“How Low Can You Go?”
Hosea 12:1-14

You have to feel for Hosea. It couldn’t have been easy to be a prophet for the people of Israel. Hosea studies the Torah, spends time being close to God and what does God call him to do? To start with, he has to marry a prostitute. No matter how close to God you may be, that request has to make you ask, “God, are You sure?” Hosea knew he was supposed to be a visible illustration but I am sure he thought, surely Gomer will turn to God, and our marriage will represent the relationship of redemption. 
Not exactly. 
Gomer remained faithful to their marriage in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before she had found another love. 
How humiliating! 
The religious leader was unable to keep his own family following God. Such shame! 
Yet it was the very illustration God wanted the Israelites to see. It was the very illustration God wants us to see. Looking back at chapter 3 of Hosea we find a summary of how low humanity can go and how low God will follow to show His love. Let me read Hosea, chapter 3, from The Message, Hosea is speaking, 

Then God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again,
your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your
cheating wife.
Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people,
even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their
I did it. I paid good money to get her back.
    It cost me the price of a slave.
Then I told her, “From now on you’re living with me.
    No more whoring, no more sleeping around.
    You’re living with me and I’m living with you.”
* * *
The people of Israel are going to live a long time
    stripped of security and protection,
without religion and comfort,
    godless and prayerless.
But in time they’ll come back, these Israelites,
    come back looking for their God and their David-King.
They’ll come back chastened to reverence before God and 
his good gifts, ready for the End of the story of his love.
We are presented with hope, “But in time they’ll come back, these Israelites, come back looking for their God and their David-King. ” That David-King is Jesus.
Hosea spent eight chapters describing Israel’s actions and warning them of the consequences in order to bring them to repentance and back to God. He continues in chapters 12 and 13 with more accusations and warnings. This time he will be reminding them of the history of their people. 
Chapter 12’s history lesson begins with the story of Jacob. The deceit of Israel was deeply rooted. They have been feeding on the wind and pursuing the east wind for a long time. The simile used here was the idols and foreign alliances Israel was trusting in were as useless as the wind. Not only were they empty, he compared them to the east wind. Their lives were parched, wasted and injurious.  As if they would never learn, Israel was again looking to other nations, towards Assyria and Egypt as superpowers, who would save them. 
Israel’s present deceit was being compared to the actions of their patriarch Jacob. Jacob started his deceitful ways while in the womb where he took his brother by the heel. In ancient Israel, a “heel-catcher” was a double-dealer, someone who used dishonesty to achieve their goals. Hosea also reminds them of Jacob’s personal knock-down, drag-out, wrestling match with God, who had appeared in human form as a Man. Hosea reminded the Israelites that although Jacob prevailed, he still wept and begged for favor, from the angel. In fact, it was after this wrestling match that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means, “God-wrestler.” 
How fitting. 
From the time of Jacob, up until today, God’s people continue to “wrestle.” 
Hosea was reminding the Israelites that just like their forefather, who refused to let go, and pleaded, until God gave him a blessing that they should do the same. Return to God, maintain love and justice, refuse to let go, and wait for God.
We get to verse 7 and realize if things couldn’t be difficult enough for Hosea the prophet, God had him proclaiming judgement at a time when Israel was confident in its wealth. The Israelites may have had great prosperity, but their spiritual and moral behavior was bankrupt. They even boasted of their wealth and were blind to any sin that they may have committed. This problem existed when Jesus walked on earth and continues today. When things are going well financially, it is difficult for people to believe that their society is in trouble. Rather an oxymoron. Israel was experiencing a time of extreme wealth, and lived in fine homes, yet they were as low as they could go. 
Verse 9 tells us that God’s judgement would soon have them living in tents. Just as He had done when He brought their forefathers out of Egypt. This judgement was certain because God had sent prophets to speak for Him, yet they chose not to listen. Not only had the people stooped down low, God was going to make sure all the altars they had used to lift them up would be brought down so low they would look like “piles of stones on a plowed field.” 
Hosea closes out this chapter by again bringing up the impending exile of Israel. As a prophet, he was warning them of their pending doom. Hosea makes the connection this time between the coming exile of Israel and the “exile” Jacob experienced when he fled from his brother Esau to live with his Uncle Laban in Syria. 
God had been sending prophets to Israel for generations upon generations, and Israel continued to reject His Word through them. Their rejection provoked God to anger. This time, we read in verse 14, that God would leave them in their guilt and they would be repaid for their contempt. 
It sounds here like Hosea wasn’t the only one who had had enough. It takes a lot to provoke God to anger. Back in Exodus we read God’s first description of Himself and it goes like this, Exodus 34:5-7,
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. 
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Hosea has been proclaiming God’s compassion and grace for eleven chapters now. Hosea has endured humiliation in order to demonstrate that God is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. But when people refuse to listen, when they rebel and continue to participate in their evil ways, God also described Himself as one who does not leave the guilty unpunished. Somewhere along the line the Israelites seemed to have forgotten that part of God’s self description. Many Christians in our society today have done the same. 
How many Sunday School classes do you remember hearing, God loves you, He cares for you, He watches over you. All true. But what about the second part of this description. How many Sunday School classes do you recall hearing, God does not leave the guilty unpunished? For the times I did hear that message I remember thinking, “I’m not so sure He does? Why does it seem that the guilty ones get to continue to get away with things, over and over again? I mess up once and seem to immediately get caught and have consequences for my sin.” Maybe it’s because just like the Israelites to whom Hosea was speaking, the guilty ones refuse to believe they are even guilty. They feel they have done nothing wrong and therefore do not deserve punishment. Thank God for the feeling of guilt. Without it, we would not repent. 
The truth be told, it doesn’t matter how low you go, because God’s message in Exodus, God’s message in Hosea, and God’s message in Jesus, is the same. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;”
May we not be like the Israelites and refuse to listen, but may we recognize our sin, seek forgiveness and rejoice in God’s forgiveness and restoration. 

Let’s pray.