Breaking Us Down to Bind Us Up
Context of the Prophecy
The prophet Hosea, as indeed all the other prophets in some manner or another, was concerned most especially with the terrible coming exile first predicted by Moses, which would actually be brought about because of the people's hardheartedness and impenitent breaking of the Law; and yet, as strongly as Hosea thundered his threatenings of this fearful judgment of exile against the people, God did not leave them entirely without hope, but by many strong and sure consolations promised to them a later restoration which, however his Law may have been broken, was nevertheless promised by the Gospel, which from the beginning assured the elect remnant of God's free mercy and salvation, and which the Law, coming four hundred and thirty years after, could never abrogate (Gal. 3:17).
Because Hosea began his ministry during a time of relative strength and prosperity, when the Northern Kingdom had been enjoying a revival of sorts under King Jeroboam II, the Holy Spirit judged it necessary to give some of the strongest and most shocking warnings through him, which at the time he made them seemed utterly impossible to the people who trusted in their carnal securities; but the wisdom of the urgency that he employed became apparent very soon after he had finished his long ministry, when, after the death of Jeroboam II, the land was left reeling under a succession of the treacherous and short-lived reigns of a few, last, desperate kings, who finally succumbed to the growing strength of Assyria, and, true to the words of the prophet, were carried away captive by Tiglath Pileser in 722 BC â€“ a captivity from which they, unlike their brothers to the South, would never know a national return.
The severity of the threatened judgments against Israel may be seen from the first words of the book, when God commands Hosea to give his children the symbolical names â€œLo-Ruhammah,â€ and â€œLo-Ammi,â€ meaning, respectively, â€œNot Having Received Mercy,â€ and â€œNot My Peopleâ€ â€“ for so great was the wrath of God, that he had determined to cast her off entirely, and not just to send her into exile, but to make her as all the nations around her, and to strip her of that ancient privilege she had despised, of being the people of the Lord, and having a relationship with him.
And yet, in his great pity, the Lord was pleased to weave in assurances of renewed mercy and grace, and he promised that, even as he had rejected Israel from being his people, yet he would still re-create a people for his name, and call them â€œRuhama,â€ which is â€œHaving Received Mercy,â€ and â€œAmmi,â€ which is â€œMy Peopleâ€. The apostle tells us that this prophecy was fulfilled when God, in faithfulness to his word, called out a new nation in which, not only the elect remnant of Israel, but the elect from every nation of the world, were brought in to become the people of God (Romans 9:23-26), and a holy habitation of the Father by the indwelling Spirit (Eph. 2:11-22). Thus, even in his immense and righteous wrath, God's judgment was only preparing a greater mercy, and the casting off of the Jews proved to be the salvation of the whole world, both Jews and Gentiles alike, according to the unsearchable wisdom of God's eternal plan (See Rom. 11:25-36)!
So much then for the general character of the prophecies of Hosea; now, let us turn to our text for the day, and provide a basic explanation of it, before we consider how we may put it to a profitable use in our own lives.
Explanation of the Prophecy
Just before the prophecy which we have read this morning, the Lord gives one of his strongest words of judgment yet, saying that he will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the House of Judah, and that he, even he himself, will tear his people and then go away; he will carry off so that none may rescue and he will then return to his place, when he has ravaged his people with immense destruction. And yet, for all that, the Lord will not give them up completely; for after he says, â€œI will return to my place,â€ then he adds, â€œUntil they become guiltyâ€ â€“ that is, â€œuntil they acknowledge that they are indeed guiltyâ€ â€“ â€œand seek my face, and in their distress seek me earnestlyâ€. The design of the great outpouring of wrath, therefore, is not only to destroy, but rather to break the people down from their proud self-sufficiency so that, recognizing their guilt, they might seek the Lord's face, and find him merciful to them.
Thus we have arrived at our text: and there we find the prophet stirring up the people, as the voice of one who has learned to respond appropriately to God's terrible acts of judgment, saying, â€œCome and let us return to Yahweh, because he has torn that he may heal us; he has struck, that he may bind us up. He will make us alive after two days; on the third day, he will raise us up, that we may live before his faceâ€.
This is a very marvelous prophecy, and cannot satisfactorily be made to apply to any historical restoration of the ten northern tribes; for even to this day, those tribes have largely been lost to the nations where they had been driven, and have known only a slight and vastly imperfect trickling of a very small remnant back to their land, and certainly nothing so significant that it could be expressed as a national rising again from the dead, which would be at all commensurate with the scale of the national death sentence of exile that took place under their Assyrian overlords. Furthermore, the interpretation of the Jews, that the three days of death refer to the three exiles, first in Egypt, then in Babylon, and finally the exile to which the Romans drove them when they destroyed the second Temple and scattered the Jews, is inadequate at least for this reason, that the apostles proclaim that the prophecies of the restoration of Israel are in the process of being fulfilled in this Gospel Age, in which a remnant is being called out from all the nations of the world. So then, neither a historical return of the Ten Tribes, nor the fiction of a Third Temple and a Messiah which the Jews still cling to for this reason, that they missed the true Messiah who became the final Temple of God, may suffice as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Instead, there is just one satisfactory fulfillment, and that is, the resurrection of the Christ on the third day after he, as the final representative of God's Israel, was put to death on the cross in a sort of exile from God's presence.
Now, it is important to be clear that this promise involved a resurrection of all the people of God, who were smitten for their sins because of God's righteous indignation; and it was therefore not an exclusive prophecy of the resurrection of Christ considered only in itself, but rather, it held forth to the people a promise based upon the gracious and faithful character of God, that all those whom he smites in his fatherly disapproval of their sins he will soon bind up again. Maybe not on the first or second day, Hosea assures the people, that is, perhaps not quite so soon as we might wish, but at least on the third day, or after only a short lapse of time, he will hasten to heal and vivify again. But consider: how would this assurance of God's tender mercy, which hastens to bind up his people, ever find its final, perfect fulfillment? When could it be said that this promise of God had received its complete vindication? For all those centuries when the ten tribes languished in captivity? No, for all those years, even though many small and temporary mercies came to a few, scattered individuals of the elect remnant, yet, everywhere one looked, he saw only more breaking down and more judgment. The testimony of the times was clearly this: â€œGod's judgment of exile is not yet over â€“ there is more to come!â€. And so there was always more to come, until Israel had finally rejected her Savior, and the last faithful eleven were scattered, and there was only one true Seed left, the last lone Remnant of the nation â€“ and even that last faithful One was finally smitten and exiled from God. It was only then, on Calvary, that all the prophesied judgment was utterly and eternally complete; and it was on the very third day after this final, infinite outpouring of judgment that the prophesied raising again took place, when we all, who had been smitten for our sins in Christ, were raised up to new life in him.
So then, the faithful remnant of Hosea's time took immediate comfort in this principle that God's mercy is ever sure to follow his breaking down; but that principle only received the perfect vindication and ultimate fulfillment that they hoped for in the time of Christ. And so great a fulfillment was it that then came, that we too, who are afflicted by God in any manner, may likewise take comfort in the same prophecy whenever we look back to Christ's resurrection. As John Calvin explains it, â€œAs often then as delay begets weariness in us, and when God seems to have thrown aside every care of us, let us flee to Christ; for, as it has been said, His resurrection is a mirror of our life; for we see in that how God is wont to deal with his own people: the Father did not restore life to Christ as soon as he was taken down from the cross; he was deposited in the sepulchre, and he lay there to the third day. When God then intends that we should languish for a time, let us know that we are thus represented in Christ our head, and hence let us gather materials of confidenceâ€.
But consider a little more fully how well-suited the event of the resurrection of Christ is to be the final fulfillment of the prophecy: for first of all, there was never a more thorough fulfillment of the prophecy which preceded it, that God would tear his people and then utterly depart from them, as when, after he had saved only a remnant through the Babylonian Captivity, he finally forsook even that small remnant, scattered the few remaining sheep, and even smote the Shepherd himself, the true Israel of God, yes, and in fact withdrew from him the favor of his countenance, so that he was plunged into death and the grave! When did God ever rend and tear and go away as that day on Calvary, when in his righteous wrath he rent his eternal Son for the sins of his people, which were placed all upon his bloodied shoulders?
Second, it was said that, after this rending and divine abandonment, God's people would earnestly seek his face; and in this, too, we have an admirable fulfillment in the time of Christ: for after he had been sent to the grave in exile from the Father, then it was that all the Gentiles began earnestly to seek God's face, and the Gospel began to go forth into all the world, and to call out a people of God from the very ends of the earth. And even so, we do not have to look so far ahead for the fulfillment at all, but on the very third day after the resurrection, then the women who ministered to Christ very early and earnestly sought the body of the Lord, not, however, understanding that they should find his face again shining with the light of life and favor â€“ but in this they were most happily surprised, and found that they had been a part of a more wonderful fulfillment of prophecy than they had dreamed of!
Third, the corporate nature of this prophecy is especially fitted to find its fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ; for when he died, we were crucified together with him (Gal. 2:20), and when he rose, we were raised with him to newness of life (Col. 3:1; Rom. 6:4-5); so that, when the Lord raised up Christ, the prophet was able to look ahead and say, on the third day he will raise us up â€“ for we being in him, Hosea said, will be raised together with him.
Fourth, the logical argument of this prophecy also fits it to be a prophecy of Christ; for the prophet here says, â€œhe has torn us and he will heal us; he has struck us down and he will bind us upâ€ â€“ just as another prophet has said elsewhere, that when none of God's wonders had sufficed to turn his people to him in faith, then, â€œwhen he killed them, they sought him; then they returned and sought God earnestlyâ€ (Psalm 78:34). Now, it is utterly impossible that they should turn and seek God earnestly after he had already killed them â€“ for there is none who remembers God or praises him in the grave (Psalm 6:5)! But in this mode of expression, the prophet, while directly referring to a historical event in which some others left living sought God's face after his judgment had been expressed upon their neighbors, seems in a manner to look ahead to when the people would be put to death in union with Christ to sin and the Law, and then be raised together with him to seek his face in earnest. The argument here in Hosea also fits this interpretation: for in linking together tearing with certain healing, striking down with certain binding up, it is as much as to say, because he has torn, he will therefore certainly heal; because he has struck, he will raise up; or to extend the argument a little further, he has torn in order to heal; he has struck in order to raise. Now, normally, it would be illogical to tear and smite in order to heal and raise; if I hoped to heal a sick person, I would not begin by smiting him down! Or if I struck him down, that fact would not be a good argument for the necessity of my subsequently healing him. This method of argument, therefore, necessarily describes a stroke which, in some respect, falls mortally upon us, but which is designed rather for our life and resurrection than our destruction â€“ and the only stroke that finally and perfectly answers to this description is that which fell upon Christ for our sins, when we, dying to sin with him, were raised up to a new and eternal life. Hence, whenever God employs similar painful strokes in our lives, we may rest assured that he is always putting them to the same use, if we are in Christ.
Fifth, the end result which Hosea describes in this prophecy, that we would live before the Lord, also looks ahead to the death and resurrection of Christ, which took place to this same end, that he might bring us back to God, so that we, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit, might dwell in his presence (1 Pet. 3:18).
All in all, then, it is safest to take this passage as an amazingly precise prophecy, proclaiming the resurrection of Christ on exactly the third day after his death, in its nature as a corporate dying and rising again of all who are in him, many years before it actually happened â€“ and this is no more than our Lord himself has taught, saying that the Old Testament scriptures everywhere proclaim, not only that the Son of Man must die and rise again, but that he would rise on the third day in particular (Luke 24:45-47); which seems evidently to refer to such passages as this one from Hosea.
Now that we have explained the passage, and shown it to have found its perfect fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Christ, I would put it to use in our own situation by treating first of the ways in which God is often pleased to bruise and tear his people, and break them down by various means; second, of how this bruising is designed to bind us up and vivify us, that we might find a new and fuller life in the presence of God; and third, I would draw some material for further illustration and exhortation from the third verse of this same chapter.
I. The Tearing Down
The context of our prophecy makes manifest that God makes use of every means conceivable to effect his purpose of tearing and smiting his people, so necessary a step is that bruising for their lasting good. In the prophecies before this, we see every kind of devastating event foretold, including famine and drought, war and bloodshed, confusion and captivity. And furthermore, to underscore the truth that he alone is ultimately responsible for all of these devastations, he speaks of himself in many different figures of destruction, showing Israel that he is the one rending them in all these various ways: first, he is as a moth to Ephraim, as rottenness to the House of Judah (5:12), making her sick beyond cure. But not only does he represent himself by these images of slow, consuming, wasting plagues, he also casts himself into the image of sudden, terrifying plagues, calling himself a lion set to tear and rend his people (5:14). In this way, he makes it clear that he himself is bringing all these hardships upon his people: whether slow and unobtrusive trials which sap away strength and vigor and slowly bring to decay and decrepitude, or sudden, overwhelming calamities, he, the Lord is doing it. As he has elsewhere expressed by the mouth of Hannah, â€œThe Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises upâ€ (1 Sam. 2:6, ESV); or through Moses, â€œSee now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my handâ€ (Deut. 32:39. ESV).
If we are in any distress whatsoever, then, the first step we must take is to acknowledge that it is the will of the Lord so to try us. Men often go astray, being severely tempted, by focusing too strongly on the human or demonic agents of the temptation. Job could have said, â€œSatan is set against me, to kill me,â€ and in one sense he would have been right â€“ but where would he have found comfort in the plots of Satan, who has no mercy and whose ear will not pity, but whose hand is set always and only to destroy? But when he rather acknowledged the hand of the Lord in all his afflictions, he took comfort in the worst of plagues, for he knew the compassion of the Lord, and had learned with the prophet Jeremiah that the Lord does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men (Lam. 3:33). Thus, when he so reasoned in his heart, he was able to say, â€œThough he slay me, yet will I trust in himâ€ (Job 13:15); and again, â€œThe Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lordâ€ (Job 1:21). Let us learn this lesson first of all, therefore, that when any plague, affliction, distress, or trial of any sort at all ever comes into our lives, it is ultimately God's own work, whatever means he may use to bring it upon us; and if, therefore, it is the work of God, then it is neither arbitrary nor unnecessary nor designed for our destruction â€“ rather, it is no more than what has been determined by divine wisdom to be for our eternal good and salvation. If you are among those who are called by God and who love him, then all things whatsoever (and the apostle gives a whole list of surpassingly difficult things, concluding with a general term for anything that may be found in all of creation), are being used of God for your good, and not for your final destruction (Rom. 8:29-39). The ultimate proof of this, as we may learn from our prophecy, was when the worst event of all history occurred, when our only Savior died, and we with him â€“ and yet, by this very act of tearing down, God had so designed to heal us and satisfy us with new life forevermore!
This, then, we may assuredly know: all the trials in our lives are there by God's own design; they are intended for our ultimate good, in proof of which we may observe the death and resurrection of Christ; and furthermore, each one is so designed for us that, by seeming to take away one good and necessary thing, it prepares us for that same kind of good in a much greater and more lasting manner. Thus, in depriving us of our very life, when he put us to death with Christ on the cross, he thereby prepared us for a greater and more eternal life; and so as well with all of our trials, as I will soon show.
But first of all, let me drive home this point with an illustration: suppose a person afflicted with a rotten tooth should go to the dentist, and the dentist, after drilling out some of the decay, should see that the drilling was causing him much discomfort, and should therefore decide to put the filling in without cleaning out the rest of the rottenness in the tooth. It may seem to be a merciful decision for a very short time, but soon, the decay would begin to spread, and would cause him more pain than before, and he would have to go back to the dentist with a tooth even more inflamed, and the second trial would be much worse than the first, before his tooth could become healthy again. A good dentist, knowing this to be the case, would not listen to the pleas of a young child in pain from the drilling, for he knows what will turn out to be to his greater good. The child in his immaturity might think the dentist cruel, but is it with any good reason? So we, when we are afflicted by the trials which God uses to drill the rottenness from our souls, often behave as children, and in our thoughts silently accuse him of not caring about us, or taking pleasure in destroying us. But in this, we act very foolishly, and we ought to be grateful that God doesn't listen to our near-sighted requests, since he knows that, if we had the answers for which we were looking, we would occasion ourselves much greater pain later on!
This is often the case with our physical bodies: the dentist must remove all the decay, so that the rest of our tooth may be healthy and useful; the doctor must cut out all the cancer, so that good and healthy flesh might eventually be restored to us; we must take the bitter pills, no matter how they may turn our sensitive stomachs, so that the pathogens which attack us might be eradicated, and only healthy and beneficial organisms flourish in our bodies. This process is always difficult for a time, and it usually seems to be having the opposite effect at first: the radiation used to destroy the cancer makes the patient very weak and sick for a time; the eye salve which heals the infection turns the patient's vision blurry when applied; but eventually, when the pain and temporary setbacks run their full course, the cancer is gone and the body may recover from its weakness; the infection is gone from the eye, and instead of losing vision completely, it recovers its original clarity of sight. In this way, doctors often wound so that they can heal. And so also the Great Physician knows how to wound us so that he may bring greater healing.
So then, God afflicts his people by slow, wasting plagues and sudden destructions, and indeed, by every affliction possible, and all so that he may heal and bind up in every manner possible. What, then, are some of the ways in which he afflicts us, and what designs does he have in these trials? Let us list some of these various methods of breaking down that we find God using in the bible, which he also uses in our own lives today; for when we have thus discerned God's hand at work in different ways, we will be better able to discern it in many other new and strange temptations that come upon us, and having discerned it, be able to submit to it patiently, and thus see it having its healing effects in us all the sooner.
1. God sometimes afflicts us with physical diseases and weaknesses, so that we might trust in him as our only Healer and Sustainer of Life
Physical diseases and weaknesses are one of the many kinds of plagues that God has often used when chastising his people, as when, for instance, he smote the children of Israel with a fiery plague occasioned by the bite of serpents, or when he destroyed many with a plague after David had numbered the people. But although his designs in bringing physical diseases upon his people are many, he often uses such occasions to teach people to turn to him as the only one who can heal and cleanse. Thus, he smote Naaman, so that he might learn that God alone is able to heal and cleanse from sin; and he smote Miriam, the sister of Moses, so that she might learn not to speak evil of the servant by whom he was saving his people, and so that she might realize that salvation and entrance into the Camp would only come through the mediator he had provided, which was then Moses, who represented and typified the coming Christ to the people. And he deprived a man of his eyesight, so that he might learn that Jesus is the Light of the World, who alone reveals God's glory; and he gave Paul a thorn in the flesh from Satan, so that he might not boast in his own strength, but know the mighty power of God.
Therefore, when God brings some sickness into our lives, we do foolishly to ask only for immediate relief, without considering what he may be teaching us, seeing that he puts illness to so many useful lessons! While we may appropriately ask in a humble and submissive way for his healing, we ought not to do so at all without also asking him to show us what he intends for us to learn of him and his sufficiency by showing us our own frailty and insufficiency. But if we approach him for grace in this manner, then we may be certain that, if and when he does heal us, our sickness, whatever it may have been, will have been so much the better for us, that it would have been greatly worse for us not to have had it and so to have missed the greater good for which God was preparing us by it.
2. God sometimes bereaves us of our loved ones, that we might find him able to fulfill all those needs and desires that we had found satisfied by other relationships
In the same way, God often puts our loved ones to sickness, so that we lose the benefits or joyful interactions with them that we had previously known, or he even takes them from us entirely; but this, too, he does with a design for our good, that we might trust him more. How many have lost a friend or a brother only to find that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother? How many have lost father and mother only to find that God is a Father to the fatherless, and that, when mother and father forsake them, he will take them up? How many have even lost their own children, or have had their wombs closed up for many years, so that they might come to learn that their fruitfulness comes only from the Lord, and that he himself will provide for them in their time of old age?
Examples of this could be multiplied, but let us consider the woman to whom, through the word of Elisha, the Lord gave a child miraculously in her old age: for then, when he had only just grown, he was snatched away from her suddenly, and her latter end was worse than the former. She was driven for a time to utter despair, but do you think that later, when Elisha had raised him from the dead, she would have traded that bitter season in her life for anything? No, for she was given a blessed taste of the resurrection power of God, and even though she lost her son for a time, yet for a much longer time she not only had him, but she had a much-increased knowledge of the power of God. We could speak again of the official who would never have come to Jesus but for the sickness of his son; but who, having once come and seen the power and grace of the Savior, was given a new heart of faith, and not only regained the life of the child, but received eternal life for himself! Many other things we could say, but let us just observe that, if God has smitten one of our children with some disease, it is not because he delights to afflict, but because he has some far greater good designed for us, which will increase our faith and knowledge of his power and love. And what if he should be pleased to take a child from us? But who knows if he has done that so that we might not lose him forever, but rather that we should be joyfully reconciled in heaven some day? Will we not rejoice to have our children for all eternity, and have been given a precious glimpse of his heart, for a moment of pain and bereavement, even as the lady who received her child with joy after a moment's pain?
3. God sometimes admits fractures in our relationships with other loved ones, so that we might find joy in his favor, love and acceptance as alone sufficient
Some others may never have known the searing pain of untimely bereavement, and yet, they may have gone through heart-breaking pain and trials at the rupture of a relationship with friends and loved ones. So Joseph was hated and cast off by all his brothers, but God through this was preparing him for a place of glory at the right hand of the king. And so also David, that great man of God, was mocked by his brothers, betrayed by his close friends, revolted against by his own son, mocked and despised by his wife, when he danced before the Lord â€“ in short, he knew every kind of relational breach imaginable, and yet, through it all, what great stores of comfort did he find in the Lord, what treasure-houses of consolation did he pile up for all the saints after him! When we are troubled by bad relationships, or when we deeply feel the lack of some kind of relationship that we deeply desire, then will we only complain and cast aspersions on God for bringing such trials into our lives, or will we rather trust that he is working for us something better and more lasting, and seek our satisfaction in him? If we continue to trust in him, then may we not account ourselves the mothers and sisters and brothers of Christ? For so he has called all of us who have left all to follow him â€“ and is he not a true and perfect Spouse to us, both a Bridegroom and a Brother and everything we need? But perhaps we would not know him so fully in these capacities if God had given us the relationships for which we long, perhaps for all eternity we will rejoice the more fervently in what Christ has become for us because for a little time we mourned â€“ and is it not then well worth the light and momentary affliction?
4. God sometimes casts us into great financial lack, so that we might trust in him alone as our Provider and Treasure
Some of us may have known times of great financial hardship â€“ but did we occupy ourselves only with securing the money that we need, or did we pause to consider how God had designed to bind us up, after bruising us in our pocketbooks? There is almost nothing more dangerous to true faith and godliness than financial prosperity, and so, when we experience any lack, we ought at once to rejoice that God has given us occasion to feel our need for him, which is always a most urgent need, but which we rarely feel so urgently as we should, except in times of duress. How many saints have learned to cling to that most precious of promises, that he who has no money may buy wine and milk without price from the Messiah, by going through some hardship? This hard-learned lesson has never forsaken them, but makes them rejoice in the gospel of God's free grace! Or how many have learned that Jesus is an eternally-satisfying Treasure when their earthly treasures were all taken away? How many foolish prodigals have found fleeting satisfaction in the world as long as their money lasted, but when they had wasted it all, they came to themselves, and in their poverty found a more lasting treasure? If we are troubled by financial hardship, then, let us not grumble, but seek to know the preciousness of Christ our portion, and turn our eyes to the unfading inheritance God's grace is treasuring up for us! Will not this eternal storehouse of riches well repay us for the loss of dung-heap money that we mourn today?
5. God sometimes plunges us into seasons of intense busyness and overwhelming responsibilities, so that we might turn to him as our promised Rest
Often, we have no rest or peace, but are buffeted by many cares and concerns on every hand; but this bruise, too, God often makes so that he might bind us up with the peace of Christ and the promise of an eternal rest in him. So David, when hard pressed on every side, lay down and slept, for the Lord sustained him. So too Paul, at one time, had no rest in his flesh, but found out thereby that God comforts the downcast. He counted the burden of caring for all the churches a task almost impossible for him to bear, but because of the exceeding difficulty of it, he rejoiced all the more when his race was run, and he was about to receive the crown of righteousness. But when we are overwhelmed with responsibilities, do we only wish for a lighter load, or do we consider that we are entrusted by God with a sacred calling, and find a far sweeter comfort in the end of the race, which we will run in triumph through Christ who strengthens us, and hear those yet-future words ringing in our ears all the more sweetly, â€œWell done, good and faithful servant! Enter the joy of your Lordâ€?
6. God sometimes makes us fall before our enemies, so that we might trust in him alone as our Protector and Savior
In some parts of the world, Christians are persecuted and killed every day, and so learn to trust in Christ alone as the eternal Savior, Protector, and Avenger of the saints; and in this terrible bruising, he prepares them for a far more precious binding up, making them to triumph by the blood of the Lamb! But when we who are not often called upon to spill our blood as a testimony to the gospel suffer some setback before those who oppose us â€“ when we lose ground in the arena of politics or culture, when wickedness seems to be gaining ground all around us, when we are despised and ashamed before those who mock and deride us for our Christian beliefs, do we then rejoice at the greatness of our heavenly reward, as the Savior would have us do, and learn to trust in God as our only Champion and Preserver? Or do we forget that God is breaking us down to bind us up in this way, and grow depressed and full of doubts, as if the success of the work depended upon us?
7. God sometimes lets us sink into sinful habits or attitudes, or else the commission of some great sin, so that we might recognize our weakness and sinfulness, and trust in his righteousness and power to sanctify
One of the greatest of all trials that God ever lets his saints fall into, is when he allows them to stumble and fall into some great sin, or some pattern of sinful thought or behavior. There is nothing so devastating and heartbreaking to a believer, and yet God sometimes does this to teach his people of their need for him, and to show them how precious his gospel promises are. How much more fervently did Peter love the Lord and seek to feed his sheep, because Jesus let him fall into a great sin, when his heart was lifted up within him? How much more did David delight in the non-imputation of sins when he had sinned so greatly in the matter of Bathsheba? Seeing these sobering examples, let us abhor all self-sufficiency, and cling to God's promises alone, taking heed if we think we can stand, lest we fall suddenly and terribly; and when we do stumble, as the righteous all do many times, let us take the opportunity to seek a greater humility and a more confident faith in the righteousness of Christ â€“ for in this way, God will use even our sins as an occasion to bind us up and give us a more abundant life of joy in his presence.
8. God sometimes lets us struggle in positions of shame, reproach, or lowliness, so that we might not delight in the approbation of the world, but find our glory in being his servant
God also lets us often muddle along with no power and prestige in the world, that we might not glory in our flesh, but only in the cross of Christ, as Paul explains so wisely in the first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians; we would do well, therefore, not to seek out fame or power, but take the lowliest seats in life, so that when Christ comes and calls us up to his presence, the honor that we gain might be greater than any fleeting honor we may carve out for ourselves here below.
9. God sometimes allows us to experience discontentment, frustration, and sorrow, so that we might realize that this world is not able to satisfy
In many other things we could lay out similar examples, but we will conclude with this: God often lets us go through long seasons of general discontentment and heavy-heartedness, whether it be because we long for something that we do not have, or because we gained all that we longed for and found it unsatisfying. This is because he would teach us well that joy and satisfaction are not finally to be found here on this earth, which still struggles under a fearful curse. We may grow weary and bitter at our lack of contentment, but we would put it to a much better use if we would learn to contrast it with the promise of eternal satisfaction for all those who are not occupied with the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen. Paul had to learn by experience what it was to be content in any situation â€“ and do you think he could have learned without coming to realize that, whether in want or abundance, earthly goods could never satisfy? No, but he went through every kind of condition only to find out that it is not in any of them that contentment could be found, but only in something greater than any earthly lot â€“ and when we know times of discontentment, we would be wise to learn the same lesson.
II. The Binding Up
We have spent the better part of our time describing the various means by which God tears and breaks down his people, so that he might bind them up and heal them. All of these afflictions God is able to use as a scalpel in his skillful hands, painfully cutting away the diseases of our hearts, so that we might find eternal life and joy in him. But before we conclude, let us just observe three things about the binding up that follows the breaking down, in the lives of all God's children.
1. The binding up is absolutely certain
The first thing that many Christians will do when the Lord is tearing them down, is to lose heart, and think that they will never be healed, or that there is no real point or blessed end to their trial. They may moan and grumble about the terrible things that bad luck or evil people have brought into their lives, and deny any part to God in bringing it into their lives for his own wise and sovereign purposes. If they do this, they are not in any condition to learn what God would teach them, and so they are making their trials longer and more burdensome than they would have to be. Or else, they may admit that God is ultimately responsible for bringing these things into their lives, but then rail at him or grow bitter against him, and think he is doing it not for their good, but just to torment them needlessly, and that he may never bring any good out of it at all â€“ but what danger they are casting themselves into of strokes far more severe and mortifying, seeing that God will most certainly silence such blasphemous presumption! In this case the most merciful thing a person may receive is a stroke from God so heavy as to send him reeling, and utterly drive such folly far from him â€“ for if it never depart at all, it will certainly cast him into hell.
But quite contrary to these two attitudes, the eye of faith sees that, if God afflicts his people, it is only for the purpose of binding them up; and if it is his purpose, nothing in all heaven and earth can stop it. Is the arm of the Lord shortened, that it cannot save? Is the wisdom of the Lord blinded, that it mistakenly performs an unnecessary or harmful stroke? What if every reason in the world should leave you to believe that nothing good could ever come from the trial that God has brought upon you? Well then, consider fulfillment of this prophecy, and all such thoughts will be silenced: when did anything more wicked and wrong and stunning and terrible ever occur, when did God's enemies have more cause to rejoice and his saints more cause to mourn, than when they finally succeeded, or so they thought, in putting the Son of God to death and destroying him? When was there ever such a tearing of God's people? And yet, for all the bitter pain of those two dread days, the third day came according to the promise, and none could stop it. On that third day, when God raised up his Christ and us in him, as he had sworn by Hosea that he would do, then he bound his people up, having utterly healed them by one dark stroke of wrath. And if he wrought the greatest healing from the most terrible stroke, will he not also work a healing all the sweeter whenever the bruising becomes more bitter? The darker it gets, the more you ought to rejoice, thinking of what a wonderful and eternal binding up he has in store for you!
2. There may be a temporary, imperfect binding up in some cases
God knows the weakness of his people and what it is that some strong saint may bear, which would utterly overwhelm another. Accordingly, he often sends temporary, imperfect bindings to those who are too weak to sustain his deep bruisings. Thus he healed King Hezekiah, when the intended stroke of death was too much for him to bear; and even if, when he had been healed, he fell into a folly before Babylon from which he otherwise would have been preserved, yet still God pitied him, even knowing what the future would hold, and was willing to put up with this wrongdoing, and forgive it for Christ's sake.
But then again, God may sometimes bind us up temporarily, not because we are too weak to bear further bruising, but because he has finished with the work that he has been doing in a particular trial. In those times, we may rejoice exceedingly, and gain a greater confidence in the ongoing work of sanctification in our hearts. Thus, when God had fully proved Abraham, he gave him back his son unharmed.
In either of these cases, when God gives us a temporary binding, we ought to use it as an earnest and pledge of the eternal, heavenly favor that he is pleased to give us. â€œDid you give me a sum of money unexpectedly, just when I needed it? Well then, surely you will give me eternal, spiritual riches in Christ! Did you heal my body of cancer? Well then, surely you will give me a perfect, resurrection body someday! Did you restore this broken relationship? Well then, surely you will one day make me to worship you in perfect peace and unity with all that multitude, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!â€ God is well-pleased when we see his earthly favors as further signs and indications of the heavenly favors he has promised us and sealed to us with many oaths and pledges.
3. There will always be a final, perfect binding up of every wound
But sometimes, there will be no temporary binding on this earth. Maybe the cancer will take your loved one. Maybe the sickness will be unto death. Maybe that relationship will never be the same. In that case, rejoice that God's strength is made perfect in weakness! Rejoice that another, better world is coming, in which every wound you have ever received will find a perfect healing and be replaced by the contrary joy, which no one can ever take away. The resurrection of Christ guarantees it.
III. Exhortation and Illustration
The prophecy of Hosea that we have spent some time examining is a sure testimony to our eternal joy and salvation, when the necessary sorrows and wounds have all been given. But the Lord knew that, as true as his promises are, we are still very weak in the faith, and need much exhortation and encouragement to believe him. And so, immediately after this promise, he gives us a strong exhortation, and illustrations of the certainty of his grace, representing the people as stirring one another up to faith, and saying, â€œCome, let us know the Lord, let us persevere and follow hard after him, and press on to know him! After all, his coming with healing and life is as certain as the dawn which follows night, it is as sure as the Spring rains that cause the earth to blossom in new life after the long, cold death of Winterâ€.
Let us learn from this verse, that the most fitting use we can make of all our trials is to know the Lord. The Lord heals and binds up in many ways, but all of them are alike in this respect, that they have as their end that his people might know him better. The eternal riches and portion of God's people is God himself â€“ he is their portion, and every good thing they have, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, is in him, they have all things, but only in Christ, their God and Savior. When God put his people to the stroke of death, as it were, in Christ, and then raised them up on the third day, it was to this end, that they might live before him and know him, that he might be their God and they might be his people. Therefore, the one great end that we must pursue in all of our trials is to know God better. This is what they are all designed to do in us. And furthermore, when we see anyone else in any trial whatsoever, it is our responsibility to say, â€œCome, let us know the Lord, let us press on to know him in this temptation!â€. How precious is the Christian friend who soothes the troubled soul with a timely reminder of the character and love of Christ!
But not only are we exhorted to press on and know the Lord; but Hosea here reminds us that we have been given many promissory signs and indications that we will know him indeed, and that he will bring life and salvation whenever he first wounds us and puts us to death as it were, by showing us our need of life in him alone. How many times has God brought night and darkness into this world? And every time he is faithful to bring the dawn, and cause the light again to spring forth! How often has he killed every flower of the field with winter's icy breath? And every time, he has raised the earth to life again! If he so cares for the flowers of the field, which one day he destroys with frost and the next day raises to life again, will he not also raise you to eternal life and joy in his presence? Where then is your faith in this time of darkness and death?
 Although Calvin denies that this prophecy finds a primary fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ, seeing that event as â€œan illustrious proof of this prophecy,â€ rather than its direct fulfillment, his treatment evinces the same pastoral and applicational quality as I have sought to convey here.