************ Sermon on Hosea 1:10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 7, 2002
"Not My People Become Sons of God"
In the Scripture reading in front of us this evening we see that Hosea is blessed with three children. It is God Himself who tells Hosea what to name them. As we found out the last time we looked at Hosea, what God commands are three awful names. These three names are so full of meaning; they give a message, they make a statement to Israel and about Israel. The names are Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi.
The name Jezreel means that because of sin God will break Israel's bow and strip her of her glory. God is speaking here of a loss of outward glory. God is speaking here of the defeat of Israel by Assyria and the subsequent exile and dispersion of the Jews.
But His people do not want to listen and do not repent. So Lo-Ruhamah is born. This name means God will withdraw His mercy, and things will become worse. Yet all is not yet lost. The bow has indeed been broken. God no longer shows mercy. All the same, there is still something left – the covenant bond. Israel is still God's child.
But now comes the finale. Israel still does not repent. So Lo-Ammi is born. This is the harshest punishment. Lo-Ammi means not my people, it means rejection. It means a final dissolution of the relationship. Everything is over between Israel and God. The marriage is ending in divorce: "You are not my people, and I am not your God."
Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, Lo-Ammi. That's the message of God to Israel.
I Threat or Promise
A Against this background what God says in today's text just doesn't make sense. It sounds like a contradiction of what comes before:
(Hosea 1:10) "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.' Lo-Ammi will be told "You are sons of the living God." "You are daughters of the living God."
We are stuck, for it cannot be denied that what God says here is the complete opposite of what He said earlier. First God spoke of rejection, and now He speaks of election. First there was a threat, and now we have a promise. Which is Israel to believe; which are we to believe – the threat or the promise? Which are we to depend on? Which will be fulfilled? Will Israel be God's people or not?
Both statements are equally absolute. "You are not my people, and I am not your God," He says. But He also says, "The Israelites will be called "sons/daughters of the living God." The one seems to cancel out the other. It seems impossible that both could be true. Which one is true, then, and which one is false? Or are both false? What is the answer to the problem?
B i. One explanation is to say that God will withdraw those threats. This explanation says God changes course in mid-stream, that God repents of what He has just said, that God realizes He has over-reacted and is now trying to smooth some ruffled feathers, that God is now trying to soothe some wounded feelings.
This is not an acceptable explanation. This is so unworthy of God. His "yes" means "yes," and His "no" means "no." God cannot and does not and will not say both "yes" and "no." The words that proceed from His mouth are both firm and unshakable.
ii. Another explanation is to play off God's love against His justice. In the days of Hosea there were some people who trembled when they first heard the message of the three names. How frightened they must have been when they heard that Israel was no longer God's people. But when Hosea's sermon took this unexpected turn, they thought to themselves, "Good! We aren't in such trouble after all!" There are such people to be found in every age, and they are around today too. They tell each other that God is love. They tell each other that God is eager to forgive them. They are more than happy to lay claim to God's promises, but they don't take His threats seriously.
At the time of the New Testament the Pharisees were that way. "We are Abraham's children," they said to themselves. "We are part of the covenant family. This means we are safe and secure." So they didn't take seriously the message of repentance of either John the Baptist or of Jesus (cf Mt 3:9).
We all know, I am sure, that the Bible gives no support to such an attitude. We can take God's promises seriously. But we must also take His threats seriously.
iii. A final explanation is to say that God's threat is not absolute. God's judgment is only temporarily true. Israel will not be God's people, but only for the time during the exile. And, after the exile, God will again show mercy and Israel will again be counted and regarded as His people. The problem with this explanation is that it doesn't take God's judgment and anger seriously enough.
C How do we solve the puzzle? How are we to understand it when God says in one breath, "Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God" and in the next breath, "You are my people, sons and daughters of the living God"?
The key to the puzzle is this: we must not assume that the people of the first part are also the people of the second part; we must not assume that the people who are called "sons/daughters of the living God" are the very same ones who are called "not my people." In other words, the key to understanding the puzzle in front of us is that one group of people is meant in the threat and another group of people is meant in the promise.
I am not making up this explanation. It comes from the Apostles Paul and Peter. Paul applies the promise of Hosea to the heathens – instead of to Israel. Israel remains Lo-Ammi, "not my people," but of the heathens he says,
(Rom 9:25) "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one ..." The Apostle Peter sees it exactly the same way. Of those Gentiles who were called out of darkness he says:
(1Pt 2:10) Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Thus there is no contradiction. Because we have been given this New Testament light, we don't have to decide whether to believe the threat or the promise, for both are true. The threat is certainly true, for the kingdom of the ten tribes did go into exile. The promise is also true, for when the children of the King are cast out God calls others to take their places as children at His table. Now that Abraham's children of the flesh have become Lo-Ammi, "not my people," God seeks new children for Abraham from among the heathens.
What we see here is God's love and faithfulness. Many, many years before God had made a promise to Abraham. He said,
(Gen 12:2) "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. At first glance it seems that God breaks this promise when He says to Israel, "You are Lo-Ammi, not my people." But in Hosea we see that God is loving and faithful to the promises He first made to Abraham. For Hosea tell us of another Israel, a spiritual Israel that replaces the physical Israel:
(Gen 13:16) I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.
(Gen 22:17) I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.
(cf Gen 15:5; 17:5-6; 26:4)
(Hosea 1:10) "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'
This reminds me again of the Pharisees. As I said before, they saw no need to take seriously the message of repentance of either John the Baptist or of Jesus (cf Mt 3:9). "We are Abraham's children," they said to themselves. "We are part of the covenant family. So we are safe and secure." Do you remember the response John the Baptist gave to them? He said,
(Mt 3:9) And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.Imagine that: God can turn stones into children of Abraham (HOLD UP A ROCK OR TWO).
This tells us that a true child of Abraham is not one who is physically descended from Abraham but one who is spiritually descended from him. A true child of Abraham is not one who calls Abraham his physical father but one who calls him his spiritual father. A true child of Abraham doesn't share in Abraham's gene pool; rather, he shares in Abraham's faith.
D In Hosea we see a beautiful promise. We see a promise of a people of God as numerous as the sand on the seashore or as the stars in the sky, which cannot be measured or counted. God will see to it that He always has children – many, many children. The feast will go on, the Lord's banquet hall will be full. God will gather from the east and the west, the north and the south, persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev 7:9). That's a beautiful promise.
But this is also an awful threat. The feast will go on, but without the physical Israel. The banquet hall will be filled even though most of Israel won't be included. It's awful to be excluded this way. It's awful to be called Lo-Ammi, "not my people." It's especially awful if, like Israel, you live in the illusion that you alone are God's "chosen."
E Do you know what is the most important thing in life? The most important thing in life is to be acknowledged as a child of God. And, the worst thing in life is to be disowned by God, to be called "Not my people."
I have a book in my office entitled Belonging. Those who are God's children belong to God and to the faith and to the Christian Church. Those who are not God's children do NOT belong to any of these.
Most of us spend most of our life trying to belong. We want to belong to the right church, to the right circle of friends, to the right group, to the right political party, to the right service club.
We feel bad if someone does not belong. For instance, we think it awful if someone is an orphan and does not belong to a family. We feel sorry for those who have no friends and do not belong. We strive to make visitors and new members feel like they belong to the church and are disappointed when they don't feel at home.
Those who are sons and daughters of God belong to God. They are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Those who are sons and daughters of God can call God their Father. Those who are God's children have a place they can call "home," a place where they are secure. Those who are God's children have the assurance that their prayers are always heard. And, those who are called sons and daughters of God know they have a Father Who always cares for them.
On the other hand, those who are not sons and daughters of God do not belong. They have no forgiveness of sin, no eternal life or glory, and no hope. They remain in their sin and misery, and are estranged from God and from one another.
II A Message for Us
A The Lord tells us this evening that we don't have to worry about any empty places in His banquet hall. He won't allow that to happen. He will make sure His banquet hall is full. He will make sure that every one of His children, every lost one of them, will be given a place because He has reserved a place for them.
B Often, though, our worry is about empty places. We are deeply concerned – and rightly so – that so many baptized and professing members have fallen away from the faith. In home after home, family after family, there are sons and daughters who have been taught to know and to do what is right. Yet, they part from the ways of the Lord. They see nothing wrong with adultery, living together before marriage, engaging in pre-marital sex, using drugs, abusing alcohol, and going from bar to bar. They see nothing wrong with dropping out of church, with pursuing treasure on earth rather than in heaven, with living for self rather than the Kingdom. When confronted, they deny their sin or try to minimize it, and then accuse the church of being unloving and judgmental. Like Israel, many of them claim the promises of God while ignoring His threats. "I know God has forgiven me," they say. But yet they continue in their sin.
God does not tell us to forget these people or to ignore them. We must confront them with the claims of Jesus Christ. We must shake up their lives and their hearts. At the same time, Hosea tells us that if they don't repent of sin or spiritual apathy, God will call them "Lo-Ammi," "not my people," and find replacements for them. Don't forget, the God Who can turn stones into children of Abraham has no problems filling His banquet hall.
This makes us rejoice. But this also makes us sad. We rejoice over every new member of Christ's body. But we also grieve over every member who is lost. We grieve over every lost member whose place God fills with another.
C Finally, the Lord also tells us to look at ourselves. Far too often we give ourselves a false sense of security by saying, "Too err is human, to forgive divine." Too often we tell ourselves that sin is as much a part of our life as forgiveness is a part of God's life. Though we are sinners and will remain sinners until death, we act as if the Lord's forgiveness is automatic, as if our sin doesn't matter. Like Israel, many of us try to claim the promises of God while ignoring His threats.
This is an illusion. Yes, God is love. Yes, God is merciful. Yes, God forgives. But the grace of this same God turns sinners into saints. The grace of this same God makes us a new creation in Christ. So, in your life and my life it ought to be obvious – by God's grace and strength, of course – that we belong to Jesus, that we are "sons/daughters of the living God." In your life and my life it isn't sin that should abound, but the new life in Christ.
As a church, as parents, we hope and we pray that God will never say about us and our children, "Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God." Instead, we hope and we pray that God will say, "My son, my daughter, my children."
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