Friday, 12 December 2014

(347) December 13: Hosea 12-14 & Revelation 3

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

To discover:­
As you read consider what God promises Israel/Ephraim.

To ponder:
Israel is again condemned for “his” deceit and unruliness against God. The deceit seems to be self-deceit in pursuing alliances with Egypt (west) and Assyria (east) that are like pursuing wind, as they will actually not benefit them. The unruliness is historic, patterned on Jacob (renamed Israel) who grasped his brother’s heel and struggled with God at Bethel. So where Jacob there hung onto God and begged for his favour, Israel should turn to God, maintaining love and justice, and waiting for him to act in favour in response (12v1-6). Further deceit is then outlined as merchants use dishonest scales, leading Ephraim (ie. Israel) to boast in his wealth and deceive himself by assuming he is free from sin (12v7-8). This reminds us of our tendency to self-deceit, assuming we are without sin, not subject to judgement, or able to find what we need elsewhere than with God.
            Again, God declares Israel will be returned to what the nation was when just out of Egypt – living in tents as was celebrated at the feast of tabernacles. Perhaps as a sign they are without excuse God then tells how he spoke to them through prophets in various ways, and then condemns the wickedness and idolatry of Gilead and Gilgal. The sense of 12v12-14 is unclear. The point may be that just as Israel came into existence because Jacob cared for sheep for 14 years in a foreign land to get his wife, so Israel were brought from Egypt only when God sent a prophet (Moses) to care for them like sheep. The care for sheep, then, is a picture of God’s care for his people. Yet in response, they have gone astray from Moses commands, provoking God to anger so that he will leave the guilt of their bloodshed on them. The point for us is to see God’s commands as a reflection of his care, and so keep them.
            13v1-3 now looks to the past of the actual tribe of Ephraim, rather than the northern kingdom in general which it came to represent. He was once the greatest in Israel (see Gen 49), but turned to Baal and died – implying that the tribe became insignificant. They made idols and it was said even sacrificed humans, so God declared they would disappear like smoke – just as happened when conquered by Assyria. Here God reminds the people he is their God who redeemed them from Egypt and commanded they have no God except him. He cared for and fed them in the desert. Yet because they forgot him, rather than care, he will now devour them like a wild animal (13v4-8). He therefore declares Israel is destroyed asking where are his rulers, that they may save him. Just as God gave them Saul in anger at them wanting a king for the wrong reason, so in wrath he also took him away – just as he would Hoshea (2 Kgs 17). The point is that Israel’s kings can’t save the nation as they are part of the problem. Indeed, God’s very supply of their original king was an act of judgement because the people wanted to be like the nations just as they did in following their gods.
            In response to all this, God declares that Ephraim is held to account for his sins, experiencing labour pains without actually being born to life. In context 13v14 is therefore more likely negative than positive. Its sense would be of asking if God would redeem Ephraim from death, only for God to call its plagues and destructive power against him. So God continues, stating that he will not have compassion on Ephraim, but an east wind (Assyria) will blow so he dries up as he is plundered, and the people of Samaria fall to the sword in the most terrible way describable (13v9-16). We should remember the harshness of this judgement is because of the great advantages Ephraim turned from and the depth of sin the people were prepared to engage in (as 13v1-2).
            In the light of this devastation God calls Israel to return to him. They are to call on him to graciously forgive them, promise to offer him praise, and acknowledge their trust in their alliance with Assyria, their military might, and their idols was pointless and futile, and that instead they should have trusted God who shows compassion to the weak and needy. It’s a picture of sincere repentance in which we not only seek mercy but confess our sin in detail. In response, as with us, God promises to heal Israel from his waywardness. He promises to love them freely because his anger has turned away, and be like dew, causing Israel to grow and blossom like a beautiful, fragrant and majestic tree in which men will find shade. He adds that Israel’s (Ephraim’s) fame will spread and he will have nothing more to do with idols as God will care for him. Indeed, it will be as if God is a fir tree (stressing the constancy of his life) upon which the people will bear fruit – the equivalent of Jesus stating his people bear fruit by remaining in him as the vine (Jn 15). The point is that it is in and through the LORD that the people will change (14v1-9).
            This end to Hosea is somewhat confusing as God seems to be saying Ephraim will be utterly destroyed, yet promising life for Israel, to which Ephraim refers. The harmony is found in the fact that the northern kingdom as a kingdom was utterly destroyed. However, some of its people settled in Judea displaying a desire to be faithful to the LORD. And those from their descendents who came to faith in Christ, together with those who were exiled throughout the world, would also receive the life that is found in him.
            Hosea’s final words hint at the need to ponder these things. He asserts that those who are wise and discerning will understand what he says. The righteous will walk accordingly, displaying the repentance God calls them to. But the rebellious will stumble over what he says, no doubt by denying its truth and charging God with wrongdoing (14v9). These are much needed words for us as we weigh the same call to repentance in the light of coming judgement.           

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for the life that is found in him. Pray that you would be always ready to confess your sin and seek forgiveness.

Thinking further:
None today.

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