Faith Rather Than Fear

27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV

Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid.

Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” – Exodus 2:14 ESV

Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about Moses’ crime,  he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Yet, the Hebrews account states, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.”

Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides the answers. Yes, Moses was afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about his predicament and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews 11, he had already made plans to go to Midian; not out of fear, but out of faith.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately assume that Moses was in fear for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh would have him captured and killed. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).

So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God.

He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27b NLT

Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land of Canaan. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God put that part of His plan into action. And when God finally did decide to act, Moses would be surprised to discover that He was God’s choice to set the plan into motion.

The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).

God knew their plight, and He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing for the last 40 years. The flight of Moses to Midian had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, He had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role.

But God had other plans. He was still going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author described faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of the One he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever wishes to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV

Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh, and it was a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he returned, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith, he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty.

To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind.  He was forced to begin a new life. He left looking like an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19) but upon his return, he appeared as a Hebrew prophet and the personal spokesman for God.

His 40-year exile in Midian proved to be little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. Yahweh was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: Moses.

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Yet For All That…

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. Leviticus 26:40-46 ESV

The final judgment the people of Israel will face for breaking their covenant commitment with God will be their defeat by a foreign power and their expulsion from the land. It was during their captivity in Egypt that they had become a nation, and God had led them out of Egypt and was in the process of leading them to their promised land. Yet, at their temporary camp at the base of Mount Sinai, God was warning them about their need to remain faithful and keep the covenant He had made with them. If they failed to do so, they would end up the way they began – as captives in a foreign land. God would keep His promise to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, but they would be required to walk in His statutes and observe all His commandments (Leviticus 26:3). As long as they were faithful, Yahweh would continue to dwell among them and provide for and protect them.

Yet, God made it perfectly clear that their future would be filled with pain and suffering if they chose to disobey Him. He had set them apart as His own, but they were going to have to live up to that preferred status. Their behavior would need to come in line with the expectations of Yahweh. All the blessings and benefits that came with being God’s treasured possession came with conditions. There was a commitment and a cost to being God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

One of the greatest points of difference between Israel and all the other nations on earth was to be their behavior. God’s commandments provided His people with a blueprint for living as His set-apart people. The Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant contained all the rules and requirements that would regulate their lives and separate them from the rest of fallen humanity. The Israelites were no different than any other people group on the planet. They were just as sin-prone and wired to pursue self-reliance. Yet, God had set them apart to live in communion with Him. But to do so, they would need to live in compliance with His holy and righteous laws. If they did, they would reflect His nature and honor His name among the pagan nations of the world.

But as this chapter has shown, if they failed to keep His commands, their actions would be seen as an act of rebellion and a personal affront to the character of God. Rather than honoring God through their obedience, they would bring shame to His name by treating His laws with contempt. And God swore to bring judgment upon His covenant people if they persisted in violating their covenant commitment.

“…if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you…” – Leviticus 26:15-16 NLT

But as harsh as God’s punishments would be, His grace would never fail, and His covenant commitment would remain firm. Despite their future rebellion, God would not abandon or forsake them. There was one last condition that would dictate the fate of God’s people. Verse 40 opens with two simple words: “But if….”  They begin a conditional statement that outlines what God will do in response to an action on the part of His exiled people.

This section fast-forwards to the future when God’s people are living in adverse conditions in a foreign land because of their refusal to keep His commands. It is a time of great suffering and sorrow.

“You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:38-39 NLT

Yet despite those desperate conditions, God provides His people with a glimmer of hope. If they will only confess their sins and humble themselves before Him, He will remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not as if God will somehow forget what He promised to the patriarchs and need to be reminded. It is that He will hear their confession, see their humility, and renew His commitment to do all that He had promised to do. Their time in exile will function as a temporary delay in God’s covenant commitment. His blessings will be put on hold but He will remain firmly committed to keeping His covenant promises.

What is interesting to note is God’s promise to remember the land. During their time in exile, the land will go fallow and unattended. With no one to occupy them, many of the cities and villages will become virtual ghost towns. Fields will go unplowed and cultivated. Vineyards will return to their wild and untended states. But this imagery is in keeping with God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. When the people finally occupied the land of Canaan, they were commanded to set apart every seventh year as a time to allow the land to rest.

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” – Leviticus 25:3-5 ESV

This law was just as binding as any other, but it seems that the Israelites failed to honor this command during their time in the land of Canaan. And God later warned the Israelites that their disobedience to all His commands would result in their expulsion from the land.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:8-11 ESV

This future judgment is in perfect alignment with the warning God issued in Leviticus 26:33. He had predicted their failure to obey and had warned of the ramifications. And in the book of 2 Chronicles, we have recorded the fulfillment of these prophecies.

He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. – 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 ESV

For more than 490 years, the Israelites failed to keep God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. They refused to allow the land to rest, choosing instead to treat that year just like any other year, plowing, cultivating, and harvesting as they always did. Ignoring God’s command, they decided to do what they deemed best, greedily gathering as much produce as they could and, in doing so, revealing their unwillingness to view God as their ultimate source of provision.

So, God decrees that the land will rest for 70 years and “enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes” (Leviticus 26:43 ESV). The land will rest while they suffer unrest. God’s land will be restored while God’s people endure hardship.

But when they finally come to an end of themselves and bow in humility before God, confessing their sins and crying out for deliverance, God promises to restore them as well.

“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out, for I am the Lord their God. For their sakes I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 26:44-45 NLT

Seven decades of suffering will be followed by forgiveness, restoration, and renewal. Despite their serial unfaithfulness, God will redeem His people from captivity yet again and return them to the land of Canaan. It was a God-ordained famine that led Jacob and his family to seek refuge in Egypt, and it was there that God transformed them into a mighty nation, causing Pharaoh to enslave them in an attempt to control them. But God heard their cries and delivered them from their suffering. He eventually led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as Leviticus 26 predicts, God’s people would eventually suffer a spiritual famine, failing to nourish themselves on the blessings of God and choosing instead to feast on the tempting but malnourished delights of the world. And their decision to reject the food of God as revealed in the law of God would result in the judgment of God. But their actions would never negate the promises of God.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

And Now, the Bad News

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. Leviticus 26:14-39 ESV

After having listed the manifold blessings that accompany obedience, God now addresses the less attractive topic of divine discipline for disobedience. In these verses, God provides a five-stage outline of how things will turn out for His people should they refuse to remain faithful to Him, and the list of potential judgments is grim and intended to deter them from considering disobedience as a course of action. God wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation. He had set them apart as His chosen people and made a binding covenant with them.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

This agreement between God and His people sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, was conditional in nature. In other words, it was binding and required the full compliance of both parties. Through their obedience to His covenant conditions, the Israelites would be guaranteed their status as God’s chosen people and assured of ongoing presence, power, and provision.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then…I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” – Leviticus 26:3, 11-12 ESV

But the people needed to know that there was a potential downside to this covenant that they had so eagerly ratified (Exodus 19:8). Failure to keep all the conditions of the covenant came with serious consequences, and the list of judgments God describes in these verses goes from bad to worse. It will begin with divine attacks on their bodies in the form of “wasting diseases” and assaults by their enemies that will leave them defeated and demoralized. Other nations will plunder their crops and treat the Israelites as little more than slaves. The land that God had given the Israelites as their inheritance would no longer provide for their needs. Instead, it would fall into the hands of their enemies, leaving God’s people defeated and destitute.

Continued rebellion will result in drought and famine, “making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze” (Leviticus 26:19 NLT). Rain will be withheld and crops will cease to grow. The fruitfulness of the land of promise will become a distant and fading memory. And yet God forewarns His people that this judgment will not produce repentance and obedience. Despite all that they suffer, they will continue to spurn His calls to obey, forcing Yahweh to punish them “seven times over” (Leviticus 26:18 NLT) for their sins. God vows to break their proud spirit and bring them to their knees. Yet, God predicts that His people will prove to be stubborn and unwilling to give up their rebellious ways. That will usher in the next phase of their punishment.

I will send wild animals that will rob you of your children and destroy your livestock. Your numbers will dwindle, and your roads will be deserted. – Leviticus 26:22 NLT

The creation itself will turn against God’s people. Not only will they face the threat of enemy attacks, but wild animals will rise up against them. Their lawlessness will result in chaos. No one will be safe. The first judgments primarily affected the fruit of their fields, but this punishment will target the fruit of the womb: Their children.

To grasp the full effect of this judgment, one must understand that God has always called His people to “be fruitful and multiply.” It was the command given to Adam and Eve and passed down to Noah and his sons. And while the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, God had miraculously multiplied their number. But now, God was warning them that because of disobedience, they could expect to see their number diminish. As King Solomon would later record, children were to be seen as a gift from God.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward. – Psalm 127:3 ESV

But the Israelites needed to understand that their fruitfulness as a nation was directly tied to their faithfulness. At this point, it’s important to note what God said when He prepared to create man.

“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26 NLT

And God gave the first man and women a mandate:

“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:28 NLT

Now, in the case of His chosen people, God was warning that their fruitfulness and dominion over creation would come to an end should they choose to disobey His commands.

But God was far from done because He knew that His people would find it difficult to repent and return to Him. So, He outlines the next phase of His divine judgment. In response to their ongoing disobedience, God will get personally involved.

I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:24 NLT

God vows to deal with their rebellion on an intimate level, sending armies against them to mete out His divine judgment. If the people attempt to escape God’s wrath, they’ll only find themselves facing the devastation of a plague they can’t outrun. God’s judgment will be inescapable and unavoidable. God vows to inflict on the people of Israel what had been reserved for the nation of Egypt. This time, the plagues would be directed at God’s people, not their enemies. And God adds insult to injury by promising to destroy Israel’s food supply. No more protection. No more provision.

As the people of Israel heard Moses impart these dire warnings, they must have been dumbstruck and appalled at the severity of God’s words. But the worst was yet to come. In a foreshadowing of Israel’s less-than-stellar future, God predicts their stubbornness and obstinacy in the face of overwhelming judgment, and matter-of-factly states, “I will give full vent to my hostility” (Leviticus 26:28 NLT). And what He describes next is difficult to read and even harder to comprehend. Focusing His attention on the sin of idolatry, God promises to pour out His judgment with unfathomable and unrelenting fury. He describes Israelite cities filled with the destroyed altars of their false gods and the corpses of those who once worshiped them. Those left alive will have been taken captive by their enemies. But before their cities fell, the people of God would have resorted to cannibalism just to survive.

In the midst of their suffering and pain, the apostate people of Israel will attempt to call on God for rescue, but their efforts will prove too little, too late. He will not listen to their cries or accept their sacrifices for forgiveness and atonement. They will be forcibly removed from the land and returned to their former status as exiles and slaves. And God drops the final bombshell in His escalating prediction of future judgment.

“You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:38-39 NLT

God was serious. His call to obedience was not a suggestion but a command. His blessings were real and fully realizable, but they would require obedience. And if His people chose to break their covenant commitment, they needed to understand that the consequences were equally real and worse than anything they could ever imagine.

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Turning Sorrow Into Gladness

1 And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say:

What was your mother? A lioness!
    Among lions she crouched;
in the midst of young lions
    she reared her cubs.
And she brought up one of her cubs;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men.
The nations heard about him;
    he was caught in their pit,
and they brought him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.
When she saw that she waited in vain,
    that her hope was lost,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a young lion.
He prowled among the lions;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men,
and seized their widows.
    He laid waste their cities,
and the land was appalled and all who were in it
    at the sound of his roaring.
Then the nations set against him
    from provinces on every side;
they spread their net over him;
    he was taken in their pit.
With hooks they put him in a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon;
    they brought him into custody,
that his voice should no more be heard
    on the mountains of Israel.

10 Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard
    planted by the water,
fruitful and full of branches
    by reason of abundant water.
11 Its strong stems became
    rulers’ scepters;
it towered aloft
    among the thick boughs;
it was seen in its height
    with the mass of its branches.
12 But the vine was plucked up in fury,
    cast down to the ground;
the east wind dried up its fruit;
    they were stripped off and withered.
As for its strong stem,
    fire consumed it.
13 Now it is planted in the wilderness,
    in a dry and thirsty land.
14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots,
    has consumed its fruit,
so that there remains in it no strong stem,
    no scepter for ruling.

This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation. – Ezekiel 19:1-14 NLT

The people of Judah still held out hope that things would change. Even as they lived in forced exile in the land of Babylon, they kept dreaming that someone from the line of David would step up and deliver them from their oppression and restore the glory of Judah. In spite of all the warnings and prophecies of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others, they kept believing that things were going to turn around any minute. But God wanted them to know that their destruction was unavoidable and their restoration impossible – without His help.

So, He provided Ezekiel with the lyrics to a funeral dirge – a song of lament describing the final days of the once great nation of Judah. Ezekiel was to sing this sorrowful tune to mourn the final days of Judah. From God’s perspective, Judah was already as good as dead. There was little to no life left in them. There was no king waiting in the wings, ready to step up and deliver the nation from the hands of the Babylonians. Her kings had all been killed or taken captive. Zedekiah would prove to be the final monarch to sit on the throne of David and rule over the once-formidable nation. Their glory days were behind them because they had refused to honor God by honoring His right to rule over them as the sovereign King of the universe.

Israel had once been a powerful force in the region. Like a fierce lioness, she had prowled the land of Palestine surrounded by other powerful lions. She was “a lioness among lions” (Ezekiel 19:2 NLT).  She prospered in the midst of a hostile environment and even bore cubs, one of whom became a strong young lion who “learned to hunt and devour prey, and he became a man-eater” (Ezekiel 19:3 NLT). But that “lion” was captured and taken captive to the land of Egypt.

This is a clear reference to King Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah. As king, Josiah did not share his father’s love for God. Instead, he led the nation back into its former pattern of idolatry and immorality, which led God to forcibly remove him from the throne.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done.

Pharaoh Neco put Jehoahaz in prison at Riblah in the land of Hamath to prevent him from ruling in Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:31-33 NLT

There were plenty of people in Judah and even some of the exiles in Babylon who held out hope that God would restore Jehoahaz to the throne. But the prophet Jeremiah put that rumor to rest.

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 22:11-12 NLT

Judah, the lioness, bore other cubs to replace the one she lost. Jehoahaz was replaced by his brother Eliakim, who reigned for 11 years in Judah, thanks to the aid of the Egyptian monarch who had deposed his brother.

Pharaoh Neco then installed Eliakim, another of Josiah’s sons, to reign in place of his father, and he changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was taken to Egypt as a prisoner, where he died. – 2 Kings 23:24 NLT

Jehoiakim’s reign was also marked by idolatry and fraught with problems.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land of Judah. Jehoiakim surrendered and paid him tribute for three years but then rebelled. Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT

This “cub” eventually died and was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin. Ezekiel’s dirge picks up the story with Jehoiachin’s ascension to the throne.

“When the lioness saw
    that her hopes for him were gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and taught him to be a strong young lion. – Ezekiel 19:5 NLT

Like his brothers before him, Jehoiachin proved to be a royal disaster, and he suffered the same fate as his brother, Jehoahaz.

With hooks, they dragged him into a cage
    and brought him before the king of Babylon.
They held him in captivity,
    so his voice could never again be heard
    on the mountains of Israel. – Ezekiel 19:9 NLT

But instead of exile in Egypt, Jehoiachin was banished to the land of Babylon, where he would die an ignoble death.

Nebuchadnezzar led King Jehoiachin away as a captive to Babylon, along with the queen mother, his wives and officials, and all Jerusalem’s elite. He also exiled 7,000 of the best troops and 1,000 craftsmen and artisans, all of whom were strong and fit for war. Then the king of Babylon installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, as the next king, and he changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah. – 2 Kings 24:15-17 NLT

As Ezekiel sang the lyrics to his divinely inspired dirge, Zedekiah sat on the throne of David in Jerusalem., but he was little more than a vassal to King Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, there were still those who hoped this powerless and godless monarch would somehow rescue them from their Babylonian oppressors.

But this is where God begins to mix His metaphors and begins to refer to Judah as a fruitful vine.

“Your mother was like a vine
    planted by the water’s edge.
It had lush, green foliage
    because of the abundant water.
Its branches became strong—
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.
It grew very tall,
    towering above all others.
It stood out because of its height
    and its many lush branches.” – Ezekiel 19:10-11 NLT

Despite the nation’s track record of infidelity, God had allowed it to prosper and grow. But that was about to change. With unmistakable clarity, God predicts the coming fall of Judah.

“…the vine was uprooted in fury
    and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
    and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
    and was destroyed by fire.” – Ezekiel 19:12 NLT

The funeral song was a bit premature but not inaccurate. God knew the fate of Jerusalem and was letting Ezekiel in on the secret. And the book of 2 Kings describes exactly what happened when God finally destroyed the vine and its branches.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign. – 2 Kings 25:1-2 NLT

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6-7 NLT

The forces of Nebuchadnezzar showed no mercy. They completely ransacked the city, plundering everything of value and destroying all that they could not take with them to Babylon.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:8-10 NLT

With the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Judah would be complete. Ezekiel and his fellow exiles would be joined by tens of thousands of other displaced Judahites.

“…the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
    where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
    and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.” – Ezekiel 19:13-14 NLT

With the deportation of Zedekiah, there would be no king to sit on the throne of David. The fortunes of the once-great kingdom of Israel would reach an all-time low. And that would be ample reason for the people of Judah to mourn the loss of their former glory and status as God’s chosen people.

But when all else looks bleak and hopeless, there is always God. Even after their fall from grace, God would be there and completely aware of their weak and helpless condition. He knew that there was no one king left in the line of David to deliver them. But God would do what men could not do. He would eventually restore them to the land from which He had banished them. He would return a remnant to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah would help lead a small group of captives to the land where they would labor to restore the nation. And God would be the one to make it all possible.

In spite of all their sin and rebellion, God would one day show them mercy and grace, returning them to the land and restoring them as a nation. And while there would be no king to rule when they returned, God had plans for a King in waiting – His very own Son – who sits at His right hand in heaven and will one day return to the earth to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign in righteousness.

This song has a happy ending because God is faithful. All the sadness will be turned to joy. The darkness will be replaced by light. The hopelessness will be replaced with hope. The song of sadness will be replaced with shouts of joy.

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. – Psalm 95:1-3 NLT

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Vision of God’s Glory

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. – Ezekiel 1:4-14 ESV

It was while Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon, living near the Kebar River, that God came to visit him in a vision. Little did Ezekiel know that his role as a priest was about to be expanded to that of a prophet. A long way from home and far from the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Ezekiel was going to receive a vision and a commission from God Almighty.

Ezekiel would later describe this life-changing event in very intimate terms.

the hand of the Lord was upon me there – Ezekiel 3:22 ESV

…the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. – Ezekiel 8:1 ESV

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel in an unforgettable and virtually indescribable manner. This was no burning bush encounter like the one Moses experienced in the wilderness. Ezekiel was given a much more intense and comprehensive glimpse of the Almighty, and it began with a vision of what the dumbfounded prophet describes as four living beings.

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings – Ezekiel 1:4-5 NLT

One can only imagine Ezekiel’s shock as he witnessed these strange-looking apparitions appear before his eyes. The text does not reveal whether this bizarre vision took place while Ezekiel was awake or came upon him in the form of a dream. But the strange and surrealistic nature of what Ezekiel saw must have left him shaken and more than a bit scared.

A powerful thunderstorm suddenly appeared on the northern horizon, accompanied by lightning and brilliant light. This was no ordinary storm and that face was quickly confirmed by the sudden appearance of the four creatures. Ezekiel’s attempt to describe these bizarre beings reveals just extraordinary they were. He had never seen anything like them before and was at a loss as to how to describe them. To his eyes, they were an other-worldly amalgam of human and animal characteristics that were beyond belief.

At first glance, they appeared to be human but, upon closer examination, Ezekiel saw that they each had one head with four faces. “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT).

Ezekiel is given no explanation for this disturbing combination of facial features. But it would seem that each was meant to represent something significant about God’s creative order. Man was meant to be the apex of all the living creatures God created. The lion was the king of the beasts, the most powerful of all the wild animals. The ox was the most valuable of all the domesticated animals, a creature equipped with great strength and intelligence. And the eagle was considered the king of the skies, a majestic bird of prey whose keen vision and powerful talons made him a mighty hunter.

According to Ezekiel, these four-faced creatures each had four wings and human hands. They used one pair of wings to cover their bodies, while the other pair of wings were fully extended with the tips touching the wings of the creature next to them. It seems that the four creatures formed a square so that “each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around” (Ezekiel 1:9 NLT).

But even as mesmerizing as these creatures were, Ezekiel’s attention was drawn to something that appeared in the midst of them.

In the middle of the living beings was something like burning coals of fire or like torches. It moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. – Ezekiel 1:13 NET

It is difficult to ascertain whether this light emanated from the creatures themselves or from something else. But it seems as if the vision was meant to draw Ezekiel’s eye ever higher, exposing him to something far more significant than the creatures themselves. As fantastic as these heavenly beings appeared to be, they were not the focus of the vision. They were simply a preview of what was to come.

“These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

God was setting the stage for what was to come. These divine apparitions were meant to get the prophet’s attention and prepare him to receive the message God had in store for him. God could have just appeared to Ezekiel, but He chose to preface His appearance with a supernatural outpouring of signs that accentuated His power and glory. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel was being given a veritable light show designed to remind him of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.

The God of Israel was manifesting His presence in the midst of His exiled people. He had not forgotten or forsaken them. He had always promised to remember and redeem them, and He had communicated those intentions to the prophet Jeremiah.

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

As Ezekiel’s vision will make clear, God was still on His throne and fully in command of all that was going on in the world. The captivity of His chosen people had been part of His plan, and their future redemption would also come about just as He had promised. Ezekiel was being given a much-needed reminder of God’s glory and greatness so that he might receive, believe, and deliver God’s message for the helpless and hopeless living in exile in Babylon.

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

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Returned But Not Restored

1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. – Malachi 1:1 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate over the identity of the author of the book of Malachi. It would be simple to assume that the book bears the name of its author, but in Hebrew, “Malachi” is more of a title than a name. It means “my messenger.” The book itself contains no details regarding the author’s identity, providing no birthplace, ancestry, vocation, or tribal affiliation. Three of the gospel writers quote from Malachi 3:1 but do not reference Malachi by name (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27).

The Targum, an ancient Aramaic translation and paraphrase of the Old Testament, credited Ezra as the author of Malachi. But the Talmud, a Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, gave the honor of authorship to Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther (Esther 2:5-7). But the designation of either Ezra or Mordecai as the author of the book has garnered little validation or support over the centuries.

Another reason given for rejecting Malachi as the author of the book is the use of the Hebrew word, מַלְאָךְ (mal’āḵ), in chapter 3:1. It simply means “messenger” and seems intended as a wordplay on the title used in chapter one, verse one.

The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi (מַלְאָכִי mal’āḵî). – Malachi 1:1 ESV

While there remains no consensus as to the identity of the book’s author, there are still many biblical scholars who give the credit to an unknown man named Malachi. If he is not the author, the book of Malachi would be the first prophetic book in the Old Testament to be written anonymously, which seems highly unlikely.

But regardless of the author’s identity, the book claims to be a message from God to the people of Israel. Yet, a second problem arises when studying the book of Malachi: Its place in the timeline of Israelite history. There are no references to specific kings, historical figures, or datable events in the book, which makes it virtually impossible to establish an accurate idea of when it was written. The reader is left to determine a date based on inferences and implications garnered from the text itself. And the options that have been suggested range from as early as 538 B.C. to as late as 420 B.C.

Based on the content of the book, it is believed that Malachi, like Haggai and Zechariah, was a postexilic writing prophet. In verse 8 of chapter one, the term “governor” is actually the Persian word, peḥâ, and would seem to be a reference to the Persian king, Cyrus, who issued a decree allowing the exiled Israelites to return to the land of Judah.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 ESV

Both Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, two Hebrews who helped lead the people back to Jerusalem and oversee the rebuilding of the city and the temple, each bore the same Persian title of “governor.” And because Malachi references worship at the restored temple, it would appear that he wrote sometime after the date of 515 B.C., when the temple restoration was completed.

There are a great many similarities between the Malachi and the book of Nehemiah. Both men dealt with issues regarding the poor state of the priestly order, the intermarriage of Jews with outsiders, and peoples’ neglect to pay the designated tithe. This would seem to indicate that Malachi penned his book sometime during the governorship of Nehemiah, which would place its date of authorship somewhere between 445-420 B.C. According to Thomas L. Constable, “Malachi’s place at the end of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and modern translations argues for a late date.”

As a prophet, Malachi expresses God’s disfavor with the people of Israel, concentrating most of his emphasis on their lax and less-than-faithful practice of worship. God had graciously allowed them to return to the land of promise, just as He had said He would do, but they have proven to be far from obedient and less than appreciative in their display of reverence for Him.

It is important to consider the timeline that precedes Malachi’s book. Sometime around 537 B.C., Zerubbabel led more than 50,000 Israelites back to Jerusalem with orders from King Cyrus to rebuild the city and the temple. Haggai and Zechariah ministered to this remnant of Israelites as they went about the task of restoring the long-abandoned city that had been destroyed by the Babylonians some 70 years earlier. In 458 B.C. an additional group of about 5,000 Jews made their way from Babylon under Ezra’s leadership. The temple having been rebuilt, Ezra attempted to reinvigorate the peoples’ worship of Yahweh. Then in 444 B.C., Nehemiah led a third contingent of about 42,000 exiles back to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the walls and gates of the city.

The Israelites’ return to the promised land was anything but easy. They had been met with opposition and the work of rebuilding the devasted and long-neglected city was difficult and time-consuming. Over time they experienced success at their daunting task, having restored the temple, rebuilt the walls, and reinstituted the sacrificial system and temple worship. But their hearts were not solely dedicated to Yahweh. They were lax in their observance of the Mosaic Law and, as a result of their intermarriage with the Gentiles, they were guilty of practicing idolatry. They had allowed themselves to be become infected and influenced by the surrounding pagan cultures, which ended up diminishing their set-apart status as the chosen people of God. So, Malachi set out to address their spiritual, ethical, and moral weaknesses, in the hopes of revitalizing their worship and reinvigorating their allegiance to Yahweh.

“. . . Malachi and his contemporaries were living in an uneventful waiting period, when God seemed to have forgotten His people enduring poverty and foreign domination in the little province of Judah. . . . True the Temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory, as Ezekiel had indicated would happen (Ezekial 43:4). . . . Generations were dying without receiving the promises (cf. Hebrews 11:13) and many were losing their faith.” – Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 211.

The purpose behind Malachi’s book was the same as any other Old Testament prophet: To expose the sins of the people and call them to repentance. Malachi understood that a restored temple, a reinstituted sacrificial system, and a rebuilt city were meaningless if the people refused to honor the God who had made it all possible. A reestablished kingdom was worthless if the people refused to honor Yahweh as their King and Sovereign.

For the people of Israel, return to the land and the re-establishment of their kingdom would mean nothing if they were not going to live as the children of God. He had sent them into exile 70 years earlier because of their disobedience and rebellion against Him. Now, He had returned them to the land and He expected them to repay His goodness and grace with faithfulness and an outward display of obedience. But years after arriving back in the land of promise they were just as stubbornly resistant to His laws as ever before. Their lives were marked by divorce, moral laxness, spiritual indifference, and a pervasive sense of religious apathy. In a sense, they had given up. The work of restoring Judah and Jerusalem had proven too difficult and they were ready to throw in the towel, spiritually speaking.

But Malachi would not allow them to do so. His job, as the messenger of God, was to call the people to repentance. They had a job to do. Their job to restore Judah would not be complete until they were restored to a right relationship with Yahweh. So, Malachi delivered God’s impassioned plea that they return to Him.

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 3:6-7 NLT

And if they refused, they would face judgment yet again.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Obedience Proceeds Blessing

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” Haggai 1:7-11 ESV

God doesn’t mince any words. He had waited 16 years for the returned exiles to do what they were supposed to do. He had prearranged their return from exile in Babylon long ago and one of the main objectives behind their return was the reconstruction of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. Long before the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had used the prophet, Isaiah to warn the people of the judgment that was coming for their disobedience. But He also foretold of their eventual return to the land and their task of rebuilding the temple.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself…
who confirms the word of his servant
    and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
    and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
    and I will raise up their ruins’…
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
    and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
    and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” – Isaiah 44:24, 27, 28 ESV

And hundreds of years later, when the people of Judah found themselves living as exiles, just as God had predicted, they were given remarkable news that the Persian king, Cyrus, was going to allow them to return to their homeland. And he was very specific about the purpose behind their return.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 ESV

God used this pagan king to accomplish His sovereign will concerning Judah. The Almighty divinely inspired this powerful monarch to release a sizeable portion of his nation’s slave labor so they might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That had always been God’s plan. He had brought about their fall and the destruction of their capital city and its glorious temple. But He had also made plans for their eventual return. God had clearly foretold His intentions to discipline His disobedient and rebellious people, but He had declared His plan to restore them. The prophet, Jeremiah had communicated God’s sovereign plan hundreds of years before it ever came to fruition.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV

But their return to the land was to be marked by a renewal of their relationship with God. It was to be a time of repentance and a realignment of their priorities. They would be expected to rededicate themselves to God and honor His glory and goodness by rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple. With the completion of the temple, they would be able to reinstitute the sacrificial system and restore their spiritual purity as a people.

Yet, 16 years later, the temple was still a heap of rubble because the people had procrastinated and put off their God-given responsibility to reconstruct His house. And as Ezra makes clear, the king of Persia had made an official proclamation concerning the rebuilding of the temple. He had even funded its construction out of the royal treasury.

“Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.” – Ezra 6:3-5 ESV

But despite the royal decree, the financial backing, and the divine mandate from God, the people of Judah had chosen to build their own homes while leaving the house of God in a state of perpetual ruin. So, God responded, “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:7 ESV). He wanted them to take serious stock of their behavior. What they were doing was unacceptable and He was no longer going to tolerate it. Speaking through His prophet, Haggai, God made His demands known.

“Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. – Haggai 1:8 ESV

They had the money to fund the construction. They had even set the foundation in place. But now they were going to have to complete the project and it would require effort on their part. And God was very clear about the purpose behind the reconstruction of the temple. They were to accomplish this take for God’s pleasure and glory. This wasn’t going to be about them. It was all about the God who had set them apart as His own and who had graciously returned them to the land. This house was to be a monument to His goodness and glory.

They had missed the whole point of their return to the land. The main reason they had been cast out of the land in the first place was that they had defiled and defamed God’s name. They had failed to live in obedience to their covenant commitment to God. Rather than worship Him alone, they had chosen to commit spiritual adultery by bowing down to the false gods of the nations that surrounded them. But God had chosen to restore the integrity of His name by returning His disobedient people to the land He had given them as their inheritance. But, as the prophet, Ezekiel makes clear, God was not doing this because they deserved it.

“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.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

Despite God’s promise, their time back in the land had been far from productive or fruitful. In fact, God pointed out that their efforts to rebuild their former lives had been cursed.

“You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

Their sixteen years of disobedience had resulted in God’s judgment. He had brought drought to the land so that their grain, grapes, and olives withered in the fields. They longed for fruitfulness but reaped misery instead. They had expected to fill their homes with the fruit of the land but found themselves suffering from hunger and starvation. All because they had chosen to disregard the will of God. They wanted His provision but didn’t seem too concerned about building a house for His presence. They wanted God on their side but were far less interested in having Him in their midst. So, they had to be reminded that unless they obeyed the will of God by rebuilding the temple of God, they could forget about enjoying the blessings of 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Repent and Rebuild

1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:1-6 ESV

This relatively short prophetic book bears the name of Haggai, who was evidently its author. We are given scant details regarding Haggai’s life, other than a brief mention in the book of Ezra. According to the prophet Ezra, Haggai was a fellow prophet who served the Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem.

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. – Ezra 5:1 ESV

Context is important to understanding the content of Haggai’s book. He provides the second year of Darius the king” as the time at which he received his message from God. That would date his letter sometime around 520 BC. This would have been about 66 years after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians. In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia had issued a decree that allowed the Jews who had been taken captive in the fall of Judah, to return to their land. In 537 BC, the first wave of exiles made their way back to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, who was later replaced by Zerubbabel. In 458 BC, a second wave of 42,000 Israelites left Babylon and returned to the land of promise under the leadership of Ezra. Then in 444 BC, Nehemiah led a third and final wave of exiles on the long and arduous journey home to Judah. It is believed that Haggai and Zechariah both returned with the first wave of refugees. That means that Haggai had been living back in the land of Judah for 17 years before he received his message from God.

During that time, the people had begun an aggressive rebuilding program, attempting to restore the city of Jerusalem’s damaged walls and gates. Under Zerubbabel, the first group of returned exiles had rebuilt the brazen altar in Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system. But the temple remained in ruins. They would lay the foundation for the temple’s construction, but due to opposition, they would postpone its construction for 16 years. That means that Haggai had been an eye-witness to the apathy that had set in among the people. He had stood back and watched as the rebuilding program ground to a halt and the rubble of the temple would have been a constant reminder of the people’s unwillingness to honor God. They had gone about the construction of their own homes but had failed to rebuild the house of God. Their priorities were misaligned and their neglect of God’s house was another sign of their continuing unfaithfulness. God had honored His promise to restore them to the land, and yet, in refusing to complete the temple, they were treating Him as a second-class citizen. Any gratitude they may have felt for their undeserved restoration to their homeland had been replaced by greed and selfishness. And God was going to use Haggai to call them out.

Like any other prophet, Haggai was a messenger. He spoke on behalf of God. And the first message God gave Haggai to deliver was addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest. God was going to hold these two men responsible for the people’s failure to complete the construction of the temple. But it’s important to note that God was not angry because He needed a place to live. When King David had come up with the original idea of building a house for God, he had received a not-so-subtle message from God delivered through the prophet Nathan.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God did not need a house to live in. Because He is transcendent and omnipresent, He cannot be contained in a single location. But God eventually allowed David’s son, Solomon, to build a magnificent temple and He graced it with His name and vowed to watch over it – as long as Solomon and the people remained faithful to follow Him. At the dedication of that original temple, God had sworn an oath to Solomon and the people of Israel.

“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Of course, history reveals that Solomon failed to keep his commitment to God. He ended his reign by erecting idols to the false gods of his many wives and concubines. He led the people of Israel into idolatry and apostasy, which led God to split his kingdom in two, resulting in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And the kings that followed Solomon would fare no better in keeping the covenant commitments to God. Their track records of unfaithfulness and disobedience would eventually result in the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians and the destruction of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians.

God’s message to Zerubbabel about the delay in building the temple was not about a divine housing shortage. It was about a shortfall in the people’s faithfulness to God. God accused them of complacency and procrastination.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” – Haggai 1:2 ESV

They had made a determination to disobey the will of God. The whole reason God had allowed them to return to the land was to rebuild, restore, and repopulate it. But when they had initially begun the process, they had encountered opposition.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4:1-5 ESV

These “adversaries” were actually Jews who had been left in the land after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. Over the years they had intermarried with foreigners from Cutha, Ava, and Sepharvaim, who had been relocated to the land of Israel by the King of Assyria. Many of these people had migrated into the southern kingdom of Judah after it fell to the Babylonians. So, when the exiled eventually returned, these interlopers were not keen on giving up their newly acquired land or seeing the southern kingdom of Judah restored to its former glory. As a result, they did everything in their power to delay any plans for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

But somehow, even in the face of opposition, the returned exiles had managed to build houses for themselves. And God points out the inconsistency of their behavior.

“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? – Ezra 1:4 NLT

They had been disobedient to God’s command. Their neglect of God’s house revealed the true nature of their hearts. Perhaps they assumed that God would be with them whether He had a house or not. But their failure to honor Him by rebuilding the house that bore His name revealed the selfish and self-centered conditions of their hearts. And God revealed that their disobedience had already begun to have consequences. But they were completely oblivious to what was happening to them.

“Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:5-6 NLT

All their efforts were producing diminished results. Because they had chosen to neglect God, they were experiencing negligible returns on their investments. They were unable to produce enough food to meet their needs. Their clothes were insufficient to keep them warm. Their wells and cisterns proved incapable of satisfying their thirst. And they never seemed to have enough money to meet their needs.

Don’t miss the point that God is making. They had beautiful homes, bountiful fields and vineyards, reliable water sources, ample clothing, and a ready source of income. But they were missing the blessing of God. They had put all their hope and trust in material things, and now they were finding that their sources of significance and sustenance were insufficient to meet their needs. It was time to rebuild. Haggai was going to make sure they understood that obedience to God took precedence over everything. As Jesus would later teach in His Sermon on the Mount, God expects His children to seek His Kingdom above all else.

“Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:30-33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Yet…

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Hosea 1:3-11 ESV

Hosea has received a difficult assignment from God. He’s been instructed to marry a woman who has a reputation as a prostitute. In that day and age, this would have been an act of social suicide, rendering Hosea an outcast from polite society. Women were already viewed as second-class citizens, with few rights and little value other than that of bearing and raising children. So, an adulterous or promiscuous woman was considered particularly repugnant and worthy of the community’s scorn and rejection. No self-respecting, God-honoring Hebrew male would knowingly choose to marry a woman of “ill-repute.” But here we have Hosea being commanded by God to do just that. And to make matters worse, God let Hosea know that this was not going to be some kind of symbolic marriage or acted-out parable intended to teach a moral lesson. Hosea and his new bride were expected to begin a family. And with a prostitute for a wife, Hosea must have known that his children would face the constant whispers and rumors questioning the identity of their “real” father.

None of this was going to be easy for Hosea. Yet, at no point in the story do we see or hear of Hosea questioning the will of his heavenly Father. There are no signs of resistance or declarations of divine injustice. Hosea doesn’t argue or bargain with God. He doesn’t offer an alternative plan. He simply obeys. When the Lord said, “Go,” Hosea went.

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:3 ESV

Verses 4-8 present what is obviously a highly compressed chronology of Hosea’s life. In just five verses, Hosea goes from being a single, unmarried prophet to a husband and the father of three children. But what makes this abbreviated timeline so interesting is that God was the one to name each of Hosea’s offspring. And each name had a specific meaning or connotation. With each child’s birth, they would quickly become the talk of the town. The gossips would have a field day. And when the names of each child became common knowledge, the people of Israel would realize that God was making a not-so-subtle statement about them.

God named Hosea’s firstborn son, Jezreel. Interestingly enough, this name was not particularly bad. It actually means, “God sows.” But God lets Hosea know that the boys name in linked to a particular geographic location, the Valley of Jezreel. Years earlier, in that very valley, King Jehu of Israel had fulfilled the pronouncement that God had made against the wicked king, Ahab, and his equally wicked wife, Jezebel.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. – 2 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

Jehu had been anointed by the prophet of God to become the next king of Israel. But Joram was the reigning king at the time. It was in the Valley of Jezreel that Jehu killed King Joram, and declared himself the rightful king of Israel. Jehu went on to kill King Ahaziah of Judah as well, and ordered the slaughter of 42 of his relatives. This merciless and unnecessary action was not part of God’s plan. And it seems that God has chosen the name Jezreel as a way of commemorating Jehu’s egregious overreach. God tells Hosea that his son’s name will be Jezree as a constant reminder to the people of Israel that He will “punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel” (Hosea 1: 4 ESV). God swore to “put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hosea 1:4 ESV), just as He did to the dynasty of Jehu. Despite his initial obedience, Jehu had proved to be as godless as all the kings before him.

 But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. – 2 Kings 10:31 ESV

So, only four generations of Jehu’s descendants would rule over the kingdom of Israel. And God warned Hosea that the Valley of Jezreel would be the site of another slaughter and it would take place “on that day.” This was fulfilled in 733 B.C. when King Tiglath-Pilesar III  and the Assyrians defeated the armies of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.

Hosea’s second child, a girl, received the Hebrew name, Lo-ruhama, which means, “No mercy.”  And the meaning behind this name takes far less brain-power to figure out. God makes it perfectly clear.

“I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” – Hosea 1:6 ESV

This poor little girl would be a constant reminder to Hosea that Yahweh was done extending mercy and grace to the rebellious and unrepentant nation of Israel. Every time Hosea called her name, he would have to recall the sobering words of God, and the disheartening news that, while Israel would receive no forgiveness from God, the southern kingdom of Judah would enjoy His undeserved mercy and grace.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” – Hosea 1:7 ESV

As will become painfully clear, the names of Hosea’s children only get worse with time. The third child, another boy, is saddled with the very awkward name, Lo-ammi, which means “not my people.” This poor kid would constantly bear the brunt of cruel jokes and hurtful comments questioning his birth legitimacy. As if being born to a mother with a reputation for being a prostitute, this boy’s name would be like a billboard declaring that Hosea was not his father.

But God had a much greater purpose behind the name. It was meant to be an indictment against the entire nation of Israel. The day was coming when they could find themselves living in exile in a foreign land. God would have them physically removed them from their homes and cities, and relocated to a distant where He would become little more than a fading memory.

But despite all the unattractive names and their equally unpleasant meanings, God left Hosea with good news for the people of Israel.

“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’” – Hosea 1:10 NLT

These names, while far from flattering, would not end up defining the children of Hosea and Gomer. While we know nothing about their childhood experiences or what happened to them after they grew up, we can assume that they went on to marry, have children, and live their lives just like any other Hebrew. And though the people of Israel would eventually suffer defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians, God was not done with them. God speaks of a future day when He will restore and reunite His people.

Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite together. They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together. What a day that will be—the day of Jezreel—when God will again plant his people in his land. – Hosea 1:11 NLT

At this point, Hosea is being given a glimpse into God’s preordained and preferred future for His disobedient children. Yes, there will be a time of judgment. The people of Israel will have to face the consequences for their rebellion and failure to repent. But, as God will reveal to Hosea, His judgment will be followed by mercy. His discipline will accompanied by His desire to bless those whom He has chosen as His own possession. Just as Hosea has married an unfaithful wife, God has covenanted with an unfaithful people. But He will remain unwavering in His love and totally committed to His covenant promises to them.

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