“But they never consider that I remember all their evil. Now their actions are all around them; they are right in front of my face.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you know what is some good advice: Don’t offend someone with a long memory. Generally speaking, we have a fairly remarkable ability to remember bad or hurtful things that have happened to us. Even a small slight can stick with us for a long time. If we’re not careful, it can become the lens through which we see not only the person who offended us, but everyone with whom we come into contact. Now, when we’re dealing with a person this isn’t good, but it’s not such a terrible deal. When it comes to God, the idea that this kind of thing might even possibly happen is a great deal more uncomfortable of a thought.
The people of Israel were not in a good place. When the ten northern tribes seceded from the southern two during the reign of Rehoboam, the leader of this rebellion was Jeroboam I. Once he had formed this new nation with himself as its king, he quickly realized he had a couple of significant problems. The first was that in spite of the national split, his nation and the southern kingdom, now called Judah after the larger of its two tribes (the other was Benjamin), were still brothers. They were family and while family squabbles can get intense, they generally eventually cool down. The two sides hug and make up and get back on with their lives together.
The “together” part was the problem. If the currently separate nations worked out their issues and got back together, he would be out of a job. He wasn’t all that interested in this happening. Complicating this was his second problem. The people all still technically worshiped the same God. And they all operated on the basis of the same law. And that law stipulated that the only place they could legitimately offer sacrifices to their God was in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom. Jeroboam understood well that a people who worship together tend to stick together. He couldn’t have his people going to worship with the people he needed for them to see as not only the enemy, but not part of their tribe any longer.
His solution to this was to reintroduce the golden calves of Moses to represent their god, and to set up a new center of worship in the north. This, of course, led the people down a path of idolatry from which they never recovered. God did everything He could to call them back, but absent a few brief flashes of faithfulness in response to more overt action on His part, they stuck with their decision to be just like everybody else around them.
The challenge here was that though they may have been divided politically, God still considered both nations to be His one people of Israel. He acknowledged their split through the prophets He sent, but His plans were still intended to be for both of them. But, the people had drifted so far off the path He was calling them to walk, they couldn’t even see it anymore. They had forgotten what evil was. They didn’t really believe there was anybody watching them; anybody who could have been offended by what they were doing. Or perhaps to put that another way, they were behaving after the expectations of their new gods even though those gods weren’t real and the God who was real wasn’t happy with them.
God’s words here through the prophet Hosea would have been a bit of a gut punch. He looks at the people and says: “I haven’t forgotten.” They were sinning against Him in every way conceivable and even some ways that weren’t. It was ugly, but they kept at it because they had redefined ugly to be beautiful. Hosea’s reminder was potent: Your sin doesn’t happen without consequence. It doesn’t happen without an audience. Somebody is watching.
Think about the way you behave when you think someone is watching versus the way you behave when you don’t. Hopefully there is a good amount of consistency between one and the next, but my guess is that there’s some space. The people needed to be reminded that someone was watching to serve as a wake up call for them. Now, they didn’t listen, but they were warned.
The question we need to face is this: What does this mean for us (if anything)? Well, it doesn’t mean the same thing that it did for them, that’s for sure. The way God interacted with them was different from us because their covenant was different from ours. We have Jesus and they didn’t. So, can we just ignore this, then?
I don’t think so. It may not mean the same thing for us, but it does mean something. God’s character hasn’t changed even if His covenant with us has. And God’s character is that He takes sin seriously. He takes sin seriously because He takes His holiness seriously. He knows when we sin. Always. We can’t go sin and think no one will see or know. There is nothing hidden from Him and when we have sinned, He keeps track.
But—and this is really important—He doesn’t keep track in order to get us. He keeps track because those sins are keeping us from Him and He doesn’t want that. When we go to Him in Christ, though—and here’s where things get really good—He wipes our entire slate clean. It is scrubbed and done.
So, while God may keep track when we are separated from Him, in Christ we are made new. This is the glory of the new covenant. There is still a book being kept, but in Christ we are evaluated on the basis of Jesus’ record, not ours. That’s grace. And it’s amazing. Stop being evaluated on your record. Go to Christ and be made new.