still, we need God and we need to hold fast to love and justice and wait continually for your God.

In today’s scripture, Hosea 4:1-14 (the NLT), we can read it as though it were ancient history, and we can read it again as though he is speaking of our world today. We are connected to then even though it is now:

Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
one murder after another.
That is why your land is in mourning,
and everyone is wasting away.
Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea are disappearing.

The verses written for the people of Israel are as timely as if they were written this week for the people in our communities. We see the very same sins/crimes now. Humans are humans no matter whether then or now. The behaviors are the same whether in our own homes or whether it was written over 2500 years ago in a country on the other side of the ocean. The temptations are the same. The outcomes are the same—war, broken relationships, meanness, bullying, robbery, killing, erosion, and the list continues to grow.

Even God’s anger and reaction are the same:

“Don’t point your finger at someone else
and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
is with you.[
a]
So you will stumble in broad daylight,
and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.
And I will destroy Israel, your mother.
My people are being destroyed
because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
I will forget to bless your children.
The more priests there are,
the more they sin against me.
They have exchanged the glory of God
for the shame of idols.[
b]

God recognizes that the leaders (priests), the very people who were born to lead the people in worship and to teach how to live, were at the root of the problem. He clearly blames them for all the people doing all the wrong things.

Granted, now we might not place all that responsibility on the clergy of our churches, but when this was written the priests were the spiritual and sometimes political leaders of the tribes. Still, the leaders then were just as susceptible to temptation as they are today. We can create quite a lengthy and colorful list of today’s leaders both political and religious who have or can lead the people away from God. God told the ancient leaders words that leaders now need to hear:

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
So now I will punish both priests and people
for their wicked deeds.
10 They will eat and still be hungry.
They will play the prostitute and gain nothing from it,
for they have deserted the Lord
11     to worship other gods.

The faithful Israelites began following the conquering Assyrian customs that included idol worship to Baal. Temple prostitutes were part of that tradition. The results then are the same now:

“Wine has robbed my people
of their understanding.
12 They ask a piece of wood for advice!
They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
serving other gods and deserting their God.
13 They offer sacrifices to idols on the mountaintops.
They go up into the hills to burn incense
in the pleasant shade of oaks, poplars, and terebinth trees.

“That is why your daughters turn to prostitution,
and your daughters-in-law commit adultery.
14 But why should I punish them
for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.
O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
so you will be destroyed.

Reading the scriptures is fundamental to remaining faithful to God. How else can we hold fast to love and justice if we do not have the words of Hosea to guide us, then we cannot stay connected to God. In this prophet’s words, we are taught to remain faithful. The analogy of Hosea’s personal marriage to a prostitute is to Israel remaining faithful to God. Hosea listened to God, married Gomer, dealt with her prostitution, yet followed God in remaining faithful and confronting her. His waiting was rewarded, and Gomer too healed.

The key continues to be in Hosea 12:6:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

Life is never easy, but following Hosea’s prophecy and God’s instructions to Hosea, we can remain faithful and our lives will be rewarded. The history books tell us of those who failed to follow this advice, and the news continues to report such failures. Then is never far way from now; so return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.

Closing prayer

Dear God, father of Hosea and all your children,

Guide us through the days filled with such terrible sins.

Teach us how to hold fast to love and to justice.

Reveal to us the false gods in our lives.

and when we stumble and fall into sin,

show us the way out so we may return to you.

Strengthen our resolve so we can hold fast

to love and to justice.

Give us patience while we wait for you

with the gift of your grace and eternal life.

–Amen.

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