REMEMBER THE STORY OF THE PRODIGAL?
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.’ Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; And she shall seek
them, but shall not find them. Then shall she say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better for me than now.’ (Hosea 2:5-7).
Perhaps you were expecting the more familiar passage about the wayward son who left the pigs to return to his father (Luke 15)? Both give an excellent example of turning away from the world and being restored to the divine. The prodigal son learns of the wonderful love of his Father. The prodigal wife is brought back to her senses.
The wife in this passage represents Israel, but we may apply it to ourselves spiritually. This text, as well as the more familiar prodigal son text, does not illustrate a conversion experience. The main characters already belong to the Lord. However, they are not aligned with Him but with the ways of the world. They both find carnal thrills and joy in the most sinful of situations, until they hit bottom and realize the ugliness of it all.
The prodigal son is treated to more than he ever expected: mercy, forgiveness and celebration. Israel also will be treated to a most divine gift, the intimate love of the Lord as their Husband:
“In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2:16; NIV).
What a thrilling prospect! The law-oriented traditional religion of Judaism will give way to an intimate bonding with God, as a Husband relates to a wife.
It is a lesson for the church. When we, like the prodigal wife, come to our senses and separate ourselves from the grasps of the world, we will experience a great change in our relationship with God. So many fail to experience the sweet manifestations of God’s love because they are still dabbling in worldly husks and know Him only as ‘Master.’ The first step necessary for coming out of this is to see the present surroundings for what they are. We need to come to our spiritual senses.
Not Without a Vision
You may be thinking, “I’m not seeking other lovers, I’m not in the pigpen. This is old news!” It may be old news, but do not forget that the prodigals were blinded for a season. For a season they thought nothing was wrong. We in the church should know better when we are in the midst of terrible sin; however, it is the more subtle and sneaky forms of religion that we may indeed be in bondage to. If we do not receive a proper vision of the present state of our surroundings, we cannot arise and leave it.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Proverbs 29:18).
This text has often been interpreted to mean that a vision for ministry is necessary. If nothing is happening, the people perish. The next part, however, hints at a better interpretation. He that keepeth the law, happy is he. Here we see a connection between vision and keeping the law. This is not about being bound to the law. In the new covenant sense it would be better understood as keeping God’s word.
Think of this in the sense of God’s law written within the heart. It is not the law of Moses, or a code of ethics. It is not about religious observances. It is about His word abiding in you, and treasuring what He has said and done.
It is believing His word, that you have become a new creation (2Cor.5:17). You have become a partaker of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4). You are married to another now (Rom.7:4), and it is no longer you, but Christ who lives in you (Gal.2:20)!
Hard to believe, isn’t it? But believe, we must, even when we see all of our warts and failures. God is not looking at those outward things. He sees us spiritually in Christ, and we must learn to see this as well, looking unto Jesus (Heb.12:2) and not on our shortcomings. Believers must have this vision in their lives, considering themselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.6:11). Without a vision of this in the supernatural sense, the end result is a religion of formality, and we perish.
So many believers work so hard to obtain the truth of Christ living in them, working from the outside in and trying to get all their ducks in a row—so that Jesus can finally shine through them! It will never work that way! You have to start with the truth that you are dead to sin, and then rest in the fact that you are one with God in your spirit (1Cor.6:17). From there, your thoughts and actions will eventually fall into their proper place. There will be setbacks, but that does not change the spiritual reality. This is a very freeing truth to those who can grasp it. It comes by faith and not works.
Where do works come in? They come as a result from the vision. Take reading the Word, for example. People can read it without any vision, and as James describes, they are as a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; [who] once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was (James 1:23-4; NASB). Believers can easily forget that they are a new creation and that God loves them just as if they had never sinned. It is easy to slip into reading the Bible as a mere religious obligation, because it is the right thing to do, or worse, because of the fear that God will be angry with you if you don’t! Such reading yields little profit. But with vision, the Word has an awesome effect upon the soul. It transforms the believer, and as James concludes: one who LOOKS intently [with vision] at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it…this man shall be blessed in what he does (vs.25; NASB). The one with vision experiences the law of liberty, and happy is he.
A good prayer before reading the word: Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law (Ps.119:18).
We still see through a glass darkly. There is always need for more vision, but be sure not to neglect what God has already given you. You have more vision than you realize, you just haven’t believed it so much. Use what you have, and God will reveal more.
What does sin really look like? It is uglier than we know. If we do not get vision concerning this, we will not flee from sin as we should. What about heaven? It is glorious beyond our expectations! The glory of the Lord—just a glimpse of God is awesome! The more vision, the more we are drawn. We live by faith and not by sight, but without vision we perish!
The prodigals we have been discussing were perishing, until they received their vision and said, “Look at this mess I’m in!” What was once normal to them was suddenly undesirable. It was time to come out.
Not Without Action
The prodigal son did not just say, “What a mess!” and wallow in his pity. He did not try to adjust and hope for the best. He made a conscious decision to move, and he got up and left. It is not enough to be convicted or to bemoan the sour state of things. There must be the actual stepping forward in faith to get to the place of separation.
The account of the prodigal wife has not yet been concluded. We are not told that she made a move in this passage, only that she will. And thus, the Lord in His mercy says that He will lead her through a wilderness and draw her back to Himself (Hosea 2:14). We have a God who will go to such measures for us, even when we are hesitant and obstinate. But it is a rougher ride when we hold out. There is a wilderness to go through, or in Jonah’s case, a fish’s belly to sit in. Why waste the time? Consider the great mercy of God, and the dull dryness of staying in the same low conditions.
Will Rogers was known to have said, “Everybody’s talking about the weather but nobody’s doing anything about it!” There never seems to be any lack of words. Smith Wigglesworth once told someone who was saying all the right things, but obviously not trusting, “You don’t have faith, you have language!” We need to be careful that we are not basing our spirituality only on our words. True faith will manifest itself in action.
When was the last time you sang, “I Surrender All”? Did you surrender all? This is not meant to condemn anyone. We all fall short and God’s grace covers us. But I mention this simply to suggest we give more thought to our words, and try to follow up on them. It is noteworthy that the prodigal son said he would get up, and he did! Along the way, he gave careful thought to what else he would say. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him…” (Luke 15:18).
Humility and Meekness
The vision has come and the move has been made. Now to present ourselves in the proper way. Not in arrogance, feeling proud of our accomplishment, but in truth. The prodigal son came with this in mind:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:18-9).
Those who come out in humility and meekness are truly different. The son did not think, “I have done the right thing, now perhaps I will be an example and everyone will buy my books!” No, he came content to be a servant. This is where the difference lies between being separate like the Pharisees and being separate in true holiness. True holiness looks to the Father rather than to the self.
Yet the wonderful conclusion to the story is that the prodigal did not have to become like the hired servants. He didn’t even have to say what he had prepared to say! Before he could speak a word, the father had run to embrace him. All he needed to do was turn towards his father.
We do not need to abase ourselves as the medieval monks did. We do not need to whine and cry that we are miserable sinners. If we have messed up, only one thing is required—that we turn back to God. The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to see ourselves as unworthy. We do not need to become like hired servants. We just need to turn, and the Father will come running to embrace us.
I’m glad the prodigal didn’t say to him, “What are you doing? I have to do my penance first!”
Instead, I’ll bet he was so thankful that He wanted to do nothing but please His forgiving father. That’s how the gospel works. By faith, we receive God’s forgiveness and love, and then we become thankful. Then it becomes a joy to serve Him.
Every moment there is something to be thankful for, but this also requires vision. Every moment God’s love is flowing towards us, but many stresses and pressures work to distract us. And so ‘coming out’ is not a one-time event, but requires a continual exercise of faith. It begins with a decision: “I am going to turn to God and His ways.” Then it goes to action: actually turning to God and His ways! It is motivated by vision of what is good, and it is fueled by thankfulness—the response to His love, which the Bible says is beyond knowledge (Eph.3:19).