Thursday, December 13, 2007

Backsliding portrayed in the book of Hosea

'For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer' (4:16)

The Nature of Backsliding

It is spiritual whoredom, 'the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.' (1:2). 'For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD. Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.' (4:10-11). There is a drawing out of the heart after its own iniquity: 'they set their heart on their iniquity' (4:9)

It is a neglect of God and failure to call upon him through pride and sinful, wilful ignorance: 'They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me. Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this. Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.' (7:7-11)

'They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD. And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face' (5:4). Pride and idolatry are closely connected: 'When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding' (13:1-2)

This idolatry and pride is partly the sin of using the outward prosperity that God bestows not to glorify him but for our sinful ends 'As they were increased, so they sinned against me' (4:7). The backslider refuses to reverence God as he must be reverenced 'my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.' (11:7)

God's word is neglected 'I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.' (8:12). There is therefore a lack of knowledge: 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge' (4:6)

The Effects of Backsliding

Backsliding brings upon it the Lord's chastisement which is designed to provoke conviction on account of such sinful departures:
'behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts. And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them. And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the LORD' (2:6-13).

God's chastisements are just and in proportion to the backlider's departures: 'because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.' (4:6-7) 'Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty' (10:2)

God withdraws and leaves the backslider to himself - to be filled with his own ways - as a chastisement 'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.' (4:17) 'they shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.' (5:6)

'Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment. Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness. I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early'. (5:11-15)

The backslider is given up to barrenness and reproach: 'Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit' (9:16) 'Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation' (12:1) 'Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him' (12:14)

The Cure of Backsliding

Grace alone can cure backsliding.
'O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him' (14:1-4)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name'. (2:14-17)

'Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. (6:1-3)

Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God

Richard Sibbes has fourteen sermons on Hosea entitled "The Returning Backslider", preached in the 1620s were printed in 1639. Sibbes writes firstly of personal backsliding, an aggravation of sin, a sin against knowledge and with a high hand. It is spiritual adultery, a loathsome thing in the world. It brings shame into his life so that sinners are justly called fools. Sin robs a man of all that is good and great; it is the bane of all our comforts.

The only course of action for the backslider is to repent." Take your words to God and confess your sin to him." We are to attack the Goliath sin to which we are most addicted, whose death causes other lesser sins to flee. To encourage us in this enterprise let us look especially at the mercy of God which mitigates all God's other mighty awesome attributes. Labour for further assurance that you are his. The bedrock of assurance is found as you rest upon God in Christ. This God loves to show mercy to returning sinners. So Sibbes too seeks to encourage the penitent backslider. Preventing backsliding is crucial because it starts imperceptibly. Grow in your knowledge of God and his Son so that grace will grow. Confess your sin daily.

"Many think they have repented, and are deceived upon this false ground. They are and have been grieved for their sins and offences; are determined to leave and forsake them, and that is all they do. They never lay hold of Christ, and come home to God."

"They are cruel to their own souls that walk in evil ways; for undoubtedly God will turn their own ways upon their own heads."