Israel’s Folly of Rejecting God (Part Two)

Amos 2:6-16

This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent” (Amos 2:6a NIV).

Israel sinned by despising God’s grace (2:9-12). Think of the grace that they looked down on. God had protected them (2:9). The Amorite tribe was one nation among many of the Canaanite peoples. Though they were skilled and strong warriors, the Lord easily defeated all of them for his people. The Lord had provided for them (2:10; cf. Psalm 78:9ff). Many times God called his people Israel to remember what he did for them in their release from Egyptian bondage. In the same way the church is to recall and reflect on Christ’s greater Exodus. As a song has said, “Lead me to the cross, where we first met; draw me to my knees so that we can talk.”

Even more, God had spoken to them. The means was prophecy (2:11-12). Yet Israel did not want to hear these men whom God had sent to them. The same thing happens today. Many church goers do not want to hear God’s word; most want it diluted to a formless, powerless slop of mushy words. Faithful ministers are blessings from the Lord to his people. See Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12. We should pray that God would continue to call men to preach his word.

Some ideas about the terrible nature of the sin of despising God’s grace: When a person despises God and his grace, the God who alone can help them, his or her case is truly desperate. People are in a dangerous condition when they reject, suppress, or even merely ignore God’s message to them (2 Corinthians 5:20). We should be careful to remember the mercies that God has given to us. This was important for Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2, 18; 15:15; 24:18, 22), and it remains important for the church (Luke 22:19).

What were the consequences of Israel’s sins (2:13-16)? How awesome their judgment was! (2:13) God would crush them. This finally fell on them when they rejected Jesus the Messiah. Their house was left to them desolate (Matthew 23:38). Human strength would completely fail as a means of escape (2:14-16).

However, praise the Lord, hope continues! There is one who was crushed for us, in order that we might not be crushed (Isaiah 53:5). Seek the Lord while he may be found.Grace and peace,
David

The Judging of Israel’s Neighbors

Amos 1:3-2:5

As we start to look at this long section, we need to remember the main purpose of the message of Amos. He was sent to minister God’s Word to Israel. Notice the phrase “concerning Israel” in verse one. Was Amos using this section to gain a hearing among the people of the northern kingdom? That is a possible explanation. People like to hear someone else’s sin exposed and denounced, which is one reason that tabloid journalism is so popular. However, it might be that he was “circling in on them” as a bird of prey might do.

Each of the judgments against Israel’s neighbors is presented according to a set formula.

  • All open with the phrase “this is what the Lord says,” and some close with the reinforcing phrase “says the [Sovereign] Lord.”
  • All contain the phrase “for three sins… even for four….” This seems to be a Semitic expression to stress that the sins of these nations were great. “Is judgment coming on them for just three sins? No, it is coming for much more than that!”
  • All contain a phrase that says something like “I will send fire… that will consume the fortresses….”
  • All present the judgment as coming from the Lord. Israel’s neighbors will not be overcome by some chance or random calamities but by the act of God, regardless of the intermediate agent that he uses.

To help us understand this section, we need to answer three questions.

Who were these people groups?

  • Their location: they surrounded the northern kingdom of Israel. Tyre was northwest of Israel and Damascus (Aram) northeast. Gaza and the other Philistines were southwest. Edom was to the southeast, with Moab and then Ammon north of Edom on Israel’s east, and Judah was directly south of Israel.
  • Their descent: the Arameans, people of Tyre, and the Philistines were all Gentiles. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, while the Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The people of Judah and Israel were descendants of Jacob.

What were the sins of these nations? First, let us consider the sins of the Gentile people groups mentioned.

  • They were guilty of a lack of compassion. They sent some of Israel into captivity and slavery (1:6, 9). Selling them to Edom was especially wicked, because Edom was Israel’s ancient and incorrigible enemy. They were filled with uncontrolled anger and a lack of pity (1:11). In both of these they showed themselves to be most ungodly. God expects people everywhere to reflect his glory as self-controlled and merciful and compassionate.
  • They were guilty of treaty breaking (1:9). Loyalty and honesty are very important to the God of truth and faithfulness.
  • They were guilty of cruelty. They “threshed” Israel (1:3). A threshing sledge had “sharp iron teeth attached to rollers which passed over the sheaves to thresh the grain and to crush and shred the straw” (Laetsch). You can have a nightmare thinking about the pain and death this would cause as people when thrown under the threshing sledges. They ripped open Israel’s pregnant women (1:13). Compare 2 Kings 8:12; Hosea 13:16. As bad as this sin is, it is aggravated by its motive: greed for territory. God examines the motives of the human heart. Both of these demonstrate the perversity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:31).
  • They dishonored the dead (2:1), turning their bodies into simple materials. Since we are made in the image of God, humans are to be treated with respect. Notice that Gentiles against Gentiles committed this last sin. God takes notice of what nations do and judges them for it.

We are watching our world descend back into the pit of cruelty from which the revivals of the Reformation and the First Great Awakening lifted it out of for a time. Only a knowledge of God’s glory in Christ can stop this descent.

Second, notice the sins of Judah, the southern kingdom.

  • They rejected God’s law, both as God’s standard of instruction and in its particular commands. Notice that they are the only surrounding nation judged by this standard. This rejection included their heart attitude and their actions. Not to practice God’s message is to despise it in some way.
  • They followed false teaching. Every person is responsible for the teaching that they listen to (Mk 4:24-25). They allowed their hearts to be led astray (2:4).

What leads people astray today? Many wrong ideas about the purpose of life, like materialism, hedonism, addiction and substance abuse, and false religions.

How were these nations judged?

  • They were judged impartially. God gave no special respect to any group (Acts 10:34). God did not vary from the standard that he had revealed to that group. Each was judged according to what God had made known, whether through creation, the conscience or through the Scriptures.
  • They were judged inescapably. Consider what happened to Aram or Syria (2 Kings 16:9).
  • They were judged by the Lord. The Sovereign God acts in history to rule his creation, including the nations of mankind. Notice the number of times that God says, “I will….” The fate of Tyre, its complete destruction in part by Nebuchadnezzar and then totally by Alexander, is one proof of God’s action. Observe how many times God said, “I will not turn back my wrath.”

This is the message that we need to tell our neighbors (Romans 1:18). You have to start the “Romans road” in the right place. God does judge people (Hebrews 9:27). All people only have hope when they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 123 (Part Two)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

People are never far from trouble. We thank the Lord God for every reason to rejoice and to celebrate. We ought to do both. However, even when we experience lawful pleasures (like the delight of a skillfully prepared meal or the beauty of a spectacular sunset), we may feel our happiness interrupted by a sad phone call, an unexpected repair bill, a difference of opinion with friends, or in our time, the ongoing reality of the pandemic and civil unrest.

With this in mind, we might be able to be sensitive to the angst of the old covenant people on their way to Jerusalem to keep the Lord’s appointed festivals. After the time of Solomon, there were few happy times. The histories of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were marred by civil conflict, oppression from Assyria and Babylon, struggles with lesser nations, and religious decline. Godly people always consider departure from the true God and the accompanying moral evil to be serious trouble. So those on the journey to Jerusalem had reason to sing, “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

Afflicted people need mercy. When we seek mercy in this sense, we ask God to show compassion toward us in our misery and to rescue us from it. When we seek mercy in regard to our relationship with God, we ask God for forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with him. Probably both senses are in view in this song. As already noted, old covenant Israel was usually an oppressed people. The reason suffering came to them was because of their unfaithfulness to the law covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68; etc.) So then, as the people journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate before the Lord, their hearts would also be filled with sorrow for their sins and sorrows. Each time this song would be sung, it was an opportunity to cry out again for deliverance. “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

So then, this song is for believers in the true and living God, in the midst of their experience of trouble. When it is sung, it ought to be sung with a sensitivity to trouble. The Spirit of God wants us to see our misery and to cry out to God for its relief! Thus this song is far from a glib “Praise the Lord anyhow” view of our troubles. The Spirit teaches us that we can sing during affliction. We can join the art of music with our troubled emotions. Beauty can arise from the ashes of persistent sorrow, broken dreams, and that gnawing sense that things ought not to be as they are. We can sing, because “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

This is part of the walk of faith. We know that we need mercy, and we also know that we can look to the Lord God for such mercy. So, as the travelers made their way up to Jerusalem, they could walk in hope, hope in God. Do you walk in this hope?

Grace and peace,
David

A Shelter for God’s Afflicted People (Part One)

Isaiah 14:32

What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (NIV).

The last three months have been unsettling, to say the least that could be said. We live in desperate times, and not only because of Covid-19 and the many lives that have been lost to it. Most people are rightly cautious about getting too close physically to others that they do not know, or even those they do know. The economy is shaking, and now our nation is correctly reeling over the protests against oppression that has been too long ignored. Who knows where this will end? I make no pretensions to being a prophet and I shrink from making predictions.

This could unsettle us, if we should fail to think and to act Biblically. However, the Christian knows that mankind has been part of a war between God and the forces of evil since the day when Adam rebelled against the Lord God. Since that time malevolent beings (Satan and the other evil spirits, and people who gladly walk in their ways) have been seeking human destruction. In the immediate context of our text, we can see two peoples that actively sought the destruction of God’s people in Old Testament times: Assyria and the Philistines. Yet God brought both down, as he will bring down all the enemies of his people whom he loves.

The living God wants us to know is that he has established a place of shelter for his afflicted people. There is a safe haven, a place of refuge, and all those who are in saving union with the risen Christ are part of that shelter. Let us think about this together.

In our text, Zion is called the place where God’s people will find refuge. What is Zion? At the time this text was written, the days of the old covenant shadows, it was the earthly Jerusalem.

  • In one sense, Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth. It was the place where God revealed his glory, met with his people, and protected them (Psalms 48:1-14; 87:1-3).
  • In another sense, it was a place of bondage, since Jerusalem was under the law covenant (Galatians 4:24-25). Now the law was holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12). But since the law and its sacrifices could never cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:9-10), the people could not freely approach God. The laws with its rules and rituals allowed them to have come in their midst, but the people could not come near. The law demanded holiness, separateness. Exodus 19 provides good teaching on this point.

In the days of the new covenant reality, the time in which we live, Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:18-24).

In the fullest sense, we still look for this city (Revelation 21:1-22:6). We are “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) on a journey through this world to the heavenly city. Here we have no city with foundations (Hebrews 11:10). We wish that there were such a city now! But that city is impossible in a world of frustration and bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-21). Hopefully, now that we live in desperate times, we will realize that our hope is not in this world.

Yet in another sense, we are part of this city that is from above, and we are starting to enjoy its benefits now (Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:4-10). And so we are caught in this tension between the “now” and the “not yet”.

Christians tend to polarize in regard to this tension. Some want to act as if the “not yet” had already occurred. The Corinthians were an example of this (1 Corinthians 4:8). Others act as if nearly all of the blessings of the new covenant are “not yet”, and so fail to experience joy and peace in believing.

Every follower of Jesus Christ and every local church should strive to reflect as much of God’s glory in the blessings that we now can experience and of the hope that is set before us. People should be able to say, “These Christians know what true joy is. They are filled with joy!” And people should also say, “And what a confident expectation flows out of these Christians. They are people who clearly have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)!”

Grace and peace,
David

Christ Was Buried

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve (NIV).

First Corinthians Fifteen is a grand presentation of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and of certain hope of resurrection, because we are in Him, the Risen One. Followers of Jesus in our time need to feed their souls on the Risen Lord over all during this time of the corona pandemic. The media daily and incessantly feeds us with reports of death and despair. I do not downplay the seriousness of our situation, but we need to hear all of reality, not just the dark side of sin and death where the world delights to live in. We need to remember the ancient Christian greeting on Resurrection Sunday: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Yet we must remember that the path to total victory led through the dark valley of the Lord Christ’s death on the cross. On that cross he died for our sins. He died because we had rejected the true and living God as our God, because we had refused to love him most of all, and because we had rebelled against him by doing what he had forbidden and by not doing what he told us to do. Yes, we were and are sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a CSB). For this reason Christ died for our sins, in order to rescue us from the righteous consequence and judgment for sin. Praise God that he provided the way of rescue from judgment through Jesus Messiah.

After he died, some good men, Joseph and Nicodemus, buried Jesus’ body according to the Jewish burial customs of that day. Christ had died, so they buried him. Notice that our text says he was buried. It is said this way, not because Christ’s soul-spirit was in the grave, because that day Jesus himself was in paradise. Jesus had said to one of those crucified with him “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV). Instead, it is written that he was buried because he was and is truly human, and every human has a functional unity between the inner person (the soul-spirit) and the outer person (the body). What can be said of one part can be applied to the whole. So then, he was buried, because his body was buried.

One day, unless the Lord Jesus returns first, we will die and our bodies, our earthly remains, will be buried or otherwise disposed of. But when we bury a Christian’s body, we bury his or her body in the certain hope of the resurrection! The grave is not the end for the believer in Jesus. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42b-44a NIV). So, when Christ raises us from the dead by a powerful shout of his voice, we will come forth from the grave in his image (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Yes, Christ was buried, but death and the tomb could not hold him. He came out from the grave in great power and glory. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5b-6a NIV) Tomorrow on Resurrection Sunday (what some call Easter Sunday), you probably will not be able to gather with others to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from death and the grave, but you can still joyfully sing: “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign! He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!” (Robert Lowry)

Grace and peace in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord,
David

A Father’s Plea for His Son (Part Two)

Luke 9:37-45

I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.” Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” As the boy was still approaching, the demon knocked him down and threw him into severe convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And they were all astonished at the greatness of God (9:40-43a CSB).

Next in this section, we see a society unable to help to father or his son (9:40-41a). Here was the weakness of the church in its early form, nine of the Twelve apostles. Even though the apostles had cast out demons before this, they were unable to help now. They later asked the Lord why they could not (Mark 9:28-29). Many look to the church in their time of need. Unless the church has the wisdom to point them to the Lord Jesus Christ, they will be disappointed. A church without the power of the risen Christ cannot help this needy world. How are we demonstrating that Jesus Christ is able to save and to change lives?

We also observe the corruption of the world. Jesus was very troubled by what he saw. The whole scene reeked of sin, especially two sins. There was the sin of unbelief. The father had little faith, the apostles did not act in faith, and it is doubtful that the crowds believed that the boy could be healed. There also was the sin of religious perversity. The law experts were debating with the disciples, rather than being concerned about the needs of a boy made in the image of God (Mark 9:14). When someone is in need is not the time to engage in doctrinal debates. Yes, we must always serve others according to the truth, but I refer to foolish arguments when there are hurting people to be helped. Such evil talk can be no more than an attempted smokescreen to hide from the duty to help others. Let us minister to the hurting, the grief-stricken, and the emotionally distraught when they are before us. During this pandemic, we all have such opportunities.

Our hearts and thoughts should be fixed on the Savior who is able to heal (9:41b-43b). Rejoice in the Lord’s willingness to heal. The words “Bring your son here” are an invitation to the boy and his father to experience the Savior’s power. First, Christ ministers hope to the father. One of the first things you need to share with people around you is hope. We live in the age of despair, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic. People everywhere are falling deeper into the swamp of depression. Its leads to suicide. It also leads to alcohol abuse. My friends, we have hope in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Every sinner can be sure to find words of welcome from Jesus Christ. Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT; cf. Mark 10:14, 21, 49).

Most people who read these blogs are believers in Jesus Christ. But I don’t know where these words might be found by others. So I say this. Though you may have been alienated from God, he is willing to receive and forgive people that have not had room for him in their lives. You may have opposed God and not loved God. But today, there is good news! Step back into full reality and ask the living God to become involved in your life in a personal way. The way to God is through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He will never turn you away.

Let us consider Christ’s almighty power. He had power over the demon. He rebuked the evil foe and cast him out of the boy. At the same time he had power over physical injury. He healed the boy of all his afflictions. And Christ’s compassion. He gave the boy back to his father. Jesus “not only heals the paralytic but also forgives him (5:17-24), not only cures the centurion’s servant but also commends the centurion (7:2-10), not only restores to health the Gergesene demoniac but also makes him a missionary (8:26-39), not only heals but also comforts the woman who touched his garment (8:43-48), not only raises from the dead the daughter of Jairus but also sees to it that the child gets something to eat (8:40-42, 49-56)… just as the son of Nain’s widow was not only raised from the dead but then also very tenderly returned to his mother…” so now the boy is returned to his father (Hendriksen).

The Savior focused on his mission (9:43b-45). Christ reminded the disciples of his mission. He did this while the crowds were caught up in the experience of the miracle. They are only concerned about the wonder that occurred. His followers or learners must see deeper. Think about the significance! God’s Son is present! Repent! He directed them to pay careful attention to God’s plan for his Son. “All this should not make you forget the reason that I am here.”

The apostles failed to grasp what Jesus was telling them. What is the meaning of “It was hidden from them.” Who hid it from them? The test does not say, so it is useless to speculate. What we should learn is that in situations more than human agents may be involved. They visibly failed. The solution to their ignorance was right beside them. Yet they were afraid to ask Jesus! The lesson is not merely that good men may be spiritually ignorant. It is not an excuse for you or me to remain ignorant. Instead, Luke tells us what we should do about spiritual ignorance.

What should parents do when we are troubled about our children? We should pray. Call on the name of the Lord who is able to save. Spread the whole situation before the Lord. Tell him your sorrows and your fears. Ask him to be merciful to your child. The Lord Jesus cares about the sorrows of concerned parents. As long as a child lives and a parent prays, there is hope.

Will Christ receive children who come to him? Yes, he will! The gospels are filled with examples of his interest in children: the nobleman’s son, Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and so on. The Holy Spirit has not recorded these mighty works of Christ for without reason. They are meant to show us the interest of the Lord Jesus Christ in children. To some people, children do not count. But the Lord cares about children. So must we. Let us be diligent in bringing our children to Jesus.

We should learn the need for more than amazement. Yes, the people were amazed about what had happened. But did it do them any good? Don’t rest in any experience of religious excitement until by grace you find the Son of God.

Grace and peace,
David

A Door of Hope (Part Three)

Hosea 2:14-23

On that day I will respond—this is the Lord’s declaration. I will respond to the sky, and it will respond to the earth. The earth will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the fresh oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her in the land for myself, and I will have compassion on Lo-ruhamah; I will say to Lo-ammi: You are my people, and he will say, “You are my God” (2:21-23 CSB).

Finally, there is a new outlook. It is far too easy to become discouraged or perhaps even depressed as we journey through life. If we read or listen to news reports or scour the internet for information about situations, our outlook can become very gloomy. Or for others, all it takes is a visit to the doctor and follow-up testing, and anxiety about our mortality to affect ourselves, our family and friends. But God opens the door of hope widely to encourage and refresh his dearly loved people. Let’s listen to two hopeful vistas that he directs believers to ponder.

God reminds us that he is in charge of nature. There is a well-known cable weather service that delights to spread gloom and doom. They run programs to proclaim that we are wrecking our planet, and “superstorms” and other terrible events are just waiting to wreak havoc on our self-indulgent lifestyle. For example, it simply doesn’t snow anymore, but we face cruelly cold temperatures from a “polar vortex” and we just might face “blizzard-like conditions”. The shelves of grocery stores are emptied as people frantically buy ten loaves of bread, four dozen eggs, and gallons of milk. And it snows two little inches! (By the way, my family and I survived a huge blizzard with only an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk.) And to these people, it simply doesn’t rain an inch, but the highways have “treacherous conditions”. People love to hear the “weather prophets of doom.” In all of this, people forget God.

  • However, God reminds us that every part of the agricultural process is under his control. He is very able to act in the world he created to provide us with what we need to live, and to live joyfully. God does what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17 CSB).
  • To look at this another way, Israel, Jezreel, can see God’s care, start at herself, and then trace her blessings back to God. How skilled are you at reading the “map” of your blessings?

God offers a renewed exchange of “marriage vows”, of fresh promises of a new covenant relationship. The Lord had called them “not loved” and “not my people”, because of their rejection of him, refusal to love him, and rebellion against his laws. They had broken the relationship by their spiritual adultery. God promises a better covenant relationship. In it God gives:

  • A promise of enduring love. This promise holds true for God’s new covenant people. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).
  • A belonging to each other. Paul clearly applies these words to the church. What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” (Romans 9:23-26 NIV).

Do you belong to Jesus? Are you in a covenant relationship with the Lord? Has he laid hold of you by his amazing, wonderful love? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? FAITH is Forsaking All I Take Him.

Grace and peace, David

A Door of Hope (Part One)

Hosea 2:14-23

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt (2:14-15 NIV).

Previously in God’s always relevant Word, we read how God announced judgment on Israel for falling away from the Lord. It looked like Israel was finished! What hope could there be for those who turn their backs on the living God? What hope is there for those whom God threatens to punish? Some would write off America and other western nations as beyond hope. But is that so? What passage of Scripture can they appeal to? Doesn’t the Bible and church history present the darkest scenes of human hopelessness as the best opportunities for God to show his power?

The message of the Bible is a message of good news for the undeserving. God speaks of confident anticipation and of free and full forgiveness for the darkest sins. When all seems beyond hope, God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). God gives hope to the hopeless, joy to the grief-stricken, and peace to those torn apart by strife. The Lord is the God of new life and fresh vitality. And when he gives new life, it is a better life than previously known.

The Lord points to a new beginning (2:14-15). The key idea is unexpected and unmerited favor. God had just announced a just judgment upon Israel. She would be ruined! And now he speaks of leading her into the desert. How much worse could it get?

  • Biblically speaking, the desert has been a place of hope for God’s people. In the desert God formed Israel into a nation. In the desert, John the Baptist preached repentance and pointed people to Jesus, the Lamb of God. In the desert places of your life, the living God can speak tenderly to you (cf. Psalm 119:71). If you’re in a dark place now, look around with the eyes of faith and see the rays of hope breaking through the clouds.
  • God promises to reverse Israel’s fortunes. The destroyed vineyards (2:12) would be restored. The Valley of Achor, “Trouble”, which was always a dark memory because of Achan’s sin at Jericho, would become a door of hope. When you’re at the end of your rope, you’re at the place where God is able to untangle the knots in your life.

Sometimes God’s people go down into the “valley of trouble”, but in free grace God can open a door of hope unexpectedly before them. And when we walk through that open door, we have new opportunities to serve and enjoy the Lord. Remember Psalm 43:5: Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God (CSB).

The Lord foretells coming days of joy and celebration. Israel would sing to the Lord again, as she did at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). The lost song can be restored. This is very important. Yes, we can mess up our lives because of our sins, especially the sins of unbelief and the lack of thankfulness and worship. But God gives overflowing grace. Get off the performance treadmill, follow the Lord in faith, and rejoice in him anew!

God’s people sing when God makes us glad because of his salvation (Revelation 15:1-4). Has the Lord been gracious to you? Do you have good reasons to sing his praises? Yes, you do when you remember his saving, redeeming, matchless grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Clouds and then Sunshine (Part Two)

Hosea 1:4-2:1

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God’ (1:10 NIV).

The third child was named Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people” (1:8-9). God’s message through the prophet Hosea was that he would cast Israel away. Israel was overconfident about her covenant relationship to the Lord, even as she turned from the Lord to Baal. It is much like the modern American, who somehow falsely assumes America is a “Christian nation”, while the Lord’s name is blasphemed, his worship forsaken, and a godly way of life is abandoned, mocked and resisted like the plague.

The Bible tells us that God cannot be mocked. Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap (Galatians 6:7). People may pretend to be Christians today, but God will not own them as his own on the Judgment Day. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV).

The fact that God gave this message through the naming of the children, which took a few years, demonstrates that he gave Israel the opportunity to repent. God has issued many warnings to this world over the last hundred years: terrible wars, terrorist attacks, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, ice storms, plagues, and blizzards. Yet people have not turned back to God. How much longer do we have before far more destructive judgments fall from heaven?

However, in a setting of apparent hopelessness, the living God offers a word of hope, a promise of restoration (1:10-2:1). The foundation is that God keeps his covenant promises. Remember his promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:4-6; 22:15-18). God’s grace is greater than human sin and weakness.

What did the Lord promise? The place of rejection would become the place of restoration. There would be another reversal of the name Jezreel! God is able to restore, even when it seems impossible. Keep on praying and believing. Never give up! As the New Testament makes clear, this was also a promise of salvation to the nations (Romans 9:22-26; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

God would restore the names of love and relationship to his chosen people. They would again be honored as God’s people. They would experience anew that they were loved by the Lord. God has freely chosen to have a family relationship of love with people that were rebellious against him. He makes this happen through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Messiah died to pay for our sins and rose the third day that we might be declared right with God when we turn from our sins and trust in the Lord. Are you right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are, worship God. Expressing your joy in God through worship is God’s great purpose for you.

Stop and think for a moment. What about your relationship with the true God? Are you able to say with good and right Biblical reasons that you belong to God and that God loves you? There is hope, living hope, when we turn to the Lord for mercy and grace. Today is the day he offers salvation and righteousness. Are you right with God? You may be today by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If your life has been thick with clouds, there is a glorious ray of sunshine. God has brought you to a place where you can hear his good news. We pray that God will be exceedingly merciful to you. Seek the Lord today, while he may be found! Isaiah 55:6-7

Grace and peace, David

The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part One)

2 Kings 2:1-14

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel (2:1-2 CSB).

James described human life in this way, What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14b NIV). So it is with the best and the worst of people, small and great, rich and poor, unknown and well-known. We all appear on the stage of planet earth, make significant decisions and actions for which we give account, and yet which God also uses as he weaves the large tapestry of history for his glory. Then we reach the end of our lives, and keep that appointment which all of us must. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).

So it was with Elijah. He was born and suddenly appeared in the public life of Israel, announcing a drought on the land. Then God miraculously fed him at the brook and at the widow’s house. By God’s power Elijah raised the widow’s dead son to life. After three years of drought, he called Israel back to God at the contest on Mt. Carmel. The Lord heard his prayer for fire and later rain, and continued to use Elijah for many years to stand for the truth in a country that was religiously twisted and morally corrupt. Then it was time for Elijah to die….

No, it wasn’t! Though Elijah had once prayed to die, the Lord had a different end to Elijah’s stay on earth. Billions of people have inescapably marched into the jaws of death. Only two have escaped: Enoch and Elijah. When the Son of God returns in power and great glory, all his people who are alive at that time will also avoid death. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Come, Lord Jesus!  But while we must remain, what are some lessons we can learn from the close of Elijah’s life on earth?

When the situation appears hopeless to us, the living, sovereign God is able to act. As Elijah looked at life from his limited perspective, it often seemed to him that little positive religious change was occurring. He said, “I’m the only one left”—after Obadiah had told him of one hundred other prophets (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah said, “I’m the only one left”—after he had experienced God’s answers to his prayers for fire and rain (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Yes, Elijah thought he was the only one left, but look what the Lord was doing!

  • Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, and he remained faithful to Elijah until the end. God provided Elijah with a friend in the ministry.
  • Micaiah boldly stood up for the truth before Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28). We might be unaware of their courageous stand, but God has a people for his glory.
  • Elijah was able to start or assist in the ministry of at least two “schools” of prophets at Bethel and Jericho. To train others for ministry is an important task though not very dazzling.

Though it was not God’s time to destroy the altar for false worship at Bethel, he used Elijah to raise up a testimony against it. (The Lord had already announced that Josiah, a descendant of David would destroy it later in history, cf. 1 Kings 13:2. Why did the Lord wait? He acts mercifully to allow people an opportunity to repent.) Though during the time of Ahab, the cursed city of Jericho was rebuilt, God had men to speak for him in that place.

Let us avoid an “Elijah complex”, supposing, “I’m the only one left.” Or as more of us might think, “Our small church and a few small faithful sisters churches are the only ones left to stand for God.” We can waste a lot of precious time moaning over the terrible times we live in, or we can labor for the cause of God and truth with a bold faith.

Grace and peace, David