A God Who Is Near

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?– Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ESV

God had just reconfirmed that Moses would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. With his little display of self-aggrandizement in the Wilderness of Zin, Moses had angered God by attempting to steal glory from God. In his anger with the people of Israel, Moses had disobeyed God’s commands and attempted to grandstand before the people, leaving them to believe that it was he who was supplying their need for water. Moses was out to win the respect of the people, when he should have been leading the people to honor, glorify, and revere God.

Yet, in spite of the news that he would not be entering into the promised land along with the rest of the people, Moses didn’t shirk his leadership responsibilities. He continued to perform the task assigned to him by God all those years ago in the land of Midian. While Moses had been caring for his father-in-laws flocks, God had appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, telling him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10 ESV

God was going to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and He was going to use Moses to make it happen. But God’s deliverance of His people would include a deliverance to and not just from something.

“I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:16-17 ESV

Now, more than four decades later, the people had arrived at their final destination: The land of promise. And while Moses would be denied the joy and pleasure of leading them into the land, he was going to make sure that were well-informed as to their obligations to God once the arrived in the land.

God had personally given His laws to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and Moses had delivered them to the people of Israel. Those laws remained binding upon the people and were intended to regulate their conduct once they arrived in the promised land. They were not suggestions, but were irrevocable laws that required willful obedience on the part of the people. So, Moses wanted to make sure that the new generation of Israelites, who would be the first to enter the land, would know and obey the commands of God.

“…listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:1 NLT

Moses was taking no chances. He was not going to assume that the parents of these people had been affective in passing on the laws and statutes of God. Moses knew that ignorance of God’s laws would be just as deadly as choosing to ignore them. And he also knew that God would not tolerate any alterations or additions to His law.

“Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT

God would not tolerate any deviation from His law. His commands were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And, just to make sure the people understood the gravity of their situation, Moses reminded them of one of the many times when their parents had failed to keep God’s commands. It had happened on the plains of Moab at a place called Shittim. When the people of Israel entered the Moabite territory, Balak, the king of Moab, had attempted to hire a local diviner named Balaam to place a curse on them. But when Balaam discovered that God would not allow him to place a curse on the people of Israel, he came up with an alternative plan. He instructed the king to have the women of Moab seduce the men of Israel. And the book of Numbers tells us exactly what happened.

…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was far more than a display of immorality that angered the Victorian sensibilities of God. It was a blatant violation of His law.

“You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” – Exodus 34:14-16 NLT

And yet, that’s exactly what the people of Israel had done at Shittim. And Moses reminded the people what God had done in response to their disobedience to His commands.

“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. – Deuteronomy 4:3 NLT

Those same laws still applied and God was not going to allow His people to bend or break them, without suffering the consequences for their disobedience. Moses knew that the abundance and fruitfulness of the land would mean nothing if they people refused to remain faithful to God. The land flowing with milk and honey would become a killing field flowing with blood if the Israelites did not take God’s commands seriously. Partial obedience would not result in partial blessing. It would bring the full wrath of God. Which is why Moses warned them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT).

God had a secondary purpose behind His laws. They were to guide and direct the lives of His people, providing them with clearly understood parameters for living in submission to His will for them. His laws were meant to protect them. His laws were intended to assure that they enjoyed His blessings and avoided His curses. But they were also meant to provide the nations living within the land with a visual testimony of what it looks like when men live in a right relationship with God Almighty.

The Mosaic Law was intended to display a never-before-seen relationship between a god and man. The pagan religions of the day featured a plethora of gods who were distant and, for the most part, invisible to their worshipers. Except for carved idols, these gods were nowhere to be seen. And the relationship between the worshipers and their chosen deity was a fickle one, with the people never knowing if their god was truly pleased with their behavior.

Yet, the God of Israel, while transcendent and all-powerful, had chosen to insert Himself into the lives of His people, providing them with laws that regulated not only their behavior concerning Him, but with one another. He wanted to influence every facet of their lives, providing them with righteous rules and regulations for every imaginable form of conduct. And as the people of Israel obeyed His laws, they would be displaying their wisdom and intelligence to the nations around them – a wisdom and intelligence that originated from God, not men.

Moses knew that if the Israelites would obey God’s commands, the pagan nations would be amazed at their wisdom.

“How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!” – Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT

But he wanted the Israelites to remember that it would not be their wisdom that set them apart. It would be their God.

“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?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NLT

The very presence of God’s law was proof of God’s proximity. He was with them. He was intimately involved in their lives and cared about every detail concerning their conduct and character. Unlike the false gods of the nations living in the land of Canaan, Yahweh was real and His relationship with His people was intended to be all-pervasive and highly personal. He was not a distant, disinterested deity, but a loving, caring God who longed to display His glory in the lives of His chosen people.

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

 

 

 

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The Yellow Brick Road of Disobedience.

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:7-22 ESV

Johanan and the people had asked Jeremiah to seek the will of God concerning whether they should stay in Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar over the murder of the man he had appointed as governor, or should they hightail it to Egypt. They had assured the prophet that they would do whatever God told them to do. So, ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the new from God. And it is not what they had been expecting or desiring to hear. He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that God wanted them to stay right where they were, and God communicates His message with two if-then conditional statements. The first described what would happen if they obeyed His will and stayed in the land.

If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” – Jeremiah 42:10 ESV

Obedience would bring the blessing of God. Rather than punish them, He would protect them, even preventing the king of Babylon from seeking revenge against them. They would no longer have to fear Nebuchadnezzar. God Almighty would stand in the gap and act as a shield of protection for them. There was no need to run and seek shelter in Egypt, because they had God on their side. But God knew their hearts and so, He gave them the second scenario.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.” – Jeremiah 42:15-16 ESV

They had a choice to make. They could obey God and live, or they could disobey God and take their chances in Egypt. But if they chose option B, they would discover that Egypt would make a lousy savior. Their problems would follow them there, because there is no escape from the wrath of God. It was King David who wrote:

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,”
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Of course, David meant his words as a positive statement regarding God’s inescapable presence. He took comfort in the fact that there was no place where God was not present and His not all-pervasive. But for Johanan and the remnant of the people of Judah, they would find out that there was no escape from God judgment for disobedience. God had ordained the fall of Judah and He had chosen to use Nebuchadnezzar to do it. He had also told the people of Judah on numerous occasions, that it was His will that those who were left behind after the fall of Jerusalem were to stay in the land and remain under the submission of the Babylonians. What they didn’t realize was that God had a purpose behind His command. He intended the Babylonians to provide the remnant, in their weakened and vulnerable state, with protection from the mightiest nation on the planet. Their conquerors would become their defenders. But in order to enjoy that divinely ordained protection, the people of Judah would have to choose to remain under Babylonian rule. They would have to trust God and give up their desire to run from what they perceived as a threat on their lives.

But God knew what was going to happen, and He didn’t need His omniscience to come to that conclusion. He had seen this scenario played out time and time again with His people. He was well-acquainted with their hearts and their propensity to do things their own way. He even told them what they were probably thinking:

“We will not stay here; instead, we will go to Egypt where we will be free from war, the call to arms, and hunger.” – Jeremiah 42:13-14 NLT

Notice the rationale behind their decision. Freedom from war, the end of conscription of their young men for war, and no more hunger and starvation as a result of war. They viewed their escape to Egypt as a panacea for all their perceived problems. But the yellow brick path of disobedience never leads to the Emerald City. Choosing to disobey the will of God never ends well. It may seem appealing and, even logical, but it will always result in disappointment and disillusionment. Remember what happened to Jonah when he refused to do what God commanded him to do? He was to take God’s offer of repentance to the people living in the city of Ninevah. But rather than obey God, Jonah chose to get on a boat and head in the opposite direction. And how did that work out for him? He ended up in a storm, getting thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and thrown up on the beach. On top of all that, he ended up doing God’s will anyway. And what is fascinating about the story of Jonah is that the fish was actually the means of Jonah’s salvation, not a punishment from God. God sent the fish to keep Jonah from drowning, and Jonah reflects his awareness of this fact in his own words:

“You threw me into the deep waters,
into the middle of the sea;
the ocean current engulfed me;
all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.
I thought I had been banished from your sight,
that I would never again see your holy temple!
Water engulfed me up to my neck;
the deep ocean surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;
the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;
but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God.” – Jonah 2:3-6 NLT

As Jonah sank into the depths of the sea, he called out to God to save him, and God sent the fish to do just that. The fish was his means of escape. Yes, he had to remain three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but his life was spared. And, as a result, he was able to heed God’s second call to go to Ninevah and, this time, he went.

Johanan and the people of Judah had their answer from God. Now, the question was what they were going to do with it. How would they respond? Jeremiah seemed to already know, because he flatly told them:

“You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it!’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.” – Jeremiah 42:20-22 NLT

They weren’t going to listen. They were not going to obey. They had already made up their minds and had the maps and provisions for their journey to Egypt pre-prepared. They probably had their bags packed. And it wouldn’t be long before they were on their way, following the yellow brick road of disillusionment and false hope. This should bring to mind a warning God gave to the people of Judah earlier in this very same book.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 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.

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

The Choice Is Up To You.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV

Who are you going to trust? This is a question each and every human being ultimately has to answer. But for those who claim to believe in God, it should be a no-brainer. For the people of Judah, there should have been no question regarding the focus of their trust and hope. It should have been God. After all, He had more than proven Himself trustworthy over the years. All the way back to the days of Abraham, God had promised to make of the patriarch of Israel a mighty nation and to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. And He had done it. Early in their history, when they found themselves living as slaves in the land of Egypt, God had rescued them, miraculously freeing them and delivering them to the promised land. Time and time again, God had shown Himself faithful and worthy of their trust. But they had repeatedly chosen to turn their backs on God, placing their confidence in false gods and making alliances with pagan nations. And God makes it painfully clear that their decision to trust in someone or something other than Him was not going to turn out well for them.

Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT

They had made a choice. They had purposefully determined to place their confidence elsewhere. God wasn’t enough for them. In fact, we see this attitude revealed in all its glory when they had demanded that God give them a king like all the other nations. They had taken their demand to Samuel, the prophet, and he was appalled and appealed to God.

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT

They were guilty of putting their hope and confidence in man and making flesh their strength. It wasn’t as if God had let them down. He had ruled over them through a succession of judges. And those judges had rescued them time and time again from the attacks of their enemies. But they failed to realize that their suffering at the hands of their enemies had been the punishment of God for their sins against Him. Their unfaithfulness, illustrated by their idolatry, was their real problem. A king wasn’t going to fix what ailed them. And that would proven repeatedly over the coming centuries by the long line of wicked and idolatrous kings who would lead them down the wrong path, away from God.

They had been given the chance to trust in God. But they had chosen not to. And the outcome of that choice was far from pleasant. Their turning away from God produced spiritual dryness. Rather than fruitfulness, they experienced a loss of productivity and a moral drought that left them like withered plants in the desert. But God reminded them that trust in Him produced just the opposite results.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

Trusting in God does not eliminate difficulties. Look at these verses. They mention the presence of heat and drought. But they also promise fruitfulness in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Trusting in God brings the provision of God. Those who place their hope and confidence in God find themselves provided for by God. The difficulties of life become opportunities for God to meet needs and prove His faithfulness. Drought is no match for God. Blazing heat can do no harm to those who find rest in the shade of God’s mercy and grace.

But here’s the problem: The human heart. It is wicked and deceitful. We can’t even understand why we do what we do. We may think we understand our motives, but we don’t. Only God truly knows the hearts of men. He is able to look into the inner recesses of our hearts and see the real motivation behind what we do and don’t do. He knew why the people of Israel had demanded a king. They were rejecting Him as their king. He knows our hearts. And He rewards us according to the motives of our hearts.

I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

The people of Judah had made their choice. They had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. They acted as if they still worshiped Him they went through the motions, offering their sacrifices and claiming to be His children. But their hearts were far from Him and God knew it. So, they were going to suffer the consequences. Rather than blessings, they would experience curses. Instead of fruitfulness, they would endure spiritual dryness and, ultimately, physical death. They had chosen. And they would suffer for their choice. The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed words of reminder.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

God can and should be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is all-powerful, able to provide strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, and renewed energy to those facing difficulty. But we have to choose to trust Him. We have to make the decision to turn to Him, rather than relying on our own human strength or placing our hope in something of someone other than Him. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision.

 

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

Evicted From the Land of Promise.

Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not remain in the land of the Lord, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the Lord. What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the Lord? For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them.

Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. – Hosea 9:1-9 ESV

The land of Canaan had been meant to be a land of promise, blessing and abundant provision. Even before they had entered it and taken possession of it, Moses had told them, “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him” (Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT). God had kept His word and had given them the land as their possession, but they had forgotten all about Him. They had failed to fear Him and serve Him. So now, God was bringing curses upon them for their disobedience. The land that had once provided them with abundant provision would no longer do so. “So now your harvests will be too small to feed you. There will be no grapes for making new wine” (Hosea 9:2 NLT). Not only that, they would no longer be able to stay in the land. They would be forcibly removed by the Assyrians and taken into captivity. They would experience the indignity of slavery in a foreign land just like their ancestors had. There in the land of Assyria, they would attempt to appease God with sacrifices and offerings, but it would do them no good. It would be too little, too late. Hosea warned them, “None of your sacrifices there will please him. They will be unclean, like food touched by a person in mourning. All who present such sacrifices will be defiled. They may eat this food themselves, but they may not offer it to the Lord{ (Hosea 9:4 NLT).

Even if they could somehow escape the Assyrians, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Egyptians. There was no way out. Their destruction was inescapably inevitable. For years, they had rejected the warnings of God’s prophets. Men like Hosea had been pleading with them to repent and return to the Lord, but they had said, “The prophets are crazy and the inspired men are fools!” (Hosea 9:7 NLT). They could not imagine that God would actually destroy them, because they were His chosen people. They wrongly believed that they were untouchable and immune to God’s judgment. And yet, God had warned them for generations that failure to obey His commands would have dire consequences. And He had given them ample warning and more than enough opportunities to repent. But God’s sad prognosis was, “The things my people do are as depraved as what they did in Gibeah long ago. God will not forget. He will surely punish them for their sins” (Hosea 9:9 NLT). To understand just how bad God viewed their sinfulness, we have to go back and see what happened in Gibeah. A Levite and his concubine were traveling and stopped in the town of Gibeah to rest. They were greeted by an old man in the town square and he encouraged them to stay with him, but not to remain at overnight night in the open. That night, some men from the town surrounded the house.

While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”  The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.” But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. – Judges 19:22-25 NLT

This story is very reminiscent of what took place in Sodom and Gomorrah during the days of Abraham. Gibeah, an Israelite town, had become as immoral and corrupt as Sodom. God ended up destroying Gibeah for what had happened. And now Hosea warns that God viewed the entire nation of Israel as evil as He had the people of Gibeah.

There are times when we believe our sins are not all that bad. We somehow think that what we are doing is not offensive to God and we justify our actions as somehow acceptable and tolerable to Him. But God desires holiness and He has given us His Spirit to make the life of holiness possible. He wants to bless us and abundantly provide for us. But like the people of Israel, we can be guilty of turning our backs on Him, rejecting His will in favor of our own. We can become disobedient and stubbornly resistant to His warnings to return to Him. Yes, He is gracious and merciful. God is ready and willing to forgive. But we must always understand that God cannot tolerate sin. As believers, we will never have to suffer the penalty of sin, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But we will always have to face the consequences of our sinful behavior. We can miss out on the blessings of God and fail to enjoy the joy, peace, comfort and provision He so richly offers us. Like the Israelites being evicted from the land of promise, we can find ourselves living in exile from His blessings and suffering the consequences of our stubborn refusal to live in submission to His Spirit and according to His gracious will for our lives.

A Lack of Light.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV

At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).

God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.

Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.

You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and motherYou must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT

And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.

The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.

What Will It Take?

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. The princes of Judah have become like those who move the landmark; them I will pour out my wrath like water. Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to go after filth. But I am like a moth to Ephraim, and like dry rot to the house of Judah.

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. 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. 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

What does it take to get our attention? When we forget God or fail to give Him the honor and reverence He is due, what does it require for God to wake us up and get us to return to Him? God loves us and wants to bless us, but when we refuse to submit to His will and live according to His ways, He is forces to discipline us. But He does so because He loves us and wants what is best for us. In the book of Proverbs we read, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV). The author of Hebrews expands on this same idea. “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT). 

The people of Israel would experience this loving discipline of God, and it would prove to be quite painful. God warned the He would pour out His wrath like water. It would come like a flood and they would not be able to withstand it. They had long ago forsaken Him and now He was going to have to punish them for their disobedience and rebellion – just as He had warned He would. This was not a case of God losing His temper and flying off the handle. He had long ago warned His people what would happen if they disobeyed Him. He had painted a very clear picture of the blessings that came with obedience and the curses that would come from disobedience. And He had sent His prophets to remind them and call them to repentance. But the people had stubbornly refused and now they would face the discipline of God. He told them, “I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.” There was no escaping the discipline of God.

And God would leave them in their state of divine discipline “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” God’s motive was their repentance and return to Him. Why? Because He knew that the best thing for them was for them to live willingly under His care and protection. But they were going to have to learn what it was like to live outside of His influence and out from under His protective hand. They had wanted to live their lives without Him and He was going to let them experience just what that lifestyle would be like. God will sometimes allow His child to live without Him until they recognize their need for Him. He will let us walk away from Him, but He never takes His eyes off of us. He will allow us to reap the results of our stubborn defiance and willing rebellion. All because He loves us.

In the book of Revelation, we read of Jesus’ indictment against the church in Laodicea. He says, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelation 3:17-19 NLT). The purpose behind God’s discipline of His people is their repentance. He wants to bless us, but He also wants us to desire His blessings. He desires that we admit our sin and acknowledge our need of Him. But too often, like the people of Israel and the church in Laodicea, we take a look at our circumstances and think we have it made. We view ourselves as fat and happy, enjoying the good life apart from God. We have everything we want and don’t have a need in the world. But we fail to recognize our desperate need for God. So God lovingly disciplines us. He allows events and circumstances into our life that are designed to wake us up to the reality of our need for Him. But we can be surprisingly stubborn. We can be dangerously self-sufficient, refusing to acknowledge our need for God. So He lovingly, patiently continues to discipline and correct us. He faithfully reveals His love for us by refusing to let us continue in our sin and live our lives apart from Him. He knows that the very best place for us is within His will and He will do whatever it takes to help us come to see that truth on our own, so that we willingly repent and return to Him. But what will it take to get our attention? What will God have to do to wake us up from our spiritual stupor and break us of our stubborn habit of trying to live without Him? What will He have to do until we acknowledge our guilt, seek His face and earnestly seek Him?