From a Deceiver to a Receiver (Letting God of a Transactional Approach Toward God)
Today’s passage is Hosea 12:1-14. Let’s go!
To appreciate God’s message to the Israelites (and to us) in Hosea 12, you need to know something about Jacob, one of Israel’s forefathers and the man after whom the nation of Israel was named. Jacob’s life forms the backdrop to a lot of what Hosea 12 is talking about.
You see, Jacob lived much of his life thinking he had to scratch, claw and fight for everything he had. His approach toward all of life was “transactional”. Like a merchant, he was constantly striking deals with people, including when it came to finding a wife (v12), and even with God: “I’ll give you this, if you give me that.” As part of this, Jacob would often lie to get ahead, pretending to be someone that he was not. In this way Jacob lived up to his name, which means “deceiver”.
Later on in life, after Jacob had amassed much wealth and a big family, Jacob reached a crossroads. The fear, shame and guilt of his past sins had caught up to him. In Genesis 32, Jacob finds himself in a wrestling match with God. In that wrestling match, God asks Jacob what his name is. In response, for the first time in his life, Jacob faces the fact that he is a sinner. He says, “My name is Jacob” and in so doing admits to being a deceiver (Genesis 32:27). He also seeks a blessing from God that he cannot earn (Genesis 32:26). So God blesses Jacob and renames Jacob “Israel” (meaning “struggle with God”), “because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28)
Ironically, the time when Jacob truly overcame his struggle with God was when he finally decided to face who he really was, admit to his sin, and ask God for a blessing that he could not earn or bargain for. By surrendering to God, Jacob overcame.
This ends up being the most significant turning point in Jacob’s life. Jacob goes from being a deceiver, someone who had a transactional approach toward God, to a receiver, someone who was willing to admit his sin and receive grace from God that he could not earn. By letting go of his transactional approach toward God and receiving God’s grace, Jacob ended up with a real relationship with God.
Hosea speaks about Jacob’s transformation from a deceiver to a receiver in verses 3-5:
Hosea 12:3-5 (NIV)
3 In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God.
4 He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there–
5 the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!
Why does Hosea 12 bring up Jacob and his transformation? It’s because Hosea 12 is comparing the original Israel (Jacob) with the Israelites of Hosea’s time. In particular, Hosea 12 says that the Israelites of Hosea’s time were like their forefather Jacob in the following ways:
– The Israelites had a transactional approach toward life. Like a “merchant” (v7), the nation of Israel was constantly striking bargains with other nations like Assyria and Egypt (v1). They put their hope in their ability to strike bargains with others.
– The Israelites had a history of acting dishonestly and deceitfully (“The merchant uses dishonest scales and loves to defraud” – v7).
– The Israelites put their hope in their own wealth (v8) (“Ephraim boasts, ‘I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth, they will not find in me any iniquity of sin.'” – v8).
Yet unlike their forefather Jacob, the Israelites had not humbled themselves before God or returned to Him. God cared for the Israelites by sending prophets to speak to them (v10). He sent the prophet Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt and to care for them (v13). Yet the Israelites did not respond like Jacob did, with humility and repentance. Instead, they persisted in their idolatrous ways (v11) and continued their transactional approach toward God. By insisting on a transactional approach toward God, the Israelites were “feeding on the wind” (v1), pursuing something that was vain and futile and that only led to more lies, deceit and pain.
What can we learn from all this? Do you have a transactional approach toward God? Do you try to strike bargains with God (“If you give me this, then I will give you that”)? Do you secretly think you can earn God’s love? If so, then like Jacob you have a transactional approach toward God and you are deceiving yourself. God wants to move us from being deceivers (who think we can strike bargains with God and earn His love) to receivers (people who recognize that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love but that we can receive His love as a gift of His grace).
If you have a transactional approach toward God, then as verse 6 says, it’s time to “return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait for your God always” (v6). (By the way, when it says, “hold fast to love and justice”, remember who is love and justice? Jesus! Hold fast to Him!)
If you insist on trying to earn God’s love rather than to receive it, you force God to deal with you on your transactional terms, and you will always fall short. As verse 2 says, “He will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds”. (See also verse 14, the result of a transactional approach toward God.)
So don’t try to strike bargains with God. Stop trying to earn God’s love. Instead, like Jacob, humble yourself before Him. Admit that you are a sinner and receive His love, blessing and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When you do, He will give you a new identity, just as He did Jacob.
Heavenly Father, may I not be deceived into thinking that I can earn or deserve Your love and favour. Like Jacob, help me to go from being a deceiver to a receiver, someone who receives Your love as a gift. Just as you gave Jacob a new name, may Your love redefine who I am and my purpose for living. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!