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

Enough is Enough

7 Be silent before the Lord God!
    For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
    and consecrated his guests.
And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
    and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
On that day I will punish
    everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master’s house
    with violence and fraud.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord,
    “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
    a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!
    For all the traders are no more;
    all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”Zephaniah 1:7-13 ESV

The message of Zephaniah is one of judgment. He is a messenger of God delivering a series of prophecies that outline specific acts of divine retribution awaiting Judah for its persistent apostasy. His message contains the “what” but not the “when.” Zephaniah has no idea of the timeline involved in God’s judgment. But God had made it clear that the “what” was going to be significant and inescapable. The entire world would bear the brunt of God’s righteous indignation.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth…” – vs. 2

I will sweep away man and beast;…the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” – vs. 3

I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth…” – vs. 3

God warns of the global and all-encompassing nature of His coming judgment. The entire world will experience the wrath of God being poured out on the sins of mankind.  But God also directs the prophet’s attention to the fate of Judah.

I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…” – vs. 4

There seems to be a separate series of judgments reserved for the nation of Judah. The “what” God has in store for them is distinctly different than the one He has planned for the rest of the world. And as we will see, the “when” or the timeline concerning their judgment will also differ.

Judah’s status as God’s chosen people had always set them apart. They had enjoyed the distinct privilege of being His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), a people holy to the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:6), and had been called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). So, it only makes sense that God would have a separate and distinct judgment in store for His chosen people. Their unmerited status as His chosen people had afforded them unprecedented blessings and had set them apart from all the nations of the earth.

Centuries earlier, Moses had told the Jews who had been released from captivity in Egypt: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV). And God had graciously provided them with His law to establish His criteria for holy conduct. If they were to be a holy nation they would have to live holy lives. And for those times when they failed to live up to God’s law, He had provided the tabernacle and the sacrificial system as a means for receiving atonement for their sins. God had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. A land flowing with milk and honey, rich in produce, and abundant in natural resources. They had been richly blessed. And yet, they had proven to be deeply unfaithful.

The oft-quoted phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility” applies here. The people of Judah had enjoyed periods of tremendous power and prestige. They had benefited greatly from their relationship with God. But as Jesus Himself once said, When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48 NLT).

So, we see in this prophecy from the pen of Zephaniah a two-fold description of coming judgment. There will be a judgment reserved for the nation of Judah and one that will encompass the rest of mankind. In the text, the two are woven together, creating an overwhelming sense of God’s righteous anger with the state of His creation and the spiritual apostasy of His chosen people. God is not happy, and He will not continue to tolerate the current state of affairs in the world or in the nation Judah. The question remains, who will He punish first, when He will do it, and how.

Verses 4-6 contain God’s indictment against the people of Judah. They were guilty of idolatry. They worshiped Baal, Molech, and a host of other false gods representing the sun, moon, and stars. And while the people still swore allegiance to God, they committed spiritual adultery by giving themselves to the gods of the Canaanites. They had turned their backs on God. They had repeatedly displayed their unfaithfulness through acts of infidelity.

So, Zephaniah warns them, “the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV). And he commands the people of Judah to “be silent.” Now that they were hearing about God’s coming judgment, they were to keep their mouths shut. It was too late to cry out for mercy. Notice that in verse six, the people of Judah are described as those “who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” They had stopped calling on God. They were too busy bowing down to their false gods. And now that judgment was coming, God denied them the right to call out to Him for mercy.

Zephaniah describes the familiar scene of a sacrifice. But in this case, God is the one offering the sacrifice, and He has invited guests to join Him for the occasion. In this case, Judah represents the sacrificial animal and the Babylonians are the guests. When the time is right, God will issue an invitation to the Nebuchadnezzar and his army to feast on the sacrifice that God has offered. In 586 BC, the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would be plundered and destroyed. The temple would be ransacked and left as a pile of stones. The people would be taken captive and returned to Babylon as slaves.

And God warns “And on the day of the Lord‘s sacrifice — ‘I will punish the officials and the king’s sons’” (Zephaniah 1:8 ESV). With great power comes great responsibility. To whom much has been given, much will be required. The kings of Judah would be held responsible by God. Rather than using their power and positions to lead the people in the faithful service of God, they had displayed a pattern of disdain and disobedience. And God warned that they would suffer the consequences.

According to 2 Kings 23:34, Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah who would ascend to the throne after him, was taken captive to Egypt. The next king, Jehoiakim, would fall to the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:1-6). Jehoiachin, the grandson of Josiah, was taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-10). Zedekiah, the last son of Josiah to reign in Jerusalem, was eventually blinded by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-25:7). Each of these men had been guilty of idolatry and of making alliances with foreign nations, rather than trusting in God. Zephaniah describes them as having arrayed themselves in foreign attire. They had modeled themselves after pagan kings, emulating their appearance and worshiping their false gods.

But not only the kings of Judah will suffer judgment at the hands of God. The nation as a whole stands guilty and worthy of divine punishment. Zephaniah describes “everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud” (Zephaniah 1:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this phrase is unclear, but it seems likely that Zephaniah is accusing the people of Judah of practicing injustice, in direct violation of God’s commands.

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:23 ESV

And yet, the people of Judah had made a habit out of taking advantage of one another.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
 – Ezekiel 22:29 ESV

They were marked by greed, violence, and fraud. And they would pay for dearly for their decision to ignore God’s commands.

On that day – when the judgment of God comes – the impact will be felt throughout the city of Jerusalem. From the Fish Gate to the Second Quarter and from the hills to the marketplace, every single inhabitant of Jerusalem would feel the heat of God’s wrath. “Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste” (Zephaniah 1:13 ESV). No one will escape judgment because all will stand as guilty before God.

And while there will be those who think that God is disinterested in their affairs and has turned a blind eye to their behavior, they will be in for a rude awakening.

“I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’” – Zephaniah 1:12 ESV

God would no longer tolerate sin among His people. He would not allow them to continue denigrating His name and defaming His holy character by their actions. They were His people and their behavior was leaving a black mark on His name. But God was about to rectify that problem.

“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

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

   

 

Filing Suits Instead of Following Christ.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers! – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV

It seems that the believers in Corinth were having a difficult time grasping the significance of their new status as members of the body of Christ. The concept of having been set apart to God and separated from the world had not yet sunk in. They were still thinking like Greeks and as citizens of Rome. Their mindset was more worldly than godly. This was not an uncommon problem in the early church. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul gave him a much-needed reminder:

…we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:12-14 NLT

Back in chapter three of this letter, Paul had reprimanded the Corinthians about their propensity to live their lives from a worldly perspective.

…you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT

Whether or not Paul is laying down a hard-and-fast prohibition against Christians taking one another to court is not clear. But his point seems to be that the Corinthians are not approaching their problems from a spiritual perspective. First of all, the fact that they were having disputes among one another that would require legal action is unacceptable. This indicates that they were living in the flesh and not the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gave a lengthy, but far from complete, list of sins associated with living according to our sin natures. In it he included sexual immorality, lustful pleasures, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension,  and division. Virtually any lawsuit or legal claim entails one or more of these “deeds of the flesh.” Which is what led Paul to say to them, “Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern seems to be the integrity of the body of Christ and the honor of God’s name. He is not making a sweeping accusation against the legal profession or courts of law. He simply desires that the believers in Corinth see their Christian faith as more than just a label. It was to become a way of life. It was to influence the way they lived their lives. Paul is also not naive enough to believe that disputes will never take place between believers. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will be prone to conflicts, even with fellow believers. But there is a proper way in which we are to settle our disputes. That is why Paul asks, “ Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?” (1 Corinthians 6:5 NLT). For Paul, it made much more sense to settle disputes between believers within the family of God. It was a matter of common sense. How could ungodly judges know what is best when deciding a dispute between godly believers? What makes legal sense is not necessarily what God would have us do. The right legal decision and the right spiritual one are not always the same thing.

Remember that Paul said earlier in this very same letter, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NLT). The message of the cross is at the heart of Paul’s argument. The cross of Christ doesn’t just provide us with forgiveness from sin and escape from future condemnation. It provides us with the power to live godly lives in this world. It is a means of both positional and practical righteousness. And none of that makes sense to those living in the world. While a secular judge may determine that a believer who owes a debt to a brother must pay it in full or face the full penalty of the law, God may require that both the debt and the brother be forgiven. God’s ways are not our ways. And because, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV), how can an unbelieving judge know what God’s will might be in a given situation.

Paul refers to the lawsuits they were filing as “trivial cases.” This does not mean that they were small matters or of little significance. Paul is simply saying that in the grand scheme of things, earthly disputes are nothing to worry about. We are to live with a future orientation, fully aware that our ultimate reward is in heaven, where we will sit as judges over the nations. We will rule and reign with Christ. And all disputes, large and small, will be settles once and for all. The greatest dispute being over the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. Every one who has refused to acknowledge God and accept Christ as Savior will be judged. And yet, here were the Corinthians wasting time and energy disputing with one another over “trivial cases,” and taking one another to court to settle insignificant issues that have no eternal value.

We have been set apart by God. We have been given new natures. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God to direct us. Our designation as Christians is to be more than just a label, it is to be a description of our lifestyle. We are to live like Christ. We are to love like Christ. We are to model Christ in all that we do. Christ was willing to suffer so that we might live. He was willing to endure unjust accusations and an undeserved death sentence so that we might be saved. As Isaiah so poignantly put it:

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT