Tan Taylor - Palmerston Library, Darwin, Australia Special Meeting - September 2, 2007

Hymn 241

It’s very special to be here with you in Darwin this morning. I have been reading in a little book in the Old Testament that has been quite a new book to me, the book of Hosea. I don’t know that I’ve really been studying it until just a few weeks ago and I cannot say I have great understanding about it, but a few verses have been very special. It’s the book after Daniel and is the first of the Minor Prophets. The last 12 books in the Old Testament are called the Minor Prophets but it doesn’t mean that what they wrote about is minor. Because what they wrote about is still major and they had very important messages for God’s people at that time.

Hosea was writing to God’s people and you know, there were 12 tribes of people: Judah and Benjamin in the south and the 10 northern tribes that were left. Now these 10 tribes were taken into the Assyrian captivity and a number of years later, the other 2 tribes were captured by the Babylonians and that’s where the story of Daniel came, after that time. The book of Jeremiah was written as a warning to them, to tell them to be careful because they really weren’t doing what was acceptable to God and as a result, captivity would come. There’s a lot in the book of Jeremiah that was negative that was warning after warning to those 2 tribes. Hosea is very similar to that; warning after warning of the things that they were doing wrong and what they weren’t doing. This is a little background to the book. Hosea as a prophet of God was warning these 10 tribes because of their neglect and slackness. Sometimes this book is addressed to Israel and sometimes it’s addressed to Ephraim, who was one of the major of the 10 tribes. Samaria was the major city there and little by little, those people became the Samaritans. But they were no longer a pure race of people and the Jews despised them because they didn’t remain a pure people.

In Luke 2, I noticed when Anna came into the temple; that old lady, that prophetess. She went out and spoke to all people who were looking for redemption. She was from the tribe of Aser and she had a strong connection from one of those 10 tribes. Despite all that had happened up there in that northern kingdom, there was that little thread of hope that came down through the generations to Anna. That seed was there in her heart and when she went into the temple, she recognised Jesus and she was very much alive. First I am going to take you to the last verse because you know how the story ends.

Hosea 14:9, “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? Prudent, and he shall know them? For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them, but the transgressors shall fall therein.” That’s a little verse we would like to specially take notice of – that the ways of the Lord are right. Just recently, one of our friends in Adelaide who has been unwell and has had a struggle with cancer, with several courses of chemotherapy. One of our sister workers was in the fellowship meeting she was in just after she had had more bad news about her health. Well, she was in the fellowship meeting and she read out this verse at the time when she could have been feeling sad and sorry about herself. That just meant so much to me because she was one to accept God’s planning, because the ways of the Lord in every situation are right.

I’ve been thinking of people in the scriptures who could have questioned the way of the Lord. God planned a path for each one of us. I thought of Joseph down in Egypt when his brothers sold him and his father thought he was dead. He was all alone as a servant to Potiphar and he could have felt hurt, isolated, and felt that God was being hard and had forgotten him. But the ways of the Lord are right! Then things went wrong in Potiphar’s house when his wife tempted him. He was put in prison, though Joseph stood true. He was there 13 years but the thought was still in his heart that the ways of the Lord are right. The ways of the Lord are still right. And our responsibility – what we can do – the just shall walk in them.

We think about Moses, when he was bringing out the children of Israel when they came to the Red Sea. He couldn’t go back and he couldn’t go forward. He could have thought, “This is it!” But the Lord opened up the way for him.

I thought of Daniel when they were taken to Babylon. Those four young men tempted again and again. But they purposed in their hearts that they weren’t going to defile themselves and they were going to keep true. That thought was still there in their young heart: that the ways of the Lord are still right, and come what may, they were still going to stand true. When that golden image was made, they were expected to bow down and worship. But the ways of the Lord were still right and they kept true. It seemed so impossible for him but he still kept true. Whatever comes and whatever goes, we don’t need to be questioning the planning and the ways of the Lord. But the responsibility of the just is to still keep walking in them day after day and week after week.

Now we’ll go back to Hosea 1:7 - God is going to save Judah and He was saying He was going to have mercy on Judah and it won’t be by battle nor by strength. Do you know what it says in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit.” Not by horses or by human power, but by the Spirit of God, and that’s what He’s saying here. When God sends His Son into the world through His plan of salvation, it won’t be by human power but by the Lord.

The other day we were at the museum, and there are signs that say, "Don’t touch." Sometimes, we can be tempted to touch things. When we put our clumsy, human hands on it, we can just upset things and it has the unfortunate affect of spoiling the hand of God. It’s by the working of God’s Spirit in the lives of his people. 4:1, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel, for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” God is telling the people that He has a controversy: there’s a difference, there’s a disagreement. In John 17, Jesus was praying that they may be one. It’s about God and Jesus being united with His disciples and that those in the next generation would also be one. But it’s not the story here in Hosea. There’s a controversy, and God said, “I have a controversy with you,” because they weren’t willing.

Sometimes there’s a gap when we do feel cut off from God. But again, God works to restore people; it’s a work of restoration. When there’s a gap or a breakdown, we are very glad that God is working because he is a God of restoration, and God is working. In this book, there is a list of problems, and they come across as being negatives. We don’t like to be feeding on the negatives but we can work around them and pick up the positives to the situation. Here God is speaking about the negatives – people were feeding on wind. There’s not much substance in wind and a lot of people try to satisfy themselves with nothing - something that has no substance. Here, it’s feeding on things that are negative. Other people like to feed on the past but there’s lots of good and bad in the past, and we aren’t going to get our bread from the past. It’s getting fresh bread. It’s not feeding on the negatives but on the positives, on the word of God. 

God said, “I have a controversy with you people – there’s no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God in Israel.” That was the sad situation that these people were in. Well, we are glad that Jesus came. Every question of doctrine, every question on any issue - if you look at the teachings of Jesus, you will find an answer. It’s amazing just what is recorded in the four gospels because the answer will come up there somewhere. Jesus is the Truth, He’s God’s standard for what God believes. Truth is an absolute! There are no shades of grey. We don’t have such a thing as light black or dark black. It’s either black or white and it’s the same about truth. Some people talk about telling the truth and then they say, "It’s only a little white lie." But it’s still untrue! But the wonderful thing is that truth is truth and will always stand in every time frame, in every circumstance and it can’t be changed. There are no shades of grey. Jesus’ life is very definite and clear cut. His teachings are definite and without compromise.

There’s a concept we sometimes hear, and it’s "gradualism." The idea is if you want to change something, people might not be so ready to accept change. Even in politics, people don’t really want change. You do it gradually so they do it little by little. It’s called gradualism and it’s a very real danger amongst God’s people. The world can be working on us; on the standard and teachings of Jesus, but it’s good to be aware that truth is truth and the standards and teaching of Jesus cannot be compromised. They might just want to work on us and bring us down but so good if we can have a clear vision of what is truth. So in this situation, there’s no truth and no mercy. We are glad with God there is mercy. These people of Israel weren’t showing mercy and weren’t showing compassion.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  We are glad we read verses like that and understand there’s wonderful mercy in the heart of God. Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” God is a God of mercy, wants to give us a new start, wants to help us through and has an abundant provision of mercy. It helps us to understand that the mercy of God is not a blank cheque! There’s something attached! “Whosoever confesses” – and that’s the requirement; to confess our sin and turn around. It involves repentance. The concept behind all that, for the requirement of the mercy of God is repentance. Then there’s an abundance of mercy. These people were being unmerciful to others; that’s what God was trying to tell them, that they needed to be showing mercy.

Later in this book, He said, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” They were bringing all the lambs, the sheep, the doves, and doing all the other rituals and thinking they were okay. But God was saying, "It’s not a matter of being religious but being righteous." God was saying He had a problem, a controversy with these people. We read also in the Psalms, “Mercy and Truth are met together.” God has a wonderful way of finding the mid-point between mercy and truth, when they meet together. Remember that woman who was taken in the act of adultery? “And what do you say?” She was taken in adultery. But what did Jesus say? “Let him that is without sin first cast the stone.” He wasn’t compromising; He was upholding the truth in mercy. ”What you say is true,” but that day, He blended mercy with truth.

God was saying, “I have a controversy with you people – you have no mercy, no knowledge of God.” It doesn’t say there was no knowledge of scripture! Probably those people knew the scriptures very well; and there’s a lot to be gained by knowing the scripture. But this was a different issue. There was no knowledge of God. They knew about God but didn’t know God personally. In John 17, we read, “This is life eternal that they might know Thee the only true God.” Eternal life is knowing God for ourselves personally, having a living relationship and being connected with God.

I enjoyed a thought about our relationship with God. I would like to tell a story of the three ships. The first fleet that came out and landed in Sydney – there was the Prince of Wales, Supply, Charlotte, and a few others. But there’s one that’s called Friendship – that’s one of the three ships we want to think about today. Another one is fellowship, and the other is relationship. It’s possible we can be here today for friendship and there’s nothing wrong with that. But salvation depends on more than friendship. It’s possible to come together Sunday morning and have fellowship and go through all that. It’s wonderful and it’s edifying, but that’s not salvation. There’s that relationship we need to have with God, when we pray to God, when we read the Bible and feel God is speaking to us. So, that’s the story of the three ships. There’s friendship, but higher than that is fellowship, and higher than that is our relationship – getting to know God for ourselves.

God had this controversy with them because they didn’t have a relationship with Him. 5:10, “The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound.” It tells about the princes who moved the boundary line and the difference between right and wrong became very unclear, the bounds were shifted. There are some things we read about in the word of God what truth is and what the border lines are and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Other things are directed by the Spirit; when God convicts us by His Holy Spirit that we shouldn’t or should be doing with our personal conviction of the boundary.  That’s the personal boundary. There are other boundaries but the Spirit and the Word of God work together. The boundaries are established by the Word of God.

When the children of Israel walked under the cloud every day, they would have been looking to see where the cloud was and they were protected from the elements. Do you know what it’s like when a cloud passes over and then you are in the sunshine? When it passes over, somewhere there’s a boundary. The children of Israel were very anxious that they kept under the cloud. It isn’t just the border line, but as God’s people we need to be aware we are under the cloud.

9:10, “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” The sins that they committed and the problems that they had were determined by the things that they loved. Earlier in this book, it speaks of a dishonourable woman who was given to adultery. There are many things we could love that are improper as far as God is concerned. “Your abominations are according as you love.” Sometimes we know in our heart when something is wrong, but the old saying is – we will always follow our heart and not our head. That’s been a little warning to me again just to be careful.

These have been just a few thoughts as I have been reading through this book in trying to get past the negatives and seeing the positives; making sure the boundary lines haven’t shifted and especially that last verse that makes it so clear – that the ways of the Lord are right and the just shall walk in them. I hope we would all be willing to walk in the way that God has planned.