Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reflections on Jonah 4

 Jonah 04  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jonah was really upset and angry.
  2. So he prayed: Our LORD, I knew from the very beginning that you wouldn't destroy Nineveh. That's why I left my own country and headed for Spain. You are a kind and merciful God, and you are very patient. You always show love, and you don't like to punish anyone, not even foreigners.
  3. Now let me die! I'd be better off dead.
  4. The LORD replied, "What right do you have to be angry?"
  5. Jonah then left through the east gate of the city and made a shelter to protect himself from the sun. He sat under the shelter, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.
  6. The LORD made a vine grow up to shade Jonah's head and protect him from the sun. Jonah was very happy to have the vine,
  7. but early the next morning the LORD sent a worm to chew on the vine, and the vine dried up.
  8. During the day the LORD sent a scorching wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head, making him feel faint. Jonah was ready to die, and he shouted, "I wish I were dead!"
  9. But the LORD asked, "Jonah, do you have the right to be angry about the vine?" "Yes, I do," he answered, "and I'm angry enough to die."
  10. But the LORD said: You are concerned about a vine that you did not plant or take care of, a vine that grew up in one night and died the next.
  11. In that city of Nineveh there are more than a hundred twenty thousand people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there. Don't you think I should be concerned about that big city?

We finally get to Jonah's reason for rebelling by running away from God's assignment for him. He didn't want God to spare Nineveh from disaster! He, like most Israelites, had an extreme dislike for the Assyrians and wanted God to destroy them. It is not often God's attributes are described in anger: "You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster." (4:2) Jonah knew these attributes of God well for he had experienced them very recently. Though he evidently felt he deserved to experience God's mercy, he didn't feel the Assyrians did. Was his rebellion and hatred for the Assyrians any better than the evil of the Assyrians? Both were a sin against God.

Jonah's request for God to take his life would have been a bit melodramatic if he were not serious. First he prayed for God to spare his life from the belly of the fish, and now he prayed that God would take it. It is hard to imagine such dislike for a people.

Jonah went outside the city to observe its fate, fabricating himself a shelter to provide shade. There, in his temporary shelter, God gave him an object lesson by causing a plant to grow up overnight large enough to provide even better shade for Jonah than did his shelter. Jonah was very pleased with the plant and the shade it gave him. But as the sun was rising the next day God sent a worm to attack the plant, causing it to wither, while also sending a scorching east wind to beat down on Jonah, increasing his discomfort after loosing his shade.

Again, Jonah wanted to die. Then God drove home His point. Jonah had greater compassion for a plant which had existed only a few hours. A plant which Jonah had had no part in tending, offering nothing toward its existence. On the other hand, God had given life to the Ninevites as well as to the animals. He had cared for them and grieved over their rebellion. Should it not pain God to consider their destruction? What right did Jonah have to consider his own life, let alone his own comfort, more important than the lives of the Ninevites?

How like the attitudes of many toward God. Wrapped up in his own little world with little concern for anything or anyone besides himself, Jonah had no clue of God's perspective, yet he angrily questioned God's actions and decisions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reflections on Jonah 3

 Jonah 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Once again the LORD told Jonah
  2. to go to that great city of Nineveh and preach his message of doom.
  3. Jonah obeyed the LORD and went to Nineveh. The city was so big that it took three days just to walk through it.
  4. After walking for a day, Jonah warned the people, "Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!"
  5. They believed God's message and set a time when they would go without eating to show their sorrow. Then everyone in the city, no matter who they were, dressed in sackcloth.
  6. When the king of Nineveh heard what was happening, he also dressed in sackcloth; he left the royal palace and sat in dust.
  7. Then he and his officials sent out an order for everyone in the city to obey. It said: None of you or your animals may eat or drink a thing. Each of you must wear sackcloth, and you must even put sackcloth on your animals. You must also pray to the LORD God with all your heart and stop being sinful and cruel. Maybe God will change his mind and have mercy on us, so we won't be destroyed.
  8. (SEE 3:7)
  9. (SEE 3:7)
  10. When God saw that the people had stopped doing evil things, he had pity and did not destroy them as he had planned.

God had rescued Jonah from the fish for a purpose. This purpose was not to return to his old life but to the task God had given him. So, having been rescued from the belly of the fish where Jonah renewed his vows to the Lord, God again gave him the message to "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you." (3:2) This time, Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh.

Preaching to the people of Nineveh was a rather daunting task due to its size. It was a three-day walk simply to cross the city. But Jonah entered the city and began proclaiming as he went that, "In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown!" One cannot help but wonder if Jonah had gone to Nineveh when God first told him to whether the city would have had more time to repent before being overthrown. But, of course, we have no way of knowing, so the question remains unanswered. As it turns out, the people of Nineveh didn't need even 40 days to repent. Nor did it take three days for them to begin responding to Jonah's message. They responded immediately to the message.

Word evidently spread rapidly once Jonah began his walk through the city proclaiming as he went. Verse 5 says that "the men of Nineveh believed in God." The impression is given by this that it was a wide-spread acceptance of God, including everyone and not just a few. Enough momentum of belief was begun that a fast was proclaimed along with a show of repentance by dressing in sackcloth. This fasting and repentance was observed by all, from the "greatest of them to the least."

Giving evidence that the fasting and repentance was observed by all, from the greatest to the least, verse 6 tells about the king observing it and then issuing a decree ordering all Ninevites to observe the fast and to wear sackcloth. This was to include the animals as well as the people. But the king's decree went further. This was not to be a purely ritualistic observance. The people were to call out to God in earnest and were to turn from their evil ways.

The king and the people had believed Jonah's message of pending doom. Jonah was a stranger who had shown up at Nineveh unannounced and began preaching his message of doom. Why should they have believed him? In response we must first acknowledge that God had no doubt prepared their hearts to receive the message He had given Jonah to preach. We should not presume that God had been so insistent on sending Jonah without preparing the Ninevites to hear the message and be receptive to it.

Another reason for the Ninevites receptivity to the message may be that they had heard of Jonah's deliverance from the fish, and his arrival at Nineveh was not as a total stranger to them. He did not, in other words, show up unannounced. If this is a correct assumption, it is an amazing demonstration of God's wisdom and mercy. The scenario we can imagine is that knowing Jonah would initially rebel against His command to go to Nineveh, God orchestrated all the events of Jonah's journey toward Tarshish, not just to turn Jonah around and go to Nineveh, but also to give his message credibility with the Ninevites.

Whatever the reason for receptivity by the Ninevites, they repented as a whole and "turned from their evil ways." Though we may question the genuineness of their repentance, God accepted it and "relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them." (3:10)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reflections on Jonah 2

 Jonah 02  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the LORD his God:
  2. When I was in trouble, LORD, I prayed to you, and you listened to me. From deep in the world of the dead, I begged for your help, and you answered my prayer.
  3. You threw me down to the bottom of the sea. The water was churning all around; I was completely covered by your mighty waves.
  4. I thought I was swept away from your sight, never again to see your holy temple.
  5. I was almost drowned by the swirling waters that surrounded me. Seaweed had wrapped around my head.
  6. I had sunk down below the underwater mountains; I knew that forever, I would be a prisoner there. But, you, LORD God, rescued me from that pit.
  7. When my life was slipping away, I remembered you-- and in your holy temple you heard my prayer.
  8. All who worship worthless idols turn from the God who offers them mercy.
  9. But with shouts of praise, I will offer a sacrifice to you, my LORD. I will keep my promise, because you are the one with power to save.
  10. The LORD commanded the fish to vomit up Jonah on the shore. And it did.

Jonah learned what any of us learn when we are disobedient. Whatever displeases us about being obedient to God and keeps us from doing what He wants of us is not as unpleasant as disobedience. In fact, when we are finally obedient we find it is not unpleasant at all. In chapter 1, Jonah realized as he was on the ship in the midst of the storm that he could not run from God. The storm was for his benefit and threatened not only himself but all those aboard. This is something else about our disobedience. It often affects others as well as ourselves. No doubt Jonah felt that when he was thrown overboard it would be the end of him.

Now, in chapter 2, Jonah found himself rescued by God in a very unique way. He was inside a fish and had no doubt it was God's provision for him. He was filled with gratitude to God. In fact, the whole experience was God's doing. It was God who threw him overboard even though it was at the hands of the sailors, and the breakers of the sea that swept over him were God's breakers. Jonah had been banished from God's sight. But as suddenly as he had been banished he was also rescued by the fish. It was not the fish, though, but God who raised his life "from the Pit." Jonah now looked to God's holy temple and lifted his voice of thanksgiving to the Lord. "Salvation," he said, "is from the Lord!" (2:9) This statement of faith is in contrast to the worthlessness of clinging to idols. It was not idols but the Lord who saved him, and to cling to idols is to forsake the One whose faithful love can and will rescue us.

With Jonah's recognition of God's salvation and his renewal of his vow to the Lord, the Lord "commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." (2:10)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Reflections on Jonah 1

 Jonah 01  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day the LORD told Jonah, the son of Amittai,
  2. to go to the great city of Nineveh and say to the people, "The LORD has seen your terrible sins. You are doomed!"
  3. Instead, Jonah ran from the LORD. He went to the seaport of Joppa and bought a ticket on a ship that was going to Spain. Then he got on the ship and sailed away to escape.
  4. But the LORD made a strong wind blow, and such a bad storm came up that the ship was about to be broken to pieces.
  5. The sailors were frightened, and they all started praying to their gods. They even threw the ship's cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. All this time, Jonah was down below deck, sound asleep.
  6. The ship's captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your God! Maybe he will have pity on us and keep us from drowning."
  7. Finally, the sailors got together and said, "Let's ask our gods to show us who caused all this trouble." It turned out to be Jonah.
  8. They started asking him, "Are you the one who brought all this trouble on us? What business are you in? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?"
  9. Jonah answered, "I'm a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
  10. When the sailors heard this, they were frightened, because Jonah had already told them he was running from the LORD. Then they said, "Do you know what you have done?"
  11. The storm kept getting worse, until finally the sailors asked him, "What should we do with you to make the sea calm down?"
  12. Jonah told them, "Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I'm the cause of this terrible storm."
  13. The sailors tried their best to row to the shore. But they could not do it, and the storm kept getting worse every minute.
  14. So they prayed to the LORD, "Please don't let us drown for taking this man's life. Don't hold us guilty for killing an innocent man. All of this happened because you wanted it to."
  15. Then they threw Jonah overboard, and the sea calmed down.
  16. The sailors were so terrified that they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made all kinds of promises.
  17. The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

God chose Jonah to be His messenger to the city of Nineveh, a major city in Assyria, which became the capital of Assyria following Jonah's time. This is the only record in scripture of God sending a prophet to a non-Israelite nation for the purpose of repentance. Other prophecies against non-Israelite nations speak of judgment on them due primarily to their atrocities against Israel. Jonah was told to "preach against it (Nineveh)" because "their wickedness has confronted Me." (1:1)

Verse 3 tells us simply that Jonah "got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord's presence." It is foolish to be disobedient to the Lord, but Jonah was especially foolish to think he could flee from the Lord's presence. Did he truly think this or was it a figure of speech? It was Jonah's understanding of God, as we discover later, that caused his disobedience. He surely knew there was nowhere he could go to escape God's presence. Or is it our unconscious thinking that by fleeing the instructions God gives us we are also getting away from God? Though we cannot hide from God our disobedience does separate us from God relationally. To flee God's presence, Jonah boarded a ship headed the opposite direction from Nineveh and as far away from the city as he could reasonably go.

Jonah could not so easily escape from a God who has command of all nature, and God called upon nature to stop Jonah's escape. He did this by causing a violent storm that threatened to break up the ship on which Jonah was fleeing. Being a religious lot, the ship's crew began calling out to their various gods to rescue them. The ship's captain was not pleased to find Jonah asleep when he could also have been calling to his god for help as well. Who knows, thought the captain, "Maybe this god (Jonah's God) will consider us, and we won't perish." (1:6)

To the sailors, the storm was an act of god, they just didn't know which god. Furthermore, their theology followed a common line of thinking, "If the storm was an act of god it is to punish someone who has done something wrong." Therefore, the sailors thought to take the situation into their own hands and determine who was to blame - with whom were the gods angry? They thought to do this by casting lots. God used their superstitions to point the finger at Jonah, and so the "lot singled out Jonah."

When confronted by the sailors about his role in the plight of the ship and all aboard, Jonah responded with no uncertainty. He was the cause. And, the God he worshiped was capable of causing this storm for He is the "God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land." (1:9) The sailors already knew Jonah was fleeing the Lord's presence so they recognized Jonah was their culprit and asked him, "What should we do to you to calm this sea that's against us?" (1:11) Whether from guilt or resignation, Jonah was man enough to face the consequences of his disobedience. He told them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea so it may quiet down for you, for I know that I'm to blame for this violent storm that is against you." (1:12)

The sailors were not inclined to take a man's life, so instead they attempted to row the boat to dry land. Failing at this they saw they had no choice but to do as Jonah had told them - throw him overboard. They called out to Jonah's God not to hold them responsible for taking his life and "threw him into the sea." (1:15) Immediately the sea "stopped its raging." Even in his disobedience, Jonah brought a witness of his God to these pagan sailors. When they saw what happened, they feared the Lord and offered sacrifice to Him.

This was not the end for Jonah, though. God was not through with him nor with the assignment He had given Jonah. Again, God drew upon His power over nature and "appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah." There, inside the fish, Jonah stayed "three days and three nights." (1:17)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reflections on Obadiah 1

 Obadiah 01  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD God gave Obadiah a message about Edom, and this is what we heard: "I, the LORD, have sent a messenger with orders for the nations to attack Edom."
  2. The LORD said to Edom: I will make you the weakest and most despised nation.
  3. You live in a mountain fortress, because your pride makes you feel safe from attack, but you are mistaken.
  4. I will still bring you down, even if you fly higher than an eagle or nest among the stars. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  5. If thieves break in at night, they steal only what they want. And people who harvest grapes always leave some unpicked. But, Edom, you are doomed!
  6. Everything you treasure most will be taken from you.
  7. Your allies can't be trusted. They will force you out of your own country. Your best friends will trick and trap you, even before you know it.
  8. Edom, when this happens, I, the LORD, will destroy all your marvelous wisdom.
  9. Warriors from the city of Teman will be terrified, and you descendants of Esau will be wiped out.
  10. You were cruel to your relatives, the descendants of Jacob. Now you will be destroyed, disgraced forever.
  11. You stood there and watched as foreigners entered Jerusalem and took what they wanted. In fact, you were no better than those foreigners.
  12. Why did you celebrate when such a dreadful disaster struck your relatives? Why were you so pleased when everyone in Judah was suffering?
  13. They are my people, and you were cruel to them. You went through their towns, sneering and stealing whatever was left.
  14. In their time of torment, you ambushed refugees and handed them over to their attackers.
  15. The day is coming when I, the LORD, will judge the nations. And, Edom, you will pay in full for what you have done.
  16. I forced the people of Judah to drink the wine of my anger on my sacred mountain. Soon the neighboring nations must drink their fill-- then vanish without a trace.
  17. The LORD's people who escape will go to Mount Zion, and it will be holy. Then Jacob's descendants will capture the land of those who took their land.
  18. Israel will be a fire, and Edom will be straw going up in flames. The LORD has spoken!
  19. The people of Israel who live in the Southern Desert will take the land of Edom. Those who live in the hills will capture Philistia, Ephraim, and Samaria. And the tribe of Benjamin will conquer Gilead.
  20. Those who return from captivity will control Phoenicia as far as Zarephath. Captives from Jerusalem who were taken to Sepharad will capture the towns of the Southern Desert.
  21. Those the LORD has saved will live on Mount Zion and rule over Edom. Then the kingdom will belong to the LORD.

The book of Obadiah is a short prophesy against the nation of Edom. Edom, made up of the descendants of Esau, brother of Jacob from whom came the Israelites, had been a continual archenemy of Israel. Edom, no doubt, would have claimed innocense against the charges made in this prophesy, for the nation had for the most part been a bystander while other nations had wrecked havoc on Israel. But Edom had cheered on Israel's attackers and assisted them with such things as capturing and handing over any Israelites who tried to escape. One can get an idea of Edom's efforts against Israel by looking at the judgment God planned against her. For God said of it, "As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head." Edom's blood relationship to Israel made this judgment of heightened concern to God, saying to Edom in verse 12: "Do not gloat over your brother in the day of his calamity."

Edom's pride, however, was another factor in God's judgment on her. The nation had become secure against invasion, was noted for having wise leaders, had established profitable alliances with other nations, and had become prosperous. In all this, Edom had become prideful and conceited. It was at the point of this pride that God aimed His judgment. Priding herself on her wise leaders and her wise alliances with other nations, it was these allies who betrayed the nation, doing so without a clue among Edom's wise leaders that it was coming. This is referred to in verse 7: "Everyone who has a treaty with you will drive you to the border; everyone at peace with you will deceive and conquer you."

Edom's judgment from God signaled a deliverance for Israel. Her archenemy was destroyed without a survivor. Israel would be restored and take possession of land held by the Edomites. Referring to a time yet future, this kingdom will "be the Lord's," and He will rule over it. (1:21)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reflections on Joel 3

 Joel 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. At that time I, the LORD, will make Judah and Jerusalem prosperous again.
  2. Then in Judgment Valley I will bring together the nations that scattered my people Israel everywhere in the world, and I will bring charges against those nations. They divided up my land
  3. and gambled to see who would get my people; they sold boys and girls to pay for prostitutes and wine.
  4. You people of Tyre and Sidon and you Philistines, why are you doing this? Are you trying to get even with me? I'll strike back before you know what's happened.
  5. You've taken my prized possessions, including my silver and gold, and carried them off to your temples.
  6. You have dragged the people of Judah and Jerusalem from their land and sold them to the Greeks.
  7. But I'll make the people of Judah determined to come home, and what happened to them will happen to you.
  8. I'll hand over your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, who live far away. I, the LORD, have spoken!
  9. Say to the nations: "Get ready for war! Be eager to fight. Line up for battle and prepare to attack.
  10. Make swords out of plows and spears out of garden tools. Strengthen every weakling."
  11. Hurry, all you nations! Come quickly. Ask the LORD to bring his warriors along.
  12. You must come now to Judgment Valley, where the LORD will judge the surrounding nations.
  13. They are a field of ripe crops. Bring in the harvest! They are grapes piled high. Start trampling them now! If our enemy's sins were wine, every jar would overflow.
  14. Crowds fill Decision Valley. The judgment day of the LORD will soon be here--
  15. no light from the sun or moon, and stars no longer shine.
  16. From the heart of Jerusalem the LORD roars like a lion, shaking the earth and sky. But the LORD is a fortress, a place of safety for his people Israel.
  17. I am the LORD your God. And you will know I live on Zion, my sacred hill, because Jerusalem will be sacred, untouched by foreign troops.
  18. On that day, fruitful vineyards will cover the mountains. And your cattle and goats that graze on the hills will produce a lot of milk. Streams in Judah will never run dry; a stream from my house will flow in Acacia Valley.
  19. Egypt and Edom were cruel and brutal to Judah, without a reason. Now their countries will become a barren desert,
  20. but Judah and Jerusalem will always have people.
  21. I, the LORD, live on Mount Zion. I will punish the guilty and defend the innocent.

As God turned from His wrath toward Judah and turned to mercy toward the nation, He also turned to judgment for the nations that were instruments of judgment on Judah. While we can go back and forth as to whether God caused these nations to destroy Judah or simply allowed them to, the issue of God's judgment on them was their own motivation for carrying out the judgment on Judah. They certainly weren't mere puppets in those events functioning outside their own will, but were doing what they intended to do - destroy Judah, scatter the people in foreign lands, and divide up the land. God had punishment in store for the nations that did this. Those mentioned in this passage were Phoenicia (Tyre and Sidon) and Philistia.

These nations that destroyed Judah and scattered the people also took the treasures of the temple and used them in their own temples for worship to their pagan gods. They sold the people of Judah into slavery in other nations. Now God was going to reverse all this by bringing the people of Judah from those places where they were sold and returning them to their land, and then selling the Phoenicians and Philistines as slaves to the people of Judah who would then sell them to other nations.

As the description of judgment on the nations continues into verses 9 and following, it takes on a tone of divine warfare against these nations and the sound of Armageddon. This places these events at a time yet in the future. The nations will be summoned to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for these events. Whether or not this is a real place, it means “the Lord judges” or "Valley of decision."

The events in the Valley of Jehoshaphat on the Day of the Lord will be terrifying: "The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will cease their shining." And "heaven and earth will shake." (3:15, 16) But this will only be so for the nations that God will be judging. As for His own people, God will be a refuge. God vows that at that time, "Jerusalem will be holy, and foreigners will never overrun it again." (3:17)

Once God has restored Judah and brought judgment on the nations that harmed her, Judah will be a paradise: "In that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. All the streams of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will issue from the LORD's house, watering the Valley of Acacias." (3:18) In contrast, "Egypt will become desolate, and Edom a desert wasteland." And this desolation will be "because of the violence done to the people of Judah in whose land they shed innocent blood." (3:19)

The description of Judah after these events reminds us of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. It is as if God has reinstated what He intended in the beginning before sin messed it up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reflections on Joel 2

 Joel 02  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Sound the trumpet on Zion, the LORD's sacred hill. Warn everyone to tremble! The judgment day of the LORD is coming soon.
  2. It will be dark and gloomy with storm clouds overhead. Troops will cover the mountains like thunderclouds. No army this powerful has ever been gathered before or will ever be again.
  3. Fiery flames surround them; no one escapes. Before they invaded, the land was like Eden; now only a desert remains.
  4. They look like horses and charge like cavalry.
  5. They roar over mountains like noisy chariots, or a mighty army ready for battle. They are a forest fire that feasts on straw.
  6. The very sight of them is frightening.
  7. They climb over walls like warriors; they march in columns and never turn aside.
  8. They charge straight ahead, without pushing each other; even arrows and spears cannot make them retreat.
  9. They swarm over city walls and enter our homes; they crawl in through windows, just like thieves.
  10. They make the earth tremble and the heavens shake; the sun and moon turn dark, and stars stop shining.
  11. The LORD God leads this army of countless troops, and they obey his commands. The day of his judgment is so terrible that no one can stand it.
  12. The LORD said: It isn't too late. You can still return to me with all your heart. Start crying and mourning! Go without eating.
  13. Don't rip your clothes to show your sorrow. Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind, and caring. I don't easily lose my temper, and I don't like to punish.
  14. I am the LORD your God. Perhaps I will change my mind and treat you with mercy. Then you will be blessed with enough grain and wine for offering sacrifices to me.
  15. Sound the trumpet on Zion! Call the people together. Show your sorrow by going without food.
  16. Make sure that everyone is fit to worship me. Bring adults, children, babies, and even bring newlyweds from their festivities.
  17. Tell my servants, the priests, to cry inside the temple and to offer this prayer near the altar: "Save your people, LORD God! Don't let foreign nations make jokes about us. Don't let them laugh and ask, 'Where is your God?' "
  18. The LORD was deeply concerned about his land and had pity on his people.
  19. In answer to their prayers he said, "I will give you enough grain, wine, and olive oil to satisfy your needs. No longer will I let you be insulted by the nations.
  20. An army attacked from the north, but I will chase it into a scorching desert. There it will rot and stink from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean." The LORD works wonders
  21. and does great things. So tell the soil to celebrate
  22. and wild animals to stop being afraid. Grasslands are green again; fruit trees and fig trees are loaded with fruit. Grapevines are covered with grapes.
  23. People of Zion, celebrate in honor of the LORD your God! He is generous and has sent the autumn and spring rains in the proper seasons.
  24. Grain will cover your threshing places; jars will overflow with wine and olive oil.
  25. I, the LORD your God, will make up for the losses caused by those swarms and swarms of locusts I sent to attack you.
  26. My people, you will eat until you are satisfied. Then you will praise me for the wonderful things I have done. Never again will you be put to shame.
  27. Israel, you will know that I stand at your side. I am the LORD your God-- there are no other gods. Never again will you be put to shame.
  28. Later, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.
  29. In those days I will even give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women.
  30. I will work wonders in the sky above and on the earth below. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
  31. The sun will turn dark, and the moon will be as red as blood before that great and terrible day when I appear.
  32. Then the LORD will save everyone who faithfully worships him. He has promised there will be survivors on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and among them will be his chosen ones.

The alarm was being sounded. The Day of the Lord was coming. Though the Day is described using mixed metaphors, it is clear that this will be a day of terror to be avoided. While chapter one told of an invasion of locusts, chapter two speaks in terms of a vast army unlike any before this time or since. The vastness of this army, the way it moves and the description of its devastation, however, take on a likeness to the locusts. So which is it? Those details may be more important to theologians and historians than it is to the understanding of scripture.

The point is that the Day of the Lord is coming, it will be devastating. Everyone should repent now and avoid this Day. For if you "Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God," He is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster." (2:13) Not only will the Lord relent from sending disaster if the people repent, but He may even "leave a blessing behind Him." (2:14)

One must choose, as they read these passages, whether to accept God's judgment as the prominent theme or whether it is God's mercy. If it is God's judgment that is chosen, I believe the point has been missed. This, however, is the choice frequently made. This may be because the description of coming judgment is often given more room in the narrative than is the description of mercy? Maybe the devastation of judgment grabs one's attention more readily than the blessings of mercy? But we must not fail to notice that God's judgment is always for one purpose, and one purpose alone. That is repentance and restoration and the exercise of God's mercy.

Following the devastation described in verses 1-14, the people are called to repentance in verses 15-27. Everyone from the oldest to the youngest are called to gather. Even newlyweds who were exempted from normal obligations during their first year of marriage were not exempted from joining this gathering. In the gathering the people were to be sanctified as the priests called out to the Lord to "Have pity on Your people, LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations." (2:17)
The outcome of this humbling of themselves before the Lord would be twofold. First, the Lord would restore what the locusts had destroyed, and then He would divert the coming Day of the Lord and with it the coming army from the north. God's purpose in diverting full destruction of Israel would be threefold. The first is driven by His love and mercy toward them and the second by the desire not to communicate to the world that He is incapable of protecting His people. A third purpose is His jealousy for what is His - the land and the wildlife.

Verses 28-32 point beyond the prophet Joel's time period. The restoration of the people in his time would be a foreshadowing of a fuller outpouring of God's Spirit on His people. In fact, in this later period God's Spirit would be poured out on "all humanity." (2:28) No one would be excluded. In this time everyone, not just Jews, can call on "the name of Yahweh" and they "will be saved." (2:32)

This later prophesy has been fulfilled in part during and since the time of Christ. There will no doubt be a greater fulfillment in the end time.

Monday, July 20, 2015

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 begins immediately with a description of an unprecedented destruction that was to come on Judah. A plague of locust was to come like none Judah or Israel had ever seen, sweeping through in succeeding swarms. What the first swarm missed would be devoured by the next swarm, and a succeeding swarm would devour what the second missed. No vegetation would be left in its wake. Verse 6 speaks of nation invading the land, but is this referring, literally, to an invading army or another reference to the invasion of locust?

Mourning was called for, but its focus was on more than the loss of food. The primary reason given for mourning was that the grain and drink offerings had been "cut off from the house of the Lord." (1:9) Though the reason for this devastation has not yet been given, we can assume it was because Judah had turned away from the Lord making any offering the people brought for worship a mockery. Therefore, the Lord had cut off a significant source of offering and thus a significant part of the mockery in worship.

Though a primary source of offerings to the Lord had been cut off this didn't keep the people from fasting and assembling to cry out to the Lord in repentance. A solemn assembly was called. This devastation could yet be turned around through repentance. There is both a psychological and a historical cause for Judah to feel, after this much devastation, that something worse was yet to come.  The psychological cause is brought on by the experience of one bad thing after another enough times that one becomes conditioned to expect more bad things. But the historical cause of expecting something more devastating yet to come is the plagues that led to Israel's escape from Egypt. The plague that brought locusts on Egypt was the next to last plague that preceded the death of the first born.

Based on the last verses of the chapter it appears that drought had accompanied the locust plague. Seeds remained in the ground ungerminated and the riverbeds had dried up. But there was something more to come, and that was the Day of the Lord. It would bring "devastation from the Almighty." (1:15)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

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 calls on Israel to repent and even tells them how it should be done using the same 'formula' of what is referred to as 'the sinner's prayer.' First is to acknowledge their sin, "Forgive all our sin." Next is to express their desire to praise and worship the Lord. Finally they proclaim their trust in God alone. They could not depend on any other nation to save them and will no longer say, "our gods" to objects made with their own hands. They do all of this trusting that God will show them compassion.

Following Hosea's call for Israel to repent and turn to the Lord, the Lord spoke and assured them that in response to their repentance He would heal their apostasy, love them freely, and turn away His anger. With Israel's repentance and the turning away of the Lord's anger, Israel will again prosper. The nation will "blossom like the lily and take root like the cedars of Lebanon." This description of Israel's renewed prosperity is in stark contrast to the description in chapter 13 of her loss of prosperity due to her sin: "Although he flourishes among his brothers, an east wind will come, a wind from the LORD rising up from the desert. His water source will fail, and his spring will run dry. The wind will plunder the treasury of every precious item." (13:15)

In Israel's renewed relationship with the Lord, she will live "beneath His shade," that is, Israel would live under the Lord's protection or protective shade. Once again, Israel will be a nation of renown. No longer will they have anything to do with idols. It will be the Lord they acknowledge as the One who answers their prayers and watches over them. It will be the Lord they recognize as the source of their fruit.

The book concludes with a word to the wise. Those who are wise will recognize that: The ways of the Lord are right, the righteous will walk in the ways of the Lord, and those who choose to rebel will stumble.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

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.

The tribe of Ephraim in Israel had been prominent among the tribes, but they had also led the way into Baal worship. This took Ephraim from prominence to death. It was Ephraim's prosperity, prosperity that had come from the Lord, that took her away from the Lord. The people had become satisfied and proud in it and forgot the Lord.

Humility and submission seem hard for us to come by. We will resort to them when we feel weak and defeated, but once we feel strong and prosperous we shed them. When prosperous we begin to feel self-sufficient and forget the source of our prosperity, thinking we have done it ourselves. We begin to think the idea of God is only an allusion of the weak.

Therefore, Ephraim would be like the "morning mist," like "the early dew that vanishes," like "chaff blown from a threshing floor," like "smoke from a window." All of these analogies speak of being transitory. Ephraim would vanish as does the morning mist, etc. The Lord would be "like a lion to them," like a "bear robbed of her cubs." He would devour them and they would be gone.

"Ephraim's guilt is preserved; his sin is stored up." (13:12) God had allowed Ephraim time to repent and turn away from his sin, but that period had passed and the time had arrived for God's wrath. God had given Israel a king when they pleaded for one, though He did so in anger because they were not satisfied with the Lord as their king. But their kings had led them further and further away from the Lord and now God was would remove their king and ask, "Where now is your king?"

Israel would now bear her guilt and would fall by the sword.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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.

Though the main focus of the message through Hosea was aimed at Israel, the northern kingdom, Judah, the southern kingdom, comes into play as well, as mentioned in verse 2 of this chapter. The combined nation of Israel (Israel & Judah) is in the sights of these verses.

The nation as a whole had forgotten her roots. Was it her prosperity that caused her to go her own way? Or maybe she coveted the ways of the neighboring nations too much? Possibly it was both. The irony is that it was the Lord who provided her prosperity, and as for coveting the ways of neighboring nations, the Lord had told Israel to totally destroy them when she took over the land. But Israel had not obeyed. So here she was, turning her back on the One who got her where she was, and following the inevitable path to which her disobedience led.

Verses 3-5 recall Israel's ancestor, Jacob, who was contentious and deceptive. But he wrestled with the Angel and the Angel prevailed and Jacob changed his ways. It was time for Jacob's descendants to wrestle with God and come away a changed people.

The Lord had caused Israel to prosper but it wasn't enough. She had to have more and did so through dishonest means. Then she patted herself on the back congratulating herself for becoming rich all on her own. God had nothing to do with it. Of course He didn't have anything to do with the dishonest gain.

God had tried to turn Israel from her ways, speaking through prophets and giving visions and parables. But the nation turned away from all of it, persisting in her idolatrous and dishonest ways. God had used a prophet, Moses, to bring Israel out of Egypt, and had used prophets to care for the nation over the years. But Israel had grown too sophisticated for prophets, or so she seemed to think. But there would be nothing sophisticated about the nation after God repaid her for her guilt.

Monday, July 13, 2015

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.

The Lord spoke in these passages as a parent, recalling the early days when He first took Israel out of Egypt. He had taught Israel to 'walk', taking them by the arm and leading them "with ropes of kindness." He was the one who eased their load. But Israel was like a rebellious child never recognizing God for what He did for them. Instead she gave the credit to idols. When the Lord sent prophets to them they pulled away all the more. Therefore, Israel would go to the land of Assyria because she refused to repent.

In verse 6, God, speaking through His anger with Israel, was ready to destroy her because of her continual scheming. She seemed bent on turning from Him. But as His anger subsided His compassion was stirred. How could He give up Israel? His love for her was too strong. But regardless of the Lord's love and compassion toward Israel, her behavior could not be overlooked. She still must be punished. But the Lord would not vent His full fury on her. He would punish her but He would not destroy her.

God envisioned a time when His children, Israel, will come trembling to Him. When she does, she will be settled in her home. Though this time has not yet come, the Lord has declared it, and so it will be.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

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.

Though Israel had begun as a fruitful vine, the more fruitful she became, the more idolatrous she became. Increasingly she credited her fruitfulness to the idols instead God who was the true provider. Though it is curious why a people will be faithful to an idol but not to God, the answer probably lies in the impersonal and manipulative nature of the idol. The individual can maintain control, give little or nothing of themselves, and follow the prescribed rituals. There is no moral code or lifestyle expectation. The outcomes, though, were supposedly predictable. Do certain things and get certain results.

God is a personal God, though, who wants us to give ourselves to a relationship with Him. While the Old Testament worship involved certain rituals for the atonement of sin, on the relational side God expected His worshipers to value what He valued which involved obedience to a moral code. God valued adherence to the moral code more than He did the rituals. Failure to live morally correct, or righteously, signaled that one did not value what God valued nor did they value their relationship with God.

So, as Israel became more and more idolatrous, she valued the moral lifestyle God prescribed less and less, and thus, valued her relationship with God less and less. Valuing God less is invariably accompanied by valuing others less. This devaluing of God and others became evident with Israel as the hearts of the people became more and more devious. The people eventually came to the point that they not only didn't need God, but that they didn't need a king who was God's representative to govern them. This, of course, led to a societal breakdown. They didn't keep their covenant with God nor did they keep contracts with each other. The courts were swamped with lawsuits.

God would respond to this by destroying their idols which would cause great anxiety among the people. Loss of their idols represented to them loss of their prosperity. Besides the loss of their idols they would experience the loss of their king, and the people would call on the mountains and hills to fall on them.

Having withdrawn themselves from God, Israel then no longer had His protection against her enemies. These enemies would gather against Israel and war would destroy her. Neither Israel's great army nor her fortifications would protect her, for her real protection was the Lord whom she had abandoned.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

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.

Israel had been promiscuous in her worship of idols, making her grain offerings to idols instead of the Lord who gave them the harvest. It was likened to prostituting herself on the grain floor at harvest time. The result would be loss of her grain and of her opportunity for worshiping the Lord. The Lord, who was responsible for Israel's grain harvests, would take away the productivity of her harvests, and then He would send her into exile where she had only unclean food to eat that had been offered to idols. If the people even wanted to worship God there would be no proper means to do so.

So the question was raised, "What will you do on a festival day?" These were days they typically made offerings to the Lord and celebrated with festivities and food and wine. But they would be in exile and could not do this, so what would they do? Though Egypt was mentioned as the place of exile, symbolically referring to a return to slavery, their actual exile location would be Assryia.

The time for Israel's punishment had come. God's patience had come to its end. Not only had Israel prostituted herself with other gods, she had been hostile toward the prophets God sent to them to warn them of their unfaithfulness and resulting punishment if they didn't change their ways. They attempted to ensnare the prophets, pulling them into idolatry with them. In all of this they had forgotten the God who "discovered Israel like grapes in the wilderness" and saw them as the "first fruit of the fig tree" when the fruit is most delicious. But instead of being something to be desired, Israel had become detestable.

Israel's punishment would fit her 'crime' or rather her sin. It was noted earlier that she would lose her grain harvests which she had credited to idols rather than to God. In verses 11-17 it is pointed out that because of her participation in Baal fertility rites expecting to 'assure' their fruitfulness in having children, they would no longer be fruitful in this way either. They would experience sterility and miscarriage and death of the children they were able to birth. On top of this they would become wanderers without a home.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

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.

It was time to sound the warning. Destruction was coming - swift and powerful as an eagle. Why? Because Israel had transgressed against God's covenant. She no longer inquired of God, but had rejected what was good. She had appointed leaders without consulting God. Leaders who built idols for themselves.

Representative of the idolatry brought on by Israel's kings, was the calf-idol. How absurd that they bowed down to this object that was made by an Israelite craftsman as if it were God. And how offensive to God who had rescued Israel from Egypt, given her a land of her own, and prospered her above the other nations. But now that they rebelled against God the other nations, to whom Israel turned for help in stead of the Lord, would drain her of her prosperity. God was going to bring Israel to her knees, destroying her crops through whatever means he chose. Whether through natural calamities or through foreign armies.

Israel had turned away from God's laws so completely that they were regarded as something alien. If they were even now to offer sacrifices to the Lord, He would not accept them. Israel would be returning to Egypt. Here temporary subservient relationship to Egypt would be a reminder of where she had come from and where she had now returned.

Monday, July 6, 2015

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.

Chapter 7 begins with a reference to God's healing of Israel. This was to follow a period of exile from their homeland and abandonment by God. Following a period of exile, there would be a time of healing and restoration. When it came, the sins of the nation would be exposed. The people had carried on their sinful activities robbing and pillaging, oblivious that God knew what they were doing and remembered.

It wasn't just the people involved in this sin, but the king and his princes as well. Verse 3 gives the impression that the king may even have encouraged these activities. Their sins were persistent. Even when the evil subsided, it smoldered as a baker's oven smolders while he kneads the dough, and, like the oven, the evil would eventually be stirred back into a flaming fire once again.

The king's sin of encouraging the sinful behavior of the people came back to bite him. The time came when amidst festivities for the king, the king caroused with his princes as they plotted his overthrow. The behavior he encouraged turned on him.
In all her debauchery, wisdom escaped Israel. She went around foolishly getting mixed up with other nations who in turn consumed her strength. But Israel was clueless to what was happening. In her arrogance, Israel never turned to the Lord in all this.

Eventually, Israel became a "senseless bird, fluttering back and forth between Egypt and Assyria." First she submitted herself to suzerainty, or a vassal nation to Assyria. But when this became too oppressive she turned to Egypt, seeking an alliance to help break away from Assyria. Little by little Israel was giving away everything to these nations but she did not turn to the Lord. The Lord had made Israel a strong nation and yet she had plotted evil against Him. Now Israel would be "ridiculed for this in the land of Egypt." Back to the land from which God had freed her to give her a land of her own and make of her a great nation.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

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

Israel had been called to repentance. God had withdrawn from her to wait until "they recognize their guilt and seek My face; they will search for Me in their distress." (5:15) 6:1 records their eventual response. But was it current to Hosea's time period or sometime in the future, perhaps even yet future? That is the question.

Because of the overtones in Vv. 1 & 2 to Isaiah's prophesy of the Messiah and to Christ's resurrection, there is the suggestion that this is a reference to an event that has not yet occurred. If it were current to Hosea's time, it was insincere and failed to be a true repentance and therefore brouth no real restoration. Beyond that, Israel has yet to receive the forgiveness and restoration made possible by the Messiah.

The Lord sounds a bit like an exasperated parent in verse 4, "What am I going to do with you?" Mentioning both Israel (Ephraim) and Judah. Their loyalty to the Lord was as nebulous and lasting as the morning mist and dew. This had been the case throughout Israel history with the Lord and not just during Hosea's time. No wonder the Lord was so exasperated with the nation! Throughout Israel's history, the Lord had sent prophets to "cut them down," but her repentance and reform was always short-lived. What the Lord wanted was not a multitude of burnt offerings, no matter how sincerely offered. He wanted their loyalty - their hearts.

Instead of loyalty, Israel had been like her father Adam and had broken the Lord's covenant with her and betrayed Him.

The chapter concludes with further description of Israel's unfaithfulness. They were as unlike the character of God as they could be. God is not after our faithful observance of religious rituals. It is our hearts He wants. And the evidence that He has our hearts is that we want to be obedient to the character He desires of us, which is to be like Him.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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.

God's indictment against Israel was not just aimed at the people. They were included, but it was quite pointedly aimed at the nation's leaders - both religious and secular. The priests and the king had been guilty of influencing the people toward idolatry. Thus the accusation, "you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread out on Tabor." These were two of the idolatrous worship sites. God had punishment in store for them.

The nation had gone so far into idolatry (unfaithfulness) that they could not find their way back to God if they tried. It would require some type of intervention to break them away from it allowing them an opportunity to clear their thinking from idolatry and begin, once again, to think about God. That break would be built into God's punishment for them. We are often not inclined to change our ways unless the discomfort and pain of pursuing them exceeds the discomfort and pain of changing them. This is what God's punishments are designed to do.

As the nation began to see the threat of God's punishment coming, they would make some effort to reach out to Him, but He would not be found because He had withdrawn from them. These initial efforts to reach out to Him He knew to be hypocritical and lacking in genuine loyalty to Him. They would merely be superficial efforts to turn away God's wrath.

As Gomer had pictured with her adulterous relationships, Israel had been unfaithful to God producing illegitimate children (V. 7), perhaps a reference to children resulting from idolatrous sexual acts.

Israel's punishment was announced. Raise the war cry, Israel was told, war was coming, and in its wake there would be desolation. What the Lord announces, He says, "is certain among the tribes of Israel." (V. 9) Once the destruction was complete, the Lord would "depart and return to My place until they recognize their guilt and seek My face." In their distress, they would search for Him. As their search proved to be genuine, then He would be found.