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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Foolishness of Forsaking God

1 Rejoice not, O Israel!
    Exult not like the peoples;
for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.
    You have loved a prostitute’s wages
    on all threshing floors.
Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them,
    and the new wine shall fail them.
They shall not remain in the land of the Lord,
    but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
    and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.

They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord,
    and their sacrifices shall not please him.
It shall be like mourners’ bread to them;
    all who eat of it shall be defiled;
for their bread shall be for their hunger only;
    it shall not come to the house of the Lord.

What will you do on the day of the appointed festival,
    and on the day of the feast of the Lord?
For behold, they are going away from destruction;
    but Egypt shall gather them;
    Memphis shall bury them.
Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver;
    thorns shall be in their tents. Hosea 9:1-6 ESV

In these verses, the prophet Hosea delivers his own stinging criticism of the people of Israel. He warns them not to rejoice prematurely, falsely assuming that they will somehow escape God’s judgment. It is important to recall that, under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they were experiencing an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. Things were looking up. If they judged their status on circumstances alone, they would wrongly assume that they were in a very good spot, politically, financially, and spiritually. To all appearances, it would seem that their decision to worship the false gods of the pagan nations that surrounded them was actually paying off.

But Hosea warns them against making that faulty assumption. The truth was that God was upset with them and was preparing to rain down judgment on their parade. And Hosea makes sure they understand why God was about to turn their prosperity into poverty and disrupt their peace with a time of confusion and chaos.

…you have been unfaithful to your God,
    hiring yourselves out like prostitutes,
    worshiping other gods on every threshing floor. – Hosea 9:1 NLT

The people of Israel had grown accustomed to bountiful harvests, and they had attributed their fruitfulness to their false gods. Each year, they would offer sacrifices  on the threshing floors as they celebrated the obvious blessings provided by their false gods. Rather than acknowledge the goodness and grace of Yahweh, they robbed Him of glory by attributing His blessings to lifeless idols. So, Hosea warns them that the tap to God’s bounty was about to be turned off.

So now your harvests will be too small to feed you.
    There will be no grapes for making new wine. – Hosea 9:2 NLT

They had forgotten the words of the psalm that had been intended to remind God’s people that He was the source of all blessings, including their annual harvests.

Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 NLT

In the book that bears his name, James would echo this sentiment by describing God’s gracious provision for all our needs in poetic terms.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow. – James 1:17 BSB

The people of Israel had removed God from the picture. As they enjoyed all the benefits of a bountiful harvest, they neglected to give thanks to the one who had provided it all. And, in doing so, they showed disdain and disrespect for God – a mistake that would cost them dearly.

Centuries earlier, God had warned His chosen people what would happen if they forgot Him. As they stood on the border to the land of Canaan, preparing to enter in and take possession of it, Moses addressed them.

“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.

“But 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…” – Deuteronomy 8:8-14 NLT

And Moses would go on to tell them what would happen if they became proud and forgot the Lord.

“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens. You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity. Swarms of insects will destroy your trees and crops. – Deuteronomy 28:38-42 NLT

Now, Hosea was letting them know that they were about to experience much more than famine, drought, and a drastic drop in their agricultural production. God was going to remove them from the land altogether.

You may no longer stay here in the Lord’s land.
    Instead, you will return to Egypt,
and in Assyria you will eat food
    that is ceremonially unclean. – Hosea 9:3 NLT

This news would have shocked and surprised them because they believed the land to be theirs by right. It had been given to them by God as part of the inheritance He had promised to Abraham. Surely God would not evict His chosen people from their own land. But they were deadly wrong. God had given them ample warning about what would happen if they defiled the land He had so graciously provided. In giving them the land of promise, God had chosen to evict its current inhabitants because of their “detestable sins.” And before they ever set foot in Canaan, God had warned His people about emulating the ways of the pagan nations living in the land.

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways. Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. You must obey all my decrees and regulations. You must not commit any of these detestable sins.” – Leviticus 18:24-26 NLT

And He went on to tell the Israelites what would happen if they chose to disobey His command.

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now.” – Leviticus 18:27-28 NLT

But, once again, the Israelites failed to listen to God’s warning and, as a result, they were about to be vomited out of the land. In a sense, their sinful behavior had sickened the land, causing it to spew them out. It could no longer tolerate their existence. God’s displeasure with them would take the form of their violent discharge from the very land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. In a sense, the Israelites would be going backwards, returning to the same abysmal condition they had suffered in Egypt generations earlier. But this time, their “Egypt” would be Assyria. And rather than enjoying the bounty of God’s harvest in the land of milk and honey, they would find themselves having to eat food that was forbidden by God, rendering them as further unclean and unacceptable to Him.

They will have no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins because their sacrifices to God will be deemed unclean and unacceptable. They will be relegated to eating this defiled food for mere survival. It will edible but totally ineffectual for relieving the biggest need they faced: Their guilt and condemnation. So, when the annual feast days came around, the people would have nothing to offer to God. Their rejection from the land would prove costly and, ultimately, deadly. They would be destined to die in their sinful state, unforgiven and unable to be restored to a right relationship with their God.

Hosea describes their future as filled filled with unrelenting destruction and eventual death. Their once-beautiful homes will end up overrun by weeds. The treasures they had accumulated through greed and graft, would disappear. Their fate was sealed because they had chosen to forsake the God who had graciously set them apart as His own. Now they would discover what life without God was really like, and it would not be pleasant.

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

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

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

A Useless Vessel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No God. No Hope.

Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples;
    Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Strangers devour his strength,
    and he knows it not;
gray hairs are sprinkled upon him,
    and he knows it not.
10 The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
    yet they do not return to the Lord their God,
    nor seek him, for all this.

11 Ephraim is like a dove,
    silly and without sense,
    calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.
12 As they go, I will spread over them my net;
    I will bring them down like birds of the heavens;
    I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.
13 Woe to them, for they have strayed from me!
    Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me!
I would redeem them,
    but they speak lies against me.

14 They do not cry to me from the heart,
    but they wail upon their beds;
for grain and wine they gash themselves;
    they rebel against me.
15 Although I trained and strengthened their arms,
    yet they devise evil against me.
16 They return, but not upward;
    they are like a treacherous bow;
their princes shall fall by the sword
    because of the insolence of their tongue.
This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt. Hosea 7:8-16 ESV

Not only had Israel enjoyed ongoing love affairs with its many false gods, but it had also pursued adulterous relationships with foreign powers. In turning its back on God Almighty, Israel was forced to protect its national security through alliances and treaties with its more powerful neighbors. And none of these agreements had been ordained or approved by Yahweh.

These unsanctioned relationships with pagan powers, intended to strengthen Israel’s position in the region, actually ended up having the opposite effect. Over the years, Israel had embraced the false gods of the surrounding nations, further undermining its relationship with Yahweh. The marriage alliances that the kings of Israel made with other nations did more than provide a questionable peace agreement. The pagan princesses that joined the harems of Israel’s kings ended up bringing their false gods with them. And this practice could be traced all the way back to King Solomon.

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

The kings of Israel had followed Solomon’s lead, continuing to seek security and safety through these marital alliances with foreign powers. The treaties they made treaties with these godless nations were in direct violation of God’s command that they remain set-apart and distinct. When God had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the borders of the land of Canaan, He had warned them:

“I will fix your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River. I will hand over to you the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.

“Make no treaties with them or their gods. They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry.” – Exodus 23:31-33 NLT

Four decades later, when the people were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, Moses reiterated God’s warning.

When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:2-4 NLT

Yet, hundreds of years after that, Hosea is having to chastise the people of Israel for their complete disregard of God’s command.

The people of Israel mingle with godless foreigners,
    making themselves as worthless as a half-baked cake!
Worshiping foreign gods has sapped their strength,
    but they don’t even know it. – Hosea 7:8-9 NLT

They had compromised their convictions and allowed themselves to be corrupted from within. By opening the doors to these foreign nations and their false gods, Israel had violated God’s command and was now suffering the consequences. But they remained completely oblivious to the danger. It had all taken place slowly and imperceptibly, as the graying of man’s hair as he ages. Time passes, and before you know it, you find yourself old, weak, and incapable of doing the things you did when you were younger.

Yet, in their stubbornness, they refused to call out to the only one who could do anything to rescue them: Yahweh. Despite their growing weakness, their pride remained remarkably strong. They couldn’t bring themselves to repent. It was too much for them to admit that they had been wrong and needed the help of God. So, they kept up their deadly pursuit of false gods and foreign aid. And God can’t help but point out the absurdity of it all.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help. – Hosea 7:11 NLT

Israel’s kings and the diplomats who advised them acted like “witless doves,” flitting about from one nation to another, in the hopes of securing assistance in their time of need. But they had no idea what they were doing. They were in dangerous territory, making overtures to countries that would turn on them in an instant. These nations were not to be trusted. They were power-grabbing opportunists who did not have Israel’s best interests in mind. And what Israel failed to understand was that the very nations they were seeking to align themselves with were the same nations God would use as His instruments of judgment against them. Their treaty partners would become their destroyers. Israel’s foreign diplomats could negotiate all the treaties in the world, but nothing was going to save them from the destruction to come.

“But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.”  – Hosea 7:12 NLT

And God makes it clear that His pending judgment will be the result of their willful abandonment of Him. They were guilty of spreading lies about Him. The very fact that they were seeking the aid of foreign powers was evidence that they believed He would not or could not protect them. He was not powerful enough. And the ongoing nature of their rebellion would appear to indicate that Yahweh was too weak to punish them. So, they sinned with impunity.

Rather than seek God’s help, “They cut themselves, begging foreign gods for grain and new wine” (Hosea 7:14 NLT). This portrays the cultic practices associated with the worship of the false gods of Canaan. It is reminiscent of the actions of the prophets of Baal who attempted to call on their false god to aid them in their battle with Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh. From morning to Noon, they had called on their god to rain down fire on the altar they had built to him, but nothing had happened. So, Elijah ridiculed and mocked them, saying:

“Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. – 1 Kings 18:27-29 NLT

Baal never responded. And the false gods of the Israelites never came to their aid either. But their pride and arrogance will keep them from seeking God. It seems they would rather die than return to Him.

“They look everywhere except to the Most High.
    They are as useless as a crooked bow.
Their leaders will be killed by their enemies
    because of their insolence toward me.
Then the people of Egypt
    will laugh at them.” – Hosea 7:16 NLT

So, God would end up using one of their former treaty partners to serve as His deliverer of judgment. The Assyrians would end up invading Israel, destroying the capital city of Samaria, killing the king, and taking the people captive. And when this devastating event occurred, their former allies would laugh at them with scorn. No one would feel sorry for Israel. No nation would come to their aid. All their treaties and alliances would be for naught. God had longed to redeem them, but they had rejected His gracious offer by refusing to repent of their rebellion and apostasy. And yet, God’s promise of redemption and restoration that He made to King Solomon had never gone away.

“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Their salvation was as close as a prayer of humble repentance.

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

Devoured by False Devotion

1 Hear this, O priests!
    Pay attention, O house of Israel!
Give ear, O house of the king!
    For the judgment is for you;
for you have been a snare at Mizpah
    and a net spread upon Tabor.
And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter,
    but I will discipline all of them.

I know Ephraim,
    and Israel is not hidden from me;
for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore;
    Israel is defiled.
Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they know not the Lord.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
    Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt;
    Judah also shall stumble with them.
With their flocks and herds they shall go
    to seek the Lord,
but they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn from them.
They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord;
    for they have borne alien children.
    Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. Hosea 5:1-7 ESV

To the king in his royal palace, the priests in their pagan temples, and the prosperous upper class in their idol-filled homes, God now announces His intention to punish them all. And there was plenty of guilt to go around. These elites of Israelite society had promoted the apostasy for which Israel was now facing the judgment of God. From Mizpah in the north, all the way to Mount Tabor in the south, the nation’s leaders had been setting traps in which to capture the unwary people of Israel. Throughout the land, they had erected sacred sites and shrines to their many false gods. And the ubiquitous presence of these pagan places of worship made it virtually impossible for the average Israelite to avoid the temptation to forsake Yahweh.

God describes the citizens of Israel as “knee-deep in slaughter” (Hosea 5:2 NET). Their state of rebellion against Him had resulted in the countless sacrifice of lambs and bulls on the altars of their false gods. The blood had flowed, but they would find their idols to be no help against the wrath of God Almighty. He was going to severely discipline them for their blatant disregard for His commands and the willful violation of their covenant agreement with Him.

And God indicates that the time for repentance and remorse is over. He has seen every one of their sinful acts and He knows that their hearts have been corrupted by a spirit of unfaithfulness. Not only are they are unwilling to change, but they are also completely incapable of change because “the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord” (Hosea 5:4 ESV). They’ve practiced spiritual adultery for so long that they no longer have the capacity to turn back to God. They are creatures of habit, doomed to continue their moral and spiritual decline.

It’s amazing to consider that God conflates Israel’s iniquity with their vanity and pride. Not only are they guilty of sin, but they’re proud of it. They walk with a spiritual swagger and boast about their growing pantheon of false deities. And the worst part is that their arrogance is highly contagious. It will eventually infect the southern kingdom of Judah, causing them to suffer an untimely death from the same devastating disease of apostasy.

When God’s judgment finally fallas on these two rebellious nations, they will attempt to mollify His anger with sacrifices but Hosea warns that their efforts will be in vain.

When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.  – Hosea 5:6 NLT

When the discipline of God descends upon them, they will try to win His favor by reinstituting their worship of Him, but it will be too little, too late. Thr smoke from their burnt offerings will be like a stench in the nostrils of God, rather than a pleasing aroma. And the prophet Amos describes God’s dissatisfaction with their faux sacrifices.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.” – Amos 5:21-24 NLT

The prophet Isaiah reiterates God’s strong words of condemnation, leveled against His chosen but rebellious people.

But those who choose their own ways—
    delighting in their detestable sins—
    will not have their offerings accepted.
When such people sacrifice a bull,
    it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice.
When they sacrifice a lamb,
    it’s as though they had sacrificed a dog!
When they bring an offering of grain,
    they might as well offer the blood of a pig.
When they burn frankincense,
    it’s as if they had blessed an idol.
I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.
For when I called, they did not answer.
    When I spoke, they did not listen.
They deliberately sinned before my very eyes
    and chose to do what they know I despise.”  – Isaiah 66:3-4 NLT

Because of His omnipresence, God will always be in their midst but, from their perspective, it will appear as if He has withdrawn from them. They will call on Him but receive no response. They will sacrifice to Him but have their offerings rejected. They will attempt to renew their commitment to Him, only to find their efforts rebuffed.

Why? Because they have chosen to disobey His commands. God even accuses them of betraying His honor by “bearing children that are not his” (Hosea 5:7 NLT). Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, had been accused of bearing him illegitimate children, so God accuses the people of Israel of blatant unfaithfulness. Their very offspring are the byproduct of their love affair with their false gods. An entire generation of Israelites had been born in an atmosphere of infidelity and raised on a steady diet of spiritual immorality.

The result of their unfaithfulness will be their abandonment by God. He will simply turn them over to their well-deserved fate. And Hosea describes it in fairly crytic terms.

 Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. – Hosea 5:7 ESV

The word for “month” in Hebrew is hadesh, and it can literallly be translated as “new moon.” So, in Judaism, each new month was accompanied by a New Moon Festival at which sacrifices were made to God. The people would continue to go through the motions, practicing the religious rituals and observing all the standard feasts and festivals. But they would be more than willing to give up their lambs and bulls, they were totally unwilling to part with their sins. So, rather than their sacrifices bringing the blessings of God, they would result in their destruction at the hands of God.

 

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

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

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

A Hard Act to Follow

1 Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

“Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
    and her adultery from between her breasts;
lest I strip her naked
    and make her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and make her like a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst.
Upon her children also I will have no mercy,
    because they are children of whoredom.
For their mother has played the whore;
    she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
    who give me my bread and my water,
    my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’
Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns,
    and I will build a wall against her,
    so that she cannot find her paths.
She shall pursue her lovers
    but not overtake them,
and she shall seek them
    but shall not find them.
Then she shall say,
    ‘I will go and return to my first husband,
    for it was better for me then than now.’
And she did not know
    that it was I who gave her
    the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
    which they used for Baal.
Therefore I will take back
    my grain in its time,
    and my wine in its season,
and I will take away my wool and my flax,
    which were to cover her nakedness.
10 Now I will uncover her lewdness
    in the sight of her lovers,
    and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.
11 And I will put an end to all her mirth,
    her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths,
    and all her appointed feasts.
12 And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees,
    of which she said,
‘These are my wages,
    which my lovers have given me.’
I will make them a forest,
    and the beasts of the field shall devour them.
13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals
    when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers
    and forgot me, declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:1-13 ESV

I’m not sure who had the worst assignment from God. Was it Jonah, whom God had commissioned to deliver His message of judgment to the Assyrians living in Nineveh, a people renowned for their wickedness and cruelty? Or was it Hosea, who was given the unenviable task of marrying a prostitute and starting a family? Before you decide, you might want to take a look at chapter two of the book of Hosea, because it adds another level of awkwardness and discomfort to his plight.

While it seems clear that Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was intended to serve as a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God, we can’t ignore the fact that he really did marry a prostitute. And to make matters worse, verses 1-13 of chapter two seem to indicate that there were serious questions about the legitimacy of Hosea’s three children. While Jezreel, Lo-ruhama, and Lo-ammi were all born into Hosea’s family, there would be lingering doubts as to whether they were really his children or not. And this would be because Gomer continued to pursue a lifestyle of unfaithfulness. Despite Hosea’s love for her, she evidently refused to give up her old way of life.

In verse 2 of chapter two, God uses Hosea’s strained relationship with Gomer to portray the less-than-satisfactory nature of His own relationship with the nation of Israel. And God seems to infer that Hosea may have cause for concern when it comes to his wife’s faithfulness and the pedigree of his own children.

At first glance, it’s difficult to determine who is speaking in these verses. It is Hosea or God? But when considered in the context of the rest of the book, it becomes apparent that God is using Hosea’s “voice” to proclaim HIs judgment against His unfaithful and spiritual adulterous “bride” – the nation of Israel. God opens up by declaring: “Plead with your mother, plead for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband — that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts…” (Hosea 2:2 ESV). God is accusing Israel, His wife, of having committed egregious acts of spiritual adultery. Not once, but many times. And what makes this disclosure particularly disturbing is that God had just promised to restore and reunite His rebellious people.

“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’ Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite together. They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together. What a day that will be—the day of Jezreel—when God will again plant his people in his land. – Hosea 1:10-11 NLT

Again, using Hosea’s own children as symbols for the rebellious children of Israel, God states, “In that day you will call your brothers Ammi—‘My people.’ And you will call your sisters Ruhamah—‘The ones I love’” (Hosea 2:1 NLT).  He promises to redeem and restore His illegitimate children, who are the byproduct of Israel’s various love affairs with other gods.

The children themselves are proof positive that Israel has been unfaithful – not once, but on multiple occasions. And, once again, it would appear that Hosea must have had cause to question the legitimacy of his own children. This too-close-for-comfort metaphor would have left Hosea reeling with uncertainty about Gomer’s faithfulness. Yet, his marriage to her had a far greater purpose behind it than his own happiness. God was using this man’s marriage as a living lesson for the entire nation of Israel.

The anger that Hosea would have felt upon discovering Gomer’s adultery paled in comparison to God’s righteous indignation against His chosen people. And just as Hosea would have demanded that Gomer repent and turn from her lifestyle of promiscuity, God was adamant that His people put their adulterous ways behind them.

“Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.
Otherwise, I will strip her as naked
    as she was on the day she was born.
I will leave her to die of thirst,
    as in a dry and barren wilderness.” – Hosea 2:2-3 NLT

God was not going to tolerate their behavior. He warned Israel to abandon their wicked ways or face His abandonment of them. God accused Israel of running after other “lovers” – false gods who offered them help, hope, security, and prosperity.  They were guilty of selling themselves for “food and water, for clothing of wool and linen, and for olive oil and drinks” (Hosea 2:5 NLT). In other words, they were seeking satisfaction and significance outside their covenant relationship with God. And, in doing so, they were insinuating that Yahweh was not enough. He had met their needs.

But God warns them that He is going to limit their ability to wander and prostitute themselves for pay. Their actions were not motivated by love but, instead, were driven by material gain. They willingly gave themselves to their long list of false gods in the  hopes of getting something in return for their efforts. In a sense, Israel was guilty of selling themselves to the highest bidder. They weren’t just immoral, they were mercenary in their behavior – selling their affection in exchange for compensation.

God, assuming the role of the offended husband, declares that he will not stand idly by and watch his “wife” continue to abuse his kindness and mercy.

“I will strip her naked in public,
    while all her lovers look on.
No one will be able
    to rescue her from my hands.” – Hosea 2:10 NLT

And in verses 11-13, God eliminates all doubt that He is addressing the sins of Israel. He portends a day when Israel will pay for its many indiscretions. He portrays a time when life as they know it comes to an end. Their religious feasts and festivals will abruptly cease. The fruitfulness of the land will diminish. The towns and villages will become empty wastelands, occupied by wild animals rather than people. And all of this will take place in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians conquer Israel and destroy the capital city of Samaria. And God leave no questions regarding the cause of their future destruction.

“I will punish her for all those times
    when she burned incense to her images of Baal,
when she put on her earrings and jewels
    and went out to look for her lovers
but forgot all about me,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 2:13 NLT

Keep in mind, Hosea was living this nightmare out in real life. He was having to watch his own marriage implode right before his eyes, and God was going to expect him to love Gomer in the same way that He expressed love to His own unfaithful people. Every time Hosea felt like throwing in the towel and giving up on his marriage to Gomer, God was going to illustrate with covenant faithfulness should look like. He was not going to overlook or excuse the sins of Israel, but He was also not going to give up on HIs covenant commitment to love them to the 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 Will and the Word of God

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.

“You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’

17 Therefore thus says the Lord:

“‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
    and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
    and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” Amos 7:10-17 ESV

Back during the days when God split Solomon’s kingdom in two, He placed Jeroboam I as the king over the ten northern tribes. They retained the name of Israel, while the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin became the kingdom of Judah, under the reign of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. One of the first things Jeroboam I did was to establish his own religion, complete with golden idols. He set up temples in Bethel and Dan, and established a set of annual feasts to discourage the people from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:31 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, another king of Israel, who was also called Jeroboam, proved that he and his predecessor had far more in common than a shared name.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit. – 2 Kings 14:24 NLT

Jeroboam II had followed the ways of every king of Israel who had preceded him. He propagated the practice of idolatry begun by his namesake. And he continued to lead the people away from their worship of Yahweh. That’s why God had provided Amos with the visions of Israel’s pending destruction. He was not going to tolerate the continued apostasy of His chosen people, and He had specifically decreed the end of Jeroboam II’s reign.

“I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9-10 NLT

It didn’t take long for this fateful news to reach the ears of the king, and it came through one of his false priests, a man named Amaziah. He served at the temple in Bethel, where Jeroboam I had placed one of his golden calves. Amaziah was no more qualified to be a priest than the idol he worshiped was qualified to be considered a god. According to God’s law, only members of the tribe of Levi could serve in the priesthood. God had set them apart for that very purpose. But Amaziah was not a Levite and, therefore, not really a priest at all. He was just a man who pretended to be a priest for a god that didn’t really exist. But in the apostate land of Israel, that was more than enough for him to have the respect of the people and the ear of the king.

So, when Amaziah got wind of Amos’ doomsday visions, he immediately reported it to the king.

“Amos is hatching a plot against you right here on your very doorstep! What he is saying is intolerable. He is saying, ‘Jeroboam will soon be killed, and the people of Israel will be sent away into exile.’” – Amos 7:10-11 NLT

The so-called priest rejected the word of God’s appointed prophet. He placed no stock in Amos’ words and simply viewed him as a potential threat to the kingdom and his own way of life. In Amaziah’s mind, Amos was nothing more than an insurrectionist who had threatened the life of the king. He needed to take his prophetic show somewhere else.

“Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!” – Amos 7:12-13 NLT

According to the opening verses of this book, Amos was from the city of Tekoa, which was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet God had called him to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel. So, Amaziah viewed Amos as an outsider and strongly encouraged him to go back where he came from, because he was no longer welcome in Israel. But Amos was anything but a professional prophet and he wasn’t in it for the money. He had been minding his own business as a sheepherder when God called him and sent him to prophesy to the northern kingdom. He had not chosen this less-than-enjoyable assignment, but had been divinely appointed for it. And as long as God continued to speak, Amos was going to repeat what he heard.

So, rather than take Amaziah’s advice and return home to Tekoa, Amos gave his nemesis a prophetic word from God.

Now then, listen to this message from the Lord:

“You say,
‘Don’t prophesy against Israel.
    Stop preaching against my people.’
But this is what the Lord says…” – Amos 7:16-17 NLT

Amaziah was in no position to dictate demands. He had no authority to order around a prophet of Yahweh. And while he thought he could ban the prophet of God, he couldn’t stifle the word of God. And the news that Amos had to share was anything but encouraging.

Your wife will become a prostitute in this city,
    and your sons and daughters will be killed.
Your land will be divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a foreign land.
And the people of Israel will certainly become captives in exile,
    far from their homeland.’” – Amos 7:17 NLT

It was as if God had placed His plumb line next to the life of this false priest and found him to be way out of alignment. He failed to measure up to God’s righteous standard. Amaziah had failed on all accounts. He was not a Levite. That means he was unqualified to be a priest. On top of that, he worshiped a god that didn’t even exist. He was a fake priest who promoted the worship of a false god. And he served a king who “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 14:24 NLT). Amaziah was nothing more than a poorly constructed wall that leaned precariously and dangerously in the wrong direction. And his fall was imminent and unavoidable.

Amaziah’s tenure as a well-respected priest in Israel would come to an abrupt end. As a member of the royal retinue, he would end up being taken captive when Israel fell to the Assyrians. That would leave his wife as little more than a widow, forced to sell her body in order to make ends meet. His children would be murdered by the Assyrians and his land holdings would be confiscated and divided among others. Amaziah would end up losing everything. This man who thought he could stifle the word of God would have his life destroyed according to the sovereign will of God. And there was nothing he could about it.

But because Amaziah was not a priest of Yahweh, he couldn’t recognize God’s voice or accept God’s prophet. He had long ago sold out to the false gods of Jeroboam I. He had grown rich and influential by promoting the worship of gods that didn’t even exist. But now, Amaziah was about to find out the hard way, that not only did Yahweh exist, His will was unavoidable and His word was always reliable. God had spoken and it would happen – just as Amos had said.

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 Original Reformation

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the Lord to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:1-20 ESV

When it came to reforming and healing the deadly spiritual malaise in Judah, Josiah had his work cut out for him. And when reading the list of his reforms, it’s easy to focus on all the positive steps he took to course-correct Judah’s spiritual trajectory. But why was all of this necessary? How had things gotten so bad in Judah that the king was forced to commit all his time and resources to this spiritual reclamation project? The reader should be shocked and appalled by the abysmal condition of the nation’s faith community. The moral state of the people of Judah had reached an all-time low. And Josiah revealed the extent of their moral decline by reading to them portions of the rediscovered Book of the Covenant – the Pentateuch. And it seems likely that his reading included this foundational and oft-repeated admonition from the original Ten Commandments.

“Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God. You must keep my Sabbath days of rest and show reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 26:1-2 NLT

Josiah had already begun an aggressive temple renovation project designed to repair the long-neglected house of God. But these restoration efforts were more than cosmetic in nature. Josiah was having to purge and purify the sanctuary of God from the desecrating presence of altars to a litany of idols. His predecessors had repeatedly displayed their disregard for God by defiling the temple that bore His name. They had turned God’s house into a veritable showroom for displaying all their false gods, and the sheer volume of these abominations is staggering.

Then the king instructed Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second rank and the Temple gatekeepers to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the articles that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:4 NLT

The king removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s Temple… – 2 Kings 23:6 NLT

He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:7 NLT

He removed from the entrance of the Lord’s Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun – 2 Kings 23:11 NLT

The king destroyed the altars that Manasseh had built in the two courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT

Josiah was a busy man, and his reforms didn’t stop at the temple. He was determined to do whatever it took to remove every last vestige of idolatry from the land of Judah. He ordered the destruction of every last shrine or altar dedicated to a false god, and there were a lot of them. Pagan shrines and high places could be found through Judah, from the capital city of Jerusalem to Geba in the north and Beersheba in the south. Their ubiquitous presence required Josiah to launch an extensive seek-and-destroy mission that began in the temple, extended to the valleys just out Jerusalem, and then reached all the way to the northern territory of Israel.

While the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken captive, the shrines and altars to their false gods remained. So, Josiah sent special demolition teams as far as Bethel to destroy the altar that Jeroboam had erected years earlier.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. – 2 Kings 23:15 NLT

This was in direct fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy declared by God against the rebellious Jeroboam. After God had split the kingdom of Solomon in half, He had awarded the kingship of the ten northern tribes oto Jeroboam. But Jeroboam had displayed his loyalty and gratitude by erecting a golden calf in the city of Bethel. This newly appointed king of Israel repaid God by abandoning Him. So, God sent a young, unnamed prophet with a message.

“O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, the prophecy of God became a reality. Josiah tore down the altar dedicated to the golden calf and then had the ground desecrated by burning human bones on it.

Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:16 NLT

The scope of Josiah’s reformation initiative is truly staggering, and it reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. The sheer volume of false gods being worshiped by the people of God should leave us dumbfounded. There were shrines to Baal, Topheth, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech – just to name a few. But there also altars dedicated “to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and to all the powers of the heavens” (2 Kings 23:5 NLT), as well as horse and chariot statues dedicated to the sun (2 Kings 23:11).

Josiah was faced with a truly formidable task but he took it on with dedicated determination. He tore down, burned down, cut down, smashed, and desecrated the thousands of altars to the myriad of false gods that permeated the landscape and the hearts of the people of Judah. Josiah took his role seriously because he feared God greatly. His reading of the Book the Covenant had reminded him of the dire consequences facing the people of God if they failed to remain faithful to their covenant commitment. He was well aware of what had happened to the northern kingdom, and he knew that Judah was just as deserving of God’s judgment. They had been equally unfaithful and the evidence was everywhere. So, Josiah took it upon himself to cleanse the land of its idolatrous stain. But the greatest challenge he faced was turning the hearts of the people back to Yahweh. He could remove the idols from the land, but could he remove the spirit of idolatry from their hearts? Time would tell.

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 Holy One of Israel

20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

22 “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
24 I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’

25 “Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
26 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

27 “But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
28 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

29 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this.

32 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 19:20-37 ESV

This is essentially the story of three kings. First, there is King Sennacherib, the sovereign ruler over the rapidly expanding Assyrian empire. He is the commander-in-chief of one of the most powerful armies on earth, and his ambitious plans of global conquest have met with little to no resistance. Kingdom after kingdom has fallen before his army and now he has his sights set on the nation of Judah, where Hezekiah, the second king in our story, rules from his throne in Jerusalem. But King Hezekiah finds himself in the unenviable position of ruling over a city under siege. His capital city is surrounded by the Assyrian army and he has been given an ultimatum to surrender or face annihilation.

Two kings. One is dressed in his royal robes and reveling in the indisputable reality of his own success. The other has discarded his regal attire for sackcloth and ashes, the garments of mourning. Sennacherib is a confident and self-assured king who sees no end to his plans for global conquest and domination. He is unstoppable. And it would appear that Hezekiah agrees with that assessment because he has turned to Yahweh for help. With his city completely surrounded and his allies nowhere to be seen, Hezekiah has called on the God of Judah to come to their aid.

“O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God.” – 2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT

This penitent petition engages the attention of the third king in our story.  From His royal throne room in heaven, God heard the humble and contrite prayer of the king of Judah and immediately responded with an answer. The sovereign King of kings, who rules over all the kingdoms of the earth, sent a message to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah.

But this message, while delivered to King Hezekiah, was really directed at Sennacherib. God, the King of all kings, had a few choice words for the pompous and prideful potentate of Assyria. He warns the over-confident king that his plans for Judah’s conquest will fail.

“The virgin daughter of Zion
    despises you and laughs at you.
The daughter of Jerusalem
    shakes her head in derision as you flee. – 2 Kings 19:21 NLT

Despite Sennacherib’s boastful claims, Jerusalem will remain pure and undefiled, her walls unbreached and her population spared the indignities of conquest or capture. The day is coming when the citizens of Jerusalem will rejoice and celebrate as the Assyrians abandon their siege and disappear over the horizon.

Sennacherib had made the fateful mistake of mocking the wrong deity, and Yahweh let him know that his derisive and disrespectful words were going to cost him. He had offended the Holy One of Israel and would soon suffer the consequences for his error. But first, God points out Sennacherib’s primary problem: His pride.

“By your messengers you have defied the Lord.
    You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest corners
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – 2 Kings 19:23-24 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from a terminal “I” condition. His unbridled success had gone to his head and he had begun to believe that he was invincible and, in a sense, divine. By his own boastful admission, Sennacherib had claimed that the kings of Assyria had defeated the gods of all their enemies.

“Have the gods of other nations rescued them—such nations as Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel-assar? My predecessors destroyed them all! What happened to the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad? What happened to the kings of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?” – 2 Kings 19:12-13 NLT

And he was convinced that Yahweh, the God of Judah, would fair no better than any of the other gods. But what Sennacherib failed to understand was that Yahweh was the sovereign ruler over all the nations of the world. The Assyrian’s rise to global dominance had been a part of God’s preordained plan. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands and actors in His divine drama that will culminate in the redemption and restoration of all creation.

God let Sennacherib know that he had no right to boast or brag. He could take no credit for any of his success. It had all been according to the sovereign will of the King of the universe.

“I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.
That is why their people have so little power
    and are so frightened and confused.
They are as weak as grass,
    as easily trampled as tender green shoots.
They are like grass sprouting on a housetop,
    scorched before it can grow lush and tall.” – 2 Kings 19:25-26 NLT

This message, while directed at Sennacherib, was meant to encourage Hezekiah. It was intended as a well-timed reminder to the king of Judah that his God was sovereign over all things. Regardless of the circumstances of life, the people of God can and should rest in the fact that their God reigns.

“…the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” – Daniel 4:17 NLT

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
 – Psalm 103:19 ESV

For the LORD Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. – Psalm 47:2 NLT

God reigns above the nations, sitting on his holy throne. – Psalm 47:8 NLT

For all the kings of the earth belong to God. – Psalm 47:9 NLT

God wanted both of these men to understand that they had nothing to do with their positions or power. Their very existence was God-ordained and God-caused. Their kingdoms and their crowns were fully attributable to God and He had the divine right to remove them from power should He so choose. Which is exactly what He warned Sennacherib was going to happen.

“I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – 2 Kings 19:28 NLT

Man’s plans must always give way to God’s sovereign will.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Sennacherib had ambitious plans for global dominance, but he would soon find that God’s plans superseded his own. And the King of the universe assured Hezekiah that He would protect Jerusalem and continue to provide for all their needs. Sennacherib and his forces would remain a threat for three more years, but God made it clear that “His armies will not enter Jerusalem. They will not even shoot an arrow at it” (2 Kings 19:32 NLT).

And as a sign to prove that He was in full control of the situation, God sent an angel who slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night. The next morning, the citizens of Jerusalem woke up to find the land outside the walls covered in corpses, but the rest of the Assyrian army was nowhere to be seen. The King of kings had displayed His sovereign power by sending a single angel to wreak havoc among the Assyrians.

And when Sennacherib returned home, he would find his days of glory and conquest come to an abrupt and ignominious end. He would be assassinated by two of his own sons. And this less-than-glorious conclusion to his life would take place in the temple of his god. The circumstances of Sennacherib’s demise should not go unnoticed. It was as the vainglorious king of Assyria was safely ensconced in his capital and worshiping in the temple of his false god that the King of kings chose to demonstrate His sovereign power over all the kingdoms of the earth. The Holy One of Israel proved yet again that He is the one and only 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

Where Are the Gods?

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:26-37 ESV

This entire scene is filled with a sense of nervous anticipation. The people of Judah are lining the eastern walls of the city, overlooking the Kidron Valley, where the Assyrian army lies spread out before them in numbers too great to count. But their eyes are locked on the three emissaries whom King Hezekiah commissioned to discuss terms of peace with the Assyrians. Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah hold the fate of the nation in their hands. The people know that the negotiating skills of these three men will determine whether Judah stands or falls. So, all eyes are fixed on the momentous scene taking place at the base of the walls of the city.

But the Rabshakeh, or supreme commander of the Assyrian army, is not interested in peace negotiations. He has come to demand the unconditional surrender of the city and its inhabitants. He and his troops have repeatedly proven their superior power and he is confident that the city of Jerusalem will be one more domino to fall as they continue their conquest of Palestine. Speaking on behalf of his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh declares Hezekiah’s rebellion to be ill-conceived and ill-fated.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? – 2 Kings 18:19-20 NLT

With the citizens of Jerusalem looking on and listening in, this arrogant military commander summarily dismisses any likelihood that the Egyptians will come to the aid of the city. The last-minute military alliance that King Hezekiah made with Pharaoh will prove disappointingly insufficient. The Rabshakeh sarcastically compares Pharaoh to a cane or walking stick made from a reed. It may appear to give support, but it will shatter as soon as any weight is placed upon it.

And the overly confident Assyrian commander informs the Jewish emissaries that if they are holding out hope that Yahweh will come to their rescue, they will find themselves sorely disappointed. Their deity will join a long list of other gods who proved unsuccessful in stopping the Assyrian juggernaut. And, hoping to further undermine their faith in divine rescue, the Rabshakeh announces to the people of Judah that Yahweh had ordered their destruction.

“What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”  2 Kings 18:25 NLT

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah could sense that all this boastful rhetoric was having its intended effect. The Rabshakeh had purposefully delivered his message in Hebrew so that all the people on the wall could hear what he had to say. And they were growing increasingly more concerned. When the king’s three emissaries asked that the conversation be switched to Aramaic, the Rabshakeh refused and called out in a loud voice, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (2 Kings 18:27 NLT).

At this point, the Rabshakeh turns his attention to the people on the walls of the city. He begins to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion by raising questions concerning King Hezekiah’s intentions and trustworthiness. By addressing the people directly, the Rabshakeh hopes to foment an uprising within the walls of the city, inciting the citizens to turn on their king and demand that he spare their lives by surrendering to the Assyrians. And to help sweeten the pot, the Rabshakeh offers them tempting promises of peace and prosperity.

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death! – 2 Kings 18:31-32 NLT

Look closely at what the Assyrian king is offering the people of Judah. Essentially, this pagan king is putting himself in the place of God, promising to meet all their needs. He will supply them with ample food and drink. He will provide them with fresh water. And he will take them to “a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey.” That should sound familiar. When God had called Moses to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, He had promised to lead them to a “fertile and spacious land…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 NLT). And after God had successfully freed them from their captivity and led them to the land of Canaan, He had reminded them again of His promise to give them “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” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT).

Now, centuries later, here was the pagan king of Assyria offering to replicate what God had done for His chosen people. If they would only turn their backs on Yahweh and trust in King Sennacherib, he would provide for all their needs and take them to a new “promised land.”

Sennacherib was placing himself in the role of God, declaring himself to be the source of life and death. By placing their trust in him, they would be assured of peace, prosperity, and life. But centuries earlier, Moses had delivered a much different message to the people of Israel. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land of promise for the very first time, he had warned them:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT

Sennacherib was playing God. This over-confident king with an overactive ego was daring to place himself on equal standing with God Almighty. And he was attempting to persuade the people of Judah to abandon their hope and trust in Yahweh by offering them a “better” promised land.

But while the people on the wall were disturbed by what they heard, they obeyed King Hezekiah’s command and remained silent. And the three emissaries, their clothes torn in an act of mourning, returned to the king and reported all that they had heard. It was a dark day in Judah. The enemy was at the gate. The allies of Judah were nowhere to be found. But despite the boasts of the Rabshakeh, the God of Judah was still on His throne and in complete control of all that was happening. He alone held the power of life and death in His hands. And King Sennacherib and his overconfident military commander were about to discover the painful lesson that they were no match for the all-powerful God of Judah.

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