A Call to Repentance

When we call people to salvation in the Lord Jesus, if we are being most biblical, we call people to repent and believe. Both of those terms are used time and time again to depict how a person comes to salvation. The two are not separate things.

We know in general what believing in Jesus looks like. But what does repentance look like? WE have pictures in the Bible. IN fact, we see the Lord give us a picture of repentance at the end of the book of Hosea.

God, speaking particularly to Israel, has called them out for their sinful unfaithfulness to him. But in the final chapter of this prophecy, he calls them to repent.

Hosea 14:1-3

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips.
3 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

The word for return here in verse 1 is a repentance word. It literally means to turn back or return, to turn from one thing or direction to another. The word could speak of a person walking in one direction and making a turn. Or it could mean a person turning back from evil and toward righteousness. Obviously, in this context, God is calling Israel to a spiritual change of direction.

In verse 1, we see that returning involves a turning from their iniquity toward the Lord their God. They are to stop chasing after their sin and start (or start again) seeking after the Lord.

In verse 2, God tells them what they should be saying: Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. This is the people going to God, seeking forgiveness for their past wrongs and promising to obey the commands they have been previously disobeying. They are saying they have been wrong in the past, but, from now on, they will return to being under his lordship.

In verse 3, the people are to say to God that they will no longer run to foreign nations for their deliverance. Instead, they will trust in him. They will not trust in their own prowess on the battlefield, mounting themselves on horses, but will trust in the Lord’s protection. It is a turning from self-reliance to reliance on God. It is the kind of thing that God had commanded Israel to do, to trust in him instead of the pagan nations around them, but they were refusing to do.

At the end of verse 3, the people were to say, “And we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.” The nation had fought against God by looking at their own inventions, the crafting of idols, and declaring things they put together to be their deities. Repentance would mean that they stop seeing false things as divine, and they would only call God the one true God. And in this repentance the people would find grace.

In truth, what Israel needed to do is very much the same for us today. A person who repents of sin to turn to Christ in faith must turn from self-reliance. We must stop thinking that we are in charge of our lives. WE must stop thinking that we can rely on sinful things to take care of ourselves. We must determine that we desire to follow and obey the Lord. And we must stop calling divine that which is not God. Repentance involves surrendering to the Lord, turning from self and all other evils, and fully turning toward the God who made us. Repentance involves bowing before the throne of God and declaring him our Master.

Part of that repentance is belief, faith. It requires repentance for a person to believe the truth about Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died a sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus forgives all who come to him in faith. There is no religious action or ceremony that contributes to our salvation. No act earns us God’s favor. Only the one who comes to Jesus, repenting, empty-handed, relying on him and him alone will be saved. This requires a repenting belief in Jesus apart from works. And this is how we can say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And this is how we can say that a person must repent and believe to be saved.

God Promises to Bring His People Home

In Hosea, the northern kingdom is depicted by an adulteress. God uses ugly and emotional pictures to show Israel how terrible it is that they, as a nation, have ignored his commands and chased after false gods. But in this passage, God also promises that a day will come when the people of Israel will again return to him.

In chapter 1, Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful wife as a symbol of God and Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness. In chapter 3, Hosea goes and redeems his wayward wife from slavery, lovingly rescuing her from the trouble she had gotten herself into. And God uses that picture to make a promise for the future.

Hosea 3:4-5 – 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

God knew what he was doing with Israel. He knew that the northern kingdom would be taken captive. He knew that the southern kingdom would be overrun by the Babylonians. And God knew that a time would come when Israel would feel like they were fully separated from the promises of God.

In truth, the northern tribes were carried away from the land and have not returned. The southern tribes lost the temple, rebuilt the temple, and then lost it again. But the promise here, a promise for the latter days, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled.

When the Father sent Jesus to bring about the New Covenant, he did something beautiful. Jesus came and completed the sacrificial system. Jesus now reigns, King of kings, a descendant of David, and the Son of God. And Jesus welcomes all who will come to him in faith. Thus, once Jesus came, all physical descendants of Israel, captives in foreign lands and returned exiles, are invited by God to find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Jew and the gentile are welcomed into the family of God and to service under the throne of David, now the greater throne of Christ.

This prophecy is being fulfilled, as people all over the world from all nations are becoming part of the family of God in Jesus. And I suspect that it will be fulfilled in a greater way near to the time of the physical return of Christ. Paul gives us hints of God bringing ethnic Israelites into his family through Christ once the full number of the gentiles has come in (cf. Rom. 11:23-32).

When we see this promise in Hosea, we should see the kingdom of God in Christ promised and delivered. It should call us to rejoice in the grace of Christ. It should cause us to pray that God would spread the gospel over the globe to bring all his elect into his kingdom. We should long for Christ’s return. We should long to see those who have been blind to the gospel suddenly given sight by Christ. And we should marvel at the glorious plan and faithfulness of God.

Tempted by Less Than We Expect

Hosea is one of those difficult books with a difficult image. It is not that the image is difficult to understand, but it is tough to look at. It is an ugly image, an emotionally disturbing image.

When God speaks to the people of Israel, he draws a parallel between the nation and an unfaithful wife. As the people forsake the Lord, God uses very strong language to describe their spiritual adultery.

What I notice as I read through this passage is what it was that Israel seemed to be drawn after. This is important, as it catches people still today.

Hosea 2:5

For their mother has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’

Without thinking too deeply about why God uses this image for Israel, notice what the six things are that draw Israel, as an adulterous wife, away from the Lord. They are seeking bread and water, wool and flax, oil and drink. These are simple items for living with perhaps a luxury thrown in. These are people who are forsaking God as they chase after basic, material wealth.

Interestingly for the Old Testament culture, God had promised his people all of those things in abundance if they would merely keep his law. But the people would not believe God enough to obey. They preferred to ignore the law of God and seek their material prosperity on their own.

But how might this apply to us today? Are we willing to turn from the Lord for material blessing? Be careful. If you answer this question from a position of security, consider how you would answer that question during a time of want and of persecution.

Friends, we need to understand that it is a common human temptation to turn away from the Lord in order to gain material security or safety. But those who love the Lord determine that we will be faithful to the Lord in times of plenty or want. Paul said that he had learned to be content in wealth or poverty. We must learn the same. We must not be willing to turn from the Lord for physical comforts. And we must not underestimate the temptation that this presents, as people have shown us in the past how easily they fail.

When we are not careful, when we are not faithful, we find ourselves tempted by small things. Bread and water, wool and flax, oil and drink, these should not be major temptations. But in hard times, we can find ourselves tempted by far less than we might think would tempt us at present. May we love our Lord so much that we are ready and faithful regardless of how hard times get.

Not That Complicated

Sometimes we see in Scripture truth that is just not that complicated. The gospel is not complicated, though many times we seem to make it so. How God relates to us in his grace is not complicated, yet we often feel it is.

When King David was setting up the kingdom for Solomon, David said something to his son that is super straightforward. There was nothing complicated about what David said. And it is a clean picture of the gospel in a sense.

1 Chronicles 28:9 – “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

David calls Solomon to be faithful to the Lord. At the end of the matter, David sets before Solomon two paths. Solomon may seek the Lord or forsake the Lord. Either has an eternal consequence.

That road with its fork is in front of all people today. Seek the Lord and live. Forsake the Lord and suffer his wrath. It is not complicated.

To forsake the Lord is easy. Just ignore him. Do not love God or his ways. Do not desire his grace. Do not desire him. Do not follow his path to salvation. And the Lord will give to you the judgment that you seek.

To seek the Lord is something also quite clear now that Jesus has come. Our Savior tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). There is one way to seek God. The only way is to turn to Jesus for life. Do you want to live? Turn from sin. Turn from self. Run to Jesus. Believe. Ask Jesus for mercy because of his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. Repent, believe, and be saved.

No, this is not complicated. But, in truth, it never has been. God tells you how to come to him. God tells you that there is one way to seek him, through Jesus. Seek the Lord in Christ and live. Forsake the gospel of Christ, and the judgment of God is promised to you.

Protection Resented and Praised

Song of Solomon is one of those books either we simply ignore or we somehow over-interpret. If you go through a study of the book, which is rare, you will either find somebody making it totally symbolic or you will find someone making it nearly pornographic; or, just maybe, you will find a person who handles it simply, literally, and respectfully.

Since the book can be so difficult, we often miss some of the beauties that are there. And I do not want to miss them in my read through this text for this year. Here is an example of something that we will miss if we are not careful.

Song of Solomon 1:6

Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!

In this account of a man and woman who marry, early on, the young woman is ashamed. Her skin is darker than was considered beautiful in her culture. Her brothers made her work outside instead of sitting under a shade all day. And this has cost her the complexion she wanted; she has a tan. The woman does not want her lover to think about her skin.

In this section, the man will not be put off by the woman’s dark complexion. She is lovely to him. And what’s more, she has character to match.

The woman had to work because her brothers made her work. She is worried about how her brothers have cost her. WE won’t see the woman’s brothers mentioned again until the end of the book. Between this scene in chapter 1 and the close of the book in chapter 8, the woman and the man appear to date, marry, grow in love, and work through conflict.

Then, in the end, the woman recalls her brothers.

In chapter 8 verse 9, the brothers are asked what to do with a young sister. They say something interesting.

Song of Solomon 8:9

If she is a wall,
we will build on her a battlement of silver,
but if she is a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar.

As strange as this poetry is, the issue here is one of character. A wall and a door are two types of behavior that could befit the brother’s young sister. A door here is dangerous behavior, open to far too much. If she acts like that, the brothers will work to protect her from her dangerous impulses.

A wall, on the other hand, is strong and steady. A sister who is a wall has solid character, clear standards. If she is firm of character, uncompromising in things that matter, the brothers will adorn her, decorating her with praise.

In verse 10, the woman declares that she was a wall. Her character was firm. She grew up, and she loved and married.

Then, at the end, the woman thinks back over her life. She thinks about her body which she called a vineyard in chapter 1. She thinks back to those mean brothers who made her work and did not let her just sit around and fixate on her physical appearance. She considers those brothers who watched to see that she be a woman of character, firm of purpose, a wall and not a door.

Song of Solomon 8:12

My vineyard, my very own, is before me;
you, O Solomon, may have the thousand,
and the keepers of the fruit two hundred.

The woman thinks of herself and carries the vineyard metaphor to its conclusion. Now that she is grown, her love is her own to give. Her husband, Solomon, receives the fruit of that vineyard. But, in a sweet moment, the woman acknowledges that her brothers deserve her thanks. Thousands go to Solomon, but a proper nod of appreciation goes to the brothers who watched out for their sister and helped her grow in character.

O, I know, all this might sound weird to you. But, Song of Solomon is three-thousand-year-old poetry. It will feel a little weird. We need to grasp that it is worth it to guard a young woman’s character and protect her virtue. Our world screams at every young woman that she should be a door, swinging open to all opportunities, all ideas, all lusts. And as we protect our daughters and our sisters from such thinking, it is not always welcome.

But, godly men, let us never stop doing all we can to protect and treasure the women around us. These ladies, our sisters in the Lord, are worth protecting. They are not worth any less than us. Nor are they worth more. WE are different. We have differing roles to play. We have differing strengths and weaknesses. As men who love the Lord, we must strive to use our strength to protect, to preserve, and to provide. We must be willing to risk disappointing women around us by not promoting worldly thinking just as they must sometimes risk disappointing us by calling us back to the way of the Lord.

And all believers can learn from this account. Early in her young life, the woman resented her brothers. I am sure this included their protection and the fact that they did not let her be lazy. All of us, men and women, need people to speak into our lives, to challenge us, to call to account, to press us toward growth, to change our thinking from worldly to godly. May we have friends and family who will invest in us. May we welcome all that points us to the word of God and Christlike character.

Remember the Lord Early in Life

One mistake that people sometimes make is to assume that we have a good deal of time before we need to consider the things of God. After all, when we are young, are we not supposed to be thinking about other things? People assume that, once they are old and gray, they will be able to do the religious thing.

But the wisest man of the Old Testament gives us a significant warning not to wait. Solomon tells us to remember the Lord long before we expect our lives to take a turn toward the cemetery.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 – Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;

For the first eleven chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon has shown us just how messed up life can be. Nasty people get rich and have all they want. Kind people suffer. Whether a person is good or bad, the grave awaits them both. And thus, if one estimates the value of morality from a naturalistic bent, all is vanity.

But here, Solomon is drawing to a conclusion. And one of his final pieces of counsel is that we should remember the Lord when we are young. Then, from verses 2-9, Solomon describes the hardships people face in aging. He suggests you be right with God before your vision and hearing go, before your legs get trembly, your teeth get weak, and your sexual desire wanes. Solomon is telling us to be right with our Creator before we die, and since we do not know when that will be, we should start young.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

While we might think that life seems meaningless and unfair, God has assured us of this: he will bring all into judgment. There is no sin that will ever go unpunished. There is no wrong that will not be righted, no justice that will go unsettled.

How? God is just and holy. Jesus died as a substitute to suffer God’s wrath for all he will forgive and to transfer to the forgiven God’s righteousness. Thus, your sin will be punished. Either God will punish you for your sin, or he has punished Jesus for your sin. If he punishes you for your sin, his infinite wrath will be poured out on you. You cannot survive that. But Jesus, God in the flesh, could take our punishment, satisfy God’s justice, and rise from the grave.

Solomon tells us to get right with our Creator while we are young. Before you get old, before you lose pleasure in life, before your mind is cluttered, remember your God. He is a righteous judge who has offered you grace in Jesus. Rejoice in that gracious justice and surrender to Jesus before it is too late.

Paralysis by Analysis

In Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon is speaking to his hearers, for a moment, about issues related to finances and working toward the future. He has good warnings and helpful counsel to offer. And in reading that counsel, I find myself focused on a single thought, one I often need to hear for more than financial health.

Ecclesiastes 11:4

He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

In a mainly agricultural society, this little proverbial phrase is not difficult to understand. A man who is so focused on watching the sky and making sure that conditions are perfectly safe will neither plant nor harvest. If a person becomes so focused on all the circumstances that could go wrong, if a person becomes so afraid that they might fail, they will never move forward.

In my own life, I know that I can give myself too much to analyzing a potential course of action. Obviously, we do not want to act thoughtlessly or brashly. It is good to get a little data and study it to make sure you are making a generally wise decision. But once the collection of data and the analysis of a problem takes up too much of your time, you might be paralyzing yourself.

Solomon has pointed us to a simple wisdom. Do not give in to paralysis by analysis. Yes, look at the problem or project you face. Yes, do your diligence. But in the end, you will have to make a decision. Otherwise, you will simply never move. And there is no growth in wavering between one position and another.

There is also a significant sin that Solomon is helping us to avoid, though we do not see it spelled out in this verse. What is at the heart of over-analysis of a situation? Is it not that we want to so control our futures that we do not allow the possibility of failure? We are not God. We cannot control the future that much. God requires that we make wise decisions, but that we walk forward in faith. At the end of the day, we need to make the best decisions we can make, we need to be submitted to his word, and we need to trust that the Lord is the Lord over the details. Only God can guarantee an outcome, and he is not revealing to us his secret plans for the future. We need to be humble enough to realize we cannot see the future, we cannot predict the future, and we must trust God with the future.