Malachi – The Messenger

Malachi is the last book in our arrangement of the Old Testament, the last of the “minor prophets,” and the last time God will talk to His people through them for about 400 years – when he sends His son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to fulfill His plan of salvation for us. The name translates to “my messenger” but some believe it may be the shortened form of “Malachiah,” which means “messenger of the Lord.” Since there is some foreshadowing of the arrival of John the Baptist (as in Malachi 3:1, which says “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me”), some consider it word-play on the prophet’s name.

Some estimates of the date are about 460 B.C., making him a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. The temple reconstruction  was completed about 516 B.C., and the time was after that, as Malachi 1:10, 3:1, and 3:8-10 clearly allude to an existing temple. But the date may actually be a bit later than that, as the times were somewhat different. The good news is that God’s people finally seem to be rid of the scourge of idolatry here. The bad news is that they are spiritually weak, if not practically dead. They were apathetic toward their worship, and insulted the Lord with their offerings of lame and diseased animals (Malachi 1:6-8).

John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness, preparing people for Jesus' coming as the Messiah -- Matthew 3: 1-12.

John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness, preparing people for Jesus’ coming as the Messiah — Matthew 3: 1-12.

But that is just the beginning of the things that Malachi points out for which the people need to repent. They are divorcing their wives to marry foreign women – again disregarding the law given against doing so (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Malachi 3:6-12 speaks of how they are robbing God by not honoring their tithes. And one thing certainly had not changed. The people were still plagued by bad leadership, for the priests were to blame for much of this – and they are certainly addressed and rebuked throughout he book. Malachi’s message from the Lord is  that He demands real worship – not simply going through the motions, as they were doing. It was time for God’s people to step up and serve the Lord as their part of the covenant demanded.

Malachi 4:1 warns of the coming judgment for those who continue to show disrespect, indifference, and disregard for the Lord’s will. Both chapter 3 and 4 promise the coming of the Lord’s messenger – named as Elijah the prophet, but clearly a reference to John the Baptist – to “prepare the way.”

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

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Prophet of Hope – Zechariah

Zechariah (fresco by Michelangelo)

Zechariah (fresco by Michelangelo) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Zechariah begins in the first verse with the word of the Lord coming to this prophet in the eighth month of the second year of Darius’s reign. This is October/November of 520 B.C., and places it between Haggai 2:1 and 2:10. Zechariah was a priest. The text tells us that he was the grandson of Iddo, who was one of the Levitical priests that came back from Babylon with Zerubbabel, the grandson of king Jehoiachin (Nehemiah 12:1-4). 

Zechariah is sometimes referred to as the prophet of hope. The people had been back from captivity for twenty years. Taxes were high, especially in light of Darius’s preparations for his campaign against Egypt. Jerusalem was far from restored – in fact, the people felt like they were nothing on the world’s “stage.” The temple foundation had been started shortly after their return, but the effort had stalled due to opposition. Discouragement ruled the day, and the only thing to do seemed to be to just try to get by in the best ways that one could.

Zechariah's vision of the four horsemen (Zecha...

Zechariah’s vision of the four horsemen (Zechariah 6:1-8), engraving by Gustave Doré. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is where Zechariah comes in, letting the people know that despite adversity from hostile enemies, they must remain faithful because God is in control. He was in control of everything before, during, and after captivity. He is in control of what is happening now, and He is in control of what will come to pass. The book is full of apocalyptic visions and oracles that read much like the apocalyptic literature that would come to be so popular, and filled with language and symbolism that would be very meaningful to the people of the times.

The first six chapters are a series of eight night visions that we could spend several pages discussing. They are a combination of reassurances of God’s favor for His people and of Messianic promise – restoring the covenant and the house of David. Chapter 7 takes up two years after these night visions, dealing with all of the fasting that the people are doing. The Lord has not commanded them to do so much fasting. What He wants from the people is for them to return to faithfulness and live by His commandments.

Concluding with chapters 9-14, various future events are addressed – at the forefront are God’s coming judgment on the nations that oppressed them and much emphasis on the coming Messiah. There is much encouragement in these chapters, but also warning – God has had more than enough of idolatry and wicked leadership! The future looks good indeed, but it depends on their faithfulness.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

 

Restoring God’s House – Haggai

The biblical prophet Haggai. Woodcut from the ...

The biblical prophet Haggai. Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On most of the occasions in scripture that we read of a prophet who had been preaching to God’s people about a particular subject, that prophet finds little good to come from the recipients of that preaching. A notable exception was Nineveh’s repentance when Jonah gave them God’s warning – but Jonah wasn’t exactly thrilled about that response, was he? Haggai and Zechariah are two exceptions that stand alone – at least as far as the rebuilding of the temple is concerned.

Haggai begins with reference to “the second year of Darius,” and that historically sets this book in the year 520 B.C. Chapter 1:1 gives us “the first day of the 6th month,” which makes the starting date of this book August 29, 520 B.C. It just doesn’t get any better than that with biblical dating. In fact, we get 5 such exact accounts of dates from Haggai. Just 24 days after Haggai’s first message, the people start work on the temple on September 21, 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:15 – the 24th day of the sixth month). Haggai 2:1 occurs in “the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month,” which is October 17, 520 B.C. Haggai 2:10 and 2:20 both happened on “the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month,” which is December18, 520.

Per the decree of Cyrus, the people began returning from captivity in 538 B.C. They started working on the temple in 537, but that ceased in 536 due to opposition (see Ezra 3:1-4:5). The work had been left unfinished for 18 years when the Book of Haggai begins. The reign of Cyrus the Great ended about 530 B.C. When his son Cambyses died in 522, a general, Darius I, rose to power in his place.

Haggai and Zechariah were present at the rebuilding of the Temple of God during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, after the return from exile. The Medo-Persian Empire included the lands of Media and Persia, much of the area shown on this map and more. The Jewish exiles were concentrated in the area around Nippur in the Babylonian province. The decree by King Cyrus that allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple was discovered in the palace at Ecbatana.

Haggai and Zechariah were present at the rebuilding of the Temple of God during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, after the return from exile.
The Medo-Persian Empire included the lands of Media and Persia, much of the area shown on this map and more. The Jewish exiles were concentrated in the area around Nippur in the Babylonian province. The decree by King Cyrus that allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple was discovered in the palace at Ecbatana.

Haggai picks up in verse one of the first chapter where Ezra 5:1 makes mention of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, as it was after Haggai’s message that the temple construction was re-started. Then came Tattenai’s letter to Darius to try and stop the rebuilding. But the elders did not stop while they were waiting for the letter to reach him (Ezra 5:3-17). It was Darius’s decree (Ezra 6) that ensured the temple would be completed.

It was God’s will, of course, that ensured Darius would make such a decree. God called Haggai to move the people to action because they were stalled in completing the work of rebuilding the temple. Some form of “thus says the Lord” occurs 19 times in 38 verses, and the words”Lord of hosts” occurs 14 times, illustrating God’s sovereignty. Haggai’s message has them examine their situations and their lack of prosperity (Haggai 1:5-7, 2:15-19) in light of the work they had left unfinished. In chapter 2, the Lord (through Haggai) spoke to Zarubbabel, (who was in the line of David as the grandson of Jehoiachin) and Joshua, the High Priest.

The Lord intended to re-establish His people in their land, along with the house of David (Haggai 2:23). He had promised to bless the world through them (Haggai 2:9). There was a coming Messiah to prepare for. It was time to go to work!

/Bob’s boy
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image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

 

Prophet Of Royal Blood? – Zephaniah

Stamped bulla sealed by a servant of King Heze...

Stamped bulla sealed by a servant of King Hezekiah, formerly pressed against a cord; unprovenanced Redondo Beach collection of antiquities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The prophet Zephaniah is introduced this way in verse one of chapter one of his book: “The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.” Many believe that the Hezekiah mentioned here was King Hezekiah, who reined between 715 and 686 B.C.  If so, that would make Zephaniah his great-great-grandson. This would fit the timeline generally accepted for Zephaniah’s prophecy as during the reign of Josiah (640 – 609 B.C.)

There is some reason to believe that Zephaniah may have encouraged Josiah’s reforms. If so, since those reforms started in the 18th year of his reign (2 Kings 22-23), Zephaniah’s prophecies likely occurred before 622 -621 B.C.  Judah was at the height of its rampant immorality and idolatry pattern, with good king Josiah replacing two previous kings that were extremely wicked (Amon and Manasseh). His message, prevalent throughout the book, was “the day of the Lord is coming” – which always means that a time of decisive action by God is at hand.

Michelangelo's Hezekiah-Manasseh-Amon. Traditi...

Michelangelo’s Hezekiah-Manasseh-Amon. Traditionally Manasseh is the man on the right and Amon is the child on the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first mention of the phrase in this book comes in Zephaniah 1:7, which also says “…the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.” That sacrifice is Judah, and verses 3-4 warn that God is bringing massive destruction on His people and Jerusalem. Verses 14-18 expound in darkly poetic terms on just what “the day of the Lord” will mean to them, and the picture cannot be ambiguous to anyone. Chapter 2 tells them what they should do – which of course is to repent. Zephaniah 3:1-4 present the reasons for God’s judgment on Jerusalem, placing blame on corrupt and evil leadership as well:

Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice;
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord;
she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
that leave nothing till the morning.

Chapter 3:14-20 conclude with a promise of a glorious time of restoration and a Messianic future. It promises the survival of a remnant. The best advice for the faithful comes in Chapter 2:3:

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden
on the day of the anger of the Lord

The Book of Zephaniah seems to come very close to the time of the impending destruction by the Chaldeans. But the book does promise judgment on the other nations, particularly their wicked neighbors, for their complicity. Chapter 2:4-10 promises that the remnant of God’s people will have their day where those nations are concerned – promises that history itself has told us that God has kept:

For Gaza shall be deserted,
and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon,
and Ekron shall be uprooted.

Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast,
you nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the Lord is against you,
O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.

And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,
with meadows for shepherds
and folds for flocks.
The seacoast shall become the possession
of the remnant of the house of Judah,
on which they shall graze,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
they shall lie down at evening.

For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
and restore their fortunes.
“I have heard the taunts of Moab
and the revilings of the Ammonites,
how they have taunted my people
and made boasts against their territory.

Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts,
the God of Israel,
“Moab shall become like Sodom,
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
and a waste forever.

The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”
This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
because they taunted and boasted
against the people of the Lord of hosts.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

Reversal of Fortunes – Nahum and Nineveh

If the Book of Jonah (see previous blog post) were a photograph, Nahum would be the negative. In what was likely the first half of the eighth century B.C., Jonah reluctantly ventured to Nineveh to warn them of the coming judgment of God for their wickedness. To Jonah’s complete dismay, Nineveh repented and God spared them.

As Sennacherib beautified his capital city, Nineveh, Hezekiah withheld tribute and prepared for battle. The Assyrians advanced toward their rebellious western border, attacking swiftly down the Mediterranean coast. From Lachish, Sennacherib threatened to take Jerusalem, but Isaiah knew his threats would die with him on his return to Nineveh. This map shows the route of Assyrian conquest which started in Nineveh. God promised his people that Nineveh would not escape judgment.

As Sennacherib beautified his capital city, Nineveh, Hezekiah withheld tribute and prepared for battle. The Assyrians advanced toward their rebellious western border, attacking swiftly down the Mediterranean coast. From Lachish, Sennacherib threatened to take Jerusalem, but Isaiah knew his threats would die with him on his return to Nineveh. This map shows the route of Assyrian conquest which started in Nineveh. God promised his people that Nineveh would not escape judgment.

But that repentance did not last long. By 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III had made Assyria the most powerful in force in that part of the world., establishing their dominance with torture, massacres, and exiles on a horrific scale. The real estate of the Assyrians was greatly expanded by making vassal kingdoms of other countries (such as the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah) until Assyria “terminated” the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. Under Sennacherib’s reign (704 – 681 B.C.) Nineveh became the capital of Assyria.

More than a hundred years after Jonah, God sent Nahum to again announce judgment on Nineveh and the fall of Assyria itself. This time, there would be no repentance, and Nahum does not appear to have been reluctant in the least. Nahum 3:8-10 speaks of the destruction of Thebes (an ancient Egyptian city also called No-Amon in this book) in the past tense. We know that it fell to Assyria about 663 B.C. Assyria was conquered by the Medes and Babylonians in 612 B.C., making this book written between 663 and 612 B.C.

During this 50 year period, Assyria’s holdings and power were already in decline. Nahum’s first chapter reads like a prelude to battle, while the second and third chapters move into the real thing, with imagery that strongly suggests that the author saw much with his own eyes. True to the prophecy, Nineveh was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. The ruins lay close to the modern Iraqi city of Mosul.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

Micah of Moresheth-Gath

Often, when the Bible talks about or introduces a prophet or someone else of importance, it does so by referring to their lineage – usually their father (Isaiah “the son of Amoz,” Jonah “son of Amittai,” James and John  “sons of Zebedee”). But Micah is introduced as Micah “of Moresheth” (verse 1), otherwise known as Moresheth-gath (verse 14). Moresheth-Gath was a town in Judah’s Shephela – a lowland region in south-central Israel. It was captured by Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

A mound, or tell, of Maresha, one suggested site of Micah's hometown Moresheth.

A mound, or tell, of Maresha, one suggested site of Micah’s hometown Moresheth.

Verse one lists the kings of Judah during Micah’s time (Jotham 750 – 735 B.C., Ahaz 735 – 715 B.C., and Hezekiah 715 – 687 B.C.). This means that he was around roughly at the same time as Isaiah and Hosea. But since Uzziah (767 – 739 B.C.) is not listed, we can be fairly certain that he prophesied during the latter half of that century. He was from the southern kingdom, but prophesied to both the northern kingdom (Samaria here) and the southern kingdom. The message was of the same problems some of the other prophets spoke about – idolatry, of course, and social injustice (the rich oppressing the poor usually).

Assyria’s power was ever-increasing, but Israel was not economically affected during the first half of the eighth century. In fact, a wealthy upper class became increasingly prevalent. And along with them came more idolatry and more oppression of the poor. Then comes Ahaz, who was nothing more than a puppet for Assyria, followed by heavy taxes by the state of Assyria, which led to even more oppression of the poor. Micah’s message was that doom was coming. But he did offer hope in that there would ultimately be a restoration. He would have been there for the saving of Jerusalem from the Assyrians under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-19), as well as for the ultimate defeat by the empire

In chapter 5, Micah brings the prophecy of a ruler to be born in Bethlehem – a town nobody would have considered important. Micah 5:2 is cited in Matthew 2:6 and John 7:42. The abiding theme of the book is of judgment and of salvation (compare chapter 2 with chapter 5). It is about a God who keeps His promises – even those that say He will bring destruction on the wicked if they do not repent. And it is about a God who is both a king and a shepherd, and will forgive and restore a remnant. But that king will exercise vengeance on the nations that do not obey (Micah 5:1-15).

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

 

Saving Nineveh – The Book of Jonah

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Many of Jonah's countrymen had experienced the atrocities of these fierce people. The last place Jonah wanted to go was on a missionary trip to Nineveh! So he went in the opposite direction. He boarded a ship in Joppa that was headed for Tarshish. But Jonah could not run from God.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Many of Jonah’s countrymen had experienced the atrocities of these fierce people. The last place Jonah wanted to go was on a missionary trip to Nineveh! So he went in the opposite direction. He boarded a ship in Joppa that was headed for Tarshish. But Jonah could not run from God.

Jonah was a prophet during the reign of Jeraboam II around 750 B.C. According to 2 Kings 14 23-28, he was the son of Amittai, hailing from Gath-hepher. Gath-hepher (meaning “winepress of the well”) was on Zebulun’s border in ancient Israel. The Book of Jonah has been the subject of some debate and there are those who consider it allegory. But such is not the case. Jesus certainly spoke of the events of the book as historical fact; and Jonah’s adventure is mentioned in Matthew 12:38-41, 16:4, Luke 11:29-32, among other passages.

As for the most famous part of the book, many are quick to point out that the Bible does not say that it was a whale that swallowed Jonah. God in fact, it says, appointed “a great fish” for the deed. The truth is that the taxonomies we use today for classifying such creatures did not exist in their present form, so the distinction between fish and mammals is purely academic and relevant only today. True enough, a creature other than a whale could have been responsible (one such suggestion is a “Sea Dog”). And there have been reports in the past of people surviving after having been swallowed and regurgitated by such. One such incident was reported in “The Boston Post-Boy, October 14, 1771” about a man named Marshall Jenkins (see this article on Christian Evidences) It hardly matters. In any event, it was a miraculous feat completely orchestrated by God for a specific purpose – just as that of the worm (Jonah 4:7).

But this miraculous event aside, the most important aspects of the Book of Jonah lay elsewhere. The Book of Jonah shows us God’s boundless compassion in multiple ways. Any time the early Christians of the first century began to question whether Gentiles were to be part of God’s plan of salvation, they needed only to look at this book. God sent Jonah to give His message to the Ninevites to give them the chance to repent. They were not part of Israel by any stretch of the imagination. But God cared about them, just as He tried to teach Jonah in Jonah 4:1-10.  In God’s eyes, everyone is worth saving.

Jonah sat under a goard vine, waiting and hoping for God to destroy Nineveh. But God taught him an important lesson about forgiveness through the vine (Jonah 3-4).

Jonah sat under a goard vine, waiting and hoping for God to destroy Nineveh. But God taught him an important lesson about forgiveness through the vine (Jonah 3-4).

Jonah’s attempted flight from God shows us a couple of things. First, and most obviously, we cannot hide anything from our Creator. Even the “smallest” of our deeds is known to Him. Secondly, as is shown repeatedly in scripture, when God wants something done, it gets done. He sent His only son to sacrifice His life for us, and establish His kingdom. The misunderstanding some have that Jesus somehow failed at that the first time, but will try again later, is ridiculous.

Finally, Jonah’s attitude and God’s reaction in chapter 4 should give us pause to think about our own compassion for our fellow man. How often do we view others with disdain or even contempt? How concerned are we really about salvation for those outside God’s kingdom? Have we truly committed ourselves to Christ if we are not willing – yes and even eager – to help others to work out their salvation?

Though only 4 chapters, the Book of Jonah is a powerful and important book of prophecy and teaching. Do yourself a favor and read these 47 verses if you have not done so in a while – and do so with these things in mind. It will enrich you in your walk with the Lord.

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

The Vision of Obadiah (Minor Prophets Part 4)

Mountains of Edom rise abruptly out of the desert landscarpe forming a natural barrier against attack

Mountains of Edom rise abruptly out of the desert landscarpe forming a natural barrier against attack

Consisting of one chapter with 21 verses, Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. The superscription calls it the “Vision of Obadiah.” The subject of the book, made very clear from the start, is Edom. The nation of Edom was fathered by Jacob’s brother, Esau, as detailed in Genesis 36, so they were actually relatives of the Israelites. Deuteronomy 2 tells us that God had given the Edomites Mount Seir and the mountain land around it for them to live in, which goes to explain a bit about  verse 3’s description of them and their false sense of security:

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”

Dating this book is not difficult. Verse 11 speaks of the fall of Jerusalem as a past event, and the fall of Edom itself as a future event. The former event was in 586 B.C., and Babylon took Edom down in 553 B.C. – a span of about 33 years. So the book was probably written during the first half of the Babylonian exile.   In 586, when Israel was being attacked, the Edomites who were the brother nation of Israel, joined in (instead of assisting them), as they were hoping to gain favor with Babylon. They brutalized them, plundered Jerusalem, and even thwarted the escape of those who would flee the destruction. This book foretells God’s vengeance on them for their part in the persecution of God’s people. It certainly answers the plea of Psalm 137:7.

Though the message is that those who oppose God and His people will get their just judgment (verse 15), the book ends with the promise of restoration for His covenant people and the promise of the kingdom (verses 19-21).

/Bob’s boy
___________________
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

 

Minor Prophets Part 1 – Hosea

As the Book of Hosea tells us in the opening verses, Hosea was called by God as a prophet during the time of Jeroboam II (whose last year of reign was ~753 BC) and Hezekiah (who reigned from about 729-687 BC, the first 14 years of which were as a co-regent with his father, Ahaz). Hosea was a prophet from the northern kingdom, prophesying to the people of the northern kingdom. It was a time of rampant and wanton idolatry that was beyond control, leading to Hezekiah’s reforms (2 Chronicles 29-32).

Temple of Baal at Palmyra, Syria. (III)

Temple of Baal at Palmyra, Syria. (III) (Photo credit: isawnyu)

The message in this book is about the betrayal and grief that God feels because of the unfaithfulness to him (idolatry) by the people of Israel. Hosea lived the message, as the Lord commanded him to marry a temple prostitute. Verse 2 of chapter 1 summarizes God’s feeling on that very well: “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.'” And again in Hosea 3:1: “And the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.'” Raisin cakes were used in fertility rites during idol worship, The cakes were sometimes molded into the shape of a female goddess.

To make Israel’s betrayal of the Lord worse, their idolatry had become so much a part of the culture that they mixed their worship of the “god” Baal with their worship of God, referring to the Lord Himself as Baal, and crediting Baal with all of the things that God had done for them (see, for example, Hosea 2:16-20).   Both Paul and Peter cite Hosea 2:23 to illustrate the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity (Romans 9:25-26 and 1 Peter 2:9-10). Even their sacrifices to the lord had become so ceremonially polluted that they were offensive, rather than pleasing God. Hosea 6:6 sums up the Lord’s attitude toward their sacrifice: “for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Hosea ministered during the latter half of the eighth century. This was a very volatile time in Israel’s history, and saw the rise of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, followed by several other kings that would bring Assyrian dominance. Israel had a succession of kings until Hoshea (732-722 BC), whose rebellion against the Assyrians led to the end of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17). Hosea’s message centered on the worship of Baal which he obviously believed to be the reason for Israel’s doom. Baal was the weather god that idolaters believed to have control over agriculture, fertility, and rainfall. Israel being a largely agricultural society, they were always ripe for Baal worship.

Hosea and Gomer, from the Bible Historiale. De...

Hosea and Gomer, from the Bible Historiale. Den Haag, MMW, 10 B 23 426r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baal was worshiped at various shrines where he was called by names such as Baal-peor (Hosea 9:10) and Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17). Sometimes the scripture refers to “them” as “the Baals” (Judges 2:11, 3:7, and 8:33). Beyond the supposed fertility and weather aspects, such worship had a tremendous appeal to sexuality (hence the ritual prostitution), and also such things as drunkenness, incest, bestiality, and even human sacrifice. Sexual acts were believed to make Baal respond favorably to the subject.

The Book of Hosea helps us view idolatry from God’s perspective, so we can apply it to our lives. Today, our “gods” do not seem much like the gods and goddesses of those days. But Idolatry is the act or lifestyle that places someone or something in the central and prominent place in our lives that rightly belongs to God. Our betrayals hurt the Lord just as much. The prophet in this book, makes it clear that God will punish such idolatry, and illustrates Israel’s unfaithfulness in many different ways. Hosea portrays Israel as an adulterous wife, an ungrateful son, a stubborn heifer, and more. But the book shows us as well that even Israel’s unfaithfulness and stubbornness are no match for God’s capacity for redeeming love.

/Bob’s boy
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image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.