Posts Tagged 'Millennium'

Three Appearances, 5

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Eschatology is the study of last things; the events of the last days. It’s by no means settled theology. Within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, opinions vary greatly as to the order of the events of the last days, or even if some of those events will be real or not. I’ve already mentioned the doctrine of the Rapture, the great snatching away of the Church just prior to the the revelation of the Antichrist and the Tribulation. Many Christians believe this will happen. I’m one of them. Yet at the same time, some Christians do not believe in the Rapture. They allegorize and spiritualize certain passages of Scripture that proponents of that doctrine take literally. In the end, though, whether or not you believe that a rapture will take place is for you to decide yourself, after you yourself study the what the Word has to say. Believing it or not doesn’t impact your salvation one wit.

The same “controversy” surrounds the personal reign of Jesus Christ. All believers must believe in the literal, physical, visible return of Christ to the earth. That’s a primary doctrine. But the idea of a literal Millennial kingdom, like the rapture, is a source of some contention. Those who think that God is done with Israel (many in the Reform camp think this) don’t see a literal Millennium. The rest of us see the Millennial reign of Christ as an absolute imperative because of the many promises God made to the nation of Israel – promises of ultimate deliverance and restoration.

There are many prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling this future reign of Christ. Chief among them is what Zechariah had to say. His visions and prophecies are messianic and millennial. Take a look –

Zechariah 2:10

“Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. (Zechariah 2:10 | NIV84)

“Daughter of Zion” is another way of talking about Jerusalem. Elements of the Christian church have appropriated this verse (and ones like it) for themselves. “Zion,” they say, is really the Church. However, this is God talking through His prophet, and God spoke of Zion. The normative way to read “Zion” is not to replace it with “the Church,” but to leave it alone. God is not talking about the Church, He is talking about Zion, a hill in Israel associated with Jerusalem. This is a prophecy given to God’s people and the way to read it is to read it the way they would have read it.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 | NIV84)

So this word of prophecy, then, concerns a time when the Messiah will come to Zion, Jerusalem, to live among His people. This is not a “spiritual coming,” but a literal one. One day, our Lord will return to earth and He will return to Jerusalem and He will live – at last – among His people. This obviously hasn’t happened yet. This can’t be referring to His first coming.

Zechariah 6:12, 13

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ (Zechariah 6:12-13 | NIV84)

This passage speaks of an actual event in Zechariah’s time. Three men had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon after the end of the Jewish captivity there. What’s interesting about these three men is that they returned all on their own; they were not part of either of the two groups that would constitute the remnant that would rebuild Jerusalem. Their names were: Heldai (“robust”), Tobijah (“God’s goodness), and Jedaiah (“God knows”). Jewish names are always important, especially here, given what was about to happen. If we link these names together, as God intended us to do, we learn something important: God knows that through His goodness He intends to put His king upon the throne, and He will do it in a robust, powerful manner.

Here’s what Zechariah was to do:

Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. (Zechariah 6:11 | NIV84)

This is a bizarre verse for a couple of reasons. First, the high priest Joshua was to be the first king after the Babylonian Captivity. Funny thing is, it was Zerubbabel, not Joshua, who was in the line of David. Originally, only descendants of David were to be kings of Judah. Yet, here God told Zechariah not to anoint a descendant of David’s but another. Why? It’s because the next descendant of David to sit on the throne will be The Lord Jesus Christ after He returns to earth to establish His kingdom.

The other bizarre aspect of this verse is that God expressly told the Israelites not to combine the offices of high priest and king, and yet here God intended Joshua the high priest to also be the king. What’s that all about? Zechariah didn’t know it, but he was really foreshadowing the fact that one day, the true High Priest would return to earth as King of Kings. The then-high priest Joshua, a variant of the name Jesus, is representative of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest today. This fact is borne out in Hebrews.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15 | NIV84)

Jesus is our great High Priest right now, today. After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and is function as our High Priest in God’s presence now.

Here’s something really interesting. In the three appearances of Jesus, we see not only the three aspects of our salvation, but also His three-fold ministry. At His first appearance, Jesus came to earth to minister as God’s prophet – He came to speak for God; He Himself was the Word of God even as He revealed God in human form. At His second appearance, in heaven, Jesus is working as our High Priest, ministering for us before God the Father. At His side, Jesus intervenes for us when we sin; He prays for us to His Father. And one day, at His third appearance, He will come back to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Zechariah 14:3, 4

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. 4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (Zechariah 14:3-4 | NIV84)

Chapter 14 is the last chapter of Zechariah and it is wholly prophetic. The prophecies in this chapter have never been fulfilled – not historically in Israel, not in our present day. These are true “last days” prophecies. When we read Zechariah 14, we are reading about events yet to occur, events that will usher in the end of time as we know it. You will find many liberal Bible scholars who reject the prophetic word; who will allegorize and spiritualize these prophecies. To people like that, prophecy is anathema. They fight tooth and nail strip the supernatural from the Bible. When you do that, you open the door to all manner of strange interpretations.

A good rule of thumb is to take the words of the Bible – even words of Biblical prophecy – literally whenever and wherever possible. Read the Bible in the normal way; the way the original readers would have read it. Understand it as they would have. Make sure you know its context. In other words, know what came before and after the passage or verses you may be looking at.

Looking at 14:3 this way, we see a picture of Israel’s great Deliverer who will come to fight for His people. When our Lord returns to earth, this is how He will come and this is why all those Jews who are looking for their Messiah will recognize Him.

Verse 4 is a thrilling verse for Christians and Jews alike. It will literally happen. Just look at the specifics; these are real places, real locations. Our Lord will return exactly as prophesied here. When Jesus returns, He will touch down and stand on The Mount of Olives.

Zechariah 14:9

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:9 | NIV84)

Well, it can’t be any plainer than this. When Jesus returns, He will be King. When he comes back, there will be one Lord. Do you understand what that means? No false religions. No more death cults. Only Jesus.

Then will I purify the lips of the peoples,that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (Zephaniah 3:9 | NIV84)

This verse tells us what will happen after the dark days of judgment. It means that with Jesus as King, there will be no blasphemy. There will be no profanity or vulgarity or repulsive, offensive speech. The language spoken on earth when Jesus is King will be pure. Not only that, man will serve the Lord. In other words, there will be no rebellion against God or the things and people of God.

This Millennial kingdom of Christ’s – a true theocracy – will be a wondrous place to live. Earth will finally have its “utopia.” Man has always wanted to build his utopia, by the way. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of utopia took place in the twenty third century. On Star Trek, nobody needs money and earth is at peace. But the idea that man will evolve all the badness out of himself and that technology and knowledge will make money a thing of distance memory is preposterous; it  just isn’t possible. Because even in the twenty third century, man will still need to use the bathroom and not every citizen of earth will be the captain of a starship. Somebody will to clean the toilets, and what if that janitor doesn’t want to? Peace and harmony will only be possible when God makes it possible, dealing with the stain of sin in man. It’s not man’s environment that makes man a sinner.  More on that next time.

Isaiah, 4

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Most of are familiar with these song lyrics:

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway;
And more much more than this,
I did it my way.

Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley got a lot of mileage out that song, and it moved many people who heard it. Trouble is, it’s all wrong! It’s not the anthem of self-made winner, but rather the epitaph of a loser. Nobody wins when they “do it their way.” In the Bible, we read this well-worn verse:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV)

Nobody wins without God. The deck, as they say, is stacked against the unbeliever who feels like he has to live life his own way, without regard to God’s way.

The prophetic book of Isaiah is full of teachings that center on God’s way and the losing proposition of trying live your own way. Let’s look at what it’s like living God’s way.

The way of holiness, Isaiah 35:1—10

Chapter 35 of Isaiah describes a time in the future—our future. It will be a time when man’s dominion of the Earth will be over and God’s will have just begun. The time of God’s terrible judgment will be over and the peaceful reign of His Son will be under way. We have no frame of reference for what life will be like during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ because that kind of society has never existed before. There has never been a “utopia” anywhere on Earth, nor will there be until Christ returns.

The Millennium will be marked joy and rejoicing.

Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers. (Isaiah 35:1 TLB)

The prophet has Jerusalem in view, but there is the sense that this rejoicing will take place all over the world and the glory of the Lord will bring about some major physical changes to the Earth. Plants will grow in abundance, for example. The idea is that the Earth, parts of which may be dangerous and hostile to man, will be made habitable and useful. In essence, the curse of Genesis will be lifted and reversed. No wonder men the world over will rejoice!

But not only will the Earth be restored; man’s relationship with his fellow man will be restored:

Encourage those who are afraid. Tell them, “Be strong, fear not, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4 TLB)

No more war or fear of war; God will take care of His people.

God’s way is not only the way of rejoicing and peace, but of miracles:

The lame man will leap up like a deer, and those who could not speak will shout and sing! Springs will burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:6 TLB)

God will heal both people and land during this dispensation. Miracles will be the norm, not the exception. It will be remarkable time for human beings! As wonderful as this may sound, verse 8 is the gem:

And a main road will go through that once-deserted land; it will be named “The Holy Highway.” No evil-hearted men may walk upon it. God will walk there with you; even the most stupid cannot miss the way. (TLB)

This is a stunning verse! From the Greek Old Testament, it reads something like this:

There shall be a clean way and it shall be called a holy way, and there shall by no means pass over there anything unclean, neither shall be there an unclean way. The dispersed ones shall proceed on it, and they shall in no wise be caused to err.

The name of God’s road or highway will be called “the way of holiness” because it will specifically for God’s people to travel on as they travel to God’s Holy City. The Hebrew word for “highway” or “main road” is maslul, suggesting a clearly marked public road.

Remember, we are reading about the future. This age isn’t here yet. In a sense, though, true believers are already walking on “the way holiness.” God has cleansed us from sin and is making us holy day by day as we submit to Him through obedience to the Holy Spirit within us. The “highway of holiness” we journey on is spiritual, marked by separation from the world and its ways.

The way to victory, Isaiah 43:15—21

God’s way is a holy way, both today and in the future—today spiritually; in the future practically. But God’s way is also the only way to victory. God is able to create His holy highway on land for His people to travel on, but He can also create way through the sea!

I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a path right through the sea. (verse 16 TLB)

God, through the prophet, is reminding his people of what He did in the past, because if He came through for them back then, what can prevent Him from doing it again? Indeed, God’s people have no reason to worry or fret! God working in history to accomplish His will is proof He can do it again. Nothing can stop God

But God not only worked in the past.

But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do! For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert! (verses 18, 19 TLB)

The same God who dried up the waters in history for His people, has the power to do the opposite! He can supply water where it is needed; He can make a way for His people where no way exists. He did it during the Exodus, and He will do it again.

Once again, we are reading about a day in the future. This prophecy will become reality—a physical reality one day. But for now, it is a spiritual reality for believers. God, today, does these things for His people. He provides times of refreshing, like waters in the desert. God is able to make a way for His people—He opens doors, provides solutions, shows us the right way to go. We as believers don’t have to wait for the Millennium to enjoy the blessings of the Lord!

The wild animals in the fields will thank me, the jackals and ostriches too, for giving them water in the wilderness, yes, springs in the desert, so that my people, my chosen ones, can be refreshed. I have made Israel for myself, and these my people will some day honor me before the world. (verses 20, 21 TLB)

This is the word of the Lord to Israel; to His people. If chapter 43 teaches us anything, it’s that God is in no way finished with the nation of Israel. A great many churches think that God has disposed of Israel and replaced it with the Church is His program of prophecy. This “replacement theology” does great damage to God’s honor and integrity. He has made some very specific promises to Israel that have nothing to do with the Church, and if we have learned anything about God, it’s that He always keeps His Word! That very fact should give us as Christians great hope. Though we are not Jews by birth, we are by the Spirit—we have been adopted into Abraham’s family.

The road to restoration, Isaiah 49:7—15 and 62:10—12

Yet they say, “My Lord deserted us; he has forgotten us.”

“Never! Can a mother forget her little child and not have love for her own son? Yet even if that should be, I will not forget you. See, I have tattooed your name upon my palm, and ever before me is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins. (verses 14—16 TLB)

God’s people were despondent, and it is to them these words of encouragement were addressed. At this time in their history, Jerusalem was ruined and God’s people had become objects of scorn and derision. And yet, at the same time, they remained God’s people! In spite of the circumstances, these deflated, discouraged, depressed, and dispersed people were still God’s chosen people; He had not thrown them over; He was not finished with them.

Once again, Isaiah is offering a hopeful word of what it will be like for Israel in the future. When the prophet wrote these words, the people of Jerusalem had been hauled off into captivity; they were taken from their homes and resettled throughout the Babylonian empire. The future not only looked bleak to the captives, it must have looked like they had no future! They, like all people, tended to only see their immediate circumstances. Many had forgotten the eternal promises of the Lord. They took their eyes of the long game. It never pays to be that short sighted! God isn’t! He never forgot His people—then or now.

God’s purpose for the Earth—indeed His purpose for the universe—centers around the nation of Israel. When the people of God finally return to their land, both heaven and Earth will rejoice. Then, things in our material universe, so out of kilter today, will be set aright. God ought to blessing this world through His people, but He can’t. Satan and his demons should be in Hell, but they aren’t. Man should be free to serve the Lord and enjoy His presence all day, any way and every way, but there are forces arrayed against man today making that very difficult. However, when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, returns in power and glory, He will restore the people of God to their land and He will arrange the material universe the way the Creator intended it to be.

This thought is carried on and captured vividly in these verses:

Go out! Go out! Prepare the roadway for my people to return! Build the roads, pull out the boulders, raise the flag of Israel. See, the Lord has sent his messengers to every land and said, “Tell my people, I, the Lord your God, am coming to save you and will bring you many gifts.” And they shall be called “The Holy People” and “The Lord’s Redeemed,” and Jerusalem shall be called “The Land of Desire” and “The City God Has Blessed.” (Isaiah 62:10—12 TLB)

This paragraph is all about the future. Today, if you watch the news, it seems as though the whole world is pointing their guns at Israel, a tiny speck of nation. Those unfamiliar with Biblical prophecy wonder why. Why does it seem like everybody is against Israel? The fact is, Jerusalem can never experience true and lasting peace because her Messiah isn’t there. At the moment, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God, waiting for the day His Father tells Him it’s time to go back to rule Israel in righteousness. Heaven and Earth, all of creation, is waiting for that day.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect his children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay—the things that overcame the world against its will at God’s command—will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children enjoy. For we know that even the things of nature, like animals and plants, suffer in sickness and death as they await this great event. (Romans 8:18—22 TLB)

The restoration of Israel is the key part of God’s plan for His universe, and also the key ingredient in His great plan of salvation. And part of that great plan involves the salvation of national Israel. Today, Israel is not a redeemed nation, but when Christ returns and reveals His salvation to them, that nation will be transformed, just as the Earth will be. Then, and only then, will God’s people be called a “holy people.” The exact opposite is true today. What a marvelous day that will be.

Hosea: Losing God

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Hosea 5

 

Hosea 5 is a powerful chapter that talks about two of Israel’s biggest problems:  religious and political.  These two problems are related; the latter being influenced by the former.  We can see this situation playing out even today in our own country.  In Israel’s case, her religious problem was particularly nasty:  they were literally chasing after the Canaanite fertility cults.  Her political problem was disastrous:  instead of turning to God, they turned to Assyria and Egypt for help.  Their rebellion against their God was close to being complete as they had pretty much figured Him out of their religious lives and found alternatives for Him in their political lives.

This chapter tells us how God reacted to their faithless behavior.

1.  A sad result

Then at last, they will come with their flocks and herds to sacrifice to God, but it will be too late—they will not find him. He has withdrawn from them and they are left alone.  (Hosea 5:6  TLB)

The power behind this verse lies it what it means, not only in what it says.  To “come with their flocks and herds” means to search after God’s favor through sacrifice.  The problem with the Israelites, though, was that while they had the sacrifice part of the equation down to an art, they had no faith; they exhibited no evidence of true faith; they were all show.  We know from elsewhere in Scripture that mere outward sacrifice is never enough to move God, and it fact can elicit the exact opposite response from God than the desired one.

Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.”  (1 Samuel 15:22—23  TLB)

We have an interesting juxtaposition occurring in chapters 4 and 5.  In chapter 4, Israel’s spirit of harlotry is what drove them away from God, but here in chapter 5, that same spirit is the reason God is withdrawing from His people.  You may think that removing His presence from them was pretty harsh.  After all, you may think, they were willing to make sacrifices and to seek the Him out.  But consider what was really happening here.  These people had fallen so far from God, that they were seeking the one True God at the altars of Baal!  They were literally mixing up religions, so mixed up they had become.  They foolishly thought they could combine the best of the Canaanite religions with their religion, expecting God to bless them.  How wrong they were!  No wonder God left them.

This is what happens when people try to approach God on their terms.  Christians have become very good at this; mixing worldliness with true worship and expecting God to “honor their hearts.”  But the fact is, it’s important to God how and even where we seek Him.  You will never find God if you are not looking for Him with all your heart, in the right way, in the right places.  He demands complete allegiance and loyalty.  He also demands obedience.  How can He reward your disobedient spirit with answered prayer?  Or with His presence?  There’s good reason why it seems so many churches are bereft of spiritual power and direction.  Too many churches have bought into the lie that the way to attract members is to appeal to their fleshly needs – things like worship/music style, a casual atmosphere, or even coffee in the sanctuary are thought “progressively clever” ways to get the young and hip to commit.   Appealing to the flesh is never a good idea under any circumstance!

2.  Reasons

God was angry enough with His people to take His presence away from them.  Ultimately, though, the nation’s leaders—political and religious—were the ones who bore responsibility for leading the people astray.

“Hear this, O priests!  Take heed, O house of Israel!  Give ear, O house of the king!  For yours is the judgment, because you have been a snare to Mizpah and a net spread on Tabor.”  (Hosea 5:1  NKJV)

It’s startling to discover that people evaluate Christ and our faith by our behavior.  We, like the political and religious leaders of Hosea’s day, can become a snare for others if we misrepresent God through our words and actions.  It was Emerson who insightfully observed,

What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.

Hosea’s main targets of attack were guilty of ensnaring and netting the people in sin.  Of course, the people were willing participants in the sinful rebellion against God, proving what was written by another prophet of God,

The one who sins is the one who dies. The son shall not be punished for his father’s sins, nor the father for his son’s. The righteous person will be rewarded for his own goodness and the wicked person for his wickedness.  (Ezekiel 18:19  TLB)

The leaders led the people further and further into sin and away from God, but the people wanted to be led in that direction.

What a terrible responsibility we have as Christians to make sure our testimony bears witness to the glory of God.  Somebody’s soul depends on how we behave!

Your deeds won’t let you come to God again, for the spirit of adultery is deep within you, and you cannot know the Lord.  (Hosea 5:4  TLB)

Sin creates a very real barrier between man and God.  One who constantly gives into his sinful nature and consistently goes off in a sinful direction will become so deeply fascinated with sin and bogged down in it that he will literally become its slave.

This is what had happened in Israel.  At first, they were merely interested in the false religions.  Soon, those false religions began to influence their thoughts and deeds.  That interest in the Canaanite religions became an all-out obsession that blocked the people from returning to God.  At first, they wanted both Baal and Yahweh, but in the end they lost interest in Yahweh.  Because they knowingly sinned against God, they grew to block all knowledge of God and the Law from their minds.

Because they walked away from God, they walked away from His divine protection and opened themselves up to the spirits of idolatry, harlotry, and an awful, sick obsession with the vilest religions of the pagan world.

For they have betrayed the honor of the Lord, bearing children that aren’t his. Suddenly they and all their wealth will disappear.  (Hosea 5:7  NKJV)

What an awful indictment against the people of God!  The leaders of God’s people behaved “deceptively.”  Literally, they behaved like an unfaithful husband.  These men knowingly led the people away from the Lord.  Noted scholars Anderson and Freedman have noted,

We are dealing with hypocritical Yahweh worship:  The depravity that makes repentance impossible is not renunciation of Yahweh, but complacent religiosity.

The people had been deluded into thinking they could approach God their own way, using their made-up rules.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.

3.  Results

So, what happens when God withdraws His presence from His people?

Worship became a waste of time.

Then at last, they will come with their flocks and herds to sacrifice to God, but it will be too late—they will not find him. He has withdrawn from them and they are left alone.  (Hosea 5:6  TLB)

To whom are your worshiping if God is not there?  As long as your heart is not right with God, there is nothing He can do for you.  No number of prayers, sacrifices, offerings, or good works, or any amount of positive thinking and effort expended in His service can make up for the lack of His presence.  If a Christian is out of fellowship with God, his testimony is worthless.

Broken

…Ephraim will be crushed and broken by my sentence because she is determined to follow idols.  (Hosea 5:11  TLB)

Because they had taken their eyes off God and God had taken His presence from them, the people (of Ephraim as noted, but really all the Israelites) turned even more to pagan religions and man-made gods for help and comfort.  However, what they didn’t realize is that they were simply compounding their problems by their continued state of rebellion against God.  When a person disobeys the Word of the Lord, they by default become obedient to worldly wisdom, which is most often opposed to God.

Even more lost

When Ephraim and Judah see how sick they are, Ephraim will turn to Assyria, to the great king there, but he can neither help nor cure. (Hosea 5:13  TLB)

What’s so sad is that both Israel and Judah could have been strong, robust, and healthy in every way if they had just returned in repentance to God.  But they didn’t, and so they rushed headlong into more and more trouble.  God Himself became their enemy, allowing their sin to grow and grow, and allowing the nation to decay, becoming more and more morally confused, culturally perverse, and politically corrupt until they became easy pickings for foreign nations.  Israel, fearing Egypt, turned to Assyria for protection.  They should have turned to God, because in the end, this alliance would lead to Israel’s end.

God remains patient

I will abandon them and return to my home until they admit their guilt and look to me for help again… (Hosea 5:15a  TLB)

God promises to stay away from Israel until she acknowledges her sin and guilt and returns to Him.  Sin carries awful consequences, but there is hope.  This chapter is depressing, but ends on a note of hope.  Like the prodigal son who found forgiveness when he came home, so it will be with Israel.  To this very day, God has not given up on Israel.  But He can’t do a thing until they fess up.  Historically, the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities did little to change their hearts.  This verse, then, looks forward into the far future, into the Millennium, when at last the Israelites will stand before the Messiah in repentance and seek Him.

The way God treated wayward Israel is the way He treats the backslider.  He doesn’t give up on them.  There is always hope for the believer who has wandered away from God.  He calls them, and in His sovereignty and providence He makes a way for them to find their way home.

Hosea: A Divine Betrothal

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HOSEA 2

 

God’s love for Israel is hard to understand.  Almost from the very beginning she had rebelled against Him, complained, and been guilty of spiritual adultery.  Israel’s sin ran so deep; it was as though rebellion was in her DNA.

For their mother has committed adultery. She did a shameful thing when she said, ‘I’ll run after other men and sell myself to them for food and drinks and clothes.’  (Hosea 2:5  TLB)

But God’s love for Israel did not depend on her loveliness.  In fact, God’s love for sinful man has nothing to do with sinful man.

In this act we see what real love is: it is not our love for God but his love for us when he sent his Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins.  (1 John 4:10  TLB)

Yes, God’s love is very difficult to understand.  It’s agape love; a special love that is unconditional.  God loves us as much as He can—He will never love us less, and He cannot love us more.

The allegory in Hosea illustrates this concept of God’s amazing love better than any sermon ever could.

I will bind you to me forever with chains of righteousness and justice and love and mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and love, and you will really know me then as you never have before.

“In that day,” says the Lord, “I will answer the pleading of the sky for clouds, to pour down water on the earth in answer to its cry for rain. Then the earth can answer the parched cry of the grain, the grapes, and the olive trees for moisture and for dew—and the whole grand chorus shall sing together that ‘God sows!’ He has given all!

“At that time I will sow a crop of Israelites and raise them for myself! I will pity those who are ‘not pitied, and I will say to those who are ‘not my people,’ ‘Now you are my people’; and they will reply, ‘You are our God!’ ”  (Hosea 2:19—23  TLB)

1.  The manner of God’s betrothal

What exactly is a betrothal?  Literally is means “to woo a virgin.”  Or, we may say betrothal is the act of courtship.  This is what God said He would do to Israel:  He would court her.  He would, in time, win Israel for Himself.  This is God’s solemn promise to Israel that in the future she would be betrothed to Him forever.  In that day, Israel will never again be estranged from God, as in Old Testament times.

How will God do this?   This chapter of Hosea describes God’s technique for “wooing” Israel.

In righteousness

God would bind Himself to Israel in complete righteousness.   His betrothal to Israel will be based on His perfect character and Israel’s real need.  What is the thing that Israel needs most?  She needs to be righteous.  So what God is saying to Israel is that “in that day,” He would impute, or cover, her with His righteousness.

In justice

The betrothed, Israel, has been shown to be completely unworthy to be the Lord’s bride.  She had been shown to be guilty of heinous and awful sins, completely covered in a sin-debt she could never hope to repay.  How can she be made clean enough to be wed to God?  God will deal with Israel is complete justice.  Sin must be judged.  Sinners must be paid their wages:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:23  NIV)

But, through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, God is able to deal with Israel (and, in fact, all sinners) in a perfectly just way:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:2  NIV)

He is the one who took God’s wrath against our sins upon himself and brought us into fellowship with God; and he is the forgiveness for our sins, and not only ours but all the world’s.  (1 John 2:2  TLB)

Sin and guilt must be judged and they have been judged in Jesus Christ.  God’s eternal Son, in seeking to bind lost humanity to God the Father, took on its nature, bore its sin, and shed His Blood to cleanse us; to make it fit to be the betrothed.

In lovingkindness

This word has reference to the aspect of God’s covenant-keeping nature.  His love for Israel will be manifested in His faithfulness to His Word or promise concerning her.  This idea is expressed over 20 times throughout the Psalms.  God promised some very specific things to Israel—things that have not come to pass yet—and His nature guarantees that those promises will be fulfilled.

In mercy

The word used here is ruhamah, or “compassion.”  And God’s compassion for Israel is manifold!   It is multifaceted.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one pall things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.  (Ephesians 1:7—10  NKJV)

The mercy or the compassion of God is a strong motivational force that beckons us to completely yield ourselves to Christ.  When you understand all that God did for you in Christ, don’t you want to love Him back?  Isn’t that enough to compel you to live for Him?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:1, 2  NKJV)

In faithfulness

Finally, this proposed marriage will be made by God in total faithfulness.  God’s faithfulness to Israel is what is in view here, but faithfulness is a two-way street.  In the Old Testament, God had always been faithful to Israel but that faithfulness was not returned.  Therefore, there was a necessary separation between Israel and God.  However, in that great future day of the reconciliation of all things, a brand new relationship will be established by God; that separation will come to an end and Israel will be faithful to God for the first time.

When the people of Israel have finally received all that God has for them, they will finally know God and will finally be faithful to Him.  This new relationship was on Jesus’ mind in the Garden as He prayed to His Father:

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3  NKJV)

The simple fact is, the ability to “know God” is a gift from God.  This gift is given to us as much as it will be given to Israel in that future day.

2.  The purpose of the betrothal

The purpose of this betrothal is obvious:  eternal union with God

That Israel may really know God

Israel certainly doesn’t know God today.  As a nation, she is so secular she can’t get too much farther away from Him!  But when their sin problem is finally taken care of, they will gain eternal perspective; they will finally see God for Who He really is and of course they will see Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

This kind of knowledge of God is not head knowledge, but rather heart knowledge.  It is this heart knowledge that results in salvation.

The day will come, says the Lord, when I will make a new contract with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the one I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a contract they broke, forcing me to reject them, says the Lord.  But this is the new contract I will make with them: I will inscribe my laws upon their hearts, so that they shall want to honor me; then they shall truly be my people and I will be their God.  At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then, says the Lord, and I will forgive and forget their sins.  (Jeremiah 31:31—34  TLB)

But this “change of heart” is not something Israel will be able to do for herself.  God will do it; He will give her a new heart.

I will give them hearts that respond to me. They shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with great joy.  (Jeremiah 24:7  TLB)

This is something every sinner can attest to:  God has given them a new heart, one that beats after Him.  It was a desire of David’s too, as he expressed it in Psalm 51:

Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires.  (Psalm 51:10  TLB)

Israel will confess God

Verse 23 makes it clear:

You are our God!

Verses 22 and 23 constitute a play on words that doesn’t come across in the English translations of our Bible.  The play on words has to do with Gomer’s children, a son called Jezreel, a daughter Lo-Ruhamah and another son Lo-Ammi.  God will not only bring the family back together again (regather Israel), but they cease to be “Lo-Ruhamah,” the pitiless daughter of a harlot.  God will show them mercy.  In our day today, Israel is really “Lo-ammi,” they are “not God’s people.”  But in that future day, God will finally declare that “they are my people” and they will say in all earnestness, “You are our God.”  This isn’t happening yet.  It will happen in the future.  This is an exciting prophecy for the Millennium.

Israel will be partners with God

This is something to stop and ponder for a moment.  According to Genesis, a wife is to be a husband’s helper; she is to bring into a marriage something her husband lacks.  She becomes his partner in life.  So it will be with Israel.  When she is finally united to her Lord, she will become His partner in the Kingdom.  Again, this finds its fulfillment during the Millennium when the Jews become the great evangelists, taking the Gospel of the Kingdom all over the world.

But consider how this applies to believers today.  Today we are co-workers with Christ.

We are only God’s coworkers.  (1 Corinthians 3:9a  TLB)

We, who have become part of God’s family, have a responsibility today to work with Christ in building His Church; it is our responsibility to work to extend the Kingdom in the here and now through witnessing and sharing the Gospel with the lost.  If you are in God’s family, then “the family business” ought to be yours.


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