She Went After Many, But Me She Forgot
Colin Shek―Sunderland, U.K.
I recently read about a piece of flat-pack furniture from a well-known retailer that has been dubbed “the Divorce Maker.” A leading couples’ counselor in America has claimed that assembling this do-it-yourself shelving unit with your spouse is the ultimate test of your relationship. As part of couples’ therapy sessions, this counselor asks her clients to construct the flat-pack furniture together, to see how they work as a team. During this exercise, the couples would often argue, and some even contemplate divorce. The idea is that if your marriage survives the test of assembling the shelving unit, with its thirty-two pages of instructions, it can survive anything.
Of course, it is not just furniture assembly that defines a healthy husband-and-wife relationship. There are greater hurdles when it comes to maintaining a good marriage. When we think about our spiritual relationship with God, which the Bible refers to as that of a husband and wife (Hos 2:16–20), this is even more so!
The prophet Hosea ministered during the reign of King Jeroboam II in the northern kingdom of Israel. In this period, the relationship between God and His people became strained—so much so that God threatened to divorce His wife (Hos 2:2) and to separate Himself from His people (Hos 1:8). Why would God want to do this? What caused the breakdown in this special relationship? As we study and ponder upon these questions, we can learn how to preserve and maintain a close relationship with God today.
GOD HAS GIVEN US A SPECIAL IDENTITY AND STATUS
At this point in Israel’s history—following Solomon’s prosperous reign (Hos 1:1) and before the fall of the northern kingdom (Hos 10:5, 6)— the Israelites were living in relative comfort and thriving economically (Hos 2:5, 4:7). Amidst all the prosperity, it seems that the people of Israel forgot their God. One key concern that God had was that His people had forgotten their special status as His chosen people:
For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband!
Let her put away her harlotries from her sight,
And her adulteries from between her breasts;
Lest I strip her naked
And expose her, as in the day she was born,
And make her like a wilderness,
And set her like a dry land,
And slay her with thirst.” (Hos 2:2–3)
God declared that He was no longer husband to Israel and that His people were no longer His wife. Israel had played the harlot with other gods and forgot her status as God’s holy nation. God was angry that His chosen people had forgotten their special relationship and instead were running after the deities of the land.
In the world around us, there are many ways our identity can be shaped, and many facets we can adopt. People like to be seen as good students or good parents, or experts in their profession. Additionally, many strive to achieve certain standards of beauty, fitness and social status. We often dedicate much time and many resources to developing these identities. Students spend hours revising for exams. Some professionals hoard those dreaded textbooks as they spend their evenings preparing for certifications or pursuing professional development. Parents work hard to provide for their children, yet feel guilty about not spending enough quality time with them. And the self-employed struggle to separate work from their personal time. Juggling competing priorities and time constraints seemingly never stops and is a typical part of our lives today.
When it comes to our Christian identity, we may make the mistake of treating it like our other identities. Some may think that it is too much hard work to maintain. In fact, our status in Christ does not depend on our works or deeds. Rather, God has graciously given us this new identity (Rom 3:23–26). Jesus died on the cross, took away our identity as a sinner, and gave us the glorious identity that He Himself has. What we must do now is to live by the Spirit, upholding our holy status (Rom 8:13).
We must cherish our identity as the children of God, which prominence we have reached through none of our own effort. While we are undeserving recipients, God saved us by His grace and mercy.
By submitting our lives to the Spirit, our identity in Christ supersedes our other worldly identities. We are beloved children of God first and foremost. Everything else—our education, career, wealth and social standing—is secondary. This is what the Israelites forgot. They focused instead on the other gods of the land and forsook their relationship with God.
So what kind of attitude would we have if we cherish our status as the beloved children of God? How will we think and behave? One of the things that the Book of Hosea speaks about is our attitude towards the blessings in our lives.
The people of Israel mistakenly attributed the source of their blessings to the gods of the land:
“I will not have mercy on her children,
For they are the children of harlotry.
For their mother has played the harlot;
She who conceived them has behaved shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
Who give me my bread and my water,
My wool and my linen,
My oil and my drink.’ ” (Hos 2:4–5)
Israel thought that the gods of the
land provided her with the necessities and blessings in life. In other words,
they thought all of life’s blessings came from Baal. They failed to see God as
the true source of their blessings.
Today, it is easy to fall into the same trap of attributing our success or blessings to sources other than God. For example, we may think:
1. My business is only successful because of its prime location.
2. My career continues to be successful because I have a manager who has the heart to develop my skills through further training.
3. Our only hope in life is in politics and government intervention, where new policies will protect social welfare and services, support the self-employed, and preserve the education of our children and well-being of our citizens.
4. My success is down to my own hard work and ambition—I only got to where I am today through my own tenacity.
As Christians, we must realize that success and wealth come from God. It is God who provides the opportunities and gives us the means to receive such blessings. Any departure from acknowledging that God is the giver, will lead to us believing in our own capabilities and in the opportunities provided by society. This feeds into an idolatrous mindset. If we attributed our success to things other than God, we would elevate such things to be our god and source of blessings. That was Israel's downfall, as they forgot about their true God (Hos 2:13). They were living as though God did not exist. Their focus on Baal instead of God fed into their idolatrous lives.
If we want to maintain a strong relationship with God, a healthy attitude to have is to see God as the sovereign ruler and sole provider in our lives:
1. When our business is healthy and profitable, we recognize that God has given us the power to earn (Deut 8:18).
2. When we receive good exam results, then we know that it is God who blesses us with the knowledge and ability to learn (Dan 1:17).
3. When we look at our comfortable lifestyles, we know that God has blessed us with the opportunity and conditions to build a life—the right schools and the right government for the time.
By acknowledging God as the source of our blessings, we will be spurred on to worship Him and offer our praises with a heart full of thanksgiving.
GOD IS OUR ULTIMATE BLESSING
God was clear in His warnings against such idolatrous behavior from His chosen nation. He would return to take away His blessings and providence (Hos 2:9), uncover her lewd ways (v.10), cause all her feasts to stop (v.11), destroy her vines (v.12), and punish her for her adultery with Baal (v.13). Such severe judgment was required because the Lord said, “She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers; but Me she forgot” (Hos 2:13).
The reality was that Israel was not truly interested in God. She was interested in food and wealth. If Baal could provide these, she would go after Baal. But if she thought that the Lord could give them more physical blessings, she would go after the Lord: “Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now’ ” (Hos 2:7b). She did not seek God Himself, just His blessings.
God wants us to look beyond His blessings. Anything that is more important to us in our life is simply an idol. Those believers who maintain a healthy relationship with God are those who continue to worship Him whether times are good or bad. Just like a marriage, there is a vow to cherish each other in good times and in bad, no matter how materially blessed we are.
The important thing is that God is our ultimate blessing. He wants us to pursue Him, and not His blessings only.
Hosea's message still applies to us today. In a competitive world, where so much of our focus is on carving out our own place in society, we should consider whether we have forgotten about our God-given status. We were bought and glorified by the blood of Christ. We must put our focus on how God’s salvation was graciously given to us. This is one thing in life that we can never achieve by our own effort. This is why we must cherish our precious status in Christ and pursue a stronger relationship with God.
We must recognize that as God's special people, we are lavished with His blessings. Let us acknowledge and praise God as the source of all our blessings and successes. And may we strive to look beyond these blessings and focus our pursuit on God Himself, who is the ultimate blessing, in good times and in bad. With this mindset, our husband-wife relationship with God will remain strong no matter what may come our way.