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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Curse Of Too Much Freedom
Text:Hosea 4:15-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Keeping Vows
 
Preached:2006-11-05
Added:2006-11-25
Updated:2006-12-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read: John 10: 7-18

Text: Hosea 4: 15,16

Sing: Psalm 16: 1, 3, 4

Psalm 119: 17, 22, 35

Psalm 106: 9, 12, 21

Psalm 23: 1, 2, 3

Psalm 68: 3, 12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

Those who live in cattle country will notice that every once in a while a cow wanders off and gets lost. If you were to ask a rancher how a cow gets lost then the chances are that he will reply, "Well, a cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and then when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles another tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost."

Cows are dumb animals. Like any animal, one of its basic instinct is to get food. And it wants the lushest grass wherever she can find it. As long as the cow gets what it wants, then she is satisfied. A cow likes the freedom to graze wherever the grass is greenest. Cows don’t like fences.

Well, in that regard that’s also what we are like. That’s also what the text of this morning tells us. The Lord God compares the Israelites to stubborn heifers. Israel wants freedom. It wants freedom to do what it likes. But, Israel does not want to be constrained in any way.

But, the Lord God warns them that that will be their downfall. By giving Israel that warning, he also gives us that same warning. He warns us about wanting too much freedom. When you have too much freedom you run the danger of becoming lost, utterly lost. In the end you may never find your way back again. You will be lost forever. That’s the curse of a life without boundaries, of too much freedom. That’s also the theme for this morning’s service. I will preach to about:

THE CURSE OF TOO MUCH FREEDOM

1. The gift of freedom;

2. The abuse of freedom;

3. The curse of freedom.

The nation of Israel had a wonderful history. The Lord God had given them much. They were chosen to be God’s special people. As such they were greatly blessed and given many wonderful promises. The Lord told them that from their nation the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, would be born. He gave them many other promises and privileges.

The Israelites were well aware of this. They knew their history. And they passed that history on from generation to generation. They knew about their father Abraham, and that the Lord God had made wonderful promises to him and his descendants, the nation of Israel. The Lord had promised to Abraham that he would give him and his offspring the land of Canaan.

There were many places in Canaan that reminded them of those promises. One of those places is mentioned here in the text. For verse 15 speaks about Beth Aven. As we will see in a moment, that actually refers to Bethel. That place has quite a history in Israel. For it was there that God made the promise to Abraham to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan.

Bethel was also the place where Jacob encounters God after he fled from his father-in-law Laban. God revealed himself there to Jacob as the God of Bethel. And Jacob also built an altar there because of that wonderful revelation. Bethel was also one of the three cities to which Samuel would come each year to make sacrifices and to judge the people. The people knew that history.

The text also mentions the town Gilgal. Also that place was well known by the Israelites. It too had quite a history. Gilgal was situated between Jericho and the Jordan and was the first place that Israel came to and stayed at after they crossed the Jordan. What a time of joy that was! That is what Israel had been waiting for for 40 years as they wandered into wilderness. Finally they were in the land of Canaan and, the land that God had promised to them 600 years prior to that to Abraham and his offspring. God had kept his promise. Gilgal is the first place where they erected memorial stones to the Lord to commemorate that wonderful event. Right after this Gilgal became Joshua’s base of operations.

Some 400 years later Saul also used that town for that same purpose. For it was from Gilgal that he would attack the Philistines. In the early monarchy Gilgal had become an important political, religious, and military center. Gilgal was also one of the other cities that Samuel included in his yearly circuit.

And so, these two cities reminded Israel of the wonderful events that had taken place in the past. The Lord God had shown his mercy to his people and taken them from all the other nations, giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. He had rescued them from their enemies in most miraculous ways. They had been given great freedom to enjoy everything that God had given them.

In that regard Israel was reminded of Paradise. Paradise was a wonderful place. Every enjoyment imaginable was available there to Adam and Eve. They had been given total freedom by the Lord God to enjoy God’s creation. God even made Adam and Eve his representatives here on earth. They had been given the freedom to go and do whatever they wanted. There was only one condition, however. They had to give God the glory. They had to acknowledge him as the Almighty Creator. That was the only restriction.

But what did Adam and Eve do? They balked at this. They did not want that restriction. They envied God’s position and were not content to be dependent on him. They wanted to be like him in everything. And so they became rebellious. When God had told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they disobeyed him. They did not want that restriction. They did not like the boundaries that God had set. Even though God gave them everything they could possibly need, they still wanted more. They scorned the freedom that they had been wanted even more. And Israel did the same. The brings us to the second point.

2. The text says, "Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven." Why would they not be allowed to go to Gilgal, the place with its wonderful history? Well, do you know what happened in Gilgal since the time of the early monarchy? Gilgal had become a place of idol worship. That is where a temple was set up for the heathen gods. Gilgal, instead of being a place where God was remembered for his wonderful deeds, had become a place of idolatry. That is where they worshiped the fertility gods of the heathens. That is where male prostitutes were stationed, and where sacrifices were made to gods that did not exist. It had become a place of utter immorality.

And Beth Aven? Well, as I said, Beth Aven was another name for Bethel. The word "Bethel" means "House of God". But, Hosea changed the name to Beth Aven. That word means "House of Evil". Those who heard or read his prophecy knew exactly what Hosea was referring to. He was referring to Bethel. Bethel became a curse as soon as Jeroboam became the first king of the 10 northern tribes, of Israel. One of the first things that Jeroboam did was to set up the golden calf there. Jeroboam also established a new priesthood to serve there in Bethel. And he came with a new religious calendar as well. He rewrote the way that the Israelites worshiped.

Why would he do that? Well, in order to make it easier for the people. So that they could worship him in the way that suited them best. Now they do not have to go to Jerusalem. Now they could go to Bethel. Jeroboam totally watered-down the true religion. He changed it to suit his purposes and the purposes of the people. He wanted to broaden the boundaries of God’s laws. He wanted to give them greater freedom than God had given them. Because that suited them better.

And so the Lord says to Israel, "Do not go to Gilgal. Do not go to Beth Aven." But then he adds something else. He says, "And do not swear, ‘as surely as the Lord lives!’" Where does that come from all of a sudden? Well, that is one of the greatest complaints the Lord God has with his people. They make all kinds of promises and they do so in the name of the Lord, but the reality is that they are only words. They do not keep their promises. They do not act in accordance with their words. That is also what Hosea says in the beginning of the chapter, verse two, "And there is only cursing, lying and murder."

Why is that such a terrible sin? Well, the bedrock of relationships is the making and keeping of promises. That is how relationships are established and maintained. That is how God established his relationship with us. He made promises. He made the wonderful promise in Paradise after the Fall into sin that he would defeat Satan on our behalf. He kept that promise through Jesus Christ. And he made the promise that he would forgive us our sins and give us eternal life. We can be sure of that. Can you imagine if God were not true to his word?

And therefore he expects the same from us. When we promise to be faithful to him, then he also expects us to keep that promise. And when we promise to be faithful in our human relationships, then he also expects us to do that.

The Israelites weren’t doing that. They suppressed the weak of society. Those who were in power, the upper class and the middle class, only made sure that they would have justice for themselves. They didn’t care about anyone else. Although they promised to deal fairly with others, they did not keep those promises. It was an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

And so you see, the Israelites stepped outside of the boundaries that God had set. They worshiped other gods. They lied and they cheated and broke their promises. In short, they did what was right in their own sight.

Brothers and sisters, we see that kind of thing all around us. We live in the world that makes up its own gods and worships them. The people worship the god of fertility as you find him in the stock exchanges and in big businesses, and in the large unions. This world worships fame and success. They worship themselves. And they want the freedom to do whatever they like. If a pregnancy is too inconvenient, well, terminate it. Do you want to break your wedding vows? Get a divorce. Do you want to have sex with whomever you feel like? Go for it. Let no one stop you.

At one time this used to be a nation built on Christian principles. It no longer is. What happened? Well, little by little the people wanted more freedom. They nibbled a little bit at this, and a little bit at that, and they wanted more. They stepped outside of the boundaries that God had set. And more and more they wandered away from the good Shepherd.

The Lord God warns against that. He warns me and you, brothers and sisters. He also warns you, boys and girls. He warns you not to start nibbling on the other side of the fence. He tells you to get your fill close to the good shepherd. He may not always feed you with the food that you like. But you know that it will be good food, not junk food. Only the food and drink that he gives you has all the right nutrients. Don’t wander away from him.

It can start off very innocently. For example, "It doesn’t matter what church I go to. They’re all Christians. Let me worship where I feel most comfortable. Let me worship there were they are not so strict. Let me worship there were the elders do not get on my case; Where I can do what I want and get lost in the crowd; Where the preaching is easy to accept, because it speaks only about God’s love, and not about his anger against those who sin. I can serve him wherever I like, can’t I?

Those of you who have attended the presentations of the last month by our missionaries Rev. Wieske, and Rev. Dong, will have heard that their fight is against two fronts. In the first place against outright heathens. That’s obvious. But, in the second place, and that may surprise you, against false worshipers. Against those churches where God’s Word is watered down, and where a man’s opinion prevails. Against those churches where they once again teach you to earn your salvation through your good works, and where the minister is the pope of the church.

That is what Hosea is warning against. For that is what Israel was practicing. And as they wandered away from the truth, they went farther and farther afield. First Israel set up their worship in Bethel and Dan. There they pretended to be worshiping the Lord God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. But, they worshiped him through the Golden Calf. And it went from bad to worse. Israel wanted to taste the things of the world. They thought that as God’s people they had the freedom to do so. In the end you could no longer recognize their form of worship. They became just like the world around them.

Brothers and sisters, young people, is that what you are about as well? What are the kinds of things that you are nibbling on right now? Lottery tickets? Do you know what’s next? Gambling houses. Marijuana? Do you know what that often leads to? Hard drugs. And what about alcohol? Oh sure, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional drink. As long as it doesn’t lead to binge drinking and drunkenness. Eventually it can lead to alcoholism.

And sex? Well, what’s wrong with looking at a little bit of pornography here and there? Everybody is doing it. It’s so readily available. Let’s nibble at it a little bit. Or, what’s wrong with flirting a little bit with another woman even though you’re married? It can do any harm. Really? Pornography leads to slavery. Flirting leads to adultery.

And what’s wrong with making some minor promises here and there that you know you won’t be able to keep? What’s wrong with telling your customers, or your friends and relatives or even brothers and sisters in the Lord, that you are going to do something, even though you know that you won’t be able to. You’re just saying it to get them off your back, and to make yourself look good. What’s wrong with that? People who understand that I’m a busy man. Well, little broken promises lead to big broken promises. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. That’s what the Israelites did. And God curses them for it. Do you know how you recognize a Christian? A Christian is someone who keeps his promises. He is reliable

Do you know why we need boundaries? Boundaries are there to keep you safe. Think of fish in a tank. Those who have an aquarium will know that you had better keep a lid on your tank. For fish have been known to jump right out of an aquarium. They want to go beyond their boundaries. But you know what happens to a fish outside of an aquarium. It perishes. It needs its confines. The walls of the aquarium keep them safe. And why should they go outside of it? Within that aquarium they have everything that they need.

Well, that is also the way it is with us as God’s children. God has set boundaries for us. He has given us his 10 Commandments. Do you want to go beyond that? Well, then you put your eternal life in peril.

In verse 15 Hosea says, "Though you commit adultery, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty." Hosea addresses Israel. But he is speaking to her as if he is standing before a whore. As if he is standing before an outcast. And what does he do as he addresses her? He compares her to her sister Judah. He says to Israel that he is warning Judah not to associate with Israel because Israel is someone to be avoided. She is a horror. She has wandered away from her first love, from the Lord God himself. Israel has gone completely beyond the boundaries that God had set. He says, have nothing to do with her. Hosea says this in order to put Israel to shame. Israel has grossly abused the freedom that God has given her. And now Israel stands cursed.

3. Do you know what that curse is? The curse is that God is going to give them all the freedom that they want. He says, "The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?" The Hebrew language actually states, "now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a broad pasture." That doesn’t sound like a curse, does it? Actually that sounds more like a promise. That’s what a lamb wants, doesn’t it? That’s what the people want as well. They want God to pasture them, to feed them. And they want him to do that in as broad a place as possible. After all, God is a good Shepherd, isn’t he? He will pasture me wherever I am, and whatever I am doing, and wherever I am grazing. That’s what God promised.

Yes he did. But that’s not all he promised. He also promised that those who do not want to stay within God’s laws, within the boundaries of his great love and care, that they will end up in the domain of the devil. Because outside of the boundaries that God has set the devil lurks.

Brothers and sisters, do you know where a lamb belongs? A lamb belongs to its own flock. It belongs under its own Shepherd. It cannot survive in wide open places. A lamb is one of the most helpless creatures you’ll find. A lamb lacks sense. Therefore it needs to be kept away from poisonous plants. It needs to be kept away from the dangers that lurk in the rough landscape. It needs to be warned and protected against wild animals. Only within its own flock, with its own shepherd, will a lamb be safe. Outside of that he will perish.

And the same thing is true for you and for me. Outside of the flock you run the danger of perishing. That is why you belong here in this church. Not somewhere were God’s Word is not taken seriously. Oh sure, those shepherds will also claim to be representatives of the great Shepherd. But they don’t know God in the way that they should or proclaim him in the way they should. They do not give warnings in the way that they should. They don’t point out the dangers. They don’t make you aware of the danger that lurks right inside of you, in your own heart. They don’t point out what a wretched you are. Oh sure what they say sounds nice. And they may be very friendly. But, in reality they are weak shepherds who do not do their job. They don’t warn their people of these things because they are afraid that their flock will then walk away from them.

Israel would not listen. It would not listen to a prophet such as Hosea who came with God’s warnings. Israel wanted freedom to roam wherever it felt like. In the end Israel no longer heard the voice of the Shepherd.

And so what does God say to them? Well, if that’s what you want. Then you can have it. Go for it. Do what you like. Follow your heart. I have set you free. You don’t want to listen anyway. I will let you have your freedom. But, that freedom is going to destroy you.

Hosea was not the only one who gave that warning to Israel. Amos said the same thing. He said in Chapter 4:4, "Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years."

A parent may say that to a rebellious child at one point as well. To a child who has come of age and who does not want to listen any longer to his father and mother. He wants to come home whenever he wants. He wants to get drunk whenever he feels like it. He wants to take a girl from the world. He no longer wants to come to church. He wants to do drugs. Well, if that’s the way you want it, then I will give you your freedom. Go. Go out into the world. That’s where you belong.

Do you think it would not hurt a parent to say something like that? Of course it would. But a responsible and caring parent will say exactly that. Do you not think it hurts God to have to say this to his nation Israel? Of course it did. But God does not compel Israel to worship him, nor any of us. He gives you a choice. He didn’t make us like a preprogrammed computer that will automatically obey its master’s command. No, he wants us to worship him from the heart. And that sometimes means that he has to let you go. If you truly love him, and if you see what the world has to offer where in the end you will find nothing but slavery and misery and the pursuit of emptiness, then you will come back to him. Just like the prodigal son. And that is what God is hoping.

Israel was sent into exile. That was the broad place where they were sent. And there God’s people became part of the heathen world. Oh sure, God still shepherded to them there. God will also do that to us when we walk away from him and his people. But in the world it becomes harder and harder for us to hear his voice above the roar of the world. In exile the Israelites were able to have their synagogues and to read their Bibles and to sing their psalms. By and large, however, Israel became lost. There were only a very few who came back. Israel was lost, because she brought upon herself the curse of too much freedom.

There is an English saying that goes, if you give a child enough rope he will hang himself. That was the curse of Israel. Israel is compared to an unwilling cow who does not want to be pulled along on the rope, but who wants to be free from its yoke. God’s presence stifled them.

Does God’s presence stifle you? Do you want to play loose and fast with his laws? Do you want to nibble beyond God’s boundaries? Is it too stuffy for you in this church? Be careful.

The reality is, of course, that we all like our freedom. Therefore we do not keep God’s laws as carefully as we should. That’s unfortunate. Therefore it is wonderful that we do have that good Shepherd. As he says in verse 16, he does continue to pasture us, even when we graze outside of the boundaries. God does not easily let us go. He pulls us back. He forgives us our sins. But you must also allow him to pull you back time and again.

Do you know who revealed himself as a great Shepherd? It was the Lord Jesus Christ. He said himself that he is the great Shepherd and that we are his sheep. Know the voice of that Shepherd, brothers and sisters. Listen to him as he pulls you back from the brink of disaster. And he will feed you and give you drink.

Only with the Lord Jesus Christ will you find true freedom. Right now, even though we are God’s children, we are nevertheless imprisoned because of sin. We are imprisoned because of our afflictions and because of the sin that is all around us. And we need to escape. But we should not find our escape in the world. We should not look for the ultimate happiness and healing from our bankers, or from our doctors. Seek your physical and your spiritual well-being with the good Shepherd, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Graze in the pastures that he gives you. Only with him will you be safe for ever. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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