A Track Record of Sin

From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel;
    there they have continued.
    Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them,
    and nations shall be gathered against them
    when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

11 Ephraim was a trained calf
    that loved to thresh,
    and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
    Judah must plow;
    Jacob must harrow for himself.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

13 You have plowed iniquity;
    you have reaped injustice;
    you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your own way
    and in the multitude of your warriors,
14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
    and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle;
    mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
    because of your great evil.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:9-15 ESV

For the second time, Hosea reaches back into Israel’s sordid past and brings up the infamous event that took place in the city of Gibeah. During the period of the judges, this Israelite town had been the scene of a Sodom-like incident involving a Levite and his concubine. The two of them had stopped there for the night and had been given shelter by an elderly Ephraimite who was living temporarily in the city. But the men of the city surrounded the home and demanded that the host send out the Levite so that they might “know him” (Judges 19:22). This was a euphemistic way of saying they wanted to sexually abuse him. In an effort to protect his own life, the Levite gave the men his concubine, whom they sexually abused all night and left for dead. The next morning, the Levite opened to find his concubine lying on the threshold of the home, her arms outstretched as if she had been seeking entrance. She was dead.

The rest of the story is just as unsettling.

When he got home, he [the Levite] took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29 NLT

When these grotesque packages began to arrive among the various tribes, they achieved the Levite’s desired effect.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?” – Judges 19:30 NLT

Eleven of the 12 tribes of Israel called a special assembly to discover what had taken place in Gibeah. The tribe that was missing was that of Benjamin because the men of Gibeah were Benjamites. When the Levite had shared the gruesome details of the incident in Gibeah, the tribes made a universal and united decision to pay back the men of Gibeah for their wickedness.

“None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. One-tenth of the men from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town. – Judges 20:8-11 NLT

The 11 tribes assembled to attack the much smaller force from Benjamin, but were soundly defeated in the first battle. They sought the Lord’s will and were instructed to attack again. But when they engaged the Benjamites in battle the following day, they suffered similar losses. Once again, they sought God’s direction and were instructed to attack a third time. So, the following day, they launched another battle against the men of Benjamin and this time, they won.

So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors… – Judges 20:35 NLT

So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to. – Judges 20:46-48 NLT

This embarrassing incident from Israel’s past would have been well-known among the people. And Hosea used it as a kind of litmus test for Israel’s current spiritual status. He announced that, from God’s perspective, little had changed in Israel since the purging of Gibeah for its immoral behavior.

The Lord says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah,
    there has been only sin and more sin!
You have made no progress whatsoever.
    Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?” – Hosea 10:9 NLT

The nation had made no progress. There had been little to no moral improvement among the other 11 tribes. And just as they had gathered together to judge the tribe of Benjamin, so God would gather the nations to judge Israel.

“Now whenever it fits my plan,
    I will attack you, too.
I will call out the armies of the nations
    to punish you for your multiplied sins.” – Hosea 10:10 NLT

God had given Israel ample time to change its ways. But they remained as immoral as the men of Gibeah. Now it was time for the entire nation to be purged of its wickedness. God describes Israel as “a trained heifer treading out the grain—an easy job she loves” (Hosea 10:11 NLT). Like a cow tied to a threshing wheel, Israel had been given a relatively easy assignment from God, and they had been allowed to eat as they threshed. But their easy life was about to come to an end. Rather than threshing the grain that God had graciously provided, they would suffer the yoke of slavery as they plowed the sun-hardened soil. God was warning them that their days of fruitfulness and prosperity were coming to an end. Both Israel and Judah would find themselves yoked to foreign powers who would subjugate and abuse them, like oxen in a plow. 

The day was coming when there would be no more opportunity for the people of Israel to repent. God had repeatedly and graciously called them to return to Him.

“Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you.” – Hosea 10:12 NLT

But they had consistently refused to heed His calls. Their hardened hearts remained unplowed and incapable of producing the fruit of righteousness. Instead, they had sowed further sin and cultivated a lifestyle of wickedness and unrighteousness.

“But you have cultivated wickedness
    and harvested a thriving crop of sins.” – Hosea 10:13 NLT

Rather than trusting in God, they had decided to put their hope in their military might. They had become self-sufficient and deluded into believing that they didn’t need God. But He would prove them deadly wrong.

“Now the terrors of war
    will rise among your people.
All your fortifications will fall…” – Hosea 10:14 NLT

The period of peace and tranquility they had enjoyed was about to come to an end. God could not and would not tolerate their wickedness any longer. And one of the cities that He singles out is Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his golden idols. God would target this particular city for destruction because it represented the nation’s corporate apostasy. It was symbolic of the spirit of idolatry that pervaded the land. The city of Bethel would be destroyed, along with the king of Israel. The religious and political symbols of Israel’s independence from God would be removed, leaving the nation spiritually void and leaderless. They had chosen to forsake God, now they would learn what it was like when He removed His providential hand from their lives.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repentance Must Precede Restoration

Blow the horn in Gibeah,
    the trumpet in Ramah.
Sound the alarm at Beth-aven;
    we follow you, O Benjamin!
Ephraim shall become a desolation
    in the day of punishment;
among the tribes of Israel
    I make known what is sure.
10 The princes of Judah have become
    like those who move the landmark;
upon them I will pour out
    my wrath like water.
11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
    because he was determined to go after filth.
12 But I am like a moth to Ephraim,
    and like dry rot to the house of Judah.

13 When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you
    or heal your wound.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

15 I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me. Hosea 5:8-15 ESV

Since we’re not Israelites, it’s a bit difficult for us to figure out what is going on in these verses. Hosea begins verse 8 by listing three different cities that most of us know little or nothing about. But they would have had significance to the original readers of his book. Hosea’s mention of them was intended to provide geographic reference points that help establish a context for what follows. Gibeah and Ramah were cities located in the southern kingdom of Judah. Both were just north of the capital city of Jerusalem and not far from the border Judah shared with Israel. Beth-haven was located just across the border in the southern kingdom of Israel. Hosea has purposefully altered the name of this particular town in order to drive home a point. The actual name of the city was Bethel and it had a long, rich history among the descendants of Abraham. In Hebrew, the name Bethel means, “house of God,  but Hosea repeatedly refers to it as Beth-haven, which can be translated as “house of wickedness.”

With this less-than-flattering name change, Hosea is making a powerful statement about the spiritual state of Israel. At one time, Bethel had held a special significance among the descendants of Abraham. They would have been very familiar with the story of Abraham’s call by God, recorded in the book of Genesis. Not long after God had led Abraham to the land of Canaan, He had communicated His promise to make of Abraham a great nation. He also promised to give the entire land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring. This would have included the land on which Gibeah, Raman, and Bethel sat. Genesis records that, not long after receiving this promise from God, Abraham traveled to Bethel, where he erected an altar to Yahweh.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. – Genesis 12:7-9 ESV

Years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, would have a divinely inspired dream in which God reiterated the very same promise He had communicated to Abraham.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

And Jacob would respond in awe and wonder at this gracious pronouncement by God.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” – Genesis 28:16-17 ESV

As a result of this remarkable dream and the promise it contained, “He called the name of that place Bethel” (Genesis 28:19 ESV). Jacob set up a sacred pillar to Yahweh, thereby establishing Bethel as a permanent worship site in Israel. Years later, he  returned to that same sight and built an altar to the Lord, renaming it El-Bethel (God of Bethel). At one time, the Ark of the Covenant was kept at there. So, for generations, the Israelites had recognized this site as holy and dedicated to Yahweh. But when the kingdom was divided in half, King Jeroboam deemed Bethel as one of the locations for the worship of his false god. He built a temple there and placed within it one of the golden calf idols he had made.

Bethel sat at the boundary between the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin and eventually delineated the border between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. So, when Hosea points out these three cities, he is focusing his attention on the literal heart of Israel. They are each located at the center of the land that God had given to the 12 tribes of Israel.

And Hosea announces that the sound of trumpets would be heard in these three cities. But these would not be trumpets of joy or celebration. They would be the warning signs of coming destruction. The armies of Judah and Israel would be summoned for war, but they would prove ineffective against the enemies that God was bringing against them.

One thing is certain, Israel:
    On your day of punishment,
    you will become a heap of rubble. – Hosea 5:9 NLT

Both nations were guilty and, as a result, both would suffer the consequences for their sin and rebellion.

“The leaders of Judah have become like thieves.
    So I will pour my anger on them like a waterfall.
The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment
    because they are determined to worship idols.
I will destroy Israel as a moth consumes wool.
    I will make Judah as weak as rotten wood.” – Hosea 5:10-12 NLT

The nations of Judah and Israel had each violated their covenant agreements with God. But they had also violated their covenant agreements with one another. When Moses had allotted each tribe their portion of the land of Canaan, they had agreed to respect the boundaries the God had established for them. But Judah had stolen land that belonged to Benjamin. And ever since the division of the kingdom, Israel had repeatedly invaded and plundered land belonging to the tribe of Judah. By violating God’s commands as communicated through the Mosaic Law, the people of Israel and Judah no longer had a basis for knowing right from wrong.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all.

What’s interesting to note is that, when both nations found themselves suffering God’s judgment for their sin, they attempted to escape it by turning to foreign powers for help. And on of the nations from which they sought assistance was the Assyrians. The kings of Judah and Israel had repeatedly sought salvation from the ruthless and morally corrupt Assyrians, but it had done them no good.

“When Israel and Judah saw how sick they were,
    Israel turned to Assyria—
to the great king there—
    but he could neither help nor cure them. – Hosea 5:13 NLT

False gods and foreign powers were no match for God Almighty. There was no army big enough, no country powerful enough, and no god mighty enough to provide escape from the righteous wrath of God. They could run. They could hide. They could hire help. But in the end, God was going to do exactly what He said He would do.

“I will be like a lion to Israel,
    like a strong young lion to Judah.
    I will tear them to pieces!
I will carry them off,
    and no one will be left to rescue them.” – Hosea 5:14 NLT

And God warns them that they will find Him non-existent and unrelenting in His judgment until they admit their guilt and return to Him in humility and brokenness. This statement reflects the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, hundreds of years earlier. Consider the words of his prayer closely.

“If they [Israel] sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to their land far away or near.  But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.’ If they turn to you with their whole heart and soul in the land of their enemies and pray toward the land you gave to their ancestors—toward this city you have chosen, and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name—then hear their prayers and their petition from heaven where you live, and uphold their cause. Forgive your people who have sinned against you. Forgive all the offenses they have committed against you. Make their captors merciful to them, for they are your people—your special possession…” – 1 Kings 8:46-51 NLT

As David wrote in one of his psalms, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). God was looking for a heart of humility and repentance from His people. And until they were willing to bow before Him in contrition and confession, they would search for Him in vain.

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

For Evil and Not for Good

1 I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:

“Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake,
    and shatter them on the heads of all the people;
and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword;
    not one of them shall flee away;
    not one of them shall escape.

“If they dig into Sheol,
    from there shall my hand take them;
if they climb up to heaven,
    from there I will bring them down.
If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
    from there I will search them out and take them;
and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
    there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And if they go into captivity before their enemies,
    there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them
    for evil and not for good.”

The Lord God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who dwell in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
    and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens
    and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.

“For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’Amos 9:1-10 ESV

In this final vision, Amos sees God standing next to an altar. But this scene does not take place at the temple in Jerusalem. Ever since the kingdom of Solomon had been divided in two by God, the ten northern tribes had abstained from worshiping Yahweh at the temple that Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem. Instead, they worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam I had set up in Dan and Bethel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:26-31 NLT

And long after Jeroboam’s death, the kingdom of Israel continued to worship the golden calves he had set up in Dan and Bethel. So, the altar in Amos’ vision is most likely in one of those locations. He sees God standing next to the sacred shrine dedicated to the golden calf of Jeroboam – the false god that had been meant to replace Him.

Amos sees Yahweh, the one true God, standing in judgment over the altar of the false god that the people of Israel had chosen to worship instead of Him. In essence, God is standing next to one of the golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had created. And in the very presence of this false god, Yahweh calls for the destruction of his house.

Strike the tops of the Temple columns,
    so that the foundation will shake.
Bring down the roof
    on the heads of the people below.
I will kill with the sword those who survive.
    No one will escape!” – Amos 9:1 NLT

Amos is being given a glimpse of the coming judgment of God upon the house of Jacob (Israel). With the destruction of the temple dedicated to Israel’s false god, Yahweh is displaying His unparalleled power and declaring His well-deserved judgment upon them for their rejection of Him. While a literal destruction of this pagan temple would only result in a few deaths, God assures Amos that “no one will escape” His wrath. They can run but they won’t be able to escape the judgment of God Almighty. And God uses language that is reminiscent of the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 139.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me. – Psalm 139:7-10 NLT

It doesn’t matter where they go, God will find them and mete out His judgment upon them. Rather than guidance and strength, they will find only the righteous indignation and full fury of the God they have chosen to abandon. And one of the fascinating things about this passage is its rather veiled but obvious reference to Jonah. God states, “Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them” (Amos 9:3 NLT).

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, another prophet that God had appointed to the northern tribe of Israel. But at one point, God had given Jonah a commission to take His message of pending judgment to the Assyrians living in the capital city of Nineveh. Fearing that the pagan people of Nineveh would hear God’s message and repent, Jonah refused to obey God’s command. Instead, he booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, hoping to escape the presence of the Lord. But through a series of divinely ordained events, God pursued His rebellious and disobedient prophet. God sent a storm that placed Jonah and his fellow passengers in great danger.

Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:15-17 NLT

When Jonah was cast into the sea, he sank beneath the waves. He began to drown. And he later described for God what that experience had been like.

You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. – Jonah 2:3 NLT

But God sent the sea serpent to bite him (Amos 9:3). But in Jonah’s case, the “serpent” was actually a symbol of God’s salvation. Even Jonah recognized that the “great fish” had been an agent of God’s mercy.

I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death! – Jonah 2:6 NLT

After three days and nights inside the great fish, Jonah was unceremoniously vomited out on dry land. He was rescued and redeemed from death by the sovereign hand of God. After his miraculous and God-ordained deliverance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered God’s message of judgment, and the people repented. God’s will was done.

Jonah had rebelled against God and had suffered the consequences. He had thought He could escape the wrath of God and was proven wrong. And the people of Israel were going to learn the same painful lesson. Just as God had appointed the wind to create the storm that resulted in Jonah’s drowning, He would appoint enemies to destroy the people of Israel. The same God who “draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land” (Amos 9:6 NLT), was going to use His sovereign power to rain down judgment upon the disobedient people of Israel.

But, like Jonah, they would find that their God was merciful and longsuffering. Jonah did not drown, and the people of Israel would not be completely destroyed.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel…” – Amos 9:8 NLT

Jonah lived to tell the story of his own rebellion. And a remnant of the people of Israel would live to tell about God’s undeserved mercy and grace toward them. In the midst of His declaration of judgment, God promises to redeem a remnant of His people.

“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.” – Amos 9:9 NLT

There were still those in Israel who remained true to Yahweh, and He would preserve and protect them. Why? Because He was not yet done. The rebellion of His people would be punished, but His sovereign plan for the world would still be accomplished. God had set apart the people of Israel so that they might be a light to the nations, but they had failed to accomplish God’s will. Yet, He had a plan in place that would bring about the fulfillment of His original mandate that Israel be a light to the nations. And it would come about through His Son, the true Israel.

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus would accomplish what Israel had failed to do. He would be a descendant of Abraham and the son of King David who would fully accomplish God’s will. But for that to happen, God would spare a remnant of His people so that His Son could one day enter the world, born of the virgin, Mary, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. And, as Amos was about to see, while God was prepared to judge Israel, He was far from done with them, because He had a plan in place.

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

So Close, But Yet So Far

11 Now an old prophet lived in Bethel. And his sons came and told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel. They also told to their father the words that he had spoken to the king. 12 And their father said to them, “Which way did he go?” And his sons showed him the way that the man of God who came from Judah had gone. 13 And he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” So they saddled the donkey for him and he mounted it. 14 And he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak. And he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” 15 Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” 16 And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, 17 for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’” 18 And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. 19 So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water.

20 And as they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. 21 And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, 22 but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’” 23 And after he had eaten bread and drunk, he saddled the donkey for the prophet whom he had brought back. 24 And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body. 25 And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown in the road and the lion standing by the body. And they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.

26 And when the prophet who had brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God who disobeyed the word of the Lord; therefore the Lord has given him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word that the Lord spoke to him.” 27 And he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And they saddled it. 28 And he went and found his body thrown in the road, and the donkey and the lion standing beside the body. The lion had not eaten the body or torn the donkey. 29 And the prophet took up the body of the man of God and laid it on the donkey and brought it back to the city to mourn and to bury him. 30 And he laid the body in his own grave. And they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” 31 And after he had buried him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the saying that he called out by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria shall surely come to pass.”

33 After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. 34 And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth. 1 Kings 13:11-34 ESV

After delivering God’s message of judgment to Jeroboam and having destroyed the altar dedicated to one of Jeroboam’s false gods, the young prophet had begun his return journey to Judah. He had successfully fulfilled His God-ordained mission and had been given strict instructions to spend no additional time among the northern tribes. He was to accept no forms of hospitality or allow anyone or anything to delay his return home. He was even warned to take a different route back to Judah in order to prevent anyone from interfering with his mission. And this young prophet had proved to be obedient to the will of God. He had rejected Jeroboam’s tempting offer of a meal and a reward, declaring his intentions to remain faithful to every detail of God’s instructions.

“Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” So he left Bethel and went home another way. – 1 Kings 13:8-10 NLT

But as the story continues to unfold, we find the young prophet taking what appears to be an unsanctioned break under a large tree. Having not yet crossed the border into Judah, he decided to take a much-needed rest. While the text does not tell where the young man began his journey to Judah that day, it is likely that he had spent many hours making the trip to Bethel. If he began his trip from Jerusalem, it would have been a 90-mile trek to Bethels. And now, after having destroyed the Jeroboam’s altar to his false god, the prophet was having to walk all the way back. So, it makes perfect sense that he was weary from all the activity and excitement of the day. He was tired, hungry, and alone. But he had not yet completed his mission. He had been instructed by God to return to Judah without delay and to avoid all distractions.

Yet, as the young man rested under the tree, he was approached by a stranger – an old prophet who happened to live in Bethel. The author provides few details about this man, except that he was a prophet and a father. His sons, who had witnessed the events at the altar that day, returned home and told him all about all that the young prophet had said and done. Intrigued by what he heard, the elder prophet commanded his sons to saddle a donkey so that he could seek out his young peer. It seems likely that he simply wanted to verify the message the younger prophet had delivered. As a prophet himself, this older man would have been interested in whether the message delivered by the young man was actually from God. If it was, there were dark days ahead for the northern kingdom. Remember what the young prophet had declared at the altar earlier that day.

“A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Those were serious words that implied future judgment against the northern kingdom and this senior prophet was anxious to verify their veracity. So, he mounted his donkey and began his search for the one who had delivered this foreboding message. And because the young prophet had decided to take his unscheduled rest stop under the tree, the older prophet caught up with him before he had crossed over into Judah. This is where it gets interesting.

Based on what happens next, it is difficult to understand the motives of the older man. But we are clearly told that he used deception in order to convince the younger prophet to return to his home for a meal. His offer had been rejected by the young man because it violated the command of God.

“I am not allowed to eat or drink anything here in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” – 1 Kings 13:16-17 NLT

It is clear that they were still within the borders of Israel. The young prophet had not yet made it to the safety of Judah. But, anxious to hear more about the young man’s message from God, the older prophet lied to him. He falsely claimed to have been given a message from an angel commanding him to bring the young man to his home for a meal. Driven by hunger, the young prophet lowered his defenses and accepted the offer. But in doing so, he disobeyed the command of God. He allowed his physical appetites to cloud his thinking and compromise his convictions.

The text indicates that the young prophet ended up violating the divine decree by sharing a meal in the older prophet’s home. And as soon as he had eaten the food he had been commanded to avoid, the young man received a stinging rebuke from God delivered by the very man who had just deceived him.

“This is what the Lord says: You have defied the word of the Lord and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back to this place and ate and drank where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors.” – 1 Kings 13:21-22 NLT

This time, the older prophet had spoken the truth. His lie had caused the younger prophet to disobey God. And now, he had the unpleasant responsibility of delivering God’s message of judgment against the very man he had deceived and caused to disobey. The rest of the story reads like something out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The young man, with a full stomach and a heavy heart, began his journey home. But before he could make it into Judah, he was attacked by a lion. The beast killed the prophet but left the donkey unmolested, then stood sentry over the fallen body. And passing travelers saw the strange scene and reported it back in Bethel. Upon hearing the news, the older prophet retrieved the body of the young man and placed it in his own tomb, located in the city of Bethel.

The old man was now fully convinced that what the young prophet had said had been the word of God.

“For the message the Lord told him to proclaim against the altar in Bethel and against the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.” – 1 Kings 13:32 NLT

Yahweh had used this young, unnamed prophet to declare His judgment against the ten northern tribes. Their continued apostasy would eventually lead to their destruction. When it came to His chosen people, God was deadly serious that they obey Him. Whether they were a fully united confederation of 12 tribes or divided into two rival kingdoms, they remained His prized possession and were obligated to live according to His commands. Obedience would bring the blessings of God. But disobedience would bring His curses. And the young prophet had learned the costly lesson that partial obedience was insufficient and unacceptable to God. He had almost completed his mission but had ultimately failed. He had been sent by God but had ended up being punished by God for allowing the things of this world to distract him from his end goal. Had he crossed the border into Judah, he could have eaten his fill of food. But he compromised. He allowed his physical appetites to cloud his thinking and distract him from his God-given assignment. And he paid dearly for his mistake. This young man’s life is a perfect illustration of what the apostle John warned about in his first epistle. The young prophet’s desire for physical pleasure ended up superseding his love for God and it proved not only disappointing, but deadly.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

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

Uncompromising Conviction

1 And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” And the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before. And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” And the man of God said to the king, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel. 1 Kings 13:1-10 ESV

In an effort to preserve the kingdom given to him by God, Jeroboam had made a boneheaded decision that ended up offending God. He knew that the Israelites were a religious people and feared that they would continue to travel to Judah to offer sacrifices at the temple Solomon had built in Jerusalem. This continued spiritual connection to the holy city might influence them to restore their relationship with Rehoboam and the people of Judah. So, to prevent this from happening, Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to create an alternate religion for the ten tribes of Israel, complete with priests and golden idols made to look like calves, which he had placed in the cities of Dan and Bethel. Then he convinced the people to turn their backs on Yahweh by offering their sacrifices to the two golden calves.

“It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

In following Jeroboam’s lead, the people no longer sought forgiveness, cleansing, and blessing from God Almighty, but placed their hopes in lifeless statues made by human hands. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would describe the futility of worshiping false gods.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT

But to Jeroboam, his decision made all the sense in the world. He was a pragmatist who was more interested in preserving his newfound status as king than in promoting the ongoing worship of the one who had made him king. And his decision, while initially successful, was about to prove seriously flawed.

Jeroboam had traveled to Bethel in order to offer sacrifices to one of his false gods. But while there, he received a visit from a prophet of the one true God. This unnamed man had come from Judah with a message from the Almighty. So, as Jeroboam was about to offer sacrifices to his visible, but lifeless god, he was given a word from the invisible, yet all-powerful God of Israel. And the prophet, seemingly ignoring Jeroboam, directed his message at the altar the king had constructed. In a sense, this was one god speaking to another. Yahweh was challenging the false god of Jeroboam by delivering a prophecy concerning its coming destruction.

O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Jeroboam’s god was going to meet an untimely end. When faced with the power of God Almighty, Jeroboam’s false god proved incapable of defending itself. It remained speechless because it was lifeless. And the warning delivered by the prophet of God carried long-term ramifications. It would be 290 years later before God fulfilled His word, and all during that time, the nation of Israel would continue to worship their false gods. But eventually, God would raise up a king over Judah whose name was Josiah, and he would institute a series of religious reforms in both Judah and Israel. And, in doing so, he would fulfill God’s prophecy against the altar of Jeroboam’s false god.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:15-16 NLT

The very fact that this altar was still in existence and in use nearly 300 years later reveals the level of apostasy in Israel. Jeroboam’s decision to replace Yahweh with false gods was going to have long-lasting consequences. In an effort to preserve his kingdom Jeroboam was willing to sacrifice the spiritual well-being of his own people.

And to demonstrate that the words he had spoken were true, “the man of God gave a sign to prove his message” (1 Kings 13:3 NLT).

He said, “The Lord has promised to give this sign: This altar will split apart, and its ashes will be poured out on the ground.” – 1 Kings 13:3 NLT

God was going to validate His word with a powerful sign. There would be an immediate judgment on Jeroboam’s apostasy. His shrine and the golden calf it contained would be destroyed. But, once again, Jeroboam attempted to preserve his kingdom by rejecting the will of God. After the prophet had spoken his word of warning, Jeroboam commanded that he be arrested. He wrongly assumed that he could thwart the will of God by binding the messenger of God. And, in doing so, Jeroboam would establish a precedent that would carry over for generations. His successors to the throne of Israel would continue to reject the will of God by resisting and refusing the messengers of God. Rather than repent and return in humble submission to Yahweh, they would each cling stubbornly to their false gods, dooming their people to the judgment of God.

But Jeroboam’s attempt to stop God’s prophet proved ineffective and injurious. He still ended up with a shattered altar and a paralyzed hand. Suddenly convinced of the prophet’s position as God’s spokesman, Jeroboam begged him to intercede with Yahweh on his behalf.

“Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” – 1 Kings 13:6 ESV

The prophet prayed and God responded, restoring full mobility to Jeroboam’s paralyzed hand. But Jeroboam’s response to this miracle is revealing. Having just witnessed the miraculous destruction of the altar to his false god and having had his hand paralyzed by God, you would think that Jeroboam would have begged for forgiveness. But instead, he tries to win over the favor of the prophet by inviting him to dinner and offering him a reward. Perhaps Jeroboam feared that the prophet might turn his attention to Dan and destroy the altar there. So, in another attempt to preserve his kingdom, he tried to bribe the prophet of God.

But God, knowing the true nature of Jeroboam’s heart, had warned the prophet not to accept any invitation from this conniving and calculating king.

“Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” – 1 Kings 13:8-9 NLT

Jeroboam was a man who, for the sake of his kingdom, had been willing to compromise his faith in God. And he assumed that this unnamed prophet would be just as willing to make concessions in exchange for monetary gain. But he was wrong. This young prophet was unwilling to sell out his God for personal reward. Even when faced with Jeroboam’s offer of a reward, this faithful servant of God remained uncompromising in his commitment to the will of God. He recognized Yahweh as the one true God and would not allow Jeroboam or anyone else to cause him to compromise his convictions. And his actions reflect his firm and unwavering belief in his God.

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer and Creator:
“I am the Lord, who made all things.
    I alone stretched out the heavens.
Who was with me
    when I made the earth?
I expose the false prophets as liars
    and make fools of fortune-tellers.
I cause the wise to give bad advice,
    thus proving them to be fools.
But I carry out the predictions of my prophets!” – Isaiah 44:24-26 NLT

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

In Fulfillment of a Promise.

So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the Lord. See, I have commanded you.” So Joshua sent them out. And they went to the place of ambush and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai, but Joshua spent that night among the people.

10 Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 He took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14 And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward the Arabah to meet Israel in battle. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. 23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him near to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. 26 But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. Joshua 8:3-29 ESV

Bethel and AiBefore we take a look at the second battle for the capture of Ai, it is important that we recognize the importance of this particular region of the land. We know that Ai is the city Joshua intends to attack, but the text also mentions Bethel (vs 17). Bethel was a nearby city that had evidently formed some kind of alliance with Ai, agreeing to come to their aid in the event of an attack by enemy forces. Soldiers from Bethel were part of the army that attacked the Israelites in an attempt to route them a second time. But why is this important? These two cities play an important role in the history of Israel. They provide direct ties all the way back to the days of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Abraham, then known as Abram, had been called by God out of his hometown of Ur, and sent to the land of Canaan, which God had promised as his inheritance. And when Abraham had arrived in the land, he came to the very location where Joshua and his troops were about to do battle.

From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 ESV

Abraham had built an altar to God in this very spot. But due to a famine in the land, Abraham was force to flee to Egypt. In time, he returned, a very rich and prosperous man, and he came back to this same spot.

And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 13:3-4 ESV

Many years later, Jacob, one of the grandsons of Abraham, would find himself in this very same place. He was on his way to a place called Paddan-aram, sent by his father Isaac, in order to escape the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob, with help from his mother, had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, rightfully belonging to Esau. Having robbed Esau of his birthright, Jacob was forced to live with his uncle. And yet, in spite of his use of deceit to get what was not rightfully his, God appeared to Jacob in a dream and spoke to him.

13 “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

God had reaffirmed the promise made to Abraham many years earlier. And Jacob memorialized the spot on which he had the vision.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel… – Genesis 28:18-19 ESV

So, this location held significant meaning for the people of Israel. After 400 years in captivity and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they were standing at the very spot where their forefathers had built an altar and a memorial to God. This land was theirs by right, according to the promise of God. Ai and Bethel were not just two arbitrary cities that happened to stand in the way of Israel’s conquest of the land. They were important landmarks that provided a link to Israel’s past and a reminder of God’s covenant promise to make of them a great nation and to provide for them a land.

Back to the battle. This time, Joshua was careful to do things God’s way. They had removed the sin from their midst, having stoned Achan and his family for his crime of disobeying God’s ban on taking plunder from Jericho. Now, they could move ahead with God’s battle plan for taking Ai. It involved a bit of subterfuge, taking advantage of the over-confidence of the people of Ai, since they had easily routed the Israelites in their first confrontation. But this time, Joshua divided his army up, sending a portion of his troops to wait in ambush on the other side of the city while he and the rest of his force marched toward the city as if to attack it a second time. The plan was simple. They would draw out the forces from Ai and then feign a retreat as soon as the enemy exited the walls of the city. This allowed the troops in hiding to enter its open gates and capture the city. They set fires that acted as a signal to Joshua and his troops, who then turned on the men of Ai and Bethel. Surprised by the sudden display of aggression on the part of the Israelites and seeing the smoke rising out of their city, the men of Ai and their allies from Bethel lost heart and were completely annihilated. Not a man was left alive. And the city fell that day, with every single citizen put to the sword.

As grim and gruesome as this scene appears to our modern sensibilities, we must not overlook that this entire affair was according to the will of God. He had clearly told Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand” (Joshua 8:18 ESV). God had promised to give the land on which Ai sat as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And now, God had promised to give the city of Ai to Joshua.

“Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.” – Joshua 8:1 ESV

But God knew that the removal of the inhabitants of the land was critical if the people of Israel were going to remain pure and totally dedicated to God. God had warned Moses not to make alliances with the people of the land, because He knew what would happen if they did.

12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. – Exodus 34:12-16 ESV

And we will see that, in time, the people of Israel will fail to consistently keep this command of God. As the book of Joshua unfolds, we will witness the Israelites disobeying the will of God and choosing to spare the inhabitants of the land. They will make compromises and concessions, even intermarrying with the Canaanites, Amorites and other people groups. And as a result, they will find themselves worshiping their false gods.

But the battle of Ai was a rousing success. God gave them the victory, just as He had at Jericho. They had been obedient and God had blessed. And God had been faithful to the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The question is, will the people of Israel be faithful to God?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

Emptied From Vessel to Vessel.

“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.

“Moab has been at ease from his youth
    and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
    nor has he gone into exile;
so his taste remains in him,
    and his scent is not changed.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces. Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.

“How do you say, ‘We are heroes
    and mighty men of war’?
The destroyer of Moab and his cities has come up,
    and the choicest of his young men have gone down to slaughter,
    declares the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.
The calamity of Moab is near at hand,
    and his affliction hastens swiftly.
Grieve for him, all you who are around him,
    and all who know his name;
say, ‘How the mighty scepter is broken,
    the glorious staff.’

“Come down from your glory,
    and sit on the parched ground,
    O inhabitant of Dibon!
For the destroyer of Moab has come up against you;
    he has destroyed your strongholds.
Stand by the way and watch,
    O inhabitant of Aroer!
Ask him who flees and her who escapes;
    say, ‘What has happened?’
Moab is put to shame, for it is broken;
    wail and cry!
Tell it beside the Arnon,
    that Moab is laid waste.” Jeremiah 48:10-20 ESV

The heading of this particular blog post comes from a line found within God’s expanded oracle against Moab.

“Moab has been at ease from his youth
    and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel…” – Jeremiah 48:11 ESV

This somewhat obscure lines is a reference to the very common practice in that day of pouring wine from one container into another in order to remove the sediments. The object was to allow the wine to sit undisturbed for a period of time, causing the sediment to settle to the bottom of the vessel. Then the contents were carefully poured into yet another vessel, allowing the impurities and dregs to remain behind. All the effort was expended in order to arrive at a sediment-free product. That is the image that God uses to describe Moab, a city known for its wine production. The wine has been allowed to settle, but there has been no one to disturb the vessel and pour its contents. In other words, God had allowed Moab to remain trouble-free for a prolonged period of time. Their geographic location had kept them off the radar screen of the various nations that had invaded Canaan over the centuries. The city of Moab was like a young child who had gotten away with all kinds of chicanery, receiving no punishment or discipline for any of the evil things they had done. But all that was about to change. The judgment of God was going to catch up with them.

Their days of complacency and casual comfort were going to come to a screeching halt.

“But the time is coming soon,” says the Lord,
    “when I will send men to pour him from his jar.
They will pour him out,
    then shatter the jar!” – Jeremiah 48:12 NLT

The jar was going to be smashed, contents and all. Over the centuries, the people of Moab had grown comfortable and complacent, trusting in their false god, Chemosh. They had been no reason to doubt that their god was all-powerful and had done a great job of protecting them from their enemies. But God had bad news for them.

“At last Moab will be ashamed of his idol Chemosh,
    as the people of Israel were ashamed of their gold calf at Bethel.” – Jeremiah 48:13 NLT

Here, God refers to an event from Israel’s history. After King Solomon had proven to be unfaithful to God, the nation of Israel was split in two, with the northern tribes forming the nation of Israel, and two of the southern tribes forming the nation of Judah. King Jeroboam, who had been the newly appointed king of Israel, out of fear that the people of Israel would want to return to Jerusalem in order to worship Yahweh at the temple, decided to make his own gods, build his own shrines, and appoint his own priests.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

That shrine would remain in place for generations, until King Josiah of Judah, during many of his ongoing reforms, had it destroyed.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust… – 2 Kings 23:15 NLT

But from the time of Jeroboam until Josiah, the people of Israel had worshiped the golden calves that Jeroboam had erected there. And it had taken the intervention of God to bring this idolatrous practice to a close. Now, He was going to do the same thing to the god of the Moabites. They were going to learn that their much-beloved god was not match for Yahweh, the God of Israel. Chemosh would be hauled off as just another piece of booty by the Babylonian troops.

And not only would the Moabites be ashamed by the ineptitude of their god, they would find out that their once mighty army was also no match for the judgment of God.

“You used to boast, ‘We are heroes,
    mighty men of war.’
But now Moab and his towns will be destroyed.
    His most promising youth are doomed to slaughter,” – Jeremiah 48:14-15 NLT

The cities of Moab would fall. The god of Moab would be taken as property. The mighty men of Moab would be scattered and slaughtered. And the allies of Moab would be left to cry over the fate of their former neighbor. And God sarcastically taunts the people of Dibon as well, telling them:

“Come down from your glory
    and sit in the dust, you people of Dibon,
for those who destroy Moab will shatter Dibon, too. – Jeremiah 48:18 NLT

They would be humbled and humiliated by God. Every city in Moab and all the surrounding regions would feel the full force of God’s wrath and judgment. And the devastation would be so comprehensive and complete that it would leave everyone simply asking, “What has happened there?” It will be beyond belief, like nothing anyone could have ever imagined. But God will provide the answer to the question:

“Moab lies in ruins, disgraced;
    weep and wail!
Tell it by the banks of the Arnon River:
    Moab has been destroyed!” – Jeremiah 48:20 NLT

Moab would be emptied of people, possessions and pride. Like wine poured out and its vessel smashed, Moab would find the hand of the Lord heavy and their treatment by Him devastatingly complete. God would hold nothing back. His justice and judgment would be fully meted out and no one, including the might warriors of Moab or their almighty god, Chemosh would stand in His way.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Return To God.

Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.

Genesis 35-36, Matthew 18

House of God.

Genesis 35-36, Matthew 18

Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.  – Genesis 35:3 ESV

Israel has returned to the land that had been promised to Abraham and was destined to be his dwelling place. This was all part of God’s divine plan, not only for Israel, but for the future of mankind. There were three important elements to God’s promise to Abraham: a land, a seed, and a blessing. The land was just as critical to the equation as any of the other two. So it was essential that Israel return to the land because it was to play an important role in the fulfillment of God’s provision of the seed or offspring who would eventually bring the ultimate blessing to all mankind. And it was also going to be important that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel be a people set apart – the people of God. They were to be different and distinctive. They were to be followers of God and live in the land provided for them by God. They were to remain set apart from the people groups all around them, refusing to intermarry with them or worship their gods. This would be a lifelong challenge for Israel and his descendants.

What does this passage reveal about God?

After Israel’s own sons brutally murdered every male in the city of Shechem as payback for the rape of their sister, Dinah, Israel feared for the well-being of his family and possessions. He knew that news of this event would get out and they would be a target for every other people group occupying the land of Canaan. The sheer magnitude of what his sons had done was going to give Israel and his descendants a less-than-flattering reputation among their neighbors. But God was there, and He met with Israel in order to assure him once again of His presence and His promise. God called Israel to return to Bethel, the place where He had visited him just prior to his flight to Paddan-aram. God had some unfinished business to conduct with Israel, and Israel had a vow that needed to be kept. So as they traveled, God sovereignly protected Isaac and his family, causing a supernatural fear to fall on the nations through whose territories they had to pass. No one would lay a hand on them. In spite of what Levi and Simeon had done and the damage their actions had done to Israel’s reputation, God was with them. And God would reaffirm His covenant promise to Israel. “I am God Almighty:be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.  The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you” (Genesis 35:11-12 ESV). God was not done yet. His promises would be fulfilled. His plan would be completed, just as He had promised. He was going to make of the descendants of Israel, this sin-prone people, a great house – the house of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The world was a dangerous, sin-saturated place, even in the days of Israel. Chapter 36 provides a detailed lineage of the descendants of Esau, Israel’s brother. This man, a son of Isaac who had sold his birthright, was going to be prolific, filling the land with his descendants, just as Israel would. But his children would end up being in constant conflict with those of his brother. The Edomites, the descendants of Esau, would prove to be a thorn in the side of the nation of Israel for generations to come.

But this passage reveals a slow, but steady change taking place in Israel’s life. Ever since his wrestling match with God, he has been a changed man. He seems to have a new nature and outlook to go with his new name. When God calls him to return to Bethel, he immediately obeys, telling his household, “put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” (Genesis 35:2 ESV). He realized that they were going to have to live differently as a people. Their love affair with the world was going to have to end. He was headed back to Bethel, the very place where he was going to have to fulfill the vow he had made all those years ago. It was at Bethel that God had told Israel, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 ESV). And God had kept His end of the bargain. Now it was Israel’s turn. Because he had also made a vow that day. “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you’” (Genesis 28:20-22 ESV). It was put-up or shut-up time for Israel. God had fulfilled His part. Now it was Israel’s turn.

He was going to have to make God his God. He was going to have to worship God and Him alone. His covenant was a commitment to obedience, allegiance, faithfulness, and unwavering loyalty as God’s possession.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I don’t know that Israel fully understood the significance of what he did that day in changing the name of the place called Luz to Bethel. He had met God face to face and received a promise from Him, so he called the place House of God. But there was far more significance to that decision than he could have ever imagined. While the place was important to Israel, it was the people who were important to God. From this flawed, faith-challenged man would come the Savior of the world. God would end up blessing the nations through Abraham through his “seed,” through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the son of David and the Son of God. And through Jesus, God would produce a people who would be His own possession. But not only that, they would be His house.

Peter tells us, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV). The apostle Paul echoes that them when he writes, “Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV). As those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, acknowledging Him as the Son of God and the only solution to their sin problem, we have been made into a house for God. We are His dwelling, where He has chosen to place His Spirit. For Israel, the house of God was a place. For God, His house is His people. He dwells among us. He protects and empowers us. He fights on behalf of us. He extends His grace, mercy and love to us. And while it is true that God dwells among all men, He has chosen to make His home within those who have placed their faith in His Son as their sin sacrifice. Jesus Christ was Immanuel, God with us. He came to dwell among us, but offered His life so that His Spirit might live in us, setting us apart as His own, imparting to us His power, and imputing to us His own righteousness so that we might be acceptable to God. We are His house. We are his people.

In Jesus’ discourse recorded in Matthew 18, we get a glimpse into His view of the Kingdom of God. It is a place marked by humility, not pride. It is a place of reconciliation and restitution, but also a place of repentance and rejection of sin. Jesus paints a picture of a new age occupied by a new kind of people, the people of God who have been transformed by the Spirit of God so that they might live in obedience to God. The church represents a place of forgiveness, restoration, repentance, grace, mercy, holiness, distinctiveness, and love. We are God’s dwelling place among men in these days. He has chosen to place His Spirit among us and in us so that we might reflect His glory and be testimonies of the life-changing reality of the Good News. We are the house of God, a spiritual house where God lives, works, ministers, and manifests His presence and power among men in our day.

Father, it is hard for me to fathom that we are Your dwelling place. I still tend to think of the church building as the house of God. But You live among and within men. You have chosen to place Your Spirit in the hearts of men, not houses made of bricks and mortar. You sent Your Son to be God among us. He lived among us and died on behalf of us, so that we might be made right with You. And He has made His home in our hearts, setting us apart as His own. Show us how to live as His possession. Give us the strength to live lives that are truly set apart and honoring as His dwelling place. Help us live as His holy temple, where His Spirit dwells. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org