Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on Joel 1

    Joel 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Joel the son of Pethuel. And this is the message the LORD gave to me.
  2. Listen, you leaders and everyone else in the land. Has anything like this ever happened before?
  3. Tell our children! Let it be told to our grandchildren and their children too.
  4. Swarm after swarm of locusts has attacked our crops, eating everything in sight.
  5. Sober up, you drunkards! Cry long and loud; your wine supply is gone.
  6. A powerful nation with countless troops has invaded our land. They have the teeth and jaws of powerful lions.
  7. Our grapevines and fig trees are stripped bare; only naked branches remain.
  8. Grieve like a young woman mourning for the man she was to marry.
  9. Offerings of grain and wine are no longer brought to the LORD's temple. His servants, the priests, are deep in sorrow.
  10. Barren fields mourn; grain, grapes, and olives are scorched and shriveled.
  11. Mourn for our farms and our vineyards! There's no wheat or barley growing in our fields.
  12. Grapevines have dried up and so has every tree-- figs and pomegranates, date palms and apples. All happiness has faded away.
  13. Mourn, you priests who serve at the altar of my God. Spend your days and nights wearing sackcloth. Offerings of grain and wine are no longer brought to the LORD's temple.
  14. Tell the leaders and people to come together at the temple. Order them to go without eating and to pray sincerely.
  15. We are in for trouble! Soon the LORD All-Powerful will bring disaster.
  16. Our food is already gone; there's no more celebrating at the temple of our God.
  17. Seeds dry up in the ground; no harvest is possible. Our barns are in bad shape, with no grain to store in them.
  18. Our cattle wander aimlessly, moaning for lack of pasture, and sheep are suffering.
  19. I cry out to you, LORD. Grasslands and forests are eaten by the scorching heat.
  20. Wild animals have no water because of you; rivers and streams are dry, and pastures are parched.

Joel is an unusual book of prophesy. Nothing in the book gives a hint of when it was written thus leaving us without a reference point on which to apply its message historically to Israel. Instead, Joel introduces us to "a framework for the end times which is faithfully followed by all subsequent Scripture." (Montague S. Mills)

The book opens with a reference to a devastating plague of locusts which leaves nothing in its wake. A call to mourning is made throughout the land. First the drunkards are called to mourn because of the destruction of the vineyards and the resulting lack of wine. Then the land itself is called to mourn as a young woman who grieves the death of her husband. Next, the farmers and vine growers are called to mourn since the fruit of their labor had been destroyed. The farmers are followed by a call to the priests who no longer have ingredients for the daily offerings.

Beginning at verse 15 we are given the meaning of the locust plague which is a foreshadowing of the "day of the Lord." As the locusts had destroyed everything in their path, so the Lord will bring destruction on this coming day. "For the Day of the LORD is near and will come as devastation from the Almighty." (v. 15) When we read prophecy of this nature in scripture we are naturally filled with questions: when will this be? what will it be like? etc. Wherever we care to search in scripture we will find that the Lord does not reveal such details. Much of the description of details related to the "day of the Lord" are given in metaphors and symbolism. We are not intended to know either details or time. But as plainly as this is stated in scripture some insist on spending considerable time trying to figure it out and then convey their finding to others. None of this can be trusted. Why? Because we are not supposed to know these things, and any who claim to have figured them out become suspect.

So if we are not supposed to know what or when about the day of the Lord, what are we supposed to do? We are to prepare and to help others prepare. And how do we do this? We do it by turning to the Lord. Those who are in the Lord are in His care and have nothing to fear. If we don't know when this will take place, how do we know when to prepare? Today is the day to prepare. For all we know this day could come tomorrow. In that case, today is all the preparation time we have. We need to turn to the Lord today.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 14

    Hosea 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Israel, return! Come back to the LORD, your God. Sin has made you fall.
  2. Return to the LORD and say, "Please forgive our sins. Accept our good sacrifices of praise instead of bulls.
  3. Assyria can't save us, and chariots can't help. So we will no longer worship the idols we have made. Our LORD, you show mercy to orphans."
  4. Israel, you have rejected me, but my anger is gone; I will heal you and love you without limit.
  5. I will be like the dew-- then you will blossom like lilies and have roots like a tree.
  6. Your branches will spread with the beauty of an olive tree and with the aroma of Lebanon Forest.
  7. You will rest in my shade, and your grain will grow. You will blossom like a vineyard and be famous as the wine from Lebanon.
  8. Israel, give up your idols! I will answer your prayers and take care of you. I am that glorious tree, the source of your fruit.
  9. If you are wise, you will know and understand what I mean. I am the LORD, and I lead you along the right path. If you obey me, we will walk together, but if you are wicked, you will stumble.

Hosea concludes with one last appeal for Israel to repent and return to the Lord. In doing so, it provides a summary of Israel's sin. "Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses." (v. 2) Both turning to Assyria and riding horses are indicators of Israel's dependence on other things rather than the Lord. "We will no longer proclaim: Our gods! to the work of our hands." (v. 2) A reference to Israel's worship of idols that they had made themselves. How is it that an intelligent people - any people, not just these people - can consider what they have made themselves to be a god with powers greater than they have? I know it is difficult for some people to accept that there is a God out there who has created the universe and all that is in it and who has powers beyond our understanding. But I believe this is only a part of the issue. The part they are willing to admit both to others and to themselves.

What is the other part? This other part, I believe, is that if they accept that there is a Creator God with such unfathomable powers one must logically submit themselves to serve this God. The god one has made themselves is an object that they can themselves manipulate and not be manipulated by it. They can make up the rules of engagement with what is comfortable to them and then satisfy themselves that they are doing what they can to satisfy this god they have made. When stated this way it really sounds rather illogical. But is not this what they do? They cannot control the rules of engagement with an all-powerful Creator God. That is not comfortable for them. They do not want to turn lose of that much control. How many others, who acknowledge the Creator God, do so in much the same way that idol worshipers worship their gods? They form a religion of their own making with rituals of their own making that prescribe the rules of engagement according to what makes them comfortable and keeps them in control.

But this God who has made all that is and has made even us does not work in this way nor does He accept our man-made religions. He desires that we turn lose of control and submit ourselves fully to Him, trusting Him for everything. But He wants us to know that if we will do this, He will give us a better life than we can have if we control it ourselves. This is the message He was trying to get across to Israel through Hosea. We are no more trusting of God than were they. We may be willing to accept that God can do anything, but we are not trusting that what He does for us will be good. We are afraid that if we allow Him to direct our lives He will have us doing something we don't want to do or something that we hate. It is true that He will have us doing something different than we would choose because much of what we would choose will not bring us the best life. It will only bring us problems and suffering. But we are too prideful to accept that He knows better than do we.

Notice the tone of verses 4 and following. Do these come from a God of wrath or a God of love? He does not want to bring judgment upon Israel even though for centuries she has turned away from Him and credited His blessings for them to other gods. What He wants is for Israel to return to Him and repent and then He "will heal their apostasy; I will freely love them." (v. 4) Then Israel will flourish and "blossom like the lily and take root like the cedars of Lebanon." (v. 5) God only wants good for His people. So here is the call to both Israel and to us: "Let whoever is wise understand these things, and whoever is insightful recognize them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them." (v. 9) May we walk in the ways of the Lord and not stumble in rebellion. Therein lies the good life!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 13

    Hosea 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When your leaders spoke, everyone in Israel trembled and showed great respect. But you sinned by worshiping Baal, and you were destroyed.
  2. Now you continue to sin by designing and making idols of silver in the shape of calves. You are told to sacrifice to these idols -- yes, even to kiss them.
  3. And so, all of you will vanish like the mist or the dew of early morning, or husks of grain in the wind or smoke from a chimney.
  4. I, the LORD, have been your God since the time you were in Egypt. I am the only God you know, the only one who can save.
  5. I took care of you in a thirsty desert.
  6. I fed you till you were satisfied, then you became proud and forgot about me.
  7. Now I will attack like a lion, ambush you like a leopard,
  8. and rip you apart like a bear robbed of her cubs. I will gnaw on your bones, as though I were a lion or some other wild animal.
  9. Israel, you are done for. Don't expect help from me.
  10. You wanted a king and rulers. Where is your king now? What cities have rulers?
  11. In my anger, I gave you a king; in my fury, I took him away.
  12. Israel, your terrible sins are written down and stored away.
  13. You are like a senseless child who refuses to be born at the proper time.
  14. Should I, the LORD, rescue you from death and the grave? No! I call death and the grave to strike you like a plague. I refuse to show mercy.
  15. No matter how much you prosper more than the other tribes, I, the LORD, will wipe you out, just as a scorching desert wind dries up streams of water. I will take away your precious treasures.
  16. Samaria will be punished for turning against me. It will be destroyed in war-- children will be beaten against rocks, and pregnant women will be ripped open.

Ever since God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt to a land "flowing with milk and honey," she accepted the Lord's blessings without thanks and credited them to her own skills and to the blessings of other gods. There were short periods in which the nation did honor and worship God, thanking him for His provisions, but overall, they were an unappreciative people. Again, we need to see this as a picture of how most of us are. We do not tend to see God as the source of our blessings and do not thank Him for the fact that all we have comes from Him. So when everything is taken away from us, what do we do? We have two main choices. We can suddenly recognize the God that we have been ignoring and blame Him for our misfortune, even though we didn't recognize Him for our fortune, OR, we can suddenly recognize this God toward whom we have been unthankful, confess our sin, and turn to Him for help. When we are surrounded with blessings it is easy to ignore God, but when we lose it all and all the sources we have looked to for help are helpless to do anything, our real source of help and blessing becomes obvious.

It is this position of helplessness to which God is bringing Israel in the passages we are reading from Hosea. We keep seeing this reference to Ephraim. Ephraim was the leading tribe in Israel, the one that had been the leader in taking Israel down the path to worshiping idols. King Jeroboam, who led Israel to secede from Judah and to the worship of Baal, was an Ephraimite. Verses 1 and 2 speak of this connection between Ephraim and Baal worship. Verse 3 tells of what will happen to them. They will be as transitory as a morning mist or as chaff that blows in the wind, or smoke from a window. Hosea reminds them briefly of how God delivered them Egypt. He was the only Savior they had. But whenever Israel had what she needed ("when they had pasture"), her heart became proud and she forgot the Lord. And so do we. It is a reason Jesus spoke of the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of God. They tend to depend on their riches rather than on God.

God was their Savior, but now He will become their destroyer and will attack them as a lion or as a bear robbed of her cubs. He points out that they have no help but God, and this they are about to find out. They will be at that point of decision between whether to blame God or go to Him for help. The question will be, how many other sources will they turn to before recognizing that God is their only help? One of those sources will be their leaders, but the question is raised in verse 10, "Where now is your king?" Their leaders will be destroyed. They cannot help. They are reminded that God did not want them to have any leader but Himself. They wanted a king and He, in His anger, let them have one, beginning with Saul. Now their king will be taken away from them and who then will help them? Will they recognize it is God they need and not a king?

Over all the years that Israel has followed other gods, God may have withheld His hand from punishment, but He did not overlook their guilt. No, "Ephraim's guilt is preserved; his sin is stored up." (v. 12) Their guilt had been stored up until this time. The time for punishment was upon them. Now, "They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open." (v. 16)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 12

    Hosea 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. All day long Israel chases wind from the desert; deceit and violence are found everywhere. Treaties are made with Assyria; olive oil is taken to Egypt.
  2. The LORD also brings charges against the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He will punish them for what they have done.
  3. Even before Jacob was born, he cheated his brother, and when he grew up, he fought against God.
  4. At Bethel, Jacob wrestled with an angel and won; then with tears in his eyes, he asked for a blessing, and God spoke to us there.
  5. God's name is the LORD, the LORD God All-Powerful.
  6. So return to your God. Patiently trust him, and show love and justice.
  7. Israel, you enjoy cheating and taking advantage of others.
  8. You say to yourself, "I'm rich! I earned it all on my own, without committing a sin."
  9. Israel, I, the LORD, am still your God, just as I have been since the time you were in Egypt. Now I will force you to live in tents once again, as you did in the desert.
  10. I spoke to the prophets-- often I spoke in visions. And so, I will send my prophets with messages of doom.
  11. Gilead is terribly sinful and will end up ruined. Bulls are sacrificed in Gilgal on altars made of stones, but those stones will be scattered in every field.
  12. Jacob escaped to Syria where he tended sheep to earn himself a wife.
  13. I sent the prophet Moses to lead Israel from Egypt and to keep them safe.
  14. Israel, I will make you pay for your terrible sins and for insulting me.

As we continue into chapter 12 we should remember, as was stated in chapter 11, that what we see in Israel's relationship with God is a picture of how we all tend to relate to God. As chapter 12 begins we see Israel acting deceptively and hypocritically. But who is it that is deceived? Mostly Israel, herself. She convinces herself that she is doing right while she "chases the wind and pursues the east wind," a reference to the futility of her pursuits. Meanwhile she makes covenants with Assyria and Egypt, distancing herself from God.

Hosea takes Israel back to her forefather, Jacob, who was a born deceiver. But Jacob was changed. He had deceived all his life until years later he was to face the brother he had deceived out of his birthright as a youth. Fearing what he would encounter with his brother, he wrestled with an Angel of the Lord, and the Angel prevailed. Jacob was changed and turned from his deceptive ways. Israel now needs to do the same. She needs to "return to your God. Maintain love and justice, and always put your hope in God."

But as it stands at the time of Hosea's words, Israel is caught in her own pride, patting herself on the back for the riches she has acquired all on her own. At least this is what she tells herself. Claiming also that she has gained these riches in totally honest ways. "no one can find any crime in me that I can be punished for!" she says. The key word in this boast of no one finding any crime in her is the word 'find.' The fact that no one can 'find' any crime in her does not mean she is not guilty. But the Lord is not fooled by her deceit. He knows she is using dishonest scales and probably other dishonest practices to extort her riches. So now she is going to return to the life she had in Egypt before the Lord freed her and brought her to this land of promise. She will again live in tents. It was the Lord who gave her what she had, though she gave Him no credit, and it will be the Lord who takes it away. She may not have credited God with giving her these blessings, but she will credit Him for taking them away. This is a characteristic we all share. We are slow to give God the credit, but swift to blame Him.

God has not been quiet through the years of Israel's drifting away from Him and has now suddenly spoken up just before inflicting punishment. In verse 10 He says, "I spoke through the prophets and granted many visions; I gave parables through the prophets." He has continually been trying to get Israel to change her ways, but she killed the prophets and ignored their messages. Now, she "has provoked bitter anger, so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and repay him for his contempt." Deceiving herself that she was doing nothing wrong and shutting the mouths of the prophets could not keep away the day of punishment for her actions.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 11

    Hosea 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt.
  2. But as the saying goes, "The more they were called, the more they rebelled." They never stopped offering incense and sacrifices to the idols of Baal.
  3. I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk. But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.
  4. I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes. I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them.
  5. But they trusted Egypt instead of returning to me; now Assyria will rule them.
  6. War will visit their cities, and their plans will fail.
  7. My people are determined to reject me for a god they think is stronger, but he can't help.
  8. Israel, I can't let you go. I can't give you up. How could I possibly destroy you as I did the towns of Admah and Zeboiim? I just can't do it. My feelings for you are much too strong.
  9. Israel, I won't lose my temper and destroy you again. I am the Holy God-- not merely some human, and I won't stay angry.
  10. I, the LORD, will roar like a lion, and my children will return, trembling from the west.
  11. They will come back, fluttering like birds from Egypt or like doves from Assyria. Then I will bring them back to their homes. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  12. Israel is deceitful to me, their loyal and holy God; they surround me with lies, and Judah worships other gods.

An array of emotions is expressed in this chapter. First there is the emotion of nostalgia (verses 1-4) as the Lord remembers the relationship He had in the beginning with Israel. Israel was like a child to Him who He called and led out of Egypt. He taught her to walk, led her with ropes of kindness, eased her load, and gave her food. But Israel did not recognize any of this. Instead, "The more they called them, the more they departed from Me." (verse 2) In other words, the more the prophets called them to repentance, the more they went from them. She was like a rebellious child.

Next there is the emotion of anger in verses 5-7. Israel had responded to the Lord's kindness with ingratitude so judgment through military defeat and exile was to come. Again Egypt is mentioned as the symbol of slavery and exile. Israel would return to her condition from which the Lord had delivered her, and for which she had no appreciation. Israel would lose the exalted status she had held but for which she had shown no gratitude.

Following the emotion of anger comes the emotion of love. "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I surrender you, Israel?" The Lord decided He could not stand to vent the full fury of His anger against Israel. It was not that Israel didn't deserve it, but that the Lord could not stand it. And so the Lord had a change of heart. As the Lord viewed Israel's condition from a heart of love, He envisioned a time when she would be restored to Him, a time when "They will follow the Lord." At that time, He will roar and they will come trembling. Then He will settle them back into their homes. What a fortunate people that the Lord did not do to them what they deserved!

In reality, this whole account of Israel's relationship with the Lord, as are those throughout the Old Testament, serve as a picture of God's relationship with us all. He desires to have a close, intimate relationship with each of us, but we are not unlike Israel. We do not appreciate what He does for us and do not credit Him for what He gives us and provides for us. Instead we credit other sources for what we have - even for life itself. But He does not do to us what we deserve. We don't credit Him for that either. When things don't go well for us we think we deserve something better and we become angry with God for allowing it, or even causing it, to happen. But compared to our treatment of God, who has made us and given us everything we have, we deserve worse, not better.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 10

    Hosea 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You were a healthy vine covered with grapes. But the more grapes you grew, the more altars you built; the better off you became, the better shrines you set up for pagan gods.
  2. You are deceitful and disloyal. So you will pay for your sins, because the LORD will destroy your altars and images.
  3. "We don't have a king," you will say. "We don't fear the LORD. And what good are kings?"
  4. Israel, you break treaties and don't keep promises; you turn justice into poisonous weeds where healthy plants should grow.
  5. All who live in Samaria tremble with concern for the idols at sinful Bethel. The idol there was the pride of the priests, but it has been put to shame; now everyone will cry.
  6. It will be taken to Assyria and given to the great king. Then Israel will be disgraced for worshiping that idol.
  7. Like a twig in a stream, the king of Samaria will be swept away.
  8. The altars at sinful Bethel will be destroyed for causing Israel to sin; they will be grown over with thorns and thistles. Then everyone will beg the mountains and hills to cover and protect them.
  9. Israel, you have never stopped sinning since that time at Gibeah. That's why you will be attacked at Gibeah.
  10. Your sins have doubled, and you are rebellious. Now I have decided to send nations to attack and put you in chains.
  11. Once you were obedient like a calf that loved to thresh grain. But I will put a harness on your powerful neck; you and Judah must plow and cultivate the ground.
  12. Plow your fields, scatter seeds of justice, and harvest faithfulness. Worship me, the LORD, and I will send my saving power down like rain.
  13. You have planted evil, harvested injustice, and eaten the fruit of your lies. You trusted your own strength and your powerful forces.
  14. So war will break out, and your fortresses will be destroyed. Your enemies will do to you what Shalman did to the people of Beth-Arbel-- mothers and their children will be beaten to death against rocks.
  15. Bethel, this will be your fate because of your evil. Israel, at dawn your king will be killed.

Hosea has alluded to a previous gross sin in Israel, both in chapter 9 and now in this chapter, to which I should give attention. Hosea 9:9 says, "They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah. He will remember their guilt; He will punish their sins." Now, in 10:9 we are told, "Israel, you have sinned since the days of Gibeah; they have taken their stand there. Will not war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?" What is this sin in the 'days of Gibeah' to which Hosea alludes? The account of this sin is found in Judges chapter 19. In short, a Levite, traveling with his servant and a concubine, stopped over in Gibeah to spend the night. Some bisexual men, referred to in the Judges passage as "perverted men of the city," came to the house and insisted that the owner of the house send out the Levite and his servant so they could have sex with them. The owner pleaded with them not to do this "No, don't do this evil," but they insisted. Ultimately, they took the concubine and had sex with her all night and she returned to the house at daylight and died on the doorstep. Judges 19:30 concludes the account with the words, "Everyone who saw it said, "Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen since the day the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt to this day." It is this sin to which Hosea refers when he says in 10:9, "Israel, you have sinned since the days of Gibeah" It is as if that event in Gibeah was the beginning of a downward spiral for Israel.

Evidently similar activity was going on in Hosea's day that rivaled that sin in Gibeah. It would be in Gibeah where war was to overtake Israel. Verse 10 speaks of Israel's two crimes which seems to be a reference to that occurrence in Gibeah and what was happening in Hosea's day. Both of the same nature. This perversion in Israel and God's judgment of it is too obvious not to mention this same perversion in our own day.

In addition to this sin, Hosea also keeps referring to Israel's sin of crediting what God has given them to other gods. This is the point in verse 1, "The more his fruit increased, the more he increased the altars. The better his land produced, the better they made the sacred pillars." As Israel's fruit increased the more she worshiped these other gods as if they had provided the increase. Furthermore, Israel no longer had respect for the Lord nor respect for the agreements she made with other people. They took false oaths when making an agreement and the result was an outbreak of lawsuits. Anything sound familiar about this?

The result of Israel's sin was war, defeat, and exile. Their beloved idols would be carried off to Assyria, their king would disappear, and they would become so distressed with what was happening to them that they would cry out for the hills to fall on them. Verses 13 and 14 serve as a good summary, both of the sin and the punishment, "You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in your large number of soldiers, the roar of battle will rise against your people, and all your fortifications will be demolished in a day of war, like Shalman's destruction of Beth-arbel. Mothers will be dashed to pieces along with their children."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 9

    Hosea 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Israel, don't celebrate or make noisy shouts like other nations. You have been unfaithful to your God. Wherever grain is threshed, you behave like prostitutes because you enjoy the money you receive.
  2. But you will run short of grain and wine,
  3. and you will have to leave the land of the LORD. Some of you will go to Egypt; others will go to Assyria and eat unclean food.
  4. You won't be able to offer sacrifices of wine to the LORD. None of your sacrifices will please him-- they will be unclean like food offered to the dead. Your food will only be used to satisfy your hunger; none of it will be brought to the LORD's temple.
  5. You will no longer be able to celebrate the festival of the LORD.
  6. Even if you escape alive, you will end up in Egypt and be buried in Memphis. Your silver treasures will be lost among weeds; thorns will sprout in your tents.
  7. Israel, the time has come. You will get what you deserve, and you will know it. "Prophets are fools," you say. "And God's messengers are crazy." Your terrible guilt has filled you with hatred.
  8. Israel, the LORD sent me to look after you. But you trap his prophets and flood his temple with your hatred.
  9. You are brutal and corrupt, as were the men of Gibeah. But God remembers your sin, and you will be punished.
  10. Israel, when I, the LORD, found you long ago it was like finding grapes in a barren desert or tender young figs. Then you worshiped Baal Peor, that disgusting idol, and you became as disgusting as the idol you loved.
  11. And so, Israel, your glory will fly away like birds-- your women will no longer be able to give birth.
  12. Even if you do have children, I will take them all and leave you to mourn. I will turn away, and you will sink down in deep trouble.
  13. Israel, when I first met you, I thought of you as palm trees growing in fertile ground. Now you lead your people out, only to be slaughtered.
  14. Our LORD, do just one thing for your people-- make their women unable to have children or to nurse their babies.
  15. Israel, I first began to hate you because you did evil at Gilgal. Now I will chase you out of my house. No longer will I love you; your leaders betrayed me.
  16. Israel, you are a vine with dried-up roots and fruitless branches. Even if you had more children and loved them dearly, I would slaughter them all.
  17. Israel, you disobeyed my God. Now he will force you to roam from nation to nation.

The previous chapter charged Israel with two primary sins: installing kings without consulting God, and making idols that they then worshiped. They had completely left God out of the picture. The result was that Israel would have what she wanted. She would live in one of these other nations fully immersed in the life they had pursued apart from God. Chapter 9 continues to discuss Israel's sin and punishment which are no longer future but is now upon them. They are not to rejoice in anticipation of an abundant harvest even then because there would be no harvest. God had removed His blessing. Israel had prostituted herself on the grain-threshing floors, attributing her abundant harvests to Baal rather than to God who had provided them. She had even practiced the fertility rites of that religion to supposedly insure good harvests, expansion of her herds, and multiplication of her own children. These involved sexual orgies as a part of worship. God had had enough. Israel would no longer enjoy the blessings God had provided her in this land of Promise He had provided her. She would be heading off to Egypt to return to the exile she had experienced there before God freed her and brought her to this land. There the people would eat the bread of mourners and would have no opportunity to worship the Lord.

As verse 7 points out, the day of retribution had come and Israel needed to recognize it. She had harassed all the prophets God had sent to warn her but she could no longer avoid or ignore what was about to happen. God reminisces a bit in remembering how He found Israel "like grapes in the wilderness," but even then they were quick to involve themselves in shameful behavior. As punishment for Israel's involvement in the Baal fertility rites she would now experience infertility. Israel's (Ephraim's) glory mentioned in verse 11 was associated with many offspring, but this would be taken from them. Israel will have nothing left. God was preparing to reject her and leave her to "become wanderers among the nations." She would have no home, no children, no harvest, nothing. Instead, she would serve her conqueror but would have nothing of her own.

Who can handle God's blessings? We desire it and seek it, but when it comes we are so prone to claim it as our own as if we brought it about. And we try to use it for selfish purposes, and begin leaving God behind. Israel had been blessed by God more than any other people, but she couldn't handle it. God was patient and merciful for generations, but He could no longer put up with her unfaithfulness. He could no longer bless her only to have her credit it to other gods. God's blessing is a wonderful thing, but it requires a heart that is faithful to God and continually focused on Him. That is why I reflect on God's word day after day. To keep myself focused on God and not be turned aside by the noise of the world around me that would try to convince me that God had nothing to do with this world we live in and the life that I enjoy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 8

    Hosea 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Sound a warning! Israel, you broke our agreement and ignored my teaching. Now an eagle is swooping down to attack my land.
  2. Israel, you say, "We claim you, the LORD, as our God."
  3. But your enemies will chase you for rejecting our good agreement.
  4. You chose kings and leaders without consulting me; you made silver and gold idols that led to your downfall.
  5. City of Samaria, I'm angry because of your idol in the shape of a calf. When will you ever be innocent again?
  6. Someone from Israel built that idol for you, but only I am God. And so it will be smashed to pieces.
  7. If you scatter wind instead of wheat, you will harvest a whirlwind and have no wheat. Even if you harvest grain, enemies will steal it all.
  8. Israel, you are ruined, and now the nations consider you worthless.
  9. You are like a wild donkey that goes its own way. You've run off to Assyria and hired them as allies.
  10. You can bargain with nations, but I'll catch you anyway. Soon you will suffer abuse by kings and rulers.
  11. Israel, you have built many altars where you offer sacrifices for sin. But these altars have become places for sin.
  12. My instructions for sacrifices were written in detail, but you ignored them.
  13. You sacrifice your best animals and eat the sacrificial meals, but I, the LORD, refuse your offerings. I will remember your sins and punish you. Then you will return to Egypt.
  14. Israel, I created you, but you forgot me. You and Judah built palaces and many strong cities. Now I will send fire to destroy your towns and fortresses.

This chapter of Hosea begins with the announcement of coming battle: "Put the horn to your mouth!" The blowing of the trumpet announced an impending battle. God had an enemy ready to swoop down on Israel. It would attack like a powerful eagle. With the approach of danger, Israel suddenly claims God as her God: "My God, we know You!" But God recognizes it as mere lip service.

Verses 4-7 outline the two main charges against Israel. She had installed kings without consulting God and had made idols for worship. Her rejection of God is total. Her behavior was akin to that of a young person who leaves home and rejects his parents. He neither consults them or has contact with them. That is until he gets into trouble. Then he appears seeking their help. This was the case with Israel, and when she saw trouble coming she cried out to God. Israel clearly knew what she was doing. She knew that God was the real source of help, otherwise why would she go to Him when serious trouble appeared? She had sowed the wind. Now she must reap the whirlwind. The wind has no substance. It can't be grasped nor even controlled. What Israel had sown had no substance, no real benefit to her. It was worthless. But what she had sown was now going to return to her in abundance. She tried to be like other nations and sought their help instead of God's help. Now she would have what she wanted - she would actually be immersed in one of these other nations, living as an exile. She would be like "discarded pottery." (verse 8) The time for correction or teaching Israel was past. Even if God were to write out for her "ten thousand points of My law, they would be regarded as something alien." Nor would it do any good for Israel to offer "sacrificial gifts" to the Lord. He would not accept them.

Though Hosea and Gomer have not been mentioned since chapter 2, we don't want to forget the imagery here of a marriage relationship that points to the meaning of this book. It is not about God's judgment. It is about Israel's unfaithfulness to the covenant relationship she had with God, as Gomer was unfaithful to the marriage relationship she had with Hosea. Israel went off to other 'lovers' and was unfaithful to God, so her 'judgment' was to give her what she wanted. She would be at the mercy of the nations to whom she went for help and of the other gods to whom she offered sacrifices.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 7

    Hosea 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. and to heal its wounds. But then I see the crimes in Israel and Samaria. Everyone is deceitful; robbers roam the streets.
  2. No one realizes that I have seen their sins surround them like a flood.
  3. The king and his officials take great pleasure in their sin and deceit.
  4. Everyone burns with desire-- they are like coals in an oven, ready to burst into flames.
  5. On the day their king was crowned, his officials got him drunk, and he joined in their foolishness.
  6. Their anger is a fire that smolders all night, then flares up at dawn.
  7. They are flames destroying their leaders. And their kings are powerless; none of them trust me.
  8. The people of Israel have mixed with foreigners; they are a thin piece of bread scorched on one side.
  9. They don't seem to realize how weak and feeble they are; their hair has turned gray, while foreigners rule.
  10. I am the LORD, their God, but in all of their troubles their pride keeps them from returning to me.
  11. Israel is a senseless bird, fluttering back and forth between Egypt and Assyria.
  12. But I will catch them in a net as hunters trap birds; I threatened to punish them, and indeed I will.
  13. Trouble and destruction will be their reward for rejecting me. I would have rescued them, but they told me lies.
  14. They don't really pray to me; they just howl in their beds. They have rejected me for Baal and slashed themselves, in the hope that Baal will bless their crops.
  15. I taught them what they know, and I made them strong. Now they plot against me
  16. and refuse to obey. They are more useless than a crooked arrow. Their leaders will die in war for saying foolish things. Egyptians will laugh at them.

God wanted to have a relationship with Israel, not just their religious practices, as stated in Hosea 6:6. He wanted their loyalty and for them to know Him. What He got instead was a continual breaking of His covenant with them. Again, this breaking of the covenant is likened to the breaking of marriage vows as demonstrated with Hosea and his wife Gomer. When a husband or wife are unfaithful to their marriage vows the relationship is broken, and so it is between God and His people. The breaking of God's covenant with Israel was evidenced by rampant crime: fraud, thievery, pillaging, etc. And the people's disregard for God was such that they didn't even consider that He remembers all their evil and that a day of retribution will come. They were so walled in by their sin, that it had them trapped. (7:2) Extricating themselves was unlikely. This lifestyle of crime wasn't just an isolated minority of Israel. It was the widespread majority including its leaders. "They please the king with their evil, the princes with their lies." (7:2)

Verses 4-7 use a baking metaphor to describe the situation in Israel. As a baker keeps a low fire in the oven while he kneads the dough and waits for it to leaven, so Israel kept a low fire burning ready to blaze up when kindled. The smoldering of the oven while the dough leavened is likened to how Israel's princes conspired against the king while the fire smoldered. The blazing of the oven with a flaming fire was when the princes launched their plot, drawing the king into it and assassinating him. During a 20 year period, between 752 and 732 BC, four of Israel's kings were assassinated. Understandably, Israel during this time was rather unstable. Instead of turning to God for the help they needed, though, they turned to other nations, as pointed out in verse 8. But these alliances weakened them even further, though they didn't even notice. One symptom of separating oneself from God is a loss of reasoning ability and logical thinking. No longer does 2 + 2 equal 4. For various reasons, that make sense only to the person who is in this state, 2 + 2 equals something else. It is this inability to reason clearly that keeps them in this state to continue their move further and further from God. Otherwise they would recognize the depravity of their situation and try to reverse it. This is why Israel failed to notice that their alliances with these other nations was sapping their strength. She was becoming like an elderly man who was growing weaker and his hair becoming streaked with gray but he doesn't notice because of its gradual onset.

In this weakened condition, what does Israel do? She flees further and further from God. (verses 13-16) God's desire was to redeem Israel, but instead she spoke lies against Him. How characteristic this is of those who choose their own way leaving God out of their lives. As far as they are concerned, God doesn't exist. That is until their choices get them into trouble. Suddenly, God does exist and He is to blame for their problems. Though verse 13 doesn't say what lies Israel was speaking against God, this is what I can imagine they were doing - blaming God for their situation. Verse 14 goes on to say that instead of crying out to God for His help, they "wail on their beds," evidently blaming Him. The outcome for Israel is described in verse 16. "Their leaders will fall by the sword because of the cursing of their tongue. They will be ridiculed for this in the land of Egypt." Egypt was one of the nations Israel turned to for help. Instead of help, though, they receive ridicule.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 6

    Hosea 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Let's return to the LORD. He has torn us to shreds, but he will bandage our wounds and make us well.
  2. In two or three days he will heal us and restore our strength that we may live with him.
  3. Let's do our best to know the LORD. His coming is as certain as the morning sun; he will refresh us like rain renewing the earth in the springtime.
  4. People of Israel and Judah, what can I do with you? Your love for me disappears more quickly than mist or dew at sunrise.
  5. That's why I slaughtered you with the words of my prophets. That's why my judgments blazed like the dawning sun.
  6. I'd rather for you to be faithful and to know me than to offer sacrifices.
  7. At a place named Adam, you betrayed me by breaking our agreement.
  8. Everyone in Gilead is evil; your hands are stained with the blood of victims.
  9. You priests are like a gang of robbers in ambush. On the road to Shechem you murder and commit other horrible crimes.
  10. I have seen a terrible thing in Israel-- you are unfaithful and unfit to worship me.
  11. People of Judah, your time is coming too. I, the LORD, would like to make my nation prosper again

The concluding verse of chapter 5 says, "I will depart and return to My place until they recognize their guilt and seek My face; they will search for Me in their distress." Chapter 6 opens with a continuation of that thought. The people are searching for God in their distress saying, "Come, let us return to the Lord . . . ." This is the answer to their dilemma. Previously Israel turned to the Assyrians for a fix to their problems, but Assyria was not able to fix them. Only God is able. Though Israel had lost its knowledge of God through generations of following after other gods, it seems here that some were beginning to remember or were reading the scriptures. They are pointing out their need to know the Lord, stating confidently that in doing so He will surely appear to them. This searching for God, however, is yet to come. This is a look into the future.

In verses 4-11 we are back to the present. God is speaking and He begins with a question of despair, "What am I going to do with you?" Israel's loyalty to God has been as constant as the morning mist that is gone soon after the sun rises. Verse 6 takes us back to our reflections in the previous chapter. In regard to the use of Hosea and Gomer's marriage relationship as a picture of God's relationship with His people, we said that "This picture of God's desired relationship with His people cannot be described as "religion," at least as it is typically viewed." Here, in verse 6, God is saying, "I desire loyalty and not sacrifice." It is the relationship with His people God is intent on and not the ritualistic practices of religion. Yet man is prone to default to religious ritual rather than the relationship. Why is this? Could it be because a relationship with God requires more involvement, more commitment than many are willing to give God? Instead, they can go to church, go through the prescribed rituals, and then return to what it is they would rather be doing, while feeling they are 'religious' or 'spiritual' and are giving God His due. But God is saying here, "I want the loyalty of your relationship with Me rather than sacrifice, and I want you to know Me rather than offer burnt offerings."

Instead of loyalty Israel has violated her covenant with God and has betrayed Him. She has murdered and robbed and committed atrocities. We are familiar with the saying, "you reap what you sow," and this is what God says to both Israel and Judah in verse 11. A harvest is appointed for them, He says. It is a harvest of what they have sowed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 5

    Hosea 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Listen, you priests! Pay attention, Israel! Listen, you members of the royal family. Justice was your duty. But at Mizpah and Mount Tabor you trapped the people.
  2. At the place of worship you were a treacherous pit, and I will punish you.
  3. Israel, I know all about you, and because of your unfaithfulness, I find you unacceptable.
  4. Your evil deeds are the reason you won't return to me, your LORD God. And your constant craving for sex keeps you from knowing me.
  5. Israel, your pride testifies to your guilt; it makes you stumble, and Judah stumbles too.
  6. You offer sheep and cattle as sacrifices to me, but I have turned away and refuse to be found.
  7. You have been unfaithful to me, your LORD; you have had children by prostitutes. So at the New Moon Festival, you and your crops will be destroyed.
  8. Give a warning on the trumpet! Let it be heard in Gibeah, Ramah, and sinful Bethel. Benjamin, watch out!
  9. I, the LORD, will punish and wipe out Israel. This is my solemn promise to every tribe of Israel.
  10. Judah's leaders are like crooks who move boundary markers; that's why I will flood them with my anger.
  11. Israel was brutally crushed. They got what they deserved for worshiping useless idols.
  12. Now I, the LORD, will fill Israel with maggots and make Judah rot.
  13. When Israel and Judah saw their sickness and wounds, Israel asked help from Assyria and its mighty king. But the king cannot cure them or heal their wounds.
  14. So I'll become a fierce lion attacking Israel and Judah. I'll snatch and carry off what I want, and no one can stop me.
  15. Then I'll return to my temple until they confess their guilt and worship me, until they are desperate and beg for my help.

The party is over for Israel. Judgment is announced for the whole nation including the priests and the royal family. No one is exempt nor is there any escape. Again, the charge against them is promiscuity or prostitution. Though Hosea and his wife Gomer are not mentioned at all in this chapter, Gomer's unfaithfulness to her husband by chasing after other men and offering herself for sex is the picture of what Israel has done with God. This picture of God's desired relationship with His people cannot be described as "religion," at least as it is typically viewed. An American Heritage Dictionary definition of religion typifies our view of religion. It is "A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship." This is the typical view and practice of religion. It does not refer to a relationship with God but rather to a 'system' of belief and worship.

But God calls us to a relationship with Him that is not unlike a marriage relationship. When we turn our devotion and worship to other gods and praise them for what God Himself has provided, God considers us to be unfaithful to the relationship - and we are. In this chapter of Hosea, the punishment God speaks of is not so much a divorce, or dissolution of the relationship, as an estrangement of the relationship. Israel will not enjoy the benefits of the 'marriage' for a time. God's desire is that they will reunite with Him and the relationship will be reconciled. As it stands at this point in time, though, Israel is incapable of returning to God, as stated in verse 4. Their momentum down the road they have chosen to take is so strong, they cannot, of their own power, reverse the course. Nor do they have the will to do it. They no longer even "know the Lord."

Israel went her own way, and now even if she tried to seek the Lord, she would not find Him for "He has withdrawn from them." (verse 6) Though Israel may not be able at this point to reverse her course, God is about to intervene. He will not force her to return to Him but He will stop her momentum down the road she is on. In verses 8-9 God announces impending invasion by an enemy force. Israel's whole way of life is about to be upset. She will have opportunity to get away from her lifestyle and the influences that have drawn her away from God. Then she can consider what her future will be concerning her relationship with God.

We see in verses 13-14 Israel's inability to fix her situation. We are told that when she saw her situation (her sickness), she didn't turn to the Lord. Instead, she turned to Assyria. She was aware of the enemy on her doorstep so she went to Assyria for help. But Assyria will not be able to rescue her. Israel had chosen her course and it would play out to its inevitable conclusion. But the chapter closes on a note of hope. God will depart from Israel for a time with the desire that she will eventually recognize her guilt and come to "seek My face." In her distress, she will search for God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 4

    Hosea 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Israel, listen as the LORD accuses everyone in the land! No one is faithful or loyal or truly cares about God.
  2. Cursing, dishonesty, murder, robbery, unfaithfulness-- these happen all the time. Violence is everywhere.
  3. And so your land is a desert. Every living creature is dying-- people and wild animals, birds and fish.
  4. Don't accuse just anyone! Not everyone is at fault. My case is against you, the priests.
  5. You and the prophets will stumble day and night; I'll silence your mothers.
  6. You priests have rejected me, and my people are destroyed by refusing to obey. Now I'll reject you and forget your children, because you have forgotten my Law.
  7. By adding more of you priests, you multiply the number of people who sin. Now I'll change your pride into shame.
  8. You encourage others to sin, so you can stuff yourselves on their sin offerings.
  9. That's why I will punish the people for their deeds, just as I will punish you priests.
  10. Their food won't satisfy, and having sex at pagan shrines won't produce children. My people have rebelled
  11. and have been unfaithful to me, their LORD. My people, you are foolish because of too much pleasure and too much wine.
  12. You expect wooden idols and other objects of wood to give you advice. Lusting for sex at pagan shrines has made you unfaithful to me, your God.
  13. You offer sacrifices on mountaintops and hills, under oak trees, and wherever good shade is found. Your own daughters and daughters-in-law sell themselves for sex.
  14. But I won't punish them. You men are to blame, because you go to prostitutes and offer sacrifices with them at pagan shrines. Your own foolishness will lead to your ruin.
  15. Israel, you are unfaithful, but don't lead Judah to sin. Stop worshiping at Gilgal or at sinful Bethel. And quit making promises in my name-- the name of the living LORD.
  16. You are nothing more than a stubborn cow-- so stubborn that I, the LORD, cannot feed you like lambs in an open pasture.
  17. You people of Israel are charmed by idols. Leave them alone!
  18. You get drunk, then sleep with prostitutes; you would rather be vulgar than lead a decent life.
  19. And so you will be swept away in a whirlwind for sacrificing to idols.

The first three chapters of Hosea have introduced us to the situation in Israel and the use of Hosea's marriage to Gomer to illustrate the breach in Israel's covenant relationship with her God. Beginning with chapter 4 the book launches into specifics of Israel's breach of covenant with God. Though the case against Israel is stated rather strongly, each section from this point to the end of the book concludes on a positive note with reference to Israel's restoration, which has also been the case in the first three chapters.

The first three verses outline Israel's breach of covenant, first stating the cause of this breach: there is no truth, no faithful love, and no knowledge of God in the land. Since God defines truth, once one separates themselves from God they are also separating themselves from truth. Like falling dominoes, once our relationship with God topples everything else topples one by one. Verse 2 lists some of their breaches of the covenant as it is defined in what we know as the Ten Commandments. They were cursing, lying, murdering, stealing, and committing adultery. And one act of bloodshed followed another. Notice, then, in verse 3 the effects of their sins upon everything else. It says, "the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes, along with the wild animals and the birds of the sky; even the fish of the sea disappear." In our environment conscious society of today, the leading environmentalists would never imagine that our relationship with God has an effect on the environment.

Though the people are not innocent before God, His main case is against the priests and prophets - those responsible for teaching the people and pointing them to God. Why was there no knowledge of God in the land? Because these leaders had rejected such knowledge, thus bringing about the destruction of the people. Since they had not fulfilled their responsibility and had rejected knowledge of God, God was going to reject them as priests and also reject their sons from inheriting their positions. Verse 7 says that the more the sons of the priests multiplied, the more they sinned. The priesthood was an inherited position assigned to the family of Aaron. Apparently, their effectiveness in teaching the people and pointing them to God was diluted more with each passing generation, leading to the current situation.

Two judgments against the priests mentioned in verse 10 are directly related to their sin. Verse 9 says they fed on the sins of the people. The more the people sinned the more the priests could encourage them to bring offerings of which they received a portion. It was profitable for the priests not to teach the people so they did not turn from sinning. But as a result of their sin, the priests would eat but not be satisfied. Drought would erode their source of food. They would also be promiscuous but not multiply. Promiscuity in this case refers to their going after other gods. Neither would this bring any satisfaction.

Beginning with verse 11 the people's guilt is addressed. Israel's pursuit of other gods had led the people to literal prostitution in the name of religion. Besides seeking guidance from wooden idols they engaged in sexual rites intended to ensure fertility both in their ability to have children and also in having productive crops and livestock. They had no discernment in these matters and verse 14 points out that, "People without discernment are doomed." The people had become obstinate in following these practices not wanting to hear anything that would turn them away from them. Therefore, "A wind with its wings will carry them off, and they will be ashamed of their sacrifices."

Often, the strongest judgment God can bring upon any of us is to simply leave us alone and let our sin do its destructive work. If left to our own devises, we will eventually self-destruct.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 3

    Hosea 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Once again the LORD spoke to me. And this time he said, "Hosea, fall in love with an unfaithful woman who has a lover. Do this to show that I love the people of Israel, even though they worship idols and enjoy the offering cakes made with fruit."
  2. So I paid fifteen pieces of silver and about ten bushels of grain for such a woman.
  3. Then I said, "Now you are mine! You will have to remain faithful to me, though it will be a long time before we sleep together."
  4. It will also be a long time before Israel has a king or before sacrifices are offered at the temple or before there is any way to get guidance from God.
  5. But later, Israel will turn back to the LORD their God and to David their king. At that time they will come to the LORD with fear and trembling, and he will be good to them.

The previous chapter gave a hint of God's ultimate intent for Israel, which was to once again have compassion on her and to restore her to relationship with Him. This chapter goes back to the time at hand to describe what was to happen in the near future. Hosea's marriage to Gomer, the prostitute, is still the illustration of God's dealings with Israel. Initially in the marriage, Hosea and Gomer had three children. Then she went wandering after other men seeking from them what she already had with her husband. This was what Israel was doing with other gods. God provided them all they needed, but they were taking what He gave them, offering it as sacrifices to other gods, and looking to them for what they needed.

Now Hosea is instructed to again show love to his wife who had left him and was with another man. He was to buy her back from this man which raises question as to what her relationship was with this man. Was she his slave? Then it also raises the question of the relationship Hosea and Gomer will have once he buys her back. Does this now make her his slave? I think this is the case with the intent that she will again love him. He will be kind to her in this relationship but will also place restrictions upon her. For instance, she is to stay with him for a period of time and is not to be promiscuous or to belong to another man. But Hosea makes the same commitment to her.

What does this illustrate concerning God and Israel? Israel had prostituted herself with other gods and God planned to 'buy' her back and isolate her from these other gods. Israel would go into exile away from her institutions and practices that tied her to these other gods. She would lose her national sovereignty and have no king or prince to lead her to these evil practices. They would have no formal practice of worship with its sacrifices and ritual objects of worship to influence them toward these other gods, for their worship of Jehovah God had become so mixed with worship of other gods they no longer knew the difference.

After this period of isolation and restriction from anything that would connect them with other gods, the intent was for them to come to love God again and to return to Him in their hearts and to once again seek Him as their God. As verse 5 says, "They will come with awe to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days." We see in this the heart of God and His love for His people regardless of how far away from Him they may wander. It is our turning away from God, not His turning away from us, that keeps us from His blessings and care.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 2

    Hosea 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. So let your brothers be called "My People" and your sisters be called "Shown Mercy."
  2. Accuse! Accuse your mother! She is no longer my wife, and now I, the LORD, am not her husband. Beg her to give up prostitution and stop being unfaithful,
  3. or I will strip her naked like the day she was born. I will make her barren like a desert, and she will die of thirst.
  4. You children are the result of her unfaithfulness, and I'll show you no pity.
  5. Your mother was unfaithful. She was disgraceful and said, "I'll run after my lovers. Everything comes from them-- my food and drink, my linen and wool, my olive oil and wine."
  6. I, the LORD, will build a fence of thorns to block her path.
  7. She will run after her lovers, but not catch them; she will search, but not find them. Then she will say, "I'll return to my first husband. Life was better then."
  8. She didn't know that her grain, wine, and olive oil were gifts from me, as were the gold and silver she used in worshiping Baal.
  9. So I'll hold back the harvest of grain and grapes. I'll take back my wool and my linen that cover her body.
  10. Then I'll strip her naked in the sight of her lovers. No one can rescue her.
  11. I'll stop Israel's celebrations-- no more New Moon Festivals, Sabbaths, or other feasts.
  12. She said, "My lovers gave me vineyards and fig trees as payment for sex." Now I, the LORD, will ruin her vineyards and fig trees; they will become clumps of weeds eaten by wild animals.
  13. I'll punish her for the days she worshiped Baal and burned incense to him. I'll punish her for the times she forgot about me and wore jewelry and rings to attract her lovers. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  14. Israel, I, the LORD, will lure you into the desert and speak gently to you.
  15. I will return your vineyards, and then Trouble Valley will become Hopeful Valley. You will say "Yes" to me as you did in your youth, when leaving Egypt.
  16. I promise that from that day on, you will call me your husband instead of your master.
  17. I will no longer even let you mention the names of those pagan gods that you called "Master."
  18. And I will agree to let you live in peace--you will no longer be attacked by wild animals and birds or by weapons of war.
  19. I will accept you as my wife forever, and instead of a bride price I will give you justice, fairness, love, kindness,
  20. and faithfulness. Then you will truly know who I am.
  21. I will command the sky to send rain on the earth,
  22. and it will produce grain, grapes, and olives in Jezreel Valley.
  23. I will scatter the seeds and show mercy to Lo-Ruhamah. I will say to Lo-Ammi, "You are my people," and they will answer, "You are our God."

God's mercy is contrasted in this chapter of Hosea with the unfaithfulness of His people. Though Israel is in the role of the unfaithful people in this setting, they are representative of all people. We are all like this. We evaluate our goodness using our own measure of good deeds, and also our badness by our own measure of evil deeds. Usually by this means we come out looking good. We forget, though, that God does the evaluation and it is done by His measures and not ours. His measures have to do with our relationship to Him and to each other. We see it taking place in this account with Hosea and his wife.

The wife, Gomer, had not been faithful to Hosea, her husband. She had pursued other men, exchanging sexual favors for food and water, wool and flax, oil and drink. Stupidly she had overlooked that she had all this provided by her husband. And so it was with Israel. She took the provisions God gave her and offered them to the god, Baal, so he would provide her food and water, wool and flax, oil and drink. What greater offense could Israel make to the One who made her and gave her everything she needed? She ignored God as the source of all she had, took what He gave her and offered it to an idol, placing her trust in the idol to give her what she needed. As stupid and totally irrational as it is, this continues to happen, at least in principle, on an increasing scale. Only the Baal idols today are science and nature.

What was to happen to Israel? Since she didn't recognize God as the source of what she had, He was planned to take these things away from her that she looked for from Baal. She would discover the real source of what she had. In the case of Gomer, she was not able to find the other men she pursued with which to exchange sex for necessities. She would come to learn that she had it better with her husband and decide to return to him. So it was to be with Israel. She pursued Baal for what she wanted but would discover that he could not be found and could not provide what she needed. Then Israel would learn that what she had, had come from God and decide to return to Him. When she did, God would restore her vineyards and all that she once had. God does not leave us devastated. That is not His intent or goal. His goal is to restore us when we turn away from Him. Many read of these accounts and view God as angry and vengeful. With Him, avenging wrong is not what it is with us. We do it to 'get back' at those who have wronged us. He does it to restore those who have wronged Him to a relationship with Him.

In the end, God says that He will have compassion on 'No Compassion', and will call 'Not My People', 'My People', and in turn, all of these will call Him their God. In chapter one of Hosea these were the names of the children Hosea had with Gomer. This is the goal God has in mind for His people always.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reflections on Hosea 1

    Hosea 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am Hosea son of Beeri. When Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah, and when Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel, the LORD spoke this message to me.
  2. The LORD said, "Hosea, Israel has betrayed me like an unfaithful wife. Marry such a woman and have children by her."
  3. So I married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and we had a son.
  4. Then the LORD said, "Hosea, name your son Jezreel, because I will soon punish the descendants of King Jehu of Israel for the murders he committed in Jezreel Valley. I will destroy his kingdom,
  5. and in Jezreel Valley I will break the power of Israel."
  6. Later, Gomer had a daughter, and the LORD said, "Name her Lo-Ruhamah, because I will no longer have mercy and forgive Israel.
  7. But I am the LORD God of Judah, and I will have mercy and save Judah by my own power--not by wars and arrows or swords and cavalry."
  8. After Gomer had stopped nursing Lo-Ruhamah, she had another son.
  9. Then the LORD said, "Name him Lo-Ammi, because these people are not mine, and I am not their God."
  10. Someday it will be impossible to count the people of Israel, because there will be as many of them as there are grains of sand along the seashore. They are now called "Not My People," but in the future they will be called "Children of the Living God."
  11. Israel and Judah will unite and choose one leader. Then they will take back their land, and this will be a great day for Jezreel.

In these 'Reflections' we just completed Song of Solomon. In summing up the marriage relationship of the couple depicted in that book, I pointed out that "The beauty of the marriage relationship is also God's picture of His intended relationship with us." The book of Hosea is a perfect example of this. However, rather than the beauty of the marriage relationship, we see in Hosea the seamy side of the relationship when it is not characterized by faithfulness and devotion. By this time in Israel's history the nation has split into two kingdoms - Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The book of Hosea is about the unfaithfulness of Israel. That is, her unfaithfulness to God. As verse two points out, God told Hosea to marry a promiscuous wife. 'Promiscuous' is also translated prostitute or adulterous. Why did God want him to do this? Because "the whole land has been promiscuous." It was to depict Israel's relationship with God.

Hosea was obedient and married Gomer. Soon she conceived and had a son. As we will see, there is significance to the names of the children. This first child was named Jezreel which meant "God will scatter," providing a message to Israel of what God was about to do with her. This scattering of Israel would come as a result of the destruction of the nation through military defeat at Jezreel. It would also end the dynastic rule of the family of Jehu, an evil king who led a massacre on the house of David at Jezreel. Soon there was a second child, a daughter, who was given the name Lo-Ruhamah, which meant “she is not loved.” God would no longer show compassion toward Israel. Then came a third child, another son, who was given the name Lo-Ammi, meaning "not My people." God would disown His child Israel. In truth, Israel had disowned God and God was merely acknowledging this reality. Israel had said through her actions, "You are no longer our God," so God was saying through this child, "You are no longer My child." As stern as this sounds, it is followed by a show of God's mercy. In the last two verses of the chapter, God says that Israel will one day be restored and will become so large that her people cannot be numbered. And, as a part of this restoration, Israel will one day be called, "Sons of the living God," in the very place in which she was told, "You are not My people."

This is the message of scripture many readers lose. Particularly in the Old Testament, God's dealings with His people involves so much sternness that many do not see the mercy. God's sternness is motivated by the actions of man, but His mercy is related only to His own character. Nothing in man brings out this mercy. God is merciful to us because He wants to have a relationship with us, not because we deserve it or have done anything that merits it. We must not lose sight of the mercy of God. That is what the Bible is all about. It is the story of God's mercy, His desire to redeem man to Himself. Neither should we lose sight of God's sternness or judgment. That is also a very real part of the equation. But it is there only as a means of bringing us to Him and leading us to the life He has intended for us, in the same way a parent disciplines a child. The discipline is intended to protect the child and to help direct it to a better way of life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 8

    Song of Solomon 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. If you were my brother, I could kiss you whenever we happen to meet, and no one would say I did wrong.
  2. I could take you to the home of my mother, who taught me all I know. I would give you delicious wine and fruit juice as well.
  3. Put your left hand under my head and embrace me with your right arm.
  4. Young women of Jerusalem, promise me by the power of deer and gazelles never to awaken love before it is ready.
  5. Who is this young woman coming in from the desert and leaning on the shoulder of the one she loves? I stirred up your passions under the apple tree where you were born.
  6. Always keep me in your heart and wear this bracelet to remember me by. The passion of love bursting into flame is more powerful than death, stronger than the grave.
  7. Love cannot be drowned by oceans or floods; it cannot be bought, no matter what is offered. Their Friends Speak:
  8. We have a little sister whose breasts are not yet formed. If someone asks to marry her, what should we do?
  9. She isn't a wall that we can defend behind a silver shield. Neither is she a room that we can protect behind a wooden door.
  10. I am a wall around a city, my breasts are towers, and just looking at me brings him great pleasure.
  11. Solomon has a vineyard at Baal-Hamon, which he rents to others for a thousand pieces of silver each.
  12. My vineyard is mine alone! Solomon can keep his silver and the others can keep their share of the profits.
  13. You are in the garden with friends all around. Let me hear your voice!
  14. Hurry to me, my darling! Run faster than a deer to mountains of spices.

The fervor of the Beloved's feelings for her Lover are strong, now, and she wishes he were her brother so she could show him affection at any time. (Except for certain family members, public display of affection was not considered appropriate.) In verses 2 and 3 the Beloved seems in a playful mood and tells what she will do for her Lover, but her role in this description is a shifting one. First she is his older sister who will take him to her mother's house. Then she is the lady of the house who serves him wine to drink. And finally she is his wife who desires his caresses. As the concluding note of this section, she again cautions the young women not to stir up such love until the appropriate time.

Verses 5-7 bring a conclusion to this love story. The couple is depicted as coming out of the wilderness, a place of trials, and arriving at an orchard, a place of love and romance. This love they now have runs deep, so deep, says the Beloved, that it is as "strong as death." Continuing, the Beloved says that love's flames are so fierce that mighty waters cannot extinguish them. The couple has gone from a courting relationship in which their feelings for each other are somewhat tentative to a marriage relationship in which their love has grown to these depths she describes. Such a love is priceless. No amount of wealth could purchase it.

The concluding verses serve as an epilogue to the story. They return to when the Beloved was a girl at home. Her brothers planned for the day when she would be spoken for in marriage. As she grew up, if she were as a wall, closing out temptation, they would allow her freedom and reward her. But if she were as a door that was open to allow temptation to enter, they would restrict her freedom, enclosing her in cedar planks, or barricading the door. The Beloved's own testimony is that she was as a wall, saving herself for her Lover and providing for him contentment.

The closing note is the Beloved's giving of herself to her Lover, using a vineyard as a metaphor. As Solomon had a vineyard from which he received an income and paid the workers, so the Beloved had her own vineyard, herself, which she chose to give to Solomon. Not only does she give him the vineyard (herself), but also the income it brings in (all that she has).

The Song of Solomon gives us a picture of love and sex as it is intended. It is a thing of beauty and great pleasure when kept within its intended setting of marriage. Outside that setting it is not so beautiful and can bring much sorrow and destruction. The beauty of the marriage relationship is also God's picture of His intended relationship with us. Some people give up on marriage because they have no example to observe that depicts the type of relationship displayed in this book. And, some people give up on God for the same reason. They have no example or grasp of the intended relationship God has for His people.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 7

    Song of Solomon 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You are a princess, and your feet are graceful in their sandals. Your thighs are works of art, each one a jewel;
  2. your navel is a wine glass filled to overflowing. Your body is full and slender like a bundle of wheat bound together by lilies.
  3. Your breasts are like twins of a deer.
  4. Your neck is like ivory, and your eyes sparkle like the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath-Rabbim. Your nose is beautiful like Mount Lebanon above the city of Damascus.
  5. Your head is held high like Mount Carmel; your hair is so lovely it holds a king prisoner.
  6. You are beautiful, so very desirable!
  7. You are tall and slender like a palm tree, and your breasts are full.
  8. I will climb that tree and cling to its branches. I will discover that your breasts are clusters of grapes, and that your breath is the aroma of apples.
  9. Kissing you is more delicious than drinking the finest wine. How wonderful and tasty!
  10. My darling, I am yours, and you desire me.
  11. Let's stroll through the fields and sleep in the villages.
  12. At dawn let's slip out and see if grapevines and fruit trees are covered with blossoms. When we are there, I will give you my love.
  13. Perfume from the magic flower fills the air, my darling. Right at our doorstep I have stored up for you all kinds of tasty fruits.

The previous chapter concluded with the reconciliation of the couple following a difficulty in the relationship. Now in this chapter the praise of the Lover for his Beloved is bolder and more intimate, expressing a heightening of sexual freedom since the difficulty. It is all a part of a normal, healthy, and maturing marriage. Difficulties in a marriage, when worked through, normally does lead to a greater intimacy in the love making.

The imagery used by the Lover to describe the physical attributes of his Beloved is not used so much as visual comparisons as they are for their significance and value to him. For instance, he says that "Your navel is a rounded bowl; it never lacks mixed wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat surrounded by lilies." These are not particularly attractive visual comparisons, but the wine signifies that she is desirable and intoxicating to him. The wheat, which was a main source of food and sustenance at that time, signifies that her love nourished and satisfied him. Other imagery used in the following verses can be given similar significance to refer to his desire for her, completing his descriptions with the statement, "How beautiful you are and how pleasant, my love, with such delights!" He has been describing those delights.

In the next verses, 7 & 8, the Lover speaks of his desire for his Beloved. He describes her stature as like a palm tree and her breasts as clusters of fruit. Then he says he will "climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit," and the Beloved responds in verses 9-10 of her pleasure in his desire. She, too, uses wine in her imagery and then speaks of their mutual possession of one another, "I belong to my love, and his desire is for me." She states a very important aspect in the marriage relationship - that belonging only to one another and no other. She states her giving of herself to him and the knowing that his desire is for her alone. The mutual possession does not take place by one possessing the other, but by each giving themselves to the other and looking only to each other for the fulfillment of their desires. As much as anything else, it is the free and complete giving of oneself to the other that fulfills their desire. More so than the physical attractiveness or aspects of love making.

In the concluding verses of the chapter the initiative in the love making moves from the Lover to the Beloved. In verse 11 she invites him to go with her to the field where they can spend the night together, concluding with a reference to every "delicacy" that she has treasured up for him to be offered to him in that night together.

Many, particularly of the older commentaries, try to make this book an allegory of Christ's love for His bride, the church. I find this a stretch of the imagination and an effort to try to spiritualize a subject matter that they can otherwise find no purpose for being in scripture. More recently we have come to understand the significance of this book in regard to healthy marriage relationships. The sexual aspect of marriage is a gift from God intended to be enjoyed between a man and woman in a marriage relationship. In that relationship it has the practical role of procreation, but has also provided the benefit of enjoyment in marriage, deepening the relationship beyond its functional role. Beyond the marriage relationship sex loses its wholesomeness and even its fulfillment and purpose. In fact, it becomes destructive.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 6

    Song of Solomon 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Most beautiful of women, tell us where he has gone. Let us help you find him.
  2. My darling has gone down to his garden of spices, where he will feed his sheep and gather lilies.
  3. I am his, and he is mine, as he feeds his sheep among the lilies.
  4. My dearest, the cities of Tirzah and Jerusalem are not as lovely as you. Your charms are more powerful than all of the stars in the heavens.
  5. Turn away your eyes-- they make me melt. Your hair tosses about as gracefully as goats coming down from Gilead.
  6. Your teeth are whiter than sheep freshly washed; they match perfectly, not one is missing.
  7. Behind your veil are hidden beautiful rosy cheeks.
  8. What if I could have sixty queens, eighty wives, and thousands of others!
  9. You would be my only choice, my flawless dove, the favorite child of your mother. The young women, the queens, and all the others tell how excited you are as they sing your praises:
  10. "You are as majestic as the morning sky-- glorious as the moon-- blinding as the sun! Your charms are more powerful than all the stars above."
  11. I went down to see if blossoms were on the walnut trees, grapevines, and fruit trees.
  12. But in my imagination I was suddenly riding on a glorious chariot.
  13. Dance! Dance! Beautiful woman from Shulam, let us see you dance! Why do you want to see this woman from Shulam dancing with the others?

Prior to this chapter, the Beloved (the bride) was indifferent about her lover coming to her, so he went away. She sought the help of the young women of Jerusalem to find him. In verse 1 of this chapter the young women agree to help, and ask where he has gone. Curiously the Beloved tells them he "has gone to his garden." Supposedly she is looking for him and yet this reply implies that she already knows where he is. At least one commentary suggests the reason might be that their separation was emotional rather than physical. Her comments indicate that she is ready for reconciliation and her confidence that he may have always desired it. She says, "I am my love's and my love is mine." I can also imagine she is making clear to these young women that they shouldn't get any ideas about his availability.

Verse 4 marks the reconciliation with the praises of the Lover for his Beloved. Much of his praise is repeated from his praise of her on their wedding night which may be suggesting to her that his love for her has not diminished since then. He goes further, though. Not only does he praise her beauty as he did on their wedding night, he now praises her virtue and uniqueness. This is praise indeed, for since their marriage and in the closeness of living together he has grown in his appreciation of her virtues rather than diminished. Living with a person will expose their real character and her's has proven to be genuine, maybe more so than he originally realized. He is not the only one who sees her virtues, either. Her mother does, of course. She is her mother's favorite, but other women see it as well, and sing her praises. An often quoted phrase from Sir Thomas Overbury's work, "A true and historical relation of the poysoning of Sir Thomas Overbury," comes to mind regarding the Lover's assessment of his Beloved - "Beauty is only skin deep." Her beauty, he is saying, is not just skin deep. It goes throughout. A beauty that does not go beyond the surface is like a food or drink that is too sweet. It soon becomes distasteful.

Verses 11-13 seem to give the Beloved's description of the reconciliation, though they are a bit obscure. Verse 12 is a key, I think, and it is a difficult verse to interpret. One translation of it is this: “I became enraptured, for you placed me on the chariots of the people of the prince.” If we go with this understanding of it, the Beloved could be saying that she went to to the garden where her Lover was to see if their love was still in bloom. When she found him his words of praise caused her to "become enraptured." He then placed her on his chariot at the head of his entourage and as they left the people called her back.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 5

    Song of Solomon 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My bride, my very own, I come to my garden and enjoy its spices. I eat my honeycomb and honey; I drink my wine and milk. Eat and drink until you are drunk with love.
  2. I was asleep, but dreaming: The one I love was at the door, knocking and saying, "My darling, my very own, my flawless dove, open the door for me! My head is drenched with evening dew."
  3. But I had already undressed and bathed my feet. Should I dress again and get my feet dirty?
  4. Then my darling's hand reached to open the latch, and my heart stood still.
  5. When I rose to open the door, my hands and my fingers dripped with perfume.
  6. My heart stood still while he spoke to me, but when I opened the door, my darling had disappeared. I searched and shouted, but I could not find him-- there was no answer.
  7. Then I was found by the guards patrolling the town and guarding the wall. They beat me up and stripped off my robe.
  8. Young women of Jerusalem, if you find the one I love, please say to him, "She is weak with desire."
  9. Most beautiful of women, why is the one you love more special than others? Why do you ask us to tell him how you feel?
  10. He is handsome and healthy, the most outstanding among ten thousand.
  11. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy, black as a raven.
  12. His eyes are a pair of doves bathing in a stream flowing with milk.
  13. His face is a garden of sweet-smelling spices; his lips are lilies dripping with perfume.
  14. His arms are branches of gold covered with jewels; his body is ivory decorated with sapphires.
  15. His legs are columns of marble on feet of gold. He stands there majestic like Mount Lebanon and its choice cedar trees.
  16. His kisses are sweet. I desire him so much! Young women of Jerusalem, he is my lover and friend.

At the conclusion of chapter 4 the bride unlocked her garden, her virginity, and the marriage was consummated. Chapter 5 begins with the groom's exhilaration with the experience. He enjoyed his garden, his bride, and described its delicacies as eating honey and drinking the best wine. With verse 2 the writer begins to describe the maturation of the marriage which hits some rocky road due to indifference and absence. It is all depicted in a dream that the wife has. There are some similarities of this dream to one she had during the courtship in which she could not find her lover and went into the city to find him. In that dream the city guards helped her.

In this present dream, the husband had been absent, though for what purpose or for how long, we are not told. He knocks at the door and calls to his wife in affectionate terms asking that she let him in. Calling to her affectionately and the fact that when she finally went to open the door there was myrrh on the door handle, may indicate that he was seeking more than entry to the house, but also entry to his 'garden.' Myrrh was sometimes associated with lovemaking. Somewhat indifferently, the wife says she had just undressed, washed her feet, and gone to bed. How could she get dressed again and dirty her feet to go let him in? But when he tried to open the door she was moved by his effort to get to her and decided to let him in. But she was disappointed to discover that at her hesitation to open for him and his failure to gain entry, the husband had gone away.

She was crushed that he had left and called for him but he did not answer. So she went into the city to find him. But this time when she encountered the guards they mistook who she was, evidently thinking she was a prostitute out in the night or having some other ill intent. Possibly her mistreatment by the guards in her dream symbolized her feelings of guilt at causing her lover to go away. Whether this is accurate or not, the dream itself shows the pain of separation brought on by this episode as she sought to find her lover. She turned, then, to the young women of Jerusalem for their help in finding her lover asking that if they should find him to tell him "that I am lovesick."

The young women asked her what made her lover so special that they should help to find him. She then describes the attractiveness of her lover. It is clear, both by her search for her husband and by this description of him that despite the indifference she may have had, she still cared for him, and her desire for him is rekindled. He is her lover and her friend. Such difficulties are normal in a marriage. Working through these difficulties not only keeps the marriage together, but the marriage is strengthened by the process of working through these difficulties.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 4

    Song of Solomon 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My darling, you are lovely, so very lovely-- as you look through your veil, your eyes are those of a dove. Your hair tosses about as gracefully as goats coming down from Gilead.> <
  2. Your teeth are whiter than sheep freshly washed; they match perfectly, not one is missing.> <
  3. Your lips are crimson cords, your mouth is shapely; behind your veil are hidden beautiful rosy cheeks.> <
  4. Your neck is more graceful than the tower of David, decorated with thousands of warriors' shields.> <
  5. Your breasts are perfect; they are twin deer feeding among lilies.> <
  6. I will hasten to those hills sprinkled with sweet perfume and stay there till sunrise.> <
  7. My darling, you are lovely in every way.> <
  8. My bride, together we will leave Lebanon! We will say good-by to the peaks of Mount Amana, Senir, and Hermon, where lions and leopards live in the caves.> <
  9. My bride, my very own, you have stolen my heart! With one glance from your eyes and the glow of your necklace, you have stolen my heart.> <
  10. Your love is sweeter than wine; the smell of your perfume is more fragrant than spices.> <
  11. Your lips are a honeycomb; milk and honey flow from your tongue. Your dress has the aroma of cedar trees from Lebanon.> <
  12. My bride, my very own, you are a garden, a fountain closed off to all others.> <
  13. Your arms are vines, covered with delicious fruits and all sorts of spices-- henna, nard,> <
  14. saffron, calamus, cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, and aloes --all the finest spices.> <
  15. You are a spring in the garden, a fountain of pure water, and a refreshing stream from Mount Lebanon.> <
  16. Let the north wind blow, the south wind too! Let them spread the aroma of my garden, so the one I love may enter and taste its delicious fruits.

Chapter 3 closed with the wedding procession, not to be compared with our present practice of a procession down an aisle. The procession in Solomon's day began with the groom rather than the bride. He and his entourage went to the home of the bride to get her and take her to their new residence. There, that night, they would consummate their marriage while family and friends prepared for a week-long feast. In chapter 3 the groom had already arrived at the home of the bride and now they are either on their way to their new home or are already there.

In verses 1-7 of chapter 4 the groom lavishes the bride with praise of her beauty. Though she was not greatly beautiful based on the standards of the day, primarily since she was not fair-skinned, in the eye's of her lover she was "absolutely beautiful . . . with no imperfection." As it is said, "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," and so it should be between a man and wife. His descriptions of her beauty use pastoral metaphors which would likely have little meaning today but he used what was familiar to her. Later, when they lived in a royal setting, he used royal imagery. It should be noticed that on their wedding night the focus of the groom was on his bride, not on himself. Only once does he refer to himself in this description.

In verse 8 the groom invites his bride to "Come with me from Lebanon." This is likely his invitation for her to leave her home and go with him to their new home. This would lead us to believe his description of her beauty took place at her home as a prelude to this invitation. It is possible, also, that the sequence is not exact. Whatever the case, he next praises her love. She has accepted his invitation to come away with him and now has her eyes on him and he tells her, "You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes." Her love, strong enough to give herself to him and to go away and make a home with him, is now focused in her eyes and captures his heart forming a bond of commitment to her. He finds her love to be more enticing than wine.

Now the words are becoming more intimate and we might imagine the couple are alone in their new home. The groom refers now to his bride as a garden whose exotic fruit is rare and valuable and desirable. Her garden is especially rare and valuable because it has remained locked until this time. "You are a locked garden," he says, valuing her virginity. She has saved her 'fruit' just for him. Those who view sex as a casual thing, something of more recreational value than of sacred value, miss the specialness and the commitment of giving oneself totally to one person. It is something that can contribute to the strength of a marriage rather than to cast doubts and contribute to weakening a marriage as can be the case when a person has shared this special part of themselves with others prior to marriage.

And then, in the last verse of the chapter, the bride unlocks her garden. "Let my love come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits," offering to him fruit that has never been picked over.