Shabbat Shuvah, September 23, 2017
The title of my message has multiple meanings: should it be dew (morning mist), due (what is owed) or do (action)? For that matter, are we saying tears (of sorrow or joy?) or tears (as in ripping apart)? This morning we’ll unpack the puns and the passions of the prophet Hosea.
The passions of Hosea are powerful. The first part of his book is about his erstwhile wife Gomer, who was an adulteress and eventually sold into slavery as a prostitute. Yet God tells the prophet to buy her back—for Hosea’s wife is like Israel, God’s wife, committing adultery and prostitution with idols, so that she would be sent away into exile, and yet God would eventually buy her back.
Hmm… some metaphor! Intense? Hosea 5:14, “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim…. I will tear and go away….”The lion of Judah’s response to Israel’s spiritual prostitution is to tear her up and send her away far away. Judgment is just on judgment day; HaShem judges nations sooner, when their sins require it.
In the next chapter, Hosea 6:1-2, the prophet acknowledges that the Lord has torn us; yet He will also heal us, bind up our wounds, and even raise us up on the third day. Remarkable! As furious as HaShem becomes with prolonged sin and spiritual prostitution, nevertheless He shows extraordinary grace to those who return to Him in true repentance. Hence today is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Returning, during the days of awe between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur.
Yet too often when God’s people pour out their tears, it is a sham, not true teshuvah. Hosea 7:14, “Nor were they crying to Me in their heart when they were wailing on their beds—they keep turning away from Me.” In the ancient Middle East, some women made their living as professional mourners, shedding tears for a price. Was HaShem impressed? Nope.
In Matthew 9:23-24, when Yeshua arrived to heal a girl presumed dead, the flautists and women making a commotion were professional mourners. The Mishnah, Ketubot 4.4, says: “Even the poorest [man] in Israel must not furnish less than two flutes [i.e., flute players] and one woman wailer [at the funeral of his wife].” But Yeshua wasn’t impressed with them, saying, “Go away!”
HaShem’s response to their pride and hypocritical tears and beating of their chests is to tear open their chests—like a lioness with her prey! The lion of Judah isn’t always cuddly. The metaphor becomes literal in Hosea 14:1 (13:16): “Samaria will bear her guilt, for she rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their infants dashed to pieces, their pregnant women ripped open.” Atheists like to cite this verse portraying the God of the Bible as bloodthirsty. Context, please! Lions do tear up flesh; and ancient Assyrians really were bloodthirsty, when ancient Israelites persisted in the spiritual prostitution of idolatry, they could no longer expect the God of Israel to protect them. This verse plainly spells out the consequences of sin and rebellion against God. Got it?
The immediately following verse spells out how the same God responds to genuine teshuvah. Hosea 14:2(1). Return (Shuva) O Israel, to Adonai your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Just as Hosea bought back his wife Gomer, so HaShem resolved to redeem His people Israel. All she needs to do is make teshuvah. Hosea 14:3(2), “Take words with you and return to Adonai. Say to Him: ‘Take away all iniquity.’”
Say the words and mean it. From the Israelites, here’s what HaShem wanted to hear: “Assyria will not save us. [The kings and nobles of Israel foolishly believed an alliance with Assyria would save them. But as this image shows, Assyrians liked lions; they saw themselves as lions ready to tear any who stood in their way to shreds.] We will not ride on horses [as if their horses could save them], and we will never again say, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands” [O Israel, turn from your idols!
When you make teshuvah, it’s important to be specific and open about the sins we confess. We must renounce our depending on anything other than the power & mercy of the God of mercy & power.] “For with You, orphans find mercy.” [So much for the image the God of the Bible as bloodthirsty.] Say the genuine words of teshuvah, and HaShem will heal you. Hosea 14:5(4): “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger will turn away from him.”
Here is Yeshua’s message of forgiveness, the Father restoring the prodigal son, in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, Hosea’s wife experienced the same grace of our merciful Father as the prodigal son.
That merciful grace is available to you, if you turn to Him with a genuine heart, confessing your sin. How many of you want HaShem to heal your backsliding? How easily sin ensnares even God’s people.
Yet how freely He loves us. Oh, how He loves us!
Hosea 14:6(5), “I will be like dew for Israel. He will blossom like a lily.” These are the sweet words that Pamela sang with Joel Chernoff of Lamb: “Comfort Ye My People.” The tears of the lioness are forgotten and the tears of teshuvah remembered. Our tears are God’s dew, when our tears are genuine, real & specific, and His dew is amazing grace. Yes, the dew on the lilies is a wonderful image of God’s amazing grace. Amen? Our tears are also His due. HaShem doesn’t need artificial tears, but he does responds to genuine tearsUThere is no need to hold back the tears of teshuvah.
Psalm 56:9(8) says that God collected all your tears in a bottle. They are precious to Him. He is a God who is attentive to the cry of His people. When they keep crying to Him, He will send a deliverer. So let us keep crying to Him. Amen?
Also, our tears are His do[ing]. Would the woman (identified as a sooner—probably a prostitute, like Hosea’s wife), would his woman who broke the precious alabaster jar and anointed Yeshua’s feet with the precious anointing, and her tears—would this sinner have been able to do any of it had she not been overwhelmed by the wonderful, precious love of Yeshua, who forgive her sins? Yeshua is the One who enables us to weep the tears of teshuvah.
I would not even know that I had sinned if He had not made sin known to me in His word and if He did not convict me of my sin by His Ruach Kodesh. Otherwise, I would still be lost in my willful ignorance, believing the lies of satan that calls that what is evil is good and what is good is evil. Is anyone else here willing to acknowledge that you once believed that gossip is good, or that lustful thoughts and behaviors are lovely, or that rebellion is cool?
Truly it is only by God’s grace and the revelation of His word that any of us now any better. Amen? Remember God’s grace to you when you meet a girl like Gomer and a boy like the prodigal son. Gomer would never have returned if God had not told Hosea to go buy her out of bondage and bring her back. I would never have returned if God had not told Yeshua to go and buy me out of bondage and bring me back. How many of you can relate? The price He paid bought me declared me righteous before the Father. The price He paid continues to set me free from sin so that I may walk in the path of life and holiness. So even our tears are His doing. Amen?
HaShem wants His people to make teshuvah, for real, for keeps. He is a covenant-keeping God, and expects His people to be like Him. Lets do it! Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Our tears are His due. Then our tears will be His dew.
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Scripture references are mostly from The Tree of Life Version (TLV) though occasionally other versions. Verse citations provide Jewish numbering, with Christian numbering in parentheses.