Posts Tagged 'repentance'

Hosea: Let Us Return to the Lord

open hands on sky

Hosea 6:1—3

 

These verses are Hosea’s heartfelt cry to his people.  They are also God’s final call to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Yet they are verses that look ahead, way ahead, to the future of the nation of Israel when God will heal them and restore them.  They are historical verses:  Hosea did say them.  They are prophetic because what they say hasn’t happened yet.  Sadly, the triumphant words of Hosea 6:1—3 will not come to pass until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to stand on the Mount of Olives.

Then I will pour out the spirit of grace and prayer on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on him they pierced, and mourn for him as for an only son, and grieve bitterly for him as for an oldest child who died.  (Zechariah 12:10  TLB)

I will give you back your health again and heal your wounds. Now you are called “The Outcast” and “Jerusalem, the Place Nobody Wants.”(Jeremiah 30:17  TLB)

While these verses apply solely to national Israel, it’s wise to view them as a warning:  God will most certainly judge any nation that claims to be a “Christian nation,” has enjoyed His blessings and the privilege of the Word God, but then goes its own way with no regard for its divine heritage.

1.  There must be repentance

Come, let us return to the Lord; it is he who has torn us—he will heal us. He has wounded—he will bind us up.  (Hosea 6:1  TLB)

Chapters 5 and 6 are a continuous thought, so the chapter break is jarring and interrupts the flow of that thought.  Verse 1 of chapter 6 is connected to 5:15—

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

That’s God talking, and beginning at 6:1, we read Hosea’s cry—his response—to God, not that of his people in his day or ours.  In the future, the remnant of Israel will cry out like this and they will be restored.

This verse is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we see the sovereignty of God at work.  It was God who had “torn” and “wounded” Israel.  God is the source of all, at least in the view of Hosea.  But had God perpetrated all that evil on Israel?  The view that God is the author of both good and evil was certainly the way Israel looked at things; even a casual reading of the Old Testament bears that out.  Even some in the Christian church today credit God with the cause of good and evil.  The problem is when that way of thinking collides with verses like James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; 1 Corinthians 14:33, etc.  God is not the author of evil; nothing bad flows from Him.  Israel, from their perspective, attributed all things, good and bad, to God.  That was their error.  It is more accurate to say that God allows evil to occur, and He is able to turn that evil around so that good can come of it and His character glorified.  He is in charge of all things and His foreknowledge is absolutely perfect.  Sometimes the Lord prevents evil from occurring and touching us, other times He allows it for reasons that may or may not be apparent to us but are clear to Him.

Israel was, in truth, torn and tortured by her own sin and rebellion.  God did not force them to sin and rebel.  Because of their backslidden state, they had experienced continual defeat and failure.  All of this could have caused them to come running back to God, yet it had the opposite effect.  God was teaching His people a lesson; a lesson they could learn only the hard way.  They needed Him; they need Him still.  One day, according to prophecy, this divine truth will finally dawn on them.

All people, not just Israel, need to understand this.  There is a real need for all people to repent and come to Christ, and even Christians need to repent sometimes!  Think about it:  we, like Israel, are constantly being torn apart by our own fears, anxieties, and other destructive emotions.  Time and time again, God in His providence puts us in positions where our only hope is Him.  Often in our pride, we go in the other direction, like Israel did.  Sometimes, we make the right choice and choose God.  But in either case, He can be glorified.

2.  How to repent

…return to the Lord…

The call to “return” means Israel had “left” the Lord.  They backslid (they “slid” away from God by their own volition), but they never for a moment stopped being His people; God continued to call out to “His people” even while they appeared to not be His people.

We see a New Testament teaching about this in the parable of the prodigal son.  When that wayward son made the decision to return home, he was demonstrating what real repentance is all about:  he realized his sinful condition, turned away from it, and returned home.  Those are the movements of true repentance.  Repentance is not the same thing as “feeling sorry” for your sins.  Anybody can feel sorry for their sins, especially when they get caught.  Real repentance involves a realization of your sinful condition, feeling Godly sorrow for it, but then going a step further and replacing that sin with God.

The beauty of God is that His arms are open wide, ready to accept the repentant sinner and the repentant believer!  God never gives up!

3.  Results of repentance

…he will heal us.  (Hosea 6:1a  TLB)

Israel will be healed when they finally repent of the things that are destroying them.  That makes common sense, doesn’t it?

Not only that, but repentance leads to peace with God and results in a joy that changes one’s whole disposition.  It’s amazing how a changed attitude can change the way you feel!

…He will revive us… (Hosea 6:2a  NKJV)

After the “healing” and the “binding up,” God will “revive” the  nation of Israel.  Remember, we are looking ahead to the future; to the days of the Millennial Kingdom.  At that time, Israel as a  nation will be revived.

If we look at the whole statement, we see something interesting:

After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up… (NKJV)

Who cannot make a connection between the Resurrection of Christ and the revival of national Israel?  Jesus Christ was raised on the third day for the justification of both Jews and Gentiles.  Contextually, this verse cannot refer to Jesus, but to the sudden revival (resurrection) of Israel when she finally repents.

When any sinner repents, his new position in Christ occurs immediately.  Salvation is immediate.  The new life begins the moment repentance takes place.  The very moment a sinner repents, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and his new life begins:

Only the Holy Spirit gives eternal life.  (John 6:57  TLB)

This is what “revival” is all about!  In terms of national Israel, we see a graphic illustration of how life will return to them in Ezekiel 37.  After the prophet saw a vision in which a valley of old, dry bones suddenly came back to life, the Lord told him the meaning of that strange vision:

I will put my Spirit into you, and you shall live and return home again to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have done just what I promised you.  (Ezekiel 37:14  TLB)

And this is what happens when a sinner repents and when a Christian gets serious in his relationship with God.

The nation of Israel has a glorious future.  God refers to it as a resurrection. Israel’s resurrection will be based on the resurrection of Christ.  Our resurrection is also based on the One who rose from the dead on the third day.  Paul takes time in Romans 11 to talk about this.  Today, God’s purpose is to build His Church; to draw all people, both Jew and Gentile, to Himself through the work of Christ on the Cross.  When that Church is complete, and when it is taken out of the world, God will return to dealing specifically with the nation of Israel.  God has never forgotten them; He will never forget them.  He has a plan for Israel, and that plan involves returning their national glory based on His purposes for them.

…we may live in His sight…  (Hosea 6:2b  NKJV)

God will always have an eye on His people, Israel.  What a comfort!  Living in God’s sight is the privilege of all believers, of all dispensations.  To live in God’s sight means that God will always take care of you.  He sees every need you have.  He sees every struggle you engage in.  He sees every moment of doubt you experience.  But He is a loving heavenly Father who has given you LIFE.

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:37—39  NKJV)

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him… (Hosea 6:3a  TLB)

The result of Israel’s revival or resurrection will be a desire to know Him more.  But knowing God more involves more than just head knowledge, as indicated by “let us press on.”  Knowing God for Israel in the future involves the same thing as knowing God today:  actively pursuing Him and searching Him out in His Word.

Every young man who listens to me and obeys my instructions will be given wisdom and good sense.   For the Lord grants wisdom! His every word is a treasure of knowledge and understanding.  (Proverbs 2:1, 2, 6 TLB)

He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.  (Hosea 6:3b  NKJV)

The Second Coming of Jesus, which will trigger the revival of national Israel, will be the latter, or the spring, rain:  a cause for great rejoicing.  Farmers and those who live off the land love the spring rains because of the benefit that is given to the crops.  That’s how the Second Coming will be received by those who will be looking for it!

But not only that, verse 3, which speaks of the glorious future, teaches us something of the faithfulness and grace of God today.  He is unchanging.  He is infinite and not limited by time.  Our mighty God, the One who created day and night and established the seasons is as sure and dependable as the sun that rises and sets as His command.  His grace and mercy refreshes our souls today.  He blesses us with His presence all day, every day so that we may keep returning to Him so that He may continually revive us.

The blessing and benefits waiting for national Israel are available to all believers today who live in a state of repentance.  Revival is there for the experiencing if believers would just take the time to get serious in their relationship with God.  Israel of Hosea’s day wasn’t ready to experience any of this.  They did not return to God.  Theirs will be future blessing.  You don’t have to wait.  You may experience the fullness of God’s richest blessings right now.  Like so many things in life, though, it’s all up to.

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 6

Jonah and God’s Compassion

Jonah

What we know about the prophet Jonah we find in 2 Kings 14:25—

He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah, son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

The “he” of this verse is Jeroboam, king of Israel, who reigned from 781—753 BC, so we know the date of Jonah’s ministry. During the Jeroboam years, Israel experienced a time of political and economic revival as the fortunes of Assyra waned.

Even though our glimpse of Jonah’s life is only 48 verses long, they are a powerful 48 verses, full of great spiritual truth. Scholars have found these to be the major themes in the book:

  • The sovereignty of God. God accomplished His plans in spite of Jonah’s failures.

  • Mercy and grace. God is compassionate to whomever He wants to be, whether a sinful nation or a struggling prophet.

  • Responsibility. If we claim to know God, we have a responsibility to serve Him to the best of our ability.

  • Servanthood. Jonah’s disobedience is a classic example of how NOT to serve God.

  • Repentance. God always gives people time to repent.

  • Missions. God reaches out to people everywhere.

1. God’s patience with disobedient believers

You don’t see a lot of missionary activity in the Old Testament. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that “evangelism” is a New Testament concept and activity. The book of Jonah, though, teaches us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God was concerned with sinners, those outside of the Covenant.

Jonah is the reluctant missionary. God called him to a task that he wanted to avoid. He was, after all, a prophet. His job was to proclaim God’s Word to his people. Why in the world did God now want this prophet to take God’s Word to other people?

a. The fleeing prophet, 1:1—3, 17

Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

This is God’s commission and call of Jonah. Nineveh is referred to here as “the great city” because at this time it was a world power. Even though the Assyrian Empire was struggling, Nineveh was the seat of power in the ancient world. It may have been a great city, but it was also a wicked city. The fact that God was concerned about this city shows us that God’s concern and even love reached beyond His chosen ones, even though they believed they were only ones He truly loved.

But Jonah, full of fear and apprehension, decided that this mission was not for him. So he boarded a ship that was sailing in the opposite direction. But of what was Jonah fearful? We might think he was afraid of the Assyrians; afraid that they would harm him. But, in fact, he was afraid they would turn and repent and that God would indeed forgive them. It’s not that Jonah wanted people to die in judgment, it was that if Nineveh was spared, then he would appear to be a false prophet in the eyes of his people back home.

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (verse 17)

Jonah was clearly in disobedience to God, and in act of discipline mingled with mercy, God provided a big fish that swallowed up the errant prophet. We aren’t told how big this fish was. Matthew 12:40 speaks of “a whale,” but the Greek word used there means “a huge fish” or even a “sea monster.” For three days and three nights Jonah remained in the belly of the fish. This expression is probably a colloquial expression suggesting a relatively short, indefinite period of time.

This incident brings back to our minds the beautiful words of the Psalmist—

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?…If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7, 9—10, NKJV)

b. The returning prophet, 2:1—10

Jonah knew he was in the wrong and cried out to God for help from within the fish. Jonah was wrong to rebel and run away from God, as if hiding among a bunch of Phoenician sailors would work! Jonah was also wrong about by taking refuge among these godless sailors, because he was implicitly declaring that, for this moment in time at least, he was preferring the Canaanite way of life to that of Israel.

Rather than dying inside the big fish, Jonah called to God for help, and we have recorded for us in poetic form, the prayer he prayed. It chronicles how dumb he was to do what he did. Yet even in his stupidity, Jonah had the presence of mind to remember God and His compassion. The prophet recommits his life to the Lord:

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (verse 9)

On the heels of Jonah’s confession and his recognition that God alone is his deliverer, the big fish pukes up the prophet, right onto dry land. We are not told just where he was deposited, but he was free, once again, to do God’s work. This man of God learned the hard way that fleeing from God’s will in an effort to avoid difficult tasks always results in even greater difficulties.

2. God’s compassion for unbelievers, 3:1—10

God is a God of second chances, even in the Old Testament. Abraham, Moses, Saul, and David are among the people in the Old Testament who personally experienced a “second chance” to make it right with God. In chapter 3, Jonah’s story reboots with his “second chance” to fulfil his mission to evangelize the great city, Nineveh and save it from certain destruction.

a. The prophet obeys, vs. 1—4

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I will give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord… (verses 1—3a)

At this point in the story, it seems as though our intrepid prophet has learned his lesson. There is a New Testament parallel in the experience of Peter. His first commission is found in Mark 1:16, 17 and Luke 5:10. After his failure and restoration, Peter was recommissioned as we read in John 21:15—17. How wonderful it is to serve a God that knows us and gives us the opportunity to hear and to respond to His call more than once!

Jonah had been forgiven by God, but he had to take up his cross where he laid it down. He had to go to Nineveh and preach the Word God would give to Him. To keep God’s restored favor and blessing, he, like all of us, had to face up to the same issue we sought to escape. God is compassionate, but He is also firm. Remember what what Samuel cautioned Saul:

To obey is better than sacrifice, to harken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, KJV)

Or, as Father Mapple said in his classic sermon:

And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, and it this disobeying ourselves wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick)

b. A surprising response, vs. 5—10

What an amazing site greeted the prophet as he approached Nineveh. The inner city was surrounded by a wall 100 feet thick, wide enough for 3 chariots to drive side-by-side on. The walls had 1,500 towers, 100 feet in height. Huge lions and bulls carved our of stone guarded its 27 gates. Stunning gardens surrounded the public building, which were ornamented with alabaster and beautiful sculptures. Acres and acres of lush gardens were to be found within the city walls so fresh produce was always available. But, at the same time, Assyria’s national economy was in dire straights. The whole Empire, and Nineveh in particular, was in the grips of a devastating depression. And this could explain their readiness to hear, listen to, and respond to the Word of God as they did.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (verse 10)

God spared the city just as He had spared the sailors. God’s incredible response to sinners in this short book foreshadows Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:4—

(God) wants all people to be saved and to come a knowledge of the truth.

3. God illustrates His compassion, 4:1—11

a. The prophet’s prejudice, vs 1—3

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (verse 3)

Maybe it was his national pride and his self-esteem that caused Jonah to resent the fact that God responded in compassion and forgiveness to the Ninevehites. He may have felt that if Assyria, the promised destroyer of Israel were destroyed, then Israel itself would be spared. This, of course, would have been faulty reasoning, since it wasn’t really Assyria that destroyed Israel, it was Israel’s own sins.

The petulant prophet blamed God for everything from sparing a godless city to his own disobedience. Amazingly, he defended his own failure by blaming God’s loving-kindness!

Jonah felt humiliated and discredited. Overcome with self-pity, he felt it would be better for him to die rather than face embarrassment back home.

Another prophet, Elijah, also got depressed over the outcome of events of which he was a part. He too wanted to die.

He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)

The difference between Elijah and Jonah was that Jonah was depressed because so many sought God, Elijah was hurt on God’s behalf because so few sought God. We could say that Elijah was jealous for god, but Jonah was jealous of God.

b. God’s compassion on Jonah, vs. 4—6

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

God had rescued Jonah from death when he was in blatant rebellion against Him. But now, the Lord reasoned with him. God wanted to know why His prophet was so angry. God was displeased with Jonah’s attitude, yet He did not openly rebuke Him. Like a parent who practices good parenting skills, the Lord worked with Jonah so that he would see for himself how childishly he was behaving, and then hopefully he would change his attitude.

c. A stern lesson, vs. 7—11

This group of verses is interesting:

  • God provided a gourd.

  • God provided worm that ate the gourd.

  • God provided a scorching wind.

What lesson was God trying to get Jonah to learn?

Jonah was thrilled with the plant, but was angry when it went away. Jonah could see no further than his own discomfort. Then God drove the point home. Jonah had been upset over something insignificant—a plant which he neither planted nor tended. Why didn’t he have the same concern over the eternal destiny of the population? Yes, Jonah’s priorities were completely out of whack.

The book of Jonah ends with God asking his prophet a final question, to which there was no answer recorded:

...should I not have concern for the great city, Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? (verse 11)

God was trying to show Jonah that he was blind; his religious exclusiveness blinded him to the needs of ignorant sinners. Almost all believers, from time to time, behave like Jonah. We overvalue the less important things of life, like the gourd. We also, from time to time, even when thinking about spiritual things, do so in their relation to ourselves, or our own “little world.” However, God’s concern reaches out the last person on earth.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 2

Joel: A Cry for Repentance

Because of its location in the Hebrew Bible, sandwiched between Hosea and Amos, we might think that Joel’s ministry occurred during the same time as those prophets, sometime during the eighth century B.C. However, Joel’s little book of big prophecy gives few hints as to when he ministered or when he wrote his book. Among Bible scholars, there is great debate as to when to date this work. Some place him in the ninth century B.C while others place him as late as the Maccabean Period, between the Old and New Testaments! It seems to us that Joel probably ministered early in the 800’s B.C., during the reign of King Joash, when Jehoiada was the high priest.

However, even though the date of Joel is uncertain, his message is timeless; this prophet speaks across the centuries to all the people of God who may be facing difficult and trying times.

1. God’s judgment on the unrepentant, 1:13—20

Joel” means “Jehovah is God,” and was a common name. About all we know about this prophet Joel is what we are told in verse 1:

The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

That’s about it. After that briefest of introductions, Joel began his word from the Lord. It was His word, not Joel’s, and it was addressed to various groups of people, from the eldest citizen to the youngest, to give careful attention to it.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (vs. 4)

The collective memory of Judah could not recall such a devastating plague of locusts in the nation’s history. The locust swarm described in Joel was real, not symbolic, although this real locust swarm symbolized something very important. As frequently happens in the Old Testament, natural disasters are interpreted in light of God’s judgment on God’s people.

There are nine Old Testament Hebrew words for “locust,” and four of them are used in verse 4:

Gazam: cutting locusts
Arbeh: swarming locusts
yeleq: hopping locusts
chasil: destroying locusts

These are not four different species of locust, but four different stages in the life of the insect. Joel interprets this calamity as the judgment of God and he calls Judah to repentance. He challenges the seekers of pleasure to get sober so they can understand the seriousness of the plague of locusts. He warns the farmers, those most directly affected by the locusts, lament loudly their losses.

a. The Day of the Lord, vs. 13—15

Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

After addressing the nation as a whole, Joel turns his attention the priests. Because this locust plague foreshadowed a much more drastic judgment to come—the invasion of a great nation—the prophet called for a solemn assembly to pray and repent. This is another common component of Old Testament prophecy: even in the midst of God’s judgment, there is always a hope and an opportunity for mercy and forgiveness.

In Hebrew history, the call for a national fast was extraordinary, but these extraordinary times demanded an extraordinary response from the people, and it was up to the priests, those closest to God, to make it happen.

b. The plague of locusts, vs. 16—18

Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes—joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

The reason Joel wanted the nation to repent was because the Day of the Lord was just around the corner. As Joel used the term, it applied to his local, historical situation. The locust plague, though not part of the Day of the Lord, was really a warning of something much worse to come. The coming Day of the Lord would be time of terrible judgment for Israel and that time was immanent.

Verses 16—18 relate to the then-current situation caused by the literal locusts. The people had to pray and repent, not only on account of the coming Day of the Lord, but also because their present situation was terrible. The locusts left nothing alive in their wake. The devastation caused by the locusts not only wreaked havoc on the physical landscape of Judah, but it affected the worship in the “house of God.” There were no animals to sacrifice and no oil and no wine.

c. The need for intervention, vs. 19—10

To you, LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

In the face of the darkness around him, Joel cried out to God from his heart for help. Notice that Joel does not blame the Devil for the dire circumstances Judah found itself in, nor does he expect repentance to save the nation. Instead, Joel’s prayer stresses the fact that in the midst of trial and tribulation, God was the only One the people could turn to. This may seem odd because Israel’s impending judgment is coming directly from God! But God’s judgment of His people is never cold or callous or a result of rage or hatred. God’s judgment always has a purpose, and in this case, He wanted His people to turn to Him.

2. Evidences of true repentance, 2:12—17

Joel begins this part of his prophecy with a description of the Day of the Lord:

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. (vs. 1, 2)

Many Bible scholars believe that the prophet Joel actually coined the phrase “Day of the Lord.” It is an eschatalogical phrase, referring to a great day of judgment afar off in the future of mankind. For Joel, as he watched the plague of locusts, his mind looked forward, to a time in the future of his people. The locusts of Joel’s day foreshadowed a mighty army, probably the Assyrians, which God would use to judge His rebellious people.  But it meant even more than that.

a. Return to the Lord, vs. 12—14

Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

Here is God’s desperate plea to His people to national repentance. Israel can avert coming  judgment if only they would sincerely turn to God in repentance and mourning.

The nation was to turn with their whole collective hearts because they were all considered guilty. Every element of true repentance may be seen: fasting, weeping, and mourning. Those were external manifestations of repentance, but more was needed; the people needed to repent on the inside as well. They were to “rend their hearts.” God’s primary requirement has always been something many people seem unwilling to give Him: a broken heart.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Sometimes a heart must be broken so that it can be remade into the kind of heart that beats for God. Sometimes God may use the hard times to correct our ways, to refine us, and ultimately purify us. Other times, the Lord will use the tough times draw us closer to Him or equip us to serve others. One thing is certain. If you do not have a Biblical worldview, in the midst of a trial you probably won’t see any reason for it. This is why there is so much non-biblical thinking in regards to suffering. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles understood something we had better: no Christian is exempt from hardship and life is seldom trouble-free.

b. A solemn assembly, vs. 15—17

Spare your people, LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (vs. 17)

Back in 2:1, a trumpet was blown to sound an alarm, but here it is blown to call all the people together. They were called together to hear the Word of the Lord so that they might repent and turn to Him. Joel is explicit in his demand for repentance as a condition of restoration:

  • The condition: the nation was to turn with all its heart, 2:12—13;

  • The response: the grace, mercy, and kindness of God, 2:13

  • The conclusion: the restoration of the covenant, 2:14

But all this hinged on the people genuinely coming before the Lord in repentance.

The issue was not avoidance of trouble, but returning to a right relationship with God. Here is another lesson for the modern believer. God may choose to take the threat away from you or he may choose to allow you to go through some tough times. No matter what, your only hope is in Him. When the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, God answered King Hezekiah’s prayers and spared the city. But several generations later, the Word of God to the prophet Jeremiah was that Jerusalem was doomed; that there would be no escape this time. But even in their Babylonian exile, God’s Word through Jeremiah and other prophets was that their deliverance would come; that they had a future and their hope was in Him.

3. Repentance brings restoration, 2:18—27

a. God’s response to repentance, vs. 18—20

Then the LORD was jealous for his land and took pity on his people. The LORD replied to them: “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations. “I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.”

The little word “then” is important. It means, “not now, but then.” In His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24—25), Jesus used the word “then” to indicate that He was teaching the disciples about a time in the future: then, not now, certain things would come to pass. Joel is doing the same thing.

This group of verses contain promises of a restored economy and the restoration of Israel’s agricultural sector after the plague of locusts and the drought. As is the case with many other promises in the Old Testament, some promises were fulfilled more or less immediately in the life of the prophet, and others, often spoken right alongside, have yet to be fulfilled. These are the “then” promises.

It is clear that God has taken pity on His people, and that He will restore the land in Joel’s present, but more would happen “then,” in the far future.

b. A psalm of praise, vs 21—24

This group of verses represents Joel’s spontaneous outburst of praise.

Surely he has done great things! (verse 20b)

The “great” or “marvelous” things are what caused the prophet to pause and praise. It’s important to praise God for the good things in our lives. According to the New Testament, every good thing comes from Him. We ought never be ashamed to give thanks to God when we prosper.

c. Restoration after exile, vs. 25—27

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.

The land would be restored, yes, but now take notice that the very real locusts are compared to an army that will march across the land. What is significant here, though, is that it will be the Lord’s army! God will use a foreign army, the dreaded Assyrians, as a tool of judgment upon the nation. But after that period of judgment, restoration will come and it will last forever.

Here is the confusing nature of Biblical prophecy. There seems to several time lines going on here with no distinction between them. The locusts were a present hardship for the people and because the people repented, the Lord would restore the land from the damage caused by those locusts. But at the same time, the locusts are compared to the Assyrian army, which would eventually destroy the land. But, the Lord’s promises of restoration include the restoration that would take place after the Exile, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But there is yet another, future component to the words of Joel that speak of a permanent restoration that will occur in OUR future!

The depths of God’s word are deep, indeed.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

ISAIAH, Part 1

A Great Invitation

Isaiah 1:1—20

Isaiah is the “king” of the major prophets. His writings are among the most profound of all literature, and his prophecies are the most distinctive in all the Bible. Isaiah was a prophet, a statesman, and an accomplished orator. His ministry was extensive, spanning many years and many topics, and it was far-reaching in its influence. The final 40 years of the eighth century BC produced many great men and world leaders, but the greatest of these was the prophet Isaiah. His name means “the Eternal One is Salvation,” and he often engages in a play on words using his own name to emphasize the central theme of his ministry: Salvation by faith.

The historical background of Isaiah can be found in 2 Kings 15—20 and 2 Chronicles 26—32. The first verse of Isaiah 1 gives us the vital historical information that allows us to pinpoint precisely when the prophet lived, where he lived, and, if we are the least bit familiar with Hebrew history, what the conditions were like while he lived and worked.

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

We know nothing about Isaiah’s father, Amoz, except that Amoz shouldn’t be confused with Amos, the minor prophet. What we do know is that by the time young Isaiah arrived on the scene, Israel had fallen into degenerate times. His arrival on the scene was just as timely and fortuitous as Moses’ many generations earlier. In Acts 7:20, Moses is called “no ordinary child,” and we can say Isaiah was also “no ordinary child.” In a world that had become dark with sin and rebellion, and full of despair and hopelessness, the vision that came to Isaiah came at exactly the right time. God’s time is always the right time and God always has the perfect way of revealing to human beings both their sin and guilt and His compassion and mercy. Both of these aspects of God are revealed in this chapter.

1. Their guilt

With one startling sentence, God charges His people with the sin of rebellion:

I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. (verse 2b)

Even though God was addressing His people only, His message was meant to be heard by both heaven and earth. Here we see God, standing up as it were, stating His case before the whole universe against His stupid and disobedient people. God is calling all creation, terrestrial and celestial, to hear His complaint—His lawsuit.

Isaiah pictures God as a father whose children have snubbed their collective noses at Him and gone their own way and are doing their own thing without regard to what their Father wants. God had nourished them and brought them up out of the wilderness and into the land of privilege and plenty. He had given them everything and more, yet without a moment’s hesitation, as soon as they were able to, these “children” spurned their heavenly Father, turning against Him.

We as Christians have got to ask ourselves, Have we not also been the recipients of tremendous blessings, nourished and brought up in the “land of the Gospel light and privilege?” Have we also shunned and spurned God, our heavenly Father?

Let’s think about that as we look at how Israel had rebelled against God.

(1) They were inconsiderate. my people doth not consider. (verse 3b)

To be inconsiderate means to be thoughtless and thankless. The House of Israel had become just that toward Jehovah, their Owner and Provider. It is a terrible thing to become so self-centered that we cease to think about the work of the Lord and stop considering all that He was done and is doing for us. Yet “self-centered” is a very apt description for the average Christian in these days of plenty.

Think about it; what preoccupies your thought-life during any given day? Do you reserve thought about God for just before you drop off to sleep at night, before each meal, and a little longer on Sundays? You may justify that thoughtlessness by saying, God understands I have to work…raise my family…God knows how busy my life is…there are only 24 a day, you know! The thing God understands is that when you spend 95% of your waking hours thinking about your life and 5% thinking about Him, you’re inconsiderate! If you’re a husband, I challenge you offer excuses as lame as those to your wife when she confronts you about never talking to her, or engaging her in meaningful conversation.

When you start treating God as shabbily as that, you are already on your way to becoming a backslider, whether you know it or not.

(2) They left God. They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (verse 4b)

It isn’t much a walk from treating God with contempt and presumption to leaving Him altogether. Their thoughtlessness resulted in a willful, deliberate departure from Jehovah.

When a Christian begins to take God for granted and when he treats God with an arrogant presumption that says “He’ll always be there no matter how I treat Him,” pretty soon that Christian slips into a backslidden state. This is an incredibly dangerous position to settle into, for the backslidden state happens so gradually that when one is aware of it, it no longer matters.

(3) The became perverse. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. (verse 5)

The nation of Israel had become a nation of perverts, involved in perversity constantly. From the dictionary:

Perverse: Obstinate in the wrong; stubborn; intractable; hence, wayward; vexing; contrary.

The people were living in a backslidden state, in a state of perpetual rebellion, and they were suffering terribly on account of a lifestyle that was contrary to God’s will. Now that’s perverse, and anybody who prefers to live like that is a pervert.

How that must break God’s heart. Having to chastise His people, yet His people responding with even more rebellion. Here the terrible sadness in these words:

In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravenous lion. (Jeremiah 2:30)

(4) They had become totally corrupt. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil. (verse 6)

This pitiful description of Israel was both real and symbolic. Physically, they were suffering as a result of sin and spiritually they were killing themselves bit by bit. Nothing they did could stop the national bleeding.

What Isaiah’s people didn’t comprehend was that healing only came from God. When people are right with God, spirits are healed, sin is overcome, bodies and minds restored. No pill or treatment or therapy can heal the total person apart from Jesus Christ. He is the Source of life. Therefore to shun Christ is to shun life and prefer death. That is corrupt! We know how the Lord deals with people like that:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)

2. God’s offer

It all sounds so depressing and hopeless. But we serve a God of hope! We serve a God who doesn’t give up easily.

Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (verse 18)

These incredible words contain:

(1) A startling revelation.

Just when we think there is no hope; when we think we’ve committed the sin that would forever separate us from God, along comes God with this amazing offer. Israel of Isaiah’s day had fallen far but not so far as to be out of God’s reach.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

That’s how God works. He doesn’t wait for us to get right before saving us. While we were at our worst, Christ died for us. Amazing love.

(2) A strong invitation.

God’s call couldn’t have been stronger:

Come now, let us reason together… (verse 18a)

The first thing we need to understand with this statement is that God is pressing His people to make a decision. It’s an invitation, but it is also an ultimatum: repent and be forgiven.

The second thing that strikes us is God’s use of the word “us” in His call. God recognizes and declares our kinship with Himself. God does not reason with animals. He reasons with people capable of reasoning with Him.

The last thing that should be pointed out is the word “reason.” It is a legal word that means “do decide a case in court.” But instead of pronouncing judgment on guilty human beings, our Judge offers us pardon!

How easily it would have been for God to wipe Israel off the map. But He is ever patient, loving, merciful and full of grace. We may be thoughtless, but we are always on God’s mind. God’s invitation is continual; to this day His words resound: Come now, let US reason together…

(3) A precious promise. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (verse 18b)

God condemns sin and sinners, but thank God that’s not the end of the story. Scarlet and crimson were the colors of the robes worn by the princes to whom Isaiah preached. God’s promise was that, even though one’s sins may be as irremovable the stain of blood, grace could restore purity of character.

God can do that because not only is He the offended One, but He is also the Judge. God’s power is in and behind this great promise; His power can turn the sin-stained, scarlet-dyed clothes that make up our filthy rags into a the white robes of a blood-washed saint!

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

(4) A condition. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (verses 19, 20)

This is God’s ultimatum. A lot of us wish God had finished speaking at the end of verse 18! This condition, or warning, cannot be ignored. That little word “IF” is most important and it makes it plain that God has honored the soul of man by giving him a part in his own salvation. Man cannot and does not initiate the call to salvation nor can he save himself in any way, but note this: God cannot forgive an unrepentant soul. A sinner must exhibit repentance—God cannot do the repenting—before God can forgive him.  That is man’s responsibility.

Human beings are always given a choice.  In our day, people don’t like to chose; we like others to make the hard choices for us.  But in the Kingdom of God, it all begins with choice.  God chooses us, and we must chose to follow Him.

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

Human beings are always given the choice.  Make sure you’ve made the right one.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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