A Living Illustration
(of God's love and secondary virginity)
Hosea December 8, 2002
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They say this because with one glance you can observe what it takes a thousand words to fully describe. There is great economy in the communication that a picture provides.
We use pictures this way all the time. When you have guests over you often will show them pictures of family events.
You can go on for quite some time describing your children or grandchildren – about how cute they are with their chubby little cheeks, little bow legs, and looks that seem to say there is a lot more going on in their little minds than they let on.
Showing the pictures is really the graceful way out of what might be much more boring if you were to describe it all to your guests. Not that they aren't truly interested, but economy is important here if you really want to keep your friends.
It is the same at Christmas or a birthday party when your child opens that special gift and you catch that "one time in a million look" forever on a picture. Some of these are actually indescribable.
Or how about that vacation you took out West with the indescribable scenery of mountains and deserts and forests? Who can really describe the true color and majesty of God's creation?
Or, let's switch the template around a little, and talk about pictures of AIDS stricken babies in Africa, or bodies strewn in the streets of the war-torn city of Man in the Ivory Coast, or the carnage of a bus bombing in Jerusalem. The horror of these events defies description, let alone our imagination.
Now God shows us pictures too. Only God doesn't use a camera. He creates pictures with words written in the Bible. It is like a reverse technology. God is able to multiply the impact of his instruction (a teaching moment) by the use of a few words to describe a living illustration.
He allows us to picture this living illustration in our minds. He uses illustrations from life that we can all identify with – and learn from.
Since they are familiar to us, he can use an economy of words to describe them.
God used all his prophets especially and particularly in this way. In the book of Ezekiel alone there are 12 symbolic acts that speak the truth of God's judgment against the idolatry and rebellion of his people more loudly than the words necessary to tell us about them. Because of their rebellion the people would be taken into captivity by Babylon.
3:22-26 Ezekiel would be bound in his house so he couldn't go out among the people to rebuke them, and he would be also physically unable to speak because of their rebellion. He would not be allowed to speak freely until after the fall of Jerusalem (24:27; 33:22). God would open loosen his tongue after that time so he would be able to tell the people, "Whoever will listen, let him listen, and whoever will refuse, let him refuse; for you are a rebellious house." For now he would be unable to speak without a direct word from God. This enforced silence underscored Israel's stubborn refusal to take God's word seriously – but God would speak anyway, and when he spoke it would be serious. For now, the primary way God would speak would be through the enactment of prophecy by Ezekiel without words. The people would have to figure it out for themselves since they wouldn't listen to words.
4:1-3 He was to take a clay tablet and make a map of the city of Jerusalem and make model siege works, ramps, camps, and battering rams against it. Then he was to put an iron pan between him and the city as an iron wall to symbolize the unbreakable strength of the siege as he turned his own face toward the siege to show that it was God himself who was laying the siege against it. It was God's unbreakable iron will besieging the city because of the people's unrelenting rebellion.
4:4-8 He was to lie on his left side (facing the northern kingdom) for 390 days to symbolically take the sin of Israel upon himself for the years of their rebellion (from Solomon to the fall of Jerusalem), and he was to lie on his right side for 40 days to symbolically take the sin of Judah upon himself for the years of their rebellion (the years of Manasseh's wickedness until his repentance). Taken together, the 430 years were the years the nation was under foreign dominion from the Babylonian exile of 597 B.C. (Jehoiachin's deportation) to the Maccabean rebellion of 167 B.C. He was to turn his face toward the siege of Jerusalem and prophesy against her with bared arm without words while being tied down so he could not turn until the days of siege were completed.
4:9-11 He was to take various grains and seeds in a storage jar to make bread to eat while he was lying on his side, weighing out very meager portions to eat at set times, as well as water from a jar, to show the meager provisions of a besieged city. Their supply of food and water would be cut off, the people would ration what was left, and they would be appalled at the sight of each other as they wasted away because of their sin.
4:12-14 He was told by God to use human excrement for fuel to bake his bread to show the people they would eat defiled food among the nations where they would be driven. But at Ezekiel's protest against his own defilement, God allowed him to use cow manure instead.
5:1-3 He was to take a sharp sword to use as a barber's razor to shave his head and beard, then weigh the hair to divide it in thirds. When the siege would come to an end he was to burn a third of the hair in the city, strike a third with a sword around the city, and scatter a third to the wind. But a few strands he was to tuck inside his garment. This was a pagan ritual for the dead, a sign of mourning, humiliation and disgrace, forbidden by the law, and a sign of unholy defilement. This would show the defilement and humiliation of Judah and their death as a nation. Nothing was left to do but mourn. One third of the people would be burned along with Jerusalem and one third killed with the sword. Out of the last third taken into captivity, one third of that would die by fire and a third by the sword in captivity, but a remnant of the remnant would come through by the grace of God.
12:1-16 He was to dig through the wall of his house with his belongings packed as one being deported into exile. He was to cover his face as one who would no longer see the land. These things symbolized what would take place with King Zedekiah who tried to escape through a hole in the wall, was caught, and had his eyes put out. It would be a sign to the people that they would be taken into captivity.
12:17-20 He was to tremble as he ate his food and shudder in fear as he drank his water as a sign that the people would be in anxiety as they ate and in despair as they drank because the land would be stripped of everything and laid waste unto desolation.
21:6-7 He was to groan before the people with a bitter heart of grief because of the news that would come before which every heart will melt, every hand go limp, every spirit become faint, and every knee become weak. This news was the coming slaughter of Jerusalem by the sword of Babylon.
21:18-24 He was to mark out two roads for options that Babylon would consider; whether to go conquer the Ammonites or to go conquer Jerusalem. The king of Babylon would cast an omen at the juncture of the two roads with the lot going to Jerusalem for her capture, although the people would believe it to be a false omen. Things in Jerusalem as the people knew them would be reversed: the lowly would be exalted and the exalted brought low. Everything would become a ruin until the coming of the Messiah – him to whom it rightfully belongs.
24:15-24 He was to lose his wife, the delight of his eyes, with the blow of sudden death. He was not to grieve or weep, but only groan quietly, not mourning the dead. He was not to cover his face or eat the food of mourners or show grief by any customary action so that the people would understand God was about to deal the death blow to the stronghold of their pride, the delight of their eyes, the object of their affection. Their sanctuary would be desecrated and their children killed. The people would only be able to weep silently among themselves and waste away in grief because of the knowledge of their sins. After this, when the first of the fugitives would arrive from Jerusalem to Babylon, Ezekiel would have his mouth opened as a further sign so the people would know that the Lord, He is God.
37:15-28 He was to take two sticks of wood and write Judah on one and Ephraim (Israel) on the other. Then he was to join them together as one stick as a sign that God would re-gather the exiles and rejoin the divided nation in their own land with one king over them, never again to be divided or defiled. God would save them from their sin and cleanse them as his people and be their God with his servant David as king over them. They would have one shepherd over them forever in everlasting covenant. The dwelling of God would be among them forever so the nations would know that he is the God that makes Israel holy.
As if these 12 living illustrations were not enough word from God on the subject, Ezekiel also contains 4 visions and 5 parables as additional opportunity for conviction. But you get the picture.
Ezekiel shows us God's judgment of sin as well as his eventual act of grace. Even through it all, God's love never leaves. God must act against sin, but he desires to restore. And he will and he does.
There is another living illustration I want to bring to you this morning. It is in the book of Hosea. It shows, perhaps more than any other living illustration in the OT, the persistence of God's love up until the time he must act against sin if he still be God.
This takes place before the events of Ezekiel. Hosea prophesies to the northern kingdom of Israel before they are taken into captivity by Assyria because of idolatry. God has been persistent in this matter all along with both the divided kingdoms.
Here we see sin characterized as adultery in our relationship with God. God's people live with him and relate to him in a covenant relationship best characterized as a marriage relationship.
In the NT we are in a new covenant relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ where we, the church, are his bride, and he is our bridegroom.
“ You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. "The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:28-31 NIVUS)
So what is it like when a member of the bride of Christ sins? It is like adultery in a marriage relationship. It is like a form of prostitution to the world and its idols when we sell ourselves to the world system, baring our souls to the highest bidder, ignoring the Savior who paid more than them all with his precious blood.
So also in the OT, especially in Hosea, God instructs his prophet to become a living illustration of this horrible truth – that when God's people worship idols, becoming disloyal to him, it is just like becoming an adulterer or a prostitute.
The word for prostitute occurs 11 times in Hosea. Two of those times it speaks of a spirit of prostitution in the hearts of the people that defiles them, leads them astray, and must be overcome. A prostitute is unfaithful, impersonal, deceitful, disloyal.
God wants to show his people that his love is greater than their sin. Even though sin must ultimately be judged, he holds his arms open for us far beyond human reason.
And so God instructs Hosea to take unto himself an adulterous wife.
Listen to what Scripture says in Hosea 1 - 3.
You can see that these chapters each end with profound hope in eventual restoration through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Indeed, throughout Hosea, the language seems to flip back and forth between profound judgment and eventual restoration.
So even though God rejects the children of Israel, symbolized by the names given to the children of adultery, his love for them will eventually restore them.
What can we use as a modern day symbolism of such spiritual adultery – the selling of our souls to the highest bidder in the world system?
We don't have to look far, especially during the Christmas season. I invite you to ponder as we view this video: Nativity, A.D.
ILLUS.: As if this weren't obvious enough, listen to this article by Tribune staff reporter, William Hageman, Great moments in Judeo-Christian history, about In the Company of Dogs.
The world system profanes the Name of Jesus but we must never let it profane and prostitute us. We must resist the popular religious culture, the non-biblical theological system of our day, which would cause us to become, like Israel, "not my people."
Each generation faces the tension of knowing how to remain faithful to God in a world that loves to twist the truth – both in minor ways as well as direct affront to the character and will of God.
When the church caves in to the authority of culture, people begin to believe the ideological notion that what is culturally normative must be theologically acceptable, leading to devastating compromises.
If we were to look at our relationship to God as a marriage (as Hosea does), how would God evaluate our love, our commitment to him, and our truthfulness? What should the proclaimers of God's words today be saying about what he expects of his future bride, the church? Is prostitution now acceptable, or does God still hate those who syncretize their faith with the pagan culture of the day?
We must proclaim and uphold the truth of Scripture in Matthew 1:20-23 that says:
“ But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" —which means, "God with us."” (Matthew 1:20-23 NIVUS)
Yes, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the vision of the true Nativity is worth 10,000 x 10,000 words – indeed the entire text of Scripture it encompasses and completes.
ILLUS.: Picture of the true Nativity.
And there is no living illustration of the proof, the truth, and the love of God more profound than that he should come to us to save us from ourselves.
Do you see this eternal living illustration of God – all encompassed in the Nativity?
Joseph was not told to take an adulterous prostitute as a wife who would bear him defiled and unholy children. He was told to take a virgin as a wife who would bear him the very Son of God himself; perfect, holy and righteous.
His child would not be named "God scatters" or "not loved" or "not my people" but rather "he will save his people from their sins" and "God with us."
Jesus was not the child of a prostitute, but the child of a virgin, symbolizing in living color and presence the pure nature of the love of God.
God likes his lessons of truth acted out and we see in the Nativity the living illustration of God's eternal love in the life of Jesus come to earth.
In this child-Savior is the embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of man to escape the spirit of religious prostitution so prevalent among the generations.
May we proclaim with the spirit of the virgin mother;
“ And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” --- His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."” (Luke 1:46-47, 50-55 NIVUS)
And with the spirit of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist;
“ "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:68-75 NIVUS)
And with the spirit of aged Simeon when Jesus was presented in the temple;
“ "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."” (Luke 2:29-32 NIVUS)
Jesus Christ; the Living Word – the living eternal reality of God.
The hope of the entire world hinged upon his birth, and still hinges upon the decision each one of us makes for our own rebirth in him.
“ He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 NIVUS)
“ (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10 NIVUS)
Make this Christmas a time of new beginnings that you also might become a living illustration of the love of God, "God with us."
Believe in the Christ-child. He is not your Santa-fantasy in the manger or your cute little Westie pooch in a pouch – the gods of materialism destined for destruction by the Living Word of God.