The Benefit of Believing

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”Luke 7:24-35 ESV

John the Baptist had his doubts, but that did not mean he had begun to disbelieve. His imprisonment by Herod had left him confused and conflicted because it was not what he had expected. He had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he most likely believed that even Herod would repent of his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife. John truly believed that the Messiah had come and things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. Righteousness would rule and reign in the land. But it would be accompanied by God’s judgment of all those who refused to live in submission to the new King, and whose lives did not exhibit true repentance. So, when a group of Pharisees and Sadduccees showed up asking John to baptize them, he had responded:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” – Matthew 3:7 ESV

In John’s mind, there were only two outcomes to the Messiah’s arrival: Repentance and forgiveness or judgment and wrath. But now, he was in prison while the unrepentant Herod walked free.

The people who overheard this exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples must have begun to murmur among themselves. Evidently, John’s apparent crisis of faith left them confused. Was he right? Could it be true that Jesus was not the Messiah? Should they be expecting someone else? Sensing their uncertainty, Jesus spoke directly to them.

“What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? – Luke 7:24-26 NLT

In a sense, Jesus was asking them what they had expected to find when they had wandered into the Judean wilderness where John was preaching and baptizing. They had not been looking for a timid, meek, or weak-willed man. They were not expecting to find a sophisticated intellectual dressed in fine robes and living in splendor. They had been looking for a prophet and they had not been disappointed. John had fit the bill. He had a similar ministry to that of Elijah the prophet. They even dressed in a similar fashion (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).

And Jesus affirms that John was exactly what they expected him to be: A prophet of God. And yet, Jesus declares that John was more than a prophet. He was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

This is exactly what the angel had told John’s father, Zechariah, when he had come to announce that Elizabeth would bear a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

And Jesus also quoted from Malachi when He told the crowd, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you’” (Luke 7:27 ESV).

John was the God-ordained forerunner of the Messiah. He had shown up at just the right time, according to the sovereign will of God, and had proclaimed the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And Jesus called John the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived. He had been given the distinct privilege and responsibility of heralding the arrival of the Messiah. While the prophets had predicted His coming, John had been there to see it happen. Not only that, he had fulfilled the will of God by baptizing the Son of God. He had even been witness to the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus and had heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV).

But as great as John was, Jesus declares that “even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” (Luke 7:28 NLT). With this statement, Jesus refocuses the peoples’ attention on the whole point behind John’s earthly ministry. His role had been to declare the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 3:1-2 BSB

And when Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had preached that very same message.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
 – Matthew 4:17 BSB

But preaching that message was meaningless unless those who heard it believed in it. And Luke points out that the crowd that day was comprised of two types of people: Believers and doubters. There were those who heard the words of Jesus and took heart because they had heard John’s call to repentance and been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. – Luke 7:29 NLT

But there was another group within the crowd who had refused the call to repentance and whom John had denied baptism.

But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism. – Luke 7:30 NLT

These men represented the “brood of vipers” John had warned would experience the wrath to come. And Jesus points out these unbelieving, unrepentant individuals by comparing them with petulant children. These pompous and self-righteous men were like spoiled children, used to getting their way, and demanding that their peers dance to their tune. These religious leaders had grown used to controlling everyone around them, using the law and their burdensome list of man-made rules and regulations to dictate the behavior of the people. And when the people failed to live up to their standards, they criticized and condemned them as unrighteous and unacceptable to God.

These men had rejected the messenger of God. When John had shown up living the ascetic lifestyle of a Nazarite, they had accused him of having a demon. When Jesus showed up, choosing to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, they had declared Him to be a glutton and a drunkard. Their problem was that neither man would live according to their rules. They could not control John or Jesus and that infuriated them. And both men had attracted large crowds of followers, which threatened to diminish the Pharisees’ and Sadduccees’ control over the people.

Jesus ends this teaching by declaring, “wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Luke 7:35 NLT). Essentially, He is telling the people that the wisdom of God had been revealed. It has been made evident in the ministry and message of John. But it has also been manifested in His own words and works. And all those who will believe that He is the long-awaited Messiah will end up vindicating the wisdom of God. They will become living proof that what John had declared had been true and that Jesus really was who He had claimed to be. The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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

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

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

Defying Expectations

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:15-21 ESV

As will become increasingly more clear as Luke’s gospel unfolds, John the Baptist certain expectations regarding the coming Messiah. Like all Jews, he was anticipating a kingly Messiah who would rule and reign in Jerusalem just as David had. John was aware of the many prophetic passages that pronounced the arrival of the long-awaited Savior of Israel. And, as John has already revealed, he believed that when the Messiah finally appeared, He would bring salvation but also judgment. That’s why John warned the people, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7 ESV).

John was the divinely appointed messenger sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. But that does not mean he fully grasped what the nature of the Messiah’s role would be when He appeared. The apostle John records that John the Baptist described Jesus as the Lamb of God and understood that He would offer atonement for the sins of the world.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

As John began his public ministry, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea, he drew large crowds. And his ministry and message began to have an impact on all those who came to hear him. Luke reports that “the people were in expectation” (Luke 3:15 ESV). They sensed that something significant was about to happen. When they heard John proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV), their excitement began to peak. Was the one for whom they had been waiting so long about to show up? Would He deliver them from the oppression of the Romans? Was He going to restore Israel’s power and prominence?

They even began to question whether John was the Messiah. But He cleared up those rumors by declaring, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). While John was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to believe that he understood the full import of his own words. It seems clear that John understood that when the Messiah appeared, He would come as both Savior and judge. John’s reference to fire conveys his expectation that one of the primary roles the Messiah would play would be that of meting out judgment upon the nations.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

John believed that one for whom he was preparing the way would usher in the end times. His arrival would fulfill all the prophetic promises concerning the renewal and restoration of Israel as well as the judgment of all of Israel’s enemies. John was expecting the final form of the Kingdom. Like many Jews of his day, John had conflated all the prophetic passages concerning the Messiah into one event. He had no concept of a first and second advent. From his perspective, when the Messiah showed up, it would be to set up His earthly Kingdom on earth – once and for all time.

But Jesus would later debunk the idea that He had come to judge the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

the purpose for His first advent was to offer salvation to a lost and dying world. He would do so by offering His life as a sacrifice for their sins. He would pay the debt they owed by laying down His life in their place. Jesus had come to suffer and die, not rule and reign. His appearance, while significant, was far from spectacular. He had not been born to a wealthy family and raised in an environment of privilege and power. He had not shown up on the scene with an army or a contingent of “mighty men” like David had. No, Jesus had been born in obscurity and relative anonymity. And even after John baptized Jesus and stood back and watched as He began His earthly ministry, the faithful messenger would begin to have serious doubts about Jesus’ identity.

At the baptism of Jesus, John had witnessed the dove descending upon Jesus’ head and had heard a voice from heaven declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). And yet, as Jesus began His earthy ministry, John would begin to have questions about what He saw Jesus doing. It seems clear that John expected a radical transformation to take place in Israel. He had been calling the people to repentance and demanding that their behavior reflect their willingness to change. He had even confronted Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, demanding that he repent of the adulterous affair he was having with his brother, Philip’s wife. Matthew records that John the Baptist fully expected everyone in Israel to get their spiritual act together, including the tetrarch of Judea. John had repeatedly confronted Herod and told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4 ESV). This bold accusation angered Herodias, Philip’s wife, and ended up getting John imprisoned. It was while in prison that John would begin to have second thoughts about Jesus.

Later on in his gospel, Luke records that, while in prison, John was receiving regular updates from his disciples about all that Jesus was doing. And what he heard left him scratching his head in confusion. Surely, they told him about all the miracles Jesus had performed. They must have shared the amazing miracle of Jesus raising a dead boy back to life (Luke 7:11-14). Yet John felt compelled to send two of his disciples to Jesus with a surprisingly blunt question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Luke 7:19 ESV).

And Luke seems to highlight the absurdity of John’s question by adding, “At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 ESV). In other words, Jesus had been performing many incredible and inexplicable miracles. Yet, John was unconvinced. He seems to have been expecting something completely different.

But rather than rebuke John for his doubt, Jesus sent back the two disciples with a message: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor…God blesses those who do not fall away because of me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

John had expected the Messiah to bring deliverance to the people of Israel. And yet, here he was in prison. He had been declaring God’s message of repentance and calling the people to prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom. But he was behind bars and having to wonder how any of this was part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. It’s clear that John knew his role was subordinate to that of Jesus. He had no aspirations of greatness or desire for glory. But he had not expected to be in jail. The apostle John reports that John the Baptist had one desire: To see the Messiah accomplish His God-appointed assignment.

“You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:28-30 NLT

Little did John know the prophetic nature of his own words. He would become less. In fact, he would never leave the prison alive. Herodias would arrange to have John beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). And Jesus would honor John with a profound statement concerning his contribution to the Kingdom.

“I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” –  Luke 7:28a ESV

John had been given the privilege and responsibility for preparing the way for the Savior of the world. And he had done his job faithfully. Yet, Jesus reveals that John’s greatness or significance will be exceeded by all those who become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” – Luke 7:28 ESV

John had faithfully declared the message he had been given. But he did not have a full grasp on the nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had fully expected Jesus to come with power, but not the kind of power that healed the sick and raised the dead. He had been hoping for the kind of power that would raise a nation back to prominence. He had been expecting a King who would rule in righteousness. But he had not anticipated a suffering Savior who would provide a way for sinful men and women to be declared righteous by God.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records that John “preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:18 NLT). Yet, his message comes across as anything but good news.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

The beauty of the Gospel message is that it will eventually fulfill all the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah. But what John failed to understand was that the final fulfillment of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom would come at a much later date. With His first advent, Jesus came to offer salvation, not to celebrate His inauguration. He came to be crucified, not to be glorified. He came to serve, not to be served.

“I have come to save the world and not to judge it.” – John 12:47 ESV

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 Repentance

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:1-14 ESV

Once again, Luke establishes a firm timeline in order to prove the historical veracity of Jesus’ life and ministry. The last chapter ended with the statement: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). Luke’s last biographical entry concerning Jesus portrayed Him as a 12-year-old boy. But now, Luke has fast-forwarded nearly two decades and he establishes the timeline by providing a list of key historical figures with whom his readers would have been familiar.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas – Luke 3:1-2 NLT

Luke doesn’t provide the specific year in which John the Baptist began his ministry, but by listing these seven historical figures, he narrows down the possibilities. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar would have been somewhere around A.D.29. The last year of Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea was A.D. 37. Herod Antipas was deposed as the tetrarch of Galilee in A.D. 39. His brother Philip, who was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, died in A.D. 34. Annas and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, shared the tile of high priest until the spring of A.D. 37. The only name on the list for which there is little historical record is that of Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene.

So, it would seem that somewhere between the A.D. 26 and the spring of A.D. 37, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2 ESV). After a long delay, John received his official marching orders from God. Luke doesn’t reveal how this information was conveyed to John, but he does clarify the nature of John’s assignment.

He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Luke 3:3 NLT

John’s ministry and message had been given to him by God and it was in direct fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, written centuries earlier.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” – Luke 3:4-6 ESV

Luke appears to be quoting from Isaiah 40:3-5, using the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). By utilizing this prophetic passage, Luke is establishing that John was the divine fulfillment of this promise. He had come to prepare the way for the salvation of God. And to do so, he was given the task of “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3 ESV). As a prophet himself, John had been commissioned by God to call the people of Israel to repentance. The word “repentance” (metanoia) carries the idea of changing one’s mind. While we tend to think of repentance as an alteration in behavior or conduct, the New Testament concept of repentance conveys, first and foremost, a change in perspective or outlook. 

With the fulfillment of the Isaiah 40 passage, something new was about to happen in Israel. The old way of doing things was going away. Something new had come. And John’s job was to call the people to embrace a new way of thinking about everything, from the nature of the kingdom of God to the character of the Messiah, and even the means for achieving a right standing before God. Nothing was going to remain the same. With the launch of John’s ministry and the imminent arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, God was preparing to bring a radically new form of salvation – like nothing they had ever seen before.

John’s call to repentance and his offer of baptism was eagerly embraced by the crowds who flocked to see him in the wilderness. But it seems that John had suspicions concerning the sincerity of those who were verbally declaring their readiness to repent. He sensed that they were simply going through the motions, declaring with their lips that they were willing to change but with no intent to do so. In a sense, they were hedging their bets, desiring to receive forgiveness for their sins, but with no plans to change the way they lived their lives. So, John blasts them for their hypocrisy.

“You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:7-9 NLT

Whether John realized it or not, he was demanding that these people do something that was utterly impossible. He was calling them to “produce fruit that proves your repentance.” In other words, he was requiring that they change their behavior. And for centuries, that had been the call of every prophet of God.

“Yet even now,” the Lord says,
“return to me with all your heart—
with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts,
not just your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to anger and boundless in loyal love—often relenting from calamitous punishment. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT

But no generation of Israelites had ever been effective in fulfilling this command. Even the prophet Isaiah would record God’s words of condemnation concerning the Israelites less-than-sincere attempts at behavior modification.

“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

Their hearts weren’t in it. And by demanding that the crowds show genuine fruit that proves their repentance, John was asking them to do the impossible. In reality, the Jews who came to hear John preach were of the opinion that they were God’s chosen people. As descendants of Abraham, they believed themselves to be honorary citizens of God’s kingdom. But John reveals that their prideful dependence upon their status as Abraham’s seed was not going to save them. What they failed to recognize was that God had made them out of nothing. He had formed the nation of Israel from a single man and his barren wife. And John drops the not-so-flattering bombshell: “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8 ESV).

Something new was about to happen, and John was trying to prepare the people for what God had in store for them. It would no longer be business as usual. Their half-hearted attempts at giving up their old ways were no longer going to cut it. God was done waiting for His rebellious people to return to Him in true repentance and contrition. He was no longer willing to allow those who bore His name to drag His reputation in the dirt by their ungodly behavior. God knew that the only hope of changing their behavior would come with a change in their hearts.

The prophet Ezekiel had recorded the words of God pronouncing His divine plan to one day do for the Israelites what they could never have accomplished on their own.

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

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

But at this point in the inaugural days of John’s ministry, he is calling the people to display the fruit of true repentance. And when they ask him for examples of what that might look like, he gets very specific.

“The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” – Luke 3:11 NLT

To the tax collectors who came seeking to be baptized, John said, “Collect no more than you are required to” (Luke 3:13 NLT). Soldiers were told, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14 NLT). Everyone, regardless of their status in life, was expected to change the way they lived. But this would prove to be a pointless endeavor. They didn’t have what it takes to produce true and lasting heart change. In fact, their hearts remained as stony and stubborn as ever. 

For generations, the people of Israel had attempted to please God by keeping His laws, and when they failed to live up to His holy standards, they took advantage of His sacrificial system so that they could receive atonement and forgiveness. But this cycle of sin and sacrifice had produced no lasting change in their behavior. But all that was about to change. God was preparing to introduce a new means of atonement that would produce lasting heart change and the ability to display the fruit of righteousness.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Love of Darkness

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
    his sin is kept in store.
13 The pangs of childbirth come for him,
    but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
    at the opening of the womb.

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
    I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
    O Sheol, where is your sting?
    Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

15 Though he may flourish among his brothers,
    the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come,
    rising from the wilderness,
and his fountain shall dry up;
    his spring shall be parched;
it shall strip his treasury
    of every precious thing.
16 Samaria shall bear her guilt,
    because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword;
    their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
    and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:12-16 ESV

The problem was not that Israel had sinned. God had fully expected them to do so and had made ample preparations for that inevitable prospect. The entire sacrificial system was based on the knowledge that God’s people would sin and was intended to provide them with a means of receiving atonement, forgiveness, and a restored relationship with Him. But the Israelites had become guilty of unrepentant sin. They had chosen to worship other gods, in direct violation of God’s commands. And they repeatedly refused to repent of their sin of spiritual adultery. Despite the warnings of God’s prophets, the Israelites continued to forsake Yahweh and offer their sacrifices, affections, and allegiance to false gods. This left them living in a state of unrepentant sin for which their many sacrifices provided no atonement or forgiveness.

God wanted to redeem, forgive, and restore them, but their unwillingness to repent made that impossible. He had promised to forgive their sins – if they would only repent.

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

But God compares His stubborn people to an infant that refuses to go through childbirth. The mother goes through intense labor pains, attempting to bring her new baby into the world, but the child “resists being born” (Hosea 13:13 NLT). This fictitious scene is meant to expose the absurdity of Israel’s actions. Like a baby that chooses to remain in the comfortable and familiar environs of the womb, the Israelites had chosen to continue in their lifestyle of sin and apostasy.

The moment of birth has arrived,
    but they stay in the womb! – Hosea 13:13 NLT

God had great things in store for them – if they would only repent. He wanted to bless them with abundant life and all the benefits that would come with living in obedience to His just and holy commands. But they refused to repent. And because they refused to repent, the number of their unforgiven sins had increased exponentially, leaving them with a growing debt that could only be paid through death and destruction.

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
    but he who pursues evil will die.
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those of blameless ways are his delight. – Proverbs 11:19-20 ESV

For the wages of sin is death… – Romans 6:23 ESV

But despite God’s desire that His people repent and return to Him, He is determined to punish them for their wickedness. He cannot turn a blind eye to their sin and simply act as if they have done nothing wrong. And while He is a loving, gracious, and compassionate God, He is also just and holy, and obligated to punish the iniquities of men. So, He asks a series of rhetorical questions:

“Should I ransom them from the grave?
    Should I redeem them from death?” – Hosea 13:14 NLT

And then God answers those questions with a clear declaration of Israel’s coming destruction.

“O death, bring on your terrors!
    O grave, bring on your plagues!
    For I will not take pity on them. – Hosea 13:14 NLT

This time, they would receive no rescue from God. He would not intervene on their behalf and prevent the inevitable consequences for their sins. They would pay, and they would pay dearly. But they could have escaped the consequences of death and the grave if they would have only repented and returned to God in humble contrition. Had they only been willing to confess their sins, He would have been faithful and just to forgive them. The apostle John points out the reality of that divine response to man’s humble act of repentance.

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

It is interesting to note that, centuries later, Jesus Christ would appear on the scene in Israel, preaching the same message of repentance. Matthew records how Jesus began His earthly ministry by fulfilling the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

“…the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:16-17 ESV

Despite Israel’s continued transgressions and ongoing refusal to repent, God would send His own Son to earth preaching a message of repentance to all those who were willing to listen and obey. But like all the other prophets before Him, Jesus would find His Israelite audience to be resistant to His message. They would be attracted by His miracles and curious about His identity, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He could forgive their sins. In his gospel account, the apostle John reveals that the Jews refused to receive Jesus and His message of repentance.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

And John goes on to reveal that Jesus was sent by God in order to offer sinful mankind a way of receiving forgiveness rather than condemnation. Jesus was the gracious gift sent by God the Father that could provide all those living under the condemnation of death with a means of atonement, forgiveness, and redemption.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:17-19 ESV

Even in Jesus’ day, things had not changed. The people of Israel still loved the darkness rather than the light. Like an infant clinging to the familiar darkness of the womb and refusing to be born into the light of day, the Israelites were stubbornly holding on to their lifestyle of sin and refusing to step into the light of God’s forgiveness.

God would punish the northern kingdom of Israel for its refusal to repent. He would send the Assyrian army to destroy the capital city of Samaria and take tens of thousands of its citizens into captivity.

The people of Samaria
    must bear the consequences of their guilt
    because they rebelled against their God.
They will be killed by an invading army,
    their little ones dashed to death against the ground,
    their pregnant women ripped open by swords.” – Hosea 13:16 NLT

These words sound so harsh and barbaric to our modern sensibilities. They paint a portrait of God that we find unattractive and antithetical to our understanding of Him as a loving, gracious, and compassionate God. But we sometimes fail to understand that He is a holy and just God who cannot tolerate sin. His righteousness requires that He deal justly and decisively with all sin. But the truly amazing thing is that God had a plan in place that would deal with the deadly impact of sin and provide sinful mankind with a gracious and totally undeserved plan of escape. And it would be made possible through the gift of His Son. The apostle Paul reminds us of the wonderful secret regarding God’s plan of redemption.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NLT

The Israelites would be punished for their sin. They would face the inevitable consequences of death and the grave. But God was not done. He would preserve a remnant of His people, and through that remnant, He would send His Son. Jesus, the Son of God, would be born into the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham, and as a descendant of David. He would be sent by God to be the Savior of the world, offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind and as a means of receiving a restored relationship with a holy and just God. As the apostle Paul so aptly put it:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

While Israel clung to the womb of sin and darkness, Jesus, the light of God’s glory, was born into the darkness of a sinful world in order to provide the gracious gift of God’s redemption and restoration.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No More Than They Deserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blind to All the Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to Return

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

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

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

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

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

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When All Looks Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The apostle Paul explains how Jesus was that fulfillment.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Track Record of Sin

From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel;
    there they have continued.
    Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them,
    and nations shall be gathered against them
    when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

11 Ephraim was a trained calf
    that loved to thresh,
    and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
    Judah must plow;
    Jacob must harrow for himself.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

13 You have plowed iniquity;
    you have reaped injustice;
    you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your own way
    and in the multitude of your warriors,
14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
    and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle;
    mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
    because of your great evil.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:9-15 ESV

For the second time, Hosea reaches back into Israel’s sordid past and brings up the infamous event that took place in the city of Gibeah. During the period of the judges, this Israelite town had been the scene of a Sodom-like incident involving a Levite and his concubine. The two of them had stopped there for the night and had been given shelter by an elderly Ephraimite who was living temporarily in the city. But the men of the city surrounded the home and demanded that the host send out the Levite so that they might “know him” (Judges 19:22). This was a euphemistic way of saying they wanted to sexually abuse him. In an effort to protect his own life, the Levite gave the men his concubine, whom they sexually abused all night and left for dead. The next morning, the Levite opened to find his concubine lying on the threshold of the home, her arms outstretched as if she had been seeking entrance. She was dead.

The rest of the story is just as unsettling.

When he got home, he [the Levite] took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29 NLT

When these grotesque packages began to arrive among the various tribes, they achieved the Levite’s desired effect.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?” – Judges 19:30 NLT

Eleven of the 12 tribes of Israel called a special assembly to discover what had taken place in Gibeah. The tribe that was missing was that of Benjamin because the men of Gibeah were Benjamites. When the Levite had shared the gruesome details of the incident in Gibeah, the tribes made a universal and united decision to pay back the men of Gibeah for their wickedness.

“None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. One-tenth of the men from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town. – Judges 20:8-11 NLT

The 11 tribes assembled to attack the much smaller force from Benjamin, but were soundly defeated in the first battle. They sought the Lord’s will and were instructed to attack again. But when they engaged the Benjamites in battle the following day, they suffered similar losses. Once again, they sought God’s direction and were instructed to attack a third time. So, the following day, they launched another battle against the men of Benjamin and this time, they won.

So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors… – Judges 20:35 NLT

So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to. – Judges 20:46-48 NLT

This embarrassing incident from Israel’s past would have been well-known among the people. And Hosea used it as a kind of litmus test for Israel’s current spiritual status. He announced that, from God’s perspective, little had changed in Israel since the purging of Gibeah for its immoral behavior.

The Lord says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah,
    there has been only sin and more sin!
You have made no progress whatsoever.
    Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?” – Hosea 10:9 NLT

The nation had made no progress. There had been little to no moral improvement among the other 11 tribes. And just as they had gathered together to judge the tribe of Benjamin, so God would gather the nations to judge Israel.

“Now whenever it fits my plan,
    I will attack you, too.
I will call out the armies of the nations
    to punish you for your multiplied sins.” – Hosea 10:10 NLT

God had given Israel ample time to change its ways. But they remained as immoral as the men of Gibeah. Now it was time for the entire nation to be purged of its wickedness. God describes Israel as “a trained heifer treading out the grain—an easy job she loves” (Hosea 10:11 NLT). Like a cow tied to a threshing wheel, Israel had been given a relatively easy assignment from God, and they had been allowed to eat as they threshed. But their easy life was about to come to an end. Rather than threshing the grain that God had graciously provided, they would suffer the yoke of slavery as they plowed the sun-hardened soil. God was warning them that their days of fruitfulness and prosperity were coming to an end. Both Israel and Judah would find themselves yoked to foreign powers who would subjugate and abuse them, like oxen in a plow. 

The day was coming when there would be no more opportunity for the people of Israel to repent. God had repeatedly and graciously called them to return to Him.

“Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you.” – Hosea 10:12 NLT

But they had consistently refused to heed His calls. Their hardened hearts remained unplowed and incapable of producing the fruit of righteousness. Instead, they had sowed further sin and cultivated a lifestyle of wickedness and unrighteousness.

“But you have cultivated wickedness
    and harvested a thriving crop of sins.” – Hosea 10:13 NLT

Rather than trusting in God, they had decided to put their hope in their military might. They had become self-sufficient and deluded into believing that they didn’t need God. But He would prove them deadly wrong.

“Now the terrors of war
    will rise among your people.
All your fortifications will fall…” – Hosea 10:14 NLT

The period of peace and tranquility they had enjoyed was about to come to an end. God could not and would not tolerate their wickedness any longer. And one of the cities that He singles out is Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his golden idols. God would target this particular city for destruction because it represented the nation’s corporate apostasy. It was symbolic of the spirit of idolatry that pervaded the land. The city of Bethel would be destroyed, along with the king of Israel. The religious and political symbols of Israel’s independence from God would be removed, leaving the nation spiritually void and leaderless. They had chosen to forsake God, now they would learn what it was like when He removed His providential hand from their lives.

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