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January 19, 2020 Explaining Resurrection to a Child

January 19, 2020 Mark 5 Explaining Resurrection to a child

Explaining Resurrection to a Child

Mark 5:21-24,35-43

As Jesus entered a city called Capernaum, a man met Him and bowed down before Him. His daughter was very sick, she was dying and he implored Jesus to come to his home and pray for her. Jesus agreed but on their way to the house a messenger met them and said that the child had passed away. This made the father very sad but Jesus said, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe” (5:36).

By the time Jesus arrived at the house, a crowd had gathered and it was noisy — “people weeping and wailing” (5:38). There may have been a momentary silence as Jesus entered with the parents. In that silence He looked about and said, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died but is asleep,” (Mark 5:39). 

The crowd “began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died,” (Luke 8:53). Jesus was not denying the reality that a physical death had taken place but His perspective on death is different from ours. He is the Creator of life, Sustainer of life, the Resurrection and the Life. He has authority over death and from His perspective, death was only temporary and would be reversed by the power of God.

Jesus was not denying the reality of her death. He was prophesying the reality of the child’s resurrection. He then dismissed the crowd. 

Having removed the noisy crowd, accompanied only by three disciples and the father and mother, Jesus entered the room where the child lay. Matthew, Mark and Luke say that He then took her by the hand and spoke to her but Mark records the exact words that Jesus spoke in that language, which was Aramaic. “Talitha kum!” Mark then provides the translation, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41).

The word which we translate little girl, talitha, is related to the word lamb. It’s as if Jesus said, “Little lamb, arise.”

“Talitha kum” was a command and in response to the Lord of life, “immediately the girl got up and began to walk,” (Mark 5:42). Luke adds this detail, “And her spirit returned and she got up immediately,” (Luke 8:55). She really had been dead -- her spirit had left her body. But it was only a temporary sleep, for Jesus is the Giver of life.

What tender mercy Jesus is able to release into the midst of our sadness. You may not have seen the instantaneous resurrection of the little lamb whose death broke your heart nor of the elderly loved one who died full of years. But in this child’s miracle there is great comfort, for in it we are reminded that resurrection is a reality.

Notice that Jesus spoke to the little girl. Mark says, “He said to her.” In death we do not lose our personhood. God knows us as individual, distinct persons in this life and the next.

Notice also that Jesus took the little girl by the hand and raised her up. Resurrection is always by the hand of God upon our life. Multitudes will be raised into the presence of God, every redeemed soul who ever lived, but still it is a personal event. It is the hand of God raising us up.

We read that the parents “were completely astounded,” (Mark 5:42). Surely they were. The word Luke uses to describe their response of astonishment -- existemi -- means to stand outside oneself in wonder. It’s what we mean when we say, “He was beside himself with joy.” Surely there was great rejoicing in that family as the kingdom of God pressed into their lives.

Then, how typical of Jesus. He gave orders “that something should be given her to eat,” (Mark 5:43). She had probably been ill for some time and had not eaten much. Her parents, stunned, amazed and astonished were not thinking of her hunger but Jesus was. He is concerned about every detail of our lives, now and forever, here in this world and in the world to come. 

Because He cares about us, He wants us to know that death is not the final word.

Some time after Jesus raised this little girl from the dead, He raised a man named Lazarus from the dead, called him out of the tomb. It wasn’t a tomb like we have today — not a grave. It was a cave carved out of rock with a stone rolled against it. Jesus told His friends to roll the stone away, then He called and Lazarus came walking out of the tomb.

Just before He did that, Jesus said to the sisters of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25,26). 

Notice that Jesus did not say, “I will be the resurrection and the life.” He said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” right now. 

Well, if Jesus is the resurrection and the life right now, why doesn’t He raise everyone from the dead today? He will someday but He’s not doing that today because then history would be ended and God doesn’t want that yet because there are people in the world who do not know Him, who would be separated from Him in the next life if they died today. So the world goes on and we tell people about Jesus so they can be with Him. And in the mean time, people are born and people die.

How do I know that I will be with Jesus when I die?

Let’s look again at what the Lord said to the sisters of Lazarus, “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” If we believe in Jesus — believe that He paid for our sins with His own life, believe that He rose from the dead and if we have surrendered our lives to His Lordship, then He shares His life with us, comes to live His life in us and through us. Because Jesus lives forever, we will too.

Notice that Jesus said, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” But people are dying, so what did Jesus mean when He said that we will never die? He meant that death is not the final word, the final word is life. He meant that death does not overpower us but rather, His life overpowers death. He meant that death is just a transition into life that will never end.

Well then, what happens to a person who dies but they know Jesus? 

When the body wears out and falls off, our spirit goes immediately into the presence of Jesus. Our spirit includes our mind, our personality, our emotions — the you that will live forever. That part of you goes immediately into the presence of Jesus.

A man named Paul said, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord … we … prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6,8). He also said that he had “the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phlpns 1:23). 

He wanted to be with the Lord but the churches needed him, they were depending on him. So even though he wanted to go and be with Jesus, he stayed to minister to his friends. But he was convinced that when his body wore out, his spirit would instantly be in the presence of the Lord. That’s where he is today. He doesn’t have a resurrection body yet — that’s later, but his spirit — that includes his mind, intellect, emotions, personality — the real Paul — is in the presence of the Lord. 

If you were walking around in heaven today you would recognize your loved ones because you know their spirit — you know the way they think and laugh and love. But someday that spirit will be given a body that is just as fit for heaven as this body is for earth.

What kind of body will that be?  A friend of Jesus, a man named John, said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2).

What kind of body did Jesus have after He rose from the dead? He could eat or not eat, could move instantly from one place to another, could pass through walls but He could sit in a chair.

Our resurrection body will be perfectly fit for eternity — no pains, no sickness, no sorrow, no sin, no anxiety and a mind that is perfected as much as a human mind can be perfect, eyesight and hearing that are multiples more sensitive than we have.

How can we be sure that we will be raised up with resurrection bodies? Because Jesus promised this and He would never lie. Just before He died, Jesus said to His friends, “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also” (John 14:9).

A few hours later, Jesus died, giving His life for all of us. But He rose from the dead, conquered death and in His victory over death, our resurrection is certain. His resurrection is the guarantee of ours.

We marvel that this God who created the universe also exercises Lordship over everything, even death. How much more marvelous that in the midst of our trials and sadness, this same Lord looks upon us with such gentle mercy and compassion.

This Lord who took the little child by the hand and said, “Little lamb, rise,” this same Jesus is our Lord, our Creator and our Redeemer. Most wonderful of all, He is the Lord our resurrection.

January 12, 2020 Hosea 5

January 12, 2020 Hosea 5

Hosea 5

5:1 “Hear this, O priests! Give heed, O house of Israel! Listen, O house of the king! For the judgment applies to you, For you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread out on Tabor.”

The Bridegroom Judge addresses the religious leaders of the nation, the entire house of Israel and the king’s family  — all of Israel is included in this indictment. Mizpah and Tabor refer to places of idol worship located to the east and the west of the Jordan.

The Lord announces that His judgment has been released against the nation’s religious and political leadership because they have led the nation into sin. The priests were commissioned to teach the law and guide people to the altar of the Lord. The king was responsible to enforce the law. The assignment of teachers and leaders was to warn Israel of the dangers of apostasy, teach the truth and turn the nation away from the seducing power of the idols. But rather than guiding Israel into faithfulness and blessing, the leadership had been a snare and a net, entangling the people in darkness and destruction. 

The priests, the king and his family, were not guardian shepherds, they were predators. They had not led the nation away from the false altars of false gods, they had built the altars and led the people to them. These were not Levitical priests — they were priests of Baal. This was not a king descended from David  — he was descended from a line of rebel kings. False priests and false kings will not lead a nation into the knowledge of the truth.

The people of the land are also summoned to accountability, for they knew the truth but chose to reject it. As Paul reminds us in Romans chapter one, the knowledge of God is available to all. It is not that God is unknowable, rather the truth of God has been suppressed. People invented idolatrous forms of worship, not because there is no light but because they preferred darkness. Therefore, everyone is without excuse.

5:2 “The revolters have gone deep in depravity (slaughter), but I will chastise all of them.”

When people revolt against the truth and journey deep in depravity, they journey into slaughter, into personal and national self-destruction. Secular liberation movements and the philosophical systems that undergird them do not lead people into liberty. The only liberation movement that brings anyone to freedom is found in a living relationship with the living God.

The Lord promises chastisement. But chastisement is not final judgment — it is an expression of grace. The Lord will allow pressure to come upon the nation for the purpose of producing change. Israel has chosen destruction but the Bridegroom God is still calling to the nation, contending for His Bride. Even when people and nations chose self-destruction, God will still seek ways to bring about redemption.

5:3 “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself.”

Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes, is named as a representative for the whole nation. 

Though people try to hide their hearts and their idols from the Lord, nothing is hidden from Him. The word know, yada, is used of intimate knowledge and it is this knowledge which God possesses of the nation with whom He has entered into covenant. The Bridegroom God knows, sees, the spiritual adultery of His Bride and the defilement that this unfaithfulness has brought about.

What folly, that any person or nation would imagine that they could hide their sin from the Lord. King David, who knew something of sin and of grace, asked, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me … You understand my thought from afar … Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. Where can I go from Your Spirit?”  (Ps. 139:1,2,4,7)

The writer to the Hebrews remind us, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebr. 4:13).

The Lord’s omniscience is a source of terror to those who despise His love and rebel against His truth. But for those who have experienced the goodness of God, this is a source of great security — He knows us, sees us, understands who we are and what we are going through and therefore is able to provide perfect resources with perfect timing. We are reminded that the word provide is derived from two Latin words, pro videre — to see ahead. God’s provision is perfect because He sees the future with perfect clarity (in fact, He is already there). 

To His unfaithful, adulterous Bride, the Lord says, “I know you and I see the pollution that has stained your life.” But why is He saying this? Because He is contending for His Bride.

5:4 “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord.”

Idolatry is not merely an outward act. It begins within. A demonic spirit of spiritual adultery has taken root in the heart of the nation and as with all demonic spirits, it violently resists any attempt to dislodge it. It takes the power of God to break the power of darkness but they will not allow the power of God to break into their souls.

Their deeds resist their return. They have become so established in a lifestyle of unfaithfulness that they have no capacity to return to the Lord.  The focus, energy, investment of their life is such that there is no motivation for them to change.  Life is about choices and some choices establish such roots in our soul that it takes the power of God to change.

The people are having intimate relations with a spirit of harlotry but God says that they do not know Him. They know these false gods but they do not know the Lord. Yet the Lord still refers to Himself as “their God.” They are still in covenant with Him, but they do not know Him.

What God wants is that we would know Him and be known by Him, an intimate, loving, transparent relationship.  But they have rejected God and gone after other lovers.  This is adultery.  These are religious people who have rejected God so they may not even know that they do not know God. There have always been bishops, pastors, priests and church members who do not know that they do not know the Lord. They are self deceived by their religion.  They may be skilled at seeing evil outside of themselves but not within; able to see evil in the world but blind to the evil in their own lives and they do not know that they are blind.

How blind are they? They give thanks to demonically inspired gods for the blessings which the true and living God lavishes upon them. They bow down and worship powers of darkness which only intend their destruction while refusing to worship the God who desires only to bless them. This is what false religion creates in the heart.  They have broken covenant with God, committed spiritual adultery and yet are so blind to their separation from God, they do not even know that they do not know the Lord “their God.”

5:5 “The pride of Israel testifies against him and Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity. Judah also has stumbled with them.”  

The arrogance of Israel, the national pride, is so fully evident that there needs to be no other testimony against the nation. Pride has such a terribly blinding impact. It causes individuals to justify any lifestyle choices, no matter how self-destructive; enables nations to justify all policy decisions, no matter how harmful. It resists all attempts to shine light into the shadows, to speak truth against the lies. When people and nations are blinded by pride and unrepentant in their choice to walk in darkness, how will they not stumble?

“Judah also has stumbled with them.” At this same time, the southern kingdom was being corrupted by the unrelenting powers of darkness. Though Judah would not fall for another 120 years after the fall of Israel, they too would experience national defeat and humiliation.

5:6 “They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them.”

These words may refer to the people of Judah, who were addressed in the previous verse. But this equally applies to the people of Israel. Unfaithful idol worshipping Jews sought the Lord with their flocks and herds, that is, through the ritual of the sacrificial system, but not from the heart.  They worship the God of the covenant while breaking covenant and committing spiritual adultery. They seek the living God while serving false gods, unfaithful to the true and living God, covered with guilt and blind to their sin. 

They seek God with their flocks, which speaks of atonement.  But they are not repentant.  They are using ritual in a pretense of relationship, trying to control or manipulate God through religious means to obtain something which they want.  They want to obtain blessing from God through ritualistic cleansing without a living relationship with the God who alone can cleanse.  God cleanses in the context of honest accountability for sin and repentance leading to faithful, loving, intimate relationship. But if there is no true repentance, there can be no cleansing. We are not cleansed by ritual. Rather, ritual is a symbolic representation of the cleansing that God works in the heart of the man or woman who sincerely repents of sin.

Trying to manipulate God through religious ritual while hearts are far from Him was condemned by all the prophets. Through Isaiah the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus quoted those words in response to the religious hypocrisy of His day (see Mark 7:6).

Through the prophet Joel the Lord said, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil’” (Joel 2:12,13).

Through Amos the Lord said, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

It is not that the Lord hates the festivals, the songs and rituals that He gave the nation. But He hates the exercise of religious ritual when it is only an outward show, when it is separated from the reality of love for Him and when that love is divorced from the reality of a pure heart.

Hosea says, “They will not find Him, He has withdrawn from them“ in the sense that mere ritual does not connect with the heart of God. Spiritual adultery creates distance. But who initiated that separation?  The unfaithful people.   We cannot commit spiritual adultery and draw near to God. We cannot be unfaithful and intimate with God.

5:7 “They have dealt treacherously against the Lord, for they have borne illegitimate children. Now the new moon will devour them with their land.”

The word illegitimate may be translated foreign, profane. The children of the land have been nurtured in the ways of idolatry, discipled in spiritual adultery, trained in the worship of foreign gods, conformed to doctrines of demons, entangled in darkness. The generation of children are as profane, as unclean as their parents. This is surely treachery against the Lord, for the parents were responsible to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Instead they are aliens to the covenant of God.

What is the future for a nation whose children are abandoned to the ways of darkness? The land will be devoured and not in some distant future. Unless there is repentance, destruction will break forth as soon as the new moon rises.

The Lord’s judgment breaks upon the land slowly, with long seasons of grace and warning. But when warning is ignored and the God of grace is rejected, destruction breaks forth suddenly.

5:8,9 “Blow the horn (shofar) in Gibeah, the trumpet in Ramah. Sound an alarm at Beth-aven: ‘Behind you, Benjamin!’ Ephraim will become a desolation in the day of rebuke; among the tribes of Israel I declare what is sure.”

The word for horn is shofar, an instrument used in worship (see Psalm 98:6), but also blown on Yom Kippur signifying a call to repentance. Trumpets were used in worship and to sound a warning (though this is a rare word, used only here in the Old Testament).

Gibeah and Ramah were cities of Judah located on the border with Israel. Beth-aven was an Israelite city noted for idolatry. Ephraim is used as a representative of all the northern tribes. 

The word of the Lord is: blow the shofar, call for repentance in Gibeah. Sound the trumpet of praise and warning in Ramah. In Beth-aven, a city dedicated to diols, sound the warning. Benjamin, one of the two tribes of Judah is warned, “Look behind you — be alert, the enemy like a lion seeks whom he may devour.” Israel will soon be destroyed and the Lord is calling to the prophetic watchmen of Israel and Judah: blow the trumpet, sound the alarm. This is especially a call to the watchmen of Judah. If Israel is under judgment and you are committing the same sins, then wake up to the danger that is at hand.

The prophet says, “I declare what is sure (it shall surely be).” 

Hosea, who speaks the word of the Lord to his generation, testifies that his word is sure, it shall surely come to pass. But if destruction will surely be, then why does God raise up prophetic voices to speak truth to a nation? Why does He warn of disaster before the time, if the time of disaster is established? Why does He sound a trumpet? So that some will turn from their wicked ways and be saved. This is the Bridegroom God contending for a remnant of His Bride. 

And as that remnant prays and cries out and sounds the alarm, it may be that an entire city or nation will turn and God will draw back His hand of judgment. Destruction is sure, unless people surely turn from their wicked ways and call on the Lord. He is a God of judgment but “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Ps. 145:8)

5:10 “The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary. On them I will pour out My wrath like water.”

Boundaries were marked by stones or stakes in the ground. Cloaked in the darkness of night, a dishonest man could easily expand the boundary of his land by moving the markers. But this amounted to theft — stealing valuable land from his neighbor. 

Although Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom, he also spoke the word of God to Judah. The Lord says that the leaders of Judah are moving the boundaries which God has set for the nation— not physical or geographical boundaries but spiritual and moral. They have obscured the boundaries of light and dark, of right and wrong. They were leading the nation out of the well defined security of Yahweh worship and trespassing into the worship of idols. 

In doing so, they were robbing the nation of the goodness which God pours out on those who are faithful to Him. Instead of blessing they are under judgment; instead of peace and security, they face the lethal threat of foreign armies. Instead of being wrapped in the light of God’s presence, they are entangled in the tentacles of darkness.

“On them I will pour out My wrath like water.” On whom will the Lord pour out wrath? The princes, the leaders. God gives authority to men and women on earth for the purpose of establishing peace and order:

“For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).

“By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Prov. 8:15).

But the Lord also holds leaders accountable. When leadership is misused, God will bring judgment:

“Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth” (Psalm 2:10).

“‘And I will destroy their king and slaughter all their princes,’ says the Lord” (Amos 2:3).

“He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless” (Isaiah 40:23).

Not merely those who exercise political authority, but also those who exercise economic power will also be held accountable by the Lord:

“Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate” (Amos 5:11,12)

“Our rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow's plea come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).

Not only those who exercise political authority and economic power but especially those who exercise spiritual authority, the priests and teachers of the law, are held accountable by God, as we have seen throughout Hosea’s ministry.

The sense of Hosea’s words in 5:10 is of a sudden outpouring, a flood of judgment coming upon the nation of Judah. And surely it was so. The same Assyrian army that destroyed Israel also surrounded Jerusalem. Were it not for a righteous king who sought the Lord and a righteous prophet who stood beside him, Judah also would have been conquered.

5:11 “Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to follow man’s command.”

Hosea now turns his attention back to Israel, represented by Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes. He prophesies crushing judgment because the nation “was determined to follow” (willingly walked after) the commands of unrighteous leaders, especially in the worship of idols. It is God’s purpose that we submit to leaders unless they violate God’s truth. Then we must choose to obey God rather than man.

It would have been costly for anyone to refuse obedience to the king, it always is. But we must be willing to bear that cost. Daniel was cast into the lion’s den because of his faithful love for the Lord. His three friends were cast into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow before the golden image. The Apostle Peter counseled the church to submit to governments and governors (I Peter 2:13,14). But when he and the apostles were ordered to stop preaching, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They were flogged for their faith. 

There is a cost to godliness. But what is the cost of ungodliness? The Jewish authorities stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, demanding the death of Jesus Messiah and they testified, “We have no king but Caesar,” (John 19:15). Less than forty years later, Caesar destroyed their nation.

5:12 “Therefore I am like a moth to Ephraim and like rottenness (decay) to the house of Judah.”

Unconsciousness of sin is the truest symptom of the soul’s fatal disease. Therefore, the Lord seeks to awaken men, women and nations to the truth of our choices and the destruction that will come upon us by those choices. One of the ways the Lord awakens us is through chastisement. 

And often, when He chastises, it is slowly and by degree, providing even more time for repentance before final judgment. God’s hope is that the gradual escalation of pressure will awaken the soul and produce change. Here are two examples — a moth works its destruction slowly as does decay. Both provide a clear example of the slowly increasing judgment of God.

We may also say that the corruption of moth and decay portray to Israel and Judah the choices they have made. The worship of false gods draws people into the entangling grasp of demonic powers and this will always bring destruction. The Lord is showing them the consequence of their choices. Even as a moth eats away at a garment and rottenness work its decay from within, the two kingdoms are being consumed by their dangerous, idolatrous choices.

Notice also that moth and rottenness work silently. Israel and Judah are spiritually asleep, completely undiscerning of the impact of their choices; deaf and blind to the reality that their nations are being eaten away from within. It is the Lord’s purpose that chastisement will awaken the people to the danger they are inviting into their souls and their nations. Again, this is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride.

5:13 “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb. But he is unable to heal you, or to cure you of your wound.”

Israel and Judah are beginning to aaken to their sickness, their wound, they have obtained a measure of insight into their brokenness but instead of returning to the Lord, they run to the world, they seek a military alliance with Assyria. How foolish! Assyria is not their Savior, rather, their enemy, an evil, godless nation committed to the destruction of God’s covenant Bride. What is more absurd than this, seeking relief from the very nation that brings disaster! 

Israel will not find healing for her wounds until she sees the source of her wounds — her sin of idolatry. But rather than turn to the God who has awakened her to her corruption and her sin, she turns to a nation which, far from healing Israel, will inflict the fatal wound. Assyria is a picture of the god-rejecting world, an instrument of the destructive purpose of Satan who only wants to corrupt and destroy God’s covenant people on earth.

How foolish when the people of God turn to the world for relief and resource. Neither wealth nor power nor fame nor pleasure nor false religion nor secular philosophies will heal our wound. But our God is rich in mercy, abounding in lovingkindness for all who call upon Him. “Come and drink from the river of my delights,” He entreats. Yet His covenant people turn to remedies that do not heal.

How grievous and heartbreaking this must be to the Lord. Not only has He been rejected by His Bride, not only has she run into the arms of false gods who corrupt her, but as she is awakened to her corruption, the Lord is further rejected as His covenant partner seeks relief from those who only intend her destruction. 

Yet until the day of final destruction, Hosea will proclaim the remedy, “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us” (6:1).

5:14 “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away, I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver.”

The covenant people will not respond to the mild chastisement of moth and rottenness. They refuse to see the truth of their corruption, refuse to turn to the Lord for relief, running instead toward their destruction. Therefore the Lord escalates the judgment — I will be your judge. 

The Lord is saying that He will let them embrace the death they have chosen.  Their problem will not be Assyria but the God who moves the nations to perform His purpose. Assyria will be the Lord’s instrument for judging Israel.

How terrible when the Lord gives people up to their choices. In Romans chapter one, as Paul traces humanity’s rejection of God, invention of false God’s and descent into spiritual and moral corruption, three times he says, “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24,26,28).

More than a century after these events took place in Israel, Babylon was God’s instrument for judging Judah. Concerning that terrible destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the entire nation, we read these words: 

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary …” (2 Chron. 36:15-17).

Notice the kindness and patience of God, He “sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.” 

Notice spiritual hardness of a nation, “They continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”

Tremble at the outcome, “Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans.” Who destroyed faithless Jerusalem? God did and He used the Babylonians.

Where then is the Bridegroom God? He is the Bridegroom Judge yet even in that terrible destruction, He preserved a remnant Bride. And in time, He brought the covenant Bride back to the covenant land, rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the city and began again.

5:15 “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek me.” 

Rejected by His covenant Bride, the Lord will withdraw His blessing, His grace and His favor until Israel returns in humble repentance. God’s purpose is that in judgment, Israel will be brought to a place of honest accountability for their sin and will have a heart to seek the Lord. So it was, centuries later, when Israel and Judah returned from exile, they had long since left their idols. Chastisement brought a remnant to a place of purity.

This is reminiscent of the story of Jacob. He was alone in the night, preparing to meet his brother Esau, who 20 years earlier, had wanted to kill Jacob. A mysterious Stranger met Jacob in the night and wrestled with him.  Jacob asked the name of this Wrestler, trying to gain a measure of control. But the Wrestler, the Lord, would not reveal His name, instead demanding that Jacob confess his name. Jacob confessed, “I am heel grabber, thief.”  Only then, as Jacob confessed his name, his true nature, only then did God bless him.  Jacob held on and wrestled because he finally had come to the realization that his problem was not his angry brother but God. God broke him and then God blessed him.

This God who breaks that He may bless, who judges that He may save, who became a Lion to Israel, the Lion of Judah, is also Defender of His covenant Bride. Later, the Lion became a Lamb.  In the most incredible event in the history of the world, this same God who judges sinners took His judgment on Himself, to redeem a Bride into intimate, covenant relationship with Himself.

The Lion who became a Lamb, this Lord says, “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face.” 

This will happen someday. Through the prophet Zecharia, the Lord said, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zecharia 12:10).

In the last days of Jesus’ ministry on earth, as He grieved over the nation that had rejected its long-awaited Bridegroom Messiah, He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt. 23:37-39).

“Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.”  If He was referring to the houses of the people, they would be destroyed within 40 years by the Romans. But more likely, He was referring to the temple, which was no longer the Lord’s house but “their house.” They had desecrated it in may ways but most of all, by despising the Lord whose house it was. The glory of God had departed and that house too, was destroyed by the Romans.

He will not return until they acknowledge Him and seek His face. But that day will come! In the last days of human history the Lord will pour out “the Spirit of grace and of supplication.” The Messiah will be proclaimed in powerful preaching and testimony. In the midst of world wide cataclysm, as the judgment of God is poured out among the nations, Israel will look on Him “whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him.”

Many Gentiles will come to the Lord in those last days but there will also be a mass movement of Jews turning to Jesus Messiah. The number of the Bride will be completed, Jew and Gentile, and a Bride made ready will greet the return of the Bridegroom God.

January 5, 2020 Hosea 4 (Con't)

January 5, 2020 Hosea 4 (Con't)

Hosea

4:1 “Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.”

God says that He has a case or controversy with the nation of Israel. The word has to do with a legal proceeding, from a root meaning to debate, to contend. This is the Bridegroom Judge, calling Israel to accountability and confronting the nation with the sin that grieved His heart and would eventually destroy the nation, if not corrected. What was the cause of God’s judicial proceeding against His covenant people? He tells us in verse one. 

First of all, there is no faithfulness (emeth, which may also be translated “truth, stability, trustworthiness”). False teaching and the worship of false gods had obscured the truth and destroyed the capacity of the people to act faithfully toward God and one another. Spiritual corruption had led to corruption in personal morals and business ethics. This in turn had robbed the nation of stability.

A biblical definition of truth has to do with not only knowing and saying what is true but doing it, living it consistently, faithfully. Emeth has to do with steadfastness. It speaks of an attitude that is dependable. God is saying that Israel has not been faithful in living the truth which they profess.

Second, there is no kindness (which may be translated loyalty). Interesting that the Hebrew word for kindness or mercy is also the word for loyalty. This word is chesed. It is found in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness (chesed) will follow me all the days of my life.” It is found in Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness (chesed) is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” Chesed has to do with faithful covenant commitment, faithful covenant love. It is the way God loved Israel.

God indicts Israel for their lack of covenant love for Him while the Lord continues to love Israel faithfully. In fact, the entire book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God’s covenant love to an unfaithful nation. The Lord commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him while commanding Hosea to continually pursue her with faithful, covenant love. The prophet’s pursuit of his unfaithful wife is a picture of chesed, covenant love. 

In Hosea 2:19,20, the Lord said, “I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness (chesed) and in compassion. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.” God’s chesed toward Israel is such that God will not cease loving Israel. In return, God expects this of Israel — loyalty, covenant love, devotion.

Third, there is no knowledge of God.  The word for knowledge, da-ath, is from the root yada which is used in Genesis 4:1, “Now the man had relations with (knew) his wife Eve and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Yada has to do with knowing someone intimately. 

In saying that Israel lacked da-ath, the knowledge of God, the Lord is saying that the nation had lost the intimacy of communion and fellowship with the God in Whom we live and move and have our being; the God who sought us when we were lost; the God Who redeemed us for Himself and called us into covenant. The people were mixing idol worship along with some of the rituals of Jewish religion but they were not living in true, intimate love with God.

It is not simply that they are ignorant of God’s law or simply disregarding His law. It is not simply that they lack knowledge about the Lord. It is a disregard for God Himself, a lack of devotion to and communion with the God who created us to know Him and enjoy Him forever.

This was a consistent theme of all the prophets and especially Hosea, “Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except me, for there is no Savior besides me. I cared for you in the wilderness .... And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:4-6b; see also Isa. 17:10, Ezkl. 23:35, Jere. 3:21).

The Lord expressed His love for Israel in delivering the nation from slavery in Egypt, caring for them protecting and blessing them. But when they were satisfied, they became proud and forgot the Lord, turned from Him, became indifferent, lost intimacy with the Bridegroom God. 

How important is spiritual intimacy to the Lord? In Revelation chapter two, the Lord calls the Ephesian church to account for the cooling of their love to Him. He commends the church for their perseverance and their abhorrence of evil — this is a church doing effective ministry and maintaining purity. But Jesus says that He will remove their lampstand — remove His blessing and favor — unless they return to loving Him with true, deep devotion.

In Hosea’s day, false priests and false prophets had deceived the nation with the false teaching and false worship of false gods. True knowledge of the true God had been replaced by that which is not true. Intimate communion with God had been replaced by distance, unfaithfulness. This resulted in a deepening spiral into darkness which corrupted every aspect of the nation, as we will see in verse two.

When people and nations sin against God, it is not just that we break God’s laws.  We break God’s heart.  Since the law of God reflects the character of God, in rejecting His law we are rejecting the heart, the character of God, saying, “I don't like your character, your ways.” 

God says that the people are faithless, have no knowledge of Him. Throughout the prophecies of Hosea we read that the people had been busy chasing other gods, false gods, gods that are not gods. Substituting other gods for the true and living God is spiritual adultery, since the Lord’s purpose is to establish intimate, covenant relationship with us. When we reject God and choose another god, we have broken covenant with God, rejected God and violated the intimacy which God has desired to establish with us.

What happens when God’s covenant people are unfaithful, when we lose the relationship of intimate, loyal love? What happens when people begin to worship gods that are not gods, when people have intimate communion with gods that are infused with the powers of darkness? We read the result in verse two.

4:2 “There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.”

When covenant people lose covenant intimacy with the covenant God, the result is a sinful society in which all of the commandments are being broken — swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, “so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.” The verb tense through this sentence indicates a continuous action. When people reject relationship with the Lord and refuse to abide by His laws, the result is a society disintegrating into unrestrained sin and chaos.

Swearing and deception refer to false oaths, lying, bearing false witness, a lack of integrity and trustworthiness. This is a society that devalues the truth, bends the truth. Truth has become relativized: “You have your truth, I have mine.” There is no transcendent truth. Truth is determined by society, custom, expedience. This is the autonomous life, living as if there is no Truth-Giver who transcends our society, our customs, our time. Denying sacred truth, inventing their own truth, people are free to live as they please.

Murder reveals a society which devalues, not only truth, but life itself. Refusing to recognize the reality of a holy God, people are free to violate life created in the image of that non-existent God. Murder, then, becomes nothing more than a means to an end. In the past hundred years, we have seen this played out in one atheistic regime after another — Hitler’s genocide toward other races resulted in the death of millions of his fellow Germans; Stalin killed millions of his fellow Russians and Ukrainians; Chairman Mao killed millions of his fellow Chinese; Pot Pol killed one out of every four Cambodians. 

It is also possible to kill by withholding mercy. There are people who die because those who could have done good and preserved life, instead were distracted by their pursuit of wealth and pleasure.

Stealing is not only a violation of someone else’s possessions. It is a violation of God’s generous, gracious blessing. It is a way of saying, “God cannot provide so I will steal what I need.” Stealing is also expressed in withholding what another has earned. In the Epistle of James the unjust employer is warned, “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts)” (James 5:4).

Adultery is not only the breaking of covenant with one’s spouse. It is a breaking of covenant with the God who blessed that marriage. It reveals a heart that is unfaithful to people and to God. And as we have seen, the greatest adultery in the land was the worship of false gods, which the Bridegroom God considered to be the ultimate act of unfaithfulness.

Notice the phrase, “They employ violence.” Violence was an instrument employed for the purpose of gaining a favorable result, a useful tool employed for political or financial advancement. The word employ is parats which can be translated break out or burst out. The picture is of a river in flood, bursting violently over the levee and sweeping away everything before it. Violence and unrestrained bloodshed reveal a society in a state of collapse, where respect for the rule of law and for the sanctity of human life is eroding rapidly.

And notice, “Bloodshed follows bloodshed.”  This could be translated: “Blood touches blood,” as if there is no interval between acts of bloodshed, as if lethal violence is a continued action across the land. Violence and intimidation establish a pattern, a cycle of violence and intimidation.  It is not surprising that during Hosea’s ministry, four out of six kings of Israel were assassinated. Political instability follows when truth and life are devalued.

In verse eleven we will read, “Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding.” Harlotry refers to sexual and spiritual unfaithfulness. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness. Immorality and drunkenness rob the people of the wisdom necessary for the living of each day.

When a society is characterized by lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence, unrestrained bloodshed, spiritual unfaithfulness and immorality, drunkenness and lack of wisdom, the destructive impact reaches beyond that society, as we see in verse three.

4:3 “Therefore the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky and also the fish of the sea disappear.” 

Two different responses to the sin of Israel: the land mourns and the people languish. The word mourn, abal, means to lament, bewail, mourn. The word languish, amal, can refer to mourning but in this context, languish is the better translation. It means the people become weak or feeble.

The people of the Lord are not mourning their sin but all creation groans under the burden of Israel’s rebellion against God. When God’s covenant people break covenant with God, the nation falls into all manner of sin and even the land and the creatures suffer.

Isaiah, writing at this same time, said, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty” (Isa. 24:5,6). The most destructive pollution in the world is the sin of humanity against God, against one another and against creation itself.

This could be a reference to the later desolation when the Assyrians invaded and destroyed vineyard and field, city and town; plundering flocks and herds. Or this could refer to the desolation of drought and famine which God sent upon the land as a judgment. The phrase, “The fish of the sea disappear,” may also be translated, “the fish of the sea are taken away.” The Lord sends harvest for bread and wine but can also withhold harvest. He sends abundance of fish and of flock but can also withhold abundance. The apostles pulled in a great harvest of fish at the Lord’s command but the Lord can also withhold the abundance He would have given.

However, there is more to nature’s mourning than merely the desolation wrought by conquering armies or by the hand of God. We surely see the beginnings of this mourning when Adam and Eve fell and God cursed creation. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). 

We recall that God gave man dominion “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Adam was commanded “to cultivate … and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15). The word cultivate, abad, has to do with serving. The word keep, shamar, has to do with protecting, to exercise stewardship over something. When man the caretaker fell, creation suffered the loss of its caretaker-steward. When man the caretaker sins flagrantly against our Creator, the land groans under the burden of our pollution.

However, when the Bridegroom God returns for a Bride made ready, not only will Israel be restored but all of nature will be blessed and the song of rejoicing will cover the earth. The rivers will “clap their hands” and the mountains will “sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). 

Isaiah saw a glimpse of that day and prophesied, “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 55:12,13).

Nature mourned humanity’s fall, mourned Israel’s pollution of the land but will rejoice when the curse is broken and the earth is restored as a garden.

4:4 “Yet let no one find fault (or strive or contend), and let none offer reproof; for your people are like those who contend with the priest.”

The opening phrase, “Yet let no one find fault (or strive or contend), and let none offer reproof,” may be an ironic reference to the fact that most of the people were not contending for the cleansing of the nation. They continually claimed innocence and refused correction; or worse, they were continually indifferent to the reality of their sin.

The phrase, “For your people are like those who contend with the priest,” refers to people refusing correction from a Godly source. Whether a Godly priest or a Godly prophet such as Hosea, the people refuse to hear the word of truth.

So this could be the Lord saying, “They have ignored my voice speaking through the law of Moses and through righteous prophets so stop contending with them, leave them alone. Let them experience the consequence of their sin.” But that is not the word of a God who is abandoning His covenant people. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. His desire is that the pressure of adversity will create repentance.

4:5 “So you will stumble (or fall) by day, and the prophet also will stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.”

Stumbling in the light refers to the fact that no one lacked revelation from God concerning their sin or the remedy for sin. God had spoken clearly. The light of truth was shining brightly through the Law of Moses and through the words of holy prophets such as Hosea. The Psalmist reminds us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).  But if we refuse the lamp of God’s truth, how shall we stand? 

Day may also refer to the day of their prosperity — when all seemed safe and good — then shall judgment come upon them. Because the nation would not listen, they will stumble. So great is their darkness, having refused light, that they will stumble even in the light of day. 

The false prophets who continued to speak lying words of comfort to the people will stumble along with the people, though we may suppose that their fall will be greater for they claimed greater light. In fact, their lying words were formed in darkness and in that darkness they will fall — the darkness will not hide them from the judgmental wrath of God.

“I will destroy your mother” is a reference to the apostate, idol worshipping nation. Having departed from the covering and blessing of the Lord, the nation cannot possibly avoid destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. Surely they could repent, turn back to the Lord and be saved but they refuse. Refusing to come back to their only defense, they will surely be destroyed.

The Bridegroom God will not cease to call to His Bride, will not cease to love her. But He also knows that the nation’s rejection of Him is final and so He announces their destruction as an unavoidable, historical fact, though its accomplishment is yet future.

4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

“Lack of knowledge” does not refer to scientific or mathematical facts. It refers to the Godly wisdom necessary to live the blessed life, the revelation God gives to us as He opens His heart and mind to us. How could Israel lack this knowledge, having the writings of Moses and the Psalms of David and the Proverbs of Solomon and the warnings of the prophets? They lack knowledge because they “have rejected knowledge” and “have forgotten the law of your” God (4:6). 

This is willful ignorance. They are ignorant by choice. The word reject, maac (pronounced mawas) means to despise, to loathe. They rejected, loathed, despised true knowledge and in their rejection, loathed and despised the God who alone gives wisdom and knowledge.

They forgot the law of God when they forgot God. They have forgotten, loathed and despised who God is —  not simply the Almighty Creator of the universe but the Bridegroom God who called Israel into covenant with Himself. How is it that people come to loath, despise and reject the God who has blessed them so greatly? This happens when people are absorbed with and delighted in the gods of this world. Then it is a short journey from despising the Lord, to despising true knowledge to forgetting wisdom entirely.

Having forgotten God, they forgot who they are — the Beloved of the Creator of the universe, the apple of His eye, God’s covenant people, the Bride of the Bridegroom God. Forgetting who they are, they sell themselves cheaply to gods that are not gods; gods who devalue and trash them because the people have forgotten that they are treasured by the true and living God. So many people are chasing false treasure, rejecting the true treasure which is God’s covenant love for them, not realizing that in God’s eyes, they are the treasure.

Israel’s ignorance was deep rooted. They professed to be the people of God yet worshipped idols. Many experienced blessings of abundance, yet continued to oppressed the poor while giving thanks to their idols for the blessings of God. 

Truly, people are destroyed when they turn from the true knowledge of the true and living God.  

Because the priests led the nation to reject, loathe and despise knowledge, God rejected, loathed and despised them as priests. This is especially an indictment of the Israelite priests whose responsibility it was to instruct the people and keep alive in their hearts the light of the knowledge of God and the passion of holy love. But remember, this was not the Levitical priesthood that functioned in the Jerusalem temple. This was a false priesthood serving the false gods of the northern kingdom. They were not only not instructing people in the knowledge of the true God, they were instructing in the knowledge of darkness. Truly, they were rejected, loathed and despised by God.

In a broader sense, this is an indictment of the entire nation. After Israel left slavery in Egypt, the Lord had said, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6).

All Israel was called to be a royal priesthood, God’s witness to the world. But if they will not remain in covenant relationship with the Lord, if they refuse instruction, then they cannot be God’s priest to the nations. How can they be a light to the multitudes who walk in darkness, when they themselves have rejected light? So God announces that He rejects the people as priests, disqualifies them from covenant blessings and responsibilities.

This is what is meant by the phrase, “I also will forget your children.” The children are the men and women who were conceived and birthed by this pagan, God-rejecting religious system. Separated from God by choice, God chooses to reject them. It is not that the Lord ceases to love them, but He cannot use them for divine purpose when they are separated from Him.

The same may be said for the next generation. Children of parents and priests who forgot the Lord will have no knowledge of the Lord. They will despise the knowledge of the Lord as did their parents and priests. They also will be set aside by God — not set aside in terms of love — the Lord will continue to call to them with unbounded compassion. But they will not live out His design for their lives while they reject the Lord who designed them.

This returns us to the opening words of this verse, “My people are destroyed.” Not only was the knowledge of God destroyed. Before this generation passed, the entire nation wold be destroyed.

4:7 “The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.”

The more they increased in blessing, the more they sinned against the God who blessed them.  The more goodness God poured out upon them, the more thanks they gave to their idols. A loving God will cut off blessing if blessing leads idolatrous people to self destruction.

“I will change their glory into shame” is a prophecy of repentance. Someday a remnant of Israelites will realize the depth of their unfaithfulness, will be ashamed of that which was once their glory and will return to the Lord in true humility. This is always the goal when God chastises people or nations, that they will see the truth, turn from their sin and seek the Lord.

“I will change their glory into shame” is also a dire prediction of national disaster. The people gloried in their idols when they should have been ashamed of their unfaithfulness. So God will destroy the idols, their places of false worship, their false priesthood and allow the nation to experience the disastrous consequences of idolatry. In place of glory will be shame.

This also speaks of the glory of God which had once rested over the covenant people but has now been withdrawn. In its place will be the shame of a conquered nation. This speaks also of the gifts and opportunities which God gave to Israel (and gives also to each of us), gifts and opportunities which may be employed to the glory of the Lord or misused, to the shame of the sinner.

A person or nation may glory in power or wealth, but such vanity leads to reckless temptations and over-reach and eventual destruction. Pride surely comes before the fall.

4:8 “They feed on the sin of My people and direct their desire toward their iniquity.”

This word for sin is sometimes translated sin-offering and this would fit the context. This is a reference to the priests who feed on the sin-offerings of the people. In the Jerusalem temple, this was the right of the priests. But the priests of Israel have abused their right.

They call the people to bring their offerings to the idols and feed off the worship of those idols. They are nourished by the offerings of the people but in turn, refuse to nourish the people on the word of God. Instead, they feed the people darkness, lies, entanglements with false gods. 

These are false priests, not of the line of Aaron, so if they hope to continue as priests then they must continue calling people to worship calves and bulls and all manner of false gods. They know this is a lie but they gain their food through this lie and so they perpetuate the lie.

Further, “They direct their desire toward their iniquity.” Their heart is focused on doing evil. This is the priesthood that has despised the knowledge of God and led the nation in forgetting the true and living God. Their iniquity is their focus because it is the source of their livelihood.

There is another sense to these words, “They feed on the sin of my people.” The sins of the nation energize the priests, empower them, nourish them, inspire them. Far from restraining the sin of the nation, the priests are made more bold in their false teaching, false worship and false living. Their fear is not of the Lord but of anything that would draw the people to God and away from the idols. Therefore they encouraged the people in sin.

4:9 “And it will be, like people, like priest; so I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”

The priests will be punished along with the nation. They may have been deceived that as priests, they were holy unto the Lord and would escape judgment. But in fact they were false priests and profane in the sight of God. Indeed, we would suppose that their punishment will be greater for their deception was greater. The people emulated their priests, therefore the priests, being the cause of the sins of others, will receive greater condemnation.  

False priests will not be pardoned because of their robes any more than fallen kings will be pardoned because of their crowns. All stand accountable before God.

4:10 “They will eat, but not have enough; they will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.”

This speaks of those who attempt to satisfy their greed through oppression and deception. They never have enough. Their appetites are insatiable. Having gained much, they desire to gain more but that which is gained by sin cannot be enjoyed in peace. Instead, their sin will eat up the wealth that was gained through their sin.

This speaks of the nation as a whole. Giving thanks to their idols for bountiful harvests provided by God, Israel will lose the blessing of the Lord and gain the judgment of the Lord. In place of abundance there will be scarcity. They offered their food to idols. Their harvest shall be diminished. Truly, the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

This refers also to the priests, who ate the sin offerings while teaching the people to sin. They will not escape judgment.

 “They will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.” 

The unfaithfulness of Israel to God is nothing other than spiritual adultery. Rather than giving heed to the Lord, they have set their eyes on false gods, false lovers.

The word “heed” can be translated attend, observe, watch. The Psalmist said, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psalm 123:2). Jesus counseled His disciples, “Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).

The blessed life is centered on watching the Lord, setting our spiritual eyes upon Him, observing Him in His word, looking to Him in prayer and in worship. But Israel had ceased to give heed to the Lord or even valuing Him. They were giving heed to their false gods. Their spiritual eyes, their hearts, were set on their idols. They will not increase, will not prosper.

4:11 “Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding (or enslave the heart).”

Harlotry refers to spiritual unfaithfulness but Hosea also is referring to sexual sin. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness which characterized Baal festivities. This is not just symbolic language.  Baal worship included ritual prostitution, fertility rites and drunkenness.  The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Israelite people.

Immorality and drunkenness enslave the heart, rob people of the wisdom and discernment necessary for the living of each day. The pleasures of the world compete with God for our affections.

Earlier in this chapter we read that spiritual unfaithfulness had caused Israelite society to devolve into a toxic stew of lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence and unrestrained bloodshed. Now Hosea adds immorality, drunkenness and lack of wisdom. The impact of these sins can only result in destruction.

4:12 “My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner's wand informs them; for a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God.”

The Lord still refers to Israel as, “My people.” Israel was in covenant relationship with the living God, the Bride of the Bridegroom God, yet the people were asking their wooden idols for wisdom and direction and believed that “their diviner's wand informs them”. They believed the lying words of lying prophets and the false report of false priests based on revelation from a piece of wood.

How deceived! The true and living God pours out wisdom to all who seek Him but not all will seek Him. He gave Israel His Law and sent prophets, but they would not listen. Truly, as the Apostle Paul reveals, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

In another time, the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, so the house of Israel is shamed; they, their kings, their princes and their priests and their prophets, who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face” (Jere. 2:26,27).

The Psalmist speaks of the idols of silver and gold, “The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear” (Ps. 115:4-6). How foolish that men and women would pray to a lifeless object. But more than foolish, how dangerous. The psalmist continues, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:8). We grow in the image of whatever we worship. 

Hosea reveals the process. They were led astray by a demonic spirit of harlotry and the result is that, “They have played the harlot.” They became like the spirit that led them astray. Having departed from God, being separated from God, they are joined to their idol and conformed to its likeness.

The last phrase reveals the heartbreak of God, “departing from their God.” This may be translated, “departing from under their God.” We recall Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). 

We recall the words of the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty … He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Psalm 91:1,4)

This was the desire of the Bridegroom God for His Bride. But Israel had departed from under the secure blessing of God. Exposed to the kingdoms of darkness, their future would only be destruction. We marvel at the heartbreak of God.

4:13 “They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and burn incense on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth, because their shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

Copying the pattern of idolatrous Canaanite tribes, Israel’s worship of false gods was practiced on mountains and hills, possibly because these “high places” were considered to be closer to the heaven in which they believed the false gods existed. They also made sacrifices under certain trees — these were considered sacred places. 

This is why, when Israel was preparing to enter the land, God commanded them through Moses, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deut. 12:2). Sadly, Israel later practiced this form of idolatry as fervently as if the Lord had commanded it.

It’s not surprising that Satan inspired idol worship on high places. It was on a mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. On a mountain God gave Moses the commandments. On a hill, the Lamb of God would someday be offered for the sins of the world. Satan often imitates the holy pattern set by God, as a means of confusing and deceiving the saints and profaning the holy.

“Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

There is a two fold sense to their harlotry. As we have said, because Israel was in a covenant relationship with the Lord, He considered the worship of false gods to be spiritual prostitution, adultery. However, Baal worship also involved sexual rituals, the perversion of true worship and the perversion of God’s gift of romantic love between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage. Ritual prostitution and fertility rites were a means of inviting the false gods to bless and prosper the land and the families. The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Hebrew people. (Baal worship also involved child sacrifice; see 2 Kings 17:16,17 and prophetic responses, Isaiah 57:5  Jere. 32:35).

As a result of the spiritual and moral unfaithfulness of parents, false priests and false prophets, the daughters also became corrupt. We may suppose that this also applied to their sons. When one generation sets a pattern, we should not be surprised when the next generation embraces it. Or rather, we should not be surprised when the sins of one generation overtake and entangle the next.

We are reminded that child sacrifice involves not only the killing of the preborn, as with abortion, or the killing of post-born, as with the worship of Moloch. But also, when a generation of children are raised without the restraint of Godly moral and spiritual instruction, they will be sacrificed on the altar of negligence. Their destruction will be as certain, and more cruel, than the destruction of those who did not survive their birth.

4:14 “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot or your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots and offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes; so the people without understanding are ruined.”

It is not that the daughters and brides will escape judgment — they will not. But it is not so much that the Lord judges them; rather, their judgment is the destructive consequences of their sin. The heaviest punishment, though, will be on the husbands and fathers, for their children and their brides were only following the pattern set by their elders.

“So the people without understanding are ruined.” Why are the people without understanding? Because their false priests and false prophets did not teach them the truth, instead teaching them lies wrapped in darkness. Because the elders did not learn truth from their teachers, neither did their sons and daughters and brides and all were ruined.

We might say that this is an expression of judgment on the elders — they will witness their brides and children fallen into sin and ruined. Or possibly the elders are so far fallen, they would not grieve or be dismayed to see the fall of those whom they love.

However, there is another possible interpretation of this verse that should terrify us. When people are deeply entangled in sin, the Lord patiently warns and calls for an extended time. He also expresses judgment, chastisement in graduated expressions, from lesser to greater, the purpose being to apply pressure which may create change. But when men and women have not listened to warning, have not responded to pressure and have not turned from their sin, God may remove His hand and release people to the full expression of their sin. This is revealed more fully in verse 17.

4:15 “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, do not let Judah become guilty; also do not go to Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven and take the oath: ‘As the Lord lives!’”

The Lord is saying, “Israel had been unfaithful, an adulteress, but let not Judah become guilty of this. Stay away from the places where apostasy is practiced, lest you be also be corrupted.” 

Gilgal had once been a holy place. This was where the nation, under Joshua, rededicated itself to the Lord and reinstituted the Passover (Joshua, 5:9,10). The prophet Samuel had offered sacrifices there (I Samuel 10:8). But now Gilgal has been polluted by idols as we read in 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal.” And in 12:11, “In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,” a reference to the worship of Baal.

The Lord also warns Judah to stay away from Beth-aven — the name means house of evil or house of deceit or vanity. Beth-aven was located near Bethel, which means House of God. Bethel is where the Lord spoke to Jacob and made sacred promises to him (Gen. 28:10-19). It had been a holy place for centuries but now it is situated close by a center for the worship of idols. Not only that, but Bethel itself had been polluted by idols under King Jereboam. So in a sense, Bethel had become Beth-aven. The house of God had become the house of evil, deceit, vanity.

Although Judah had also been corrupted, there was still a remnant of faithful believers and there will come a season of reform under King Hezekiah. So the Bridegroom God contends for the purity of the remnant of His Bride and He warns them, “Stay away from places tainted by darkness.” Good advice to all of us. 

So it is that the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and will walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Judah is also warned not to take the oath, “As the Lord lives!” This may be a reference to those who mix the worship of idols with the worship of God — a little darkness, a little light, a bit of Baal, a bit of Yahweh. We see this in churches today which employ rituals that use the name of Jesus while preaching heretical doctrines which profane the light, embrace the darkness and violate the word of the Lord whose name they use.

4:16 “Since Israel is stubborn like a stubborn heifer, can the Lord now pasture them like a lamb in a large field?”

Israel had stubbornly resisted correction, refused repentance, persisted in spiritual unfaithfulness. The Lord desired to shepherd the nation but how could He? They are not a lamb; they are a stubborn heifer. How dangerous when the Lord Himself, who is almighty, can no longer lead a nation or a man or woman. He will not exercise omnipotence to force obedience, as if they were His slave. Israel was His Bride, yet the nation continued to spurn His love.

4:17 “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”

Therefore, the Lord expresses a most severe form of judgment: judicial abandonment.

“Ephraim is joined to idols.” Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes, is used here to represent the entire northern kingdom. The word idols, atsab, is from a root word that has to do with pain or grief. We become joined to whatever we worship and it is surely true that entanglement with powers of darkness joins the worshipper to pain and grief.

But with these words, “Let him alone,” God announces abandonment of the nation to its sinful choices and the painful, grievous consequences of those choices. While the book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, there are times when God gives unrepentant sinners over to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

But remember that these words are spoken only after many years in which the Bridegroom God patiently called and warned. It is not as though the Lord desires the destruction of Israel. If He did not long for the salvation of the nation, He would not be calling to them even at this last hour. As the Bridegroom Judge, His hope is that in removing His shield of grace and favor, the resulting pressure of adversity will create changed hearts in a righteous remnant who will humbly and gratefully rejoice to be called His Bride.

Nevertheless, these words should be sobering. In Romans chapter one, Paul traces the descent of humanity into darkness: from suppressing the knowledge of God, to the creation of false gods, to disintegration into every form of moral corruption. Three times the apostle uses this phrase, “God gave them over.” What a terrifying prospect, to be given over by God to our folly and deception, for we cannot turn from our sin except the Lord shows us the truth. We cannot experience forgiveness and restoration except the Lord sovereignly acts upon us by His grace.

However, judicial abandonment is not the portrait of an uncaring God. It is the last attempt of a loving and holy God to bring people to the truth.

Judicial abandonment is also an example of our inability to grasp the fulness of God’s attributes which exist and are expressed perfectly, without contradiction. How is it that God is perfectly, infinitely and eternally just and simultaneously perfectly, infinitely and eternally merciful? How is it that God exercises justice without violating His love and expresses His love, lavishes His grace, expresses His goodness, continually while establishing His justice? To my limited intellect, the answer to these questions is unknowable. But we may know this with certainty, “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136;1), and “all His ways are just” (Deut. 32:4).

Is there any more poignant portrayal of this than Jesus washing the feet of Judas only hours before Satan entered the fallen disciple and he betrayed His Lord? It was the desire of Jesus to lavish grace and truth upon Judas. It was the desire of Judas to trample upon grace and truth. He fell to everlasting damnation, but not because there was anything lacking in Christ’s provision for him.

Yes, we despair over men and women and nations, entangled in the chords of darkness. But never despair over the passion of the Bridegroom God to pursue and call, if possibly He may reclaim, redeem and betroth them to Himself. 

As we marvel at the boundless love of the Bridegroom God, we also tremble at the justice of the Bridegroom Judge. There is a moment when He says to the prophetic voice, “Cease your speaking. They have heard me and refuse to hear. They have seen me and refuse to see. Let them go. May it be that as they experience the grief of their choices, some will be driven back to me.”

4:18 “Their liquor gone, they play the harlot continually; their rulers dearly love shame.”

The nation is drunk in its continuous pursuit of false gods and the rulers of the nation love their shame — they love that which brings them shame, confirmed in the pleasure of their sin, loving even the shame itself.

4:19 “The wind wraps them in its wings, and they will be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”

We can scarcely imagine the grief of the Lord who had carried Israel “on eagles wings” out of Egypt and unto Himself (Ex. 19:4). But they have sowed the wind, now they shall reap the whirlwind. Even now the storm has enwrapped them, has gathered them into itself, bound the nation to itself as a bird of prey grasps its victim. Within a few years, the mighty and cruel kingdom of Assyria will fall upon Israel in a cyclone of violence and carry the nation away.

But there is coming a day when, “They shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.” So it was that during those centuries of exile, Israel repented of her idols. When a remnant returned to the land, they left their idols behind. 

Centuries later, they rejected their Messiah and the nation was again destroyed. But there is coming a day when the Lord “will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).

The Bridegroom sees that day, is already living in that day, waiting for a Bride made ready.

December 29, 2019 Hosea 4

December 29, 2019

Hosea

4:1 “Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.”

God says that He has a case or controversy with the nation of Israel. The word has to do with a legal proceeding, from a root meaning to debate, to contend. This is the Bridegroom Judge, calling Israel to accountability and confronting the nation with the sin that grieved His heart and would eventually destroy the nation, if not corrected. What was the cause of God’s judicial proceeding against His covenant people? He tells us in verse one. 

First of all, there is no faithfulness (emeth, which may also be translated “truth, stability, trustworthiness”). False teaching and the worship of false gods had obscured the truth and destroyed the capacity of the people to act faithfully toward God and one another. Spiritual corruption had led to corruption in personal morals and business ethics. This in turn had robbed the nation of stability.

A biblical definition of truth has to do with not only knowing and saying what is true but doing it, living it consistently, faithfully. Emeth has to do with steadfastness. It speaks of an attitude that is dependable. God is saying that Israel has not been faithful in living the truth which they profess.

Second, there is no kindness (which may be translated loyalty). Interesting that the Hebrew word for kindness or mercy is also the word for loyalty. This word is chesed. It is found in Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness (chesed) will follow me all the days of my life.” It is found in Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness (chesed) is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” Chesed has to do with faithful covenant commitment, faithful covenant love. It is the way God loved Israel.

God indicts Israel for their lack of covenant love for Him while the Lord continues to love Israel faithfully. In fact, the entire book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God’s covenant love to an unfaithful nation. The Lord commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him while commanding Hosea to continually pursue her with faithful, covenant love. The prophet’s pursuit of his unfaithful wife is a picture of chesed, covenant love. 

In Hosea 2:19,20, the Lord said, “I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness (chesed) and in compassion. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.” God’s chesed toward Israel is such that God will not cease loving Israel. In return, God expects this of Israel — loyalty, covenant love, devotion.

Third, there is no knowledge of God.  The word for knowledge, da-ath, is from the root yada which is used in Genesis 4:1, “Now the man had relations with (knew) his wife Eve and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” Yada has to do with knowing someone intimately. 

In saying that Israel lacked da-ath, the knowledge of God, the Lord is saying that the nation had lost the intimacy of communion and fellowship with the God in Whom we live and move and have our being; the God who sought us when we were lost; the God Who redeemed us for Himself and called us into covenant. The people were mixing idol worship along with some of the rituals of Jewish religion but they were not living in true, intimate love with God.

It is not simply that they are ignorant of God’s law or simply disregarding His law. It is not simply that they lack knowledge about the Lord. It is a disregard for God Himself, a lack of devotion to and communion with the God who created us to know Him and enjoy Him forever.

This was a consistent theme of all the prophets and especially Hosea, “Yet I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt; and you were not to know any god except me, for there is no Savior besides me. I cared for you in the wilderness .... And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:4-6b; see also Isa. 17:10, Ezkl. 23:35, Jere. 3:21).

The Lord expressed His love for Israel in delivering the nation from slavery in Egypt, caring for them protecting and blessing them. But when they were satisfied, they became proud and forgot the Lord, turned from Him, became indifferent, lost intimacy with the Bridegroom God. 

How important is spiritual intimacy to the Lord? In Revelation chapter two, the Lord calls the Ephesian church to account for the cooling of their love to Him. He commends the church for their perseverance and their abhorrence of evil — this is a church doing effective ministry and maintaining purity. But Jesus says that He will remove their lampstand — remove His blessing and favor — unless they return to loving Him with true, deep devotion.

In Hosea’s day, false priests and false prophets had deceived the nation with the false teaching and false worship of false gods. True knowledge of the true God had been replaced by that which is not true. Intimate communion with God had been replaced by distance, unfaithfulness. This resulted in a deepening spiral into darkness which corrupted every aspect of the nation, as we will see in verse two.

When people and nations sin against God, it is not just that we break God’s laws.  We break God’s heart.  Since the law of God reflects the character of God, in rejecting His law we are rejecting the heart, the character of God, saying, “I don't like your character, your ways.” 

God says that the people are faithless, have no knowledge of Him. Throughout the prophecies of Hosea we read that the people had been busy chasing other gods, false gods, gods that are not gods. Substituting other gods for the true and living God is spiritual adultery, since the Lord’s purpose is to establish intimate, covenant relationship with us. When we reject God and choose another god, we have broken covenant with God, rejected God and violated the intimacy which God has desired to establish with us.

What happens when God’s covenant people are unfaithful, when we lose the relationship of intimate, loyal love? What happens when people begin to worship gods that are not gods, when people have intimate communion with gods that are infused with the powers of darkness? We read the result in verse two.

4:2 “There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.”

When covenant people lose covenant intimacy with the covenant God, the result is a sinful society in which all of the commandments are being broken — swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, “so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.” The verb tense through this sentence indicates a continuous action. When people reject relationship with the Lord and refuse to abide by His laws, the result is a society disintegrating into unrestrained sin and chaos.

Swearing and deception refer to false oaths, lying, bearing false witness, a lack of integrity and trustworthiness. This is a society that devalues the truth, bends the truth. Truth has become relativized: “You have your truth, I have mine.” There is no transcendent truth. Truth is determined by society, custom, expedience. This is the autonomous life, living as if there is no Truth-Giver who transcends our society, our customs, our time. Denying sacred truth, inventing their own truth, people are free to live as they please.

Murder reveals a society which devalues, not only truth, but life itself. Refusing to recognize the reality of a holy God, people are free to violate life created in the image of that non-existent God. Murder, then, becomes nothing more than a means to an end. In the past hundred years, we have seen this played out in one atheistic regime after another — Hitler’s genocide toward other races resulted in the death of millions of his fellow Germans; Stalin killed millions of his fellow Russians and Ukrainians; Chairman Mao killed millions of his fellow Chinese; Pot Pol killed one out of every four Cambodians. 

It is also possible to kill by withholding mercy. There are people who die because those who could have done good and preserved life, instead were distracted by their pursuit of wealth and pleasure.

Stealing is not only a violation of someone else’s possessions. It is a violation of God’s generous, gracious blessing. It is a way of saying, “God cannot provide so I will steal what I need.” Stealing is also expressed in withholding what another has earned. In the Epistle of James the unjust employer is warned, “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts)” (James 5:4).

Adultery is not only the breaking of covenant with one’s spouse. It is a breaking of covenant with the God who blessed that marriage. It reveals a heart that is unfaithful to people and to God. And as we have seen, the greatest adultery in the land was the worship of false gods, which the Bridegroom God considered to be the ultimate act of unfaithfulness.

Notice the phrase, “They employ violence.” Violence was an instrument employed for the purpose of gaining a favorable result, a useful tool employed for political or financial advancement. The word employ is parats which can be translated break out or burst out. The picture is of a river in flood, bursting violently over the levee and sweeping away everything before it. Violence and unrestrained bloodshed reveal a society in a state of collapse, where respect for the rule of law and for the sanctity of human life is eroding rapidly.

And notice, “Bloodshed follows bloodshed.”  This could be translated: “Blood touches blood,” as if there is no interval between acts of bloodshed, as if lethal violence is a continued action across the land. Violence and intimidation establish a pattern, a cycle of violence and intimidation.  It is not surprising that during Hosea’s ministry, four out of six kings of Israel were assassinated. Political instability follows when truth and life are devalued.

In verse eleven we will read, “Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding.” Harlotry refers to sexual and spiritual unfaithfulness. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness. Immorality and drunkenness rob the people of the wisdom necessary for the living of each day.

When a society is characterized by lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence, unrestrained bloodshed, spiritual unfaithfulness and immorality, drunkenness and lack of wisdom, the destructive impact reaches beyond that society, as we see in verse three.

4:3 “Therefore the land mourns and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky and also the fish of the sea disappear.” 

Two different responses to the sin of Israel: the land mourns and the people languish. The word mourn, abal, means to lament, bewail, mourn. The word languish, amal, can refer to mourning but in this context, languish is the better translation. It means the people become weak or feeble.

The people of the Lord are not mourning their sin but all creation groans under the burden of Israel’s rebellion against God. When God’s covenant people break covenant with God, the nation falls into all manner of sin and even the land and the creatures suffer.

Isaiah, writing at this same time, said, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty” (Isa. 24:5,6). The most destructive pollution in the world is the sin of humanity against God, against one another and against creation itself.

This could be a reference to the later desolation when the Assyrians invaded and destroyed vineyard and field, city and town; plundering flocks and herds. Or this could refer to the desolation of drought and famine which God sent upon the land as a judgment. The phrase, “The fish of the sea disappear,” may also be translated, “the fish of the sea are taken away.” The Lord sends harvest for bread and wine but can also withhold harvest. He sends abundance of fish and of flock but can also withhold abundance. The apostles pulled in a great harvest of fish at the Lord’s command but the Lord can also withhold the abundance He would have given.

However, there is more to nature’s mourning than merely the desolation wrought by conquering armies or by the hand of God. We surely see the beginnings of this mourning when Adam and Eve fell and God cursed creation. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). 

We recall that God gave man dominion “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Adam was commanded “to cultivate … and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15). The word cultivate, abad, has to do with serving. The word keep, shamar, has to do with protecting, to exercise stewardship over something. When man the caretaker fell, creation suffered the loss of its caretaker-steward. When man the caretaker sins flagrantly against our Creator, the land groans under the burden of our pollution.

However, when the Bridegroom God returns for a Bride made ready, not only will Israel be restored but all of nature will be blessed and the song of rejoicing will cover the earth. The rivers will “clap their hands” and the mountains will “sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). 

Isaiah saw a glimpse of that day and prophesied, “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 55:12,13).

Nature mourned humanity’s fall, mourned Israel’s pollution of the land but will rejoice when the curse is broken and the earth is restored as a garden.

4:4 “Yet let no one find fault (or strive or contend), and let none offer reproof; for your people are like those who contend with the priest.”

The opening phrase, “Yet let no one find fault (or strive or contend), and let none offer reproof,” may be an ironic reference to the fact that most of the people were not contending for the cleansing of the nation. They continually claimed innocence and refused correction; or worse, they were continually indifferent to the reality of their sin.

The phrase, “For your people are like those who contend with the priest,” refers to people refusing correction from a Godly source. Whether a Godly priest or a Godly prophet such as Hosea, the people refuse to hear the word of truth.

So this could be the Lord saying, “They have ignored my voice speaking through the law of Moses and through righteous prophets so stop contending with them, leave them alone. Let them experience the consequence of their sin.” But that is not the word of a God who is abandoning His covenant people. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. His desire is that the pressure of adversity will create repentance.

4:5 “So you will stumble (or fall) by day, and the prophet also will stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.”

Stumbling in the light refers to the fact that no one lacked revelation from God concerning their sin or the remedy for sin. God had spoken clearly. The light of truth was shining brightly through the Law of Moses and through the words of holy prophets such as Hosea. The Psalmist reminds us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).  But if we refuse the lamp of God’s truth, how shall we stand? 

Day may also refer to the day of their prosperity — when all seemed safe and good — then shall judgment come upon them. Because the nation would not listen, they will stumble. So great is their darkness, having refused light, that they will stumble even in the light of day. 

The false prophets who continued to speak lying words of comfort to the people will stumble along with the people, though we may suppose that their fall will be greater for they claimed greater light. In fact, their lying words were formed in darkness and in that darkness they will fall — the darkness will not hide them from the judgmental wrath of God.

“I will destroy your mother” is a reference to the apostate, idol worshipping nation. Having departed from the covering and blessing of the Lord, the nation cannot possibly avoid destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. Surely they could repent, turn back to the Lord and be saved but they refuse. Refusing to come back to their only defense, they will surely be destroyed.

The Bridegroom God will not cease to call to His Bride, will not cease to love her. But He also knows that the nation’s rejection of Him is final and so He announces their destruction as an unavoidable, historical fact, though its accomplishment is yet future.

4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

“Lack of knowledge” does not refer to scientific or mathematical facts. It refers to the Godly wisdom necessary to live the blessed life, the revelation God gives to us as He opens His heart and mind to us. How could Israel lack this knowledge, having the writings of Moses and the Psalms of David and the Proverbs of Solomon and the warnings of the prophets? They lack knowledge because they “have rejected knowledge” and “have forgotten the law of your” God (4:6). 

This is willful ignorance. They are ignorant by choice. The word reject, maac (pronounced mawas) means to despise, to loathe. They rejected, loathed, despised true knowledge and in their rejection, loathed and despised the God who alone gives wisdom and knowledge.

They forgot the law of God when they forgot God. They have forgotten, loathed and despised who God is —  not simply the Almighty Creator of the universe but the Bridegroom God who called Israel into covenant with Himself. How is it that people come to loath, despise and reject the God who has blessed them so greatly? This happens when people are absorbed with and delighted in the gods of this world. Then it is a short journey from despising the Lord, to despising true knowledge to forgetting wisdom entirely.

Having forgotten God, they forgot who they are — the Beloved of the Creator of the universe, the apple of His eye, God’s covenant people, the Bride of the Bridegroom God. Forgetting who they are, they sell themselves cheaply to gods that are not gods; gods who devalue and trash them because the people have forgotten that they are treasured by the true and living God. So many people are chasing false treasure, rejecting the true treasure which is God’s covenant love for them, not realizing that in God’s eyes, they are the treasure.

Israel’s ignorance was deep rooted. They professed to be the people of God yet worshipped idols. Many experienced blessings of abundance, yet continued to oppressed the poor while giving thanks to their idols for the blessings of God. 

Truly, people are destroyed when they turn from the true knowledge of the true and living God.  

Because the priests led the nation to reject, loathe and despise knowledge, God rejected, loathed and despised them as priests. This is especially an indictment of the Israelite priests whose responsibility it was to instruct the people and keep alive in their hearts the light of the knowledge of God and the passion of holy love. But remember, this was not the Levitical priesthood that functioned in the Jerusalem temple. This was a false priesthood serving the false gods of the northern kingdom. They were not only not instructing people in the knowledge of the true God, they were instructing in the knowledge of darkness. Truly, they were rejected, loathed and despised by God.

In a broader sense, this is an indictment of the entire nation. After Israel left slavery in Egypt, the Lord had said, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6).

All Israel was called to be a royal priesthood, God’s witness to the world. But if they will not remain in covenant relationship with the Lord, if they refuse instruction, then they cannot be God’s priest to the nations. How can they be a light to the multitudes who walk in darkness, when they themselves have rejected light? So God announces that He rejects the people as priests, disqualifies them from covenant blessings and responsibilities.

This is what is meant by the phrase, “I also will forget your children.” The children are the men and women who were conceived and birthed by this pagan, God-rejecting religious system. Separated from God by choice, God chooses to reject them. It is not that the Lord ceases to love them, but He cannot use them for divine purpose when they are separated from Him.

The same may be said for the next generation. Children of parents and priests who forgot the Lord will have no knowledge of the Lord. They will despise the knowledge of the Lord as did their parents and priests. They also will be set aside by God — not set aside in terms of love — the Lord will continue to call to them with unbounded compassion. But they will not live out His design for their lives while they reject the Lord who designed them.

This returns us to the opening words of this verse, “My people are destroyed.” Not only was the knowledge of God destroyed. Before this generation passed, the entire nation wold be destroyed.

4:7 “The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.”

The more they increased in blessing, the more they sinned against the God who blessed them.  The more goodness God poured out upon them, the more thanks they gave to their idols. A loving God will cut off blessing if blessing leads idolatrous people to self destruction.

“I will change their glory into shame” is a prophecy of repentance. Someday a remnant of Israelites will realize the depth of their unfaithfulness, will be ashamed of that which was once their glory and will return to the Lord in true humility. This is always the goal when God chastises people or nations, that they will see the truth, turn from their sin and seek the Lord.

“I will change their glory into shame” is also a dire prediction of national disaster. The people gloried in their idols when they should have been ashamed of their unfaithfulness. So God will destroy the idols, their places of false worship, their false priesthood and allow the nation to experience the disastrous consequences of idolatry. In place of glory will be shame.

This also speaks of the glory of God which had once rested over the covenant people but has now been withdrawn. In its place will be the shame of a conquered nation. This speaks also of the gifts and opportunities which God gave to Israel (and gives also to each of us), gifts and opportunities which may be employed to the glory of the Lord or misused, to the shame of the sinner.

A person or nation may glory in power or wealth, but such vanity leads to reckless temptations and over-reach and eventual destruction. Pride surely comes before the fall.

4:8 “They feed on the sin of My people and direct their desire toward their iniquity.”

This word for sin is sometimes translated sin-offering and this would fit the context. This is a reference to the priests who feed on the sin-offerings of the people. In the Jerusalem temple, this was the right of the priests. But the priests of Israel have abused their right.

They call the people to bring their offerings to the idols and feed off the worship of those idols. They are nourished by the offerings of the people but in turn, refuse to nourish the people on the word of God. Instead, they feed the people darkness, lies, entanglements with false gods. 

These are false priests, not of the line of Aaron, so if they hope to continue as priests then they must continue calling people to worship calves and bulls and all manner of false gods. They know this is a lie but they gain their food through this lie and so they perpetuate the lie.

Further, “They direct their desire toward their iniquity.” Their heart is focused on doing evil. This is the priesthood that has despised the knowledge of God and led the nation in forgetting the true and living God. Their iniquity is their focus because it is the source of their livelihood.

There is another sense to these words, “They feed on the sin of my people.” The sins of the nation energize the priests, empower them, nourish them, inspire them. Far from restraining the sin of the nation, the priests are made more bold in their false teaching, false worship and false living. Their fear is not of the Lord but of anything that would draw the people to God and away from the idols. Therefore they encouraged the people in sin.

4:9 “And it will be, like people, like priest; so I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”

The priests will be punished along with the nation. They may have been deceived that as priests, they were holy unto the Lord and would escape judgment. But in fact they were false priests and profane in the sight of God. Indeed, we would suppose that their punishment will be greater for their deception was greater. The people emulated their priests, therefore the priests, being the cause of the sins of others, will receive greater condemnation.  

False priests will not be pardoned because of their robes any more than fallen kings will be pardoned because of their crowns. All stand accountable before God.

4:10 “They will eat, but not have enough; they will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.”

This speaks of those who attempt to satisfy their greed through oppression and deception. They never have enough. Their appetites are insatiable. Having gained much, they desire to gain more but that which is gained by sin cannot be enjoyed in peace. Instead, their sin will eat up the wealth that was gained through their sin.

This speaks of the nation as a whole. Giving thanks to their idols for bountiful harvests provided by God, Israel will lose the blessing of the Lord and gain the judgment of the Lord. In place of abundance there will be scarcity. They offered their food to idols. Their harvest shall be diminished. Truly, the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

This refers also to the priests, who ate the sin offerings while teaching the people to sin. They will not escape judgment.

 “They will play the harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.” 

The unfaithfulness of Israel to God is nothing other than spiritual adultery. Rather than giving heed to the Lord, they have set their eyes on false gods, false lovers.

The word “heed” can be translated attend, observe, watch. The Psalmist said, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psalm 123:2). Jesus counseled His disciples, “Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).

The blessed life is centered on watching the Lord, setting our spiritual eyes upon Him, observing Him in His word, looking to Him in prayer and in worship. But Israel had ceased to give heed to the Lord or even valuing Him. They were giving heed to their false gods. Their spiritual eyes, their hearts, were set on their idols. They will not increase, will not prosper.

4:11 “Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding (or enslave the heart).”

Harlotry refers to spiritual unfaithfulness but Hosea also is referring to sexual sin. Wine and new wine refer to drunkenness which characterized Baal festivities. This is not just symbolic language.  Baal worship included ritual prostitution, fertility rites and drunkenness.  The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Israelite people.

Immorality and drunkenness enslave the heart, rob people of the wisdom and discernment necessary for the living of each day. The pleasures of the world compete with God for our affections.

Earlier in this chapter we read that spiritual unfaithfulness had caused Israelite society to devolve into a toxic stew of lying, murder, stealing, adultery, violence and unrestrained bloodshed. Now Hosea adds immorality, drunkenness and lack of wisdom. The impact of these sins can only result in destruction.

4:12 “My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner's wand informs them; for a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God.”

The Lord still refers to Israel as, “My people.” Israel was in covenant relationship with the living God, the Bride of the Bridegroom God, yet the people were asking their wooden idols for wisdom and direction and believed that “their diviner's wand informs them”. They believed the lying words of lying prophets and the false report of false priests based on revelation from a piece of wood.

How deceived! The true and living God pours out wisdom to all who seek Him but not all will seek Him. He gave Israel His Law and sent prophets, but they would not listen. Truly, as the Apostle Paul reveals, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

In another time, the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, so the house of Israel is shamed; they, their kings, their princes and their priests and their prophets, who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face” (Jere. 2:26,27).

The Psalmist speaks of the idols of silver and gold, “The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear” (Ps. 115:4-6). How foolish that men and women would pray to a lifeless object. But more than foolish, how dangerous. The psalmist continues, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:8). We grow in the image of whatever we worship. 

Hosea reveals the process. They were led astray by a demonic spirit of harlotry and the result is that, “They have played the harlot.” They became like the spirit that led them astray. Having departed from God, being separated from God, they are joined to their idol and conformed to its likeness.

The last phrase reveals the heartbreak of God, “departing from their God.” This may be translated, “departing from under their God.” We recall Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). 

We recall the words of the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty … He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Psalm 91:1,4)

This was the desire of the Bridegroom God for His Bride. But Israel had departed from under the secure blessing of God. Exposed to the kingdoms of darkness, their future would only be destruction. We marvel at the heartbreak of God.

4:13 “They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and burn incense on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth, because their shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

Copying the pattern of idolatrous Canaanite tribes, Israel’s worship of false gods was practiced on mountains and hills, possibly because these “high places” were considered to be closer to the heaven in which they believed the false gods existed. They also made sacrifices under certain trees — these were considered sacred places. 

This is why, when Israel was preparing to enter the land, God commanded them through Moses, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deut. 12:2). Sadly, Israel later practiced this form of idolatry as fervently as if the Lord had commanded it.

It’s not surprising that Satan inspired idol worship on high places. It was on a mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. On a mountain God gave Moses the commandments. On a hill, the Lamb of God would someday be offered for the sins of the world. Satan often imitates the holy pattern set by God, as a means of confusing and deceiving the saints and profaning the holy.

“Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery.”

There is a two fold sense to their harlotry. As we have said, because Israel was in a covenant relationship with the Lord, He considered the worship of false gods to be spiritual prostitution, adultery. However, Baal worship also involved sexual rituals, the perversion of true worship and the perversion of God’s gift of romantic love between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage. Ritual prostitution and fertility rites were a means of inviting the false gods to bless and prosper the land and the families. The Canaanite strongholds of immorality and hedonism had slipped into the soul of the Hebrew people. (Baal worship also involved child sacrifice; see 2 Kings 17:16,17 and prophetic responses, Isaiah 57:5  Jere. 32:35).

As a result of the spiritual and moral unfaithfulness of parents, false priests and false prophets, the daughters also became corrupt. We may suppose that this also applied to their sons. When one generation sets a pattern, we should not be surprised when the next generation embraces it. Or rather, we should not be surprised when the sins of one generation overtake and entangle the next.

We are reminded that child sacrifice involves not only the killing of the preborn, as with abortion, or the killing of  post-born, as with the worship of Moloch. But also, when a generation of children are raised without the restraint of Godly moral and spiritual instruction, they will be sacrificed on the altar of negligence. Their destruction will be as certain, and more cruel, than the destruction of those who did not survive their birth.

4:14 “I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot or your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots and offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes; so the people without understanding are ruined.”

It is not that the daughters and brides will escape judgment — they will not. But it is not so much that the Lord judges them; rather, their judgment is the destructive consequences of their sin. The heaviest punishment, though, will be on the husbands and fathers, for their children and their brides were only following the pattern set by their elders.

“So the people without understanding are ruined.” Why are the people without understanding? Because their false priests and false prophets did not teach them the truth, instead teaching them lies wrapped in darkness. Because the elders did not learn truth from their teachers, neither did their sons and daughters and brides and all were ruined.

We might say that this is an expression of judgment on the elders — they will witness their brides and children fallen into sin and ruined. Or possibly the elders are so far fallen, they would not grieve or be dismayed to see the fall of those whom they love.

However, there is another possible interpretation of this verse that should terrify us. When people are deeply entangled in sin, the Lord patiently warns and calls for an extended time. He also expresses judgment, chastisement in graduated expressions, from lesser to greater, the purpose being to apply pressure which may create change. But when men and women have not listened to warning, have not responded to pressure and have not turned from their sin, God may remove His hand and release people to the full expression of their sin. This is revealed more fully in verse 17.

4:15 “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, do not let Judah become guilty; also do not go to Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven and take the oath: ‘As the Lord lives!’”

The Lord is saying, “Israel had been unfaithful, an adulteress, but let not Judah become guilty of this. Stay away from the places where apostasy is practiced, lest you be also be corrupted.” 

Gilgal had once been a holy place. This was where the nation, under Joshua, rededicated itself to the Lord and reinstituted the Passover (Joshua, 5:9,10). The prophet Samuel had offered sacrifices there (I Samuel 10:8). But now Gilgal has been polluted by idols as we read in 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal.” And in 12:11, “In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls,” a reference to the worship of Baal.

The Lord also warns Judah to stay away from Beth-aven — the name means house of evil or house of deceit or vanity. Beth-aven was located near Bethel, which means House of God. Bethel is where the Lord spoke to Jacob and made sacred promises to him (Gen. 28:10-19). It had been a holy place for centuries but now it is situated close by a center for the worship of idols. Not only that, but Bethel itself had been polluted by idols under King Jereboam. So in a sense, Bethel had become Beth-aven. The house of God had become the house of evil, deceit, vanity.

Although Judah had also been corrupted, there was still a remnant of faithful believers and there will come a season of reform under King Hezekiah. So the Bridegroom God contends for the purity of the remnant of His Bride and He warns them, “Stay away from places tainted by darkness.” Good advice to all of us. 

So it is that the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and will walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Judah is also warned not to take the oath, “As the Lord lives!” This may be a reference to those who mix the worship of idols with the worship of God — a little darkness, a little light, a bit of Baal, a bit of Yahweh. We see this in churches today which employ rituals that use the name of Jesus while preaching heretical doctrines which profane the light, embrace the darkness and violate the word of the Lord whose name they use.

4:16 “Since Israel is stubborn like a stubborn heifer, can the Lord now pasture them like a lamb in a large field?”

Israel had stubbornly resisted correction, refused repentance, persisted in spiritual unfaithfulness. The Lord desired to shepherd the nation but how could He? They are not a lamb; they are a stubborn heifer. How dangerous when the Lord Himself, who is almighty, can no longer lead a nation or a man or woman. He will not exercise omnipotence to force obedience, as if they were His slave. Israel was His Bride, yet the nation continued to spurn His love.

4:17 “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”

Therefore, the Lord expresses a most severe form of judgment: judicial abandonment.

“Ephraim is joined to idols.” Ephraim, the largest of the northern tribes, is used here to represent the entire northern kingdom. The word idols, atsab, is from a root word that has to do with pain or grief. We become joined to whatever we worship and it is surely true that entanglement with powers of darkness joins the worshipper to pain and grief.

But with these words, “Let him alone,” God announces abandonment of the nation to its sinful choices and the painful, grievous consequences of those choices. While the book of Hosea is a picture of the Bridegroom God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, there are times when God gives unrepentant sinners over to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

But remember that these words are spoken only after many years in which the Bridegroom God patiently called and warned. It is not as though the Lord desires the destruction of Israel. If He did not long for the salvation of the nation, He would not be calling to them even at this last hour. As the Bridegroom Judge, His hope is that in removing His shield of grace and favor, the resulting pressure of adversity will create changed hearts in a righteous remnant who will humbly and gratefully rejoice to be called His Bride.

Nevertheless, these words should be sobering. In Romans chapter one, Paul traces the descent of humanity into darkness: from suppressing the knowledge of God, to the creation of false gods, to disintegration into every form of moral corruption. Three times the apostle uses this phrase, “God gave them over.” What a terrifying prospect, to be given over by God to our folly and deception, for we cannot turn from our sin except the Lord shows us the truth. We cannot experience forgiveness and restoration except the Lord sovereignly acts upon us by His grace.

However, judicial abandonment is not the portrait of an uncaring God. It is the last attempt of a loving and holy God to bring people to the truth.

Judicial abandonment is also an example of our inability to grasp the fulness of God’s attributes which exist and are expressed perfectly, without contradiction. How is it that God is perfectly, infinitely and eternally just and simultaneously perfectly, infinitely and eternally merciful? How is it that God exercises justice without violating His love and expresses His love, lavishes His grace, expresses His goodness, continually while establishing His justice? To my limited intellect, the answer to these questions is unknowable. But we may know this with certainty, “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136;1), and “all His ways are just” (Deut. 32:4).

Is there any more poignant portrayal of this than Jesus washing the feet of Judas only hours before Satan entered the fallen disciple and he betrayed His Lord? It was the desire of Jesus to lavish grace and truth upon Judas. It was the desire of Judas to trample upon grace and truth. He fell to everlasting damnation, but not because there was anything lacking in Christ’s provision for him.

Yes, we despair over men and women and nations, entangled in the chords of darkness. But never despair over the passion of the Bridegroom God to pursue and call, if possibly He may reclaim, redeem and betroth them to Himself. 

As we marvel at the boundless love of the Bridegroom God, we also tremble at the justice of the Bridegroom Judge. There is a moment when He says to the prophetic voice, “Cease your speaking. They have heard me and refuse to hear. They have seen me and refuse to see. Let them go. May it be that as they experience the grief of their choices, some will be driven back to me.”

4:18 “Their liquor gone, they play the harlot continually; their rulers dearly love shame.”

The nation is drunk in its continuous pursuit of false gods and the rulers of the nation love their shame — they love that which brings them shame, confirmed in the pleasure of their sin, loving even the shame itself.

4:19 “The wind wraps them in its wings, and they will be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”

We can scarcely imagine the grief of the Lord who had carried Israel “on eagles wings” out of Egypt and unto Himself (Ex. 19:4). But they have sowed the wind, now they shall reap the whirlwind. Even now the storm has enwrapped them, has gathered them into itself, bound the nation to itself as a bird of prey grasps its victim. Within a few years, the mighty and cruel kingdom of Assyria will fall upon Israel in a cyclone of violence and carry the nation away.

But there is coming a day when, “They shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.” So it was that during those centuries of exile, Israel repented of her idols. When a remnant returned to the land, they left their idols behind. 

Centuries later, they rejected their Messiah and the nation was again destroyed. But there is coming a day when the Lord “will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).

The Bridegroom sees that day, is already living in that day, waiting for a Bride made ready.

December 22, 2019 - The Eternal God Puts on Human Form

December 22, 2019 - The Eternal God puts on HumAn Form

The Eternal God Puts on Human Form

Jesus, begotten of the Father

"You are my Son, today I have begotten you," (Hebrews 1:5).

The word today is a reference to Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary at a particular moment in time. Jesus, in His humanity, was begotten of the Father by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary (Matthew 1:20). Jesus, Son of God, while existing fully as Son of Mary, still possessed His divine nature and attributes. Though He veiled the glory of His divinity and voluntarily limited the exercise of His attributes, He was still perfectly God while perfectly Man.  “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” (Col. 2:9).

The Promise of the Redeemer

As soon as Adam and Eve fell from grace, before they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God promised that a Redeemer would someday be born on earth. Centuries later, God chose for Himself a covenant people whom He prepared to receive this Redeemer. Throughout the history of Israel, God renewed the promise of the Redeemer. 

God's Promise Concerning the Birth of Jesus Christ:

1. A Redeemer will be born of the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15)

Before Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden, God revealed that Someone born of the seed of the woman will someday bruise the head of the serpent, though He would be bruised on the heel. It’s not biologically correct to speak of the seed of a woman but this would be a special birth not involving the seed of a man. This uniquely conceived Man will crush the head of the serpent (a mortal wound) though He would be bruised on the heel, that is, He would be wounded.  Interpreting that passage from our perspective we see Jesus, conceived without the seed of a man, who, though He was beaten and crucified, broke the power of Satan.

2. He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) 

It was necessary that the Redeemer be born of a woman so that He could share the same human nature as those whom He came to save. But it was equally necessary that He be perfectly God. Thus Jesus, pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin: Son of Man and Son of God, perfectly human and perfectly divine; two natures, one Person. 

3. He would be born in Bethlehem, everlasting, shepherd, peace maker (Micah 5:2-5)

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied that someone will be born in an obscure Judean village, Bethlehem, yet His origins are from the days of eternity. He will shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord and He will be our peace. 

Isaiah also prophesied that the coming One would be eternal, everlasting (Isa. 9:6).

4. He would be born of royal lineage, in the line of King David.

Isaiah prophesied, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us and the government will rest on His shoulders ... There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore,” (Isa. 9:6,7).

God's' Fulfillment Concerning the Birth of Jesus Christ:

1. Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25  Luke 1:27, 34, 35  2:1-7).

This is the testimony of Luke and Matthew, in fulfillment of God’s promise through Isaiah. 

Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, testifies that Joseph and Mary, though betrothed (engaged), had not yet come together in intimate union. Yet, “She was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit,” (1:18). 

The angel of the Lord then testified, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” (1:20). The clear testimony of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb. 

Matthew then writes, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son,’” (Matt. 1:23). Because Matthew was quoting from a Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14, he used the word parthenos, which means an unmarried daughter who has not had sexual relations -- a virgin.

Luke, writing in Greek, testifies that the angel Gabriel came “to a virgin ... and the virgin’s name was Mary,” (1:27). Luke also uses the word parthenos, which, as we have said, is normally translated virgin. The angel tells her that though she is a virgin, she will conceive and bear a son.

Mary then asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). Literally, Mary said, “How can this be, since I know not a man.” She is testifying of her virginity.

The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God,” (Luke 1:35). In other words, you will conceive, even though you are a virgin, because God the Holy Spirit will conceive this life in you.

There is nothing ambiguous or unclear about the testimony concerning the virgin birth.

2. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7), in a clear fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. 

Remember, though, that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. In order for Micah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, God moved a Roman ruler, Emperor Augustus, to call for a world wide census to be taken. Families had to return to their ancestral home to register. This required that Joseph and Mary journey more than eighty miles to Bethlehem while she was in the final days of pregnancy. God used a pagan ruler, who knew nothing of God or Messianic prophecy, to fulfill the words of Micah.

3. Micah prophesied that the coming One would exist from eternity. This was John’s testimony of Jesus, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “He was in the beginning with God,” (John 1:1). This was Jesus‘ testimony of Himself, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,” (John 8:58). 

4. Jesus is the royal descendant of King David.

It was necessary that Jesus was descended from King David because the Messiah had to be of royal lineage. As Isaiah prophesied, He will sit on the throne of David and “the government will rest on His shoulders,” (Isa. 9:6,7).

Jesus was of royal descent genetically because Mary was from David's line (the genealogy in Luke 3 is considered to be Mary’s lineage). He is the Son of David legally because His father Joseph, though not His birth father but His father by human family identity, was also a descendant of David (Matt. 1:6,16). So Jesus inherited David's royal line from His father, David's royal blood from His mother. This is why the angel could say to Mary, “And the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,” (Luke 1:32,33).

Jesus was the Son of Mary in His humanity, Son of Joseph in the legal sense, Son of David in royal lineage and Son of God in His divine nature and essence. Son of God and Son of Mary. Great David’s greater Son. God in human flesh.

God fulfilled each of His promises concerning the birth of Jesus: born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem yet existing from eternity, born to be our Shepherd and our peace and born of the royal lineage of David.

In the fullness of time, Jesus was born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).

To restate what has already been said, Jesus was fully Man. The word likeness, morphe, refers to something that not only appears to be like something but is of the same reality, the same essence. Jesus was truly, genuinely, human, having all the attributes of a man. This was obviously true because most people did not recognize Him to be anything other than a man and rejected His claim to be the Son of God.

As a baby He needed the same care and protection from His parents that any infant requires. As a child He grew “in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men,” (Luke 2:52). As a man He became weary, hungry, thirsty and was subject to death.

Even though He was without sin, He endured temptation (Hebr. 2:18 also Matt. 4:1-11). The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin,” (Hebr. 4:18).

Jesus was perfectly human, yet without sin.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20, Luke 1:35).

In a manner unexplained but merely stated as fact and truth, we are told that the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, overshadowed Mary and caused her to conceive (Luke 1:35). In Matthew 17:5, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, it says that “a bright cloud overshadowed" them. That was the shekinah glory of God encompassing them on the mountain. That word, overshadowed, is the same word used by the angel Gabriel to describe to Mary the conception of Jesus. 

God Himself, the sovereign Creator of the universe, surrounded, overshadowed, Mary’s being with His life and creative power. As God encompassed Mary in the womb of His glory, He conceived in her womb the life of Jesus. For that reason, because of this divine creative miracle, the angel said, "The holy Child shall be called the Son of God," (Luke 1:35).

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. In summary, Jesus Christ was perfectly God and perfectly Man.

The traditional, orthodox position on the nature of Christ, first formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., states that Jesus was truly God and truly Man, possessing two natures, human and divine. As the Son of God, He existed with the Father before time and as the Son of Man, He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. Both divine and human natures are distinct but united in one Person.

There is an erroneous teaching that because Jesus had a human mother and not a human father, He was exempt from the sin nature, as if the sin nature is passed genetically only from the father. There's nothing in Scripture or medical science to indicate that the human predisposition to commit sin is transmitted through the male chromosomes. You can't find the sin nature in DNA. Women are perfectly capable of passing on the sin nature. We don't know how it is transmitted but we do know that it is passed on from generation to generation. 

David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me,” (Ps. 51:5). He did not mean that his mother conceived him through an immoral act but that from the time of conception he was a sinner. David was born with a sin nature.

The Apostle Paul, speaking of the original sin of Adam says, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:19).

Through Adam, all are born with a sin nature, a predisposition to commit sin. Jesus was born sinless because that's the way God created Him -- sinless from conception. The child in the womb of Mary was untouched by sin because that was God’s purpose. He was a holy offspring, as the angel said to Mary, "The holy child shall be called the Son of God," (Luke 1:35).

The Birth of the Messiah

The Announcement

After John the Baptist’s mother became pregnant with John, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel came from the presence of God “to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary,” (Luke 1:27). Notice how Luke locates this story in history -- to a particular region, Galilee, and town, Nazareth; and to a particular man and woman. This is not myth or legend. This is history.

Notice the emphasis on Mary’s virginity. We cannot understand the life and ministry of Jesus unless we understand this fundamental truth, that Jesus was conceived by God, not man. Only in this way could He be God in human form.

The angel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you,” (Luke 1:28). The word favored, charitoo, means one who is endued with honor or grace. It is derived from charis, the New Testament word for benefit, gift or grace. This does not mean, as some falsely teach, that Mary is a dispenser of grace. Rather, she is the recipient of God’s grace.

Mary was perplexed (greatly troubled, disturbed) at this greeting, as we can imagine, and the angel responded, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God” (1:30). Again the angel speaks of Mary’s favor, her charis, with God. Charis is the root of the words free gift in Romans 6:23, “The free gift (charisma) of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Why is Mary gifted with such grace? Is there something God wants to do in or through her life? Yes, and the angel tells her: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end,” (Luke 1:30-33).

Four important revelations are contained in this statement.

1. Mary though unwed, would conceive a child. This would be a unique birth.

2. The child would be named Jesus (the Greek form of a common Hebrew name, Yeshua, which means, God saves). Joseph had also been given specific directions by the angel, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,” (Matt. 1:21).

3. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Surely He will be great for He will be God’s Son, the glory of God incarnate in human flesh.

4. He will not only be descended from David (legally through Joseph, genetically through Mary), but He will reestablish the throne, the kingdom of David and will reign over that kingdom forever. This also implies the eternality of the Child.

Such revelation was far beyond anyone’s capacity to understand. Yet Mary’s humble response was simply, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Mary was not expressing unbelief, rather, incredulity, perplexity. Her expectation is that she would be married to Joseph and have children through him. How could she have a child any other way? She did not have a Bible with a Christmas story in it.

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God,” (1:35).

The same Holy Spirit who, at creation, hovered over the unformed, dark expanse of the deep, who with God the Father and God the Son shared in the creation of light and life -- this same Spirit will come upon Mary with the creative power of the Most High (El Elyon).

El Elyon “will overshadow” Mary. The word overshadow may also be translated, encompass. As we shared in the previous chapter, the word overshadowed is the same word as is used in Matthew 17:5, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and “a bright cloud overshadowed" them. That was the shekinah glory of God encompassing them on the mountain.

The glory of God encompassed Mary with creative, life-generating power, conceiving in her the life of Jesus. “For that reason,” the angel adds, “the holy Child shall be called the Son of God," (Luke 1:35).

To further build Mary’s confidence in God, the messenger reminds her that her relative, Elizabeth, “she who was called barren,” is now pregnant in her old age. He then testifies, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” (1:37). That verse may be translated, “For no word (rhema) of God is empty of power.”

Every word that God speaks contains in it the power necessary to call into being the reality of that word. Just as an acorn contains the building blocks of an oak tree, just as human DNA contains the information needed to build a human being, so the word of God carries in it the life and power needed to bring that word into fulfillment.

Certainly Elizabeth had limitations -- she was advanced in age and barren. Yet God gave her a son, John, forerunner of the Messiah. Mary surely had a limitation -- she had no husband. Yet God purposed to conceive in her His Son. Nothing is impossible with God. No word of God is without power.

Mary now confesses her faithful surrender to God’s purpose, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38). She does not say that she understands. She simply submits.

“And the angel departed from her,” (Luke 1:38).

Jesus is the Son of God, which refers not only to the eternal relationship between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity but also to Jesus’ nature and essence. He was God in human flesh.

Jesus also is the Son of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit but nurtured in Mary’s womb. 

Because He is the Son of God, eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. The angel said to Joseph, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us,’” (Matt. 1:23).

God had always dwelt in the midst of His covenant people, covering them in the wilderness with His glory cloud by day and His glory fire by night. He placed His glory in the tabernacle and in the temple. But in the birth of Jesus, God came to dwell among us in a special way. He was the revelation of the Father’s glory, God spreading His glorious tabernacle among us in human form.

The word tabernacle, mishkan, means dwelling, habitation. Mishkan is derived from shakan which means to abide. Shekinah, the glorious presence of God, is derived from shakan. The shekinah glory of God encompassed Mary, conceiving in her womb the Son of God, Immanuel, who is the revelation of the glory of God dwelling among us.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14).

The shekinah glory of God tabernacled over Mary, 

conceived in Mary the shekinah glory of God, 

birthed through Mary the shekinah glory of God, 

that we might behold the shekinah glory of God 

among us, abiding with us, in human form.

December 15, 2019 - The Glory of God In Human Form

December 15, 2019 - The Glory of God In Human Form

The Glory of God In Human Form

The glory of the Lord is the expression of God's person: His character, His attributes. Anytime God discloses Himself, whether it is His justice or mercy, His holiness or wisdom, His power or eternity, there is a manifestation of His glory. 

The universe exists to show forth God's glory. The heavens declare the glory of God. The beast of the field gives Him glory. All creation is a revelation of God's glory. 

We see God's glory when He executes judgment or pours out kindness. Creation and history reveal Him and therefore, are reference points for His glory.  

Beyond this general revelation of God's glory in His works, God has revealed His glory in particular, personal ways. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. His presence may have manifested in a cloud of light, the shekinah glory.

In the wilderness, the glory of the Lord covered Israel by day and night. In Exodus 16:7, God fed the people with manna and as the manna was provided, the glory of the Lord was seen. At Mount Sinai when Moses went up to commune with God, the glory of the Lord covered the mountain (Exodus 24:15-17). 

At the completion of the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord filled the tent (Exodus 40:34). In Leviticus 9 when the priesthood was initiated and set apart unto God, the glory of the Lord was seen. In 1 Kings 8:11, as the temple was completed, the glory of the Lord came and filled it. 

God has revealed His glory through general revelation in creation, in history. And in particular times and places, God has manifested His glorious presence. But listen to Isaiah 40:5, 

"Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see it together."

Isaiah said to the people of his day that there is a manifestation of the glory of God coming and all flesh will see it together. It's interesting that he says, "The glory of the Lord will be revealed," as if this had never happened before, as if there is a fulness of glory coming that will outshine everything that has been seen on earth before, a greater disclosure, a fuller, clearer, brighter revelation. 

More than a cloud by day or pillar of fire by night 

more than smoke on a mountain and the blaring of trumpets 

more than an awesome presence in the tabernacle and temple

glory far more glorious than all of that would be manifest on earth:

the glory of God would be revealed in human form

Glory Revealed in Jesus

The birth, life and ministry of Jesus is the great revelation of the glory of God.  

In a manner unexplained but merely stated as fact and truth, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and cause her to conceive (Luke 1:35). In Matthew 17, at the transfiguration of Jesus, it says that a bright cloud overshadowed those on the mountain. That is the same word used by Gabriel to describe to Mary the conception of the Messiah.  

What was it that overshadowed Mary at the conception of Jesus and overshadowed the disciples on the mountain? It was the manifest glory of God. We call that the shekinah glory.

God Himself, the sovereign Creator of the universe, overshadowed Mary’s womb with creative power and glory. Because of this divine creative miracle, the angel declared, "The holy offspring shall be called the Son of God," (Luke 1:35).

Luke tells us that at the birth of Jesus, shepherds were in the field "and an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them ... and suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest,'" (Luke 2:9, 13,14). The glory of the Lord overshadowed the womb of Mary, enveloped the pastures of Bethlehem and the Child who was born was the radiance of God's glory.

The glory of God in Jesus was veiled because the womb of Mary could not have contained the full expression of the glory of God and because sinful human flesh could not have looked upon the unveiled glory of God. Yet Jesus was the embodiment of the glory of God. The Apostle John, who knew Jesus in His earthly ministry and in His resurrection, said, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father," (John 1:14).

The word begotten (monogenes) does not refer to an act of creation -- Jesus is the uncreated second Person of the Trinity, eternal Son of God, self-existent, uncreated. Monogenes refers to the unique, eternal relationship of Jesus and God the Father. Jesus existed in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity, was conceived in the womb of Mary, born into time. He was the glory of God in a body, the embodiment of the shekinah. 

"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance (brightness) of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:1-3).

 

Jesus was the shining revelation of God’s glory. Every time Jesus taught the truth, every time He healed a lame man or gave sight to the blind, every time He forgave sin, raised the dead or pronounced woe upon His persecutors, God was revealing His glory. 

In Hebrews 1:3b we read that that Jesus is “the exact representation (or image) of His (God's) nature.” The word image refers to an engraving, a figure stamped on a coin, an exact copy of something. Just as a coin bears the stamp or impress of something, so Jesus bore the exact stamp of God’s being. 

The word nature is hypostasis and can be translated essence, person or substance. Hypostasis is the real essence of something. What God essentially is, was made manifest, visible in Jesus. To say that Jesus is “ the exact representation of His (God’s) nature” is to say that He is the very image of God’s substance.

Whereas “the radiance of His glory” refers to the outer manifestation of the life of the Father in the ministry of Jesus, “the very image of His substance” refers to the inner essence of the Father in Jesus. Jesus was, is and ever shall be God in substance, essence and nature.

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). The fullness of the divine nature and attributes resided in Jesus. Though He humbled Himself to His Father’s will and though He voluntarily laid aside the exercise of some of the rights and privileges of Deity, 

Jesus Christ was and is the express image of God, the character, the fullness of God revealed in human form. The God who created a universe that is so vast we cannot measure it, the God who contains and transcends this universe, that God took human form and entered history.

Jesus is God and you see God manifest in Him: His judgment, His mercy, His power, His wisdom. He said to the Apostle Phillip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everything of the glory of God is “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is the revelation of the glory of the Lord in human form, though the glory was veiled in human flesh.  

On one occasion, Jesus took off the veil and revealed His glory:

“Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured (transformed) before them; and His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:1,2).  

Jesus pulled back His veil and Peter, James and John saw the fulness of His glory. It is as if Jesus was saying, "This is who I truly am."  

In the hours before the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you," (John 17:1). How did Jesus view the cross?  Another unveiling of God's glory.

Jesus continued to pray, "I glorified you on the earth, having accomplished the work which you have given me to do," (17:4). How did Jesus view His ministry? The unveiling of God’s glory.

Jesus continued to pray: "Now Father, glorify me together with yourself with the glory which I had with you before the world was," (17:5). How did Jesus view His impending death? A revealing of glory and a doorway into the presence of the glory of God.

Jesus continued to pray, "The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one ... Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see the glory which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world," (17:22, 24).

What was the desire of Jesus for His friends? That we would share His glory, see His glory and dwell in the presence of glory forever.

Jesus was the radiance of the glory of God, as if God was saying to the world, "Will you behold my glory and give me glory?"

The answer in Jerusalem was the same as in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ran from God. The glory of God was reveled in Jesus Christ and the world said, "We will not have this man to reign over us, away with Him, crucify Him."  

Isaiah said the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. In the fullness of time, God’s glory was birthed in human flesh. Some recognized Him, worshipped Him, followed Him. Most rejected Him. Someday He will return in unveiled, blazing glory and every eye will see Him.

But that day is not today. For now, we marvel at this holy mystery and we wonder:

How could Jesus, existing from eternity, be born into time? 

How could the Creator of all life become a creature?

How can God become Man and that Man remain God?

How can the Son of God become Son of Mary?

This is a mystery and we celebrate it every Christmas with a renewed sense of wonder.

“Veiled in flesh the God-head see,  hail the incarnate deity

pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel

Hark the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King!”

December 8, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 3

December 8, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 3

Hosea 3

3:1 God foreknew Gomer’s unfaithfulness yet commanded Hosea to take her as his wife. Now, she has rejected Hosea, chosen false lovers and false gods which had robbed her of her freedom and her dignity.  This is a picture of Israel and all humanity, rejecting our true Lover, the living God, our Creator / Redeemer, in favor of false gods and false lovers which in the end rob us of our freedom, blessing, dignity and life. Yet the Lord commands Hosea to pursue his fallen wife again and love her as a living illustration of God’s relentless pursuit of and undying love for faithless Israel and all of fallen humanity.

“A woman who is loved by her husband” refers to a continued reality of love, an unbroken state of being. Though she has not valued or respected Hosea’s love, she has not diminished his love. In the same way, humanity will never diminish God’s love — He loves with all of His being, perfectly and infinitely. But we can diminish our experience of God’s love and even miss every blessing which God, in His love, ordained for us. 

Hosea is not simply to pursue Gomer but love her “even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel.” His love for Gomer is intended to be a living portrait of God’s covenant commitment to Israel —  continuous, faithful, unbroken, relentless.

“Though they turn to other gods” — though they have turned away from the true and living God who brought them out of Egyptian slavery and into the land of promise, who has blessed them with abundance, who betrothed them to Himself as a bride to a Bridegroom; though they turn to gods who are not gods, thanking them for blessings which they did not provide, praying to them and worshipping them though they cannot respond; though Israel turns to idols into which powers of darkness have incarnated lies and destructive purposes, in spite of all this, the Lord has continued to pursue them and love the covenant people. “Love them like that,” the Lord says to Hosea.

The last phrase of the verse may be translated, “And love flagons of wine” or “And love raisin cakes.” Wine speaks of the drunken excess in the worship of fertility gods. Raisin cakes were a delicacy and probably offered to the idols and then eaten as part of the celebration. In doing this, the people were thanking their idols for the blessings of wheat and grapes, even though the false gods had nothing to do with their prosperity and were, in fact, robbing them of life and health. Jesus reminds us that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Yet people continue to worship the thief who steals their blessing and destroys their life.

Imagine God’s grief and anger in this. This was a time of great prosperity for some of the people and it is the Lord who blessed them with abundance. Yet the nation was not only refusing to give God thanks for His blessing. They were using the wheat and the raisins to give thanks to gods that are not gods. 

In doing this, they were giving themselves into communion with the demonic powers that incarnated themselves in the idols. When we discuss chapter nine, we will see the lethal seriousness of compromise with the powers of darkness.  One of the spiritual laws of the universe is that we are transformed into the image of whatever we worship and so in 9:10 we read, “But they came to Baal-peor and devoted (consecrated) themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved.”  Remove the word “detestable” and we see the principle: “They became as that which they loved.” We become in the likeness of that which we love and worship.

Israel was not only sinning against God in refusing to give Him thanks. They were not only sinning in giving thanks to false god. But to their destruction, they were giving themselves into transforming communion with powers of darkness which only intended national destruction.

3:2 Evidently, Gomer had fallen into slavery, possibly as a temple prostitute. Hosea purchased her for the price of 15 days wages and the cheapest of grains, barley.  The money and the barley may have equaled thirty pieces of silver, which was the price of a common slave.

She who is beloved by Hosea has been devalued by her lovers.  This again is a picture of Israel and all humanity, beloved of God but devalued by false gods and false lovers.  Our idols rob us of life, health, talent, sanity; they devalue us, yet God still seeks us.  We have been robbed, devalued by our gods, yet God still loves us enough to give His life for us.  Humanity’s value in terms of worldly price is not much yet in God’s sight we are infinitely precious. 

 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The Bridegroom God gave up everything to redeem those who have lost everything. Peter reminds us that we were redeemed, not “with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19).

The Bridegroom God left the glory of heaven to be born in human form so that He could pursue, awaken and purchase lost sinners from the slave markets of the world. Why did He do this at so great a cost to Himself? So that He might betroth us to Himself as His bride.

This pursuit of Gomer, this fresh invitation to a restored marriage, this purchasing of the bride who had become a slave, is a clear, vivid portrayal of God’s love for Israel — continuous, faithful, unbroken, relentless.

3:3 Hosea pledges faithfulness to Gomer and requires the same of her, though there is no expectation that she will ever act differently. This is a picture of the faithful, covenant love which God promises to Israel and to all who enter into covenant with Him. Even if we violate the covenant, God will be faithful and true. This is so much a part of God’s character that it is one of His names, Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11).

However, Hosea also says that there will be no intimacy between himself and Gomer. This may refer to a necessary season of cleansing before intimacy is restored or, less probably, it refers to a permanent state in their marriage.

We must be very clear that this does not mean that Hosea has ceased to love or care for Gomer — he has proven his love by purchasing her from slavery, a slavery that surely would have destroyed her in time. But she has broken the bonds of covenant, has had intimate relations with others. If intimacy is to be regained, she must turn her heart and open her heart to her covenant partner. She must surrender to a process of consecration. There can be no true intimacy where there is coldness, indifference, unfaithfulness. Hosea will not force his love on Gomer, though he demonstrates his love in redeeming her from slavery.

In a sense, she is to abide as a widow who has no husband, which is an accurate portrayal of her recent rejection of Hosea, living as if he were dead. This is a visible portrayal of the Lord’s relationship with Israel. It is not that the Lord is withholding His love from Israel but the bond of marriage has been broken by the nation, intimacy with the Lord has been set aside in favor of intimacy with demonically infused idols. Sin separates the sinner from God and the Lord will not violate Israel with His love. But He will call to the nation and confront them with the reality and the consequences of their choices. Confronting a covenant partner with the truth of self-destructive behavior is a high expression of love.

“So I will also be toward you.” Hosea asks nothing of Gomer that he is not willing to give to her. He requires that she shall be faithful to him but he also pledges his faithfulness to her. So it is with us. Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This is how the Lord loves us — with all His being.

3:4 In a very real sense, Israel had already lost king and prince, sacrifice and sacred pillar. This happened many years earlier whey they had rejected the true king, Rehoboam, son of Solomon and descendant of David. They had rejected the Jerusalem temple, priesthood and sacrificial system. In place of these divinely ordained offices, rituals and consecrated altars, they had substituted false kings, false priests, false gods and unholy altars. 

So God is portraying to Israel what the nation has already done — they have put aside king, sacrifice, sacred pillar. Motivated by love, the Lord presents His bride with the reality of her choices.

But there is also a future tense to these words — it is a prophecy of things to come. Gomer living in isolation is a portrait of Israel’s later exile from the land, after the Assyrian invasion. The Lord is showing the nation the future consequence of their choices if they will not repent.

The Lord warns Israel that there would come a time when the nation will lose even their false temples, false sacrificial system, false priests and kings. They will lose the places and rituals of worship which they have devalued through the worship of idols. They will lose the priesthood which was so completely unfaithful to the Lord. They will lose all political stability, for it their security was built on pretenders and usurpers, false leaders. They built on sand and not rock and what they built will be swept away.

The Lord saw clearly the coming Assyrian invasion and Israel’s destruction. He saw the conquest of the southern kingdom, Judah, and still later, after the people returned and rebuilt, the Lord saw complete annihilation by the Roman army, forty years after their rejection of their Messiah, Jesus. The Lord saw nineteen centuries when Israel would not exist. And though the nation has been reestablished politically, there is no temple, no priesthood, no sacrificial system. Indeed, “the sons of Israel will remain for many days” without those religious expressions of national identity.

Because God is a God of love and truth, He confronts nations, churches, men and women with the consequences of their choices. We are reminded of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:37,38).

The Lord sees the future clearly, infinitely more clearly than we do. His desire is to give us as much clarity as we are willing and able to receive. His desire is to bring us to an awareness of our heart and our times and to motivate repentance. The future can unfold into destruction or restoration. The difference is determined by our willingness to respond while we are able, while there is still time and the future is not yet set in stone.

But notice the final phrase, “without ephod or household idols.” During the time of exile, there would be a cleansing from the pollution of idols, a stripping away of that which was false and fatal. So it was that when the Jewish people returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity, they were finally free from the worship of false gods.

3:5 Hosea now prophesies a time of future restoration. After all the loss and destruction that would be brought about by national sin, the nation would someday return and would regain a renewed covenant relationship with God. This was future but the Lord saw it clearly and proclaimed it through Hosea. There was a return to the land during the days of the Persian king, Cyrus. But the nation was destroyed again by the Romans in 70 A.D. so there must be another return. We have seen this in our day — Israel has been regathered from world wide dispersion.

But this verse is still unfulfilled.  Hosea says that Israel “will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king.” Since David had already lived and died, this must be a reference to “great David’s greater Son,” the Lord Jesus. We recall how Jesus prayed over Jerusalem and prophesied, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:39). 

Through the prophet Zecharia the Lord said,  “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zecharia 12:10).

There is a season coming when Israel will seek the Lord. Hosea says that this will be, “In the last days.” Since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all of time is the end time but in the last days of the end time, the Lord will pour out “the Spirit of grace and of supplication” and the eyes of Israel shall be opened to realize that Jesus is their Messiah. The Apostle Paul says that in that day, “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). 

Notice this phrase, “They will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness.” The pressure of the end times and the goodness of God will draw Israel to the Lord. “Trembling” refers to reverence, a holy awe for the Lord. But notice it is “the goodness of God” that draws Israel. The Apostle Paul asks, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Israel will reverence not only God’s greatness but also His goodness, not only His majesty but His mercy, not only His power but His pardon. They will seek not only to flee the wrath to come but flee to His salvation. In that day the prophecy of Ezekiel will be established, “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He will feed them; He will feed them himself and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).

This has yet to be fulfilled but its fulfillment is certain for God has spoken. So it will be at the end of history. Israel will be devastated by the antichrist but the Lord will draw the nation to Himself and Israel will turn to the Lord.

What is true for Israel as a nation is also true for every man and woman and child. If we seek the Lord, we will be found by Him, as the Lord Himself said, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jere. 29:13).  

The picture of Hosea pursuing his unfaithful wife, the prostitute slave, Gomer, is a picture of God pursing Israel and all humanity. Why does God come seeking unfaithful souls? The reason is hidden in His heart. What must I do to motivate this love? Nothing. The motive lies within Himself.

When Judah was reclaimed by God after the Babylonian destruction, they had lost their nation and their temple.  They had lost all the glory of the Davidic kingdom.  But God reclaimed them because he loved them, not their glory.

God does not seek us for what we can bring Him.  He seeks us for ourselves.  What could Gomer bring to Hosea?  She had been completely devalued by her false lovers. She was only a slave.  God sent Hosea after her to demonstrate why He seeks us — for our own sake, because He loves us.  

When God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was not for anything they could give Him.  It was because He loved them. When the Lord came seeking them in the garden after they fell, when He covered them and promised a deliverer, it was because He loved them.

When the Lord called Abraham into covenant and through that covenant formed a nation, it was not for anything that Abraham, Isaac or Jacob could bring Him, not for anything the nation could give Him. The Lord’s motivation was love. 

Though we also have been devalued and robbed by the world, we are valued by the Bridegroom God who has entered history to pursue us, seeking us that He might awaken us to seek Him so that He may redeem us and reclaim us for Himself.  As the Lord reclaims us, we lay aside the false glory of the false gods which we once sought and worshipped.  Dying to self we are reborn in Christ. As He  lavishes His love and grace upon us we respond with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

December 1, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 2 (Con't)

December 1, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 2 (Con't)

Hosea Chapter 2

2:1 This verse connects to the theme of restoration which concluded chapter one. The Lord is looking ahead to the day when Israel will be restored as His covenant Bride.

Whereas in 1:6 Lo-ammi means “not my people”, Hosea is now commanded to say, “Ammi” — “my people.” In 1:9, Lo-ruhama means “not obtained compassion.” But now call the nation “Ruhama,” which means, “has obtained compassion.”

Though Israel is coming under judgment because they have refused to turn from their sin, the Lord’s desire for His covenant people is restoration. He is saying, “You are still my people … you may still obtain compassion.” This is a dual theme that we see through the ministry of Hosea— warning of judgment, promise of restoration.

This is also an example of the Lord calling into being those things which are not (see Rom. 4:17). Israel is an unfaithful Bride but the Bridegroom is calling them to be who they truly are and speaking that reality as if it is presently true.

2:2 It is as if the Lord is saying, “Let the children of the restoration, the faithful remnant, those who have not bowed before the idols and corrupted themselves, let them stand and contend with their unfaithful mother.” God is calling on the faithful of Israel to confront the reality of unfaithfulness in their nation, confront the corrupting sin and contend for the covenant.

In every generation God contends for His Bride through a faithful remnant whom He calls to pray, to speak truth and to confront that which violates truth. It is a confrontation of love — reveal sin, warn of consequences, call for repentance and promise grace.

“She is not my wife and I am not her husband” is not the Lord disavowing covenant relationship with His Bride. It is the Lord declaring the truth of Israel’s declaration. It is Israel that has disavowed covenant relationship. It is Israel that has acted unfaithfully. The Lord is confronting this because He desires to restore what has been lost.

Israel had made covenant with the Bridegroom God who desired to lavish His goodness and blessing upon the nation. In return, He desired and required that they would love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Love for God would be expressed through faithful worship and obedience to His moral laws which express His moral purity. This was intended to be far more than mere religion. It was to be an intimate, loving relationship between the God of the covenant and the people of the covenant.

But Israel was violating its covenant with the Lord. “Put away your adultery from between your breasts” refers to jewelry dedicated to an idol, a false god. The jewelry represented not merely worship of false gods but a relationship with them. And it was worn next to the heart.  Women in Israel, obviously with the approval of their husbands, were giving their affection to demon gods and wearing the emblems of this idolatrous affection next to their heart.

The Lord confronts Israel but how typical of God — He does not bring devastating judgment until He first warns them and offers grace. We see this same pattern in the messages to the seven churches in revelation.The church at Thyatira was being corrupted by a false prophetess but Jesus confronted the church and exposed their sin, offered remedy, promised grace and even gave the false prophetess time to repent, all of which was an expression of mercy (Rev. 2:20,21).

2:3 What God will strip away is the facade of religiousness that covers their sin. Jesus had harsh words for people who were corrupt on the inside but respectably religious on the outside. A loving God will expose the sin that would destroy us. A gracious Bridegroom God will contend for the high calling and purity and destiny of His Bride.

All sin separates us from God, has a destructive impact on the purpose He has designed for us, resists His blessing toward us and brings us into contact with darkness. But the worship of false gods is especially dangerous and destructive. So the Lord exposes this sin so He can reclaim His covenant people and save them from the self-destroying impact of their sin.  

Turning the fruitful land to desert is an act of justice equal to the crime. The people have worshipped fertility gods so the Lord withdraws His blessing on the fertility of the land. The nation had given credit for fertility and fruit to gods that are not gods, demons. They not only withheld thanks to the true God who had truly blessed them with fruitful harvests, but worse, they gave thanks to demons.  

God’s action is an act of justice but we may also say that it is an act of mercy to expose and judge this sin. If the people continue to reap blessing while living self-destructive, demonically centered  lives, they will have no reason or motive to change and will eventually lose everything. It is mercy for God to expose the sin which will ultimately destroy people whom He loves.  It is mercy to remove some or even most of their fruitfulness before they lose it all. If you love someone, you try to expose whatever will harm them and try to deliver them from destruction.  

Removing blessing on the land will create pressure on the people. Chastisement creates pressure which creates change. Because God loves Israel, because this is His Bride, He contends with her, exposes the reality of her sin and applies pressure toward the goal of producing change.

2:4 Gomer’s children represent the fruit of unholy relationships. Children in this context could refer to the prosperity that Israel has gained while being unfaithful to the true God who has blessed the nation. So He warns the nation that He is preparing to withdraw His compassion, that is, He will withdraw their prosperity.


Children also refer to the nation that was counting on the Lord’s protection while breaking covenant with Him. In the coming crisis, when Assyria invades, the Lord will have no compassion. The covenant has been broken and the people should not count on the Lord’s protection.

God cannot bless, but will judge, the fruit of our lives that is produced through unholy relationships with false gods and false lovers which violate our covenant with God.  God does not bless unfaithfulness, corruption, idolatry and spiritual adultery.  God judges this.

As we mature in our relationship with God, we love Him and reverence Him more.  We celebrate His mercy but are awed by His holy love for justice.  We live in a universe designed by a loving, just and holy God.  There are physical laws undergirding this universe but there are also moral laws weaved into the structure of the universe.  We may be comfortable with this reality or uncomfortable, agree or disagree.  Nevertheless, the moral reality undergirding this world is just as real as the physical reality.  Gravity is real.  So is the justice of God. Electro-magnetism is real. So is the moral goodness of God. Moral laws are just as real as physical laws and we violate either at our own peril.

2:5 “I will go after my lovers who give me my bread…”  

Another translation could read, “Let me go after my lovers who give me my bread.” Israel’s strong desire was to break free of any restraint — “Let me go.” She wants to be free to pursue the false gods whom she credited for her provision when it was God who provided.  Again, she is not only refusing to give thanks to the Lord for her prosperity but she is crediting demonically empowered false gods. This would be like a husband or wife being blessed over and over again by his or her spouse and not only refusing to thank their covenant partner but giving thanks to a false lover.

Satan lies and deceives us into believing that he or the world is our provider.  And so people pursue false lovers — false philosophies, false religions, bow down before the gods of gold and steel, compromise with every social and political trend no matter how corrupt.  But in the end, false gods and false lovers are always and only false and their blessing is only an illusion, a mirage.  

There is only one God in this universe who loves us perfectly, knows us perfectly and desires to resource our lives. In His wisdom He designed a purpose for each of us.  By His awesome power and gentle outworking of grace, He draws us to Himself, calls us into intimate, covenant love with Himself and works out His purpose for our good and for the blessing of others through us. God was Israel’s provider and God is our provider.  The others are pretenders, false lovers.

2:6 “I will hedge her way.”  

This is an act of mercy.  When covenant people stray, God puts up a wall around us to prevent us from greater sin, to keep us from destruction.  We have to climb over the wall, push through the thorny hedge to stray further into sin. 

The Lord dealt with Solomon in a parallel manner — hedging him in with his sin until he was weary of all pleasure.  All that he gained of wealth and pleasure became to him nothing more than chasing after wind. A man of wealth and fame was asked, “Now that you have reached the top of the mountain, what would you say to yourself if you were just starting out.” He replied, “I would say that there is nothing at the top.”  God hedges some people in with the thorns of their empty success.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” (Matt. 7:13).  This broad way is easy to find, delightful to travel, for a season, but all who enter it journey to destruction.  

Jesus also said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt 7:14).  Yet this narrow way is paved with the light and benediction of Christ our Shepherd and Great High Priest.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:6).  When we are in right relationship with Him, when we are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, God will bring us through the narrow way that leads to life.

The narrow way includes God’s abundant provision for our lives. Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:25,26,33).

Jesus does not mean that we should not make wise plans for the future. But at the center of our planning should be the Lord our Provider. The word provision is derived from two Latin words — pro videre, which means, to see ahead or to see before. God is able to provide for us because He sees us, sees our needs and sees the future. Really, it is not so much that God sees the future; rather, in His eternity He exists in our tomorrow and our yesterday while meeting us today.  He is able to provide because He sees. We do not need to bow down before the gods of our culture, do not need to compromise our souls in order to put bread on the table. God is our provider.

Israel had forgotten this essential truth, that the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them would always be their Provider. Worse, they were giving credit for their provision to demons gods who intended Israel’s destruction. So the Lord promised to hedge her in behind a thorny wall of protection. But they would not abide within that place of security.

2:7 “She will pursue her lovers … she will seek them but will not find them.”

God allows each human being the exercise of free, sovereign will and nations also act sovereignly.  Yet there are times when our chosen way is so contrary to the purpose and heart of God, our pursuit of vain idols is so pregnant with self destruction, that God interrupts our freedom and frustrates our plans.  God interrupts us by shining light onto our choices, giving us the clarity we had avoided.  Other times, He casts darkness into our path (Job 19:8), hedges us in, allows us to grope helplessly, revealing our vulnerability and the futility of our dim, self made lights.  God’s desire in this is that we would say, “I will go back to my first husband”, returning to Him and to the covenant love which He desires to lavish upon us.  

Our way of return is clearly marked, for the Way is a Person, Jesus Christ.  Time and history are divided by the year of His birth, A.D., the Year of our Lord.  “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” He says (John 14:6).  The way of His living presence is lit by the brightness of His truth. It is made rich by the generosity of His grace.  

It is a narrow way, a sacrificial way, a way that runs contrary to the broad avenues of this world.  It is a way of paradox, passing through “the fellowship of His sufferings” into “the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  It is a counter-intuitive journey, leading us through conformity to His death into the glory of His resurrection (Phil 3:10,11).  It is the way of the cross that leads to life.

Consider the grace of God, the immeasurable depths of His kindness and mercy.  He established covenant with Israel and called the nation His Bride.  Though rejected by His Bride, though she bestowed her love on false gods, yet there is still grace with God, grace that calls to the beloved, grace that woos the beloved, grace that dies for the beloved, grace that makes a way for the beloved to say, “I will go back to my first husband.”  

The thought behind those words is found throughout Scripture.  The prodigal son, weary of life in the far country, said, “I will get up and go to my father…” (Lk 15:18).  When he returned, he found his father waiting to embrace him.  So with the human heart, prone to wander, and so with the heart of God, waiting to embrace all who return.

  

The recorded history of human civilization is the outworking of Jeremiah’s words, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jere 10:23).  But salvation history, and the testimony of redeemed saints in heaven, echo with these words, “I will return.”  The final word of history is not humanity’s lost state but rather, God’s redeeming grace.

Notice in this the patience of God and the largeness of His heart. Though Israel had rejected Him, the God who had betrothed the nation to Himself as a Bridegroom to a bride, and though the nation had rejected Him after centuries of blessings, and though the nation had attributed those blessings to demon gods and was worshipping those gods, nevertheless, God pursues them, calls to them, judges them for the purpose of bringing them back into faithful covenant relationship with Himself.

“It was better for me then” — the Bridegroom Judge applies the pressure of judgment to bring His unfaithful Bride back to the remembrance of His goodness.

2:8 “She does not know that it was I who gave her the grain…”  

The gifts which the sinner wastes were given by God but Israel had forgotten God as the Source of blessing, instead giving credit, thanks and praise to demon gods.   In fact, Israel was using the grain, the wine and oil as thank offerings to Baal, the false god.  Consider God’s heart break: rejected by His Bride, Israel; seeing the gifts which He gave to His bride being used to express devotion to a false god. Israel not only has forgotten God, the Source of blessing, but gives credit for that blessing to the idol, the demon, the false god.

The phrase, “Which they used for Baal” surely means that they were offering to Baal the gold and silver which God had provided. But the phrase may also be translated, “Which they crafted for Baal.” This may mean that they were using the silver and gold which God had given them to fashion images of Baal.

How common in a God-rejecting world that men and women would use the gifts God has given them and make their ambition their god and bow before their gods of power, wealth, pleasure, fame, refusing to give praise to God for the blessings of life, but giving praise to gods which are not god 

and using God’s blessings to praise their idols.

Imagine a wife cooking a bountiful, nourishing dinner for her husband and then he, in the strength which that meal gave him, goes out and commits adultery. How her heart would break! Or imagine a husband giving a beautiful dress to his wife, who then goes out using that dress to attract an adulterous lover. But this is what Israel had done to God. Indeed, this is what every sinner does to the God who gives us breath to praise Him and bread that we may serve Him.

2:9 “Therefore I will take back my grain…”  

God removes the fruit, the blessing when we waste His gifts on spiritual adultery.  He takes His gifts back, not because He does not love us but to hinder our self-destructive choices and to enable us to experience the consequences of our choices.  When we bind ourselves to false gods, when we enter into spiritually adulterous relationships with idols (whatever they may be: success, wealth, power, pleasure, false religious systems), we will eventually be destroyed by the idol.  If God allowed us to profit from spiritual unfaithfulness, to continue to enjoy His blessings while we destroy our life, He would not be loving us truly.  A loving God will withdraw some or much of His blessing and allow us to experience the truth, the reality, the consequence of our rejection of Him. It is surely true that the misuse of blessing will lead to its loss.


Further, the removal of blessing will produce pressure on Israel. The application of pressure can bring about change. So the removal of blessing is really an expression of grace.

2:10 “And then I will uncover her lewdness.”

The word lewdness is “nabluwth” from the root “nabal” — wickedness / foolishness. Sin is not just wickedness — it is folly for sin separates people from the God who purposed our lives and contends for our destiny. The Lord promises to uncover Israel’s folly, to shine light into their darkness. The Bridegroom God confronts His Bride, exposes her sin because He loves Israel.

God does this in our lives also. He not only responds to our sin by progressively removing His blessing. He also responds by shining light into the truth of our condition. Unless God illumined our darkness with unflinching light, unless God uncovered the reality of our deceptions, we would have no hope. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Being blinded by the god of this world, we cannot turn from our sin until we see it, recognize it for what it is. So this shining of light into our darkness is an act of grace.

In those times of unveiling we cry, “I am disillusioned.”  Oh what a great act of mercy from the hand of God, to be dispossessed of our illusions!  How kind of God, to remove the credibility of that which was only an illusion.

“And no one will rescue her out of My hand.”  Another act of grace.

The powers of darkness would shield the sinner from correction so that they might prolong the season of sin and increase the destruction of the sinner. But God will not allow this. Sinners would surely deliver themselves from the judgment and the consequence of sin and prolong the brief season of pleasure. But God will not allow them. God will allow no one to prevent His confrontation with Israel because He is the Bridegroom God who jealously desires to deliver His Bride.

“No one will rescue her out of My hand.” This is an act of grace.

**

2:11 “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts … all her festal assemblies …”

Israel had rejected the Jerusalem temple because it was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. In place of the temple, they had built their own profane places of worship. They had rejected God’s ordained priesthood and had established their own false priests. They had rejected the true and living God and had married themselves to idols which are not God. But they may still have observed some of the traditional festivals of the Jewish year, merging them with the worship of calves and bulls. 

However, traditional religious ceremony combined with the worship of culturally acceptable idols is unacceptable to the Lord and He will judge this. We see this in many churches today — traditional Christianity married to the latest trends, philosophies and culturally / politically acceptable customs. The wedding of tradition and idol is offensive to God because it destroys people whom God loves. 

People today demand of God, “Affirm me in my brokenness.” God replies, “No, but I will transform you into my wholeness.” People cry, “Affirmation.” God replies, “No, transformation.” The church that offers affirmation while denying transformation will be judged by God.

It is possible, though, that these feasts and festal assemblies may have been nothing more than Baal / Asherah ceremonies. It may have been outright idolatry with no remnant of traditional Yahweh worship. Surely the Lord would judge that.

2:12 In addition, the Lord says, “I will destroy her vines and fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages which my lovers have given me.’” Again and again the Lord warns that He will remove and destroy the blessing which He gave but which Israel ascribes to the false gods. 

God has designed the universe so that the joy of sin, the profit from injustice and the ecstasy of rebellion are short-lived.  Our idols may bring pleasure for a season but the season soon passes.  There is an end to the joy, the feast, the abundance which God gives, when we turn from Him. The world celebrates its rebellion against God but there is an end to the celebration and God takes responsibility for the ending: “I will put an end to all her mirth … I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.”  The seducing music of the idol will cease by the hand of God and how merciful that hand.  If we continued to find joy, satisfaction, fulfillment in life lived apart from God, we would have no motivation to return and our future would only be destruction.

“I will destroy her vines and fig trees.”

Earlier the Lord had said that He would take back the grain and the new wine “in its season” (2:9). That is, He would judge the fruit of their labor in the season of harvest. Now He says that He will destroy the vines and the trees from which Israel harvested — He will destroy the source of their harvest. Trees and vines represent the future — the Lord will judge future harvests. The same judgments which the Lord had laid on Egypt (see Psalm 105:33), which led to Israel’s liberation from slavery, are now placed on Israel, for they have become as a pagan nation. The Lord is increasing the pressure for the purpose of creating change.

“Which my lovers have given me.” 

The reason for escalated judgment is Israel’s continued lack of discernment, continuing to believe that these gods-that-are-not-gods are blessing her, when in reality they are robbing her of her very life.  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But Israel was praising the thief who was robbing her, while robbing God their Provider of the praise He was due.

Sin deceives, blinds us to the truth that we are being devastated. Again we recall the words of the Apostle Paul, in reference to those who were perishing in their rejection of God, “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).  The false gods of this world, veiled in gold and silver and steel, wrapped in pulsating lights of icy fame, in titanium-diamond sheaths of naked power and exploding neon lights of pleasure, are gods who blind their prey before they destroy it.

“And I will make them a forest …”

The land of milk and honey, the inheritance of the covenant people, the Land of Promise, will now become a wilderness. This happened when the Assyrians conquered the nation, slaughtered the inhabitants and took many of the survivors into captivity — the land was desolated. It happened when the Babylonians overthrew the southern kingdom. It happened centuries later when the Romans destroyed north and south. The cultivated vineyards and fields were overgrown with weeds and thickets of trees. Desert overran the watered gardens.

“And the beasts of the field will devour them.”

Surely it was so. The beasts of Assyria, Babylon and Rome devoured the bounty that God had lavished upon the unfaithful nation. There is a divine purpose in this — in the wilderness, we sometimes hear and see more clearly.

2:13 “So that she forgot me.”

It is not simply that Israel went after false gods. It was that she forgot the Lord. The reason the Lord had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt was to bring the nation to Himself, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He is the Bridegroom God who calls people to enter into covenant communion with Him. Israel’s sin was not merely that they worshipped gods that are not gods and gave credit to those gods for her blessings. More than that — she forgot the God who truly had blessed her. Not merely did she turn from that God to serve idols, did not merely reject that God. Israel forgot the Lord, lived as though the Lord did not exist.

2:14 “I will allure her”

Paul speaks of “the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). The same Lord who breaks the hard heart uses severe mercy to bring healing. God uses kindness to draw us to Himself or as

Paul reminds us, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). David the Psalmist exhorts us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

“Bring her into the wilderness.” 

God creates gardens but when we separate ourselves from God, we create wilderness where once there was beauty and bounty. Adam and Eve were born into a garden of blessing but when they separated themselves from God, the ground was cursed with thorns and thistles. We would hope that thorn and thistle drew them to repentance.

God’s judgment on our sin is for the purpose of enabling us to experience the wilderness we have created and chosen by our rejection of Him.  It is God who will draw Israel into this wilderness, not to destroy His Bride but to confront her with His truth and His compassion. This is an act of love.

“And speak kindly to her.”

“Speak kindly” literally means, “speak upon her heart” or “speak to her heart.” This is a conversation of intimacy — the Bridegroom God whispering to His Bride, to turn her heart. It is the word of the Lord who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Humanity’s failure invites the Lord’s mercy. The sweetness of grace is offered to heal the wounds created by the deadly, counterfeit sweetness of sin.

The purpose of this wilderness season is so that God can “speak kindly, tenderly” to Israel.  Wilderness is a place of silence, the noisome music of our idols has ceased, has evaporated like morning dew in a desert.  Wilderness is a place of barrenness, the vine and the fig tree are withered; the illusion of our prosperity and success no longer distracts us.  The false gods have been exposed, over thrown; there is nothing to deceive us.  The light is quite blinding in the wilderness, the silence deafening.   Blinded by light and deafened by silence, we see and hear with clarity.  In that place and time, God speaks tenderly to the Bride who rejected Him.  The purpose of wilderness is to reestablish truthful conversation, then communion between the Bridegroom God and His unfaithful covenant partner.

Let us recall the purpose of wilderness: 

1. Wilderness is a place of confrontation with the word of the living God. That word penetrates down to the deepest recesses of our being, “Piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr. 4:12). The word of the Lord reveals our sin and reveals the grace that restores.

2. Wilderness is a place of discipline, making sin distasteful, odious, causing the rebel to hate what he once loved. The prodigal son learned to despise his unrestrained lifestyle when his riches and sensuality emptied out into the company of pigs.

3. Wilderness is a place of revelation, communion. So it was when Israel left Egypt, the wilderness of Elam became a place of provision. The wilderness of Marah became a place of healing. The wilderness at Mt. Sinai became a place of revelation and communion.

4. Wilderness is a place of preparation. In the wilderness of Sinai, Israel under Moses was made ready to possess the land of promise.

5. Wilderness is a place of breaking and healing, where the hard heart is broken with the grace of truth and the broken heart is made whole with the same grace and truth. 

So with Israel as Hosea declared the word of the Lord. The nation would be allured into a wilderness time for the purpose of preparing a faithful remnant to posses the land and the blessings and the covenant they have been given.

2:15 “Then I will give her vineyards.”  

The Bridegroom God is looking ahead to a future day when wilderness has had its intended impact and Israel has returned to faithful, covenant love with the God of her betrothal. When relationship is restored, so is provision and blessing.  

“I will give her vineyards from there.” From where? From the wilderness. The wilderness becomes a highway into blessing.

But notice where this place of restoration will be: in the Valley of Achor.  Recall that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and conquered Jericho, they were to keep none of the plunder of the city.  The wealth of the city was cursed.  But a man named Achan violated the ban.  In his own words, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21).  This act of disobedience brought judgment upon the nation and cost Achan his life.

The sentence of execution was carried out in the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:24).  Achor was a place of punishment and death, a place where judgment was placed on the guilty man and lifted from the nation.  Now hundreds of years later, through Hosea, God calls Achor “a door of hope,” for it is in this place that God will speak tenderly to Israel.  

This wilderness place with its history of disobedience, death and shame now becomes a doorway of hope for the very people who disobeyed God, broke covenant with God and covered themselves in death and shame.  Achor becomes a wilderness entrance into restored covenant relationship with God.

The valley of Achor is where vineyards are restored and therefore it is a place where music is restored, “She will sing there as in the days of her youth…” Achor is not only the place where Israel hears from God. It is also the place where she answers, where she again sings songs of faithful covenant love to the faithful, loving God of the covenant.

As we have said, wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation, preparing us for covenant service and there was work for Israel to do.  God wanted a covenant people through whom He could shine His light and speak His truth into a lost world.  God expects us to move from the solitude of the wilderness to the crossroads of the world.  Solitude fits us for the multitude.  The bush burned for Moses in the solitude of the desert; then he went to Egypt, confronted Pharaoh, led a nation out of slavery.  The still, small voice of God spoke to Elijah in the silence of the cave; then he returned to complete his prophetic ministry. 

Jesus returned from the lonely temptations of the wilderness full of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Then He taught, healed, cast out demons, preached the Sermon on the Mount.  John the Baptist grew strong in the desert and there the message and ministry of repentance was birthed in his heart. It was on the barren island of Patmos that John the disciple saw and heard the revelation of heavenly things.  John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress in the solitude of a prison cell.  The list is unending.  Wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation.  

Achor is also a picture of the wilderness times and places where God leads us to the cross of Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus bore the judgment of a faithless world which has rejected Creator God.  By Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, the possibility of restored covenant relationship with God is available to all who will repent and turn again to God.  At the cross we hear God speak tenderly, “Forgiven, all is forgiven. Come away my beloved and know my love for you.” 

At the cross we reply, “My Lord, my Beloved” and we wonder at this mighty Creator God who became the suffering Redeemer God so that we could know Him as the Bridegroom God.  At the cross we surrender to unmeasured love and pour out our love in response.

There is also a far future fulfillment to this promise. Someday the Bridegroom King will return and reign over the house of Israel. Indeed, He will reign over the entire earth. The people of the covenant will come and worship Him and the land will be restored to the fruitfulness and fertility of Eden.

2:16,17 “‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.’”

“In that day” refers to the time of restoration after the wilderness season.  In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness and adultery, the Bridegroom God still sees the nation as His Bride and looks forward to the day when Israel will again refer to Him as Ishi, “My husband.”  

Baali means my master or my Baal. The name of Baal, the pagan idol which the Israelites had loved in place of God, would be removed from their mouth.  This signifies a changed heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34).  This is what God wants from all of us: for our heart to be set on Him and our mouths expressing the affection of our heart.  This is what it means to be in a covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God.

Baali may also be interpreted as a reference to God, in which the Lord is saying that you will no longer call me “my Master”, in the sense of taskmaster or ruler.  But you will call me “husband”. This refers to Israel finally receiving the revelation that the Lord is not merely their Master Law Giver, Ruler and Judge but also, the Bridegroom God who desires the exchange of covenant love with His Bride.

This has yet to be entirely fulfilled either in Israel or in the church. Israel is not yet ready to receive Jesus as the Bridegroom Messiah but they will be someday. Neither is the church yet “a bride made ready”. But we will be someday.

Someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment and He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). How can we love God with all our being? Only as we experience His love for us, His delight in us. Then we pour His love back upon Him.

2:18 “In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish (break) the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. ”

This verse looks beyond Hosea’s day, beyond history.  God promises that reconciliation between Himself and Israel will result in the blessing and restoration of all creation.  In that day beyond time, a covenant of peace will be reestablished between humanity and nature.  The peace between God and his covenant Bride will be reflected in peace across the earth.  The curse that fell on the earth when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, a curse expressed in thorns and enmity among the creatures of the earth and the people of the earth, that curse will be lifted.  As the glory of God settles over the earth, the bow and the sword will be abolished; war itself will be abolished.  The lion and lamb will lay down together, (see Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 8:18-22).  All creation groans for that day (Rom 8:22); churches pray for that day.  Hosea glimpsed that day from afar.

What a day that will be.  Today, we achieve moments of pseudo-peace by matching sword against sword.  The threat of violence is restrained by the promise of retaliatory violence, madness restrained by madness, achieving a state of being that is both unnerving and unpeaceful.  But what a strange vision is this — peace in the absence of weapons; peace, because each sword is broken, because the passion that would wield the sword is now fulfilled in the outpoured love of this passionate God.  Only God can bring about that day and God will in the day when He reconciles with His bride.

Yet even now we can know a measure of true peace as we are each reconciled to God, as we each become individual members of God’s covenant Bride. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). Knowing this peace, we then become instruments of Christ’s reconciliation.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9).  Jesus, the Son of God showed us the way of the peacemaker.  He disarmed His enemies with the gift of His own life.  He was the Lamb whose shed blood broke the power of the violent warrior, the hateful demagogue, the unjust judges.  As we approach the end of time, there will be a generation of God-lovers who will overcome the dragons of this world by proclaiming the testimony of this Lamb and by the gift of their own lives (Rev 12:11).

2:19,20 “I will betroth you to Me forever.”

The Bridegroom God declares His everlasting, undying love for His Bride. Though she has been unfaithful, the Lord has not rejected her. He pursues her and will betroth her to Himself forever.

“I will betroth you.” To whom does the word “you” refer? Unfaithful, weak sinners. God is not ashamed to call us His Bride. Three times the word betroth is used. The Lord desires far more than merely to forgive our sin and declare us to be righteous. He wants more than to merely partner with us in ministry. He wants to establish an eternal relationship of intimate, loving communion with us.

Betrothal, in Hosea’s day, was the official beginning of marriage, of covenant, and here the prophet gives voice to God’s purpose to reestablish everlasting covenant with Israel. This is also the desire of the Bridegroom God for all of His covenant people — to betroth us to Himself forever.  

Our covenant relationship with God will be consistent with His heart, His being. God will betroth us in righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and faithfulness.  Covenant will be on God's terms, according to His ethical and moral standards.  These are, in fact, His bridal gifts to His beloved.

He will betroth us in a way that displays His righteousness and justice. God is both Just and Justifier of the unjust (Romans 3:26). Righteousness is more than just a declaration — it is a state of being in which the domination of sin has been broken, we are free to enjoy relationship with a holy God, empowered to work with a creative God, energized with a dynamic that transforms us from who we were to who we will be.

God will betroth us in a way that displays His lovingkindness and compassion  — lavishing mercy and grace upon us. “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jere. 29:11).

God will betroth us in a way that displays His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, faithfulness to all He is and says and does.


But these gifts are also imparted into His betrothed. The Lord not only declares us to be just, He also imparts into us His righteousness  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Being made righteous, we are able to walk justly and to do justice. 

He pours His lovingkindness and compassion into us and enables us to respond with love, “We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

“Then you will know the Lord.”

Covenant will be based on the true knowledge of God:  To enter into relationship with the Lord is to know Him.  “Know” is a word of intimacy.  God wants us to know Him intimately as He knows us.  Intimate knowledge of God results in transformation into God’s likeness.  We become like the One whom we worship and adore.  Paul says that we are “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One” who created us (Col. 3:10).  John says that in the day of the Lord’s return to earth, we will be like Him, “Because we will see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).

We hear in this the exultant, rapturous joy of the Lord, “Then you will know me and love me as I have known and loved you.” Past unfaithfulness is forgotten and forgiven, there is only this future of unbroken union. The Lord is looking ahead not merely to the restoration of the nation Israel; not merely to the raising up of a church that will enjoy His presence throughout the centuries. He is looking to the end of time, to a Bride made ready and the marriage feast of the Lamb. 

Is it possible that a nation which had rejected the Lord and crucified its Messiah would someday confess, receive and worship that Messiah? Yes. There will a great harvest of Jewish believers and in that day, “All Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

Is it possible that men and women, Jew and Gentile, having lived lives of sin and rebellion, would be redeemed and transformed into a Bride made ready for eternal communion with God?  Yes. To the church at Corinth, first generation Christians who had come out of pagan immorality or religious unbelief, the Apostle said, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2).

2:21 “‘It will come about in that day that I will respond,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth.’”

Again Hosea reminds us that the betrothal of the Bridegroom God and His Bride will call forth a new harmony of creation. Renewal of covenant between God and redeemed humanity results in the renewal of the whole earth.  

In the beginning, humanity was God’s gardener over creation.  Our broken relationship with Creator God had the effect of breaking our relationship with creation. When humanity fell from grace, a curse came upon all of nature.  Creation groans for release from its corruption and will be released in this coming day when the curse is canceled.  Hosea says that in that day, God will command His blessings and there will be a restoring of blessing on the earth.  

Nature itself will respond to the marriage of the Bridegroom God and His Bride. The heavens will pour out a Bridal shower of rain and the earth will release a wedding gift of flowering buds and abundant harvest.

2:22 “And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.”

Jezreel means “God sows.” Whereas in 1:4 Jezreel referred to the sowing of judgment upon Israel, now it refers to the sowing of mercy and grace. Heaven and earth will respond to the sowing of God with abundant grain, wine and oil. When the people of God are brought into harmony with the Lord, then earth and heaven are brought into harmony together and with God’s purpose.

This is a promise for the end of time when all the world is reconciled to God but it is also a blessing in history.  When we live in covenant with God, there is nothing to separate us from His desire to release blessing in our lives and through us.

The prophet Joel saw that future day, “And in that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water” (Joel 3:18).


Amos also saw that day, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved’” (Amos 9:13).

The greatness of God’s blessing will be so great in this future day that the reaper of the harvest will not be finished before the plowman and sower of the next harvest will overtake him. 

2:23 “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her … and I will say …”

Notice it is God who takes the initiative in all redemptive activity: “I will sow ... I will have compassion ...  I will say…” The Bridegroom God pursues us, calls us, awakens us, turns us and draws us to Himself.  God offers a covenant relationship of intimate love in which we know Him as He knows us. In this communion we share in the life of God.

But there is a human response required: “And they will say, ‘You are my God.’”  

At some point, we must respond to the God who has set His desire on us. Covenant between the Bridegroom God and a bride must be ratified by two parties, not one.  This covenant must be rooted in two hearts, not one.  God sows into our hearts the incredible good news of His love for us, His forgiving grace toward us, His Self-sacrifice on our behalf.  But each soul must answer, “You are my God.”  Otherwise, we will not experience the blessings of the covenant.

“I will sow her for Myself in the land”

Throughout the ages, God has sown the seed of His love, His light and His truth into this world and into human hearts. The result of God’s sowing is a great harvest of souls who have said “Yes” to the God of the covenant. Now it is we who are sown into the earth. 

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus said, “The field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38). We are a kingdom of priests and prophets, called out of darkness into the marvelous light of grace, proclaiming the presence in history of the Bridegroom God. The Lord has sown us into the world so that there will be a continuing harvest of souls to the end of the age. 

Sowing seed involves the dying of the seed. How else will a harvest be born except the seed dies? So it is that in service to the Bridegroom God, we die to our self will day by day. But for some followers of Christ, dying refers to the pouring out of life itself.

It grieves me that the Bride is persecuted in some countries, that the Bride suffers. I pray that the Lord will grant grace to His Bride and turn the hearts of the persecutors and break the power of those who would harm His Bride. But I cannot pray that the Lord remove His Bride from persecution — she is His witness there, He is sowing her into the soil of those people groups. One of the characteristics of the end time church, the Bride made ready, is that she conquers “because of the blood of the Lamb,”  and because of the word of her testimony and because she does not love her life, “even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11).

The church is Christ’s gift to the world. Through the church, the presence of the Bridegroom God is made known to the world. But we are more than mere priests and prophets, more than partners in ministry with the Lord. Far more grand — we are His holy Bride, manifesting His life, His grace, His covenant love.

Far more important to the Lord than our works, our gifts, our ministry, is the relationship out of which our works, gifts and ministry arise. When Jesus sent seventy of His disciples out to minister, they came back rejoicing, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus replied, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). 

Partnership with Jesus in ministry is wonderful but far more glorious is the relationship out of which this partnership is born. We are His betrothed, the Bride of the Bridegroom God.

There is also a reference to Israel in this verse. God sowed His covenant people into the nations and in the last days will gather Israel to Himself. There is coming a great harvest of Jewish believers in the Messiah and that will be a sign of the times.

November 24, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 2

November 24, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 2

Hosea Chapter 2

2:1 This verse connects to the theme of restoration which concluded chapter one. The Lord is looking ahead to the day when Israel will be restored as His covenant Bride.

Whereas in 1:6 Lo-ammi means “not my people”, Hosea is now commanded to say, “Ammi” — “my people.” In 1:9, Lo-ruhama means “not obtained compassion.” But now call the nation “Ruhama,” which means, “has obtained compassion.”

Though Israel is coming under judgment because they have refused to turn from their sin, the Lord’s desire for His covenant people is restoration. He is saying, “You are still my people … you may still obtain compassion.” This is a dual theme that we see through the ministry of Hosea— warning of judgment, promise of restoration.

This is also an example of the Lord calling into being those things which are not (see Rom. 4:17). Israel is an unfaithful Bride but the Bridegroom is calling them to be who they truly are and speaking that reality as if it is presently true.

2:2 It is as if the Lord is saying, “Let the children of the restoration, the faithful remnant, those who have not bowed before the idols and corrupted themselves, let them stand and contend with their unfaithful mother.” God is calling on the faithful of Israel to confront the reality of unfaithfulness in their nation, confront the corrupting sin and contend for the covenant.

In every generation God contends for His Bride through a faithful remnant whom He calls to pray, to speak truth and to confront that which violates truth. It is a confrontation of love — reveal sin, warn of consequences, call for repentance and promise grace.

“She is not my wife and I am not her husband” is not the Lord disavowing covenant relationship with His Bride. It is the Lord declaring the truth of Israel’s declaration. It is Israel that has disavowed covenant relationship. It is Israel that has acted unfaithfully. The Lord is confronting this because He desires to restore what has been lost.

Israel had made covenant with the Bridegroom God who desired to lavish His goodness and blessing upon the nation. In return, He desired and required that they would love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Love for God would be expressed through faithful worship and obedience to His moral laws which express His moral purity. This was intended to be far more than mere religion. It was to be an intimate, loving relationship between the God of the covenant and the people of the covenant.

But Israel was violating its covenant with the Lord. “Put away your adultery from between your breasts” refers to jewelry dedicated to an idol, a false god. The jewelry represented not merely worship of false gods but a relationship with them. And it was worn next to the heart.  Women in Israel, obviously with the approval of their husbands, were giving their affection to demon gods and wearing the emblems of this idolatrous affection next to their heart.

The Lord confronts Israel but how typical of God — He does not bring devastating judgment until He first warns them and offers grace. We see this same pattern in the messages to the seven churches in revelation.The church at Thyatira was being corrupted by a false prophetess but Jesus confronted the church and exposed their sin, offered remedy, promised grace and even gave the false prophetess time to repent, all of which was an expression of mercy (Rev. 2:20,21).

2:3 What God will strip away is the facade of religiousness that covers their sin. Jesus had harsh words for people who were corrupt on the inside but respectably religious on the outside. A loving God will expose the sin that would destroy us. A gracious Bridegroom God will contend for the high calling and purity and destiny of His Bride.

All sin separates us from God, has a destructive impact on the purpose He has designed for us, resists His blessing toward us and brings us into contact with darkness. But the worship of false gods is especially dangerous and destructive. So the Lord exposes this sin so He can reclaim His covenant people and save them from the self-destroying impact of their sin.  

Turning the fruitful land to desert is an act of justice equal to the crime. The people have worshipped fertility gods so the Lord withdraws His blessing on the fertility of the land. The nation had given credit for fertility and fruit to gods that are not gods, demons. They not only withheld thanks to the true God who had truly blessed them with fruitful harvests, but worse, they gave thanks to demons.  

God’s action is an act of justice but we may also say that it is an act of mercy to expose and judge this sin. If the people continue to reap blessing while living self-destructive, demonically centered  lives, they will have no reason or motive to change and will eventually lose everything. It is mercy for God to expose the sin which will ultimately destroy people whom He loves.  It is mercy to remove some or even most of their fruitfulness before they lose it all. If you love someone, you try to expose whatever will harm them and try to deliver them from destruction.  

Removing blessing on the land will create pressure on the people. Chastisement creates pressure which creates change. Because God loves Israel, because this is His Bride, He contends with her, exposes the reality of her sin and applies pressure toward the goal of producing change.

2:4 Gomer’s children represent the fruit of unholy relationships. Children in this context could refer to the prosperity that Israel has gained while being unfaithful to the true God who has blessed the nation. So He warns the nation that He is preparing to withdraw His compassion, that is, He will withdraw their prosperity.


Children also refer to the nation that was counting on the Lord’s protection while breaking covenant with Him. In the coming crisis, when Assyria invades, the Lord will have no compassion. The covenant has been broken and the people should not count on the Lord’s protection.

God cannot bless, but will judge, the fruit of our lives that is produced through unholy relationships with false gods and false lovers which violate our covenant with God.  God does not bless unfaithfulness, corruption, idolatry and spiritual adultery.  God judges this.

As we mature in our relationship with God, we love Him and reverence Him more.  We celebrate His mercy but are awed by His holy love for justice.  We live in a universe designed by a loving, just and holy God.  There are physical laws undergirding this universe but there are also moral laws weaved into the structure of the universe.  We may be comfortable with this reality or uncomfortable, agree or disagree.  Nevertheless, the moral reality undergirding this world is just as real as the physical reality.  Gravity is real.  So is the justice of God. Electro-magnetism is real. So is the moral goodness of God. Moral laws are just as real as physical laws and we violate either at our own peril.

2:5 “I will go after my lovers who give me my bread…”  

Another translation could read, “Let me go after my lovers who give me my bread.” Israel’s strong desire was to break free of any restraint — “Let me go.” She wants to be free to pursue the false gods whom she credited for her provision when it was God who provided.  Again, she is not only refusing to give thanks to the Lord for her prosperity but she is crediting demonically empowered false gods. This would be like a husband or wife being blessed over and over again by his or her spouse and not only refusing to thank their covenant partner but giving thanks to a false lover.

Satan lies and deceives us into believing that he or the world is our provider.  And so people pursue false lovers — false philosophies, false religions, bow down before the gods of gold and steel, compromise with every social and political trend no matter how corrupt.  But in the end, false gods and false lovers are always and only false and their blessing is only an illusion, a mirage.  

There is only one God in this universe who loves us perfectly, knows us perfectly and desires to resource our lives. In His wisdom He designed a purpose for each of us.  By His awesome power and gentle outworking of grace, He draws us to Himself, calls us into intimate, covenant love with Himself and works out His purpose for our good and for the blessing of others through us. God was Israel’s provider and God is our provider.  The others are pretenders, false lovers.

2:6 “I will hedge her way.”  

This is an act of mercy.  When covenant people stray, God puts up a wall around us to prevent us from greater sin, to keep us from destruction.  We have to climb over the wall, push through the thorny hedge to stray further into sin. 

The Lord dealt with Solomon in a parallel manner — hedging him in with his sin until he was weary of all pleasure.  All that he gained of wealth and pleasure became to him nothing more than chasing after wind. A man of wealth and fame was asked, “Now that you have reached the top of the mountain, what would you say to yourself if you were just starting out.” He replied, “I would say that there is nothing at the top.”  God hedges some people in with the thorns of their empty success.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” (Matt. 7:13).  This broad way is easy to find, delightful to travel, for a season, but all who enter it journey to destruction.  

Jesus also said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt 7:14).  Yet this narrow way is paved with the light and benediction of Christ our Shepherd and Great High Priest.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:6).  When we are in right relationship with Him, when we are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, God will bring us through the narrow way that leads to life.

The narrow way includes God’s abundant provision for our lives. Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:25,26,33).

Jesus does not mean that we should not make wise plans for the future. But at the center of our planning should be the Lord our Provider. The word provision is derived from two Latin words — pro videre, which means, to see ahead or to see before. God is able to provide for us because He sees us, sees our needs and sees the future. Really, it is not so much that God sees the future; rather, in His eternity He exists in our tomorrow and our yesterday while meeting us today.  He is able to provide because He sees. We do not need to bow down before the gods of our culture, do not need to compromise our souls in order to put bread on the table. God is our provider.

Israel had forgotten this essential truth, that the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them would always be their Provider. Worse, they were giving credit for their provision to demons gods who intended Israel’s destruction. So the Lord promised to hedge her in behind a thorny wall of protection. But they would not abide within that place of security.

2:7 “She will pursue her lovers … she will seek them but will not find them.”

God allows each human being the exercise of free, sovereign will and nations also act sovereignly.  Yet there are times when our chosen way is so contrary to the purpose and heart of God, our pursuit of vain idols is so pregnant with self destruction, that God interrupts our freedom and frustrates our plans.  God interrupts us by shining light onto our choices, giving us the clarity we had avoided.  Other times, He casts darkness into our path (Job 19:8), hedges us in, allows us to grope helplessly, revealing our vulnerability and the futility of our dim, self made lights.  God’s desire in this is that we would say, “I will go back to my first husband”, returning to Him and to the covenant love which He desires to lavish upon us.  

Our way of return is clearly marked, for the Way is a Person, Jesus Christ.  Time and history are divided by the year of His birth, A.D., the Year of our Lord.  “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” He says (John 14:6).  The way of His living presence is lit by the brightness of His truth. It is made rich by the generosity of His grace.  

It is a narrow way, a sacrificial way, a way that runs contrary to the broad avenues of this world.  It is a way of paradox, passing through “the fellowship of His sufferings” into “the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  It is a counter-intuitive journey, leading us through conformity to His death into the glory of His resurrection (Phil 3:10,11).  It is the way of the cross that leads to life.

Consider the grace of God, the immeasurable depths of His kindness and mercy.  He established covenant with Israel and called the nation His Bride.  Though rejected by His Bride, though she bestowed her love on false gods, yet there is still grace with God, grace that calls to the beloved, grace that woos the beloved, grace that dies for the beloved, grace that makes a way for the beloved to say, “I will go back to my first husband.”  

The thought behind those words is found throughout Scripture.  The prodigal son, weary of life in the far country, said, “I will get up and go to my father…” (Lk 15:18).  When he returned, he found his father waiting to embrace him.  So with the human heart, prone to wander, and so with the heart of God, waiting to embrace all who return.

  

The recorded history of human civilization is the outworking of Jeremiah’s words, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jere 10:23).  But salvation history, and the testimony of redeemed saints in heaven, echo with these words, “I will return.”  The final word of history is not humanity’s lost state but rather, God’s redeeming grace.

Notice in this the patience of God and the largeness of His heart. Though Israel had rejected Him, the God who had betrothed the nation to Himself as a Bridegroom to a bride, and though the nation had rejected Him after centuries of blessings, and though the nation had attributed those blessings to demon gods and was worshipping those gods, nevertheless, God pursues them, calls to them, judges them for the purpose of bringing them back into faithful covenant relationship with Himself.

“It was better for me then” — the Bridegroom Judge applies the pressure of judgment to bring His unfaithful Bride back to the remembrance of His goodness.

2:8 “She does not know that it was I who gave her the grain…”  

The gifts which the sinner wastes were given by God but Israel had forgotten God as the Source of blessing, instead giving credit, thanks and praise to demon gods.   In fact, Israel was using the grain, the wine and oil as thank offerings to Baal, the false god.  Consider God’s heart break: rejected by His Bride, Israel; seeing the gifts which He gave to His bride being used to express devotion to a false god. Israel not only has forgotten God, the Source of blessing, but gives credit for that blessing to the idol, the demon, the false god.

The phrase, “Which they used for Baal” surely means that they were offering to Baal the gold and silver which God had provided. But the phrase may also be translated, “Which they crafted for Baal.” This may mean that they were using the silver and gold which God had given them to fashion images of Baal.

How common in a God-rejecting world that men and women would use the gifts God has given them and make their ambition their god and bow before their gods of power, wealth, pleasure, fame, refusing to give praise to God for the blessings of life, but giving praise to gods which are not god 

and using God’s blessings to praise their idols.

Imagine a wife cooking a bountiful, nourishing dinner for her husband and then he, in the strength which that meal gave him, goes out and commits adultery. How her heart would break! Or imagine a husband giving a beautiful dress to his wife, who then goes out using that dress to attract an adulterous lover. But this is what Israel had done to God. Indeed, this is what every sinner does to the God who gives us breath to praise Him and bread that we may serve Him.

2:9 “Therefore I will take back my grain…”  

God removes the fruit, the blessing when we waste His gifts on spiritual adultery.  He takes His gifts back, not because He does not love us but to hinder our self-destructive choices and to enable us to experience the consequences of our choices.  When we bind ourselves to false gods, when we enter into spiritually adulterous relationships with idols (whatever they may be: success, wealth, power, pleasure, false religious systems), we will eventually be destroyed by the idol.  If God allowed us to profit from spiritual unfaithfulness, to continue to enjoy His blessings while we destroy our life, He would not be loving us truly.  A loving God will withdraw some or much of His blessing and allow us to experience the truth, the reality, the consequence of our rejection of Him. It is surely true that the misuse of blessing will lead to its loss.


Further, the removal of blessing will produce pressure on Israel. The application of pressure can bring about change. So the removal of blessing is really an expression of grace.

2:10 “And then I will uncover her lewdness.”

The word lewdness is “nabluwth” from the root “nabal” — wickedness / foolishness. Sin is not just wickedness — it is folly for sin separates people from the God who purposed our lives and contends for our destiny. The Lord promises to uncover Israel’s folly, to shine light into their darkness. The Bridegroom God confronts His Bride, exposes her sin because He loves Israel.

God does this in our lives also. He not only responds to our sin by progressively removing His blessing. He also responds by shining light into the truth of our condition. Unless God illumined our darkness with unflinching light, unless God uncovered the reality of our deceptions, we would have no hope. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Being blinded by the god of this world, we cannot turn from our sin until we see it, recognize it for what it is. So this shining of light into our darkness is an act of grace.

In those times of unveiling we cry, “I am disillusioned.”  Oh what a great act of mercy from the hand of God, to be dispossessed of our illusions!  How kind of God, to remove the credibility of that which was only an illusion.

“And no one will rescue her out of My hand.”  Another act of grace.

The powers of darkness would shield the sinner from correction so that they might prolong the season of sin and increase the destruction of the sinner. But God will not allow this. Sinners would surely deliver themselves from the judgment and the consequence of sin and prolong the brief season of pleasure. But God will not allow them. God will allow no one to prevent His confrontation with Israel because He is the Bridegroom God who jealously desires to deliver His Bride.

“No one will rescue her out of My hand.” This is an act of grace.

**

2:11 “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts … all her festal assemblies …”

Israel had rejected the Jerusalem temple because it was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. In place of the temple, they had built their own profane places of worship. They had rejected God’s ordained priesthood and had established their own false priests. They had rejected the true and living God and had married themselves to idols which are not God. But they may still have observed some of the traditional festivals of the Jewish year, merging them with the worship of calves and bulls. 

However, traditional religious ceremony combined with the worship of culturally acceptable idols is unacceptable to the Lord and He will judge this. We see this in many churches today — traditional Christianity married to the latest trends, philosophies and culturally / politically acceptable customs. The wedding of tradition and idol is offensive to God because it destroys people whom God loves. 

People today demand of God, “Affirm me in my brokenness.” God replies, “No, but I will transform you into my wholeness.” People cry, “Affirmation.” God replies, “No, transformation.” The church that offers affirmation while denying transformation will be judged by God.

It is possible, though, that these feasts and festal assemblies may have been nothing more than Baal / Asherah ceremonies. It may have been outright idolatry with no remnant of traditional Yahweh worship. Surely the Lord would judge that.

2:12 In addition, the Lord says, “I will destroy her vines and fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages which my lovers have given me.’” Again and again the Lord warns that He will remove and destroy the blessing which He gave but which Israel ascribes to the false gods. 

God has designed the universe so that the joy of sin, the profit from injustice and the ecstasy of rebellion are short-lived.  Our idols may bring pleasure for a season but the season soon passes.  There is an end to the joy, the feast, the abundance which God gives, when we turn from Him. The world celebrates its rebellion against God but there is an end to the celebration and God takes responsibility for the ending: “I will put an end to all her mirth … I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.”  The seducing music of the idol will cease by the hand of God and how merciful that hand.  If we continued to find joy, satisfaction, fulfillment in life lived apart from God, we would have no motivation to return and our future would only be destruction.

“I will destroy her vines and fig trees.”

Earlier the Lord had said that He would take back the grain and the new wine “in its season” (2:9). That is, He would judge the fruit of their labor in the season of harvest. Now He says that He will destroy the vines and the trees from which Israel harvested — He will destroy the source of their harvest. Trees and vines represent the future — the Lord will judge future harvests. The same judgments which the Lord had laid on Egypt (see Psalm 105:33), which led to Israel’s liberation from slavery, are now placed on Israel, for they have become as a pagan nation. The Lord is increasing the pressure for the purpose of creating change.

“Which my lovers have given me.” 

The reason for escalated judgment is Israel’s continued lack of discernment, continuing to believe that these gods-that-are-not-gods are blessing her, when in reality they are robbing her of her very life.  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But Israel was praising the thief who was robbing her, while robbing God their Provider of the praise He was due.

Sin deceives, blinds us to the truth that we are being devastated. Again we recall the words of the Apostle Paul, in reference to those who were perishing in their rejection of God, “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).  The false gods of this world, veiled in gold and silver and steel, wrapped in pulsating lights of icy fame, in titanium-diamond sheaths of naked power and exploding neon lights of pleasure, are gods who blind their prey before they destroy it.

“And I will make them a forest …”

The land of milk and honey, the inheritance of the covenant people, the Land of Promise, will now become a wilderness. This happened when the Assyrians conquered the nation, slaughtered the inhabitants and took many of the survivors into captivity — the land was desolated. It happened when the Babylonians overthrew the southern kingdom. It happened centuries later when the Romans destroyed north and south. The cultivated vineyards and fields were overgrown with weeds and thickets of trees. Desert overran the watered gardens.

“And the beasts of the field will devour them.”

Surely it was so. The beasts of Assyria, Babylon and Rome devoured the bounty that God had lavished upon the unfaithful nation. There is a divine purpose in this — in the wilderness, we sometimes hear and see more clearly.

2:13 “So that she forgot me.”

It is not simply that Israel went after false gods. It was that she forgot the Lord. The reason the Lord had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt was to bring the nation to Himself, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He is the Bridegroom God who calls people to enter into covenant communion with Him. Israel’s sin was not merely that they worshipped gods that are not gods and gave credit to those gods for her blessings. More than that — she forgot the God who truly had blessed her. Not merely did she turn from that God to serve idols, did not merely reject that God. Israel forgot the Lord, lived as though the Lord did not exist.

2:14 “I will allure her”

Paul speaks of “the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). The same Lord who breaks the hard heart uses severe mercy to bring healing. God uses kindness to draw us to Himself or as

Paul reminds us, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). David the Psalmist exhorts us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

“Bring her into the wilderness.” 

God creates gardens but when we separate ourselves from God, we create wilderness where once there was beauty and bounty. Adam and Eve were born into a garden of blessing but when they separated themselves from God, the ground was cursed with thorns and thistles. We would hope that thorn and thistle drew them to repentance.

God’s judgment on our sin is for the purpose of enabling us to experience the wilderness we have created and chosen by our rejection of Him.  It is God who will draw Israel into this wilderness, not to destroy His Bride but to confront her with His truth and His compassion. This is an act of love.

“And speak kindly to her.”

“Speak kindly” literally means, “speak upon her heart” or “speak to her heart.” This is a conversation of intimacy — the Bridegroom God whispering to His Bride, to turn her heart. It is the word of the Lord who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Humanity’s failure invites the Lord’s mercy. The sweetness of grace is offered to heal the wounds created by the deadly, counterfeit sweetness of sin.

The purpose of this wilderness season is so that God can “speak kindly, tenderly” to Israel.  Wilderness is a place of silence, the noisome music of our idols has ceased, has evaporated like morning dew in a desert.  Wilderness is a place of barrenness, the vine and the fig tree are withered; the illusion of our prosperity and success no longer distracts us.  The false gods have been exposed, over thrown; there is nothing to deceive us.  The light is quite blinding in the wilderness, the silence deafening.   Blinded by light and deafened by silence, we see and hear with clarity.  In that place and time, God speaks tenderly to the Bride who rejected Him.  The purpose of wilderness is to reestablish truthful conversation, then communion between the Bridegroom God and His unfaithful covenant partner.

Let us recall the purpose of wilderness: 

1. Wilderness is a place of confrontation with the word of the living God. That word penetrates down to the deepest recesses of our being, “Piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr. 4:12). The word of the Lord reveals our sin and reveals the grace that restores.

2. Wilderness is a place of discipline, making sin distasteful, odious, causing the rebel to hate what he once loved. The prodigal son learned to despise his unrestrained lifestyle when his riches and sensuality emptied out into the company of pigs.

3. Wilderness is a place of revelation, communion. So it was when Israel left Egypt, the wilderness of Elam became a place of provision. The wilderness of Marah became a place of healing. The wilderness at Mt. Sinai became a place of revelation and communion.

4. Wilderness is a place of preparation. In the wilderness of Sinai, Israel under Moses was made ready to possess the land of promise.

5. Wilderness is a place of breaking and healing, where the hard heart is broken with the grace of truth and the broken heart is made whole with the same grace and truth. 

So with Israel as Hosea declared the word of the Lord. The nation would be allured into a wilderness time for the purpose of preparing a faithful remnant to posses the land and the blessings and the covenant they have been given.

2:15 “Then I will give her vineyards.”  

The Bridegroom God is looking ahead to a future day when wilderness has had its intended impact and Israel has returned to faithful, covenant love with the God of her betrothal. When relationship is restored, so is provision and blessing.  

“I will give her vineyards from there.” From where? From the wilderness. The wilderness becomes a highway into blessing.

But notice where this place of restoration will be: in the Valley of Achor.  Recall that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and conquered Jericho, they were to keep none of the plunder of the city.  The wealth of the city was cursed.  But a man named Achan violated the ban.  In his own words, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21).  This act of disobedience brought judgment upon the nation and cost Achan his life.

The sentence of execution was carried out in the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:24).  Achor was a place of punishment and death, a place where judgment was placed on the guilty man and lifted from the nation.  Now hundreds of years later, through Hosea, God calls Achor “a door of hope,” for it is in this place that God will speak tenderly to Israel.  

This wilderness place with its history of disobedience, death and shame now becomes a doorway of hope for the very people who disobeyed God, broke covenant with God and covered themselves in death and shame.  Achor becomes a wilderness entrance into restored covenant relationship with God.

The valley of Achor is where vineyards are restored and therefore it is a place where music is restored, “She will sing there as in the days of her youth…” Achor is not only the place where Israel hears from God. It is also the place where she answers, where she again sings songs of faithful covenant love to the faithful, loving God of the covenant.

As we have said, wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation, preparing us for covenant service and there was work for Israel to do.  God wanted a covenant people through whom He could shine His light and speak His truth into a lost world.  God expects us to move from the solitude of the wilderness to the crossroads of the world.  Solitude fits us for the multitude.  The bush burned for Moses in the solitude of the desert; then he went to Egypt, confronted Pharaoh, led a nation out of slavery.  The still, small voice of God spoke to Elijah in the silence of the cave; then he returned to complete his prophetic ministry. 

Jesus returned from the lonely temptations of the wilderness full of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Then He taught, healed, cast out demons, preached the Sermon on the Mount.  John the Baptist grew strong in the desert and there the message and ministry of repentance was birthed in his heart. It was on the barren island of Patmos that John the disciple saw and heard the revelation of heavenly things.  John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress in the solitude of a prison cell.  The list is unending.  Wilderness is a place of preparation and revelation.  

Achor is also a picture of the wilderness times and places where God leads us to the cross of Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus bore the judgment of a faithless world which has rejected Creator God.  By Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, the possibility of restored covenant relationship with God is available to all who will repent and turn again to God.  At the cross we hear God speak tenderly, “Forgiven, all is forgiven. Come away my beloved and know my love for you.” 

At the cross we reply, “My Lord, my Beloved” and we wonder at this mighty Creator God who became the suffering Redeemer God so that we could know Him as the Bridegroom God.  At the cross we surrender to unmeasured love and pour out our love in response.

There is also a far future fulfillment to this promise. Someday the Bridegroom King will return and reign over the house of Israel. Indeed, He will reign over the entire earth. The people of the covenant will come and worship Him and the land will be restored to the fruitfulness and fertility of Eden.

2:16,17 “‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.’”

“In that day” refers to the time of restoration after the wilderness season.  In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness and adultery, the Bridegroom God still sees the nation as His Bride and looks forward to the day when Israel will again refer to Him as Ishi, “My husband.”  

Baali means my master or my Baal. The name of Baal, the pagan idol which the Israelites had loved in place of God, would be removed from their mouth.  This signifies a changed heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34).  This is what God wants from all of us: for our heart to be set on Him and our mouths expressing the affection of our heart.  This is what it means to be in a covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God.

Baali may also be interpreted as a reference to God, in which the Lord is saying that you will no longer call me “my Master”, in the sense of taskmaster or ruler.  But you will call me “husband”. This refers to Israel finally receiving the revelation that the Lord is not merely their Master Law Giver, Ruler and Judge but also, the Bridegroom God who desires the exchange of covenant love with His Bride.

This has yet to be entirely fulfilled either in Israel or in the church. Israel is not yet ready to receive Jesus as the Bridegroom Messiah but they will be someday. Neither is the church yet “a bride made ready”. But we will be someday.

Someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment and He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). How can we love God with all our being? Only as we experience His love for us, His delight in us. Then we pour His love back upon Him.

2:18 “In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish (break) the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. ”

This verse looks beyond Hosea’s day, beyond history.  God promises that reconciliation between Himself and Israel will result in the blessing and restoration of all creation.  In that day beyond time, a covenant of peace will be reestablished between humanity and nature.  The peace between God and his covenant Bride will be reflected in peace across the earth.  The curse that fell on the earth when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, a curse expressed in thorns and enmity among the creatures of the earth and the people of the earth, that curse will be lifted.  As the glory of God settles over the earth, the bow and the sword will be abolished; war itself will be abolished.  The lion and lamb will lay down together, (see Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 8:18-22).  All creation groans for that day (Rom 8:22); churches pray for that day.  Hosea glimpsed that day from afar.

What a day that will be.  Today, we achieve moments of pseudo-peace by matching sword against sword.  The threat of violence is restrained by the promise of retaliatory violence, madness restrained by madness, achieving a state of being that is both unnerving and unpeaceful.  But what a strange vision is this — peace in the absence of weapons; peace, because each sword is broken, because the passion that would wield the sword is now fulfilled in the outpoured love of this passionate God.  Only God can bring about that day and God will in the day when He reconciles with His bride.

Yet even now we can know a measure of true peace as we are each reconciled to God, as we each become individual members of God’s covenant Bride. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). Knowing this peace, we then become instruments of Christ’s reconciliation.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9).  Jesus, the Son of God showed us the way of the peacemaker.  He disarmed His enemies with the gift of His own life.  He was the Lamb whose shed blood broke the power of the violent warrior, the hateful demagogue, the unjust judges.  As we approach the end of time, there will be a generation of God-lovers who will overcome the dragons of this world by proclaiming the testimony of this Lamb and by the gift of their own lives (Rev 12:11).

2:19,20 “I will betroth you to Me forever.”

The Bridegroom God declares His everlasting, undying love for His Bride. Though she has been unfaithful, the Lord has not rejected her. He pursues her and will betroth her to Himself forever.

“I will betroth you.” To whom does the word “you” refer? Unfaithful, weak sinners. God is not ashamed to call us His Bride. Three times the word betroth is used. The Lord desires far more than merely to forgive our sin and declare us to be righteous. He wants more than to merely partner with us in ministry. He wants to establish an eternal relationship of intimate, loving communion with us.

Betrothal, in Hosea’s day, was the official beginning of marriage, of covenant, and here the prophet gives voice to God’s purpose to reestablish everlasting covenant with Israel. This is also the desire of the Bridegroom God for all of His covenant people — to betroth us to Himself forever.  

Our covenant relationship with God will be consistent with His heart, His being. God will betroth us in righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion and faithfulness.  Covenant will be on God's terms, according to His ethical and moral standards.  These are, in fact, His bridal gifts to His beloved.

He will betroth us in a way that displays His righteousness and justice. God is both Just and Justifier of the unjust (Romans 3:26). Righteousness is more than just a declaration — it is a state of being in which the domination of sin has been broken, we are free to enjoy relationship with a holy God, empowered to work with a creative God, energized with a dynamic that transforms us from who we were to who we will be.

God will betroth us in a way that displays His lovingkindness and compassion  — lavishing mercy and grace upon us. “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jere. 29:11).

God will betroth us in a way that displays His faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, faithfulness to all He is and says and does.


But these gifts are also imparted into His betrothed. The Lord not only declares us to be just, He also imparts into us His righteousness  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Being made righteous, we are able to walk justly and to do justice. 

He pours His lovingkindness and compassion into us and enables us to respond with love, “We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

“Then you will know the Lord.”

Covenant will be based on the true knowledge of God:  To enter into relationship with the Lord is to know Him.  “Know” is a word of intimacy.  God wants us to know Him intimately as He knows us.  Intimate knowledge of God results in transformation into God’s likeness.  We become like the One whom we worship and adore.  Paul says that we are “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One” who created us (Col. 3:10).  John says that in the day of the Lord’s return to earth, we will be like Him, “Because we will see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).

We hear in this the exultant, rapturous joy of the Lord, “Then you will know me and love me as I have known and loved you.” Past unfaithfulness is forgotten and forgiven, there is only this future of unbroken union. The Lord is looking ahead not merely to the restoration of the nation Israel; not merely to the raising up of a church that will enjoy His presence throughout the centuries. He is looking to the end of time, to a Bride made ready and the marriage feast of the Lamb. 

Is it possible that a nation which had rejected the Lord and crucified its Messiah would someday confess, receive and worship that Messiah? Yes. There will a great harvest of Jewish believers and in that day, “All Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).

Is it possible that men and women, Jew and Gentile, having lived lives of sin and rebellion, would be redeemed and transformed into a Bride made ready for eternal communion with God?  Yes. To the church at Corinth, first generation Christians who had come out of pagan immorality or religious unbelief, the Apostle said, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2).

2:21 “‘It will come about in that day that I will respond,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth.’”

Again Hosea reminds us that the betrothal of the Bridegroom God and His Bride will call forth a new harmony of creation. Renewal of covenant between God and redeemed humanity results in the renewal of the whole earth.  

In the beginning, humanity was God’s gardener over creation.  Our broken relationship with Creator God had the effect of breaking our relationship with creation. When humanity fell from grace, a curse came upon all of nature.  Creation groans for release from its corruption and will be released in this coming day when the curse is canceled.  Hosea says that in that day, God will command His blessings and there will be a restoring of blessing on the earth.  

Nature itself will respond to the marriage of the Bridegroom God and His Bride. The heavens will pour out a Bridal shower of rain and the earth will release a wedding gift of flowering buds and abundant harvest.

2:22 “And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.”

Jezreel means “God sows.” Whereas in 1:4 Jezreel referred to the sowing of judgment upon Israel, now it refers to the sowing of mercy and grace. Heaven and earth will respond to the sowing of God with abundant grain, wine and oil. When the people of God are brought into harmony with the Lord, then earth and heaven are brought into harmony together and with God’s purpose.

This is a promise for the end of time when all the world is reconciled to God but it is also a blessing in history.  When we live in covenant with God, there is nothing to separate us from His desire to release blessing in our lives and through us.

The prophet Joel saw that future day, “And in that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water” (Joel 3:18).


Amos also saw that day, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved’” (Amos 9:13).

The greatness of God’s blessing will be so great in this future day that the reaper of the harvest will not be finished before the plowman and sower of the next harvest will overtake him. 

2:23 “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her … and I will say …”

Notice it is God who takes the initiative in all redemptive activity: “I will sow ... I will have compassion ...  I will say…” The Bridegroom God pursues us, calls us, awakens us, turns us and draws us to Himself.  God offers a covenant relationship of intimate love in which we know Him as He knows us. In this communion we share in the life of God.

But there is a human response required: “And they will say, ‘You are my God.’”  

At some point, we must respond to the God who has set His desire on us. Covenant between the Bridegroom God and a bride must be ratified by two parties, not one.  This covenant must be rooted in two hearts, not one.  God sows into our hearts the incredible good news of His love for us, His forgiving grace toward us, His Self-sacrifice on our behalf.  But each soul must answer, “You are my God.”  Otherwise, we will not experience the blessings of the covenant.

“I will sow her for Myself in the land”

Throughout the ages, God has sown the seed of His love, His light and His truth into this world and into human hearts. The result of God’s sowing is a great harvest of souls who have said “Yes” to the God of the covenant. Now it is we who are sown into the earth. 

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus said, “The field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38). We are a kingdom of priests and prophets, called out of darkness into the marvelous light of grace, proclaiming the presence in history of the Bridegroom God. The Lord has sown us into the world so that there will be a continuing harvest of souls to the end of the age. 

Sowing seed involves the dying of the seed. How else will a harvest be born except the seed dies? So it is that in service to the Bridegroom God, we die to our self will day by day. But for some followers of Christ, dying refers to the pouring out of life itself.

It grieves me that the Bride is persecuted in some countries, that the Bride suffers. I pray that the Lord will grant grace to His Bride and turn the hearts of the persecutors and break the power of those who would harm His Bride. But I cannot pray that the Lord remove His Bride from persecution — she is His witness there, He is sowing her into the soil of those people groups. One of the characteristics of the end time church, the Bride made ready, is that she conquers “because of the blood of the Lamb,”  and because of the word of her testimony and because she does not love her life, “even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11).

The church is Christ’s gift to the world. Through the church, the presence of the Bridegroom God is made known to the world. But we are more than mere priests and prophets, more than partners in ministry with the Lord. Far more grand — we are His holy Bride, manifesting His life, His grace, His covenant love.

Far more important to the Lord than our works, our gifts, our ministry, is the relationship out of which our works, gifts and ministry arise. When Jesus sent seventy of His disciples out to minister, they came back rejoicing, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus replied, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). 

Partnership with Jesus in ministry is wonderful but far more glorious is the relationship out of which this partnership is born. We are His betrothed, the Bride of the Bridegroom God.

There is also a reference to Israel in this verse. God sowed His covenant people into the nations and in the last days will gather Israel to Himself. There is coming a great harvest of Jewish believers in the Messiah and that will be a sign of the times.

November 17, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 1

November 17, 2019

Hosea Chapter One

1:1 “The Word of the Lord which came to Hosea.” 

God spoke to a man at a particular time and place in history.  It is not that man’s word.  It is God’s Word to that man.  This lends authority and urgency to the ministry of Hosea — he speaks because God has spoken.  What does this tell us about God?  That God is not hiding and is not silent.  He reveals Himself to people, communicates His Word, His truth, His plans and purposes to His servants and through them to whoever will listen and obey.  This Word that God speaks requires a response, demands action.  We may listen and respond or listen and refuse. Or we may refuse to listen. However, to refuse is a response.  To fail to act or obey is an action, the act of disobedience.

Notice the confidence of Hosea. He knows that the living God has spoken to Him and he is confident to declare this word to the nation. The truth that Hosea declares existed before Him — it is the word of the eternal God and therefore, it is eternally true. It is true for every generation, every society and culture, without exception. It is not disproven or invalidated by the latest philosophies, cultural customs or false gods. It is a transcendent word spoken by a transcendent God who exists before and beyond every society, every culture, every generation yet meets us in our time, our cultural setting.

1:2 Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute and “have children of harlotry, for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.”  The subtext here is that God and Israel had entered into a covenant relationship of the most intimate kind.  God considered Israel to be His betrothed, His Bride and considered Himself to be Israel’s husband.  He is the Bridegroom God who entered history to redeem fallen, weak, sinful people and call them into covenant with Himself. He delights in His covenant people, desires to lavish His love upon them and takes pleasure in their love for Him.

What God desired from Israel was a relationship of intimate, faithful, covenant love. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was, in God’s sight, adultery.  They not only had rejected God, they had taken other gods as their lovers, given credit and thanks to those false gods for the blessings that the true and living God had showered upon them.  Israel’s worship of those gods was an act of adultery at the deepest level of being.  Israel had prostituted itself to these false gods.


While it is true that false gods are not real, each idol is infused with demonic presence and power. There is a demonically inspired philosophical / theological system of thought undergirding the worship of the idol, a spiritual reality attached to the idol and involvement with that idol creates an enslaving entanglement with powers of darkness. The Apostle Paul expresses this in his warning to the church at Corinth,

“What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (I Cor. 10:19-21).

As we have said, the idol itself is not alive but the demonic power infusing it is very real. Pauls says, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons.” The word “sharers” is koinonos which is related to the word koinonia which means “communion”. Paul was warning the church that any participation in any form of idolatry was an act of communion with the demonic power behind and within the idol.

In worshipping idols, Israel was not only walking away from the true and living God. The nation was also giving itself into intimate communion with demonic powers that would only result in Israel’s destruction, unless the people repented and returned to the Lord.

God’s response is to pursue the nation, call to the nation. He warns them, rehearses their covenant history with Him, reminds them of His faithful, covenant love for them. This is the Bridegroom God pursuing His unfaithful Bride, contending for her purity; indeed, for her survival.

Doesn’t this subtext also include each of us?  God desires intimate, faithful, loving relationship with each of us.  In Christ, God has called us out of darkness into covenant relationship with Himself.  But even after we entered into covenant with God through faith in Christ, we have at times been unfaithful lovers of God.  There are temptations, in every generation, to pursue other gods. In Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the ever-present influence of these corrupting temptations. And we see the Lord calling to His Bride, contending for His Bride.

The ministry and message of Hosea is relevant for every generation, for each of us.

As we shared in the Introduction, some Bible scholars suggest that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel, that is, marry a prostitute.  Some say that this is merely symbolic language, that Gomer’s infidelity was spiritual in nature — she was a worshipper of false gods. Others argue that the marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot.  This would parallel God’s relationship with Israel — God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3) and had made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of His bride.  In the same way, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful.  

However, those interpretations violates the literal narrative. God commanded the prophet to do something which violated the Law of Israel because Israel had violated the Law. More than this, Israel had violated their sacred covenant with God, had grieved the heart of the God who considered Himself to be the Groom and Israel to be His Bride. But the incredible narrative of Hosea is that the Bridegroom God did not reject unfaithful Israel and this marriage between Hosea and Gomer and Hosea’s faithfulness to his bride is a revelation of God’s continued love for and pursuit of His covenant Bride.  

As God reveals His love for Israel, He reveals also the truth of Israel’s unfaithfulness.  God’s love does not compromise God’s truth.  He desires to confront Israel with unfailing love and unflinching truth.  So it is with each of us.  God pursues us with unfailing love and unflinching truth about ourselves. We see in Hosea’s ministry the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved.

Notice the Lord’s words to Hosea in verse two — Israel is guilty of “forsaking the Lord.” Similar to the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus — “You have left your first love.” This is sin of the highest order, since the first and greatest commandment is, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

1:3-5 Hosea obeyed God, married Gomer and they had a son.  He was given the name Jezreel, which means, “God sows.”  The child’s birth was the occasion for a prophetic word concerning God’s future judgment of Israel. God will sow judgment upon the nation because of their sin. Sowing also implies scattering — one sows seed by scattering it and in this we see the future destruction and scattering of Israel out of their land.

However, even though the Lord is declaring judgment over the nation, it is not His desire that Israel will be destroyed. He gives the nation this prophetic warning so that they will return to Him. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord said, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live” (Ezkl. 18:32).

God warns people and nations of judgment so that they will turn and live.

“I will break the bow of Israel” refers to the breaking of national military power, the defeat and overthrow of the nation which no longer trusted in the God of the covenant but in false gods, weapons and military alliances with pagan nations. It points ahead to destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But it did not have to end that way. When God breaks the power or wealth or pride of any man or woman or nation, this is an act of mercy. It may be that in their humbled condition, they will see more clearly the self-destructive choices they have made and turn to the Lord.

1:6 Again Gomer gave birth to a child.  She was named Lo-ruhamah, whose name means, “She has not obtained compassion.”  In this, God declared the reality of Israel’s choice.  Israel had broken covenant with God and rejected the compassion and mercy of God.  That mercy will now be beyond their grasp, beyond their experience, if they continue to refuse to repent. It is not because God had ceased to be merciful and compassionate — God does not change, He is always the same God.  But Israel has refused mercy and compassion.  The experience of God’s mercy is within the boundary of covenant relationship with Him but Israel had rejected that covenant and therefore had rejected the blessings that lie within that covenant.  They could not obtain that which they rejected.

They had offended and grieved God by choosing to enter adulterous relationships with false gods.  God now reminds Israel of the reality of their choices.  Unless they turn back to God, they cannot experience compassion because they have rejected compassion.  They have broken covenant and law, have offended the justice of God and have now entered into judgment.  God cannot manifest Himself as their Deliverer, Provider or Redeemer because they have rejected Him. The Bridegroom God now manifests as the holy Bridegroom Judge.  Again, God has not ceased to love them but love does not cancel justice.  God is perfectly loving and perfectly just and they will experience His love or His justice depending on their response to Him.

However, there is still time to respond. There are two kinds of judgment. There is final destruction but there is also judgment as an expression of grace. The Bridegroom God applies pressure for the purpose of driving the sinner back to the security and provision of the covenant God.

Once we were all Lo-ruhamah, as Peter reminds us, “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). We have been “called out of darkness” into the marvelous light of God. We experience the blessings of His mercy as we live within the boundary of His light.

The last phrase of verse 6 is best translated, “For I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them.” An alternate translation, “For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away” is not preferred.

Although this sounds like final, irrevocable judgment over the northen kingdom, we must ask, “Why then is God coming to them, warning them, calling to them?” Because He is the Bridegroom God. Those who refuse to turn, who persist in their idolatry, will not experience compassion and will not be forgiven. But some will turn, some will repent and they will find abundant pardon. This is the heart of the Bridegroom God who is slow to judge and quick to forgive. He will always preserve a faithful Bride remnant.

1:7 There is still the possibility of compassion and deliverance for the southern kingdom of Judah.  Judah will not be delivered by their weapons, but by “the Lord their God.”  This is the reality for those who are in covenant relationship with God.  God showers mercy on His beloved and acts in history, in our lives, to deliver and bless. 

It is historical fact that the Lord preserved the southern kingdom from the marauding armies of Syria and Assyria — the kingdom of Judah endured for another 132 years after the fall of Israel. Recall the miraculous intervention of the angel of the Lord when 185,000 Assyrians were slain in one night, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  In these words, not “by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen,” we see also a reminder of the end time deliverance of Israel by the Lord Jesus Himself.

Again, it is not that God is sometimes our Judge and sometimes the God of grace.  He is always perfectly just and perfectly loving.  But our response to God determines how we experience Him.  We are free to accept God’s love and love Him in return.  We have been invited to enter into covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God and enjoy the blessings of His covenant.  

But if we choose to reject relationship with God, despise His love and violate His laws, there will be consequences.  We are not free of the consequences of our decisions.  We are free to love God or reject God, free to do righteous deeds and free to sin.  But the wages of sin is death.  We are free to choose our actions but not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  Every choice has a consequence.

Consequences change as our choices change.  But God is unchanging.  God is perfect in love, holiness and justice.  Every attribute of God is always perfectly expressed but we experience that attribute based on our response to Him.  If we flaunt God’s law and violate His just decrees, then we will experience the consequences of broken law and violated justice.  If we embrace God’s love in faithful, covenant relationship, we experience the blessings of covenant.  

When we experience the judgment of God, that does not mean that God ceases to love us.  And when we experience the mercy of God, that does not mean that He ceases to be just.  God is always all that God ever was or will be — perfectly loving and perfectly holy. Sin turns away the mercy that God desires to outpour and brings us into confrontation with the justice which God must express. But He is still perfect in mercy and justice, both in the same moment. And even that confrontation is an expression of mercy — He confronts us with truth, with reality, applies pressure so that we will see the truth, understand the reality, and turn back to Him.

The great mystery and wonder of God’s love is that while we were yet His enemies, sinning against Him and violating His covenant, God pursued us in love, awakened us to His love.  This is depicted in Hosea’s pursuit of Gomer.  It is the glory of God’s love that in Christ, He took upon Himself the fulness of His own judgment which we earned when we despised His love, broke His laws and rejected His covenant.  God took the fullness of His own judgment upon Himself on the cross, along with our sin, so that we might experience the fullness of His mercy. 

1:8,9 In time Gomer gave birth to a son.  He was named Lo-ammi, which means, “not my people”.  The Israelites had broken covenant with God, despised their covenant relationship with God, had rejected God, had been unfaithful, taking other lovers as they worshipped false gods.  In so doing, they had declared themselves to be not God’s people.  God now portrays their choice in front of them.  This is both an act of judgment and love.  It is right and just that God says they are no longer His people because this is the choice they have made and the truth which they have lived out.  But it is also an act of love to tell them the truth and to portray the truth with such clarity.  

This is not a cold, calloused, judgmental God. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. He is contending with Israel because they are His people, though they are living as though they are not.

When God gives us up to our choices, He is seeking to make our choices and their consequences more real to us.  There’s nothing like reality to sober us, to focus us and bring us to personal accountability.  The story of the prodigal son is a perfect example of this (Luke 15:11-24).  There’s nothing like pig husks in a far country to awaken one’s sense of sin and a longing for restored covenant relationship with the waiting father.  But we can’t experience true pig-husk reality as long as God’s protective hand is over us.  So, while we sin, break faith and despise covenant, God will warn us, call to us with gentle, brokenhearted love.  But if we will not respond then at last He withdraws His hand and blessing, let’s us taste the choices we have made — gives us up to our choices and the consequences which those choices produce.  It is the hope of the wounded, rejected Bridegroom God that we will come to our senses and return.

1:10,11 But even as God declares the broken covenant, God also declares the future certainty of a restored covenant when Israel will again be the people of God.  The Scriptures offer abundant testimony to this truth, that God is faithful to forgive the faithless, abounding in mercy to those who once rejected mercy. David the psalmist celebrated the wonderful truth of God’s grace: 

“Bless the Lord, O my soul ... who pardons all your iniquities ... who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion … The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins … as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:1,3,4,8,10,12).  

Years later, in the midst of Jerusalem’s desolation, Jeremiah confessed, “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22,23).  

Even when we were “dead in trespasses and sins ... God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with Him” (Eph 2:1,4-6).  

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

But how great the cost of this reconciliation. To achieve it, God bore the punishment of His own justice.  Yet what greater proof or demonstration of love could God make than this?  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us ... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:8,10). 

In this gift we find proof of all other gifts from God.  “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:31,32).

God promises to unfaithful Israel that the covenant relationship will be restored and notice where this restoration will take place.  “Where it is said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’”  In the place where covenant was broken, in that same place, covenant will be restored.  The place of transgression becomes the place of forgiveness.  The place where faith was denied becomes the place of faith pledged anew.  The land that was fouled by sin becomes, again, sacred covenant ground.

The place of tragic failure becomes, by the grace of God, the place of triumph.  The  road which the prodigal traveled in selfish rebellion, became the highway to reconciliation with his father.  Defeat, failure, tragedy — these are not the final words over any life when we allow God to enter and pour out the redeeming, saving, restoring grace which is His heart’s desire.

Is there a more beautiful picture of this in nature than the oyster’s wound becoming a pearl?  The Apostle Paul said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Why?  Because there, in his weakness, God’s grace was magnified.  Paul’s lack became a glorious lens to magnify God’s abundance.  It is the heart of  God to do this.  It is an expression of His grace.  All is grace.

Hosea speaks of a future day when there will be a regathering of Israel and of Judah.  There have been times of renewal, revival and regathering in Israel’s long history.  After Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the southern kingdom, Israel was again regathered to their land. After the Romans destroyed the nation in 70 A.D., there was no Israel for centuries. But in 1948 the nation was again established in their land.

However, in this passage, God grants Hosea vision into the far future, to the very end of history, when the children of Israel and Judah will be regathered in their land with “one leader.” This is a reference to Messiah who will someday reign over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem.

In that day the Bridegroom God will do what has always been in His heart to do.  Why did God pursue us when we rejected Him and ran from Him?  Why did God redeem us and call us into covenant with Himself?  Why did He take our judgment upon Himself, wash us, clothe us in a new robe and raise us up in resurrection life with Himself?  

“So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”  (Eph 2:7).

Pastor Mike Bickle in the Bridegroom Judge, said, “The Lord wanted Hosea’s pain-filled marriage to be a prophetic picture of how the Lord feels about His relationship to His people when they are unfaithful to Him. God will not throw them away — He will stay with them and bear the pain of their rejection of Him. He will also discipline with the goal of awakening them to their destiny as His bride.”

So we see in chapter one God contending for His Bride, confronting the covenant people with their sin, warning of judgment while promising blessing. Many will be lost through unbelief, yet some will be saved by grace through faith. God will have a covenant Bride.

November 10, 2019 - Hosea Introduction

November 10, 2019

Hosea 

Introduction:

When God speaks, it is in response to real people alive in real places at real times. So we always want to examine the context of a prophecy or epistle or teaching or parable. Why was Paul writing to the church at Corinth— what was going on there? What motivated Jesus to tell the parable of the wedding feast? As we begin to study what God said through Hosea, we want to develop a sense of context: where was God speaking and what was happening in that society?

Name and authorship:

The name Hosea means deliverer or savior, from the Hebrew verb yasha which means to save or deliver. Aside from his ministry, we have no specific biographical information other than the name of his father, Beeri. It is interesting that the Lord providentially guided Beeri to name his son in a way that represents the ministry to which God ordained him — He proclaimed a God who passionately desired to save and deliver His covenant people.

1. Date of Hosea’s ministry:

Hosea dates himself in 1:1.  He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jereboam II, king of Israel. Since Jereboam II died in 753 B.C. and Uzziah began to reign  by himself in 767, Hosea's ministry began somewhere between these two dates, probably around 755 B.C.  He continued to minister at least until the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign (from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C.). So Hosea’s ministry lasted forty to fifty years or possibly more. A general timeline would place his ministry from 755 to 710 B.C. Hosea then would be a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Micah.

He prophesied primarily in the northern kingdom of Israel, beginning near the end of the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C). After the death of Jeroboam II, four of the following six kings were assassinated, resulting in social and political anarchy and culminating with Assyria’s conquest of the nation in 722. At that point, the northern kingdom, Israel, ceased to exist. At the same time the southern kingdom, Judah (comprised of the tribes Judah and Benjamin), also suffered from poor leadership, interrupted briefly by the reign of the godly reformer, Hezekiah. But his reforms only served to slow the decline and destruction of the nation. Eventually, Judah also was destroyed (though over a hundred years later). 

2. Conditions during Hosea’s ministry:

To understand conditions during Hosea’s ministry, we need to begin after the death of King Solomon (during the 930s B.C.). The ten northern tribes rebelled against the rule of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, primarily in response to what was considered to be unjust taxation. They chose a man named Jeroboam as their king and called their nation the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was not descended from David and therefore was an illegitimate king. This is probably why Hosea dates himself primarily by kings of Judah. Though he ministered in Israel, the northern kings were rebels, whereas the kings of Judah were legitimate descendants of David.

Far more serious than the political rebellion was the apostate religious system which the northern tribes instituted. The leaders of the nation did not want people going to Jerusalem so they built their own places of worship and consecrated their own priests. Worship was a mixture of Yahweh worship and Canaanite fertility worship, gradually degenerating into terrible darkness, especially during the reign of King Ahab (approximately 875-850 BC). 

Ahab had married a Phoenician woman, Jezebel, who brought her foreign gods with her (primarily fertility gods such as Baal). Under her influence, violent persecution was launched against the true prophets and worshippers of Yahweh. (Jezebel and her false prophets were famously opposed by Elijah).

Approximately one hundred years later, Hosea came on the scene. During that time the Northern kingdom (Israel) enjoyed prosperity and peace along with a disastrous decline in faithfulness to God and a multiplying of idol worship (2 Chron 26:10,  Hosea 8:14).  Spiritual corruption led to moral corruption. Luxury and prosperity led to great sin and weak faith.  Wealth created self sufficiency and pride as the people forgot about God.  (Ironic that it took hardship to remind the people of their dependence on God.  Blessing did not often produce righteousness.)

Along with the increase in wealth for some was a multiplying of poverty among many and oppressive, unjust business practices (Hos 12:7).  Justice was being bought and sold, people were being bought and sold, the poor were being trampled (see Amos 8:4-8). Social morality, business ethics, declined. There is a connection here. As the nation declined in faithfulness to God and as idols increased, there was an increase in moral, political and economic corruption.

As we have said, following the death of Jereboam II, Israel fell into a period of national instability as one king displaced another.  Beginning in 745 B.C., Assyria began to reassert its power, climaxing in 722 with the fall of Israel into Assyrian hands. Many of the survivors were taken away to exile in foreign lands and non-Israelis were brought in to settle the land. (This mix of Jews and foreigners resulted later in the people group known as Samaritans).

3. Marriage to Gomer:

By divine command (1:2), Hosea married Gomer, “a wife of harlotry.”  This marriage is central to the ministry and message of Hosea.  There are different views among Bible scholars regarding the marriage:

a. Some say the marriage never happened — it is a spiritual allegory representing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. But it’s difficult to accept this view, considering the straightforward narrative.  The story is never presented in any form except as history.

b. Others say the marriage did happen and Gomer was a prostitute in the temple of a false god.  We reject this opinion because we don’t know what relationship she may have had to false gods. 

c. Gomer was a real person but not an actual prostitute — her infidelity was spiritual in nature; she was a worshipper of false gods.  Again, we reject this opinion because we do not know what her spiritual orientation was. 

d. The marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot.  The proponents of this theory point out how this would parallel God’s relationship with Israel.  God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3)  and made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of Israel.  In the same way, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful. However, this seems to contradict the straightforward words of 1:2, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry…”  

e. The most reasonable interpretation of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is that it is literally true — Hosea married a prostitute as God commanded him and through this, God depicts His covenant relationship with unfaithful Israel. Some object that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel. But in fact we do know that God commanded Hosea to marry her.

4. The character of Hosea:

Hosea does not tell us much about himself, but nothing proves devotion to God more than obedience.  We know that Hosea was a devout man because he obeyed God.  We know that he was committed to speaking God’s truth because he spoke even at great cost to himself.  In other words, Hosea was a lover of God.  He loved God enough to speak the Word that God planted in his heart. He also must have been a man of great courage to preach destruction and judgment in a time of prosperity. He must have been a man of faith because he was faithful to fulfill his ministry.

Four Themes of Hosea’s Ministry:

1. The Bridegroom God Who Makes Covenant With People:

God is revealed as the Bridegroom God whose love and patience are on display through all the covenant breaking, “I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hos. 2:19). (Isaiah also, a contemporary of Hosea, was receiving this revelation, “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 54:5).  We see the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved. Hosea’s continuing love for Gomer is an illustration of God’s love for Israel (for instance, 3:1-3).

Through Hosea, we realize that the Song of Solomon was not only a poem celebrating romantic love but on a deeper level, a revelation that the God who had revealed Himself as Almighty Creator, all-wise Lawgiver and fearsome Judge is also the Bridegroom God who has entered history to redeem a faithful Bride.

2. The Bride’s Violation of Covenant:

God had made a covenant with Israel which Israel continually violated (1:2  2:2,5  4:11-13).  The worship of false gods is considered by God to be spiritual adultery and is compared with the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.  That broken marriage is used as an illustration of the broken covenant between God and Israel (1:2  3:1-3).

The Lord had repeatedly warned Israel to avoid any polluting contact with the demonically inspired religions practiced by the people around them but over time those religions had infected the entire nation. Chief among them was the worship of fertility gods — Baal, a male god, and Asherah, his female counterpart. Another prominent and particularly gruesome false god was Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. The Canaanites vainly hoped that in the worship of these gods they would enhance the fertility of their crops and livestock.

Imagine the Lord’s offense. It is God who prospered Israel but the more they prospered, the more they gave glory to the false gods of the nations who did not know the Lord!

3. The Bridegroom God Contending for His Bride:

The Bridegroom God confronts His unfaithful Bride with calls to repent and solemn warnings of judgment if she will not (5:1-15,   8:1-14   10:5-8). The enemy of Israel is shown to be, not the Philistines or the Assyrians, but the unfaithfulness of God’s covenant people. The Lord exposes sin and warns of consequences because He is contending for the blessing and fulfillment of His covenant partner. He warns of impending judgment so that we will turn and not experience judgment.

4. Future Restoration of the Bride:

The Bridegroom God promises future restoration when Israel would again enjoy the blessings of God (1:10,11   2:14-23  3:4,5  6:1-3). We understand the Lord’s confrontation with Israel when we understand His heart. It is the Bridegroom God contending with His Bride for her salvation. We see this again in the book of Revelation, as the Lord Jesus confronts churches which have allowed their love for the Lord to be corrupted by indifference or immorality or false teaching. His desire is to bring about in history a Bride made ready for eternal communion with Himself.

Summary

The book of Hosea is a portrayal of God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, but also releasing judgment. There are times when God gives unrepentant sinners up to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

So we read in 5:6, “They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them.” The Lord withdrew His presence, anointing, protection, blessing, glory because Israel had withdrawn from Him. They loved God’s blessing, His abundance, His provision, but they despised Him so the Lord pulled back His hand and His blessing. His hope is that adversity will produce the necessary pressure to turn the nation back to Him.

Yet even in judgment, the Lord continued to yearn over His covenant people, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel?” (11:8). This is the Bridegroom God who loves His covenant people with faithful, loyal love. Hear the grieving, yearning heart of Israel’s lover: “I would redeem them but they speak lies against me” (7:13).

God called to Israel through the prophets, spoke to them through the sacred writings, chastised them with calamities yet they continually turned from him and bowed down to gods that are not gods. As a result, even as the nation prospered, it was collapsing in political, social and spiritual turmoil and was threatened by a dangerous, savage foreign enemy, Assyria.


We might picture Israel at that time as a beautiful mansion fitted with all the luxuries money can buy. But behind the walls, termites have eaten away the wood and the foundation beneath our feet is crumbling. Or to stay within the narrative, Israel was a Bride outwardly beautiful but inwardly suffering from a disease which, if not treated, will ultimately prove fatal.

For the most part, Israel’s leadership was indifferent, complacent, undiscerning of the corruption at the heart of the nation and the imminent danger just beyond their borders. They continued to mix the worship of God with the worship of idols. They attempted to establish political stability without consulting God and when they belatedly recognized the Assyrian threat, they tried to establish peace through military alliances with pagan, idol worshipping nations rather than trusting in the Lord.

None of those policies prevented the continuing disintegration of the nation. And yet the Bridegroom God continually offered them the only solution that would save them: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord ...” (Hosea 14:1-3).

The solution to national decline is not political, military or economic, rather, it is to return to the Lord, return to the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them, who called them and pursued them with faithful, covenant love. Return and repent of sin, including the sin of trusting in foreign alliances and false gods. If they would do this, the Lord clearly stated His response: I will heal and restore (Hosea 14:4-6).

We will see throughout the book that God’s emphasis is on the spiritual and moral decay of the nation. Therefore, as we have said, He does not emphasize political or military problems, though there were many. The kings of Israel were being assassinated in rapid order, creating chaos. The nation of Assyria was rising to power and threatening Israel with destruction. But God does not say, “You need a new king or a larger army.” He calls them to repentance and cleansing.

Let’s use the analogy of a human heart. If the heart is diseased, it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how many security guards you hire or how many weapons they carry. If the problem is a diseased heart then the solution must be to repair and revive the heart.

So with a nation. If the problem is moral / spiritual corruption, then the only solution is to turn from that which corrupts and call out to God for cleansing. Israel failed to do this and in the midst of her economic prosperity, political instability and oppression of the poor, as the nation continued to worship false gods, the nation was destroyed.

The Bridegroom God called to His covenant people with such amazing patience and mercy. But ultimately, their stubborn refusal to repent resulted in their total destruction. So it will be for any nation that defies the Lord. But it does not have to end that way.

A good example is in the southern kingdom of Judah. In the days of King Hezekiah, a contemporary of the prophet Hosea, the Assyrian army was marching through the land, killing and pillaging. As the enemy encamped around Jerusalem, Hezekiah called out to the Lord and in one night, the angel of the Lord killed 185,00 Assyrian soldiers, delivering the nation (Isiah 37:14-36).

Here is the choice for every generation. We may try to solve spiritual problems through political, economic or military means. We may continue to worship gods that are not true. Or we may repent of our sin and call on the name of the Lord.

He is mighty to save.

November 3, 2019 - Loving Our Enemies, Praying for Our Persecutors

November 3, 2019

This Sunday we were at the Dancing For Him Ministries Online School Graduation. Pastor Wil gave a wonderful message about loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. He is about 10 minutes into the message when the video comes on. You will hear his voice. The video was done on a lap top during a Zoom meeting, so the quality of the sound is poor (apologies). Nonetheless here is the video...

Loving Our Enemies, Praying for Our Persecutors 

(Matt. 5:43-48)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Principle: Loving my neighbor may require that I love my enemy.

In the first phrase, “Love your neighbor,” Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18. The second phrase, “Hate your enemy,” was a rabbinic interpretation of Scripture but not the word of God.

The Old Testament was not silent on the issue of showing mercy to enemies. For instance, in Exodus 23:4 we read, “If you see your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.” In Proverbs 24:17 we read, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

While it is true that God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanite nations which inhabited the Promised Land, it was because of the complete spiritual, moral and cultural corruption of those nations. They had sunk so low in their misunderstanding of God that they sacrificed their children and infants to their false gods while demeaning women with ritual prostitution. God commanded the destruction of those cultures lest they pollute and pervert Israel’s worship of the true and living God. In fact, Israel’s failure to eradicate those nations did lead to the corruption of Israel.

In those holy wars, Israel was an instrument of God’s righteous judgment. The goal of those campaigns was the preservation of Israel’s purity but the rabbis and Pharisees reinterpreted “love your neighbor” in the light of those wars and so they excluded enemies from their love.

The teachers of Israel also allowed certain verses of the Psalms to color their response to enemies. There are Psalms in which the writer pronounces curses over his enemies or the enemies of Israel (Ps. 69:22-24  137:9). But again, these verses were not personal expressions of hatred. Rather, they expressed the righteous judgment of God against those who were unrepentant in their opposition to His redeeming purpose. 

The words, “hate your enemy,” do not  appear in the Old Testament. Instances in which God sovereignly punished His adversaries or used Israel as an instrument of divine justice do not provide an excuse to hate.

The word of God’s impending judgment was both bitter and sweet to the Apostle John (Revelation 10:10). It was sweet to know that God would establish His sovereign, righteous purpose in this world. It was bitter to know that so many would perish under divine judgment.

God’s mercy and judgment are never in opposition. The same God who loves us perfectly also exercises perfect judgment on evil. We are called to proclaim His judgment and manifest His love.

Many of the rabbis and Pharisees of Jesus’ day had lost that balance. They loved their neighbor, whom they defined in very narrow ways, and hated their enemies, whom they defined with great liberality. There was no Scriptural justification for this.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus defined a neighbor in the broadest terms and exhorted us to love even the needy stranger who passes within the circle of our influence (Luke 20:25-37). Here, He extends the circle even further: “But I say to you, love your enemies.”  

The word which Jesus uses for love is aggapao. Aggapao is the love of God for people; it is always self-sacrificing love. Why should we love our enemies with God’s love? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (5:45). Godly love is how we show the presence of God in our lives. It is how we demonstrate that God is truly our Father and we are His children, adopted into His family.

Principle: We are called to love our enemies with God’s love, thereby giving God the opportunity to change them.

What kind of love is God’s love?

a. It is visionary faith-love, love that sees by faith the humanity of our enemy; sees through the bitter words and actions, through the propaganda and passion of the culture around us, and sees a human being for whom Christ died. We are not called to demonize our enemies or win a culture war in which we crush them with our arguments. We are to manifest God’s love to them with such reality that they may be drawn to Christ.

b. It is sacrificial love, which gives up its own will and even its own life for the visionary hope of introducing our enemy to Jesus. The good Samaritan expressed compassion in the life of the wounded man but compassion was costly. He sacrificed his time, his oil and wine and his money. By definition, sacrificial love costs us something.

c. It is redeeming love, love which not only sees the possibility of the enemy becoming something more, something other than enemy; sees not only the possibility of our enemy being reconciled to Christ, but because it is God’s love in us flowing out to our enemy, it carries the power to redeem those whom it touches.

d. It is, ultimately, conquering love. In the Old Testament, Israel was called to conquer its enemies by force of arms, by the violence of warfare. In the New Testament, we are called to conquer our enemies with God’s own love. This does not mean that we excuse their crime, their evil, their sin. Rather, we disarm them in their evil purpose by loving them with God’s love.

Principle: If we love our enemies, we will pray for them (Matt. 5:44).

Not only are we to love our enemies; we are also to pray for our persecutors. So Jesus did on the cross and so Stephen did as he was being stoned to death. Jesus’ prayer was answered as a dying thief cried out for mercy, as the Roman officer gave God glory and later, as many priests became believers. Stephen’s prayer was answered in the conversion of Saul and God only knows which of our persecutors may someday be turned to righteousness through the prayers and the Godly witness of Godly people.

Didn’t we see this acted out in our own nation? A generation of African-American pastors and saints disarmed a generation of violent bigots through love and prayer and a nation’s heart was transformed.

It’s not easy to love enemies, to pray for people who are seeking to destroy us. It requires that we crucify our natural desire for revenge. But it was at the point of their greatest pain that Jesus and Stephen released such great grace. Only the love of God in us can inspire such selfless prayer.

Principle: We show ourselves to be children of God when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (5:45).

We are to pray, not just for enemies, but for enemies who persecute us (5:44). What greater expression of love for anyone could we possibly share than this — to bring them before the throne of God in prayer? In prayer we are standing beside our enemy in the very presence of God, interceding on their behalf. This serves also to remind us of why we love them — certainly not because of their hatred for us or their sin against us but because they are lost and in need of the redeeming love of Jesus breaking through into their lives.

In loving our enemies and praying for them, we show visibly that we are truly children of the God who showers His mercy on the righteous and the unrighteous. We are showing people what this God is like. The Lord Himself sets the standard and example for this, loving each of us with redeeming, sacrificial love and praying for us while we were yet His enemies. 

If we would be God’s children and live in His kingdom, then we must be like Him, loving even our enemies and praying for our persecutors.

Principle: If we love only those who love us, we have failed to show any sign of God’s redemptive activity in our lives (Matt. 5:46,47). 

If I love no one outside my family or my group of friends at church, then I have shown no more evidence of God’s redeeming work in my life than any lost sinner. Even evil people are capable of loving those who love them and greeting and embracing those who are friends. We are to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God not only in words but especially in our living. If we show nothing more of love than those who do not acknowledge God, how can we expect them to see the presence of the kingdom of God in us? If they cannot see the presence of the kingdom in us, how will they hear the message of the kingdom? 

Principle: The goal of salvation is to be like our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:48).

Jesus says that we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. The word perfect, in the language in which Matthew wrote, is teleios. It has to do with completeness, reaching the end point or fulfillment of something. It is often translated as maturity, for instance in Ephesians 4:13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (teleios) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”  

There is a level of maturity in Christ that is appropriate to each stage of our journey of discipleship. There is a fullness of maturity which is appropriate to a five year old who is coming to know Jesus and there is a maturity which is appropriate to a fifty year old who has known the Lord for many years. But there is also an ultimate goal in attaining the measure of the stature which belongs to Christ, an ultimate fullness and completeness of God’s purpose in us. 

In I John 3:2, we read, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Someday, we will be perfected in the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ because we will be with Him and will see Him as He is. But even now we manifest the  presence of the Lord in our lives as we love pur enemeis and pray for those who persecute us. Though our love and our prayers are imperfect and we wrestle with human emotions when we are hurt by others, it is in this wrestling that we prove who we are and it is in this conflict that the Holy Spirit has room in us to carry on the process of transformation.

And we may be assured that we will arrive at the ultimate goal, complete and perfect in Christ.

October 28, 2019 - Holy Communion

October 27, 2019

Holy Communion

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’”  (I Corinthians 11:23-25).

We are commanded by Jesus to take bread and a cup of wine or grape juice and remember Him.  What is it we are remembering?

1. Remember that Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.  

John the Apostle heard that victory celebration shouted across the corridors of heaven nearly 2000 years ago: “Then the seventh angel sounded and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever,’” (Revelation 11:15). 

When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are celebrating the Lord’s victory.

As Jesus died, He shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  In the language of the New Testament that is one word, “Tetelestai.”  That was the word stamped on documents and contracts of that day. It means finished, complete, accomplished.

Jesus knew He had perfectly fulfilled redemptive purpose as the Lamb for sinners slain, knew that He had made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, knew that His mission was complete.  “Tetelestai” is a shout of triumph.

When we take the bread and the cup, we celebrate the victory which Jesus won on the cross when He made an atoning sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:12), when He reconciled forgiven sinners to a holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18,19), when He disarmed the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:14,15).

In many communion liturgies we say, 

Christ has died, 

Christ is risen, 

Christ will come again. 

We are living in between the victory of Jesus in His first coming and the fulfillment of His triumph at His second coming. We are living between that shout of triumph, “Tetelestai” and the shout that will someday echo across heaven and earth, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever.”

Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.

In holy communion we remember and confess that it was our sin which Jesus took upon Himself on the cross and we reverence that unequaled outpouring of love.  But there is a difference between reverence and mournfulness.  We reverence the cross but we do not fall into morbid guilt and condemnation. That is not consistent with a triumphant Savior. 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to us, “When you take this bread and cup, remember that I have conquered the power of the enemy.  Do this in remembrance of my overthrow of the powers of darkness which once captivated you.”

Let’s remember the context of each communion service.  Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples (Matthew 26:20,26-30).  Passover was a celebration of the victory of God over the oppressors of Israel and the deliverance of Israel from bondage.  Pharaoh, leading the most powerful empire on earth, had set himself in opposition to God's salvation purpose on earth and enslaved the covenant people.  God broke Pharaoh's power, broke the slave-maker and set the covenant people free. Passover was a celebration punctuated by blessings and the giving of thanks.  

So for us. Just as the blood of the lamb delivered Israel, just as the flesh of the lamb nourished Israel for their journey, now the body and blood of Christ represent His victory on our behalf and through the grace which Christ ministers to us in this celebration, will nourish us on our journey out of the land of slavery and into the land of promise. Surely we do give thanks.  

As we celebrate together, may we also hear the Lord saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.  What I have done is your point of departure and release from bondage.  Just as Israel celebrates deliverance from slavery and victory from her oppressors, so you come in celebration of the fact that in my cross I have won victory over your slave master, your adversary, the devil.”

Several hours after celebrating the Passover meal, on the cross Jesus by His shed blood made a full and perfect atoning sacrifice, opening a way for our exodus from slavery to sin and death. When the sacrifice was complete He shouted, “It is finished.” 

The kingdom of our God and of His Christ has appeared.  The accuser is cast down and we are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb.  So give thanks in remembrance of our Redeemer.

2. Remember that Holy Communion is a proclamation of redemption.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).  

We are proclaiming the message of redemption every time we take the bread and cup, proclaiming that Jesus purchased life for us, redeemed us from slavery to sin and death.

a. The bread and the cup testify to the world of a Savior who gave His life that we might live.  The bread and cup offer Christ to a world which hungers and thirsts to know God.  The bread and cup do not contain or bestow grace but they proclaim the presence of a God who is faithful to minister grace to all who call upon Him.

b. The bread and the cup testify to holy and unholy angels of the wisdom and power of God, “So that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). On the cross God disarmed powers and principalities and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:14,15).  Holy communion is a living testimony of that triumph.

c. The bread and the cup testify that redemption costs something and proclaim the price of our deliverance — the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  The means of our deliverance is the cross which is the release point for the power of God unto salvation. 

d. The bread and the cup testify of the name of the Person who is our Deliverer — Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

3. Remember that Holy Communion is our declaration of dependence on Christ our life. 

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:49-51).

Jesus was speaking of our union with Him and the continued communion whereby we partake of His life, without which we have no true life.  Holy Communion is a portrayal of this reality.

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes”  (John 5:21).

We need the nourishment of physical food but also spiritual food, the flow of life and truth from God. True life, abundant life, meaningful life, everlasting life, is found only in Jesus.

Through faith in Christ we were adopted into the household of God. Now, God as Head of the household and our Provider feeds us with spiritual food which sustains our life.  Christ is the only food for our soul.  

Jesus feeds us spiritually on His life through His Word, as we worship, as we pray, as we serve Him.  In Holy Communion, we are holding spiritual tokens of the Christ who nourishes us into eternity. The bread and cup represent the spiritual food by which Christ nourishes His people and in the bread and cup we are declaring that we are dependent on this life flow and calling on the Lord to release His life into our hungry spirit.

As we feed upon Christ by faith, we declare our dependence on Christ our Life and our heavenly Bread.

4. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the invisible union of believers with the Christ who said,  

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him” (John 6:56).  Jesus said that we are partaking of His life, living in Him as He lives in us. 

The bread and cup are visible signs of our spiritual union, our abiding in the flow of Christ's life.  Holy Communion does not create this union, that is the work of the Holy Spirit by faith.  But we proclaim this union in the bread and cup.

5. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the presence of Christ our High Priest in our midst: 

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16,17).  

Day by day we are sharing in the life of Jesus and the bread and cup symbolize that sharing.  The bread and cup represent Christ but through the action of the Holy Spirit, Christ is spiritually present in that which represents Him.

Holy Communion is more than a memorial, more than mere remembrance.  It is also a celebration of the Christ who is present among us as we celebrate.  

How is Christ present in Holy Communion?  How is He present in a service of worship or in the preaching of the Word?  How Christ is present is a sacred mystery but the center of this mystery is Christ Himself who continues His High Priestly work of offering the release of His life to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

6. Remember that Holy Communion is an exercise in discipleship and self examination.

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).  

An unworthy manner refers to a manner not in accordance with the worth or value of the sacrifice of Jesus.  We devalue the offering of His life when we reduce the celebration to mere ceremony, when we muddle through the ritual while tolerating the unrepented practice of sin in our hearts, in our relationships and in our church.

Churches fail to ascribe full worth to Holy Communion when they assume that it is not worthy of their time, when they hurry through the celebration as if it is an interruption in the more important business of customer and cash flow.  

In unworthy celebration, we separate ourselves from the flow of the life of Christ.

Ascribing full worth to Holy Communion involves the realization that this is the symbol of God’s provision for every need in our life.  The blood of Christ paid for our sins, redeemed us from everlasting separation from God and also provides for healing, peace of mind, provision of resources, deliverance from the strategies and weapons and entanglements of the enemy.

“But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (I Corinthians 11:28).

Let us then examine ourselves.  The word examine means to test, discern.

It is one thing to surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior and to be a believer.  It is something more to be a disciple, one who is entering into the disciplines of learning from and being molded by a Master.  A believer is someone who believes in something.  A disciple is someone who is being disciplined by someone.  Jesus calls us to move on from being a believer to a disciple, a disciplined one.

Every day we need to invite the Lord to shine His truth into our hearts and examine us as His disciples, His learners (as if we were sitting at His feet).  He is not just releasing life into us but revealing the life that is in us.  Is it His life that forms us and motivates us?  Or is it the old Adam, with its corrupt, self-centered desires?  What is the energizing life-force within us — is it Christ or is it our self-enthronement?  Is it the values of the kingdom of God or the values of this corrupt and dying world?  

Holy Communion is a time of examination and review in the lives of the disciples, not for the purpose of condemnation but for the purpose of cleansing and growth and maturity into the fulness of the image of Christ.

We have been quoting from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  The problem at Corinth was sin and division in the church.  What does sin and division do?  It separates us from Christ and the flow of His life through His Body, the church.  Therefore we read,  

“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (I Corinthians 11:29,30).

Paul was referring to the practice of eating together as a church ( they called that the love feast) and then following with Holy Communion.  But he says that they were not judging the body rightly.  What does he mean and which body is he referring to?

Remember that Paul wrote these words to a church which had forgotten that we “are Christ's body and individually members of it”  (I Corinthians 12:27).  Paul follows the statement in Chapter 11 about rightly discerning the body with the presentation in chapter 12 that the church is the Body of Christ. In chapter 13 he reveals how the body should live together — in self-sacrificing love. In chapter14 he further discusses the function of the body.  

Why such emphasis on the church as the body of Christ?

Because they were a divided, sinful church failing to discern the sacred truth that they were the body which Christ now inhabits on earth and they were failing to discern their own relationship in that body.  They met together for the love feast but some were gorging themselves with abundance of food while others had no food, some were drunk and some were sober.  Then, when they attempted to worship and teach the Word, they were in such disunity that it was difficult to carry on a service.  Meanwhile, others had separated from the church through immorality or rebellion or spiritual laziness.

They were not discerning that as members of Christ’s body, there is a flow of His life through the church that vitalizes the members.  Their sin and disunity disconnected them from the flow of Christ’s life and so, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” 

Separated from the life of Christ by ongoing, unrepented sin, we grow weak and death begins to encroach on our life and our fellowship.  What kind of death?  The death of the possibilities of faith, the death of the plan and purpose of God in our life, a dying of anointing and power, a dying of gifts and resources.  And yes, it appears that some in the church at Corinth had become physically ill and others died before their time because of the judgment of God.

God surely does exercise cleansing and chastisement in our hearts and in His church — He does so because He loves us and because He loves His church.  But we do not want to take from this Scripture a picture of Christ standing before us and saying, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, but if you get it wrong I'll kill you.” 

Yes, Christ exercises judgement among His people and we need look no further than the lives of Ananias and Saphira, who were severely judge for lying to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-11).  But the Christ who knows perfectly our sin and failure has not taken our lives.  Rather, He calls us to His table to feed us on His life, to strengthen us in our weakness, to nurture us in our need, to correct us in our sin.  He stands before us as if He is saying, 

“Come unto me and celebrate my victory on your behalf and receive the flow of my life.  But examine yourself and let my life come to bear on those points where you need growth, maturity, forgiveness, cleansing, deliverance.  Where there is smallness, let my life stretch you.  Where there is unforgiveness, let my life release grace in you toward others.  Where there is lovelessness, let my love release a largeness of heart.  Where there is sin, let my life work repentance and holiness in you.  And if you will rightly discern that this church is my body, if you will discern your place in the body and discern those things that have lodged in your spirit that restrict the flow of my life into your life, then I will feed you and restore those things that are sick and resurrect those things that have died.”  

To this day there are many in the church who fail to discern the body of Christ.  They have failed to discern their place in the body and their need to live in the flow of life that comes from union with Christ and with Christ’s people.  Having separated themselves from the flow of life in Christ through rebellion, disunity, unconfessed sin or through the neglect of spiritual disciplines such as Holy Communion, they have become sick in faith and some of the possibilities of faith have died before their time.

So we examine ourselves, confessing our sin and admitting our need for the flow of life from Christ to ourselves. We rise from self examination in confidence that whatever we lack, whatever the Lord showed us that we lack, wherever it is that we need to grow, there is full provision for this and we ascribe full worth to the provision and to the Provider.  

We partake of the bread and cup and if we need forgiveness, there is provision.  If we need to be restored in some area of the soul, if we need to forgive, to be strengthened in our discipline — whatever we need — the provision is present in Christ our life who is present not only as our Bread but as our High Priest who ministers the Bread of His life.

7. Holy Communion anticipates a greater feast someday — the marriage supper of the Lamb.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).

Every service of Holy Communion is a proclamation that Jesus Christ is faithful to fulfill every promise He has made.  He will conclude history. He will return for His redeemed church. He will establish His kingdom on earth.

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Jesus Christ is coming again — we proclaim this great truth in the bread and cup. But it is more than Christ’s return that we anticipate. It is the glorious celebration of the consummation of union between Christ and His church — the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride:

“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready’” (Revelation 19:6,7).

“Then he said to me, Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:9).

What a feast that will be.  It is not merely the banquet that excites our imagination but the One we will see face to face, in whose presence we will abide forever. As we take the bread and cup in our hands, we are declaring the certainty of that feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Our future with Christ is promised and anticipated in this bread and wine.

Christ has died,

Christ is risen,

Christ will come again. 

In those few words we declare the saving death of Jesus, His resurrection presence among us and His promise to return someday.  This is the joyful feast which the early church celebrated and with those early celebrants we cry, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Study Questions

1. Jesus said, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” What are we remembering in Holy Communion?

October 20, 2019 - The Blessed Life

October 20, 2019

The Blessed Life

In Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus taught the principles of the blessed life. 

The word blessed which Jesus uses in these teachings is makarios. It has to do with happiness, joy, a state of being which only God can bestow and is not dependent on the world nor our circumstances. It is His gift to His children, to those who love Him and are faithful. Makarios stands in stark contrast to the world’s definition of happiness which is based on power, fame, riches, pleasure, all of which are easily diminished and eventually lost.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3)

The poor in spirit are those who are awakened by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to realize that they are spiritually dead and separated from God by their sins; who know that they stand condemned before God, stand under the weight of God’s righteous judgment and unless there is a radical change, they will be separated from God forever in hell.

The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual poverty, realize that there is no human work which can be done that will reconcile them to God, rather, it is entirely by the riches of God’s grace that we are saved. Those who confess to God their separation from Him, who confess their spiritual poverty, that they are bankrupt and helpless to change and are entirely dependent on the riches of God’s mercy and grace, will be blessed, will be made happy with a happiness which only God can bestow. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Through faith in Christ, the poor in spirit inherit the true riches of the kingdom: forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and everlasting life when this life is over.

This is not a someday promise — ours is the kingdom. Today we have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Today we experience the rule of God’s grace in us and around us.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4).

Of the numerous New Testament words for mourning or sorrow, this is the strongest, pentheo, which speaks of the deepest possible grief. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is used for Jacob’s grief over what he believed to be the death of his son Joseph. It is used in Mark 16:10 of the disciples mourning the death of Jesus. 

Sorrow is something the world attempts to avoid, obsessively pursuing happiness and pleasure. In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is considered to be a constitutionally guaranteed right. But the more that people chase the shallow, temporary happiness of this world, the more frustrated and unfulfilled they become. 

In contrast, Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn.” Blessed, happy are those who mourn.  Mourn over what?

 

As the Holy Spirit awakens a lost soul to the truth of his or her life, they mourn their sin and self-centeredness; they shall be comforted with forgiveness. They mourn over their spiritual lostness, their separation from God; they shall be comforted with salvation, reconciliation with God our Creator. Blessed are those who mourn over the death that sin creates — the death of opportunities, talents and time; the death of friendships broken, life and health ruined. They shall be comforted with the grace-filled miracle of restoration.

We mourn over the lost souls around us, the condition of a fallen, suffering world and a groaning creation. The Apostle Paul wanted to know the Lord not only in “the power of His resurrection” but also in “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phlp. 3:10). As we share in the travail of Jesus and shall be comforted by His fellowship now and by His reward in heaven.

3. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5).

The word which we translate gentle is praus which can also be rendered as meek. Jesus used a related word to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29, “For I am gentle (praos) and humble in heart.”

Gentleness or meekness has nothing to do with softness or weakness. It is a quality of the character of Christ which God produces in us as we cooperate with His sanctifying work and which expresses itself toward God in humble reverence and toward people in self sacrificing love.

Gentleness is closely related to the concept of humility, though these are different words. Humility, tapeinoo, is used to describe Jesus’ attitude in leaving the riches of heaven to be born in human form, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phlpns. 2:8).

What does Jesus say that these gentle, humble ones will inherit? The earth.

The power brokers of the world build their mega-empires but ultimately they perish and their empires perish after them. In the end, they gain nothing and lose their souls. The gentle, humble follower of Jesus inherits the earth and everlasting life with God.

In the thousand year reign of Christ on earth and afterward in the new heavens and the new earth, those who humbled themselves in repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, will reign with Him. We will literally inherit the earth. Indeed, when we humble ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we then become joint heirs with Him — we stand to inherit that which Jesus inherits: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

But there is also a present tense to this inheritance. Jesus promises to resource the lives and ministries of those who, in gentle humility, commit themselves to fulfill His kingdom purpose on earth. The gentle, humble followers of Christ have an inheritance, now in this world, later in the Millennial reign of Christ and finally in the new heavens and new earth. 

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6).

Every day we experience a multitude of appetites which demand fulfillment — people are hungry for so many different kinds of experiences but there is a God-shaped emptiness in each of us which demands to be filled. Only God Himself can fill this deepest longing; it is the way we were created. The world is filled with frustrated, anxious, angry, unfulfilled people because they are trying to fill this desire for God with everything except the true and living God.

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord asked, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and delight yourself in abundance” (Isa. 55:2).

What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?

It means to passionately desire a right relationship with God. Humanity is separated from God because of sin against God and we will never experience true fulfillment or lasting satisfaction while living apart from God. People pursue wealth, fame, power but arriving at their goal, they are still hungry.

The Psalmist understood this craving: “As the deer pants (longs for) the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God” (Psalm 42:1,2).

The meaningful, fulfilled life begins in being reconciled to God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, alive in Christ, we hunger and thirst for God’s holy word. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

We hunger and thirst to grow in Christlikeness. Apostle Peter adds, “Like new born babies, long for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2).

We hunger and thirst for the presence of God. David the Psalmist cried out, “O Lord, I call upon You; hasten to me” (Ps. 141:1).

It is our responsibility to hunger and thirst. It is God’s responsibility to satisfy. 

Mary rejoiced in God’s outpouring into the lives of those who hunger and thirst after Him, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior ... He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:46,47, 53).

David testifies, “You prepare a table before me ... my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who passionately, desperately desire a right relationship with God.  Blessed in what way? Blessed with God Himself. God will draw us into an ever deepening relationship with Himself, wherein is true blessedness, true fulfillment and satisfaction. And in this righteous relationship with God, all other things that are needed shall be added unto us (Matthew 6:33).

5. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7)

All of God’s redeeming work in our lives is an expression of His mercy. God, in turn, requires us to share the mercy we have experienced from Him. “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).

In Luke 6:36 Jesus commands us, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” Two verses later He says, “Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). Mercy is what God pours into our lives. As we allow the Lord to pour out mercy through us, we experience His mercy in greater measure.

This is not a merciful world. It is a savage world fallen from grace, exercising brutality everywhere. Yet Jesus wept over the city that rejected Him, touched the untouchable leper, set at liberty the demon bound outcast and forgave the self righteous priests who crucified Him.

His outpouring of mercy and grace on a fallen world did not result in the world pouring out mercy on Him. Rather, it was His Father who rewarded Him. So with us. We are commanded to share mercy with the world around us. The world will not repay mercy with mercy but our Lord will. It is the Lord Himself who blesses the poor in spirit with their reward, the kingdom of heaven. It is the Lord who comforts those who mourn, who blesses the gentle and satisfies those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We, in turn, are commanded to share mercy with others. How can I show mercy in such a brutal, violent, unforgiving world? “We love because He first loved us” (I John 5:19). “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

It is God’s mercy toward us that enables us to share mercy. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us and an expression of the character of Christ which the Holy Spirit cultivates in us (Gal. 5:22,23).

6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8)

Pure translates the word kathores from which we derive catharsis, referring to that which has been cleansed. It was used in reference to metals that had been refined of impurities.

Applied to a person, this is a heart which is undivided by conflicting motives or contradictory desires, singleminded, devoted, uncompromised. It speaks of integrity, that which is integrated, in which all the parts are functioning as a whole. It is a heart with one focus, whole, wholly committed to know and love God. It is a cleansed heart, undiluted by darkness, transparent — as clear as light.  

Only God can create a pure heart but He does so as we participate in the discipline of holiness. This discipline includes honest accountability for our sins and failures. John exhorts us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

This discipline also includes refusing to practice the old ways of our fallen nature while continually practicing our new life in Christ. Paul refers to this as putting off the old and putting on the new (Colossians 3:1-17).

This discipline includes presenting ourselves to God daily, refusing conformity to this world and accepting God’s work of transformation (Romans 6:12-14 12:1,2) as we meet Him in His word and in worship.

This discipline includes accepting God’s restoring, forgiving grace day by day. David the Psalmist knew something of failure but also of forgiving, cleansing grace. He said, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Ps. 32:1).

What is the blessing obtained by those who have a pure heart? “They shall see God.” This is not just an end time event but a daily, intimate communion with God, uninterrupted fellowship with our Lord and Savior.

7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

The Lord who spoke peace to the storm offers us His peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).  

Peace is Jesus’ gift to all who come to Him in humble repentance and childlike faith. Since it is His gift to us, the world can neither take it from us nor diminish its reality within us.

This peace is, first of all, peace with God, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Secondly, it is the peace of God, a living peace established within us by the God of peace who indwells us. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you so that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33).

Whatever storms we encounter, we may experience the peace of God. Now, the God of peace, who has planted His peace within us, calls us to be peacemakers in a fallen world which is in violent rebellion against its Creator and burning in its self destructive rebellion. A peacemaker is someone who disturbs the natural order of things in a world at war with itself.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The peace which Jesus brings is rooted in righteous relationship with a holy God who speaks truth wrapped in grace and love. But truth is confrontational.

When the truth of the Gospel confronted our sin, we repented and placed our faith in Christ. But this confrontation was not an act of peace. It was an act of war resulting in peace.

After Peter preached his first sermon on Pentecost, the people “were pierced (wounded) to the heart” and they cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Peter responded, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name or Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Hearts wounded by truth were brought into the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Just as God brought peace to our souls by confronting us with truth, so it is in His church. In Revelation chapter two, Jesus confronted the church at Pergamum because there were some false teachers in the church. He said in 2:16, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” He was ready to make war on anyone that would harm His bride. He would bring peace and purity to His bride with the sword of His mouth, with truth.

Just as God brings peace to our souls and to the church by confronting us with truth, so it must be with the world around us. The world is not at peace. It is at war and the primary cause of conflict is that people are separated from God and from one another. The root of this separation is sin. What robs the world of peace is sin.

What delivers anyone from sin? Confrontation with truth. We are called to speak the truth with love and grace and our peacemaking in God’s name gives proof that we are His children, “They shall be called sons of God.”

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). If this is so, if we are indeed children of God by faith in Christ, then there will be visible manifestations of our relationship with the living God. 

Peace with God, the peace of God and peace making in God’s name demonstrate that we are who we say we are.

October 13, 2019 - The First and Greatest Commandment

October 13, 2019

The First and Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:30

A scribe asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

What does it mean to love God with all of our being? It means to love God the way He loves us — God loves us with all of His being.  How do we love God with all of our being? By encountering and experiencing His love for us.

The reason we are able to love God at all is because God has come to us, pursued us, awakened us and lavished His saving grace upon us: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I John 4:10).

We see a beautiful picture of this through the prophetic ministry of Hosea. God had made covenant with Israel, betrothed Israel to Himself as His bride. When Israel rejected the Lord and pursued false gods, the Lord did not reject the nation. Instead, He pursued Israel as a husband pursing His unfaithful beloved, calling to her. 

Around this same time, Isaiah was also declaring this revelation, “It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4,5)

What a revelation, that the God of Israel was not only the mighty Creator and fearsome Judge but also the covenant husband of Israel, the Bridegroom God who delights in His covenant people  “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride.” This gave a radically different interpretation to the Song of Solomon. Now it was obvious that this was not merely a poem about romantic love but a portrait of the divine Beloved declaring His love for His bride.

“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride … How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:9). This is a God who is captivated by His Bride, enraptured by her and passionately desiring that she would love Him in return. 

The Bride is awakened by her divine Beloved and with amazed wonder, she declares, “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is toward me” (Song 7:10). What a revelation! The Creator of the universe passionately desires to bring fallen, sinful people into a covenant relationship with Himself wherein we may experience, not merely the forgiveness of our sins but the lavishing of His grace and love upon us so that then He can take pleasure in our love for Him.

But there’s more. The Bridegroom God brings His beloved to His banqueting table and spreads His banner of love over her (Song 2:4). The banqueting table is the place where the bride is nourished. This is a picture of covenant people, those who are betrothed to God, meeting God in prayer, in worship, in feeding on His word. This banqueting table is a place of revelation where the Bridegroom God opens His heart and mind to His beloved. It is a place of celebration where we rejoice in His love and He finds pleasure in our love.

He spreads His banner over the celebration — the banner represents His rulership over our lives. It is a rule of grace overcoming guilt, forgiveness overcoming judgment, life swallowing up death.

Under that banner and in that place of nourishment, revelation and celebration, the Bride finds her identity — I am the one whom my Beloved desires, His delight is in me. Our identity is established in the incredible reality that the Creator of the universe loves us, desires us, delights in us and takes pleasure in our love for Him. 

This changes everything. Our obedience, our giving, the exercise of ministry, all of life is empowered by this experience of being desired by God. We don’t earn or deserve God’s love, nor do we motivate His desire for us. It is His love for us that awakens us, motivates us to pursue Him, to enjoy Him and to lavish our love upon Him.  

The psalmist declared, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). Who are His people? Those who have been awakened by Him and have entered into covenant with Him, His betrothed, His beloved — and He finds pleasure in us.

This experience of the love of God, of God’s delight in us, enables us to love God in return: “We love, because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19). God’s love for us is the well spring of all love and it is this well, with neither beginning nor end, which cannot die nor be overcome nor contained, that draws us into the depths of true love. The greatest reward for love is the ability to love more and as we drink from this well delight, our love rises and flows back to this God who delights in us. 

The Apostle Paul asked, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,37-39).

Since this is so, that nothing can restrict or restrain God’s love for us, we can rest, we can be confident, in the unchanging reality of the love of the Bridegroom God.

John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” The love of God is the reason for our being, we were created to experience God’s love and respond with love.  This need to know and love God is locked within our hearts as a seed, an instinct, an undeniable impulse.  We must know God’s love and love Him in return or we die.  It is the only love that truly satisfies, this love of the God who first loved us, who loves us with undying, everlasting love.  Out of this exchange of love, all other love flows.  “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).  It is our experience of His love for us that enables, inspires and nurtures all the other manifold loves of our life.  It pours out through us back to the Bridegroom God and to the world around us.

Love for God is demonstrated as we obey His righteous laws, not with words but with deeds, as Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Humanity is free to withhold love from God and this is the genesis of all sin and the cause of final judgment and separation from God, that anyone would reject His love and refuse to love Him in return. But why would we reject this Bridegroom God who has pursued us with such passion? Overwhelmed with His love, we respond with all of our being — heart, soul, mind and strength.

We are to love God with all of our heart, which might be interpreted as the depths of our emotions. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

We love God with all of our soul, with all our creative powers and artistic giftings.

We love God with all of our mind, our rational and intellectual powers.  This is why Paul prayed for the church, “That your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9).  Paul prayed that we would be “rooted and grounded in love … able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).

We are to love God with all our physical powers, in the living of life each day. Our vocation, our daily tasks, no matter now mundane and common, can be done as expressions of our love for God.

Love of God cannot be restricted to a particular time and place such as Sunday morning at the cathedral.  It is broader and deeper than that, encompassing all of life.  We cannot love God in our worship liturgy and then deny Him in our work day ethics.  We cannot sing our love for God in the church choir but deny our love for God in the streets and markets of commerce, in the halls of politics and in the racially diverse neighborhoods of our cities.  Love of God must encompass all of life.  It is a lifestyle, the life we were created to live.

This is why Jesus adds that the second commandment “is like it,” that we love our neighbor as ourselves. These two commandments are alike, joined in meaning, because we cannot say that we love God, whom we have not seen if we hate our brother whom we have seen (I John 4:20).  Lest we become too exclusive in our definition of brother or neighbor, Jesus breaks down the walls of separation in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).  Samaritans were racially, nationally and religiously distinct from Jews, despised by Jews, yet it is precisely the loving service of a Samaritan to a Jew that Jesus uses to define the neighbor-love that reveals our God-love.

Paul prayed, “And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you” (I Thes. 3:12). This is God’s primary purpose in our lives — that we would experience His love for us and then pour our love back to Him and into the world around us. His priority is not our ministry, our gifts or our offerings. It is that we would know His love and love Him in return with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Jesus prayed, “And I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Jesus asked the Father to pour into our lives His love for His Son. What a marvelous thought, that we would experience the exchange of love between God the Father and God the Son, that we would stand within the circle of that eternal, unbounded flow of love.

If this is true, that God passionately desires that we experience His love and love Him in return, then our identity can be defined not by success or failure in our careers, not by acceptance or rejection in our relationships, but by this primary reality — God loves us and takes pleasure in our love for Him. This is our true identity, this is who we are —the Bride of the Bridegroom God.

This means that our success is defined not by profit margins or popularity but by this primary reality — God desires us and takes pleasure in our desire for Him. 

If this is true, then Jesus’ evaluation of our lives is not defined by sin or our struggle to overcome sin or by our success or our struggle to obtain success.  Jesus’ evaluation of our lives is defined by our willingness to receive His love and love Him in return.

This then empowers and energizes our obedience, our giving, the exercise of gifts, the fulfilling of ministry. Pastor Mike Bickle calls this “Affection-based obedience”— a motive for living that flows from our experience of Christ’s overwhelming passion for us and our willingness to pour it back upon Him. This covenant love of the Bridegroom God for His bride cannot be destroyed or even diminished. It is the most permanent, fixed reality in an unstable, storm-wracked world.

Jesus told a parable about His desire for a bride (Matt. 22:1-14). A king gave a wedding feast for his son. Most of the people were indifferent, ignored the invitation. Some of the people beat the messengers, killed them. The king’s response to their rejection? Go out into the highways, persuade them to come in.

The last book of the Bible begins with these words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation means unveiling and in the following chapters we see the unveiling of Jesus in the fulness of His glory. We see the unveiling of history as it empties into eternity. And we see the grand, unexpected, goal of history — the unveiling of the church as a bride made ready for the Bridegroom God. 

What a marvelous revelation, that the Creator of the universe is the Bridegroom God, born in human form to pursue sinful, lost people, to awaken us with His love, to redeem us to know His love, to inspire us to love Him in return.

We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and with all of our strength.  The fact that we struggle to do this, that we wrestle with imperfect love, immature love, weak love, love that is so easily distracted and seduced by this passing world, love that is often assaulted, dishonored and polluted by sin — this does not diminish the Bridegroom’s love for us. It moves Him all the more.

You see, it will be easy to love the Bridegroom God in eternity when we see Him in His glory, when we stand amidst the splendor of heaven and the raptures of celebration.  But it moves Him that we choose to love Him now in the midst of temptation, weariness, resistance, opposition, disappointment, failure and sin. It moves Him because our love now is costly. These few years on earth are the only span of time when we choose to love the Lord without seeing Him, in the midst of storms, trials and tribulations.  Your choice to love Him now, with all you can offer of heart, soul, mind and strength, this delights the Bridegroom God.