Genesis 24:28-26:35

This is from the “straight through Bible reading plan” for today.

Genesis 24 is the account of Abraham’s servant going back to the land of Paddan-aram (Genesis 25:20) to get a wife for Isaac.

Genesis 24 fills us in on what Laban was focused upon in these verses…

30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had [oh yeah also] heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring.

Laban’s greed is evident throughout his whole story.

Notice how specific the servant’s prayer was…

42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master’s son.’

He wasn’t satisfied with a quick, “Lord, please bless me,” but expected a specific response from the young woman who came to draw water.  That way he could watch to see if his prayer was answered.

When we pray specifically and see God answer in just that way, then our hearts are filled with worship (Genesis 24:48).

Laban and family didn’t likely know of God’s promise to Abraham, to make his descendants as numerous as the stars (repeated in 26:4)…

17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,

but they said something similar…

60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.”

As I was reading of the sons of Abraham through his second wife, Keturah, in Genesis 25:2

2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

I wondered if Midian was the same as the place where Moses went after killing the Egyptian.  Moses did send them to “the land of the east” (25:6).

Image result for midian

It is accepted fact that Midian lay southeast of Israel and it was, in fact, the place where Moses went to escape Egypt.

Gulf of Suez and Southern Sinai Peninsula

The description of where the sons of Ishmael, the Arabs, lived, is somewhat ambiguous

18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria.

That would seem to be in the same vicitnity as the Midianites and other sons of Abraham.

Genesis 25 describes Rebekah’s inability to bear children, then the birth of Esau and Jacob.  Esau was the firstborn, but despised his birthright by selling it for a pot of beans.  Jacob valued the birthright, but schemed to get it.

Then, in Genesis 26, Jacob (and Rebekah’s) scheming got Jacob the blessing from his blind father.  Somehow, it seems to me that something deeper kept Isaac from realizing that this man he was touching was not Esau.

Hebrews 12 says this about Esau…

16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The opportunity had passed Esau by.  He didn’t appreciate the blessings he had, but traded them for temporary pleasures.  Jacob valued spiritual blessings, but got them the wrong way.  Both of them were failures.

Paul explains that God was gracious to Jacob, though he (and we) didn’t deserve it.  Romans 9…

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Paul goes on to answer the objection that this whole situation was “unjust” in Romans 9:14-16.

Isaac, faced with a famine (Genesis 26), was told by God not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac went to Gerar, which was about on the edge of the land promised to Abraham.


Image result for Gerar

Like father, like son, Isaac lied about his wife to king Abimelech.  With disputes about wells with the Philistines, Isaac went to Rehoboth, and then finally back up to Beersheba (Genesis 26:22-23).  There God renewed the covenant with him…

24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”

I wonder how many bad marriages have “made life bitter” (Genesis 26:34-35) for Dad and Mom?  And, of course for the person who got married.


M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 9

Today’s Bible readings are from Genesis 9-10, Matthew 9, Ezra 9 and Acts 9.

Genesis 9-10 are about Noah’s sons and the “table of nations.”  After the flood, Noah and his sons were blessed by God, told they could now eat meat (and I assume until then everyone, including animals, were vegetarians), and that they were to hold the blood precious.  They should neither drink the blood of animals or shed the blood of man.

Verse 6 is where we get the idea for capital punishment…

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Genesis 9:6)

God promises that He will never again bring a global flood upon the earth, testified to by the rainbow (Genesis 9:8-17).

An introduction to the nations is given in vv. 18-19

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

and then the sin of Ham occurs (Genesis 9:20-29).  Noah gets drunk, Ham sees his nakedness and told his brothers.  They cover his nakedness without looking.  Ham is cursed and Shem and Japheth are blessed.  Then Noah dies.

Genesis 10 records the descendants of Japheth, Ham and Shem.  Here is a genealogical table (genealogical table of the descendants of noah, lambert dolphin) and here is a map.

This map is from Martin Luther.

Here is another map from Bible History Online…

Image result for table of nations

Significant to Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel is this description of one of the sons of Ham…

8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD.  Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Matthew 9 is a collection of miracles performed by Jesus, which often raised the ire of the Pharisees and they frequently challenged him.  Does he have the authority to forgive sins? (9:1-8)  Why do you associate with sinners? (9:9-13)  Then a question from his own disciples (9:14-17), followed by three healing miracles (9:18-31) and casting out a demon (9:32-33), at which the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons” (9:34).

This chapter ends by noting Jesus’ compassion and His desire for His disciples to take notice of the potential harvest of souls…

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

In Ezra 9 Ezra is confronted with the situation of Israelites intermarrying with Canaanites.  The issue is not inter-racial marriage, but the reality that marrying Canaanites had historically proven to be deadly to one’s spiritual life and devotion to the one true God.

Ezra prays a prayer of confession, noting Israel’s guilt and God’s grace throughout their history, and even now.  I love what he says in verse 13, that You “have punished us less than our iniquities deserved…”  In the face of such mercy, dare we break Your commandments again???

Acts 9 recounts the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.  Since chapters 1-12 are basically the story of Peter, this scene with Paul is merely an interlude.  Peter’s story is resumed in 9:32-43, preparing us for chapters 10-11 and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.

The gospel to Saul was simply,

4b “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Apparently Saul already knew enough about Jesus to put 2 and 2 together, for as soon as he regained his sight, he argued that Jesus was the Son of God everywhere he went!

Hosea and Amos

Hosea and Amos were both prophets to the northern kingdom.  Hosea picked up the mantle from Amos.  John Phillips, in Exploring the Old Testament Book by Book contrasts the two:

Amos thundered out the righteousness of God; Hosea wept out the mercy of God.

Amos took the heathen nations into his prophecy; Hosea limited his utterances to Israel, with occasional reference to Judah.

The style of Amos is clear and lucid, his illustrations drawn from the countryside; Hosea style dispenses short, sharp sentences, his broken home giving him ample illustration to convey the truths that were heavy on his heart.

Hosea is the prophet of outraged love–that love which never lets go; the love that many waters cannot quench; the love that suffers long and is kind.

Amos is the prophet of law, but Hosea had no such unhampered vision of great laws.  He was the prophet of love.  He tells us that in its deepest aspect, sin breaks not merely God’s law, it breaks His heart.

p. 317

New Morning Mercies, January 6-8

Here are some quotes from Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies from the last three days:

The contented heart is satisfied with the Giver and is therefore freed from craving the next gift. (January 6)

I need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit living inside me because sin kidnaps the desires of my heart, blinds my eyes, and weakens my knees.  My problem is not just the guilt of sin; it’s the inability of sin as well.  So God graces his children with the convicting, sight-giving, desire-producing and strength-affording presence of the Spirit. (January 7)

I don’t know how much you’ve thought about this, but faith isn’t natural for you and me.  Doubt is natural.  Fear is natural.  Living on the basis of your collected experience is natural.  Pushing the current catalog of personal “what-ifs” through your mind before you go to sleep or when you wake up in the morning is natural.  Envying the life of someone else and wondering why it isn’t your life is natural.  Wishing that you were more sovereign over people, situations, and locations than you will ever be is natural.  Manipulating your way into personal control so you can guarantee that you will get what you think you need is natural.  Looking horizontally for the peace that you will only ever find vertically is natural.  Anxiously wishing for change in things that you have no ability to change is natural.  Giving way to despondency, discouragement, depression, and despair is natural.  Numbing yourself with busyness, material things, media, food, or some other substance is natural.  Lowering your standards to deal with your disappointment is natural.  But faith simply isn’t natural to us.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 8

Today’s readings are from Genesis 8, Matthew 8, Ezra 8 and Acts 8.

“God remembered Noah,” what precious words.  More specifically, God remembered to do good to Noah for his faith and obedience.

In Genesis 19:29 God remembered Abraham and even though he did not specifically ask for Lot and his family to be saved from the destruction of Sodom, God delivered them.  He knew what was in Abraham’s heart that caused him to intercede for the people of Sodom, primarily the preservation of his nephew Lot.  In Genesis 30:22 God remembered Rachel and opened her womb to conceive.  In Exodus 2:24, God heard the cries of the Israelites in bondage and remembered His covenant with Abraham.  This is re-emphasized in Exodus 6:5.  In 1 Samuel 1:19 God remembered Hannah, and she was able to conceive.  Psalm 115:12 is plural, God has “remembered us.”

Several times God remembers His love or His promises.

Because God remembered Noah and his family, the waters receded and “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4).

greater ararat, ferrell jenkins

A photo of Mount Ararat, by Ferrell Jenkins.  Go to his site, Ferrell’s Travel Blog for years of research articles and photographs from Israel, Egypt, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean area.

Verse 20 is another painful reminder that our sinfulness can only be atoned through a sacrifice.  More than likely, these animals had become “pets.”

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

In God’s promise not to judge all humanity with a catastrophe like this again, he acknowledges that man’s heart has not changed.

21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.

In Matthew 8 we have Jesus performing his first miracles, to verify that He is indeed the king of the Jews.

I like the prayer (request) of the leper…

2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

He didn’t demand that Jesus heal him.  He didn’t “name it and claim it.”  He fully believed that God could heal him, but he submitted to God’s will.  He left it up to Jesus.  He presented his request fully believing that God could heal him, but acknowledged his dependence upon God’s will.  This is the balance we need in prayer–fully confident that God can, but completely submissive to whether He will.

Jesus’ first words about hell (the lake of fire), though by no means his last, are in Matthew 8:12.  He calls it…

the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What is meant by “outer darkness”?  Maybe simply that unlike those invited in to the banquet, they would be left outside, alienated from the “party.”

How can this place be “dark” and “fiery” at the same time?  Or is it referring to two levels of judgment–one for those who were ignorant (darkness) vs. those enlightened?

Thomas Constable notes:

Jesus shocked His hearers by announcing three facts about the kingdom.  First, not all Jews would participate in it.  Second, many Gentiles would.  Third, entrance depended on faith in Jesus, not on ancestry, the faith that the centurion demonstrated.

Verse 34 (Matthew 8) is surprising and shocking…

34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

We look at the amazing miracle done to turn this man’s life around completely and would expect them to beg him to stay; they looked at the profit loss from pigs (which they should have anyway, unclean) and begged him to leave.  As someone has said, “they preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior.”

Apparently Ezra’s return to Jerusalem was delayed due to not finding any Levites among the returnees (Ezra 8:15).  So they sent for some to return with them and they were successful because of “the good hand of our God on us” (Ezra 8:18).  They celebrated Passover before going (Ezra 8:21).

“It is emphasized that the date of departure from Babylon was carefully calculated to take place on the first day of the first month, though in the event they could leave only on the twelfth day due to the need to recruit Levites ( Ezra 8:31).  While the point is not made explicitly, this arrangement implies that the Ezra caravan, like the Israelites of old, marked their departure with the celebration of Passover (cf Exodus 12:1Numbers 33:3), and that therefore this second episode in the restoration of the commonwealth begins in the same way that the first ends.” [Note: Joseph Blenkinsopp, “A Theological Reading of Ezra –Nehemiah.” Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 12 (1989):29.]

Ezra’s refusal to depend upon an armed escort despite the large amount of gold they were carrying displayed genuine faith.  We need to remember this.  Like Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, our faith needs to be put to the test and stand the test.

“It is well to affirm faith, as many Christians do regularly in the creeds.  Yet it is salutary to ask whether anything that one ever does actually requires faith.” (NOTE: McConville, p. 58)

What is the last thing I’ve done that required faith?  How about you?

Here is the way Ezra states it…

22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him”  23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

If we’ve stated to others that God can be depended upon, then we need to act like it.

Acts 8 records the church finally going to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8) due to persecution.  God had to kick them out of their Christian ghetto in Jerusalem.  So Philip “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:5).  Many of them believed, because they heard the gospel and saw miracles and were baptized.  But they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  Why didn’t the Holy Spirit baptize them when they first believed?  Because leading apostles from Jerusalem needed to witness it and verify that the Samaritans (remember they were the antagonists early in the book of Ezra) were part of the same body of Christ, the newly-founded church.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

We will see something similar happen in Acts 10 when Cornelius believes and receives the Spirit.  There, he receives the Spirit immediately, but that is because Peter is already there on the scene to witness it.

Normally, the Spirit baptizes a person into Christ the moment they believe (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 8:9).

Philip, the evangelist, formerly a deacon, was available to go wherever God called (and took) him!

30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

I had the exact same thing happen to me in Switzerland in 1978.  I was waiting for a train, reading my Bible, when someone approached me and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Being in Bible College at the time, I said yes, but I wonder what kind of person that was.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 7

Today’s readings are from Genesis 7, Matthew 7, Ezra 7 and Acts 7.

Genesis 7 records the flood.  That it was global is clear from verse 19, where it says…

19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.

flood chart (genesis 7-8)

Noah and his family, and the animals that gathered to the ark, were the only ones who survived.  Note in verse 16 that it says that “the LORD shut them in.”  God made them safe and secure in the Ark, just as He makes us safe and secure in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 7 finishes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  It begins with the verse that has superceded John 3:16 as the most well known verse in American society–“Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Of course, from the context we know that this was not meant to exclude all judgment, but to be careful in our judgment.  To get the speck out of our brother’s eye, we have to judge.  There is judgment being made in not casting one’s pearls before swine.

What an encouragement to pray is verse 11, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Since our earthly fathers give us good gifts, “how much more” will our Heavenly Father!  All we have to do is ask!

I’ve always thought, when comparing the narrow and broad paths (Matthew 7:13-14), that the narrow path led in one direction and the broad path in the opposite direction.  But in reality, the broad path could be all around the narrow path, on every side, since upon the broad path are religious unbelievers who look, act, dress and speak a lot like true believers.

It is scary to think that people in ministry, who do even miraculous things, can be unsaved.  It is possible to be deceived about one’s salvation (Matthew 7:21-23).

Ezra 7 speaks of the return of Ezra (and others) to the land of Israel.  Even though the book begins with the first return under Zerubbabel, Ezra doesn’t come until 57 years later.

Ezra’s priestly pedigree is first established (Ezra 7:1-6a), then his spiritual credibility (Ezra 6:b, “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”), then his teaching pattern (Ezra 7:10).  And lastly, a letter of recommendation from the king (7:11-26).

This is a great pattern for any teacher of God’s Word…

10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.


“The order is very significant, for you cannot effectively practice what you have not thoroughly learned, and you cannot convincingly teach what you have not practically applied.” [Note: Laney, p52.]

Ezra then gives thanks for all the “loyal love” God had shown to him (Ezra 7:27-28).

Acts 7 is Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.  He first recounts Israel’s history.  I wonder if his mentioned of Moses (their hero) being rejected (Acts 7:24-28) and then again in the wilderness, was meant to set up a statement about them rejecting their Messiah.  But Stephen didn’t get that far.  He directed a stinging rebuke against them that they did not even keep their own law (reinforcing the bad news that they were sinners) and they rushed him and stoned him.

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

In his death, Stephen imitates our Lord, surrendering his spirit (Acts 7:59) and asking God to forgive his murderers (Acts 7:60).

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 6

Today’s readings are from Genesis 6, Matthew 6, Ezra 6 and Acts 6.

Genesis 6 is the beginning of the flood narrative (Genesis 6-8).  Verse 5 is a good description of total depravity…

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

In the midst of judgment, Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).  Was that favor/grace free?  Or was it because “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9)?  Was it because Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22)?

“The same explanation for Enoch”s rescue from death (“he walked with God”) is made the basis for Noah”s rescue from death in the Flood: “he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).  Thus in the story of Noah and the Flood, the author is able to repeat the lesson of Enoch: life comes through “walking with God.”” [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 119.]

Matthew 6 is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, dealing first with righteous that is performed “in order to be seen/noticed” and therefore praised.  I can remember Dr. Stanley Toussaint, a professor I had for a Summer class at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, every time he would say “paid in full,” would pound the desk to emphasize–this is all you get!  But righteousness done in secret, seen only by God, will be rewarded by Him.

The last part of Matthew 6 deals with worry.  Three times Jesus says “do not be anxious” (25, 31, 34). But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus is interested in more than handing down commands. He wants to get at our hearts.

So Jesus gave His followers 7 reasons we shouldn’t worry.  First, life is more important than the things of life (v. 25).  Second, you’re more important to God than the lillies and the birds, but He makes sure they have what they need (v. 26).  Third, it doesn’t accomplish anything!  Nothing gets better by worrying (v. 27).  Fourth, God really does care about you (vv. 28-29).  Fifth, worry is what pagans do.  In other words, it’s an act of unbelief! (vv. 30-32a).  Sixth, what is even more important is the kingdom.  Seek it (v. 33).  Seventh, grace comes each day.  For today’s troubles you have today’s grace.  Tomorrow’s grace will come tomorrow (v. 34).

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Worry is assuming responsibility for things that are out of our control. That

Years ago I heard Phil Keaggy sing this song:

Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”

And here is a great bedtime song for worriers, sung by the Haven of Rest Quartet:

Ezra 6 plays out one of the Proverbs.

Proverbs 26:27 says…

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.

In other words, when you plan evil against God and His people, it will come back to bite you!  The letter that Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai had sent, trying to get the Israelites in trouble for rebuilding the wall, declaring that they had no authority to do this, was turned on its head.  Darius found the decress which Cyrus had made (because God had stirred his spirit, Ezra 1:__) and made Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai support the building project by getting out of the way and providing animals for sacrifice.

Verse 14 says…

They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;

Notice what came first, the “decree of the God of Israel…”

The Passover was eaten “by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Acts 6 records the internal problem of some people being neglected.  Deacons were chosen to serve them, and at least two of those deacons, Stephen and Philip would do much more than merely waiting tables.  Stephen began preaching Christ and he was brought before the council, the Sanhedrin.


Resources for Investing in the Next Generation

These are some resources for following up on the sermon from Sunday morning (1/6/19) entitled Investing in the Next Generation (Psalm 78:1-8).





New Morning Mercies, January 5

My mother gave me Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies for my birthday last year.  I’ve been reading it each day this year.  Today’s devotional was excellent and reminds us of the wonder of God’s still amazing grace.

He wrote:

If you obey for a thousand years, you’re no more accepted than when you first believed; your acceptance is based on Christ’s righteousness and not yours.

The fact is that sin is a bigger disaster than we think it is and grace is more amazing than we seem to be able to grasp that it is.  No one who really understands what Scripture has to say about the comprehensive, every-aspect-of-your-personhood-altering nature of sin would ever think that anyone could muster enough motivation and strength to rise to God’s standard of perfection.  The thought that any fallen human being would b e able to perform his or her way into acceptance with God has to be the most insane of delusions.  Yet we all tend to think we are more righteous than we are, and when we think this, we have taken the first step to embracing the delusion that maybe we’re not so bad in God’s eyes after all.

This is why the reality check of Romans 3:20 is so important.  Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”  If you prayed every moment of your life, you could not pray enough prayers to earn acceptance with God.  If you gave every penny of every dollar that you ever earned in every job you ever had, you could not give enough to deserve acceptance with God.  If every word you ever spoke was uttered with the purest of conscientious motivations, you would never be able to speak your way into reconciliation with God.  If you gave yourself to an unbroken, moment-by-moment life of ministry, you could never minister enough to achieve God’s favor.  Sin is too big.  God’s bar is too high.  It is beyond the reach of every human being who has ever taken his or her first breath.

This is why God, in love, sent his Son: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  You see, there was and is no other way.  There is only one portal to acceptance with God–the righteousness of Christ.  His righteousness is given over to our account; sinners are welcomed into the presence of a holy God based on the perfect obedience of another.  Christ is our hope, Christ is our rest, Christ is our peace.  He perfectly fulfilled God’s requirement so that in our sin, weakness, and failure we would never again have to fear God’s anger.  This is what grace does!  So as the children of grace, we obey as a service of worship, not in a desperate attempt to do what is impossible–independently earn God’s favor.

Amen to that!  Worship the God of grace!  Find in on Amazon Smile–New Morning Mercies–and donate to Moving Works.

Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1:1-3)

Derek Kidner begins his comments on the first chapter of Hosea by saying:

“It is the people you love who can hurt you most.  One can almost trace the degree of potential pain along a scale—from the rebuff you hardly notice from a stranger, to the rather upsetting clash you may have with a friend, right on to the stinging hurt of a jilting, the ache of a parent-child estrangement, or, most wounding of all, the betrayal of a marriage.”

And that is exactly what we see here in the opening words of the book of Hosea—a tragic betrayal in the life of Hosea, which mirrors the treacherous betrayal by Israel to their God.

This morning we want to talk about Hosea and Gomer and God’s initial command to Hosea, found in vv. 1-3 of Hosea 1:

1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

We talked last week about the time frame of Hosea’s ministry, that it occurred in the decades immediately preceding the fall of Samaria and Assyria dispersing the people of Israel into foreign countries.  It was a time that initially experienced great prosperity and political stability, but in the 20 years leading up to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. it was a time filled with political intrigue and instability, moral decay and idolatry.

One might notice that Hosea mentioned only one king of Israel, Jeroboam II, while mentioning four kings of Judah, the southern kingdom.  Why did he skip over Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, Pekahiah and Hoshea?

Kings of Israel during the Ministry of Hosea, 760 to 720 B.C.

Dynasty of Jehu
Jeroboam II 793-752 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Zechariah 753-752 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Shallum
Shallum 752 B.C. (one month) Assassinated
Dynasty of Menahem
Menahem 752-742 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Pekahiah 724-740 B.C. Overthrown in coup d’état
Dynasty of Pekah
Pekah 752-732 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Hoshea
Hoshea 732-722 B.C. Died in exile

Well, it is probably because he regarded Jeroboam II as the last legitimate king of Israel.  Those who followed him were a batch of assassins and ambitious political climbers who had no right to the title “king.”  Also, it may be that Hosea hoped for better things from Judah.  Although he sometimes criticizes them, he prays that they would not follow Israel’s lead (4:15).

By the way, we know nothing of Beeri, Hosea’s father, but the inclusion of his name here keeps us from mistaking him and the last king of Israel, Hoshea.  These are variations of the same name, which also includes Joshua and Jesus.  The meaning of Hosea’s name is “Yahweh has saved.”

While Hoshea’s policies would lead to Israel’s collapse, listening to Hosea’s prophecies could be their salvation.  But would they listen?

In the midst of this period in Israel’s history, the “word of the Lord came to Hosea.”  This forms the beginning of Hosea’s ministry.  He was likely a young man at the time, possibly in his late teens to early 20’s.

It was not unusual for God to require his prophets to do some strange things as practical object lessons for stirring up the imagination or heart of His people.  God asked Isaiah to walk about naked and barefoot for three years as a sign of the coming exile of Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:3-5).  Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year near a small model of Jerusalem under siege (Ezekiel 4-5).  He was also forbidden to mourn when his wife died (24:15-18).

A prophet’s call could be agonizing.  Almost anything could be asked of him.  It would be difficult to find a more shattering demand than the one given to Hosea.

Here God says to Hosea

“Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

The NIV says…

“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

What both of these versions miss is the plurals, “wife of whoredoms” and “children of whoredoms.”  Like “men of bloods” (Psalm 5:6) and “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) the plural indicates the frequency (even constancy) of the act, which shows that she was characterized as a whore already.

Obviously this seems very strange, even immoral, for God to ask Hosea to marry an adulterous woman.

Did God actually ask Hosea to marry a sexually promiscuous woman and why did he command Hosea to do this?  Also, is there just one woman presented here, or two women between chapter 1 and chapter 3?

Scholars throughout the centuries have tried to deal with this sticky moral issue.

Some say that Hosea’s words here are a mere parable or allegory with no basis in history.  But that seems unlikely, since he says she was the daughter of Diblaim in verse 3.  She is a real person with a real name and a real father.

Others say Hosea’s real-life wife was faithful, but chapter 1 is a metaphor and chapter 3 is a prophetic symbol of God’s compassion.  But it is difficult to imagine that Hosea’s preaching would have much impact if people knew that none of it was true, just a story to prove a point.  To have made up this story about her would have been cruel.

Others say chapters 1 and 3 are historical but two different women.  Hosea married two different prostitutes.  But the context helps us understand that Gomer is also the woman of chapter 3.  Notice that Hosea is told to “again” go and love her.

Some say that Hosea married Gomer, who was already an immoral woman.  She was faithful in the birth of the first child, but returned to harlotry and the two additional children are of doubtful paternity.  Or, she was possibly faithful in the births of all three, but then returned to harlotry.

That God would call Hosea to marry a sexually immoral woman does not violate the prohibition in Leviticus 21:14, for that applies only to those in the priesthood.

I believe that the language of verse 2 indicates that she was already a “promiscuous woman,” one given to sexual immorality.  After marrying her, she remained faithful for awhile—through the birth of the first child, or possibly all three.

She then abandoned Hosea for other lovers.  She became a prostitute, receiving fees for her favors (2:5b) and wearing the ornaments of a prostitute (2:2b).  In the process, she fell into destitution, went from lover to lover, and ultimately ended up as a slave.

Certainly Hosea’s action of marrying a woman known to be sexually immoral and then remarrying her pushes the envelope.  It is the very offense of Hosea’s action that strongly confirms that this is the correct interpretation.

“God has divorced Israel just as Hosea has divorced Gomer, but in both cases grace triumphs over righteous jealousy and the demands of the law.  Like the cross itself, Hosea’s action is a stumbling block.  A man does not normally take back a woman who has behaved the way Gomer did.” (Duane Garrett, p. 49).

Hosea’s tragic marriage doesn’t disqualify him from ministry, but serves as his credentials for speaking for Yahweh.  The fact that God’s word came to Hosea and told him to do this is the foundation of his ministry and his qualification for speaking for God.

The NIV translates the reason for Hosea’s marriage as “for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”  So Hosea was to be bound to this woman as his wife in covenant union.  For better or for worse, the path of his life would be linked to hers.

Hosea would be like Yahweh, who also bound himself to a willful and wayward people (Deut 9:6).

Whereas the ESV has “children of whoredom,” the NIV more helpfully translates simply “have children with her.”  Now, it is possible that one or more of the children were the result of illicit love affairs by Gomer, and not really Hosea’s children.

Another possibly is that Hosea also took in children from Gomer’s previous sexual alliances.  In other words, he adopted her illegitimate children.

But it is more likely that God is talking about Hosea’s own progeny, but that they, being born of a promiscuous woman, would bear the disgrace of their mother’s behavior.  Of course, these children also represent Israel, and they would follow in the footsteps of their mother and be idolatrous as well.  In this sense Gomer may stand for the nation and her children the individual Isrealites.

“The reason for God’s astonishing command to Hosea is that ‘the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’  In other words, God specifically tells Hosea to enter into the same kind of marriage that Yahweh himself is in.  Hosea is to experience the sorrows of God and thus speak in God’s place to the nation.  The Hebrew also implies that Israel’s acts of adultery against God have taken the people progressively further away from him.  Every act of apostasy and immorality has driven a wedge deeply between them and their God.” (Duane Garrett, p. 54)

For centuries Israel’s relationship with God had been cast in the form of treaties.  Hosea introduces the idea that Israel is married to God in a covenant relationship, the very closest relationships we experience.

Just as it is shocking that Gomer pursues other lovers against the backdrop of Hosea’s undying love, so it is to shock Israel that they were betraying Yahweh’s undying love by playing the harlot with the Baals.

In our culture, where prostitution as a profession has achieved respect in many circles, and where promiscuity is widely celebrated as a legitimate life style, it is difficult to hear the depth of the offense that would have been generated in Hosea’s time by this divine command. Perhaps the closest we can come is to consider a command to “marry a sexual addict.”

In Hosea, Gomer’s irrepressible unfaithfulness mirrors the headlong rush of Israel “looking for love in all the wrong places,” thus endangering its very existence as God’s people.

God says that “this land is guilty.”  This is likely a reference to the nation itself, but it serves to recall the promises that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), as well as the exodus and conquest under Moses, Joshua and the Judges.  “It pricks the consciences of Israel with the reminder that their land was a gift from God, to be used in celebration of his covenant, and to be retained only by total loyalty to him.” (David Alan Hubbard, p. 67)

Yet, that land and its people were involved in “great harlotry”—engrossed in spiritual adultery.

These three short verses help us to see two things which stand out.  First, Hosea is obedient to this command.  Verse 3 says “so he went and took Gomer,” normal Old Testament language for getting married.

Whether Hosea knew the depth of pain he would come to feel from Gomer’s infidelities and rejection, he certainly knew that he was in for a significant amount of pain.  She was, after all, a woman given to sexual immorality.

Sometimes being obedient to God results in more pain, not a happy life.  Hosea enters into the worst sort of marriage, something none of us would wish on our own worst enemies.

Hosea’s intimate insight into the heart of God led precisely to his involvement with the anguish of God, that is, that anguish in which love is itself in the center of the pain, crushed and yet still alive.  Hosea’s willingness to bear the pain becomes the possibility of divine revelation, as he takes it on both in the passion of his preaching and in the very fabric of his daily life. (Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, p. 5).

Like Gomer, Israel had become unfaithful to God soon after their “wedding” at Mt. Sinai.  God did, in fact, predict that Israel would prostitute themselves with Canaanite gods (Deuteronomy 31:16).

The most direct example of Israel’s spiritual harlotry in the wilderness is Aaron’s initiative to construct and worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-35).  Interestingly, this event took place at Mount Sinai immediately before God entered into covenant with Israel as a people…The people asked Aaron to shape an idol for them to worship because they lost faith in God in the absence of Moses’ presence. This loss of faith is not exceptional in the Exodus narrative; it is symptomatic of Israel’s relationship with God during the first few months following their departure from Egypt (Exodus 16:1-8, 17:1-7).

Jeremiah, however, does say this:

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.

There is a similar expression in Hosea 2:14-15.

The Lord recalled how His people used to love (Heb. hesed) Him devotedly when they were following Him through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. Those were the days of Israel’s betrothal as a youth, before she settled down with the Lord in the land (cf. Hos. 1—3). Even though the Israelites were not completely faithful to the Lord in the wilderness, their commitment to Him then was much stronger than it was in the days of the prophets.

Why then, did God choose to redeem Israel if not because they were a people faithful to Him?  Ezekiel repeatedly claims that God stuck by Israel because the reputation of His word was at stake (Ezekiel 20:5-6, 20:9, 20:14, 20:22).  These texts explicitly state that God brought Israel out of Egypt because of His promise to their forefathers (Exodus 2:23-24).

In Deuteronomy 7 God explains to Israel why they are receiving the land then possessed by the  Canaanites:

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

This is not to say that there were no Israelites who remained faithful to YHWH, merely that the reasons the Bible gives for God’s deliverance of Israel are the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5), and Jacob (Genesis 35:9-15), not the righteousness or greatness of the people (Exodus 7:7-8).  Ezekiel later writes that God stayed faithful to Israel because of His reputation, despite their rejection of Him.  The prophet is pointing out that being faithful to His promises is a fundamental part of God’s nature; the Bible is riddled with expressions that verify this (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, James 1:17), the most explicit being Hebrews 6:18 which states that “it is impossible for God to lie.”

And aren’t we glad that this is true?  God chose us and chose to love us not because we were good or obedient or faithful to Him.  Precisely the opposite.  God loved us and Christ died for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).  God justifies “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

Throughout the Bible, especially in the prophets, God is depicted as being torn between his hatred of sin, and his love for sinners.  The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah demonstrate God’s love for His people, and his reluctance to give up hope that they will return to Him.  In His love for humanity, the Creator humbles Himself before the universe as He takes on the role of a lover spurned, a lover who refuses to give in even when the object of His love turns around and spits Him in the face through public prostitution.

“The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace.  As the prophet loved a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to his people in their unloveliness.  Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to himself as Hosea received Gomer.” (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, p. 17)

Let me close with words from John H. Johansen:

So Hosea became the first prophet of repentance, anticipating the Prodigal Son in his appeal to the Prodigal Nation.  This is the greatest thing about his message—the persistence of God’s love.  Unfaithful as Israel had been, and certain as was her down, this fact did not obscure the divine love.  God’s love is constant; it is not canceled by human sin.  No wonder Hosea stands as the greatest Old Testament exponent of the redeeming love of God. (John H. Johansen, “The Prophet Hosea: His Marriage and Message, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, p. 179)

It speaks of the love of election and Calvary.  Thus, A. W. Pink wrote

Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people. Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love.  Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary. (Attributes of God, p. 81).

You can listen to Grace Still Amazes on KENA at 7:45 a.m. on Sundays and Saturday at 7 a.m., Sunday at 8 a.m., and starting Sunday January 6, 2018 will also air at 11:45am on Sundays on KAWX.  Often this posting will be longer and include more material than the radio broadcast, which is 15 minutes.

Duane Garrett’s commentary in the New American Commentary series, has the best discussion of the issue of whether Hosea actually married a sexually promiscuous woman (Hosea, Joel, pp. 43-49).  Also, click on the metaphor marriage of hosea, leif fredheim (journal of interdisciplanary undergraduate research)