Tuesday, September 30. Micah 3 – 5

If you want a good, concise picture of why God is so upset with His people, you have only to read the first three chapters of Micah. Evil abounds. Folks lay awake at night plotting how they can save themselves, or get ahead of their neighbors. Influenced by the sins of the northern kingdom, Israel, the plague of wickedness has infected Judah. God sees Israel’s evil as incurable and so her capital, Samaria, will become a heap of rubble. But the malignancy has spread to the extent that even Judah will not be able to save herself (see 2:10,13).

While the sinfulness is widespread, God lays its blame particularly at the feet of the leaders of the people: political leaders, the royal family, and particularly the prophets share the blame because they could have done something, but they chose not to do so.

It is not the function of leaders just to rule. Their main role is to lead and they must do so by example and enforce it with the power of their position. Not everyone can hold this significant place of leadership, but all of us are called to lead. In whatever position you find yourself, you should determine to be an example for others to follow. They may not follow you. But it is not your job to make them follow, only to provide a light through the darkness in a way that makes the lighted path desirable.

The people are not let “off the hook” because their leaders failed them. They are responsible themselves for knowing the right way and following it. They are not responsible for the deception of those who replace the truth for the message everyone wants to hear. They are responsible for knowing better, and for being deceived. No one is innocent before God. Everyone has responsibility to live in the way of holiness – or else.

Monday, September 29. Jonah 4 – Micah 2

R. Kent Hughes tells the story of a little boy guilty of misbehaving in the classroom. His teacher told him to go sit in a chair in the corner. The little boy did so, but then announced to the room: “I may be sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.”

In the final chapter of Jonah, the prophet is “standing up on the inside” – and against God at that!

If his prayer in chapter 2 seems a bit self-centered, the prayer in chapter 4 confirms it. He hated the Assyrians and wanted nothing for them but death. He didn’t mind that the Lord, despite Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites, caused shade to shield the prophet from the desert sun. But when the Lord took it away, Jonah was furious with God; furious for not obliterating the repentant city, and furious for not preserving the shade for himself.

God’s final words to the prophet are instructive for us. Jonah was concerned about something he had no connection to. He resented God’s concern for the children and livestock of Nineveh. He should be ashamed of himself.

And, of course, so should we, when we find ourselves more concerned with our own well-being than the well-being of others we may not like, but for whom God has a heart.

Sunday, September 28. Obadiah; Jonah 1 – 3

Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac had two sons: Jacob and Esau. Jacob became the father of the Israelite nation. Esau became the father of the Edomite nation. Jacob, the younger of the two, stole his brother’s inheritance. Years later, when all seemed forgiven, Jacob lied to his brother. No matter what the reasons or whose fault the feud was, God forbade Jacob’s descendants, Israel, to mistreat her brethren the Edomites.

When Israel left Egypt during the Exodus, the old animosity between the two families arose. Israel asked to pass through Edomite territory on the King’s highway, promising not to “go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory. If we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot – nothing else.” Edom replied, “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

Edom never forgave Israel. She remembered every perceived slight, and never forgot an insult. Amos wrote: Edom “pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually, and his fury flamed unchecked.”

When Israel was conquered and Jerusalem burned by the Babylonians, the Edomites surveyed the situation from a distance, celebrating the defeat of her brethren. Obadiah recounts this scene in the book that bears his name, and delivers God’s promise of destruction for Edom’s treatment of Israel.

Two points should not be lost on the people of God: First, we must be forgiving. We are not allowed to hold a grudge and the severest punishment awaits those who do. Second, it is important to remember that God has not ordained any particular government, or any system of government, as his anointed on the earth. Nor are God’s people defined by particular political boundaries or philosophies. No government or system of government on the earth is eternal. They are all temporary, subject to the sovereignty of God. Obadiah reminds us however that the longevity of every nation is dependent on the attitudes and actions of its people, and those nations whose citizens find it hard to forgive and who rejoice in the misfortunes of others, are nations destined to be short-lived.

Saturday, September 27. Amos 6 – 9

God’s mighty hand of judgment looms, and there will be no escape. “Not one will get away; none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. . . Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there will I command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes on them for evil and not for good” (9:1-4).

Israel’s sins all spring from their blessings: They are all out to “get theirs” and they will oppress all who get in their way. They despise authority and correction and love to revel in the finest the world has to offer. But they have no time for God, and no time for the needy. Such a people, in the eyes of God, do not deserve to live.

God will not, however, do away with them all. They are, after all, God’s people. And so, after a time of great trial and destruction, God promises to restore his people and show the world that, while subject to his justice, are not subject to obliteration (9:11-15). This latter text is cited in the New Testament to refer to the Christian Church (Acts 15:16-17).

How do we make an application of this book? After all, it is addressed to the nation of Israel, not to our nation.

We cannot say if our nation imbibes the same sins of Israel, we will fall like she did. Our nation does not, as a nation sustain the same relationship to God Israel did, nor is it in covenant with God to receive its promises. The people of God, today, are Christians. The message of Amos is that God is serious about justice and mercy and fairness and true spirituality. If we buy into the value system of the world, we will suffer the adverse judgment of God no matter what our nationality in this world.

On the other hand, the beginning of Amos makes plain that God holds all nations accountable for the way they conduct themselves. Failure to pay attention to God’s standard of conduct will surely usher in an earlier demise. It is in the best interests of the world for Christians, in whatever nation they reside, to live and promote the ways of God, both for our own future, and for the benefit of those among whom we live.

Friday, September 26. Amos 3 – 5

The judgment of Israel, the northern kingdom, extends from chapter 3 to the end of the book (9:10), and surprisingly, his condemnations remind us of our own times.

He accuses Israel of turning justice into bitterness” and “throwing righteousness to the ground.” He condemns their lives of indolence with these words: “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 . . . You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (6:4-6).

Israel is a society whose people are determined to “get theirs” no matter who it hurts, and God is furious. In chapter 4 God lists all the horrible things God had done to get the people to look to Him and repent, yet, five times He repeats, “you have not returned to me.” In chapter 5, the Lord says: You get what you have given: Since you have oppressed the poor, you will become poor. The judgment is certain. Like a man who comes upon a lion, only to meet a bear, who escapes the bear and finds shelter in his home only to be bitten by a snake, there will be no escape for Israel.

God’s people have but one hope: seek good, hate evil, promote justice. This is not a way to escape the judgment, only a way to find mercy in a judgment sure to come.

Thursday, September 25. Joel 3 – Amos 2

Let’s review: At the death of Solomon, about 931 B.C., his kingdom was torn in two and became known as the kingdoms of Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). Jereboam, a descendant of Joseph, became Israel’s first king. Jereboam was chosen by God for this position and had God’s blessing, but Jereboam faithlessly (and stupidly) chose to rebel against God, installing worship centers at the cities of Dan and Bethel, all in an effort to solidify a monarchy already guaranteed by God. He set up golden idols at those sites and encouraged the people to worship them. They did, and very soon afterward, God made their lives incredibly difficult by sending the Syrians and the Assyrians to oppress them. From 805 – 735 B.C., however, there was a break in the oppression and Israel began to prosper. Rather than turn to God in repentance however, Israel drew further away.

Now to our text: It was during this time that God sent a shepherd from Tekoa (12 miles south of Jerusalem) to preach to them. His task was to get Israel to repent and warn them of the consequences of impenitence. His name was Amos, and his message to Israel was simple and ominous: “Prepare to meet your God” (4:12).

Wednesday, September 24. Hosea 14 – Joel 2

Joel 2 may be one of the best known chapters in all the minor prophets. We may know it best from Peter’s citation of it in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2). The locust plague devastating Judah is but a symbol of the suffering to come, an army whose ranks cannot be broken and whose soldiers come over the city wall, climbing through windows. The army is coming and the Lord is leading it against His own people because of their sins.

In Joel, however, there is still hope. His people are urged to return to the Lord with penitence and repentance. God will bless them and destroy their enemies (chapter 3).

Then, in verse 28, God makes a promise. The promise would not likely stand out to the first readers. It is a consequence of their repentance.

It does, however, stand out to us because we know they didn’t repent.

God knew they wouldn’t of course. So beginning with 2:28 He speaks of a time Israel would never know. But we know it. A time after the armies of judgment came against Israel and destroyed her. A time when God acted not because His people were evil or good, but just because He decided “it’s time.” He sent His Holy Spirit and the result was that all, Jew and Gentile, who would turn to the Lord would be saved. We live today in anticipation of what is to follow: the judgment. It is as sure as the army of locusts that invaded Israel so very long ago.

Wednesday, September 24. Hosea 14 – Joel 2

Do you remember the end of the book of Daniel? “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (12:3).

Hundreds of years before Daniel, when there was still hope for the northern kingdom of Israel, the prophet Hosea, in his last chapter called his readers to repentance. They should come to God not with sacrifices, but with words of repentance and commitment: “forgive all our sins and receive us graciously. . . We will never again call what our own hands have made ‘gods.’” God will provide healing, the prophet promises. Those who are “wise,” he says, will realize these things, and the “righteous” will walk in the ways of the Lord.

At the end of the day, two things are necessary for a close walk with God: first wisdom, the understanding that God’s way is the only right way. Second, a commitment to walk in those ways.
What about “faith”? That’s a part of the way of God.

What about “love”? I fail to understand the question. Perhaps we are thinking about love as a “feeling,” some emotional endearment we have toward Him. It’s interesting to note that love for God is never properly expressed in sentimentality. It is always expressed in obedience. The wise and the righteous of God’s people will be blessed.

Tuesday, September 23. Hosea 11 – 13

As we approach the end of Hosea, the word “conflicted” comes to mind, and it applies, strangely enough, to God.

God is conflicted over His people. On the one hand, he knows what they deserve, what justice demands. On the other, He loves them. You see it plainly in 11:8 – “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Admah and Zeboiim were two cities of the plain consumed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – compare Genesis 10:19 and 19:24-29).

Judgment doesn’t come easy for God, but it does come, just as it did for Israel (often referred to as “Ephraim” in this book).

11:1 introduces us to a text used in Matthew 2:15 and reminds us that Bible literature sometimes has two non-related meanings. In Hosea, the line “out of Egypt I have called my son” refers to the Exodus. In Matthew, it refers to the sojourn of Jesus’ family in Egypt when he was a baby. But be careful. While Bible texts may have more than one meaning, the meanings they have must always be obvious from the text. As Bible interpreters, we are not allowed to assign meanings to passages they never had in the Bible.

Monday, September 22. Hosea 8 – 10

“An eagle is over the house of the Lord.”

Sounds like a good thing. In many of our more patriotic TV commercials, a soaring eagle is often depicted flying over the land.

But remember: an eagle is a bird of prey. A soaring eagle is looking for food, and when Hosea writes about this one flying over the land, God’s people are the prey.

This begins the third of four speeches comprising Hosea 4:1 – 11:11 and this speech is two chapters long. God’s complaint is that His people have broken his covenant and rebelled against Him. They reply that they have not been unfaithful. Israel’s deep religious nature is emphasized by their building of many places of worship. And yet, they have forgotten that God prescribed only one place of worship: Jerusalem. Their attempt to be more religious has resulted simply in more sin, highlighted by their continual trust in political alliances (Assyria) when the times get tough rather than turning to God.

Just because you are religious, does not mean you are faithful. Faithfulness means trusting in God alone, and following His revealed will rather than what you think He might be happy with.