It’s Never Too Late to Return

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

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

2 The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
    the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”
– Hosea 11:12-12:6 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 12 of chapter 11 is actually the first verse of chapter 12. This arrangement of the verses makes far greater sense and provides a better understanding of the point Hosea is trying to make. But Hosea seems to unnecessarily complicate matters by his use of the names Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob. It is easy to become confused when trying to decipher exactly who he is referencing by these various name designations. But because Ephraim was the largest of the 10 tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel, it would appear that he is using that name as a substitute for the more common designation of Israel. The reason seems to be that, at one time, the name Israel had been used to refer to the undivided kingdom as it stood during the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. When the kingdom was divided at the end of Solomon’s life, Israel became the name of the northern kingdom while Judah was used to refer to the southern kingdom. This was because the tribe of Judah was the larger of the two tribes which comprised the southern kingdom – with the tribe of Benjamin being the other.

In these verses, Hosea has God referring to the two kingdoms by the names of Ephraim and Judah. Then he adds the name of Jacob, who was the father of all the tribes. This seems to be his way of referring to the formerly combined kingdoms or the original 12 tribes. It’s important to remember that, at one time, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28. From Israel would come 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. So, it appears that these verses are addressing three different groups:

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

With this formula in mind, these verses begin to make sense. First, God indicts the northern kingdom (Ephraim) for its falsehood and violence. The Hebrew word he uses is mirmâ, which means “deceit” and refers to fraudulent or deceptive behavior. It is the very same word used to describe Jacob’s stealing of his brother’s blessing. Isaac informed his disgruntled son, Esau, how Jacob had tricked him into awarding him the blessing of the firstborn son.

“Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” – Genesis 27:35 ESV

The 10 northern tribes had inherited their father’s deceitful ways. Yet, Judah (the two southern tribes) are described as still walking with God. This would appear to be a relative statement. In other words, when compared with the deceitfulness and unfaithfulness of the northern tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had been saints. We know they were far from perfect because God will condemn them as well, but they had a much better track record of faithfulness than their northern neighbors. At least Judah had enjoyed the leadership and guidance of a handful of godly kings along the way. Their periods of apostasy had been broken up by brief moments of relative godliness thanks to men like Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

But when describing the behavior of the northern tribes, God states that they “feed on the wind” (Hosea 11:12 NLT). This seems to be a reference to something Hosea wrote earlier in his book.

“They have planted the wind
    and will harvest the whirlwind. – Hosea 8:7 ESV

This imagery is intended to picture a life of futility and fruitlessness. The reference to them pursuing the east wind further enhances the total vanity and worthlessness of their behavior. In that region of the world, the east wind was a scorching, life-sapping natural phenomena that destroyed crops and made daily existence almost impossible. Their pursuit of treaties with foreign nations would produce nothing of value. They were pursuing destruction and didn’t even realize it.

In fact, they were making alliances with Assyria, the very nation God would use to punish them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In a sense, they were dancing with the devil. They were getting in bed with the enemy, and they would pay dearly.

They were even using the fruit of the land that God had graciously given them to pay off their many suitors. His many tangible blessings, such as olive oil, were being used to broker agreements with nations like Egypt. That had never been God’s intention. God had graciously delivered His people out of their captivity in Egypt but now they were sending their olive oil back to their former captors. They were guilty of fraternizing with their former enemy and using the bounty of God as a means to buy their protection.

But even the southern kingdom was guilty of selling out their relationship with God. They too, were covenant breakers. The NET Bible translates verse 2: “The Lord also has a covenant lawsuit against Judah.” They had violated their agreement with Him, following in the footsteps of their father and patriarch, Jacob. By referring to Jacob (Israel), God is including all 12 tribes in His divine statement of condemnation. Every single one of the tribes was guilty of violating their covenant commitments with God.

Hosea uses the well-known backstory of Jacob to describe the treachery and deceit of His people.

Even in the womb,
    Jacob struggled with his brother;
when he became a man,
    he even fought with God. – Hosea 12:3 NLT

When Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were still in their mother’s womb, God had spoken to Rebekah, and given her a vision of what was to come of her two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:23-26 NLT

Eventually, these two brothers would end up at odds with one another. Jacob would deceive Esau, stealing his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. These actions would sour their relationship, forcing Jacob to leave home in order to escape his brother’s wrath. In time, God would order Jacob to return home, but this would be prefaced by a literal wrestling match between God and His prodigal son.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:24-28 NLT

It was at that fateful wrestling match that Jacob received his new name from God. And Hosea points out that it was on that occasion that “he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him” (Hosea 12:4 NLT). At that moment, Jacob realized that he could no longer live his life based on treachery and deceit. He needed the blessing of God. And he was willing to do battle with God until he received it. He even received an injury to his hip in the process (Genesis 32:31). Jacob was so moved by this unprecedented experience that he gave the region a name by which to memorialize what had happened to him.

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” – Genesis 32:30 NLT

Hosea also mentions another encounter Jacob had with God years earlier. This was when Jacob was attempting to escape the wrath of his angry brother. On his way, he was given a vision and mission from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Once again, moved by his surprising visitation from God, Jacob renamed the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob would return to this very spot years later, after his wrestling match with the angel of God. And when he arrived, he would give instructions to his family.

So Jacob told everyone in his household, “Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.” – Genesis 35:2-3 NLT

Hosea uses the recollection of this historic event to call the descendants of Jacob back to “the Lord, the God of hosts” (Hosea 12:5 ESV). In a sense, he was echoing the words of Jacob, encouraging his household to get rid of their pagan idols, purity themselves, and put on clean clothing. They were to repent and return to God in humility.

So now, come back to your God.
    Act with love and justice,
    and always depend on him. – Hosea 12:6 NLT

It was not too late. The God who wrestled with Jacob was wrestling with them. But He also wanted to bless them. But before God could do so, they were going to have to make some significant changes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Love Them No More

15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their princes are rebels.

16 Ephraim is stricken;
    their root is dried up;
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will put their beloved children to death.
17 My God will reject them
    because they have not listened to him;
    they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:15-17 ESV

For the second time, Hosea mentions the city of Gilgal. It was located just north of Jericho on the western side of the Jordan River. Back in chapter 4, Hosea warns the southern kingdom of Judah about emulating the sinful behavior of its northern neighbor, Israel.

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
– Hosea 9:4 ESV

Hosea will bring up the city of Gilgal one more time before closing out his book.

But the people of Gilead are worthless
    because of their idol worship.
And in Gilgal, too, they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars are lined up like the heaps of stone
    along the edges of a plowed field. – Hosea 12:11 NLT

Gilgal was a city that should have held special significance to the people of Israel. It was at Gilgal that Joshua built a stone memorial to commemorate the Israelite’s successful crossing of the Jordan River. God had miraculously divided the waters of the river, allowing the Israelites to pass over on dry ground. Joshua had picked one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and commanded them to pick up one large stone from the middle of the river bed and carry it to the western side. When they arrived safely in Canaan, Joshua built the memorial with those stones.  Then he told the people:

“‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:7 NLT

Gilgal was intended to be a place of memorial, a site of remembrance. It was there that Yahweh proved Himself powerful and faithful to His chosen people – yet again. And Joshua had instructed the Israelites to pass on the meaning of the stone memorial to the succeeding generations.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21-24 NLT

But the Israelites had turned Gilgal into one more sacred site for the worship of its false gods. They had forgotten all about the powerful, gracious, and loving God who had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and provided them with the land of Canaan as their inheritance. The miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River had become a distant memory and their commitment to honor God had long ago been replaced by their infatuation with false gods.

Chapter 5 of the book of Joshua records another important aspect of Gilgal’s history that heightens the Israelites disrespectful actions there. It was Gilgal that Joshua commanded that the next generation of Israelite males be circumcised. The people had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, as punishment for their refusal to enter the land when they had first arrived on the shore of the Jordan River.

Those who left Egypt had all been circumcised, but none of those born after the Exodus, during the years in the wilderness, had been circumcised. The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.– Joshua 5:5-6 NLT

So, before crossing the Jordan River and entering the land of Canaan, Joshua had ordered the circumcision of all the males who had been born during the 40 year period.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day. – Joshua 5:9 NLT

By reinstituting the rite of circumcision, Joshua had faithfully obeyed God’s command and set apart the people of Israel as His chosen possession. This ordinance had been given to Abraham by God more than half a millennium earlier.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-13 NLT

Gilgal should have been a place of memorial. Its very presence should have reminded the people of Israel about their God and the covenant commitment to remain faithful to Him. But they had desecrated this place of remembrance, proving yet again that they had no intentions of honoring their covenant commitments to Yahweh. And God delivers His ultimatum against His chosen people.

“All their wickedness began at Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
I will drive them from my land
    because of their evil actions.” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

Gilgal was to have been a place where the people could go and recover the rich heritage of their history. It was intended to be a visual and tangible reminder of God’s grace and power in their lives. They belonged to Him. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt and delivered them to the land He had promised to give to Abraham as his inheritance. God had helped them cross the Red Sea on dry ground, so they could leave the land of Egypt. Then He had repeated the very same miracle so they could enter the land of Canaan. He had given them victories over their enemies, including the nearby city of Jericho. He had provided them with kings and prophets, the sacrificial system, and His holy law. It was at Gilgal that they had celebrated their first Passover in the land of promise.

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. – Joshua 5:11 NLT

And from that point forward, the people never had to eat manna again.

The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. – Joshua 5:11-12 NLT

Yet, the people of Israel had failed to appreciate all that God had done for them. Now, God was warning them that His patience had run out, and He described His change of relationship in startling terms.

I will love them no more…” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

These words do not indicate that God no longer loved the people of Israel. That would require a change in His character, which is immutable and unchanging. But it does indicate that God was no longer going to express His love for them in tangible ways. They would receive no more blessings from His hand. They would enjoy no more of His bounty and provision. He would remove His protection and provision. If they wanted to live as if God did not exist, they would experience exactly what it was like to no longer enjoy His many blessings.

They would learn the painful lesson of what it feels like to live without God in their lives. They would be struck down, dried up, fruitless, and bereaved of their children. The one who had redeemed them would now reject them. Rather than living in the land of promise, they would become homeless wanderers. And all because they had refused to obey their loving, compassionate, and covenant-keeping God.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Useless Vessel

Israel is swallowed up;
    already they are among the nations
    as a useless vessel.
For they have gone up to Assyria,
    a wild donkey wandering alone;
    Ephraim has hired lovers.
10 Though they hire allies among the nations,
    I will soon gather them up.
And the king and princes shall soon writhe
    because of the tribute.

11 Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning,
    they have become to him altars for sinning.
12 Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands,
    they would be regarded as a strange thing.
13 As for my sacrificial offerings,
    they sacrifice meat and eat it,
    but the Lord does not accept them.
Now he will remember their iniquity
    and punish their sins;
    they shall return to Egypt.
14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker
    and built palaces,
and Judah has multiplied fortified cities;
    so I will send a fire upon his cities,
    and it shall devour her strongholds. Hosea 8:8-14 ESV

With these seven verses, God issues some of His harshest words of criticism against the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He pulls no punches in delivering His well-deserved indictment against His chosen people because they stand before Him as condemned and worthy of all that is coming their way.

And God doesn’t mince words. He comes right out and predicts their coming defeat and does so by talking in the past tense – as if it has already taken place.

The people of Israel have been swallowed up;
    they lie among the nations like an old discarded pot. – Hosea 8:8 NLT

The English Standard Version translation renders that last phrase as “a useless vessel.” The Hebrew word for “useless” is ḥēp̄eṣ and it can mean “that in which one takes delight or pleasure.” The inference is that Israel was at one time a delight to God, but not longer holds that distinction. The people of Israel had been a valuable instrument in the hands of God but had now been rendered useless or undesirable because of their constant sin. Their constant rebellion against God had turned them from vessels of honor to vessels of dishonor. They were soiled beyond use. And the apostle Paul would later warn the believers in Rome to not repeat the same mistake.

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

Paul, as a good Jew and a former Pharisee, would have known all these Old Testament passages concerning Israel’s loss of standing and usefulness in the eyes of God. That is why he used it as a constant illustration for followers of God in his day. He warned his young protégé Timothy:

In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:20-21 NLT

Israel and Judah had both forfeited their right to be used by God because they had failed to keep themselves pure. Their value was not to be found in who they were (gold, silver, clay, or wood), but in the One who had set them apart as His own. It was God who gave their lives worthy, whether they were vessels of gold or clay. He had chosen to sanctify or set them apart for His use and glory, but they had used their bodies for something other than what God had intended. And, in doing so, they had rendered themselves useless and worthy of being discarded.

Amazingly, the very nation God was going to use to deliver His judgment against the nation of Israel was the same nation they had turned to for help. Rather than seek the aid of God, they had thrown themselves at the Assyrians, in the hopes that they could deliver them from their enemies. God unflatteringly describes them as “a wild donkey looking for a mate” (Hosea 8:9 NLT). Like an animal in heat, they allowed their physical urges to override their natural instinct to avoid danger. They knew the Assyrians were wicked, cruel, idolatrous, and highly ambitious. They were the up-and-coming would-be world superpower that was throwing its weight around the region. The Assyrians had aspersions of greatness and Israel had been dumb enough to make an alliance with them. Now the Israelites would pay for turning their backs on God and turning to the pagan Assyrians instead.

But this was just one of many ill-conceived alliances that Israel had made. They had a long and abysmal track record for signing treaties with foreign powers. And God describes them as having “sold themselves to many lovers” (Hosea 8:9 NLT). They had become like a prostitute that just can’t say no. But no matter how many peace treaties they had made, they would soon discover that no one was going to be able to save them from the wrath of God Almighty.

I will now gather them together for judgment.
Then they will writhe
    under the burden of the great king. – Hosea 8:10 NLT

God was going to bring King Sennacherib and all the forces of Assyria against His rebellious people. Their former ally would become their destroyer. The prophet Isaiah described with great detail what would happen and why.

…the people will still not repent.
    They will not seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Therefore, in a single day the Lord will destroy both the head and the tail,
    the noble palm branch and the lowly reed.
The leaders of Israel are the head,
    and the lying prophets are the tail.
For the leaders of the people have misled them.
    They have led them down the path of destruction. – Isaiah 8:13-16 NLT

It was not as if the people of Israel were irreligious. It was that they practiced the wrong religions and worshiped the wrong gods. They had altars all over Israel where they made sacrifices to their false gods in order to receive forgiveness for their sins. But God announces that every time the Israelites used these religious sites they were actually increasing their sin debt to Him.

Israel has built many altars to take away sin,
    but these very altars became places for sinning! – Hosea 8:11 NLT

They were only making matters worse. In worshiping other gods, they were actually breaking the law that God had given them. And God accuses them of acting “as if those laws don’t apply to them” (Hosea 8:12 NLT). In a sense, they had deemed themselves “above the law.”

What is amazing to consider is that the Israelites were still worshiping Yahweh all during this time. They had not completely abandoned Him but had simply added a whole litany of other gods to their religious activities. They had become syncretic, which simply means they had combined a variety of religious practices into one amalgamated concoction that was totally offensive to God.

Even when they offered sacrifices to God, they ended up violating His law to do so. They broke His command to abstain from eating meat that had been sacrificed. Instead, they consumed the meat with total disregard for God’s law. And God had had enough.

The people love to offer sacrifices to me,
    feasting on the meat,
    but I do not accept their sacrifices.
I will hold my people accountable for their sins,
    and I will punish them. – Hosea 8:13 NLT

God warns them that they are about to find themselves reliving the experience of their ancestors. He tells them that “They will return to Egypt” (Hosea 8:13 NLT). This was meant to recall the 400 years of slavery and oppression the Israelites had suffered in the land of Egypt. This generation would soon find themselves in their own “Egypt” but it would actually be the land of Assyria. God makes the clear in chapter 11.

“But since my people refuse to return to me,
    they will return to Egypt
    and will be forced to serve Assyria.” – Hosea 11:5 NLT

Because of their sin and rebellion, the formerly freed and redeemed people of God would become the enslaved people of God. They would reverse the journey of their ancestors, going from the land of promise to the land of captivity.

In the end, both Israel and Judah would be punished by God. They had acted as if God was unnecessary, building fine homes for themselves and constructing fortified cities to provide them with protection from their enemies. God points out these actions as evidence of their self-sufficiency and autonomy. They no longer needed Him. And now there were going to learn what life would be like without Him.

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

You Are My People

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
    I will answer the heavens,
    and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and they shall answer Jezreel,
23     and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
    and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
    and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:14-23 ESV

The holy and righteous God of Israel was going to punish His rebellious people for their sins against Him. Yet, as an expression of His grace and mercy, He would also redeem and restore them. He would keep His covenant commitment to them and fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham and to David. They would once again become a great and mighty nation, ruled over by a good and righteous king, a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). But these things would not happen as a result of Israel’s decision to repent and return to God. He would be the pursuer.

“I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.” – Hosea 2:14 NLT

Like a husband with a promiscuous wife, God would have to purposefully pursue His wayward people, seeking them out even as they suffered the consequences of their own sin. The prophet Ezekiel describes God’s relentless pursuit of His rebellious people and explains why He refuses to simply abandon them to their well-deserved punishment.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

Any hope the people of Israel had of experiencing redemption and restoration rested in the hands of God. He would have to be the one to pursue them and whoo them back to Himself. Even when they found themselves living in exile as a result of their sins, they would refuse to seek and serve Him. But He would never give up on them. Reminiscent of the days when the people of Israel lived as slaves in the land of Egypt, they would once again find themselves miraculously and graciously delivered by God. Their days of trouble would come to an end and they would once again enjoy the fruits of a restored relationship with Him.

God promises to “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15 ESV). That is a reference to a less-than-flattering scene from Israel’s past. Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. They had just enjoyed a rousing victory over the city of Jericho. But when they attempted to defeat the much smaller city of Ai, they failed miserably. The reason for their unexpected failure was the sin of one man: Achan. He had violated God’s commands by taking plunder from Jericho and hiding it in his tent. When Achan had been exposed as the guilty party, Joshua confronted him.

And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” – Joshua 7:24-25 NLT

In Hebrew, the word Achor means “trouble” or “disaster.” Achan’s sin had brought disaster upon the whole nation of Israel. On this site, Achan would suffer the consequences for his sin, along with his entire family.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

Now, God promises to lead His people back from their exile and, this time, when they pass through the “Valley of Trouble,” it will become a gateway to hope. They will enter the land of promise once again, where they will enjoy the goodness and graciousness of their loving God. But this future day will be like none other. It will feature a restored creation where the animal kingdom and humanity experience an Eden-like existence, with all animosity and fear having been removed. It will be a time of unprecedented peace between the nations of the world. But most importantly, it will be a day when Israel will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God. He promises to restore them and return them to their former place of prominence as His chosen possession.

“I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.
I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord.” – Hosea 2:19-20 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah also recorded a remarkable promise of God, outlining His future plan to restore the people of Israel to their homeland.

“I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.” – Jeremiah 32:37-41 NLT

While God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land after their exile in Babylon, the majority of these promises remain unfulfilled. These passages all speak of a yet-future day when God will miraculously restore His chosen people to the land and reestablish their covenant relationship with Him.

“At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites
    and raise them for myself.
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’” – Hosea 2:23 NLT

Centuries have passed since Hosea recorded these words, and their fulfillment remains to be seen. Even when Jesus appeared on the scene, declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, His words and His works were rejected by His own people. They refused to recognize Him as their rightful King and Savior. But there is a day when Jesus will return to the earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will rule and reign for a thousand years. And in that Kingdom, He will rule over a restored remnant of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. At that time, every promise of God will be fully fulfilled and the words recorded in Hosea will come to pass.

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 Light On the Horizon

22 And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor. 23 Now when all the captains and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite. 24 And Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck down Gedaliah and put him to death along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. – 2 Kings 25:22-30 ESV

The scene in Jerusalem was one of utter destruction and devastation. The once-formidable walls of the city had been reduced to rubble. The massive doors that stood at the gates into Jerusalem had been torn from their hinges and burned. The homes of both the rich and the poor had been destroyed, leaving the city virtually uninhabitable. Even the king’s royal palace had been ransacked and turned into a smoldering ruin. And the Babylonians had not spared the house of God either. It had become a place of refuge for many trying to flee from the bloodthirsty Babylonians, but they found no help or hope within the walls of the temple they had long neglected.

The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. – 2 Chronicles 36:17 NLT

The grand house that Solomon had constructed, the long-standing symbol of God’s presence and power among His people, was desecrated and then destroyed.

The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God… – 2 Chronicles 36:18 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise to the people of Judah. On the very day that Solomon had consecrated the newly opened temple, God had warned him:

“I have answered your prayer and your request for help that you made to me. I have consecrated this temple you built by making it my permanent home; I will be constantly present there. You must serve me with integrity and sincerity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons ever turn away from me, fail to obey the regulations and rules I instructed you to keep, and decide to serve and worship other gods, then I will remove Israel from the land I have given them, I will abandon this temple I have consecrated with my presence, and Israel will be mocked and ridiculed among all the nations. This temple will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by it will be shocked and will hiss out their scorn, saying, ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple?’ Others will then answer, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God, who led their ancestors out of Egypt. They embraced other gods whom they worshiped and served. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster down on them.’” – 2 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

More than three-and-a-half centuries had passed since God had issued that warning to King Solomon. And during that time, the majority of the kings of Judah had chosen to abandon Yahweh for the false gods of the nations around them. They had led the nation into idolatry and apostasy and now, as the people of Judah made their way in chains to Babylon, they could look over their shoulders and see the fiery fulfillment of God’s words to Solomon.

As Nebuchadnezzar and his forces departed Judah, they left a destroyed city and decimated populace behind.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

And he appointed a man named Gedaliah as governor over the greatly diminished and demoralized citizenry of Jerusalem. There would no longer be a king to rule over Judah. Gedaliah was a Jew, but not a descendant of Solomon. He had no royal blood and would wield no kingly authority. He served at the behest of Nebuchadnezzar and was under the watchful eye of the ever-present Babylonian garrison. His was a thankless job that was more managerial than magisterial. And in time, he would come to be seen as nothing more than a puppet of the occupying Babylonian forces.

The commanders of Judah’s army who had fled from the city of Jerusalem when the walls were breached, returned when they heard that Gedaliah had been appointed governor. But they didn’t like the pro-Babylonian rhetoric that Gedaliah was spouting.

Gedaliah vowed to them that the Babylonian officials meant them no harm. “Don’t be afraid of them. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well for you,” he promised. – 2 Kings 25:24 NLT

This compromising stance would ultimately cost Gedaliah his life. One of the former military commanders, a man named Ishmael, orchestrated the assassination of Gedaliah. It’s not exactly clear what Ishmael had hoped to accomplish by the murder of the Babylonian-appointed governor. But it seems obvious that this was an act of rebellion against the occupying forces. Along with Gedaliah and his Jewish officials, Ishmael murdered members of the Babylonian garrison, and this resulted in a swift reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael’s attempt to drive the Babylonians out of Judah backfired on him. Instead, “all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them” (2 Kings 25:26 NLT).

This scene is intended to convey a strong sense of irony. The disobedient people of God were returning to the very place from which He had free them centuries earlier. While some of their friends and family members had been deported to Babylon as slaves, this remnant of God’s chosen people would seek refuge in the land where their forefathers had been captives for more than 400 years.

Once again, all of this had been predicted by God. Centuries earlier, as the people of Israel stood on the shore of the River Jordan, preparing to enter the land of promise, God had given them a word of warning through Moses. He had told them that if they would faithfully obey Him, they would experience His blessings. But if they chose to disobey God, Moses warned them that they would experience “long-lasting afflictions and severe, enduring illnesses. He will infect you with all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will persistently afflict you. Moreover, the Lord will bring upon you every kind of sickness and plague not mentioned in this scroll of commandments, until you have perished” (Deuteronomy 28:59-61 NLT).

And Moses had been very specific when outlining the devastating nature of the curses they would encounter should they failed to “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 NLT).

The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. Among those nations you will have no rest, nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” – Deuteronomy 28:64-68 NLT

Some 850 years after God had redeemed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, a remnant of their still rebellious descendants would return. But it’s interesting to note that these poor disheveled exiles will find no hope in Egypt. They won’t even be able to sell themselves as slaves. They will become paupers and aliens living outside the land of promise and under the curse of the God they had chosen to reject.

But despite all the dire imagery portrayed in this closing chapter of the book of 2 Kings, there is a silver lining on the dark cloud of Judah’s history. The author ends his book with a new king ascending to the throne of Babylon. These closing verses seem to be a mirror image of the scene found in the book of Genesis that preceded Israel’s 400-year enslavement in Egypt. Exodus 1:8 records, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This new Pharaoh came to power and, having no first-hand knowledge of Joseph and the people of Israel, decided that they were a threat to his administration. So, he launched a campaign to afflict and enslave them. This would lead to four centuries worth of unprecedented misery and maltreatment.

But when Evil-merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar as the ruler over the Babylonian empire, he made a decision to release King Jehoiachin of Judah from his enslavement. He released him from prison and “spoke kindly to Jehoiachin and gave him a higher place than all the other exiled kings in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:28 NLT). For the remainder of his life in Babylonian, Jehoiachin lived like a king. He was given royal robes to wear and allowed to dine at Evil-merodach’s table.

But why is this important? Because it foreshadows something highly significant. Back in the book that bears his name, the prophet Jeremiah pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin, who was also known as Coniah.

“Why is this man Jehoiachin like a discarded, broken jar?
    Why are he and his children to be exiled to a foreign land?
O earth, earth, earth!
    Listen to this message from the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’”– Jeremiah 22:28-30 NLT

And yet, if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find the following words in his genealogy of Jesus.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:11-16 NLT

Here, in the genealogy of Jesus, we find the name of the Jehoiachin. The very man who was told that none of his children would succeed him as king is listed as a progenitor of the King of kings. Of Jehoiachin’s seven sons, not one of them would ascend to the throne of David. But Jesus would. God would graciously reverse the curse, producing a royal heir who would reign in righteousness and deliver His people from their enslavement to sin and death.

Notice one more name in the lineage of Jesus: Zerubbabel. This descendant of Jehoiachin would later become the governor of Judea when the exiles returned from their captivity in Babylon. And the prophet Haggai would pronounce a blessing on Zerubbabel that foreshadowed a great reversal of fortunes for the people of God.

“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:21-23 NLT

The book of 2 Kings ends on a positive note because God’s will concerning the people of Israel was far from done. The story of the redemption of His chosen people and the restoration of the world He created was not yet over. The Messiah, the Savior of the world, would one day come. And His arrival would usher in a new day and a new hope for the people of God and the nations of the world.

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 Inescapable, Unavoidable Will of God

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 

1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. – 2 Kings 23:28-24:4 ESV

In his ongoing attempt to redeem the spiritual soul of the nation, King Josiah had bitten off more than he could chew. His many reforms and his ongoing battle against idolatry and apostasy were more than enough to keep him busy. But as the king of a powerful nation, he also had the responsibility to keep abreast of all the military and political machinations taking place in the region. At his point in history, the Assyrians were still the dominant force in the region, but the Babylonians were beginning to exert their formidable influence. They were an up-and-coming superpower that posed a real threat to Assyria’s global empire.

Josiah received word that the Egyptian army was on its way to Carchemish on the Euphrates River, where they were to join Assyrian forces in a battle against the upstart Babylonians. For some reason, Josiah made the fateful decision to oppose this military alliance between Egypt and Assyria.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” – 2 Chronicles 23:20-21 NLT

Perhaps Josiah was hoping that the Babylonians would bring an end to Assyria’s longstanding stranglehold on the region. Long after the Assyrians had called off their siege of Jerusalem, they remained a constant threat to Judah. So, Josiah rallied his troops and intercepted the Egyptian army as it made its way to Carchemish. But King Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, warned Josiah not to interfere, claiming to have a divine mandate from God.

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. – 2 Chronicles 23:22 NLT

Josiah refused to believe that Yahweh was behind this unholy alliance between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. He couldn’t see any reason why God would direct the pagan king of the Egyptians to join forces with the already powerful and deadly kingdom of Assyrian. It made no sense. But Josiah failed to understand that God was orchestrating His sovereign will and raising up the nation of Babylon as His agent of judgment against Assyria for its role in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And Josiah was also unaware that God was preparing to use Babylon to destroy the nation of Judah.

Ignorant of God’s plans, King Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands and led his troops into battle against the Egyptians. They intercepted the Egyptian army at a place called Megiddo and in the ensuing battle, King Josiah was killed. The author of 2 Kings states that “Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29 ESV). But in 2 Chronicles 35, we’re told that Josiah had disguised himself. It seems that Josiah’s little ploy to hide his kingly identity failed. King Neco recognized Josiah instantly and ordered his death.

But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!” – 2 Chronicles 35:23 NLT

The wounded king was placed in another chariot and returned to the city of Jerusalem, where he died. After giving their fallen king a state funeral, the people chose Jehoahaz as his replacement. This choice seems a bit odd because Jehoahaz was Josiah’s middle son and, therefore, not the next in line to the throne. But it seems that the people were looking for a king who would bring back the old way of life to which they had grown accustomed. They missed the days of Manasseh and were regretting all the reforms that Josiah had instituted in Judah. So, they chose the son of Josiah who represented their best chance at bringing back the good old days. And it appears that picked just the right man for the job.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:32 NLT

But Jehoahaz’s reign would be short-lived. The people failed to take into account that King Neco might have something to say about who took Josiah’s place on the throne of Judah. Just three months into his reign, Jehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh and taken captive to Egypt, where he died. Neco filled the vacancy with Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. This young man became little more than a vassal to the Pharaoh and was forced to make an annual tribute payment to the Egyptians. To do this, he imposed a debilitating tax on the people of Judah. The prophet provides a brief but sobering summary of the sad state of affairs in the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of Josiah.

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss.
    Instead, weep for the captive king being led away!
    For he will never return to see his native land again.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:10-12 NLT

With Josiah’s death, the period of reformation in Judah came to an abrupt end. He had been the heart and soul behind all the changes that had taken place. And without him, the people would revert to their old ways. Virtually overnight, the conditions in Judah took a dramatic turn for the worse. Judah was now a vassal state, ruled by a puppet king who answered to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah’s attempt to stop the Egyptians from joining forces with the Assyrians had failed. In 605 BC, just four years after Josiah’s death, these two armies would be defeated by the Babylonians at the Battle of Carchemish. This unexpected victory by the Babylonians over the Egyptians and Assyrians would prove to be a game-changing event in the history of the middle east. It was catapult Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, into the role of the most powerful ruler on earth. With his defeat of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar took over all the lands they had conquered, dramatically increasing the size and influence of his empire.

Eventually, the Babylonians would rest control of Judah from the hands of King Neco of Egypt. And Jehoiakim would find himself answering to yet another, more powerful, king. But as we will see, Jehoiakim will try to resist his new overlord, refusing to submit to his authority. Like his father, Josiah, Jehoiakim fails to see the sovereign hand of God behind all that is taking place. He is short-sighted in his outlook, and intent on making the most of his less-than-ideal circumstances. And the prophet Jeremiah records God’s stinging condemnation of Jehoiakim’s arrogant and self-centered approach to leadership.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

Unlike his reform-minded father, Jehoiakim had no heart for God. He was a self-obsessed man who used his power and position to improve his own lot in life while allowing the nation of Judah to continue its slide into apostasy. When Neco was forced to abandon his hold on Judah, Jehoiakim saw it as an opportunity to assert his independence. But he failed to understand the gravity of his situation. He had no clue that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had been chosen by God to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. In attempting to resist the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was actually opposing the will of God. And he would pay dearly for his obstinance. For three years, God would send the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites against the rebellious nation of Judah. And the author leaves no doubt as to the purpose behind these raids.

These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh. – 2 Kings 24:3 NLT

Little did Jehoiakim know that he was facing the beginning of the end. The coming judgment of Judah was imminent and unavoidable.

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

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

19 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 20 And the time that Jeroboam reigned was twenty-two years. And he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his place.

21 Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city that the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. His mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonite. 22 And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built for themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 24 and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.

25 In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. 26 He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made, 27 and King Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the officers of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house. 28 And as often as the king went into the house of the Lord, the guard carried them and brought them back to the guardroom.

29 Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 30 And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually. 31 And Rehoboam slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. His mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonite. And Abijam his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 14:19-31 ESV

From this point forward, the author is going to provide a side-by-side chronology of the two kingdoms, alternating his focus from one kingly line to the other. The kingdom over which David and Solomon once reigned has been officially and permanently divided, creating two nations that will each mirror the excesses and exigencies of their rebellious leaders.

He begins with a short recap of Jeroboam’s reign over the ten northern tribes, which become known as the nation of Israel. Notice that the author refers to the wars that Jeroboam had to fight. Unlike Solomon, Jeroboam would not have the pleasure of ruling over a kingdom characterized by peace and prosperity. His entire 22-year reign would be marked by constant wars and territorial conflicts. The land that God had awarded to the ten tribes as their inheritance would become a place of turmoil and unrest. And the pagan nations that had once occupied the land would once again assert themselves and pose a persistent threat to Israel’s peace and security. But two decades into his reign Jeroboam died, and his son Nadab assumed the throne of Israel.

Meanwhile, in the south, Rehoboam the son of Solomon ruled over the nation of Judah. He sat on the throne of his father in the city of Jerusalem, but the extent of his domain had been drastically reduced. He ruled over a single tribe: That of Judah. And he did so from “the city the Lord had chosen from among all the tribes of Israel as the place to honor his name” (1 Kings 14:21 NLT). This somewhat innocuous line is actually intended to stress the dramatically altered fortunes of Judah and its king. God had graciously allowed Solomon to construct a house for Him in the capital city of Jerusalem. The magnificent temple that Solomon spent nearly eight years constructing was meant to be the dwelling place of God on earth, and God had agreed to honor this man-made structure by allowing it to be associated with His name.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

But God had gone on to warn Solomon that this honor was conditional. If he and the people failed to remain faithful to their covenant commitment, the glorious temple would fail to protect them from the judgment of God.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. …But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror.” – 1 Kings 9:4-8 NLT

But Solomon had failed to live up to his end of the agreement. He allowed his love for his 1,000 forbidden foreign wives and concubines to turn his heart away from God. He became an idol worshiper and ordered the construction of countless shrines and holy sites dedicated to these false gods, which led to the apostasy of the people of Israel. And, ultimately, that is what led to the split of his kingdom. But Solomon’s acts of spiritual adultery would pale in comparison to those of his son. Rehoboam’s 17-years of misguided leadership would end up causing the nation of Judah to abandon the one true God for a pantheon of false gods and immoral religious practices.

During Rehoboam’s reign, the people of Judah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, provoking his anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors. For they also built for themselves pagan shrines and set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. There were even male and female shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. – 1 Kings 14:22-24 NLT

While the house of God sat in Jerusalem, the people occupied themselves by offering sacrifices at the countless pagan shrines dotting the landscape of Judah. There were literally Asherah poles “on every high hill and under every green tree.” In other words, they were everywhere. Asherah was a female fertility god worshiped by the Syrians, Phoenicians, and many other nations that once called Canaan home. While Rehoboam was king, he encouraged the people to resurrect the gods and religious rituals of the land’s former inhabitants. In essence, he promoted spiritual regression. He led the people to adopt the false gods of the very same nations that had once occupied the land. And years earlier, Moses had clearly communicated God’s will concerning these pagan nations and their false gods.

You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the Lord your God has commanded you. This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:17-18 NLT

But hundreds of years later, Rehoboam was reviving the “detestable customs” and causing the people to “sin deeply against the Lord.” Judah had become a hotbed of religious syncretism and moral relativism. They even instituted the use of sexual promiscuity as a feature of their worship, utilizing male and female cult prostitutes as priests and priestesses. Nothing was off-limits. And the commands of God became little more than divine suggestions, up to interpretation and easily ignored.

But God was not going to tolerate their unbridled and unapologetic actions. In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s 17-year reign, God sent the Egyptians to mete out His judgment against the rebellious and unrepentant people of Judah.

King Shishak of Egypt came up and attacked Jerusalem. He ransacked the treasuries of the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace; he stole everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made. – 1 Kings 14;23-24 NLT

Having heard the rumors concerning the grandeur of Solomon’s temple and the vast extent of his wealth, the Egyptian troops set their sites on these symbols of the nation’s prosperity. They ransacked the temple and royal palace, stealing everything and further diminishing Rehoboam’s status as a king. Now, not only was his domain a fraction of its former size, his financial net worth had been greatly reduced. So much so, that he didn’t have enough capital to replace the golden shields his father had commissioned. He was forced to manufacture cheaper replicas made of bronze.

And his fortunes did not improve. Even after the Egyptians had returned home, Rehoboam found himself in a constant civil war with King Jeroboam and the ten northern tribes. Twelve years later, at the age of 58, Rehoboam died and his son took his place as the king of Judah. And with this transition of power, a sad and recurring pattern begins to emerge. With each succeeding generation, each king will bequeath to his heir not only his throne but his propensity for sin, creating a seemingly unbroken chain of ever-increasing rebellion against God.

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

Divided Allegiance

1 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 1 Kings 3:1-4 ESV

Chapter two ended with the words, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV). He had successfully completed his purging of those who had played a part in the failed coup attempt that would have robbed him of his right to the throne. He had also kept his father’s dying wish and brought to justice a small list of individuals whom David had declared worthy of judgment.

But the opening verses of chapter 3 provide a change in tone and purpose to the historical narrative. David has died, and the reign of his son has begun. The last vestiges of David’s influence have been removed, and Solomon has the opportunity to begin his rule on his own terms. And it’s interesting to note that the author records as Solomon’s first official act as king an alliance he made with the Egyptians. The Pharaoh of Egypt sealed their agreement by giving Solomon the hand of his daughter in marriage.

The matter-of-fact manner in which this news is conveyed gives the impression that it was nothing more than an official act of business on the part of the royal administration. Making treaties and alliances were a necessary part of being a king. And marital alliances were commonplace among the nations of the world at that time. But there is something ominous and prophetic about the news of Solomon’s first official act as king. And any Jew who read this historical record would have recognized it.

Long before Israel had a king, God had provided His chosen people with a list of prohibitions concerning the behavior of any man who would rule over them. He knew that the kingly role would come with all kinds of temptations and snares. The power and prestige that accompanied the crown would prove to be addictive and dangerous. So, God provided His people with non-negotiable rules that were to govern and regulate the actions of the kings of Israel.

“You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-17 NLT

As a precautionary measure, God commanded that any man who ruled as king over Israel was to have a personal copy of the Mosaic Law, which he was to read from daily. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:21 NLT).

And notice that the king was prohibited from accumulating all the normal trappings of kingly success. All Israelite kings were to be different, refusing to model their administration on the nations around them. Stables filled with fine horses, treasuries overflowing with great wealth, and palaces full of wives and concubines were off-limits to the kings of Israel. And notice that God forbade His kings from doing any business with Egypt, even denying them the right to buy horses from their former enemies. And yet, one of the first decisions Solomon made as king was to make a deal with Pharoah that would set a dangerous precedence for his reign.

While the author provides no immediate commentary regarding Solomon’s actions, he will later reveal the sinister and infectious nature of this decision.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

There is something foreboding in the statement that Solomon “brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem” (1 Kings 3:1 ESV). One of his very first acts as king was to bring this foreign-born, pagan princess into the city of David, where her presence would have a profound impact on not only him but also on the entire kingdom. Solomon had not even taken the time to build a palace. He had not yet constructed the temple for Yahweh for which his father had provided the funding. And he had taken no action toward expanding and protecting the city of Jerusalem through the construction of defensive walls.

But the author clearly states that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1 Kings 3:3 ESV). Yet, it will become increasingly more obvious that Solomon suffered from divided allegiances. Notice the important contrast between 1 Kings 3:3 and 1 Kings 11: 1:

Solomon lived the Lord…

King Solomon loved many foreign wives…

God had warned that any king who accumulated many wives for himself would run the risk of having his heart turned away from the Lord. His love for God would be distracted and diminished. And because Solomon had put a higher priority on making an alliance with Egypt than building a house for God, he ended up having to make offerings and sacrifices on the high places (1 Kings 3:3). As will become evident, many of these high places were actually the former sites of pagan shrines to false gods. The Israelites had repurposed them for the worship of Yahweh, but God had given Solomon the responsibility and privilege of constructing a permanent temple where all worship and sacrifices were to be made. David had provided Solomon with everything he needed to build the temple, from the construction plans to the financial resources to pay for it. And David had warned Solomon to make this task a high priority.

So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary—which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the Lord’s Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the Lord. The king also gave Solomon the instructions concerning the work of the various divisions of priests and Levites in the Temple of the Lord. And he gave specifications for the items in the Temple that were to be used for worship. – 1 Chronicles 28:10-13 NLT

But Solomon had established other priorities. He had chosen to align himself with Egypt, making what he believed would be an important treaty with a powerful foe. But in doing so, Solomon was placing his hope and trust in something other than God Almighty. Rather than building a house for God, Solomon went about building his kingdom – on his own terms and according to his own agenda.

The prophet Isaiah would later warn the people of Israel about their propensity to seek alliances with and assistance from Egypt.

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:1-2 NLT

Without even realizing it, Solomon was stepping outside the protective boundaries of God, and pursuing what he believed to be the best strategy for building his kingdom. But through it all, Solomon maintained a love and devotion for God, even offering thousands of sacrifices to Him on the high place in Gibeon. The book of 1 Chronicles provides us with the reason why Solomon chose Gibeon as the place to offer his sacrifices to God.

For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. – 1 Chronicles 21:29 ESV

This location had been designated by God. Formerly the site of a threshing floor, David had purchased it and transformed it into the primary worship center for the nation of Israel. And it would be at this important location that Solomon would receive a gracious and undeserved gift from God. Despite his impulsiveness and blatant disobedience to God’s commands, he would be given the one thing that would set his reign apart from all those who would come after him. And it would become the defining characteristic of his life. Solomon didn’t need more horses, wives, wealth, or treaties with his enemies. What he really needed was something only God could provide: Wisdom.

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 Righteous Acts of God

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
    and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” – Micah 6:1-5 ESV

There is a certain disequilibrium to the content of Micah’s book. One minute he is describing the glorious future God has in store for the people of Israel. Then, he suddenly shifts his focus back to the more pressing and much less pleasant topic of their pending judgment. This constant fluctuation in the mood of his message seems intended to create an imbalance in the minds of his audience. Their future would be bleak and yet, blessed. It would contain their much-deserved judgment but also their undeserved redemption and restoration. Micah seems determined to remind them of just how much their God longed to bless them. And one day, in the distant future, He would. But first, their repeated and unrepentant acts of wickedness would force God to curse them. They had been warned, but they failed to listen.

Now, after describing God’s future restoration of a remnant of His people, Micah returns to the more pressing problem of their guilt and pending judgment. He wants them to know that God is angry with them. This same God who plans to preserve, protect, and redeem a remnant of them has some strong words of condemnation to level against them.

Micah portrays a courtroom scene where Israel is the defendant, the mountains and hills serve as the jury, and God acts as the prosecuting attorney. The ancient mountains and hills are not unbiased members of the jury. Having stood for centuries, they had been silent observers of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unrelenting spiritual apostasy. If anything, the “enduring foundations of the earth” (Micah 6:2 ESV), would be able to validate and vindicate God’s indictment of His rebellious people.

God begins His opening arguments with a series of questions:

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me! – Micah 6:3 ESV

He demands an explanation for their actions. He wants to know what their excuse is for treating Him with contempt and dishonor. What had He done to deserve such disdain and disrespect? But God doesn’t wait for their answer because they don’t have one. In fact, He immediately provides a list of His accomplishments on their behalf.

“…I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam…” – Micah 6:4 ESV

God rewinds the clock and returns them to their days as slaves in Egypt, reminding them of the role He had played in their deliverance. He had been the one to redeem them. He had set them free from their 400 years of slavery and servitude. God had raised up leaders to guide them out of Egypt and all the way to the land of promise. The people of Israel owed their very existence to God. Everything that had happened in their past had been His doing. That included His protection of them during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. Along the way, they encountered enemies who would have destroyed them, but God had intervened. He had proven His faithfulness by guaranteeing their safety and security.

God recounts the time when He had protected them from the efforts of Balaam to curse them. In this particular instance, King Balak of Moab had secured the services of Balaam, a seer, and commanded him to pronounce a curse on the people of Israel.

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV

The people of Israel had made it all the way to the plains located on the eastern side of the Jordan River, just outside the land of promise. And they were completely oblivious to King Balak’s plans to curse and defeat them. But God had been watching out for them. And while they camped in the plains of Moab, oblivious to the sinister plot against them, God had stepped in and thwarted the plans of King Balak and Balaam.

Three separate times Balak had demanded that Balaam curse the people of Israel. And in all three cases, God forced Balaam to bless them instead. What Balak meant for evil, God had used for good. And the king of Moab was not happy with the outcome. Yet, when he confronted Balaam about his failure to curse the people of Israel, the seer could only say:

“Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak’?” – Numbers 24:12-13 ESV

All of this had taken place without the people of Israel even knowing their lives were in danger. They had been ignorant of Balak’s plans and Balaam’s repeated attempts to curse them. And they had not known that God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that His chosen people were blessed and not cursed.

Eventually, the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River, on their way to conquer the land of Canaan and secure their inheritance. And God recalls that momentous occasion when the people of Israel left their camp in Shittim, on the east side of the Jordan, crossed the river on dry ground, and set up their new camp in Gilgal on the west side of the river. The book of Joshua records the miraculous nature of that crossing and its spiritual significance for the Israelites.

“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:23-24 ESV

Effectively, God answers His own questions. What had He done to them? He had delivered, protected, and guided them. How had He wearied them? By asking them to fulfill their end of the covenant agreement. They had to walk across the Jordan River on dry ground. They had to obey His commands to enter the land and defeat its occupants so that they might enjoy the inheritance He had promised them. But everything He had asked them to do had been so that He might bless them. And God makes it clear that all of His actions on their behalf had been for one reason:

“…that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” – Micah 6:5 ESV

God had repeatedly and consistently proven Himself to be righteous. But they had proven themselves to be unrighteous, ungrateful, unholy, and undeserving of His grace and goodness. And, as a result, He was going to “contend” with them. The Hebrew word Micah used is yakach, and it means “to judge or decide.” God was not going to sit back and idly watch as His people continued to respond to His faithfulness with acts of unfaithfulness. He had repeatedly shown them His righteous acts. He had demonstrated for them just how righteous He was and He had always expected His chosen people to respond with acts of righteousness.

But as we will see in the following verses, God was expecting more from His people than some form of religious performance art. He was not interested in watching them continue to go through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious duties but with no passion or conviction. When God had said, “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT), He had meant it. He had set them apart from all the other nations of the earth so that they might reflect His character through their daily lives. God had made it perfectly clear that their status as His chosen people was intended to reflect His glory as their God.

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

They enjoyed the unique privilege of being His special treasure, but this undeserved position came with indisputable responsibilities. And, as the following verses will make clear, God’s people had failed to live up to God’s requirements.

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

Yet, I Will Wait Quietly

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.
16  I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:8-16 ESV

Habakkuk continues his recitation of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel, and his objective seems quite apparent. By recounting the various stories from Israel’s past that illustrate God’s power and sovereignty, Habakkuk is reminding himself and his readers that they have nothing to fear. Their God has a long and illustrious record of dominating victories over the natural order and human opposition.

He starts by describing God’s anger against the rivers and the sea. This is likely a reference to the Nile, the Jordan River, and the Red Sea. In all three cases, God had displayed His sovereign power over these bodies of water by performing miraculous acts of transformation. In the first of the plagues God brought against the Egyptians, He had commanded Moses to turn the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood.

In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 ESV

Habakkuk rhetorically asks, “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea…?” (Habakkuk 3:8 ESV). And the answer is, “No!” God was not displaying His wrath against the Nile, but He was using it as a way to display His unsurpassed power to the stubborn Egyptians and the reluctant Israelites. Moses had warned Pharaoh that, unless he released the people of Israel, their God would act on their behalf and the Egyptians would get a painful lesson concerning God’s power.

Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. – Exodus 7:17 ESV

But despite God’s display of power, Pharaoh proved resistant and continued to refuse the repeated requests of Moses to release the people of Israel. So, God brought another ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. And when the death of the firstborn finally forced Pharoah to reluctantly acquiesce and set the Israelites free, God had one more miracle in store that would finalize His redemptive plan for Israel. At the waters of the Red Sea, God provided another remarkable display of His sovereign power.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV

After Pharaoh had finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, they had made it as far as the Red Sea, when Pharaoh had another change of heart and sent his army to recapture them. When the Israelites became aware of their hopeless circumstance, “they feared greatly…and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 ESV). And then they complained to Moses, expressing their regret at having allowed him to convince them to leave Egypt. But Moses assured them that God was not done yet.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

And the salvation of God took the form of the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army with all its chariots. But not only that, God used those very same waters to destroy the Egyptians, bringing their 400 years of captivity and subjugation to a climactic end.

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. – Exodus 14:27-28 ESV

And Habakkuk, in recalling this fateful event in Israel’s history, points out that God had not been angry with the waters of the Red Sea, but He had simply used this natural barrier as a tool to accomplish His divine will for His chosen people. Habakkuk leaves not doubt as to God’s intent: “you were sending your chariots of salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:8 NLT).

And years later, God would repeat this miraculous event when the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, the eastern border of the land of Canaan. They had arrived when the river was at flood stage, creating a natural barrier the prevented them from crossing over into the land that God had provided as their inheritance. But, as always, God had a plan in place.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior, brandishing His bow and using the arrows from His quiver to split the earth with rivers” (Habakkuk 3:9 ESV). This imagery portrays God’s creation of the rivers and seas as an act of war, as He sovereignly ordained these natural resources to be part of His redemptive plan. He had placed each of them right where they were for a reason. He had divinely prepared them for the role they would play in the future salvation of Israel. And Habakkuk describes the rest of nature as spectators to God’s war-like creation of the rivers and seas.

The mountains watched and trembled.
    Onward swept the raging waters.
The mighty deep cried out,
    lifting its hands in submission.
The sun and moon stood still in the sky
    as your brilliant arrows flew
    and your glittering spear flashed. – Habakkuk 3:10-11 NLT

Habakkuk personifies the mountains, and even the planets, as silent witness to God’s actions, reacting with appropriate awe and fear at what they see. In Habakkuk’s creative representation of God’s redemptive work, He pictures the Almighty as a powerful warrior making His way across the landscape, leaving a wake of destruction in His path, as He rescues His anointed ones from their enemies.

You marched across the land in anger
    and trampled the nations in your fury.
You went out to rescue your chosen people,
    to save your anointed ones.
You crushed the heads of the wicked
    and stripped their bones from head to toe. – Habakkuk 3:12-13 NLT

This imagery had to have put a smile on Habakkuk’s face. Faced with the dismal circumstances taking place in Judah, and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk relished the idea of God wreaking havoc on their enemies.

In recalling God’s defeat of the Egyptians at the waters of the Red Sea, Habakkuk found the comfort and encouragement he needed to face his current circumstances. Yes, all looked lost. The enemy was bearing down on them. It appeared that they had no way of escape. And yet, there was always hope when God was involved.

With his own weapons,
    you destroyed the chief of those
who rushed out like a whirlwind,
    thinking Israel would be easy prey.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    and the mighty waters piled high. – Habakkuk 3:14-15 NLT

All those years ago, the Egyptians had showed up with their chariots and horses, ready to defeat and recapture the helpless Israelites. But things did not turn out as expected.

The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:23-25 ESV

God used their weapons against them. The wheels of their heavy chariots became bogged down in the mud. Trapped by the muck and the mire, their horses unable to move, the Egyptians were little more than sitting ducks. They had trampled the sea with their horses, but God had piled high the mighty waters. And then, the “waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28 ESV).

And when the waters had receded, the Israelites discovered that their great God had delivered a mighty victory.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. – Exodus 14:30 ESV

And Habakkuk describes himself as being visibly shaken by his recollection of God’s past deliverance of His people. If God could do it then, Habakkuk knew God could do it again.

I trembled inside when I heard this;
    my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
    and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 NLT

His confidence in God restored, Habakuk expresses his willingness to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Rather than being dismayed at the circumstances facing Judah, Habakkuk trembled at the thought of what God would one day do on their behalf.

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