Saturday, February 27, 2010

Introduction to Joel

The prophet and his prophecy--Nothing is known of Joel except that he was the son of man named Pethuel (Joel 1:1); his name means "Jehovah is his God." Since he doesn’t mention any of the later world powers, such as Assyria or Babylon, it’s often been suggested that he prophesied early, perhaps in the 9th century, or several decades before Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah, who were the great 8th century prophets. There is a reference in Joel 3:1 to bringing back “the captives of Judah and Jerusalem,” but this is in a Messianic context and probably doesn’t refer to the Babylonian captivity. I think the book was written early, i.e, late 9th century B.C. The context of the book is a devastating locust plague, “my army” the Lord calls it in 2:25. It appears to be a warning from God, a reminder that the people of Israel need to be faithful to Him. When the warning doesn’t work and the people remain idolatrous, then the prophets Hosea, Amos, etc. show up, denounce the idolatry, and predict captivity. That appears to be the sequence. God gave Israel a chance to repent; and Joel will advise that frequently through his book. It doesn’t work, so Assyria and Babylon will come for further punishment. “The day of the Lord” is a frequent theme running through the book.

The most significant passage in Joel is 2:28-32, which is the Scripture Peter quotes on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2; the events of that day were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. And since 2:28-32 ends that chapter, and the first verse of chapter 3 begins, “For behold, in those days and at that time,” we have to understand chapter 3 as referring to the New Testament church age. I’ll discuss that more when we get there.

Joel is a short book, but contains some powerful lessons for us. It is certainly worthy of our study.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hosea 14

The final chapter of this wonderful book ends with a plea and a message of hope. “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips’” (vs. 1-2). Part of that repentance is acknowledging that “Assyria will not save us” (v. 3), and a denunciation of idol worship (v. 3). Unfortunately, this won’t happen in the northern tribes for nearly two centuries.

But if they would “return to the Lord your God”—and this is equally valid to us—God would “heal their backsliding, I will love them freely” (v. 4). There are some beautiful metaphors to describe God’s blessings upon Israel: “I will be like the dew…he shall grow like the lily” (v. 5); “his branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon” (v. 6). Lebanon was famous for its magnificent cedar trees, which smell delightful. Israel would be “revived like grain and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon,” (v. 7), so that commodity must have been enchanting as well. With this repentance, Ephraim would turn from idols and finds its “fruit” in Jehovah (v. 8). Verse 9 is an excellent closing statement: “Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” That is a message that is as needed today as it was 2700+ years ago when Hosea first wrote it.

Next:  the book of Joel

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hosea 13

There is a way to greatness—humble yourself before God, and when Ephraim did that (v. 1), God exalted her. But then the people turned to Baal and “died.” Their sin increased more and more—idol worship: ”Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!” (v. 2) And, as a result, “they shall be like the morning cloud and like the early dew that passes away” (v. 3). Greatness is fleeting when we turn from God.

But, eventually, the Israelites would turn from their idols: “Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land the Egypt, and you shall know no God but me” (v. 4). Indeed, after the Jews came back from Babylonian captivity, they never worshipped false gods again. So here we have a prophetic statement regarding Israel’s future. God had taken care of them, but, over time, “they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot me” (v. 6). We must be extremely cautious that we do not let “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matt. 13:22). Meeting God in that condition is not favorable: “I will be to them like a lion” (v. 7); “I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs, I will tear open their rib cage, and there I will devour them like a lion” (v. 8). Destruction was inevitable (v. 9), but any help they would get would come from God. “I will be your King; where is any other that he may save you in all your cities?” (v. 10). If they had only trusted Jehovah. As we read in I Samuel 8, God never wanted them to have an earthly king and warned them openly about it. And now the fruit had been born: “I gave you a king in My anger, and took him away in my wrath” (v. 11). Ephraim’s sin had been “stored up” for centuries (v. 12), and now, “the sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon him” (v. 13). But, as noted several times in the book, God will bring them back. Their captivity is pictured as death and the grave, so in verse 14, the Lord says, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!” The apostle Paul quotes this in I Corinthians 15 in reference to our final victory over death. So Israel’s “resurrection” from the “grave” of captivity is a type of our resurrection over physical death in the last day. Ezekiel 37 is another marvelous picture of this.

Yet, before that time, “An east wind shall come; the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness. Then his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up” (v. 15). The east wind is the hot, dry one; look at a map and see what is directly east of Israel--nothing but desert.  And verse 16 presents a horrid picture of the consequences of sin: “They shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child ripped open.” All of this because “Samaria is held guilty; for she has rebelled against her God.” As we saw in chapter 11, it was only because of the higher purpose of a merciful God that He did not completely destroy these wicked people. That, and there were a remnant that remained faithful to Jehovah: “Unless the LORD of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).  That "remnant," of course, is the one through whom the Messiah would come.  But notice, it was the "LORD of hosts" that had allowed it to remain.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hosea 12

The vanity of Ephraim’s current efforts is illustrated plainly in verse 1: "Ephraim feeds on the wind, And pursues the east wind.” Good luck catching the wind. There is no end to their sin: “he daily increases lies and desolation,” and once again, the alliances with Assyria and Egypt are condemned (v. 1). Judah won’t escape either: “The LORD also brings a charge against Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; According to his deeds He will recompense him” (v. 2). The southern kingdom would survive longer than the north, but the Lord could already see in what direction Judah was headed.

In verses 3-5, Jehovah reminds them of the history of their father Jacob. “He took his brother by the heel in the womb” (v. 3); “he struggled with the Angel and prevailed” (v. 4); “he found Him in Bethel” (v. 4). And Jacob knew Who He was: “That is, the LORD God of hosts. The LORD is His memorable name” (v. 5). And He would save Israel if only the people would let Him: “So you, by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice” (v. 6). Hopefully, Israel could be inspired to righteousness by being reminded of their illustrious father. But it wasn’t going to happen.

Ephraim had gotten wealthy during the reign of Jeroboam II (825-784 B.C.), but apparently had done so through “deceitful scales” and oppression (v. 7). And, of course, the people never gave thanks to God: “And Ephraim said, 'Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that is sin.’” But they were only fooling themselves. “But I am the LORD your God…I will again make you dwell in tents” (v. 9). Living in the those miserable tents during the 40 years of wandering in the hot desert certainly could not have been a pleasant reminder, especially for those who currently “lie on beds of ivory” (Amos 6:4). There’s probably nothing more that the rich fear than debilitating poverty, but that’s where Israel was headed. The Lord had tried: “I have also spoken by the prophets, and have multiplied visions; I have given symbols through the witness of the prophets,” (v. 10), but Ephraim trusted rather in her vain idols (v. 11). In verse 12, the Lord once again reminds them of the righteousness of their father Jacob, though the exact meaning of the thought is obscure. Listening to God’s prophets is the way to safety: “By a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet he was preserved” (v. 13). But, rather than that, “Ephraim provoked Him to anger most bitterly; therefore his Lord will leave the guilt of his bloodshed upon him, and return his reproach upon him” (v. 14). When the Lord speaks, we must listen. And if we do not, then we have no one to blame for our doom but ourselves.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hosea 11

This chapter has some touching scenes and a very important one. God, through Hosea, uses the figure of Israel as a child in verses 1-4: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son” (v. 1). In verse 3, the Lord says, "I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms;” one can just picture a father holding his little child up as it takes its first steps. Jehovah drew Israel to Him with “bands of love,” He “stooped and fed them,” and was as gentle as He could be (v. 4). But it did no good: “The more the prophets called them, the more they went from them: they sacrificed unto the Baalim” (v. 2). Thus, without a figure, the Lord said, “He shall not return to the land of Egypt; But the Assyrian shall be his king, Because they refused to repent” (v. 6). It would be a violent end, as “the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them” (v. 6). Israel’s hypocrisy was evident to God, as was their determination to sin: “My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalts Him” (v. 7). We will never fool Jehovah with pathetic cries that lack sincerity.

But the Lord is faced with a real dilemma here. Israel was every bit as worthy of punishment as people He had earlier obliterated from the face of the earth. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (v. 8). Admah and Zeboiim were small towns which were also destroyed at the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut. 29:23), so it is obvious that they were as wicked as their more famous sister cities. Well, if God destroyed Admah and Zeboiim, and Israel is every bit as deserving of punishment—or He wouldn’t have mentioned the two cities in this verse—then how can He be fair to Admah and Zeboiim and not annihilate Israel? Verse 9 gives the answer and hints at something greater: “I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, The Holy One in your midst; And I will not come with terror.” “I am God, and not man.” God couldn’t destroy Israel because He had made a greater promise to mankind—the coming of a Savior through the Jewish people. And while only Ephraim is mentioned in this verse, Judah will actually become more “treacherous” than the northern kingdom (Jeremiah 3:11). Thus, the Lord can only be fair to Admah and Zeboiim in light of the more significant promise He made to the rest of mankind. He’s God, not man, and His purposes are higher than ours. Thus, He will allow the Jews to return from captivity: “And I will let them dwell in their houses” (v. 11). God seems to act capriciously to us at times, but He never does. We simply do not always see or understand His intentions, for they may be long-range in their fulfillment, yea, even far beyond our death. It might have appeared to a righteous person in Hosea’s day that the Lord wasn’t being just when He allowed Israel to survive but not Admah and Zeboiim. And it won’t be for another 700 years before the final rationale—the coming of the Messiah—vindicates Jehovah's actions. He knew what He was doing even if no one in Hosea’s day did. We simply must not judge God by our short-sighted vision. His knowledge is infinite; our is finite, and puny at best.

The chapter ends by reminding Ephraim that, though God is going to be more merciful than He ought, they still are guilty of grievous sin—“Ephraim has encircled me with lies” (v. 12). Judah, however, for the moment, gets a word of praise: “But Judah still walks with God.” There were some good kings in Judah (e.g., Hezekiah) during the years of Hosea’s ministry. That commendation will be quickly overturned, though, in chapter 12.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hosea 10

“Israel is an empty vine,” (v. 1) says, although the American Standard Version reads “luxuriant” vine. Either way, Israel had a lot of fruit (blessings) from God, but “according to the multitude of his fruit he has increased the altars” (v. 1)—the more God blessed Israel, the more she offered to her idols. But Jehovah “will break down their altars; He will ruin their sacred pillars,” (v. 2), and Israel will have no king to help (v. 3), nor will their idols aid them either (v. 5): “its people mourn for it [the calf, or idol], and its priests shriek for it--because its glory has departed from it.” It was nothing but poison to them, anyway (v. 4). Assyrian captivity awaits them (v. 6), and Israel’s “king is cut off like a twig on the water” (v. 7). Where Israel’s altars had existed “the thorn and thistle shall grow” (v. 8), and God’s judgment will be so severe that “they shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’" Rather that than meet a vengeful Jehovah.

“O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah” (v. 9). That hideous event, which had taken place hundreds of years before and mentioned in the previous chapter as well, was still in the mind of God and something Israel had never acknowledged or truly repented of. We may forget, but the Lord never does, and sexual perversion is something that is an affront to Jehovah, indeed, worthy of death under the old law (Lev. 20:13). But punishment comes in God’s own time: ”When it is My desire, I will chasten them” (v. 10). For the next few verses, Hosea uses a farm analogy: “Ephraim is a trained heifer…You have plowed wickedness; You have reaped iniquity” (vs. 11, 13). Jehovah’s advice is “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you” (v. 12). Israel’s punishment is sure, but perhaps with the right kind of repentance, could be mitigated somewhat. But it was ultimately the lack of faith in God that caused the people’s destruction: “You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men” (v. 13), rather than in Jehovah. “Therefore tumult shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be plundered” (v. 14). The punishment will be violent and terrible: “A mother dashed in pieces upon her children” (v. 14). Sin has hideous consequences.  There was no pity or respect for human life among the ancient savages like Assyria. And, I suppose, when we look at some of the revolting butchery of the 20th century, we must wonder if men have progressed much in the past 2700 years. The bottom line: “Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel ahall be cut off utterly” (v. 15). Bethel was one of the locations where Jeroboam set up his golden calves to keep the people of the northern kingdom from going to Jerusalem to worship and thus perhaps restoring allegiance to the house of David: “Whereupon the king [Jeroboam] took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them [the people of the north], ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’” (I Kings 12:28). Read the sickening story in that chapter. But back to the last thought in Hosea 10:15: “At dawn”—the Lord isn’t going to waste any time—“the king of Israel shall be cut off utterly”—nothing left of the one on whom the people had relied to protect them.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hosea 9

More “sermons,” condemnation of Israel. She has nothing to rejoice over; harlotry against God will lead to poverty and punishment (vs. 1-2). “They shall not dwell in the LORD'S land” (v. 3).

I want to take a moment here to discuss Hebrew poetry. Unlike modern poetry, much of which is designed to rhyme, ancient poetry (and not just Hebrew) followed a form called “parallelism.” A thought would be stated, and then repeated in different words, or perhaps the opposite. For example, verse 3:

“But Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
And shall eat unclean things in Assyria.”

As I’ve noted in earlier chapters, the allusions to “Egypt” are referring to the upcoming captivity in Assyria. And so, you can see the “parallel” thoughts here. Verse 5: 

"What will you do in the appointed day,
and in the day of the feast of the Lord?"

In the Hebrew, there would be “meter,” but no rhyme. Let me give you an example of “opposite parallelism.” Proverbs 1:7 is a classic example:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

A thought stated, then the opposite. It can get more complicated than that, but this is the simple form is used in most of the poetical literature (Proverbs is full of it, of course). Much of the Old Testament is written in poetic form, because most of the people were illiterate and certainly didn’t have copies of the book itself. So poetry was used for ease of memorization. Poetry is much simpler to remember than prose. But a key point here. Since poetry is used, the figurative nature of it must be kept in mind. The principle is literally true, but very often, different forms of speech—figures, metaphors, symbols, allegories, etc.—are used. Again, look at verse 3. Part of that was literally true: “they shall eat unclean things in Assyria.” But the returning to Egypt obviously is intended symbolically. One of the huge mistakes made by many people is to interpret Old Testament poetry literally. Be on guard against that. Theirs is no more literal than much of Western poetry.

Back to the text. We’ve seen much of this before, so I will just hit the high points. In verse 6, Egypt is used symbolically again. I like part of verse 7: “the spiritual man is insane because of the greatness of your iniquity and great enmity.” This is probably the false teacher (he also says “the prophet is a fool”), one who is pretending Divine inspiration, but Israel was probably driving God’s true prophets nuts, too. Verse 9 starts out “They are deeply corrupted as in the days of Gibeah.” This is a reference to the horrible events of Judges 19-21, which almost caused the total obliteration of the tribe of Benjamin. It’s a long and sordid tale which I won’t take space here to recount, and I encourage the reader to go over and read it, but the gist of it was homosexual activity, and there is little doubt that such is what Hosea is condemning in verse 9.

Israel was lovely when God found her (v. 10), but quickly corrupted her ways with Baal worship. So “their glory shall fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!” (v. 11). The blessings of the family would be ended as well. They will have children, but those children will be a bereavement to them because “Ephraim will bring out his children to the murderer” (v. 13), not literally, but because of the Assyrian captivity. These ancient pagan kingdoms were given to pillage, plunder, murder, and rape; Assyria wasn’t trying to convert others to righteousness, and pardon my facetiousness. It’s a sad ending. As we saw in chapter one, God said that He would have no more mercy on Israel, they would no longer be His people. Now in 9:15, His words are “I will love them no more,” and again we must understand the poetic nature of this. God loves everyone, even in rebellion, but He will now withhold His blessings from Israel, as if he “hated them” (v. 15). And the chapter ends with a plain statement: “My God will cast them away because they did not obey Him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations” (v. 17). That last sentence certainly describes the Jewish people down through the centuries.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hosea 8

The gist of this chapter is God’s complaint against the idolatry of Ephraim (Israel, the northern kingdom). In verse 1, “He shall come like an eagle against the house of the Lord,” i.e., swiftly. Israel’s feigned cry in verse 2 will not help them because they rejected “the good” (v. 3). The north, of course, broke off from the house of David, the dynasty God established, so the Lord complains in verse 4, “They set up kings, but not by Me.” And then “From their silver and gold they made idols for themselves.” Israel had been well-blessed—“silver and gold”—but used that to build false gods. God, of course, is not going to accept this: “Your calf is rejected, O Samaria [the capital city of the North].” How long will it be, Jehovah asks, “until they attain to innocence?”

The shocking nature of all this is expressed in verse 6: “For from Israel is even this.” This is going on among God’s people! “A workman made it, and it is not God.” And “the calf of Samaria shall be broken up.”

Verse 7 starts out with a well-known statement: “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.” There is no mocking of God (Galatians 6:7). Hosea, as he has done often, speaks in what is called the “prophetic past” in verse 8: “Israel is swallowed up. Now they are among the Gentiles like a vessel in which is no pleasure.” This hasn’t happened yet. Hosea is writing perhaps two or three decades before captivity. But the punishment of Israel is so sure that he writes as if it had already happened. How certain are the ways of God!

Once again, the Lord mentions the “adultery” with Assyria (v. 9). “Ephraim has hired lovers,” and it won’t help them (v. 10). A great tragedy is expressed in verse 12: “I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing.” Ignorance of God’s word is again condemned. What a sad state the people of God get to when their own law becomes a “strange thing” to them. “We’ve never heard this before.” I wonder in how many churches today the teaching of the Bible is a “strange thing.” I know of quite a few because I’ve preached at some and wondered if I was going to get out alive.

Because of their ignorance of Jehovah’s ways, they sacrificed to their idols, but, of course, the Lord did not accept it (v. 13). “Now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. They shall return to Egypt.” Again, the Assyrian captivity is represented as “Egypt.” None of the Israelites had forgotten the horrible bondage and slavery in Egypt, so to refer to the Assyrian captivity as “Egypt” conjured up horrible images in their minds. Or at least it should have.

“For Israel has forgotten his Maker,” (v. 14), and all the temples and fortified cities, even in Judah, will not help them when God comes in judgment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hosea 7

The Lord continues his exposure and condemnation of Israel. He would have healed them, but they wouldn’t let Him (v. 1). Fraud, thievery, adultery (vs. 1, 4); the list of sins is almost endless, and “they do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness” (v. 2). Forgetting—or ignoring—that God sees us is an almost sure-fire recipe for sin and destruction.

But they preferred to have the king’s approbation than God’s (v. 3). The first Jeroboam, the one who introduced the idols at Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12), and all the kings afterwards, continued “kneading the dough” until it was “leavened” with sin—the whole of Israel infested with wickedness. The baker put his bread in the oven at night, went to sleep, and woke up to a raging fire (v. 6). Overheated with sin, the people devoured their judges and their kings are destined for destruction (v. 7). Hosea writes in the “prophetic past”—as if it had already happened. And still, they refused to call upon Jehovah (v. 7).

Verses 8-11 restates the problem found in 5:13. “Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples…aliens have devoured his strength…Ephraim is also like a silly dove, without sense—they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.” The people of Israel found pleasure in “mixing” themselves with the non-spiritual pagans around them, and these “aliens…devoured” their spiritual strength. All too often, when the godly mingle with the ungodly, rather than the former lifting the latter up to a higher standard, God’s people are dragged down. “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals” (I Cor. 15:33). The tragedy in Israel’s case was that “But he does not know it; yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, yet he does not know it” (v. 9). Gray hairs, a sign of age, of approaching death…and Israel didn’t know. “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (v. 8); a half-baked cake, burned on one side, raw on the other. What good is that? And their pride again is condemned (v. 10), a pride that simply would not let them return to Jehovah, “Nor seek Him for all this.”

There would be no escape from God: “Wherever they go, I will spread My net on them; I will bring them down like birds of the air” (v. 12). Destruction would come (v. 13). God would have redeemed them, “yet they have spoken lies against me” (v. 13). What effort they made at serving Him was feigned: “They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds” (v. 14). The Lord, as always, did what He could: “I disciplined them and strengthened their arms,” but to no avail: “Yet they devise evil against me” (v. 15). “They return, but not to the Most High” (v. 16); no, they go to their idols to ask help. “They are like a deceitful bow”—which way is the arrow going to shoot? To the right or to the left? Israel simply cannot be trusted. Hence, “their princes shall fall by the sword…this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt” (v. 16), the latter probably being a reference to bondage in Assyria. Either that, or Egyptians will be making fun of them when they finally fall.

What a sad picture. Israel is reaping what she sowed. Sin will have its consequences, and they will not be pretty. Too many people find that out too late, and so it happened to Israel.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hosea 6

Verses 1-3 appear to be a continuation of chapter 5. Who, exactly, is being represented as speaking here is not clear. It might be Hosea himself calling Israel back to God. The key: “Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD,” (v. 3). Remember that lack of knowledge had destroyed them in the first place (4:6). And in 2:8, “For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold.” Recalling from whence our wonderful blessings come might go a long way in helping us appreciate and serve Jehovah.

But, beginning in verse 4, the Lord speaks again and bemoans the fact that such repentance has yet to take place—or, if it had, there wasn’t much to it. “What shall I do with you?” He asks both kingdoms. “For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (v. 4). If they had returned to Him, it hadn’t lasted long. God sent His prophets to teach and rebuke, but that had failed (v. 5). Apparently—an age old story—Israel thought that they could appease God with as little effort as possible. Give Him a few sacrifices and maybe that will be sufficient. But it wasn’t and it never will be: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (v. 6). All the outward religious ceremonialism is vain unless accompanied by a pure heart and a righteous life. This was just as true in Judaism as it is in Christianity. But “they transgressed the covenant” (v. 7), even Judah: “Gilead is a city of evildoers, and defiled with blood” (v. 8). Look at the state of the priesthood (v. 9): “As bands of robbers lie in wait for a man, so the company of priests murder on the way to Shechem; surely they commit lewdness.” In other words, Israel’s pack of idolatrous priests would wait by the roadside for anyone going to Jerusalem to truly worship the Lord and they would kill him. The reason? “They commit lewdness”—they no longer have any attachment to Jehovah, they are a crowd of pagans. And, again, this is the priesthood of the northern kingdom. What could the people do? They’d be killed if they tried to serve the Lord. It’s a horrible thing the Lord has seen, this harlotry in Ephraim (v. 10), and “O Judah, a harvest is appointed for you,” too (v. 11).

These are short chapters, but powerful indictments of the wickedness of the Israelites. And they give us clear indication of what the Lord thinks of our own disobedience and slothfulness—nationally and individually.

Hosea 5

Hosea continues here a general condemnation of the people—and the priests (v. 1). Again, if the leaders are corrupt, it’s very rare that the masses will be righteous. They were “revolters…deeply involved in slaughter” (v. 2), in other words, very violent. Again Jehovah compares their actions to harlotry (vs. 3-4), and announces that pride is a source of this sin (v. 5). Unfortunately Ephraim is dragging Judah, the southern kingdom, down with it (v. 5). They’ll come a time when they will seek the Lord, but they won’t find Him because He has withdrawn from them (v. 6). Part of the problem, and it will come up more than once in Hosea’s prophecy, is that they mixed themselves with the people of the land—“they have begotten pagan children” (v. 7). The Lord wants Judah to know what’s happening before it’s too late—“Blow the ram's horn in Gibeah, The trumpet in Ramah!” (v. 8). Gilead and Ramah are cities in Judah. It doesn’t appear, however, that the southern kingdom is going to listen. Ephraim will be “desolate in the day of rebuke,” (v. 9), but Judah’s princes—the leaders—“are like those who remove a landmark” (v. 10). In effect, there are no boundaries any more to their actions. And God thus will “pour out his wrath on them like water.” Rather than listening to God, Ephraim “willingly walked by human precept” (v. 11), and when the two countries saw that they were in trouble, rather than turn back to God, they tried to make an alliance with Assyria (v. 13). This is a real serious accusation by Jehovah. Both kingdom’s punishment, of course, would be captivity by foreign powers; the northern kingdom will be taken into Assyria in the late 8th century B.C., and then in the late 7th-early 6th century, Judah will suffer Babylonian captivity. Ancient powers often did this—haul the people of a conquered territory into slavery and captivity. They didn’t want to leave anybody behind to foment rebellion. Well, as Assyria was gaining strength in the 8th century, and expanding its empire southward towards Palestine, instead of looking to their Almighty God for help, the kings of Israel tried to make an alliance with Assyria. When that doesn’t appear that it’s going to work, they will turn to Egypt (Isaiah 30). In other words, they just didn’t trust the Lord. Thus, “I will take them away, and no one shall rescue” (v. 14). When things get bad enough, Israel will turn back to God: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me" (v. 15). It’s a shame that, too often, we have to wait for some crisis to develop in our lives before we seek the Lord.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hosea 4

This chapter begins, in effect, the “preaching” part of the book. The prophets, of course, would publicly proclaim their message, and then write down the gist of what they said. Hosea 4:1 establishes the major problem in Israel: “There is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land.” And verse 2 tells us of the unsurprising result: “There is nought but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” When a country has no truth, goodness, or knowledge of God, there will always follow, as a result, swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery, and just about every other vice the baser elements of humanity can concoct. Can we not see modern America in this? The message of the prophets reads almost like a modern newspaper.

And the end result will always be as related (symbollically) in verse 3: “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.” Punishment is assured.

Verse 6 is perhaps the most famous verse in Hosea, and re-tells the scandal and result: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Again, lack of knowledge of God’s word brings sure judgment and punishment from God.

Hosea 4 is very descriptive. The more the population grew, the more sin was produced (v. 7). The “set their heart” on their iniquities; they loved to sin and were determined to do it (v. 8). Many of the religious leaders even led the way: “like people, like priest,” (v. 9). But, God said, “I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds” (v. 9). Instead of praying to God, “My people ask counsel from their wooden idols” (v. 12). How dumb can people get? They have the great God of heaven and earth for their Protector and Provider, yet they go and ask a piece of wood for advice. Verse 13 says “They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, because their shade is good.” This was a practice Israel borrowed from the pagan peoples of Canaan—building altars on mountaintops and under trees. So instead of sacrificing to God in Jerusalem as they ought, they were sacrificing to idols on mountaintops and in groves. Jehovah tells them He’s not even going to chastise them any more: “I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry,” (v. 14). Why bother? It hadn’t done any good. What a sad condition the northern kingdom had gotten into.

While Hosea, later in his book, will also castigate Judah, apparently chapter 4 was written (preached) early in his ministry because he tries to warn the southern kingdom from following her northern brothers: “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, let not Judah offend” (v. 15). “Ephraim [the northern kingdom of Israel] is joined to idols, let him alone” (v. 17). And a good idea it was because “the LORD will let them forage like a lamb in open country” (v. 16). What do you think is going to happen to a lamb all by itself in open country? Israel’s condition was tragic—but inexcusable. “Their drink is rebellion, they commit harlotry continually. Her rulers dearly love dishonor” (v. 18). Notice that the "rulers" of the people were heavily involved in all of this.  Good leadership is essential, but almost always lacking when a people degenerate into sin.  Where are America's leaders taking our country today?  But, for Israel, eventually, “they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices” (v. 19).  It will be too late then.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hosea 3

In this short passage, God tells Hosea to go and buy Gomer back. She will stay with him from now on, and “you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man--so, too, will I be toward you,” (v. 3). The point is, there will be no more idolatry in Israel—and there wasn’t following the return from Babylonian captivity. But “the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim,” (v. 4). They would not have a king any more (which Israel has never had since the captivity) and the sacrificial system, while still in tact till 70 A.D., was certainly not as glorious as it was in the days of Solomon’s temple. Verse 5 tells us when things will change again: “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.” When you see “David” mentioned in the Old Testament after his death, then it is a reference to Christ (cf. Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 37:25). So basically this chapter is a prediction of Israel’s future. God will bring Israel back, pictured by Hosea accepting Gomer back. She would stay with him, but never have another lover—Israel will never “play the harlot” with foreign powers again. Things will not be the same in Israel—no king, no glory—until “the latter days,” the Christian age, when Christ shall rule over spiritual Israel. That we are in the “latter days” now is proven by Acts 2:17, I John 2:18, and similar New Testament thoughts. The “last days” are the Christian dispensation. The Patriarchal age was first, from Adam to Moses. Then came the Jewish dispensation, from Moses to Christ. And then the last days are the Christian age—from Christ till the end of time. Be careful when you see the term “last days,” or something similar. It does not necessarily mean we are within a few years of Jesus’ return. We may be; no one knows except the Father (Matthew 24:36). But the Lord might not return for another 10,000 years. And the world would still be in the “last days” because that term refers to a dispensation (Christian) not a period immediately before the Second Coming.

Hosea 2

Chapter 2 opens with a thought that is a continuation of chapter 1:10-11. After God has told the northern kingdom that they will cease to exist, that He will have no mercy upon them, that they will no longer be His people, He informs them that there will be a return and that they will be His people again. This is almost surely a Messianic prophecy. Note verses 10 and 11 of chapter 1: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered.  And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' there it shall be said to them, 'You are sons of the living God.' Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!” The “one head” is Christ. We can be certain of this because there is a similar thought in chapter 2:23—“Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they shall say, 'You are my God!'” This definitely pertains to the Christian age because Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:25-26 and applies it to the Gentiles being called into the church equally with the Jews. So the “children of Judah and children of Israel” in 1:10-11 refer to spiritual Israel, the church, not physical Israel.  Compare the material in the passages above that I have italicized, which also indicates a concurrent meaning.

One more thought in this regard. The word “Jezreel” can mean “to scatter” or “to sow.” The Jews were “scattered” because of their wickedness, but the “sowing” of the Word of God brings all men together under Christ. Notice Jezreel and sowing are found in both 1:10-2:1 and 2:23.

Chapter 2:2-13 is an indictment against the Israel of Hosea’s day, using basically the same figure of harlotry that’s found in chapter 1. Israel has been unfaithful and God will have no mercy. Another key theme is established in 2:8 which comes up frequently in Hosea: “For she did not know That I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, And multiplied her silver and gold-- Which they prepared for Baal.” She did not know…ignorance of God’s word will destroy people every time. God gave Israel wonderful blessings; Israel turned around and offered them to a Canaanite fertility god, Baal. Thus, her punishment (vs. 9-13) was just.

Yet verse 14 picks up the imagery that continues through the rest of the chapter: God will “betroth” Israel to Himself again, but remember, it is spiritual Israel that is meant, not physical Israel (Romans 9:25-26). We simply must, Must, MUST let the Bible interpret itself, and if the Holy Spirit says this applies to the church, then it applies to the church and nobody can change that.  After all, He wrote both Hosea and Romans, so He ought to know what they mean.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hosea 1

Introduction to the book. Hosea apparently prophesied for a long time. Given the names of the kings he worked under (1:1), he probably preached for at least 50 years. He lived in the 8th century B.C. (the 700s), and his main message was a proclamation of doom upon the northern kingdom of Israel for their idolatry. Indeed, Samaria will be sacked by the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C., and the people of the 10 tribes carried off into captivity. Actually, the period of Jeroboam II (the Jeroboam mentioned in 1:1) was a very prosperous time in Israel. But it didn’t last long.

The Lord commands the prophet to take a harlot for a wife, “for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD,” (v. 2). It is possible, in order to make the image precise, that Gomer (the wife) was not a prostitute when Hosea married her, but became one afterwards. This would fit better the way the Lord viewed the progress of Israel. Regardless, Gomer bore three children, all of them significant. The first, Hosea’s child, was named Jezreel. The second and third children are not specifically noted as being the prophet’s, so they may not have been. The second child, a daughter, was named Lo-Ruhamah, which means “no mercy,” so named “for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away,” (v. 6). The third child, a son, was name Lo-Ammi, “no people,” or “not my people,” for “you are not My people, and I will not be your God,” (v. 9). God has finished with the northern kingdom of Israel. No mercy, you aren’t My people any more.  A sad, and totally unnecessary, ending for these 10 tribes.

Yet the real fascinating child is the first. “"Call his name Jezreel, For in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, And bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel,” (v. 4). The events referred to here regarding the house of Jehu are recorded in II Kings 9 and 10. God had commanded Jehu to utterly obliterate the house of the wicked king Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Jehu had indeed done what God told him. And yet now, through Hosea, the Lord says that what Jehu did would “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” It was the final straw. God’s patience had run out. Now, no mercy, not my people.

But…Jehu had done what God told him to! The act by which God finally decided to end the northern kingdom of Israel was an act of obedience! What did Jehu do wrong? Folks, obedience to God is a two-part matter—doing what He says, and doing it from the right motive. Jehu didn’t really care what God wanted; he wished to solidify his throne, and butchering the remaining family of Ahab was a good way to do it. He did what the Lord commanded, but not with a pure heart. And as a result, God brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel.

This is a tremendous lesson for us, one of the greatest illustrations in Scripture, in my opinion. It is not sufficient just to do what God commands; outward obedience is vain without inward purity. That lesson is taught all through Old and New Testaments, and exemplified powerfully in Hosea 1. And it’s a warning which we must heed if we would be well pleasing in His sight. Reader, don’t just examine what you do, but also why you do it.

If anybody ever told you Christianity is easy, they either weren’t very wise or were pulling your leg.

Hosea 1 ends with a positive promise, but it fits in better with the first verses of chapter 2, so that’s where I’ll discuss it.