Tuesday, 9 December 2014

(344) December 10: Hosea 1-4 & Jude 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was expressed.

To ponder:
God’s word came to Hosea from around 760-790BC during the time of the kings recorded in 2 Kings 15-20 (1v1). When first beginning to speak to him, God told Hosea to symbolise the people’s spiritual unfaithfulness by marrying an adulterous wife. This may mean someone known to have had sex before marriage, as this would have been considered adulterous. Alternatively, it may refer to the kind of women Gomer would be. Whatever the case, it means that Hosea’s children would therefore be somehow tainted by that as “children of unfaithfulness.” So when Gomer bore him a son, he was told to call him Jezreel as a prophetic announcement that God was soon going to punish the northern kings descended from Jehu for his massacre there (2 Kgs 9), and put an end to their kingdom (the exile by Assyria). The sense is that this exile would be the “child” of Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness (1v2-5). Likewise with Gomer’s next child – Lo-Ruhamah (meaning “not loved”), who symbolised that God would no longer show love and so forgiveness to the northern kingdom, but would love Judah (the south), saving them without military might (1v6-7, as 2 Kgs 19v35-37). Next was Lo-Ammi (“not my people”) signifying that the Israelites (the north) were no longer considered God’s people as they had been since the covenant of Sinai (1v8-9). This is serious indeed, implying they are totally abandoned. However, God immediately adds that, as was promised to Abraham (Gen 22v17), they will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore, eventually called “sons of the living God” and be united with Judah under one leader. The note they will come up out of the land may refer to them returning to Jerusalem from the exile. And so the “day of Jezreel” is one of hope, in which the punishment on the northern kingdom (1v4) is reversed. And so Hosea is told to address his fellow Israelites as brothers and sisters: “my people” and “my loved one,” reversing the sense of the other two names too (2v1). This all points to how the descendents of the scattered northern kingdom would eventually join those from the south in putting their faith in Jesus as their King, as began at Pentecost. And so, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled and they regain the privileges of being God’s covenant people, as God’s adopted children with an eternal inheritance. The encouragement for us, is that we share in this. So the status we lost in Adam’s sin is regained and more too.
            From 2v2, Hosea could be telling his children to rebuke their mother as a prophetic picture of Israel. But the language implies Hosea is being told to rebuke Israel as his mother, by telling her she is no longer God’s wife, and that she must remove her adulterous look and unfaithful acts. Otherwise God will strip her naked – which is to make her like a desert, presumably knowing the spiritual and physical barrenness she knew before inheriting her land (2v2-3). God therefore says he will not show his love to her children (the people), because they’ve come in her disgrace. Her unfaithfulness is said to be with many lovers and in order to gain from them – ie. she sought false gods thinking they could provide what only God could. But God will wall her in with thorns so she can no longer chase her lovers - perhaps a reference to coming hardships. Without catching or finding them, she will then say she will return to God for she was better off with him than now (as did the prodigal son). But God states she hasn’t acknowledged that he was the one who gave her good things, that she used in worshipping Baal. So he will remove them, expose her lewdness before her false gods, cease her religious celebrations, ruin her vines and fig-trees which she saw as pay from her gods, and punish her for forgetting him and worshipping the Baals (2v2-13). The lesson is to turn to no-one but God for provision and care, nor presume that received comes ultimately from any god but him.
            Yet again, hope immediately follows, as God promises to restore this, in a sort of second Exodus (from Egypt into the desert, 2v14-15). Then she will call him husband, and he will remove the name of the Baals from her. Indeed, with echoes of Eden, God promises to make a covenant agreement with the creatures, no doubt to ensure they don’t attack them or ruin their crops (2v16-18, compare v12). He will ensure they enjoy safety from enemies too. And this marriage will stem from his righteousness and justice (ie. commitment to do right by his promises), love, compassion and faithfulness. She will acknowledge him as her God and he will love her as his people – and he will ensure she enjoys the covenant blessings of prosperity in the land (2v19-23).
It’s an intimate picture of forgiving reconciliation, in which the unfaithful wife is given everything as if she had proved faithful. This is grace, reminding us that no matter how far we have turned from the Lord, he is willing to receive us back. To illustrate this, God tells Hosea to love his wife again, even though she has committed adultery in a way that has caused her to be enslaved. He therefore buys her – meaning that he is redeeming her. And he tells her she must live with him and not be intimate with anyone. The sense is that she isn’t to be intimate with Hosea either as a picture of Israel being without true religion or idolatry for a time, until they return and seek the LORD their God and David their king in the last days (3v1-5). This is an accurate prediction of the dissolution of the northern kingdom in the exile, and then their descendents seeking God in Christ
            Chapter 4 records God’s charge against the people. There is no faithfulness, love or even acknowledgement of God, but only the breaking of the commandments, so the land mourns and its people waste away – a reference to the covenant curses (Deut 28-30, contrasting 2v18-23). The meaning of verse 4 is uncertain, but the sense in context is that the priests and prophets stumble because they lack knowledge, causing the people to be destroyed because of their ignorance that results from this. Its an indictment on ministers who fail to believe and teach the scriptures today. For this reason, God rejects the priests, punishing them as well as the people. Their sin is to ignore the law, disgrace their glorious position, and feed on the people’s spiritual prostitution without ever having enough (4v1-10). This idolatry and the immorality that accompanied it is then outlined, and Judah are warned not to go to two key sites of idolatry become guilty by doing the same. The stubbornness of Israel in sticking to her idols is then noted, as God declares it means they cannot be pastured in a meadow, but will be swept away by a whirlwind for their shameful sacrifices (4v11-19). Like Judah we should heed this warning.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his immense grace in being prepared to reconcile us to himself. Pray for preachers in the church who would preach scripture rather than teach blindly.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Hosea, click here.

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