Have you ever been in hot pursuit of something only to keep running into road blocks? Sometimes I come to these obstacles and think, “Not again! This isn’t fair!” I respond in frustration and try to kick them aside so I can keep moving forward to my goal.
The prophet Hosea speaks about such obstacles:
“Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'”(Hosea 2:6-7)
The prophet here is talking about the nation of Israel, a wayward and fickle people who left her Husband in search of false loves and counterfeit idols. As we know, God dealt severely with her, to the point of divorcing himself from her. He sent Israel away in captivity. But he hadn’t given up on her. It was all for the intention of drawing her back to himself.
Like the Israelites, we too run from our first love and pursue idols and false lovers. We seek significance and affirmation from sources other than God. We pursue temporary pleasures and experiences that we think will fulfill and satisfy our longings. We place our affections and desires on what is created rather than the Creator. We idolize success, money, motherhood, possessions, love, and more. Though our idols are not made of wood or stone, they are idols just the same.
Because of our wayward hearts, God often places obstacles in our path. These obstacles are not mean to be overcome or bypassed but are intended to make our way hard. They are meant to stop us in our tracks so that we will turn around and return home.
These obstacles are acts of grace.
This side of the cross, we know that such obstacles are not a form of punishment for Christ already took our punishment when he died for our sins. Rather they are a chastening, a form of discipline. Hebrews tells us that God disciplines or chastens those whom he loves.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”(12:5-11)
When God places obstacles in our path, it is for our discipline and for our good. It is an act of love toward us as his children. Just as we withhold things from our own children that we know are bad for them, God does the same for us. But unlike us, God’s ways are holy, perfect, righteous, and just. If he withholds something from us or keep us from something, it is for our good. He knows that the things we pursue apart from him will never satisfy us. He knows that what we need is more of him, not for all our wishes to come true.
John Calvin says this about Hosea 2 in his commentary, “Hence the Prophet now shows, that the severity of God is profitable to us; for it drives us at length to repentance: in a word, he commends the favour of God in his very severity, that we may know that he furthers our salvation, even when he seems to treat us most unkindly.”
The desired result of such obstacles is repentance. It’s purpose is to help us see how we have turned from our first love. These are redemptive obstacles, meant to restore us back to where we belong. When we come to a blocked path, we need to confess our sin and rely on the grace of Christ to cleanse us. We need to apply the gospel to our wayward hearts and turn back to the path of life, reminding ourselves that God pursues those he loves.
Are you facing an obstacle today? Consider the ways of God’s grace toward you. Relish that grace. Respond in repentance and thanksgiving. And turn back to your one true love.