Posts Tagged 'Restoration'

Obadiah, Part 1

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In Luke’s Gospel we read an interesting exchange between some Pharisees and Jesus. In a strange twist, these Pharisees were trying to warn Jesus to leave the area because Herod Antipas was planning to arrest Him.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ (Luke 13:31, 32 NIV)

You have to hand it to Jesus. Calling Herod “that fox” took some nerve. But our Lord wasn’t the only who one of His day that disliked Herod. There was a bitter, centuries old hostility that existed between the Jews and the Edomites, of which Herod was a part. Here were two groups of people that descended from two brothers: the Edomites (Herod) from Esau and the Jews from Jacob. Herod’s Edomite ancestors were the subjects of Obadiah’s one-chapter prophecy.

Jesus referred to Herod as “that fox” for a reason. History testifies to the fact that this Herod was ruthless, clever, cold, and scheming. That same history indicates that all the sons of Esau were just like that. The nuts didn’t fall far from the tree. Esau himself was schemer of the highest order. He was also something else, brought out by the writer to the Hebrews:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:16 NIV)

Scottish theologian George Adam Smith, expert on all things having to do with the Holy Land, notes that throughout the Old Testament we never read a word about Edomite gods. We may be certain that they worshiped false gods, but that was not what the Edomites were all about. The Edomites were essentially irreligious, living for materialism, spoil, and vengeance – a people who deserved even more than the Philistines to have their name descend as a symbol of hardness and obscurantism.

While it may be accurate to say that all the patriarchs were men of cunning and of dubious character, unlike Easu, they were all men of very deep, abiding, yet imperfect faith.

These life-long foes of Israel are first mentioned in the first book of the Bible and last mentioned in the last book of the Old Testament. In between we read about the rocky relationship they had. Many of the Old Testament prophets foretold the doom of Edom, but none quite as eloquently as a man named Obadiah.  We know nothing about this minor prophet. His name means, appropriately enough, “worshiper of the Lord.” We also know next to nothing about his short book. It is likely, based on verse 11, that our prophet preached shortly after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 BC.

This short prophecy breaks down in a neat, three point outline.

1. Edom’s Judgment, Verses 1 – 9
2. Reasons for Judgment, Verses 10 – 14
3. The Day of the Lord, Verses 15 – 21

Obadiah, the end times, the Church, and America

Despite what some Bible teachers say, the United States of America is not the subject of any Biblical prophecy. In a very general sense, Bible prophecy deals with Israel and its surrounding nations. And yet, Gerald Flurry in his nifty commentary on Obadiah, refers to Obadiah’s prophecy as “the most terrifying message in the Bible.” And while the prophecy of Obadiah is to us history, its message is, if not terrifying as Mr Flurry thinks it is, definitely prescient to the Church in America of the 21st century and to the nation itself.

In another Old Testament book of prophecy, we read these interesting verses:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2, 3 NIV)

That’s Israel complaining to God, thinking that He didn’t, in fact, love them. As proof of His love for them, the Lord compares what He thought of Jacob (also known as Israel) versus his brother, Esau. You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were twin brothers with a long history of hostility between each other. We can certainly apply this sad family situation to the state of the Church today. The Lord through His prophet Malachi was talking about a broken family and how divided it was. The Church today is nothing if not divided. The similarities between Israel and Esau and the various factions in the Church continue:

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’
“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ (Malachi 1:4 – 6 NIV)

In a rapidly secularizing society, the Church is also becoming more and more secular, with some paying the barest of lip service to the authority of the Word of God. There is a deepening spiritual divide between churches remaining faithful to God’s Word and will and those which are not – those which are morphing into apostate churches. And more churches, and more and more Christians are becoming like Esau; more concerned with appealing to the masses and maintaining their own comfort than remaining true to God’s revealed will. In that sense, Jacob and Esau are almost types of the Church of Jesus Christ today.

Theology of Obadiah

Simply put, in Obadiah’s theology God is seen as absolutely just. He holds responsible those who mistreat others, and especially those who take advantage of others during rough times. The Edomites and the Judahites shared a common ancestor: Abraham. And by mistreating Judah, Edom broke a universal law of God and a very specific promise He made to Abraham:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8 NIV)

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3 NIV)

Another prominent aspect of Obadiah’s theology is the idea of Judah’s restoration, which dovetails into one final, big point of theology that our prophet covers: the universal rule of God. At some time in the future, the Lord will reign over all nations and people.

…the kingdom will be the Lord’s. (Obadiah, vs. 21 NIV)

The significance of Obadiah’s closing comments are echoed in the last book of the New Testament:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15 NIV)

So you can see, then, even though it is very short, Obadiah’s prophecy covers some huge topics that impacted, not only his time, but ours, and the future.

Edom’s Judgment, Vs. 1 – 9

The opening words of Obediah’s book of prophecy also constitute its title:

The vision of Obadiah. (Verse 1a NIV)

Right at the outset, we know we will be reading about something God has shown Obadiah. The word “vision” comes from a Hebrew word, hazon, that is commonly used throughout the Old Testament to describe the content of a personal revelation from God to one of His prophets. What’s particularly interesting to us today, during out age of specialization, is that some of God’s prophets actually had day jobs! Amos, the prophet whose book comes just before Obadiah’s, could be considered a part-time prophet. However, since we nothing about Obadiah, it’s hard to tell if he was a professional prophet or not. Regardless, the Lord spoke to him.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—We have heard a message from the Lord: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, let us go against her for battle…” (Obadiah 1:1b TNIV)

God’s message – the prophet’s vision – came to Obadiah in the form of words. We are about to hear two things from the prophet: his own disgust with Edom and God’s judgment. The fact is, the Lord had already judged His own people on account of their blatant and constant apostasy, but now, as the Sovereign over all nations of the earth, God is going to level His condemnation on Edom.

This idea of the Sovereignty of God is significant. Over the centuries, Judah hadn’t exactly been kind to Edom. In our politically correct society today, some Christians may wonder about the fairness of it all. Here God is seen rallying nations to march against Edom, yet, they wonder, what about Judah? Judah is seen by some as “just as bad.” It would do us well to remember that it is God who is speaking – God who is rendering judgment – not the prophet. It’s never a great idea to question the wisdom of God’s Word or actions. Job did that and here was the Lord’s response:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Prepare to defend yourself; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:1 – 3 TNIV)

There are plenty of other things a person could do that would be infinitely more pleasant than having to defend themselves or their dopey ideas before God. Peter Craigie makes an important observation on this point:

The essence of the book is that it contains the Lord’s word. And God was not partial; He had already judged His own people for their evil, and no less would He judge other nations. The essence of the theology throughout is that God is the Lord of human history; the evil acts of any nation, regardless of affiliation or national faith, invite divine judgment.

Indeed. Perhaps that’s the reason why Gerald Flurry thinks Obadiah’s message is so terrifying. It does contain timeless truths and principles. One of them is artfully spelled out in the New Testament:

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 TNIV)

In the book of Revelation, we can see this in the very structure of the book. In the opening chapters, before we get to the apocalyptic bits, we read about a group of churches, seven in all, and we read a formula repeated to each of them. The Lord begins this way: “I know your works.” And He does. There isn’t anything about any person or church that is hidden from God. Some of these seven churches were commended by God. Yet, after the good part comes this: “But I hold this against you…” Each church, to varying degrees, had let the Lord down. They were warned to shape up or face certain judgment. So before God unleashes His wrath upon the world, His church will be judged.

But judgment is a tricky thing. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we are advised:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 TNIV)

There’s the rub. If the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t judge itself, it will face sure and certain judgment from God. In Revelation, of the seven churches addressed, five needed renewal, and that was only 60 years into church history! To each church John writes, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” In other words, they are being asked to stop, look and listen to what Jesus Christ is saying.  Ed Lewis’ sober observations are worth reading:

I believe God is withdrawing His hand of protection from the church in judgment, but the church hasn’t realized it yet. It’s a well-known fact that there are as many divorces today within the church as outside it. The pleasures and values of most people in the church are not much different from other people’s, either. The line that once distinguished Christians from non-Christians has become severely blurred. Why has God not judged . . . ?  When God described in Deuteronomy the judgments He would bring if Israel disobeyed Him, the scattering of families was His final judgment. Because of America’s high divorce rate–both inside and outside the church–children are being torn away from their families and being torn apart emotionally. Yet the church seems to be mostly unaware that today’s events may be part of God’s judgment on the church in America.  The main problem is not so much secularism as it is the secularization of the church. “The salt is losing its savor,” he says. The purity of the church has been compromised, and we’ve lost sight of the value of a pure church. Persecution always cleanses and purifies the church wherever it occurs, but we don’t have to wait for persecution. We can repent now for violating God’s Word, bringing the world’s values into the church, and failing to obey God’s voice.

That’s not bad advice. Obadiah’s brief word of prophecy, addressed to a race of people long gone, is just as relevant to us today. The Word of God is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newspaper.

 

Downward Steps

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What does it mean to “backslide”? In the Biblical context, to backslide means to move away from Jesus Christ rather than towards Him. It means to be lured away from Christ by sin. But does a backslider lose his salvation? Depending on your theological bent, it either does or it doesn’t. So let’s forget about our theological bents and take a look at the Bible and see what it has to say.

In the very first book of the Bible we witness the very first backslider, who happened to be the very first woman: Eve. Backsliding started very early on! Eve saw, then desired, then took, then ate before she gave to Adam. From that moment on, the first couple of backsliders began to slip out of fellowship with God. You can’t have it all; you can’t have both sin and a relationship with God. The two are incompatible. Backsliding is like a disease that infects a believer’s spiritual being. It’s a disease that cripples the will, making it more and more impossible to resist sin.

Adam and Eve’s backsliding didn’t end particularly well for them or their progeny. To this very day, we all feel the consequences of what those two backsliders did.

But there is another backslider in the Bible, and his story is fascinating. His name is Peter. From his life, we learn that backsliding is a definite process; it’s not something that happens in an instant. Let’s look at Peter’s downfall, step-by-step.

Self-confidence

The very first step in Peter’s downfall into a backslidden state was his unreasonable self-confidence. Mark 14:29 –

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” (NIV)

To be fair, Peter meant that when he said it. This declaration was made in response to something Jesus said moments before –

You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27 NIV)

Jesus made this prediction as He walked with His disciples from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. The phrase “fall away” comes from the Greek word, skandalizo, which is not the easiest Greek word to get a handle on. The NIV’s “falling away” seems to be in line with the quote from Zechariah 13:7, which follows skandalizo. The sheep scatter when they lose their shepherd. Not all the disciples will lose their faith in Jesus, but they certainly lost their courage to follow Him. They “scattered” because their faith in Him wavered.

Of course, Zechariah’s prophecy and Jesus’ prediction came to pass. The disciples were filled with dread and fear and didn’t want to be identified with Jesus in His trial and Crucifixion. That dread and fear caused these men who had walked, talked with, laughed with, and cried with Jesus for three years to forsake him.

But before they scattered, Peter was adamant that even if all the other disciples walked away from Jesus, he wouldn’t dare do that. Jesus could count on him to always be by his Savior’s side. That’s what Peter thought. The “I” in Peter’s declaration is powerfully self-assertive. He truly believed that he, even above all his friends, was the one – the only one – who was completely reliable and steadfast. Too bad Peter forgot the words of Solomon –

Those who trust in themselves are fools… (Proverbs 28:26a NIV)

Indeed, the first step in backsliding is thinking it will never happen to you! Paul put it this way –

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

Pride

Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial didn’t convince Peter that it would happen. Can you imagine doubting the Word of the Lord? After all Peter had heard Jesus say and witnessed Him doing over the past three years, it seems almost impossible that he would so vehemently contradict his Lord’s Word. But pride can make you do things you would never do otherwise.

But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31a NIV)

But it wasn’t just Peter who said this: all the other apostles pledged their allegiance to Jesus as well.

And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:31b NIV)

All the disciples were infected with the same thing: spiritual pride. They were all sincere; these disciples were not liars or deceivers. But not one them knew his own heart. Not one of them knew his weaknesses. That’s the problem most Christians have to-day.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10 NIV)

It’s doesn’t pay to con Jesus. He knows your heart. You can fool people most of the time but not the Lord. The only way you can come close to knowing yourself is by looking into the mirror that is the Word of God. The disciples heard the Words of Jesus but didn’t connect them to their lives. Didn’t Jesus say this –

“Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (John 13:36 NIV)

Laziness

Spiritual pride and self-confidence make a believer lazy and leads to unwatchfulness.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.“Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? (Mark 14:37 NIV)

Christians like Peter think they’re safe; they think they know more than other believers; they think they are stronger than other believers. But the third step in backsliding is spiritual laziness. When you think you know the Bible so well you don’t need to read it or study it, then you’re lazy. When you think you know as much as the pastor does (hint:  you probably don’t), then you think Bible study at church is a waste of time. When you think you have a lock on this Christian life, then you’re too good to waste an hour in church on Sunday morning because, after all, other Christians need to be there but not you. Fact is, you’re spiritually lazy and this laziness will inevitably lead to your downfall.

Once again, we see Peter completely forgetting or disregarding the very words of Jesus because just a few hours earlier, He said this:

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:35 – 37 NIV)

But Peter couldn’t keep watch because he was spiritually lazy.

Shame

The downfall of a backslider is gradual, but certain. Remember Peter was so sure he would follow Jesus anywhere. Anywhere! Now all of a sudden when the chips are down and the cards have been called, Peter is nowhere to be found.

Peter followed him at a distance… (Mark 14:54a NIV)

Jesus had been arrested and Peter was as far away from His Lord as he could get. Jesus wasn’t so popular with people now and Peter didn’t want to be identified with Him. He was ashamed of Jesus; ashamed to be among His followers. This is serious step down in the backsliding process. It is here God’s Word is forgotten and neglected and prayer is given up.

Worldliness

When a believer has effectively cut himself off from the fellowship of his Lord and the church, a void is created and worldliness gets sucked in.

There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54b NIV)

Peter hadn’t completely disowned Jesus quite yet. He might have been close enough to actually witness the trial of his Lord, but he’s now associating with “the guards” and is comforted by their fire. When a Christian has no fellowship with Christ and His people, he will find fellowship with non-believers. We don’t know who first uttered this ancient proverb, but it’s undeniably true:

Birds of a feather flock together.

Or, a man is known by the company he keeps. Peter was keeping the company of the enemy.

Denial

When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” (Mark 14:67, 68 NIV)

Not once but three times in all did Peter deny knowing Jesus. It should be noted that Peter is definitely in the process of backsliding, yet he did show some courage in following Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Part of Peter still wanted to follow Jesus; love and fear mingled in his heart, but at the same time he was being pulled away. As has been noted –

Light thoughts on sin ultimately lead to light thoughts on redemption, and ultimately rob the Cross of its glory.

Peter was afraid that if he aligned himself with Jesus, the fate of Jesus would become his fate. In fear this apostle not only denied Jesus, but actually took an oath that he in no way even knew Jesus.

…he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71b NIV)

As vehemently as he once pledged allegiance to follow Jesus anywhere, he now denied that he even knew Him. It’s a very serious thing to deny Jesus as Peter did –

But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:33 NIV)

Recklessness

He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71 NIV)

Peter had once swore up and down that even if all the others left Jesus he never would, and now his backslidden condition is complete and he swore to everybody he never knew Jesus. Peter had been exposed for the coward he really was. His heart had been exposed. Of course others believed him, but he finally saw his heart for what it was. Peter was the man who once said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but now he says, “I don’t even know the man.”

Restoration

When Peter had denied Jesus three times, he broke down and cried. He may have been a coward, but enough of the Word remained in his mind and enough love for God remained in his heart that he felt the full weight of what he had done. In an odd sort of way, it took a backslidden condition to bring Peter back to where he belonged.

We know that it wasn’t long before Peter was restored to the fold, completely. It wasn’t long before Peter would preach sermons so powerful that thousands of converts joined the ranks of the early church. It was just a matter of a few weeks from his denial that Peter would stand up and defy the high priests and Pharisees and steadfastly refuse to denounce Jesus. What was it that changed him? Of course, we know that on the day of Pentecost he was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered with that “power from on high.” But something else was going on way back in the background.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32 NIV)

Jesus knew exactly what Peter would do. His denial came as no surprise to Jesus, in fact, Jesus knew ahead of time and began praying for this apostle’s restoration even before Peter needed it. Backsliding doesn’t always have to end badly. You probably know some Christian who has turned their back on God, the church, and maybe even you. Don’t write them off. Jesus hasn’t. He’s praying for them to return and you should, too.

Hosea: The Final Appeal

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Hosea 14

 

For 13 grueling chapters, Hosea has given us sermons and rants dealing with sin, judgment, and punishment.  Here, in the final chapter of his book we read of the Lord’s final appeal to errant Israel.  To say this chapter is memorable would be an understatement.  It’s like the rainbow after a storm.  In it, we see a side of God that gives the sinner and backslider hope.  The loving heart of God is revealed in Hosea 14.  Nobody can read this chapter without understanding what God said back in 11:9—

I am God and not man…

If God thought and acted like a man, the game would be over as far as the human race is concerned!  But God is not a man, nor does He think like one.  And He does not deal with us like a man would.  Chapter 14 of Hosea gives all men hope as we discover the glorious triumph of grace.

One time, a king named Zedekiah asked another prophet, Jeremiah, this desperate question:

Is there any word from the Lord?  (Jeremiah 31:17  NKJV)

Zedekiah got his answer, and it was bad news for him.  But God’s Word to Hosea’s people and to backsliders of all ages and dispensations is simple:  Come back.

Returning to the Lord is as simple as these five steps:

Step One

O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity…  (Hosea 14:1  NKJV)

Even in its backslidden condition, the Lord is still Israel’s God!  Imagine the patience of a loving heavenly Father who hasn’t given up on His children and let them go.  This is our God!  Like the prodigal’s father, God never ceased to be Israel’s Father no matter how badly they may have wanted that relationship to end.

God is seen calling lost Israel back to Himself, but that call is based on their sins.  It’s interesting that God does not base His call to return on His love for them, which was real enough.  It was on account of their sins that they needed to come back to Him.  Implicit in God’s call was that (1) the people would have to acknowledge their sinful condition, and (2) they would be forgiven.

It’s in the backslider’s best interest to return to God, confess his sins and accept God’s gracious offer of forgiveness.  Those living in a backslidden condition have a completely skewed perspective.  They have “stumbled” over their sins and they are far worse off than if they had continued serving the Lord.  Sin has blinded them to their spiritually crippled state and inexplicably, backsliders will stubbornly claim they are “so much happier” stuck in their sins.  To these, God calls out, “Come back!”, not “Get lost!”

Step Two

Bring your petition. Come to the Lord and say, “O Lord, take away our sins; be gracious to us and receive us, and we will offer you the sacrifice of praise.”  (Hosea 14:2  TLB)

Verse two serves to underscore the importance of confession of sin and a request for God’s grace in returning to Him.  Hosea’s people had been offering sacrifices mechanically for generations; there was no heart behind them.  Now, however, they are to come to God, not with formal, ritualistic, religious observances, but with honest words spoken from the heart that acknowledge their true condition before the Lord.    Religious observances were of absolutely no value to God.

…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)

Truth be told, religion and grace are in constant opposition to each other.  Religion actually has nothing to do with God but everything to do with man.  It is man’s attempt to reach up to God his way.  Grace, however, is God reaching down to man.  Religion and grace cannot coexist; we may come to God in a religious way—man’s way; or we may come to God His way—by His grace.  Only one way is acceptable to God, and that’s the way of grace.  Hosea’s people needed to understand that, and so do we today.

Step Three

“Assyria cannot save us, nor can our strength in battle; never again will we call the idols we have made ‘our gods’; for in you alone, O Lord, the fatherless find mercy.”  (Hosea 14:3  TLB)

Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.  (KJV)

Their words of repentance are to be backed up by actions.  It’s one thing to own up to the wrong you’ve done, but it’s another thing to stop it cold.  Israel had been turning to other nations for help for generations, but in coming to God in repentance, they were to stop that disobedient act.  In fact, there were three things that sins that Israel had to repent from:  reliance on Assyria for salvation; relying on Egypt for military help; and relying on man-made idols for spiritual blessing and guidance.

In the KJV’s  “we will not ride upon horses,” Israel finally admits to a sin they committed hundreds and hundreds of years earlier:  the importation of horses  from Egypt.  This act was an outright rebellion against the command of Moses not to return to Egypt in search of horses.

Solomon’s horses were brought to him from Egypt and southern Turkey, where his agents purchased them at wholesale prices.  (1 Kings 10:28  TLB)

Be sure that he doesn’t build up a large stable of horses for himself, nor send his men to Egypt to raise horses for him there, for the Lord has told you, ‘Never return to Egypt again.’  (Deuteronomy 17:16  TLB)

How does this apply to backsliders today?  Christians must always be on guard against the deceptive lure of trusting anything or any person other than God.  A false God may take many forms.  What is their in your life that you rely on for security and assurance other than God?  The way back to God for us is the same as the way for Israel:  honestly confess our sins and stop them.

Step Four

The fourth step in returning to God (and staying with Him) is to believe in His promises or blessings for the future.  Restoration always follows repentance.  When we come to Him in repentance, God restores us to complete fellowship with Him and when at last Israel comes to God in repentance, that nation will be restored.

The remainder of this chapter describes the blessings awaiting Israel in the future.  They still have not repented on a national scale in the way they need to and they won’t until the days of the Tribulation.  The blessings in verses 4—8 will not be fully given to national Israel until the Millennium.  These verses are, therefore, eschatological.

I will refresh Israel like the dew from heaven; she will blossom as the lily and root deeply in the soil like cedars in Lebanon.  Her branches will spread out as beautiful as olive trees, fragrant as the forests of Lebanon.  Her people will return from exile far away and rest beneath my shadow. They will be a watered garden and blossom like grapes; they will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.

“O Ephraim! Stay away from idols! I am living and strong! I look after you and care for you. I am like an evergreen tree, yielding my fruit to you throughout the year. My mercies never fail.”  (Hosea 14:5—8  TLB)

We cannot imagine how glorious restored Israel will be.  In love, God has promised to do all this and more for His people.  That same redeeming love was manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ’s vicarious work on the Cross does for us what will happen to Israel during the Millennium.

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!  (1 Corinthians 5:17  TLB)

An integral part of this process is found in verse 4—

Then I will cure you of idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be forever gone!

Note that God will cure the sin sickness of Israel; Israel will not cure itself because it cannot cure itself.  Christians need to understand this, too.  It is Jesus Christ that makes us into a “new creation,” we don’t do that.  It’s a work of grace.

Step Five

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is intelligent, let him listen. For the paths of the Lord are true and right, and good men walk along them. But sinners trying them will fail.  (Hosea 14:9  TLB)

This verse is what some scholars have called “a noble epilogue.”  It is also a fitting climax to the book.  Hosea had dealt with some incredible themes in his book:

  • The sovereignty of God, chapters 1—5;
  • Holiness, chapters 4—7;
  • Justice, chapters 8—10;
  • Love, chapters 11—14.

Verse 9 really is an appeal to his readers—including us—to understand and discern what he written.  When it comes to the Word of God – Hosea and the other 65 books –  constant reading, studying, and application is necessary because in doing so, we will not go astray but will remain on a path that leads to the Lord.

Conclusion

Hosea was, in terms of his preaching, a failure.  His efforts changed nothing in Israel.  Shortly after he ministered, the nation he loved so much stumbled and fumbled their way into captivity.

However, God judges us using a different standard.  His standard is:  faithfulness.  In God’s eyes, Hosea was a stunning success because he remained absolutely faithful.  He was unequaled among the Old Testament prophets.  He endured the faithlessness and betrayal of both his wife and his country, but he saw aspects of God’s character never seen before.

 

 

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 3

God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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