************ Sermon on Hosea 12:3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 27, 2005
Hosea 11:12 - 12:14
"The Faith of Our Fathers"
I Be Like Jacob
A Hosea is complaining – again – about the people of his day. He mentions lies, deceit, unruly against God, violence, and punishment in the first two verses of our Bible reading. In verses 7 and following he mentions dishonest scales, fraud, iniquity, the false altar at Gilgal, and God's anger.
B Right in the middle of all these complaints Hosea directs our attention to Father Jacob. More specifically, he brings up two events in Jacob's life. First, he reminds the Israelites of what Jacob did at birth: "In the womb he grasped his brother's heel" (Hosea 12:3; cf Genesis 25). Second, he reminds the Israelites of what Jacob did at Peniel:
(Hosea 12:3-4) ... as a man he struggled with God. (4) He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there ... (cf Genesis 32).
C Why does Hosea mention these incidents? Hosea's purpose is not to get us to meditate upon Jacob and Esau and the eternal ways of God in choosing one brother over another. Hosea's purpose is not for us to meditate upon Jacob's struggle with God for a blessing. Hosea has a different purpose in mind as he brings up these two incidents. Keeping an eye on his own time and his own people, Hosea comes up with an application that we would not ordinarily consider.
We need to remember the context I already mentioned: the lies, the deceit, unruly against God, violence, punishment, dishonest scales, fraud, iniquity, false altar at Gilgal, and God's anger. In the middle of all this he basically says, "This is what Jacob did and this is what you should be doing but aren't doing!"
Now, is Hosea telling the Israelites to grab the foot of a brother or sister, like Jacob did? Is that what he is telling them – and us – to do? Is Hosea telling the Israelites to physically wrestle with the angel of God, like Jacob did? Is that what he is telling them – and us – to do? Of course not!
Hosea is calling Israel – and us – to be like Father Jacob in terms of faith. To be people of faith. To hold fast to God. To covenant with God. That is Hosea's purpose and goal.
The Israelites loved talking about their forefathers. They loved to talk about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, they were forever talking about their spiritual forebears. But Hosea wants Israel to realize there was a huge difference between the "fathers" and their "children." The children of Jacob did not act at all like Father Jacob.
If Jacob, by some miracle, rose from the grave would he recognize the children of Israel as his spiritual offspring? His faith and reliance on God formed a sharp contrast with their politics of unbelief. Jacob held fast to God, but his so-called children "makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt" (Hosea 12:1) – thinking this will protect and preserve them. Furthermore, the Bethel where Jacob met God was a lot different from the Bethel of Hosea's day, where people worshiped a golden calf. Jacob acted one way, but his children "multiply lies and violence" (Hosea 12:1).
II What Jacob Did
A Jacob is a reminder – a big reminder – that even the holiest among us make only a small beginning in living the life of obedience. When we look at Jacob we see someone who cheated and schemed and stumbled his way through life. He was covered from head to toe with the dark stains of sin. Nevertheless – and here is the surprising thing – the Lord Almighty took a special delight in being called "the God of Jacob." [Cf Ex 3:6,15; 4:5; 2Sam 23:1; Ps 20:1; 24:6; 46:7,11; 75:9; 76:6; 81:1,4; 84:8; 94:7; 114:7; 146:5; Is 2:3; Micah 4:2; Mt 22:32; Acts 7:46.]
"The God of Jacob." Why does the Lord want to be known as the God of a scheming, lying, cheating, stumbling scoundrel like Jacob? What does God see in Jacob? Why does God delight in Jacob?
B Jacob is outstanding because he believed. Though his feet were wayward he kept returning to the Lord God Almighty. In all his stumbling about he still held fast to God's hand.
Jacob's faith makes him one of God's heroes of faith. Jacob's faith places him among the holiest of God's elect. Despite his sins, despite his shortcomings, Jacob – by grace – was a magnificent child of God.
Like me, I am sure you know someone who showed great spiritual promise as a child only to be a bitter disappointment later in life. Jacob was not one of those. His faith always came through at the decisive moment, as Hosea shows by pointing to the two items in our text for this evening. At the beginning of his life Jacob grabbed hold of Esau's heel in the womb. Later on in life, Jacob refused to let go of God at Bethel even if it meant getting hurt. In both instances we see the power of his faith at work.
C What, specifically, do we see Jacob doing in the womb? We see him relying upon God. In contrast, the unbeliever relies on himself – his mental abilities, his brawn, his hard work, or some other earthly power. The believer knows he is strong when he is weak, for his strength is in the Lord. We see that with Jacob for what creature is more helpless than a baby in the womb? Yet, in the womb the baby Jacob held on to the heel of his brother Esau. The first cry that came from the throat of this screaming child was a cry of faith. The little hand reached out and tried to grab the birthright that belonged to the firstborn. Jacob's first recorded act was to reach out to God. His first deed – even though it was unconscious – was a deed of faith. He cried out for God's blessing, in a prayer without words. Jacob was already saying, "I will not let go until You give me a blessing."
Jacob's faith dominated his entire life. We need to admit that it was by sinful means that he later sought the blessing of the birthright, the promised blessing, the blessing of Christ. Nevertheless, it was the one passion of Jacob's life. He craved the Lord's blessing. He sought God's presence. As for Esau, the blessing and birthright meant little or nothing to him; he couldn't care less about it and gave it away for a pot of stew.
D What did Jacob do at Peniel? We see a conscious and deliberate effort to wrestle a blessing from the Angel. Here, too, Jacob was helpless, he did not rely on physical strength, for what can a man do against a divine strength that puts a hip out of joint at one touch? Jacob was successful because of his faith. Jacob was successful because of the spiritual strength that was his as a believer.
E There is one more story I want to mention – not one that we find in our text. But that is the story of Jacob as an old man. In Egypt. On his deathbed. At the end of his life Jacob blessed each of his sons in turn. He gave a prophetic utterance for each one and then waited upon the Lord to bring all to pass. Here he is an old man, a feeble old man waiting to die, and again he displays the power of his faith.
From the cradle to the grave, from the womb to Bethel to Egypt, we see that Jacob's life was a life of faith. Therefore, it was a successful and victorious life. Therefore, God wanted Himself known as the God of Jacob.
III What Israel Did
A In the days of Hosea, the sons of Jacob had fallen away from Jacob's faith. Instead of seeking strength and blessing from God – as Jacob had done – they sought their security in a peace treaty with Assyria (Hosea 12:1). This was a deceitful foreign policy, for at the same time Israel was pledging support to Assyria, it was trying to buy the friendship of the Egyptians through bribes and gifts.
I love the commentary Hosea gives on this. I love what he compares this to. He says:
(Hosea 12:1) Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.Do you know what Israel was doing when it made a treaty with Assyria and tried to buy the love of Egypt? It was a feeding on the wind. How much nourishment do you get from the wind? Nothing! How full does it make your mouth and your stomach? It leaves them empty! And, Hosea says the treaty and the bribes were a pursuit of the wind. Can you ever catch the wind? Can you ever put it in your pocket or in the bank? To pursue the wind is to end up with a pocket full of nothing! To pursue the wind is to end up with an empty hand! To pursue the wind is to go fishing all day without getting a single bite.
Israel forgot about God. Israel saw only in one dimension – this life, this body, this earth – and forgot about what is unseen. Instead of building on the Rock of eternity, they sought comfort in the rushing wind.
B Israel, we would have to say, forgot the faith of their fathers. They wouldn't put it that way, of course. After all, they were well acquainted with the glorious history of the patriarchs. They knew and loved the stories of the patriarchs and faithfully taught them to their children. The graves of the patriarchs were still carefully tended. The places where the patriarchs had walked, where they had built their altars, where they had dug wells, were now honored as holy places.
Did they imitate Jacob's faith? Did they desire God's blessing above anything else in life? Was it their heart's desire to grab hold of God and to never let go? They knew about the faith of the fathers but it was not a faith they lived out. The passionate yearning for the coming of Christ that dominated Jacob's life was not a part of their life. They admired the piety of the fathers, but it was not for them.
IV The Faith of Our Fathers
A We also like to talk and sing about the faith of our fathers. I am talking about the fathers of the Reformation: John Calvin, Guido de Bres, Martin Luther, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and so on.
Their faith was exciting. They were pious and bold visionaries. Their scholarship was Christ-centered. They led the church in returning to the faith passed on by the apostles: Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone. They endured trials and persecution and often put their lives on the line. Their courage was strong and their hope was in the Lord.
More recently, we have the faith of the fathers and mothers who established our churches and Christian schools. These people made sacrifices. They believed in prayer. They held long consistory and school board meetings until the wee hours of the morning. They believed passionately in their theology and argued recklessly in its defense. They loved the church and most of their life was centered around it. They had a strong sense of the providence of God. Many of them had nothing and lived far simpler lives than we do, yet they seemed far more thankful than we. They had standards and values they lived by.
No wonder we sing about the faith of our fathers.
B Don't you think that we are a wee bit – maybe a whole big bunch – like Israel was with Jacob? Do we praise the faith of our fathers without living the faith of our fathers? Do any of us make the kind of sacrifices they made – for the church, the school, the kingdom? Are we near as faithful in family devotions – in Bible reading and prayer? Is our observance of Sunday as important to us as it was to them? Do we love the teachings of the Reformed faith as much as they did? Is our life centered on the Lord, His church, and His Kingdom the way theirs was? Do we have standards and values we live by?
C Some of you might remind me that the good old days were not so good after all. You might remind me that many things were wrong at the time of the Reformation and in the days of our fathers as well. For one thing, they sure fought a lot about theology. Brothers and sisters would stop talking to one another because of church fights. And they sometimes spent long hours on the silliest of discussions.
I am sure Hosea heard objections like this too. When the prophet pointed to Jacob and told his people to be like Jacob – to believe and hold on to God the way Jacob did – they completely rejected his words. "Hosea," they said, "we don't need to listen to you. We have God's blessing. God is pleased with our faith." And, as proof, they pointed to their wealth:
(Hosea 12:8) "I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin."
We all realize, I think, that riches are not only a sign of God's blessing but can also be a sign of God's curse. More people have been led astray by riches than by poverty. More people have left the faith because they can afford ease and luxury than because they don't have enough to eat.
We can point to our riches. But Hosea would point to how we live out the faith. He wants to know, do we have the faith of our fathers? Do we have the faith of father Jacob? Do we hold on to God the way Jacob did? Then we can sing about the faith of our fathers.
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