Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

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

Unrequited Love

1 And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. Hosea 3:1-5 ESV

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was meant to parallel the relationship between God and the apostate nation of Israel. And it seems that Gomer played the part of the unfaithful and adulterous wife quite well. It appears that, at some point, she abandoned Hosea and sought out the love of another man. We are provided with none of the backstory to Gomer’s fateful decision and are told nothing of the pain Hosea experienced when she left him. Since few details are provided, it is impossible to know how long Gomer has been gone. But regardless of the length of time and the level of pain that Hosea suffered, he receives a clear, yet difficult command from God.

Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover.” – Hosea 3:1 NLT

Hosea was being given a non-negotiable assignment from God. He was to seek out and restore his unfaithful wife. And what made this command particularly difficult was that she had left him and was now in a relationship with another man. Her actions clearly indicate that she had replaced Hosea with someone else. And God points out to Hosea the glaring similarities between Gomer and the people of Israel. By seeking to restore his adulterous and unloving wife, Hosea will be demonstrating God’s unfailing love for Israel.

“This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” – Hosea 3:1 NLT

As difficult as all of this was for Hosea, God fully understood and could easily empathize with the hurt and anger that he was feeling. In a sense, Hosea was being allowed to experience the very real pain of rejection that God had endured for centuries. His relationship with the people of Israel had been marred by their constant unfaithfulness and repeated rejections of His love. Regardless of how many times He had demonstrated His steadfast love for them, they proved to be spiritual adulterers who made a habit out of giving their love and affection to other gods. And every time they bowed themselves before another “lover,” they were rejecting and spurning the love of God. They were thumbing their noses in the face of the one who had redeemed them from their former life of slavery and had pledged to shower them with His undeserved love and affection.

So, Hosea obeyed the Lord and sought out his wayward wife. Once again, we’re not told how long it took Hosea to locate Gomer. It could be that he knew right where she was all along. It’s more than likely that the rumor mill had been in full effect and Hosea had heard where she was and even knew the name of her new lover. But getting Gomer to return was going to prove difficult and costly. This isn’t one of those Hallmark Cards movies where Gomer runs into the waiting arms of Hosea as the music swells in the background. No, Hosea was forced to buy back his own wife, and he shares the exact price he had to pay.

So I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. – Hosea 3:2 NLT

It’s difficult to know just how costly this purchase was for Hosea. But the Mosaic Law provides a bit of context. It outlines the penalty that was to be paid if one man’s ox gored and killed another man’s slave.

…if the ox gores a slave, either male or female, the animal’s owner must pay the slave’s owner thirty silver coins. – Exodus 21:32 NLT

It seems that Gomer’s new relationship was not as loving as it may have appeared. Her new “husband” was willing to enter into negotiations with Hosea to determine a fair price to let her go. And the final price worked out to be about 30 pieces of silver. Hosea paid half of it in cash and the rest in barley and wine. Gomer’s lover sold her out for the price of a dead slave.

Once Hosea had finalized the purchase, he informed Gomer of the new conditions of their relationship. He laid down new rules of engagement that prohibited any further adulterous behavior on her part.

“You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” – Hosea 3:3 ESV

Hosea was pledging his faithfulness to Gomer and declaring his expectation that she return the favor. Something that is easy to overlook in all of this is the difficulty this new arrangement would pose for Gomer. She had a proven track record of unfaithfulness and was going to find Hosea’s demands to be restrictive and repugnant. She had already left him once and it is likely that she would be tempted to do so again. But her forced “faithfulness” was intended to illustrate what was going to happen to the people of Israel. God was going to take them through a time of corporate cleansing that would deny them access to their false gods. And it would come in the form of their defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians.

During their time in exile, the Israelites would find themselves living outside the land of promise and with no access to their former idols or places of pagan worship. They would have no king to lead them or priests to guide them in their worship of their false gods.

“Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols!” – Hosea 3:4 NLT

And they would be denied any access to God Almighty. Some scholars believe that Hosea told Gomer that their physical relationship would be put on hold as well. Not only would she be denied access to other lovers, she would not be allowed to enjoy intimacy with Hosea.

“You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me. – Hosea 3:3 NLT

Hosea was placing his unfaithful wife in a form of isolation, and that is exactly what God ended up doing with the unfaithful people of Israel. He sent them into captivity in Assyria, where they were denied all the privileges and prerogatives they once enjoyed as His chosen people. Their unfaithfulness, like that of Gomer, came with consequences.

But God gives Hosea good news. He informs His faithful prophet that the day will come when Israel returns to Him. And it won’t be a forced relationship based on rules and mandatory restrictions. They will willingly return to God and express to Him their love and affection.

“But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness.” – Hosea 3:5 NLT

The prophet Ezekiel provides further insight into this future day when God will restore His disobedient people.

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 ESV

Even their return to Him will be the result of His gracious power and provision. He will be the one to restore their hearts and provide them with the capacity to love Him unconditionally and faithfully. The prophet Jeremiah makes this point quite clear.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” – Jeremiah 24:7 ESV

“I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” – Jeremiah 32:39 ESV

Hosea did not possess the ability to instill this kind of change in the heart of Gomer. He had no guarantee that his unfaithful wife would ever return his love and affection. But he faithfully obeyed the will of God and continued to display his love to her, without ever knowing if she would reciprocate. But God provided him with a glimmer of hope by revealing His plans for the disobedient people of Israel. If God could restore and redeem them, perhaps there was a chance that Gomer could one day learn to love Hosea.

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

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

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

You Are My People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Will Restore

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:11-15 ESV

From its opening chapter, the book of Amos has focused all of its attention on God’s pending judgment. Amos began his book with a revelation that the coming wrath of God would be global in nature, impacting such nations as Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. But chapters 2-8 make it painfully clear that God has reserved His severest judgment for His own chosen people. And since Amos was a prophet to the ten northern tribes, the majority of his book has been a divine diatribe against the sins of Israel. Judah has been mentioned and will not escape punishment for its own transgressions, but the purpose of Amos’ mission has been to record God’s indictment against the northern kingdom of Israel.

Time and time again, God had sent His prophets with a message for His rebellious people. They were warned to repent and return to Him or face the consequences of their sin. But they had repeatedly refused His gracious and merciful offers of forgiveness by continuing to seek and serve their false gods. And even when God brought upon them famines, droughts, diseases, and disastrous military defeats, they remained stubbornly committed to their lifestyle of apostasy and idolatry. Each divine judgment ended with God declaring, “…yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

They had repeatedly and persistently broken their covenant commitment to God, and now they were going to have to pay the price for their disobedience. They had no excuse. God had given them ample warning of what would happen if they chose to disobey His commands. All the way back in the days of Moses, long before the people crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had told them what would happen if they broke their covenant commitment.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

And now, centuries later, the ten northern tribes of Israel were facing the final stage of God’s judgment: Their destruction and deportation.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

And, as Amos begins to wrap up his book, he reinforces the unavoidable reality of God’s judgment.

For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’” – Amos 9:9-10 ESV

Even to the bitter end, the prideful and arrogant people of Israel will deny the possibility of their own demise. They will persist in believing that their status as God’s chosen people will somehow provide them with immunity from judgment. Despite their centuries of rebellion and spiritual adultery, they will cling to their belief that they are the apple of God’s eye and, therefore, untouchable. But they will soon discover that their assumption was sorely mistaken.

And yet, after all the doom and gloom of the last nine chapters, Amos wraps up his book on a surprisingly upbeat note. As a prophet, Amos has been addressing the present conditions in Israel by predicting the future ramifications for their actions. He is projecting out into the future and revealing exactly what God is going to do. But his record of what God has in store for Israel does not come with a timeline. There is no calendar providing specific dates on which these events will occur. The people of Israel were left to wonder when and how these predictions would take place. How would their fall come about? When would it happen and what nation would be the source of their demise? God doesn’t say. But He does reveal that “In that day…,” He will do something unexpected and totally undeserved. Somewhere in the distant future, God has a plan to restore and redeem His people.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory. – Amos 9:11 NLT

Yes, God was going to judge His people for their sins. But He would also restore them. The judgment would come first and it would take place when the Assyrians invaded Israel in 722 B.C. The forces of King Sennacherib would besiege the capital city of Samaria, eventually breaching its walls, and destroying everything within it. Those Israelites who were not killed were deported to Assyria as slaves. And the author of 2 Kings reveals the reason behind this devastating end to the ten northern tribes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

But in the closing verses of his book, Amos records the words of God as He predicts another day – “that day” when He will restore the fallen house of David. And that day remains, as yet, unfulfilled. God is letting His people know that His timeline extends far beyond the fall of Israel. The year 722 B.C. ushered in the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. And, in 586 B.C., God used the Babylonians to destroy the city of Jerusalem and bring about the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah. But the destruction of those two cities and the demise of the two kingdoms did not mark the end of God’s interactions with His people. He had made a covenant with them and He was the covenant-keeping God. While they had proven to be unfaithful, He would keep every commitment He had ever made to them.

Back during the days of King David, God made a covenant commitment to him, promising to raise up a descendant who would rule on his throne forever.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-14 NLT

That promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. But he proved to be less than faithful to God, ending his long reign by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy. He built a temple for Yahweh but also constructed shrines and altars for the false gods of his many wives. And for his many indiscretions, God divided his kingdom in two, creating the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But Amos reveals that God intends to restore Israel. Despite the sins of Solomon and the long line of kings who followed him, God was going to keep His covenant commitment to David. The two kingdoms would end up destroyed and deported, but that did not mean God was done with them. The same God who would ordain their fall would be the one to redeem and restore them.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.” – Amos 9:14 NLT

God describes a time of great renewal. It will be a time of abundance and blessing. He promises to bring back His chosen people “from distant lands” and to return them to the land He had given to them as their inheritance. This promise was partially fulfilled in 445 B.C. when the people of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon. But while they would rebuild the temple, repair the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulate the city, they would remain under foreign control for centuries. Even during the days of Jesus, the Jews would be little more than a puppet state, operating under the heavy hand of Rome. And in 70 A.D. the second temple would be destroyed by the Romans, leaving the people of Israel with no place to worship or offer sacrifices to their God.

But God is not done. His will regarding Israel is far from complete. And Amos ends his book by recording the promise of Yahweh regarding His people.

“I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:15 NLT

This promise remains yet unfulfilled. And the prophet Jeremiah echoes the words of Amos, confirming God’s plans to keep His covenant promises.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

And Jeremiah goes on to describe the unique nature of this future day.

“I will break the yoke from their necks
    and snap their chains.
Foreigners will no longer be their masters.
   For my people will serve the Lord their God
and their king descended from David—
    the king I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

This day remains unfulfilled, but it will happen just as God has said. The book of Revelation reveals the day when Christ will return to the earth and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. For 1,000 years, He will reign from the throne of David in the restored capital city. He will conquer the enemies of God and bring righteousness and justice to the earth. And He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel. God is not done. His plan is not yet finished. And because He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God, He will restore His people just as He has promised.

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

Measured and Found Wanting

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9 ESV

The book of Jonah could easily be classified as a cliff-hanger. It ends rather abruptly, leaving the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is what happened to Jonah. We can safely assume that God did not answer Jonah’s pitty-filled plea to kill him. But did he remain in Nineveh or return home to Gath-hepher in Galilee? Regardless of his disposition or destination, he remained a prophet of God. So, did he receive a new assignment? Was he called to minister God’s Word to the new converts in Nineveh?

All of these questions are left unanswered. We are not even told what happened to the citizens of Nineveh. But we know that God did not rain down destruction on them because the text tells us, “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God showed them pity and spared their lives. But that is all we know. There is no extant record that corroborates or validates the author’s claim that the people of Nineveh experienced a revival. The Assyrians kept detailed accounts of their many exploits, but no archeological discoveries have ever unearthed a stone or tablet containing evidence of the mass conversion of the city of Nineveh. But that should not come as a shock. The Assyrians were not known for keeping objectively based or unbiased records of their history. The chronicles they penned were intended to glorify their successes while minimizing their failures. So, it would not be surprising that, if the king of Nineveh made a record of what is described in the book of Jonah, it was quickly expunged by his successor. And we know that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was short-lived. Their king’s mournful plea that they “turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence” (Jonah 3:8 ESV), seems to have resulted in a temporary change in behavior. But those same Assyrians would ultimately show up on Israel’s doorstep, besiege their capital city of Samaria, and eventually defeat and deport them.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

God had repeatedly warned the people of Israel that they would suffer destruction for their sinfulness and for their stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. Even Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, had prophesied that they would one day be defeated and deported, and it would be God’s doing.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:
“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:2-3 NLT

And the author of 2 Kings does not sugarcoat the cause of their destruction.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:7-9 NLT

The fates of Jonah and Nineveh were not relevant to the author of the book of Jonah because they were not the focus of his story. He was writing to the Hebrew people and the entire purpose behind his book was to remind them of the sovereign will of God. It is likely that this book was penned after the nation of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. They would have been living in exile “along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6 NLT). And this story was meant to convict them of their sin and remind them that their God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). He was “eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).

And even though they were living as captives of war in Assyria, their God had not forgotten them. If He could redeem the wicked Ninevites, He most certainly could redeem His chosen but rebellious people. But even in their captivity, they remained stubbornly unwilling to obey God. They longed for His deliverance but remained opposed to keeping His commands. In a sense, they were just like Jonah. As they languished in the Assyria (the belly of the fish), they displayed a superficial form of repentance that had no teeth to it.

Come on! Let’s return to the Lord.
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
So let us search for him!
Let us seek to know the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land. – Hosea 6:1-3 NET

They were like Jonah, vowing to keep vows and pledging to offer up offerings, only if God would rescue them. But they remained just as stubborn as the prophet of God. And God saw through their sham display of repentance.

“…your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew…” – Hosea 6:4 NET

God was not interested in pretense and false displays of piety. He was looking for true heart change.

“For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 NET

God had taken stock of Israel and found them to be wanting. As the book of Amos reveals, God had measured the integrity of the house of Israel and found it to be of poor quality and construction. Amos was given a vision of God standing next to a wall with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line was a simple, yet effective building tool that featured a heavy weight on the end of a string. It used the force of gravity to establish an accurate line of perpendicularity so that a wall would not lean in the wrong direction. And God told Amos, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins” (Amos 7:8 NLT). He was going to measure or assess their spiritual integrity. And God made it to Amos that the people of Israel were not going to measure up to His righteous standard.

“The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9 NLT

God was going to deal with Israel according to their sins. Yes, they were His chosen people. He had set them apart as His prized possession. But they had repeatedly rejected Him as their God, chasing after false gods and refusing to acknowledge of confess their spiritual adultery. And God could not and would not tolerate their sin forever.

“I want to heal Israel, but its sins are too great.
    Samaria is filled with liars.
Thieves are on the inside
    and bandits on the outside!
Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all.” – Hosea 7:1-2 NLT

The people of Israel had become arrogant and prideful. Under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they had enjoyed renewed success and prosperity. He had expanded their borders and reestablished them as a major player in the region. Yet, rather than see these successes as the handiwork of God, they took credit for them.

Their arrogance testifies against them,
    yet they don’t return to the Lord their God
    or even try to find him. – Hosea 7:10 NLT

And listen closely to how God describes His chosen people.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.
But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.” – Hosea 7:11-12 NLT

The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which just happens to be the name of the prophet whom God sent to Nineveh. As Jonah flitted about like a witless dove, flying to Joppa and then taking flight to Tarshish, he was mimicking the actions of the rebellious people of God. And just as he could not escape the soveriegn hand of God Almighty, neither would they.

All of this reminds me of another incident recorded in the Word of God. It involves King Belshazzar and the prophet, Daniel. The southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to the Babylonians and Daniel is among those who were taken captive and transported to Babylon as slaves. Fortunately, he has ended up on the payroll of the king. At one point, the king threw an extravagant party, and to impress his guests, he ordered that they bring in all the “gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem” (Danuel 5:3 NLT). Belshazzar, in a display of pride and arrogance, had his guests drink wine from these sacred vessels, and they toasted “their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4 NLT). And as they reveled in the superior nature of their gods, a startling scene unfolded.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. – Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The king sent for Daniel, who was known for his ability to interpret dreams and visions. And Daniel gave the king a brief, but sobering history lesson.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 5:18-21 NLT

Daniel reminded the arrogant king that his predecessor had suffered from the same malady and had paid dearly for it. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that his success had been God-ordained. He had taken credit for something God had done. And now, Belshazzar was repeating that mistake.

You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven.” – Daniel 5:22-23 NLT

And when Daniel finally got around to interpreting the vision, he simply informed the king, “…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27 ESV). In essence, God had given Belshazzar a plumb-line assessment of his reign:

“God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:26 NLT

“…you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.” – Daniel 5:27 NLT

God is sovereign over all nations. He alone places kings of their thrones. And He had sovereignly chosen to make Israel His set-apart people. They had enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, unprecedented among all the nations of the earth. But they had failed to remain faithful. They had chosen to reject their calling to be a blessing to the nations and a light to the world. As, as a result, God was compelled to punish them.

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:1-2 NLT

But despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He would punish them, but He would also restore them. Yahweh would remain the covenant-keeping God, who fulfills all the promises He has made.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 NLT

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

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

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

The Right To Give Life

Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:6-11 ESV

This is the second time that Jonah has fled from Nineveh. On the first occasion, he had been somewhere in Israel, probably not far from his hometown of Gath-hepher, in the region of Galilee. This would have placed him more than 500 miles from Nineveh. But for Jonah, that was not far enough. So, when he received God’s call to go to Nineveh and announce their pending judgment, he refused and headed in the opposite direction. He attempted to avoid his commission by fleeing from the presence of the Lord. But his plan didn’t work out so well. God sent a storm to delay Jonah’s departure. Then, when the sailors cast lots to see who was the source of their troubles, God caused the lot to fall on Jonah. In a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the sailors cast Jonah overboard, at which point God appointed a large fish to swallow His disobedient prophet. Then, after Jonah had spent three miserable days in the belly of the fish, God caused the fish to disgorge Jonah on dry land. From there, Jonah made his way to Nineveh, where he finally delivered God’s message. And the people believed.

Now, Jonah sits outside the walls of the great city of Nineveh, waiting to see whether God will rain down judgment on the enemies of Israel or if He will show them mercy and compassion. Jonah hopes for the former but fears that the latter will be what takes place. Sitting in his man-made shelter, Jonah is burning with rage. He is furious that his message of God’s pending destruction of Nineveh had been met with repentance and mourning. Rather than turn on Jonah as the bearer of bad news, the people had turned to Yahweh in faith. And Jonah knew that Yahweh was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). He was afraid that the repentance of the Ninevites would cause God to change His mind about destroying them. But Jonah still held out hope that God might do to Nineveh what He had done to Sodom and Gomorrah. He was still longing for their destruction and not their deliverance.

But as Jonah fumed in his makeshift shelter, “the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). It’s important to recall that when Jonah had been thrown off the ship and into the raging sea, God had appointed a fish to rescue him from certain death. Now, as Jonah raged outside the walls of the city, God appointed a plant to relieve his “discomfort.” Once again, the God of the universe intervened in the life of His rebellious prophet. Yahweh caused a plant to appear, virtually overnight, providing His sun-baked, pitty-soaked prophet with protection from the sun and relief from his anger. 

Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. – Jonah 4:6 ESV

The sudden and miraculous appearance of the plant had its intended effect. Jonah was relieved of his discomfort. But the author uses a very specific Hebrew word to describe the condition from which Jonah was relieved. It is the word, raʿ, which is most often translated as “evil” or “wickedness.” It can also mean “affliction.” It is the same word the author used in describing the behavior of the people of Nineveh.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. – Jonah 3:10 ESV

And when Jonah saw the people of Nineveh repent of their evil way, he refused to see it as a good thing. Verse 1 of chapter four states that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly.” This phrase could actually be translated as “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” Jonah viewed the repentance of the Ninevites as evil or wicked. And yet, it was God who deemed Jonah’s reaction as evil. His anger was not only unjustified, but it was also unrighteous. That is why God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” (Jonah 4:4 NLT). Jonah’s response was not good or acceptable. He actually preferred that God do evil by destroying the Ninevites. That is exactly what he meant when he expressed his concern that God might be gracious to the Ninevites, “relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). In Hebrew, that phrase reads nāḥam raʿ, which means, “repenting of evil.” In essence, Jonah wanted God to respond to the Ninevites with evil. He longed for God to devastate and destroy them.

But even in his fit of unrighteous and unjustified anger, Jonah was met with undeserved grace and mercy. God appointed a plant that provided Jonah with relief – and he was glad. But notice what the text says: “Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). He gladly accepted the gift of God’s mercy but failed to show Him any gratitude.

So, “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (Jonah 4:7 ESV). All throughout this story, the author purposefully portrays the sovereign hand of God behind all that happens. God appointed the fish. He appointed the plant. Now, He appoints the worm. Every step of the way, God has been ordaining the events of Jonah’s life in order to accomplish His sovereign will. The Creator-God orchestrated the actions of a giant fish and a tiny worm, all to accomplish His grand redemptive plan. He caused the plant that had sprung up overnight to disappear just as quickly. And His removal of the plant was followed by His appointment of “a scorching east wind” (Jonah 4:8 ESV). The soothing shade was replaced by the searing rays of the sun and a scorching sirocco wind.

The sudden change in his circumstances left Jonah in a foul mood. While he had gladly accepted the gracious gift of shade without uttering a word of thanks, he immediately declared his dissatisfaction when the shade was suddenly removed. He bitterly informed God that he would rather die than suffer any further.

…he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:7 ESV

But Jonah was missing the point. He was failing to understand the lesson that God was trying to teach him. So, God asks him a second question:

“Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” – Jonah 4:9 NLT

Did Jonah really have a right to be angry over the loss of his source of shade and comfort? Was he justified in expressing his desire to die? But before God could complete His thought, Jonah quickly interrupted and defended his actions.

“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” – Jonah 4:9 ESV

Then God graciously exposes the absurdity of Jonah’s over-the-top response. He points out that Jonah was upset about the untimely demise of a plant he had done nothing to produce. He had no vested interest in the plant, other than the comfort he had received from it.

You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. – Jonah 4:10 NLT

Jonah was grieving over the loss of the plant, not because he had labored to produce it, but because he missed the benefit he had received from it. His motives were purely selfish and self-centered. Jonah’s only concern for the plant was in its ability to provide him with comfort – which was now gone. So, God uses the destruction of the plant to teach Jonah a lesson regarding His sparing of the people of Nineveh.

“But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:10 NLT

God describes the people of Nineveh as not knowing “their right hand from their left.” They are ignorant of the His ways. They were like children who lacked wisdom, discernment, and spiritual understanding. Unlike the people of Israel, the Ninevites had not enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Yahweh. They had not been given His law or instructed in His ways. The entire community was living in spiritual darkness, unaware of Yahweh’s identity and completely oblivious to the wickedness of their ways.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul would provide a powerful reminder to the Gentile converts who were part of that local fellowship.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT

Jesus would also emphasize the inclusion of those who were outside the nation of Israel.

“I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:16 NLT

The people of Israel had been chosen by God so that they might be a light to the nations. They were to shine in the darkness of the world, providing the Gentiles with a glimpse of God’s goodness, glory, and greatness. But they had failed to live up to their calling. The prophet Hosea declared of them: “Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel” (Hosea 8:8 ESV). Just as Jonah had been swallowed by the fish, Israel would ultimately be swallowed by the Assyrians. They would fall to the very nation to whom Jonah had been sent. And God had proven to Jonah that He could redeem and rescue the worst of sinners. He could even use a reluctant and rebellious prophet to bring about the repentance of a city full of wicked and spiritually ignorant Ninevites.

God cared enough about Jonah to send him a fish and a plant. God cared enough about Israel that He repeatedly sent His prophets to call them to repentance. And He cared enough about Nineveh to send His reluctant prophet to deliver His message of redemption. But Jonah missed all of this. He failed to grasp the significance of God’s grand redemptive plan for His creation. Even the author’s reference to “much cattle” is intended to reveal that God has a plan to redeem and restore all that He has made.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the entire creation is living under the weight of the curse that came as a result of Adam’s sin.

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:19-22 NLT

And the book of Jonah ends with God reminding His self-consumed prophet that He loves and cares for the people of Nineveh because He created them. Like the plant, they exist because God gave them life. And as the author of life, only God has the right to give or take it away. Jonah was asking God for the right to die. But God wanted Jonah to understand that He had the right to let the Ninevites live. Because He cared for them.

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

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

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

The Original Reformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Cleans House

14 Thus Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi conspired against Joram. (Now Joram with all Israel had been on guard at Ramoth-gilead against Hazael king of Syria, 15 but King Joram had returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds that the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria.) So Jehu said, “If this is your decision, then let no one slip out of the city to go and tell the news in Jezreel.” 16 Then Jehu mounted his chariot and went to Jezreel, for Joram lay there. And Ahaziah king of Judah had come down to visit Joram.

17 Now the watchman was standing on the tower in Jezreel, and he saw the company of Jehu as he came and said, “I see a company.” And Joram said, “Take a horseman and send to meet them, and let him say, ‘Is it peace?’” 18 So a man on horseback went to meet him and said, “Thus says the king, ‘Is it peace?’” And Jehu said, “What do you have to do with peace? Turn around and ride behind me.” And the watchman reported, saying, “The messenger reached them, but he is not coming back.” 19 Then he sent out a second horseman, who came to them and said, “Thus the king has said, ‘Is it peace?’” And Jehu answered, “What do you have to do with peace? Turn around and ride behind me.” 20 Again the watchman reported, “He reached them, but he is not coming back. And the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he drives furiously.”

21 Joram said, “Make ready.” And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and went to meet Jehu, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite. 22 And when Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, Jehu?” He answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” 23 Then Joram reined about and fled, saying to Ahaziah, “Treachery, O Ahaziah!” 24 And Jehu drew his bow with his full strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart, and he sank in his chariot. 25 Jehu said to Bidkar his aide, “Take him up and throw him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him: 26 ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—declares the Lord—I will repay you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and throw him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.”

27 When Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled in the direction of Beth-haggan. And Jehu pursued him and said, “Shoot him also.” And they shot him in the chariot at the ascent of Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he fled to Megiddo and died there. 28 His servants carried him in a chariot to Jerusalem, and buried him in his tomb with his fathers in the city of David.

29 In the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah began to reign over Judah. 2 Kings 9:14-29 ESV

Once Jehu had received the news that he was to be the next king of Israel, he wasted no time. Immediately after his anointing by the prophet of God, he departed Ramoth-gilead and headed straight to the winter palace in Jezreel, where King Jehoram was recovering from the injuries he had suffered in his battle against the Syrians.

Jehu had the full support of his fellow generals, so he ordered them to secure the city of Ramoth-gilead and prevent anyone from escaping and leaking his plans to King Jehoram. Jehu mounted his chariot and, accompanied by a contingent of loyal troops, he made his way to Jezreel. Guards posted on the watchtower of the city spotted them from a distance and gave notice to King Jehoram. Assuming it was his own troops returning from the battle against the Syrians, he sent out a messenger to meet them, anxious to know the outcome of the conflict. When the messenger road out to greet the returning soldiers, he asked them, “Is it peace?”, but Jehu gave him a rather cryptic, non-answer, and commanded him to ride along with them to the city.

After sending out a second messenger who failed to return, Jehoram became more anxious than ever to know what had happened. So, despite his wounds, he ordered his chariot and rode out to meet the returning troops. He was accompanied by King Ahaziah of Judah, who had come to visit him as he recuperated in Jezreel. When the two kings intercepted Jehu, Jehoram asked him, “Is it peace?” But Jehu’s response was not what he had been expecting.

“How can there be peace as long as the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother, Jezebel, are all around us?” – 2 Kings 9:22 NLT

Jehu called out King Jehoram, accusing him of allowing his mother, Jezebel, to lead the nation of Israel into apostasy with her idolatry and witchcraft. Though Ahab was long gone, Jezebel still continued to wield a powerful and deadly influence over the nation. Not only had she promoted the worship of false gods, but she had introduced occult practices that included the use of sorcery and incantations. And God had declared these things to be off-limits for the people of Israel.

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV

Jehu’s mention of Jezebel indicates that he understood just how decisive her role had been in leading the nation away from Yahweh. Any attempt he made to eradicate the evil influence of Ahab and his descendants would have to include her. As long as Jezebel remained alive, the nation would never recover from its state of spiritual apathy and apostasy.

Suddenly aware that his life was in danger, King Jehoram ordered his chariot driver to make a hasty retreat to the safety of the city. But they never made it. Jehu killed the escaping king with a well-placed arrow to the back. And then he ordered that Jehoram’s body be dumped on the land that used to belong to Naboth. This brings the story full-circle, linking the sins of Ahab with those of his son, Jehoram. Back in 1 Kings 21, Jezebel had arranged to illegally confiscate a vineyard that belonged to Naboth so that she could give the property to Ahab. She had Naboth falsely accused and convicted of cursing God and the king. The result was that the innocent man was stoned to death on his very own land. And God had warned King Ahab, “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood” (1 Kings 21:20 ESV). And he had pronounced a similar fate for Jezebel because of her role in the affair.

“The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.” – 1 Kings 21:23 ESV

But Ahab had eventually repented of his role in Naboth’s death and, as a result, God had chosen to spare him.

“Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” – 1 Kings 21:29 ESV

Now, years later, God was fulfilling His promise to bring disaster upon the house of Ahab. The blood of Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, would be poured out on the very same spot where Naboth had been stoned to death. Jehu, who had served as one of King Ahab’s generals, was familiar with the whole sordid affair concerning Naboth. He had even been present when God issued His divine judgment against Ahab through the prophet Elijah.

“Take him up and throw him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him: ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—declares the Lord—I will repay you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and throw him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.” – 2 Kings 9:25-26 ESV

In all of this, Jehu was acting as God’s hand of judgment against the house of Ahab. He had been anointed by God to deliver divine justice and cleanse the nation of Israel from the pervasive and pernicious influence of Ahab and Jezebel. God had had enough. The time had come to fulfill His pronouncement of judgment against the house of Ahab.

“Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin.” – 1 Kings 21:21-22 ESV

The purge had begun. God was cleaning house. And even King Ahaziah of Judah would not escape the purifying judgment of the Almighty. As he attempted to escape, he was struck by an arrow and only made it as far as Megiddo before he died from his wound. Ahaziah had close familial ties to the house of Ahab. His mother, Athaliah, was the granddaughter of King Omri of Israel. And it appears that he may also have married one of Ahab’s daughters.

He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was son-in-law to the house of Ahab. – 2 Kings 8:27 ESV

He was an unwise and wicked king who had aligned himself with one of the most infamous royal families in Israel’s sordid history. And he paid for his mistake with his life.

Because of the disobedience of Solomon, God had divided Israel into two kingdoms. This had been His punishment for Solomon’s foray into idolatry during the latter years of his life and reign. But the kings of Israel and Judah had decided to take matters into their own hands, attempting to realign the two nations through treaties and marital alliances. But they had neglected to fix the primary problem that had caused God to divide them in the first place: Idolatry. But God was not interested in a reunited nation that remained spiritually rebellious. So, He sent Jehu to bring an abrupt end to the man-made alliance between Israel and Judah by killing their two kings. It was time to start over. But as we will see, Jehu had one last piece of unfinished business.

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 Greater Story

25 When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out. 2 Kings 4:25b-37 ESV

Oftentimes, when reading the stories contained in the Scriptures, we find ourselves trying to ascertain their meaning or attempting to discover some helpful point of application. We desperately search for some relevant truth that we might apply to our own lives. And while this is a worthy goal, our relentless quest for a personalized point of application can leave us missing the primary message of the passage. This can be especially true when we lift these stories out of their surrounding context. When we turn the stories of the Bible into Bible stories, we tend to rob them of their Scriptural context and meaning.

In reading the story of the Shunammite woman, it would be easy to focus our attention on the loss of her child and the faith she exhibited by seeking out the prophet. And while there are lessons to be learned from her actions, the author seems to have a far greater and more important point of emphasis. This entire story takes place in the context of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. It is a time of spiritual darkness and moral apathy. The kings of Israel have consistently led the nation away from the worship of Yahweh by promoting their own replacement deities. From the golden calves erected by Jeroboam to the Canaanite gods, Baal and Asherah, the people of Israel have had a host of idols from which to choose. But through it all, Yahweh has remained faithful and all-powerful. And He has chosen to reveal Himself through His prophets. First, He spoke and exhibited His power through Elijah. Then, upon Elijah’s death, God continued to reveal Himself through Elijah’s former servant, Elisha.

But the stories involving Elijah and Elisha are not intended to focus our attention on these two men, as much as they are to draw our eye to the God who worked through them. They were messengers of Yahweh and human conduits of His grace, mercy, power, and, at times, His judgment. They are the human representatives of God Almighty, speaking and acting on His behalf, and displaying before the people His divine attributes.

So, when the Shunammite woman discovers her son is dead and seeks out the prophet of God, it is less a statement about her faith than it is about God’s invasion of the darkness of Israel. All that takes place in this story is intended to point to Yahweh, not the woman, Gehazi the servant, or Elisha the prophet. But because we’re human, we tend to focus all our attention on the human actors in the drama and, in doing so, we run the risk of minimizing the role of the leading actor in the play: God Himself.

If we isolate this story from its context, we will miss out on all that the author has been trying to reveal about God. Earlier, in chapter 17 of 1 Kings, the author told the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. After his decisive victory over the 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah had been threatened with death by Queen Jezebel. So, he had run for his life. But God had intercepted His fearful prophet and sent him to the town of Zarephath in Sidon. There Elijah met a poor widow who was gathering wood in order to cook a final meal for her and her son. But Elijah had performed a miracle, providing the woman with a seemingly never-ending supply of flour that would sustain their lives for a long time to come. Sound familiar? It should. Because a very similar scene took place when Elisha encountered the prophet’s widow in 2 Kings 18. This woman was about to lose her boys to slavery because of an unpaid debt. She was destitute and down to her last jar of oil. But Elisha intervened and miraculously multiplied her oil so that she had enough to satisfy her debt and sustain her boys for years to come.

But the similarities don’t stop there. The feel-good story of the widow of Zarephath also contains a less-than-happy plot twist. Her young son dies unexpectedly, and she confronts Elijah about this devastating turn of events.

“O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” – 1 Kings 17:18 NLT

Even Elijah was at a loss as to why this tragedy had taken place, and he expressed his exasperation to Yahweh.

“O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” – 1 Kings 17:20 NLT

But the point of the passage is not the woman’s anger or Elijah’s disappointment with God. It is the divine intervention of Yahweh.

And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived! – 1 Kings 17:21-22 NLT

Remember, both Elijah and Elisha had been chosen by God to be the human vessels through whom He revealed Himself to the people of Israel. They were nothing more than men, but God had set them apart for His use. He spoke and acted through them and, oftentimes, in spite of them.

But don’t miss the significant parallels found in all of these stories. The Shunammite woman, like the widow of Zarephath, suddenly finds her joy interrupted by the death of her child. So, she seeks out the prophet of God. This time, it’s Elisha. And she confronts him about this devastating turn of events. Her worst nightmare has come true.

“Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?” – 2 Kings 4:28 NLT

She was angry and justifiably so. And Elijah was caught off guard, having been given no prior insight from God concerning the death of her child. God had not revealed the nature of her distress or given the prophet a solution to remedy it. But once Elisha discovered what had happened, he acted promptly. At one time, Elisha had been the servant of Elijah, and he would have been intimately familiar with the story of the widow of Zarephath. Most likely, he had been there to witness the miraculous death-to-life transformation that had taken place.

So, fully trusting that God would intervene yet again, he commanded his servant to take his staff and lay it on the body of the dead child. But this “remedy” proved ineffective. That was not the way God was going to restore the boy’s life. He wanted Elisha to be personally and physically involved in the miracle. It was not that God could not or would not operate through a staff. He had done so before and could do so again – if He so chose. Consider all the miracles God had performed through the staff of Moses. But on this occasion, God was going to require that Elisha be intimately involved in the delivery of the miracle. And just as Elijah had “stretched himself out over the child” (1 Kings 17:21 NLT), so Elisha “lay down on the child’s body” (2 Kings 4:34 NLT). In both cases, these men acted as God’s hands-on representatives, illustrating His intimate concern for His people through their own physical touch and personal involvement.

In a sense, the God of the universe had required both Elijah and Elisha to have some skin in the game. They became active agents in the delivery of God’s miracle. But neither of these men was meant to be the focus of the story or seen as the source behind the miracle. They were simply instruments in the hand of God. But their personal touch made the transcendent God more knowable and relatable. Through their intimate involvement, they made the care and concern of God tangible and visible. God chose to revive the lives of these two boys through the personal touch of His chosen prophets.

And, once again, let’s not miss the overall context of Scripture. These two stories point to an even greater display of God’s love and intimacy that was to come. Centuries later, God would send His own Son as His anointed messenger, delivering a message of repentance and renewal to the rebellious people of Israel. Jesus would become the final prophet of God, who would make the power and presence of God known through His incarnation. He would become God in human flesh, delivering the divine message of redemption and spiritual rejuvenation. Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus would be required to personally engage with the nation of Israel. But His involvement in the restoration of life to the spiritually dead nation would require a far greater price than either Elijah or Elisha had paid. Jesus would end up sacrificing His own life so that many might live. He would stretch out His hands on a cruel Roman cross, paying the penalty for mankind’s sin by offering His own sinless life as a substitute. He would die so that we might live. He would pay the ultimate price so that those who were dead in their trespasses and sins might experience new life and enjoy a new relationship with God.

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

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

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

Can’t You See?

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52 ESV

Jesus and the disciples continued their journey to Jerusalem. James and John must have been a bit demoralized because of the response they had received from Jesus. They had come to Him requesting that He grant them the right to sit on His right and His left in His new Kingdom. They were hoping for positions of power in His royal administration, but instead, they had received a lecture on servanthood. He had basically told them that the path to glory was through humility and sacrifice. Not exactly what they had hoped to hear.

The disciples were having a difficult time understanding all that Jesus was trying to tell them. They were suffering from spiritual blindness, an incapacity to comprehend all that was taking place around them. It seems that no matter what Jesus said or did, their spiritual eyesight remained darkened by doubt and false perceptions. And what happens next is meant to drive home their need for enlightenment.

As they continue they make their way through Jericho, Jesus and the 12 disciples encounter a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Both Matthew and Luke provide their versions of the same event, but with slightly different details. Mark is the only one of the three who makes note of the beggar’s name, even telling us who his father was. Matthew reports that there were two blind beggars, while Mark and Luke only mention one. But the common link between each of their versions of this story is that it took place not long after Jesus had revealed for the third time that He was going to Jerusalem to die.

“Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” – Luke 18:31-33 NLT

And all three gospel authors make note that the disciples were having a difficult time comprehending the significance of Jesus’ announcement.

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. – Luke 18:34 NLT

This was not the first time the disciples had struggled to understand the words of Jesus. Back in chapter 8, Mark records when tried to warn them about the leaven of the Pharisees. But while Jesus was talking about the pervasive and dangerous nature of the Pharisees’ teaching, the disciples misunderstood and thought He was upset with them because they had failed to bring bread. Which led Jesus to rebuke them for their hardness of heart.

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” –Mark 8:17-19 ESV

And on that occasion, Jesus had followed up their display of spiritual blindness with a miracle of healing. He just so happened to meet met a blind man in the town of Bethsaida, and Jesus healed him.

…he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:25 ESV

Now, as Jesus entered Jericho, He has another “chance” encounter with yet another blind man. This is no mere coincidence. It is a divinely timed opportunity designed to provide the disciples with one more living object lesson. And almost as if to prove that this was a real story involving a real individual, Mark provides us with the man’s name: “Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus” (Mark 10:46 ESV). If any of Mark’s readers ever passed through Jericho, they could look the man up and hear his story firsthand.

But Bartimaeus, upon hearing that Jesus had come to Jericho, began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 ESV). This physically blind man was able to “see” something about Jesus that many sighted individuals had failed to comprehend. He calls Jesus the Son of David, acknowledging His royal lineage and verifying His legal right to inherit the kingdom of His forefathers. The title “Son of David” was used to refer to the coming Messiah. This long-anticipated Savior of the nation of Israel was to be a descendant of King David, fulfilling the promise given to David by God.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16 ESV

While this prophecy was partially fulfilled with the reign of Solomon, his kingdom was far from everlasting. It ended in disappointment, as Solomon failed to remain faithful to God, worshiping the false gods of his many wives and concubines So, after Solomon’s death, God split the kingdom in two. And the vast majority of the kings who reigned over these two kingdoms would prove to be unfaithful as well. Eventually, God would punish both kingdoms by causing their defeat at the hands of their enemies and sending their people into exile.

But this blind man was able to see Jesus for who He really was. He understood Him to be the Messiah of Israel, the Son of David, and the rightful heir to the royal throne. And he cried out, begging that Jesus might show him mercy. But Mark records that “many rebuked him, telling him to be silent” (Mark 10:48 ESV). Luke indicates that it was “those who were in front” who tried to silence him, and it’s likely that this group included some of the disciples. I can imagine Peter being one of the first to try and muzzle this poor beggar. After all, Peter had been the one whom Jesus had blessed when He had rightfully confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Peter wasn’t about to share his glory with some disheveled and disabled beggar living in the middle of nowhere.

But Bartimaeus refused to be silenced. As they tried to stifle his cries, he simply called out all the louder. He would not allow this opportunity to pass him by. The Messiah was nearby and he longed to have his sight restored. So, when Jesus called for Bartimaeus, he responded as quickly as he could, despite his disability. Then Jesus asked the blind man appears to be a rather unnecessary question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 ESV).

Jesus did not ask this question because He was unaware of the nature of the man’s problem. He was providing Bartimaeus with an opportunity to express his desire and, by doing so, expose his faith. And Bartimaeus did not disappoint.

“Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” – Mark 10:51 ESV

Bartimaeus addressed Jesus as rhabbouni, which means “Lord and master.” He saw Jesus as the one who could restore his physical blindness. He longed to be able to see again and he knew that Jesus was his only hope. And Jesus did exactly what the man had hoped He would do. But before Jesus healed Bartimaeus, He gave him a command:

Go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Mark 10:52 ESV

The Greek word Mark uses is hypagō, and it means “to depart” or “to go away.” It is the same word Jesus used when speaking to Satan during His temptation in the wilderness. Jesus had told Sata to hypagō – “Be gone, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10 ESV).

Jesus had commanded Satan to leave, and Matthew records that “the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11 ESV). But when Jesus told Bartimaeus to “depart,” he did just the opposite. Mark reports that Bartimaeus “followed him on the way” (Mark 10:52 ESV). He had what he had longed for – the restoration of his sight. And at that point, he was able to go and do whatever he wanted to do. He could see. No longer hampered by blindness, Bartimaeus could have gone anywhere. But he chose to follow Jesus. Just imagine all the distractions that appeared before his eyes. For the first time in a long time, he could see the sun, the trees, and the long-forgotten faces of friends. And yet, when Jesus told him to go, Bartimaeus chose to follow.

Now, consider the disciples. They were also following Jesus to Jerusalem, but somewhat reluctantly. They were not thrilled by Jesus’ reports of what awaited Him in the royal city. They couldn’t see the benefit of going to Jerusalem if it meant that Jesus was to be arrested, tried, and killed. But Bartimaeus, his sight newly restored, got in line behind Jesus and gladly followed the one who had delivered his life from literal darkness.

And you can almost expect to turn to His disciples and ask them again, “Having eyes do you not see?” His journey to Jerusalem was necessary. It was part of God’s divine plan to bring healing to the nations. And in time, the disciples would have their eyes opened as well, allowing them to see the true nature of Jesus’ mission.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 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