Hosea is a challenging book, I find. It’s hard to know how to relate to a story of a man who is directed by God to marry a women of questionable morals. For this reason, I think many people, including myself, shy away from digging into this book. Once we get to the application of the lived-out parable, it is easy. But before that. . . . Well, it’s just awkward, isn’t it?
With that kind of lead in, you’re probably expecting some great reversal and for me to say that I’ve studied the first part of this book and found something fabulous to share. Well, yes and no. I do have something that I believe is fabulous to share from the book of Hosea; it’s just not from the beginning of the book. Sorry for the bit of bait-and-switch there.
What I’d like to consider with you is from chapter 11 of Hosea.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them. (Hosea 11:4)
Beautiful image isn’t it? God drawing us with gentle cords. But as I was studying this verse, I wondered how it was worded in other translations. This is what I found.
With human cords I would lead them,
With bands of love.
I was to them as one lifting the yoke from their jaws and,
bending down, I fed them. (Modern Language Bible)
Lots of similarity except for the very beginning: “gentle cords” and “human cords.” To me, that is very significant, for I’ve experienced some not so gentle human cords supposedly attempting to draw me to God. Yet, there it is. God wants to use us to draw others to Him. Astounding.
The remainder of the verse sketches out how these cords are to draw people to God: lifting the yoke and stooping/bending down to feed. What is that in practical terms? To find out, I went to a familiar contemporary of Hosea, the prophet Isaiah — specifically chapter 58 verses 6 and 7.
Since I had found my focal point, “human cords,” in the Modern Language Bible, I decided to see how the passage in Isaiah was rendered in the same version.
Is not this the fast I have chosen: to loosen the bonds of the wickedness; to undo the bands of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the outcast poor into your home; to clothe those you see unclad, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6, 7)
I thought of this verse in connection with Hosea 11:4 because of the reference to the yoke and it’s removal or undoing.
Isaiah begins by calling these actions a fast. To the Jews of his time and Jesus’ time, a fast was refraining from food as a demonstration of piety. In chapter 58, Isaiah uses two different words in Hebrew when speaking of a fast. In verses 3, 5, and 6, he uses a word that means just that — a fast. (Strong’s number 6685) But in verse 4, “You fast for strife and contention,” he uses a word that literally means “to cover over” the mouth by implication. This is actually the prime root word (Strong’s number 6684) that the other word for fast comes from.
Before I lose you in the minutia, I realized that covering your mouth can be seen as a good thing. You are restraining yourself. But there is a catch. If you have to restrain yourself by covering your mouth, you are only restraining the action, not the intention of the heart.
Think on it for a moment. If you have a piece of information and you only manage to not pass it on by covering your mouth when you’re around your friend, doesn’t that indicate that in your heart you really want to pass it on. After all “[o]ut of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). By using this verb, I think Isaiah is reminding them that their fasts are phony. They are only restraining themselves to look good.
Yet in verse 6, the type of fast described is based on action not inaction.
Sharing bread sounds so simple. And the sharing of physical food is a wonderful and needful activity, but there is more here.
For the days are coming — it is affirmed by the Lord God — that I will send famine in the land; not famine for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8:11)
Are you sharing this bread? Or are you afraid that you might share it wrong? I was afraid of that for a long time. I was more interested in protecting my feelings/ego than to share what spiritual bread I had. But I knew I should share, so I prayed. And now I have a blog. But this blog has also given me courage to speak with people (not sermonize or argue) on spiritual things.
I’ve found that most people are pleased to have the opportunity for a spiritual “snack” in their day. There may be many things that the person and I don’t agree on — theologically, politically, etc. — but we are both seeking to be nourished my God’s word. If you share what you have, you may find that you receive more than you had shared.
Homeless and Naked
I hope that I don’t have to affirm that caring for these physical necessities is important. God expects us to care for our fellow human begins in their physical necessities, but there is another application.
One thing I have asked of the Lord; that will I look for, that I may live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to observe the Lord’ loveliness, and to meditate in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places [ mansio (in the Latin)a traveler’s lodge with many rooms]. If this were not so I would have told you. For I am going away to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)
People need to know that a special place has been prepared by God Himself for them in His home. This is not sleeping on the couch or the floor or the guest room. This is your special place, created with you in mind. There are many people who may have physical houses, yet they don’t feel accepted or that they belong. What a joy it would bring to their lives to know that God longs for them to stay in His home and be part of His family.
These same people may have physical clothing, but spiritually all of us only have rags.
Now Joshua [the high priest, the most pious of the pious] was dressed in soiled garments, and he was standing before the Angel [Jesus]. So He said to those standing before Him: “Take off his soiled garments.” Then He said, “See I have removed from you your iniquity and clothed you with honorable garments.” He further said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put the clean turban on his head and dressed him in festive garments, while the Angel of the Lord was standing by. (Zach. 3:3-5)
The parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and the description of God’s church in Rev. 3:18 should be enough for us to realize that in this area we have nothing in and of ourselves to share with others. But we know the Tailor. We know Him who can replace our unrighteousness (the spiritual application of dirty rags) with the beautifully created garment created from His own righteousness to custom fit each person.
The last item listed in God’s fast is about our “own flesh” or kinsmen. This is our family, but not just our biological families or even church families. The book of Ruth is a lovely story of a woman who chose God regardless of the hardships and how God blessed her for her faithfulness. It is also an illustration of how God longs to redeem us from our place of alienation.
He asked, “Who are you?” She answered, “I am Ruth, your servant girl, for you are a near kinsman.”… “It is true, I am a near kinsman; but there is one nearer kin than I.” (Ruth 3:9, 12)
Out of the surround context, those verses sound a little strange, but what Ruth and Boaz are speaking of is the goel, the kinsman redeemer. It was the Jewish custom established by God for the nearest next of kin (kinsman) to purchase back the property and marry the childless widow of his deceased relative so that that line would not be cut off. Although we might find the practice odd to say the least, it represents what God in the sacrifice of Jesus has done for us.
Through sin we’ve been bereft of our inheritance and made to be aliens from our true home. Only by the sacrifice of God Himself, could we be redeemed. But the cost of redeeming our inheritance was death for, “[t]he wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). That debt can only be paid one of two ways: either we pay that debt and die for our sins (if we refuse His offer, this is the only other option) or God had to die (the one to whom the debt was owed).
We are told that from the foundation of the world Jesus didn’t just accept this but chose to redeem us. Why would we hide from ourselves from Him? Yet many do. Some are afraid they won’t be received. Others are uninterested because they are comfortable. It is for us to present the beauty of the kinsman redeemer and His invitation to others.
After you work through the spiritual application of the activities, it is easier to see what the yokes are. They are false ideas about God’s character and false expectations of His behavior toward us. “God loves us and means to do us good” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, 110). Yet the enemy of souls has through many agencies placed yokes of doubt and disillusionment upon everyone’s neck.
God wants to break those yokes and free us from these heavy burdens. This work of drawing He has, under His guidance, entrusted to us — the human cords. But we must remember that we are to be the cords in the hands of God. It is not for us to do the pulling, it is for us to attach ourselves to others while we stay attached to Jesus. We are merely to pass along what we are given to others, so they can feel God’s love for them through the “vibration of the gentle human cords.”