Sunday, 17 February 2013

Waiting for the lion to roar

One of the thrills of Christian ministry is to be able to speak about God. Would-be preachers go off to Bible College and discover lots of interesting details about him (his attributes) and his purposes. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that usually people emerge from such places confident that they are now equipped to define God and his ways.

I have spent the last few weeks musing about Hosea’s call to preach. In some ways, he lived in a period very like our own. The commandments of God were being ignored, a great deal of changes were taking place in society, and uncertainty about the future of God’s visible kingdom was on people’s minds, whether or not they were for it or against it.

Hosea was called by God to preach to such people and discovered that doing so was not very easy. After all, his explanation of divine ways extended literally to how his wife was. It must have been hard for Hosea to say to his neighbours, ‘You are just like my wife.’ Even harder to say to them, ‘I am just like God in this regard – he is patient towards you, expressing costly love, and willing to restoring permanently unworthy persons.’ Yet as we think about what God called Hosea to do with his unfaithful wife, we see a vivid picture of God’s grace. 

Hosea’s message about God had other emphases as well. In chapter 5, God tells Hosea to inform the people regarding their future and in what ways they can expect the Lord’s presence. Surprisingly, God likens himself to a moth and to dry rot (v. 12)! I don’t think I was taught that in theology classes.

Of course, the illustrations depict destruction, slow gradual destruction. A moth begins to destroy a garment and eventually it is full of holes. Dry rot begins to destroy wood and eventually the house falls down. They illustrate an active ongoing presence of God, but a presence that is very disturbing.

Some may respond by denying that God would behave in such a way today. After all, we assume that he is pleased with what is linked to him. But as we look at the visible church, does it reveal evidence that a moth has been at work and that dry rot is having its effects? If it does, then God may be at work – slowly.

Hosea the preacher was called to tell his people, ‘This is God at work.’ Yet they did not listen, and turned instead to Assyria for help with their problems (v. 13). In response, God spoke again through Hosea and this time likened himself to a lion, to a young lion on the prowl for prey, with the prey being his people (v. 14). A moth and dry rot are gradual, giving time for Israel to respond and mend their ways, but a lion? The lion did catch his prey, and they went away into captivity in Assyria. But Hosea would say, ‘Assyria (if he knew that was whom God would use) will only be the equivalent of the lion’s teeth. God, the God you rejected, will do it.’ 

It was sad enough for Hosea to see holes and dry rot. But he had to live out his preaching ministry waiting for the lion to roar. So he would have been thankful he could still call the people to repent (v. 15), which is what preachers are privileged to do today in our society.

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