For this month’s message, I’d like to look at a very unusual and puzzling piece of Scripture from the tenth chapter of Hosea. I’ve come to believe the message contained therein is relevant to us today, despite being written some 2740 years ago.The passage begins with these words:
9“Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel, and there you have remained.”
The ‘sin’ at Gibeah is one of the Bible’s most disturbing historical accounts. You can read about it in Judges 19 and 20. It’s all about an Israelite and his concubine. The Israelite in question makes the fateful decision to stay overnight at the town of Gibeah. When the locals learn of his presence, an awful chain of events is set in motion that leads to rape and murder, and then escalates to bloody civil war. What goes on is about as far from Godly behaviour as it’s possible to get.
Hosea’s words suggest that the Israelites had failed to move on from those grim times. Sin was woven into the culture in a particularly pernicious way. This was bad news when you consider that Hosea was preaching in 722BC and the Gibeah incident took place in approximately 1400BC! This suggests several things, most notably that it’s a very human trait to keep passing sinful behaviour on from generation to generation – to spiritually and culturally remain in the same place of fallenness and sin. Of course, our wonderful Father longs for us to stop doing this, to walk in His ways and abandon sin. Sadly, we rarely do.
Let me give you a more modern example of sin passing from generation to generation. This particular example was documented by the journalist Anne Applebaum in her 2003 book, Gulag: A History. Anne researched the history of concentration camps and she discovered the following: the Spanish were the first to use them in colonial Cuba in 1895 – the policy of reconcentrationinvolved removing peasants from swathes of land and concentrating them in camps. The purpose of this plan was to deprive rebels of food and shelter. In 1900 the British used the same method and a similar term, ‘concentration camp’ in the Boer War. Similarly to the Spanish, this policy was designed to deprive Boer combatants of food and shelter. In 1905 Germans in Africa built concentration camps and coined the word Konzentrationslager. The South Western Herero tribe were interned and two hideous new elements were introduced to the concept of ‘concentration’: forced labour and medical experiments on prisoners. The depraved medical experiments were carried out by doctors Theodor Mollison and Eugen Fischer – a generation later, it was theywho taught the unimaginably vile war criminal Joseph Mengele as he trained to be a doctor. Astoundingly, the whole 1905 scheme was organised by a man named Dr Heinrich Goering, none other than the father of Hermann Goering who set up the first Nazi concentration camps in 1933.
Sin echoes on and on in our times, just like at Gibeah. And it’s not only a military or secular issue, it’s a common human malady. Even churches can develop a culture wherein they repeat the same sinful mistakes over and over. Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t leave His people to languish in endless repeats of sin. The enigmatic words of Hosea suggest that hope and deliverance from such sinfulness is within our reach:
11“Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck.
I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.
12Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”
This paints a complex, but encouraging picture – it’s something of a miniature parable that explains just what the Lord wants from His people and just what the Lord will do for His people!It was understandable for those who lived in Hosea’s time – most were well aware of farming methods and many, of course, were farmers.
Let me try and explain this little parable: threshing was the easiest imaginable task for a heifer. All that was required of it was a sedate walk on the wheat to crush it and help separate it from the unwanted chaff. Virtually no energy was expended by the heifer. However, the heifer needs to do a great deal beforethe wheat is ready to be threshed. Firstly, the yoke and the plough need to be attached and soil needs to be broken; furrows need to be cut and the seed needs to be planted. After all of this, the crops need to be harvested and only then brought to the threshing floor.
The message seems to be that love doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere, it’s hard work! The Lord’s people will remain in their sorry cycle of sin and unpleasantness, until they really exert themselves at ‘sowing righteousness’. In other words, the people have to listen to God’s clear, morally perfect commands and obey them. As both Old and New Testaments demonstrate, humans find such obedience nigh on impossible. And yet, the Lord demands it as a pre-requisite of our harvest of love. What can we do?!
Thankfully, the Lord gives us an amazing means of accessing this elusive righteousness that we must sow. Read, once again, the words: ‘it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.’
The conversation with the Lord might run something like this: God’s people reach the realisation that, “We want to sow righteousness, Lord, but we have none to sow.” The Lord graciously replies, “Seek Me and I will shower righteousness on you! Break up your hard-heartedness as the plough breaks unploughed ground, reach out to me.”
Are we trapped in a cycle of echoing sin? It’s time stop relaxing and only doing easy things. It’s time to seek the LORD… and seek Him… and seek Him, until righteousness pours from Him and produces a harvest of love in our midst.