Faithlessness Produces Fruitlessness

11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—
    no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
12 Even if they bring up children,
    I will bereave them till none is left.
Woe to them
    when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow;
    but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord
    what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
    and dry breasts.– Hosea 9:11-14 ESV

According to God, the glory of Israel was not to be measured by power, possessions, or their place in the global community of nations. They were not to find their identity and worth in their many accomplishments or their ability to accumulate wealth, status, and temporal significance. Their glory was their children, the fruit of their wombs. Even King Solomon, the man who had accumulated for himself great wealth, wisdom, fame, and power, had willingly admitted the intrinsic value of children.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

Yet God makes a startling announcement to the stubbornly rebellious people of Israel.

The glory of Israel will fly away like a bird, for your children will not be born or grow in the womb or even be conceived. –Hosea 9:11 NLT

He was informing the Israelites that the greatest gift or reward that He had given them was about to be removed from them. The pending Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom would result in many Israelites being captured and enslaved. Family members would be separated and transported back to Assyria, never to see one another again. But equally as devastating, those who would be allowed to remain in the land would see the nation’s birth rate drop precipitously. The loss of thousands of able-bodied men due to death in battle or enslavement would have long-term implications. But to fully understand the gravity of God’s pronouncement, one must consider the promise that He had made to Abraham.

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:17-18 ESV

God’s promise to bless Abraham entailed the provision of a multitude of offspring. But it’s important to note that the promise came immediately after Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God’s command to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time for the birth of Isaac. They were both advanced in years and she was barren. Yet God had blessed them with a son, through whom He would bring about the creation of a mighty nation. And God kept that promise.

Years later, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham would lead his small family into Egypt to seek respite from a famine in the land of Canaan. The book of Exodus states that “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:5 ESV) when they arrived in Egypt. Yet, by the time they left some four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. In fact, the book of Exodus goes on to state that “they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:7 NLT). During their prolonged stay in the land of Egypt, God had blessed the people of Israel by making them fruitful. And when the Pharaoh attempted to institute a plan that would curtail the prolific birthrate of the Israelites, he failed.

…the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. – Exodus 1:20 NLT

By the time God rescued the nation of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt, their numbers had grown exponentially. When Moses eventually led them out of the land, there were far more than 70 descendants of Jacob in line behind him.

That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children. A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:37-38 NLT

Some 40 years later, the people of Israel would find themselves standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, preparing to enter Canaan, the land God had promised to give Abraham’s descendants as their inheritance. And as they looked across the river to their future home, Moses told them:

“…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 4, 11 ESV

Now, centuries after that momentous occasion, Hosea was informing the Israelites that their God-ordained fruitfulness was about to come to an end. As God had faithfully multiplied their numbers, they had simply multiplied their sins. They had taught their children to live in disobedience to Yahweh. And this was exactly what Moses feared they would do. That’s why, long before their ancestors had entered the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them:

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:7-9 NLT

Moses had made it clear that God expected cross-generational sharing of His commands and a perpetual, intergenerational adherence to His will.

“…you and your children and grandchildren must fear the LORD your God as long as you live.…Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” – Deuteronomy 6:2, 3 NLT

But they had failed to heed Moses’ warning. And, as a result, each successive generation had become increasingly more apostate and idolatrous. And God had seen enough. He had watched Israel “become as beautiful as Tyre” (Hosea 9:13 NLT). They had enjoyed His many blessings and become prosperous and affluent. But all that was about to end.

“…now Israel will bring out her children for slaughter.” – Hosea 9:13 NLT

Even Hosea is appalled by the stubborn disobedience of the people. Rather than intercede with God and plead that He show them mercy, the prophet asks, “what should I request for your people?” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). And then he answers his own question: “I will ask for wombs that don’t give birth and breasts that give no milk” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). From his perspective, the people of Israel did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of the womb because they had been unwilling to raise up those children to honor and obey God.

For centuries, God had blessed the people of Israel. All the way back to their unpleasant sojourn in the land of Egypt, God had blessed them and made them fruitful. he had multiplied their number and then provided them with a land fully capable of holding and sustaining them. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, God had continued to expand their number and their significance in the region. Israel had become a major player in the middle east. But rather than respond to God’s gift of fruitfulness with faithfulness, the people of Israel had chosen to forsake Him. They had gladly appropriated His many blessings but returned the favor by refusing to honor, obey, and trust Him. Now, their stubbornness was about to result in barrenness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith Is Not A Commodity.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV

The line, “even when she was past the age” is a bit of an understatement. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was way past the age of being able to conceive. She was close to her nineties and, on top of that, she was barren. We read in Genesis 18, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Genesis 18:11 ESV). And when they were given the news from God that they were going to have a son, both Sarah and Abraham expressed doubt. When God had told Abraham that he would make the father of a great nation, Abraham’s response was, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 ESV). The only solution Abraham could see was using one of his household servants as an heir. Sarah’s solution was to give Abraham her Egyptian household servant to impregnate. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). And, of course, Abraham took her up on her offer. But God had other plans and informed Abraham once again what He intended to do. “I will bless her [Sarah], and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:6 ESV). Abraham’s response? He laughed. And he said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). But God confirmed His promise and assured Abraham that the impossible would happen. Some time later, when God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, God gave him exciting news. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). And Sarah, eavesdropping at the door to the tent, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 17:12 ESV). She had doubts, reservations, and a bit of a hard time seeing how any of this was going to happen. The circumstances surrounding her life seemed to strongly contradict what God was saying.

And yet, Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.” This seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news of God’s plan. Both came up with alternative options, plan B’s, to help God out. And yet it says that Sarah had faith. I think the problem is that we tend to put the emphasis on Sarah’s faith, rather than the object of her faith. It says that by faith she received the power to conceive. All Sarah could do was trust the power. Her faith did not bring the power into existence or make the results of that power come about. She had to stop trying to do things on her own and simply rest in the power of God’s promise. She had to take her eyes off the circumstances, her old age and barren condition, and trust God. It was by faith that Sarah had to wait for the miracle of conception and the fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember how this chapter started out. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Genesis 11:1 ESV). Sarah had longed and hoped for a child for decades. She had desperately desired to have a baby, but had been forced to give up on that dream because of her condition. But when God promised to give she and Abraham a child, she had one recourse: to take what God said by faith. She was forced to trust God. He was going to do what He had promised to do and He was not going to accept any alternative solution, no matter how well-intentioned. Eleazar and Ishmael would not suffice. Adoption was not an option. Sarah was going to have to trust God. And so it says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.”

Sarah had to come to grips with the fact that God was faithful and that He was powerful. He had the character and the power to back up what He said. And it says she “considered him faithful who had promised.” After all her conniving, doubting, whining and self-sufficient planning, Sarah determined to trust God. She decided to put her faith in the one who had promised. And in God’s perfect timing, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2 ESV). She placed her faith in God and He came through. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:6-7 ESV). Sarah’s faith did not make any of this happen. Her faith was simply a confidence and conviction that the one who promised it would happen had the power to make it happen. She put her hopes in His hands. She put her fears and doubts on His shoulders. She quit worrying and started believing. She stopped trying to take matters into her own hands and  left them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God. Our problem is not that we don’t believe what God has promised, it is that we somehow think He needs our help in bringing it about. Faith is about giving up and resting on God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. It is about reliance upon His power, instead of our own. It involves putting our hope in God rather than allowing the circumstances surrounding us to suck the hope out of us. Faith is less a commodity than it is a state of being. It is a place to which we come when we are ready to take God at His word and rest in the reality of His power to do what He has promised. “Therefore from one man [and woman], and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”