************ Sermon on Hosea 4:16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 30, 2003
"A Stubborn Heifer"
Between two farms near Valleyview, Alberta, you can find two parallel fences, only two feet apart, running for a half mile.
Why are there two fences when one would do?
Two farmers, Paul and Oscar, had a disagreement that erupted into a feud. Paul wanted to build a fence between their land and split the cost, but Oscar was unwilling to contribute. Since he wanted to keep cattle on his land, Paul went ahead and built the fence anyway.
After the fence was completed, Oscar said to Paul, "I see we have a fence."
"What do you mean 'we'?" Paul replied. "I got the property line surveyed and built the fence two feet into my land. That means some of my land is outside the fence. And if any of your cows sets foot on my land, I'll shoot it."
Oscar knew Paul wasn't joking, so when he eventually decided to use the land adjoining Paul's for pasture, he was forced to build another fence, two feet away.
Oscar and Paul are both gone now, but their double fence stands as a monument to the high price we pay for stubbornness.
- Daren Wride Valleyview, Alberta
Hosea speaks to us this evening about stubbornness. There are lots of Dutchmen in this church. People say the Dutch are stubborn. And the Dutch say the most stubborn Dutchmen are those from the province of Friesland. The Frisians, on their part, are so stubborn they refuse to admit they are Dutch.
All kidding aside, we learn this evening that stubbornness with God is a sin in God's sight. God does not want a stubborn people. Rather, He wants His people to serve Him and obey Him of her own free will.
I The Sin of Stubbornness
A Speaking the Word of the Lord, the prophet Hosea accuses Israel of having the sin of stubbornness. He says "The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer."
For those who don't know farm life, a heifer is a young cow that has not yet given birth to a calf. For some reason a heifer can be unbelievably stubborn.
I remember when the cattle truck came to my dad's farm to pick up a heifer we had sold. The heifer took one look at the truck, the ramp, and the other beasts on board and it decided it wanted nothing to do with it. For 10 or 15 minutes we pushed, we pulled, we hit it on the rump, but nothing could make it budge. Suddenly it leaped sidewards and upward and crashed over the gate and raced down the driveway to the back of the farm. We chased it for 40-45 minutes before we finally got it in the barnyard again.Israel, says Hosea, is stubborn like that heifer. She won't go where the Lord wants her to go. She won't do what the Lord wants her to do. She won't be what the Lord wants her to be. She decides she does not like what the Lord wants and tries to free herself from His yoke. She refuses to be subject to the Lord's guidance. The bonds are too oppressive for Israel, and the yoke of obedience is too heavy. Those Israelites, like a heifer, dig in their heels and refuse to budge.
This is not the first time Israel has been accused of being stubborn. Remember what the days of the Judges were like for Israel? The Bible tells us,
(Judg 2:19) When the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.Speaking about those days, one of the psalmists calls them "a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him" (Ps 78:8).
This is not the last time Israel is accused of stubbornness either. When we turn to the Gospels we see Jesus struggling with their stubbornness. In the synagogue one Sabbath was a man with a shriveled hand. Some of the Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. They were so stubborn they were not going to budge even one inch on their infamous Sabbath laws. Jesus, says the Bible, was angry and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts (Mk 3:5).
B What really is stubbornness? Stubbornness is the refusal to obey those God has placed over you. Stubborn people, like a stubborn heifer, resist and fight and won't submit. Stubborn people, like a stubborn heifer, dig in their heels and won't budge. I think of Saddam Hussein refusing to listen to the United Nations. I think of right-wing militia groups in our country that refuse to recognize the authority of the federal government.
We all know or should know what a serious sin stubbornness is. Consider the case of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. In his stubbornness he would not listen to the Word of the Lord and let the people of Israel go free. As a result his land was devastated by the ten plagues and every household lost their firstborn (cf Ex 13:15).
Listen also to what the law of Moses says about a stubborn child who does not listen or obey:
(Deut 21:18-21) If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, (19) his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. (20) They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us ..." (21) Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you.A stubborn son or daughter is an abomination to the Lord and must be removed from Israel!
King Saul was known for his stubbornness. He refused to listen to the commands of the Lord. Through the prophet Samuel Saul was informed that "rebellion is like the sin of divination" and stubbornness is "like the evil of idolatry" (1 Sam 15:23).
In the eyes of God stubbornness is a sin. It is a sin for children to resist the leading of their parents. It is a sin for citizens for resist the laws and rules of their own government. It is a sin for God's children to resist the leading of God. Stubbornness is a sin.
C Of course Israel did not see it the same way God did. What God called stubbornness Israel called freedom, elbow room, breathing space. Israel felt that God's ways were too big of a burden. They believed God was too restrictive and negative. Therefore they wanted to loosen His requirements somewhat. Actually, what they wanted was for God's demands to be in line with their own desires. Actually, what they wanted was to escape the sound of God's voice so they could follow the desires of their own heart.
Israel loved the worship of pagan gods. In worshiping these gods they could engage in sexual revelry. So they wanted God to lift His command against idolatry and adultery – "they continue their prostitution; their rulers dearly love shameful ways," says Hosea (vs 18). Israel wanted a god they could see and touch, just like the other nations had – "Ephraim is joined to idols," says Hosea (vs 17). So they wanted God to lift His prohibition on golden calves and Asherah poles and statues of Baal. Israel loved wealth and jewels and gold and silver. So they found ingenious ways to steal from the weak and to withhold their tithe. They wanted God to bend, to stop being so old-fashioned and narrow-minded. Israel, when it comes right down to it, wants freedom from God. Stubborn Israel wants freedom from God.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. For what the Israelites were doing with God people today do with the church. They want the church to bend, to compromise, to stop being old-fashioned and narrow-minded: about pre-marital or extra-marital sex, about homosexuality, about 2 parent households, about abortion, about calling God "Father," about Sunday observance, and so on. In their stubbornness they too want freedom from God.
II The Punishment for Stubbornness
A In the second part of our text Hosea tells us God's punishment for the sin of stubbornness. Hosea asks, "How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?"
This doesn't sound like punishment at first. In fact, it sounds more like a promise. Feeding Israel like a lamb in a pasture makes us think of the Good Shepherd and green pastures and quiet waters of Psalm 23.
But let me ask you: Where does a lamb belong? Does a lamb belong in the middle of an open field? Should a lamb be left on its own, unattended? Of course not! A lamb belongs with the flock, under the watchful eye of the shepherd. As soon as a sheep ventures into the open and wanders away from the flock, it faces danger and death. It gets tangled up in the bushes or falls into a pit or is attacked and eaten by a wolf or a lion. No, no lamb should ever be by itself in an open field! Open spaces mean danger and death.
I saw that first-hand a couple of weeks ago when I was cycling to Three Rivers. We were on a back road just before Lemon Cove. On the left I noticed 5 coyotes. They just sat or stood there looking at the road when we came – every other coyote usually runs at the first sign of people. What was going on?
Then we looked on the right side of the road – there we saw a bunch of sheep and their lambs. The ram and the mother sheep made sure they stayed between the lambs and the coyotes.
Now, you know as well as I do what would have happened if any of the lambs had strayed from the flock – those coyotes would have been enjoying a meal of lamb chops.
Consider the lambs of our church – our precious children. Do we ever leave our little ones unattended? Do we plunk them down in the middle of a shopping mall with a bottle and pacifier while we go shopping? Of course not! For the same reason, when we educate our children we want their teachers to be Christians who point them to Jesus and God's commands rather than to evolution and condoms. We don't let our children pick out the TV programs they are going to watch or the books they will read. Because the lambs of the church need guidance, care, and instruction we don't just shove them into the world.
"Lambs in a meadow." It sounds pretty, but it isn't. It sounds peaceful and safe, but it isn't.
B "Lambs in a meadow." Do you know what God is saying? He is saying, "Okay, I will let you have it your way. I will give you the room you say you need. I will give you breathing space and freedom."
There's nothing more horrible, my brothers and sisters, than when the Lord lets the sinner have his way. What happens when parents let stubborn children have their own way, when they no longer say anything about sin and drugs and alcohol and staying away from church? It means they have given up on their child. It means their child is going to sink deeper and deeper into the hole they are digging for themselves.
"Lambs in a meadow." God is letting His stubborn children follow their own devices (cf Ps 81:12). God is letting His stubborn children fall from sin to sin to sin (cf Rom 1:24,26,28). What God is doing is heaping burning coals upon the heads of His children so that someday they will be burned.
C "Lambs in a meadow." That sounds like freedom, but it isn't. That sounds like breathing space and elbow room, but it isn't. You see, freedom always involves limits. Think of a ship without a pilot or a rudder. It is free, free to go wherever it wants. But sooner or later it will be dashed to pieces against the rocks. The ship is free only when it has a pilot and a rudder.
The laws and demands of God do not represent slavery. Rather, they represent freedom.
Topic: GivingIn the same way that God created swallows to fly so He created us to follow His commands and laws. And, we are not really free until we do what God has made us to do. The commands and laws of God are not the prison of man but the basis of his freedom.
Subtopic: Of Tithes
In "Run with the Horses," Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake.
One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch -- pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one.
The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bulldog tenacious. The parent was without mercy. He pecked at the desperately clinging claws until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not -- that it would fly -- that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.
Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have claws and can grasp a branch securely. But flying is what they were designed to do and not until they fly are they living at their best, graceful and beautiful and free.
As a rule people are dumber than birds. They want to escape from God's rules – and when they do, they die. What appears to be a prison is in reality an open meadow; what appears to be an open meadow is in reality a prison.
Like a stubborn heifer Israel did not believe this. Like a stubborn heifer she shook the Lord's yoke from her neck and believed she was totally free.
God is an almighty God. He is all-powerful. He could easily have tamed the stubborn heifer called Israel. He could have forced Himself and His laws upon her. But He didn't. And He doesn't with us either.
You see, what God wants is people who want to serve and obey Him. God does not want just half of your heart or mind. He will not accept a divided or partial love. He insists on all or nothing. Anyone who wants to serve Him must serve Him completely.
Not what about you? Are you a stubborn heifer like Israel? Or, do you serve the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
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