The Final Purging

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

23 The word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:21-33 ESV

Exactly three years earlier, “in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month” (Ezekiel 24:1 ESV), the prophet Ezekiel had received a message from Yahweh concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was told to “write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). And God informed His prophet that the Babylonian siege would last three years, then end with the city’s fall.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:25-27 NLT

Up until that point, Ezekiel had been struck mute by God and was completely unable to speak to the people. He was restricted to conveying his messages through dramatic demonstrations as dictated by God. But Ezekiel was informed that his muteness would come to an end on the day he received news of Jerusalem’s destruction. And chapter 33 of Ezekiel records that fateful day.

The night before the messenger arrived from Jerusalem with news of the city’s devastating end, God had opened Ezekiel’s mouth so that he could speak. The prophet’s renewed capacity for speech would be put to use immediately as God provided him with a message for “the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities” (Ezekiel 33:24 NLT). It seems that for seven-and-a-half years, Ezekiel had only been able to speak when God allowed him to do so.

“I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” – Ezekiel 3:26-27 NLT

But with Jerusalem’s demise, this on-again-off-again condition was removed and Ezekiel had full freedom to speak on behalf of God with no restrictions. His first message was to all those Israelites who were living as exiles in foreign lands or who had taken up residence in the wastelands of Canaan. Within these two groups, there were those who believed they had every right to return to the land and make it their own. Their assumption was based on their identity as children of Abraham, and the logic behind it was simple.

“Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.” – Ezekiel 33:24 NLT

In a sense, they were right. The land had been promised to them by God, but that promise came with conditions. God expected them to live in obedience to His commands. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not enough. Prior to them entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses had clearly communicated God’s expectations.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Obedience was the key to blessing. And those blessings would help to set them apart as God’s chosen people.

“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 28:9-10 NLT

But now, centuries later, the Israelites were the laughingstock of the world. Hundreds of years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and now the southern kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonians. Its cities lay in ruins and its people had been relegated to a life of poverty and dispossession. Yet, they still believed they had every right to return to the land and enjoy all its benefits.

But God had other plans for them because He knew they remained unrepentant and unworthy to occupy His holy land. Their sinful actions had left the land of promise defiled and in need of divine purging, and God was merciless in exposing their culpability.

You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?” – Ezekiel 33:25-26 NLT

They were law-breakers and covenant violators and God knew that even the fall of Jerusalem would not cause them to acknowledge their sins and repent. Over the centuries, they had developed a track record of stubborn resistance to God’s calls for repentance, and now they were going to experience the full extent of His wrath, just as He had outlined it to Moses centuries earlier.

“…if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

God had given Moses a detailed description of His judgments, clearly indicating the escalating nature of their intensity if the people refused to respond.

And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:18 NLT

“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:21 NLT

“And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins.” – Leviticus 26:23-24 NLT

“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:27-28 NLT

Every if-then statement was fulfilled because the people of Israel refused to listen. No judgment awakened their sense of shame or caused them to repent of their sins. They stubbornly clung to their ways and watched as wave after wave of God’s judgments came against them. And now, God declares that He is going to bring the last phase of His judgment, just as He had predicted through the pen of Moses.

“And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies. You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:36-39 NLT

That day had come. God declares to Ezekiel, “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end” (Ezekiel 33:28 NLT). The time for purging and cleansing had arrived.

And as for the exiles among whom Ezekiel ministered, God had a word for them as well. Their plaintive pleas for the prophet to give them a message from God were a sham. They had no intentions of keeping the commands of God, whether written on a scroll as part of the Mosaic Law or spoken from the lips of His prophet.

“…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. – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

God informs Ezekiel that his audience only feigns interest. They listen politely and intently to what he has to say but have no intentions of changing their behavior. Yet God assures His prophet, “when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33 NLT). God hints at a day when the people will finally wake up and realize what they have done. The full weight of God’s judgment will have its full effect, awakening His rebellious people to their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. While this chapter ends on a negative note, it gives a glimpse of the good news to come. God’s judgment had a purpose and His plan was not yet complete.

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

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

You Will Know

17 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:

19 ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
    Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.’

20 They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. 21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

22 “Assyria is there, and all her company, its graves all around it, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit; and her company is all around her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.

24 “Elam is there, and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 They have made her a bed among the slain with all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are placed among the slain.

26 “Meshech-Tubal is there, and all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living. 28 But as for you, you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

29 “Edom is there, her kings and all her princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.

30 “The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.

31 “When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 32:17-32 ESV

Fourteen days later, Ezekiel received the second part of God’s oracle concerning Egypt’s demise. In it, he is told to “weep for the hordes of Egypt and for the other mighty nations” (Ezekiel 32:18 NLT). The scene depicted by God is that of a funeral and Ezekiel is instructed to “bury” Egypt in a grave, sending the deceased nation “to the world below” (Ezekiel 32:18 ESV); to the afterlife. The entire nation of Egypt is portrayed as a corpse ready for burial and Ezekiel is given the responsibility of interring the body and conducting the funeral.

But despite Egypt’s vast wealth and reputation for extravagance as illustrated by its many architectural wonders, the funeral described is that of a pauper. Rather than a royal entombment attended by visiting dignitaries and marked by solemnity and almost worshipful sorrow by the adoring public, this burial is of a relative unknown. God even gives Ezekiel the words of the eulogy he is to speak at the graveside.

“O Egypt, are you lovelier than the other nations?
    No! So go down to the pit and lie there among the outcasts.” – Ezekiel 32:19 NLT

The nation of Egypt would experience the same fate as the “uncircumcised” heathen. When the Babylonians swept through the land, they would be indiscriminate in their destruction. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces would be merciless and show no pity to anyone, leaving the bodies of the wealthy and well-educated lying in the streets alongside the poor and disenfranchised. God even describes their welcome in Sheol with biting sarcasm.

“Down in the grave mighty leaders will mockingly welcome Egypt and its allies, saying, ‘They have come down; they lie among the outcasts, hordes slaughtered by the sword.’” – Ezekiel 32:21 NLT

Egypt will join the other nations that have fallen before them. People from Assyria, Elam, Meshech-Tubal, Edom, the princes of the north, and the Sidonians have all entered the grave and will be ready to greet its newest occupant with open arms. At one time, all these nations “struck terror in the hearts of people everywhere, but now they have been slaughtered by the sword” (Ezekiel 32:23 NLT). They had been major players and had enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, but now there were relegated to an eternal existence of obscurity and irrelevance in the grave. And Egypt would suffer the same fate.

This message, given by God to Ezekiel, was intended to be shared with the Jewish exiles living in Babylon. It was meant to persuade these displaced people from putting any hope in Egypt as a potential source of salvation for Judah. When the Babylonians had first appeared on the scene, threatening the peace of the region, the people of Judah looked for help from their more powerful allies. The Egyptians were a logical choice because they had a track record of success. As one of the oldest nations in the region, they had a long history of military dominance and hegemony. So, it was only natural for Judah to place its hope in their neighbor to the south. Even the exiles were tempted to see the Egyptians as the key to the survival of their homeland and the means of their eventual return from captivity.

But God wanted them to know that Pharaoh would not be their savior. While his people believed him to be a god, he was just another man and his nation would prove to be just another victim of Babylon’s seemingly unstoppable global expansion.

“You too, Egypt, will lie crushed and broken among the outcasts, all slaughtered by the sword. – Ezekiel 32:28 NLT

From chapter 25 to chapter 32, the phrase “know I am the LORD” occurs 19 times. The oracles contained within these chapters serve as a powerful indictment against the nations of the world but are really a divine dismissal of the gods of this world. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, was guilty of spiritual adultery. For centuries, they had made a habit of worshiping the false gods of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. They had become equal-opportunity idolaters who saw nothing wrong with adopting the gods of their pagan neighbors and treating them with the same awe and reverence they had once reserved for Yahweh.

During their 400-year exile in Egypt, the people of Israel worshiped the gods of the Egyptians. In the process of delivering them from their captivity, God exhibited His superiority over these false gods through the ten plagues He sent against the people of Egypt. Each plague was a direct attack on one of their many gods. And when God had finished His divine smackdown of Egypt’s deities, He led them out of bondage and to the land He had promised them. But even after arriving in the land of Canaan, the people of Israel continued their love affair with false gods. In direct violation of God’s commands, they embraced the gods of the Canaanites and the neighboring nations. And despite God’s repeated calls to repent and return to Him, they stubbornly refused.

Prior to the people of Israel entering the land of Canaan, Moses stood before them and issued a covenant commitment.

“I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.

“You remember how we lived in the land of Egypt and how we traveled through the lands of enemy nations as we left. You have seen their detestable practices and their idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold. I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.” – Deuteronomy 29:15-18 NLT

But his words had little or no lasting impact. It didn’t take them long to break their covenant with Moses and violate the laws given to them by God. Their entire history is replete with examples of their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. Now, as Ezekiel ministered to the people of God living as exiles in Babylon, they were reaping the consequences of their disobedience. They were experiencing exactly what Joshua had warned their ancestors would happen in they turned to the false gods of Canaan.

“…as surely as the Lord your God has given you the good things he promised, he will also bring disaster on you if you disobey him. He will completely destroy you from this good land he has given you.  If you break the covenant of the Lord your God by worshiping and serving other gods, his anger will burn against you, and you will quickly vanish from the good land he has given you.” – Joshua 23:15-16 NLT

And all those nations from whom they had adopted their false gods would fall before the righteous wrath of Yahweh. Each would eventually pay the price for its idolatry and refusal to acknowledge the one true God. But their destruction would be a sobering warning to the people of Judah, reminding them of the words of God: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

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

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

No More Delay

21 And the word of the Lord came to me: 22 “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? 23 Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision. 24 For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. 25 For I am the Lord; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it, declares the Lord God.”

26 And the word of the Lord came to me: 27 “Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ 28 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed, declares the Lord God.  Ezekiel 12:21-28 ESV

Ezekiel was just one more prophet among many who were each tasked with warning the people of Israel about God’s pending judgment. There had been a number of prophets whom God had sent to the northern kingdom of Judah before it fell to the Assyrians. And there were prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah whom God had sent to warn the southern kingdom of Judah that they faced a similar fate if they did abandon their idolatrous ways and return to Him in repentance.

For hundreds of years, God had been calling His rebellious people to repent or face certain judgment. The Jews living as exiles in Babylon knew from firsthand experience just how real God’s judgment could be. They had been deported after Nebuchadnezzar had made his first incursion into Judah and ransacked the city of Jerusalem. It was Ezekiel’s responsibility to carry God’s message to these displaced Jews and warn them that their compatriots back home were about to experience more of the same.

But God points out that, back in Judah, there were two prevalent attitudes concerning His judgment. First, there were those who believed that the prophets of God were all talk, not action. In other words, they talked a good game but nothing they prophesied ever came to fruition. Their dire warnings never amounted to much. This perspective had even become a popular proverb.

“Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.” – Ezekiel 12:21 NLT

For centuries, God had been warning about the fall of Jerusalem, but the city still stood. Nothing had changed. So, people began to view the prophets as overreactive naysayers whose pessimistic pronouncements never materialized. It was like the story of the boy who cried wolf.

As the story goes, a young shepherd boy found himself bored with his job, so to add a little excitement to his day, he ran into town crying, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” The townspeople ran to his aid, only to find the flock grazing peacefully. Irritated with the boy’s antics, they warned him, “Don’t cry ‘wolf’, shepherd boy when there’s no wolf!”

As they made their way back to town, grumbling as they went, they once again heard the excited cries of the boy. “Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!” To his delight, the shepherd boy watched as the villagers ran back up the hill to confront the wolf that threatened their flocks. But, as before, there was no wolf.

Then one day, the unexpected happened. A real wolf showed up. But when the villagers heard the boy’s excited cries for help, they assumed it was just another trick, so they remained in the village. The next morning they found the shepherd boy weeping in the fields where his flocks once grazed. When they asked him what happened, he said, “There really was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, “Wolf!” Why didn’t you come?”

The people of Judah, like the villagers in the story, had begun to believe that the prophets’ cries of danger were not to be believed. They had been listening to these doomsayers for generations and nothing they predicted ever came true. So, they began to write off everything these men said.

From their perspective, not much had changed in Jerusalem. Even the arrival of the Babylonians had done little to change their way of life. Sure, there had been some adjustments to make after the first siege and the initial deportation of some of their friends and neighbors. But, for the most part, life went on as before. And those who remained behind in Jerusalem became increasingly complacent and callous to the message of the prophets. They wrongly assumed that God was not going to act. Nothing was going to happen. In their estimation, the prophets were all bark and no bite. Or were they?

God had a different perspective and commanded Ezekiel to replace their proverb with a new one.

“I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it. Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled!’” – Ezekiel 12:23 NLT

Time was running out. The lack of measurable activity on God’s part was not to be mistaken for inaction or indifference. Time may have passed but God’s wrath had not abated. He had not forgotten their past sins and was not oblivious to their current moral condition. He had simply been waiting for the perfect moment to unleash His divinely timed plan for Jerusalem’s destruction.

How easy it is to discount the warnings of God because they don’t ever seem to come true. These Old Testament stories become little more than moral fairy tales that portray God as short-tempered and lacking in love. He comes across as overly judgmental and harsh and we discount this image of God as incompatible with the one portrayed in the New Testament. We prefer the God of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. But we fail to recognize that God is unchanging. He still hates sin. He still warns His people about the dangers of unfaithfulness and idolatry. He constantly reminds us that there are consequences for our sins. But when we sin and nothing happens, we wrongly assume that we can get away with our indiscretions and infidelity. As a result, we stop listening to His calls to confess our sins.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

But there was a second problem in Judah. While some were claiming that the warnings of the prophets would never come true, there were others who admitted that the warnings were true but would not take place in their lifetimes. They claimed, “He’s talking about the distant future. His visions won’t come true for a long, long time” (Ezekiel 12:27 NLT). While the words of the prophets were true and the judgments of God were inevitable, they had nothing to worry about because they would fall upon a future generation. For the time being, they were safe and sound.

But God wanted them to know that their assumption was deadly wrong. The long delay was over and it was their generation that would have to live through the final destruction of Jerusalem.

“No more delay! I will now do everything I have threatened. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!’” – Ezekiel 12:28 NLT

They could go on denying the veracity of the prophecies and live as if God’s judgment was never coming. They could even convince themselves the prophecies were true but did not pose an immediate threat. But they would soon discover just how wrong they were. And this tendency to doubt, deny, or delay God’s warnings of judgment is still a problem. Even after the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the apostle Peter warned of the danger of denying or ignoring the reality of His ultimate return. In his second letter, he provided the first-century believers with a sobering reminder.

I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles. – 2 Peter 3:2 NLT

The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming, but they also predict His return at the end of the age. But more than 2,000 years have passed since Peter penned his letter, and we still await the second coming of Christ. In his day, there were those who had already begun to doubt whether Christ was ever coming back.

I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

Delay had caused doubt. Christ’s apparent failure to return had led the first-century Christians to have second thoughts. But Peter reminded them that God, who made the universe in eternity past, stands outside of time. To Him, “a day is like a thousand years…and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). God does not grow impatient. What appears to be a delay to us is actually the perfectly timed plan of God.

Peter didn’t want his readers to mistake God’s delay as inaction or indifference. It was actually evidence of His patience and love.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

But that doesn’t mean we should abuse God’s loving patience by living as if we have all the time in the world. Peter assures his readers that God’s judgment will come.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. – 2 Peter 3:10 NLT

And that judgment will come with the return of the Lord. When He comes the second time, it will not be as Savior but as judge of all the earth. And, “on that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). And Peter reminds his readers to live with that thought in mind.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 NLT

The inevitable judgment of God should cause His people to live soberly and circumspectly. We should pursue godly and holy lives that reflect our status as His children and our citizenship in His Kingdom. We should avoid the perspective that plagued the people of Judah. Rather than live in keeping with God’s will and in fear of His judgment, they lived in a state of denial or simply viewed God’s judgment as so distant that it posed no threat to their way of life.

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

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

It’s Worse Than You Thought

1 In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” 10 So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. 11 And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. 12 Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 He said also to me, “You will see still greater abominations that they commit.”

14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. 15 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.”

16 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. 17 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. 18 Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” Ezekiel 8:1-18 ESV

At some point during Ezekiel’s lengthy, non-verbal prophetic demonstration, he received a vision from God. He was seated in his home with a contingent of elders from the Jewish exiles in Babylon. He does not give a reason for their visit but it is safe to say that this was not a cordial or friendly affair. They were likely upset with the nature of his dramatic performance and the negative impact it was having on the community. His visual illustration predicting Jerusalem’s fall would have greatly disturbed his fellow exiles, who had been hoping that God would eventually return them to their homeland. But Ezekiel had ruled out that possibility.

When God had finally given Ezekiel permission to speak, He didn’t exactly give him an easy message to deliver. Chapter seven records the dire warning Ezekiel was commanded to share with the exiles in Babylon, and what he had to say did nothing to help him win friends and influence enemies.

God told them, “Soon I will pour out my fury on you and unleash my anger against you. I will call you to account for all your detestable sins” (Ezekiel 7:8 NLT). God was fed up. He had had enough. He saw that His chosen people had become proud, wealthy, self-sufficient, and over-confident. They didn’t need Him. They had become affluent and apathetic toward God, even using their wealth to create their own gods. They no longer knew God or feared Him. And to prove to Ezekiel just how bad things were back home in Jerusalem, God gave him a special “birds-eye” tour of the holy city that sounds like something straight out of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

While seated with the elders in his home Ezekiel received a vision from God. There is no indication that the other men in the room were aware of what was happening, but for Ezekiel, this proved to be a disturbing and eye-opening adventure.

In his vision, an angel picked up Ezekiel by his hair and transported him to Jerusalem. His first stop? The northern gate of the inner courtyard of the temple. And what did he see? An idol to a false god. He describes it as “the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy” (Ezekiel 8:3 ESV). A huge idol sitting directly in the middle of the temple courtyard. Ezekiel does not give the name of this god, but it could have been a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility, whose worship encouraged sexual immorality and promoted self-gratification.

Yet, Ezekiel noted that “the glory of the God of Israel was there” (Ezekiel 8:4 ESV). Despite the unexpected sight of an idol in the temple, he recognized the presence of God’s glory and majesty, just as he had seen in his previous vision.

Ezekiel must have been shocked by what he saw, but God assured them that this magical mystery tour of Judah’s sins was just getting started.

“Son of man,” he said, “do you see what they are doing? Do you see the detestable sins the people of Israel are committing to drive me from my Temple? But come, and you will see even more detestable sins than these!” – Ezekiel 8:6 NLT

Next, the angel took him to the door of the temple courtyard. In the adjacent wall was a small hole, which the angel commanded Ezekiel to expand. Upon enlarging the hole, Ezekiel discovered a hidden door. After entering the now-exposed passage, Ezekiel discovered 70 civic leaders of Israel conducting themselves as if they were priests. But they weren’t worshiping Yahweh. The walls of the hidden room were covered with “engravings of all kinds of crawling animals and detestable creatures” (Ezekiel 8:9 NLT), and there were idols of all of the false gods of Israel. Ezekiel had stumbled upon a secret sanctuary dedicated to the practice of pagan idolatry, right in the middle of the temple of God.

And their excuse for their actions? “The Lord doesn’t see us, he has deserted our land” (Ezekiel 8:12b NLT). They blamed God, accusing Him of having abandoned them, and forcing them to worship other gods in the hope of finding a solution to their problem. But they were the problem.

Ezekiel must have been appalled by what he saw, but God assured him that the worst was yet to come.

“Come, and I will show you even more detestable sins than these!” – Ezekiel 8:13 NLT

The angel brought Ezekiel to the north gate of the temple where he saw women weeping for the god Tammuz, the Babylonian god of spring. It was believed that he died at the beginning of every summer, only to resurrect again in the spring. The mournful nature of these women reflects the pervasive presence of idolatry within Israel. But, once again, God assured the slack-jawed Ezekiel that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

I will show you even more detestable sins than these! – Ezekiel 8:15 NLT

The angel to the inner courtyard of the Lord’s temple, where he saw 25 men standing with their backs to the sanctuary of God. They were facing east and worshiping the sun. The symbolism of the scene is difficult to miss. These unidentified men had turned their backs on God and were worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. They were guilty of the very thing Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! – Romans 1:22-23, 25 ESV

They had replaced God. They had turned their backs on Him and were placing their hopes elsewhere. Rather than trust God for their future and return to Him in repentance over their sins, they were searching high and low for a solution to their predicament. Unwilling to admit their own culpability, they refused to own their sins and repent. Instead, they looked for another way to resolve their issues. They searched for another savior. They prayed for another deliverer.

God had given Ezekiel ample evidence of the wickedness of the people of Israel. It seems that the timing of this vision was tied to the presence of the elders in Ezekiel’s home. Evidently, they had come with the intent to convince Ezekiel that things were not that bad back in Jerusalem. They had probably tried to persuade him that his assessment of Israel’s sinfulness was overblown and his message of God’s pending judgment was inaccurate.

But God assured Ezekiel that things were far worse than he could have imagined, and He was determined to do something about it.

“Have you seen this, son of man?” he asked. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger?” – Ezekiel 8:17 NLT

God was done warning His rebellious people. They had turned their backs on Him and now, He was going to return the favor.

But what about us? As we look around the world today and see all that is happening, what is our response? When we witness the physical and spiritual drought taking place in our country, do we turn to God in repentance, or do we pursue other solutions? Do we put our hope in politicians? Do we turn to science? Do we rely on our own wealth and distract ourselves with entertainment and affluence?

Paul went on to describe the stark outcome of a life lived in disobedience and unfaithfulness to God, and it isn’t a pretty picture. But it is the fate of all those who fail to acknowledge Him for who He is.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

Men can deny God’s existence, but they will never escape His judgment.

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

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

A Difficult Calling

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11 And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”

12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” 13 It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. 14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. 15 And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:4-15 ESV

After consuming the scroll that God had given him, Ezekiel was commanded to regurgitate its content to his fellow captives living in the land of Babylon. While the message contained in the scroll was filled with words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10 ESV), Ezekiel found it to taste “as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). Ezekiel had discovered the truth behind the psalm.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! – Psalm 119:103 ESV).

And the prophet Jeremiah also learned to develop a hunger and delight for the word of the Lord.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. – Jeremiah 15:16 ESV

God’s Word may be difficult to hear but, when obeyed, it always proves to be a delight to the soul because it is filled with wisdom and truth. Ezekiel had feasted on the Word of God and found it to be both pleasant and filling. But the difficulty would come when he tried to share that message with his fellow exiles. This young priest-turned-prophet was going to have to share what he had learned with the rest of the Jews living along the Kebar River in Babylon, and God warned him that they would not be a receptive audience.

“…the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” – Ezekiel 3:7 NLT

The Almighty God had chosen to reveal Himself to Ezekiel in the middle of a Judaen refuge camp in the land of Babylon, and He had delivered to Ezekiel a message that was intended solely for the people of God. The words contained on the scroll had been directed at His chosen people and not the Babylonians. God was not above delivering words of warning to foreign countries. He had used Isaiah to pronounce a powerful message of future destruction to the Babylonians.

Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms,
    the flower of Chaldean pride,
will be devastated like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God destroyed them.
Babylon will never be inhabited again.
    It will remain empty for generation after generation.
Nomads will refuse to camp there,
    and shepherds will not bed down their sheep. – Isaiah 13:19-20 NLT

But the message God had given Ezekiel was for the people of Judah alone. And God seems to infer that Ezekiel’s task would have been much easier if his audience was made up of foreigners who spoke a completely different language.

I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! – Ezekiel 3:5 NLT

The problem Ezekiel was going to encounter would not be that of a language barrier. No, his audience would hear and understand every word he said, but their stubborn and sin-hardened hearts would prevent them from responding in repentance. The same words that Ezekiel found to be as sweet as honey would be bitter and distasteful to the rebellious people of God.

But Ezekiel was not to be afraid or disheartened. In fact, God declared that he would be divinely equipped for the task. The people of Israel would meet their match in Ezekiel.

“I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 3:8-9 NLT

God was going to equip Ezekiel with a supernatural source of stamina and determination that would allow him to stay strong even in the face of repeated rejection and the evident failure of his mission. God knew that there would be days when Ezekiel felt as if his task was ill-fated and his ministry was doomed to defeat. He would be tempted to throw in the towel and abandon his mission. That’s why God encouraged him to take time and meditate on the words he was about to deliver. He was to think long and hard about the content of God’s message long before he began to deliver it.

“Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” – Ezekiel 3:10-11 NLT

Ezekiel was to be more than just a conduit through which the words of God flowed. He had been commanded to ingest the words of God so that they might flow from his heart and not just his lips. It was essential that the messenger believe the words of the message and trust the One who had delivered it. God wanted Ezekiel to learn the truth found in Psalm 119.

I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. – Psalm 119:15-16 ESV

The Lord knew that Ezekiel would need endurance in the days ahead. The ministry to which he was being called would prove difficult and disheartening. His message would fall on deaf ears. His calls to repentance would be rejected. And the psalmist seemed to have presaged Ezekiel’s pending predicament.

My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. – Psalm 119:81-88 ESV

And, as if to provide Ezekiel with one more tangible form of encouragement, God allowed him to hear a thunderous proclamation from heaven.

“Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” – Ezekiel 3:12 ESV

The entire vision Ezekiel had been given the privilege of seeing had been a dramatic display of God’s glory, and now a voice from heaven confirmed it. And Ezekiel saw and heard the wings of the four living creatures flapping in unison and the wheels within wheels turning as the glory of God began to move. This was not a static scene in which Ezekiel could remain and worship the glory of God forever. He had a job to do. And the Spirit of God lifted Ezekiel up and took him away. The vision had ended but his mission had just begun, and Ezekiel expressed his dismay by stating, “I went in bitterness and turmoil” (Ezekiel 3:14a NLT). He was struggling with doubt and fear. The mission before him was overwhelming and he felt underqualified for the task. And yet, he declared, “the Lord’s hold on me was strong” (Ezekiel 3:14b NLT).

Ezekiel had received a commission from God Almighty, and while he wrestled with doubt and feelings of inadequacy, he could not resist the calling. He must obey. So, with the vision completed, Ezekiel returned to his mission field among the exiles from Judah. And for seven days, he continued to struggle with an overwhelming sense of fear and foreboding as he contemplated his new assignment. His life had been radically altered by God and he would no longer be able to enjoy the same relationship he had once had with his friends and neighbors. He had been set apart by God and his life would never be the same.

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

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

Flee From Fools

1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
    a curse that is causeless does not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
    and a rod for the back of fools.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
    cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,
    is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds the stone in the sling
    is one who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
    is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone
    is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit
    is a fool who repeats his folly.
12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
    There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
    so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
    it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
    than seven men who can answer sensibly..
– Proverbs 26:1-16 ESV

This collection of 28 verses contains a series of unflattering portraits of the fool that provide ample evidence that a fool should be avoided at all costs. Eleven times in the first 16 verses, the character of the fool is described through the use of a series of unlikely but very accurate comparisons.

This section of Proverbs has been called The Book of Fools because of its emphasis on this particular character trait. And it is interesting to note that this particular collection of proverbs was compiled by the sages who worked for King Hezekiah. He had commissioned these men to scour the royal archives to see if there might be any additional wise sayings that Solomon wrote or compiled. These admonitions or warnings concerning the fool were part of what they discovered.

It appears that they collated these various proverbs and organized them into a single unit for dramatic effect. And one of the primary main messages they seemed to be conveying was the folly of having a fool for a king. The opening line warns against elevating a fool to a place of honor.

Honor is no more associated with fools
    than snow with summer or rain with harvest. – Proverbs 26:1 NLT

“Honor” in this passage probably means respect, external recognition of worth, accolades, advancement to high position, etc. All of these would be out of place with a fool; so the sage is warning against elevating or acclaiming those who are worthless. – NET Bible Study Notes

Verse eight goes on to provide an apt illustration that reveals just how silly it is to honor a fool.

Honoring a fool
    is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot. – Proverbs 26:8 NLT

Such an act would be senseless and self-defeating. A sling with a stone tied to it would be rendered completely useless and of no value. And elevating a fool to a position of prominence or power would be equally ridiculous.

In the book of Proverbs, there  are at least five different Hebrew words that are translated as “fool.” In this chapter, the word is kecîyl, which means “fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one.”

Throughout Proverbs, this term is used to describe a particular brand of fool, an individual who has some strikingly dangerous qualities that should neither be ignored nor emulated.

• He rejects the discipline of parents or authorities
• They are determined to make the wrong choices
• He focuses on that which brings him immediate pleasure
• He does not have a mental deficiency but rejects the wisdom of God
• He glories in that of which he should be ashamed
• He is unreasonable
• His motives and methods are subtle
• He should be avoided at all costs

A fool is like an unbridled and untamed pack animal. He requires a heavy hand of discipline.

Guide a horse with a whip, a donkey with a bridle,
    and a fool with a rod to his back! – Proverbs 26:3 NLT

And verse two suggests that a fool, like a stubborn beast, will be quick to declare his displeasure at such discipline by uttering baseless curses that bear no weight.

Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,
    an undeserved curse will not land on its intended victim. – Proverbs 26:2 NLT

Words of anger and accusation will flow from the mouth of a fool who receives just punishment for his behavior. But those exclamations should be ignored and treated as what they are: The rantings of a fool.

In fact, verse four warns against getting into a verbal sparring match with a fool.

Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools,
    or you will become as foolish as they are. – Proverbs 26:4 NLT

Yet the very next verse seems to contain contradictory counsel.

Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
    or they will become wise in their own estimation. – Proverbs 26:5 NLT

But notice the difference. In verse four, the advice is warning against getting into a shouting match with a fool. It’s a dangerous thing to allow yourself to descend to the level of a fool, casting curses back and forth, and using foolish epitaphs in an attempt to score points in a senseless battle of dimwits.

Verse five suggests that fools must be answered with words of wisdom. They will prove defenseless against words of admonition that are based on logic and reason. And an unchallenged and uncorrected fool will only make the false assumption that he was right all along. His ego will become ever more inflated and his love affair with foolishness will remain unchecked.

These proverbs are remorseless in their assessment of the fool. They pull no punches and spare no amount of sarcasm and irony.

Trusting a fool to convey a message
    is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison!

A proverb in the mouth of a fool
    is as useless as a paralyzed leg. – Proverbs 26:6-7 NLT

Those are brutally harsh statements that leave little to the imagination. They certainly don’t portray foolishness as some kind of silly, childlike quality that is to be smiled at and taken lightly. Trusting a fool to convey an important message is compared to drinking poison or amputating your own foot. Those two shocking illustrations of self-harm are meant to get the reader’s attention. No one in their right mind would willingly drink poison or cut off a perfectly good limb. So, why would anyone risk a vital message by placing it in the hands of a person of questionable integrity?

In the mouth of a fool, even the helpful words of a wise saying become as useless as a paralyzed leg. They provide no one with any benefit, including the fool who speaks them. In fact, wise words in the mouth of a fool will only end up doing more harm than good.

A proverb in the mouth of a fool
    is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk. – Proverbs 26:9 NLT

And, according to Solomon, it would be foolish to hire a fool.

An employer who hires a fool or a bystander
    is like an archer who shoots at random. – Proverbs 26:10 NLT

Such an act would be senseless and wasteful. You might as well throw your money into a pit or set it on fire. A fool makes a bad king and a lousy employee because they can’t be trusted. They won’t come through. Instead, they will display a habit of doing the same foolish things over and over again.

As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so a fool repeats his foolishness. – Proverbs 26:11 NLT

Fools rarely change. The very things that made them “sick” in the first place will remain attractive, despite any pain or discomfort they might have caused. But to make matters worse, most fools fail to recognize their own foolishness. In fact, they are convinced of their own wisdom.

There is more hope for fools
    than for people who think they are wise. – Proverbs 26:12 NLT

A fool who knows he’s a fool might respond to correction. But a fool who thinks he’s wise will constantly reject the counsel of others because he doesn’t think he needs it.

Lazy people consider themselves smarter
    than seven wise counselors. – Proverbs 26:16 NLT

And to make matters worse, fools lack any kind of a work ethic. They’re inherently lazy. And they use their laziness as an excuse to avoid hard work.

The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion on the road!
    Yes, I’m sure there’s a lion out there!” – Proverbs 26:13 NLT

They come up with clever-sounding excuses to maintain their sedentary lifestyle.

As a door swings back and forth on its hinges,
    so the lazy person turns over in bed. – Proverbs 26:14 NLT

In a starkly satirical line, the fool is described as being so lazy that he can’t even muster up enough strength to feed himself.

Lazy people take food in their hand
    but don’t even lift it to their mouth. – Proverbs 26:15 NLT

A lazy, unteachable fool is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t make him a king and don’t hire him as an employee. But even more importantly, don’t become a fool yourself.

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

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

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

The Wisdom of Experience

1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
    and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
    and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
    and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
    when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
    in the assembled congregation.”

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
    and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. – Proverbs 5:1-23 ESV

This sounds like strange, if not hypocritical, advice coming from a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). It would appear that wise sayings weren’t the only things that Solomon made a habit of collecting. This king with the overactive libido had an eye for the ladies. So, it seems a bit disingenuous for Solomon to be giving his sons a lecture on avoiding the “forbidden woman.” How could he presume that he was the right man to give counsel not to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15 ESV).

Yet, Solomon was the perfect person to be passing on his life experiences to his as-yet-unmarried sons. He wasn’t simply spouting pious-sounding platitudes he had discovered along the way, but he was sharing the painful life lessons he had been forced to learn as a result of his own pride and stupidity. Verses 12-13 are actually Solomon’s personal testimony.

“How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.”

Solomon is offering up a painful confession. And yet, Solomon’s admission would not have been news to his boys. In fact, it is likely that, while they all shared Solomon as their father, they each had a different mother. They suffered from no delusions that their father was a one-woman man. Each knew that their dad had been less-than-faithful to their own mother. And the older they became and the more knowledge they gained about the Word of God, they would have known that their father’s actions were out of step with the will of God.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had made the decision to violate the command of God. His personal preferences and passions took precedence over God’s will. He would have been very familiar with God’s command concerning the kings of Israel.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon had decided that he knew best and he began to fill his home and his harem with beautiful women, collecting them like treasures to showcase his power and prestige.

But over in Proverbs 14:12 we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” That phrase “in the end” seems to pop up on a regular basis in the Proverbs. It refers to a day of accountability, not necessarily the day of the judgment of the Lord, but of a day of consequence. Every action has an outcome. Every path we take in life has a destination or an end. If a young man or woman chooses a life of immorality, it will have an outcome, and probably not the one they were expecting. Sin never does.

Solomon is speaking from experience when he states, “the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil – in the end she is as bitter as poison” (Proverbs 14:3-4 NLT). He knew what he was talking about and he wanted his sons to know that what appears to be tempting and tantalizing doesn’t always turn out quite as advertised.

One of the characteristics of foolishness or a lack of godly wisdom is the inability to foresee consequences. We are either oblivious to them or simple choose to ignore them. But more than likely, it is just a case of ignorance. A child touches a hot stove because they don’t know any better. They are ignorant of the consequences. But there comes a time in all of our lives when we become aware of the consequences of sin and still stubbornly continue to commit them. We think those consequences won’t apply to us. We refuse to consider “the end.” We choose to live in the pleasure of the moment, putting off any thought of the consequences, or simply refusing to believe there will be any negative ramifications for our actions. But to think that way is not only foolish, it’s deadly. We can end up losing everything – our honor, all we’ve achieved in life, the fruit of all our labor, the blessings of God, and the love and respect of those we once held dear. Like Solomon, we will find ourselves sadly looking back at our actions and saying, “How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace” (Proverbs 5:12-14 NLT).

In the end, you will have regrets because the path you chose had consequences. But nobody thinks about the potential consequences when facing the alluring temptation of sin – except the godly. But obviously, Solomon is an example of the godly man who took his eyes off the Lord and began to seek satisfaction and significance somewhere else. It began with the allure of the forbidden fruit of many wives, but it wasn’t long before that sin produced an even greater one: the worship of their false gods. Solomon’s lust for women turned into a loss of love for God.

Sin is so tempting, and it’s allure is real, making it a constant problem for men and women alike. And while Solomon wrote his proverbs a long time ago, some things never change. We still need to hear his words of wisdom and warning. He spends an entire Proverb warning his sons against the dangers of the immoral woman or prostitute. It was a problem then and it remains a problem today. Promiscuity is alive and well, and it may be even more acceptable today than ever before. The increase in casual sex and a growing comfortableness and complacency with sex outside the confines of marriage make this message particularly timely for our sex-saturated society. Solomon’s warning to his sons was necessary in his day and it is needed in ours as well. But it sounds so antiquated and puritanical! At least that’s what many in our society would say. But it is a warning against the lies of all temptations. Satan is the father of lies and the great deceiver. He loves to package his product in such a way that it hides the dangers within. He is the master of manipulation and deception, creating the allusion of pleasure, but all the while hiding the true consequences. The prostitute is a perfect illustration of his methodologies. She is attractive, flattering, enticing, and appeals to man’s basic instincts. She knows man’s weakness and aims right for it. The apostle John warned us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

That is Satan’s strategy. Everything he offers is designed to appeal to what we crave and desire, to fulfill our insatiable need for pleasure, and to satisfy our hunger for significance. A prostitute goes out of her way to make her “client” feel wanted, important, and significant. She offers to provide him with physical and emotional pleasure and to satisfy all his needs. But in the end, “her feet go down to death.” Like all sin, the consequences are dangerous and deadly. It never delivers as promised. It is the ultimate in false advertising, yet we fall prey to it each and every day in so many ways. We take the bait and suffer the consequences of broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, destroyed reputations, and shattered lives.

So what’s the solution? Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment. Solomon warns his sons in graphic detail of the dangers facing them. He doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore it. He paints a vivid and compelling picture of the dangers of sin. He talks openly about the consequences. He wanted them to know the truth and he was willing for his sons to learn from his own mistakes.

Our congregations need to hear the truth. The enemy is filling their minds with lies day after day, and he has more resources available than ever before. The media provides him with a constant venue for propagating his lies and distributing his message of falsehood. We need to speak truth. We need to share the wisdom of God’s Word. We need to promote the non-negotiable requirement of living according to God’s way – unapologetically and boldly. The dangers are real. The consequences are devastating. Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment are needed more than ever before.

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

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

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

 

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