Thursday, 11 December 2014

(346) December 12: Hosea 9-11 & Revelation 2

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 God’s love is expressed.

To ponder:
Israel are told not to rejoice like other nations – whose joy might have been in their harvests. Her unfaithfulness has actually been evident at the floor where the harvest is threshed and religious celebrations often took place. So God declares her crops will fail and the people will lose the land, either fleeing to Egypt or being exiled in Assyria. On that day they will have no wine to pour out to God, their sacrificial feasts will be like a funeral meal, and they will be unclean – perhaps because of the death that will surround them. Moreover, because they will be in exile, their food offerings will not come to God’s temple (or its equivalent used in the northern kingdom). So God asks what the people will then do for their feasts and festivals. It all signifies their alienation from God (9v1-5).
            In what follows it is stressed that those fleeing to Egypt will die there, their treasures will be replaced by troubles, and all because of the greatness of their hostility to God. This is seen not only in considering prophets, God’s watchmen, fools, but in being hostile to them - and in the temple too. We might consider those in the church who mock and oppose those who teach the scriptures (9v5-9).
God then describes the contrast between the early fruit of Israel’s fathers (perhaps the Patriarchs, or those who obeyed in the desert) and the idolatry when they then offered themselves to Baal (Num 25v1-5). He declares her glory (the greatness of her numbers) will fly away, so childbirth will effectively cease, and children raised will die. It seems Hosea then cries out a prayer to this effect (9v14). The point is that Israel’s increase was a sign of God’s blessing. Because of their sin they will therefore experience the equivalent curse - withering, being fruitless, and wandering amongst the nations (9v15-17). 
This idea is now developed. Israel had spread, bearing fruit in numbers, but as that increased, so did the people’s idolatry, as they deceived themselves as to what was right worship. So God will destroy the means of their idolatry until they feel utterly desperate. They will recognize that they will have lost their king for not revering the LORD, but see that even if they had one it would now make no difference (10v1-3). Of course we know the only king that would, is the one who could give his life for their sin. What follows is an outline of the people’s dishonesty, followed by an affirmation that the people’s means of idolatry will be carried off and destroyed so that they mourn it. They will then be disgraced, presumably because their idols will be shown to be impotent. Samaria (the northern capital) and its king will also float away like a twig – helpless in the currents of God’s purposes, and the people will call on mountains to cover them because of their terror at what is happening (10v4-8). This all pictures the futility of modern idolatry, and how all that is relied on will be destroyed at the judgement.
Israel’s sin is now said to be “since” Gibeah (Jud 20) where the tribe of Benjamin was almost destroyed. The point is that then sin led to war and similar destruction. So God will use the nations to fully punish the people for their double sin – perhaps that of the north and south (10v9-10). Yet at this point the sense changes. Ephraim (Israel) is described in her youth as a heifer that loved to thresh – ie. bring about the harvest. And so God is going to ensure Judah and Jacob (Israel) plough in order to sow righteousness and reap love, seeking the LORD and his transforming rain. The sense of putting a yoke on Ephraim may imply using the burden of the coming punishment to discipline the people to bring this righteousness into existence. It is often through hardship that we learn godliness. But we are reminded this cannot come, but for seeking it from the Lord. For now, however, we are told the people planted wickedness and reaped evil and deception. And because Israel relied on her warriors and not God, as was the case at a previous battle (10v14) her fortresses will be devastated and her king destroyed (10v11-15).
Again, in 11v1, God looks back to Israel’s beginnings, when he called him out of Egypt as his son – ie. the one he loved and would give an inheritance to. Yet the more he called, the more Israel strayed into idolatry. Matthew pictures Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt as patterned on this (Matt 2v15). The difference is that Jesus then resisted the temptations that followed, so achieving the righteousness Israel always lacked. Through Hosea God continues in describing how he taught Ephraim to walk according to his commands and healed them from the judgements they should have faced for their sin (Ex 15v26) – but they didn’t realise it was him. In love and kindness he also led them and fed them, freeing them from their slavery – no doubt references to his leading them in the pillar of cloud and fire, and providing manna and quail. Yet after all that, because of their refusal to repent, they will return to Egypt and be ruled by Assyria, because God will not act now even if they call to him (11v2-7). We should not forget the kindnesses of God to us – recognizing we are dependent on him for godly living, healing from sin, guidance and provision too.
At this point God’s love for his people famously governs his response to their sin. He cries out “how can I give you up” and treat them like two cities that were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 10v19, 14v2-8). He therefore says his heart is changed and compassion aroused. Whereas a mere man would not turn back his wrath, God declares that he is God “the Holy One” – and so set apart from man, and by implication, therefore, supremely more compassionate. So he will not carry fully devastate Ephraim. Instead rather than roaring like a lion about to devour, after their exile he will roar to call his children trembling from Egypt and Assyria (the west) to resettle in the land. As in other prophets, we therefore see God’s incredible and unsurpassable love expressed in refusing to forsake his people no matter how terrible and worthy of irreversible destruction their sin is. Certainly, Jesus is clear that not all are saved. But the fact that a great multitude are is testimony to just how much more loving, compassionate and gracious God is, compared to even the best of human beings.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his great love expressed in chapter 11. Pray that you would keep mindful daily of God’s kindness to you.

Thinking further:
None today.

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