Good discipline is crucial to true restoration. Discipline isn’t often something we immediately equate with something we need and something born out of deep love. But that is exactly what good discipline is, what God’s discipline is. We need discipline to recognize the changes we need to make to live changed lives according to God’s Word.
One of my favourite books in the Bible is Hosea. This book shows this idea beautifully. Hosea is a book of prophecy condemning Israel for its sin. But Hosea isn’t just prophesying—he is also living it out. The first 3 chapters of Hosea are an overview of the next 10 chapters, and here we see Hosea making his life a great object lesson for what God will speak through Hosea the rest of the book. Hosea takes a wife, a harlot, and begets children. The children are named Jezreel (foretelling of the destruction of Israel), Lo-Ruhammah (meaning no-mercy) and Lo-Ammi (meaning not-My-people). Through the names of Hosea’s children, God begins the judgement on Israel: Israel will be destroyed, He will have no mercy (on Israel, but He will show mercy to Judah), and He will be the only one able to save them, and what I think is the scariest pronouncement: “… and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9, NKJV). BUT, God promises hope. In the end of chapter 1, restoration is promised, and the children’s names change to fit with the new relationship. Jezreel will be restored and there will be rejoicing, they are once again His people (Ammi), and mercy will be shown (Ruhammah). Throughout this book, judgement is steep and harsh. BUT God is a God of mercy and hope. Throughout all the judging, passages of hope and calls to repent are sprinkled. God is disciplining, but that is not the end. The discipline is needed in order to truly restore Israel back to Him.
In the next chapter, Gomer, Hosea’s harlot wife, keeps leaving Hosea for other lovers, a picture of Israel’s determined straying from God. She is unfaithful, and stubbornly continues to return to old lovers because there is where she thinks she finds all she needs. So, God takes it away and makes it impossible for her to reach these other lovers. BUT He gives a chance for repentance and early restoration (v2b-3). She doesn’t realise how good she had it until it’s too late. She returns, but only to be spurned and punished because she forgot the Lord. BUT once again, mercy is promised. The language becomes gentler and loving. He allures her to the desert to refill and renew her, and there is where she finds true joy. This is one of my all-time favourite Bible verses: “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20, NKJV). He will restore us to Himself, but first must come discipline. We need to first get to that place of recognizing what our sin is, hitting rock bottom from the discipline we deserve, so that God can gently take our hand and lift us back up.
Chapter 3 is where the connection is first made between the harlot and Israel. God has created this great lesson with Hosea marrying the harlot, Gomer, and now God is saying “Hosea represents Me, and Gomer represents Israel.” BUT Israel will be restored to God. The next 7 chapters are all about the judgment and punishment, but I like how right before He starts in on it all, He leaves Israel with a promise of restoration.
I think the two biggest sins Israel is being judged for is forgetting God, and refusing to repent. Because of their idolatry, they have forgotten God, and by forgetting God, they have fallen into sin that comes with His absence (lying, swearing, stealing, adultery, and violence are some mentioned). They have wanted to be like other nations and have pushed God out of their lives entirely in that pursuit. Israel is condemned many times for forgetting Him and relying instead on other nations. The ironic thing is this: the two nations mentioned as those whom Israel have called upon are Egypt and Assyria: both who held Israel in captivity. They have not only forgotten God but have also forgotten their past—how these nations treated them and how God saved them. Their pride blinds them to judgement, because they think God cannot see their sin. So He gives them what they want: “…they became an abomination like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10, NKJV). God curses them for their apostasy (accusing them of false sacrifices, among other things), His provision they refuse to attribute to Him, their rejection of Him, and false things they have put their trust in (false kings, false prophets/teachers, idols, their own “goodness”). He condemns them to barrenness, and this is especially important. The god they worshipped, Baal, was the god of fertility. God is showing His dominance over all other gods by making those who worship Baal barren, which is the exact opposite of what should happen. The cursing goes on for a while. But sprinkled in among all of this are moments of calls to repentance (5:15, 6:1-3, 12:6) and hope (10:12, 12:9-10). They continually refuse to repent, but God continues to give them chances anyway because He deeply loves them. Good discipline comes out of deep love, and God’s heartbreak over their sin is shown in two passages that bring tears to my eyes. In Hosea 6:4 God is basically asking them “why won’t you choose Me?” and in 11:8-9 He says, “My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (11:8), because he doesn’t want to give them up. Oh, how He loves us! He doesn’t love disciplining us! He disciplines us because He loves us! He wants to be with us, and that can only happen if we turn from our sin and turn to Him. Only then can we be restored to relationship with Him. Friends, please understand God is in the discipline, but He doesn’t enjoy it. Like any good parent, discipline is brought out of love intended to correct because the path you’re on will eventually end up hurting you. You may not see that, but you don’t see the whole picture. God wants us to be with Him, and so He goes to great lengths to make sure that happens. If discipline is what our obstinate hearts need, discipline is what we’ll get to correct the behavior. And please remember that God is not mean—it might be easy to think that since the judgment on Israel is harsh and goes on for a lot of chapters. But the punishment fits the crime. The Israelites had fallen so far and committed such heinous crimes against God that this is what was needed to restore relationship. But punishment is never the end! Hosea ends with the promise of a restored Israel. “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from him” (14:4). The restoration begins with a call to repent, and when they do, He talks about restoring them and growing them like new grain and new vines. Once we have repented, God welcomes us back. He revives, renews, and restores us to Himself.
“Let us purse the knowledge of the Lord, His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (6:3). Let us pursue the Lord, casting all other things aside. God may discipline, but good discipline comes out of deep love. When we repent and turn back to God, He is merciful. Let Him break you down so He can fill you up.
Israel was punished. With Jesus, we are only disciplined. The difference is this: Israel was sent out of God’s presence because of their sin. Jesus was punished for us, thus creating a new covenant that means we are not sent out of God’s presence when we sin. Punishment is being penalized for sin; discipline is being corrected from our sin. I wanted to make that clear. We still have so much to learn from Old Testament books like Hosea, but we are no longer punished for sin, we are disciplined.
I want to end with lines out of a song that inspired the title of this. It’s called Keep Making Me by the Sidewalk Prophets and I highly recommend listening to it.
Make me broken, so I can be healed.
I want to run to You, heart wide open, make me broken.
Make me empty, so I can be filled.
I’m completed, when You are with me. Make me empty.
‘Til You are my one desire, ‘til You are my one true love.
‘Til You are my breath, my everything.
God, may You make me aware of my sins, like throughout Hosea when You made them aware. May You remind me of how you have taken care of Me in the past, as You reminded the Israelites through Hosea. May you discipline me that I may be corrected, and may I cling to Your promise of restoration and renewal. May I never think I am good enough, or stubborn enough to not see You at work. Break me, so only You can heal me. Empty me of all else, so only You can fill me. Renew me. Restore me.