Without God, Even the Wise Become Fools

1 Who is like the wise?
    And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
    and the hardness of his face is changed.

I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 ESV

It shouldn’t be surprising that Solomon has a lot to say about the topic of wisdom. After all, he was known as the wisest man who ever lived. In the early days of his reign, when given an opportunity by God to ask of Him whatever he wished, Solomon had asked for an “understanding heart” so he could govern the people of Israel well. And God responded, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT).

And God followed through on His commitment, blessing Solomon with unsurpassed wisdom. When the queen of the nation of Sheba (modern-day Ethiopia) made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and wealth

When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. – 1 Kings 10:2-5 NLT

But like everything else in his life, wisdom became an obsession for Solomon. Seemingly unsatisfied with what he had been given by God, he constantly attempted to increase his wisdom through self-effort. He wrote and collected wise proverbial sayings and put them in a book. In this book, known as The Proverbs of Solomon, he personifies wisdom as a woman calling out from the streets, attempting to get the attention of those who pass her by.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise. – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

But despite wisdom’s generous offer of wisdom for all, her calls remained ignored by the simpletons, mockers, and fools. They rejected her advice and shunned her correction. Nobody wanted what she had to offer. And as a result, they were left in their ignorance and complacency. The time would come when wisdom was needed, but they would find it unavailable.

For Solomon, wisdom was a commodity worth pursuing. He even explained his purpose for writing his book of proverbs by stating:

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young. – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

Wisdom became one of many obsessions for Solomon. He pursued it with a vengeance, and never seemed to think he had enough of it. It seems that he often forgot his own advice, failing to remember that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The pursuit of wisdom without a healthy fear and worship of God is a futile effort. But too often, we make wisdom the focus of our attention, not God.

Yet, Solomon knew the benefits of wisdom. He had experienced them firsthand, and this is why he could sing the praises of a life of wisdom.

How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness. – Ecclesiastes 8:1 NLT

In the verses that follow, Solomon provides his readers a number of examples of what wisdom looks like in real life. But notice that they all have to do with their allegiance to the king. In other words, their faithful service to him.

He starts out with a not-so-subtle admonition to “Keep the king’s command.” This is the king telling his own people that if they’re wise, they’ll obey him. Sounds more like a threat than a recommendation for wise living. While there is a degree of truth and wisdom in what Solomon says, it can’t help but come across as a bit self-serving.

If someone is an official servant of the king and has taken an oath to faithfully serve him, it makes perfect sense for them to follow through with their commitment. It would be unwise for them to shirk their duty or to join in a plot to overthrow the king. But Solomon’s words are not specifically directed at members of the royal household or administrative staff. It would be foolish for anyone, whether they were a civil servant or civilian, to question the decisions of the king, because his word is final, and he has the power to enforce whatever he has commanded.

If you obey the king, you won’t have to worry about being punished. The wise person knows when to speak up and when to shut up. He understands that there’s a time and a place for everything, even when facing trouble. And it’s our inability to control our words during times of difficulty that can get us in hot water, especially if it involves the king.  Without the benefit of wisdom, a person can say things they end up regretting. They run the risk of expressing thoughts that haven’t been thought through fully. And hasty words spoken in the presence of the king can expose foolishness and risk deadly consequences. This thought is reminiscent of something Solomon wrote earlier.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV

The apostle Paul shared a similar word of counsel in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6 NLT

From Solomon’s royal perspective, it made sense not to question the wishes of a king. Of course, since he was the king, it’s easy to see why he felt this way. In his role as king, he had probably heard more than one citizen of his kingdom say, “What are you doing?” And he most likely found the tone of that question offensive and its timing unwise. No one likes to have his wisdom and authority questioned, especially the king. And Solomon appears to have viewed his authority as supreme, almost all-knowing in nature.

He states that the one who questions the king “does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7 ESV). This individual has no control over anything, including their day of death. Nobody can hold on to their spirit when the time comes for it to depart. Nobody can get out of their obligation to serve when conscripted for battle. They simply have to go. They must do their duty. And the one who chooses a life of evil will find himself hopelessly stuck, experiencing the inevitable consequences of his decision.

There is a certain sense of fate in Solomon’s words. You can’t know the future, so you have no control over it, and this brings us back to Solomon’s earlier admonition: Keep the king’s command.

But how are we to take what Solomon says and apply it to our daily lives? It is essential to read the book of Ecclesiastes with an understanding of the state of affairs in Solomon’s life at the time of its writing. He was an old man, having served as king of Israel for a long period of time. But he had not finished well. His kingdom was marred by idolatry. He had repeatedly disobeyed God, marrying more than 700 different women and amassing a harem of 300 concubines. And he had eventually adopted their false gods, an act of blatant unfaithfulness to Yahweh. And his unfaithfulness would ultimately force God to rip the kingdom from his hands and divide it in two.

Solomon was still a wise man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, but it is safe to say that he no longer feared God as he once had. His wisdom had been marred by sin. His perspective had been skewed by his pessimistic take on life.

There is a lot of truth in the words that Solomon writes, but we must carefully search for and remove the hidden gems from the muck and mire of Solomon’s sin-distorted viewpoint. Wisdom is a good thing. Remaining faithful in your service to the king is solid and sound advice. But the one thing that is missing is a recommendation to fear the Lord.

To his credit, Solomon weaves that message into the verses that follow. But it seems that Solomon struggled with maintaining the vital connection between wisdom and the fear of God. At times, wisdom became a stand-alone for him. He operated by the misguided philosophy: More is better. There were occasions when he seemed to sincerely believe that wisdom was all you needed. But wisdom without a fear of God is useless. It too will prove futile and meaningless. It is our fear and reverence for God that gives wisdom its power. Knowing right from wrong, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness begins with knowing and revering God. Being able to make good decisions stems from a solid understanding of who God is and what He expects of us. When we live to please God, we make wise decisions. When we live to please ourselves, we end up living like fools and, as Solomon so graphically put it, eating our own flesh. In our effort to make it all about ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves.

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.

Compromise and the Loss of Conviction

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:10-17 ESV

As verses 1-9 revealed, Israel had a leadership problem. Its priests were not living up to their role as the nation’s God-appointed shepherds. They were defiling the sacrificial system by offering unacceptable animals and, therefore, robbing the people of the atonement for sin they so desperately needed. On top of that, they had neglected their God-given responsibility to accurately teach the Mosaic Law to the people. They had twisted God’s words and taken liberties with God’s law, causing the people to stumble because of their deceptive instruction.

Through their immoral and unethical behavior, these unreliable leaders had caused irreparable damage to the nation. And now, Malachi turns his attention to the remnant of Israel who had returned to the land of promise but who were not living up to the covenant commitments God had established for them. In these verses, Malachi becomes the spokesperson, addressing his fellow citizens as brothers and sisters.

Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? – Malachi 2:10 NLT

Malachi was the prophet or messenger of God but, evidently, he was also a member of the tribe of Judah and part of the local community there in Jerusalem. He had a right to address his fellow citizens and remind them of their covenant commitment to God and one another. What he had witnessed taking place in the capital city was shocking and unacceptable to him. The people of Israel were not only turning away from God, but they were turning on one another. And he sums up their actions in one verse.

Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. – Malachi 2:11 NLT

They were guilty of idolatry and adultery, and both sins were examples of unfaithfulness. Centuries earlier, when the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan for the first time, God had warned them about intermarrying with the nations that occupied the land.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

But the people of Israel had failed to honor God’s ban on intermarriage. Almost as soon as they entered the land, they began to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. They had hoped that these marriage alliances would lead to peace with their enemies but instead, their actions led to a mingling of their religions and a growing compromise of their allegiance to Yahweh. And now, centuries later, the people were back in the land and still attempting to win over their enemies by intermarrying with them. But these marriages of convenience resulted in spiritual compromise and led to further unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Israel.

Evidently, Israelite men were committing adultery by abandoning their Hebrew wives and marrying foreign women. In doing so, they were willingly breaking the marriage vows they had made before God, and Malachi calls them out for it.

…you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. – Malachi 2:14 NLT

Through it all, their wives had remained faithful and unwilling to give up on their marriage. But these faithless men had been driven by their desires, not the will of God. And then they wondered why God was not accepting their offerings or answering their prayers. They had broken their marriage vows and violated God’s commands but still expected His blessings.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” – Malachi 2:13-14 NLT

They were guilty of double unfaithfulness. Not only had they left their wives for foreign women and taken on the false religions of their new spouses, but they were attempting to worship Yahweh and idols at the same time. They dared to enter His temple and present offerings as if they were faithful followers who loved and adored Him alone.

This was a serious problem during the days of Malachi. Ezra, one of his contemporaries and a leader of the nation of Israel after their return to Canaan, had been informed just how blatant and widespread this problem was.

“Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” – Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

Don’t miss that last line. It would appear that even the priests of Israel were guilty of this crime against God. They were leading the way in adultery and even idolatry. And yet, Ezra had recognized the extent of the problem and the need for the people to repent.

“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.” – Ezra 9:13-15 NLT

But evidently, the people had not joined Ezra in his call for repentance. This led Malachi to point out the ongoing problem of adultery and idolatry that still plagued the land of Judah. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. They were living according to their own passions and pleasures and refusing to obey the commands of God. That led Malachi to remind them of their covenant commitment and God’s non-negotiable requirements regarding marriage and divorce.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. – Malachi 2:15-16 NLT

The actions of the people of Israel stand in stark contrast to the faithfulness of God as displayed in His unwavering commitment to their wellbeing. Despite all they had done to betray and abuse His love, He had remained committed to His covenant promises. Yes, He had punished them for their sins against Him, but He had also shown them undeserved mercy and grace by returning them to the land of promise so that they could restore their relationship with Him and display their renewed commitment to Him. But this was how they had repaid Him for His love.

In verse 17, Malachi gets to the heart of the matter. Not only were the people displaying unfaithfulness to one another and to God, but they were justifying their actions as good.

You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. – Malachi 2:17 NLT

God was angered by their blatant displays of unfaithfulness but also by their self-righteous justification of their behavior. They were actually trying to claim that their behavior was in keeping with God’s will. Through some inexplicable leap of logic, they had convinced themselves that God was pleased with their actions. Because they had not experienced any direct consequences for their sins, they assumed that God must have approved of their behavior. But Malachi assured them that God was “wearied” by their in-your-face display of disobedience and disrespect.

Their moral compromises had led to a loss of conviction. They were no longer able to discern right from wrong. And since God seemed to have remained silent about their behavior, they regarded his silence as approval. In doing so, they questioned the very nature of God’s justice. To a certain degree, the people had begun to question the very presence of God. While they had successfully returned to the land and completed the building of the walls, the construction of the temple, and the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, they were having a difficult time seeing the hand of God. From their perspective, there had been no supernatural display of His glory. Their return to the land had required a lot of hard work and they had little to show for all their efforts. They still had no king, no army, and found themselves surrounded by nations much larger and more powerful than themselves. So, they had taken matters into their own hands by intermarrying with their enemies and accomodating themselves to their worship of their false gods. And, since God had not struck them down, they assumed their decisions had His blessings. But they were about to discover just how wrong their assumptions really were.

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.

Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“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 holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

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.

Unrequited Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek the Lord and Live

1 Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:

“Fallen, no more to rise,
    is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
    with none to raise her up.”

For thus says the Lord God:

“The city that went out a thousand
    shall have a hundred left,
and that which went out a hundred
    shall have ten left
    to the house of Israel.”

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
    but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Seek the Lord and live,
    lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
    and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
O you who turn justice to wormwood
    and cast down righteousness to the earth!

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    and turns deep darkness into the morning
    and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name;
who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
    so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,
    and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
    and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
    but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions
    and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
    and turn aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,
    for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

“In all the squares there shall be wailing,
    and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning
    and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation,
17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing,
    for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord. Amos 5:1-17 ESV

Amos opens up chapter five with an announcement of Israel’s pending demise and invites them to listen to their own funeral song. Not exactly a happy thought. The Hebrew word translated as “lamentation” is qînâ (kee-naw) and it refers to a dirge or elegy sung to commemorate and mourn someone’s death. And the words of this funeral dirge contain equal amounts of sorrow and sarcasm. Amos describes Israel as a virgin who “has fallen, never to rise again! She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up” (Amos 5:2 NLT).

This somber-sounding song was meant to convey a sense of scornful derision. The sad reality was that Israel was anything but virginal, and everyone knew it. They had spiritually prostituted themselves with every false god imaginable. Their track record of apostasy and spiritual adultery was well-documented. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, had some strong words concerning their ongoing unfaithfulness to God.

“Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things. Do not join the false worship at Gilgal or Beth-aven, and do not take oaths there in the LORD’s name.” – Hosea 4:15 NLT

But their penchant for adultery was more than spiritual in nature. Their abandonment of God had created an atmosphere where immoral and unethical behavior ran rampant. And Hosea records God’s indictment of their wickedness.

“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
    no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another.” – Amos 4:1-2 NLT

And Amos lets them know that the day is coming when they will pay for their sins. They will fall, never to rise again. Their destruction will be full and final, with no one coming come to their aid, including God.

Israel will find itself at war, but rather than experiencing victory over their enemies, they will see their army defeated and decimated. For every 1,000 soldiers who go into battle, only 100 will survive. Only one out of 100 soldiers will survive the battlefield or escape being taken captive by the enemy. No nation can experience those kinds of catastrophic losses and hope to survive.

But despite the gloomy pronouncement of coming judgment, there was cause for hope. While the nation of Israel could not avoid the coming destruction, the people of Israel could choose to seek God. Three separate times, God invites His adulterous people to return to Him so that they might live.

“Seek me and live…” – Vs 4

Seek the Lord and live…” – Vs 6

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…” – Vs 14

The Hebrew word dāraš conveys the idea of seeking something with great care and diligence. Rather than seeking help from their false gods, they are to seek the one true God. Like a loving husband, God is inviting His unfaithful and adulterous bride to return to Him. The entire book of Hosea provides a powerful illustration of this uncompromising love of God for His wayward people. At the very beginning of the book, Hosea is given a difficult assignment from God.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” – Hosea 1:2 NLT

And Hosea did just as the Lord had commanded, marrying a woman named Gomer. And, like the people of Israel, Gomer proved to be unfaithful to her marriage commitment to Hosea. She bore him three children but continued to pursue other lovers. And God would use Gomer as a visual illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. At one point, He would declare an end to His patience and demand to see a change of heart among His people.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband.
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.” – Hosea 2:2 NLT

God will reach the point when He says, “Enough is enough” and exposes the stubborn refusal of His bride to seek Him and Him alone.

“I will not love her children,
    for they were conceived in prostitution.
Their mother is a shameless prostitute
    and became pregnant in a shameful way.
She said, ‘I’ll run after other lovers
    and sell myself to them for food and water,
for clothing of wool and linen,
    and for olive oil and drinks.’” – Hosea 2:4-5 NLT

But God longs to see His people return. He begs them to seek Him so that they might live. Rather than continue their adulterous affairs with the false gods located in Bethel,
Gilgal, and Beersheba, they were to pursue a restored relationship with Yahweh. But God was looking for a change of heart, not just an alteration in their behavior. Their seeking of Him was going to require an abandonment of their other “lovers” – once and for all. Otherwise, God would be forced to cut them off.

“Come back to the Lord and live!
Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire,
    devouring you completely.” – Amos 5:6 NLT

God could not and would not tolerate their ongoing unfaithfulness. And when His judgment came, their false gods would prove powerless to help them. They would be no match for God Almighty. The same God who created the universe, hung the stars in the sky, and formed the oceans, and sent the rain to water the land, would bring His power to bear on the sins of Israel. And there would be nothing they could do to stop Him. Except “Do what is good and run from evil” (Amos 5:14 NLT). He told them to “Hate evil and love what is good” and “turn your courts into true halls of justice” (Amos 5:15 NLT).

God was looking for heart transformation that showed up in behavior modification. They were guilty of all kinds of injustice and immorality. They took advantage of the poor. They despised the truth and promoted an atmosphere where dishonesty and deceit were encouraged and rewarded. But all that was going to have to change. God demanded that they “Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live!” ( Amos 5:14 NLT). 

If they wanted God’s help, they were going to have to show that they were serious about seeking Him. No lip-service. No feigned faithfulness. It was not too late, but they were going to have to be serious about pursuing God and abandoning their old ways of living. And, if they did, a remnant of them just might experience the grace and mercy of God.

“Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies
    will have mercy on the remnant of his people.” – Amos 5:15 NLT

Otherwise, they could expect the worst.

“There will be crying in all the public squares
    and mourning in every street.
Call for the farmers to weep with you,
    and summon professional mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in every vineyard,
    for I will destroy them all,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 5:16-17 NLT

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

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

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

Love God. Love Others.

Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod
    and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,
    and see the great tumults within her,
    and the oppressed in her midst.”
10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
    “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”

11 Therefore thus says the Lord God:

“An adversary shall surround the land
    and bring down your defenses from you,
    and your strongholds shall be plundered.”

12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,”
    declares the Lord God, the God of hosts,
14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions,
    I will punish the altars of Bethel,
and the horns of the altar shall be cut off
    and fall to the ground.
15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house,
    and the houses of ivory shall perish,
and the great houses shall come to an end,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 3:9-15 ESV

God calls on two of the foreign nations that surrounded Israel to act as witnesses to against her. He sends out an invitation to Philistia and Egypt, inviting them to gather on the hills surrounding Samaria and observe all the injustice and violence taking place within the walls of the capital city of Israel. God declares that the people of Israel no longer know how to do what is right. In Hebrew, the word that is translated as “right” is nᵊḵōḥâ, and it has to do with uprightness, integrity, or doing the right thing. Interestingly enough, it derives from another Hebrew word, nēḵaḥ, which means, “in the sight of” or “in front of.” In other words, the kind of “right” behavior they had forgotten how to do was to have been on display before others but, more importantly, before God. They had forgotten how to do what was right in God’s eyes.

Unlike the Philistines and Egyptians, who did not have the law of God, the Israelites had conveniently forgotten all that God had commanded them to do. Through the Mosaic Law, He had provided them with a very clear description of what upright behavior should look like. So, they had no excuse.

Amos mentions the acts of oppression, violence, and robbery taking place inside the walls of Samaria. These are the people of God acting in ways that are in direct violation of the law of God. Later on in his book, Amos will go into great detail describing the many acts of oppression and injustice committed by God’s chosen people – against one another.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. – Amos 5:11 NLT

You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:12 NLT

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. – Amos 8:4-6 NLT

The people of Israel had become callous and hard-hearted. They were driven by their base desires and more interested in comfort and convenience than showing compassion to one another. The rich preyed off the poor. The haves took advantage of the have-nots. Dishonesty and deception were the order of the day. And even the Philistines and Egyptians would be appalled at the unrighteous behavior of the Israelites. Even by pagan standards, the Israelites were immoral and wicked people.

Somehow, they had forgotten the words of God: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT). And centuries later, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment given by God, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

According to Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor were equal and inseparable commands. You can’t have one without the other. And the apostle John would pick up on this theme in his first epistle he wrote to believers living in the first century.

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:11 ESV

…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:10 ESV

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? – 1 John 3:17 NLT

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

To both Jesus and John, love of others was a non-negotiable requirement for those who claimed to be children of God. To declare your love for God while denying love to your brothers and sisters was not only unacceptable but illogical. And John makes that point painfully clear: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Yet the people of Israel were guilty of doing just that. And, as a result, God declared that He was going to judge them for their disobedience to His law. By failing to love one another, they were declaring their lack of love for Him. Their idolatry had transformed them into lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

The behavior of the Israelites was unacceptable to God. It violated every one of His commands concerning the righteous conduct that should have identified them as His chosen people. And centuries later, the apostle Paul would warn his young protégé, Timothy, about self-professing God followers who display this same hypocritical behavior.

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

God will not tolerate this kind of behavior among those who claim to be His children. So, He warned the Israelites that their actions would have consequences.

Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:11 NLT

Those who were practicing injustice would suffer the just and righteous judgment of God. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the poor would find themselves being plundered and left to live in abject poverty. Their failure to love God and love one another was going to cost them dearly. And Amos paints a rather bleak picture of the aftermath of God’s coming destruction.

“A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth
    will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear.
So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds,
    and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” – Amos 3:12 NLT

By the time God is done with them, there won’t be much left. Yahweh, the “roaring lion” of verse 4, will decimate the people of Israel, leaving only a small ragtag remnant living in the land. The rest will end up as captives in Assyria. The wealthy and well-to-do of Israel would find that the tables had turned.  The oppressors would become the oppressed. The privileged would end up as prisoners. The fat and happy would find themselves facing starvation and deep despondency.

And God makes a direct connection between their future suffering and their present sin. The fate they are about to endure will be the direct consequences of their idolatry, apostasy, and unfaithfulness. He warns them, “I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy—their winter mansions and their summer houses, too—all their palaces filled with ivory” (Amos 3:15 NLT). But He makes sure they understand that their loss will be the result of their ungodly behavior, and it all ties back to their decision to forsake Him as the one true God.

“On the very day I punish Israel for its sins,
    I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel.
The horns of the altar will be cut off
    and fall to the ground…” – Amos 3:14 NLT

God takes them back to the days when the northern kingdom of Israel began. After Solomon had ended his long reign by abandoning Yahweh for the false gods of his many foreign wives, God split his kingdom in two. The ten northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel, ruled over by Jeroboam. And this first king of the northern tribes began his reign by erecting golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel, then telling his people, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV). Those altars to Jeroboam’s false gods remained in Israel for generations. And the spirit of idolatry and apostasy that Jeroboam introduced into Israel had plagued the nation for hundreds of years. Now, God was going to do what the kings of Israel should have done years earlier. He would destroy the pagan altars and eliminate the false gods that had turned the hearts of the people away from Him.

In essence, God was going to make sure that all the idols were removed in Israel. That’s why he mentions the altars at Bethel, but also the “houses of ivory.” The people of Israel were guilty of worshiping their false gods, but they were also guilty of worshiping materialism, ease, comfort, and success. They had made gods out of their possessions. They had found comfort and significance in their social standing and all their status symbols of success. But all that was about to change.

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

Family Matters

11 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
    and he kept his wrath forever.
12 So I will send a fire upon Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.” Amos 1:11-12 ESV

Amos now shifts his attention from the Phoenician coastline to the nation of Edom, located at the far southeastern corner of the land of Canaan. But this will prove to be far more than just a change in geographic location. Amos’ decrees of divine judgment are beginning to narrow in on the people of God. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, making them close relatives of the Israelites.

But these two people groups had a love-hate relationship that began hundreds of years earlier. When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been unable to bear him any children, he took the matter to God, pleading with Yahweh on her behalf.

The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins.  But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. – Genesis 25:21-22 NLT

And God graciously responded to Rebekah, informing her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

As divine providence would have it, when the two boys were born, Esau was the first to exit the womb, making him the legal firstborn. Yet, as the story goes, the day came when Esau willingly traded his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. Driven by his physical appetites, Jacob treated his birthright with disdain and agreed to this ridiculously lopsided arrangement.

Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn. – Genesis 25:33-34 NLT

By essentially “selling” his birthright, Esau was forfeiting his rightful role as the next chief of the tribe and head of the family. At that moment, his present physical needs far outweighed any future promise of power and responsibility. And Esau would continue to live his life driven by his physical appetites. Eventually, he would disobey and disappoint his parents by choosing two wives from among the Hittites. These two women “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). But Esau would be in for a bitter shock of his own. Years later, as Isaac neared death, he called for Esau and made him a promise.

“Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” – Genesis 27:4 NLT

But Rebekah overheard this conversation and devised a plan by which Jacob would deceive his nearly blind father by disguising himself as his Esau and stealing the birthright. Their plan worked and Isaac unwittingly passed on the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

It seems unclear whether Isaac and Rebekah were aware of the stew-for-birthright trade made between the two brothers. That arrangement may have never been divulged by either Esau or Jacob. But by having sold his birthright, Esau had given up his right to inherit his father’s estate. He would not enjoy “head of household” status at the death of Isaac. Yet, despite his earlier show of contempt for his birthright, Esau still expected to receive the blessing of the firstborn. And when he found out that Jacob had tricked Isaac and stolen the blessing of the firstborn, he was furious. He demanded that Isaac bless him, but his cries were met with a disappointing response from his father.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

Eventually, Isaac would pronounce a blessing on Esau, but it would far from encouraging or aspirational.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

It is easy to understand the animosity that Esau held for his brother, Jacob. He even thought seriously about killing him. But eventually, the wound between them was healed. Esau would later settle in the hill country of Seir or Edom (Joshua 24:4). And when the Israelites eventually made their way to the promised land, they had to pass through Edom. God warned Moses and the Israelites to treat the Edomites as brothers.

“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. – Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV

Yet, over the years, the Edomites would become a constant source of irritation for the Israelites. During the reign of King Saul, there were many battles fought between these two nations. King David would eventually subjugate them, but they remained enemies and not allies. And Amos reveals that God will not let the Edomites go unpunished for their mistreatment of their Israelite brothers.

“They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords,
    showing them no mercy.
In their rage, they slashed them continually
    and were unrelenting in their anger.– Amos 1:11 NLT

While Jacob and Esau had resolved their conflict, the animosity over the birthright and the blessing appears to have remained unabated and manifested itself in the lives of their descendants. As Isaac had predicted, the Edomites ended up serving the Israelites. The descendants of Jacob became the masters of their brothers. And it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Isaac.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

Despite the deceit employed by Jacob and Rebekah and the contempt displayed by Esau, this had all been according to the will of God. The apostle Paul comments on this matter in his letter to the Romans.

When he [Isaac] married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:10-13 NLT

God had sovereignly chosen Jacob over Esau, and the older had ended up serving the younger. But, as always, there was resistance to the will of God. The Edomites would end up resenting the Israelites. And their ongoing efforts to make life miserable for their relatives would earn them the anger and judgment of God. Through His prophet, Amos, God decreed the nature of His divine retribution for their transgressions.

“So I will send down fire on Teman,
    and the fortresses of Bozrah will be destroyed.” – Amos 1:12 NLT

Underlying Edom’s sin was a heart of pride and arrogance. They had become full of themselves. And God delivered a stinging indictment against them through another one of His prophets.

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 2-4 NLT

The Edomites were boastful and proud. They had become arrogant and even apostate, choosing to worship false gods rather than serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God would punish them for the many transgressions.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 10-11 NLT

Despite being descendants of Isaac, the Edomites were seen by God as little more than godless foreigners. Just as Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, the Edomites had sold their birthright as children of Abraham by compromising with the pagan culture of Canaan. So, God warned them that their future would be filled with curses and not blessings.

“The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15 NLT

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

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

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

God of the Nations

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.”

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:2-5 ESV

Amos received his commission from God at a time when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were both enjoying remarkable peace and prosperity. In the south, King Uzziah had led the nation of Judah in a series of successful battles against the Philistines, their neighbor to the west. These military victories allowed him to expand Judah’s borders into former Philistine territory. His greatly expanded army even made against the Egyptians and Arabians, earning Judah a growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the region. According to 2 Chronicles 26:8, “his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong.” The Ammonites, located for to the east, recognized Judah’s growing influence and formed an alliance with them, paying a yearly tribute to King Uzziah.

To the north, Israel was also enjoying a period of expansion, under the leadership of King Jeroboam II. He proved to be a particularly evil king who continued the track record of idolatrous behavior that his predecessors established. In fact, he was named after Jeroboam, the man whom God had made the first king of Israel after He divided Solomon’s kingdom. Jeroboam had been the one to inaugurate Israel’s period of idolatry and apostasy by establishing his own religion, complete with false gods and its own priesthood. His namesake would follow in his footsteps, further enhancing Israel’s reputation for rebellion and unfaithfulness. Yet, despite all this, God allowed Jeroboam II to greatly expand Israel’s borders.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

Unwilling to allow Israel to be destroyed, God sent the prophet Jonah to guide its wicked and rebellious king. With the help of Jonah’s prophetic counsel, Jeroboam II was able to secure victories over Israel’s enemies and restore its borders to where they had been during the glory days of King Solomon. This godless king became an instrument in Yahweh’s hand to accomplish His sovereign will for the nation of Israel.

…the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

With all this as a backdrop, we can begin to look at the opening lines of Amos’ divinely inspired oracle. In verse 2 he clearly states that his message is from God.

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.” – Amos 1:2 ESV

In the midst of all the success taking place in Israel, God is about to deliver a much-needed message of judgment against His covenant people. And this shepherd from Tekoa wants his audience to understand that what he is about to tell them is the word of God. He is speaking on behalf of Yahweh. And the tone of God’s message will be ferocious and fearful. The prophet Jeremiah also picked up on this imagery of God as a roaring lion, preparing to devour His helpless prey.

“The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold…” – Jeremiah 25:30 ESV

Even Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, provided a similar description of Yahweh as an apex predator, ready to destroy its unsuspecting victim.

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

Amos describes the sound of God’s voice as emanating from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was there that Solomon had built his grand temple and dedicated it to Yahweh, the God of Israel. But when Solomon’s kingdom was divided in two, the ten tribes to the north decided to build their own temples in Dan and Bethel, where they erected altars to the golden calves that Jeroboam had constructed. And at that time, he had instructed the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV).

Now, from the top of Mount Zion, where the temple was located, came the roar of God’s voice, declaring His judgment upon not only Israel and Judah but also the nations of the earth.

Beginning with Syrian, Amos delivers a series of stinging oracles against those nations that surround His covenant people. He will include Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.  His list begins with Syria, a foreign power that had played a significant role in Israel’s history. From there, Amos begins to list out the nations that encircle the covenant people of God. From Gaza in the land of the Philistines to the Phoenician city of Tyre, Amos provides a concentric circle of kingdoms that have interacted with God’s people over the centuries. And for each one of them, Amos has a specific message from Yahweh.

“The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes.” – McComiskey, Thomas Edward. “Amos.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Ultimately, Amos will spend the majority of his book addressing the rebellious people of Israel. But, in order to establish God’s sovereignty over all nations, Amos begins with Syria. And he opens up with what will become his favorite phrase:

For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…” – Amos 1:3 ESV

He will repeat this phrase eight different times, inserting the name of a different nation with each occurrence. And in each case, Amos provides no details concerning the nature of the four transgressions. His point seems to be that each of these nations stands before God as guilty and worthy of His condemnation and judgment. The mention of three transgressions is compounded by the addition of one more.

Amos originally penned his book for a Jewish audience and they would have recognized a pattern established in the book of Proverbs. On four separate occasions in the chapter 30, Solomon utilizes a similar “three-plus-four” pattern.

Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”  – Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV

Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin. – Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 ESV

Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him. – Proverbs 30:29-31 ESV

Based on this repetitive model, Amos’ Hebrew audience would have probably expected him to list the four transgressions. But he fails to do so. Instead, he provides rather generic descriptions of their crimes, focusing on what they had done to the people of Israel.

…they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron… – Amos 1:3 ESV

Syria, also known as Aram, had constantly invaded the region of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River. This area, also known as the Transjordan, had been settled by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. These three tribes, located outside the actual land of promise, were subject to regular raids by Syrian forces. Amos compares these unprovoked attacks to iron farming implements ripping through the land, leaving devastation in their wake. During the time when Jehu was king of Israel, God had used the Syrians to punish his disobedient people.

In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. – 2 Kings 10:32-33 ESV

But even though God had sovereignly ordained Hazael’s successful forays into Israelite territory, He would also hold Hazael responsible.

I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. – Amos 1:4 ESV

Throughout these eight oracles, Amos will accentuate God’s sovereign control over the nations. But he will also emphasize their collective guilt. They are not innocent parties or lifeless puppets animated by the hand of God. Each of these nations is responsible for its actions. God was not forcing them to act against their will but was simply directing their natural dispositions to accomplish His sovereign plan. As Solomon records in the book of Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). Hazael had plans to invade and conquer the Transjordan territories of Israel, but God used this pagan king’s selfish aspirations to accomplish His greater purpose. And Amos wanted the people of Israel to know that God would hold each and every nation accountable for their individual transgressions.

And, as far as Syria was concerned, God had plans in store for them that would fully repay them for their crimes.

“I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir…” – Amos 1:5 ESV

Amos was trying to assure his Hebrew audience that Yahweh, whom they had forsaken, was still in full control. He was still on His throne and was ruler over all the nations of the earth. And if God was ready, willing, and able to hold the Syrians accountable for their sins, He was more than prepared to judge the Israelites for their many transgressions.

These oracles of Amos were not just hyperbole. He was not spouting spiritual-sounding rhetoric that was all bark and no bite. What he decreed would actually take place. And, in the case of Syria, his predictions were ultimately fulfilled.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 17:7-89 ESV

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

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

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

Like Father, Like Son

1 In the second year of Joash the son of Joahaz, king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddin of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not like David his father. He did in all things as Joash his father had done. But the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And as soon as the royal power was firmly in his hand, he struck down his servants who had struck down the king his father. But he did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”

He struck down ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm, and called it Joktheel, which is its name to this day.

Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, “Come, let us look one another in the face.” And Jehoash king of Israel sent word to Amaziah king of Judah, “A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife,’ and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle. 10 You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”

11 But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. 12 And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home. 13 And Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh, and came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate. 14 And he seized all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house, also hostages, and he returned to Samaria.

15 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoash that he did, and his might, and how he fought with Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 16 And Jehoash slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel, and Jeroboam his son reigned in his place.

17 Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, lived fifteen years after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel. 18 Now the rest of the deeds of Amaziah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 19 And they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there. 20 And they brought him on horses; and he was buried in Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David. 21 And all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. 22 He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers. 2 Kings 14:1-22 ESV

When King Jehoash of Judah was assassinated by two of his own servants, his son Amaziah ascended to the throne. He was only 25-years-old when he assumed leadership over the nation of Judah, and one of his first official acts as king was to avenge his father’s death by executing the guilty parties. But Amaziah showed self-restraint and an appreciation for the Mosaic law, by refusing to seek revenge against the families of those who had perpetrated this crime. He could have used his power to wipe out every last descendant of his father’s assassins, but he would have been in clear violation of the law God had given to Moses and the people of Israel.

Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. – Deuteronomy 24:16 ESV

His knowledge of the law and his willingness to adhere to it was a good sign and an indication of his desire to follow the will of Yahweh. But it would soon become evident that his dedication to God was impartial and incomplete.

Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but not like his ancestor David. Instead, he followed the example of his father, Joash. – 2 Kings 14:3 NLT

Amaziah was his father’s son. He tended to replicate Jehoash’s half-hearted commitment to Yahweh rather than the whole-hearted dedication of his ancestor David. It was said of his father, “All his life Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Yet, even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there” (2 Kings 12:2-3 NLT). As long as Jehoiada the priest remained alive, providing Jehoash with wise and godly counsel, the kind did well. But upon the priest’s death, Jehoash began to listen to the advice of his princes, who encouraged him to introduce idolatry to Judah. With his permission, they “decided to abandon the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! ” (2 Chronicles 24:18 NLT).

And when God ordered Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, to deliver a message to Jehoash condemning his actions, the king had him stoned to death. And it was this act that led to his death by assassination.

So, Amaziah tended to mimic his father’s leadership style. He displayed a desire to follow Yahweh but failed to make it a top priority of his administration.

Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but not wholeheartedly. – 2 Chronicles 25:2 NLT

At one point during his reign, Amaziah took a census in order to determine the strength of his fighting force. In those days, the nations didn’t always maintain a standing army but relied upon conscription. In the case of war, they would issue a draft that called upon all able-bodied men to come to the defense of their country. Amaziah’s census revealed that his army consisted of “300,000 select troops, twenty years old and older, all trained in the use of spear and shield” (2 Chronicles 25:5 NLT). Deeming this number to be insufficient, Amaziah ordered the hiring of “100,000 experienced fighting men from Israel” (2 Chronicles 25:6 NLT). He used his royal treasury to hire mercenaries. But God sent a prophet who warned him against trusting the Israelites.

“Your Majesty, do not hire troops from Israel, for the Lord is not with Israel. He will not help those people of Ephraim! If you let them go with your troops into battle, you will be defeated by the enemy no matter how well you fight. God will overthrow you, for he has the power to help you or to trip you up.”  – 2 Chronicles 25:7-8 NLT

And, unlike his father, Amaziah listened to the prophet’s advice and dismissed the Israelite troops. These men returned to Israel offended and infuriated by the king’s action. They would later seek their revenge by raiding and plundering towns belonging to Judah that lay along the border between their two countries. These raids resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Judean citizens. 

But meanwhile, Amaziah launched a campaign against the Edomites, who had revolted against Judean control in the region. His troops were successful, killing 10,000 Edomites in the initial battle, and then slaughtering an additional 10,000 captives by throwing them off a cliff.  This decisive victory led Amaziah to set his sights on Israel. He determined that with his army and God’s help, he could defeat the Israelites in battle. So, he sent word to King Jehoash of Israel, issuing him a challenge to meet on the field of battle.

But there was a problem. Amaziah didn’t have God on his side. In fact, his victory over the Edomites had actually angered God because Amaziah had made the fateful mistake of bringing back Edomite idols as part of the spoils of war.

When King Amaziah returned from slaughtering the Edomites, he brought with him idols taken from the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down in front of them, and offered sacrifices to them! This made the Lord very angry – 2 Chronicles 25:14-15 NLT

This prompted God to send another prophet with another word of warning to the king.

“Why do you turn to gods who could not even save their own people from you?” – 2 Chronicles 25:15 NLT

But this time, rather than heed the prophet’s warning, Amaziah threatened him.

“Since when have I made you the king’s counselor? Be quiet now before I have you killed!” – 2 Chronicles 25:16 NLT

The prophet, undeterred by the king’s threat, warned him that God would bring destruction upon Judah if he proceeded with his plans to do battle with Israel. But Amaziah rejected the word of the Lord, sending his challenge to King Jehoash of Israel. Even Jehoash tried to convince Amaziah that he had become a bit overconfident with his victory over the Edomites. By picking a fight with Israel, Amaziah was biting off far more than he could chew, and it would end in disaster for Judah. But Amaziah rejected the words of King Jehoash and sent his troops into battle against the Israelites. And the results were predictable.

Judah was routed by the army of Israel, and its army scattered and fled for home. King Jehoash of Israel captured Judah’s king, Amaziah son of Joash and grandson of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh. Then he marched to Jerusalem, where he demolished 600 feet of Jerusalem’s wall, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate. He carried off all the gold and silver and all the articles from the Temple of the Lord. He also seized the treasures from the royal palace, along with hostages, and then returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 14:12-14 NLT

This devastating and humiliating defeat was the handiwork of God. Amaziah’s decision to bring back idols from Edom and set them up in Jerusalem, reveals not only his unfaithfulness but his stupidity. After his defeat and capture, Amaziah must have heard the words of the prophet ringing in his ears: “Why do you turn to gods who could not even save their own people from you?”

He had bowed down to the false gods of Edom and, as a result, was punished severely by the one true God. Yet, even after this decisive defeat, Amaziah would go on to reign over Judah for an additional 15 years. But just as Amaziah had emulated his father’s life, he would end up replicating his death.

There was a conspiracy against Amaziah’s life in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But his enemies sent assassins after him, and they killed him there. They brought his body back to Jerusalem on a horse, and he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. – 2 Kings 14:19-20 NLT

His 29-year reign would end with his assassination. And 2 Chronicles seems to indicate that his death was a direct result of his unfaithfulness. There were those in Jerusalem who blamed the loss to the Israelites on Amaziah’s decision to forsake Yahweh, and they decided to take matters into their own hands.

After Amaziah turned away from the Lord, there was a conspiracy against his life in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 25:27 NLT

Amaziah was murdered, given a royal funeral, and then replaced by his 16-year-old son, Uzziah. And the saga continues.

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

 

Preserving and Protecting the Line of David

13 When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people. 14 And when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to the custom, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. And Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” 15 Then Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains who were set over the army, “Bring her out between the ranks, and put to death with the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest said, “Let her not be put to death in the house of the Lord.” 16 So they laid hands on her; and she went through the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was put to death.

17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people, and also between the king and the people. 18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the Lord. 19 And he took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. And he took his seat on the throne of the kings. 20 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house.

21 Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign. 2 Kings 11:13-21 ESV

For six years, Joash, the young heir to David’s throne, had lived in the temple of Yahweh – and right under Athaliah’s nose. The house of God proved to be the perfect hiding place for the young boy because it would have been the last place Athaliah would have ever looked. Like her parents, Ahab and Jezebel, she was a committed Baal worshiper. So, any chance of her running into Joash at the house of God would have been highly unlikely. In this story, the temple of the one true God plays a significant role. It is a reminder that, in Judah, Yahweh still played a major role in the lives of the people. While some of the kings of Judah had successfully introduced the worship of idols, the people had not abandoned Yahweh. The temple Solomon had built still stood, and the sacrificial system remained in place. Jehoiada and his fellow priests faithfully maintained God’s house and looked after the spiritual well-being of God’s people. And now, Jehoiada had provided sanctuary for God’s chosen king in the house that bore God’s name. And it must not be overlooked that the temple of God had direct ties all the way back to King David.

It had always been David’s dream to build a great temple in honor of Yahweh. But God informed David that He had other plans.

“And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 ESV

God went on to promise David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). God was going to build David’s house or dynasty.  But it would be David’s son, Solomon, whom God would give the privilege of constructing a house that would bear His name and in which His glory would dwell. And now, the house built by Solomon had become the means by which God fulfilled His promise to preserve the house of David. Joash, the descendant of David and the rightful heir to the throne of Judah, was alive because he had been given sanctuary and protection in the house of God.

When word got out that Joash was alive and that he had been crowned the king of Judah, the crowds flocked to the temple to see if the news was true. And it wasn’t long before Athaliah was told about the great commotion taking place at the temple of Yahweh. So, she went to see for herself.

Much to her shock and surprise, there stood her seven-year-old grandson, Joash, very much alive and well, and wearing a crown on his head. In a matter of seconds, Athaliah’s house of cards began to crumble. Her insidious plan to eradicate all the heirs to her son’s throne had failed. For six years she had lived under the delusion that she had successfully secured her place as the queen of Judah. But little did she know that God had been protecting and preserving the seed of David until he was ready to take the throne. And it must not be overlooked that when Jehoiada placed the crown on the head of Joash, he had also presented the young king with a copy of the Mosaic Law.

Jehoiada brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. – 2 Kings 11:12 NLT

This practice was in keeping with the commands of God concerning the kings of Israel.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

Athaliah, an ungodly and unauthorized queen, was standing before the God-appointed king of Judah. And this young man was backed by the law of God, the priests of God, and had the full support of the people of God. But declared the entire scene to be nothing less than an act of treason. She refused to acknowledge Joash as the rightful heir to the throne because she refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one and only God of Judah.

But her claims of treason were met with an order from Jehoiada the priest, commanding that she be taken from the temple and executed. She was the one who had been guilty of treason and so, she was the one who deserved to die.

With her death, a spirit of revival broke out in the land of Judah. Jehoiada immediately “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people” (2 Kings 11:17 NLT). In a sense, he called the people to repent and return to the worship of Yahweh. They had a new king but Jehoiada knew that it would mean nothing without a renewed commitment to God. Joash was just a seven-year-old boy with no leadership skills or experience. But if he and the people under his care would recommit themselves to the Word and the will of God, they would find themselves enjoying the blessings of God once again.

In a decisive demonstration of their renewed zeal for Yahweh, the people tore down the temple of Baal. Its very presence indicates that Athaliah and her ungodly relatives in Israel had played a major role in the declining spiritual state within Judah. The city of Jerusalem, home to the temple of God, also had a temple dedicated to Baal, the false god of Ahab and Jezebel. But in the revival-like atmosphere that accompanied Joash’s crowning, the people were moved to eradicate every last vestige of Baal worship from their midst.

They demolished the altars and smashed the idols to pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. – 2 Kings 11:18 NLT

With Athaliah and her false god out of the way, it was time for Joash to move from God’s house to David’s palace. So, Jehoiada led a processional from the temple to the royal residence, where “the king took his seat on the royal throne” (2 Kings 11:19 NLT). And at that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He had made to David.

Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God was committed to keeping His word because He had a far greater plan in store that would involve the line of David. His preservation of David’s house was crucial because there was to be one final descendant of David who would rule and reign, not just over Judah and Israel, but over all the kingdoms of the world. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this coming King and the day when He will bring salvation to the world.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

Joash had been protected so that David’s line could be preserved. Despite the unfaithfulness of His people, God was faithfully keeping His promise to David so that His plans for the future redemption of the world could be fulfilled in Christ.

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