Don’t Over-Complicate It

1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1-4 ESV

This is the second time in the gospels that we find a record of Jesus delivering to His disciples what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. The other occasion is found in the book of Matthew. But the significant differences in the two accounts seem to indicate that Luke and Matthew were recording two different incidents. This should not be surprising because Jesus often repeated key lessons to His disciples. And since prayer was such a vital part of His own earthly ministry, He must have discussed this topic on more than one occasion. 

Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His disciples and causing them to misuse and abuse it. Like so many other Jews, they had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. That was the basis of Jesus’ discussion of prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. He had just covered how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy and, therefore, answer their prayers more readily.

In Luke’s account, he reveals that the topic of prayer was raised by one of Jesus’ disciples. This unnamed individual came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 ESV). It could be that this man expected Jesus to further elaborate on His original discussion regarding prayer. As the disciples observed Jesus day after day, they were eyewitnesses to His own prayerful disposition. He often spent entire evenings in prayer to His Heavenly Father, and Luke indicates that it was after just such an occasion that this disciple approached Jesus with his request.

It seems likely that this disciple remembered what Jesus had said about prayer when He had discussed the topic earlier. But the man was looking for more. He specifically asked that Jesus teach them as John taught his disciples. It would appear that the disciple was looking for the key to a more effective and powerful prayer life. If you recall, when the disciples had failed to cast the demon out of a young boy, Jesus had told them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). Their lack of success in casting out the demon coupled with this insight from Jesus might have prompted a discussion among the disciples regarding their need for more prayer instruction. It wasn’t that they didn’t pray, it was that they must not be praying in the wrong way. Or so they thought.

So, much to their surprise and disappointment, Jesus simply repeats what He had taught them earlier.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say…” – Luke 11:2 ESV

As in the case of Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew’s gospel, what follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for the disciples’ own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that they were to pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides a model to be followed, not a mantra to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every conversation between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. And it provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as His child. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants, and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer by addressing the Father.

The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He loves and cares for us, and He is also responsible for us. He is holy, while we are marred by sin and yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them as peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt,” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We are never to forget that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

Next, Jesus provides an interesting way to address our Father God.

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to tell God that His name should be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. It was tied to his character. So, to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but as His children, we are expressing our desire to live in such a way that nothing we do might profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy through our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states, “your kingdom come.” Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. Not ours. Prayer is to be focused on God, not us. Prayer is not primarily a time to tell God about all the things we think He doesn’t know or to give Him the lengthy list of things we think we need. In His earlier lesson on prayer, Jesus had stated, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom come is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayer allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. That does not mean we are forbidden to ask for things from God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do make requests of God.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. A sincere desire for God’s kingdom to come should change the nature of our requests. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. He is King and knows what is best for us. So, as we pray to Him, our priorities should change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“…the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sinful natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is a sin. It is against the will of God for His children. That is why the apostle Paul had such strong words regarding our need to forgive others.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? Based on the context, it would appear that He wanted us to have an awareness of our dependence upon God. We must recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we won’t sin, but we must ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. And Jesus wanted His followers to know that they could come to God for assistance and deliverance.

The disciple who made this request of Jesus was well-intentioned, but he was overcomplicating the issue. He was looking for a methodology that might result in a more powerful prayer life. We have no way of knowing what John the Baptist had taught his disciples regarding prayer, but this man was wanting Jesus to provide more in-depth instruction on the topic. And yet, Jesus simply reiterated what He had taught them before. Pray humbly to your Heavenly Father. Make it your priority to protect the holiness of His name. Keep your focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. Remain completely dependent upon God for all your needs, including food and forgiveness. And never forget your complete reliance upon Him for surviving the trials and temptations of this life.

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

Truly Blessed

21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Luke 10:21-24 ESV

Jesus has just delivered a blistering indictment against the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and reminded His followers to put the hope of eternal life, not the temporal signs of His kingdom. But now, he turns His attention to to heaven. While His disciples continued to wrestle with the weight of His previous words of condemnation, Jesus spoke words of adoration and gratitude to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, whom He boldly refers to as His Father. This last designation would have seemed odd to the Jews in Jesus’ audience. This highly intimate appellation that Jesus used to refer to God was not common among the Jews. They viewed Abraham as their father and God as their sovereign Lord and ruler. Yet, Jesus blended the two titles together, declaring Himself to be the Son of the God who is Lord of heaven and earth. And Jesus made the nature of this Father/Son relationship quite clear in verse 27.

My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. – Luke 10:22 NLT

Jesus didn’t just refer to God as “the” Father, but as “my” father. And the close relationship between the two of them was like none other on earth. Remember, Jesus had just condemned the three Galilean cities for their rejection of Him as the Messiah. They had been eyewitnesses to His miracles and had heard the message of repentance, but had refused to accept Him as who He claimed to be. And yet, here is Jesus declaring that He has had divine authority granted to Him as the one and only Son of God.

The inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum stood condemned for having failed to recognize and receive Jesus as God’s Son and their own Savior. He had come to release them from their captivity to sin by paying the penalty of death that hung over each and every one of them. But they saw no need for what Jesus was offering, which is why He refered to them as “the wise and understanding” (Matthew 11:25 ESV). In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and already enjoyed a privileged relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth.

In fact, at a later point in His ministry, Jesus would confront the Jews regarding their false and highly flawed understanding of their relationship with God. The apostle John records that Jesus declared that those who were His true disciples would listen to His words and keep them. And Jesus promised His disciples, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT).

But the Jews, offended by Jesus’ words, had responded, “But we are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33 NLT).

And this is where Jesus dropped a bombshell on His predominantly Jewish audience, exploding their preconceived notions of ethnic privilege and religious piety.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” – John 8:34-38 NLT

Here, in John’s gospel, Jesus is declaring Himself to be the Son of God and fully authorized to offer them freedom from enslavement to sin and its accompanying penalty of death. He fully acknowledges that they are descendants of Abraham, but that will not be enough to save them from the divine punishment awaiting them for their rebellion against God. Jesus infers that their rejection of Him and the determination of the religious leaders to kill Him comes from Satan, not God. But they boldly claim, “Our father is Abraham!” (John 8:39 NLT).

But Jesus contradicts their assertion.

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” – John 8:40-41 NLT

They were blind to the truth. And the apostle Paul explains why.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

They were blind to the truth that could set them free. And oddly, Jesus thanks His Father “hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike” (Luke 10:21 NLT). The self-righteous and self-confident were unable to grasp the truth concerning what Jesus had come to do. But the childlike; those who were needy, dependent, and lacking any pretense of self-achieved righteousness, were able to recognize and receive the great gift being offered to them by Jesus.

There is an aspect to Jesus’ words that makes many of us uncomfortable. He seems to indicate that not all who hear His words will accept them. In fact, He clearly states, “no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22 NLT). He is presenting Himself as the sole point of access to God. And He later reinforced the exclusivity of His role when He stated: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

Knowledge about God was not going to be enough. Jesus came to offer a restored relationship with God. The Jews had failed to worship God faithfully. Their entire history is riddled with stories of spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. And Jesus will later indict them once again for their misplaced confidence in their position as God’s treasured possession.

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Jesus knew that the Jews in His audience were putting all their hope in their identity rather than His. Yet, their self-righteousness would prove insufficient. Their over-confident trust in their status as descendants of Abraham would leave them disappointed and undeserving of God’s grace. They were going to have to come to a place of need and dependence. They would have to recognize their own insufficiency and their need for a Savior other than self.

And Luke records that Jesus turned to His disciples and offered them a personal word of encouragement.

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you have seen. I tell you, many prophets and kings longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.” – Luke 10:22-23 NLT

He wanted His 12 disciples to understand the unique privilege they enjoyed as His followers. They had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the arrival of the Messiah, the King of Israel. The prophets had all written about the coming of the anointed one of Israel, but none of them had lived long enough to witness His arrival. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would “to bring good news to the poor… bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1 ESV). But Isaiah had died long before Jesus began to fulfill the words of that prophesy.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t realize it but they were part of the vanguard of those who would make up the coming kingdom. They were eyewitnesses to the power and glory of God as exhibited through the life of His Son. They were being given the opportunity to witness a never-before-seen event in human history: The long-awaited arrival of the Savior of the world. And while they didn’t fully grasp the significance of Jesus’ identity or the scope of the coming kingdom, they were truly blessed. And in time, they would discover the unbelievable nature of their kingdom citizenship.

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

Return to the Lord

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:1-9 ESV

Despite all the chapters dealing with Israel’s apostasy and God’s pending judgment, the book of Hosea ends on a highly positive note. In the closing chapter, Hosea makes one more impassioned plea for the rebellious people of Israel to return to the Lord. He lovingly implores them to leave their sins behind and make their way back to God. Hosea reminds them that they can only find healing and forgiveness with Yahweh. Their idols are useless and incapable of providing them with the help they need. But they will need to confess their sins and offer heart-felt sacrifices to the one true God. If they do, they will receive atonement and a restored relationship with the one who lovingly set them apart as His own chosen possession.

In an effort to encourage a positive response to his call to repentance, Hosea even provides them with the words to say.

“Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us,
    so that we may offer you our praises.
Assyria cannot save us,
    nor can our warhorses.
Never again will we say to the idols we have made,
    ‘You are our gods.’
No, in you alone
    do the orphans find mercy.” – Hosea 14:2-3 NLT

He practically wrote their confession for them, so all they had to do was speak the words.  But it would all mean nothing if their hearts were not in it. God was not interested in lip service. Pious-sounding words that were not back up by sincerity of heart were worthless to Him, and He had condemned such hypocritical behavior before.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God also gave a somewhat discouraging assessment to His prophet, Ezekiel, warning him that the people would listen to his words but with no intention of doing what he said.

“Son of man, your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors. They say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying!’ So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!” – Ezekiel 33:30-32 NLT

King David had understood that what God wanted from His sinful people was not ritualistic sacrifices offered in some kind of perfunctory fashion. He desired that His people offer Him their broken and repentant hearts, not empty sacrifices that were in keeping with the letter of the law but lacking in sincerity and truth.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Hosea wants the people of Israel to know that only meaningful repentance will result in restoration. He even quotes God’s promise to restore His repentant people.

“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
    my love will know no bounds,
    for my anger will be gone forever. – Hosea 14:4 NLT

Amazingly, God offers His people the undeserved gift of His forgiveness, mercy, and grace. He is still willing to show them compassion. He is still prepared to shower them with His blessings – despite all the centuries marked by rebellion, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to His holy law. All the way back when Solomon was still king over the unified kingdom of Israel, God had made him a promise. It was at the dedication of the newly constructed temple that Solomon had constructed in God’s honor. After Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God made a pledge that He would honor the new temple with His name and listen to the prayers that His people prayed toward this sacred site.

“…if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 BSB

That promise was still valid, because God always keeps His word.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God is a covenant-keeping God. He does not renege or go back on His promises. And in the book of psalms, we read on His covenant commitment to David.

“I will establish your descendants as kings forever;
    they will sit on your throne from now until eternity.” – Psalm 89:4 NLT

God loved David greatly and called him a man after His own heart. And He promised to give David a long-lasting, never-ending dynasty. But at the time when Hosea was writing the book that bears his name, the prospects of this promise being fulfilled looked bleak. The kingdom that David had turned over to his son Solomon had been divided in two. And the day was quickly coming when there would no longer be a king over Israel or Judah. Both nations would be defeated by foreign powers and watch as their kings were dethroned and their kingdoms destroyed. To this day, there has been no king to rule over the people of Israel. Yet God had promised David:

“I will make him my firstborn son,
    the mightiest king on earth.
I will love him and be kind to him forever;
    my covenant with him will never end.
I will preserve an heir for him;
    his throne will be as endless as the days of heaven.” – Psalm 89:27-29 NLT

But there was a caveat that came with the promise. God had also warned what would happen in the people of Israel failed to be obedient. There would be consequences.

“But if his descendants forsake my instructions
    and fail to obey my regulations,
if they do not obey my decrees
    and fail to keep my commands,
then I will punish their sin with the rod,
    and their disobedience with beating.
But I will never stop loving him
    nor fail to keep my promise to him.
No, I will not break my covenant;
    I will not take back a single word I said.” – Psalm 89:30-34 NLT

They would suffer for their sins but God would not alter one letter of His covenant commitment to David. He would never stop loving him. He would never fail to keep the promises He made to him. And the descendants of David would stand to benefit greatly from God’s faithful commitment to keep His word.

“I will be to Israel
    like a refreshing dew from heaven.
Israel will blossom like the lily;
    it will send roots deep into the soil
    like the cedars in Lebanon.” – Hosea 14:5 NLT

Using highly poetic language, God describes a remarkable change in Israel’s future circumstances.

“My people will again live under my shade.
    They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.” – Hosea 14:7 NLT

Just as they are assured the inevitability of their coming destruction, they are also promised their future restoration and revitalization by the gracious hand of God.

But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to “stay away from idols!” (Hosea 14:8 NLT). He longs to be their sole source of comfort and the only one to whom they turn for help, hope, and healing.

I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.
I am like a tree that is always green;
    all your fruit comes from me.” – Hosea 14:8 NLT

Their false gods will fail them. But not Yahweh. Lifeless idols cannot hear or answer their prayers. But God can and will – if they will only call out to Him in humility and brokenness. And Hosea wraps up his book with one final plea for the people to act wisely and respond to the Lord with discernment. They must choose.

The paths of the Lord are true and right,
    and righteous people live by walking in them.
    But in those paths sinners stumble and fall. – Hosea 14:9 NLT

This was essentially the same message that the prophet, Jeremiah, pronounced. He too recorded God’s call for His people to make the right choice and to walk the right path. But sadly, they refused to listen.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
    But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’
I posted watchmen over you who said,
    ‘Listen for the sound of the alarm.’
But you replied,
    ‘No! We won’t pay attention!’” – Jeremiah 6:16-17 NLT

Choose the right path. Heed the warnings of God. Display a heart of contrition. Repent and return to the Lord. And He will graciously offer you forgiveness, atonement, and the joy of a restored relationship with Himself.

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

The Blind Leading the Blind

Yet let no one contend,
    and let none accuse,
    for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
    the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
    and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.

The more they increased,
    the more they sinned against me;
    I will change their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people;
    they are greedy for their iniquity.
And it shall be like people, like priest;
    I will punish them for their ways
    and repay them for their deeds.
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
    they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
    to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine,
    which take away the understanding. Hosea 4:4-11 ESV

When the northern kingdom of Israel was formed, shortly after God had split Solomon’s kingdom in two, Jeroboam, the newly appointed king of Israel, made the fateful decision to create his own religion. He ordered the creation of two idols made to resemble a calf and set up shrines and temples dedicated to their worship in the towns of Dan and Bethel. And to assist his people in their worship of their new gods, Jeroboam created his own priesthood, sacrificial system, and calendar of annual religious festivals. All of this was intended to keep the people of Israel from returning to Jerusalem and worshiping Yahweh.

Now, God focuses His anger on these false priests, charging them for their complicity in the spiritual decline of the nation. While everyone else would be casting blame and pointing the finger of accusation against one another, God made it clear that He was holding these pseudo-spiritual leaders responsible for the sorry state of affairs in Israel.

Don’t point your finger at someone else
    and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
    is with you. – Hosea 4:4 NLT

None of these were qualified to be priests in Israel, because they did not meet the requirements established by God.

Jeroboam … ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:31 NLT

God had ordained that every man who served as a priest over Israel was to be from the tribe of Levi. God had established the Levitical priesthood with His appointment of Aaron, the older brother of Moses, as the first high priest (Exodus 28:1–3). Aaron’s sons served alongside him as the priests in Israel during the 40 years they were in the wilderness. But their priestly role was carried on by their descendants, long after the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan. After Solomon completed the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, he relocated the Ark of the Covenant from the tabernacle to the new holy of holies. And with it came the entire sacrificial system established by God, overseen by the Levitical priesthood.

But the priests Jeroboam had set up in Israel were not Levites. Not only that, they did not worship and offer sacrifices to Yahweh. In God’s eyes, they were nothing more than fake priests worshiping false gods and leading the people of Israel to commit spiritual adultery. God warns these men that they will regret the role they have played in Israel’s downfall.

“So you will stumble in broad daylight,
    and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.” – Hosea 4:5 NLT

They, along with the equally guilty false prophets, would pay dearly for their sins. They would become like blind men stumbling around in the daylight. Once revered for their spiritual insight, they would find themselves living in a world of spiritual darkness, incapable of seeing or understanding anything. Their companions, the false prophets, who had set themselves up as the spokesmen for their false gods, would be equally inept and incapacitated. Rather than their nights being filled with dreams and visions from their false gods, these men would simply stumble around in spiritual blindness. And Jesus leveled a similarly stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of His day.

“They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” – Matthew 15:14 NLT

The priests and prophets of Israel did not represent God because they had not been sent by God. And these men were guilty of placing more emphasis and importance on the nation of Israel than they did on the God of Israel. Hosea refers to Israel as “your mother,” a direct reference to a statement by God in chapter 2.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband. – Hosea 2:2 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel had led the people to believe that the nation (their mother) was all that was important. The significance of their identity was to be found in their existence as a nation. But they failed to recognize and remember that they been created by God for His glory. It was God who had made of them a great nation, in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet, these false priests had promoted a form of nationalism that replaced the sovereignty of God with the sanctity of the state. Yet, God told them, “I will destroy Israel, your mother” (Hosea 4:5 NLT). 

The bottom line was that the entire nation had forgotten and, as a result, had forsaken God. They no longer recognized Him as their God. In fact, they had no knowledge of God because the priests and prophets of Israel were too busy promoting the worship of false gods. True priests were supposed to acts as mediators between God and the people. They were to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people and administer His atonement and forgiveness in exchange. But these men had been too busy offering sacrifices to non-existent gods that were powerless to provide forgiveness for sin or protection from God’s pending judgment.

God makes it clear that He is holding these false priests and prophets responsible. They will be held accountable for the destruction of the nation.

“My people are being destroyed
    because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
    I refuse to recognize you as my priests.” – Hosea 4:6 NLT

The reason the people were ignorant of God was that the priests and prophets had no relationship with Him. Of all people, they should have recognized that their idols were nothing more than figments of their own feeble imaginations. They knew their gods were lifeless and powerless. They were fully aware that their prayers and religious rituals produced no tangible results because the gods to whom they prayed and offered sacrifices were statues made by human hands. But they willingly kept up the charade because they enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their roles as priests and prophets.

When King Jeroboam had established his false religion and set up his counterfeit priesthood, it had all been intended to mirror the system originally ordained by God. There were temples, altars, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, and priests. But what was missing was God Almighty. They had all the trappings of a religious system but had neglected to include the one thing that could set them apart from all the other pagan religions in the world: The worship of Yahweh.

God cannot be replicated or replaced. And yet, that was exactly what they had tried to do.

“They have exchanged the glory of God
    for the shame of idols.” – Hosea 4:7 NLT

When you take God out of religion, all you are left with is a man-centered set of rituals that end up benefiting no one but those in charge. And that is exactly the accusation God levels against the priests of Israel.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin! – Hosea 4:8 NLT

Guilty people need forgiveness. Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Sacrifice involves the offering of lambs and bulls. And the priests get to eat was leftover. But because the sacrifices were being offered to false gods, the only ones benefiting from the entire process were the priests. They got fat and happy while they allowed the people to live under the false delusion that their sins had been forgiven.

And these men who should have been setting an example of righteous living were actually encouraging a lifestyle of immorality and spiritual infidelity. They used the sacrificial system like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Any sin could be atoned for by offering sacrifices. And this cavalier attitude toward sin fostered a sense of complacency among the people that led to an increase in transgressions and an intensification of God’s condemnation. And the priests led the way.

“…what the priests do, the people also do.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT

And God lets them know that everyone will end up paying for their sins.

“So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT

All their sacrifices and prayers will do them no good because “they have deserted the Lord to worship other gods” (Hosea 4:11 NLT). Priests, prophets, princes, and paupers will all pay the same price. Each will suffer the consequences for their abandonment of God. But God will hold the religious leaders to a higher standard and place on them a greater burden of guilt because they should have known better. 

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

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

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

You Are My People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let [God’s] Justice Roll

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19     as if a man fled from a lion,
    and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
    and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts. Amos 5:18-27 ESV

Let justice roll down.

When considered alongside our current cultural milieu, those four simple words carry more weight than they usually might. But before we put them on a banner or add them as a tagline to our next social media post, we need to understand their context. With all the current emphasis on social justice and equality, it would be easy to use this section of Amos as a proof text for promoting radical reform – especially among the people of God. And there is little doubt that God had serious problems with the injustice being practiced by the Israelites. He accused them of turning “justice to wormwood” (Amos 5:7 ESV). The laws that God had given them were meant to improve their relationships with one another, but their refusal to obey those laws had resulted in bitterness, not joy.

God pulled no punches when He addressed their unrighteous and unjust behavior toward one another. But He made it clear that it all began with their lack of love for His ways.

“How you hate honest judges!
    How you despise people who tell the truth!
You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.” – Amos 5:10-11 NLT

They had long ago stopped hearing from God. They refused to listen to His prophets and rejected His calls to repentance. Their horizontal behavior was a byproduct of their vertical relationship with Him. Without a proper love and reverence for God, they were ill-equipped to show love to one another. And that is the real point of this passage.

The reason they regularly turned aside the needy in the gate (Amos 5:12) was because they had turned away from the worship of Yahweh. And the answer to their problem was not that they do a better job of justice-keeping. It was that they begin to make the worship of God a high priority in their lives. That’s why He told them to “Seek the Lord and live…” (Amos 5:6 ESV).

It all began with a return to Him. Their ability to do what was just and right was directly tied to a faithful relationship with Him. That is why God repeatedly states, “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4 ESV), and then adds, “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live” (Amos 5:14 ESV). They couldn’t do one without the other. It all had to begin with a sincere seeking of God. Attempting to do good without a healthy and vibrant relationship with God would prove ineffective and non-productive.

God’s command that they “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15 ESV), would be impossible if they failed to seek and serve Him alone.  The only way they could know the difference between good and evil was through a knowledge of God’s holy law. They weren’t free to establish their own definition of righteousness or to determine what they believed to be just and right behavior. God had already done that through the giving of the law.

When God had given the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, He had laid out in black and white terms exactly what He expected of His people. The law was meant to define and regulate every area of their behavior. It provided non-negotiable requirements for their conduct, not suggested guidelines that could be accepted or ignored.

And, according to Jesus, the entire Mosaic law could be summed up in two very specific and interrelated laws:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

Jesus makes it perfectly clear that a love for God and a love for others went hand in hand. They were inseparable. In fact, the apostle John would expand on this thought when he wrote, “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). And John didn’t stop there. He went on to add a further clarification that reveals that God’s love for us was never intended to dead-end on us. It was meant to shared.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

So, let’s go back to our verses for today. Amos warns the people of Israel about the danger of longing for “the day of the Lord”  (Amos 5:18 ESV). That phrase was a popular one among the people of God because it was thought to refer to a future period of time when God’s blessings would fall on Israel. It was believed to be a time when God would mete out His well-deserved judgment upon the nations of the earth, while fulfilling every promise of blessing upon His chosen people: the nation of Israel. And they had plenty of Old Testament passages to support their view.

For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
    your deeds shall return on your own head. – Obadiah 15 ESV

Then the Lord will pity his people
    and jealously guard the honor of his land.
The Lord will reply,
“Look! I am sending you grain and new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy your needs.
You will no longer be an object of mockery
    among the surrounding nations.” – Joel 2:18-19 NLT

The truth is, the people of Israel tended to hear what they wanted to hear. As a result, their view of the coming day of the Lord was a bit skewed. It was going to be all good news for them and bad news for their enemies. Yet, Amos reveals that there mighty be cause for them to rethink their rather rosy perspective.

What sorrow awaits you who say,
    “If only the day of the Lord were here!”
You have no idea what you are wishing for.
    That day will bring darkness, not light. – Amos 5:18 NLT

When that day finally arrived, it was going to deliver an outcome that was dramatically different than the one they were expecting.

Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless,
    without a ray of joy or hope. – Amost 5:20 NLT

While they were expecting deliverance, they would end up experiencing nothing but  disaster and harsh discipline from the hand of God. And just so they understood why the day of the Lord would fail to deliver what they were expecting, God explained the root cause of His dissatisfaction with them.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. – Amos 5:21 NLT

Everything they did was a sham, a highly orchestrated religious show meant to impress their friends and neighbors. It was nothing more than fake piety and religious play-acting. But God had not been fooled. And not only that, He was sick of the whole thing and no longer willing to put up with their little charade. And He told them so.

“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.” – Amos 5:22-23 NLT

God was going to put an end to their hypocrisy. He would no longer allow them to go through the motions, pretending to be something they were not. Which brings us back to the topic of justice. God was looking for proof that they really did love Him and knew what He expected from them. And just to make sure they understood what kind of proof He was looking for, He told them.

“I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.” – Amos 5:24 NLT

Now, here’s what we need to understand about this passage. God knew full well that His people would never deliver that for which He was looking. In other words, they would never produce a mighty flood of justice. They would never create an endless river of righteous living. But He would. God Almighty was going to make sure that His brand of justice was meted out, regardless of whether the recipient was a member of the chosen people of God or an idol-worshiping pagan. God would deliver His brand of justice to any and all. And through the gift of His Son, He would make possible “an endless river of righteous living” for all those who place their faith in Him.

And the apostle Paul would later tell the Gentile believers living in Ephesus some great news:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

The people of Israel were without excuse. They had been chosen by God. They had been given the holy and righteous law of God to guide their lives. He had graciously and miraculously delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. And they had repaid the favor by worship false gods, even as He led them to the land of Promise.

So, God delivers some very bad but well-deserved news.

“So I will send you into exile, to a land east of Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of Heaven’s Armies. – Amos 5:27 NLT

God would deliver justice. But, as a result of His decision to mete out divine judgment upon His chosen people, the long-term consequences would produce an endless river of righteous living. God would punish His people for their sin and rebellion. But the day would come when He would rescue them and restore them to the land of Canaan. And centuries later, He would send His Son into the world, the seed of Abraham, the son of David, and the Savior of the world.

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

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

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

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked

1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
    who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
    who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
The Lord God has sworn by his holiness
    that, behold, the days are coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
    even the last of you with fishhooks.
And you shall go out through the breaches,
    each one straight ahead;
    and you shall be cast out into Harmon,”
declares the Lord.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
    to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord God. Amos 4:1-5 ESV

As Amos continues to convey to the people of Israel God’s righteous indignation with them, he focuses his attention like a laser on the wealthy women of Samaria. Addressing them as “you cows of Bashan,” Amos is unapologetically brutal in his description of their selfish and luxuriant lifestyle. These well-to-do women were guilty of flaunting their wealth and social status by treating others with contempt and condescension. Amos accuses them of “oppressing” the poor and “crushing” the needy.  In the Hebrew language, those two words paint a stark and highly unflattering picture of these women from the upper strata of Israelites society. The word translated as “oppressed” is ʿāšaq, and it means “to violate, defraud, do violence.” Amos is accusing these women of taking advantage of the poor for personal gain. They were defrauding and deceiving the less fortunate in order to increase their own wealth and further enhance their luxurious lifestyles.

In Hebrew, the word “crush” is rāṣaṣ, and it too carries a much more sinister and sinful connotation. It means “to crack in pieces” and can be used either literally or figuratively. In the figurative sense, to crush someone is to treat them with such disdain and disrespect that they are left broken or crushed in spirit. It conveys a lack of empathy or compassion, a total disregard for the worth or well-being of the other.

It seems that Amos is targeting these particular women because they represent that segment of Israelite society that had enjoyed a certain amount of personal success during Jeroboam II’s reign. Under his leadership, the nation had expanded its borders and many of these wealthy families had probably profited from the boom environment this growth created. In the very next chapter, Amos points out the injust nature of their treatment of the poor.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.
Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses,
    you will never live in them. – Amos 5:11 NLT

Amos is not suggesting that these women were responsible for all these injustices. But they were enjoying the fruit of someone else’s unjust “labor.” Most likely their husbands were the ones who were “trampling the poor” by levying excessive taxes and charging exorbitant rental fees for their properties. And all the while, they were using their ill-gotten profits to build luxury homes for themselves and their wives.

And Amos portrays the wives of these men as demanding taskmasters who treat their husbands like slaves. Amos purposefully uses hyperbolic, over-the-top language to illustrate the decadent and immoral lifestyle of the upper-class members of Israelite society. His portrayal of these women as lounging on their couches and demanding their husbands to bring them another drink is meant to expose the narcissistic nature of their lives. They are self-consumed and more interested in personal pleasure than in keeping God’s laws.

But by all appearances, these very same women were faithful members of the religious community of Israel. They made regular trips to the altars and shrines set up in Bethel and Gilgal. They worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam II and his predecessors had set up all throughout Israel. In other words, these wealthy women were outstanding members of the faith community. And they most likely believed that their wealth and prosperity had been a gift from the gods.

But Yahweh sees through their sanctimonious and self-righteous displays of mock-godliness. He sees behind the walls of their ostentatious homes and witnesses their “Lives of the Rich and Famous” lifestyles. But He also sees into the recesses of their sin-hardened hearts and knows that they are uncaring and unrepentant of their many transgressions. That’s why He sarcastically challenges them to keep doing what they’ve always done. He encourages them to continue offering their sacrifices and tithes to their false gods.

“Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel.
    Keep on disobeying at Gilgal.
Offer sacrifices each morning,
    and bring your tithes every three days.
Present your bread made with yeast
    as an offering of thanksgiving.
Then give your extra voluntary offerings
    so you can brag about it everywhere!
This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do…” – Amos 4:4-5 NLT

They’re worshiping the wrong gods and for all the wrong reasons. They want to be recognized for their religious zeal and applauded for their sacrificial displays of self-righteous sacrifice.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus exposed this kind of hypocritical religious play-acting. He viewed it as nothing more than an attempt to gain the praise of men.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NLT

These very same women who were oppressing the poor and crushing the needy were regularly offering their sacrifices and tithes at the temple. They even offered “extra voluntary offerings” but only so they could brag about it to others. Everything they did was all about inflating their own sense of value and worth. It wasn’t enough to be rich. They wanted to be esteemed. But to God, their acts of religious pietism were nothing more than evidence of their sin-hardened hearts. And Jesus would go on to point out the hypocritical nature of giving to get noticed.

“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

But God makes it clear that these kinds of people will pay dearly for their actions. He cannot and will not tolerate this kind of behavior among His chosen people. God has sworn by His own holiness that the guilty will be punished. This statement is intended to stress the otherness of God. He is set apart and holy. He is fully righteous and without sin. He cannot simply turn a blind eye to the unrighteous behavior of His people. His holy nature requires that He deal justly with the blatant disobedience of those who bear His name and have been called to be His light to the nations.

And God announces that these self-absorbed, pampered, and pretentiously pious women will suffer a devastating and humiliating fate.

“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses.” – Amon 4:2-3 NLT

God predicts a less-than-flattering outcome for these women. They will one day find themselves on the receiving end of the oppression and crushing. When the Assyrians invade Israel, lay siege to the capital city of Samaria, and eventually breach the walls, they capture these women, leading them out of the city with hooks in their noses – just like cows being led to the slaughter. Their wealth and luxurious homes will provide no comfort or protection. Their tithes and extra volunteer offerings will do nothing to garner aid or assistance from their false gods. They will be unceremoniously marched out of town and led to a life marked by poverty and oppression.

But it didn’t have to be this way. As Amos will reveal in the following verses, God had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. He had warned them. He had even afflicted them with plagues, diseases, famines, and troubles of all kinds. But they had repeatedly refused to heed His warnings or be humbled by His judgments. And God will repeatedly remind them, “you did not return to me” (Amos 4:8 ESV).

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus regarding the spiritual state of the church in Laodicea, and it is not a flattering picture.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

This indictment from the lips of Jesus seems to apply to the wealthy women of Samaria who were living during the days of Amos. They were convinced that their wealth was evidence of their spiritual superiority. They were blessed. And they somehow believed that they deserved even more, which is what led them to oppress and crush the poor and needy. But like the Laodiceans, they were actually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And the day was coming when their true spiritual condition would be exposed for all to see.

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

Guilty as Charged

“Do two walk together,
    unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest,
    when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den,
    if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth,
    when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground,
    when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city,
    and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it?

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:3-8 ESV

Israel’s judgment by God was inevitable. That seems to be the point that Amos is attempting to drive home in verses 3-8. To do so, he uses a series of rhetorical questions that each has an obvious and non-debatable answer. God has already established that He and the people of Israel shared a unique relationship.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And the knowledge of which God speaks was intimate and reciprocal in nature. The Hebrew word is yāḏaʿ, and it conveys the idea of both knowing and being known.  God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel and allowed them to enjoy an understanding of Him that was unavailable to any other people group on earth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the Israelites had walked with God, enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and experiencing the benefits of His presence, power, and provision.

So, when Amos asks, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?,” he is fully expecting his audience to respond, “No!” And his point is that the Israelites and Yahweh had a mutual understanding about their relationship. It came with expectations and was based on a bilateral covenant that required the Israelites to be faithful and obedient.

God had told them long ago, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7 ESV). But He had also warned them that obedience would be a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to experience His blessings.

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” – Jeremiah 7:23 ESV

Like two people who have agreed to go on a long journey together, the people of Israel had ratified the covenant God had made with them. In doing so, they had agreed to live according to His laws and in keeping with His will for them. The book of Exodus records that momentous occasion.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

But they had failed to keep their end of the agreement. They had not completed the journey or reached the destination God had in store for them. So, God was declaring His intention to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. That’s why Amos uses the illustration of a lion roaring in the forest. He asks the question, “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” (Amos 3:4 ESV). And, once again, the answer is meant to be a resounding, “No!”

Under normal conditions, a lion remains silent, stealthily stalking its unsuspecting victim in order to catch it by surprise. If a lion is roaring, it is because he has successfully captured his prey. The roar is a declaration of victory. And in the case of Israel, Amos was declaring that the “roar” of Yahweh was due to their coming judgment. They were about to become His “prey.”

Yahweh was not a silent lion, having failed in the hunt. He was a roaring, victorious lion who stood over His prey, declaring His right of possession and demonstrating His  power and authority.

According to Amos, Israel was like a clueless bird being lured to a trap by the tempting presence of bit of tantalizing bait. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, compares Israel to “silly, witless doves, first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help” (Hosea 6:7 NLT). They flit and fly this way and that, easily allured and distracted by those things it think will bring it satisfaction and security. But it’s all a trap, set by the hunter, who just happens to be God Almighty.

Finally, Amos moves from the metaphorical realm of nature to the very real arena of warfare and military conquest. In the day in which Amos lived, this next question would have struck a very sensitive nerve. He asks, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?” (Amos 3:6 ESV). For centuries, the people of Israel had lived in a state of constant instability, facing the very real possibility of defeat at the hands of their enemies. The book of Amos starts out with a list of those nations that surrounded Israel and posed a real threat to their existence, including Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Ammon, and Moab.

The Israelites were very familiar with the sound of a trumpet being blown from the walls of the city. It was a warning signal to those living inside that the enemy was at the gates and the possibility of attack was eminent. This news was intended to produce a certain amount of fear and encourage preparation for battle. But Amos adds that the looming tragedy is meant to be seen as the handiwork of God.

Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it? – Amos 3:6 ESV

Once again, this is a rhetorical question that can only be answered one way: With the word, “No!” The sovereign God of the universe was in control of all things, and even the fate of a city was held in His fully capable, all-powerful hands.

Amos sums up his series of questions with a statement.

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” – Amos 3:7-8 ESV

God had spoken through the prophets. In fact, every judgment Israel was about to undergo had been predicted by God’s appointed messengers, including men like Amos and Hosea. They had warned what would happen if Israel continued to ignore God and violate their covenant commitment to Him. And the rest of this book is going to defend God’s actions toward His rebellious and unrepentant people. God was going to fulfill each and every one of His warnings and, when He was done, they would hear His righteous roar as He stood over them in victory.

But Amos will also reveal that, while God will pour out His righteous anger against the nation of Israel, He will not completely destroy them.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.  – Amos 9:8 NLT

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God will remain faithful to His covenant commitment to them. He will fulfill each and every promise He has made to them. But in the meantime, their many transgressions will have to be atoned for – they will have to pay the price for their disobedience. And the price will be high.

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