The Authority to Die

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 ESV

The chief priests, scribes, and elders had come to Jesus in an uproar, demanding to know what gave Him the right to usurp their authority over the temple grounds.

“Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” – Luke 20:1 ESV

They viewed His ransacking of the temple the day before as little more than another demonstration of His wanton disregard for their right to rule the religious affairs of the people. From their perspective, Jesus had come onto their turf and embarrassed them in front of the thousands of pilgrims who had flocked to Jerusalem for the Passover.

These men had hoped that Jesus would reiterate His claim to be the Son of God. If He did, that would give them ample proof to declare Him a blaspheme worthy of death. But Jesus had refused to play their little game of cat and mouse. Instead, He had put them on the spot with a question of His own, which they too refused to answer. But Jesus followed up this exchange with a parable. Luke records that “Jesus turned to the people again and told them this story” (Luke 20:9 NLT).

Jesus would use this simple story-telling format to address the topic at hand: The source of His authority. As the crowd gathered in the temple courtyard listened eagerly to Jesus’ words, the religious leaders overheard everything He said, and the point of His story did not escape them.

In the story, the man who planted the vineyard is meant to represent God. The tenant farmers are the religious leaders of Israel. The servants play the part of the prophets whom God had sent over the centuries to warn the kings and spiritual shepherds of Israel. And finally, the son is intended to be a clear reference to Jesus Himself.

With the telling of this seemingly innocuous story, Jesus encapsulated the long and sordid history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. The man (God) planted a vineyard. This imagery of God as the vinedresser and Israel as the vine is found repeatedly in Scripture.

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

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
    The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
    but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
    but instead he heard cries of violence. – Isaiah 5:7 NLT

God had planted Israel in the promised land and cultivated them into a powerful and influential nation. Under King David, they had experienced unprecedented growth and prosperity, and this God-ordained spread of Israel’s fortunes had continued under the early leadership of Solomon, David’s son and successor. But because Solomon chose to worship idols, God split his kingdom in two. This resulted in two rival kingdoms, Israel and Judah, each ruled over by a succession of men who, for the most part, failed to follow David’s example. Unlike David, the man after God’s own heart, these kings would fail to shepherd God’s people with integrity of heart and skillful hands (Psalm 78:20). They, along with the priests and elders of the people, would prove to be ineffective caretakers for God’s vineyard. Their open disregard for the wishes of the vineyard’s owner and their misappropriation of His property led to a confrontation. The prophet Ezekiel records just one of the many indictments God leveled against the kings and religious rulers of Israel and Judah. Using the metaphor of shepherds and sheep, God would level His charges against these men and call them to account.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

God had repeatedly sent His prophets to declare His dissatisfaction with those to whom He had delegated the care of His people. The prophet Jeremiah also recorded God’s growing displeasure for His unfaithful servants.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

God was expecting fruit from His vineyard, but because of the poor care provided by His servants, the vine had produced little in the way of return. And the men to whom God had delegated the well-being of His vineyard rejected His demands for restitution. The kings and religious leaders placed in authority over God’s people treated His prophets with disrespect and oftentimes subjected them to verbal abuse and physical harm. Back in chapter 14 of his gospel, Luke records the words of Jesus as He considered the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem.

“Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers” – Luke 13:33-34 NLT

And Jesus refers to His ignominious demise in the parable. After repeated attempts to reason with the unfaithful servants, the vineyard owner resorts to sending his own son to act as a mediator on his behalf.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’” – Luke 20:13 ESV

But in Jesus’ story, the “beloved son” is not met with open arms, but he is subjected to ridicule, rejection, and, ultimately, death.

“But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’” – Luke 20:14 ESV

Jesus, the beloved Son of God, was experiencing the very same reaction from the religious leaders of Israel. The chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and elders were all conspiring against Him. They had already determined to put Him to death and were simply looking for the right evidence and waiting for the perfect opportunity to put their plan into action. And, in His story, Jesus reveals exactly what these men were going to do with Him and to Him.

“…they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” – Luke 20:15 ESV

As Jesus unfolded the plot of His parable, the crowd must have listened with eager anticipation to hear how the story would end. But this outcome must have shocked and surprised them. Even they would have found the actions of the tenant farmers to be unacceptable and worthy of retribution. And Jesus asks His audience what they think should happen to those wicked men.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” – Luke 20:15 ESV

But before they can respond, He provides them with the answer.

“He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” – Luke 20:16 ESV

By this time, they seem to have made the connection and understand the true meaning behind Jesus’ story. They have connected the dots and comprehended the underlying message behind the parable. So, when Jesus provides the shocking conclusion to the story, they respond: “May this never happen!” (Luke 20:16 NET). They fully understood that Jesus was suggesting the demise of Israel, not just its leadership, and this thought was unacceptable to them. But they were missing the primary point of Jesus’ message.

Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what does this Scripture mean?

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.’

Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” – Luke 20:17-18 NLT

By rejecting Him as the Son of God, which they would ultimately do, they would be rejecting the source of their salvation. And the apostle John would later describe how the people of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God and the light of the world.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 NLT

And with Israel’s refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the message of the gospel would be taken to the Gentiles. And the judgment of God would fall on all those who refused to accept the Son of God. The apostle Peter would later expand on Jesus’ metaphor of the cornerstone, providing important insights into its meaning.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
    chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.”

And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. – 1 Peter 2:4-8 NLT

With His death, Jesus would become the cornerstone of a significant new structure, the Church, made up of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. And as Peter goes on to say, this “spiritual temple” would represent “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). Israel’s rejection of Jesus would lead to the Gentiles’ inclusion. The death of the Son would not be the end, but it would be the beginning of something new and unexpected.

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

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

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

The Fruit of Righteousness

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 ESV

At first glance, this parable appears completely out of place and irrelevant to the conversation Jesus had been having with the crowd. But the connection is found in verse 5:

I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:5 ESV

Immediately after addressing the subject of the future judgment, Jesus warned all those in His hearing of their universal need to repent. The murders of the Galileans by order of the Roman governor Pilate or the deaths of the “eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell” (Luke 13:4 ESV) had not been the result of sin. In fact, Jesus rejects the idea that the slaughtered “Galileans were worse sinners” or the Jews killed at the pool of Siloam “were worse offenders.”

As the living Word of God, Jesus was intimately familiar with the written word of God. He was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and drew from them regularly. And in this case, it seems likely that Jesus had in mind the words of Solomon as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

And Solomon had been taught this truth by his own father, the great King David, who declared the universal sinfulness of mankind in one of his psalms.

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
 – Psalm 143:2 ESV

Jesus had come to earth to settle the problem of man’s sin debt. As the apostle Paul would later put it:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-11 ESV

In this passage, Paul is quoting from another psalm penned by King David.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 ESV

Paul rightly concluded, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).  And long before Paul had his Damascus Road experience, Jesus embraced the same unflattering, yet irrevocable truth. Every person on the planet was in need of repentance because they were stood guilty and condemned before a holy and righteous God. The whole reason Jesus had come to earth was to fulfill His Heavenly Father’s plan to provide redemption and release to all those who were held captive by sin and death. And that list included every single individual whether they were a Judean or a Galilean, a Pharisee or a prostitute, a Jew or a Gentile.

And to drive home His point, Jesus used a parable. He described a man who “had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none” (Luke 13:6 ESV). The story is a simple one involving the owner of a vineyard who, season after season, was disappointed to find one of his fig trees devoid of fruit. Despite his care and cultivation of the tree, it remained barren. In exasperation, the owner of the vineyard gave his gardener orders to cut the tree down.

“I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.” – Luke 13:7 NLT

The tree had been planted to produce figs. That was its sole purpose. But for three years, the tree had failed to deliver what the vineyard owner expected: Fruit. So, for its lack of fruitfulness, the tree was judged unworthy and unacceptable. Having failed to live up to its potential as a fig tree, the vineyard owner ordered its immediate removal. In his mind, the tree was simply taking up space.

But the gardener intervened. He begged the vineyard owner to give the tree one more season. During that time, he would do all he could to see that the tree received special attention and was given ample opportunity to fulfill its God-ordained purpose of bearing fruit. If the tree remained barren by the next season, the gardener agreed to cut it down.

“Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.” – Luke 13:8-9 NLT

Since the crowd to whom Jesus was speaking was made up primarily of Jews, His story about the fig tree would have been understood as a reference to Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures contain multiple references where the fig tree is used as a symbol for the nation of Israel.

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers. – Hosea 9:10 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s indictment against the “fruitless” people of Israel.

“Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.” – Jeremiah 8:12-13 ESV

God had expected Israel to be fruitful but instead, they had repeatedly proven to be barren. Rather than produce the fruit of righteousness, they had delivered nothing but sin and shame. Season after season, God had patiently watched to see if His chosen people would produce the fruit for which they had been set apart. Through His law, the sacrificial system, and His prophets, God had continued to cultivate His people. He had repeatedly disciplined and pruned them. Like rain from heaven, He had poured out them His gracious mercies. And yet, they had produced nothing but disappointment and disobedience.

In this story, Jesus portrays Himself as the gardener. It’s no coincidence that He mentions the three years of fruitlessness. At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus would have been well into the third year of His earthly ministry. He was nearing the end of His mission and was on His way to Jerusalem where He would sacrifice His life on the cross. But in the days remaining, He was going to continue to do all that He could to cultivate a remnant of God’s people so that they might bear fruit. It was for that purpose that Jesus had been sent by the Father. The people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of producing fruit on their own. So, Jesus was spending the last days of His earthly ministry cultivating the soil and fertilizing the fruitless tree of Israel so that it might one day produce the fruit of righteousness.

In the last months of His life, Jesus was pouring Himself into His disciples. He was preparing them for the inevitable end that was coming by unveiling the truth regarding the problem of sin and the need for repentance. The situation was far worse than they imagined. Israel’s fruitlessness had rendered it worthy of elimination. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, stood before God as sinners who deserved the full weight of His wrath and the full extent of His judgment. But Jesus had come to intercede on man’s behalf. As John the Baptist had put it, Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

And ever since Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had proclaimed a single message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 ESV

He was the answer to humanity’s sin problem. He was the gardener who had come to cultivate the barren tree of Israel and restore its fruit-bearing capacity. But it would only happen through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus would die so that others might live. He would offer His life so that the spiritually dead and fruitless might be resurrected to new life. As the author of Hebrews put it: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

And it would be during their celebration of the Passover meal, that Jesus would hold up a cup of wine and tell His disciples, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Jesus had come to die. The success of His entire mission was based on His sacrificial death. It would be the key to Israel’s future fruitfulness. But even more than that, it would be the means by which God would restore a fallen and condemned humanity to a right relationship with Himself. Jesus was going to offer His life as a ransom for many. And long after Jesus had accomplished His mission and returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle Peter would write:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV

The Gardener gave His life so that the barren tree might produce the fruit of righteousness. And Paul provides us with a wonderful reminder of just what that fruit should look like.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:9-11 NLT

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

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

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

The True Cost of Discipleship

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:23-27 ESV

When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought Him to be, Peter quickly responded with the correct answer: “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:209 ESV). But Jesus knew that Peter had a somewhat cloudy understanding of what his statement even meant. Like the blind man Jesus had just healed (Mark 8:22-26), Peter was experiencing blurry vision – a fuzzy and incomplete understanding of Jesus’ identity. And Peter was not the only one of the disciples who was suffering from a foggy perspective concerning Jesus.

So, in an attempt to add context and clarity to Peter’s answer, Jesus began to teach that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22 ESV).

When Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, he had none of these things in mind. The suffering, rejection, and murder of Jesus were not on his radar screen. There was no place for such things in his concept of the Messiah. And without them, there was certainly no need for a resurrection.

This announcement from Jesus would have made no sense to the disciples. They knew He and the religious leaders didn’t get along, but they would never have dreamed that these holy men would attempt to kill the Messiah of Israel. Yet Jesus made it clear that “the elders and chief priests and scribes” would be the ones behind His death. Men from these three groups populated the 70-member Sanhedrin, the high council of Israel. These were powerful and influential religious leaders who were revered for their righteousness by the common people. They were considered the spiritual elite of the day. And to think that they would conspire to kill Jesus was incomprehensible to the disciples.

Peter had been so appalled by this grim announcement that he had pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him. But Jesus had responded quickly and harshly.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:33 ESV

Jesus accused the very man who had just confessed Him to be the Christ of being “Satan.” This public rebuke was meant to send a message, not just to Peter but to every one of the disciples. By declaring his opposition to the revealed will of God, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the enemy. When Peter had shouted, “God forbid,” it was almost as if he was demanding that God alter His plans. Jesus had just revealed the Father’s will for His life but Peter didn’t approve. He found any mention of suffering, rejection, and death to be unfathomable and, therefore, unacceptable.

Matthew adds that Jesus accused Peter of being a skandalon, a stumbling block. Rather than assisting Jesus in His God-ordained mission, Peter was acting as an impediment. His well-meaning desire to prevent Jesus from experiencing suffering and death was more in line with the will of Satan than it was with God’s divine redemptive plan. Satan had been trying to derail the mission of Jesus from the beginning. All the way back at Jesus’ birth, Satan had attempted to use King Herod to eliminate the Christ child. And more than 30 years later, after Jesus was baptized by John and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Satan had repeatedly tempted Jesus, trying to convince Him to abandon His mission.

Now, here was Peter, one of the 12, declaring his opposition to the divinely-ordained ministry of Jesus the Christ. Jesus had made it plain and simple. He must suffer, die, and then rise again. Every aspect of God’s plan non-negotiable and completely necessary. Jesus had come to fulfill the will of His Father. And Jesus revealed to Peter that his perspective was skewed.

“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Mark 8:33 NLT

Without realizing it, Peter had been demanding that his will be done. He had put his expectations and desires ahead of God’s. He could see no personal benefit from Jesus suffering and dying. He had no need for a dead Messiah. Or so he thought.

Peter didn’t realize that his wish for Jesus to escape death was actually a nightmare waiting to happen. Little did he know that, without Jesus’ death, there would be no kingdom. There would be no forgiveness of sin. As Jesus had made clear, He had to be “lifted up.” Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and brought healing to all those who were guilty of sin and facing death, so Jesus must be lifted up on the cross so that mankind’s sin debt might be paid in full. It was only through Jesus’ sacrificial death that sinful men and women could find restoration and redemption. Clinging to a living Jesus was not going to save Peter. He was going to have to embrace the crucified Christ as his only hope of being reconciled to God.

And Matthew records that this encounter launched an ongoing series of lessons from Jesus to His disciples. He began to prepare them for what was to come. This would not be a one-time discussion, but a oft-repeated lecture on the Messiah’s role and God-ordained fate.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:21 ESV

Having rebuked Peter in front of his peers, Jesus turned His attention to the entire band of disciples. And the message He delivered to them was intended to provide them with further insight into His mission and their role in it.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. – Luke 9:23 NLT

Jesus was calling Peter and his companions to abandon their agendas. He knew they had all kinds of expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. They were hoping that when Jesus finally got around to establishing His Kingdom on earth, they would play vital roles in His royal administration. But Jesus was letting them know that those who would be citizens of His kingdom would be required to sacrifice. Just as He was going to be required to take up His cross, so would they. He was going to willingly lay down His life so that He might take it up again (John 10:17-18), and He was expecting them to follow His example.

Peter and the rest of the disciples couldn’t help but focus all their attention on the present. They were living for the moment. In a real sense, they had joined Jesus with selfish motives. They were in it for what they thought they could get out of it. But Jesus had a much-longer perspective. He realized that humiliation must precede glorification. Death had to come before life. Sacrifice would the key to obtaining the riches of God’s goodness and grace.

The disciples had short-term outlooks. They were interested in immediate gratification and were hoping to enjoy their best life in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. But their over-emphasis on the physical world was misguided and missing a very crucial point. Their desire to “gain the whole world” in this life was short-sighted, and Jesus wanted them to understand that their perspective would actually result in loss. Mark records that Jesus put the comparison in spiritual terms.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” –Mark 8:36-37 ESV

Jesus’ emphasis on the soul was meant to realign their thinking by reminding them that there was a spiritual dimension to their lives. Their souls would outlast their physical bodies. They were eternal creatures living in a temporal world, and Jesus was trying to clarify their vision so that they might embrace God’s plan of redemption with open arms and willing hearts.

Years later, long after Jesus had suffered, died, been resurrected, and had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would write these powerful words of admonition and encouragement. His audience was made up of believers living near the end of the 1st-Century who were facing persecution, suffering, and even death because of their faith in Christ. They were living out in daily life what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. But they were constantly being tempted to lose sight of the future and to pursue the pleasures of the present. So, John warned them:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Jesus closed out His message with a sobering word that was clearly intended for the ears of His disciples.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. – Luke 9:26 NLT

Jesus was not insinuating that Peter was in danger of losing his status as one of God’s chosen. He was simply warning Peter and the other disciples that they were about to face a difficult period of time that was going to test their allegiance and tempt them to abandon all hope. But notice that Jesus assures them that, in spite of all that was going to happen, He would be coming back. That was to be their focus. Yes, they would see Him arrested, tried, humiliated, crucified, killed, and buried. But they would also be eye-witnesses to His resurrection and watch Him ascend into heaven. And just before He returned to His Father’s side, He would leave His disciples with comforting words concerning His eventual return.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Love Them No More

15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their princes are rebels.

16 Ephraim is stricken;
    their root is dried up;
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will put their beloved children to death.
17 My God will reject them
    because they have not listened to him;
    they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:15-17 ESV

For the second time, Hosea mentions the city of Gilgal. It was located just north of Jericho on the western side of the Jordan River. Back in chapter 4, Hosea warns the southern kingdom of Judah about emulating the sinful behavior of its northern neighbor, Israel.

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
– Hosea 9:4 ESV

Hosea will bring up the city of Gilgal one more time before closing out his book.

But the people of Gilead are worthless
    because of their idol worship.
And in Gilgal, too, they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars are lined up like the heaps of stone
    along the edges of a plowed field. – Hosea 12:11 NLT

Gilgal was a city that should have held special significance to the people of Israel. It was at Gilgal that Joshua built a stone memorial to commemorate the Israelite’s successful crossing of the Jordan River. God had miraculously divided the waters of the river, allowing the Israelites to pass over on dry ground. Joshua had picked one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and commanded them to pick up one large stone from the middle of the river bed and carry it to the western side. When they arrived safely in Canaan, Joshua built the memorial with those stones.  Then he told the people:

“‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:7 NLT

Gilgal was intended to be a place of memorial, a site of remembrance. It was there that Yahweh proved Himself powerful and faithful to His chosen people – yet again. And Joshua had instructed the Israelites to pass on the meaning of the stone memorial to the succeeding generations.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21-24 NLT

But the Israelites had turned Gilgal into one more sacred site for the worship of its false gods. They had forgotten all about the powerful, gracious, and loving God who had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and provided them with the land of Canaan as their inheritance. The miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River had become a distant memory and their commitment to honor God had long ago been replaced by their infatuation with false gods.

Chapter 5 of the book of Joshua records another important aspect of Gilgal’s history that heightens the Israelites disrespectful actions there. It was Gilgal that Joshua commanded that the next generation of Israelite males be circumcised. The people had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, as punishment for their refusal to enter the land when they had first arrived on the shore of the Jordan River.

Those who left Egypt had all been circumcised, but none of those born after the Exodus, during the years in the wilderness, had been circumcised. The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.– Joshua 5:5-6 NLT

So, before crossing the Jordan River and entering the land of Canaan, Joshua had ordered the circumcision of all the males who had been born during the 40 year period.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day. – Joshua 5:9 NLT

By reinstituting the rite of circumcision, Joshua had faithfully obeyed God’s command and set apart the people of Israel as His chosen possession. This ordinance had been given to Abraham by God more than half a millennium earlier.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-13 NLT

Gilgal should have been a place of memorial. Its very presence should have reminded the people of Israel about their God and the covenant commitment to remain faithful to Him. But they had desecrated this place of remembrance, proving yet again that they had no intentions of honoring their covenant commitments to Yahweh. And God delivers His ultimatum against His chosen people.

“All their wickedness began at Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
I will drive them from my land
    because of their evil actions.” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

Gilgal was to have been a place where the people could go and recover the rich heritage of their history. It was intended to be a visual and tangible reminder of God’s grace and power in their lives. They belonged to Him. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt and delivered them to the land He had promised to give to Abraham as his inheritance. God had helped them cross the Red Sea on dry ground, so they could leave the land of Egypt. Then He had repeated the very same miracle so they could enter the land of Canaan. He had given them victories over their enemies, including the nearby city of Jericho. He had provided them with kings and prophets, the sacrificial system, and His holy law. It was at Gilgal that they had celebrated their first Passover in the land of promise.

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. – Joshua 5:11 NLT

And from that point forward, the people never had to eat manna again.

The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. – Joshua 5:11-12 NLT

Yet, the people of Israel had failed to appreciate all that God had done for them. Now, God was warning them that His patience had run out, and He described His change of relationship in startling terms.

I will love them no more…” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

These words do not indicate that God no longer loved the people of Israel. That would require a change in His character, which is immutable and unchanging. But it does indicate that God was no longer going to express His love for them in tangible ways. They would receive no more blessings from His hand. They would enjoy no more of His bounty and provision. He would remove His protection and provision. If they wanted to live as if God did not exist, they would experience exactly what it was like to no longer enjoy His many blessings.

They would learn the painful lesson of what it feels like to live without God in their lives. They would be struck down, dried up, fruitless, and bereaved of their children. The one who had redeemed them would now reject them. Rather than living in the land of promise, they would become homeless wanderers. And all because they had refused to obey their loving, compassionate, and covenant-keeping God.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guilty as Charged

1 Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,
    for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
    and the birds of the heavens,
    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
Hosea 4:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter four, Hosea’s book begins to focus in on the specific sins of which the people of Israel were guilty. Up to this point, God has addressed the general nature of their spiritual adultery, using Hosea’s wife Gomer as a visual illustration. But now He three damning charges against His covenant people.

  1. They display no faithfulness
  2. They lack steadfast love
  3. And they have no knowledge of Him

In essence, God is taking Israel to court. He uses courtroom language, accusing the people of Israel of having violated their covenant agreement with Him. Hosea declares that God has “has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land” (Hosea 4:1 ESV). The word translated as “controversy” is rîḇ (reeve) in Hebrew, and it refers to “a dispute” or “a legal contest.” The NET Bible translates that verse this way:

…the Lord has a covenant lawsuit against the people of Israel. – Hosea 4:1 NET

He was charging them with a breach of covenant. They had failed to do what they said they would do. All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have a record of God’s giving of the Mosaic Covenant to the people of Israel. Moses was called by God to the top of Mount Sinai, where he was given a copy of God’s covenant agreement. It contained all the rules and regulations that would govern the conduct of His chosen people. And Moses was given instructions to return to the base of the mountain and deliver the terms of the agreement to the Israelites.

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

They ratified the covenant agreement – not once, but twice. Moses erected an altar to Yahweh on which they offered sacrifices. Then he read the entire content of the covenant agreement to the people. When he was done the people responded again:

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” – Exodus 24:7 NLT

Some forty years later, the people of Israel would stand on the border of the land of promise, waiting to enter and possess the land promised to them by God. But as Moses prepared to turn over the reins of leadership to Joshua, he took one more opportunity to charge the people to keep their covenant commitment to Yahweh.

“Therefore, obey the terms of this covenant so that you will prosper in everything you do. All of you—tribal leaders, elders, officers, all the men of Israel—are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God. Your little ones and your wives are with you, as well as the foreigners living among you who chop your wood and carry your water. You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:9-13 NLT

Moses reminded them that the covenant came with blessings and curses. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. But if they chose to disobey, they would experience the curses that God had outlined (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Moses had been very specific concerning the ramifications for their disobedience.

These horrors will serve as a sign and warning among you and your descendants forever.  If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. – Deuteronomy 28:46-48 NLT

Now, centuries later, Hosea was recording God’s declaration of breach of covenant against the people of Israel. They were completely devoid of faithfulness (trustworthiness), no steadfast love (loyalty), and no knowledge of Him. That final charge does not mean that they had no knowledge of God at all, but that they failed to acknowledge Him as the one true God. They were guilty of violating the very first of the covenant commandments:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” – Exodus 20:2-3 NLT

Their failure to acknowledge Yahweh’s authority and sovereignty had led them to distrust Him and to treat Him with disloyalty. But their disregard for God and His covenant had produced a litany of sins that manifested themselves in their treatment of one another.

You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another. – Hosea 4:2 NLT

Every one of these charges is a violation of the covenant they had so eagerly and aggressively agreed to keep.

“You must not murder.

“You must not commit adultery.

“You must not steal.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:13-17 NLT

Their refusal to acknowledge Yahweh as their one and only God had led them to commit a long list of sins against one another. If they could not love and obey God, they would never be able to love one another. The entire community was experiencing a breakdown in their social order because they had lost trust in God, which led them to become disloyal to Him. And with no fear of or reverence for God, there was nothing to motivate their behavior. They had returned to the days of the judges when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV). It had become a moral free-for-all, with no rules to manage their conduct. Their commitment to the covenant had long ago faded, and they found themselves governed by selfishness, distrust, greed, lust, and a host of other sins of the heart.

And Hosea explains that their abandonment of God had left a dark stain on the land.

That is why your land is in mourning,
    and everyone is wasting away. – Hosea 4:3 NLT

God had warned them that breaking their covenant agreement with Him would have devastating consequences.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. The Lord will afflict you with diseases until none of you are left in the land you are about to enter and occupy. The Lord will strike you with wasting diseases, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, and with blight and mildew. These disasters will pursue you until you die.” – Deuteronomy 28:20-22 NLT

Now, they were experiencing the veracity of these warnings in real life. All they had to do was look around and they could see the far-reaching consequences for their sins.

Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky,
    and the fish of the sea are disappearing. – Hosea 4:3 NLT

Like a prosecuting attorney presenting his case in a court of law, God brought a series of charges against the people of Israel, backed by strong evidence that more than proved their guilt. There was little they could say or do to refute God’s stinging indictment against them. Creation itself testified against them. And God was not going to allow anyone to pass the buck or absolve themselves of complicity in the charges. He will take each and every one of them to task for their involvement in the violation of their covenant agreement.

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

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

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

A Hard Act to Follow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spirit of Spiritual Syncretism

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:29-41 ESV

So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods.”

That phrase appears twice in the closing verses of chapter 17, and it aptly summarizes the spiritual state of the nation of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians. Many of its citizens had been captured and exiled to various locations in Assyria. Their vacancies were filled by people from other conquered nations who were forced to relocate to Israel and start new lives. This sudden influx of refugees from foreign countries turned Israel into a veritable melting pot and, ultimately, resulted in intermarriage between the Jews and their new neighbors.

These newly transplanted inhabitants found themselves living in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language or customs. They were strangers living in a strange land, but they found some comfort in the fact that many of their gods already had shrines dedicated to them in Israel. The ten northern tribes had been assimilating the gods of other nations for years. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, they had created their own gods, complete with temples and priesthood. Under Ahab and Jezebel, they had adopted and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. And along the way, other kings of Israel had been embracing the false gods of their foreign allies. So, the new arrivals to Israel found an atmosphere of religious tolerance and ecumenism.

If you recall, immediately after these foreign refugees had arrived in Israel and taken up residence in the abandoned cities of Samaria, they began worshiping their false gods. The land on which they lived belonged to Yahwah, and He took offense at their actions. They were living on land that He had set apart as holy and given to the descendants of Abraham as their inheritance. It was to have been a place where they lived in obedience to His will and where they worshiped Him alone. Their failure to do so had resulted in their defeat and deportation. But their departure had not changed the sanctity of the land or voided the covenant commitment God had made with His people. There was still a remnant of Jews living in the land of Israel and He expected them to keep their end of the agreement they had made with Him.

So, when these foreigners began to worship their false gods on land that belonged to the one true God, they found themselves experiencing divine judgment.

But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. – 2 Kings 17:25 NLT

As a result, the king of Assyria ordered that one of the exiled Israelite priests be sent back so that he might instruct the immigrants in the proper worship of Yahweh.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord. – 2 Kings 17:28 NLT

This highly pragmatic plan implemented by the king of Assyria was evidently successful. But while many of the new arrivals eagerly adopted Yahweh as their God, they simply added Him to their growing list of deities. He became just one more god to whom they offered their sacrifices in order to win favor and good fortune.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

With the sudden arrival of these various people groups, the religious landscape of Israel became ever more crowded and confused. Almost overnight, the idolatrous state of Israel exploded with new options and opportunities as the number of false gods continued to increase. The already tolerant and easily tempted Israelites found themselves surrounded by a virtual sea of new gods from which to chose.

Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. – 2 Kings 17:30-31 ESV

The worship of Yahweh became increasingly more diluted and defused as a spirit of syncretism and religious pluralism spread over the land. The fall of Israel did not result in a spirit of repentance and religious reform among God’s people. His judgment of them was met by indifference and continued apostasy.

They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. – 2 Kings 17:34 NLT

There appears to be no remorse or repentance on the part of God’s people. Their neighbors had been taken captive and exiled to Assyria, but they remain just as committed to living in disobedience to God’s laws. And it seems that those who found themselves living as captives in Assyria were no less stubborn and unwilling to return to Yahweh. And yet, when King Solomon had dedicated the newly constructed temple, he had asked God to show mercy on His disobedient people, should they find themselves in exile and call out for help.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

But they hadn’t turned and acknowledged God’s name. They had not prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness. Both those in exile and those living in the land of Israel had continued to disobey God’s commands and violate His covenant agreement. And the author makes it clear that God was serious about His commands and His covenant.

For the Lord had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. You must worship only the Lord your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” – 2 Kings 17:35-39 NLT

They had no excuse. The remnant of Israelites still living in the land knew exactly what God expected of them, but they continued to reject His word and refused to repent. And while the new residents were given instruction in the proper worship of Yahweh, they simply added Him to their long and growing list of god options.

So while these new residents worshiped the Lord, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. – 2 Kings 17:41 NLT

This last verse is meant to convey a sense of inevitability and determinism. Nothing was going to change. They were fully committed to doing things their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. And we know that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the long-term implications of this syncretistic and overly tolerant religious mindset had resulted in the division between the Jews and the Samaritans. The foreigners who were transplanted into Israel by the king of Assyria, ended up intermarrying with the remaining Jewish population. These mixed marriages brought about an assimilation of cultures and religions that produced a population that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds by the Jews of Jesus’ day and were treated as second-class citizens. They practiced a religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with aspects of paganism and idolatry. As the Samaritan confessed to Jesus, they even had their own place of worship, outside the confines of Jerusalem (John 4:20).

Chapter 17 of 2 Kings brings the story of the northern kingdom to a dramatic and somber close. Part of the nation is living in exile in Assyria. The rest remain in the land but are marked by a spirit of spiritual syncretism and moral compromise. There will be no more kings to rule over the ten tribes. They will remain under God’s judgment and experience the curses He had warned would come should they choose to disobey. But now, the author turns his attention back to the southern kingdom Judah. As of now, they remain free to follow the commands of God. But will they? The author provides a not-so-subtle hint as to what lies in store of the people of Judah.

Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 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

 

 

Zeal is No Excuse for Disobedience

1 Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria, to the rulers of the city, to the elders, and to the guardians of the sons of Ahab, saying, “Now then, as soon as this letter comes to you, seeing your master’s sons are with you, and there are with you chariots and horses, fortified cities also, and weapons, select the best and fittest of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne and fight for your master’s house.” But they were exceedingly afraid and said, “Behold, the two kings could not stand before him. How then can we stand?” So he who was over the palace, and he who was over the city, together with the elders and the guardians, sent to Jehu, saying, “We are your servants, and we will do all that you tell us. We will not make anyone king. Do whatever is good in your eyes.” Then he wrote to them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side, and if you are ready to obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow at this time.” Now the king’s sons, seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, who were bringing them up. And as soon as the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons and slaughtered them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel. When the messenger came and told him, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,” he said, “Lay them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until the morning.” Then in the morning, when he went out, he stood and said to all the people, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who struck down all these? 10 Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what he said by his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu struck down all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until he left him none remaining.

12 Then he set out and went to Samaria. On the way, when he was at Beth-eked of the Shepherds, 13 Jehu met the relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah, and he said, “Who are you?” And they answered, “We are the relatives of Ahaziah, and we came down to visit the royal princes and the sons of the queen mother.” 14 He said, “Take them alive.” And they took them alive and slaughtered them at the pit of Beth-eked, forty-two persons, and he spared none of them.

15 And when he departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him. And he greeted him and said to him, “Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours?” And Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. And Jehu took him up with him into the chariot. 16 And he said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” So he had him ride in his chariot. 17 And when he came to Samaria, he struck down all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah. 2 Kings 10:1-17 ESV

Jehu was methodical and ruthless in carrying out God’s judgment against the house of Ahab. After killing King Jehoram and ordering the execution of the queen-mother, Jezebel, he turned his attention to Ahab’s 70 male descendants. Jehu knew that as long as any of them remained alive, his hopes of consolidating the kingdom under his rule would be in jeopardy. These boys and young men were under the care and protection of royal guardians who served in Ahab’s administration. More than likely, they had answered to Jezebel. But now that she was out of the picture, Jehu issued a challenge to these protectors of Ahab’s dynasty.

“…select the best qualified of your master’s sons to be your king, and prepare to fight for Ahab’s dynasty.” – 2 Kings 10:3 NLT

Jehu proposed that they do battle for control of the kingdom. He and his allies would go up against the chosen heir of Ahab and the forces of Israel, and whoever was left standing would become the next king of the northern kingdom. But his offer was quickly rejected. The elders and officials of Samaria recognized that Jehu had the upper hand and any attempt to defeat him in battle would be ill-advised and ill-fated.

So, these men informed Jehu that they had no intentions of protecting or promoting the heirs of Ahab. But he demanded that they prove their loyalty by beheading all 70 of Ahab’s sons. The next day, the elders and officials of Samaria showed up in Jezreel and presented to Jehu their rather macabre coronation gift. He ordered that the 70 heads be placed in two piles beside the city gate, as a gruesome reminder of God’s divine judgment against the house of Ahab. No one who entered or exited the city of Jezreel could miss the message this hideous sight was meant to convey.

But the next morning, Jehu called the nervous citizens of Jezreel together. These people were caught in the middle of a violent and deadly change in administrations. For more than 30 years they had lived under the rule of Ahab and Jezebel. But almost overnight, their way of life had come to an abrupt end. They had witnessed the assassination of their king, the violent death of his mother, and the annihilation of every living male heir to the throne. They had no way of knowing what kind of king Jehu would be. So, in an effort to assuage their fear and apprehension, Jehu took full responsibility for the death of King Jehoram but then vowed that he would avenge the deaths of Ahab’s sons. This rather disingenuous display of righteous indignation was intended to win over the hearts of the people. But he failed to admit that he had been the one who ordered their executions. In his zeal to carry out the command of God, Jehu overstepped his authority. Rather than simply punishing the house of Ahab as God had ordered, Jehu used his newfound power to enact a bloody purging that spread far beyond his original assignment.

Jehu killed all who were left of Ahab’s relatives living in Jezreel and all his important officials, his personal friends, and his priests. So Ahab was left without a single survivor. – 2 Kings 10:11 NLT

We are not told the motivation behind Jehu’s actions, but we are given God’s response to it. Over in the book of Hosea, God provides a glimpse into His displeasure with Jehu’s overzealous and bloody purge. In the opening verses of the book, the prophet Hosea has just discovered that he is a new father. His wife, Gomer, a former prostitute, has given birth to a son. And God informs Hosea that he is to call the boy Jezreel.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” – Hosea 1:4-5 ESV

The entire book of Hosea is meant to display the unfaithfulness of Israel through the relationship between the prophet and his unfaithful wife. The name given to their son was meant to be a permanent reminder of Jehu’s ungodly actions that day in Jezreel. He had decided to do God’s will his way. By taking the lives of the elders and officials of Samaria, Jehu had overstepped his God-given authority. He had exceeded his role as an instrument of God’s judgment against the house of Ahab. Innocent people had died unnecessarily and he would pay for his costly mistake.

In a sense, Jehu was obedient to the command of God. He had been anointed by the prophet of God and given the task of eliminating the house of Ahab. And he did as he had been told. He killed King Jehoram. He ordered the death of Jezebel. He orchestrated the executions of all of Ahab’s heirs. He had even taken it upon himself to kill King Ahaziah of Judah because he was the grandson of Jezebel. The tentacles of Jezebel’s influence had reached all the way into the southern kingdom, infecting Judah and its people.

At one point, Jehu had an unexpected encounter with some of these royal relatives of Jezebel from Judah. Unaware of all that had transpired in Israel, they were on their way to visit the queen-mother. But when Jehu discovered their identity, he ordered their immediate executions.

“We are relatives of King Ahaziah. We are going to visit the sons of King Ahab and the sons of the queen mother.”

“Take them alive!” Jehu shouted to his men. And they captured all forty-two of them and killed them at the well of Beth-eked. None of them escaped. – 2 Kings 10:14 NLT

His determination to eliminate every last vestige of Ahab’s influence was comprehensive and commendable. He left no stone unturned. This dedicated servant of God did what he had been anointed to do.

…he struck down all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah. – 2 Kings 10:17 ESV

But in doing so, he had gone above and beyond his official commission, ordering the deaths of the innocent. While Jehu could justify his actions by claiming that the elders and officials had murdered the sons of Ahab, they had only done so because he had given them no other choice. Jehu had delegated to these men a responsibility that had been given to him alone. It was he who should have taken the lives of the 70 sons of Ahab. It was he who should have executed Jezebel. But he had ordered her death by commanding her servants to throw her down from the window of the palace. Jehu had used his newfound power and authority in ways that God had not ordered or ordained. He had chosen to accomplish God’s will according to his ways. And no amount of zeal, enthusiasm, or good intentions can justify disobedience.

Hundreds of years later, the apostle Paul would commend the nation of Israel for its enthusiasm toward the things of God. But he would also point out that their zeal was misplaced and misdirected. In their energetic effort to please God, they were actually living in disobedience to His will and in violation of His ways.

I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. – Romans 10:2-3 NLT

Zeal is never an excuse for disobedience.

 

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

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

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

 

A God-Ordained Victory

15 “But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him. 16 And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” 20 The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.

21 When all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to put on armor, from the youngest to the oldest, were called out and were drawn up at the border. 22 And when they rose early in the morning and the sun shone on the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. 23 And they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely fought together and struck one another down. Now then, Moab, to the spoil!” 24 But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went.  25 And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone until it was covered. They stopped every spring of water and felled all the good trees, till only its stones were left in Kir-hareseth, and the slingers surrounded and attacked it. 26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. 27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.  2 Kings 3:15-27 ESV

Verse 15 opens with the combined armies of Israel and Judah bogged down in the wilderness of Edom. Jehoram and Jehoshaphat had joined forces to attack the kingdom of Moab, but somewhere along the way, their campaign had come to an abrupt halt due to lack of water. There, in the desert-like conditions just south of the Dead Sea, they were forced to seek the aid of Elisha, the prophet of God. And while Elisha was reticent to assist the apostate king of Israel, he agreed to help because of his respect for Jehoshaphat. When Jehoram had taken stock of their precarious circumstance, he had panicked, declaring that Yahweh was out to destroy them. But Jehoshaphat, rather than assuming the worst, recommended that they seek a word from the prophet of God.

And, after having agreed to come to their aid, the first thing Elisha did was call for a musician. No explanation is given for this request, but it seems evident that the music was intended to create a soothing atmosphere, conducive to hearing from God. Much to Jehoram’s surprise, the message Elisha received from Yahweh was positive and not negative.

“This is what the Lord says: This dry valley will be filled with pools of water! You will see neither wind nor rain, says the Lord, but this valley will be filled with water. You will have plenty for yourselves and your cattle and other animals.” – 2 Kings 3:16-17 NLT

God was going to do a miracle. Elisha announced that God would fill the dry valley with water, but they would never see a cloud or watch a single raindrop fall from the sky. Where once there had been nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, there would be refreshing pools of water – enough to satisfy the thirst of every soldier, horse, and pack animal. But, according to Elisha, that would be nothing compared to the real miracle God was going to perform.

“But this is only a simple thing for the Lord, for he will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

Turning a desert into a refreshing oasis filled with fresh drinking water was nothing for God. The real miracle would come in the form of His gracious intervention in the battle against the Moabites. He was going to turn their apparent failure into victory.

God had no love affair with the Moabites. They had been a constant problem for the people of Israel for centuries. And it had all begun when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan. The king of Moab had watched as the Israelites had easily defeated the Ammonites, and he was afraid that they would face the same fate. So, he hired the services of Balaam, a local seer, providing him with instructions to curse the Israelites.

“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” – Numbers 22:5-6 NLT

But God repeatedly thwarted Balaam’s efforts to curse the people of Israel. So, Balaam ended up coming up with an alternative solution. He advised Balak, the king of Moab, to encourage his women to seduce the men of Israel. His ploy was to use intermarriage between the two nations to encourage an alliance. And, his strategy almost worked.

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

God ended up judging those Israelites who violated His prohibition against intermarrying with the pagan nations in Canaan. And He placed a permanent curse of the nation of Moab.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites.” – Deuteronomy 23:3, 6 NLT

Despite Jehoram’s apostasy and Jehoshaphat’s unwise alliance with this idolatrous king, God would provide them with a miraculous and decisive victory over the Moabites. He would snatch victory out of the hands of defeat and, in doing so, allow these two prideful and self-possessed kings to reap the reward they didn’t deserve.

The next morning, water began to flow into the camp. Somewhere, out of sight, rain was falling that turned into rivers of water that flowed all the way to the wilderness of Edom. The armies of Israel and Judah woke up to the sight of pools of freshwater as far as the eye could see. But the Moabites, who were encamped along their southern border, woke up to see what they believed to be pools of blood. They immediately assumed that the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom had turned on one another and a blood bath had ensued. But when they went to investigate what had happened, rather than dead bodies, they encountered a well-rested and fully rejuvenated army. The battle quickly turned into a rout, with the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom chasing “them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went. They destroyed the towns, covered their good land with stones, stopped up all the springs, and cut down all the good trees” (2 Kings 3:24-25 NLT).

In a last desperate attempt to turn the tide of the battle, the king of Moab took his son, the heir to his throne, and offered him up as a living sacrifice to his false god. And his costly offering seemed to have had its intended effect, providing the demoralized Moabite troops with the inspiration they needed to hold off the Israelites and their allies. The author simply states “there came great wrath against Israel” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV). Evidently, the Moabites rallied behind their king and were able to drive off the invaders.

God had put the Moabites in their place. What King Mesha had failed to realize was that, when he had dared to stand opposed to Jehoram, he had actually been picking a fight with God Almighty. And while God did not approve of Jehoram’s lifestyle or leadership as the king of Israel, God was going to defend His covenant people. This victory had clearly demonstrated God’s faithfulness and His unwavering commitment to defend His people, whether they deserved it or not.

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