Hosea Reconciled with his Adulterous Wife / Paul: Slaves to Righteousness: July 21st 2021

Hosea 3:1-5:15

God told Hosea to become reconciled with his wife. She was an adulterous prostitute loved by another man. Hosea was instructed to ‘love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes’ (Hosea 3:1). The Israelites had acted as prostitutes chasing after demonic deities. God would eventually pay the price to redeem both them and us, by Jesus dying on the cross. By the way, the sacred raisin cakes do sound delicious. We have Eccles cakes in this country, which may be a similar recipe but hopefully haven’t been dedicated to demonic deities.

Homer bought his wife, which implies that she was a slave and might not have had any say in her career choice. He told her to be faithful to him alone, now he had redeemed her.

Hosea prophesied that after the Israelites returned from exile, they would return and come trembling to seek the Lord their God and David their king (Hosea 3:5). Jesus became incarnate and fulfilled the latter half of this prophecy.

Hosea laid out the charges against Israel, many of which can be levelled at the UK today. In our country there is little faithfulness and love and most people don’t acknowledge God. We have cursing, lying, murdering, stealing and adultery. Many of our leaders are divorced and remarried and so are living in adulterous relationships. If a woman is raped, they can get an abortion and so ‘bloodshed follows bloodshed’ (Hosea 4:2) rather than counter-acting evil with love.

We live in a world of ecological collapse with species becoming extinct and fish in the sea dying from pollution. People are continuing to harm the world with their thoughtless behaviour – ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6).

Many people don’t spend time reading the word of God and so reject knowledge of their creator. We have seen the scandal of priests sinning against God and exchanging their Glory for something disgraceful. Even pastors and vicars get divorced and remarried feeding ‘on the sins of my people’, ‘like people, like priests’ (Hosea 4:8-9).

God would ‘punish both (people and priests) for their ways and repay them for their deeds’ (Hosea 4:9). The people had given themselves to prostitution just as many modern people consume endless pornography, beamed directly into their houses through the internet. Many young women, even housewives, are using their bodies as an income stream.

Many of us have worked in secular jobs, doing pointless tasks just for the money. We may very well need it when we have young families to support and massive mortgages. We hire out our bodies to sit in an office where we begrudgingly churn out work while keeping our mind on the money and counting the minutes on the clock. Many of us have given ourselves to both old wine and new to get through the depression of having to prostitute ourselves in the office the following week. The Israelites tried to consult man-made idols for advice rather than praying to God. We might follow a celebrity idol on social media and follow their decrees.

God would not punish the women for their prostitution and adultery because the men were equally at fault. Not only did men use prostitutes – particularly the ones at the shrines to the demonic fertility gods, but they also forced women into prostitution, like Hosea’s wife before he bought her freedom.

God did not want Israel’s stubborn sins to affect the southern kingdom of Judah (Hosea 4:15). God wanted to pasture his people like innocent lambs in a meadow but their rulers loved shameful ways and so they would be swept away in shame.

Hosea pronounced God’s judgement on the people. They were so embedded in their sins that ‘their deeds do not permit them to return to their God’ (Hosea 5:4). These days, there is no sin that can prevent us from experiencing the love of Christ. We just have to repent and renounce of our sins, believe in Christ and ask him into our lives and become baptized.

God was going to pour out his wrath like a flood of water. The Israelites would be carried off, with no-one to rescue them. God would retire from them until they admitted their guilt and, in their misery, sought his face (Hosea 5:15).

Romans 6:15-7:6

If we believe in Jesus, we are set free from sin and become ‘slaves to righteousness’ (Rom.6:18). We are no longer slaves to sin and our sinful addictions. When we are baptized and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, he can help us break free from any sinful habit. He builds us up and makes us holier day by day.

I have been a baptized Christian since I was one but for decades I let my body become enslaved to impurity. I reaped no benefit from my sins, I was on the road to death coaxed gently step-by-step down the path to destruction by oppressing evil spirits. The Holy Spirit lived within me as a little flickering pilot light of faith.

God gives us enough grace to resist any temptation but it was only when I started praying in tongues for extended periods of time, that the Holy Spirit fired up his power within me and burnt off my sinful habits and addictions. I lost the rebellious desire to sin. I was no longer a slave to sin once I handed over control to the righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

The wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.6:23).

We now belong to Christ, serving in the new way of the Spirit (Rom.7:6), so that we might bear fruit for God (Rom.7:4).

Psalm 88:1-9a

I have cried out to God when it felt like my soul was full of trouble and my life was drawing near the grave (Psalm 88:3). He sent an entire new Church to save me and pluck me from lacklustre praise and worship. He is the God who saves me (Ps.88:1).

God sometimes allows the devil to interfere in our lives, which can bring us down into the lowest pit of despair (Ps.88:6). However, when bad things happen it is because God wants good to come out of them. We are refined like gold to make us stronger. We gain character and hope through our trials and tribulations.  

When we are suffering we must turn to God not away from him. Through persisting in prayer, he will turn his ears to our cries (Ps.88:2).

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/freedom-sky-hands-handcuffs-clouds-1886402/

The Fall of Jerusalem / God’s Wrath against Mankind: July 13th 2021

2 Kings 24:8-25:30

King Jehoiachin succeeded his father, Jehoiakim. The people of Judah seemed to have run out of inspiration for first names at this stage but they all have meanings. Jehoiachin Is Hebrew for ‘The Lord Establishes’ which is ironic considering what is going to happen to him.    

This new king only reigned for 3 months and all of that was bad. The king of Babylon’s army advanced on Jerusalem and besieged it. The formidable Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, actually came to watch the siege. The leaders of Judah had no choice but to surrender the city to him.

Nebuchadnezzar removed all the remaining treasures from the temple and the royal palace. He carried into exile virtually everyone from Jerusalem, including the local army, leaving just the poorest people behind who would now be ruled by Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah. Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Zedekiah, king of Judah.

Zedekiah did not turn to God and unwisely rebelled against Babylon. He must have recruited a new army from the land of Judah as the Babylonians had to lay siege to the city again. Eventually, the famine within the city walls was so bad that the army within Jerusalem broke out through their own walls and fled. Zedekiah was captured and terribly punished.

Jerusalem would now be destroyed. The commander of the Babylonian imperial guard set fire to every building, including the temple and the royal palace, the walls of the city were broken down and everyone was taken into exile apart from the very poorest people who were to work the vineyards and fields.

The Babylonians destroyed the magnificent bronze articles that Solomon had commissioned for the temple. All the top Jerusalem officials, including the chief priest, were executed.

Judah went into captivity, away from her land – following the example of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) who has been exiled by the Assyrians a couple of centuries before.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to supervise the remnant of people left in Judah. He tried to get the people to settle down and serve the king but he was assassinated, which caused all the people people to flee to Egypt.

The former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was released from prison after thirty-seven years by a new Babylonian king, Evil-Merodach, and treated kindly for the rest of his life.  

These stories highlight the problems that arise from disobedience. If the Judean kings had always followed God, their nation may have been left in its own territory. If Zedekiah had been loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the first temple may still be intact today and what a magnificent sight it would be. However, God had to serve justice on those who had abandoned and ignored him. He used foreign nations to bring about his retribution against both Israel and Judah. However, there is always hope of rebirth and restoration.

The clock was now ticking until His people would be returned to their homeland.

Romans 1:18-32

We can clearly see the presence of God in the beauty of our created world. Yet so many people think that the world and the creatures that populate it made themselves. Paul said these people are without excuse (Rom.1:20). Everyone knows God in their hearts but people choose to suppress their innate knowledge of God and decide not to glorify or give thanks to Him. Their foolish hearts become darkened (Rom.1:21) and they choose to remain in sin.

Just as Solomon did, the wise become fools and start to worship man-made images. Many people today serve created things rather than the Creator. We work in a secular job just to pay for the car that is only required to get us to work. We go to work to pay for a larger house or a holiday, when we wouldn’t need an expensive holiday if we didn’t work (1 Rom.1:25). A day in a beautiful house of worship would regenerate us more than two weeks boozing in the sun.

God can show his wrath by abandoning us. If we reject him, he will reject us and allow us to follow our sinful desires. However, we reap what we sow and there will be consequences both now (such as divorce, murder, sexually transmitted diseases) and in eternity, for our immoral actions. Even women of the world have succumbed to sin. MacArthur (2021, 1545) notes that in most cultures women are the last to be affected by moral collapse.

If we do not spend time studying the word of God, our minds will become warped and full of wickedness (1 Rom.1:29-31).

Many people are promoted in secular workplaces for being greedy, deceitful, envious, malicious, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, faithless, heartless and ruthless. Many modern companies celebrate these behaviours particularly if they maximise profit (Rom.1:32). These people have ‘debased’ minds that are impure and worthless.

In summary, every single person in the world knows that God exists in their heart. There is no excuse for ignoring him and not giving him thanks. People choose to ignore God so that they can carry out depraved sin and God has abandoned them to let them do this. People rationalise to try to prove to themselves and others that there is no God but by doing this they prove their own utter foolishness. They approve of others who, like them, behave in Godless ways. Birds of a feather flock together.

I often wonder why the Mother Church seems to carry out little evangelisation and this passage seems to explain why. People already know all about God in their own hearts, they just suppress it and choose a depraved lifestyle instead. The church waits for people to become convicted of their own sin, acknowledge the terrible consequences they have reaped, repent of their mistakes and come looking for God. However, I think it is still useful to preach the gospel, to prompt people to listen to the little voice inside of them that is calling them home,

Psalm 84:8-12

I would rather be an unpaid assistant in a thriving church than a chief executive in an immoral company (Ps.84:10).

Our God is our sun and our shield. He bestows favour and honour and defends us from evil.

We are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

He will withhold no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Ps.84:11). So, if we lack anything, it is either not good for us or, before we will receive it, we need to review our lives and remove anything that is not blameless, by repenting and renouncing our wrong behaviour.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gideon wins in Battle / Testimonies about Jesus: May 8th 2021

Judges 8:8b – 8:35

The Lord told Gideon that he would triumph against the Midianites. He should get up and attack their camp. However, God knew that Gideon liked reassurance and so, if he was still afraid, he should sneak down to the enemy camp with his servant, and listen to what the Midianites were saying.

Gideon heard a Midianite describing his dream to a friend. The Midianite had dreamt that a round loaf of bread tumbled into their camp causing a tent to overturn and collapse (v.13). His friend interpreted this to mean that they would be defeated by Gideon: ‘God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands’ (v.14).

This conversation inspired Gideon to wake up his army to attack but before he did this he worshipped God. God had been extremely patient in helping Gideon get over his un-belief. Gideon now had enough faith to launch an attack to gain a seemingly impossible victory.

Gideon and his small band of fighters waged psychological warfare by standing around the enemy camp holding torches, blowing trumpet and smashing jars. The Midianites were terrified and ran away crying before God caused them to turn their swords on each other.

Gideon called on the Israelites of Ephraim for assistance and they turned out to be effective reinforcements. They were annoyed they hadn’t been asked sooner. It often happens that when we ask relatives or friends for help they lay a lot of emotional baggage on us. Gideon was in a highly stressful chase after a dangerous foe and his fellow Israelites started criticising him sharply rather than just getting on with the task. Presumably, they were jealous of his success and didn’t want to be left out of the history books for routing the Midianites. Gideon wisely chose to flatter their inflated egos by saying: ‘What have I accomplished compared to you?’ (v.2) which lessened their resentment. Of course, Gideon had achieved far more and his name alone is recorded in the Bible for his faithful courageous attack on the Midianite camp against overwhelming opposition.

Gideon asked the Israelites living in Succoth and Peniel to give his exhausted troops bread but they unwisely refused. They probably didn’t believe he would triumph and the Midianites would return. Possibly they were allies of the Midianites and secretly didn’t actually want Israel to be free. Jesus told us to use money to make friends. If an army of our fellow citizens appears to be miraculously winning a war, it is probably wise to give them what they want.

When Gideon eventually captured the two kings of Midian, he brought them back to Succoth, punished the elders of Succoth with desert thorns and briers, pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

The Israelites asked Gideon to rule over them and he wisely answered: ‘The Lord will rule over you ‘ (v.23). However, he then made a fatal mistake. He asked for gold ear-rings from the plunder and made them into an ephod (a ceremonial breastplate normally worn by a priest). He set this up in his town (Oprah) and ‘all Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there’ (v.27). Gideon should have humbly said: ‘The Lord will rule over you’ and made the Israelites visit the official tabernacle. He should not have set up a new religious idol in his hometown.

There was peace for forty years but, as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites were back to their usual tricks worshipping the Canaanite deities. We can expect God’s wrath to descend on them very soon.

John 5:31-47

In addition to John the Baptist’s testimony, the work that Jesus did confirmed that he had been sent from God. The miracles, the healing, the exorcism of evil spirits and Jesus’ radical new teaching were all evidence that he was completely filled with the Holy Spirit and the Son of God.

If we read the Old Testament under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can start to spot the hundreds of times that Jesus is mentioned.

The Pharisees were happy to read Moses’ writing in the Old Testament and felt smug that they were trying to comply with his law as a tick-box exercise to get to heaven but Jesus, standing before them, is the second Moses. We cannot earn our place in heaven by ticking religious boxes and living a legalistic life. Moses wrote the law to try to preserve the Israelites, keeping them from destroying themselves through their own sins until Jesus arrived. Moses had met with God ‘face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Exod. 33:11), but, as ‘no-one has seen God but the one and only Son (John 1:18), it must have been Jesus meeting Moses repeatedly in the Tent of Meeting during the Israelite’s exodus in the desert.

If the Jews did not believe Moses’ written testimony about Jesus preserving their ancestors in the desert, they were not going to accept Jesus’ word now.

Proverbs 11:19-28

‘He who pursues evil goes to his death’ (v.19). The vast majority of people in Western Society will have heard of Jesus. If such people persist in rejecting his offer of life and carry on choosing to live in persistent grave sin, separating themselves from God, God will respect their choices in the afterlife and allow them to remain separate forever. When it comes to heaven and hell, many people cannot get their heads around ‘forever’. That’s why hell is so terrible. It never ends. It will be too late for repentance and reconciliation. What do the wicked hope for? That there is no after-life and so they can’t be proved wrong. The best the wicked can hope for is oblivion. If they are wrong, they face wrath. The righteous, who believe in Jesus and are baptized, can hope for everlasting happiness in a perfect heaven seeing the face of God.

God delights in the blameless (v.20). As our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, God delights in us.

It is wise to be generous: ‘a generous man will prosper’ (v.25). He will ‘gain even more’ (v.24). ‘He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed’ (v.25). The starting point of generosity is to tithe to our church (giving 10% of our income). This destroys the love of money and frees us up to bless others. We shouldn’t pin our hopes on what we have in the bank: ‘Whoever trust in his riches will fall’ (v.28).

The truly righteous attain life (v.19) and ‘thrive like a green leaf’ (v.28).

Image: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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