Take your Bibles and turn with me this week to Hosea 5. This now our fifth message in our series through Hosea, the series titled “God’s Redeeming Love.” In chapter 5 verses 1 through 15 now we come to a message titled “Seeking without Finding.” Sounds ominous. And it is.

Back in chapter 3 we examined the picture given to us of Hosea seeking Gomer and outbidding others in order to buy her back, to redeem her, from the slave market. In chapters 2 and 4 we have seen images taken from the court room, from legal proceedings. In chapter 2 we heard Gomer’s children called upon to bring charges against their mother as they were the evidence in the case against her where she was being charged with unfaithfulness. What more proof is needed that the testimony of 2 children born to her that were not fathered by Hosea, even though we find him being a faithful husband and father, naming and caring for these children born out of her adultery.

And last week in chapter 4 we saw again charges being brought, this time by God against His people Israel. They were indicted for their sin in rejecting God and pursuing idols and were accused of having no truth, mercy, or understanding. They did not know the Lord.

The case has been made against Gomer and the people she represents in this living parable. And while we have seen a picture of God’s covenantal love and redeeming power in the prophet Hosea, we have also learned that sin always bears consequences. The people were going to reap what they had sown, judgment was coming, and there is no indication from the people that there is any effort or even desire being put into repenting of their spiritual unfaithfulness.

Chapter 5 now finds the Lord being even more blunt, even more pointed, as He declares the sure judgment coming upon Israel. This should amaze us, because the people are hardening their hearts. They are continuing in their sin and idolatry. They are running headlong toward the coming judgment all the while seeing in the story of Hosea and Gomer a picture of God’s willingness and ability to redeem. They now the solution. They have been given the answer to their sin and the threatened judgment that was resulting from their pursuit of iniquity. And even knowing the loving kindness and goodness of God, even knowing about the promises of the Messiah, the Savior, the One who would come and fulfill what was prophesied by Hosea, and Isaiah, and the other prophets – even knowing that there is hope and salvation with the Lord – even then they still persisted in their sin. They would not amend their ways. They would not repent and turn back to the Lord.

The people of Israel had become convinced that they could worship God and their idols at the same time. They set up golden calves at Bethel and in Samaria. Some worshpped the calves as if they were Yahweh. Others worshipped Baal, and Molech. Some worshipped all of the gods they could find, hoping at least one of them could provide salvation. We’ve seen this before. When Jezebel’s false prophets were confronted by Elijah on Mt. Carmel, how did Elijah begin?

And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. (1 Kings 18:21). The people were faltering, they were stumbling back and forth between God and idols. Now I know we would never do this because after all, we are enlightened enough to know that little carved images should not be worshipped, right? Well, at least unlike some traditions, at least we have the sense to show disdain for icons. We don’t struggle with idols today do we? Certainly we do! Idols we create in our own hearts and minds. And the largest idol of all, SELF. We falter all the time between being obedient to God and obedient to our own wants and desires.

The people here believed that they could mix the worship of God with the false gods and all this did was corrupt all of their worship. Hence the Lord declaring through Amos that He hated their worship, He despised their feast days and their offerings. If they could only be sincere then surely God would overlook anything that displeased Him, because worshipping God is all about following your heart and being true to yourself right? Wait, who is being worshipped in that scenario? Self. Me.

The frightening belief we find here rooted in Israel is that because God loved His people then surely He would not discipline them. We hear this all the time in our day to day life, don’t we – the idea that love never allows for rebuke or discipline. Love just lets you do whatever you want to do. That kind of love only serves to produce spoiled brats! Remember, grace is never a license to sin. Grace never allows us to come ask forgiveness because we know that if we ask permission the answer will be “No!” That is not grace. That is licentiousness.

We must remember, as Dr. Peter Marshall prayed, that to rightly use our freedom we should not use liberty to do what we want, but to do what we ought.

Here in chapter 5 Hosea preaches to the people and he tells them that they think they are seeking God, but they seek without finding, because they are not actually and truly seeking Him. They were seeking salvation but we learn that they were not seeking God to save them, they were seeking to save themselves!

As Hosea brings this Word from the Lord, he tells the people in no uncertain terms that while they think they are seeking God they are not. They ways in which they are seeking result in not finding Him, and God tells us in His Word that when we seek Him we will find Him…so if you can’t find Him then you are not truly seeking Him! You are misguided and misdirected. You believe God is going to be there always at your beck and call, almost like a Genie in a bottle (this is the fruit of the pervasive lies and false teaching of the Word Faith movement and the Prosperity Gospel). If we just say the right words, pray the right prayers, give the right offerings, then God will do whatever we ask Him to do. This is not the Gospel. This is not the teaching of Scripture. And Hosea proves it for us here this morning.

Hosea tells the people that they think they are seeking God, but they are not finding Him because they are ensnared. They are trapped in their idolatry and in their spiritual adultery. Just as Gomer, being sent to the slave market, she was a captive and could not go her own way. She had lost her freedom. So had Israel. In verses 1-3 he explains, “Hear this, O priests! Take heed, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king!  Here we see him addressing the priests, the people, and the politicians. He doesn’t leave anyone out as he addresses the whole nation and as we will see includes a word to Israel and also to Judah. He tells the nation to hear, to heed, and to give ear. He is saying in as many ways as he can find to say it that the people need to listen to the Word of God. God has something to say and you need to listen, to hear, to heed. You believe you are seeking Him and will be safe and be saved, but you are not! Three times he reiterates this: Hear this, take heed, give ear!

Why do they need to listen? Primarily because when he says For yours is the judgment, he is saying literally, the judgment belongs to you. It is yours. You’ve earned it and it is about to be paid.

Knowing that originally there were not chapter breaks when Hosea preached and wrote this message down, we see that while we took a week to get from chapter 4 to chapter 5, in the text, one follows the other with no break or pause. The people were indicted by the Lord and the result of that indictment was coming judgment. This is their judgment. This is their sentencing in the Court of the Lord.

Listen, Hosea says, because you have been ensnared and you have been a snare. He writes, For yours is the judgment, because you have been a snare to Mizpah and a net spread on Tabor. Mizpah and Tabor are two areas where these places of false worship were established. Here is where they were being ensnared in their idolatry. The religious leaders and the political leaders are teaching the people how to be trapped in sin and how to guarantee that they will be judged, all the while the leaders, by the way, think they are telling the people what they want to hear.

Paul warned Timothy about this kind of “hearing” and “preaching”, in 2 Timothy 4:2-4 he wrote, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

 What are the results of this false teaching? Hosea goes on in verse 2, “The revolters are deeply involved in slaughter, though I rebuke them all.” God has been sending prophets to rebuke the people, to tell them to stop, to instruct them in how to repent and return to Him, but they will not listen. Instead they reject the Word from the prophets and even at times kill the prophets in order to prevent their preaching. The people are revolting. They are rebellious. They reject the rebuke of the Lord. They want to seek God their way and not His way. You see, we don’t come to God our way, we must come as He commands. Is this not the lesson of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel? Abel offered what God asked, and Cain offered what he wanted to offer instead of what God asked. And the result was murderous jealousy and anger from Cain toward Abel, as God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s.

Their worship, their sacrifices in Israel, their seeking God was all rooted in rebellion. People do this even today when they attend a worship service, hear the Word preached, but then leave and do not do what the Word tells them to do. Why call Him Lord, Jesus asks, if we will not do what He says? People like this feel good about going to church because at heart we all have a works based theology, don’t we? On our own, deep down, we are still learning as we grow in grace that salvation is by grace and not works!

Here is the problem. When the nation split, the people of Israel had to travel to Jerusalem in the south, in Judah, to rightly worship God as God prescribed in His Word. But the northern kings were worried. They were afraid that if their people travelled to Judah to worship then they would begin to desire a reconciliation. They would want the nation reunified. And that would mean that the northern kings would lose their power. So instead, the kings, like Jeroboam, set up calves in Bethel and Beer-sheba, and in Mizpah and Tabor, they set up high places, places of worship both to worship the Lord God and to worship Baal, and Ashera, and others. It became a religious buffet, where you could spend the day worshipping whoever, however you wanted. No need to go to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple, noooo, stay here, we have the music you like, the preaching you like, the programs that please you! It became a religion for consumers, not a religion for worshippers. Come and get from God and the gods what you want.

The people were rebellious in their religion, they rejected rebuke, and in verse 3 Hosea writes, “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; for now, O Ephraim, you commit harlotry; Israel is defiled.” The people and their sin are revealed and reviled.

It seems to be our natural inclination, just as it was in the garden for Adam and Eve, that when we sin we want to hide from God.  We hide from God, we hide our sin, we refuse to reveal what we have done. As a child, when we disobeyed, and we knew we were going to be in trouble, and our parents asked us what we did, what did we always answer? “Nothing!” We are all at heart little Sgt. Schultz’s. “I know nothing. I did nothing.” We deny it. In our efforts to avoid accountability and responsibility we hide our sin.

How foolish to believe we can hide anything from God. He says that the people and their sin is not hidden from Him. He sees their sin, their harlotry, their unfaithfulness. He knows that they are defiled.

When Hosea references the people committing harlotry, understand this is not merely a reference to spiritual unfaithfulness. I mentioned the worship of the false goddess Ashera, at the places set up to worship her, there were priestesses who facilitated worship by means of sexual immorality. So the people were not only committing spiritual adultery, they were actually committing adultery as an act of worship. Their worship was absolute total immorality.

God tells them there is no hiding from this. He knows. He tells us in Hebrews 4:13 how successful we will be at hiding from Him. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. When we are convicted then, we need not run and hide, for we cannot escape and He knows right where we are and what we have done. So what should we do? Confess. Repent and confess.