No Other Gospel.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:1-10 ESV

As we read this autobiographical section of Paul’s letter, we must not lose sight of his main point of emphasis. He is still addressing the issue of a “different” gospel being preached to the people in Galatia. So Paul’s point in recounting his own conversion experience was first, to make it quite clear that the message he preached was from God, not man. And just in case anyone might question the validity of Paul’s conversion and commissioning, he tells of his initial interactions with Peter, James, John and the other apostles in Jerusalem. It had been 14 years since his conversion on the road to Damascus when Paul returned to Jerusalem and met with the church leaders there. He shared with them the content of the gospel that he was preaching among the Gentiles, and it was confirmed by them as the one true gospel. The only difference was that Paul had a divine directive to share the gospel with the Gentiles, while Peter and the other apostles were focusing their efforts among the Jews. Paul recounts the outcome of his visit to Jerusalem:

“when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” – Galatians 2:9 ESV

But one important distinction that Paul makes in this section is regarding circumcision. He refers to Titus, his traveling companion, who was a Greek convert to Christianity. Paul, in somewhat of an aside, indicated that Titus “was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek” (Galatians 2:3 ESV). While this may appear to be an unimportant parenthetical statement, it is actually quite revealing. One of the big issues Paul had with the Judaizers who seemed to follow him wherever he went and contradict his message and ministry, was their insistence that Gentile converts be circumcised and adhere to the law of Moses for their conversion to be complete. 

Luke records in the book of Acts that there Judean believers who had followed behind Paul, teaching the need for circumcision in order for Gentile conversions to be valid. “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1 ESV). Paul and Barnabas had what Luke described as “no small debate” with them over this matter. And eventually Paul, Barnabas and others were sent to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with the apostles. Luke records, “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:4-5 ESV). 

Addressing the council, Paul stated, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11 ESV). For Paul, this was the crux of the matter. Justification with God was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Circumcision and the keeping of the law were not required. This in no way invalidated either circumcision or the law. Both were holy, righteous, and God-ordained. But with the coming of Christ, God had ordained a better way. Just a few verses later Paul will point out: “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV).

When Paul and Barnabas had traveled to Antioch on their way to Jerusalem, they stopped in the synagogue, and addressing the crowd there, Paul stated, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV). Then Paul warned them, using a passage from the Old Testament book of Habakuk.

Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.” – Habakuk 1:5 ESV

Paul utilizes these words of the prophet Habakuk to warn his Jewish audience not to be like their ancestors and refuse to see and acknowledge the work that was doing. This was a new day and God was justifying His people in a new way. The law, while not done away with, was no longer a necessary requirement for being made right with God.

The result of Paul’s meeting with the apostles was their full support of his gospel message and ministry to the Gentiles. He walked away with their blessing. And while he makes it clear that he did not need their support, because of his having received his commission directly from Jesus, he was grateful and relieved to see that they were all on the same page. There was no other gospel. Nothing more was required to be made right with God other than faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

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Not Man’s Gospel.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:9-24 ESV

Paul pulled no punches when it came to his feelings about those who were preaching another gospel. These individuals were altering the nature of the gospel by adding conditions or extra requirements to it. And Paul would have none of it. In fact, he said, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Whatever authority these individuals claimed, Paul rejected. He deemed them anathema or under the judgment of God. This was serious business to Paul.The gospel was God’s message and not man’s. No one had the authority or right to alter the message of the gospel in any way. Adding to it, detracting from it, or preaching a different version of it were all equally dangerous in Paul’s mind. And this wasn’t about getting the approval of men. Paul wasn’t out to please anyone. He wasn’t in this to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to transform lives with the truth of the gospel of God as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself. First and foremost, he was a servant of Christ, not of men. Paul often referred to himself as a slave of Christ. He did exactly what Christ had called him to do and his faithfulness to that calling often left him with more enemies than friends. His commission to carry the gospel to the Gentiles had cost him dearly. At one point, he gave a detailed description of his sufferings to the believers in Corinth:

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul wasn’t in this for popularity. He wasn’t out to win the approval of men. And the gospel he preached wasn’t something he learned from the lips of men. He had received it as a direct revelation from Christ. And to emphasize his God-given authority to preach the gospel in its original, unaltered form, he relayed the details of his conversion and commission. “I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The remarkable thing about Paul’s conversion was the radical redirection it gave his life. At one point, his mission in life had been to destroy the followers of Christ, discrediting their “Messiah” and exposing their good news as nothing but a pipe dream. But God had had other plans for Paul. “But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT).

His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had given his life new meaning and purpose. His life goals had been irrevocably altered and his mission had gone from persecution to proclamation. He was transformed from mercenary to missionary. And his reputation spread throughout the church, even reaching the apostles in Jerusalem. Even before they had met Paul, they had heard about him. “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24 NLT).

What’s Paul’s point? What is he trying to prove? The issue has to do with the message, its messenger and the authority behind both. Those who were preaching a different gospel were claiming to have authority to do so. But Paul trumped their authority, by stating that his message came directly from the risen Christ. His commission was God-given. Long before he had met the apostles, he had been preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He had been sent by God, not the church in Jerusalem. There was no middle man, no human court of commissioning. What Paul preached had come directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. And no one could claim a higher authority or argue that their message had more validity than Paul’s. The gospel message is not up to interpretation. It needs no alteration or improvement. It requires no human intervention or clever repackaging. It doesn’t need to be softened, added to, rewritten, glitzed up, or glossed over – “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is the gospel of God, not man. And that is what makes it life-altering, sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving and holiness-producing.

A Different Gospel.

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:1-9 ESV

As is usual with all of Paul’s letters, he began this one with his normal salutation. He introduced himself as the author of the letter and affirmed his authority as an apostle of God, commissioned by Jesus Himself. He then offered them his normal greeting of grace and peace. But then he somewhat uncharacteristically went from pleasantries to a stinging denunciation of his audience, accusing them of having deserted the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wasted no time getting to his main point for writing the letter. This was a serious matter that needed to be addressed boldly and immediately. Paul knew there was no room for complacency or compromise. The spiritual well-being of the entire congregation was at stake.

It is likely that the church or churches to which Paul wrote were located in the southern region of Galatian, a Roman province in Asia Minor. It is believed that Paul helped bring the gospel to this area during his first missionary journey.

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel. – Acts 14:1-7 ESV

Paul and Barnabas had helped to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to this area and had immediately run into opposition. First, the Jews who lived there saw them as a threat. In their minds, Paul and Barnabas represented a dangerous sect called “The Way” that was propagating heresy and leading many Jews astray. Before coming to faith in Christ, Paul was a God-fearing Jew whose life mission was to persecute the followers of The Way. AFter his arrest outside the temple in Jerusalem, Paul addressed the crowd and said, “And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison” (Acts 22:4 NLT). But after His face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Christ while on his way to Damascus, Paul had been transformed from persecutor to proclaimer. He went from trying to destroy the gospel to serving as its greatest missionary and zealous defender. And it was his passion for the gospel that led him to write this letter.

Paul’s main complaint against the believers in Galatia was that they were deserting the gospel. The Greek word Paul used is μετατίθημι (metatithēmi) and it means “to fall away or desert from one person or thing to another” (“G3346 – metatithēmi – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They were being persuaded to turn away from the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had preached and were accepting “different” gospel. There were those who had infiltrated the congregations in Galatia and were preaching a ἕτερος (heteros) gospel. It was “another” gospel – different, altered, not of the same nature (“G2087 – heteros – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). And it was this alternative gospel that Paul so vehemently attacks in his letter.

It is believed that Paul was dealing with the influence of a group called the Judaizers. These were Jews who had converted to Christianity, but who were propagating the belief that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic Law were necessary for Gentiles to be truly saved. “‘Judaizers’ refers to Jewish Christians who sought to induce Gentiles to observe Jewish religious customs: to ‘judaize’” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology). These individuals seemed to follow Paul wherever he went, bringing their message of law or human effort and mixing it with the grace that Paul preached. In doing so, they brought confusion to the new converts in Galatia and earned the wrath of Paul. But before Paul addressed the proponents of this other gospel, he admonished those who had so quickly bought into it. He was astonished at how quickly they had turned from grace to works. “I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ” (Galatians 1:6 NLT). “The Greek word thaumazo (“I am amazed”) was a conventional expression in Greek letters that signaled astonishment, rebuke, disapproval, and disappointment” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Galatians, 2007 Edition). Paul was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And he wasn’t willing to sit back and ignore what was happening in Galatia. He knew just how dangerous and insidious this alternative gospel could be, and he was not going to tolerate it.

Paul will spend the rest of his letter defending the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is good news because it is based solely on grace. The good news is not opposed to effort, but it must always be relegated to its proper place. Human effort plays no part in salvation. But it is an essential after-effect of coming to faith in Christ. Paul told the believers in Philippi, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Philippians 2:12 NLT). Effort has its place, but not when it comes to salvation. Paul makes this important distinction clear in his letter to the Ephesians:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Dallas Willard puts it well: “The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude” (Dallas Willard, “Live Life To the Full”).

They Shall Return.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:4-9 ESV

The northern kingdom would end up in exile in Assyria. They would fall to the Assyrian army and see their beloved kingdom come to an abrupt and ignominious end. And their fate would be well-deserved, the result of their ongoing rejection of God and refusal to live according to His commands. And yet, these closing verses of the book of Hosea remind us of something remarkable that will happen in the future. They point to a coming event that reminds us of the unfailing love and unwavering faithfulness of our God. In spite of all that Israel had done to offend God, He would one day save and redeem them. He boldly states, “I will heal their apostasy” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). Even as they await His coming judgment, He comforts them by saying, “I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). While His punishment of them was inevitable, His love for them was inexhaustible. He would remain faithful. The prophet Isaiah recorded the words of God that remind us of His unfailing love.

For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away—all the souls I have made. I was angry, so I punished these greedy people. I withdrew from them, but they kept going on their own stubborn way. I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. – Isaiah 57:16-19 NLT

Without God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness, “all people would pass away.” There would be no hope for anyone. And even when His people “kept going on their own stubborn way,” God saw, but said, “I will heal them anyway!” Rather than simply giving them what they deserved, He would give them His undeserved mercy and grace. He would lead them, comfort them, and cause them to worship Him once again. What they could not bring themselves to do, He would do for them.

The day is coming when God will restore His people. Israel will once again enjoy a right relationship with Him. He will be their God and they will be His people. Isaiah speaks of this coming day.

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people—those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:10-12 NLT

With the return of Christ and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem, the nation of Israel will be miraculously restored to the land and renewed in their relationship with God. “He will make a highway for the remnant of his people, the remnant coming from Assyria, just as he did for Israel long ago when they returned from Egypt” (Isaiah 11:16 NLT). This will all be the work of God. It is part of His divine plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. He will keep the covenant He made with Abraham. He will fulfill the promise He made to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and reign forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Our God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. His love is unfailing and His commitment to His promises, unwavering.

Hosea would have us remember: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them” (Hosea 14:9 ESV). The reason we should faithfully walk in the ways of the Lord should be because of His faithfulness. When we read of God’s commitment to keep His promises to Israel, we should be encouraged that He will do the same for us. He will not leave us, forsake us, turn His back on us, or fail to keep His promises to us. His love for us will never end. His future restoration of us to a permanent and sinless relationship with Him is guaranteed. Nothing can separate us from His love. As God promised the nation of Judah regarding their exile in Babylon:

You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:10-11 NLT

The people of Israel will one day be restored. A remnant of His chosen people will enjoy unbroken, undeserved fellowship with Him. And those of us who have placed our faith in Christ will also know what it means to enjoy the benefits of God’s grace and mercy as we spend eternity with Him, not because we deserve it, but because He is loving, faithful and a promise-keeping God.

Who Is Your God?

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” – Hosea 14:1-3 ESV

In verse 16 of chapter 13, God warned of the gruesome manner in which many of the Israelites would die at the hands of the Assyrians:

Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:16 ESV

Many would die in battle against the Assyrians, but their deaths would be in vain. Pregnant women and innocent children would suffer tragic and hideous deaths as the Assyrians attempted to wipe out the next generation of Israelites in order to prevent future rebellion.  The judgment that was coming would be devastating and impossible to escape. So Hosea pleaded with his fellow Israelites to return to the Lord.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. – Hosea 14:1 ESV

The Hebrew word he used is שׁוּב (shuwb) and it means “to turn back (to God), repent” (“H7725 – shuwb – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It carries the idea of restoration and point to a future day in which God would reestablish His covenant relationship with His people. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word can also mean “to bring back, refresh, restore.”  There is a sense in which God is calling His people back to a right relationship with Himself, but its ultimate fulfillment will be His responsibility, not theirs. At the same time, God was calling them to acknowledge their sin. He wanted to hear them say, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises” (Hosea 14:2b NLT). The acknowledgement of their sins against Him was an essential part of their return to Him. They would also have to recognize and repent of their misplaced trust in things other than God. “Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods’” (Hosea 14:3a NLT).

One of the hardest things for us to do as God’s people is to admit our unfaithfulness to God. It is not that we lack faith. It is that our faith is misplaced. Our trust is misappropriated. Rather than relying solely on God, we turn to other sources for assurance, comfort, security and salvation. For some, their own intellect becomes the go-to source of their rescue. They learn to think their way out of any troubles or trials. For others, financial resources become the means of their salvation. They learn to buy their way out of moments of distress, discomfort and dissatisfaction. Money and materialism become their gods of choice. And yet, God would have us acknowledge our false gods. He desires that we admit our wandering hearts and prodigal faith. But that will not happen until we learn the sometimes painful lesson that our bank accounts, portfolios, talents, resources, careers, or friends cannot save us. They make lousy gods and even worse saviors. But as long as we think they can provide us with any sliver of hope and help, we will never fully return to and place our faith in God.

The whole point behind God’s coming judgment against Israel was to get them to realize that their salvation was in Him alone. He wanted them to come to the conclusion that He was the soul source of salvation. He desired to hear them say, “No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy” (Hosea 14:3b NLT). That statement carries with it a recognition of need. Orphans are inherently needy. They have no resources, no means of self-reliance. And that is exactly the attitude that God desires in us. But like the church in Laodicea, we can arrogantly claim, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” (Revelation 3:17a NLT). But the reality is, “you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17b NLT). We can wrongly assume we are spiritually healthy and in no need of a healing. But Jesus would remind us, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13b NLT). If you don’t think you need God, you will not return to Him. And why would you? As long as you think you have another trick up your sleeve, another option available to you, you will not seek God’s help. In fact, for most of us, God can become an option of last resort. We turn to Him only when all else has failed. We call on Him only when our other sources of salvation have run out or proven unreliable.

But God longs for us to see Him as David did. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Psalm 18:2 NLT). God longs that we see Him in those same terms. That we would be able to say, “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT). But instead, we can become like Israel, who “became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15 NLT). And sadly, the same can be said of us that was said of them: “You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18 NLT).

But God’s desire is that we return to Him. He wants us to abandon our other sources of salvation and to rely solely on Him. He wants to be our rock, shield, and tower. But if we don’t think we need Him, we will never fully return to Him. As long as our faith is focused on anything other than Him, we will never fully recognize our need for Him.

 

No Ransom. No Redemption.

He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers—those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:9-16 ESV

If God does not intervene, man is helpless and hopeless to do anything about his condition. Without God’s help, man is incapable of delivering himself from the inevitability of sin’s ultimate outcome: death. The Israelites, even before the division of the kingdom, had proven themselves unfaithful to God by exhibiting their ongoing unwillingness to honor Him as God. Soon after they had entered the land after their 40-year of wandering in the wilderness, they exhibited their propensity to disobey God. The book of Judges chronicles their repetitive cycle of sin, which started with their unwillingness to obey God and completely remove the pagan nations from the land.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages… – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco – Judges 1:31 ESV

And on and on it went. The entire book of Judges is a sad chronicle of their on-again, off-again relationship with God. The people would turn against Him, and God would punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat them. The people would cry out in despair and God would provide them with a judge to deliver them. There would be a short time of repentance, and then the cycle would repeat itself. The book of Judges ends with the sad statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV).

It was not long before they demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). And God gave them exactly what they asked for – King Saul. He would prove to be a faithless king who God would remove and replace with King David. And David would be followed by his son, Solomon, who would prove to be a wise and successful king, until the latter days of his reign, when he, because of his many pagan wives, allowed the worship of idols to make its way into the nation. God split the nation in two, and Israel, the northern kingdom, would end up with a king just like Saul. Jeroboam would prove unfaithful as well, leading the people into idolatry and away from the worship of Yahweh. And now that God’s judgement was coming, He sarcastically asked of them, “Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of me? In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away” (Hosea 13:10-11 NLT). God had given them ample opportunity to repent, but like a child in the womb, they refused to come out when the pains of delivery increased.

So God asked, “Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death?
O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them” (Hosea 13:14 NLT). This verse should jump out at us. Because ransom and redemption is exactly what God has accomplished for those of us who are in Christ. He has paid the price for our sins and ransomed us from the death sentence that was hanging over our heads. He has redeemed us from death through the sacrifice of His own Son, who died in our place. As a result, we no longer need fear death or the grave. Paul quotes from this very passage when he writes,

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 NLT

It is God who ransoms and redeems. There is no help or hope without Him. The Israelites were going to learn that deliverance was impossible without God. Their kings would prove impotent. Their armies would be exposed as incompetent. When destruction came, their gods would be non-existent. They would learn the hard way that deliverance comes only through the Lord. Trusting in kings, chariots, allies, weapons, wealth, wisdom, false gods or anything other than God would prove fruitless and devastatingly deadly. Their destruction would be complete. No ransom. No redemption.

As Peter said in his defense at his trial before the high priest and the other religious leaders, “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NLT). Salvation comes only through the Lord. There is no salvation through anyone or anything else.

There Is No Other Savior.

When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. – Hosea 13:1-8 ESV

It would seem that the northern kingdom of Israel was unfamiliar with the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Because that is exactly what they had done. They were guilty of turning on the very one who had chosen them and blessed them by making them a nation. When God had divided the nation of Israel after Solomon’s epic fall from grace, He had chosen Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim to be the first king of the northern kingdom. That is why God held the tribe of Ephraim responsible for the direction the nation had taken. It was Jeroboam who came up with the bright idea to make two golden calves and establish their own places of worship, so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Eighteen years into his reign, Jeroboam rebelled against the southern kingdom of Judah and declared war against them. King Abijah of Judah had some very condemning words to say to the people of Israel just prior to their battle.

And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods. Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. – 2 Chronicles 13:8-9 ESV

Abijah warned them, “O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12 ESV). And he was proved right. The southern kingdom of Judah ended up routing the Israelites in battle, destroying 500,000 of their men in the process. “Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18 ESV). King Jeroboam escaped, but would never regain his power. In fact, the chronicler tells us, “Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died” (2 Chronicles 13:20 ESV). As Hosea puts it, “He incurred guilt through Baal and died” (Hosea 13:1 ESV).

But Jeroboam left a legacy. His golden calves, false priests and pagan worship centers remained. And as Hosea makes clear, even with Jeroboam gone, the people of Israel “sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen” (Hosea 13:2 ESV). Despite their humiliating defeat by Judah and the loss of their king, the people of Israel remained committed to their false gods. They stubbornly clung to their man-made idols, crafting them out of precious metals and then kissing them, desperately hoping that these false gods could become viable substitutes for the one true God.

But Hosea warns that their efforts will prove futile. Their days are numbered. He describes their future as bleak, saying, “they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney” (Hosea 13:3 NLT). And God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4 ESV). He was to be their one and only God. Those idols to whom they offered sacrifices were not gods at all. They were statues made by men and were incapable of hearing them, let alone helping them. There was only one source of salvation and that was God. He alone could be their savior. He alone had the power to hear their prayers and provide them with help and hope. It was He who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan. It was He who had provided them with victory over the inhabitants of the land and given them farms, vineyards and houses they had not built. As God reminded Joshua, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build – the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them” (Joshua 24:13 NLT). And Joshua would go on to warn the people:

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

The people had chosen. They had decided to serve false gods rather than the God who had delivered them from captivity and blessed them beyond measure. They gladly accepted the blessings of God, but then became fat and happy, slowly forgetting the one who had chosen them and set them apart. They ended up biting the very hand that fed them. God pulls no punches in describing their unfaithfulness: “they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6 ESV). Once they had become satisfied with the blessings of God, they ended up forgetting the God behind the blessings. The provisions became more important than the Provider. The gifts meant more to them than the Giver. And in their minds, they rationalized that if one God is good, more gods is better. In fact, their philosophy seemed to be: the more, the merrier. More gods, more blessings. More shrines, more potential saviors. But they were going to learn that there was no other savior. Like a wild beast, God was going to attack them, and their false gods would prove poor substitutes for Him and lousy saviors from destruction.

Our Gracious God.

Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds. – Hosea 12:12-14 ESV

Jacob, whom God later renamed Israel, had twelve sons. These sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. And tend of those 12 tribes made up the northern kingdom of Israel after the nation had been split apart by God after the reign of Solomon. Only Judah and Benjamin made up the southern kingdom of Judah. But long before the nation of Israel divided and even before they were a kingdom at all, Jacob had fled to the land of Aram in order to escape the wrath of his twin brother, Esau, whom he had cheated out of his inheritance. It was there that Jacob (Israel) had to serve Laban as a shepherd in order gain his daughter, Rachel’s hand in marriage. After seven years of service, Laban tricked Jacob by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead. It would take another seven years of service as a shepherd for Jacob to earn the right to marry Rachel. This story was to serve as a reminder of the nation of Israel’s humble beginnings. They had started out in the land of Aram, as nothing but sheepherders. Then God providentially arranged for Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, to be betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, but eventually, through the sovereign hand of God, would become the second-highest official in the land. And when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his 11 remaining sons to Egypt to seek aid. There they discovered their long-lost brother and were shown grace, forgiveness and love. Rather than punish them for their acts against him, Joseph provided them with a place to live. It was in Egypt that Jacob and his sons would live and work as shepherds, tending the flocks of the Pharaoh.

Over time, the lot of the descendants of Jacob changed dramatically. Their numbers increased remarkably and the Pharaoh, fearing they might one day rise up against him, ordered that they be enslaved. And they would remain slaves for 400 years. That is, until God sent His prophet, Moses, to lead them to freedom. With the help of God, Moses would guide and protect them, helping them not only escape the slavery of Egypt, but discover the freedom and blessing of their own land, promised by God to their ancestor, Abraham, many centuries earlier. As with Jacob in Aram and the Israelites in Egypt, the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel in Hosea’s day would know what it meant to live in a foreign land as little more than slaves. They would discover the humility of living under the control of another. They had chosen to reject God as their leader. And so Hosea announced, “But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked the Lord, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins” (Hosea 12:14 NLT).

Theirs would be a spiritual death, a forced removal from the land of promise and the subsequent separation from their God. They would find themselves living in exile in a foreign land, far from home and experiencing the feelings of loneliness and abandonment that so often accompany disobedience to God. Like King David, they would know what it means to cry out in desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2 ESV). Their lips, once accustomed to fine wine and the art of lying, would cry out:

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! – Psalm 44:23-26 ESV

From their perspective it would seem as if God was distant. But it was they who had abandoned God. They had walked away from Him. As Isaiah, the prophet so aptly described, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a ESV). That statement, part of a Messianic prophecy, not only describes the sad state of the nation of Israel, but the condition of every human being who has ever lived. Isaiah went on to say, “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 43:6b ESV). Jesus, the Messiah, would serve as the sacrificial substitute, bearing the punishment of God against mankind, paying the penalty for their transgressions.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

Jacob’s years in Aram, the 400 years of slavery by his descendants in Egypt, and the captivity of the kingdom of Israel in Babylon are all examples of God’s punishment against the sins of man. But they also illustrate God’s grace and mercy. Jacob was ultimately restored to his family in Canaan. His descendants were set free from their bondage in Egypt. One day, God will return the people of Israel from their exile in foreign lands and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And through His Son, Jesus Christ, God has made it possible for all men to be made right with Him.

because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12b

Undeserved mercy and grace. Unmerited favor. Unearned forgiveness. Unfailing love. The story of Israel is the story of mankind. They had returned God’s blessings and bounty with ingratitude and unfaithfulness. But God continually conserved a remnant. He refused to destroy them completely. As Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5b-8a ESV). As isaiah told the people of Israel, “I will preserve a remnant of the people of Israel and of Judah to possess my land. Those I choose will inherit it, and my servants will live there” (Isaiah 65:9 NLT). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them” (Romans 11:5 NLT).  Our God is merciful and patient. He provides a way where there was no way. He offers forgiveness where none is deserved. He gives grace when none is due. He provides salvation in place of condemnation. He is our gracious God.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. – Psalm 103:8-12 NLT

God-lessness Leads To Ungodliness.

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.– Hosea 12:7-11 ESV

The people of Israel lived a lie. They seriously thought they were able to pull the wool over the eyes of God, that He was somehow ignorant of their sinfulness. They even believed that their many blessings, in the form of wealth, power, abundant crops, and growing families, were a sign of God’s approval of them. Yet, like a dishonest grain merchant who cheats his customers by using rigged scales, the Israelites were guilty of deceit and dishonesty. They simply saw themselves as clever and resourceful, and they believed their success was a sign of God’s approval. They prided themselves on their wealth and arrogantly believed their sins were somehow hidden and undetectable by others.

Like so many Christians today, the Israelites saw their material abundance and wealth as a sign of God’s approval. They believed their affluence could be directly attributed to God and His pleasure with them. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to radically re-align their perspective. They were going to go from living lives of abundance and wealth to abject poverty. They would find themselves living in tents just like their ancestors had done while slaves in the land of Egypt. No more plush, comfortable homes. Gone would be the days of sumptuous clothes and delicious meals. Once a year, at the Feast of Booths, the Israelites would build temporary shelters made from branches in order to commemorate the years their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. Now they were going to experience what it was like to live in these shanties 365 days out of the year. Their sudden fall from grace would be a rude awakening, shattering their ill-conceived notion that affluence was somehow a sign of God’s approval.

God had sent His prophets, and they had warned the people to repent or face His coming judgment. They had had visions, spoken in parables, and repeatedly pleaded with the people to hear what they were saying and return to the Lord. But the people had rejected their messages and, in some cases, killed the messengers. Even Jesus declared of the city of David, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV). The people of Israel were unwilling to return to God. They had stubbornly refused His prophets, rejected their message, and remained committed to living life on their own terms. But God warned, “they shall surely come to nothing” (Hosea 12:11 ESV). Their altars to false gods would become like heaps of stones lying at the side of a plowed field. Their entire way of life was going to come to an end. Everything they put their faith and hope in – their wealth, material assets, false gods, fruitful fields, prolific families, and foreign alliances – would prove unreliable and no longer be available.

Ungodliness is essentially God-lessness. It is attempting to live your life with God removed from the center of it. It is the result of refusing to include Him in every area of life, of not giving Him access to and influence over the everyday affairs of life. When we convince ourselves that God doesn’t care about what we watch on TV, what we purchase with our money, how we spend our time, or where we place our hopes, we become ungodly. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is immoral or sinful. It simply means that God becomes less and less an influence over the everyday decisions of life. Our lives become essentially God-less. And it doesn’t take long for a God-less life to manifest itself in godless decisions and ungodly behavior. The Israelites had long ago left God out of the everyday mix of life. He had become an afterthought. He was their god in name only. They gave Him lip-service but not heart-allegiance. They wanted His blessings, but not His influence over their lives. As God declared through the prophet Isaiah:

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

God went on to declare:

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

God-lessness can take the form of us deliberately leaving God out of our lives or simply assuming He is oblivious to what is going on. But any thought on our part that God does not care or that we can keep Him in the dark is misguided and, ultimately, dangerous. God wants to be engaged and involved in every area of our lives. But when we deliberately decide to leave Him out, our decision making will become God-less and our lives will gravitate toward ungodliness. And while we may experience what appears to be success and enjoy what feels like happiness, we will soon discover that abundance, without God, is actually poverty. Happiness, apart from God, will only result in misery. The call of Jesus to the church in Laodicea applies to many of us today:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Revelation 3:17-19 NLT

Return To God.

Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.