Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Prize

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has listened to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need.

But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he continues to speak from his own personal experience, revealing his frustrations over what he sees and fears.

First of all, he starts with what he describes as a form of evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion concerning a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given.

God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. – Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT

These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, “someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). And Solomon deems it all as “meaningless—a sickening tragedy(Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). But is he right?

First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the prevailing attitude of his day. It was commonly believed that anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. This is why it made no sense that God would withhold the one thing these people wanted and needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them.

Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view on the Scriptures themselves.

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

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction, and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of their purpose and the significance of their source. The gifts had become the priority rather than the Giver. God was to have been the primary focus of Solomon’s life but not as the giver of good things. In fact, God should have been the only Solomon or anyone else needed in their life. God should have been enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. All that really mattered was his relationship with Christ. Yet Solomon and his contemporaries placed their emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For them, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. Solomon’s misguided and misplaced emphasis on material goods and earthly pleasures left him with a sense of emptiness and frustration. He was experiencing the very painful lesson that nothing satisfies man’s inner longings and desires like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste.

A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. – Ecclesiastes 6:3 NLT

That is a grim assessment. But notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held maxim: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know will ever bring satisfaction. And living a long life, but without a relationship with the Giver of life will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds cannot make anyone truly happy or content if they fail to seek the One from whom all good things come.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

For Solomon, nothing was more futile or frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT).

And, sadly, this aptly describes Solomon’s own life. When he wrote this verse, he was at the end of life looking back, and while he could claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he could say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” He had discovered the painful lesson that more was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, end up discovering that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish, and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are elusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT).

But again, his emphasis is misplaced. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point. And in doing so, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy, and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe.

But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He euphemistically refers to God as “one stronger than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:10 ESV). He doesn’t see God as his Father but as an enforcer. Rather than approaching God as the gracious giver of good things, Solomon views Him as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps man’s future fate a mystery. To Solomon, this leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all that is good in their lives. God does bless. God does give good things. God is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance that man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but with whom they had no relationship.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

God created man to have a relationship with Him. His purpose was for the nations to seek after Him. But sin changed all that. Because of the fall, the blessings of God became substitutes for Him. We made idols out of the good gifts He had given us. The apostle Paul describes the subtle shift that took place among humanity as they took their eyes off the Giver and began to seek satisfaction and significance from the good things He had given.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:25 NLT

Solomon’s relentless quest to find meaning in life had taken him away from the very One who had given him life. He had made false gods out of the good and perfect gifts that had come down from the Father of lights…and he found himself unfulfilled and discontented with life and anxious about death.

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? – Ecclesiastes 6:12 NLT

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

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

Compromise and the Loss of Conviction

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:10-17 ESV

As verses 1-9 revealed, Israel had a leadership problem. Its priests were not living up to their role as the nation’s God-appointed shepherds. They were defiling the sacrificial system by offering unacceptable animals and, therefore, robbing the people of the atonement for sin they so desperately needed. On top of that, they had neglected their God-given responsibility to accurately teach the Mosaic Law to the people. They had twisted God’s words and taken liberties with God’s law, causing the people to stumble because of their deceptive instruction.

Through their immoral and unethical behavior, these unreliable leaders had caused irreparable damage to the nation. And now, Malachi turns his attention to the remnant of Israel who had returned to the land of promise but who were not living up to the covenant commitments God had established for them. In these verses, Malachi becomes the spokesperson, addressing his fellow citizens as brothers and sisters.

Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? – Malachi 2:10 NLT

Malachi was the prophet or messenger of God but, evidently, he was also a member of the tribe of Judah and part of the local community there in Jerusalem. He had a right to address his fellow citizens and remind them of their covenant commitment to God and one another. What he had witnessed taking place in the capital city was shocking and unacceptable to him. The people of Israel were not only turning away from God, but they were turning on one another. And he sums up their actions in one verse.

Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. – Malachi 2:11 NLT

They were guilty of idolatry and adultery, and both sins were examples of unfaithfulness. Centuries earlier, when the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan for the first time, God had warned them about intermarrying with the nations that occupied the land.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

But the people of Israel had failed to honor God’s ban on intermarriage. Almost as soon as they entered the land, they began to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. They had hoped that these marriage alliances would lead to peace with their enemies but instead, their actions led to a mingling of their religions and a growing compromise of their allegiance to Yahweh. And now, centuries later, the people were back in the land and still attempting to win over their enemies by intermarrying with them. But these marriages of convenience resulted in spiritual compromise and led to further unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Israel.

Evidently, Israelite men were committing adultery by abandoning their Hebrew wives and marrying foreign women. In doing so, they were willingly breaking the marriage vows they had made before God, and Malachi calls them out for it.

…you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. – Malachi 2:14 NLT

Through it all, their wives had remained faithful and unwilling to give up on their marriage. But these faithless men had been driven by their desires, not the will of God. And then they wondered why God was not accepting their offerings or answering their prayers. They had broken their marriage vows and violated God’s commands but still expected His blessings.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” – Malachi 2:13-14 NLT

They were guilty of double unfaithfulness. Not only had they left their wives for foreign women and taken on the false religions of their new spouses, but they were attempting to worship Yahweh and idols at the same time. They dared to enter His temple and present offerings as if they were faithful followers who loved and adored Him alone.

This was a serious problem during the days of Malachi. Ezra, one of his contemporaries and a leader of the nation of Israel after their return to Canaan, had been informed just how blatant and widespread this problem was.

“Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” – Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

Don’t miss that last line. It would appear that even the priests of Israel were guilty of this crime against God. They were leading the way in adultery and even idolatry. And yet, Ezra had recognized the extent of the problem and the need for the people to repent.

“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.” – Ezra 9:13-15 NLT

But evidently, the people had not joined Ezra in his call for repentance. This led Malachi to point out the ongoing problem of adultery and idolatry that still plagued the land of Judah. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. They were living according to their own passions and pleasures and refusing to obey the commands of God. That led Malachi to remind them of their covenant commitment and God’s non-negotiable requirements regarding marriage and divorce.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. – Malachi 2:15-16 NLT

The actions of the people of Israel stand in stark contrast to the faithfulness of God as displayed in His unwavering commitment to their wellbeing. Despite all they had done to betray and abuse His love, He had remained committed to His covenant promises. Yes, He had punished them for their sins against Him, but He had also shown them undeserved mercy and grace by returning them to the land of promise so that they could restore their relationship with Him and display their renewed commitment to Him. But this was how they had repaid Him for His love.

In verse 17, Malachi gets to the heart of the matter. Not only were the people displaying unfaithfulness to one another and to God, but they were justifying their actions as good.

You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. – Malachi 2:17 NLT

God was angered by their blatant displays of unfaithfulness but also by their self-righteous justification of their behavior. They were actually trying to claim that their behavior was in keeping with God’s will. Through some inexplicable leap of logic, they had convinced themselves that God was pleased with their actions. Because they had not experienced any direct consequences for their sins, they assumed that God must have approved of their behavior. But Malachi assured them that God was “wearied” by their in-your-face display of disobedience and disrespect.

Their moral compromises had led to a loss of conviction. They were no longer able to discern right from wrong. And since God seemed to have remained silent about their behavior, they regarded his silence as approval. In doing so, they questioned the very nature of God’s justice. To a certain degree, the people had begun to question the very presence of God. While they had successfully returned to the land and completed the building of the walls, the construction of the temple, and the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, they were having a difficult time seeing the hand of God. From their perspective, there had been no supernatural display of His glory. Their return to the land had required a lot of hard work and they had little to show for all their efforts. They still had no king, no army, and found themselves surrounded by nations much larger and more powerful than themselves. So, they had taken matters into their own hands by intermarrying with their enemies and accomodating themselves to their worship of their false gods. And, since God had not struck them down, they assumed their decisions had His blessings. But they were about to discover just how wrong their assumptions really were.

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

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

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

When We Pitch Our Tent Toward Sodom

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. Genesis 19:23-38 ESV

Lot departed from Sodom and made his way to the small village of Zoar, with his wife and two daughters accompanying him. And Moses provides a rather sterile and sketchy description of the life-altering experience this small family had to endure. Their world had been rocked by the arrival of the two strangers. Lot and his family had been enjoying their comfortable life in Sodom until the night the two visitors showed up unexpectedly. Lot had been a well-respected city leader. His wife had probably been busy planning their two daughters’ pending weddings. Both girls had been betrothed and fully expected to celebrate and consummate their marriages. But all that had changed.

Now, they were running for their lives. And Lot’s two daughters must have been devastated by the news that their future husbands had chosen to remain behind in Sodom. It seems likely that both young women would have wrestled with thoughts of returning to Sodom but they had an allegiance to obey their father. They may have harbored doubts about the veracity of the message of doom delivered by the two visitors. And the thought of abandoning their home and their futures must have left them confused and conflicted.

Moses provides only a small glimpse into the tumultuous emotional state of Lot and his family. As he briefly describes the devastating destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he mentions Lot’s wife turning back to look at the shocking scene. Moses provides no explanation for her actions. But one can only guess that her curiosity was piqued by the sounds that accompanied the massive display of firepower that rained down from heaven. The destruction of these two cities was an unprecedented event of cosmic proportions.

…the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. – Genesis 19:24-25 NLT

One might describe her interest as nothing more than a simple case of “rubbernecking.” There are some commentators who read more into her actions and label her backward glance as an expression of longing and regret. Moses simply states that, as Lot made his way to Zoar, his wife “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26 ESV). The Hebrew word that is translated “looked back” is נָבַט (nāḇaṭ) and it can mean “to look intently; to gaze.” The thought is that, in looking back, Lot’s wife displayed sorrow for the destruction of her former home. She still harbored strong emotional ties to Sodom.

But it seems more likely that this poor woman, shocked by all that had just happened over the last 24 hours, was distracted by the earth-shattering sounds of God’s divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. But regardless of her motivation, her actions violated the warning of the two angels. They had clearly warned Lot: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV). 

Once again, Moses provides little in the way of explanation. He mentions nothing about Lot’s reaction to his wife’s sudden and gruesome death. One minute she had been right behind him, alive and well. The next, she was a lifeless pillar of salt. Had Lot turned back? If he did, why was he not struck down by God? Had he continued to run, not realizing his wife’s fate until he arrived in Zoar? Moses provides no answers to these questions. In fact, he changes the subject altogether. In a rather frustrating and seemingly ill-placed aside, Moses refocuses the narrative on Abraham.

Abraham had been the one who negotiated with the Lord, hoping to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. But as he stood on the hillside overlooking the valley, he saw the smoke rising up from the burning ruins of the two cities. He must have been shocked at the sight because God had clearly promised to spare the cities if He could find ten righteous individuals living in them. Abraham’s thoughts must have gone to Lot and his family. Were they still alive or had God destroyed there? Moses does not reveal whether God shared with Abraham the fate of his nephew. He simply states that “God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived” (Genesis 19:29 ESV). Abraham had believed that the cities would need to be spared in order to keep Lot alive. But God had something else in mind. He was going to visit judgment upon the wicked while providing a way of escape for the righteous. There had not been ten righteous people living in Sodom. According to the apostle Peter, there had been only one.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:7-10 NLT

God rescued Lot but refused to turn a blind eye to the wickedness of Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah. And delivering Lot, God was demonstrating His faithfulness to fulfill the wish of Abraham. God delivered and destroyed. He demonstrated grace and justice at the same time. He spared the righteous and punished the wicked.

But the story doesn’t end there. When Moses turns the narrative back to Lot and his fate, he has him leaving the village of Zoar and moving into the hills. There is no mention of Lot’s wife. He is now a widower, trying to raise two adult children on his own. For some unexplained reason, Lot felt unsafe living in Zoar. Perhaps the inhabitants saw this stranger’s arrival in their village as some kind of omen. After all, he had been the only one to escape the devastation that had happened in the valley. And these people lived near enough to Sodom and Gomorrah to know all about what had happened. But regardless of his reasons, Lot relocated his dwindling family to a cave. And there the action takes another dark twist.

These two young women now found themselves as damaged goods. They had been betrothed but now their fates were uncertain. In that culture, betrothal was tantamount to marriage. It was based on a binding contract between the two families. A betrothed couple was considered to be married. The only thing missing was the final consummation of the marriage that would take place on their wedding night. So, Lot’s daughters probably considered themselves to be damaged goods. That likely played a part in their fateful decision.

There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

Everything about this decision is wrong. It reveals their fatalistic and flawed outlook on life. According to them, their best years were behind them. There was nothing good that could come out of this latest chain of events. Their husbands were dead. Their home had been destroyed. They had lost all their friends in the destruction of Sodom. And their mother had been turned into a pillar of salt by their father’s God. So, faced with the prospect of an uncertain future, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They followed through with their perverse plan. And over the course of two consecutive evenings, each of the girls committed incest with their drunken father.

Moses did not relate this rather X-rated story to titillate and arouse his audience. He was providing them with a history of the Moabites and Ammonites. The unholy union between Lot and his daughters would produce two people groups that would become the perennial and persistent enemies of Israel. It is interesting to consider that God had spared Lot because of the pleadings of Abraham. But His rescue of Lot resulted in the creation of these two nations who would become perpetual thorns in the side of Abraham’s descendants. The Moabites and Ammonites were idolatrous and immoral. In fact, the book of Numbers reveals the sordid story of how the Moabite women lured the men of Israel into immorality and idolatry.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

For the people of Israel, this recounting of Lot’s rescue was meant to remind them that the actions of the righteous have implications. God considered Lot to be a righteous man, but he made some very unrighteous decisions. He had no business living in Sodom. He should have never agreed to betroth his daughters to two Sodomite men. Lot had been driven by “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Even when he had become “sick of the shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT) in Sodom, he had remained. He didn’t flee immorality. He cozied up to it. He compromised his convictions and ended up paying severe and long-lasting consequences. Yet, Moses ends the story of Lot with the last verse of chapter 19. One man’s decision to settle among the cities of the valley and move his tent as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12) had produced a lasting legacy of immorality and idolatry that would haunt the descendants of Abraham for generations to come.

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

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

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

No More Than They Deserved

But I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
    and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness,
    in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full,
    they were filled, and their heart was lifted up;
    therefore they forgot me.
So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

He destroys you, O Israel,
    for you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
    Where are all your rulers—
those of whom you said,
    “Give me a king and princes”?
11 I gave you a king in my anger,
    and I took him away in my wrath. – Hosea 13:4-11 ESV

Israel’s idolatry was a particularly harsh slap in the face to God because He had proven Himself to be a faithful, powerful, gracious, and generous God. In His long association with them, He had done nothing to earn their distrust and disfavor. In fact, they would not have existed as a nation had not God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and sent him to the land of Canaan. Then if God had not caused a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram’s grandson, Jacob, would not have taken his family to Egypt to seek food and shelter. And God had miraculously prepared the way for their arrival. Years earlier, Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jealous of their father’s affections for their younger brother, they had chosen to get rid of him. Joseph ended up a household slave in the land of Egypt. But God protected and prospered Joseph, eventually ordaining his rise to the second-highest position in the land, serving directly under the Pharaoh. So, when Jacob and his small family of 70 arrived in Egypt, Joseph was there to provide them with land, food, and protection. His brothers, fearful that Joseph would use his power to seek revenge on them, were surprised to hear him say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

And God would prosper Jacob’s family during their stay in Egypt. They would grow in number, from the original band of 70 to more than 1 million. And while the Egyptians eventually enslaved and abused the Israelites, in an attempt to control their growing population, God provided them with rescue. He sent Moses to deliver them from their captivity and lead them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to Abraham as his inheritance.

This entire scenario was proof of God’s love and care for His chosen people. They could look back on their nation’s history and see ample evidence that God had been with them and for them. He had fed them during the 40-plus years they had wandered in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Canaan. He had fed them with manna and quail. He had provided them with water from a rock. During that entire time, their sandals and clothes never wore out. And when they finally entered the land God had promised to them, they found it to be just as God had advertised: A land flowing with milk and honey.

Even as they had stood on the border of the land, preparing to enter it for the first time, Moses declared just how abundant and rich they would find it to be.

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

But Moses had also warned the people not to allow God’s blessings to lull them into a sense of complacency and spiritual compromise.

“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:12-18 NLT

But Hosea reveals that the people of Israel had failed to heed the words of Moses. They entered the land and then promptly began to forget the One who had given it to them. God summarized their ungrateful response to His gracious generosity.

“But when you had eaten and were satisfied,
    you became proud and forgot me.” – Hosea 13:6 NLT

And they were about to discover the truth behind Moses’ words of warning.

“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:19-20 NLT

Now, centuries later, God affirms the words of Moses by assuring His rebellious people that the gift-giver was about to become the life-taker. God, the gracious deliverer from captivity was going to become the apex predator who would discipline and destroy His own people. He would turn on them and, rather than providing for all their needs, He would deprive them of life and liberty.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

They seemed to miss the significance and seriousness of this drastic alteration in their relationship with God. It is almost as if they failed to believe that God’s words, as recorded by Hosea, would actually come to fruition. They refused to accept the finality of it all. Surely God would be forgiving and faithful just like always. After all, they were His chosen people and He had promised to care for and protect them. But they had conveniently forgotten all of God’s warnings about judgment and curses should they prove disobedient and unfaithful. They had lived under His grace for so long that they had come to take it for granted. They believed it would always be available to them, regardless of how they lived their lives. But they were about to discover just how wrong they were.

“You are about to be destroyed, O Israel—
    yes, by me, your only helper.” – Hosea 13:9 NLT

God was no longer willing to stand back and watch as His people mocked and maligned His character by their actions. He could not and would not allow them to continually drag His name through the mud through their incessant immorality and idolatry. And they were about to find that there was nothing they could do to stop the wrath of God Almighty. Their wealth and power would not save them. The kings they had demanded to rule over them would prove helpless against the forces of divine judgment coming against them. Their status as God’s chosen people would not innoculate them from the death sentence that loomed over them. Their days were numbered because they had failed to number their days. And Moses, their deliverer from captivity in Egypt, had written a psalm that prophetically previewed their eventual judgment but also called on God to show them mercy and forgiveness.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil. – Psalm 90:9-15 ESV

But it was too late. Israel had failed to number their days, so now their days were numbered. God would prove no more means of rescue. He would no longer show patient endurance as His people forsook His name and abused the many blessings He had bestowed on them. The time for judgment had finally arrived.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Gods = False Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blind to All the Blessings

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances,
    he loves to oppress.
Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich;
    I have found wealth for myself;
in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
I will again make you dwell in tents,
    as in the days of the appointed feast.

10 I spoke to the prophets;
    it was I who multiplied visions,
    and through the prophets gave parables.
11 If there is iniquity in Gilead,
    they shall surely come to nothing:
in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars also are like stone heaps
    on the furrows of the field.

12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram;
    there Israel served for a wife,
    and for a wife he guarded sheep.
13 By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
    and by a prophet he was guarded.
14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation;
    so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him
    and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds. – Hosea 12:7-14 ESV

Once again, Hosea seems to differentiate between the kingdom of Israel, made up of the 10 northern tribes, and the original nation of Israel that had at one time included all 12 tribes. He does so by referring to the northern kingdom by the name of its largest tribe: Ephraim. When referring to both Israel and Judah, he uses the name of Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes, whom God had renamed, Israel.

In these verses, Ephraim (the 10 northern tribes of Israel) is described as overconfident, self-righteous, and proud. They displayed all the negative characteristics of Jacob, their patriarch. The book of Genesis records the life of Jacob in great detail, leaving little to the imagination. Even before he and his twin brother, Esau, were born, God had told their mother that the relationship between her two boys would be unconventional and strained.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

Jacob would be the second-born son, but he would use trickery and deception to steal his older brother’s birthright. He would also deceive his father into rewarding him with the blessing of the firstborn. And none of this was necessary. God had already predicted that Jacob would be the stronger and more significant of the two. From Jacob would come the nation of Israel. And God later informed the people of Israel that He had displayed His love for them by choosing Jacob over Esau.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” – Malachi 1:2-3 ESV

The apostle Paul expounded on this idea of God’s sovereign election of Jacob over Esau.

But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she [Rebekah] received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

Jacob had done nothing to deserve God’s choice of him. It had been the sovereign will of God. And because God had made this divine determination, well in advance, the nation of Israel had come into being – all according to His providential plan. Despite Jacob’s use of deception and dishonesty, God had blessed him with great wealth. After he had been forced to leave home to escape his brother’s wrath for stealing his birthright and blessing, Jacob had ended up living in Aram. While there, he married Rebekah and became a wealthy man.

Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 NLT

God blessed Jacob despite his dishonesty and deceitfulness. To a certain degree, Jacob probably viewed himself as a self-made man. All that he possessed he had earned through hard work or clever manipulation. But, in reality, it had been the handiwork of God. And the northern kingdom of Israel suffered from the same problem. They too failed to understand that their affluence was attributable to God.

Israel boasts, “I am rich!
    I’ve made a fortune all by myself!
No one has caught me cheating!
    My record is spotless!” – Hosea 12:8 NLT

But God knew. He had been an eyewitness to all their sins and transgressions. He had watched them run after false gods, make alliances with pagan nations, and continually violate His commands. He had been the one who had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt, given them the land of Canaan as their own possession, and had protected and provided for them for generations. But now, they had no need for God.

But they were about to discover that their abandonment of God would prove costly. Their rescuer and redeemer was about to become their judge.

“But I am the Lord your God,
    who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
And I will make you live in tents again,
    as you do each year at the Festival of Shelters. – Hosea 12:9 NLT

They would soon find themselves having to vacate their palatial homes in exchange for shelters made of branches and the bows of trees. Rather than living in luxury in the land of Israel, they would become slaves living in shacks in Assyria. All because they had refused to honor God and keep their covenant commitments to Him. On either side of the Jordan River, in Gilgal and Gilead, the people had erected altars to their many false gods. There they sacrificed bulls and made offerings to their lifeless and powerless idols. They constantly flaunted their apostasy and unfaithfulness in the face of God. And while God had sent His prophets to warn them and call them to repentance, they had repeatedly refused to listen. They turned their backs on the one who had redeemed them from slavery. Now, they would find themselves returning to their former state of poverty and oppression.

Then by a prophet
    the Lord brought Jacob’s descendants out of Egypt;
and by that prophet
    they were protected.
But the people of Israel
    have bitterly provoked the Lord,
so their Lord will now sentence them to death
    in payment for their sins. – Hosea 12:13-14 NLT

These people had long forgotten their humble beginnings. Like their patriarch, Jacob, they had begun with nothing. He had fled to Aram in order to escape Esau’s plans to kill him. But while there, God had blessed him with children and great wealth. Years later, Jacob would take his family and move to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And while living in Egypt, Jacob would find himself blessed by God yet again. Over a period of four centuries, Jacob’s descendants would grow in number. And while many of those years would be marked by slavery and subjugation, God would fulfill the promise He had made to Jacob.

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

God had kept His word. He had made of Jacob a great nation. But that nation had rebelled against Him. Now, they would lose their right to occupy the land He had given them as their inheritance. Their apostasy would result in their expulsion from the land of Canaan. And God had warned them that this would be the inevitable outcome should they choose to disobey His commands.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now.” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out.” – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to Return

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

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

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

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

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

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Compassionate, Merciful God

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. – Hosea 11:8-11 ESV

One of the problems we face as fallen human beings is trying to comprehend the ways of a holy and fully righteous God. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s explanation for why finite men will never grasp His infinite and inexplicable actions.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

But while we might agree with God’s assessment of the problem, we too often miss the circumstances surrounding our lack of understanding. Take a look at the verses that precede the Lord’s declaration regarding His unfathomable ways. What we have difficulty comprehending is His divine willingness to show compassion on those who least deserve it.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

God specifically addresses “the wicked” and “the unrighteous.” He calls on sinners to seek Him while they still have the opportunity. He doesn’t require that they clean up their proverbial act and start living righteous lives before they seek Him. But He does ask them to turn from their wicked lifestyles and their unrighteous ways of thinking, and to seek Him instead. All so that He might shower them with His compassion and bless them with His undeserved pardon.

As sinful human beings, we find this kind of offer incomprehensible and inexplicable. It makes no sense. Because to our way of thinking, love is always conditional. Rewards must be earned. We have been raised on a steady diet of moral rhetoric that has convinced us that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet, the apostle Paul would remind us that it was for our sinfulness that Jesus came to earth and offered up His life.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Even Jesus declared that His incarnation, call to repentance, and offer of redemption was aimed at the spiritually sick and hopeless.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

On another occasion, Jesus reiterated this same sentiment, declaring His intention to show compassion on those who least deserved it.

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

So, when we read a book like Hosea, we can become confused by what appears to be apparent contradictions in the character of God. One minute we find Him castigating and condemning the Israelites for their immorality and idolatry. He declares His dissatisfaction with them and delivers warnings of His pending judgment. Then, almost out of nowhere, God declares His intention to show them mercy.

Take a look a verses 8-9. They stand in stark contrast to verse 7, where God just declared His intention to ignore Israel’s pleas for help. They will cry out, but “he shall not raise them up at all.”

Yet, in the very next verse, God reveals what appears to be a dramatic change of heart.

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”
– Hosea 11:8-9 NLT

While God is determined to bring judgment against His wicked and unrighteous people, He cannot bear the thought of destroying them completely. He mentions the cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which, at one time, had enjoyed a close physical and moral relationship with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, God destroyed these two cities when He brought His judgment to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the thought of bringing that level of destruction on His chosen people caused God’s heart to soften. His compassion overwhelmed Him. He declares that “My heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8 ESV). That word “recoils” has a very interesting meaning in Hebrew. It is the word, hāp̄aḵ, and it can mean “to turn” or “overturn.” It also has a negative connotation, referring to the overthrow of someone or something. Hans Walter Wolfe provides a helpful explanation regarding what seems to be going on in the heart of God.

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.” – Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974

God is holy and must punish sin. But God also desires to extend mercy and compassion to sinners. The apostle Peter describes God as incredibly patient, and reminds us that “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). The same was true regarding His relationship with the people of Israel.

Israel would face God’s judgment, but would not have to undergo the full weight of His divine wrath.

“No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
    I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11:9 NLT

Unlike fallen mankind, God is not motivated by sinful desires. Even in His anger, He always acts righteously and justly. He is never capricious or vindictive. According to the psalmist, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

This is not a picture of God relenting, repenting, or even changing His mind. He is simply stating that He is a God who is balanced and just in all that He does. He is going to punish Israel, but He is also going to keep every covenant promise He has made to them. His destruction will come, but it will not be complete and comprehensive. He will severely discipline them, but refrain from annihilating them. Why? Because He has promised to use them to bring a blessing to the nations, and He will accomplish that promise through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. His plans do not always make sense to us. But His grand plan for the redemption of mankind included His Son being born into the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, as a descendant of Abraham, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, God will restore His people to power and prominence when His Son sets up His earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Which is exactly what God promised to the rebellious people of Israel through His prophet, Hosea.

“For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:11-12 NLT

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When All Looks Lost

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
    consume the bars of their gates,
    and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all. – Hosea 11:1-7 ESV

When considering the nation of Israel, one of the most astounding realities is that  they existed at all.  As a people group, they were the byproduct of God’s divine imagination. And while you could easily say that about any nation on the face of the earth, it was particularly true of Israel. Why? Because, until God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeas, the nation of Israel had been non-existent. The book of Genesis records that fateful call of Abram.

Go from your country[and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

God ordered Abram to leave his homeland and travel to a place he had never been before – a land called Canaan. And God promised to make of Abram a great nation. What made this promise so unique was that Abram was already advanced in years and his wife, Sarah, was barren. So, God was going to have to work a miracle to make this promise happen. And He did. Years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who would later father Jacob, whom God would later rename, Israel.

The book of Genesis also records the time when Jacob (Israel) and 70 of his family members moved to Egypt to escape a drought in Canaan. There in Egypt, Jacob was reunited with one of his sons whom he had long thought dead. That son was Joseph. In a fit of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery years earlier. But God had blessed Joseph and, eventually, he became the second-most-powerful man in Egypt, serving as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He would provide his family members with land and employment in Egypt. But after his death, a new Pharaoh would come to power who did not know Joseph or his family. And the Scriptures indicate that while the descendants of Israel were living in the land of Egypt, they grew exponentially.

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:6-7 ESV

It was while they were living in the land of Egypt that God blessed the descendants of Israel, and they grew to be a significantly large people group. In fact, we are told in the book of Exodus that there were 600,000 adult males who left Egypt under the direction of Moses, and that number didn’t include women and children.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. – Exodus 12:37-38 ESV

It is estimated, that when you factor in the women and children, the number of Israelites who left Egypt would have been in the millions. And in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reveals why God had set apart the nation of Israel as His own.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The bottom line is that God created for Himself a specific people group to whom He would give His law, the sacrificial system, and the promise of His covenant blessings. They were a specially created nation that would were intended to exhibit to the rest of the world what it was like for mankind to live in communion and fellowship with God. But they failed to live up to His law and they violated His covenant agreement. Not once, but repeatedly.

And Hosea records God’s summary of His remarkable creation and redemption of the nation of Israel.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.” – Hosea 11:1 ESV

But Hosea adds God’s sad assessment of their response to this gracious act of kindness.

“The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.” – Hosea 11:2 ESV

God’s call had consisted of far more than a command to leave Egypt and travel to the land of Canaan. He had been consistently calling them into an intimate and ongoing relationship with Himself. He had given them His law and the sacrificial system. He had ratified a covenant agreement with them. They were to be His children and He was to be their God – a relationship that was to be based on faithfulness and obedience, and marked by permanence.

Yet, despite all of God’s gracious dealings with them, the people of Israel had turned their back on Him. He had faithfully guided and taught them. He had taken them from a place of pain and spiritual sickness and provided them with healing and hope. But they failed to recognize His involvement and express gratitude for all He had done for them. They were like ungrateful children who refuse to appreciate the selfless sacrifices of their earthly father. The Israelites took all God’s blessings for granted and, worse yet, they sometimes attributed those blessings to their false gods.

God had rescued them out of the land of Egypt where they had been living in slavery and subjugation. But rather then send them back to Egypt, He would send another nation to defeat and destroy them. And tens of thousands of them would end up living as slaves again, but this time, in Assyria.

“They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.” – Hosea 11:5 ESV

Judgment was coming. Divine payback was inevitable and inescapable. Their king would prove powerless against Sennacherib and his Assyrian forces. Their false gods would be exposed for what they really were: Nothing more than the figment of man’s fertile imagination. They were lifeless, impotent, and no match for God Almighty.

And Yahweh summarizes the intractable and intransigent nature of His chosen people.

“My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.” – Hosea 11:7 ESV

Yet, despite the hopeless sound of God’s words, He would not completely abandon His people because He was not yet done with them. He would eventuallysend His own Son to earth to be born into the nation of Israel. Jesus would be a son of Abraham and a descendant of King David.  He would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram’s offspring.

The apostle Paul explains how Jesus was that fulfillment.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had chosen to make that nation of Israel because He had already chosen to send His Son into the world to redeem sinful mankind. The nation of Israel would be the channel through which His blessing to the nations would come, and Jesus Christ would be the manifestation of that blessing.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Have No King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Ezekiel declares a similarly dire outcome.

But the vine was uprooted in fury
    and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
    and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
    and was destroyed by fire.
Now the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
    where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
    and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter. – Ezekiel 19:12-14 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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