Saturday, June 30. Hosea 1 – 4

In Hosea chapter 2, God describes the whole of His relationship with His people in marriage language, specifically,  adulterous marriage language.  It’s not the rawest language in the Bible (that’s probably reserved for Ezekiel), but it’s pretty blunt.

God, as a spurned husband, is not what we would call gracious.  He determines to ruin and embarrass his wife, exposing her behavior and crushing her to the extent that she finds herself enslaved.

How can an all good God behave like this?

Our own culture tends to think little of adultery.  The ubiquity of such behavior among people of power has made it a crime only to the wronged.  We sympathize with the spouse whose partner cheats, but we’ll excuse the cheater (sometimes by voting for him/her).

But God’s view is not so lax.  Consider this: When God talks about people being unfaithful to him, the strongest language He has in His vocabulary is “adultery.”  Whether spiritual or physical, neither is a small nor insignificant matter with the Lord.  A good God demands goodness, and unfaithfulness is not to be tolerated.

One other observation: Sometimes folks regard sexual misconduct before marriage as different from sexual misconduct after marriage.  God does not.  In the illustration of Hosea and Gomer, Gomer is presented as an “adulterous wife” before her marriage to Hosea.  Newer translations call her “promiscuous.”  What a person is before marriage is part of one’s character.  It’s not likely to be eradicated with a wedding.

Thursday, July 5. Isaiah 4 – 6

    You’ve likely met religious people who, at least by their talk, seem to be in tune with the Lord.  It’s always “God willing,” “praise the Lord,” “bless Jesus.”  They’re in church most Sundays, seemingly concerned about church finances, church polity, serving on multiple committees.

    On the other hand, there’s something wrong with their lives.  Their attitudes are suspect. Easily offended, they are ready to be insulting when things don’t go their way.  They are rude in their behavior and pompous in their spirituality.  They bring little to the table of God’s family, eat much,  and their family is often a spiritual train wreck.

    It’s like that with ancient Israel in Isaiah 4.  They talk a good game, but there is little in their lives to indicate true spirituality.  Always willing for God to work (5:19), their own works are outside God’s will, manipulating truth so as to approve of what God condemns.

    These folks can get away with it for a while – just like ancient Israel.  But eventually, and assuredly, God will whistle for his disciplinary team, and these hypocrites will be judged and punished, and His indignation is neither easily nor soon assuaged.

Friday, June 29. 2 Kings 16 – 18

When was the book of Kings written?

I ask this question just here in order to remind us all that there is a difference between the time a book is written and the time it is read, and the difference is not just “production” time.  2 Kings 17 takes us to 722 B.C. and the end of the northern kingdom of Israel.  But that story, and the books of Kings, was written almost two hundred years later, sometime between 560 B.C. and 539 B.C.  And so, when you read in chapters 16 and 17 that the Edomites live in Elath or that the people in the northern part of Israel worship idols “to this day,” you’ll understand that by the writer of Kings day, this has been going on for two hundred years.

There is a word that specifically addresses the problem in Israel.  It is the word “syncretism.”  Syncretism, in the case of religion, is the attempt to be socially correct by merging current trends and ideas with elements of a faith to make it more socially acceptable.  And that’s what Israel did.  Whereas God specifically commanded sacrifices were to be offered in Jerusalem, Israel found it more convenient to spread the worship centers out.  Whereas God specified only He was to be worshiped, Israel found other gods more to their liking.

Syncretism is always a danger, and we find managing it difficult.  Will we worship in buildings or “house churches”?  Will the buildings be air-conditioned?  Will we have instrumental music or praise teams?  Will leadership in worship be a male prerogative, or will it be bi-gendered?  God is particular about His worship.  When He is specific, He expects His people to be obedient.  But all too often, what His people think He has specified is really just a syncretized tradition – already a perversion of God’s word.

It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter,” but 2 Kings 17 would indicate it does.

Wednesday, July 4. Isaiah 1 – 3

    As you begin to read Isaiah today, thumb through it first.  Notice how it is set off as poetry for the first thirty-five chapters.  Then, it becomes prose – a story.  In chapter forty, it changes back to poetry and continues like that to the end of the book.  Simply the design of Isaiah lends it to a neat three-point outline.  Though his ministry occurs at the end of the divided kingdom period, and the northern kingdom of Israel is addressed, Isaiah is written for the southern kingdom of Judah.

    The first thirty-five chapters are also divided into three sections, each ending with a hymn (see chapters 12, 23, and 35).

    Isaiah’s relevance for the Christian Church has been largely limited to foretelling of the coming of Christ, and yet, that is a minor concern for the prophet.  He is supremely interested in God’s people coming to trust in God.  Those who will trust the Lord can be assured of God’s favor and protection.  Isaiah 25:6-9 is but a sample of many texts that could be cited to illustrate this point:  “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare  a feast of rich food for all peoples,  a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.  On this mountain he will destroy  the shroud that enfolds all peoples,  the sheet that covers all nations;  he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears  from all faces;  he will remove the disgrace of his people  from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say,  “Surely this is our God;  we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him;  let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”  (See also Isaiah 28:16; 30:18; 40:29-31; 43:1-2; 49:13-23;65:24).

    If Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter in the Bible, and Romans the great faith book of the New Testament, then surely Isaiah has to be the great faith book of the Old Testament.

Thursday, June 28. Amos 7 – 9

Newer translations help us to see the connection between  “ripe fruit” and the ‘ripeness’ of Israel.  Older versions referred to “summer fruit” and the “end” of Israel, and the reading was more difficult.  In Hebrew, it’s a word play really where the word for “ripe summer fruit” sounds very much like the word for “end.”

In any case, the end has been decreed, and there will be no going back.

The reasons for Israel’s punishment are summarized and rehearsed in chapter 8: She not only has no feeling for the poor, she believes the poor are there to be abused.  She is religious, but only ritually so and frankly finds religion a hindrance to commerce (can’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so she can get back to making money).  She is a nation of cheats who package the chaff with the grain and sell the result as grain.  Her end is sealed.

Two thoughts come to mind on this chapter about how to apply it.

First, surely our main application will be to living the Christian life.  Christians cannot cover up their sinfulness by church attendance or any other important ritual associated with our faith.  Rituals do not balance our sins and make us square with God.

But it would be well to consider a second application.  Christians cannot expect the pagans around us to buy our ethics without buying Jesus.  But we should remember from the first two chapters that God holds even pagan nations (and that’s what ours is) responsible for bad behavior.  Our only way to change our nation is by bringing its people to Jesus.  But absent change and filled with immorality, cruelty, materialism, oppression and a lack of concern for the least of its citizens, no nation can survive.  It will fall, never to rise again.

Wednesday, June 27. Amos 4 – 6

Amos 4 is an interesting chapter.

It would appear that Israel has gone through some really tough times.  There has been famine (verse 6), drought (vss.  7-8), blight and plague (vs.  9), and war (vss.  10-11).

They must have been absolutely horrible days.

You’d think Israel, the people of God, would have turned their eyes heavenward and prayed for deliverance.

In fact, they did.  They were very religious, scrupulous about offering the right sacrifices at the appropriate times and giving their tithes to God.  And sure enough, their fortunes did turn around.  Amos speaks of their great luxury repeatedly in his book.  But in spite of this, God says they have not “returned” to Him.

Their blessings were deceptive.  They led them to believe they were ok with God.  But they weren’t and while they were very religious, their ritual faith did not bring them closer to the Creator.  What God wanted was a changed life, a value system that mimicked His own.  He wanted not just religious lives, but holy lives and that, Israel was unwilling to give.

Don’t get the wrong idea: religious ritual is required by God, it’s just not the only thing.  Jesus will put it like this: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

In our own time, people often reject religion (bound up in such rituals as church going and church involvement, Bible reading, communion taking, baptism etc.)  in favor of living a good life.  And some embrace the same facets of religion and ignore holy living.  Both ways stand condemned by God in Amos, and they continue condemned even to this day.  God requires both.

Tuesday, June 26. Amos 1 – 3

The book of Amos begins (chapters 1-2) somewhat deceptively in that it addresses the sins of the nations surrounding Israel.  From all the bad things Amos writes about them, the northern kingdom of Israel, Amos’ hearers and readers, could not help but believe that they were God’s favored nation.  Just look at all the bad things he had to say about the other nations – even Judah!

I think it is interesting that God condemns these nations.  After all, they are not His nations.  They have no covenant with Him.  With the exception of Judah, He has offered them no blessings.  On what basis then does He condemn them?  It is purely on the basis that God is sovereign over all.

Note the reasons for His condemnation.  Notice that condemnation does not come against these nations for their idolatry (not mentioned until He addresses Judah).  Instead, it is a matter of ethical behavior for which God holds everyone accountable – believer and non-believer alike.  The other nations are condemned because they ruined the land of others, enslaved their conquered, broke treaties, exhibited hatred, and were cruel.

Less often now, but folks still talk about a “Christian” nation.  I know what they mean, but I shy from that title because there is no such thing.  A nation is only “Christian” if it imbibes the behavior of Christ, but even if it did, you could not call the nation “Christian” and there would be no reward to that nation, as a nation.  The reward would belong to the Kingdom of God within that nation – the Church.

And yet, a nation does not get to ignore the ethics of God just because it chooses not to recognize Him.  God holds every nation accountable for its behavior, even in its defense of its citizens.

Monday, June 25. 2 Kings 13 – 15

I wish I could read two particular books: The Annals of the Kings of Israel and The Annals of the Kings of Judah.  These two volumes are mentioned thirty-four times in the book of Kings.  Perhaps they served as source books for the writer of Kings.  He always tells us there is more about each king in these now non-existent volumes, but how we wish he would have told us more himself.

That, however, was not his intent.  The writer of Kings had no interest in chronicling the reigns of the Jewish kings.  His mission lay along the lines of showing us what kind of kings they were spiritually.  That’s why the Kings of Israel are measured against Jeroboam and the kings of Judah are measured against king David.

As we journey through this section of Kings, its author had another mission as well.  We are reading of the northern kingdom of Israel in a very unfavorable light.  The author is not prejudiced.  They really were awful people.  And yet, in chapter 13 and again in 14, we are specifically told that though God sent disciplining punishment on His people, his face was not turned from their plight.  He knew what was going on, and He felt for them.  And when they would finally cry out for reconciliation, God answered.

That’s the thing to remember about God.  If I might paraphrase an old hymn: Though our cross may be hard to bear, though our lives may be filled with care, though misfortune be ours to share, God never forsakes His children.

Sunday, June 24. Jonah 1 – 4

Someone has outlined Jonah as having four parts:

Chapter 1 – Jonah runs away from God.
Chapter 2 – Jonah runs to God.
Chapter 3 – Jonah runs with God
Chapter 4 – Jonah runs ahead of God.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the belly of a whale (or big fish).

As a child I thought it might have been a bit roomy, kinda like the old Disney movie scene with Geppetto and Pinocchio in the whale’s belly.  But nothing could be further from the truth than that.  First, the smell would have had to have been awful!  Second, air would have been in short supply.  Third, it would have been dark.  Fourth, there’s no telling what kind of creepy slimy crawly stuff Jonah would have felt.

Jonah describes how he felt in a long poem in chapter two that draws on a multitude of prayers from the Psalms Jonah must have heard all his life.  Unlike the resignation that seems to have characterized Jonah in chapter 1, in chapter two, God has Jonah’s full attention.  As his life ebbs away, he cries in penitence for rescue.

And God provides it.

Never be afraid to call out to the Lord at the last minute.  That’s not permission to wait until then to cry out, but if you have, don’t be afraid (or too stubborn) to do it.   God is listening.

Saturday, June 23. Joel 1 – 3

Traditionally, the book of Joel has been regarded as one of the earliest of the writing prophets.  The fact is, however, there is little in this book to help us know when it was written.  A locust plague serves as the backdrop for the prophecy, along with oppression from enemies such as the Phoenicians (Tyre) and Philistines.  There are references to these things in Amos, whose book occurs about this time period.  The book is written to Judah.

The spiritual circumstances recounted in the book are those which could have been common to any period of the minor prophets (called “minor” because their books are so short).  As if foreign oppression wasn’t enough, Judah is suffering from a devastating locust plague that has brought famine on the land, but this is not a “natural disaster.”  This plague has been brought on by the Lord Himself because of Judah’s sins.

If His people will repent, God promises a level of blessing not seen at any other time in history: He will place His Spirit on His people.  The Spirit is God’s empowering presence to enable God’s people to do and be what God has decreed for them, and Joel’s promise inaugurates a new hope for His people.

But it will not happen, because God’s people, for all the reform of Joash, still have not returned to God.  The “form” of Israel’s religion may be restored, but the function of it in the heart of God’s people will not happen.

When God’s spirit does come, it is during the Feast of Weeks after the Passover of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and it christens a new age in which the people of God will be composed not just of descendants of Jacob, but of all people who “call on the name of the Lord.”