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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed In Order To Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

Micah has already made it clear that the fate of Israel and Judah rests on their wicked behavior. Their destruction is coming upon them from the hand of God but because of their rebellion against Him. They were living in direct violation of the covenant agreement they had made with God and had repeatedly disobeyed the Mosaic Law.

And why is this happening?
    Because of the rebellion of Israel—
    yes, the sins of the whole nation.
Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion?
    Samaria, its capital city!
Where is the center of idolatry in Judah?
    In Jerusalem, its capital! – Micah 1:5 NLT

Now, in chapter two, Micah gets more specific regarding the exact nature of the sins of the southern kingdom of Judah, where he served as a prophet. He specifically calls out those who have made a habit of scheming against the less fortunate among them.

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so. – Micah 2:1 NLT

There is a premeditated nature to their sin. Their desire to take advantage of others has kept them awake at night, dreaming up ways to use their power and influence to increase their wealth through unjust means.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

These people were never satisfied. Enough was never enough. They lived their lives motivated by greed and driven by a love of self. And this kind of behavior was an afront to God, who had blessed the people of Israel by redeeming them out of slavery and graciously giving them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. They had been the undeserving recipients of God’s love and He expected them to extend the same kind of treatment to one another. And to make sure they understood just how different their behavior was to be, God had given them very specific regulations concerning their interactions with one another. Leviticus 19 provides a partial list:

“Do not steal.” – Vs. 11

“Do not deceive or cheat one another.” – Vs. 11

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” – Vs. 13

“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.” – Vs. 13

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.” – Vs. 14

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” – Vs 15

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” – Vs. 16

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 16

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.” – Vs. 17

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 18

Notice that each of these laws govern human relationships. They are intended to reflect God’s desires concerning the interactions of those who bear His name. How the people of God treated one another would have a direct bearing on the character of God Himself. They were not free to treat one another according to worldly standards. They were not to be motivated by greed, jealousy, self-interest, and personal gain. And three different times God provided the only reason they needed to hear for obeying His commands: “I am the Lord.”

None of this was left up to negotiation or presented as an optional choice. These were the commands of God. And God expected His people to fear Him and obey Him. To reject His commands was to reject His authority over their lives. And God had repeatedly articulated His commands to His people, ensuring that they were without excuse when it came to what He expected of them.

“And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” – Deuteronomy 14-29 ESV

“But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 ESV

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ESV

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” – Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV

God had a passion for the helpless and the downtrodden. He was a friend of the needy and the neglected. And He expected His people to share His love for the less fortunate among them. He was blessing them so that they might be a blessing to one another. In verse 4 of Deuteronomy 15, God says “there will be no poor among you.” But then, in verse 11 of the same chapter, He states, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” Well, which is it? Will there be poor in the land or not? What God seems to be saying is that the category of the poor will be an ever-present reality among God’s people. But they will not remain poor because the rest of the nation will see to it that their needs are met. God will bless the people so that they can be a blessing to others.

And all of this makes Micah’s indictment of the people of Judah that much more egregious. They are living in direct violation of God’s commands concerning the poor and needy. In fact, they are taking advantage of the less fortunate in order to line their own pockets. And Micah delivers a somber warning from God.

“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

God is going to pay them back for what they have done. They may have chosen to neglect the needy, but God will not allow the innocent and the helpless to go undefended. He will defend their cause or bring judgment against those who have violated their rights.

God will turn the tables on those who have taken advantage of the needy. Those who stayed awake at night scheming ways to cheat and defraud the less fortunate will suffer a similar fate. They will become the laughing stock of their enemies, having to listen to songs being sung that mock their untimely reversal of fortunes.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us. – Micah 2:4 NLT

These wicked people who had used their power, influence and financial strength to serve themselves will become the needy and neglected. The dreams of more land will turn into a living nightmare of financial loss and ruin. Everything God had given them to enjoy and to share with those around them would be taken away from them.

Others will set your boundaries then,
    and the Lord’s people will have no say
    in how the land is divided. – Micah 2:5 NLT

They had used the gracious and undeserved blessings of God for selfish purposes. They had taken the gifts of His goodness and turned them into self-centered tools to profit themselves. And in doing so, they revealed that they loved self more than they loved others. And their love of self was really a reflection of their lack of love for God. He had become little more than a means to an end. They had taken His gifts and used them to satisfy their own selfish desires, all the while neglecting and abusing the helpless and hopeless among them. And God would not tolerate such behavior among His people.

The actions of the people of Judah stood in direct opposition to the will of God. Their behavior failed to reflect His desires for them. They had fallen in love with the world and the things it could offer. Power, possessions, prominence, and pleasure had taken precedence over the will of God. And James describes a similar problem among the people of God in his day.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:2-4 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

The Hands and Feet of God

1 “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ – Deuteronomy 15:1-11 ESV

Once the people of God had obeyed the will of God and crossed over into the land of promise, they would enjoy His blessings. But they were not to be content with being the recipients of His He undeserved blessings. They were to pass on the goodness of God to those around them. Moses had already commanded them to care for the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows among them. Now, he addresses the poor and indebted in their midst.

Once again, the point behind all this was that the Israelites, the chosen people of God, live up to their unique status by conducting themselves in a distinctively different manner than all the nations around them. They were not free to treat one another with disdain or indifference. And the needy among them were not to be overlooked, especially when God was busy blessing the nation as a whole.

The first command issued by Moses in this chapter has to do with the sabbatical year. This was closely related to another law given by God concerning the sabbath. It’s found in Exodus 23: 10-11.

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

Every seven years, the Israelites were required by God to allow their fields, orchards, vineyards to “rest” by allowing them to remain fallow. to use the bounty provided by God to bless the poor and needy among them. The Hebrew word natash means “to forsake” or “leave” them. For six consecutive years, they were to till, plant, and harvest the land, but during the seventh year they were to allow it to remain just as it was. And anything that grew during those 12 months was to be left for the poor and needy to harvest, whether grain, grapes, or olives.

Another God-ordained law, intended to be practiced on a yearly basis, provided another means by which the Israelites could provide for the needy among them.

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:22 ESV

When God chose the people of Israel as His possession, He included everyone from every conceivable economic strata. He had been non-discriminatory when He set them apart, and He expected them to treat one another with the same gracious and inclusive kindness. They were never to forget that His choice of them and His loving kindness to them had been totally undeserved. And, earlier in this very same book, Moses made that point quite clear.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!” – Deuteronomy 7:7 NLT

They had no reason to be prideful or arrogant. Their enjoyment of God’s blessings was, in a real sense, in spite of them, not because of them. So, God would not tolerate any display of superiority among them. The rich were not to look down on the poor. The strong were not to take advantage of the weak. The powerful were not to abuse the defenseless. Kindness and compassion were the order of the day. And by living in this way, the Israelites would reflect the very character of God.

Debt was considered a form of enslavement because the one who owed the debt was obligated to pay back the one who made the loan. And failure to settle a debt left the guilty party open to indentured servitude until the debt was paid. The book of Proverbs has some strong words to say about the relationship between the rich and the poor and the lender and the borrower.

Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.
 – Proverbs 22:7 NLT

A sad fact was that the poor often found themselves at the mercy of the rich. Their financial state left them little recourse but to cry out for mercy. But as the Proverbs so sadly states: “The poor plead for mercy; the rich answer with insults” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT).

So, God provided clear guidelines for avoiding such ungodly situations. The last thing He wanted was His chosen people being known for their injustice and inequality. They belonged to Him and, as a result, they were to reflect His character. Which is why the prophet Micah wrote:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

So, every seventh year, God commanded that “every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor” (Deuteronomy 15:2 ESV). There is some debate as to whether this debt forgiveness extended for perpetuity or only during the seventh year, but their is no debate as to God’s intent behind this command: “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deuteronomy 15:4 ESV).

God was going to bless them, and the blessings they received were to be shared with all those in their midst, from the richest to the poorest. There was no room or need for greed. There was no place for injustice or the practice of usury. Taking advantage of one another was to be considered illegal, immoral, and unacceptable.

By obeying God’s commands concerning these matters, they would experience even greater blessings from God. He would prevent the nation of Israel from every finding itself on the debtor end of a transaction. Moses assured them, “The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Deuteronomy 15:6 NLT).

But God knew the true condition of the human heart, so He provided further instructions that, hopefully, would prevent the Israelites from abusing the practice of the sabbatical year and the release of debt. As the seventh year approached, God knew there would be those who refused to lend much-needed help to those who were down on their luck. The thought behind their actions was that if they made the loan, there would not be adequate time to collect enough debt payments to justify the expense the incurred. The seventh year would wipe the debt clean, leaving them in the hole financially. The motivation behind their stinginess is painfully apparent and Moses addresses it.

“Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin.” – Deuteronomy 15:9 NLT

As has been the case with every other law or command issued by God, these focus on the heart. God wasn’t just looking for compliance to a set of rules, but a willing commitment to a way of life, which is why Moses warned them: “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 15:10 NLT).

Moses assures them that poor people will be a permanent part of their community. It is the nature of humanity. People make poor decisions. Others, by no fault of their own, are simply born into poverty. It is their lot in life. But the presence of the poor is not an excuse to treat them as second-class citizens. Their presence among the people of Israel was intended to provide a tangible means for expressing the goodness and graciousness of God – man to man. The Israelites were to be the hands and feet of God, providing for the downtrodden, the destitute, the underprivileged, and indebted among them. No one was to be overlooked. No one was to be treated as unworthy or unlovable. The Israelites were expected to love as they had been loved: Unconditionally and undeservedly.

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