Where Is Your Faith?

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:22-25 ESV

Luke has made it quite clear that by this time in His ministry, Jesus had garnered a large following. There were people coming from all over Galilee and even as far away as Jerusalem to witness the miracles and listen to the preaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus had even attracted the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, including the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin. They were watching Him like a hawk, carefully scrutinizing everything He said and did. His growing popularity among the common people had become especially concerning to these powerful men because it threatened their power and control. Until Jesus had appeared on the scene, the Pharisees and other religious sects had enjoyed a kind of religious celebrity status. They were viewed as the spiritual superstars of their day and they had enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their elite standing among the people.

There were others who followed Jesus out of curiosity. They found Him to be intriguing and profoundly interesting, but they weren’t quite sure what to make of Him. His miracles amazed them and His preaching entertained them, but they weren’t quite ready to accept His claim to be the Son of God or the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

As news of Jesus’ miracles began to spread, the sick, diseased, disabled, and demon-possessed began to flock to Jesus like moths to a flame. They showed up in droves, some requiring the assistance of friends or family members. In Jesus, they saw hope for healing. He became a light that attracted all those who were trapped in the darkness and despair that accompanied their physical condition. They were social outcasts, forced to live in solitude and separation from their community because they were considered unclean and cursed by God. But they had heard that Jesus healed the sick, restored the lame, and even freed those who were under the control of demons – no questions asked. He had even raised the dead back to life. To these people, the debate over whether Jesus was the Messiah took a backseat to their physical and emotional needs. They were far less interested in whether Jesus had come to restore the kingdom of Israel than if He could restore them to health.

Jesus found Himself surrounded by people of all kinds and their interest in Him ran the gamut. Some were simply curious. Others were convinced that He was the Messiah they had long hoped for. Still, others were like rubber-neckers at a car wreck, hoping to witness the next confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. To them, Jesus was a rabble-rouser and trouble maker who was upsetting the status quo and irritating the ruling elite, and they loved it.

And in the midst of this mass of different individuals with varying agendas, there were the 12 men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples. Since choosing to follow the Rabbi from Nazareth, these men had been His constant companions. They had been eyewitnesses to every miracle. They had listened to every word He had spoken, questioned the meaning of every parable He had told, and wondered why He had not yet set up His kingdom on earth. These men were committed but they were also confused. Jesus was an enigma to them. They knew He possessed great power because they had witnessed it firsthand. They were convinced that He was wise and spoke with an authority greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And yet, they couldn’t understand why the Messiah was wasting His time up in the rural region of Galilee rather than entering Jerusalem, ousting the Romans, and restoring Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus was fully aware of His disciples’ confusion and growing consternation. He understood their frustration and knew they were anxious to see Him take His show on the road – all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. But there was much more they needed to understand. Their concept of the Messiah had been skewed by centuries of misguided expectations. They were longing for a political and military leader who would conquer Israel’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. But Jesus seemed to be spending all His time in the backwater towns of Galilee, wasting His power on the helpless and the hopeless. When was He going to get serious about His mission to be Israel’s Messiah?

This sets up Luke’s record of Jesus’ calming of the storm. After yet another full day of performing miracles among the “least of these,” Jesus and His disciples got into a boat and began to sail to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And this little excursion was Jesus’ idea.

“Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” – Luke 8:22 ESV

Mark indicates that they began their journey at the end of the day and were accompanied by other boats. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds attempted to follow Him. And it would not be long before they realized that following Him was going to prove costly and potentially dangerous.

As the disciples guided the boat along the shore of the sea, Jesus, exhausted by the activities of the day, fell asleep. But while He slept, a storm suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere. In no time at all, the disciples found themselves battling gale-force winds that turned the sea into a boiling cauldron of waves that threatened to sink their small vessel. Luke indicates that “they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23 ESV). Despite the fact that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, the severity of the storm caused these men to panic. They were in fear for their lives. So, in desperation, they decided to wake up Jesus and elicit His help.

“Master, Master, we are perishing!” – Luke 8:24 ESV

Mark reveals that they were more than a bit put out with Jesus’ apparent apathy. How could He sleep through such a life-threatening circumstance? They even questioned His concern for their well-being.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

Whether they realized it or not, these men were expressing their doubt in the goodness and compassion of the Son of God. They were accusing the Messiah of complacency and callousness. In the heat of the moment, they allowed their less-than-ideal circumstances to cloud their thinking and dictate their view of Jesus. In the midst of the storm, their faith in the Messiah evaporated and was replaced with incredulity and doubt. Without even realizing it, they had suddenly become the hopeless and the helpless. They found themselves in desperate circumstances and in need of rescue. The storm was more than they could handle and they realized they couldn’t save themselves. But notice that these men didn’t call out to Jesus in faith. Compare their response to that of the Roman centurion: “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7 ESV). Or consider the statement made by the man who suffered from the incurable disease of leprosy: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12 ESV).

The disciples express no faith in Jesus. They question His integrity and empathy. But rather than read the disciples the riot act for their faithlessness, Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Jesus attacked the source of their doubt: The storm. They had allowed the circumstances of life to determine their faith in Jesus. As the storm raged, their faith faltered. For a brief moment, they ceased to believe in Jesus.

But notice that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, not the disciples. He addressed the problem. He used His power to alleviate the source of their doubt. But then, He turned to His fearful and faithless disciples and asked, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV). The presence of the storm had caused an absence of faith. In the face of adversity, the disciples had displayed a lack of fidelity. Trials have a way of testing the quality of our faith. Difficulties put our faith to the test and reveal its efficacy and stability. For the disciples, the sudden storm had exposed the anemic nature of their faith. In the face of adversity, fear had replaced faith. Confronted with what appeared to be a life-threatening scenario, the disciples had displayed a fickle faith that had been blown away by the winds of the storm. 

Luke reports that they were fearful and amazed. For some reason, this episode made a greater impact on them than Jesus raising a dead man back to life. Maybe it was because this particular miracle had a personal touch to it. It was their lives that had been threatened, and the words of Jesus had suddenly turned certain death into life. And this unexpected but highly appreciated miracle left them wrestling with new questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:25 ESV

These are the same men who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But His ability to command the wind and the water left them baffled. They believed Him to be their deliverer from the Romans but were blown away to learn that He had the power to control nature. In doing so, Jesus had clearly displayed His divinity. And the disciples were not sure what to make of this powerful demonstration of Jesus’ deity. Jesus had done what only God could do, and the disciples were forced to wrestle with the implications of this mind-blowing experience. Just when they thought they knew who Jesus was, they had to rethink all their presuppositions and could only ask, “Who then is this?”

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

Hearing Is Not Believing

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Luke 8:1-15 ESV

Luke records that Jesus continued His Galilean ministry, visiting many of the towns and villages of the region, where He continued to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God was close at hand. The Messiah had come and the King’s arrival was a visual sign that the kingdom would not be far behind. A new day had dawned in Israel. Things would never be the same again, but what Jesus came to bring would be far different than what the people of Israel had expected. Yes, He was the King for whom they had longed for, but He was offering them a kingdom far different than they had imagined. As Jesus would later tell the Roman governor, Pilate, at his trial: ““My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).

And later on in his gospel, Luke records an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. They asked Him, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT), and Jesus responded, “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21 NLT).

With His incarnation, Jesus came to earth as the fulfillment of the promise that God made to David. He was the Son who would re-establish the Davidic dynasty and rule over an everlasting kingdom from the city of Jerusalem.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.… And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. – 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16 ESV

As Jesus made His way through the cities of Galilee, He was accompanied by His 12 disciples. These men had ring-side seats to the greatest show on earth. They were privileged to watch the Messiah as He validated His ministry and mission through miracles and signs. They were able to hear Him teach but also enjoyed up-close and personal access to the Son of God. And Luke adds that there were others who made up this inner circle of Jesus’ followers. He provides the names of a number of women who had decided to join the retinue of Jesus’ disciples because they “had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2 ESV).

Luke provides us with the names of three of the women who were part of the growing number of Jesus’ female followers. There was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Each of these women had been delivered from disease or demons by the hand of Jesus. Their lives had been radically transformed by their encounter with this Rabbi from Nazareth and they decided to follow Him wherever He went, believing Him to be who He claimed to be: The Messiah of Israel.

And we know that these women were not fairweather friends. They remained committed to Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and Luke reports that they were even present at Golgotha when Jesus was crucified.

And all those who knew Jesus stood at a distance, and the women who had followed him from Galilee saw these things. – Luke 23:39 NLT

That these women dedicated their lives to following Jesus is especially telling when one considers the status of women in the culture of that day. It would have been unthinkable within Hebrew culture for a woman to abandon her domestic responsibilities to travel around the countryside with a group of men. At best, this kind of behavior would have been seen as irresponsible and unacceptable. At worst, it could have been construed as immoral, eliciting all kinds of rumors and inuendos concerning the nature of her character.

But these women were willing to take that risk because they were convinced that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. And it seems that Jesus gave them His permission, treating them with dignity and respect, and not as second-class citizens. Luke even indicates that there were other women who accompanied Jesus and they were far from freeloaders. These women used their financial resources to support Jesus and His disciples. But it’s important to recognize that Jesus treated these women with honor, viewing them as far more than sources of financial backing. They were respected members of His growing family and given the same respect and honor as the twelve. Jesus’ treatment of women stood in stark contrast to the surrounding culture in which they were often regarded as little more than property and afforded few rights. In Jesus’ kingdom, there would be no distinction between the sexes. In fact, the apostle Paul makes it clear that all earthly divisions are removed in the Kindom of God.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Beginning in verse 4, Luke gives his version of Jesus’ parable of the sower. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not provide the setting for Jesus’ teaching. He simply states that a great crowd had gathered from all the surrounding towns and villages. According to the other two gospel authors, this scene took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, just outside the town of Capernaum.

Luke’s version of this occasion is much shorter and does not include all of the parables that Jesus taught to the crowds that day. He focuses on the parable of the soil and the parable of the lamp, both of which illustrate the role of faith. As was common with Jesus’ teaching, He used parables to convey spiritual truths through the means of simple stories. But as will be apparent in this situation, Jesus was always focusing His attention on His disciples. The meaning of the parables would be lost on many within the crowd, and Jesus would have to explain to His disciples the hidden truth contained behind the story.

In this case, Jesus used a familiar agricultural metaphor to illustrate a much deeper and significant lesson. Everyone in the crowd would have understood the image of a farmer sowing seed. But Jesus’ main focus was on the receptivity or condition of the various soils on which the seed fell. Some seed fell on the path and was quickly eaten by birds. Other seeds fell among the rocks and eventually sprouted but died away for lack of moisture. The seeds that landed among the thorns were quickly choked out because they were unable to establish roots. But a portion of the seed fell on good soil that had been prepared beforehand. The seed was readily accepted, took root, and yielded “a hundred times as much as had been planted” (Luke 8:8 NLT).

Even as simplistic as this parable appears to be, its meaning escaped Jesus’ disciples. This led them to ask Him for an explanation. And Jesus informed them that they were being given a special privilege to understand things that were hidden from the rest of the crowd. They were being given access to the secrets of the kingdom of God. Jesus was going to explain to them truths regarding His kingdom that even the prophets of old had not understood. The kingdom for which they had long been waiting was going to be different than what they had expected. And entrance into that kingdom would require more than just citizenship in the nation of Israel.

In the parable, all the soils were in the same vicinity. The sower was sowing the same kind of seed in the same general area and expecting the same results: Fruitfulness. But not all the soils were the same. They each received the seed but their ability to produce fruit was hampered by their particular condition. And Jesus informs His disciples that the various soils were intended to represent the hearts of men. Each hears the words, but their ability to respond and believe what they hear is affected by the attacks of the enemy, earthly temptations, and the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. But some “hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15 NLT).

Jesus is letting His disciples know that the good news of the kingdom of God will not be good news to everyone who hears it. Not all will received what He has to say with open arms. They will hear it but refuse to believe it. The enemy will deceive and delude them. The temptations of this world will distract them. The temporal pleasures of this life will overwhelm them. And the message of the kingdom will produce no fruit in their lives. Jesus was preparing His disciples for the inevitable reality that the message of the kingdom would soon be theirs to share and they would discover that not all would receive what they had to say. The gospel of the Kingdom of God would be heard by many but only received by a few. Faith would be the sole requirement for membership in the kingdom. Hearing alone would not be enough. Believing would be necessary.

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

Unprecedented Faith

1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 ESV

After Jesus had completed His teaching, He made His way back into the nearby village of Capernaum, accompanied by His disciples. And Luke records that the very first encounter Jesus had involved an “enemy” of the Jews – a Roman centurion. Just minutes after commanding His disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 ESV), Jesus was going to illustrate exactly what He meant.

A centurion was a noncommissioned officer in the Roman army who commanded a force of at least 100 men (centuria). Normally, the Jews would have considered the presence of a cohort of Roman soldiers in their community as an invasion of their personal space and a painful reminder of their subjugation to Rome. But in this case, Jesus was approached by the local elders of the village who asked Him to come to the aid of this centurion. It seems that this Roman officer had won over the people of Capernaum with his kindness and generosity. He had actually funded the construction of the local synagogue, convincing the community of his love for the Jewish nation. The elders refer to him as a man “worthy” (axios) to have Jesus come to his aid.

This exchange brings to mind a portion of the lesson that Jesus had just taught His disciples. In regards to loving their enemies, Jesus had added, “if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33 ESV). Without even knowing it, these Jewish elders were demonstrating exactly what Jesus had been talking about. They had been approached by this generous centurion, who asked them to speak to Jesus on his behalf. His servant, who meant a great deal to him, was on the verge of death and he was hoping that Jesus might heal him. So, the elders, who had benefited greatly from this man’s generosity, were more than willing to take his request to Jesus. They wanted to stay on good terms with their gracious benefactor. But Jesus had described to His disciples a totally different kind of love. It was to be non-reciprocal and one-directional, not expecting anything in return.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35 ESV

Yet, Jesus agreed to the elders’ request and accompanied them to the centurion’s home. But as they came within sight of the house, Jesus received a surprising message from the centurion.

Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. – Luke 6:6-7 ESV

The elders had described him as worthy (axios), yet the centurion declared that he was not worthy (hikanos). This man refers to himself as unfit or insufficient to be in the presence of someone like Jesus. He was ashamed at the thought of Jesus entering his home, so he simply asked that Jesus heal his servant from a distance. Two things jump out in this exchange. The first is the man’s amazing humility. The second is his faith. And Jesus was impressed by both.

When Jesus heard the centurion’s rationale for believing in His authority to heal, He was amazed. This Roman officer used his own experience as a leader of men to explain his belief that Jesus could simply command and His will would be done.

“…say the word, and let my servant be healed.” – Luke 6:7 ESV

It’s clear that this man had heard about Jesus and was fully aware of the miracles He had performed. Perhaps he had been on the hillside that day as Jesus spoke. The arrival of “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV), would have warranted the presence of Roman troops. And it’s likely that this centurion had personally witnessed the miracles that Jesus had performed just prior to His sermon on the mount.

a great multitude…came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. – Luke 6:17-19 ESV

The centurion was convinced that Jesus had the power and authority to heal his servant, and Jesus marveled at the man’s demonstration of unwavering faith. Turning to the crowd, Jesus declared, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV). Because the crowd to whom Jesus spoke would have been comprised primarily of Jews, they would have found this statement particularly offensive. Jesus was commending a Gentile and, to make matters worse, an officer in the Roman army. And as if to add insult to injury, Jesus was declaring that this man’s faith was superior to that of any Jew He had encountered, including His own disciples. And Matthew adds a second statement from Jesus that Luke chose to omit.

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV

Since Luke had written his gospel to his Gentile friend, Theophilus, he did not feel compelled to include the second half of Jesus’ address to the Jews. But it reveals an important aspect of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the global nature of His redemptive plan for mankind. As Messiah, He would not just deliver the house of Jacob, but He would be a blessing to all the nations of the world, just as God had promised Abraham. Entrance into the Kingdom of God would not be based on ethnicity or the ability to prove one’s Hebrew lineage. It would be based on faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. And this centurion had displayed a remarkable degree of faith in the power and authority of Jesus. Far greater than anything Jesus had seen to date. And responded to the centurion with a message that confirmed and commended his faith.

“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:13 ESV

And Luke adds that “when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well” (Luke 7:10 ESV). The centurion’s faith had been rewarded. His servant had been healed. And the disciples of Jesus were left to wonder about all that they had seen happen. His words must have rung in their ears for some time: “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT). And to hear Jesus state that the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness must have left them stunned and confused. None of this made sense to them. It all went against their preconceived understanding of the coming Kingdom of God. This was not what they had been expecting. All that Jesus said and did seemed to contradict their long-standing hopes, dreams, and desires. But little did they realize that the longer they followed Jesus, their confusion would only increase. Yet, in time, they would grow to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40 ESV). The next three years would prove to be a mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting experience for the disciples. 

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

Mission: Impossible

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 ESV

Because Luke is writing to his Greek friend, Theophilus, he does not include all that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. Matthew, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, recorded all of Jesus’ lessons concerning the Mosaic Law. In his account, Jesus addressed such topics as murder, adultery, divorce, the making of oaths, and retaliation, and He did so by taking what they understood about the law and expanding upon it. In other words, Jesus began with a common point of interest, the law and its list of well-known prohibitions or restrictions. Then He went beyond the letter of the law to explain the intentions of God that lie behind it. God’s command to not murder was really a call to refrain from anger. In His eyes, the two were inseparable and carried the same moral weight. The same was true of adultery and lust. To do one was to do the other. According to Jesus, merely keeping the letter of the law was not enough.

But due to the Greek nature of his audience, Luke chose to focus on the more general aspects of Jesus’ message, leaving out all references to the Mosaic Law. After letting Theophilus know what Jesus had to say about the blessings and woes, Luke picks up Jesus’ comments concerning love for one another. And what Jesus had to say would have sounded strange and impossible, regardless of whether Theophilus was a Greek or a Jew. Jesus boldly declared, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27 ESV). In any culture, that admonition sounds counterintuitive because it goes counter to human nature. Regardless of your religious affiliation, ethnic background, or cultural context, the command to love your enemies would have sounded impossible and illogical. It made no sense.

Yet, Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to add, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). It’s important to remember that as Jesus spoke these words, He had His newly appointed disciples in mind. Yes, there were others in the crowd that day, but Jesus is focusing His attention on the men He has chosen to be His future apostles or messengers. This would have been the first of many lectures they would receive from their new teacher, and it would have left their minds reeling with confusion and filled with questions.

First of all, the twelve would not yet have been aware of the intense hatred to which they would be subjected as disciples of Jesus. From their perspective, they saw Jesus as a popular figure who was attracting huge crowds and gathering a growing number of followers. They believed Him to be the Messiah and had high hopes that He was going to usher in the utopian-like future of Israel. So, all this talk of loving their enemies must have sounded strange to them. Each of them could have probably counted the number of their enemies on one hand. But before long they would learn that their association with Jesus would place them in the eye of the storm of controversy and contention that would engulf His life and ministry.

And Jesus gave them very specific examples of what He meant by loving their enemies.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” – Luke 6:29 NLT

All of this would have sounded unthinkable and highly unappealing to His disciples. For the most part, these were unsophisticated men who would have considered Jesus’ words to be a call to social suicide. No one would survive the rough-and-tumble culture of 1st-Century Palestine if they followed this kind of advice. The kind of meekness and mild-mannered mousiness Jesus was describing would get you abused, if not killed.

But what these men don’t yet understand is that Jesus is describing the character of those who belong to the Kingdom of God. He is presenting them with a picture of their future sanctified, Spirit-filled state. Jesus knew that all of this was impossible in their current condition. They were still operating in the power of their fallen human natures. They had not yet received the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. But Jesus wanted them to know that His followers were expected to live distinctively different lives, and through faith in Him, they would one day receive the power to put into practice all that He is describing.

Jesus was describing a life of true righteousness. With His arrival, things were about to take a dramatically different turn. Up to this point, the disciples and every other Jew living at that time were trying to earn favor with God by keeping the law and observing all the rites and rituals associated with the sacrificial system. Their hope of getting into God’s good graces was based on their ability to live up to the exacting standard of His commands. And now, Jesus seemed to be upping the ante. He was demanding even more from them. But His whole point was that a truly righteous life was impossible to attain without His help.

His call to love was nothing new. The Old Testament law had demanded that they love God and love others. But, according to Jesus, anyone could do that. Loving those who love you earned you no special favor with God.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.” – Luke 6:32 NLT

No, Jesus was describing a kind of love that was indiscriminate and non-reciprocal. In other words, it was a kind of love that expected nothing in return. And this same one-directional mindset applied to acts of kindness as well. Simply doing good to those who did good to you was not going to cut it.

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” – Luke 6:33 NLT

Jesus was letting His disciples know that God expected behavior that was not based on what you get out of it. Giving to get and loving only when loved were not sufficient. Even sinners can do that. But the kind of life Jesus was describing was impossible. It was humanly unachievable and unattainable.

But Jesus promises all those who can somehow pull off what He is describing, “your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 ESV). The selfless and sacrificial kind of love He is describing will end up paying off in the long run. It comes with a remarkable reward: Inclusion in the family of God and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And that would be true for Jesus’ 12 Jewish disciples and Luke’s Greek friend, Theophilus.

Jesus was calling His disciples to mirror the very character of God, “who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35 ESV). God is not a discriminator of persons. He shows no favoritism. As Peter later put it, He “shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT). So, Jesus calls His disciples to emulate the very nature of God.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36 ESV

Even for those of us living on this side of the cross, these words still convey a sense of impossibility. They sound unattainable. Jesus seems to be asking us to do something that is beyond our capacity as fallen human beings. But we fail to remember that we have been equipped with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

But for the disciples of Jesus, sitting on that hillside, His words were impossible. They did not yet have the Spirit of God living within them to energize and empower them. They were enthusiastic and motivated men who believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, but they were not yet ready or equipped to accomplish all that Jesus was calling them to do. But in time, they would be.

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

Kingdoms In Conflict

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13 ESV

After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV

The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV

Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV

It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).

Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.

Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:

“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 6:31-33 NLT

Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV

Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.

Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.

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

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

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The King Has Come

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45 ESV

Before we look at Mary’s impromptu trip to visit Elizabeth, it’s essential that we notice an important point of contrast that Luke has established. He began his gospel account with a brief but significant mention of Herod’s kingship over Judea (Luke 1:5). But when Gabriel delivered his message to Mary that she had been chosen to bear and give birth to the Son of God, he had told her what the child’s name and mission would be.

“…you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

Her son was going to be the Messiah of Israel of whom the prophets had spoken and for whom the people of Israel had long been waiting. And when He arrived, He would become the true and rightful King of Israel.

The message Gabriel delivered to Mary seems to have been based on the words of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

Mary would have recognized the connection between Gabriel’s words and the prophetic pronouncement of Isaiah. Part of the reason for Mary’s willing acceptance of the angel’s bizarre news was that she was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and what they promised about the coming Messiah. Isaiah had also prophesied regarding the Messiah’s miraculous birth to a virgin.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The Messiah’s very name would signify His divine mission and identity. In Hebrew, Immanuel means “God with us.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would become pregnant with the Son of God and, with His birth, God would come to dwell with men. It would be just as John the apostle described it in the beginning of his gospel account.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

But Jesus would enter the world as King. Though His mother would be an obscure and seemingly unimportant Jewish girl, and His birthplace would be the insignificant town of Bethlehem, Jesus would arrive on the scene as the rightful heir to the throne of David. And the prophet Isaiah had predicted that fact as well.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

While Mary had been shocked by the news she received from Gabriel, she was also overjoyed because she understood the significance of all that he had told her. She had been selected to give birth to Immanuel, the Son of God. God had graciously chosen her to be the means by which the long-awaited Messiah made His entrance into the world. Israel was finally going to have a real King, not some puppet potentate who served the Romans and wasn’t even a descendant of David.

And this exciting reality drove Mary to make the arduous journey to the hill country of Judah to see her cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel had informed Mary about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.

“…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:36 ESV

Mary sensed that God’s sovereign hand was behind all that was going on, but she still had to wrestle with the fact that she was about to be an unmarried pregnant woman in a culture that would consider that condition a crime and not cause for celebration. At this point, she had to be thinking about how Joseph would react when he heard the news that she was pregnant. Would he believe her story? Or would he break off their betrothal in a fit of rage? All of these conflicting questions had to have coursed through Mary’s young mind as she made her way to Judah.

But Mary’s unsettled heart would soon find comfort in the words of Elizabeth. As soon as Mary walked into Elizabeth’s home and stated her name, another miracle of confirmation took place.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?” – Luke 1:41-43 NLT

Anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given divine insight into her cousin’s unique role as the mother of the Messiah. There is no way that Elizabeth could have known this information. It was clearly the inspiration of the Spirit that provided her with the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy and the unique identity of the baby in her womb.

Elizabeth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, was uttering prophetic words concerning her younger cousin. She was being provided with divine insight into Mary’s situation that could only have come from the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. And she pronounced a blessing on Mary for her willingness to believe the words of Gabriel.

“…blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:45 NLT

This was a word from God, spoken through Elizabeth. The Almighty was using Elizabeth as His vessel to communicate His pleasure with Mary’s faith. Despite the sudden and shocking nature of the news she had received, Mary had believed. Her very presence at Elizabeth’s home was proof. She had gone there to share the news with her relative, but before she even had a chance to say a word, God used Elizabeth and the baby in her womb to confirm the message and commend Mary’s faith. The baby leaped, Elizabeth blessed, and Mary was encouraged.

At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responded in joy. John, as yet unborn, had been commissioned by God to be the one to herald the coming of the Messiah. Even in his prenatal state, John took his God-given assignment seriously, rejoicing in the arrival of the King. His divinely inspired celebration in the womb served as further proof to Mary that everything Gabriel had said was true.

And Mary’s response to it all took the form of a divinely inspired song – a psalm of thanksgiving and praise.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Gods = False Hope

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling;
    he was exalted in Israel,
    but he incurred guilt through Baal and died.
And now they sin more and more,
    and make for themselves metal images,
idols skillfully made of their silver,
    all of them the work of craftsmen.
It is said of them,
    “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”
Therefore they shall be like the morning mist
    or like the dew that goes early away,
like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor
    or like smoke from a window.
– Hosea 13:1-3 ESV

Hosea continues to give the tribe of Ephraim a special designation as the premier tribe among the other nine that made up the northern kingdom of Judah. And this was appropriate considering the words of Jacob, spoken when he had blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”

So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’” In this way, Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. – Genesis 48:19-20 NLT

The tribe of Ephraim was the largest of the tribes within the northern kingdom and it played a significant leadership role within the nation. In fact, the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel had been Jeroboam, a member of the tribe of Ephraim (1 King 11:26). And it was Jeroboam who, after being given the responsibility by God to rule over the ten northern tribes, had made the fateful decision to create his own gods and religion. He had created two golden calf idols and decreed them to be the gods of Israel, even setting up temples for their worship in Dan and Bethel.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

The ten northern tribes had not gotten off to a great start, and their downward spiritual trajectory never fully recovered. Jeroboam had created a fertile environment in which apostasy and idolatry could grow, and his successors continued to lead the people away from worshiping Yahweh as the one true God. Eventually, this led to the worship of Baal, the god of the Canaanites. And Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, one of Israel’s future kings, would aggressively promote Baal as the primary god of the northern kingdom.

Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him. – 1 Kings 16:30-33 NLT

It should not be surprising to learn that Ahab was also a member of the tribe of Ephraim.

The seventh king of Israel, Ahab (reigned c. 874–c. 853 bc), was also an Ephraimite. His generally peaceful reign was marred by the worship of the Canaanite god Baal by his wife, Jezebel. From about 745 bc, the northern kingdom was often referred to as the Kingdom of Ephraim, a reflection of the tribe’s importance. – Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ephraim”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ephraim-Jewish-tribe. Accessed 19 June 2021.

So, Hosea’s calling out of this particular tribe was well deserved. They had played a major role in Israel’s spiritual decline and would be held responsible.

the people of Ephraim sinned by worshiping Baal
    and thus sealed their destruction. – Hosea 13:1 NLT

They used their access to the throne to promote idolatry and, in doing so, led the people of Israel to forsake God. And according to Hosea, this one tribe encouraged a spirit of unfaithfulness among the other nine tribes.

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols,
    images shaped skillfully with human hands. – Hosea 13:2 NLT

The practice of idolatry became prolific and profitable. The making of idols became a cottage industry, providing a lucrative business opportunity for many in Israel. And it wasn’t long before the Israelites added a host of new gods to their growing pantheon of false gods. One could find shrines, altars, and high places dedicated to these deities all over the kingdom of Israel. And each was served by its own priests and warranted its own set of rules and rituals to regulate proper worship and to ensure its adherents received a favorable response.

But in order to worship these false gods, the Israelites had to turn their backs on the one true God. In bowing down before the idols they had made with their own hands, they were abandoning their hope and trust in Yahweh. They were seeking help from pieces of stone and metal that were incapable of hearing or responding to their requests. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s sarcastic assessment of idolatry’s absurdity.

You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 20:8-11 NLT

Later on, in Isaiah’s book, there is another unflattering statement by God that reflects the sheer stupidity behind the practice of idolatry. Yahweh paints a ridiculous-looking portrait of a craftsman cutting down a tree and going through the process of creating his god.

…he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah provides yet another one of God’s stinging indictments against the absurd practice of idolatry.

“Their ways are futile and foolish.
    They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
They decorate it with gold and silver
    and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
    so it won’t fall over.
Their gods are like
    helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak,
    and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods,
    for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT

But while these false gods can do neither harm nor good, Yahweh can. And Hosea points out the unsettling fact that all those who choose to worship other gods will be judged by the one true God.

Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist,
    like dew in the morning sun,
like chaff blown by the wind,
    like smoke from a chimney. – Hosea 13:3 NLT

They were about to learn a painful but invaluable lesson. When the wrath of Yahweh fell, their false gods would be proven helpless and defenseless. Their sacrifices would accomplish nothing. Their cries for deliverance would go unheard and unanswered. While Yahweh was a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 ESV), their false gods would be exposed as worthless and, ultimately, totally unreliable.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Have No King

1 Israel is a luxuriant vine
    that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
    the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
    he improved his pillars.
Their heart is false;
    now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars
    and destroy their pillars.

For now they will say:
    “We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord;
    and a king—what could he do for us?”
They utter mere words;
    with empty oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
    in the furrows of the field.
The inhabitants of Samaria tremble
    for the calf of Beth-aven.
Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—
    those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—
    for it has departed from them.
The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria
    as tribute to the great king.
Ephraim shall be put to shame,
    and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.

Samaria’s king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters.
The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
    shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
    on their altars,
and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
    and to the hills, “Fall on us.” – Hosea 10:1-8 ESV

God had been good to Israel and, over the centuries, He had blessed them in countless ways. The psalmist describes Israel as a luxuriant grapevine that God had uprooted from Egypt and transplanted into the fertile soil of Canaan.

You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
    you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
    and we took root and filled the land.
Our shade covered the mountains;
    our branches covered the mighty cedars.
We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
    our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River.
 
– Psalm 80:8-11 NLT

This imagery of Israel as the vine is found throughout the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel uses similar terminology to point out the manifold blessings that God had bestowed on His chosen people.

“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

But both the psalmist and the prophet follow up their descriptions of Israel as a healthy and fruitful vine with pronouncements of the nation’s ultimate demise. Asaph, the author of Psalm 80, tells the chilling aftermath of God’s judgment on Israel for their ongoing disobedience.

But now, why have you broken down our walls
    so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
The wild boar from the forest devours it,
    and the wild animals feed on it. – Psalm 80:12-13 NLT

And Ezekiel declares a similarly dire outcome.

But 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.
Now 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 19:12-14 NLT

And Hosea echoes the words of these men, describing Israel as “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1 ESV). He readily admits that Israel had been abundantly blessed by God, but they had returned the favor by giving their attention and affections to false gods.

But the richer the people get,
    the more pagan altars they build.
The more bountiful their harvests,
    the more beautiful their sacred pillars. – Hosea 10:1 NLT

All the way back in the wilderness, long before the people entered the land of Canaan, Moses had seen this day coming. He had warned the people to remain faithful to Yahweh, especially when they began to enjoy the good things of life.

“…the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT

Moses knew human nature, and he had spent enough time with the people of Israel to know how they were likely to respond when the blessings of God began to flow. So, he warned them in advance.

“…that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT

But by the time we get to the days of Hosea and the reign of King Jeroboam II, the people of Israel have made a steady habit of pride and forgetfulness. In the midst of all their abundance, they had chosen to abandon God. And the evidence of their unfaithfulness was everywhere. They had erected altars and shrines to every imaginable idol, each one a slap in the face to their faithful, loving, and gracious God. And Hosea declares that their hearts are false. They would still declare their belief in and allegiance to Yahweh, but their actions proved otherwise. The prophet Isaiah would record God’s less-than-flattering assessment of His unfaithful people.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Israel took pride in their special designation as the chosen people of God. The problem was that they failed to live up to that illustrious and undeserved status. They were more than willing to accept God’s blessings and flaunt their preferred position as His children, but they lived as if He didn’t even exist. Their actions revealed their lack of love for God.

And Hosea warns them that God was about to “break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars” (Hosea 10:2 NLT). The false gods in whom they had placed their hope and trust were going to be proven useless and powerless in the face of God’s wrath. The Assyrian army would march through Israel, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake. They would destroy all the sacred sites and plunder anything of value, including the two golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had made when the northern kingdom of Israel had first been formed.

Hosea describes the people as mourning over their former god, the “calf idol at Beth-aven(Hosea 10:5 NLT), as it is hauled away by the Assyrians.

This idol will be carted away to Assyria,
    a gift to the great king there.
Ephraim will be ridiculed and Israel will be shamed,
    because its people have trusted in this idol. – Hosea 10:6 NLT

This god’s only value will be in the gold from which it was made. Unlike Yahweh, this false god will be exposed as impotent and incapable of providing for and protecting those whose hands had made it.  The people and priests of Israel will have to stand by and watch as their deity is carted off on a cart, never to be seen again.

But along with all their idols, Israel will face the loss of its king.

Samaria’s king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters. – Hosea 10:7 NLT

Every element of authority would be destroyed or carted away. The capital city of Samaria, the center of power, would be destroyed. Their false gods would be taken as plunder. Their king would be removed from his royal throne and placed in prison where he would die. And the people would end up as slaves in the land of Assyria.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:5-7 NLT

And the remnant left living in the land of Israel will find themselves in a state of despair and despondency. Their losses will leave them hopeless and pessimistic. They will learn a valuable lesson from their losses, but it will be too little, too late.

“We have no king
    because we didn’t fear the Lord.
But even if we had a king,
    what could he do for us anyway?” – Hosea 10:3 NLT

With their capital city destroyed, their friends and neighbors living in captivity, and their sacred shrines empty of idols, the people will long for death.

They will beg the mountains, “Bury us!”
    and plead with the hills, “Fall on us!” – Hosea 10:8 NLT

The rebellious nation of Israel will find itself experiencing futility rather than fruitfulness. They will discover the pain and hopelessness associated with a life lived without God. When they cry out, “we have no king,” it will be because they have rejected God as their one true King.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithlessness Produces Fruitlessness

11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—
    no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
12 Even if they bring up children,
    I will bereave them till none is left.
Woe to them
    when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow;
    but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord
    what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
    and dry breasts.– Hosea 9:11-14 ESV

According to God, the glory of Israel was not to be measured by power, possessions, or their place in the global community of nations. They were not to find their identity and worth in their many accomplishments or their ability to accumulate wealth, status, and temporal significance. Their glory was their children, the fruit of their wombs. Even King Solomon, the man who had accumulated for himself great wealth, wisdom, fame, and power, had willingly admitted the intrinsic value of children.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

Yet God makes a startling announcement to the stubbornly rebellious people of Israel.

The glory of Israel will fly away like a bird, for your children will not be born or grow in the womb or even be conceived. –Hosea 9:11 NLT

He was informing the Israelites that the greatest gift or reward that He had given them was about to be removed from them. The pending Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom would result in many Israelites being captured and enslaved. Family members would be separated and transported back to Assyria, never to see one another again. But equally as devastating, those who would be allowed to remain in the land would see the nation’s birth rate drop precipitously. The loss of thousands of able-bodied men due to death in battle or enslavement would have long-term implications. But to fully understand the gravity of God’s pronouncement, one must consider the promise that He had made to Abraham.

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:17-18 ESV

God’s promise to bless Abraham entailed the provision of a multitude of offspring. But it’s important to note that the promise came immediately after Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God’s command to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time for the birth of Isaac. They were both advanced in years and she was barren. Yet God had blessed them with a son, through whom He would bring about the creation of a mighty nation. And God kept that promise.

Years later, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham would lead his small family into Egypt to seek respite from a famine in the land of Canaan. The book of Exodus states that “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:5 ESV) when they arrived in Egypt. Yet, by the time they left some four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. In fact, the book of Exodus goes on to state that “they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:7 NLT). During their prolonged stay in the land of Egypt, God had blessed the people of Israel by making them fruitful. And when the Pharaoh attempted to institute a plan that would curtail the prolific birthrate of the Israelites, he failed.

…the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. – Exodus 1:20 NLT

By the time God rescued the nation of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt, their numbers had grown exponentially. When Moses eventually led them out of the land, there were far more than 70 descendants of Jacob in line behind him.

That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children. A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:37-38 NLT

Some 40 years later, the people of Israel would find themselves standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, preparing to enter Canaan, the land God had promised to give Abraham’s descendants as their inheritance. And as they looked across the river to their future home, Moses told them:

“…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 4, 11 ESV

Now, centuries after that momentous occasion, Hosea was informing the Israelites that their God-ordained fruitfulness was about to come to an end. As God had faithfully multiplied their numbers, they had simply multiplied their sins. They had taught their children to live in disobedience to Yahweh. And this was exactly what Moses feared they would do. That’s why, long before their ancestors had entered the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them:

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:7-9 NLT

Moses had made it clear that God expected cross-generational sharing of His commands and a perpetual, intergenerational adherence to His will.

“…you and your children and grandchildren must fear the LORD your God as long as you live.…Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” – Deuteronomy 6:2, 3 NLT

But they had failed to heed Moses’ warning. And, as a result, each successive generation had become increasingly more apostate and idolatrous. And God had seen enough. He had watched Israel “become as beautiful as Tyre” (Hosea 9:13 NLT). They had enjoyed His many blessings and become prosperous and affluent. But all that was about to end.

“…now Israel will bring out her children for slaughter.” – Hosea 9:13 NLT

Even Hosea is appalled by the stubborn disobedience of the people. Rather than intercede with God and plead that He show them mercy, the prophet asks, “what should I request for your people?” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). And then he answers his own question: “I will ask for wombs that don’t give birth and breasts that give no milk” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). From his perspective, the people of Israel did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of the womb because they had been unwilling to raise up those children to honor and obey God.

For centuries, God had blessed the people of Israel. All the way back to their unpleasant sojourn in the land of Egypt, God had blessed them and made them fruitful. he had multiplied their number and then provided them with a land fully capable of holding and sustaining them. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, God had continued to expand their number and their significance in the region. Israel had become a major player in the middle east. But rather than respond to God’s gift of fruitfulness with faithfulness, the people of Israel had chosen to forsake Him. They had gladly appropriated His many blessings but returned the favor by refusing to honor, obey, and trust Him. Now, their stubbornness was about to result in barrenness.

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

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

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Famine From God

1 This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me,

“The end has come upon my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
declares the Lord God.
“So many dead bodies!”
“They are thrown everywhere!”
“Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample on the needy
    and bring the poor of the land to an end,
saying, “When will the new moon be over,
    that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
    that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
    and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals
    and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and everyone mourn who dwells in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?”

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
    shall faint for thirst.
14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,
    and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’
and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’
    they shall fall, and never rise again.” Amos 8:1-14 ESV

As God continues to unveil His plans for the rebellious people of Israel, He provides Amos with another visual illustration, meant to drive home the imminent nature of the coming judgment. Amos is given a vision of a basket filled with ripe summer fruit. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a pleasant sight, but Amos knew that it was a symbol of something foreboding. It was meant to represent the last of the harvest. Once the content of the basket was consumed, there would be no more. And God makes that point painfully clear.

“The end has come upon my people Israel…” – Amos 8:2 ESV

The basket of summer fruit was meant to symbolize the current state within Israel. They were enjoying prosperity and peace. King Jeroboam II had successfully expanded the nation’s borders and the people were filled with eager anticipation of a future filled with more of the same. They expected their basket to be continually filled with the ripe fruit of material gain and financial success. They viewed themselves as somehow deserving of a never-ending supply of blessings from God – even though they had long ago abandoned Him for a host of false gods. But the vision was God’s not-so-subtle way of letting them know that there was going to be an end to all their “ripe fruit” gained through illegal and unjust means.

“In that day the singing in the temple will turn to wailing. Dead bodies will be scattered everywhere. They will be carried out of the city in silence. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Amos 8:3 NLT

And just so they wouldn’t miss the point He was trying to make, God outlines the long list of sins they had committed that were the impetus for His anger. Their basket of ripe summer fruit had been gained by improper and unjust means. They had robbed the poor and trampled down the needy. They had repeatedly taken advantage of the disadvantaged. Graft and greed were prevalent, and the ones to suffer the most were those on the lower end of the social food chain. The ubiquitous presence of dishonesty and deceit left the poorest of the land suffering the greatest injustices. They couldn’t catch a break.

But God has had enough of all their ungodly ways. He will no longer tolerate this kind of behavior among His chosen people. So, He conveys to Jonah His plan to deal with Israel once and for all.

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. – Amos 8:7 ESV

This is the second time that God has mentioned the “pride of Jacob.” And in both cases, God is referring to the nation of Israel by referring to them by the former name of their patriarch and father. Jacob was the name given to the son of Isaac and Rebekah. It meant “supplanter,” or more literally, “heel-holder.” When he and his twin brother were born, Jacob came out of the womb second, grasping the heel of his slightly older brother. This would prove to be a sign of things to come. Throughout his life, Jacob would use deceit and deception to gain an advantage over his older brother, cheating Esau out of his birthright and robbing him of the blessing of the firstborn.

Years later, God would change Jacob’s name to Israel, and from him, God would create the nation that bore his name. But when God delivered His message of judgment against them, He chose to associate them with Jacob, the supplanter and deceiver. Back in chapter six, God declared His strong displeasure with Israel’s pride and arrogance. They had managed to inherit the negative characteristics of their forefather, and God let them know that He was not pleased.

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.” – Amos 6:8 ESV

God swore an oath, pledging to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel, and using the pride of Jacob as both His justification and the validation of His intentions. He would do exactly as He warned. Just as the Nile overflows its banks and floods the land, so will God’s judgment inundate the nation of Israel.

God describes a time of unexpected and inexplicable darkness. It will be like the sun setting in the middle of the day. This is most likely a metaphorical statement, describing the noonday sun being obscured by smoke from the many fires ravaging the city when the destruction finally comes upon it. There will be great mourning throughout Israel as its cities fall and its people suffer at the hands of their conquerors. It will be a day of bitterness and sorrow.

And all the destruction and devastation will result in a famine, but unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread or water
    but of hearing the words of the Lord. – Amos 8:11 NLT

People will stagger throughout the land, from the Sea of Galilee in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, trying to hear a word from God. But they will find that He has gone silent. The time for repentance will be over. Their opportunity to return to Him will have expired. They will hunger and thirst for a word from God but will hear nothing. The prophets will be silenced. The warnings will have ceased. And the calls to repentance will be replaced by weeping and wailing.

And God ends His vision of the basket of summer fruit by pointing out the utter futility and powerlessness of Israel’s many false gods. They will prove to be no help when the judgment of God comes upon the people of Israel.

“…those who swear by the shameful idols of Samaria—
    who take oaths in the name of the god of Dan
    and make vows in the name of the god of Beersheba—
they will all fall down,
    never to rise again.” – Amos 8:14 NLT

And we know that God kept His word. The book of 2 Kings records the day when the Assyrians entered the land of Israel and conquered the capital city of Samaria.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

And the author points out the cause behind this fateful day.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:7 NLT

But he reminds his readers that this entire ordeal could have been avoided if they would have listened to the words of God’s prophets.

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”

But the Israelites would not listen. – 2 Kings 17:13-14 NLT

And, as a result, the people of Israel found their bowl of summer fruit consumed by their enemy. The famine had begun, but “not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11 NLT). 

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

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

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson