Last shabbat was Shabbat Shuvah, the sabbath of repentance. The prophetic reading for that day has a message we do well to remember as we go into Yom Kippur and into the coming year for by employing its wisdom, we can find transformation in this season of change.
(2) Return, O Israel, unto the LORD thy God; For thou hast stumbled in thine iniquity. (3) Take with you words, And return unto the LORD; Say unto Him: ‘Forgive all iniquity, And accept that which is good; So will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips. (4)Asshur shall not save us; We will not ride upon horses; Neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods; For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.’ (5) I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; For Mine anger is turned away from him. (6) I will be as the dew unto Israel; He shall blossom as the lily, And cast forth his roots as Lebanon. (7) His branches shall spread, And his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, And his fragrance as Lebanon. (8) They that dwell under his shadow shall again Make corn to grow, And shall blossom as the vine; The scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. (9) Ephraim [shall say]: ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ As for Me, I respond and look on him; I am like a leafy cypress-tree; From Me is thy fruit found. (10) Whoso is wise, let him understand these things, Whoso is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the just do walk in them; But transgressors do stumble therein (Hosea 14)
Although we are used to thinking of coming to God taking with us sacrifices, in this passage we are urged to take words with us. Indeed, this passage shows us how choosing the right words can be utterly transformational, for those prepared to seek such transformation. Therefore, the first thing to consider is this:
Choose Change by Choosing Your Words
Although he was an anti-Semite, Henry Ford was not wrong about everything! And he was certainly right when he said this: “If you say you can or you can’t you are right either way.” The words we choose have the power keep us down or to lift us up. And the choice is ours. The prophet fills us in on how this is to be done.
- Name your sins, failures, ways in which you missed the mark and distorted your life – “Say unto Him: ‘Forgive all iniquity.” This is where naming it and claiming it has its true place. Name your sins and claim them. Don’t dress them up, don’t excuse them, don’t explain them. Let yourself be nailed just as the Messiah allowed Himself to be nailed. If we would find transformation in the words that we speak to ourselves and to God, we must do this. Name your sins, warts and all, remembering these things: (Proverbs 28:13) He that covers his transgressions shall not prosper; But whoever confesses and forsakes them shall obtain mercy; (1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.; (Luke 15:18) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” By choosing the right words to say, the Prodigal Son structured, motivated, and directed his own actions. The same will be true for us.
- Many people sabotage their own transformation. Knowing they need to stop smoking, they say, “I am going to cut back,” leaving themselves a back door, choosing appearances over transformation. Or someone knows they are seriously overweight, and they tell themselves, “I really want to lose weight, but I just can’t give up bread. I just can’t!” And you know, they’re right! As long as you say you can’t, you can’t. We should search our hearts and see how often our vows of changing, our statements of intent, are couched in careful language leaving us a back door for not truly embracing change. When we do that, we are choosing words which will take us nowhere.
- It is far better to say something like this, say, in the morning when one wakes up: “I am not smoking today.” That is a statement of intent, but more than that, it is a reality you created and which you can defend when the urge comes up. Just remind yourself: “I am not smoking today.” Don’t make grandiose vows, which everyone knows we can’t keep. Take it one day at a time. Don’t simply state an intent: frame a reality. “I am not smoking today,” or perhaps, “Today is a non-smoking day.” And you can take care of tomorrow when it comes, as it will. Create a reality. Live in it. Defend it against contradictions. And go on.
When we choose the right words, and take them with us, our words will also take us where we need to go.
- Name ways in which you genuinely tried to live rightly in sight – ‘And accept that which is good.’ Just looking at the Book of Psalms should remind us that it is fine in times of prayer to remind God of times when we were faithful to him and to his ways. We are not altogether rotten, and although it will upset many Calvinists, it is not wrong for us to remind God and ourselves when we strove to honor him, and even succeeded in doing so.
- Resolve to henceforth speak the truth in your heart about yourself, and about God. “So will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips.” This is the third aspect of taking words with us in our return to God. We should name our sins, remember our efforts to please God, and resolve henceforth to speak truth in our hearts, to take true words with us in our hearts and on our lips, that our words might also take us where we need to go in our service to God.
Choose Change by Rejecting Your Idols
Repentance means choosing to leave behind false means of satisfaction and safety. Ultimately, we sin when we seek to satisfy natural desires in unacceptable ways. These are our idols. “Asshur shall not save us; We will not ride upon horses. Neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods.” All of these were the things that Israel relied on for satisfaction and a sense of safety instead of relying upon God. What are the habits, toys, behaviors. relationships, and possessions that rely on as a substitute for God’s place in your life? Guess what: these are your idols!
Choose Change, Expecting God’s Blessing
Our passage from Hosea reminds of two areas where our lives will be enriched should we choose change through choosing the right words and the actions that accompany them.
- Reconciliation with God – “In me the orphan finds mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; For Mine anger is turned away from him.” When the Prodigal Son returned to his father, brought there by the transformational words he had chosen, his father put on his shoulders a robe of status, and a ring of status on his hand. He had the fatted calf killed, and held a party in his honor. So it is with us. When we return to God, he surpasses our expectations: he throws a party. When you return, you can expect a warm and overwhelming welcome from the Holy One.
- Fruitfulness of life – “I will be as the dew unto Israel; He shall blossom as the lily, And cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, And his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, And his fragrance as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall again Make corn to grow, And shall blossom as the vine; The scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim [shall say]: ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ As for Me, I respond and look on him; I am like a leafy cypress-tree; From Me is thy fruit found.”
When we return to God, we return to frutifulness of life. Lie becomes richer, more beautiful, more productive. Yeshua reflected this truth when he said,
“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. Right now, because of the word which I have spoken to you, you are pruned. Stay united with me, as I will with you — for just as the branch can’t put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from me. “ am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up. “If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. This is how my Father is glorified — in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim.
These are good words, and this entire lesson presents us with both an incentive and means to pursue personal transformation in this holy season. We do well to remember the words with which Hosea closes his chapter:
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things, Whoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous walk in them; But transgressors stumble in them.
A Final Thought
The call for us in the coming year is to take with us words, to take our words seriously, and choosing words that speak the truth and lead us in the direction of righteous living. With this in view we might bear this in mind:
Integrity is living in alignment with your beliefs and your word. If your words and your actions are not lined up, you are being out of integrity. Integrity is being accountable to your word. And your word is the only thing you have that supports relationship with others and with yourself. Your word comes across not only verbally, but through the way you are being. So, how are you being with yourself and with others? Without integrity your word has no meaning or value. It is just gibberish, noise to fill up space. You break promises to yourself and others. People can’t trust you, you can’t trust you. Without integrity, self-empowerment is a joke. We prostitute our energy, our words, our ideas, our intentions in the name of safety and security.
Rosie Kuhn, PhD – “Self-Empowerment 101”
And seeking safety and security in anything other than the values and faithfulness of God is idolatry. And as the Bible says, “flee from idols.” Especially your pet ones.