M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, April 1

Today’s Bible readings are from Leviticus 4, Psalm 1-2, Proverbs 19 and Colossians 2.

Leviticus 4 is about the sin offering (which stretches to 5:13).

DeCanio says…

It is important to recognize, as Lindsey (1985:180) points out, that although the sin offering and the guilt offering, subsequently discussed, are distinguishable, they clearly have some definite similarities.  This is especially the case with regards to their primary function as both can best be described as expiatory offerings.

Not all sins could be atoned for by means of a sin offering.  Only sins committed unintentionally (these could be sins of omission as well as sins of commission; see, for example, Num 15:22-23) could be atoned for with a sin offering.

The sin offering, however, did not cover were sins committed with a defiant attitude (see, for example, Num 15:30 which literally means “with a high hand”)—that is, sin with a purpose of being disobedient to God.

For such cases as these, no sin offering could be brought by an individual (Lindsey 1985:180).

The only hope for cleansing from such sins lay in the Day of Atonement ritual which provided yearly cleansing from “all their sins” (16:20), “so that they will be clean from all [their] sins” (16:30).

The sin offering, therefore, was applicable only for sin not done in a spirit of rebellion against Yahweh and His covenant stipulations, whether they were sins of ignorance (Lev. 4), sins without conscious intent (Lev. 5), or intentional but non-defiant sins (such as for manslaughter where the act is committed without premeditation).

The book of Psalms is the prayer book of Israel.  It is divided into five books.

Psalms 1 and 2 serve as introductions to the entire book of Psalms and Psalm 150 serves as a doxology for the entire book of Psalms.

Psalms 1-2 introduce the book’s main emphases:  the struggle to honor God and His greatness.  Psalm 1 contrasts the conduct and fate of the righteous and wicked.  The key difference is meditating on God’s law (1:3).  If we don’t meditate, we will naturally follow the way of the world (vv. 1-2).

What is meditation?  It is not the eastern concept of emptying one’s mind, but rather filling one’s mind with Scripture.  It represents a slow turning over and over of the Scripture in one’s mind, gazing at it from various angles, living with it, soaking in it.

We will only meditate on it if we love it.  Psalm 119:97: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

The wicked will never accept God’s sovereignty over their lives and will rebel (2:1-3).  God laughs at their feeble rebellion because He rules the earth and has established David’s throne forever.  Powerful earthly rulers come and go, God’s rule stands forever.  Thus, they should bow to David’s authority (2:10-12) and the ultimate “Anointed One,” Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 19 gives us some lessons about poverty and wealth:

1 Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.

Looks can be deceiving.  It is naturally assumed that a rich man is rich because of God’s favor and a poor man is poor because God is against him.  In reality, it is the integrity of the heart that makes a person really wealthy and blessed.

4 Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.

6 Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.  7 All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.

This, again, is what naturally happens.  But of course, those “new friends” are there because of what they can gain, not give.  The proverb anticipates the Lord’s teaching to use of money to win friends and an eternal reward in the kingdom of God (Luke 18:1-9).

One of my favorite verses is 19:11

11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

There are some sins we can overlook (cf. 1 Peter 4:8), chalk them up to human error or common mistakes.  Those we cannot, however, still need to be forgiven and not held onto.  It is a glory to be a person who is not easily offended.

In Colossians 2 Paul warns the Colossians about man-made philosophies that would undermine the gospel.  All these philosophies are nothing compared to Christ.  He alone is sufficient for our salvation, sanctification and glorification.

  • In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3)
  • “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9)
  • “you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (2:10).
  • We have died to sin and been raised to life with Him (2:11-14).

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Thomas Constable has these charts:

 The Christian’s Walk

“Walk … worthy of the Lord” (1:10) “Walk in Him” (2:6)
·      Bearing fruit (1:10) ·      Firmly rooted (2:7)
·      Growing like a tree (1:10) ·      Being built up like a building (2:7)
·      Gaining strength (1:11) ·      Established (2:7)
·      Giving thanks (1:12) ·      Giving thanks (2:7)

 Summary of the believer’s completeness in Christ in 2:11-15

·      The domination of our flesh has been broken. (2:11)
·      Our former manner of life has ended. (2:12a)
·      We have been raised from spiritual death. (2:12b)
·      We have been given new life. (2:13a)
·      Our transgressions have been forgiven. (2:13b)
·      Our debt to God has been paid. (2:14)
·      Our spiritual enemy has been defeated. (2:15)

Verses 16-23 indicate that they were trying to overcome the flesh through asceticism and through mysticism.  Neither are effective.

Constable summarizes:

Four harmful teaching emphases of these false teachers are still with us today. The first harmful teaching is “higher” knowledge (Gnosticism).  Some examples are: so called scientific, archaeological, or paleontological “facts” that contradict Scripture, so called revelations that claim to be on a par with Scripture, and teaching that directly contradicts biblical revelation.  The second harmful teaching is the observance of laws to win God’s love (legalism).  Some examples are: salvation by works, teaching that puts Christians under the Mosaic Law, and teaching that says sanctification comes by keeping man-made rules.

The third harmful teaching is the belief that beings other than Christ must mediate between people and God (mysticism).  Some examples are: teachings that certain beings (e.g., angels, “saints,” ancestors) or experiences (e.g., glossolalia, hearing voices) can improve our relationship with God.  The fourth harmful teaching is the practice of abstaining from things to earn merit with God (asceticism).  Some examples are: fasting to force God’s hand, living in isolation to avoid temptation, and self-mutilation to mortify the flesh.

Jesus is ALL WE NEED.

God Knows Your Faithlessness (Hosea 5:3-7)

In the passage we’re looking at today, Israel’s apostasy is described through five basic areas of conduct.

3 I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt. 4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. 5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. 6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. 7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children. When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.

Whereas God’s infinite and intimate knowledge of us is normally a comforting thought, here it is terrifying.  David, for example, exulted in God’s knowledge of him.  In Psalm 139:1-6 he says…

1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Thus, later David invites God’s all-seeing eye to peer into his heart, even to see the darkness within him…

23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Thus A. W. Tozer, in his little book The Knowledge of the Holy, says…

That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide – some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God.  The unblessed soul may well tremble that God knows the flimsiness of every pretext and never accepts the poor excuses given for sinful conduct, since He knows perfectly the real reason for it.  “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.”  How frightful a thing to see the sons of Adam seeking to hide among the trees of another garden.  But where shall they hide?  “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?… If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.  Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day.”

On the other hand, Tozer goes on to point out the positive side of God’s complete knowledge of us…

And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely.  No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us.  “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”

The idea of God knowing us and our deeds is carried into the final book of the New Testament, in Revelation 2-3 God says several times…I know you.

In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus communicates individual messages to seven different churches. Each message begins with the same two words: “I know.”  He is the first and the last, the Amen, the holy and true one who walks among his churches, and he knows.

“I know where you dwell.”  Jesus described Pergamum as “where Satan’s throne is.” It’s hard to imagine how bad the situation in that city had to be to warrant such a diagnosis and yet, there were saints–men and women who were holding fast to Jesus’ name and refusing to deny his faith. Wherever you are today, Jesus knows.

“I know your works.”  Christians sprinkled throughout Asia were faithfully serving, toiling on, patiently enduring.  In the eyes of the world, they had “little power,” but Jesus would continue to set before them open doors of opportunity.  “Do not fear.”  “Hold fast.”  “Be faithful.”  “I am coming.”  Wherever you are serving today, Jesus knows.

“I know your love.” Some had abandoned the love they had at first.  Others were lukewarm. Some had the reputation of being alive, but they were dead.  Jesus spoke hard-to-hear, straightforward rebukes to many.  “Wake up.”  “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” “Repent.”  But notice the heart behind the rebukes: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”  However you have stumbled, Jesus continues to patiently stand at the door and graciously knock with love in his heart for you.

“I know.” Jesus knows how to grant me the right to the tree of life. Jesus knows how to clothe you in white garments, give you a new name, and confess you before his Father.  Jesus knows how to keep us from being hurt by the second death.

The emphasis in Hosea 5 is on God himself, “I, I have known…”  It is the plaintive cry of a husband, one who deeply and intimately knows his wife, and yet here he sees in her the black treacherous heart.  God’s knowledge is never perfunctory and cold, but deep and emotive.

Here God says, “I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me.”  Nothing escapes God’s attention, no outward pieties can cover over the blackened hearts of unfaithful Israel.  His knowledge is all-comprehensive.  Hebrews 4:13 says,

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Derek Kidner reminds us:

To Hosea, of all the prophets, this was crucial; and elsewhere in the Old Testament the deep thrust of God’s knowledge, however painful it may initially be, is seen as something to be welcomed, for it means that He knows the worst, and yet persists with us.

Yahweh knew Israel well; He had not been deceived and fallen into a trap, as the Israelites had.  Though they may no longer know God (v. 4), He knows them through and through.

Of course, Israel did not seem to even be trying to hide their harlotries anymore, practicing them on hills and under trees.

Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt.

Ever since Jeroboam I had installed calf-idols Dan and Bethel, the institutions of Israel had been guiding the people into apostasy and immorality, with the result that they had all become defiled—loathsome to God.

Instead of humbling themselves before Yahweh, they flaunted their worship of false gods.  Due to their spirit of whoredom, the Israelites are incapable of either knowing or pursuing their covenant partner.

Theologically speaking, this may be labeled “total depravity,” in the sense that no aspect of the people’s collective personality is untouched by the spirit of spiritual apostasy.  Their inner minds lead to visible deeds, which make impossible any sense of repentance or turning to God.  It is this state of reprobation that they cannot change and, apart from an act of providential grace on God’s part, can never change.  At this stage, no simple appeal to listen will be heard, for they cannot listen.  In other words, the call to hear in verse 1 stands as a rhetorical witness against the people.  Their inability to heed is part of the complex of hardened rebellion.  It is as if they were criminally insane, psychopaths with no conscience, unable to function normally.  It takes more than prophetic appeal to reason with such people.  Other measures are required to wake them from their deathly stupor.

That near impossibility of return is expressed in these words in Hosea 5:4

4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.  A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD.

The Bible hold two truths in tension, as it does so often.  First, that repentance is always a possibility, and second, that corruption can so enslave a soul that repentance becomes a practical impossibility.  This verse focuses on that latter truth.

This “spirit of prostitution” (idolatry) had been first mentioned back in chapter 4:12…

A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God.

Something deeper is going on than merely the acts of spiritual harlotry.  Their very hearts, their inner spirits, had been given over to evil spirits who prompted and promoted, biasing and inclining them to a worship loathsome to Yahweh.  They were so ensnared, so addicted to sin, that their hearts were taken over.

Yahweh had been forgotten (2:15); they are totally ignorant of Him; the idea of returning to Him no longer enters their minds.  It cannot.

The word Paul used to describe such a condition is “hardening”; and that is exactly what had happened to northern Israel and would in time happen to the southern Israel also.  It would happen again when Jesus came.  He was rejected by His own.

Speaking of Israel as it existed at this juncture, Smith wrote that, “According to Hosea, return for Israel is now no longer a human possibility.”  He also elaborated the basic reasons why this was true: (1) sin robs a man of his faculty for God and of the strength of will to obey God; (2) the whole fabric of the nation’s social, economic, political, and religious life was interwoven with the lustful indulgences of paganism; and (3) there was no longer any true knowledge of God among the people.  Without that knowledge, it was impossible to achieve either any communion with God or any kind of human conduct consistent with the terms of their ancient covenant with Jehovah.

That they were unfaithful to “their God” makes the sin all the more grievous.  It amplifies their ingratitude.  He, whom they would not turn to, still owned them.  He, upon whom they turned their backs, still was good to them.  But they acknowledged it not.

Albert Barnes notes:

They did not turn to God,

(1) because the evil spirit held them, and so long as they allowed his hold, they were filled with carnal thoughts which kept them back from God.

(2) they did not know God; so that, not knowing how good and how great a good He is in Himself, and how good to us, they had not even the desire to turn to Him, for love of Himself, yea even for love of themselves.  They saw not, that they lost a loving God.

And John Trapp sounds this warning:

That is, they are so habituated and hardened in sinful practices, that they are not only disenabled to conversion, but evil affected thereunto: they stand across to all good; to their sinews of iron they have added bows of brass, Isaiah 48:4; to their sin they add rebellion, which is as bad as witchcraft, 1 Samuel 15:23; till at length they lose all passive power also of being converted, and so are transformed, as it were, into so many devils: having by custom contracted a necessity of sinning, they are become incurable; they neither will nor can return to their God

We do well to ask ourselves, “What is the dynamic, energizing power of my life—the reality of God’s Spirit, or an alien spirit hostile to the purposes and knowledge of God?”

Verse 5 points out the primary reason that their hearts are unwilling to turn back to Yahweh.  In addition to the spiritual forces of wickedness, it is their pride.  Proverbs continually warns us that pride comes before the fall and this is what we see illustrated in Israel’s history in verse 5:

5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them.

Pride is the sin; stumbling is the consequence.  Whether intellectual pride, moral pride, or spiritual pride, the results are the same.  Through pride, we think of ourselves as “god” rather than man and do not bow down to Him.

Stumbling here is serious, meaning that they fell.  Not only did the Northern Kingdom fall to Assyria in 722 B.C. but they influenced Judah to follow in their footsteps.  Judah last another 150 years, but eventually fell to Babylon in 586 B.C.  Although Hosea seems to hope that Judah will avoid destruction, he realizes that his hope is vain.  This passage anticipates Ezekiel 23.

Their pride will “testify against them” in the court of national opinion as they fall to rival powers.

O, Israel would still be religious.  Verse 6 says…

6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them.

Amos 5:4-5 contrasts authentic turning to Yahweh with pilgrimages to shrines.  There is evidence that the people were very religious during this era.  But no matter how many sacrifices they made (Micah speaks of “thousands of rams…ten thousand rivers of oil,” 6:7)…no matter how much they made sacrifice, ostensibly to “seek the Lord,” He would not be found.  They were not sincere in their seeking.  They didn’t come to Yahweh repenting of their sins.

Israel was treating Yahweh like Baal, redoubling their efforts to bend his will to theirs.  Instead of contrite heart, they brought gifts to their gods.

David noted that God didn’t want this.  In Psalm 51:16-17…

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

God had withdrawn from them, not in the sense C. S. Lewis spoke of, where God withdraws in sense so that we might learn to trust Him and obey Him without any overt evidences of Him in the universe.

God had withdrawn because…

7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children. When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.

Israel was faithless, turning their backs upon Yahweh, who had been so good to them, to pursue the Baals.  They were acting treacherously.  Isaiah 24:16b says it this way:

“The treacherous betray! With treachery the treacherous betray!”

Ultimate betrayal and disloyalty is what they had shown Yahweh.

Honeycutt says…

The repudiation of covenant bonds is akin to the rejection of national loyalty, as in the case of treason.  Israel’s action, or our own, was treasonable to the extent that it represented a basic betrayal of loyalty and commitment.

Israel’s treachery resulted in her giving birth to illegitimate children.  The metaphor looks back to the prostitution that 5:3 mentions.  It also implies that the apostasy of the Israelite culture and their leaders had given rise to a generation that could more accurately be called children of Baal than children of Yahweh.  They were “not my people” but Baal’s.  The term “illegitimate” is literally “foreign,” which can refer to sexual liaison outside of marriage or, as in the English, another nation or culture.  Hosea seems to employ both senses.  They were children of apostasy/adultery, and they were children of foreign gods.

They no longer acted like children of Yahweh, so He make that formal—that they no longer belonged to Him.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, March 31

Today’s Bible readings are from Leviticus 2-3, John 21, Proverbs 18 and Colossians 1.

Leviticus 2-3 gives instructions for the meal (grain) offering (Lev. 2) and the peace offering (Lev. 3).

A meal offering always followed the official daily burnt offerings (cf. Exod. 29:39-40; Num. 28:3-6), and it often accompanied a peace offering (cf. Num. 15:3-5; 2 Kings 16:13).  It was only offered by itself on two occasions: as a priest’s offering (Lev. 7:12), and in the ritual used to determine a wife’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to her husband (Num. 5:15).

Christ fulfilled the requirements of this sacrifice, too (John 8:29).  The fine flour suggests the perfection of His personality made perfect through suffering.  The oil suggests the Holy Spirit’s presence in His life, the frankincense the fragrance of His life brought out by the fires of testing, and the salt the incorruptibility of His character.  Honey, representing natural sweetness that sours, and leaven, which often represents sin and evil in Scripture, picture what was absent from His nature.

The “peace (fellowship [NIV], well-being [NRSV]) offering” is the third sacrifice of worship (Lev. 3).  It represented the personal fellowship between God and each Israelite person, and between believing Israelites, that resulted from the relationship that God had established with the redeemed individual (cf. Rom. 5:1).

Peace and fellowship resulted from redemption, and this act of worship highlighted those blessings from God.  This was an optional sacrifice; an Israelite could bring it if and when he desired.  Thus it was not one of the offerings that the priests presented daily in the tabernacle, though God did order its presentation at the Feast of Pentecost (Harvest, Weeks; 23:19).  Because it was voluntary, its offering became a festive occasion.

There were three different kinds of peace offerings: One was a “thanksgiving offering,” in which an Israelite expressed thanks for a particular blessing (7:12-15).  Another was a “votive offering,” that the Israelites could offer after an acute experience of distress—or joy—that had elicited a vow from him or her (cf. Jon. 2:9).  The third was a “freewill offering,” that the Israelite could offer as an expression of gratitude to God, without reference to any particular blessing (7:16-18).

Christ is the peace of believers, because of His sacrifice on the cross (Eph. 2:14).  All of the animals used in this offering have been thought by some to represent different aspects of the person of Christ: Animals from the “herd” (cattle) represent Christ as our burden-bearer.  The “lamb” stands for Him as our perfect sacrifice, and the “goat” suggests Him as the One who takes away sin.  The inward parts of these animals that were offered suggest that God sees the inner parts of Christ [his heart, integrity] as acceptable to Him.

John 21

This Gospel began with a theological prologue (1:1-18), and it ends with a practical epilogue. John concluded his narrative, designed to bring unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ, in chapter 20.  Chapter 21 contains instruction for those who have come to faith in Him, and explains how they are to serve Him as they carry out their mission (20:21-23).

Jesus first appears to the seven disciples, performing the miracle of the large catch of fish, just as He did when he formally called them to follow Him (21:1-14; cf. Luke 5:1-11).

It is likely that this happened at the same place, as well, at Tabgha

Then Jesus deals particularly with Peter, piercing his heart with three questions, which caused Peter to have to deal with his three denials (21:15-19).

Henry and Richard Blackaby, in Experiencing God Day-by-Day:

Jesus has a wonderful way of restoring us when we fail Him!  He does not humiliate us.  He does not criticize us.  He does not ask us to make a resolution to try harder.  Rather, He takes us aside and asks us to reaffirm our love for Him.

Peter miserably failed his Lord when he fled with the other disciples from the Garden of Gethsemane.  Later, he publicly denied that he even knew Jesus.  Peter must have wondered if he was even capable of being Jesus’ disciple when he was unfaithful to Jesus in His most crucial hour.

You may be painfully aware that you have failed your Lord in many ways.  Perhaps you were not faithful.  Perhaps you disobeyed His word to you.  Perhaps you denied Him by the way you lived.  Jesus will not berate you.  He will not humiliate you.  He will ask you to examine your love for Him.  He asked Peter, “Do you love Me?”  If your answer, like Peter’s, is “Yes, Lord,” He will reaffirm His will for you.  If you truly love Him, you will obey Him (John 14:15).  Jesus does not need your resolutions, your re-commitments, your promises to try harder.  Jesus asks for your love.  Then your service to Him will be what He desires.

“Jesus Christ asks each one of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow.” (Alexander Maclaren)

The chapter ends with Jesus telling Peter not to be distracted by John’s calling, but to focus on his own calling (21:20-25).  David Guzik writes:

How easily we get distracted from our own responsibilities and calling by wondering about the details of someone else’s walk with the Lord.  We critique, we second-guess, we opine.  Jesus says to us what he said to Peter:  “What is that to you?”  Let us serve others, but mind our own business!

Proverbs 18 continues Solomon’s wisdom maxims.

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

These first two verses show the foolishness of separating oneself from community and not listening to counsel.  He will listen to no one but himself.  Lot would be a good example.  He separated himself from Abram and his example and counsel.

There are a number of sayings about the tongue in this set of proverbs:

2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

4 The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Not that everyone’s speech is deep and meaningful! Rather, we reveal the depths of our heart by the words of our mouth.

6 A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. 

He who thinks by the inch and speaks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot!

7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

“It is most remarkable that the apostle Paul, when analyzing man’s depravity, focuses on the little member and all that is linked to it—the throat, the tongue, the lips, and the mouth (Romans 3:13-14).” (Bridges)  Likewise, Isaiah realized that God was dealing primarily with his tongue (Isaiah 6:5-6).

8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Because gossip is so tantalizingly tasty, those who should know better find it difficult to tell the whisperer to stop talking.

Image result for proverbs 18:8

Don’t partake!

Feast on the Word of God not the words of gossip.

13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. 

James tells us to be “quick to hear…slow to speak.”

20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.

This is another way of saying you reap what you sow.

21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

The tongue is very powerful.  This is a warning about being too talkative.

Notice Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-11

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,

We need “the knowledge of God’s will” so that we can “walk worthy of God” which is further defined as being “fully pleasing” to God, “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  We also need spiritual strength so that we can endure and be patient with joy.

Regarding v. 13

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

C. S. Lewis says…

“There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

–C.S. Lewis

In Every Good Endeavor, Keller reminds his reader of the well-known line from Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” (Quote from Kuyper’s inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University. Found in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Eerdmans, 1998), 488).

Then, in vv. 15-19 we have the Christ hymn:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Jesus Christ is God very God (v. 15) who created (v. 16) and sustains (v. 17) all things.  Complete deity dwells in him, that is it is his very nature.  And through His humanity we can be reconciled to God because He made peace by shedding his blood on the cross.

Regarding v. 24

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Realize that the word “afflictions” is never used of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.  It likely refers to the afflictions he suffered while alive.  In that sense Paul could continue the afflictions of Christ.   J. T. Robertson notes:

“Paul attaches no atoning value whatever to his own sufferings for the church.”

It may be similar to what Christ said to Paul on the road to Damascus, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).  By persecuting the church Paul was persecuting Christ.

Colossians 1:28-29 are two of my favorite verses on ministry:

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Verse 28 identifies my purpose–to present everyone mature in Christ before God.

Verse 29 reveals my power–it comes from God as I toil and struggle in ministry.

Condemnation of the Leadership of Israel (Hosea 5:1-2)

Welcome again to our study in the book of Hosea.  If you’ve been with this study from the beginning, you can see that it is a study rich in expressions of God’s love, but equally it confronts us with our sinfulness.

Hosea prophesied to Israel, in the decades before the Assyrians came and conquered Samaria and took them into captivity, spreading them throughout other people groups they had conquered.

One of the frightening things we see is that it is quite possible to take that one last step—and we don’t know when that might be—which sets us on a course that meets God’s wrath instead of His mercy.  In other words, that point of no return is really there—we just don’t know exactly where…and that is reason for us to be vigilant over our lives and never allow our hearts to grow hard or cold towards God, never allow sin to become a friend to us.

Today we’re beginning Hosea 5.  As we do, we face the frightening reality that there may come a point when we may seek God and not find him.  This is brought out most forcefully in Hosea 5:6

When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them.

Finding the Lord always depends upon the attitude or manner in which we seek Him.  The Scriptures promise us that one “…will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

When God withdraws, it is not that He is no longer there.  The Bible teaches us that God is everywhere present.  Jonah learned that the hard way.  But God is not present everywhere in the same way.  When God’s presence is taken away from us, it means we no longer sense His presence and the blessings of that presence.

Helmet Thielicke, the German theologian and writer wrote of the “silence of God,” when one experiences the awesome silence of God.  St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul” when all sensible experience of God’s presence is gone.

Now, God can mean those times of abandonment to deepen our faith and draw us closer to Him.  That is what C. S. Lewis was describing in the Screwtape Letters when Screwtape was instructed his nephew Wormwood in how to tempt and afflict his “patient” who had become a Christian.  It is in the chapter called The Law of Undulation.  In it they speak of troughs and peaks, the lows and highs we all experience.

To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite.  Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.  The reason is this.  To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.  But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing.  One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.  We want to suck in, He wants to give out.  We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.  Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

And that is where the troughs come in.  You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment.  But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.  Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo.  For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.  He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning.  He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.  But He never allows this state of affairs to last long.  Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.  We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

But of course the troughs afford opportunities to our side also.  Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them,

Your affectionate uncle

Well, if you are going through a particularly difficult time, feeling like God has abandoned you, I hope Lewis’ words are an encouragement to you.  BUT, I also want to emphasize that what Hosea is talking about has now gone beyond redemptive abandonment, to abandonment as judgment.

Listen to Hosea’s words in Hosea 5:1-7

1 “Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, royal house!  This judgment is against you: You have been a snare at Mizpah, a net spread out on Tabor. 2 The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.  I will discipline all of them. 3 I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me.  Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt. 4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.  A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. 5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. 6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. 7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children.  When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.

This passage shows that Israel had reached the point of no return.  Now grace can always find a way, but Israel was no seeking grace, they were using religion to twist God’s arm.

In verse 1 Hosea returns to the causative role that Israel’s leaders—both religious and political—had in the disintegration of covenant relationships.  Ineffective leadership does not excuse the failures of the people.  But it does clarify one reason for the erosion of genuine, Yahweh-focused religious commitment and the emergence of social faithlessness.

In vv. 1-2 Hosea identifies the participants (v. 1), isolates their practices (v. 2) and clarifies their punishment (v. 2).

The leaders of Israel—both religious and political—are uniquely responsible for the quality of justice in the land.  Notice that “Israelites,” literally “house of Israel” is sandwiched between “priests” and “royal house” in verse 1.  Some believe this is a third group, the clan leaders within each tribe.  But it may refer comprehensively to all the people of Israel.  They share the blame with the leaders.

Anderson and Freedman note that the royal house of Saul in the end failed to find God and turned to the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28).  Hosea could be saying something similar about the last kings of Israel.

It is not possible to identify who the king of Israel was at this time, though some have guessed that it was Zechariah or Menahem.

Click the image to enlarge this chart of the prophets and kings of Israel and Judah

Notice as we move through these three responsible groups, the summons to hear grows more intense: “hear…pay attention…listen.”  Such words are used by God to call people to attention to hear the accusations of covenant breaking, but also of a parent or teacher as in the book of Proverbs.  It can precede accusation or instruction.

Now the phrase in the middle of verse 1, which both the NIV and ESV translate “this judgment is against you.”  Garrett suggests that it is more literally, “this judgment belongs to you.”  In other words, they were responsible for justice.

Ironically, it was the priests’ responsibility to discern and teach the law.  The clan chieftains were responsible for the local administration of justice.

But rather than promoting justice, they trapped people in a religious system that betrayed Yahweh and one another.  Hosea uses metaphors of a “snare” and a “net.”  Although charged with promoting justice, these leaders had perverted justice.

That religious defection is in view is clear from the towns mentioned—Mizpah, Tabor, and possibly another—Shittim.

There were several towns named Mizpah, but the one mentioned here is likely the one in the tribe of Benjamin ten miles north of Jerusalem.  Like Gilgal and Bethel, Mizpah was one of the principal cities on Samuel’s normal ministry circuit (1 Sam. 7).  A number of Astarte figurines, also known as Ashtoreth and Ishtar, dating back to the 8th century B.C. have been found there.

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Bible Atlas

Tabor was the mountain further north, rising above the Jezreel Valley some 1,800 feet.  It is up near the Sea of Galilee.

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This place which had been the scene of Deborah and Barak’s victory over the Sisera was evidently now another “high place” desecrated by worship of Baal.

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Bible Atlas

Jezreel Valley from Nazareth Ridge, showing Mount Tabor, Endor, Nain and Hill of Moreh, bibleplaces

Verse 3 begins with a difficult to translate sentence: “The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.”  Many believe a better translation is “and a pit they have dug in Shittim.”  “Pit” would correspond to “snare” and “net” and there was a place by that name.

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Bible Atlas

Shittim was on the other side of the Jordan and was the last staging area before the invasion of the land (Joshua 2:1), thus very similar to Gilgal (cf. Micah 6:5 where they are linked).  It was the place of the Baal-Peor apostasy early in Israel’s history (Hosea 9:10), reported in Numbers 25.

Anderson and Freedman link this reference to Psalm 106, which has many affinities to Hosea.  Psalm 106:28 preserves the idiom from Numbers 25:3, 5 for “linking themselves to Baal-Peor.”  One of the primary references in Psalm 106 is to child sacrifice (Psalm 106:38).

“What the Moabites did originally at Peor, the kings of later Israel did at Mizpah and Tabor, and the rebellious leaders deeply corrupted themselves by offering child sacrifices at those places.”

Of course, child sacrifice was not limited to ancient Canaanite and Israelite cultures.  It is happening today, as mothers and fathers sacrifice their children on the altar of convenience and success.  It is really no different.

God’s response is “I will discipline all of them.”  Everyone was guilty, the priests and the people, the leaders and the people—all of them.  Neither the religious privileges of the priests, nor the multitude of the people, nor the civil dignity of the king, should exempt any from God‘s judgment.  The kings and the priests had hitherto been the judges; now they were summoned before Him, who is the Judge of judges, and the King of kings.

The guilt of both was enhanced, in that they, being so entrusted with it, had corrupted it. They had the greatest sin, as being the seducers of the people, and therefore have the severest sentence.  That is why James reminds us…

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

The word “discipline” here has overtones of teaching and instruction.  In other words, it’s not just punishment, but moral instruction.

It is what God promises to those who are really His children.  Even for us New Covenant believers discipline is an important part of our sanctification.

Lack of discipline, when we are living in sin, is a danger sign.  Hebrews 12:7-8 says…

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Therefore, we should want discipline.  Hebrews 12:10 tells us that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.”  So God has a redeeming, purifying purpose in disciplining us.

Of the many great examples of believers who have expressed the spiritual benefits they have received from suffering, one of the greatest examples is that of John Bunyan. While he sat in the Bedford prison for preaching the Gospel, Bunyan wrote of the pain he felt when he thought about his wife and blind daughter. Bunyan wrote:

I found myself a man, and compassed with infirmities; the parting with my wife and poor children hath oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones, and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of those great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardship I thought my blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.

Nevertheless Bunyan explained:

I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all turns, and at every offer of Satan ‘to afflict me,’ &c. as I have found Him since I came in hither; for look how fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements, yea, when I have started, even as it were at nothing else but my shadow, yet God, as being very tender of me, hath not suffered me to be molested, but would with one Scripture and another strengthen me against all; insomuch that I have often said, were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comfort’s sake. Eccl. 7:14. 2 Cor. 1:5.

Again he wrote:

I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now; those Scriptures that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place and state to shine upon me; Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen Him and felt Him indeed: O that word, “we have not preached unto you cunningly devised fables,” 2 Pet. 1:16; and that, “God raised Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God,” 1 Pet. 1:2, were blessed words unto me in this my imprisoned condition.

As we can see, discipline or suffering may be redemptive (teaching us), restorative (turning us back to God) or retributive (an expression of judgment).  It is retributive discipline that Israel would be facing.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, March 30

Today’s Bible readings are from Leviticus 1, John 20, Proverbs 17 and Philippians 4.

Some see Leviticus as the high point, or mid point, of the Pentateuch

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Others see a chiastic structure, with Leviticus at the center, the most important spot in a chiasm.

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Pastor Dave Online

And as for the structure of Leviticus itself, some see a chiastic structure.

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My Digital Seminary

Here is Chuck Swindoll’s book chart for Leviticus

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Juan Sanchez gives us Five Reasons to Preach through Leviticus.  Those five reasons are…

  1. Leviticus reminds us of the grace of our God and the cost of our sin (1–7).
  2. Leviticus exposes God’s grace in providing a mediator (8–10).
  3. Leviticus explains what God requires of those who approach him in worship (11–15).
  4. Leviticus foreshadows forgiveness of sin in the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (16–17).
  5. Leviticus outlines how God’s people are to be holy as God is holy (18–27).

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The story of Leviticus picks up where Exodus left off.  Israel is still camped out at the base of Mount Sinai, and they will remain there all through the Book of Leviticus. (David Guzik)

In the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, there were three major facets.  The covenant included the law Israel had to obey, sacrifice to provide for breaking the law, and the choice of blessing or curse that would become the script for Israel’s history.

The sacrificial system was an essential element of the Mosaic covenant, because it was impossible to live up to the requirements of the law.  Sin was dealt with through sacrifice.  This was not the beginning of God’s sacrificial system.  Adam knew of sacrifice (Genesis 3:21), as did Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3-4), Noah (Genesis 8:20-21) and Abraham (Genesis 22:9-13).  The idea of sacrifice to the gods was not unique to Israel.  Other nations and cultures practiced sacrifice, often ultimately involving human sacrifice.

Leviticus 1 begins with general instructions for offering offerings (1:1-2), then gives instructions for the burnt offerings (1:3-17).

In summary, the burnt offering was an act of worship in which the Israelite offered to God a whole animal.  The fire on the altar completely consumed it (the offered animal) as a “substitute” for the offerer, and as a symbol of his total personal self-sacrifice to God.  These sacrifices were voluntary on the Israelite’s part, as is “self-sacrifice” for the Christian (Rom. 6:12-13; 12:1-2; cf. Matt. 22:37; 1 Cor. 6:19).

Gordon Wenham notes:

“The burnt offering was the commonest of all the OT sacrifices.  Its main function was to atone for man’s sin by propitiating God’s wrath.  In the immolation [burning] of the animal, most commonly a lamb, God’s judgment against human sin was symbolized and the animal suffered in man’s place.  The worshiper acknowledged his guilt and responsibility for his sins by pressing his hand on the animal’s head and confessing his sin.  The lamb was accepted as the ransom price for the guilty man [cf. Mark 10:45; Eph. 2:5; Heb. 7:27; 1 Pet. 1:18-19].  The daily use of the sacrifice in the worship of the temple and tabernacle was a constant reminder of man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness.  So were its occasional usages after sickness, childbirth, and vows.  In bringing a sacrifice a man acknowledged his sinfulness and guilt.  He also publicly confessed his faith in the Lord, his thankfulness for past blessing, and his resolve to live according to God’s holy will all the days of his life” (Leviticus, p. 63).

We who are Christians, too, need to remember our need for daily forgiveness, confess our sins, and purpose to walk in God’s ways (cf. 1 John 1:7-9).

John 20

Jesus was crucified on Friday (or on Thursday by some accounts).  After His entombment, the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matt. 26:62-66).  On Sunday, “the first day of the week” Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to complete the burial work begun by Joseph and Nicodemus.

The Garden tomb, favored location by pilgrims but a discredited location by archaeologists.  Where Jesus was buried would have been a tomb like this.

When Mary saw the empty tomb, it is likely she first thought the grave had been robbed.  She observed enough to assume that had taken Jesus’ body away, then went and told Peter and John.  They ran to the tomb.

“Keep the Feast of the Resurrection.  Be a Peter or a John; hasten to the Sepulchre, running together, running against one another, vying in the noble race (cf. Jn. 20:3-4).  And even if you be beaten in speed, win the victory of zeal; not looking into the tomb, but going in.” (Saint Gregory the Theologian)

Amazingly, verse 9 says that the disciples “as yet did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” even though verse 8 reported that John believed.  Apparently John believed based upon what he had seen (his experience), but later (cf. Luke 24) they would have additional reasons to believe, based upon the Scriptures and Jesus’ statements.

Thomas Constable provides a chart outlining the general chronological progression of the remaining post-resurrection appearances…

Jesus’ Post-resurrection Appearances

Easter morning
to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18)
to other women (Matt. 28:9-10)
to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
Easter afternoon
to two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-32)
Easter evening
to about 12 disciples excluding Thomas (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23)
The following Sunday
to 11 disciples including Thomas (John 20:26-28)
The following 32 days
to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23)
to 500 people including the Eleven at a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20; 1 Cor. 15:6)
to His half-brother James (1 Cor. 15:7)
to His disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8; 1 Cor. 15:7)
to His disciples on Mount Olivet (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12)

Edwin Blum notes…

“The fact that He appeared to Mary rather than to Pilate or Caiaphas or to one of His disciples is significant.  That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ electing love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity.  No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event.  Furthermore, Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had so earnestly sought Him.  She was at the cross while He was dying (John 19:25), and she went to His tomb early on Sunday morning (20:1).”

In verse 16 Mary recognizes Jesus when He calls her by name.  There is something special and endearing about that.

The best explanation for Jesus’ admonition to Mary “”Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” seems to be that Mary was holding onto Jesus as though she would never let Him go (cf. Matt. 28:9).  As Barrett put it, “. . . she is trying to recapture the past.”  Jesus either told her to stop doing that or, if He knew she was about to do it, He was telling her not to do it.  He was almost ready to disappear permanently.  The reason she should release Him was that He had not yet ascended to the Father.  He had other work to do first.  Only in heaven would it be possible for loving believers such as Mary to maintain contact with Jesus forever.

This view makes good sense of the text and harmonizes with Jesus’ invitation to Thomas (v. 27).  Thomas needed to touch Jesus to strengthen his faith.  Mary needed to release Him because she had no reason to fear losing Him.  This view is very similar to view four above. (Thomas Constable)

For Thomas’ doubt and interaction with Jesus, read Sherri Gragg’s article Jesus Can Handle Your Doubt.

Now Thomas believed as his fellow disciples had come to believe (cf. v. 25).  His confession is a model that John presented for all future disciples.  It is the high point of this Gospel (cf. 1:1, 14, 18).

Proverbs 17 continues wisdom maxims from Solomon.  Tom Constable entitles this chapter “peacemakers and trouble-makers.”

One of my favorites in this chapter is 17:9…

9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

The NLT says it like this:

9 Overlook an offense and bond a friendship;
fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend!

To repeat an offense may refer to gossip, but it could also refer to harping on something.  We can cover over some offenses, others we need to forgive.  If it is something we can excuse to a person’s human limitations or understanding, or if we can see ourselves as capable of the same, we may be able to “overlook” it.  But if it is a deep wound that continues to hound our thoughts, we cannot merely overlook, we must work to forgive.

The next verse speaks to addressing that issue with the offending party (17:10):

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a  fool.

Another good verse related to conflicted relationships is Proverbs 17:14:

14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.

A trickle is much easier to stop than a surging flood, so work to resolve a quarrel soon before it gets out of hand.

Philippians 4 begins with an exhortation to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1-9) and then Paul discusses his own financial circumstances in light of the fact that the Philippians wanted to send him a gift (4:10-20).

Standing firm (cf. Eph. 6:13) involves living in harmony with one another (vv. 2-3), rejoicing on all occasions (vv. 4-7), and developing the quality of sweet reasonableness (vv. 8-9).

The context of these first nine verses seem to deal with a conflict between two women, Euodia and Synteche (whom I’ve nicknamed “You’re Odious” and “Soon Touchy”).  Notice that Paul deals with each individually.  No matter what “side” they were on, they each had a responsibility to deal with this conflict in a healthy way.

Whatever was the conflict between them, they are urged to “agree in the Lord.”  While unanimity is not always possible, unity is.  What they shared in common, they needed to stand in.

That they might need help is indicated by verse 3 where some person, possibly the pastor, was called to “help these women.”  Apparently they had been quite involved in serving the Lord along with others and it would be a shame to see them destroy their usefulness through conflict.

They were all to “rejoice in the Lord” (v. 4), but this is especially important when in conflict with someone.  Paul emphasizes this and it should be our “one thing” that we do–to find our joy in Jesus Christ.  Notice that “rejoice” is an action.  We rejoice with our mouths so that our hearts might increase in joy.

Verse 5 applies to this conflict by encouraging them to show “reasonableness” or “meekness” to one another.  The word has the idea of, while being in the right, not pressing that right.

I find that in a time of disagreement, we need to consider two things: (1) how important is the issue, to us, and (2) how important is the relationship to us?

Sometimes the issue is highly important and we might even have to sacrifice the relationship for the sake of the issue (the truth).  But sometimes the relationship is more important, or just as important (as in marriage, for example).  We can’t just sacrifice that relationship.

When the relationship is more important than the issue, it is easy to yield.  Paul is here encouraging us to yield (except I would say when the issue if very, very important).  Even then, we can show a respect and give in on any other issues that are less important.

Paul then encourages them to turn their worries into prayers.  When we are having conflict with someone, we will typically have a problem with (1) rejoicing, (2) showing gentleness, and (3) worrying.  We are to “cast those cares” on Jesus.

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Phil Moser has an article explaining these three circles, borrowed from Dr. Nicholas Ellen.

Howard Hendricks called verses 2-6:

“. . . a five-part recipe for conflict resolution: (1) ‘Rejoice in the Lord,’ that is, get beyond yourselves and look to the Lord. (2) ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ In other words speak with kindness to each other. (3) ‘Do not be anxious.’ Relax, and give it all to God. (4) ‘Be thankful.’ The simple act of expressing gratitude for our blessings takes the heat out of infection. (5) Present your requests to God. Prayer realigns us and restores peace . . .”

Paul stresses that we can take everything to God in prayer.

As it has been beautifully put: “There is nothing too great for God’s power; and nothing too small for his fatherly care.”  We can bring our prayers, our supplications and our requests to God; we can pray for ourselves.  We can pray for forgiveness for the past, for the things we need in the present, and for help and guidance for the future.  We can take our own past and present and future into the presence of God.  We can pray for others.  We can commend to God’s care those near and far who are within our memories and our hearts.

And every prayer must surely include thanks for the great privilege of prayer itself.  Paul insists that we must give thanks in everything, in sorrows and in joys alike.  That implies two things.  It implies gratitude and also perfect submission to the will of God.  It is only when we are fully convinced that God is working all things together for good that we can really feel to him the perfect gratitude which believing prayer demands.

William Barclay

One other thing, and that is that during conflict we must focus our minds on the right things.  This is what Paul says in vv. 8-9

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

“True” (alethe) means valid, honest, and reliable (cf. Rom. 3:4).

  • “Honorable” or “noble” (semna) means worthy of respect (cf. Prov. 8:6; 1 Tim. 3:8, 11; Titus 2:2).
  • “Right” (dikaia) refers to what is just and upright.
  • “Pure” (hagna) denotes cleanness and connotes moral purity.
  • “Lovely” (prosphile) means what is amiable, agreeable, or pleasing.
  • “Of good repute” or “admirable” (euphema) refers to what is praiseworthy because it measures up to the highest standards.
  • “Excellent” (aretē), a term denoting consummate “excellence” or “merit” within a social context.  Here, “uncommon character worthy of praise, excellence of character, exceptional civic virtue.”
  • “Praiseworthy” (epainos), refers first to the act of praise, then to “a thing worthy of praise.”

What Paul describes here is a practical way to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  “This [verse] has been called the briefest biography of Christ.” (J. Vernon McGee)

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As a housewarming gift, we were given this:

Image result for preach lips life

The remainder of Philippians 4 speaks of Paul’s acknowledgement and appreciation of the Philippians’ desire to support him financially, but also that he has “learned the secret of contentment.”  That is what God strengthens us to do (v. 13), is to be content with what we have.  Contentment is not resignation, it is not grudging acceptance of what God has given us, but joyful celebration of what God has given us–whether plenty or little.

About verse 19 Spurgeon thought that this verse was a great illustration of that wonderful miracle in 2 Kings 4:1-7, where Elisha told the widow to gather empty vessels, set them out and pour forth the oil from the one small vessel of oil she had into the empty vessels.  She filled and filled and miraculously filled until every empty vessel was full.

  • All our need is like the empty vessels.
  • God is the one who fills the empty vessels.
  • According to His riches in glory describes the style in which God fills the empty vessels – the oil keeps flowing until every available vessel is filled.
  • By Christ Jesus describes the how God meets our needs – our empty vessels are filled with Jesus in all His glory.

And remember that Jesus is what we need most.

God’s Indictment against Israel’s Priests, part 3 (Hosea 4:15-19)

We are all influenced by someone, whether for good or for bad.  We have a had time going against the grain, swimming upstream against our culture.  Our teenagers have difficulty breaking from the pack.  We want to be liked; we want to be popular; we want to be in the “in” group.

But Scripture wisely reminds us that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33) and Proverbs is full of warnings against blindly following the crowd or caving in to peer pressure.

Hosea is here encouraging Judah to learn from, not follow, the mistakes that Israel was making.

God’s people were dividing into two kingdoms at this point in history.  Ten tribes, called Israel or Ephraim, broke off under Jeroboam.  Hosea is addressing most of his charges against Israel.  Ultimately, they were taken into captivity in 722 B.C.

In the south were two tribes, Judah and Benjamin.  They had a few bad kings, but stayed faithful to Yahweh longer than their brothers to the north.  However, they were susceptible to idolatry as well, especially since their brothers had been practicing it.  This is why Hosea says, in Hosea 4:15-19…

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.” 16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.

Yahweh has just about given up on Israel, but did not want Judah to follow in their footsteps.  Israel was involved in spiritual prostitution, worshiping other gods.  But if Judah follows in their footsteps, they too will become guilty.

So Yahweh tells Judah to (1) stay away from tempting situations, (2) leave them alone and (3) learn from their fate.

Judah was not to worship at the places that Israel had defiled with false gods.  Gilgal was the first important campsite after Israel crossed the Jordan as they entered the promised land (Joshua 5:9).  This camp served as their base of operations during the initial conquest of the Holy Land under Joshua.

Gilgal, Bible Atlas full page map

Interestingly, the word gilgal means “to roll.”  God instructed Joshua to have a man from each tribe pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan in order to build a monument at Gilgal. This Hebrew name stands for “circle of standing stones.”

This directive is accompanied by a very important explanation of its purpose: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD.  When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (Joshua 4:6-7).

When the Israelites camped there, the new generation was circumcised there and because of their obedience God said to them

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”  And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:9)

Recent archaeological discoveries in the Jordan Valley and the adjoining hills of Samaria appear to indicate that as Israel took possession of the land, they marked ownership of the land by building several structures that resemble a large foot print or sandal.

These unusual structures, studied extensively by Professors Adam Zertal and Dror Ben-Yosef of the University of Haifa, date to the Iron Age I period, based on pottery and animal bones found on-site.  They consist of two enclosed circles of stones that share a common border and, therefore, are joined together forming the shape of a foot print.

“The ‘foot’ structures that we found in the Jordan Valley are the first sites the people of Israel built upon entering Canaan and they testify to the biblical concept of ownership of the land with the foot.”

Bedhat esh-Sha'ab__A foot-shaped 'Gilgal'

In Deuteronomy 11:22-32, God promises the Israelites that if they obey his commandments, “Every place on which you set foot shall be yours.”  Also in Joshua 1:3 Yahweh said to Joshua…

3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.

There are five such structures like this in the Jordan Valley.  So Gilgal was a sacred place for Israel.  It is where Samuel judged (1 Sam. 7:16).  It was the city where Saul’s kingship was affirmed (1 Samuel 11:14-15; 10:1, 8).  It was also the place to which David returned after Absalom’s attempted coup (2 Samuel 19:9-15, 40).  They were the first to reaffirm his rightful status as king.  Gilgal was also the place where Elijah was transported to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-14; 4:38-41).

But, when the kingdom split due to Solomon’s sin and Jeroboam took over the northern territories, Gilgal became a place of idol worship.  Thus both Hosea and Amos speak of its wickedness and corrupt worship (Hosea 9:15-17; 12:11-14; Amos 4:4-6; 5:1-6).

Finally, in the course of calling the people of Israel to account for their abandonment of the Lord, the prophet Micah reminded them of God’s care for them in their early days in Gilgal and elsewhere—thus bringing the story of Gigal full circle (Micah 6:1-5).

Bethel had an even richer history.  Abraham built one of his first altars there upon entering the land (Genesis 12:8).  It was the place where Jacob (Israel) received his dream of a stairway to heaven (Genesis 28:10-22).  It was commonly a place where Abraham and Jacob worshiped God (Genesis 12:8; 13:1-4; 28:10-22; 35:1-15).  Bethel was one of the first places in the Holy Land where the ark of the covenant of God was set up, and where the priests offered sacrifices and inquired of God (Judges 20:18, 26-28; 21:2).

But, when the northern kingdom seceded from the southern kingdom of Judah, its first king, Jereboam, set up golden calves at Bethel and Dan (the southern and northernmost locations in Israel).  The golden calf at Bethel made it more convenient for people to worship.  They would no longer be required to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship (1 Kings 12:25-33).

Bethel was located in the hill country, near the town of Ai, only 12 miles from Jerusalem.

So Yahweh is pleading with Judah not to make the same mistakes Israel made.  They were not to make pilgrimages to these sites, no matter how significant they had been in Israel’s history.  If they did, they would become guilty, just like Israel.  The word for “guilty” in verse 15 is guilt in relation to God.

Yahweh calls Bethel (“house of God”) Beth-Aven here.  Beth-aven means “house of iniquity” because they were persistently breaking the 2nd commandment, which prohibited worshiping God with idols at all.  Amos had changed this name back in Amos 5:5, saying “Bethel shall become Awen.  It had been transformed from a place of true devotion to Yahweh (back when Abraham and Jacob worshiped there) to a major center for the kind of worship which the prophet disapproved (Amos 3:14; 4:4; 5:5, 6, 7:10, 13).  Hosea shares Amos’ outrage at what has happened to this place, calling it Bethel twice (10:15, 12:5), and Beth Awen three times (4:15; 5:8; 10:5).

Kidner notes…

Amos, a lover of surprise, had ironically invited his readers to both these famous shrines to deepen their—guilt! ‘Come to Bethel and transgress…” (Amos 4:4).  Join our pilgrimage and earn a black mark!

Hosea’s variation on the theme gets under the skin at two fresh points.  It makes a wounding comparison, presenting Israel as no fit company for her smaller sister [the southern kingdom]; and it invents a nickname for the royal shrine: no longer Bethel, ‘house of God,’ but Beth-Aven, “house of evil”—for God cannot own such a place, or have His name bandied about by those who think of Him as Baal.

The remainder of verse 15 reveals that they were breaking the 3rd commandment as well.  They were treating God’s name profanely by making an oath they did not intend to keep and using the formula “as Yahweh lives” to bolster their credibility.

The right use of the name of Yahweh in making legitimate and honest oaths is nowhere condemned.  It was one of the privileges of the faithful Israelite (Deut. 6:13; 10:20).

But the false use of an oath was often used to avoid repentance.  It reveals stubbornness.  As Coffman says, it “was a device for lulling the conscience to sleep.”  You cannot keep the third commandment while breaking the first two!

Ronald Vandermey notes that “swearing by the Lord falsely in a place of idolatry was a sin because it associated the living God with idols (Lev. 19:12; Zeph. 1:1-5).

The fundamental charge in vv. 16-18 is that Israel had become incorrigible in its evil, shameful ways.  This is shown (1) in the simile of the stubborn heifer, (2) in their unbreakable attachment to idols, and (3) in their habitual debauchery of drunkenness and promiscuity.

Verse 16 pictures Ephraim as a heifer, which is ironic because Jeroboam erected golden calves for Israel to worship.  Thus, these calves were pictures of themselves.

They are a “stubborn heifer,” which cannot be treated in the same way as a lamb in a broad pasture.  You simply cannot lead them.

Because of their stubbornness Israel would have to be confined soon (“now), in captivity.  Not only would they be confined, but Yahweh could not minister to them (at least as a nation) as a shepherd normally would.

Hubbard says…

However much God would like to shepherd Israel with his wisdom, it seems he must, because of her continual intransigence, treat her as those dumb animals who will not respond to their master.

This reminds us of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

I would have, but you would not, Jesus says.  You’ve made the fateful decision to reject Me and now I must reject you.

Since they willed not to follow their master, Yahweh would grant them their wish.  But their freedom would turn to ruin.  They would go unprotected and eventually be destroyed.  Thus Albert Barnes says…

Woe is it to that man, whom, when he withdraws from Christ‘s easy yoke, God permits to take unhindered the broad road which leadeth to destruction.

Sheep are gregarious creatures and do not do well when they are alone.  To be alone is a very precarious situation.  Soon, judgment would come and the land would be depopulated.  Only a very few would remain behind.

Ephraim–another name for Israel because it was the largest of the ten northern tribes—is captivated by the idols.  Remember the “spirit of whoredom” back up in verse 12 and their consulting of poles and sticks?  It is likely that along with their worship of false gods and involvement in sexual immorality was also attended by some attempted magic.

Those who meddle with this magic become trapped by it.  All of these complex of sins—idolatry, sexual immorality and magic, are powerful, powerful magnets, drawing devotees to want more and more and more.

When it says “Ephraim is joined to idols” it suggests a total merging, a strong bond.  It is similar to the idea in Genesis 2 (v. 24) where God says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.”  God is communicating there that the union between a husband and wife is to be permanent and indissoluble.

Likewise, nothing seemed to be able to break the bond between Ephraim and the Baalim.

Yahweh’s response to Ephraim is “leave him alone.”  This is a logical response to their enchantment and stubbornness.  Jamieson’s comment on this is:

“Leave him to himself.  Let him reap the fruits of his own perverse choice.  He is bent on his own ruin; leave him to his fate, lest instead of saving him thou shalt fall thyself.”

Let him go, like the father allowed his prodigal son to leave.

David Garland says

The greatest tragedy of all resulting from the failure of Israel’s leadership was, no doubt, that of the prophet’s being instructed to cease to minister to Israel (Ephraim).  Those unable to give up their idols deserved no less (4:17).  After all, the prophet’s words would only be wasted because they would fall upon deaf ears.  There appeared to be little likelihood now, that Israel would heed the prophet’s call.  Therefore, he was instructed to leave them alone, to leave them to their own choices. (Hosea, p. 43)

Paul says something very similar in Romans 1, indicating how a culture can devolve because God “gives them up” to their own desires—first to sexual immorality, then to homosexuality and ultimately to a depraved mind (Romans 1:18-32).

Listen, the worst thing God can do is to let you have your own wishes.  He knows what is best for you and has laid down guidelines on how to use your freedom within His Word and His law.  Listen to God.  Choose to obey Him and you will choose the path to greatest joy, both now and forever.

But there is a word of hope from Albert Barnes…

God will not, while there is hope, leave a man to sleep in sin; for so the numbness of the soul increases, until, like those who fall asleep amid extreme cold of the body, it never awakes

We should want and desire God’s disciplining hand upon us, while there is still time.

To whom is God through Hosea addressing the command “leave him alone?”  As I have mentioned, it most likely was the prophet himself.  Another possibility is that it is the priests who are being addressed—to stop misleading the people.

The final two verses in Hosea 4 seem to bring it back to the priests, and maybe in particular the high priest and transition us to chapter 5, which again picks up a charge against the priests.

The NASB has captured the first half of verse 18: “Their liquor gone, they play the harlot continually.”  Fueled and dazed by drink, they turned to idolatry, but they came up empty.  It did not fulfilled.  Possibly the draught had already made liquor scarce, and they, of course, turn to the false gods in another request for blessing.

Their rulers (lit. “shields”) dearly love shame.  How ironic!  Who would love shame except those intoxicated and enchanted by sin!  Judgment comes sweeping in in the final verse of Hosea 4…

19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices

Wind is a perfect figure for describing the sudden and violent nature of the judgment that will sweep helpless Israel into captivity before the Assyrians.  The use of the past tense is prophetic and shows that the judgment was as certain as if it had already occurred.

When God brought them out of captivity to Egypt, God “bore them on eagle’s wings” (Exodus 19:4), but now that they have abandoned him, he would abandon them as chaff before the wind.  They will be driven away into captivity, dispersed here and there.

Finally, while in captivity, they “shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices” and will turn away from idolatry.  Unfortunately, it would take captivity and ruin in order to learn this lesson well.

Shame when it comes prior to judgment can lead to renewal that effects new life and hope.  But shame after the fact of judgment leads only to regret.  Hosea’s advice to Judah remains sound:  seeing the destruction and shame wrought by apostasy and immorality, avoid such a way of life.

Unfortunately, Judah would eventually fall to their own shame and judgment.


God’s Indictment against the Priests, part 2 (Hosea 4:11-14)

I welcome you to turn with me to Hosea 4.  We’ve been studying this book for the past several months, going verse-by-verse to mine the riches of God’s Word.  This morning we’re going to look at vv. 10-14, which describe what happens to people who turn away from the knowledge of God.

10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. 12 My people inquire of a piece of wood [wooden idols], and their walking staff [divining rod] gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. 13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.  Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. 14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin. 15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.” 16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.

Although we talked about v. 10 last week, I want you to notice how its message of judgment matches that of verse 18.  Verse 10 said…

10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish 11 whoredom

While verse 18 says…

18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame.

So Israel’s judgment has to do with being unsatisfied, even with the basics of life, and prostituting themselves to other gods.

In these verses Yahweh gives three illustrations of Israel’s dementedness: (1) consulting wooden omens for guidance; (2) being engrossed in idolatry; and (3) engaging in sexual immorality.  In both Old and New Testaments, one of the chief characteristics of false teachers is sexual immorality.

Now, moving on to verse 11.  There Hosea gives a proverbial type statement: “Prostitution, wine, and new wine take away the heart” as the King James and NASB says.  It reflects back to the issue of the priests and prophets “stumbling” back up in verse 5 and anticipates the next section in which the prophet mourns the degenerate state of the people.

It reminds me of Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”  We can choose to “lose ourselves” to wine, or to the Spirit.

The heart, of course, is our control center—our reasoning ability, our affections and our strength of will to choose.  Debauchery, whether spiritually through idolatry or physically through strong drink, ruins the heart.

As Derek Kidner notes:

In itself, the proverb about whoredom and wine makes the point that what unbridled drinking does to blur the mind, unbridled sex will also do in a more subtle way.

Of course, all sin openly practiced and indulged results in the same destruction of the sinner; but Hosea probably focused upon this because, “It describes the excesses which were committed by the people on the festival days at the Baal shrines” (John Mauchline)

So, they lacked discernment because they gave themselves to intoxication, then they turned to omens for direction.

One aspect of their idolatry is mentioned in vv. 12-13a—they were consulting superstitions for guidance.  It begins with people consulting a “tree” and ends with them offering sacrifices underneath the trees because the shade “is good.”

12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. 13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.

Instead of consulting God for direction, they were consulting pieces of wood.  The terms used here are representative; they stand for the many types of omen taking employed in the ancient world.  Casting arrows into the air and observing the pattern formed when they fell to earth, examining the liver of an animal, observing the flight of birds, and many other means were also used to determine the future and the will of a god.

Keil explains the ancient practice:

“Two rods were held upright, and then allowed to fall while incantations were uttered; and the oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell, whether backwards or forward, to the right or to the left.”

People today use Tarot cards, Ouiji boards and horoscopes.

By contrast, David would often “inquire of the Lord” and use the authorized Urim and Thummim to discern God’s will.  Although God did allow the casting of lots.

In essence, they were abandoning normative revelation for the passing fad of the day.  They were trading the living God for a divining stick.  Habakkuk’s comment on this absurdity is quite appropriate: “Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, ‘Awake!’” (Hab. 2:19)  It is foolish.

The trees here are likely the Asherah pole.  The Canaanite goddess Asherah, functioned as El’s consort as the mother of the gods.

God had promised, back in Deuteronomy 18:14-15:

14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this. 15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen–

Hosea focuses on taking omens from a tree and sticks because it links to another lamentation in this poem—going to sacred groves.  He sees this omen seeking as foolish and as debasing for a human.

How blind to the loving providence of God are those who could seriously resort to such pagan devices as those mentioned here.  The immoralities of their idolatrous worship had closed the windows of their minds, and they groped about in darkness.

The “spirit of prostitution” in verse 12 is both literal—in acts of sacred prostitution, and metaphorical—in acts of giving love to other gods.  Consorting with temple prostitutes would take people further away from God, not bring them closer.

By the way, I don’t think the phrase “spirit of prostitution” is naming for us a particular kind of demon.  Some believe that there is a “lying spirit,” an “unclean spirit,” a “spirit of jealousy,” a “Jezebel spirit,” different demons behind different sins.  I think this phrase is merely telling us that behind sin, in general, are often demonic forces.

Israel’s idolatry was metaphorically like adultery, literally “against” the LORD.  Every sacrifice made to a pagan god was like an act of brazen adultery.  The picture is striking when we consider what a faithful and good husband the LORD is to His people.  Adultery is never excusable, but is even more heinous against a good, faithful, loving spouse.

The picture is striking when we consider how Israel wanted to add pagan gods to their worship of the LORD.  It isn’t as if Israel officially said, “We want to leave the LORD, and now serve only pagan gods.”  Instead, Israel wanted to add the worship of pagan gods to their worship of the LORD.  God received this the same way a husband would if his wife said, “I want you to still be my husband, I just want to take on a few more lovers also.” (David Guzik)

Interestingly, the characteristic act for the priests is “stumbling,” a reference to their downfall (v. 5), but the characteristic act of the laity is passive—that they are led astray.

Duane Garrett explains…

The closing of the poem, that the shade is “good” where they worship, is not an accidental comment but implies that the cults were in some ways truly appealing to the average person. (Hosea-Joel, p. 123).

He goes on to explain that these would be idyllic places, away from the restraints of temple morality, but rather “getting back to nature” and engaging in sexual relations.  In words open to no reason for misunderstanding, Hosea characterized the men as having sexual relations with both common harlots and cult prostitutes associated with their compromised worship.

This is why Josiah found it necessary to close down all rural shrines in 2 Kings 23:8-9.  It is why God established a place of worship—Jerusalem—in an attempt to keep worship from becoming profaned.

This, combined with a belief that these gods and their rites had the power to insure good crops and healthy births in their flocks and herds, made for a religion as irresistible as it was corrupting.  The real tragedy, however, was not merely that these rites led to various kinds of immorality; it was that people went to the shrines and consulted trees and stones with a sense of piety and reverence. (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 123).

Worshiping on hill tops made people feel like they were “closer to their gods” and worshiping under the “shade” shows they worshiped at their convenience.  Hubbard believes that Hosea might be jeering at religious activities in sites whose only benefit is the relief they offer from the sun.

God had specifically commanded that upon their entry into Canaan, the Israelites should “utterly destroy” all of the places of pagan worship on the mountaintops and high hills and under every green tree (Deut. 12:2); but instead of obeying God, they set up their own pagan idol worship in exactly the same places (2 Kings 17:10-11).

Going back for a moment to the phrase “spirit of prostitution,” we can see that the driving force behind all this is Satan himself.  When we leave God’s leading in the Word of God, we subject ourselves to Satan’s leading.

Thus Kidner declares…

Whatever excuse there might be for these other nations, for Israel there was none.  Their infatuation was deliberate, a surrender to a ‘spirit of harlotry’ that had all the excitement of an elopement or an orgy.  This, they felt, was freedom!  Instead of high demands on mind and will there were the myths and magic of the corn god.  Instead of the remoteness of the temple, so unfairly situated in the rival capital, Jerusalem, there was the appeal of hilltop sanctuaries to local pride and superstition.

Not only are the men involved, but the remainder of verse 13 makes it clear that…

Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery.

Seldom does one find a more depressing portrait of depraved life than this father-daughter-wife scene in which all are involved in immoral sexual behavior.

By allowing their daughters to play the harlot, the Israelites willfully sinned against the Mosaic law that forbade the daughters of Israel from participating in the cult prostitution (Deut. 23:17) (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea, p. 40).

This society has gone as sex-mad as our own, with promiscuous adolescents and with marriages violated from the start.  And who has set the example?  Who is ultimately to blame?  Not the women, but the men.

Several years ago I watched a very disturbing documentary about sex trafficking called Nefarious.  It talked about sex trafficking in Europe, Southeast Asia and in the United States.  As I watched this it was driven home to me more and more that the reason we have prostitution, the reason we have strip clubs, the reason we have pornography is because of the lust and greed of men.  Not women, but men.

It is time for us men to repent, because we are the nexus, we are the turning point.  When we men repent and say “no” to our lusts and greed, then things will begin to change.  Then marriages will be stronger and society will become stronger.  Then all these sexually based sins will lose their power.

Hosea then says…

14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

This does not mean that God would allow such conduct, justifying it upon the basis of their husbands and fathers also being sinners; but it has the effect of saying, “I will not punish them apart from you, but I will overthrow all of you in total destruction.” This clause should therefore be read in conjunction with the last, “a people without understanding shall come to ruin.”

As Eugene Peterson puts it…

But I’m not going after your whoring daughters
or the adulterous wives of your sons.
It’s the men who pick up the whores that I’m after,
the men who worship at the holy whorehouses—

They were merely following the example left by the men in their lives.

Verse 14 is in fact a landmark in moral history, says Derek Kidner, by its refusal to treat a man’s sexual sins more leniently than a woman’s.

That double standard had been brutally taken for granted, long before, by Jacob’s fourth son Judah, who thought nothing of visiting a prostitute but reacted to his daughter-in-law’s apparent unchastity with “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” (Gen. 38:24) (Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 53).

Here is the only place in Hosea where “cult prostitutes” are mentioned.  Some argue that this is not literally the case, but that the word is being used as a pun to strengthen the idea of Israel as a wayward woman.

The actual word here is a “holy one.”  Obviously these people have turned upside down what it meant to be holy!

Here is their root problem, they are “a people without understanding.”  The idea of Hosea 4:6 is repeated here, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” because they rejected knowledge.  The priests rejected knowledge, the people reject knowledge.

Without understanding they could not perceive the real issues of their day or the root causes for their destruction.  Thus, they were doomed.  Without understanding God and His word, God’s people are destined for destruction.

God had revealed Himself to them, and had given to them His law, and was still sending to them His prophets, so that they could have known and understood God‘s will, had they willed.

E.B. Pusey notes…

“It is the last punishment of persevering sinners, that God leaves them to prosper in their sins and in those things which help them to sin [cf. Rom. 1]” (1:53)

Hence, we are taught to pray, “Correct me, O LORD, but in justice; not in anger…” (Jere. 10:24).

The priests had influenced the people, but they had chosen this immoral direction.  All the while, it is leading them to ruin.