Return to the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Same Old Sin

The days of punishment have come;
    the days of recompense have come;
    Israel shall know it.
The prophet is a fool;
    the man of the spirit is mad,
because of your great iniquity
    and great hatred.
The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God;
yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways,
    and hatred in the house of his God.
They have deeply corrupted themselves
    as in the days of Gibeah:
he will remember their iniquity;
    he will punish their sins.

10 Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers.
But they came to Baal-peor
    and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved. – Hosea 9:7-10 ESV

Hosea warns the Israelites that the day of their judgment has arrived. God will no longer delay their inevitable destruction. They will now reap what they have sown. They will be repaid in full for their willful rebellion against God. Up until now, the prophets of God and all those who have received a divine revelation from God have been considered as little more than crazy. The NET Bible provides a more accurate translation of verse 7:

The prophet is considered a fool—the inspired man is viewed as a madman…

Despite their repeated warning of pending judgment, the people of Israel had continued to sin with abandon, making it appear as if the prophets and seers were little more than madmen. Their predictions had failed to come to fruition. But that was about to change, in a significant way.

All the prophets, including Hosea, Amos, and even Jonah, had been sent by God to the rebellious nation of Israel, and commissioned to call them to repentance. Yet, Hosea reveals that he and his fellow prophets had met with stiff and sometimes violent resistance.

…yet traps are laid for him along all his paths; animosity rages against him in the land of his God. – Hosea 9:8 NET

Not only had their message been rejected and their ministries resisted, their lives had been threatened by the very ones they had been trying to redeem and restore. And it was all because the spiritual state of the people of Israel had declined to such a low level that they were no longer capable of doing what was right and righteous in the eyes of the Lord. And Hosea paints a starkly bleak picture of the moral decay within Israel, comparing them to the people of Gibeah. This is a reference to a particularly unflattering low-point in the history of God’s people, and it is recorded in the book of Judges with great detail.

Chapter 19 of the book of Judges opens up with an ominous statement that seems to foreshadow what is about to happen.

In those days, when there was no king in Israel – Judges 19:1 ESV

This is the second time this phrase appears in the book of Judges. The first time it is found in chapter 17, where it is joined with another sentence that provides a certain degree of consequence.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
 – Judges 17:6 ESV

In other words, it was a moral free-for-all. But there problem was not that they didn’t have a physical human king. It was that they had refused to let Yahweh be their King. And in the midst of this moral mess, we have the story of a young Levite who had taken for himself a concubine. This priest wasn’t exactly providing the people with a stellar example to follow. But it gets worse. His concubine proved unfaithful and ran away. He chased after her and found her, but as they were making their way back to their hometown of Bethlehem, they decided to stop for the night in the town of Gibeah, which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. He and his concubine were shown hospitality by an elderly man who happened to be from the tribe of Ephraim and was living in Gibeah temporarily.

While the Levite and his concubine were enjoying a pleasant evening meal with their Ephraimite host, they heard a commotion outside followed by banding on the door.

…behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” – Judges 19:22 NLT

This scene is eerily reminiscent of what happened in the immoral city of Sodom centuries earlier (Genesis 19). The Ephraimite attempted to assuage the perverse lusts of the men of Gibeah by offering them his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. But these men, driven by their wicked desires, refused to accept his offer. Finally, in a desperate attempt to save his own skin, the Levite shoved his concubine out the door and locked it behind her. What happens next is the whole point of Hosea’s reference to this story.

So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. – Judges 19:25-26 NLT

The young woman eventually died from the abuse she was forced to endure. And don’t miss the fact that this heart-rending atrocity had been committed by men who were members of the tribe of Benjamin. They were supposedly followers and worshipers of Yahweh. But they did what was right in their own eyes. Which is exactly what Hosea seems to be pointing out about the Israelites in his day.

The things my people do are as depraved
    as what they did in Gibeah long ago.
God will not forget.
    He will surely punish them for their sins. – Hosea 9:9 NLT

How had the Benjamites sunk to such an extreme low? The same thing could be asked about the people of Israel to whom Hosea was delivering this message. And he records God’s description of the shockingly stark transformation that had taken place in the people of God.

“O Israel, when I first found you,
    it was like finding fresh grapes in the desert.
When I saw your ancestors,
    it was like seeing the first ripe figs of the season.
But then they deserted me for Baal-peor,
    giving themselves to that shameful idol.” – Hosea 9:10 NLT

There had been a time when God found delight in the people of Israel. He compares them to finding refreshing grapes in a harsh and inhospitable desert environment. God had looked on them with pride like a farmer seeing his fig trees begin to bear their first fruit of the season. But then, something happened. A change took place that turned their fruitfulness into faithlessness and spiritual barrenness. And it all began at a place called Baal-peor.

The book of Numbers records this life-altering moment in Israel’s history, when the people of Israel “yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:5 ESV). They made a fateful and ill-advised decision to commit immoral acts with the pagan women living in the land of Moab. But worse than that, they allowed these women to draw them away from Yahweh by encouraging their worship of the false god, Baan.

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

Hosea is reaching back into Israel’s sordid past, drawing out embarrassing moments from their history in order to illustrate just how bad things had become. Their immorality and idolatry had reached an all-time low that more than mirrored some of their worst and most condemning sins of the past.

So, as a result, they stood equally guilty and worthy of God’s imminent judgment. Like their ancestors who ended up defiling themselves with the Moabite women and worship Baal, the Israelites in Hosea’s day had become “vile, as vile as the god they worshiped” (Hosea 9:10 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale Told By An Idiot

1 Set the trumpet to your lips!
    One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord,
because they have transgressed my covenant
    and rebelled against my law.
To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.

They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.
With their silver and gold they made idols
    for their own destruction.
I have spurned your calf, O Samaria.
    My anger burns against them.
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel;
a craftsman made it;
    it is not God.
The calf of Samaria
    shall be broken to pieces.

For they sow the wind,
    and they shall reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no heads;
    it shall yield no flour;
if it were to yield,
    strangers would devour it. Hosea 8:1-7 ESV

Israel’s repeated decisions to engage in treaties and alliances with foreign powers produced little more than moral compromise and further idolatry. These agreements provided Israel with a false sense of security that resulted in no real protection from its enemies. If anything, these ill-advised partnerships made Israel weaker by encouraging trust and dependence on something other than Yahweh. These countries offered the promise of assistance in times of trouble but, when the time came, they would always prove unreliable and untrustworthy. They were fairweather friends who profited from their relationship with Israel but had no intentions of putting their own well-being at risk. Like Hosea’s adulterous wife, these nations were prone to sell themselves to the highest bidder, constantly jumping from one relationship to another if it promised to be more profitable.

But Israel continued to place their trust in these unreliable suitors, even choosing to adopt their false gods as their own. And, in chapter eight, God turns His attention to Israel’s ever-present proclivity for idolatry. He commands Hosea to blow the trumpet, signaling the imminent arrival of God’s judgment. The enemy was at the gate. The end was near.

“Sound the alarm!
    The enemy descends like an eagle on the people of the Lord,
for they have broken my covenant
    and revolted against my law. – Hosea 8:1 NLT

These words are reminiscent of those spoken by Moses to the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the land of promise generations earlier. In his last speech to the nation,  Moses warned them to keep their covenant agreement with God and to obey His law. Their successful conquest and settlement of the land of Canaan would be dependent upon their faithful adherence to covenant and Mosaic law. And Moses assured them that obedience would result in the blessings of God.

…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. – Deuteronomy 28:1 ESV

But he also warned them that if they chose to disobey, they would suffer the consequences.

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. – Deuteronomy 28:49-51 ESV

Now, the time had come. The eagle was preparing to swoop down on the unsuspecting and defenseless sheep of God’s flock. Israel was about to learn the very painful lesson that God keeps His word. He always does what He says He will do. Unlike Israel’s fickle and unreliable allies, God always followed through on His covenant commitments. And He had clearly articulated what He would do if Israel obeyed and if they chose to disobey.

If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you.” – Deuteronomy 28:8-10 NLT

If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything. The Lord will put an iron yoke on your neck, oppressing you harshly until he has destroyed you.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

And God knew that, when the trumpet blew and the eagle flew, the people would have a sudden change of heart and begin to call on Him for aid and assistance. Their collective memory would be jogged and they would remember that salvation belongs to the Lord.

“Help us, for you are our God!” – Hosea 8:2 NLT

But it would be too late. They had made habit of rejecting the good things of God, including His covenant and His law. Now, they were going to have to pay for it. The enemy was going to hunt them down, like an eagle chasing its prey. They would run but they would find no place of shelter. They would enjoy no rescue at the hands of their allies. They would experience no miracle of redemption from their false gods. And while they would call out to Yahweh in one last-ditch effort to escape annihilation, their prayers would go unanswered.

And God makes it clear why He will refuse to rescue His people.

“The people have appointed kings without my consent,
    and princes without my approval.
By making idols for themselves from their silver and gold,
    they have brought about their own destruction.” – Hosea 8:4 NLT

They had lived their entire lives as if God was nonexistent. They conducted their civic and sacred lives without giving Yahweh a second thought. The God of Israel had become persona non grata in Israel. So, now they were going to experience what it would be like when the tables were turned – when God refused to acknowledge their existence. They were going to have to rely on the gods they had made with their own hands. They were going to have to trust in the nations with whom they had made their ill-fated treaties. In essence, God was saying, “You’ve made your bed, now lie on it.”

It’s interesting to note that God states His official rejection of the “calf” that Jeroboam had constructed years earlier. When God had split Solomon’s kingdom in two and created the northern kingdom of Israel, its newly appointed king, Jeroboam, had made the ill-advised decision to create his own religion, complete with false gods.

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

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

But why is God choosing to declare His rejection of that idol right now? What took Him so long? It seems quite obvious that God had always disapproved of Jeroboam’s idols but now the time had come to demonstrate the depth of His anger and resentment. He had allowed them to continue to worship their man-made gods for years but now He was going to officially demonstrate His displeasure and disapproval by destroying the nation and its false gods. He had given them ample opportunity to return to Him but they had refused. So, it was time to act.

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

This somewhat enigmatic phrase has a rather simple meaning. It follows the idea behind the old adage: You reap what you sow. If a farmer sows grains of wheat, he expects to harvest more wheat in return. But God states that the Israelites had made the decision to sow something of no relative value: Wind. They should have known better. If you sow the wind, you should expect to get more wind in return. Their lives had been marked by futility and vanity. They had pursued worthless objectives and now they were going to reap what they sowed. It is all reminiscent of a statement made by Shakespeare’s character, Macbeth. As he considered the recent death of his wife and the downward trajectory of his life, Macbeth reached the sad conclusion that it had all been nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And Israel was about to learn that, while they had been busy sowing the wind, they had failed to plant what was profitable and necessary for their survival. They had not sown faithfulness and obedience. So, they would not reap redemption and restoration. And they would soon discover that the truth behind Macbeth’s words.

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

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

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

Devoured by False Devotion

1 Hear this, O priests!
    Pay attention, O house of Israel!
Give ear, O house of the king!
    For the judgment is for you;
for you have been a snare at Mizpah
    and a net spread upon Tabor.
And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter,
    but I will discipline all of them.

I know Ephraim,
    and Israel is not hidden from me;
for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore;
    Israel is defiled.
Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
    and they know not the Lord.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
    Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt;
    Judah also shall stumble with them.
With their flocks and herds they shall go
    to seek the Lord,
but they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn from them.
They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord;
    for they have borne alien children.
    Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. Hosea 5:1-7 ESV

To the king in his royal palace, the priests in their pagan temples, and the prosperous upper class in their idol-filled homes, God now announces His intention to punish them all. And there was plenty of guilt to go around. These elites of Israelite society had promoted the apostasy for which Israel was now facing the judgment of God. From Mizpah in the north, all the way to Mount Tabor in the south, the nation’s leaders had been setting traps in which to capture the unwary people of Israel. Throughout the land, they had erected sacred sites and shrines to their many false gods. And the ubiquitous presence of these pagan places of worship made it virtually impossible for the average Israelite to avoid the temptation to forsake Yahweh.

God describes the citizens of Israel as “knee-deep in slaughter” (Hosea 5:2 NET). Their state of rebellion against Him had resulted in the countless sacrifice of lambs and bulls on the altars of their false gods. The blood had flowed, but they would find their idols to be no help against the wrath of God Almighty. He was going to severely discipline them for their blatant disregard for His commands and the willful violation of their covenant agreement with Him.

And God indicates that the time for repentance and remorse is over. He has seen every one of their sinful acts and He knows that their hearts have been corrupted by a spirit of unfaithfulness. Not only are they are unwilling to change, but they are also completely incapable of change because “the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord” (Hosea 5:4 ESV). They’ve practiced spiritual adultery for so long that they no longer have the capacity to turn back to God. They are creatures of habit, doomed to continue their moral and spiritual decline.

It’s amazing to consider that God conflates Israel’s iniquity with their vanity and pride. Not only are they guilty of sin, but they’re proud of it. They walk with a spiritual swagger and boast about their growing pantheon of false deities. And the worst part is that their arrogance is highly contagious. It will eventually infect the southern kingdom of Judah, causing them to suffer an untimely death from the same devastating disease of apostasy.

When God’s judgment finally fallas on these two rebellious nations, they will attempt to mollify His anger with sacrifices but Hosea warns that their efforts will be in vain.

When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.  – Hosea 5:6 NLT

When the discipline of God descends upon them, they will try to win His favor by reinstituting their worship of Him, but it will be too little, too late. Thr smoke from their burnt offerings will be like a stench in the nostrils of God, rather than a pleasing aroma. And the prophet Amos describes God’s dissatisfaction with their faux sacrifices.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.” – Amos 5:21-24 NLT

The prophet Isaiah reiterates God’s strong words of condemnation, leveled against His chosen but rebellious people.

But those who choose their own ways—
    delighting in their detestable sins—
    will not have their offerings accepted.
When such people sacrifice a bull,
    it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice.
When they sacrifice a lamb,
    it’s as though they had sacrificed a dog!
When they bring an offering of grain,
    they might as well offer the blood of a pig.
When they burn frankincense,
    it’s as if they had blessed an idol.
I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.
For when I called, they did not answer.
    When I spoke, they did not listen.
They deliberately sinned before my very eyes
    and chose to do what they know I despise.”  – Isaiah 66:3-4 NLT

Because of His omnipresence, God will always be in their midst but, from their perspective, it will appear as if He has withdrawn from them. They will call on Him but receive no response. They will sacrifice to Him but have their offerings rejected. They will attempt to renew their commitment to Him, only to find their efforts rebuffed.

Why? Because they have chosen to disobey His commands. God even accuses them of betraying His honor by “bearing children that are not his” (Hosea 5:7 NLT). Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, had been accused of bearing him illegitimate children, so God accuses the people of Israel of blatant unfaithfulness. Their very offspring are the byproduct of their love affair with their false gods. An entire generation of Israelites had been born in an atmosphere of infidelity and raised on a steady diet of spiritual immorality.

The result of their unfaithfulness will be their abandonment by God. He will simply turn them over to their well-deserved fate. And Hosea describes it in fairly crytic terms.

 Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. – Hosea 5:7 ESV

The word for “month” in Hebrew is hadesh, and it can literallly be translated as “new moon.” So, in Judaism, each new month was accompanied by a New Moon Festival at which sacrifices were made to God. The people would continue to go through the motions, practicing the religious rituals and observing all the standard feasts and festivals. But they would be more than willing to give up their lambs and bulls, they were totally unwilling to part with their sins. So, rather than their sacrifices bringing the blessings of God, they would result in their destruction at the hands of God.

 

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

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

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

Stubborn to the End

Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.

And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. – 2 Kings 24:5-20 ESV

Eliakim was the second son of Joash to sit on the throne of Judah. The reign of his younger brother, Jehoahaz, had only lasted three months before he was deposed and taken captive by Neco, the king of Egypt. He became the puppet-king of the Egyptians, forced to pay an exorbitant annual tribute to secure his throne. He even faced the indignity of having his name changed to Jehoiakim. But the time came when his Egyptian overlords were displaced by the new kid on the block – the Babylonians. The army of King Nebuchadnezzar defeated the combined forces of the Assyrians and Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. This decisive victory dramatically altered the political landscape of the Middle East and set the stage for Judah’s eventual fall.

The fall of the Egyptians provided Jehoiakim with a brief reprieve, but it was not long before he found himself facing yet another Gentile superpower with aspirations of global dominance. Nebuchadnezzar eventually set his sights on Judah and for three years he forced Jehoiakim back into his familiar, yet unpleasant, role as a vassal. For eight years of his 11-year reign, Jehoiakim had served as the virtual slave of the Pharaoh. Now, after three more years of Babylonian oppression and control, he decided enough was enough and rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar. But Jehoiakim failed to realize that this entire scenario was the handwork of God Almighty. Yahweh had sovereignly appointed the Babylonians to be His agents of judgment against the rebellious nation of Judah. So, when Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he was really attempting to resist the will of God.

Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh… – 2 Kings 24:2-3 NLT

The fall of Judah was inevitable because God had ordained it, and there was nothing Jehoiakim could do to avoid or escape it. And eventually, God repaid Jehoiakim for his stubborn resistance to His will by allowing the Babylonians to capture the capital city of Jerusalem.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:6-7 NLT

Jehoiakim, dethroned and disgraced, was replaced by his 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin. And just like his father and his uncle before him, “Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 24:9 NLT). Not only did Jehoiachin offend God by encouraging idolatry and apostasy, but he also attempted to resist the will of God by rebelling against the Babylonians whom God had sent. This forced Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, which he eventually captured. With Jerusalem’s fall, Jehoiachin found himself without a capital city or a throne. He and the royal family were taken captive and deported to Babylon.

Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians. – 2 Kings 24:12 NLT

And none of this should have come as a shock to King Jehoiachin because God had warned that it would happen. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of pending destruction. But they would not listen. The prophet Jeremiah had given Jehoiachin’s father, Jehoiakim, a stark description of what God had planned for the nation of Judah.

“You made me furious by worshiping idols you made with your own hands, bringing on yourselves all the disasters you now suffer. And now the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:7-11 NLT

And in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

But this would prove to be just the beginning of the end. Over time, there would be far more people deported from the land of Judah to Babylon. Despite the fall of Jerusalem, the stubbornness of the people of Judah was not yet abated. Those who remained in the land still refused to bow their knees to Yahweh. And when Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne, they seemed to assume that life would go on as usual. But when Nebuchadnezzar changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah, the people should have realized that they were far from an independent nation. They were little more than slaves of a foreign power and, in time, many of them would find themselves joining their exiled brothers and sisters in Babylon.

The people had a new king and that king had a new name, but little else changed in the nation of Judah. They continued in their old rebellious ways, and Zedekiah proved to be just as evil as all those kings who had occupied the throne before him. And the author of 2 Kings makes it painfully clear that their persistent and pervasive rebellion had finally brought upon them the righteous wrath of God.

These things happened because of the Lord’s anger against the people of Jerusalem and Judah, until he finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile. – 2 Kings 24:20 NLT

But even the judgment of God failed to get the attention of the king and his people. They remained stubbornly unrepentant and persistently unfaithful, right to the bitter end.

Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful. They followed all the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:13-14 NLT

Zedekiah had been given ample warning but he had refused to listen. The prophet Jeremiah had specifically told him, “you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it” (Jeremiah 27:9 NLT). And then he had advised the king to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar as an agent of God Almighty.

“If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people. Why do you insist on dying—you and your people? Why should you choose war, famine, and disease, which the Lord will bring against every nation that refuses to submit to Babylon’s king? Do not listen to the false prophets who keep telling you, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are liars. This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:12-15 NLT

But Zedekiah refused to heed the words of the prophet. And in the ninth year of his reign, the stubborn king of Judah would learn the painful lesson that resistance to the will of God never ends well.

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

Dark Days Ahead

1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. Micah 1:1 ESV

This book opens up with an introduction to its author, Micah, whose name means “Who is like Yahweh.” Micah, as will be revealed from the content of his book, was a prophet of God. As is true with many of the other prophets of God, there are few details provided concerning his identity or background. We are simply told that he is from Moresheth, a town also known as Moresheth-Gath, located roughly 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah.

Like all the other prophets whose books were included in the canon of Scripture, Micah was a divinely-appointed spokesman for the God of Israel. He had been hand-picked by God for his role and given a message from the Almighty to deliver to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of three successive kings: Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This would have made Micah a contemporary of Isaiah, a much more familiar and famous prophet, who also served as God’s spokesman to Judah. In the north, the people of Israel were assigned Amos and Hosea as their divine messengers.

Micah’s commission from God lasted through the reigns of three consecutive kings, and during that time great changes took place in Judah. Jotham succeeded his father, Uzziah, to the throne. According to the book of 2 Kings, Jotham began to rule the people of Judah while his father was still king.

He [Uzziah] did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. The Lord struck the king with leprosy, which lasted until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house. The king’s son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Kings 15:3-5 NLT

The explanation for Uzziah’s leprosy is given in the book of 2 Chronicles.

But when he [Uzziah] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!”

Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. But as he was standing there raging at the priests before the incense altar in the Lord’s Temple, leprosy suddenly broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the high priest and all the other priests saw the leprosy, they rushed him out. And the king himself was eager to get out because the Lord had struck him. So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 NLT

Uzziah’s actions reveal what is going to become a growing problem in Judah. The kings will continue to lead the people away from God, compromising their convictions and replacing the will of God with their own. Upon his father’s death, Jotham was crowned king and he followed in his father’s footsteps.

Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. – 2 Kings 15:34-35 NLT

While Jotham is recognized for a few noteworthy accomplishments, his reign was marked by unfaithfulness to God, resulting in divine punishment for his actions.

In those days the Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel to attack Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 NLT

Upon his death, Jotham was succeeded by his son, Ahaz, who proved to be one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s long history.

Ahaz son of Jotham began to rule over Judah in the seventeenth year of King Pekah’s reign in Israel. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 NLT

Ahaz was able to pack a lot of apostasy into his short, four-year reign, even shuttering the doors of the temple to prevent any sacrifices to or worship of God.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

And, as a result of the growing apostasy in Judah, God brought judgment upon them in the form of the Israelites, Amareans, Edomites, and Philistines. And all of this was in keeping with the warning God had communicated to the people of Israel through Moses, generations earlier.

“The Lord will cause you to be defeated by your enemies. You will attack your enemies from one direction, but you will scatter from them in seven! You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 NLT

“You will be oppressed and robbed continually, and no one will come to save you.” – Deuteronomy 28:29 NLT

“If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

During Micah’s tenure as a prophet, he had to stand back and watch as all of these curses from God began to fall upon the people of Judah. And yet, he continued to faithfully proclaim God’s words of warning and His call to repentance. From his vantage point in Judah, he could witness the devastation taking place to the north, in the kingdom of Israel. He would live to see the fall of Israel and the destruction of their capital of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. He would also be around two decades later when the Assyrians invaded Judah under the reign of King Sennacherib.

As a prophet, Micah had a God-given responsibility to point out the sins of his people. He was charged by God with delivering a message that contained warnings of destruction for continued disobedience and the promise of restoration if they would only turn back and obey. Micah is going to expose the dangerous and deadly nature of idolatry while pleading with the people of Judah to recognize the awesome attributes of their God covenant-keeping God.

While this book is filled with grim images and depressingly dire descriptions of God’s pending judgment, there are also surprisingly bright glimpses into God’s future restoration of His people. In spite of their wickedness and unfaithfulness, God would remain committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham and David.

The days ahead would be dark, but God had a bright future planned for His people.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem.”
But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan. – Micah 4:11-12 NLT

Even during Micah’s lifetime, he would live to enjoy a brief period of revival under the reign of King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. – 2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT

This young man would prove to be a good and godly king, instituting a series of important reforms designed to restore the nation’s commitment to Yahweh. He would reopen and repair the temple. He called the Levites to renew their God-given responsibility to lead the people spiritually, requiring them to purify the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. And his efforts bought the nation of Judah time.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful. – 2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT

Hezekiah was living proof that, if the nation would only return to God, He would bless them. The wars, invasions, and military defeats that marked the reign of Ahaz would be replaced by deliverance at the hand of God. Hezekiah’s godly leadership would bring about a much-needed respite, providing the nation with the spiritual guidance they so desperately needed.

But, as we will see, Micah’s book is going to reveal what will prove to be an underlying spirit of rebellion among God’s people. One man will not be able to restore them to faithfulness. Hezekiah could make sweeping regulatory changes and require acts of outward obedience from his people, but he could not change the condition of their hearts.

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

Intoxicated With the World

15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
    Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord‘s right hand
    will come around to you,
    and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
    as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.” Habakkuk 2:15-17 ESV

It’s quite obvious that God had no love affair with the Babylonians. He was going to use them as His instruments of wrath against the disobedience people of Judah, but He despised their ways. They were a wicked and degenerate nation marked by ungodliness and driven by immoral passions that knew no bounds. They were opportunistic oppressors who took advantage of their superior military strength to extend their borders and expand their vast wealth at the expense of smaller, more vulnerable nations.

The “Babylon” described in Habakkuk’s book is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose to power and prominence under the leadership of King Nabopolassar and would dominate that region of the world from 626 BC until its defeat by the 539 BC. It would be under the reign of King Nebuchadnezza that Babylon would reach the zenith of its power. But in 539 BC, the Medes and Persians would invade and conquer Babylon, bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Yet, for the biblical authors, the name “Babylon” would come to represent all those ungodly nations which stood opposed to God and His people, glorying in their own power and worshiping their self-sufficiency and autonomy. It was King Nebuchadnezzar himself who bragged about the glory of the magnificent capital city he had constructed with the revenue he had gained from his many conquests.

“Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:29-30 NLT

In the book of Revelation, Babylon comes to represent the kingdom of the Antichrist, the world leader who will come to power in the last days. He will set up a great vast empire that spans the globe and his capital city will become the economic, military, and political epicenter for the world. And like the ancient nation from which it borrows its name, the end-times Babylon will be destroyed by God.

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT

And notice John’s reference to “the wine of her passionate immorality.” The power and influence of this future Babylon will tempt the nations of the world to become intoxicated by its vast wealth and attracted to the ungodly lifestyle it represents. Decadence and immorality will be the order of the day in the kingdom of the Antichrist. But it too will fall, leaving the nations of the world staggering under the weight of their loss.

…the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. – Revelation 18:9 NLT

The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. – Revelation 18:11 NLT

“The fancy things you loved so much
    are gone,” they cry.
“All your luxuries and splendor
    are gone forever,
    never to be yours again.” – Revelation 18:14 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    The shipowners became wealthy
    by transporting her great wealth on the seas.
In a single moment it is all gone.” – Revelation 18:19 NLT

In this fourth “woe,” delivered by God against the Babylon of Habakkuk’s day, we see a reference to “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Habakkuk 2:15 ESV). God accuses Babylon of using its vast power to degrade the nations of the world, causing them to stagger and reel like drunks, incapable of defending themselves against the immoral intentions of their adversary.  God exposes the true intentions of the Babylonians: “You force your cup on them so you can gloat over their shameful nakedness.” (Habakkuk 2:15 NLT). The imagery is that of sexual abuse, as the more powerful forces himself on a helpless and defenseless victim. 

But God warns that this kind of behavior will not go unpunished.

“But soon it will be your turn to be disgraced.
    Come, drink and be exposed!
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
    and all your glory will be turned to shame.” – Habakkuk 2:16 NLT

The perpetrator would become the victim, getting a taste of their own medicine as God pours out His cup of judgment upon them. And rather than glorying in their power and prominence, they will experience shame and humiliation at the hand of God Almighty.

As has been the case with the previous three woes, God is making a not-so-subtle point, aimed at His rebellious and stubborn children, the nation of Judah. They stand guilty before Yahweh, having committed many of the same sins as the ungodly Babylonians. Prior to their fall to the Assyrians, the prophet Isaiah described the northern kingdom of Israel as drunks, who had willingly rendered themselves intoxicated and insensible, completely incapable of living up to God’s righteous standard for them.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions.
Their tables are covered with vomit;
    filth is everywhere. – Isaiah 28:7-8 NLT

God had blessed them with fertile and fruitful land, but they had taken the gift of His abundance and used it in ways that were out of step with His will for them.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine. – Isaiah 28:1 NLT

They had become drunk on their own success, enjoying the fruits of God’s undeserved blessings, and arrogantly bragging that they were immune to His judgment.

You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death
    and have made a deal to dodge the grave.
The coming destruction can never touch us,
    for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.” – Isaiah 28:15 NLT

But they were wrong. Like the Babylonians, the people of Israel would see their immoral lifestyle come to an abrupt end.

I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground. – Isaiah 28:18 NLT

This fourth woe was intended to indict the people of Judah as much as the nation of Babylon. Just as their northern neighbors would fall to the Assyrians, the rebellious and arrogant Judahites would fall to the Babylonians. And, eventually, in His own timing, God would deal with the Babylonians themselves.

“The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you…” – Habakkuk 2:17 ESV

They would all reap what they sowed. Their glory would be turned to shame. Their self-sufficiency would result in self-destruction. Their love affair with wealth, power, and prominence would leave them staggering under the weight of their own poverty, weakness, and humiliation.

The prophet Isaiah warned the people of Judah that their fate was sealed. They had refused to listen to the messages of the prophets, calling them to repentance. So, God had chosen to keep His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. And, like Habakkuk, they would find God’s decision difficult to fathom and even harder to accept, it was the just reward for their rebellion against Him.

Are you amazed and incredulous?
    Don’t you believe it?
Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

They had become drunk on the things of this world. But they had also been blinded by God, spiritually incapable of comprehending the danger of their situation and insensitive to His call to repentance. How easy it is to allow temporal treasures and worldly delights to blind us to the reality of God’s love. We can even allow His blessings to become distractions, focusing on the gifts rather than the Giver. This is why the apostle John warned us to never allow the love of the world to replace our love for God.

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

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

Because of You…

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12 ES

Micah continues his merciless indictment of the religious and civil leaders of Israel. He holds them personally responsible for the judgment of God that is about to fall upon the nation. Their actions, which he outlines in detail, have played a significant role in the spiritual demise of the people under their care.

What they had failed to understand was the high view God held of their positions. He had placed upon them the mantle of leadership and it came with a divine expectation that they provide His flock with loving care and compassion. But they had dropped the ball. They had abused their authority and abandoned those over whom God had made them shepherds.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT

And Micah pulls no punches when leveling his charges against these men.  He accuses them of hating justice and twisting all that is right. And it’s likely that they wholeheartedly denied Micah’s charges. But their actions betrayed them. They were hypocrites who claimed to be serving on behalf of God, but were busy serving their own interests. The prophet Isaiah was equally harsh in his assessment of these self-ascribed leaders of Israel.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them
    with ropes made of lies,
    who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!
They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.”

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:18-21 NLT

Evil is good and good is evil. Not exactly the kind of conclusions one would expect from the leaders of God’s people. But as Micah said, their actions betrayed that they hated God’s brand of justice and twisted the truth of God into a lie. And as a result, they had built “Jerusalem on a foundation of murder and corruption” (Micah 3:10 NLT). They had led the way in modeling deceit, disobedience, and immoral behavior. As the leadership went, so did the people.

There’s an old adage that says, “What parents do in moderation, children do to excess.” That timeless truism applies to civic and spiritual leadership as well. What leaders do in moderation, citizens do to excess. And Micah makes it clear that Israel’s leaders had been far less than moderate in their sinful behavior.

You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
    you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid. – Micah 3:11 NLT

They were all in it for what they could get out of it. Leadership had become nothing more than a means to an end and the end was personal gain. Even the prophets were profiteering from their positions. And, once again, Micah was not alone in his less-than-flattering assessment of these men. Isaiah was equally as harsh and unsparing in his indictment of these men.

Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. – Isaiah 5:23 NLT

For the leaders of my people—
    the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
    are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
    that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
   Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
    all following their own path
    and intent on personal gain. – Isaiah 56:10-11 NLT

Not a pretty picture. But sadly, it was an accurate one. Both Micah and Isaiah provide an irrefutable assessment of the state of affairs in Israel. And it all started at the top. The nation of Israel had a long track record of lousy leadership. And it had taken its toll on the population.

And the worst part was that these men feigned allegiance to God. They claimed to be dependent upon God. And they were quick to claim that they held their positions of leadership because of God. Yet Micah exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11 ESV

The word translated as “lean” is the Hebrew word sha`an, and it can mean “to trust in” or “to lean upon.” But these men were not really trusting in or relying upon God. They were simply giving Him lip service. Their words were little more than spiritual rhetoric, pious-sounding platitudes intended to give the appearance of godliness. But God was not fooled. He knew their hearts. And in the book of Isaiah, we have God’s no-holds-barred assessment of their true spiritual condition.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

They were quick to claim God’s presence and provision. They were depending upon the Almighty to place His force-field of divine protection over them. Which had led them to falsely claim, “No harm can come to us for the Lord is here among us” (Micah 3:11 NLT). But they had failed to consider God’s commands concerning faithfulness, obedience, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Back in Isaiah 1, we find God’s clear communication of His divine will concerning His disobedient people.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

But from the top down, the people of Israel had been guilty of doing just the opposite. And, as a result, God was going to bring His judgment against the nation.

Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
    Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
    where the Temple now stands. – Micah 3:12 NLT

They had no excuse for their behavior. They couldn’t claim ignorance or blame their actions on a lack of information. God had faithfully, persistently, and lovingly called them to change their ways. He had sent prophet after prophet, each declaring His message of pending judgment. These men had begged the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. But their messages had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, time was running out. God would not tolerate their stubborn rejection of His gracious offer of redemption forever. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God was not done with Israel. Despite the actions of their lousy leaders and the lemming-like behavior of the people, God was going to act on their behalf. He had a plan in place that included their judgment as well as their future redemption.

And chapter four opens up with words of hope that shine like a bright light in the midst of the darkness of Israel’s despair.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it… – Micah 4:1 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

Free to Choose

1 How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
    they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile because of affliction
    and hard servitude;
she dwells now among the nations,
    but finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
    in the midst of her distress. – Lamentations 1:1-3 ESV

Like the book of Job, Lamentations deals with the theology of suffering, but from a national, rather than a personal perspective. Written as poetry, Lamentations is a dirge, a song of mourning commemorating the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judah. But the book is far more than a reciting of the sad state of affairs in Judah. It is a theological treatise on God’s justice, love, and sovereignty.

The seeming contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are on display throughout the pages of Lamentations, and they are never fully resolved. Even at the close of the book, the unavoidable and inexplicable tension between these two truths remains.

The people of Israel had been given a choice by God. He had made a bilateral covenant with them that spelled out His expectations regarding their behavior. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they chose to disobey, the would experience the consequences, in the form of curses. The blessings and the curses had been covered in detail in the book of Deuteronomy.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The choice had been theirs. But God had made sure that the logical choice would be a clear and compelling one. There should have been no confusion or debate. God had promised that obedience to His commands would be accompanied by the benefit of His blessings on their cities, fields, flocks, agriculture, families, military exploits, business ventures, physical health, and financial prospects. They would enjoy status as “a people holy to himself” (Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV). And God assured them that this unique distinction would be accompanied by some significant implications:

all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you.” – Deuteronomy 28:10 NLT

But what if they chose to disobey God? What would happen then? God had made that outcome painfully clear. Everything He had promised to bless would be cursed.

“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. – Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV

Their crops, cities, families, flocks, and fortunes would be cursed because God would remove His hand of protection and provision. If they chose to live in ways that were contrary and contradictory to God’s plans for His chosen people, they would experience the dire consequences. But again, the choice had been theirs to make. And we know from the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, that they ultimately chose to live in disobedience to God. They proved unfaithful to Him, regularly rejecting His will for their own. And while God had warned them repeatedly that destruction was coming unless they repented and returned to Him, they rejected the words of the prophets and followed the desires of their hearts.

A pattern of disobedience and unfaithfulness marked the history of God’s people. And it eventually resulted in the split of the kingdom, resulting in the nation of Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south. And in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Assyrians just as God had warned. And while the southern kingdom of Judah had watched the fall of its northern neighbor, they learned nothing from the experience. Because in 586 B.C., they would experience a similar fate, conquered by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

And here, in the opening verses of Lamentations, we read the somber words describing the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem, the once flourishing capital of Judah. Jeremiah describes the city as a veritable ghost town. Its once-bustling streets are empty, its houses and buildings destroyed. The former glory of the temple has been reduced to rubble and the gates and walls of the city have been demolished. The book of 2 Kings describes the extent of the devastation.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.  And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 ESV

Jeremiah describes the fallen city of Jerusalem as a princess who has fallen on hard times. Formerly married and accustomed to great wealth and privilege, she finds herself widowed and reduced to a state of abject poverty. Her fortunes have been drastically and dramatically altered. Having formerly enjoyed the benefits of royal sovereignty, she is now reduced to a state of slavery.

But while her fate may leave us feeling sorry for her, it is not undeserved. Jeremiah goes on to describe Jerusalem as an unfaithful wife. She cries but finds no one to comfort her, in spite of her long list of lovers. Those whom she once considered her friends have ended up abandoning and turning against her. And in the book that bears his name, Jeremiah had warned Judah that all of this was going to happen, long before it did.

And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction,
you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress,
decking yourself out in jewels of gold,
and putting on eye shadow!
You are making yourself beautiful for nothing.
Your lovers spurn you.
They want to kill you. – Jeremiah 4:30 NET

Judah had made a habit of making alliances with other nations, seeking safety and security through treaties and military pacts, rather than trusting in God. When God had warned that the Babylonians were coming, the leaders of Judah had sought to stay off destruction through partnerships with pagan nations that were in direct violation of God’s will. But these “friends” would prove unfaithful and incapable of delivering Judah from the hands of the Babylonians.

Verse three paints a stark contrast between God’s preferred future for Judah and the reality of their current circumstances. As God’s chosen people, they had been given the land of Canaan as their inheritance. It was a rich and abundant land, filled with tangible expressions of God’s love in the form of orchards, vineyards, fields of grain, and abundant sources of water. They had lived in homes they had not built located in cities they had not constructed. They had enjoyed safety and security from their enemies provided by the hand of God. But now, Judah had “been led away into captivity, oppressed with cruel slavery” (Lamentations 1:3 NLT).

Instead of enjoying the peace and rest of the promised land, the people of God were experiencing the pain and suffering of exile in the land of Babylon. God had promised them that if they would only remain faithful to Him, He would ensure that they remained at the top of the food chain.

“…the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.“ – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

But Jeremiah reveals that their choice to disobey God had produced a far different outcome.

She lives among foreign nations
    and has no place of rest.
Her enemies have chased her down,
    and she has nowhere to turn. – Lamentations 1:3 NLT

The people of Judah had made a choice, and now there were reaping the consequences of that choice. God had warned them, but they had refused to listen. He had pleaded with them repeatedly to repent, but they had rejected those calls. They had not acted out of ignorance, but out of pride and stubbornness. They had chosen to live according to their own ways, living in keeping with their own selfish agendas. And now, they were experiencing the error of their ways.

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 Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

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