Posts Tagged 'backslider'

Hosea: The Final Appeal


Hosea 14


For 13 grueling chapters, Hosea has given us sermons and rants dealing with sin, judgment, and punishment.  Here, in the final chapter of his book we read of the Lord’s final appeal to errant Israel.  To say this chapter is memorable would be an understatement.  It’s like the rainbow after a storm.  In it, we see a side of God that gives the sinner and backslider hope.  The loving heart of God is revealed in Hosea 14.  Nobody can read this chapter without understanding what God said back in 11:9—

I am God and not man…

If God thought and acted like a man, the game would be over as far as the human race is concerned!  But God is not a man, nor does He think like one.  And He does not deal with us like a man would.  Chapter 14 of Hosea gives all men hope as we discover the glorious triumph of grace.

One time, a king named Zedekiah asked another prophet, Jeremiah, this desperate question:

Is there any word from the Lord?  (Jeremiah 31:17  NKJV)

Zedekiah got his answer, and it was bad news for him.  But God’s Word to Hosea’s people and to backsliders of all ages and dispensations is simple:  Come back.

Returning to the Lord is as simple as these five steps:

Step One

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity…  (Hosea 14:1  NKJV)

Even in its backslidden condition, the Lord is still Israel’s God!  Imagine the patience of a loving heavenly Father who hasn’t given up on His children and let them go.  This is our God!  Like the prodigal’s father, God never ceased to be Israel’s Father no matter how badly they may have wanted that relationship to end.

God is seen calling lost Israel back to Himself, but that call is based on their sins.  It’s interesting that God does not base His call to return on His love for them, which was real enough.  It was on account of their sins that they needed to come back to Him.  Implicit in God’s call was that (1) the people would have to acknowledge their sinful condition, and (2) they would be forgiven.

It’s in the backslider’s best interest to return to God, confess his sins and accept God’s gracious offer of forgiveness.  Those living in a backslidden condition have a completely skewed perspective.  They have “stumbled” over their sins and they are far worse off than if they had continued serving the Lord.  Sin has blinded them to their spiritually crippled state and inexplicably, backsliders will stubbornly claim they are “so much happier” stuck in their sins.  To these, God calls out, “Come back!”, not “Get lost!”

Step Two

Bring your petition. Come to the Lord and say, “O Lord, take away our sins; be gracious to us and receive us, and we will offer you the sacrifice of praise.”  (Hosea 14:2  TLB)

Verse two serves to underscore the importance of confession of sin and a request for God’s grace in returning to Him.  Hosea’s people had been offering sacrifices mechanically for generations; there was no heart behind them.  Now, however, they are to come to God, not with formal, ritualistic, religious observances, but with honest words spoken from the heart that acknowledge their true condition before the Lord.    Religious observances were of absolutely no value to God.

…they will come with their flocks and herds to sacrifice to God, but it will be too late—they will not find him. He has withdrawn from them and they are left alone.  (Hosea 5:6  TLB)

Truth be told, religion and grace are in constant opposition to each other.  Religion actually has nothing to do with God but everything to do with man.  It is man’s attempt to reach up to God his way.  Grace, however, is God reaching down to man.  Religion and grace cannot coexist; we may come to God in a religious way—man’s way; or we may come to God His way—by His grace.  Only one way is acceptable to God, and that’s the way of grace.  Hosea’s people needed to understand that, and so do we today.

Step Three

“Assyria cannot save us, nor can our strength in battle; never again will we call the idols we have made ‘our gods’; for in you alone, O Lord, the fatherless find mercy.”  (Hosea 14:3  TLB)

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.  (KJV)

Their words of repentance are to be backed up by actions.  It’s one thing to own up to the wrong you’ve done, but it’s another thing to stop it cold.  Israel had been turning to other nations for help for generations, but in coming to God in repentance, they were to stop that disobedient act.  In fact, there were three things that sins that Israel had to repent from:  reliance on Assyria for salvation; relying on Egypt for military help; and relying on man-made idols for spiritual blessing and guidance.

In the KJV’s  “we will not ride upon horses,” Israel finally admits to a sin they committed hundreds and hundreds of years earlier:  the importation of horses  from Egypt.  This act was an outright rebellion against the command of Moses not to return to Egypt in search of horses.

Solomon’s horses were brought to him from Egypt and southern Turkey, where his agents purchased them at wholesale prices.  (1 Kings 10:28  TLB)

Be sure that he doesn’t build up a large stable of horses for himself, nor send his men to Egypt to raise horses for him there, for the Lord has told you, ‘Never return to Egypt again.’  (Deuteronomy 17:16  TLB)

How does this apply to backsliders today?  Christians must always be on guard against the deceptive lure of trusting anything or any person other than God.  A false God may take many forms.  What is their in your life that you rely on for security and assurance other than God?  The way back to God for us is the same as the way for Israel:  honestly confess our sins and stop them.

Step Four

The fourth step in returning to God (and staying with Him) is to believe in His promises or blessings for the future.  Restoration always follows repentance.  When we come to Him in repentance, God restores us to complete fellowship with Him and when at last Israel comes to God in repentance, that nation will be restored.

The remainder of this chapter describes the blessings awaiting Israel in the future.  They still have not repented on a national scale in the way they need to and they won’t until the days of the Tribulation.  The blessings in verses 4—8 will not be fully given to national Israel until the Millennium.  These verses are, therefore, eschatological.

I will refresh Israel like the dew from heaven; she will blossom as the lily and root deeply in the soil like cedars in Lebanon.  Her branches will spread out as beautiful as olive trees, fragrant as the forests of Lebanon.  Her people will return from exile far away and rest beneath my shadow. They will be a watered garden and blossom like grapes; they will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.

“O Ephraim! Stay away from idols! I am living and strong! I look after you and care for you. I am like an evergreen tree, yielding my fruit to you throughout the year. My mercies never fail.”  (Hosea 14:5—8  TLB)

We cannot imagine how glorious restored Israel will be.  In love, God has promised to do all this and more for His people.  That same redeeming love was manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ’s vicarious work on the Cross does for us what will happen to Israel during the Millennium.

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!  (1 Corinthians 5:17  TLB)

An integral part of this process is found in verse 4—

Then I will cure you of idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be forever gone!

Note that God will cure the sin sickness of Israel; Israel will not cure itself because it cannot cure itself.  Christians need to understand this, too.  It is Jesus Christ that makes us into a “new creation,” we don’t do that.  It’s a work of grace.

Step Five

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is intelligent, let him listen. For the paths of the Lord are true and right, and good men walk along them. But sinners trying them will fail.  (Hosea 14:9  TLB)

This verse is what some scholars have called “a noble epilogue.”  It is also a fitting climax to the book.  Hosea had dealt with some incredible themes in his book:

  • The sovereignty of God, chapters 1—5;
  • Holiness, chapters 4—7;
  • Justice, chapters 8—10;
  • Love, chapters 11—14.

Verse 9 really is an appeal to his readers—including us—to understand and discern what he written.  When it comes to the Word of God – Hosea and the other 65 books –  constant reading, studying, and application is necessary because in doing so, we will not go astray but will remain on a path that leads to the Lord.


Hosea was, in terms of his preaching, a failure.  His efforts changed nothing in Israel.  Shortly after he ministered, the nation he loved so much stumbled and fumbled their way into captivity.

However, God judges us using a different standard.  His standard is:  faithfulness.  In God’s eyes, Hosea was a stunning success because he remained absolutely faithful.  He was unequaled among the Old Testament prophets.  He endured the faithlessness and betrayal of both his wife and his country, but he saw aspects of God’s character never seen before.



Hosea: Losing God


Hosea 5


Hosea 5 is a powerful chapter that talks about two of Israel’s biggest problems:  religious and political.  These two problems are related; the latter being influenced by the former.  We can see this situation playing out even today in our own country.  In Israel’s case, her religious problem was particularly nasty:  they were literally chasing after the Canaanite fertility cults.  Her political problem was disastrous:  instead of turning to God, they turned to Assyria and Egypt for help.  Their rebellion against their God was close to being complete as they had pretty much figured Him out of their religious lives and found alternatives for Him in their political lives.

This chapter tells us how God reacted to their faithless behavior.

1.  A sad result

Then at last, they will come with their flocks and herds to sacrifice to God, but it will be too late—they will not find him. He has withdrawn from them and they are left alone.  (Hosea 5:6  TLB)

The power behind this verse lies it what it means, not only in what it says.  To “come with their flocks and herds” means to search after God’s favor through sacrifice.  The problem with the Israelites, though, was that while they had the sacrifice part of the equation down to an art, they had no faith; they exhibited no evidence of true faith; they were all show.  We know from elsewhere in Scripture that mere outward sacrifice is never enough to move God, and it fact can elicit the exact opposite response from God than the desired one.

Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.”  (1 Samuel 15:22—23  TLB)

We have an interesting juxtaposition occurring in chapters 4 and 5.  In chapter 4, Israel’s spirit of harlotry is what drove them away from God, but here in chapter 5, that same spirit is the reason God is withdrawing from His people.  You may think that removing His presence from them was pretty harsh.  After all, you may think, they were willing to make sacrifices and to seek the Him out.  But consider what was really happening here.  These people had fallen so far from God, that they were seeking the one True God at the altars of Baal!  They were literally mixing up religions, so mixed up they had become.  They foolishly thought they could combine the best of the Canaanite religions with their religion, expecting God to bless them.  How wrong they were!  No wonder God left them.

This is what happens when people try to approach God on their terms.  Christians have become very good at this; mixing worldliness with true worship and expecting God to “honor their hearts.”  But the fact is, it’s important to God how and even where we seek Him.  You will never find God if you are not looking for Him with all your heart, in the right way, in the right places.  He demands complete allegiance and loyalty.  He also demands obedience.  How can He reward your disobedient spirit with answered prayer?  Or with His presence?  There’s good reason why it seems so many churches are bereft of spiritual power and direction.  Too many churches have bought into the lie that the way to attract members is to appeal to their fleshly needs – things like worship/music style, a casual atmosphere, or even coffee in the sanctuary are thought “progressively clever” ways to get the young and hip to commit.   Appealing to the flesh is never a good idea under any circumstance!

2.  Reasons

God was angry enough with His people to take His presence away from them.  Ultimately, though, the nation’s leaders—political and religious—were the ones who bore responsibility for leading the people astray.

“Hear this, O priests!  Take heed, O house of Israel!  Give ear, O house of the king!  For yours is the judgment, because you have been a snare to Mizpah and a net spread on Tabor.”  (Hosea 5:1  NKJV)

It’s startling to discover that people evaluate Christ and our faith by our behavior.  We, like the political and religious leaders of Hosea’s day, can become a snare for others if we misrepresent God through our words and actions.  It was Emerson who insightfully observed,

What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.

Hosea’s main targets of attack were guilty of ensnaring and netting the people in sin.  Of course, the people were willing participants in the sinful rebellion against God, proving what was written by another prophet of God,

The one who sins is the one who dies. The son shall not be punished for his father’s sins, nor the father for his son’s. The righteous person will be rewarded for his own goodness and the wicked person for his wickedness.  (Ezekiel 18:19  TLB)

The leaders led the people further and further into sin and away from God, but the people wanted to be led in that direction.

What a terrible responsibility we have as Christians to make sure our testimony bears witness to the glory of God.  Somebody’s soul depends on how we behave!

Your deeds won’t let you come to God again, for the spirit of adultery is deep within you, and you cannot know the Lord.  (Hosea 5:4  TLB)

Sin creates a very real barrier between man and God.  One who constantly gives into his sinful nature and consistently goes off in a sinful direction will become so deeply fascinated with sin and bogged down in it that he will literally become its slave.

This is what had happened in Israel.  At first, they were merely interested in the false religions.  Soon, those false religions began to influence their thoughts and deeds.  That interest in the Canaanite religions became an all-out obsession that blocked the people from returning to God.  At first, they wanted both Baal and Yahweh, but in the end they lost interest in Yahweh.  Because they knowingly sinned against God, they grew to block all knowledge of God and the Law from their minds.

Because they walked away from God, they walked away from His divine protection and opened themselves up to the spirits of idolatry, harlotry, and an awful, sick obsession with the vilest religions of the pagan world.

For they have betrayed the honor of the Lord, bearing children that aren’t his. Suddenly they and all their wealth will disappear.  (Hosea 5:7  NKJV)

What an awful indictment against the people of God!  The leaders of God’s people behaved “deceptively.”  Literally, they behaved like an unfaithful husband.  These men knowingly led the people away from the Lord.  Noted scholars Anderson and Freedman have noted,

We are dealing with hypocritical Yahweh worship:  The depravity that makes repentance impossible is not renunciation of Yahweh, but complacent religiosity.

The people had been deluded into thinking they could approach God their own way, using their made-up rules.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.

3.  Results

So, what happens when God withdraws His presence from His people?

Worship became a waste of time.

Then at last, they will come with their flocks and herds to sacrifice to God, but it will be too late—they will not find him. He has withdrawn from them and they are left alone.  (Hosea 5:6  TLB)

To whom are your worshiping if God is not there?  As long as your heart is not right with God, there is nothing He can do for you.  No number of prayers, sacrifices, offerings, or good works, or any amount of positive thinking and effort expended in His service can make up for the lack of His presence.  If a Christian is out of fellowship with God, his testimony is worthless.


…Ephraim will be crushed and broken by my sentence because she is determined to follow idols.  (Hosea 5:11  TLB)

Because they had taken their eyes off God and God had taken His presence from them, the people (of Ephraim as noted, but really all the Israelites) turned even more to pagan religions and man-made gods for help and comfort.  However, what they didn’t realize is that they were simply compounding their problems by their continued state of rebellion against God.  When a person disobeys the Word of the Lord, they by default become obedient to worldly wisdom, which is most often opposed to God.

Even more lost

When Ephraim and Judah see how sick they are, Ephraim will turn to Assyria, to the great king there, but he can neither help nor cure. (Hosea 5:13  TLB)

What’s so sad is that both Israel and Judah could have been strong, robust, and healthy in every way if they had just returned in repentance to God.  But they didn’t, and so they rushed headlong into more and more trouble.  God Himself became their enemy, allowing their sin to grow and grow, and allowing the nation to decay, becoming more and more morally confused, culturally perverse, and politically corrupt until they became easy pickings for foreign nations.  Israel, fearing Egypt, turned to Assyria for protection.  They should have turned to God, because in the end, this alliance would lead to Israel’s end.

God remains patient

I will abandon them and return to my home until they admit their guilt and look to me for help again… (Hosea 5:15a  TLB)

God promises to stay away from Israel until she acknowledges her sin and guilt and returns to Him.  Sin carries awful consequences, but there is hope.  This chapter is depressing, but ends on a note of hope.  Like the prodigal son who found forgiveness when he came home, so it will be with Israel.  To this very day, God has not given up on Israel.  But He can’t do a thing until they fess up.  Historically, the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities did little to change their hearts.  This verse, then, looks forward into the far future, into the Millennium, when at last the Israelites will stand before the Messiah in repentance and seek Him.

The way God treated wayward Israel is the way He treats the backslider.  He doesn’t give up on them.  There is always hope for the believer who has wandered away from God.  He calls them, and in His sovereignty and providence He makes a way for them to find their way home.


A really bad name for a band!

The Reality of Backsliding

Jeremiah 8:5—9

A lot Christians misunderstand the idea of “backsliding,” so much so they even hate the word! So, if you don’t like the word “backsliding,” then read how Jeremiah put it:

Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. (Jeremiah 8:5)

Is the idea of a believer “turning away from the Lord” easier to take than a believer “backsliding?” It’s the same thing. In spite of what the eternal security crowd thinks, it is possible for a believer walk away from God. Clearly there is eternal security under Christ, but what about a believer who walks out from under Christ? While they may not be giving back their gift of salvation, they have put themselves in a very precarious position.

Backsliding is a very slow and gradual process; almost never does it happen all once. It happens so slowly that by the time a believer realizes what’s going on, it may well be too late. Verse 5 is referring specifically to Judah and Jerusalem, but there are some very important lessons for believers in this present age. The causes of their backsliding and the results of their turning away from the Lord find their antitype in the 21st century.

1. Wrong thinking, verse 5

The people of Judah and Jerusalem, according to the Word of the Lord through His prophet, “cling to deceit.” In other words, their beliefs had become perverted; they had started believing false teaching and wouldn’t give it up. When a Christian forsakes the truth, it’s very easy to believe a lie, but it doesn’t happen all at once and it isn’t always obvious. In the case of the people of Judah, they had fallen into the rut of self-trust. They trusted in their burnt offerings and sacrifices, for example. What was wrong with that? They may have been going through the motions of following the word of the Lord, but they were guilty of “ritual by rote,” their hearts were not in their worship.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves!For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:21—23)

Generation through generation of God’s people went through the motions but their hearts were far from the Lord. They trusted in their own efforts, and because they turned a deaf ear to the truth of God’s Word, it wouldn’t be long before their beliefs became perverted.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. (Jeremiah 7:31)

They slowly but surely turned they backs on the Lord and pretty soon the people of God were doing things once thought to be wicked and vile. This is what happens when a one-time believer forsakes his first love.

They eat ashes because they are deceived. Their own misguided minds lead them astray. They can’t rescue themselves or ask themselves, “Isn’t what I hold in my right hand a false god?” (Isaiah 44:20, GWT)

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

2. Misleading Witness, verse 6a

I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right.

How could they say what was right if they were unable to think what was right? The Lord listened to His people, but everything they were saying was wrong! They dishonored the Lord by the things they did—their way of life—and in their words.

Their attitude toward the Word of God was just the same as their attitude toward the Temple. They thought, incorrectly, that because they possessed the the things of God and God’s truth, they possessed the favor of God. It was Jeremiah’s task to correct their warped thinking.

Yes, they possessed the Word of God, but it did them no good because they were disobedient. Even as they recited and learned it, their lives and their words betrayed the true state of their hearts. Their familiarity of the Word of the Lord bread contempt in their hearts; there was no fear of the Lord, and there was no obedience to the Word they claimed to be following.

Did you know the Lord pays attention to your words? Did you know that He takes note of your attitudes? Did you know he notices how you are living your daily lives? Malachi 3:16 can be a chilling verse to some believers:

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

Obviously, Jeremiah’s people were not named on the scroll! Are you?

3. Self-complacency, verse 6b

No one repents of his wickedness, saying, “What have I done?”

The people were “wicked.” That was God’s estimation of them, not Jeremiah’s. They were wicked in the sight of God, but they were also deluded; so ignorant of their true condition, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong and therefore there was no need of repentance.

All people sin. Even the saintliest Christian, from time to time, will stray from the narrow path; they will have lapses in belief and conduct sometimes. Thank God, most of us become conscious of the deliberate sin in our lives and we own up to it, confess it, and repent. But when a backslider, already straying from the Lord, sins, because his mind is not thinking in a Godward direction; because his heart is far from the Lord, and because he is full of his own self-sufficiency, thinks he has done nothing wrong. This is why so many Christian so easily justify the sin in their lives. They are living, not under Christ any more, but under a delusion.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4, NLT)

3. Misplaced enthusiasm, verse 6c

Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle.

These people were so deluded in their own self-sufficiency, they had self-confidence and their self-esteem was not wanting! They rushed headlong, with pride, into whatever they wanted to do. They were more energetic, more excited, and more enthused about doing what they wanted to do than Christians are about serving the Lord.

Imagine what the Church of Jesus Christ would look like if we who loved the Lord with all our being were as enthused about Him as some people are about whatever their interests may be?

4. Blind to the Word, verse 7

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.

What a stunning, painful indictment of God’s people! Comparing them unfavorably to dumb animals, they appear to be brilliant next to the people of Judah! This how God views the believer who refuses to obey His Word. Why, even birds, with a brain smaller than a golf ball in many cases, are able to discern the signs of the seasons. How dumb is a believer who is so ignorant of God’s Word that he cannot discern God’s will?

What the bird does is by instinct; birds migrate because it’s natural for them to do so. Similarly, the redeemed should naturally strive to obey the Lord. But when they don’t, they are behaving in a most unnatural manner. And like a bird who doesn’t migrate when he should, the believer who behaves in a manner inconsistent with what is natural for him as a child of God, will suffer.

5. Misplaced confidence, verse 8

How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?

This horrible accusation reminds us of what Jesus had to say to the Scribes and Pharisees:

You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24)

It’s an awful thing for God to accuse His ministers of misleading His people! But it’s as common today as it was even in Old Testament times:

Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. (Isaiah 9:16)

The blind leading the blind! The priests, who looked so good in their priestly garments, saying the right things and handling the holy vessels, were in reality so far from the truth of God’s Word that they were lying; deliberately misleading the very people they were supposed to be leading. They claimed to be wise, but they were perverting the Word of God. The claimed to be speaking for God, yet they were so far from God they had no idea God had left them.

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? (verse 9b)

When a man of God teaches doctrines of man, God Himself wonders, “What kind of wisdom is that?”  The fact is, apart from God’s Word, there is no wisdom! The wisdom that comes out of false teachers and backsliders is foolishness to God.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

This was a major concern of the Lord’s. Part of the people’s problem in obeying His Word was that their teachers didn’t teach it properly. The religious leaders allowed sin to grow in the nation because they taught that it was fine.

The same thing is happening today in the Church. There is more lying going on in some churches on a Sunday morning than in the local pub any night of the week. But the simple, inescapable fact is every Christian has an obligation to strive to interpret the Bible accurately. Words are how God chose to speak to us. He literally has clothed Himself in our words so we could understand and relate to Him. You may never attend a Bible college or seminary, and you may never learn the Biblical languages, but with the precious Holy Spirit as your guide, you can know what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus Christ, and the life-giving Gospel.

Yes, it is possible to turn your back on God; to backslide. You can walk out from under Christ. But you don’t have to. Tragically, some Christians, through bad teaching and laziness, and hardness of heart think that’s their only option. But it never is. Repentance is a lifestyle God wants us to adopt. Have you?

ISAIAH, Part 7

Serious Questions for the Backslider, Isaiah 50:1—3

On of the controversial aspects of the book of Isaiah is the identity of “the servant.” It is vitally important to have a correct understanding of his identity if you want to interpret certain chapters where the servant is spoken of in a prophetic sense correctly. While most Christians view the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah as Jesus Christ, Jews view him as the nation of Israel. However, the fact is, in Isaiah’s writings, there are two servants of the Lord, not one. There is the True or Perfect Servant of the Lord, who is identified prophetically as Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. But there is another, imperfect servant of the Lord, and that is the nation of Israel or Judah. A careful study of the context reveals which servant is being referenced at any given time.

As in chapter 42, in chapter 50 the True Servant of God is pictured as speaking to another of God’s servants, the rebellious servant, Israel.

Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD? (Isaiah 42:19)

In chapter 49, the tension between the perfect Servant of God and the imperfect servant of God is poetically played out. Of the imperfect servant of God, some marvelous things are noted:

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Isaiah 49:1—3)

But now, the sin of idolatry, which in God’s sight is a form of spiritual adultery, had become so prominent throughout the land that, when pictured as a marriage, Israel’s marriage covenant with the Lord had been broken.

The immediate context of this chapter is the Babylonian Captivity, which was yet to occur in Isaiah’s time, and Isaiah, even though he was writing as though the nation was exiled already, he was really preaching to a generation not yet born, and admonishing them to return to the Lord and to forsake their idolatrous tendencies.

We know that while Judah (referred to by Isaiah as “Israel”) was in exile, they murmured and complained against God on account of the severity of their condition. They had become, generally speaking, a nation of “backsliders.” Of course, not all the exiled Jews in Babylon and later Persia had stopped following Jehovah, a large number of them were estranged or separated from God. They had not ceased to be God’s people; God had not left them, in fact He was still trying to win them back, but they were stubborn in their rejection of them.

Backsliders, Christians who are separated from God, are slow to blame themselves for their present miserable condition. And being separated from God is a miserable condition because it usually involves bondage to one sin or another. But, as we see this these verses, the Lord, their “spiritual husband,” demands that they face the cause of their estrangement head on, deal with that cause or causes, and then return to Him.

Here are the questions the Lord, the spiritual Husband of all believers, puts to the backslidden Jews. These penetrating questions can also be put to any Christian today who has strayed from his faith.

1. Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? (verse 1)

Under the Law of Moses, and because of the hardness of their hearts, the Lord allowed a man to divorce (“cut” or “cast off,” really) his wife if she was found unfaithful, by giving her an official “bill of divorcement.” This bill was proof to the community that she had been put away by her husband:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)

Exiled as they were (or rather would be), Judah, the Lord’s wife, had assumed that God, her spiritual husband, had cut them off and was ignoring them. In other words, the exiled Jews were so unhappy, discontented and miserable, they simply concluded that God had dumped them, and was therefore not having anything further to do with them. They expressed as much in 40:27—

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

But here God, Judah’s husband, says He had definitely NOT divorced her; He had served no papers or posted no bills. Poetically, God demands that these rebellious children, born in Babylon of backsliding parents, produce His “bill of divorcement,” providing the proof that God was to blame for their present miserable state. Of course, no such document existed on Earth or in Heaven because God had never divorced Himself from His people. In fact, the people were separated from God, but it was on account of their sins, not due to any action on His part.

…because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. (verse 1)

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

2. Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? (verse 1)

Another provision of the Law allowed a father, if he was oppressed with debt, to sell his children in order to pay that debt. That is the background of this question. God’s question to his wayward people was simply, “Did I sell you because of My poverty?” In other words, did God have to sell His children off one by one because He was too poor to keep them?

At first, this may seem like a ridiculous argument to make, but consider what caused many a backslider to turn on God. How many Christians have left God because He didn’t answer a prayer they prayed? Or because, in their eyes, He didn’t bless them enough? The notion that God is unable to supply all our needs is still a motivating factor in the decision of some believers to turn from God to seek other means to fill a need.

But the truth is, God has all the resources of Heaven and Earth at His disposal and is therefore able to meet all our needs! It’s all matter of perception.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

And it’s all a matter of knowing what your real need is. Far too many believers get wrapped up in the temporal world; in things that they think will satisfy but never do because their need is spiritual and can only be met by the Lord. A Christian trying to find satisfaction from worldly things is as futile as trying force a square peg in a round hole.

Once again, the Lord’s answer is simple and direct:

Because of your sins you were sold… (verse 1)

If the people had been sold, it wasn’t God that had sold them! They had, in fact, sold themselves. God puts the blame His people’s present state squarely where it belonged: on their shoulders.

2. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? (verse 2)

Verse 2 rebukes Judah’s unbelief. Even though the prophets of God had called to the people, nobody listened to them; nobody took their words seriously. The entirety of Hebrew history seems to be the story of God continuously reaching out to the people He loved so much, only to find the people either not interested or actively rebelling against Him.

You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. (Isaiah 48:8)

This is a truly sad situation; it pictures a loving husband coming home to his bride and finding only an empty house. He called and called, yet she never answered. This pathetic story continues to this day with Christians who become have so dissatisfied with their backslidden condition, yet, inexplicably, they still refuse to pay attention to God’s call to repent and return. It’s the only way out of bondage into freedom for them, yet like the wayward wife, they just can’t see it.

Through the Holy Spirit, God still calls out to the self-oppressed backsliders. Thankfully, He doesn’t give up on them as easily as they gave up on Him!

3. Was my arm too short to deliver you? (verse 2)

Sin alone is what separates from God. The problem was never with God; the problem was with the Jews. The problem is with the backslider., who may have wandered from the fold, but can he wander so far as to be beyond the reach of God? This is a question every backslider must answer: Is God unable to take you back? Is the precious Blood of Jesus Christ to weak to redeem the backslider?

When we read this question in connection with what follows it, it becomes a tragic picture indeed:

By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. (verse 2)

Here, the Lord is likely referring to the Red Sea and to the deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian bondage. The phrase “a mere rebuke” shows just how simple it is for God to deliver His people. It was nothing to change the course of nature to help His people. The Lord had demonstrated His power to save in history and in nature, yet still the people refused to bend.

Salvation is a relatively simple thing; we tend to complicate it with with all kinds of “classes”: discipleship classes, baptism classes, and so on, but really, getting saved is a snap:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13 and Joel 2:32)

That’s pretty simple! But for the backslider, for the one who has wandered from God, calling out to Him is a monumental task.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

That simple act of confession is very difficult for one who has known a close relationship with Christ. Pride, embarrassment, or anger, whatever the reason that keeps the backslider from owning up to their problem must be overcome if they are to return. And God wants them back!

5. Do I lack the strength to rescue you? (verse 2)

From outward appearances, it seemed as though God was unable to do anything to help the Jews during their Babylonian bondage. This was yet another accusation of the Jews; God was powerless to help them because if He could have, He would have. What’s particularly nefarious about this question is that not only did the Jews think this way, but because of their sin and refusal to come back to the Lord, it appeared to the Babylonians that their God was weak and powerless.

As long as a backslider remains in their backslidden state, they are dragging the Name and Character of the Lord into public dishonor.

And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:5)

If ever there was a good reason to live righteously, this must be it! How the believer lives in public reflects the Character and Nature of his God!

As if to remind them of all the good things He has done for them, God speaks of His actions in their history and in nature:

I clothe the heavens with darkness and make sackcloth its covering. (verse 3)

Imagine the great condescension of God of having to remind His wayward children of all the things He had done for them. It was as though love was not reason enough to return to Him.

Imagine the great condescension of God in giving His only Son to die for us on the Cross?

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4—6)

Do you really think God lacks the power to save the backslider?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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