Return To God.


Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.

10 thoughts on “Return To God.

  1. so, my brilliant friend who loves Jesus with all his heart, what does it mean to “return and repent?” i look forward to your input and i pray you are having a blessed day in His everlasting arms!

    Phillip Hubbard

    On Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 5:17 AM, Vessels of Clay wrote:

    > kdmiller55 posted: ” Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind > all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant > with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt. The Lord has an indictment > against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways;” >

    • A couple of things come to mind. First of all, to repent is to literally change one’s mind. We often think of repentance as the cessation of whatever it was you were doing. But it really conveys a change of mind. When John the Baptist and Jesus both called the people of Israel to repent, they were calling them to change their mindsets about God, sin and salvation. They were to reject their faulty views of God for the right and proper one. They were to change their minds regarding their own sin and the means of their sanctification. No longer were they to think they could become right with God through the keeping of the law or their own brand of self-righteousness. So in one sense, the call to repent is a call to see God in a whole new light and ourselves through the lens of the gospel. We are sinners in need of a Savior. To return to God is to come back to Him in dependence. We tend to wander and stray. He doesn’t leave us. We leave Him. And He calls us to return to Him in humility and complete reliance upon His power, mercy. grace and love. We are to return, ready to do things His way, instead of our own.

      • I disagree. “Changing your mind” is not a biblical definition of repentance, in the manner that the apostles understood it. The correct understanding is the Hebrew word “teshuvah”, which is to turn around, or turn back to God. Repentance implies having gotten off the “path” and expresses the need to turn from disobedience and get back on it. Changing your mind is just one step in that process. If someone “changes their mind” about the identity of Jesus, but never takes action in regard to this new “belief” in the form of physical repentance (teshuvah) than the Bible teaches that no real repentance has occurred. (“serving me with their lips, while their heart if far from Me”). Biblical faith is active, obedient faith, with at least the intent to obey, even if we have to ask for the forgiveness of God daily for the same stubborn failures.

  2. I’ll repeat…repentance is not changing your mind. That’s not what the word means. It means to change directions.The men who wrote the Bible were Jewish and they had a Jewish understanding of the concept, regardless of how the Greek is transliterated

  3. You understand this perfectly in your comments: “To return to God is to come back to him.” …and, “We are to return, ready to do things His way…” This is truth. To suggest that merely changing one’s mind is the definition of repentance is cheapen the process of saving faith and turn it into a mental assent or agreement. “even the demons believe and shudder” (Ja.2:19)

    • David, you have completely misunderstood my point. While I agree that repentance ultimately involves returning to God, it is impossible without a change of mind and heart. I never suggested that repentance was “merely changing one’s mind” as you wrote. I simply stated that true repentance begins with a change of one’s mindset regarding God, sin, and the means of achieving a right relationship with Him. When Jesus preached repentance, He did so to a primarily Jewish audience whose concept of righteousness was based on works. They believed that they had to earn a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. They also believed they were capable of doing so. But Jesus called them to repent, to radically alter their preconceived notions about their own sinfulness and the way to achieve righteousness. If you had read any of my other blogs from Hosea, I in no way am suggesting a mere mental assent. But to say that “repentance is not changing your mind” means that I can return to God without altering my perspective about God and my own sinfulness. You wrote that ungodliness is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). I agree. But what ultimately leads to lawlessness? I would contend that it is godlessness – a life without God. And even believers can live as if God does not exist. They can eliminate Him from active involvement in their lives by ignoring His precepts and refusing to seek His will or live according to His power. That too is godlessness. Since we have been set free from the law, godlessness cannot be simply defined as “lawlessness.” In fact, I would argue that even in the Old Testament, lawlessness was actually a byproduct of godlessness, because the law is nothing more than an expression of the will and character of God Himself. To reject the law is to reject God. You said that “‘Changing your mind’ is not a biblical definition of repentance.” Then why are we encouraged to renew our minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23)? We are constantly in the process of “changing our minds.” It is not merely a mental assent, but a radical reconfiguration of our sinful mindsets that drive our old nature. I would argue that repentance is impossible without a change of mind. Why would you return to a God you don’t think you need? Why would you return to a God in hopes of finding forgiveness of sin if you don’t think you have any sin? Why would you seek righteousness from God if you think you can achieve it on your own?

      The following is from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “The full meaning of repentance, according to Jewish doctrine, is clearly indicated in the term ‘teshubah’ (lit. ‘return’; from the verb ). This implies: (1) All transgression and sin are the natural and inevitable consequence of man’s straying from God and His laws (comp. Deut. xi. 26-28; Isa. i. 4; Jer. ii. 13, xvi. 11; Ezek. xviii. 30). (2) It is man’s destiny, and therefore his duty, to be with God as God is with him. (3) It is within the power of every man to redeem himself from sin by resolutely breaking away from it and turning to God, whose loving-kindness is ever extended to the returning sinner. ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon’ (Isa. lv. 7; comp. Jer. iii. 12; Ezek. xviii. 32; Joel ii. 13). (4) Because “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. vii. 20; I Kings viii. 46), every mortal stands in need of this insistence on his ‘return’ to God.”

      If you are unwilling to change your mind regarding your own sinfulness, you will not return to God. If you refuse to acknowledge righteousness as available only through the imputed righteousness of Christ, you will not return to God. I fully understand that repentance involves returning to God, but I would argue that a change of mind is essential for true repentance to take place.

      • I’m sorry for stirring you up. We are 99% in agreement. I wasn’t challenging your teaching, I like your blog! I agree with you. I was merely making a distinction. Perhaps you are unaware of this aspect, but there is a huge contingent of modern “Christianity” which believes that all that is required for salvation is to “change your mind about Jesus, and believe in Him”. This is what I call cheap grace. I was not accusing you of teaching that, as it’s clear you are not. I was pointing out the insufficiency of the phraseology. Perhaps my comments were inappropriate. I didn’t mean them to be. I enjoy discussion on these forums. If I wasn’t interested in your thoughts, I would not have commented.
        One quick quibble I have with your understanding, however, is the notion that Jesus preached repentance to a “Jewish audience who believed that they had to earn a right standing with God through keeping the Law”. This is inaccurate. The Jewish people have never held the theology that through keeping the Law they are “saved”. Perhaps some believed that, but that was not the belief of Jesus day. They believed, and still believed, that they are saved through “grace” by right of their relationship with their father Abraham, who was a man of faith. The Law is God’s eternal statute of righteousness, which is still very much in force. No man can keep it perfectly, except of course, the Messiah himself.
        This misunderstand is a common precept of Replacement Theology. I’m not accusing you of teaching Replacement Theology, but it’s a presumed underpinning of Christian thought concerning the Jewish faith. If the concept of grace was not fully understood in Jesus’ time before his ministry, then it would have been impossible for his followers to understand his teachings, which were consistent with the teachings of the House of Hillel, the house of study which was embraced by the Pharisees and which superceded the Sadducean sect after the destruction of the Temple.
        To the point, it is untrue that Jesus preached a message which was inconsistent with the message which was preached to the rest of the world. Consider Paul’s declaration in Acts 17, and it’s clear that Paul preached the same gospel that Jesus declared.
        Repentance is “teshuvah”. It begins with a change of mind, as you correctly state, but it doesn’t stop there. It involves turning back to God, which means by definition to obey His commandments. The apostle John states this explicitly:
        “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” (1 Jn.2:3-5)
        That was my only point.Again, to state that “changing one’s mind” is the definition of repentance is not wrong, per se, but very incomplete. It’s a process of reordering one’s life according to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, and it’s also daily, not a one-time “decision”. This is consistent with the understanding of the apostles and also consistent with their religious understanding within Judaism.
        We are smitten with a disease in the church which we have inherited from Calvin and Luther that Law is opposed to Grace. They are not opposing concepts, but two sides of the same coin. Once cannot exist without the other in the life of true faith.

      • David, thanks for your response. I also appreciate the give and take. I just think we need to be careful that we do not automatically assume someone is teaching a false doctrine or a wrong perspective based on the use of or definition of a solitary word. I would agree that we probably have more in common than we might think. I am equally concerned about the impact cheap grace has had on the church.

        As far as your statements regarding the Jewish view of salvation, I would still say that they held a works-righteousness viewpoint. Here is a quote from a contemporary Jewish rabbi:

        “Christianity maintains that all men are doomed to sin, and everyone will go to everlasting hell unless they accept Jesus as their savior. Judaism has always held that we do not need that sort of salvation, for we are not doomed or damned at birth. We are not doomed or fated to sin. Quite the contrary. The Torah says: ‘If you do good, won’t there be special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin waits at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.’ (Genesis 4:7) In other words, you can do good, and if you do, things will be better for you. If you do not do good, sin wants to be partners with you. But you can control sin, you can control your evil desires, and you can be good. So we have free will, and that is what Judaism has always believed, because that is what the Torah teaches. The Torah does not teach — or even mention — that we are ‘born in sin,’ or that we are fated to sin. Just the opposite. We have the ability to choose. Which means that we can be good, or we can be evil. It’s up to us. And if we can be good, that means we can be righteous. I cannot understand how or why Christians like to say that no one can be righteous in the eyes of God. The Torah says otherwise.”

        I do not think the Jews believed their works or keeping of the law would “save” them in the sense we use the word. I think they believed they would be saved because they were God’s chosen people. The issue has to do with righteousness. How were they to maintain a right standing before God? It was based on keeping the law. That mindset entered into the New Testament church in its early days through the Judaizers, which is why Paul had to deal with their impact so frequently. This is why he wrote, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). Paul wrote to the Galatians, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justifiedb by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16 ESV). There were obviously those who believed that justification or right standing with God was based on keeping of the law. Just one chapter later, Paul wrote, “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith'” (Galatians 3:11 NET).

        The Jews had a completely different view of “salvation.” They believed they would be saved because of their status as God’s chosen people. And the truth is, they will be. Like you, I do not believe in replacement theology. The church has not replaced Israel. God will keep all His promises to them, but it will be in spite of them, not because of them. It will be due to His faithfulness, not theirs.

        I appreciate your thoughts and willingness to engage in dialogue. It keeps me on my toes.

  4. One last thing I forgot to mention in my last response (I felt I had gone on too long so I hastily wrapped it up) is actually two things: Jesus taught obedience of the Law to earn reward, which is consistent with the teachings of the rabbis. Because we ASSUME that the Jews believe they are justified by works (based on an incorrect reading of the New Testament and a reliance upon church tradition) we fail to see the similarities between Judaism and the teachings of Jesus and his followers.
    Secondly, you quoted Galatians 3:11 “the just shall live by faith”. You realize that this is a direct quote of Habbakuk. What you may not realize (but Paul’s audience was expected to) was that it was a common rabbinic teaching to quote that verse as a summary statement of how a faithful Jew was to apply the Law. That verse in Habbakuk was regarded as a summary verse of all the mitzvot of Jewish life. So it was not a refutation of Law-keeping; quite the contrary, actually. I wrote a blog based on that verse: https://oasisfellowship.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/what-is-the-goal-of-the-gospel/

  5. For an interesting Bible study on Jewish/Christian theological distinctions that really splits the hairs of the argument, here is a link to an excellent teachings series by a Messianic pastor who is a friend of mine entitled “26 Reasons Why Jews Reject Christianity”. He breaks down the arguments of a top-level Jewish “anti-missionary” and explores the merits and the fallacies of his argument. It’s fascinating.
    http://www.bethimmanuel.org/audio-series/26-answers-to-26-reasons

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