Hosea 3:4-5 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 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.
While the center of the story in Hosea turns on sin and repentance, at the same time, there is another story going on, and that is the story of discipline. Often times we talk about repentance and forgiveness in such a way as to run them together. I sin, I’m sorry, and now everything is better. While it may be a useful outline in many instances, if that is all there is it lead to a cycle of repeated sin – because it is harder to say no to sin, than it is to say I’m sorry. Because neither God nor parents want sin to multiply, there is often some accompanying disciple to discourage sin, and encourage good behavior. It seems that this practice has fallen by the wayside, and in our text God indicates not only is it desirable, but that proper discipline is even part of God’s own plan for his people.
Returning to the text, we may not find raisin cakes a temptation, but many is the sweet tooth, and many are the children caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Here we need stop and say – what’s the sin? In the first place it is covetousness, wanting something that is not ours. In the second place it is theft, taking something that did not belong to us. And at the root of it all is an inability to trust that God will give us this day all that we need, including any cookies that are required. So while it was just a hand in the cookie jar, might seem like a little thing it is much bigger than it would at first appear. Now if we take this principal of the hand in the cookie jar we can apply it to most of the rest of life. There is a lot of sin out there, and some of it is bound to be tempting to all of us. But, how do we teach people to resist temptation?
People do not simply obey the law out of fear of punishment, although if the punishment is stiff enough many will obey to avoid punishment – but this is neither God’s objective or that of a Christian parent. The point of discipline was to teach people how to behave correctly. And one of the best forms of discipline is waiting. While these days, its called a time out, in my day it was simply go to your room. Whenever it was said, it was also made clear that such behavior was not something a member of this family would do, and it was up to the family to decide when I could come out and be part of the family again. In many ways it was a test, if I was really sorry, it I truly repented, I would be good in my room, until the time I was called out. If, on the other hand, I wasn’t really sorry, I would go to my room and get in yet more trouble.
And that is what is going on in our text today. God loves us, and God forgives us, but that doesn’t always mean that things are going to immediately return to the way they were, before sin. Sometimes God is going to make us wait, and at those times, its as though we may feel like we will never be called out of the banishment to our room. God may also test our repentance, to see if we really mean it – do we love God enough to keep our hand out of the cookie jar?
And that may be part of the reason behind the old tradition of giving something up for Lent, not only can we keep our hand out of the cookie jar, but how much do we really love God, and how long are we going to be able to trust his promise of love, while we remain, as it were in our room?
Sometimes, our faith is not very strong, and although God has said he loves us, we don’t believe, cause if he really loved us he’d give us what we want. But our text tells us that sometimes God loves us enough that he will discipline us, that is, to train us in the way that members of His family are to live.
If Israel waited for many years, without a temple, and without a king – if Israel was to wait many year before the coming of the Messiah, believing only in a promise given long ago – is it reasonable to expect that there well may be some waiting in the lives of Christians, and that we will not always get what we want, when we want it. God makes us to wait to teach us about the faith he has planted by the Spirit in our hearts – so we can learn to trust in him, rely upon him, so that our faith might grow strong so that we can resist temptation and turn from sin and serve our loving and forgiving savior. God knows that discipline is never pleasant, but it is a very real sign of his love and our calling, in Jesus Christ.